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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:

‘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:

‘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

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: January 6, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★★½

The Girl's Night Out © Hanna-BarberaThe wives are complaining that the boys never take them out, so Fred and Barney take them to an amusement park, much to Betty’s and Wilma’s dismay.

At the amusement park Fred records a song for Wilma, which he leaves behind, as Wilma clearly isn’t interested. But Fred’s record is picked up by teenagers, and even makes it to the radio. Soon, Fred becomes the bespectacled teenage idol Hi-Fye.

In his new career as a pop star, Fred is managed by a colonel, who keeps rambling about a boy from Georgia ad nauseam in a rather lame running gag. The Georgia reference is a rare occasion of a real contemporary reference within the series instead of a phony one (like ‘Hollyrock’), and belies the supposed stone age setting of the series.

Anyway, Barney, Wilma and Betty accompany Fred, alias Hi-Fye on a tiring tour, until the wives are so fed up, they spread a rumor that Hi-Fye is in fact a square, thus ending the teen idol’s career within seconds.

This episode is a nice satire on the pop music industry of the late 1950s and early 1960s with its rapid turnover of pop stars. The period between the end of rock-‘n-roll (ca. 1958) and the advent of The Beatles in 1963 was particularly depressing in that respect, with teen idols with shallow hit songs and a short product live span flocking the jukebox.

Fred Flintstone seems to be the epitome of such stardom, having only one hit: his updated version of the age old song ‘Listen to the Mocking Bird’, the origins of which go way back to 1855. Nevertheless, watching Fred doing his ridiculous ‘gimmick’ as Hi-Fye is a sheer delight. The episode also contains a short reference to Hot Lips Hannigan (the star of the episode of the same name) as being way out.

Apart from the pop music scene of the early 1960s, this episode unwillingly gives us a little insight in the depressing life of housewives of the era, who never go out of their homes and whose reason of existence seems to be to serve their husbands. True, more episodes of The Flintstones display this sobering fact, but in ‘The Girl’s Night Out’ this pre-feminist life is made the main subject of the episode.

Watch ‘The Girl’s Night Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 15
To the previous Flintstones episode: The Prowler
To the next Flintstones episode: Arthur Quarry’s Dance Class

‘The Girl’s Night Out’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: November 25, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★★½

The Engagement Ring © Hanna-BarberaBarney has bought an engagement ring for Betty and he asks Fred to keep it from him.

By chance, Wilma discovers the ring and thinks Fred had bought it for her. So Fred has to buy one himself. Unfortunately the jeweler doesn’t allow him any credit, so Fred makes Barney try to fight a boxing champ for three minutes to earn the necessary 500 bucks… All the time, the wives are way ahead of the boys.

‘The Engagement Ring’ is one the best written, most inspired and funniest Flintstones episodes, even if it doesn’t contain any prehistory gag. Especially, the cake bake scene accounts for some great slapstick, with Fred being covered in flour as a highlight.

At the same time this is also one of the sweetest of the Flintstones episodes. All four protagonists act lovingly this time. There’s none of Fred’s usual grumbling, save for one short early scene. And, for once the episode has a rare happy ending, celebrating the neighbors’ marriages. At the same time, the episode retains the basic idea of the husbands habitually lying to their wives.

The animation is funnier than usual, with more extreme poses. For example, when Barney realizes he has to fight the champ, we for once see the whites of his eyes. This episode contains a guest appearance by Bill Thompson (the voice of Droopy) as a poor bloke who finally made his 600th payment, and gets his children back.

Watch ‘The Engagement Ring’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 9
To the previous Flintstones episode: At the Races
To the next Flintstones episode: Hollyrock, Here I Come

‘The Engagement Ring’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: January 1961
Stars: Inspector Willoughby
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Rough and Tumbleweed © Walter Lantz‘Rough and Tumbleweed’ introduces Inspector Willoughby, an incarnation of the little guard from ‘Salmon Yeggs‘ (1958).

Inspector Willoughby is a very, very Droopy-like character: he is small, undisturbed and persistent and even sounds like Bill Thompson, the voice of Droopy. The animators added a funny jumpy walk to the character.

