Director: Jeff McGrath
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: June 11, 1994
Rating: ★★★½

‘Joking the Chicken’ is all about humor. It all starts nicely with a spoof on ‘2001: a Space Odyssey’, now with the invention of humor instead of violence (in fact the invention of humor looks surprisingly like a similar scene in ‘La guerre du feu’ (Quest for Fire) from 1981).

The episode features a dorky bespectacled little stand-up comedian called Iggy Catalpa, who isn’t at all funny, but oh so politically correct. Enter an enigmatic manager who mysteriously turns the failing comedian into a star, forcing all comedy into being politically correct on the way.

It’s clear where the makers are heading, which is nicely summed up during the episode’s finale, in which Duckman holds a powerful speech that not only holds up today, but is even more necessary than ever.

Yet, the episode is hampered by a lack of substance story-wise, and by the reapparance of Duckman’s arch nemesis, King Chicken (see ‘Ride the Highschool‘), who is a much less interesting character than the makers want him to be.

Most strange is a 1930s-like musical number sung by the manager accompanied by Cornfed on the piano. Duckman isn’t impressed, and we are neither, because this number is rather trite than funny, and only manages to emphasize the obsolescence of the style.

Thus ends the first season of Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man. It was clear that there was more to do with the character, thus three seasons would follow, and the series lasted until 1997.

Watch ‘Joking the Chicken’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Joking the Chicken’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Raymie Muzquiz
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: June 4, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★

‘About Face’ is one of the deepest of the Duckman episodes, and together with ‘Psyche‘ and ‘American Dicks’ forms the highlight of the first season.

Despite the usual dose of absurd humor and fast verbal wisecracking, the episode is actually moving, and knows an unexpectedly touching and somber ending, a very rare feat in both animated series and television comedy, indeed.

In this episode Mambo accidentally swallows a model of the titanic, which prompts Duckman to call 911. He immediately falls in love with the sweet voice on the other side of the line, and when she calls back, he immediately sets out to date her. Her name turns out to be Angela, and she is the sole person with whom Duckman not only feels like a good person, but also behaves like one.

Problem is, she’s “facially challenged” as Cornfed puts it, not to say hideously ugly (this trait is played out grotesquely, with people becoming terrified, fainting and fleeing when she walks by, echoing the skunk gags in Tex Avery’s ‘Little ‘Tinker’ from 1948). But then she decides to change all this…

This is one of the Duckman episodes deepening the character of the series’ protagonist, and actually make the audience feel for him. Notwithstanding, the episode contains plenty of comedy, with as highlights the scene in which Duckman is holding a telephone conversation with his beloved while his house burns down, and the scene in which Cornfed and his own date are mime dancing to no music.

Watch ‘About Face’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘About Face’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: John Eng
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: May 28, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★

In what is arguably one of the most inspired Duckman episodes of all, Duckman is the unlikely star of a reality television show called ‘American Dicks’, a spoof on the television series Cops, which first appeared on television in 1989, and still runs.

In this episode Duckman suppossedly is followed by a cameraman with a hand-held camera, which leads to scenes with odd staging, distorted body parts, as Duckman and the others repeatedly talk into the camera, and even animated backgrounds, a rare feat since the early 1930s.

Moreover, the images are more often than not in constant motion, suggesting camera movements and even walking. This is done with such skill that the ‘documentary camera style’ is evoked very convincingly, despite the looney images within them.

This episode is one of the very few episodes in which Duckman veritably is a private detective, even if he turns out to be the worst and most oblivious one around, leaving it to Cornfed to solve the case.

What doesn’t help is that Aunt Bernice interferes with the program when she learns that the audience is predominantly male between the age of 20 and 55. Promptly, she advertises herself as wedding material. During the finale there are even severe closeups of her breasts and buttocks.

Even the kids get their moments in this episode, which is full of great gags, both in visually as in the soundtrack. A true classic.

Watch ‘American Dicks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘American Dicks’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Norton Virgien
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: May 21, 1994
Rating: ★★★½

‘Cellar Beware’ is another episode exploring Duckman’s role as a “responsible” father.

This time Aunt Bernice decides to ask some visitors over, and drills the men of the house to behave. She also invites some speaker about home security, and after a lecture full of apparently horrifying slides, the once so skeptical Duckman buys the “Interloper Führer 2000” security system, which soon turns against the family itself.

