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Director: Earl Hurd
Release Date:
November 9, 1919
Stars: Bobby Bumps & Fido
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

In this short film, little boy Bobby Bump jumps out of the inkwell, together with his dog Fido, and calls his master, who hasn’t arrived at work, yet, on the phone.

Their creator Earl Hurd invites them at his home. What follows is a funny smoke gag, but shortly after Bobby and Fido start packing, the cartoon ends, cutting short a promising premise.

As ever with the Bobby Bump cartoons, the designs are very appealing, but the animation is very limited and a bit crude. Yet, the simple gags have their own charm, and this cartoon is particularly interesting for starring the master Earl Hurd, himself.

Watch ‘Their Master’s Voice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Their Master’s Voice’ is available on the Blu-Ray/DVD-combo ‘Cartoon Roots: Bobby Bumps and Fido’

Directors: Max & Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 6, 1920
Stars: Ko-Ko the Clown
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

‘The Clown’s Little Brother’ is one of the Fleischer brothers’ earliest films, when they were still working at Bray Studio.

The film stars Max Fleischer as the artist drawing Ko-Ko the clown, who’s only known as ‘the inkwell clown’ in this cartoon. Interestingly, as soon as Max tries to draw the character, his pen fails and Ko-Ko jumps out of the glass in which Max washes his pen. Immediately thereafter Max gets his mail, which strangely enough contains a live kitten. The Inkwell Clown gets a letter, too, stating that his kid brother arrives in another mail package. But Ko-Ko’s kid brother turns out to be a cheeky brat and Max leaves.

Undeterred, Ko-Ko tries to entertain the little kid with his antics, but the boy easily outperforms the clown, not in the least because he’s 100% animated, while Ko-Ko is partly rotoscoped. Thus the kid’s movements are wilder, less realistic and more impossible than Ko-Ko’s. At one point Ko-Ko falls off the piece of paper, and on the kitten, who plays with the poor cartoon character. At that point the kid brother shows his kinder side, and rescues Ko-Ko from the clutches of the feline foe. Yet, their antics end when Max returns, and the bottle of ink falls on the floor.

‘The Clown’s Little Brother’ is by all means an action rich and entertaining short, and shows that the Fleischers brothers were very competent players in the field. Fleischer’s inkwell clown was a sensation back then because of his fluid movements, based on Max Fleischer’s rotoscope invention. But in this cartoon Max Fleischer shows to be a competent animator without the aid of rotoscope, as well. For example, when the kid brother tries to pull Ko-Ko out of the inkwell, one can sense some pulling force.

Watch ‘The Clown’s Little Brother’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Clown’s Little Brother’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

Director: Dick Huemer?
Release Date: July 14, 1918
Stars: Mutt and Jeff
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

In this Dick Huemer-animated short Mutt and Jeff appear to own a lunchroom. Mutt is the waiter, and Jeff the cook.

There are essentially three gags: a bearded customer wants some ox-tail soup, another costumer some pie, and the third, a beautiful woman, the best flapjacks they have. When she notes that the flapjacks don’t look so good, Mutt places one on the grammophone player and promptly starts to dance with her to the music. The dance ends when a policeman shows up, knocking out both Mutt and Jeff, but taking the dance with the beautiful dame himself.

While seating the lady looks like from another picture, when compared to the cartoony design of Jeff, but this feeling vanishes during the dance scene, and one must admit Dick Huemer does quite a good job in animating this particular scene. Another fine piece of early character animation are Mutt’s deft hand movements while handling the second customer.

Watch ‘The Extra-Quick Lunch’ (Flapjacks) yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Extra-Quick Lunch’ (Flapjacks) is available on the DVD ‘Mutt and Jeff – The Original Animated Odd Couple’

Directors: Jennifer Yuh Nelson & Alessandro Carloni
Release Date: January 23, 2016
Rating: ★★★ ½
Review:

‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ had suggested a background story for Po, an extermination of all Pandas by the evil peacock Lord Shen. So, it would have been logical to expand this story line in ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’.

