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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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1918
Rating: ★★★

Les adventures des Pieds-Nickelés © Éclair‘Les adventures des Pieds-Nickelés’ is a short series of animated cartoons that Émile Cohl made for Éclair.

The first episode hasn’t survived, and only parts of the fifth, but from the surviving episodes one can distill that this series is about three criminals: Ribouldingue, who has a beard, Croquignol, and Filochard, who wears an eyepatch. The three flee from an inspector and have all kinds of adventures in Paris.

Cohl’s sketchy drawing style looks like something of the 19th century, and his animation, mostly done in cut-out, is rather stiff and badly timed, with none of the movement being remotely natural. Yet, Cohl’s gags are impressive as they seem to be embryonic versions of common cartoon gags of the 1940s and 1950s. For example, in the second episode there’s a scene in which numerous policemen pop-up from everywhere.

The third episode is the most impressive in this respect: the short contains a scene in which the trio enters a subterranean and rather nightmarish chamber in which everything can happen, making this scene a direct forerunner of ‘Bimbo’s Initiation‘ from 1931. Later, when a part of a fence falls on the inspector, he breaks into several pieces, just like a Tex Avery character. The fourth episode features a policeman who, when hitting a wall, contracts into a flat disc, and later Filochard rolls up like a piece of paper.

The fifth episode is the most incomprehensible of the four surviving films, partly because of only parts of it have survived. The best gag of this episode is when Croquignol almost drowns, and when rescued spits out hundreds of liters of water, including some fishes, only to ask for a drink.

All these gags are way ahead of the humor of contemporary American cartoons, but combined with the archaic drawing style the end result is a strange mix, indeed.

Watch ‘Les adventures des Pieds-Nickelés’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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’ is available 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’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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’ is available 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 available 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 available 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 available on the DVD-box ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

Director: unknown
Production Date: 1960
Stars: Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Eastern Treasure © Toonder Studios‘The Eastern Treasure’ is based on the great Tom Poes comic strip ‘De achtgever’ (1957).

In this cartoon Ollie Bungle is visited by an Eastern treasurer and his obedient servant, called Kowtow. Ollie Bungle takes over the job as treasurer, and immediately the servant joins his side. In the end Tom Puss manages to get rid of him by making the servant into the treasurer.

The strong story of the comic strip is condensed to its bare essentials, and has lost most of its strengths. Moreover, the two Easterners hardly look that way. ‘The Eastern Treasure’ was the last of the Tom Puss shorts completed, before Toonder discovered he had been swindled. His Tom Puss television series was never aired, neither in the US, for which it had been made, nor anywhere else. A lot of money, effort and work had just been wasted on a scam.

‘The Eastern Treasure’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

 

Director: unknown
Production Date: 1960
Stars: Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle
Rating: ★★
Review:

Little Faustus © Toonder StudiosDuring a stormy night Ollie Bungle brags he can teach everyone everything, and in one evening, too.

He’s overheard by a wizard, who immediately places his lazy son under Ollie Bungle’s tutelage. The little brat changes all kinds of objects into beds for him to sleep in, makes a pen write the writing lines he has to do, and makes objects taunting Ollie Bungle. Meanwhile Ollie Bungle doesn’t teach the boy a thing. Yet, the wizard is content, as his son has learned many new tricks during that one evening.

This short is one of the weakest of the eight surviving Tom Puss films. Tom Puss has hardly a role in it, and even behaves uncharacteristically fearful. In one scene he even looks like a real cat, instead of his normal rational self.

‘Little Faustus’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: unknown
Production Date: 1960
Stars: Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The All-Purpose Machine © Toonder StudiosAt the start of this cartoon Ollie Bungle is out of gas. He and Tom Puss meet a bearded fellow with a large box, and when they ask him for gas, he makes the large box change into a fuel station.

The little bearded man demonstrates that the box can change into virtually anything, and Ollie Bungle buys the machine on the spot. Unfortunately, the all-purpose machine turns out difficult to handle, and only causes for trouble.

The story makes little sense and is highly forgettable. Nevertheless, this short is noteworthy for its very beautiful limited background art.

‘The All-Purpose Machine’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: unknown
Production Date: 1960
Stars: Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Vengeance Valley © Toonder Studios‘Vengeance Valley’ is based on the Tom Poes comic strip ‘De wraakgier’ (which can be translated as ‘the revenge vulture’) from 1956.

The comic strip is one of the best in the series, and features Tom Puss encountering an island of vengeance-loving vultures. In the film the vultures inhabit a hick town in the mountains called ‘Vengeance Valley’. The whole concept of avenge, revenge and counter-revenge is played out well, and this short makes particularly well use of the limited animation. This makes this episode arguably the best of the whole series, despite the lame ending, in which a female vulture blows up the whole town, wiping it off the map, literally.

‘Vengeance Valley’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: unknown
Production Date: 1959
Stars: Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Wonder Shoes © Toonder Studios‘The Wonder Shoes’ is one of the nine Tom Puss films the Toonder studios made in 1959-1960 for the American television market, which the series never reached.

This particular episode starts with Ollie Bungle capturing a large boot while fishing. Oddly enough he orders a shoe maker to make two shoes out of the boot. This is particularly puzzling as Ollie Bungle never wears shoes. The shoes possess a magic quality and fulfill Ollie Bungle’s wishes. So when he wishes them to walk to the moon, he is in serious trouble. Luckily, Tom Puss is there to save him.

‘The Wonder Shoes’ is a weak story that is saved by some slapstick comedy and silly situations, featuring criminal Bul Super and police officer Bulle Bas. Both characters are familiar to readers of the Tom Puss comics, but remain unnamed in the cartoon. Special mention should go to the minimal background art.

‘The Wonder Shoes’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Director: 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’

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