Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1916
Rating: ★★★

Les exploits de Farfadet © Émile Cohl‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ is a very short cut-out animation film, not even clocking two minutes.

In this short a man dreams he loses his hat at sea, drowns and gets swallowed by a huge fish.

The atmosphere of this film is very surreal and, indeed, dream-like, with a clear feel of unreality, and an illogical flow of events. The man speaks in text balloons , and in the end he blames his bad dream on rum, very much like Winsor McCay’s rarebit fiends.

Watch ‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ has been released on the DVD-set ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1914
Rating: ★★★★

L'avenir dévoilé par les lignes de pied © Émile Cohl‘L’avenir dévoilé par les lignes de pied’ is a short comedy in which a fortune teller, Mrs. Sarafine, decides she should marry.

At that point Mister le vicomte Kelly d’Yeaut enters (his name’s pronounced as ‘quelle idiot’ meaning ‘what an idiot’). The viscount wants to know if he should marry, and if yes, to whom. Mrs. Sarafine makes a print of his hand using photographic paper, puts it in a box, and asks Mr. d’Yeaut to take a look inside.

What follows is some pen animation in Cohl’s idiosyncratic stream-of-consciousness-like style. We watch the hand poking in a nose and in one’s eye, and morphing into a man that melts and burns away. Mrs. Sarafine concludes the lines of the hand inconclusive, and makes a print of Mr. d’Yeaut’s foot. The second piece of animation shows images of loving couples, interchanged by decorative forms, although one of the last images shows a beautiful woman changing into an old hag.

Mrs. Sarafine explains those images to Mr. d’Yeaut that he’ll be happy with the first woman he’ll speak to, which is, of course, herself. In the end the two embrace.

Cohl’s animation is rather poor in this short, but his style of morphing and association remains mesmerizing. The live action scenes are entertaining, too, with subtle comedy revealing the two distinct characters by rather small gestures.

Watch ‘L’avenir dévoilé par les lignes de pied’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘L’avenir dévoilé par les lignes de pied’ has been released on the DVD-set ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Paul Terry
Release Date: October 18, 1916
Stars: Farmer Al Falfa
Rating: ★★

Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York © Paul TerryIn 1915 Paul Terry joined the Bray studio and introduced a character of his own called farmer Al Falfa.

Farmer Al Falfa never amounted to something of an interesting character, like for example a Bobby Bumps or Felix the Cat, and I doubt whether he ever had many fans. Yet, the animated farmer lasted until 1937, and even didn’t completely disappear after that.

‘Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York’ is Farmer Al Falfa’s ninth film, and has the farmer visiting the big city, where he’s seduced by a remarkably realistically drawn woman. Later he plays cards with some cheating criminals, only to win after all.

Unlike J.R. Bray, Paul Terry was a rather poor draftsman, as this film clearly shows. The animation is weak and formulaic, and the farmer and the woman don’t inhabit the same cartoon universe. The result is a rather inferior cartoon that nevertheless foreshadows the quality of most animation of the silent era, unlike Bray’s own early high quality films.

Indeed, most of the secret of Terry’s success did not lie in the quality of his work, but in his working speed. Yet, his stay at Bray’s studio was not a happy one, and at the end of 1916 he left, only to get inducted in the army. A few years after World War I, in 1921, Terry would return to the animation business, co-founding a studio with Amedee J. van Beuren, reviving his character Al Falfa, and becoming one of the biggest players in the field.

Watch ‘Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: Carl Anderson
Release Date: January 27, 1916
Stars: Police Dog
Rating:

The Police Dog on the Wire © Carl AndersonSoon the Bray studio employed more and more animators, becoming the most important studio of the 1910s, greatly helped by some patents, most importantly the Bray-Hurd patent for cel animation, which copyrighted an animation technique that would be the major technique in drawn animation until the late 1980s.