And indeed, this is the movie in which Po finally meets more pandas, not to say even his very own family. And yet, virtually nothing is done with the plot elements of ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’. Po’s natural father pops up in Po’s village, virtually out of nothing – there’s no quest whatsoever.

Instead, ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ introduces a completely new background story, involving the spirit realm, and introducing Po’s most powerful opponent thus far, master Oogway’s former friend, the bull Kai. Kai returns from the spirit world to the mortal world, creating havoc and changing all kung fu masters into his own mindless army of jade. And being immortal he’s a tough one to take. It’s up to Po to fight off this formidable foe.

Despite this splendid super villain, ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ is quite a disappointing sequel, stretching the all too American dream-like messages of ‘believe in yourself’ and ‘if you want to, you can achieve everything’ way beyond believability. Po’s transition of his lazy, food-loving parent village into a gang of fearless fighters, able to battle the greatest kung fu masters of China, in only a matter of days, is stretching the imagination, to say the least. Traditional wuxia cinema emphasizes that true mastery only comes with hard and long training, but in the American Kung Fu Panda universe, you get it for free if you only believe in yourself. If only. One wonders what entered the makers’ minds to send off a phony message like that.

Unfortunately, there are more story problems. There’s an all too obligate break up scene, when Po’s father appears to have lied to Po. Moreover, for a village that is supposed to be secretly hidden, the Panda settlement is found surprisingly easily by both Tigress and Kai. And the story line of the pandas having forgotten how to use Qi, only to remaster that in an instant, is, again, quite unconvincing. True, Po never was an entirely convincing character, but he certainly isn’t in this film.

Meanwhile, Po’s former co-stars are reduced to minor players, uttering only a few lines, if any, while none of the new players, save Kai, show the same charm. Only Po’s duck father, Mr. Ping (voiced by James Hong) thrives as the jealous father.

No, the main attraction of ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ is not its story, or its characters, but its design. The film makes great use of wuxia imaging, including gravity defying runs and jumps. Even better, the feature at times becomes surprisingly graphical: for example, the film occasionally uses the split screen to a great effect, Oogway’s story is rendered in gorgeous 2D, and the learning sequence employs a bold and very beautiful color scheme.

In addition, ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ is noteworthy for introducing the utterly Chinese concept of Qi to Western audiences. Qi roughly translates as ‘life energy’ and forms the central theme of the film, making ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ an interesting blend of Western (the individualistic tropes stated above) and Eastern concepts. Nevertheless, one cannot help but feeling that there could have been more to ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’, and that it in fact is more run-of-the-mill than the film could have been.

Watch the trailer for ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Directors: Charlie Kaufman & Dick Johnson
Release Date: September 4, 2015
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

A welcome new phenomenon of the 21th century was the arrival of live action directors turning to animation, and to stop motion, in particular. Wes Anderson was the first, directing the gritty ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ (2009), while maintaining his idiosyncratic style. Next was Gore Verbinski, with the peculiar ‘Rango’ (2011), and in 2015 Charlie Kaufman followed with ‘Anomalisa’, which fits very well in his oeuvre. ‘Anomalisa’ is extra welcome, because this is an adult film, not a family film, which normally appears to be the only type of animated films allowed in the U.S.

Main protagonist of this film is British customer service expert Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), who is invited to give a speech on customer service in Cincinati, Ohio. Michael seems to suffer from a disease, which could almost only dreamed up by Kaufman: to him all people look and sound the same, making it impossible to distinguish between them. All the people Michael encounters have the same plain face, and the same voice (provided by Tom Noonan). Children, women, men, film stars and even opera singers – they’re all utterly indistinguishable to him.

