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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 2 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 remain 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 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 even 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’

Directors: Charles Bowers & Raoul Barré
Release Date: 1916
Stars: Mutt and Jeff
Rating: ★★★½

Domestic Difficulties © Barré StudioWhen compared to other studio animation film of the era, Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff cartoons come across as remarkably sophisticated and lush.

Made by animation pioneers Charles Bowers and Raoul Barré at the Barré Studio, the Mutt and Jeff cartoons are very akin to Fisher’s original comic strip, relying heavily on text balloons. In this respect these cartoons are no different from the other studio animation films of the time, However, the animation is much more intricate and less stiff than animation films made at Bray’s studio, and the drawings have an unparalleled clarity, foreshadowing Hergé’s ligne claire. Nevertheless, even this cartoon relies heavily on repeated animation, with many cycles used twice or more.

In this short Mutt sneaks out to go drinking with his mate Jeff, but he’s punished by his wife, who awaits him at home with a rolling pin. There are several gags in this cartoon, but the best is when the whole background keeps revolving around the two drunk characters. This is a very original and wonderful way to depict the drunkenness of the two.

On their way home the two friends sing ‘Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula’, a big hit in 1916. Notice that Mutt and Jeff wear Mickey Mouse-like gloves, showing that these attributes are much older than the mouse.

Watch ‘Domestic Difficulties’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Domestic Difficulties’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Diplodocus’ is available on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

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’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: February 3, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★½

The Hot Piano © Hanna-BarberaIt’s Fred an Wilma’s tenth anniversary, and Wilma thinks Fred has forgotten the day, as usual.

On the contrary, Fred is buying a piano for her, at least he was until he discovers a piano costs $1500 instead of his $50. Yet, Fred manages to buy a ‘hot piano’ from a sleazy guy on the corner for just that sum.

A lot of screen time of this episode is devoted to Fred and Barney trying to get the piano in Fred’s house at night. This is a long string of slapstick gags, ending with Fred riding the piano on the street. Like ‘The Sweepstakes Ticket‘, this part has some throwback gags to Tex Avery’s ‘Deputy Droopy’ (1955) with Barney running to a mailbox to yell in it.

Much better though is the scene in which Barney and the shop owner play an elaborate, quasi-classical improvisation on the 1880 song ‘The Fountain at the Park’ at the Stoneway piano. This is one of the most delightful scenes within the complete series, greatly enhanced by the genuinely delightful music. Almost as good is the short’s finale, in which Barney and a quartet of policemen sing ‘Happy anniversary’ to the tune of Gioachino Rossini’s overture to William Tell over and over again, much to Fred’s chagrin.

Watch the anniversary song from ‘The Hot Piano’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 19
To the previous Flintstones episode: The Snorkasaurus Hunter
To the next Flintstones episode: The Hypnotist

‘The Hot Piano’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: October 7, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Hot Lips Hannigan © Hanna-BarberaThis episode opens with another feature borrowed from The Honeymooners, the series that served as the example for The Flintstones: the idea of the boys being member of an all-male society.

In this episode Fred and and Barney are members of The Loyal Order of Dinosaurs”. This club is also featured in the episode ‘The Golf Champion‘, but later the two neighbors would join the ‘Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes’.

The story starts with the two having to perform at the annual meeting. Barney practices a trampoline act, while Fred tries his luck at magic, with stuff borrowed from ‘Rockstone the Great’. In a demonstration he thinks he made the wives disappear and he and Barney take advantage of the situation to go to the Rockland Dance Hall to see Hot Lips Lannigan, an old acquaintance of Fred. Fred and Barney join in at his concert with Fred singing ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ In’, bebop style, and Barney beating the drums. Their act impresses the young hep cats, much to Wilma’s and Betty’s bewilderment, who have dressed up like hep cats themselves to catch their husbands red-handed.

‘Hot Lips Hannigan’ is one of the more inspired Flintstone episodes, even though there’s absolutely no reference to prehistoric times, at all. Highlights are the intoxicating jazz number at the dance hall, and Betty’s and Wilma’s ‘hep’ alter egos. The name Hot Lips Hannigan is modeled on that of trumpeter Hot Lips Page, but the character looks more like a white version of Dizzy Gillespie, with his beret and goatee, and he plays the latter’s iconic upright trumpet.

