You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘★★★★½’ category.

Directors: Frank Braun & Claudius Gentinetta
Release Date: July 16, 2010
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

‘Schlaf’ is a black and white film using white lines on a black canvas. The film is very poetic and follows the rhythm of a snoring person, with images alternatingly speeding past the camera, or being more or less calm, allowing the viewer to register what’s in them.

Once one realizes he watches an enormous ocean liner full of people with oars, one also notes the ship is sinking, as if the ship depicts the sleeping person’s consciousness drowning into a sea of sleep. The idea is so strikingly original and its execution so well done, ‘Schlaf’ easily holds the attention throughout, despite the puzzling imagery.

Watch ‘Schlaf’ yourself and tell met what you think:

‘Schlaf’ is available on The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 9

Airing Date: December 18, 1996

Spacecase

Directors: Paul Rudish & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

This episode starts with Dexter activating an alien communicator.

Almost immediately he gets a visit of three aliens in a flying saucer. Unfortunately, they’re mostly interested in taking Dexter with them for further examination, but Dexter manages to send Dee Dee with them, instead. First he enjoys the bliss of her absence, but before soon remorse kicks in.

The scenes in which Dexter is taking in by guilt are a great echo of other guilt-cartoons like ‘Pudgy Picks a Fight‘ (1937) or ‘Donald’s Crime’ (1945). Also very entertaining is the heroic sequence in which Dexter ascends his space ship, which borrows elements from both Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars.

The Justice Friends: Ratman

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: The Justice Friends
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

In this episode Krunk and Valhallen clog the toilet, so they have to go down in the basement to fix things. But something is lurking there.

‘The Justice Friends: Ratman’ is pretty silly, and overtly tongue-in-cheek, but also all too talkative. I’m not sure about the addition of the laughing track, which does add to the corniness, but which is also pretty annoying itself. Best is Tartakovsky’s staging, with the Justice Friends frequently taking dramatic poses.

Dexter’s Debt

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

In ‘Dexter’s Debt’ Dexter gets confronted by a bill from NASA of 200 million dollars.

Dexter’s attempts to raise the money are feeble, indeed, and what’s worse, Dee Dee outdoes him every time. ‘Dexter’s Debt’ greatly plays on the relationship between brother and sister, while both Dexter’s mom and dad get more screenplay than usual. Highlight, however, is the entrance of the two NASA men.

‘Spacecase/The Justice Friends: Ratman/Dexter’s Debt’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Airing Date: December 4, 1996

Dollhouse Drama

Director: Rob Renzetti
Stars: Dexter
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

‘Dee Dee’s absence in his lab makes Dexter worried, so he concludes his big sister must be up to something.

In order to find out Dee Dee’s supposedly evil scheme, he uses a shrink ray, shrinking himself, ignoring the possible side-effects of imagination running wild due to the shrinking. Dee Dee, who has been playing with dolls all along, makes great use of this side-effect.

‘Dollhouse Drama’ is one of the most inspired Dexter’s Laboratory episodes of all. The episode builds on earlier idea, presented in ‘Dee Dee’s Room‘: that of Dexter’s imagination running wild in Dee Dee’s room. The scenes in which Dexter stars in Dee Dee’s soap opera story are no less than fantastic, and form a faint echo of the drug-influenced Perky Pat plays in Philip K. Dick’s novel ‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’ (1965). I wonder whether this is pure coincidence or not.

The Justice Friends: Krunk’s Date

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: The Justice Friends
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The bridging episodes within Dexter’s Laboratory three-part episodes were always the weakest, and ‘The Justice Friends: Krunk’s Date’ is no exception.

In this episode of the Justice Friends the Infraggable Krunk falls in love with a member of the enemy team, called She-Thing. This episode drags on, and milks the idea of the Krunk falling in love, while the two teams are clobbering each other way too long. Highlight of this tiresome and disappointing episode is the villain, ‘Comrade Red’, who’s some kind of ridiculous Soviet superhero.

The Big Cheese

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

‘The Big Cheese’ is a great episode in which Dexter tries to learn French while sleeping. Unfortunately, the record player gets stuck on a single word: ‘omelette du fromage’…

‘The Big Cheese’ is one of the all time classsic episodes of Dexter’s Laboratory, and one that viewers still remember 25 years after viewing. The whole idea of Dexter being able to utter ‘omelette du fromage’ only is hilarious in itself, but the execution is even better, taking unexpected turns. Especially, the montage sequence is an absolute delight, as is the catastrophic punchline of the episode. But to me the best part are Dee Dee’s first two expressions when she realizes Dexter can only say ‘omelette du fromage’.

