Director: Lucjan Dembiński
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★
Review:

Pyza © Studio Filmów Lmów Lalkowych‘Pyza’ is based on children’s books by Polish author Hanna Januszewska (1905-1980).

‘Pyza’ starts with a mother making dumplings for her numerous children. One of the dumplings changes into a girl, who soon goes for a walk. Outside she meets a rabbit, and the two become friends and have some little adventures together.

‘Pyza’ features no dialogue and uses the simplest puppet designs. This children’s film looks attractive, but emotion is more suggested than felt, and the animation is rather lifeless and stiff. Moreover, Dembiński’s timing is pretty relaxed, and the film balances on the verge of boring. In the end, the directionless story and the uninspired animation render a film too poor to enjoy.

Watch ‘Pyza’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Pyza’ is available on the DVD set ‘Anthology of Polish Children’s Animation’

Directors: Jerzy Zitman & Lechosław Marszałek
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Bulandra i diabel © Studio Filmów Rysunkowych‘Bulandra i diabel’ retells a story by Polish writer Gustaw Morcinek (1891-1963).

Unfortunately, the story is very hard to follow, not to say incomprehensible. It doesn’t help that there’s no dialogue (when the protagonists talk, you hear some sped up tape sounds). At least the narrative features a miner, a goat, a king and a devil.

Zitman and Marszałek have designed their film like a picture book, and all action takes place in absolute flat space. Neither the background art nor the cut-out figures get any feeling of depth. The background art is neatly designed, combining a naive folk-like quality with a stark cartoon modern design. The cut-out figures however, are animated rather poorly, and hardly display any sense of emotion. The result is rather disappointing.

In fact, ‘Bulandra i diabel’ is most interesting for featuring music by avant-garde composer Krzysztof Penderecki. During this time Penderecki was already experimenting with stochastic techniques and new timbres, but none of that in this film. Here he sticks to a way more accessible rather gritty Béla Bartók-like mid-century modernism.

Watch ‘Bulandra i diabel’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bulandra i diabel’ is available on the DVD set ‘Anthology of Polish Children’s Animation’

Director: Władysław Nehrebecki
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Myszka i kotek © Studio Filmów Rysunkowych‘Myszka i kotek’ is a very beautiful example of the cartoon modern style of the 1950s.

The film is a very playful tale of a real mouse chased by a line drawing kitten, which has jumped from a postcard. During the chase the cat repeatedly dissolves into a line only, and the animators play with the fact that the animal is outline only.

Both cat and mouse are pleasantly designed and very well animated, but it’s the gorgeous background art that draws the main attention. Every single panel is a beauty, depicting a nightly room in bold designs, verging on the abstract. The main background color is black, and the light blue outline of the kitten reads very well against the background art.

In short, ‘Myszka i kotek’ is a Polish little gem that deserves to be better known.

Watch ‘Myszka i kotek’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Myszka i kotek’ is available on the DVD set ‘Anthology of Polish Children’s Animation’

Director: Ward Kimball
Release Date: June 18, 1959
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Eyes in Outer Space © Walt DisneyWhile eight of the nine old men were busy with feature film animation, like ‘Sleeping Beauty‘, number 9, Ward Kimball spend his energy to quite different films, blending science with science fiction.

‘Eyes in Outer Space’ is an excellent example of Kimball’s trade. Made when satellite technology was still brand new (by the time of this short’s release ca. 13-14 satellites had been successfully launched into space, the majority by the U.S.), ‘Eyes in outer space’ tells how satellites can help mankind not only to predict, but even to control the weather. The film first shows us the new technology: rockets and satellites, then it shows the destructive and beneficial powers of the weather.