In the 1910s the young studio kept attracting some names that would become some of the most important animators and producers of the future, like Max Fleischer, Walter Lantz and Paul Terry. These new animators were allowed to start their own series, thus the Bray studio produced such diverse series as Earl Hurd’s Bobby Bumps, Paul Terry’s Farmer Al Falfa, and Max Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell.

One of J.R. Bray’s new animators was Carl Anderson, who made ca. a dozen ‘Police Dog’ films between 1914 and 1918, of which ‘The Police Dog on the Wire’ is one. When judged by this film Anderson emerges as one of the less inspired artists of the Bray studio. The film is remarkably plotless, with a female dog phoning ‘police dog’, while a cop called Piffles gets drunk. The animation, too, is poor and formulaic, never reaching the heights of that of J.R. Bray himself, let alone a Winsor McCay. Moreover, the frames are cramped with objects, giving the characters scarcely space to move in. Many scenes are appallingly slow and static, resulting in a film that is best forgotten.

Watch ‘The Police Dog on the Wire’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Police Dog on the Wire’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: J.R. Bray
Release Date: 1915
Rating: ★★★½

Diplodocus © J.R. Bray‘Diplodocus’ is J.R. Bray’s own version of Winsor McCay’s ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ (1914), being so similar to the McCay’s success film that it’s plain plagiarism.

The film stars a Diplodocus instead of a Brontosaur and shows the differences between Bray’s and McCay’s drawing styles, with McCay showing more art nouveau elegance, and Bray displaying more comic strip like clarity.

Bray’s film reuses much of McCay’s material: like Gertie the Diplodocus lifts one foot, shifts from side to side, he gets startled by a flying dragon, interacts with a mastodon, eats a pumpkin etc. Like McCay’s film it’s clear that the film had to be shown together with a live narrator, who interacts with the drawn prehistoric animal.

The only new elements are the Diplodocus tying its neck in a knot, the arrival of a small monkey, and a sea serpent pulling at the mastodon’s trunk.

Bray’s animation is of a high quality, but his Diplodocus lacks Gertie’s personality. Thus this weak rip off only manages to show what great film ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’ was, and still is.

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

‘Diplodocus’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: J.R. Bray
Release Date: January 10, 1914
Stars: Col. Heeza Liar
Rating: ★★★★

Col. Heeza Liar's African Hunt © J.R. BrayCol. Heeza Liar was the first animated series, and the character was the first specially designed for animation.

Col. Heeza Liar was the first star of J.R. Bray’s fledgling studio, only founded in 1913. The character was apparently based on Theodore Roosevelt, but he looks very different. Col. Heeza Liar’s African Hunt’ is only the second film featuring the character.

Drawn by J.R. Bray, the cartoon is filled with loose gags, in which the colonel unwillingly hatches an ostrich egg, has to climb into a palm to flee from a bear, shooting six animals within one shot, and planting a seed which grows into a palm tree instantly.

The looseness of the cartoon betrays the short’s origin as a cheater, for it shares no less than sixty percent with the preceding Col. Heeza Liar cartoon ‘Col. Heeza Liar in Africa’. In this respect, Col. Heeza Liar’s African Hunt’ is a ‘milestone’ of animation, being the first cheater in the business.

Despite being a cheater, the short is well animated. There’s some excellent perspective animation, when a kangaroo hops towards the camera, with the colonel inside, casually defying the African setting. The scene with the bear contains some great comedy. The animation over all is fair, ranging from fast to slow, and cleverly reusing animation cycles.

Col. Heeza Liar is not an immediately engaging character. And worse, as time progressed, his antics became less and less well animated. Nevertheless he would star more than fifty cartoons, lasting until 1924.

‘Col. Heeza Liar’s African Hunt’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: J.R. Bray
Release Date: June 12, 1913
Stars: J.R. Bray
Rating: ★★★★

The Artist's Dream © J.R. BrayJ.R. Bray is the father of the cartoon industry, but this short is from a period in which J.R. Bray was still a lone artist, like other animation pioneers as J. Stuart Blackton, Émile Cohl and Winsor McCay.