In his first film Willoughby tries to arrest fierce bandit Boy McCoy. This leads to several gags in the best Tex Avery tradition. Particularly inspired is the scene in which Boy McCoy tries to get a train to run over a safe full of dynamite, which is attached to his leg. Unfortunately, there are two train tracks, and a multitude of trains pass by without McCoy succeeding in his plan. It’s nice to watch such inspired comedy in a cartoon made as late as 1961, when the golden age arguably was already over.

Watch ‘Rough and Tumbleweed’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rough and Tumbleweed’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2″ as part of the ‘Woody Woodpecker Show’

Directors: Chuck Jones & Abe Levitow
Release Date: January 10, 1959
Stars: Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Baton Bunny © Warner Bros.

‘Baton Bunny’ is the last of Chuck Jones’s great tributes to classical music, following ‘Long-Haired Hare‘ (1949), ‘Rabbit of Seville‘ (1950) and ‘What’s Opera, doc?‘ (1957).

The short also forms the closing chapter on a long tradition of concert cartoons with cartoon stars conducting, which goes all the way back to the Mickey Mouse short ‘The Barnyard Concert‘ from 1930. True, ‘Baton Bunny’ is not the last of such cartoons (it was e.g. followed by MGM’s ‘Carmen Get It (1962) starring Tom & Jerry, and ‘Pink, Plunk, Plink‘ (1966) starring the Pink Panther), but these cartoons are hardly the classics ‘Baton Bunny’ certainly is.

Bugs Bunny is the sole performer in the cartoon – we don’t even see the orchestra members, only their instruments. Bugs Bunny and the orchestra play Franz von Suppés overture ‘Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna’ (1844), which Bugs conducts not only with his hands, but also with his ears and feet. Like earlier conductors Mickey (‘The Band Concert‘, 1935) and Tom (‘Tom & Jerry at the Hollywood Bowl‘, 1950) Bugs has some troubles while conducting: with a fly, echoing Mickey’s problems with a bee in ‘The Band Concert’, and with his collar and cuffs, echoing Mickey’s problems with his over-sized costume. Highlight is Bugs’ reenactment of a Western pursuit featuring a cowboy, an Indian and the cavalry, only using his ears to change into each character.

But throughout the cartoon Bugs is beautifully animated, with strong expressions, and deft hand movements. It’s a sheer pity that in the end, the fly turns out to be Bugs’ only audience. But Bugs is not too proud to bow for the tiny creature that had troubled him so much just before. Apart from the animation and Michael Maltese’s entertaining story, ‘Baton Bunny’ profits from Maurice Noble’s beautiful background art, and great staging. Thus the short is a wonderful testimony of Warner Bros. cartoon art of the late fifties.

Watch ‘Baton Bunny’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 140
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Pre-hysterical Hare
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hare-Abian Nights

‘Baton Bunny’ is available on the DVD-box ‘The Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 1″

Director: Taji Yabushita
Release Date: September 3, 1958
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The White Serpent © Toei Animation‘The White Serpent’ (also known as ‘Madame White Snake’ or as ‘Panda and the Magic Serpent’) is a feature of firsts: it was the first feature made by the Tōei Studio, Japan’s first post-war feature, the first one in color, and the first to be released in the United States.

The film somewhat forms the herald of a new era within Japanese animation, and is sometimes regarded as the starting point of the Japanese animation industry. The Tōei studio at least had the intention to become the Oriental Disney. Indeed, the foundation of the Tōei Dōga studio two years earlier was partly inspired by the Japanese release of Disney’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937), which made an enormous impression on Japanese animators. Another catalyst was the coming of television, for which the studio could make numerous commercials.

For its feature film studio boss Hiroshi Okawa firmly preferred universal tales. As Disney already had mined the European legacy, the Tōei studio turned his attention to Asia. Thus, the film tells an ancient Chinese legendary love story, more or less immediately familiar to Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, and other East Asian audiences, greatly enhancing the film’s export possibilities.