After this we cut to the animated sequence. This lasts not even five minutes, but is an absolute joy to watch: first we watch a funny sequence about how weather affects our emotions, and how we used to try to predict the weather in the past. This is a delightful little piece of cartoon modernism, but the designs get bolder and more abstract when narrator Paul Frees tells about the life-cycle of a droplet. This is a very beautiful piece of avant-garde animation, featuring bold colors and designs and greatly helped by the rhyming narration and George Bruns’s jazzy score.

Unfortunately, it’s not to last, and soon we’re back to live action footage telling how meteorologists predict the weather today and how satellites come in handy. The last eleven minutes are devoted to a particularly noteworthy piece of infotainment. Here we cut to a future in which we cannot only predict the weather (months in advance!), but control it, too. The film shows us how a global weather station alters the course of an Atlantic hurricane, with the help of e.g. robot planes and a space station. This is a nice piece of 1950s science fiction. Needless to say nothing of this has materialized, yet, and it’s highly questionable if it will ever.

Watch ‘Eyes in Outer Space’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Eyes in Outer Space’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrow Land -Disney in Space and Beyond’

Director: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: October 30, 1959
Stars: Herman & Katnip
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Katnip's Big Day © Paramount‘Katnip’s Big Day’ was the last of the Herman and Katnip cartoons. Fittingly, it’s a cheater, a compilation cartoon with Katnip looking back on his not too illustrious career in a ‘This is your life’-like television program.

Katnip sits on a throne and is visited by his old ‘pals’ Spike, Herman’s cousins (whose names are revealed to be Rubin, Dubin and Louie), Buzzy and Herman himself. They all reminisce how they tricked the poor cat in earlier cartoons, which lead to excerpts from ‘A Bicep Built for Two’ (Spike, 1955), ‘Cat-Choo’ (Buzzy, 1951), ‘Drinks on the Mouse’ (Rubin, Dubin & Louie, 1953) and ‘Mousetro Herman’ (1956).

What the cartoon manages to demonstrate is that Herman and Katnip never were really funny, but that only three years before they at least were well animated. Compared to the archive footage the animation of the actual cartoon looks terribly stiff, lifeless and cheap.

Watch ‘Katnip’s Big Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Katnip’s Big Day’ is released on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

Director: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: April 3, 1959
Stars: Herman & Katnip
Rating: ★★
Review:

Fun on Furlough © ParamountWith ‘Fun on Furlough’ Herman and Katnip return to the department store scenery of ‘From Mad to Worse‘ (1957).

This time Herman’s cousins are having fun at the toy department until Katnip almost catches them. Then Herman enters, who inexplicably has a three days leave from the army. He reveals that Katnip once had been in the army, too. What follows is a chase sequence with an army theme, using toy soldiers, a toy tank, a toy plane etc. The idea already is preposterous, and the follow-up is hampered by trite and formulaic gags.

Watch ‘Fun on Furlough’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fun on Furlough’ is released on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

Director: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: February 20, 1959
Stars: Herman & Katnip
Rating: ★★
Review:

Felineous Assault © Paramount‘Felineous Assault’ is Famous studio’s variation on Tom & Jerry’s ‘Professor Tom‘ (1948): Katnip teaches his nephew Kitnap how to catch mice.

When Kitnap passes the test with a fake mouse, Katnip orders the little one to catch Herman. But inside the mouse hole Kitnap gets stuck and Herman rescues him. What follows is one long chase sequence in which Katnip tries to catch Herman, while Kitnap makes him fail.

Herman is pretty helpless in this cartoon, which is hampered by angular designs (especially on Katnip), and by stiff and schematic animation. In fact, the little kitten looks and moves better than either Herman or Katnip.

Watch ‘Felineous Assault’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Felineous Assault’ is released on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

Director: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: January 2, 1959
Stars: Herman & Katnip
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Owly to Bed © ParamountThis cartoon centers on a small owl who starts sleepwalking during daytime. To save him from certain death Herman takes the little fellow home and christens him ‘Hootie’.