In fact, ‘The Artist’s Dream’ is only J.R. Bray’s second attempt at animation, and the film is still rooted in the drawings come to life tradition of the earliest animated films.

Bray plays an artist drawing a dachshund and a sausage. While he’s away the dachshund eats the sausage, and later another till he explodes. Of course, all has been a dream, which clearly shows the strong influence of Winsor McCay’s dreams of the rarebit fiend.

‘The Artist’s Dream’ shows Bray’s extraordinary drawing skills, as his drawings are very clear and contain elegant shading. His handling of perspective is perfect and no less than McCay’s. The animation, on the other hand, is less fluent than McCay’s, if still of a remarkably high quality. Unfortunately, he would not transfer this level of art to his later studio films.

Watch ‘The Artist’s Dream’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Artist’s Dream’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: Gene Deitch
Release Date: September 1960
Rating: ★★★★

Munro © Gene Deitch‘Munro’ is a charming little film which understandably won an academy award.

Jules Feiffer wrote the story based on a short story of his own. Howard Morris narrates the story and does all the voices of the cartoon except Munro’s, which is done by Deitch’s son Seth. The story tells about Munro, a little boy of four, who is drafted and who has a hard time convincing all the officials he’s only four.

Despite its fully American setting, director Gene Deitch made this film in Czechoslovakia. When one of his clients of his commercial work, Rembrandt films, promised to fund the film Deitch moved his production company to Prague, home of Rembrandt films. Deitch planned only to stay there for a few days, but on meeting his future second wife, he stayed there for the rest of his life.

Deitch uses very pleasant cartoon modern designs and monochrome painted backgrounds which fit the story very well. The Czech animators do an excellent job at the simple and limited, yet effective animation. There’s an undercurrent of anti-militarism in the cartoon that’s never played out in the open. The most critical scene is when the general explains why they’re fighting: “our side is on the fave of God, and the other side isn’t”.

But more importantly, the film is about how so-called authorities abuse and bully people, making them even believe themselves they are something they’re not. In this respect, the story of Munro is very akin to Frank Tashlin’s children’s book ‘The Bear That Wasn’t (1946), which was turned into an animated short itself in 1967.

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

As far as I know ‘Munro’ has not yet been released on DVD or Blu-Ray
‘Munro’ has been released on the DVD ‘Rembrandt Films’ Greatest Hits’ (thank you, Jonathan Wilson!)

Director: Jiří Brdečka
Release Date: 1963
Rating: ★★★½

Spatne namalovana slepice (Gallina vogelbirdae) © Jiří BrdečkaIn ‘Spatne namalovana slepice (which translates as ‘Badly Drawn Hens’)’ we watch three kids in a school class: a dreamy boy, a little girl who sits next to him, and a nerdy boy with glasses.

When the teacher orders the class to reproduce an intricate drawing of a chicken, the bespectacled boy reproduces the poster with photographic accuracy. The dreamy boy, however, makes a semi-abstract interpretation of the subject and the teacher reprimands the little boy. But then, at night, his colorful drawing comes to life…

This film is a clear ode to fantasy and celebrates the breaking of rules. This is a subject that’s often encountered in European animation films from the 1950s and 1960s, and which would have special appeal in the Eastern Bloc, with its repressive communist regimes.

Brdečka uses an idiosyncratic angular style, clearly influenced by the cartoon modern movement of the 1950s, but especially akin to contemporary developments at Zagreb film in Yugoslavia. His film uses vocal sounds, but no dialogue, and relies mostly on visual gags. However, there’s one great scene in which a famed ornithologist called Dr. Vogelbird repeatedly listens to a tape recorder saying his own name.

In the end, the film is a little too inconsistent and too wandering to become a classic, but its sympathetic story and charming drawing style make the short a nice watch.