But then he hears a voice, different from all the others, and desperately tries to contact her. This voice belongs to one Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), a telephone sales employee from a food company based in Akron, Ohio. Lisa is homely and insecure, especially when accompanied by her much more beautiful friend Emily (we viewers cannot judge that, however, as we see Emily only through Michael’s eyes, which means she has the same bland face and voice as all other characters in the film). Lisa thinks she’s ugly and stupid, thus she’s utterly puzzled by Michael’s interest in her, and not very convinced, either. But Michael’s so glad he’s found someone different that he even dreams of leaving his wife and son, to spend the rest of his life Lisa, whom he calls Anomalisa, as she’s the only one different in a sea of sameness.

It’s important to note that Michael Stone is far from a sympathetic character: he’s self-absorbed, evidently hardly interested in other people, and clearly bored to death with his current life. Even though he has a wife and son at his home in California, he tries to have sex as soon as he has arrived in Cincinnati. So one could argue that his disease is only symbolic of his disinterest in others, but Kaufman does play it as a real disease. For example, when waiting for his old flame Bella, he only acknowledges her after she has recognized him.

Nevertheless, it’s clearly Michael’s own negative attitude which eventually spoils his idyll… Next morning Lisa quickly loses her special charm to him, fading into the sameness of others at a breathtaking speed. The scene in which this takes place, is the most horrifying of the entire movie, despite a nightmare scene preceding it. Especially because at this point our sympathy has long since shifted to Lisa, instead of Michael, who remains, in the end, a pedantic, egotistical prick.

Unfortunately, this great scene is followed by one in which Michael finally delivers his speech. This is a very unconvincing, disappointing scene, by all means. It’s not only rather superfluous, it also stretches the plausibility too much, and almost spoils the entire movie.

Apart from a short prelude in which Michael arrives by plane, a short scene at a “toy store”, and a short postlude, which takes place at his own home, the entire film is set in a very common and extremely bland hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Michael is invited to give a speech on customer service. The hotel setting and short time span (the whole film takes place in less than 24 hours) gives the movie a unity of time and space, rarely encountered in current films. Indeed, the hotel’s bland browns and beiges color the film, adding to its visual character. Incidentally, the hotel is called ‘Fregoli’, after a disorder called the Fregoli delusion, in which the patient thinks several people are, in fact, one and the same person. Note that this Fregoli delusion is markedly different from Michael’s disease – he perceives people as different beings, but cannot distinguish them from each other.

The claustrophobia of the film is greatly enhanced by the stop motion, which always provides a sense of surrealism. Indeed, stop motion is such a logical choice for such an outlandish concept that one almost cannot believe the film is based on a stage play.

The film makes use of very lifelike sets and puppets. Nevertheless the puppets have different proportions than real people (the heads, hands and feet being larger than in real life), and have clearly visible seams at the eyes and ears, as the puppets have replaceable mouth parts. These seams give the puppets a rather uncanny edge. Kaufman even plays with this concept. At one point, Michael seems to be able to cut his own facial part loose, and in a nightmare scene it just drops to the floor, exposing the inner workings of his puppet self.

The realism of the puppets thus is mostly achieved through animation. Indeed, the animation of the puppets, directed by Duke Johnson, is of an extraordinarily high level. Highlight of the film is the sex scene, which in all its awkwardness and clumsiness is one of the most real sex scenes ever put to film, despite being acted out by puppets. The animators used reference from real sex actors for this scene, which took several months to shoot, and the result is a stunning tour-de-force of stop motion.

In all, ‘Anomalisa’ is a unique stop motion film. It’s admittedly not without its flaws, but Kaufman can proudly add it to his oeuvre of weird tales, and the film certainly is a welcome departure from the family film tropes of standard American studio animation.

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

‘Anomalisa’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Nick Park
Release Date:
December 24, 1995
Stars: Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep
Rating:
★★★½

Like the ground-breaking ‘The Wrong Trousers‘, ‘A Close Shave’ has a mystery plot featuring an evil genius framing Gromit. This time the premise is a wool shortage.

Wallace and Gromit are window cleaners, accidentally harboring an escaped sheep, and later meeting the villain, a bulldog called Preston, themselves. Things get complicated when Wallace gets romantically involved with Preston’s owner, wool shop owner Wendolene Ramsbottom, and Preston turns Wallace’s knit-o-matic into a killer machine, turning sheep into dog food.

