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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: unknown
Production Date: 1959
Stars: Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle
Rating:
Review:

The Bungle Cure © Toonder Studios‘The Bungle Cure’ is based on the Tom Poes comic strip ‘De Bommelkuur’ (1953), one of the weakest of all Tom Poes comics. And indeed, the film based on this story, is equally weak.

The short starts with Tom Puss driving the sick Ollie Bungle to the mountains, because the doctor has advised the sick bear to get some mountain air. Unfortunately, in the mountains they end up in a feud between two mountain tribes, the Grimps and the Knarks. The two tribes are equally fanatical in helping Mr. Bungle to heal. Their zeal make Mr. Bungle flee to a deserted island in a mountain lake, where Tom Puss discovers that Mr. Bungle has been cured, after all.

‘The Bungle Cure’ may function as a nice story for children, but has little to offer otherwise. As with the other Tom Puss & Mr. Bungle films the animation is extremely limited and the short relies heavily on dialogue. Most interesting is the minimal background art, which has maintained some of the panache of Marten Toonder’s own comic strips.

‘The Bungle Cure’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: unknown
Production Date: 1959
Stars: Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Weather Crystal © Toonder Studios‘The Weather Crystal’ is the second of nine Tom Puss films that were made for the American television market, but which were never released.

This short is based on a Tom Puss comic made for the Dutch Donald Duck magazine in 1959. In this film Tom Puss and Ollie find find a crystal that controls the weather. Ollie Bungle immediately conceives a plan to sell the weather, but as every client asks for something different, all goes wrong.

This is a very weak story, with both Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle behaving completely out of character (in Marten Toonder’s original comic strip none of the two would think of exploiting a commercial enterprise). Moreover, the short places the two in a human world, instead of the fable world they usually live in.

‘The Weather Crystal’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: unknown
Production Date: 1959
Stars: Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Magic Hat © Toonder StudiosIn 1959 an unknown American distribution company asked Marten Toonder to produce some animated shorts for the American television market starring Toonder’s comic strip stars Tom Poes (Tom Puss, a white cat) and Olivier B. Bommel (Ollie Bungle, a large bear).

Nine films were conceived, but the Americans were displeased with Ollie Bungle’s voice, which was provided by a black man. Even worse, the so-called distribution company turned out to be a fraud, and these films were never shown anywhere.

The DVD accompanying Jan-Willem de Vries’s Dutch language book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’ has included eight of these films. They are a strange mix of Toonder’s elaborate cartoon style and Hanna-Barbera-like cartoon modernism. For example, Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle look more angular than ever, and both suddenly wear bow-ties, an all too obvious Hanna-Barbera influence. The animation in these shorts is very limited, and unfortunately the films rely too heavily on rather tiring dialogue, but this is countered by some effective staging.

‘The Magic Hat’ is clearly based on the Tom Poes story ‘De kniphoed’ (1955), and apart of Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle, features Bungle’s butler, Joost, magician Hocus Pas and a rather unrecognizable chief constable Bulle Bas (all unnamed in the cartoon). As the 65 page comic strip has been squeezed into a five minute film, the story has been greatly simplified. The result is no masterpiece, but still makes a pleasant watch, and the film is a good example of the huge influence the Hanna-Barbera studio had on the rest of the world.

‘The Magic Hat’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: Han van Gelder
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Van Inca tijd tot Blooker tijd © Toonder StudiosIn this film director-animator Han van Gelder uses his unique technique of mixing cut-out with stop-motion for a short advertising film for Blooker cocoa.

The film tells about the Incas who invented cocoa, and how the Spanish conquistadors brought cocoa with them to Europe, where Jan Blooker’s factory uses only the best cocoa for its chocolate. The jump from the conquistadors to Blooker is a rather abrupt and not all too convincing one.

For this film Van Gelder uses UPA-inspired cartoon modern style characters and backgrounds. The film’s story isn’t too interesting, but these designs certainly make it a fun watch. The Blooker factory only lasted until 1962, but the brand is still available today.

Watch ‘Van Inca tijd tot Blooker tijd’ yourself and tell me what you think:

From Inca time to Blooker time 1958

‘Van Inca tijd tot Blooker tijd’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: Børge Ring
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Lokkend goud of gouden lokken © Toonder StudiosThis is the story of a man full of debts who marries a rich woman for her money, but he gets remorse when he discovers the rich lady is bald.