It’s hard to sympathize with Duckman in this episode, even though he acts surprisingly heroically in the end. The party sequence is probably the highlight of the episode, which is entertaining mostly because of Ajax’s brainless remarks, and because of a bizarre reference to ‘The Sound of Music’. Note Mambo’s very Paul Driessen-like double take ten minutes into the episode.

Watch ‘Cellar Beware’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cellar Beware’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Igor Kovalyov
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: May 7, 1994
Rating: ★★★½

Russian independent animation master Igor Kovalyov directs this erotically charged episode in which Duckman’s son Ajax falls in love.

The story features a very unlikely undercover investigation by Duckman and Cornfed dressed as ‘teenagers’ in Ajax’s school. More convincing and more importantly to the series is the search for Ajax by Aunt Bernice and Duckman in some honeymoon town in Mexico.

Duckman is more lustful than ever in this episode, which expands on both his relationship with Aunt Bernice as with his son, Ajax. Cornfed, on the other hand, is hardly present. His best gag is when he’s in a tree together with Duckman, spying on Ajax’s vice principle, fooling Duckman with describing erotic images to drive the latter’s lust to a boil.

The whole episode bursts with sex without revealing anything, and certainly is one of the most adult of all Duckman episodes, even if Duckman’s own desires and objectifications of women are rather juvenile.

Watch ‘It’s the Thing of the Principal’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘It’s the Thing of the Principal’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Paul Demeyer
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: April 30, 1994
Rating: ★★½

Still from 'Not So Easy Riders' featuring Duckman and Cornfed as Easy Riders

This episode is all about the money. It starts with Duckman chasing a one dollar bill on a busy street, getting hit by cars and trucks repeatedly.

Next Duckman gets a letter from the IRS summoning him to finally pay his taxes. With help of a motor gang Duckman escapes, and, together with Cornfed, ends up in Las Vegas.

‘Not So Easy Riders’ contains obvious references to ‘Easy Rider’ (1969). Especially Duckman’s psychedelic trip is noteworthy for its continuous flow of metamorphosis animation and psychedelic sixties-like imagery.

Moreover, the episode can boost to contain some nice snippets of familiar Frank Zappa songs, like ‘Disco Boy’ and ‘Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance’.

Yet, its story arch is weak and the humor relies a little too much on dialogue.

Watch ‘Not So Easy Riders’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Not So Easy Riders’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Norton Virgien
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: April 23, 1994
Rating: ★★★½

In an act of jealousy Duckman fires Cornfed, but without his partner the avine crimefighter doesn’t go anywhere in solving a murder case…

This episode knows some extreme camera angles, and a running gag in which everybody sees something else in a Rorschach-test-like pen stain on Duckman’s chest.

Watch ‘A Civil War’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Civil War’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Raymie Muzquiz
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: April 16, 1994
Rating: ★★★

In this episode Duckman’s backward son Ajax is invited to attend a boarding school. After Duckman has visited Ajax’s present school, he sends his son off quickly.

Duckman’s visit to Ajax’s most atrocious school is a highlight. He e.g. gets beaten by caricatures of ‘Our Gang’. Better still is the montage sequence of Duckman and Ajax having some quality time during their last weekend together. Yet, the best line is for aunt Bernice, who tells Duckman when he drools over an attractive boarding school student: “You’re despicable! You’ve got kidney stones older than her!”.

‘Ride the High School’ introduces King Chicken as Duckman’s arch nemesis. King Chicken would never become a frequently recurring star, but he would return in eleven more episodes, including the very last one.

Watch ‘Ride the High School’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ride the High School’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: John Eng
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: April 9, 1994
Rating: ★★★★

‘Gland of Opportunity’ starts with the family being stuck in a long traffic jam on their way to an amusement park, loosely based on Disneyland.

Inside the amusement park, Duckman and his family spend the rest of the day waiting in an overlong line for a roller coaster, but Duckman chickens out just before the ride.

In a rather incomprehensible scene switch he suddenly finds himself in a hospital about to get an andrenoid gland transplant. He goes through with it in the hope to get more courage, and to become more of a role model to his kids.

And indeed, as soon he awakes, and convinces himself he has the gland of a deceased daredevil he becomes a superhero, solving crimes by the dozen and becoming a superstar in now time. But he also is a bad influence on his kids, whom he takes from school to experience ‘the school of life’, which is one long trip around the world. It’s up to Cornfed to restore the situation.