As with ‘The Wrong Trousers’ the film knows a spectacular finale, first with an exciting car chase (also involving a little plane), and then in Preston’s dog food factory. As with the earlier film the suggestion of speed is flawless, and one forgets immediately that the original clay puppets didn’t move at all. The animation and the elaborate sets are even more spectacular than in the earlier film.

And yet, ‘A Close Shave’ is less gripping than ‘The Wrong Trousers’ was. The plot is more predictable, the car chase more conventional, and Preston less creepy than the penguin was in the earlier film, despite being indestructible in a rather Terminator-like manner. It’s a pity Nick Park and his team didn’t come with a more different plot, because now ‘A Close Shave’ demands too much comparison to the earlier film.

Nevertheless, the film is very important in Aardman history, for it introduces Shaun the Sheep, since 2007 hero of his own series, and star of no less than two feature length films. Already in his first short the little sheep shows to be a brave and inventive little fellow, and he literally has the last laugh.

Watch the opening of ‘A Close Shave’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Close Shave’ is available on the DVD ‘Wallace & Gromit – The Complete Collection’

Directors: Faith Hubley & Emily Hubley
Release Date:
1995
Rating:
★★★½

In ‘Rainbows of Hawai’i’ director Faith Hubley, ever thirsty for mythology, turns her attention to the isles of Hawaii. She retells four Hawaiian stories, in her own idiosyncratic way, using a lot of repetitive animation cycles, dancing figures, and semi-abstract, yet vibrant images.

In terms of animation most interesting is the first story, ‘Hisaka Asks the Dragon’s Permission to Enter the Forest – They Do Battle’, in which the animation of the dragon is surprisingly traditional. Most intriguing is the second story, in which a woman gives birth to a friendly green shark. The four stories are followed by a last section, titled ‘All Children Are Sacred and the Dance of Life and Death Goes on and on’, which reshuffles images from all four previous stories with images of dancing figures.

According to the titles, Hubley took inspiration from Oceanic art, but frankly, this is not really visible, as the images in ‘Rainbows of Hawai’i’ aren’t very different from those in her earlier films.

‘Rainbows of Hawai’i’ is available on the DVD ‘The Hubley Collection Volume 2’

Director: Mamoru Oshii
Release Date: November 18, 1995
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

‘Ghost in the Shell’ was the best known anime film in the West between ‘Akira’ (1988) and ‘Spirited Away’ (2001). This was of course mainly because it was one of the very few Japanese features being released in the West in the first place. But what also helped was that the film merges science fiction, action thriller and philosophy into an entertaining melting pot, which a sexy cyborg as its main star.

‘Ghost in the Shell’ is based on a manga by Masamune Shirow and tells about major Motoko Kusanagi, a female cyborg, who has to track down a dangerous hacker called the ‘Puppet Master’. But when the true identity of the Puppet Master is revealed, things take a whole different turn…

The plot of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is complex and very hard to follow. It doesn’t help that the future world in which it takes place is introduced with a minimum of background story, thus the viewer has to grab the relevant information along the way. For example, only gradually it became clear to me that practically every citizen in this future world has augmented brains, and is therefore hackable. Or that Kusanagi wasn’t an android, as I thought, but a cyborg, although we don’t see any biological tissue on her. In fact, already within the first two minutes we see her naked, with clearly defined breasts, but no genitals whatsoever, looking strangely like a Barbie doll instead.