Unfortunately, Hootie immediately starts walking out of Herman’s lair to make a nest on Katnip’s back. When Katnip discovers the bird, he tries to catch it and eat it. What follows is a chase cartoons that gets complicated by the fact that Hootie may be blind and helpless during daytime, he sure can see when it’s dark en then he suddenly changes into a violent foe to Katnip.

‘Owly to Bed’ contains one of the most violent takes on Katnip: during one scene we watch him being split in two by Hootie’s axe, and trying to put himself back together again. More interesting than either the violence or the chase, however, is the music that accompanies Hootie’s sleepwalking.

Watch ‘Owly to Bed’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Owly to Bed’ is released on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: August 20, 1960
Stars: The Honey-Mousers
Rating:
Review:

Mice Follies © Warner Bros.Not to be confused with the delightful Tom & Jerry short of the same name ‘Mice Follies’ marks the third appearance of the Honey-Mousers, McKimson’s parody of the television sitcom The Honeymooners.

The short opens with Ralph and Ned departing way too late from a night out. Somehow, we’ll never know why, Ned taunts a cat on the way. The cat follows the boys home, and they mistake the ferocious feline for their wives when they arrive home. The two men flee the house. Then the wives arrive themselves, only to get the same treatment from the cat. In the end we watch the four going asleep on a tiny park bench.

It’s hard to say anything positive about ‘Mice Follies’, The story just makes no sense, none of the dialogue is remotely interesting, little to nothing is done with the parody element, and the few gags present all fall flat. And so, the Honey-Mousers wouldn’t return after this unsuccessful entry.

Watch ‘Mice Follies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mice Follies’ is released on the Blu-Ray-set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: November 16, 1957
Stars: Sylvester, Sylvester jr., Hippety Hopper
Rating: ★★
Review:

Mouse-Taken Identity © Warner Bros.‘Mouse-Taken Identity’ is the eleventh cartoon featuring Hippety Hopper and by now the routine is so stale, only the setting can provide some variation.

Thus this episode takes place in a museum, which Hippety Hopper enters directly from the zoo where he’s dropped. That night Sylvester brings his son with him on his night job as a mouse catcher at the museum. Sylvester brags about his mice catching abilities. But this works against him when junior encounters a real one, way too feeble compared with the ferocious monsters his father said to battle. So Sylvester lies to his son, stating that mice come in all sizes, taking a stuffed kangaroo as an example. Unfortunately, Hippety Hopper has been hiding inside the kangaroo’s pouch, and when Sylvester approaches the stuffed animal, he gets his first kick.

What follows is a tiresome routine, with way too much dialogue and uninspired gags, a few involving the museum itself (a Neanderthal diorama, a crossbow). Nothing of this is remotely interesting. In fact, the cartoon’s highlight are the evocative background paintings.

Watch ‘Mouse-Taken Identity’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mouse-Taken Identity’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Sylvester & Hippety Hopper’ and on the Blu-Ray-set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: January 28, 1959
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Sleeping Beauty © Walt Disney

Taking six years to make and costing about six million dollars ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was destined to be Walt Disney’s grandest animated feature film ever. Unfortunately, the result never reaches the heights aimed at, and at times the film feels as trying to be too smart for its own good.

It certainly didn’t help that Walt himself was hardly involved in the film’s production process, as by this time he had become more interested in live action movies and his pet project, Disneyland.

The first of the film’s problems is the extraordinarily detailed background art. Art director Eyvind Earle clearly put his stamp on the artwork, which he based on Gothic art, especially late medieval tapestries. The result is a strange mixture of stylized forms and extremely dense textures. This artwork without doubt is very beautiful, so much so that the backgrounds steal the attention in almost every scene. But unlike Mary Blair’s artwork Earle’s style is devoid of charm and warmth, and the much less detailed animated characters don’t read well against the intricate backgrounds.