What’s great about ‘Gland of Opportunity’ is that the makers make clear that Duckman’s newborn drive may be originated in a delusion, but that it’s motivated by Duckman’s desire to be respected and admired by his sons. Of course, in the end he utterly fails, but by then we viewers have had a wonderful roller coaster ride of an episode.

Watch ‘Gland of Opportunity’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Gland of Opportunity’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

This episode is all about Duckman’s sexual fantasies.

Director: Paul Demeyer
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: March 26, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★

After the death of his wife Beatrice, one and a half year ago, Duckman’s sexual live has come to a standstill, while Cornfed even admits he’s still a virgin.

Matters get worse when Duckman and Cornfed are visited by a blonde twin, who look like the epitome of male fantasies, with their huge boobs and seductive voices. But Duckman is so insecure he goes through plastic surgery, enlarging his bill, to dare to confront the twin.

Yet he really gets cured by a weird dominatrix-psychiatrist. This part contains a great journey inside Duckman’s inner soul, and we learn how his former wife Beatrice died.

This highly entertaining episode knows some great reuse of Avery’s classic wolf takes, and features excerpts from two Frank Zappa songs.

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

‘Psyche’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Norton Virgien
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: March 19, 1994
Rating: ★★½

Still from 'Gripes of Wrath' featuring Cornfed and Duckman wandering through the perfect world

After the first two great Duckman episodes, ‘Gripes of Wrath’ feels as an enormous letdown. Compared to the earlier two entries, this story is surprisingly disjointed.

The episode starts with Duckman wanting to go to mud wrestling, but ending up taking his sons to a science exhibition instead. There they meet a giant supercomputer, and before soon this machine has taken over the world and turned it into a perfect one. But this perfection can’t last and as easily the same world disintegrates into one worse than before.

These series of events are clearly modeled on ‘Back to the Future Part II’ (1989), with a bit of ‘2001: a Space Odyssey’ thrown in.

Unfortunately, the story is told rather confusingly and quite hard to follow, and the underlying discourse about the use of technology never really takes off properly.

Watch ‘Gripes of Wrath’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Gripes of Wrath’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Raymie Muzquiz
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: March 12, 1994
Rating: ★★★★½

T.V. or Not to Be © Klasky Csupo

Already in its second episode the Duckman series mocks the medium on which it appears itself: The episode starts with Duckman zapping through countless channels, one even more stupid than the other.

When he finally finds a show he likes, he gets overruled by the rest of the family, who all want to watch ‘Mother Mirabelle’s Home Miracle Network’.

This show clearly lampoons pseudo-religious shows on television, but not too easily. Strikingly, Duckman almost dies and has a near-death experience, which makes him a believer.

The scenes in heaven form the highlight of the episode, but it’s also great to watch Duckman being disguised as Vincent van Gogh or on a hopeless mission to convert the public as a hare krishna at one airport.

The episode also lampoons the art world, with the villain clearly being a caricature of Andy Warhol, assisted by a gift wrapping Christo.

Watch an excerpt from ‘T.V. or Not to Be’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘T.V. or Not to Be’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Directors: Marv Newland, Robin Steele, Drew Takahaki & Andy Knight
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: March 5, 1994
Rating: ★★★★½

One of the great things of the animation renaissance that started at the end of the 1980s was the return of animated series for adults.

I, Duckman © Klasky Csupo

The first and most prominent of these was, of course, The Simpsons, which started at the end of the 1989, but in the slipstream of their success the nineties saw the emergence of other series, like The Critic (1994-1995), Dr. Katz – Professional Therapist (1995-2002), and The Maxx (1995).

The greatest among these early shows arguably was ‘Duckman’ (or officially, Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man), which ran from 1994 to 1997. The series was made by the Klasky Csupo studio, which also had been responsible for the first three seasons of The Simpsons. But where the Simpsons were clearly in the style of Matt Groening, ‘Duckman’ much more evidently saw the typical Klasky-Csupo style, which was also visible in their Nickelodeon series Rugrats (1991-2004) and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (1994-1997).

More than the Simpsons Duckman had a genuine independent design style, much influenced by independent greats like Bill Plympton and Igor Kovalyov. Indeed, this first episode was storyboarded and directed by American-Canadian indie veteran Marv Newland, while Kovalyov himself directed the ninth episode.

Thus, the designs and animation of this first episode are an absolute delight to watch. Despite the episode relying heavily on (very witty) dialogue, there remains a lot to look at.