‘Ghost in the Shell’ is a true cyberpunk film, and revolves around the idea of artificial intelligence and what it means to be human or to be alive. Not only does the main plot focuses on those ideas, there are several, often rather pompous dialogues between Kusanagi and her partner, the muscular fellow cyborg Bateau, in which the two ponder the meaning of their own existence. A lot of attention goes to the mysterious ‘ghost’ within the wired neural networks, a word that the Japanese use untranslated, and which points directly to Arthur Koestler’s ‘the ghost in the machine’ (1967). The Japanese ‘Ghost’ is translated back into ‘soul’ in the subtitles, but its precise concept remains vague, and in the end both the story and these bits of dialogue are much too thin to call ‘Ghost in the Shell’ a philosophical masterpiece, for despite all the philosophical implications the film is an action thriller first and foremost.

Nevertheless, I suspect the feature was an influence on the makers of ‘The Matrix’, for it foreshadows some of the latter film’s themes, and ‘The Matrix’ quite clearly stole both the connection to the network by neck and the theme of green numbers filling the screen from ‘Ghost in the Shell’.

As a thriller the film delivers, featuring spectacular manhunts, several shootings and fights, a few bits of gross violence, and an exciting finale in an abandoned natural history museum, a setting deliberately chosen to enhance the movie’s theme of new developments within human and non-human evolution. The action is greatly helped by excellent staging and by solid background art, supervised by Takashi Watabe, evoking a partly drowned, and partly abandoned metropolis containing many different nationalities, not unlike the world of ‘Blade Runner’ (1982).

Also strong is Kenji Kawai’s musical soundtrack, which uses electronics, percussion and haunting choirs to a unique and unsettling effect. Around 35 minutes there’s even a more than a minute long gorgeous mood piece, consisting of townscapes and music only, which is pure atmosphere, and completely unnecessary to the plot.

Much less impressive is the animation, supervised by Hiroyuki Okiura. Compared to ‘Akira’ or contemporary output by the Ghibli studio, the animation in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ looks cheap and low-budget. There are many scenes in which there’s hardly to no animation at all, especially during the dialogue scenes, and talking is suggested by a bare minimum of means. For example, there’s a shot of Kusanagi talking that uses only two drawings in rapid succession. Even worse, the cyborgs can talk to each other without speaking, leaving several scenes totally unanimated. This is too bad, for when there’s more effort placed into the animation, it’s actually quite good. Especially a complex scene in a crowded market place stands out as a great piece of animated action, as does the final battle between the colonel and a robot tank. The 2d animation is often combined with rather primitive computer animation, which may have looked quite cool then, but which hasn’t aged very well. Most impressive is the use of CGI in the camouflage suits.

The character designs, too, also by Okiura, leave much to be desired. The characters are very generic, and rather angular, and lack the appeal of those in contemporary Ghibli or Otomo films. Kusanagi is hardly the sexy heroine she’s supposed to be, and often looks uncannily masculine. At least the Western characters are distinguishable from the Asian ones, a rather rare feat in anime.

Thus ‘Ghost in the Shell’ may disappoint the pure animation lovers, but will delight those interested in Japanese science fiction and cyborg themes. As such it’s a film that has aged surprisingly well. Even better, the feature’s relevance has only grown since then, as the real world has been rapidly moving towards the future depicted in the film.

In 2004 ‘Ghost in the Shell’ was followed by a sequel, ‘Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, and in 2017 by a live action version, starring Scarlett Johansson as the major.

Watch the trailer for ‘Ghost in the Shell’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ghost in the Shell’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Chris Bailey
Release Date: August 11, 1995
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

When compared to ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol’ (1983) and ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ (1990), ‘Runaway Brain’ is a much less classic or classy affair. Based on a story idea by Tim Hauser, it has a genuine modern setting (in the first scene we watch Mickey playing a Snow White video game) and a horror motive, not seen in a Mickey Mouse film since ‘The Mad Doctor’ (1933).

The premise of the film plays on the relationship between Mickey and Minnie: to celebrate their anniversary, Mickey has planned a trip to a miniature golf course, but Minnie mistakes it for a trip to Hawaii on the same newspaper page, and runs off, happy as she can be. Mickey, however, is horrified by this mistake, realizing he cannot afford the necessary $999,99.