Note that one of Dexter’s records is ‘Steven Hawks Sings’, which clearly refers to Stephen Hawking.

‘Dollhouse Drama/The Justice Friends: Krunk’s Date/The Big Cheese’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Directors: Alain Gagnol & Jean-Loup Felicioli
Release Date: 1996
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The cinematic duo of Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli belong to France’s most interesting animation film makers.

In the 2010s the two came to prominence with the equally idiosyncratic as entertaining animated feature films ‘Une vie de chat’ (A Cat in Paris, 2010) and ‘Phantom Boy‘ (2015). But even way back in 1996 they made an impression at animation festivals with ‘L’égoïste’ (The Egotist), a very short film about a man only loving himself. When the man falls in love with a woman, it’s because she resembles himself. All’s well until…

‘L’égoïste’ was made at the Folimage studio, which would be associated with Gagnol and Felicioli from then on. While Gagnol provided the scenario and the animation, Felicoli was responsible for the graphic design, which is a charming and very colorful type of expressionism. Both characters and background art is heavily distorted, with houses and furniture being skewed and crooked. The animation is relatively sparse but effective.

The film uses a narrator, being the voice of the egotist and unfortunately all too present music by Serge Besset. As the music hardly comments on the images this is the weakest aspect of a film that otherwise impresses because of its original visual style and very lean story telling.

‘L’égoïste’ is available on the DVD ‘Pris de Court – 14 films courts de Alain Gagnol & Jean-Loup Felicioli’ which features English soundtracks

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 
1996
Rating: 
★★★★½
Review:

‘Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbours Wife’ is the tenth and last of Phil Mulloy’s Ten Commandment films. This installment is the longest of the ten, clocking nine minutes compared to the usual four to five, and also the funniest.

In this short we follow Buck, who falls in love with his dog-loving married neighbor Sally-Ann. In order to be with her he swaps places with the dog…

Mulloy’s tale is more sophisticated than this synopsis, but it’s best not to reveal too much, lest not to spoil the fun. Joel Cutrara’s voice over is only heard in the beginning. During the rest of the cartoon the fun is greatly enhanced by the cartoony voices and silly images. Mulloy’s Ten Commandment series may be a mixed bag, the series at least ends with a bang.

‘Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbours Wife’ is available on the DVD ‘Phil Mulloy Extreme Animation’

Airing Date: June 1, 1996

Dee Dee’s Room

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

In this episode Dexter tries to retrieve a bread slicer from Dee Dee’s room.

Dexter treats his big sister’s realm as a foreign planet, and enters it in a space suit. The humor comes mostly from Dexter’s pompous, overblown voice over, making the events much more exiting than they really are.

There’s strikingly little animation in this episode, as many scenes are done in stills, and many movements done in only three or four drawings, with no inbetweening whatsoever. This visual style does add to the dreamlike atmosphere that permeates this episode. It thus is a great use of limited animation as an artistic choice, not necessarily an economical one.

Directors: Paul Rudish & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dial M for Monkey
Rating: ★
Review:

Dial M for Monkey: Huntor

‘Dial M for Monkey’ never were a successful addition to the ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’, but the ‘Huntor’ episode is particularly disappointing.

In this episode Monkey has to battle a lion-like alien hunter with an Australian accent. This is a particularly talkative opponent, and Huntor’s rambling fills almost the entire soundtrack.

This alone accounts for a tiresome watch, but this episode also demonstrates that the ‘Dial M for Monkey’ doesn’t share the same eye for design as the surrounding ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ sequences. The character designs are more generic, more like the dull 1970s Hanna-Barbera designs than Dexter’s 1950s UPA world, and the color schemes are uninventive and ugly. In fact, ‘Huntor’ emulates the cheap, ugly and forgettable cartoon style of 1970s Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoons too much for comfort. The 1970s were a low point for studio animation, and I don’t want to be reminded of that, thank you.