Hot Lips Page had already died in 1954, and bebop arguably died with the death of Charlie Parker in 1955, making this episode strangely anachronistic. Moreover, Hannigan appears to be a square in disguise (for example ‘When the Saints Go Marchin’ was a staple of the conservative dixieland bands of the time), and it’s clear the writers’ sympathies are with the conservative middle-aged, not with the more advanced music-loving youngsters. This is a rather painful conclusion in an era in which even rock-‘n-roll was already past its prime, and hard bop (the follow-up to bebop) already started to make place for post-bop and free jazz…

Watch ‘Hot Lips Hannigan’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 2
To the previous Flintstones episode: The Flintstone Flyer
To the next Flintstones episode: The Swimming Pool

‘Hot Lips Hannigan’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: September 30, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Flintstone Flyer © Hanna-Barbera‘The Flintstone Flyer’ was the very first Flintstone episode aired on television. The story was one of two already conceived before the series went to production and used to sell the series (the other one was ‘The Swimming Pool‘).

The episode establishes many aspects of the series: the setting may be in the stone age, this is a rather poor excuse for a suburban situation comedy depicting very a very standard family from mid-20th century indeed, complete with modern inventions like cars, telephone and television (how the latter two work is never revealed). This is little wonder, as the series was modeled after ‘The Honeymooners’ (aired 1955-1956), which features remarkably similar characters (for example, they love bowling, too).

Hanna and Barbera’s stone age is one of pure fantasy, and features dinosaurs coexisting with humans, despite the fact that dinosaurs had died out 65 million years before the dawn of man. In that respect ‘The Flintstones’ stand in a long tradition: dinosaurs co-existing with man could be seen in e.g. Willis O’Brien’s short ‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ (1916), in the Alley Oop comics (starting in 1932), in ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur‘ (1939), in ‘Prehistoric Porky’ (1940), and Fleischer’s Stone Age cartoons from 1940.

The Flinstones tells about Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. The two are neighbors in some suburban area of ‘Bedrock’ (population 2500). They both love bowling, and are willing to lie to their wives (Wilma and Betty, respectively) to go out to play their favorite game. When bowling, Fred has a particular walk on his toes, and when excited he shouts ‘Yabba-dabba doo!’.

In this particular episode, the guys want to go bowling, while they have to go to the opera with their wives. So, Fred pretends to be ill and then the two literally fly off to the bowling alley, using a flying machine Barney has invented before. The opera itself is a typical mismatch of Wagnerian costume and bel canto singing, a trope frequently encountered in cartoons.

The complete cartoon moves at a steady pace, and by 2018 one can only conclude that the humor is rather dated. One cannot resist the thought what poor marriages these must be that one cannot be honest to each other. This sets the tone of many episodes to come: by now they only seem to demonstrate the inequality between men and women at the time.

Moreover, little to nothing is done with the stone age concept: we watch monkeys grabbing the pins, and a soda machine that’s operated by a man, but that’s about it.

No, despite Warner Bros. veterans Warren Foster and Michael Maltese working on the stories, the classic status of this very first animated series to be aired on prime time must come from its appealing designs by Ed Benedict (who had designed cavemen before, for Tex Avery’s ‘The First Bad Man’ from 1955), clever layouts by Dick Bickenbach and Walt Clinton, and great background artwork (e.g. featuring olive skies) by Art Lozzi, Fernando Montealegre, Robert Gentle and Dick Thomas. Even the limited animation (by the likes of top-animators Ken Muse, Carlo Vinci, Ed Love, Don Patterson and Dick Lundy) remains quite interesting throughout, even if the designs are rather off at times.

Watch an excerpt from ‘The Flintstone Flyer’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the first Flintstones Episode. To the demo episode: The Flagstones
To the next Flintstones episode: Hot Lips Hannigan

‘The Flintstone Flyer’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

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.

Watch ‘The All-Purpose Machine’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

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