The characters were designed by modernist Tom Oreb, who gave them a rather angular outlook, which diminishes their attractiveness. Especially the goons and the drunk minstrel look rather poor, and their designs look forward to the leaner designs of the 1960s and 1970s.

The film’s second problem is its story, which takes a long time to even start. Sleeping Beauty’ was Disney’s third fairy tale princess film, after ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and ‘Cinderella‘, and like the earlier films the feature starts with a fairy tale book. But after that the story moves slowly, and up to seventeen minutes it still requires a voice over for the narration. Only after 30 minutes something happens (the Sleeping Beauty meets a stranger). The film is three quarters away before conflict sets in (she is lured away by Maleficent). Moreover, the central theme of the original fairy tale is thrown out of the window: after all, in the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty sleeps for a hundred years. The studio plays that time span down to a mere day, and the sleeping doesn’t occur before two-thirds of the film.

The third issue is with the characters themselves. The Disney studio christened the Sleeping Beauty Aurora, but she doesn’t really gain a character of her own, and she remains less appealing than Cinderella had been. Worse, nowhere is she is in control of her own destiny.

Her love interest, prince Phillip, fares hardly better. There are only two scenes in which he goes his own way: first when he hears Aurora’s voice, and second when he rushes off to meet her again, despite his father’s objections. True, he is less bland than the prince in ‘Snow White’, but nonetheless he never becomes a full or engaging character, and it’s a pity that he has to guide the audience through the film’s last fifteen minutes.

No, the real main protagonists of the film are the three fairies, who in the original fairy tale only appear at the beginning, but whom the Disney studio has made instrumental to the plot throughout the movie. The studio has made the three (called Flora, Fauna and Merryweather) into three gentle, but fussy old aunts, and especially Merryweather is very well done. In fact, she’s arguably the most interesting character of the whole movie, a striking notion, given the fact that actually the love between Princess Aurora and Prince Philip should stand central.

The villain, Maleficent, is good, too. She’s certainly the most powerful Disney villain since Chernobogh from Fantasia. Unfortunately, she’s surrounded by a highly incompetent army of ‘goons’, whose inability contrasts too much with Maleficent’s own frightening powers. The goons provide a ghoulish dancing scene, reminiscent of the Night on the Bare Mountain sequence of Fantasia, but which in fact harks all the way back to the dance of the devils in the Silly Symphony ‘The Goddess of Spring’ from 1935. Earle and his team gave Maleficent and her scenes a striking and rather eerie color mix of green, purple and black. The eerie green was influential enough to return in the depiction of Minas Morgul in Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

Maleficent also provides the film’s most moving scene, in which she sketches her release of prince Philip, then an old and frail man, to awake his love, eternally young in her sleep. Of course, nothing of that image comes true, and prince Philip defeats the evil sorceress in the film’s deservedly most famous scene: the battle with the dragon. The animation of the dragon is one of sheer power, and the towering figure is impressive even on a small screen. However, this iconic scene not even lasts ninety seconds, and in fact the dragon is slain surprisingly easily, and not by Phillip, but by Fauna – Thus even the final victory is denied to the hero…

The other characters are even more forgettable. The two kings have a rather superfluous scene together, hampered by the antics of the drunken minstrel, and Aurora’s mother is actually nothing more than a moving picture. None of the characters mentioned are funny, and the movie is painfully devoid of humor, love and empathy.

The fourth issue is the soundtrack: composer George Bruns was largely based on Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet music for the fairy tale. This accounts for a sophisticated score, but not for any memorable songs.

Certainly no issue is the animation. Done by eight of the Nine Old Men (by this time Ward Kimball was pursuing other interests), the animation is, of course, top notch. But this cannot save a film that crushes under its own pretentiousness, and that is in fact remarkably unsubstantial and boring. Indeed, the film grossed $5.3 million at the box office, which didn’t even meet the production costs. Thus, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ stands as Disney’s last lavish production, a sad and questionable end of an era.