The Big Sister

See the post devoted to this episode

‘Dee Dee’s Room/Dial M for Monkey: Huntor/The Big Sister’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Airing Date: May 18, 1996

Double Trouble

Directors: Rob Renzetti & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee, Mee Mee, Lee Lee
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

In ‘Double Trouble’ Dee Dee gets a visit of her ballet friends Mee Mee and Lee Lee. After their ballet practice the trio goes to Dexter’s lab, much to Dee Dee’s brother’s annoyance.

In order to stop the three girls from causing havoc at his lab, Dexter clones himself with his ‘clone-o-matic’ machine, but unfortunately, the three ballet friends discover this machine, as well. Soon the lab is crowded with Dexters, Dee Dees, Mee Mees and Lee Lees in wonderful shots of complete mayhem. There’s also a nice parody of ‘Patton’ (1969), but highlight must be the running gag of a rabbit popping up from Dexter’s coat at inconvenient moments.

(Dial M for Monkey: Barbequor) Dexter’s Lab: A Story

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Airing Date: January 28, 1998
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Apparently the Dial M for Monkey episode was a controversial one. So it was replaced in later reruns by ‘Dexter’s Lab: A Story’, episode 37a from Season Two.

It has thus not been released on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’, either, being replaced on the DVD by ‘Dexter’s Lab: A Story’, as well. It’s a pity we have to miss ‘Dial M for Monkey: Barbequor’, but it’s certainly a delight to watch ‘Dexter’s Lab: A Story’, for it’s one of the most hilarious Dexter episodes of all.

The episode starts with a dog following Dexter home. When the dog chases Dee Dee out of his lab, Dexter decides he can stay. Unfortunately, he has problems communicating with the over-friendly mutt, so Dexter decides to invent a pill that makes the animal talk…

The dog’s speech forms the undisputed highlight of this cartoon, but the expressions on the dog are priceless, as well.

Changes

See the post devoted to this episode

‘Double Trouble/Dial M for Monkey: Barbequor/Changes’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’, with aforementioned changes.

Directors: Donovan Cook & Raymie Muzquiz
Airing Date: March 9, 1996
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

‘The Girls of Route Canal’ finally reveals how Duckman met Beatrice, the mother of Ajax, Mambo and Charles.

It’s the latter two who prompt Duckman to reminisce about how he found the love of his life. They have girl problems of their own, wanting to woe Amanda and Alexis, who are taken by two bullies.

‘The Girls of Route Canal’ is certainly not devoid of comedy, far from it; priceless, for example, is Mambo’s and Charles’ wondering why they like Amanda and Alexis so much. Also great is Cornfed’s short cameo. But overall this is a gentle and surprisingly genuinely romantic episode. This makes ‘The Girls of Route Canal’ one of those scarce episodes in which Duckman is actually more than a completely ignorant, selfish beast. This makes ‘The Girls of Route Canal’ a welcome diversion from more one-dimensional episodes like ‘Apocalypse Not‘ and ‘Clear and Presidente Danger‘.

Watch ‘The Girls of Route Canal’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 31
To the previous Duckman episode: Clear and Presidente Danger
To the next Duckman episode: The Mallardian Candidate

‘The Girls of Route Canal’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Michèle Lemieux
Release Date:
February 15, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★★½
Review:

One of the most original devices for animation is the pinscreen, deviced by Alexandre Alexeïeff and his wife Claire Parker in the 1930s. Already in 1933 Alexeïeff himself demonstrated the power of this instrument with ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve‘. However, it almost seemed that the use of machine would die with the great master.

Luckily, Canadian animator Jacques Drouin has continued this tradition, and passed it on to Michèle Lemieux. With its soft black and white images the pinscreen is especially fit for poetical images, and Lemieux’s film certainly is very lyrical. The film is subtitled ‘four meditations on space and time’, and consists of four parts, only bridged by the short’s protagonist, a piano playing man, living in a round chamber.

There’s no traditional story and no dialogue, and little music (which can only be heard during one episode and the finale). But the images are very absorbing, and the sound design is superb. The first episode, in which the man watches some strange phenomenons in the sky, is most intriguing, as is the second episode, which makes great use of metamorphosis. The third, however, is rather static, and relies a little too much on the music to evoke mood. Most disturbing is the fourth chapter, ‘The return of Nothingness’, in which a flying object sucks all objects in the man’s room away from him.