Duckman is a private detective, assisted by two all too cute teddybears called Fluffy and Uranus, whom Duckman tortures and kills in almost each episode, and by a pig called Cornfed (greatly voiced by Gregg Berger). But he’s also a single father of a dimwitted son called Ajax, and a much more intelligent two-headed son called Charles and Mambo (could this Siamese twin be inspired by Daffy Duck’s photo album in ‘The Stupid Cupid’ from 1944?). To complicate matters Duckman lives with his fitness-loving sister-in-law Bernice and his flatulent mother-in-law.

Duckman himself is an utterly cynical, misanthropic and selfish character, but already in his very first entry he gets a considerable amount of depth, when he realizes nobody cares about him. When he’s the victim of bomb attacks this prompts him to dive into his own memories (which features a great scene with Duckman playing old 8mm films to his deputy Cornfed, in a scene lampooning A Clockwork Orange, Steamboat Willie, Popeye, Yogi Bear and The Simpsons in one go. We learn about Duckman’s love for his deceased wife Beatrice, and almost feel for him, despite the wisecracking and sarcasm that surround him.

Cornfed is a great partner to Duckman: stoic where Duckman is explosive, and acting as Duckman’s conscience, whether the latter likes it or not.

Besides the wild animation, bold designs, surprisingly interesting characters and outlandish stories the first season could also boast to be able to use snippets of Frank Zappa’s music in its score, and the previously unknown voice talent of Zappa’s son Dweezil (as Ajax).

In all, ‘I, Duckman’ is a great start of a great series.

Watch an excerpt from ‘I, Duckman’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘I, Duckman’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Mike Booth
Release Date: October 1996
Rating: ★★★½

The Saint Inspector © BolexbrothersThis Bolexbrothers short tells about a rather fat, naked hermit. He lives in complete meditation on a platform high above the mountains and clouds.

One day he gets a visit from the ‘saint inspector’, a robot. The robot inspects the meditative state of the hermit, who only once reacts to the robot’s tests. This prompts the robot to look inside the hermit’s brain, which leads to a mesmerizing string of rapidly changing and rather disturbing images.

‘The Saint Inspector’ is quite an absurd film, and more than anything else demonstrates the limitless potential of animation.

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

‘The Saint Inspector’ is available on the DVD ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’

Director: Nick Park
Release Date: December 26, 1993
Stars: Wallace and Gromit
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

The Wrong Trousers © Aardman‘The Wrong Trousers’ was the second short featuring the cheese-loving duo Wallace & Gromit.

Their first outing, ‘A Grand Day Out’ had been a virtuoso piece of clay animation, but even so, ‘The Wrong Trousers’ was a giant leap forward, taking Aardman’s claymation out of the independent animation atmosphere into the mainstream of slick studio productions, without losing an inch of character.

Despite being only 29 minutes long and featuring only three characters, ‘The Wrong Trousers’ feels like classic cinema. The fifties horror typography of the opening titles immediately makes it clear that we’re in for a mystery plot, and indeed this is a crime thriller with a small penguin as a most unlikely, but very convincing villain.

The film opens on Gromit’s birthday, a day which turns out quite sour. First, Wallace seems to have forgotten all about it, then he gives him the most useless gift imaginable: automatic trousers to walk him out without his faithful master. Then it turns out that Wallace has to cut expenses and … a room for rent.

That very evening the penguin comes in as the new boarder, but instead of taking the vacant room, he heads immediately for Gromit’s room. The mysterious penguin first takes care of Gromit, chasing the poor dog out of the house, then he uses the trousers in a diamond heist scheme.

The whole film is very well shot, featuring expressionistic angles and clever zooming in and out between the  front and back of the set. The suspense is greatly added by dramatic orchestral music by Julian Nott. And throughout the animation, by Nick Park himself and by Steve Box, is top notch.

Especially the two silent characters, the penguin and Gromit, are very well animated: the penguin creepy and enigmatic, hardly revealing its emotions, except in the heist scene, Gromit with a multitude of expressions, making great use of Nick Parks trademark brow technique. In fact, Gromit is such a rounded character, he easily carries the whole film easily using the expressions of his eyes alone. Especially Gromit’s agony, having to watch how the penguin silently takes over his home, is tantalizing.

Nevertheless, the most impressive part of this short is the finale. This is a remarkable chase scene, ridiculously set indoors on miniature trains, but it consists of five frantic minutes with a sense of speed never seen before in a stop-motion film. This finale alone takes the possibilities of stop-motion forward to new heights, and together with ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ from the same year, ‘The Wrong Trousers’ must be regarded as a milestone in animation. Thus, the next year the film rightfully won the Academy Award for animated short.