Watch ‘Spatne namalovana slepice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Spatne namalovana slepice’ is released on the DVD-box ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

Director: George Dunning
Release Date: 1962
Rating: ★★

The Flying Man © George Dunning‘The Flying Man’ is a very short absurdist film in which a man drops his coat to take a swim in mid air. Another man with a dog drops by, tries the same thing, but with his coat on, to no avail.

Dunning uses a single tableau and no perspective. On his white canvas he paints the three characters (two men and dog) with bold paint strokes. Dunning’s characters consist of loose joints, similar to characters by John Hubley. Unfortunately, this design makes it rather hard to decipher the action, especially when both men are on the ground.

The action is accompanied by short but effective clarinet music by Ron Goodwin.

Watch ‘The Flying Man’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Flying Man’ is released on the DVD-box ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

Director: Břetislav Pojar
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★½

Lev a písnicka (The Lion and the Music) © Břetislav Pojar‘Lev a písnicka’ is a Czech puppet film in the tradition of Jiří Trnka.

The short tells about a bandoneon-playing actor who travels through the desert, but who finds a resting place at an abandoned ruin. There he performs before a small crowd of animals (two lizards, a fennec, and an antelope). But then a ferocious lion enters the scene…

In ‘Lev a písnicka’ Pojar tells a surprising story. Moreover, he uses a small but effective decor, and some spectacular cinematography. He shows he’s a clear master of animation, making the inner feelings of expressionless puppets come to life by movement only. Especially the animation of the lizards is well done. But the film’s animation highlight goes to the scene that shows the lion’s despair after he has swallowed the bandoneon, which keeps on playing in his stomach, robbing him from his stealth, and thus of a welcome meal.

Nevertheless, the film is hampered by a slow speed, and quite some scenes are unessential to the story. In the end Pojar’s film is too long and too unfocused to become a real classic.

Watch ‘Lev a písnicka’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Lev a písnicka’ is released on the DVD-box ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: April 25, 1961
Stars: Chilly Willy, Wally Walrus
Rating: ★★

Clash and Carry © Walter Lantz‘Clash and Carry’ pairs Wally Walrus with Chilly Willy. The latter is hungry and tries to steal fish from Wally’s fish market.

To be frank, Wally clearly is no match for Chilly Willy, who easily empties the complete store before Wally’s eyes. The best gag is when Chilly Willy uses cardboard plaques attached to shopping carts to empty Wally’s market. The cardboard women all carry a sign telling Wally to ‘charge it’. Soon, more outlandish cardboard figures follow, like a picture of Napoleon. But Wally only sees his fish selling, and calls all ships out sea to catch more fish. This leads to live action footage of fishing boats, and even a whale hunt.

Unfortunately, neither story man Homer Brightman nor Jack Hannah apparently knew how to work this gag into the finale, and so, the cartoon dies out with the lame sight of Chilly Willy playing a vacuum cleaner like bagpipes, with marching fish behind him, apparently sucked by the vacuum cleaner.

Apart from the utterly disappointing finale, the short is hampered by Wally’s omnipresent vocalizations (by Paul Frees), which only become funny during the great scene mentioned above. Apart from that ‘Clash and Carry’ remains a very mediocre cartoon.

Watch ‘Clash and Carry’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Clash and Carry’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske & Wolfgang Reitherman
Release Date: January 25, 1961
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

One Hundred and One Dalmatians © Walt Disney

Among the classic Disney films ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ is a rather underrated little gem. Pretty modest in its story and ambitions, the film nevertheless is a milestone in Disney animation, introducing a completely new style to Disney feature animation.

After the costly debacle of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1959) it was clearly time for a change, and in many respects, ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ couldn’t be more different from its predecessor. The new feature is no fairy tale, but set in contemporary times, it has an unprecedented crime plot, and it has a modern design which was a complete departure from earlier efforts, and which was fit for a more modern age.