Lemieux ends her beautiful, if rather puzzling film with the pinscreen itself, and she cleverly uses the device to depict the man’s transfiguration. In all, Lemieux proves a very capable animator on this intriguing device, and one hopes she’ll make more animation films this way.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Here and the Great Elsewhere’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Here and the Great Elsewhere’ is available on The Animation Show of Shows DVD Box Set 8

Director: Earl Hurd
Release Date:
August 26, 1922
Stars: Bobby Bumps & Fido
Rating:
 ★★★★½
Review:

Earl Hurd left Paramount for Educational Pictures, and with this move his style changed from pure cartooning to a very inventive and entertaining blend of live action and animation, starring his own little son as a live action director directing the cartoon stars Bobby and Fido.

‘Fresh Fish’ is a perfect example. The opening title card is already promising, reading “Bobby Bumps Film co. Feetures & Comydies. No admitence. Aplie at Offis.” Inside, we watch Hurd jr. filming Bobby and Fido, who are on a fishing boat. First the cartoon concentrates on the cartoon gags, e.g. with Fido pitying the poor fish, before the fish tantalizes the poor dog. This sequence ends when a live action cat catches the fish and runs away with it.

But then Bobby accidentally stands on the water, a fact Hurd jr. has to point out to him. At this point Bobby falls into the water after all. The idea that gravity only works when one is aware it should work is of course a familiar cartoon trope, but this is the oldest instance of this gag type I know of.

After the fall, Bobby blames the poor scenery, which, indeed, hardly indicates the presence of water. Thus, the young director places the scenery in a tub. At first Bobby and Fido are very pleased with the added realism, but they almost drown in it.

This cartoon features quite some very effective special effects, making us easily believe the cartoon Bobby and Fido are in the same room as the cat and the director. Especially the water splashing when Bobby and Fido jump into the tub is very convincing. The result is no less than delightful, and ‘Fresh Fish’ should be regarded as one of the highlights from the silent cartoon era.

‘Fresh Fish’ is available on the Blu-Ray/DVD-combo ‘Cartoon Roots: Bobby Bumps and Fido’

Director: Max Fleischer
Release Date:
1920
Rating:
 ★★★★½
Review:

‘All Aboard for a Trip to the Moon’ is a very early educational animation short. The short was animated by Max Fleischer at the Bray Studios, and apparently part of a series called ‘Goldwyn Bray Pictograph – The Magazine on the Screen’. For this short Fleischer got assistance of the Popular Science Monthly for the scientific details.

In less than 8 minutes ‘All Aboard for a Trip to the Moon’ tells about a hypothetical trip to the moon, telling us how far the moon is, and how to overcome the Earth’s gravity by using a radium-propelled rocket. Fleischer depicts quite a hard, bouncing landing of the rocket on the moon, and it’s never revealed how the vessel would be able to return to Earth, but we get some nice and convincing shots of the moon’s landscape and earth from the moon itself.

Fleischer’s drawings and animations are combined with live action footage, e.g. of a man handling radium, and another one getting dressed for the trip. Apparently in 1920 the scientists deemed a thick fur coat and a gas mask enough protection in outer space…

The short also states that radium alone can create the force to overcome the Earth’s gravity, while the Saturn V rockets that eventually would put man on the moon were fueled by a modified form of kerosene, and in 1920 kerosene itself was already well-known…

Anyhow, scientific errors aside, ‘All Aboard for a Trip to the Moon’ is an entertaining piece of infotainment. It not only predates Disney’s similar futurist television specials, like ‘Man and the Moon‘ (1955) with a staggering 35 years, it also gives an insight look in how space travel was perceived in the 1920s.

‘All Aboard for a Trip to the Moon’ is available on the Thunderbean Blu-Ray ‘Fleischer Rarities’

Director: Marlies van der Wel
Release Date: September 26, 2015
Rating: ★★★★ ½
Review:

‘Zeezucht’ (which can be translated as ‘a longing for the sea’) tells about a man desiring to be able to dive into the sea from a young age on.

Van der Wel tells her tale by alternating images of the present with those of the past. In the scenes set in the present we watch the old man, complete with Jacques Cousteau-style red bonnet, doing some impressive beach combing during a stormy night. In the scenes from the past we learn how he came to love the sea, and how he made several attempts to dive into the deep with various contraptions, all to no avail.