Luckily, Pluto helps him out by showing him the wanted ads, and Mickey immediately finds one offering exactly this amount for only a day of mindless work. This, of course, is a less rosy proposition than it seems, and soon Mickey finds himself prisoner of a mad chimp called Dr. Frankenollie (the name is a nice reference to legendary Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, and the character may be based on the mad professors Ecks, Doublex and Triplex from Floyd Gottfredson’s classic 1932 Mickey Mouse comic ‘Blaggard Castle’). This Frankenstein-like chimp swaps Mickey’s brain for a giant Pete-like monster, unfortunately dying during the process (this is the only death occurring in a Mickey Mouse film).

Mickey has never before been deformed so much as in this cartoon: while the real Mickey is trapped in giant Peg-leg Pete’s body, monster Mickey has become a rugged, wild character, running after Minnie in a chase that ends on top of a skyscraper, recalling that other great 1930s horror film, ‘King Kong’. Luckily, Mickey saves the day, and halfway a frantic chase, his and the monster’s brain get swapped back again when they both land on a power line.

‘Runaway Brain’ is a clear attempt to modernize Mickey: the short is fast paced, full of extreme angles and surprisingly gross gags (for a Disney cartoon that is). It’s not entirely successful in its attempt, however. The rather ugly color design is all too typical of the early 1990s, and Mickey’s playing of a video game actually makes the short look dated. This scene frankly adds nothing to the rest of the film, which has a much more timeless character due to its Frankenstein meets King Kong-like story.

Watching the distorted version of Mickey is rather unsettling, and it’s rather surprising that the studio allowed the animators to get away with such a deformation of their corporate symbol. Indeed, the merchandise department was far from happy with this short. Nevertheless, like the earlier ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol’ ‘Runaway Brain’ was good enough for an Academy Award nomination, showing that Hollywood had not quite forgotten the mouse. Yet, the film understandably lost to the Wallace and Gromit film ‘A Close Shave’.

There’s much to say for the cartoon, however. The animation, supervised by Andreas Deja, is top notch, and a great example of the high standards of 2D animation of the Disney renaissance, before the threat of computer animation kicked in, and cut this development short. As one can expect, the action is relentless, and the short is over before you know it. The best gag may be when the monster discovers a picture from ‘Steamboat Willie’ (1928) in Mickey’s wallet, prompting our hero to say ‘that’s old’.

Watch ‘Runaway Brain’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 128
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Prince and the Pauper
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Get a Horse!

‘Runaway Brain ‘ is available on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color Volume two’

Director: Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen
Release Date: June 15, 2020
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Dutch online Kaboom Animation Festival was not only about shorts, it also presented thirteen feature films, of which I have seen five, the first being ‘My Favorite War’.

‘My Favorite War’ is an animated documentary and autobiography. In this feature film director Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen tells about her youth in Latvia when it was still part of the Soviet Union, “the self-proclaimed happiest country in the world” as she tells us at the beginning of the film. We follow little girl Ilze from 1974 until the singing revolution of the late 1980s, which resulted in Latvia’s independence of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Burkovska Jacobsen brings daily life in the communist, totalitarian regime back to life, which not only does look hopelessly old-fashioned when compared to contemporary Western Europe, but which also is strikingly preoccupied, even obsessed with its heroic past. Practically everything in Ilze’s life revolves somehow in defending the great Soviet Union against fascism, like the Soviets had successfully done during World War II (the favorite war of the title). In fact, much of Ilze’s life is devoted to a bleak and pointless preparation for a war that never comes.

Ilze lives near a site in which Nazi Germany managed to keep an isolated fastness until the general capitulation, called the Courland pocket, which Burkovska Jacobsen calls the Courland Cauldron, and near a Soviet army training site, and both localities make a marked impression on her daily education and social life. As if the Soviet Union wanted to make their inhabitants relive World War II constantly and persistently. Likewise, Burkovska Jacobsen’s tale often shifts back to the 1940s to tell what happened in the Courland pocket.