Watch ‘Sleeping Beauty’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sleeping Beauty’ is released on DVD and Blu-Ray

Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: June 1962
Stars: The Beary Family
Rating:
Review:

Mother's Little Helper © Walter Lantz‘Mother’s Little Helper’ is the second cartoon featuring ‘The Beary Family’, new cartoon stars that Walter Lantz had launched in April 1962 in ‘Fowled-up Birthday’, and which would last until 1972, the very last year of Lantz’s theatrical cartoons.

The Beary family consists of Charlie and Bessie Bear, who are a clearly traditional family with Bessie being a housewife and Charlie a rather Fred Flintstone-like husband (in fact the Beary family was modeled on the live action sitcom ‘Life of Riley’). Inexplicably, though, the two have a pet called Goosey, who doesn’t speak, but who is able to tell-tale on Charlie, nonetheless.

The short starts with Bessie vacuum cleaning and complaining about how much work it is to keep the house clean. So much she can’t even go to the beauty parlor! Luckily, Charlie offers to do her work, so she can go. But Goosey tells Bessie about Charlie’s unusual cleaning methods and even sabotages his work, and part of the cartoon is filled with Charlie getting rid of the pest.

‘Mother’s Little Helper’ is a terribly unfunny cartoon: the short relies heavily on dialogue, with Charlie’s nautical references being the supposed source of humor. Moreover, none of the characters is sympathetic, and the Goose’s role is unclear, anyway. An opportunity to satirize man-wife relationships is wasted by the outlandish antics of Charlie and Goosey. It’s absolutely unbelievable that such talent-rich Disney veterans like story men Al Bartino and Jack Kinney, and director Paul Hannah worked on this abysmal product.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mother’s Little Helper’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2″ as part of the ‘Woody Woodpecker Show’

Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: July 1961
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating:
Review:

Franken-stymied © Walter Lantz‘Franken-stymied’ starts with a classic stormy scene and Woody Woodpecker trying to hide from the storm in a castle.

Inside the castle a Frankenstein-like mad scientist has made a chicken-plucking robot called Frankie, and as soon Woody arrives, Frankie starts plucking him (luckily we see no effect – throughout these scenes Woody keeps all his tail feathers, no matter how many times they are plucked). It takes a while before Woody can take control, and in the end he manages to cover the scientist in feathers and make Frankie go after the unfortunate villain.

‘Franken-stymied’ was made by talented Disney veterans like Jack Hannah (direction), Don Lusk (animation), Homer Brightman (story) and Clarence Wheeler (music), but it doesn’t show. The cartoon suffers from bad timing, awful dialogue, canned music, ugly designs and poor animation, as if the budget was way too tight to deliver anything decent. Clearly, ‘Franken-stymied’ never comes near any Disney product, but even worse: it cannot even compete with Walter Lantz films from only one year earlier.

Watch ‘Franken-stymied’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Woody Woodpecker cartoon No. 109
To Woody Woodpecker’s debut film: Sufferin’ Cats
To the next Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Busman’s Holiday

‘Franken-stymied’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2″ as part of the ‘Woody Woodpecker Show’

Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: January 1961
Stars: Inspector Willoughby
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Rough and Tumbleweed © Walter Lantz‘Rough and Tumbleweed’ introduces Inspector Willoughby, an incarnation of the little guard from ‘Salmon Yeggs‘ (1958).

Inspector Willoughby is a very, very Droopy-like character: he is small, undisturbed and persistent and even sounds like Bill Thompson, the voice of Droopy. The animators added a funny jumpy walk to the character.

In his first film Willoughby tries to arrest fierce bandit Boy McCoy. This leads to several gags in the best Tex Avery tradition. Particularly inspired is the scene in which Boy McCoy tries to get a train to run over a safe full of dynamite, which is attached to his leg. Unfortunately, there are two train tracks, and a multitude of trains pass by without McCoy succeeding in his plan. It’s nice to watch such inspired comedy in a cartoon made as late as 1961, when the golden age arguably was already over.