Modern design had invaded Disney feature animation as far back as ‘The Three Caballeros’ (1945), but ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ is the first Disney feature to have a modern outlook from start to end. The film is also the first Disney feature to be set in contemporary times, even if this is a little confusing: the English setting gives most of the film a vintage look, Roger Radcliffe is a jazz composer in the style of the 1930s, and Cruella drives a Mercedes Benz 500 K from the mid-1930’s. Moreover, Roger and his wife Anita may be depicted as being rather poor, at least in the eyes of Cruella de Vil, they nonetheless manage to have a maid, an anachronistic anomaly in the post-war age of television.

No, the modernity of the film is more present in it looks: ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ is the first Disney feature to make use of Xeroxed cells, preserving the black outlines, which give the film a more graphic look. Initiated by art director Ken Anderson, and developed by Walt Disney old partner Ub Iwerks, the process was first tried out in the short special ‘Goliath II’ (1960), and deemed successful enough for further use. No doubt the xerox process was conceived to save money, and the process is particularly helpful in this particular film, which its 101 duplicate puppies, which are essentially black and white characters, anyway. Yet, the method preserved the rough animation outlines, which were more vivid than the cleaned up cells, and the xeroxed cells give the animation an extra swinging touch. Indeed, the new process was a hit with the animators themselves, who, for the first time, saw their own drawings directly on the animated screen.

Iwerks even managed to xerox a cardboard model of Cruella’s car with marked black outlines. Thus, in the film Cruella’s car is essentially rotoscoped. This experimental method also accounts for the only unconvincing special effect in the film: during the finale Cruella’s car gets stuck in the snow. This scene was filmed using the cardboard model and real sand, and unfortunately the photographed sand is clearly visible, as its roughness deviates from the otherwise very clean artwork. Moreover, one can see this piece of xeroxed live action move on top of the background art.

Never mind the cost reduction of the xerox process, the depiction of 101 dalmatians could only be done at Disney’s at the time: as all the dogs’ spots had to be animated independently. The studio set up a sole unit for this task alone. No wonder, as Pongo alone has no less than 76 spots!

In ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’, the xerox cells are matched by xeroxed background art lines by e.g. Ernie Nordli, which make an ideal match with the background paintings by Walt Peregoy, with its bold coloring: the results are very intricate, very graphical, yet stylized, decorative and very appealing backgrounds, which belong to the most artful ever produced, and which give the film its unique look. The new style, with its original mix of depth and flatness, works best in the urban setting, with all its straight lines. The scenes in the countryside have a more traditional feel, and are more akin to earlier artwork by e.g. Mary Blair.

Unfortunately, Walt Disney himself disliked this background art, most probably because they are devoid of any romanticism. The xeroxed animation works particularly well with these graphic backgrounds. Yet the latter were not repeated, while xeroxed animation lasted until the mid-1980’s. By that time the style had become jaded, and gotten a cheap feel and outdated feel. No wonder, Don Bluth chose to go back to painted cells in his nostalgic feature ‘The Secret of NIMH’ (1982). Nonetheless, in ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ the xeroxed cells look fresh and modern, and they certainly contribute to the film’s timeless appeal.

That ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ is a new, less pretentious and more fun film than ‘Sleeping Beauty’ had been, becomes immediately clear in the startlingly modern opening credits, with its visual puns on spots. This sole sequence itself is a sheer delight, and sets the tone for the rest of the film.

The introduction uses a voice over by Pongo (Rod Taylor), Roger’s Dalmatian dog, and tells how he managed to get Roger and Anita meet each other, acting like a canine matchmaker. As Anita has a female Dalmatian dog, Perdita, this event also marks the welcome end to Pongo’s bachelor life.