Even more tension comes from the contrast between Ilze’s father, a member of the communist party, and her grandfather, a so-called enemy of the state and a Siberia camp survivor. For example, to protect her grandfather and her mother, Ilze strives to become the best member of the communist party…

‘My Favorite War’ is a very sympathetic and welcome film, and tells very well how it is to live under an oppressive regime. Tales like this cannot be told enough, for they show us the values of freedom and democracy. But this does not mean that ‘My Favorite War’ is without its flaws: the film makes interesting use of collage techniques, but the designs are a little inconsistent, and could have done with bolder artistic choices. Worse, the cut-out animation is rather stiff, and at times downright amateurish, hampering the story. The dialogue, too, is dreadfully stiff, and too often fails to come to life, at all. Thus the characters on the screen remain wooden puppets, missing an opportunity to penetrate one’s heart. The best animation is when Ilze kicks the bucket of garbage she has to take outside. This is a rare moment of effective little realism in a tale of otherwise rather grand gestures.

In fact, the symbolic parts are the best. Especially entertaining is the sequence in which Ilze visualizes why her town is deprived from butter, supposedly because it’s saved for the Great War to come. And the film’s most harrowing tale, that of Ilze’s friend Ilga, is in fact told in live action, by the present Ilga herself. In the end one cannot escape the feeling that Burkovska Jacobsen has been relatively lucky to have lived in the twilight days of the Soviet Union, and to have experienced the thaw of Perestroika and the freedom following the singing revolution. But it comes to no surprise that the film ends as a pamphlet against all oppressors, for Burkovska Jacobsen knows well enough what she’s talking about.

Watch the trailer of ‘My Favorite War’ and tell me what you think:

‘My Favorite War’ is not yet released on home media

Director: Bob Hatchcock
Airing Date: April 17, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

This episode starts with Aunt Bernice finding a crystal in her own backyard and taking the family to a new age fair to let it examine.

Against all odds it’s Duckman who gets the most spiritual journey of his life, when he talks to his late mother, who has reincarnated as a highly infectious germ. It turns out that Duckman was heavily neglected by his mother during his childhood, and in a flashback we see some rare footage of Duckman as a kid. Duckman’s mother explains her son that it’s all about karma, which prompts Duckman to better his life in his own unique way, by stuffing his kids full of bad food, by bribing their teachers, and by building a baseball field right on a railroad track.

Duckman’s encounter with his mother forms the heart of the episode, and this part is surprisingly sincere, despite the occasional joking, making this one of those welcome episodes exposing more of Duckman’s emotional side.

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

This is Duckman episode no. 19
To the previous Duckman episode: America the Beautiful
To the next Duckman episode: In the Nam of the Father

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

Director: Jeff McGrath
Airing Date: April 3, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

‘Inherit the Judgement: The Dope’s Trial’ starts with Duckman and the family driving through the desert in a hot car in search of some idiotic bargain.

They crash into some hick town, which happens to be the home town of Ducman’s rival King Chicken (see ‘Ride the High School‘ and ‘Joking the Chicken‘ from the first season). By exclaiming that the egg came before the chicken Duckman gets imprisoned and is about to be hanged, but he manages to save himself on trial by making King Chicken revealing his own vile scheme.

The episode ends with Cornfed parodying Porky Pig, but the episode’s highlight is King Chicken’s ‘Down with Duckman Carnival’, which is full of crazy rides based on killing Duckman.

Watch ‘Inherit the Judgement: The Dope’s Trial’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 17
To the previous Duckman episode: Days of Whining and Neurosis
To the next Duckman episode: America the Beautiful

‘Inherit the Judgement: The Dope’s Trial’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Raymie Muzquiz
Airing Date: March 18, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

‘Married Alive’ start with Duckman’s house being in the baddest shape imaginable, with everything broken and undefined gore lying in heaps everywhere.