Watch ‘Rough and Tumbleweed’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rough and Tumbleweed’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2″ as part of the ‘Woody Woodpecker Show’

Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: April 20, 1960
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Ballyhooey © Walter Lantz‘Ballyhooey’ was the last Walter Lantz cartoon directed by Alex Lovy. In 1959 Lovy left Lantz to become an associate producer for the now clearly successful Hanna-Barbera studio.

It’s perhaps ironic that the cartoon actually spoofs television. In this cartoon Woody Woodpecker trying to watch his favorite quiz show, but he has to sit through a multitude of commercials (“but first a word of our sponsor”). When the quiz arrives Woody thinks he has the right answer and rushes to the studio.

At this point the cartoon becomes less static (the first part was just a string of commercials), but also less funny. Woody’s antics at the studio feel out of place and old-fashioned when compared to the more biting satire of the first half. In this respect ‘Ballyhooey’ isn’t really a successful cartoon, but Woody Woodpecker’s annoyance during the first part, and the absurdity of the multiple commercials make the short a fun watch.

Watch ‘Ballyhooey’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Woody Woodpecker cartoon No. 98
To the previous Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Pistol-Packin’ Woodpecker
To the next Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Heap Big Hepcat

‘Ballyhooey’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2″ as part of the ‘Woody Woodpecker Show’

Directors: Chuck Jones & Abe Levitow
Release Date: January 10, 1959
Stars: Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Baton Bunny © Warner Bros.

‘Baton Bunny’ is the last of Chuck Jones’s great tributes to classical music, following ‘Long-Haired Hare‘ (1949), ‘Rabbit of Seville‘ (1950) and ‘What’s Opera, doc?‘ (1957).

The short also forms the closing chapter on a long tradition of concert cartoons with cartoon stars conducting, which goes all the way back to the Mickey Mouse short ‘The Barnyard Concert‘ from 1930. True, ‘Baton Bunny’ is not the last of such cartoons (it was e.g. followed by MGM’s ‘Carmen Get It (1962) starring Tom & Jerry, and ‘Pink, Plunk, Plink‘ (1966) starring the Pink Panther), but these cartoons are hardly the classics ‘Baton Bunny’ certainly is.

Bugs Bunny is the sole performer in the cartoon – we don’t even see the orchestra members, only their instruments. Bugs Bunny and the orchestra play Franz von Suppés overture ‘Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna’ (1844), which Bugs conducts not only with his hands, but also with his ears and feet. Like earlier conductors Mickey (‘The Band Concert‘, 1935) and Tom (‘Tom & Jerry at the Hollywood Bowl‘, 1950) Bugs has some troubles while conducting: with a fly, echoing Mickey’s problems with a bee in ‘The Band Concert’, and with his collar and cuffs, echoing Mickey’s problems with his over-sized costume. Highlight is Bugs’ reenactment of a Western pursuit featuring a cowboy, an Indian and the cavalry, only using his ears to change into each character.

But throughout the cartoon Bugs is beautifully animated, with strong expressions, and deft hand movements. It’s a sheer pity that in the end, the fly turns out to be Bugs’ only audience. But Bugs is not too proud to bow for the tiny creature that had troubled him so much just before. Apart from the animation and Michael Maltese’s entertaining story, ‘Baton Bunny’ profits from Maurice Noble’s beautiful background art, and great staging. Thus the short is a wonderful testimony of Warner Bros. cartoon art of the late fifties.

Watch ‘Baton Bunny’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 140
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Pre-hysterical Hare
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hare-Abian Nights

‘Baton Bunny’ is available on the DVD-box ‘The Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 1″

Director: James Algar
Release Date: December 17, 1958
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Grand Canyon © Walt Disney‘Grand Canyon’ is not an animation film. I include it in my blog though, because of its obvious ties to ‘Fantasia’ (1940).