Soon, Perdita is pregnant, and gives birth to no less than fifteen puppies. This event introduces the arch villain of the movie: Cruella de Vil, apparently an old schoolmate of Anita. Cruella must be the all time best of Disney villains: she’s both ridiculously outlandish and genuinely menacing. Her voice by Betty Lou Gerson is spot on, giving her the perfect mix of class, disdain, selfishness and temper. The voice is matched by Marc Davis’s design and animation, which give the character an unprecedented screen presence: Cruella has the energy of a Stromboli, the deftness of a captain Hook, and the icy coldness of a Malificent all rolled in one, and then some. She’s the undisputed star of the film: a villain one loves to hate, from her first entry until her last lunatic car ride.

This was the last animation Marc Davis did before he moved over to designing for Disney parks. Cruella de Vil can be seen as his masterpiece, and is his impressive farewell to animation. She undoubtedly inspired several subsequent Disney villains, like Medusa in ‘The Recuers’ (1978), Jafar in ‘Aladdin’ (1992) and Yzma in ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ (2000).

Cruella de Vil may be an animation highlight, all of the animation in ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ is excellent. Led by six of Disney’s nine old men, ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ shows that these veteran animators were on top of their game. Roger and Anita (animated by Milt Kahl) have the perfect mix of caricature and realism, and make a believable real couple, if not a too memorable one. Likewise, Horace and Jasper, the pair of crooks that function as Cruella’s henchmen, have that great combination of silliness and threat, which make them so lovely to watch. The dogs are all good, and it’s clear that the animators could rely on years of experience on this particular mix of naturalism and anthropomorphism, dating back to ‘Bambi’ (1942), but of course most notably to ‘Lady and the Tramp’ (1956), which also features numerous dogs. Indeed, Jock, Peg, Bull and Lady herself can all be seen during the ‘twilight bark’ scene, one of the highlights of the film.

As if to illustrate how for the animators had come, Disney shows a short excerpt from the Silly Symphony ‘Springtime’ (1929) on television in a scene in the old De Vil mansion. The old short provides the score for a large part of this scene.

Highly unusually, the film’s story was storyboarded by one man only: Bill Peet, and his story is a prime example of lean storytelling: there’s absolutely no unnecessary fat on this film, which moves to the grand finale on an excellent speed, with an increasing sense of danger. Thus, the film is over before you know it. Even better, Peet manages to tell the story without relying on too obvious story tropes – for example, in a modern version Pongo doubtless would estrange his friends, or break down in doubt just before the start of the finale. None of that in this movie! Even Dodie Smith, who had written the original book in 1956, thought Peet had improved on her story.

Apart from the Twilight Bark scenes, other highlights are the soot scenes in the mythical village of Dinsford, and the preceding scenes at Suffolk, featuring ‘The Colonel’, a very British and rather deaf sheepdog (voiced by Pat O’Malley), and his brave tabby cat Sergeant Tibbs. These scenes made me laugh out loud.

Apart from its modern looks and setting ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ is remarkable for its surprisingly lack of songs. With ‘Bambi’ this feature is the only classic Disney feature not to be a musical. In fact, there are only two (not counting a silly song accompanying a commercial for dog food on television), which is the more remarkable, as Roger Radcliffe is supposed to be a songwriter. Indeed, Roger sings both songs: first one about Cruella de Vil, just before she enters herself, and the second one at the film’s Christmas finale. This second song, ‘Dalmatian plantation’ lasts only 25 seconds, before dissolving back into the background score. This score, by George Bruns, is another departure from earlier Disney features: Bruns’s score is less lush, more brassy and more jazzy than previous scores, and matches the scenes very well.

In all, ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ is an undisputed highlight within the Disney canon: the film is forward looking and unpretentious, modern and timeless, exciting and funny, all at the same time. Indeed, the feature did well at the box office, evaporating the studio’s deficit of 1960. With ‘Jungle Book’ the film certainly is the best of Disney’s feature output from the 1960s and 1970s, and even if the feature heralded a less classy era, the film itself is one of sheer delight that can withstand the wear of ages.