The film starts with a prologue to a song, in which we watch a boy befriend a snake. Unfortunately the adults don’t approve, and he has to set the snake free. This part uses shadow-like cutout figures with little to no animation, and has a certain elegant cartoon modern feel to it. This is replaced by classic full animation as soon as the real story starts. For the abandoned snake turns out to be an immortal spirit, who now takes the shape of a beautiful girl, Pai Nang, and who revisits her former owner, the now adult Hin Hsien.

Unfortunately, their love is disrupted by a bonze called Hokai, who fights evil spirits and who takes Pai Nang for one. Typically for a Japanese film, Hokai is no real villain, but a man who tries to save Hin Hsien on incorrect assumptions. Also starring are a fish spirit who turns into a little girl called Hsiang Ching, and two animal sidekicks called Panda and Mimi (a fox), who seem to have walked straight from a Disney movie, although they are clearly nipponified on the way. When Hin Hsien is banished, the two go looking for him, and on the way they beat and befriend an animal gang of robbers and thieves.

The fight between Panda and the gang leader, a large pig, is one of the highlights of the movie. Another is the celestial combat between Pai Nang and Hokai, an extraordinary scene by all means, as is Pai Nang’s journey through heaven in search for the dragon ruler of all spirits.

Overall the film has a poetic and magical atmosphere, greatly enhanced by Chui Kinoshita’s evocative music, and the narrative moves at a leisurely speed, sometimes aided by a voice over. The animation varies from fair to excellent. Especially the animals are very well done. There’s no attempt at lip synch, however, and at times the voices seem detached from their animated bodies. On the other hand, this feat would have made overdubbing rather easy, and as the film was designed to be distributed all over Asia, this must have been a conscious choice.

Overall, the animation style has more in common with contemporary European products than with Disney animation. There’s a poetic elegance and naivety to it that certainly adds to the movie’s charm. Indeed, the film was a success in Japan, and attracted all kinds of animators to the Tōei studio, including a young Hayao Miyazaki, who joined Tōei in 1963.

In all, ‘The White Serpent’ is by all means a successful start of a new era, and a film that still entertains today.

Watch the 1958 trailer for ‘The White Serpent’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The White Serpent’ is available as a French DVD-release called ‘le serpent blanc’

Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: January 27, 1958
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Dooley
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Misguided Missile © Walter Lantz‘Misguided Missile’ starts with a familiar Woody Woodpecker trope of Woody being hungry and looking for food.

In the first scene we watch him picking with a bunch of pigeons, until he says ‘this is for the birds’, and tries to steal a man’s lunch box. When this fails, Woody immediately turns his attention to the ‘Jobs wanted’ page in the newspaper the man is reading, looking for a “Job for Goldbrickers”, as a super salesman selling insurance. Woody even dresses like a skunk to get the job, in a sequence that is reminiscent of a similar scene in Carl Barks’s comic ‘Land of the Totem Poles’ (1950).

In his new profession as a travelling salesman he tries to sell Dooley an insurance policy. This sequence forms the highlight of the cartoon, as Woody reads to Dooley which calamities the insurance covers, which promptly make these happen to the bearded fellow. In a matter of seconds Dooley gets hit by a safe, hit by a streetcar, falls into a printing press, is hit into the ground by a pile-driver, etc.

This remarkable selling strategy succeeds, and Dooley signs. But Dooley double-crosses Woody, thinking he now is insured against everything. He is, except for guided missiles. So Woody launches the slowest guided missile thinkable on Dooley. The rest of the cartoon consists of the guided missile slowly following an agonized Dooley. This is by all means a remarkable sequence, greatly enhanced by the tick-tock sound effects and Clarence Wheeler’s inspired music accompanying the missile.

Curiously, eleven days later, the slow missile would return in the earlier produced Droopy cartoon ‘Sheep Wrecked‘. Indeed, both cartoons were penned by the same writer: Homer Brightman.

Watch ‘Misguided Missile’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Woody Woodpecker cartoon No. 82
To Woody Woodpecker’s debut film: Fodder and Son
To the next Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Watch the Birdie

‘Misguided Missile’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  June 21, 1910
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Les douze travaux d'Hercule © Émile Cohl‘Les douze travaux d’Hercule’ is a funny re-telling of the twelve labors of Hercules.