The story is a humorous old Irish ballad called ‘Very Unfortunate Man’, translated by Annie M.G. Schmidt into Dutch and sung by Dutch actor Otto Sterman. Danish animator Børge Ring provides the story with strong cartoon modern images in the best UPA tradition, matched by equally stylized background art and color schemes by Alan G. Standen. The two give the otherwise rather Dutch film a very international feel, both in design and quality. The complete cartoon may be quite on the light side, it is nevertheless a delight to watch.

‘Lokkend goud of gouden lokken’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: Han van Gelder
Release Date: 1957
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

De verzonken klokken © Toonder Studios‘De verzonken klokken’ is a very beautiful animation short in which director Han van Gelder combines two-dimensional cut-out figures with three-dimensional sets to unique results.

The story is narrated by Dutch actor Ton Lutz, and written by Jan Gerhard Toonder, the brother of producer Marten Toonder, who based his narrative on legends from Zeeland.

The film tells about a sexton who falls in love with the beautiful  girl Neeltje, but when she rejects him, he gets drunk and rings the church bells in the middle of the night, until the complete clock tower gets swallowed by the sea. In the end Neeltje marries school master Piepkema, but at their wedding they hear the church bells ringing from the sea. Piepkema provides a moral in rhyme that this ringing means that the sexton’s soul has found no rest, but Van Gelder shows us the Sexton at the bottom of the sea, happily in love with a mermaid, defying the classic Christian moral.

‘De verzonken klokken’ knows little, but effectively used animation. Van Gelder’s character designs and sets are simply gorgeous, and give the film a unique atmosphere. There are also some very convincing water rippling effects in the underwater scenes.

Watch ‘De verzonken klokken’ yourself and tell me what you think:

De verzonken klokken 1957

‘De verzonken klokken’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Directors: Włodzimierz Haupe & Halina Bielińska
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Zmiana warty (The Changing of the Guard) © Włodzimierz Haupe & Halina Bielińska

‘The Changing of the Guard’ is a stop motion film that tells a story with the simplest of means.

The background consists of highly graphical wiry outlines of buildings set in an empty stage. The ‘actors’ are matchboxes. We watch them marching, while one of them, a night guard, falls in love with a female matchbox in a window (the matchbox is recognizable as a woman, because of the three lips painted on its front). When the two meet at night, they catch flame, which devours the complete regiment. So, the next day the civilians put up a ‘no smoking’ sign.

Haupe’s and Bielińska’s stop motion is very primitive, yet effective, and their minimalist approach shows how little one needs to tell a communicating and resonating story. Admittedly, their story is not too interesting, verging on the brink of a farce, but the elegant designs and effective animation make it a short fun to watch.

Watch ‘Zmiana warty’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Zmiana warty’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Anthology of Polish Animated Film’

Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Release Date: 1958
Stars: Borisław Stefanik
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Szkola (The School) © Walerian Borowcyk‘The School’ is a pixillation film starring Borisław Stefanik as a soldier in training.

We watch the private practicing, being tantalized by a fly, trying to hoot, and going to sleep, where he dreams he’s a general commanding marching women’s legs. Apart from the dream scene, the film is shot in sepia tones, giving it a timeless feel. The story never gets too serious, and the absurd atmosphere is enhanced by Andrzej Makowski’s overtly enthusiastic military music, completed with whistles and duck calls.

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

 

‘Szkoła’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Anthology of Polish Animated Film’

Directors: Walerian Borowczyk & Jan Lenica
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Dom (The House) © Walerian Borowcyk & Jan Lenica‘Dom’ is an avant-garde film with strong surrealistic images. The film consists of six unrelated ‘scenes’ connected by the image of a woman looking into the camera.

It’s as if Borowczyk and Lenica explored the possibilities of experimental cinema, trying out several techniques in a row. Thus we watch cut-out images of a strange contraption, a pixillated scene of two men fighting, an octopus-like wig destroying a still life setting, a man repeatedly hanging his hat on a coat rack, a sequence of old family pictures and postcards, and a live action scene in which a woman caresses a plaster male head.The film’s weird atmosphere is greatly enhanced by Włodzimierz Kotoński’s modern music, which uses electronics and percussion only.

It’s hard to make sense of it all, but it’s clear that with this film Borowczyk and Lenica proved to be strong new voices in avant-garde cinema.