In fact, ‘Grand Canyon’ feels like an extra ‘live-action segment to Fantasia (like ‘Fantasia’ the film starts with the sounds of the orchestra preparing to play). Fantasia-veteran James Algar directed this extraordinary Cinemascope short, which was photographed and produced by Ernst A. Heiniger and set to Ferde Grofé’s ‘Grand Canyon Suite’ (1931). It’s a genuine mood piece, a visual interpretation of Ferde Grofé’s impressionistic music. Thus ‘Grand Canyon’ is not really a documentary, nor does it tell a story. It’s a combination of the music and images of the vast landscape only.

Grofé’s suite is in five parts, which all are played. Part one, ‘Sunrise’, is accompanied by panorama shots, made from a plane. In Part two, ‘Painted Desert’, we dive into the canyon, with images of a rather turbulent Colorado river. Part three,’On the trail’ is devoted to animals, with shots of a lynx, a spider, a roadrunner, a snake, a Gila monster, a Western spotted skunk, and a puma with some cubs. Part four, ‘Cloudbust’ shows us images of clouds, a thunderstorm and snow, and finally, part five, shows us miscellaneous images of a landscape in the now, an owl, a hare, and an eagle who takes us back to the plane shots, while the sun sets.

The complete film lasts almost half an hour. The result is a strange and only moderately entertaining mixture between Fantasia and the True Life Series.

Watch ‘Grand Canyon’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Grand Canyon’ is available as an extra on the ‘Sleeping Beauty Platinum Edition’ DVD-set

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1958
Stars: Patapouf
Rating: ★★
Review:

Winter Carousel © Ladislaw StarewiczWładysław Starewicz was a stop motion pioneer, who had made some very important films in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. ‘Winter Carousel’ was the last film he completed, and the short’s style is practically the same as that of his films of forty years earlier: the film is essentially silent, and populated by various animals, whose rather gritty look is typical for the Polish-Russian filmmaker.

‘Winter Carousel’ stars brown bear Patapouf and his rather mischievous friend Rabbit, who had been introduced in Starewicz previous film, ‘Nez au Vent’ (Nose in the Wind, 1956). In ‘Winter Carousel’ the duo encounters a jolly snowman, who apparently is father Winter, and a female polar bear. Both Patapouf and Rabbit are clearly interested in the female creature, and the three go skating together, playing blind man’s buff, and riding a Christmas tree carousel. This part of the film is a delightful sequence: Starewicz’s arctic backgrounds are pretty evoking, there’s a unique sense of poetry in the images, and his suggestion of speed during the skating and carousel scenes is impressive.

But then suddenly Father Winter starts to melt and reveals a female wooden creature (clearly a goddess of spring) underneath. Thus, strangely, the last five minutes of the film take place in spring. Unfortunately, from that moment all suggestions of narrative are thrown out of the window, and things just happen on the screen. We watch Patapouf en Rabbit gamble with some dice, watching a performance by a grasshopper and drinking in a long, plotless and completely superfluous kind of epilogue. None of theses spring images matches the winter scenes, and in the end the film is too uneven and too rambling to be a lasting work.

The animation is at times quite good, especially in Rabbit’s and Patapouf’s little gestures, but the complete result is unfortunately rather boring. In fact, this product, already old-fashioned and hopelessly dated by its release, is a rather sad ending to Starewicz’s great career. With this film he only managed to proof that he was a relic from another era.

Watch ‘Winter Carousel’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Winter Carousel’ is available on the DVD ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge & other Fantastic Tales’

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1956
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Rythmetic © Norman McLarenWith ‘Rythmetic’ McLaren attempted to make arithmetic more fun for children.

Indeed, the complete film consists of additions and subtractions of numbers up to 8. The white numbers slowly fill the blue screen, accompanied by McLaren’s trademark rhythmical electronic sounds, which he made by scratching directly on film.