The film also started a sort of Wallace and Gromit tradition of combining silly inventions with mystery thriller plots, as this would be the promise of all three subsequent Wallace and Gromit films.

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

‘The Wrong Trousers’ is available on the DVD ‘Wallace & Gromit – The Complete Collection’

Director: Tomomi Mochizuki
Release Date: December 25, 1993
Rating: ★★★★½

Ocean Waves © Ghibli‘Ocean Waves’ was an animated feature the Studio Ghibli made for television. It’s also one of those Japanese animation films that could pretty well be made in live action.

According to Wikipedia the film was an attempt by Studio Ghibli to allow their younger staff members to make a film reasonably cheaply. So, it may not come to a surprise that the film is a little underwhelming when compared to contemporary Ghibli films like ‘Porco Rosso‘ (1992) or ‘Pom Poko’ (1994), let alone later masterpieces like ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997) or ‘Spirited Away‘ (2001).

But taken on its own, ‘Ocean Waves’ is a very nicely told tale of high school romance, full of nostalgia, especially in its depiction of hot summers. The film takes place in Kōchi, on the Southern island of Shikoku. The film is told by Taku, now a student at a University in Tokyo. He reminisces about his high school friendship with bespectacled Matsuno Yutaka, and how he met the erratic girl Muto Rikako.

Rikako clearly is a troubled girl: she has moved to Kōchi from Tokyo, only with her mother and brother, and she hardly makes friends. Yutaka is clearly interested in her, raising jealousy in Taku, but it’s Taku who ends up in an all too improvised trip to Tokyo with Rikako, who wants to see her father again. The trip turns into a disaster, and Rikako even unwillingly manages to separate the two friends, but the film ends on a high note, even if years later.

The film’s style is very understated: only little is spoken out, and most of the feelings transgress through body gestures. Rikako remains enigmatic to the very end, and Taku blunders through his meetings with her. The film remains highly realistic, and the characters believable throughout.

‘Ocean Waves’ may not be a Ghibli masterpiece, it’s still a gentle animation film, well worth seeing.

Watch the trailer for ‘Ocean Waves’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ocean Waves’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Director: Dave Borthwick
Release Date: December 10, 1993
Rating: ★★★

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb © Bolexbrothers1993 was a great year for stop-motion animation: it saw the screening of the groundbreaking feature film ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, as well as the Wallace & Gromit short ‘The Wrong Trousers’, which also covered new grounds.

Much less well known is the stop-motion feature film ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’, also released that year. Made by Dave Borthwick at the British Bolexbrothers studio the film is a much rougher affair than the smooth stop-motion efforts of Disney and Aardman. In fact, it stands firmly in a tradition of gritty and disturbing stop-motion films that via Jan Švankmajer harks all the way back to Władysław Starewicz.

To begin with the film takes place in a dark and disturbing world, where large insects crawl and violence roams. In this gloomy world a poor couple gives birth to a child the size of a small fetus, whom they call Tom Thumb (in one of ca. three lines of dialogue in the entire film).

But Tom soon is kidnapped and taken to a sinister laboratory populated by several chimeral creatures tortured by insane experiments. A two-legged lizard-like creature helps Tom escape. Outside Tom meets a human tribe his own size, who unfortunately kill his chimeral companion. Jack, the leader of the tribe and a master of weapons, takes Tom back to the laboratory, where they eventually apparently destroy the laboratory’s power…

Much of what’s happening in this film is rather incomprehensible, and the plot could do with some cleaning. For example, it remains utterly unclear why Tom is kidnapped, and what the origin of the little people is. Throughout Tom remains a silent and innocent character, not unlike Pinocchio or Dumbo, and he hardly acts.

In the end the film is more interesting because of its disturbing images and for its unique artwork than for its story. The creators made especially well use of pixillation (the animation of people), giving all actors a grotesque appearance and ditto movement.

The best scenes remain the ones inside the laboratory, where Tom sees some pathetic creatures. Especially the one in which one of the creatures asks Tom to shut down the power that sustains them, is a moving piece of animation.

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ may never get the classic status of a ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ or a ‘The Wrong Trousers’, it still is a film that shows the limitless power of animation in the hands of creators with a lot of imagination.