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

 

‘Dom’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Anthology of Polish Animated Film’

Director: Gil Alkabetz
Release Date: October 1992
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Swamp © Gil AlkabetzWith ‘Swamp’ Gil Alkabetz showed to be a strong new voice in the animation world.

Made at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart in Germany, Alkabetz uses a deceptively simple setting of only two dimensions, with no background whatsoever. In this world two armies of knights on horses, armed with giant balloons and giant scissors are fighting a senseless war over a swamp.

The film is a strong allegory on the folly of war. The film’s power is greatly enhanced by its simple yet very clear designs (all knights are drawn in black ink, the balloons in bright ecoline reds and blues) and by its great sound design. But most of all, the short shows Alkabetz’s strong sense of comic timing. ‘Swamp’ is one of the best student films of all time, and deserves to be shown over and over again.

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

 

‘Swamp’ is available on the DVD box set ‘The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 2’

Director: Gosce Vaskov
Release Date: 1996
Rating:
Review:

Misa u A-Molu (Mass in A Minor) © Zagreb Film‘Mass in A minor’ is the first computer animated film made in Croatia.

This single fact must be the sole reason to watch the film. Otherwise, ‘Mass in A minor’ is utterly forgettable. The short is an unremarkable mood piece with flames as its main theme. The motion is perfectly set to Marijan Brkić’s new age music, but this cannot save the film, which has a cheap, ugly and utterly primitive look.

 

‘Mass in A Minor is available on the DVD ‘The Best of Zagreb Film: Be Careful What You Wish For and The Classic Collection’

Director: Darko Kreč
Release Date: 1995
Rating:
Review:

Posljednji valcer u starom mlinu (Last Waltz in the Old Mill) © Zagreb FilmIn this latter-day Zagreb Film studio short two grains change into a prince and princess who waltz around a remote water mill.

This film combines live action footage of the water mill with cell animation of the prince and princess. Unfortunately, the film is hampered by its poor story, its mediocre designs, and unremarkable music by Ozren Depolo. If anything this film makes clear that in the post-communist era the Zagreb Film studio was severely struggling. With films like these one can feel the Zagreb school dying.

Watch ‘Last Waltz in the Old Mill’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Last Waltz in the Old Mill’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of Zagreb Film: Be Careful What You Wish For and The Classic Collection’

Director: Goran Sudžuka
Release Date:  1992
Rating: ★★
Review:

Paranoia © Zagreb Film‘Paranoia’ is a short film (lasting only four minutes) about a young man who thinks he’s followed on the street.

The film is set in monochromes, with strong black and white contrasts. Sudžuka indeed includes in his images a reference to Corto Maltese, a comic hero by Hugo Pratt, an artist with a similar palette. Sudžuka’s own style is much more angular than Pratt’s, however, and more confined to the 1980s. The film looks well, but is hampered by its trite ending.

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

 

‘Paranoia’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of Zagreb Film: Be Careful What You Wish For and The Classic Collection’

Director: Milan Trenc
Release Date:  1990
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Veliki provod (The Big Time) © Zagreb FilmWhen a spoiled, rich brat is about to smash his piggy bank to pieces with a large hammer, the piggy bank flees. While the boy and his family are looking for him, the piggy bank has a good time at the fair.

This is a rather lightweight film, based on a story by Milan Milšić. Trenc uses a lot of different designs in this film, with the piggy bank itself being the most conventional. Like many other Zagreb films from this later period, the film is hampered by limited animation and an ugly electronic score, this time by Davon Rocco.

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

‘The Big Time’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of Zagreb Film: Be Careful What You Wish For and The Classic Collection’

Director: Krešimir Zimonić
Release Date:  1988
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Leptiri (Butterflies) © Zagreb Film‘Butterflies’ is a film from the Zagreb Film studio, when the once famous studio was already in its decline.

‘Butterflies’ is about a young woman who imagines the different lives she can lead with some very different men. This film uses strong, angular 1980s designs and colors by co-writer Magda Dulčić, and has a rather stream-of-consciousness-like structure, with a lot of metamorphosis and designs that verge on the abstract. The animation ranges from very limited to full, and from serious to cartoony. Unfortunately, Igor Savin’s ugly electronic score and Dulčić designs make the film feel dated, and more a product of its time than a timeless classic.

‘Butterflies’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of Zagreb Film: Be Careful What You Wish For and The Classic Collection’

Director: Michel Ocelot
Broadcast Date:  1992
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Les Contes de la nuit’ (Tales of the Night) are three fairy tale films French animation master Michel Ocelot made for television, not to be confused with his feature film of the same name from 2011.