It turns out that aunt Bernice has been away, but when she returns, she’s not even mad, but sings Giacomo Puccini’s aria ‘O mio babbino caro‘, because she’s in love. During her holiday a billionaire and media magnate called Baron von Dillweed proposed to her to star the first infomercial-wedding ever. Duckman only starts to worry when Bernice reveals she’ll move to Switzerland and take the boys with her. At that point Duckman comes into action, and uses his dormant detective skills to unmask the baron in his own unique way.

This episode features a short reference to Indiana Jones, Cornfed doing karaoke, and Duckman grinding Fluffy and Uranus to rice, but the episode’s highlight must be aunt Bernice’s lovesick behavior.

Watch ‘Married Alive’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 15
To the previous Duckman episode: Papa Oom M.O.W. M.O.W.
To the next Duckman episode: Days of Whining and Neurosis

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

Director: Raimond Krumme
Release Date: October, 1994
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

In ‘Passage’ a man and his servant, who carries a heavy suitcase, are crossing an empty space of snow and ice. The snow and ice provide a conflict between the two, even disrupting the integrity of the two men’s bodies.

Typically for Krumme even the background space isn’t what it seems to be, with the servant hiding behind the horizon line, and several pieces of paper wrinkling during the fight. This is inventive use of the medium of animation, indeed.

Unfortunately, one can hardly tell the two men apart, who are drawn and animated the same (one has a tall hat, but the two even exchange hats at one moment). Moreover there’s hardly any story, and the film appears to stop only because Krumme seemingly runs out of ideas.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Passage’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Passage ’ is available on the DVD ‘Spatial Pandemonium – Short Films by Raimund Krumme’ and on The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 9

Director: Andreas Hykade
Release Date: 1995
Rating: ★★★½

‘Wir lebten im Gras’ is the first of three films in which German animator Andreas Hykade explores the loss of innocence, the other two being ‘Ring of Fire’ (2000) and ‘Der Kloane’ (The Runt, 2006).

The film is also the most cryptic of the three, full of images that are very difficult to decipher. The film is set in a rather mythical place, ‘two streets away from the end of the world’ and has a timeless and universal feel.

The story is told by a boy voice over, who reminisces about his father, who told him that “All women is whore and all men is soldier”. Outside the voice over there is no dialogue. The little boy tries to see the world through his father’s eyes, but this conflicts with his softer side, and he’d rather fall in love with the enigmatic ‘dandelion girl’.

The film is less straightforward than this synopsis suggests, however, and the film is more surreal and suggestive than narrative. For example, the boy’s adventures are interjected by nightmarish dream sequences, the meaning of which is never really explained. These dream sequences are rendered in an expressionistic pastel style, reminiscent of Lorenzo Mattotti’s art work. This style contrasts highly with the simple cel animation.

Hykade’s drawing style is highly original. His human designs are simple, almost stickman-like, but genitals are very prominent, and the father is drawn as a more robust, earthly character.

The animation is very virtuoso, with a great feel for timing. Moreover, Hykade uses a lot of changing perspective, and has an admirable command of movement.

‘Wir lebten im Gras’ was Hykade’s last student film, but it certainly is his first major work. With this film Hykade proved to be a strong new voice in the animation world, a fact he consoled with his masterpiece ‘Ring of Fire’ from 2000.

Watch ‘Wir lebten im Gras’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Wir lebten im Gras’ is available on the DVD ‘Desire & Sexuality – Animating the Unconscious Vol. 2’

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:

This is Duckman episode no. 13
To the previous Duckman episode: About Face
To the next Duckman episode: Papa Oom M.O.W. M.O.W.

‘Joking the Chicken’ 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:

This is Duckman episode no. 10
To the previous Duckman episode: It’s the Thing of the Principal
To the next Duckman episode: American Dicks

‘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:

This is Duckman episode no. 9
To the previous Duckman episode: Not So Easy Riders
To the next Duckman episode: Cellar Beware

‘It’s the Thing of the Principal’ 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:

This is Duckman episode no. 8
To the previous Duckman episode: Ride the High School
To the next Duckman episode: Not So Easy Riders

‘A Civil War’ 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’

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