Watch ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ is available on DVD

Director: Mark Baker
Release Date: May 1993
Rating: ★★★★★

The Village © Mark BakerAfter ‘The Hill Farm‘ (1989) Mark Baker returns with another strong parable on the human condition. If ‘The Hill Farm’ explored man’s relation to nature, ‘The Village’ is concerned with man’s internal relationships.

The village of the title is a circular isolated village with all houses facing the same square. The neighbors seem godly souls, but they are all hypocrites spying on each other. Everything has to be done in secret: a cleaning lady secretly steals apples, the vicar secretly sips wine, and a stingy, bearded guy secretly plays with his money.

In this narrow-minded and stifling community a married woman falls in love with a bachelor with glasses, but they have to flee into the surrounding woods to escape the eternal gaze of their neighbors. Meanwhile the woman’s husband kills the miser, and steals his money, but it’s the bespectacled lover who gets the blame.

The village gladly builds a gallows out of the unjustly accused’s very own trees, but the lover manages to escape, accidentally killing the vile husband in the process. In the morning the omnipresent ants, which form a rather morbid running gag during the whole film, have eaten the corpse dry, and the villagers think it’s the body of the escaped convict. They break down the gallows in deep disappointment, while the two lovers flee from the village into the world.

‘The Village’ is told without words, only using unintelligible dialogue. Baker’s simple and quasi-naive style is used to a great effect, and adds to the story’s timeless value. Moreover, Baker’s timing is excellent, mixing the painful with comedy, especially when using the ants, injecting some black humor into the disturbing tale.

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

‘The Village’ is available on the The Animation Show of Shows DVD Box Set 7

Directors: Herbert M. Dawley & Willis O’Brien
Release Date: November 17, 1918
Rating: ★★★

The Ghost of Slumber Mountain © Willis O'BrienThis film was produced, acted and animated by Herbert M. Dawley and Willis O’Brien.

Dawley plays ‘Uncle Jack Holmes’, who tells two boys a story about how he camped out on slumber mountain and meets the ghost of Mad Dick there (played by O’Brien). The ghost tells Holmes to watch through a magic instrument, and the uncle suddenly sees prehistoric animals in the distance.

At this point the film is nine minutes away, and by O’Brien’s skillful animation we watch a Brontosaurus wandering, a Diatryma (a giant flightless bird, now Gastornis) catching a snake, two Triceratopses fighting, and a Tyrannosaurus killing one of the Triceratopses.

Especially the animation on the first Triceratops is well done, O’Brien even shows the creature breathing. Another nice detail is that of the Tyrannosaurus licking its lips. Most importantly, O’Brien doesn’t show the prehistoric creatures not as monsters but as convincingly living creatures. No wonder this master animation was asked to do the dinosaur animation for ‘The Lost World’ (1925), and for all kinds of creatures in ‘King Kong‘ (1933).

It’s a pity the film is rather lackluster (in the end it all appears to be a dream, and even the boys don’t really buy that trite ending), for the animation is certainly worth watching once.

Watch ‘The Ghost of Slumber Mountain’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Ghost of Slumber Mountain’ is available on the Blu-Ray of ‘The Lost World’

Director: Willis O’Brien
Release Date: 1917
Rating: ★★★★

R.F.D. 10,000 B.C. © Willis O'Brien‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ is a short cartoon by stop motion pioneer Willis O’Brien (1886-1962) of later ‘King Kong‘ fame.

The cartoon tells about two rivaling cavemen, one of them a mailman, craving for the same cave woman, Winnie Warclub. At St. Valentine’s Day the mailmen exchanges Johnny Bearskin’s valentine for an insulting one, but Johnny soon finds out the truth, and knocks the mailman literally in two, winning both Winnie and the mailman’s job.

‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ precedes The Flintstones by 45 years, and shows that from the start Willis O’Brien was a capable stop motion animator. The film also shows he was interested in the prehistory right from the outset. The mailman’s cart is pulled by a sauropod, which we can clearly see breathing heavily in the end.

The puppets of the cavemen are elaborate and capable of rolling their eyes. O’Brien’s animation of the mailman is most impressive: we can clearly watch him carrying heavy mail (the sense of weight is well brought across in the animation), and his moves are genuinely sneaky. Johnny and Winnie aren’t half as good.

The film is entertaining, and shows O’Brien on par with Władysław Starewicz as the major pioneer in stop motion animation.

Watch ‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ is available on the Blu-Ray of ‘The Lost World’

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