Meanwhile his home on the dunes expands and expands by the use of flotsam and jetsam washed up by the sea. Then, when a giant fish factory ship sinks, the old man finally sees his chance…

‘Zeezucht’ is made in a very charming cut-out animation style, combining painted material with cut-out photographic material. There’s no dialogue, but the experiences and emotions of the sea-lover are greatly enhanced by the romantic music by Dutch band Benny Sings, and by the excellent sound design by Shark @ Haaifaaideluxe.

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

‘Zeezucht’ has been issued on DVD by the director herself in a limited number

Director: Rémi Chayé
Release Date: June 16, 2015
Rating: ★★★★ ½
Review:

‘Tout en haut du monde’ was the third of four notable animated films coming from France in 2015. Rémi Chayé, who had previously worked as a storyboard artist for Cartoon Saloon’s ‘The Secret of Kells’ from 2009, directed this film, which is, surprisingly, set in Russia and knows only Russian characters.

The story, by female writers Claire Paoletti and Patricia Valeix, is set in 1882, and tells of teenager Sasha, granddaughter of the great (fictional) Oloukine, who has disappeared somewhere in the Northern ice sea with his ship Davaï. The czar has desperately trying to find his favorite explorer and his ship, offering an enormous sum of money for those who succeed, but without any result.

Sasha discovers that the czar’s search parties have been looking in the wrong region, and against her father’s will she sets out to go on a mission of her own. Being an aristocrat who knows nothing of the real world, she soon gets stuck in a Northern harbor, where she gets help from a friendly innkeeper called Olga.

Sasha soon learns what real working is, and becomes quite good at it. Thus hardened, and still as determined as before, she indeed manages to get a ship to look for the Davaï, but she and her shipmates soon have every reason to want to find the ship.

‘Tout en haut du monde’ knows a wonderful young strong woman as its leading star, but Sasha never becomes superhuman – she remains a woman of flesh and blood. In fact, throughout the movie we can feel with her, with her frustration, her naivety, her determination, and her fear.

Interestingly, there’s absolutely no love story involved (although there is some flirtation between Sasha and the cabin Boy Katch). In the end it’s clear that Sasha is destined to become a great explorer herself, not the mere wife of some aristocrat husband.

Sasha’s co-stars, too, are round characters, and certainly not without their flaws. There’s an interesting subplot involving two brothers: one captain, and the other his mate. When Sasha does find her grandfather, this is a magical and moving moment, if a rather improbable one. This this the film’s only venture beyond realism. Otherwise, the movie maintains a very realistic tone, with the dangers and hardships of the North Pole shown in their full extent.

Nevertheless, the film never becomes dire or grizzly, and this is mainly because of the extraordinarily beautiful artwork, for which Chayé was responsible as well. The film’s visual style is clearly rooted in the franco-belgian comic tradition, but has discarded almost all line work. Instead, we are treated on bold color areas, both on the characters and the backgrounds, which are in perfect harmony with each other.

The coloring is clearly done entirely on the computer, but the result is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, the film boasts one of the best color schemes and richest color palettes ever put to the animated screen. Especially, the depiction of sunlit landscapes and rooms ensures some marvelous coloring. By all means, the scenes on the North Pole are of an astonishing beauty, with the ubiquitous ice never being just white. Thus as a result, every frame is a pretty painting.

If ‘Tout en haut du monde’ knows one flaw, it’s its rushed ending. The film ends before all story lines have been resolved, and the return scenes are shown in stills during the end titles. This is a little unsatisfactory. After Sasha’s grand Arctic journey, one wishes her adventure to end on an equally epic scale, not to fade out with a sizzle.

Nevertheless, this is a film to behold, and certainly one of the best animated features of 2015. With ‘tout en haut du monde’ Rémi Chayé became a strong new voice in the animation world, a reputation he consolidated with the even better ‘Calamity, une enfance de Martha Jane Cannary’ (2020).

Watch the trailer for ‘Tout en haut du monde (Long Way North)’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Tout en haut du monde (Long Way North) ‘ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Directors: Christian Desmares & Franck Ekinci
Release Date: June 15, 2015
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

2015 was an excellent year for French animation. In May ‘The Little Prince’ came out (though largely animated in Canada, its French ties remain very clear), followed by the fresh ‘Tout en haut du monde’ (Long Way North) in June, and the lovely ‘Phantom Boy’ in September. That year I saw the last two on the Dutch Holland Animation Film Festival, and I knew of the existence of the first, but there was another great French animation film, which I had completely missed back then: ‘Avril et le monde truqué’ (April and the Extraordinary World) , also released in June. This is quite incomprehensible, for it’s a fine film, as well.