The complete film may be a little dry, it is nevertheless surprisingly playful, especially given the fact one watches only one blue screen filling with numbers and equations. McLaren manages to evoke something human in those numbers, through subtle animation. For example, in the end some zeros start fooling around, disrupting the equations, much to the distress of some equation marks who repeatedly try to get the zeros back in line. This finale in itself is so much fun to watch, it alone makes watching the film worthwhile.

Watch ‘Rythmetic’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rythmetic’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Taji Yabushita
Release Date: September 3, 1958
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The White Serpent © Toei Animation‘The White Serpent’ (also known as ‘Madame White Snake’ or as ‘Panda and the Magic Serpent’) is a feature of firsts: it was the first feature made by the Tōei Studio, Japan’s first post-war feature, the first one in color, and the first to be released in the United States.

The film somewhat forms the herald of a new era within Japanese animation, and is sometimes regarded as the starting point of the Japanese animation industry. The Tōei studio at least had the intention to become the Oriental Disney. Indeed, the foundation of the Tōei Dōga studio two years earlier was partly inspired by the Japanese release of Disney’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937), which made an enormous impression on Japanese animators. Another catalyst was the coming of television, for which the studio could make numerous commercials.

For its feature film studio boss Hiroshi Okawa firmly preferred universal tales. As Disney already had mined the European legacy, the Tōei studio turned his attention to Asia. Thus, the film tells an ancient Chinese legendary love story, more or less immediately familiar to Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, and other East Asian audiences, greatly enhancing the film’s export possibilities.

The film starts with a prologue to a song, in which we watch a boy befriend a snake. Unfortunately the adults don’t approve, and he has to set the snake free. This part uses shadow-like cutout figures with little to no animation, and has a certain elegant cartoon modern feel to it. This is replaced by classic full animation as soon as the real story starts. For the abandoned snake turns out to be an immortal spirit, who now takes the shape of a beautiful girl, Pai Nang, and who revisits her former owner, the now adult Hin Hsien.

Unfortunately, their love is disrupted by a bonze called Hokai, who fights evil spirits and who takes Pai Nang for one. Typically for a Japanese film, Hokai is no real villain, but a man who tries to save Hin Hsien on incorrect assumptions. Also starring are a fish spirit who turns into a little girl called Hsiang Ching, and two animal sidekicks called Panda and Mimi (a fox), who seem to have walked straight from a Disney movie, although they are clearly nipponified on the way. When Hin Hsien is banished, the two go looking for him, and on the way they beat and befriend an animal gang of robbers and thieves.

The fight between Panda and the gang leader, a large pig, is one of the highlights of the movie. Another is the celestial combat between Pai Nang and Hokai, an extraordinary scene by all means, as is Pai Nang’s journey through heaven in search for the dragon ruler of all spirits.

Overall the film has a poetic and magical atmosphere, greatly enhanced by Chui Kinoshita’s evocative music, and the narrative moves at a leisurely speed, sometimes aided by a voice over. The animation varies from fair to excellent. Especially the animals are very well done. There’s no attempt at lip synch, however, and at times the voices seem detached from their animated bodies. On the other hand, this feat would have made overdubbing rather easy, and as the film was designed to be distributed all over Asia, this must have been a conscious choice.

Overall, the animation style has more in common with contemporary European products than with Disney animation. There’s a poetic elegance and naivety to it that certainly adds to the movie’s charm. Indeed, the film was a success in Japan, and attracted all kinds of animators to the Tōei studio, including a young Hayao Miyazaki, who joined Tōei in 1963.

In all, ‘The White Serpent’ is by all means a successful start of a new era, and a film that still entertains today.

Watch the 1958 trailer for ‘The White Serpent’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The White Serpent’ is available as a French DVD-release called ‘le serpent blanc’

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 948 other followers

Bookmark and Share

Follow TheGrob on Twitter

Categories