Watch the trailer for ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: April 7, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

Fred Flinstone Before and After © Hanna-Barbera‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ starts with a television studio in search of a ‘before man’ for their commercial for ‘Fat Off Reducing Method’.

B.J., the president of the company picks Fred from the street. An outrageously proud Fred invites all his friends to watch him on television, only to realize afterwards he was the ‘fat guy’, not the muscular after guy…

In a very unlikely follow up scene the studio offers Fred $1000 if he can reduce his weight with 25 pounds. It remains completely mysterious what the studio would gain with this bet. In any case, Fred sets out to eat less, only to discover that it’s much, much harder than he thought. So, he seeks help from ‘Food Anonymous’….

‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ suffers from a rather weak and implausible story, and rather repetitive scenes of Fred not dieting at all. For a while it seems that the $1000 reward doesn’t play any role, at all. Nevertheless, Fred’s wild looks when begging for a burger are priceless and belong to the best pieces of character animation on the whole show.  However, the episode’s highlight is in the beginning, when Fred thinks he’s on camera, and goes berzerk.

‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ rounds up the first season of The Flintstones. Five seasons would follow, lasting until 1966. In the first season the series had shown to be an original mix of sitcom, slapstick comedy, sight gags and cartoon humor. Moreover, the series proved that cartoons could be prime time material, although that lesson would only get a real follow up when The Simpsons started airing in 1989.

Watch ‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: March 31, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★

Rooms for Rent © Hanna-Barbera‘Rooms for Rent’ starts with Fred calculating his and Wilma’s expenses.

Because the couple is overspending, Wilma decides to take in some boarders. Promptly she and Betty (who has the same financial problems) are visited by two music students. Unfortunately, the two jazz cats don’t have any money, so Wilma and Betty let the two youngsters stay for two weeks in exchange of help with their own act they want to perform at the Loyal Order of Dinosaurs. Despite Fred and Barney wanting some boarders, too, these prove two very long weeks for the husbands, as the two students practice their modern jazz at home, and eat the lion’s share of their meals.

‘Rooms for Rent’ is a rather weak entry within the Flintstones series, offering inconsistent designs, mediocre animation and few laughs. The episode also is one of those Flintstones entries showing the inequality of man and woman in the early 1960s: when contemplating how to earn some money, Betty and Wilma never contemplate working themselves, as “the boys won’t let us go out and get a job” (Betty) and “A woman’s place is in the home” (as Wilma quotes Fred). This episode is typical for its many shots of people addressing the camera. Also featured is a prehistoric subway, the working of which is never explained…

Watch the subway scene from ‘Rooms for Rent’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rooms for Rent’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: March 24, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★½

The Good Scout © Hanna-BarberaIn this episode Fred takes on a job as scout leader of the Sabre-Toothed Tiger Patrol, consisting of three little boys.

Fred and Barney go camping with the three kids. This main part of the episode consists of four rather unrelated and mediocre blackout gags: Fred encountering a sabre-toothed bear, Barney and Fred clearing the camping area by removing boulders in a few rather Roadrunner-like gags, and the scouting team playing baseball. The trip abruptly ends, when their tent floats down a stream and straight to the obligatory waterfall at night.

In the opening scenes Fred has acquired a new walking cycle. The night scenes feature some beautiful and very stylish background art work. Also beautiful is the shot of the scouting team marching in silhouette. However, highlight of the episode is the late double-take on Wilma when Fred tells her he has joined the boy scouts.

Watch ‘The Good Scout’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Good Scout’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: March 17, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★½

In the Dough © Hanna-BarberaWilma and Betty enter a baking contest with their recipe for an upside down bubble cake.

Fred ain’t too enthusiastic, until he hears of the prize money of $10,000. Indeed, Betty and Wilma get to the finals. But they get the measles, and cannot leave home. Enter Fred’s lunatic plan to take their place, impersonating Mrs. Rubble and Flintstone.