This film was entirely made to showcase the illustration style of French comic artist Jacques Tardi (born in 1946), one of the most idiosyncratic and most respected of all French comic authors. Now, Tardi’s classic comic ‘Adèle Blanc-sec’ had been made into a feature film before (2010), but that was a live action film, in which, of course, Tardi’s graphic style was lost. In ‘Avril et le monde truqué’, on the other hand, his hand is recognizable in every scene.

Tardi favors to set his stories in France during the belle époque period, roughly 1870 to 1918, but ‘Avril et le monde truqué’ takes place in 1941. Nevertheless, the complete film breathes Tardi’s favorite époque, because the story, conceived by director Franck Ekinci and screenplay writer Benjamin Legrand, is set in an alternate history in which science more or less stopped in 1870, thus before the taming of electricity.

The story starts in 1870, with a scientist looking for a serum to make soldiers immortal, but only succeeding in making two mysterious lizardly creatures talk. Then the film jumps to the background story of the alternate history, in which the steam age is extended enormously. Then one picks up the story-line with the scientist’s son, grandson and the latter’s wife trying to make the serum, as well. Young April also helps a little, and there’s also a talking cat present, called Darwin. Unfortunately, no scientist is allowed to work if not for the government, and the police is after the gang. During the chase scene, April’s parents and grandfather disappear, and she’s left alone with Darwin the cat.
Jump to 1941, in which April has become a young woman herself – also looking for the mysterious serum, while her aged cat lies in bed, coughing (there’s a lot of coughing in this film, subtly illustrating the enormous air pollution that comes with the burn of coal and charcoal).

I’ll not reveal the rest of the story, but be assured it’s pretty ludicrous. Nevertheless, it’s told very well, and never becomes dull or too unbelievable to buy, until the very last scenes, which are absolutely outrageous. Moreover, despite all the action, and a few deaths, the tone remains light and humorous, and the film never ceases to be one for the whole family.

Most interesting is the depiction of Avril herself: like Tardi’s comic star Adèle Blanc-Sec she’s a resourceful, strong and brave woman, who, in this case, also happens to be an intelligent scientist. She’s clearly way ahead of most of the (male) scientific community, and smarter than her male love interest. Between these two lovers things turn out fine in the end, but there are also two other couples depicted, which during the film are getting alienated from each other, with no chance of repair. This is a refreshing story twist, simply inconceivable in an American animated family film. Even more interesting is the film’s attitude to man and nature. The film asks some important questions, without falling into the trap of answering them, as well.

Of course, the major highlight of the film is its looks, especially for fans of Tardi’s work. Tardi’s style is a very idiosyncratic version of Hergé’s ligne clair, with much looser lines, and the use of strong blacks (most of his work is in black and white). The film transfers this style excellently to the animated screen. Both his character designs and world-making remain immediately recognizable. For example, April herself is clearly your typical Tardian heroine, her facial features resembling those of e.g. Adèle Blanc-sec, or Lili from ‘La débauche’ (2000). The other characters, too, look as if they’ve walked away from one of his books, and are a delight to watch. Special mention goes to inspector Gaspard Pizoni, one of the blundering policemen crowding Tardi’s oeuvre, and together with Darwin the comic relief of the film.

Even better, is the alternate world Tardi and the other film makers have created. Of course, their world is a version of steampunk, and their alternate version of Paris is certainly a well-conceived and magical place, with two Eiffel towers accompanying a hanging cable train to Berlin, the Opéra changed into a factory, and a towering statue of Napoleon III topping Montmartre, instead of the 1914 Sacré Coeur basilica. Steam-propelled cars fill the streets, and people stroll wearing gas masks, because of the heavy pollution, which renders most of the city in grey tones, fitting Tardi’s style perfectly. Tardi’s style is less fitting for the jungle scenes, however, and during these scenes, some of the magic of his style is lost.

The film makers cite Hayao Miyazaki as a major influence on their alternate history world, and indeed, there’s a certain kinship to Miyazaki’s ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’ (1986) and ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ (2004), which must have been the inspiration for the walking house featured in ‘Avril’. Curiously, they don’t mention Otomo’s ‘Cannonfodder’ (1994) or ‘Steamboy’ (2004), despite the obvious connections of these films to the world of ‘Avril’.