The three fairy tales are entirely original and are done in very elegant Lotte Reiniger-like cut-out animation, using black silhouettes only against handsomely colored backgrounds. Both the design and the animation are top notch throughout, making this mini-series a delight to watch.

La belle fille et le sorcier © Michel Ocelot‘La belle fille et le sorcier’ (Beauty and the Sorcerer) is first and shortest fairy tale of ‘ Les Contes de la nuit’ and features a fat ugly girl rescuing a wizard. Soon she’s turned into a handsome young lady… The film is more comical than the other two, and hard to take seriously.

 

 

La bergère qui danse © Michel Ocelot‘La bergère qui danse’ (The Dancing Shepherdess) is the second story of ‘Les Contes de la nuit’. This fairy tale features a powerful fairy queen in love with a young handsome shepherd. He, however, prefers his shepherdess. But then the fairy queen takes the shepherd to ‘the tower of sleep’, to sleep for a hundred years, and it’s up to the shepherdess to rescue him… This is a particularly attractive fairy tale, showing the power of hope and love.

 

Le prince des joyaux © Michel Ocelot‘Le prince des joyaux’ (The Jewel Prince) is the third and last tale of ‘Les Contes de la nuit’. This fairy tale again is entirely original, but looks like a story from 1,001 Arabian Nights. The plot is rather Aladdin-like, and features a boy in love with a princess, whom he wins by defeating an evil old man, who cheats on him. Like the other two this is a delightful little film, even if it is a little heavy on dialogue.

 

‘Les Contes de la nuit’ are available on the French DVD ‘Les trésors cachés de Michel Ocelot’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  July 27, 1913
Rating:
Review:

He Poses for his Portrait © Éclair New York‘He Poses for his Portrait’ is the second of only two surviving Newlyweds cartoons Émile Cohl made in the United States.

Like ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille‘ the film is based on the comic strip by George McManus, and the film is essentially an animated comic strip, with text balloons playing the most important part in telling the story.

In ‘He Poses for his Portrait’ a couple wants to have a picture painted of their little baby. Unfortunately, the brat drives the painter mad. As in ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’ there’s hardly any animation, resulting in a pretty static and remarkably boring film. By all means, Cohl’s animated comic strips should be regarded as a failure, and belong to the weakest films in his enormous output, despite their success at the time. If anything, the series demonstrated that one needed little animation to please an audience, a message which several studios would take at heart in the decades afterwards.

Watch ‘He Poses for his Portrait’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘He Poses for his Portrait’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1912
Rating:
Review:

Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille © Éclair New YorkAfter his move to the United States in 1912 Émile Cohl starting experimenting with putting the idiom of comic strips to the animated screen, being the first person to do so.

Cohl used ‘The Newlyweds’ my comic artist George McManus as the source for his new series, and the resulting films form not only the first animated series, but also the first pictures that could be titled animated cartoons.

This could have been a milestone in animated cinema, but unfortunately, the result is appalling: apart from the metamorphosis with which Cohl bridges scenes, there’s no animation at all, resulting in extremely static images. The text balloons fill the whole screen, more often than not obscuring complete personages.

Without the text balloons, there’s no story to follow. The result is that this is probably the first film suffering from too much dialogue, despite being silent!

Despite all its flaws, the Newlyweds films were a success, and Cohl made several of these pictures, of which only two survive: this one, ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’, and ‘He Poses for his Portrait‘ (also known as ‘Le Portrait de Zozor’).

Watch ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  May 4, 1913
Rating: ★★
Review:

Bewitched Matches © Éclair New YorkAfter short stints at Pathé and Eclipse Cohl sailed to the United States to join Éclair New York.

‘Bewitched Matches’ is one of the few films Cohl made in the United States before sailing back again to France in 1914.

‘Bewitched Matches’ has a rather zany fairy tale plot of a witch visiting three daughters. When their father chases the witch out of his house, the witch bewitches the matches. This leads to a long animation sequence in which the matches form images of a horse, crosses, a windmill, the American flag, a pipe smoking man, a radiant sun, an acrobat on the tightrope and a skeleton.

Neither the framing story nor the animated part is too interesting, and ‘Bewitched Matches’ should be regarded as one of Cohl’s lesser inspired films.

‘Bewitched Matches’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

 

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