Following Betty’s and Wilma’s recipe, Fred and Barney even manage to win, but as Barney had used flour brand B instead of the sponsor’s Tastry Pastry flour, they never get the $10,000. Even worse, their plan only backfires on them, with the wives blackmailing them to tell their friends of their temporary womanhood.

‘In the Dough’ is a rather run of the mill episode, with the most inspired gag being a throwaway gag at the start of the show: Wilma packing Fred’s enormous lunch box. Moreover, this is another episode unwillingly revealing the plight of 1960s housewives: they pack their husbands’ lunchboxes, and only by using blackmail they can make their husbands doing the dishes…

Watch ‘In the Dough’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘In the Dough’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: March 10, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Long, Long Weekend © Hanna-BarberaThis episode starts with Fred complaining that none of his old pals ever writes him.

Promptly he gets a letter by old pal Smoothy, who runs a seaside hotel, so Fred gives old Smoothy a ring. Unfortunately, Smoothy just has had a major problem: all his staff has walked out of him, as Smoothy couldn’t pay them. So Smoothy invites Fred and his neighbors to come over and stay for free, only to make them work at his hotel with more than 200 guests coming to a convention. Of course, his plan doesn’t succeed.

‘The Long, Long Weekend’ is a rather badly scripted episode: Smoothy’s plan is laid out in advance; at no point his plan sounds feasible, and indeed it works for only a couple of minutes. A lot of screen time is wasted on Fred and Barney going swimming, fishing and skin diving – all without success. The fishing episode at least features a beautiful painting of Fred and Barney in a boat, silhouetted against an orange sky.

The episode is most important for introducing the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, the order Fred and Barney would join in the future.

Watch ‘The Long, Long Weekend’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Long, Long Weekend’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: March 3, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★

The Astra' Nuts © Hanna-BarberaWhen Betty gets an address wrong, Fred and Barney line up at the army recruitment office instead of the physical examination for an insurance company.

Before they realize it, the neighbors have joined the army, for three years… Inside the army Fred and Barney volunteer for a space program lead by a German-sounding professor without realizing it. After the professor has conducted some weird experiments on them, Fred and Barney are shot away in a wooden rocket by a giant slingshot, only to land some yards further, in an artillery range, which they think is the moon.

‘The Astra’ Nuts’ has one of the weakest plots of all Flintstones episodes. The whole series of events which lead to the boys joining the army for no less than three years is very unconvincing. One suspects all these plot twists are only introduced to get Fred and Barney inside a rocket.

When the four realize Fred and Barney have enlisted, we get a series of rather poorly drawn double-takes. Much better are the bizarre tests, but the best gag is when we’re set up to expect an enormous band only to see the conductor conduct just one trumpet player. This episode features a sergeant with the same voice as the Snorkasaurus had in ‘The Snorkasaurus Hunter‘.

Watch ‘The Astra’ Nuts’ yourself and tell me what you think:

The Astra’ Nuts

‘The Astra’ Nuts’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: February 24, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★½

The Tycoon © Hanna-BarberaThis episode has an unusual narrative structure. It immediately starts differently, using a narrator, who first introduces bedrock and its inhabitants, before focusing on Fred Flintstone. Moreover, the episode uses a flashback, and ends inconclusive, much unlike all the other Flintstone episodes.

The story is an example of a classic mistaken identity, when Fred Flintstone is mistaken for business tycoon J.L. Gotrocks, and vice versa. The problems start when Gotrocks flips his wig, resigns and goes out on the street, and his employees convince Fred to take Gotrocks place. Surprisingly Fred does an amazing job by saying “whose baby is that?”, “What’s your angle?” and “I’ll buy that” only.

Nevertheless, the comedy hardly comes off, as the lookalike plot never gets convincing. The best prehistory gag involves a bird voice recorder, which repeats the message when thrown a cracker.

Watch ‘The Tycoon’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Tycoon’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

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