The animation, too, is very fine. The film may have been created entirely in the computer, the animation is clearly hand-drawn, with a little help of effective and certainly not too obtrusive computer animation, much in the vain of the use of computer animation in early Disney renaissance features, like ‘The Great Mouse Detective’ (1986) or ‘Aladdin’ (1992). The animation style has little of the squash and stretch principles of Disney animation, and is more akin to the Japanese animation tradition, which suits Tardi’s drawing style very well. Darwin the cat is a great example of fine animation: the character remains both a very convincing cat and a fussy character.

In all, ‘Avril et le Monde truqué’ is a surprise film, an absolute must-see for all Tardi-fans, but also recommended to all lovers of animated feature films and/or steampunk. Even if you don’t dig the zany story, there’s enough to enjoy to have a good time throughout the movie.

Watch the trailer for ‘April and the Extraordinary World’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘April and the Extraordinary World’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Faith Hubley
Release Date:
1994
Rating:
★★★★½

‘Seers and Clowns’ is one of Faith Hubley’s less comprehensible films. Like many of her other works, the short is drenched in mythology.

The film consists of five very short chapters, and uses citations from Chief Seattle, Lao Tse and Kabir. Throughout the film Hubley’s Joan Miró-like imagery remains beautiful, poetic and intriguing, but as most images consist of short animation cycles of semi-abstract figures dancing with joy, any story is hard to follow.

Most interesting is when Hubley’s enriches her style with Eastern influences (in ‘A Chinese Seer Divines Change’) or from Ancient Greece (in ‘Cybele’s Dream’). The mythological atmosphere is greatly enhanced by Don Christensen’s quasi-ethnic music.

Watch ‘Seers and Clowns’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Seers and Clowns’ is available on the DVD ‘The Hubley Collection Volume 2’

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★★½

Dutch master animator Michael Dudok de Wit came into presence with this short, made as an artist at residence at the renowned Folimage animation studio in France.

In this film Dudok de Wit already establishes his trademark command of light and shadow. The setting is a monastery bathing in Summer sunlight. In fact, all background artwork, done by Dudok de Wit himself, is gorgeous. The film has a very simple premise (a monk wants to catch a fish), uses no dialogue, and knows a simple character design and excellent comic timing. Yet, the film is not a gag film, but a rather poetic meditation on fanaticism.

The monk’s movements are echoed by Serge Besset’s excellent score, which uses variations on the tune of la folía, based on those by baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli. Music and movement are in perfect tune and form another layer of delight. Unfortunately, the film ends rather puzzling, and it’s a little as if Dudok de Wit couldn’t dream of a more proper ending to his otherwise delightful short.

Watch ‘The Monk and the Fish’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Monk and the Fish’ is available on the The Animation Show of Shows DVD Box Set 3

Director: Chuck Russell
Release Date: July 29, 1994
Stars: Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz, Peter Riegert, Peter Greene, Amy Yasbeck, Richard Jeni
Rating: ★★★★½

Based on the comic book series of the same name ‘The Mask’ was originally conceived as a horror film, but was redrawn as a comedy-fantasy, leaving the comic’s violence behind, but retaining some of its dark overtones. The resulting film turned out be a great example of the animation renaissance that were the late 1980s and early 1990s.

‘The Mask’, of course, is a live action movie, but like that other, very influential live action feature, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, ‘The Mask’ takes its inspiration from 1940s classic cartoons. The most obvious influence is Tex Avery: we can see the Avery wolf as a statue in Stanley’s apartment, where our hero Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey) watches an excerpt from Avery’s ‘Red Hot Riding Hood’ (1943). The Mask later mimics the wolf scene at the Coco Bongo Nightclub, when watching his love interest Tina Carlyle (Cameron Diaz) perform. Another Avery reference is the ridiculously long car in which the Mask arrives at the club.

Other influences come from Warner Bros. cartoons: during the transformation scene Stanley turns into a whirlwind, which is clearly inspired by the Tasmanian Devil. To make sure, the film makers show a pillow with Taz’s likeness on Stanley’s couch during this scene. In some scenes The Mask has some character traits in common with the early loony version of Daffy Duck, and in one scene, The Mask behaves and talks like Pepe le Pew, Chuck Jones’s lovesick skunk.

But The Mask has most in common with Bugs Bunny: both characters are very confident, always ready to turn threat into comedy, both kiss their enemies, both have an ability to produce props out of nowhere, and both put on highly dramatic fake death scenes. The Mask’s death scene is a particular highlight of the film, with references thrown in to Aunt Em, Old Yeller, Tiny Tim and Scarlet O’Hara. During this scene even a fake audience stands up – another nod to Tex Avery.

The Mask’s cartoony antics were realized by computer animation, then still in its early stages. The computer animation was in the good hands of Industrial Light & Magic, also responsible for some other early milestones like the CGI in ‘The Abyss’ (1989), ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (1991), ‘Death Becomes Her’ (1992), and of course, ‘Jurassic Park’ (1993). In those days CGI got visibly better with every film, thus back then the computer animation in ‘The Mask’ was spectacular in its novelty. In ‘The Mask ’the computer animation effects are all deliberately cartoony and unreal, and even if not all effects have aged very well, they’re still nice to watch.

Of course, Jim Carrey himself adds a great deal to the cartoony character of The Mask. At the time he was known by most as ‘that crazy white guy’ in the black comedy series ‘In Living Color’, and, indeed, in ‘The Mask’ he can be too much, but he shifts between his more timid Stanley Ipkiss character, and the wild Mask very well. The rest of the cast is in fine shape, too. Cameron Diaz makes her acting debut as the gorgeous Tina Carlyle, and although she’s introduced as a sex bomb in a classic scene, showing off her legs and boobs, Diaz gives her character a remarkable gentleness and depth, beyond the cliche ‘babe’ character. This is a remarkable feat giving the few scenes the character is given. No wonder ‘The Mask’ set her off on a great acting career.

Peter Greene plays a delightfully scary villain, and Peter Riegert has the unfortunate task to be the only actor to play it straight as Lieutenant Kellaway. But he’s better off than Amy Yasbeck, who is adorable as Peggy Brandt, but this journalist is the least convincing character of the whole movie. Special mention has to go to Max, the dog who plays Stanley’s dog Milo, and who manages to make this side character an entertaining addition to the cast. But even minor characters, like Dorian’s henchmen or the street gang are portrayed by fine actors.

Apart from the cartoon references the film breathes classic cinema, even though the story is set in a contemporary fictive metropolis called ‘Edge City’. First there are the cultural references. For example, the car Stanley Ipkiss loans, is an early 1950s Studebaker, at one point The Mask grasps a Tommy Gun popular with gangsters in the 1920s, he wears a zoot suit to the Coco Bongo Club, where Tina sings 1940s jazz hit ‘Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You’, and as Cuban Pete The Mask makes a complete police force doing the conga, an early 1940s dance craze. Second, the film noir atmosphere is highly enhanced by the lighting, as is the fantasy element with the film’s strong coloring.

Typically nineties are the environmental touches: the opening shot of ‘Edge City’ clearly shows a heavily polluted town, and when Stanley and Tina watch the sunset, this looks more like the Northern Lights, making Ipkiss remark “the methane emissions really pick up the colors”.

True to the source material, The Mask is not an entirely likeable character: he’s too grotesque, too creepy, and too maniacal for that. I don’t think anyone would have chosen a character wearing a bald green skull-like mask, if it had not already been in the original comics. In that respect it’s a puzzle to me that the film was followed by an animated series starring this character. In the film, Carrey mostly rescues the character from becoming appalling by using his comedy talents, but during the ‘love’ scene with Tina at the park he becomes genuinely frightening, despite the comic references, and one is relieved the cops rescue Tina from this all too insistent character.

Nevertheless, Carrey manages to make his nice, but all too timid pushover Stanley Ipkiss likable, and his transformation to a guy with guts believable. Apart from all the cartoon references, celebrating classic cartoon humor, ‘The Mask’ also manages to succeed in delivering its message: Be nice, but stand up for yourself, and don’t let people mess with you.

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

‘The Mask’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

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

T.V. or Not to Be © Klasky Csupo

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is Duckman episode no. 2
To the first Duckman episode: I, Duckman
To the next Duckman episode: Gripes of Wrath

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

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

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

I, Duckman © Klasky Csupo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the first Duckman episode
To the next Duckman episode: T.V. or Not to Be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,114 other followers
Bookmark and Share

Follow TheGrob on Twitter

Categories