In Émile Cohl’s cut-out film Hercules is a rather fat man with quite a stupid look on his face, and the way in which he does the twelve labors is devoid of all realism. For example, every scene ends with hercules leaving the scene flying. Because of its comic character and silly animation, the film is quite entertaining.

The short even contains a novelty: in ‘la ceinture d’Hyppolyte’ Cohl suggests a fight between Hercules and the Amazones by showing 37 frames of pure abstract shapes, which are held for only 1 to 2 frames, giving the viewer an impression of a series of explosions. This comic device of abstract images suggesting a fight most probably had never been used on the animated screen before. But of course would be repeated in many cartoons after. The cut-out shapes are similar to those of artist Jean Arp, whose much more famous work is of a later date.

Watch ‘Les douze travaux d’Hercule ‘ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les douze travaux d’Hercule ‘ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1910
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Le peintre néo-impressioniste © Émile Cohl‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’ is a pure comedy film by cinema pioneer Émile Cohl.

This short is about a painter who cannot even draw a live model (his painting is that of a stick man). When a client arrives the talentless painter tries to sell his monochrome paintings to a client, exclaiming that they are all figurative. For example, the red painting involves a cardinal eating lobster at the red sea, and the green one shows a green devil playing billiards in the grass, while drinking absint.

The imaginary pictures are all shown in cut-out animation, and the colors are beautifully rendered by hand coloring. In the end the client buys them all, leaving the painter and his model laughing.

Watch ‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1909
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Les transfigurations © Émile Cohl‘Les transfigurations’ starts with some live action footage of some street artist inviting passers-by to take a peak inside his fortune-telling machine on a street corner.

The machine shows one man his future wife, another his career, and another his rise and fall. The three customers all leave the machine in anger, much to the street artist’s delight. Only the fourth, who gets a vision of his mother-in-law leaves the stage laughing and hopping with the man from the machine.

The images of the machine are rendered in a great mix of pen animation, cut-out and stop-motion, and know a great deal of metamorphosis, Cohl’s strong point. For example, the future wife changes into an old hag, into a weather-vane and into a doll, while the mother-in-law changes into another hag, and into a crocodile. The best animation is that for the third man. The message of his transformations are rather unclear, but they are mesmerizing nonetheless, as we watch the man change e.g. into a devil and into a monkey.

‘Les transfigurations’ is comparable to ‘Les générations comiques‘ and ‘Les lunettes feériques‘ from the same year, and certainly one of Cohl’s best satirical movies.

Watch ‘Les transfigurations’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les transfigurations’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: July 10, 1909
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Les joyeux microbes © Émile Cohl‘Les joyeux microbes’ is one of Cohl’s most inventive and most creative films.

The short starts with a live action scene of a man visiting a scientist, who claims the man is full of microbes. To prove his point he shows the man his microbes through the microscope. We watch what the man sees: this is where the animation starts, as the microbes under the microscope start moving and morphing, and change into caricatures of politicians, of a car driver, a man drinking, etc.

Cohl’s inspired metamorphosis and readable drawing style come together in this film to entertaining effects. In the end the man exclaims ‘Dieu! Je suis malade!‘ (My God, I’m ill!), and throws a painting over the laughing scientist, before rushing out.

Watch ‘Les joyeux microbes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les joyeux microbes’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: October 8, 1908
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

L'Hôtel du silence © Émile Cohl‘L’hôtel du silence’ is Émile Cohl’s answer to J. Stuart Blackton’s influential ‘The Haunted Hotel’ from 1907. Unlike Blackton, Cohl doesn’t employ stop motion in his film, however, making ‘L’hôtel du silence’ an addition to the trick film tradition, not an entry in the animation canon.

The film features a man visiting a hotel without any personnel. The man’s stay at the hotel is far from pleasant, however: his dinner disappears into the floor, his bed throws him on the floor when the alarm clock rings, and a shower soaks him completely. In the end, he’s confronted by an enormous bill. The man tries to sneak away without paying, but he is held inside the lobby by the desk. Even the door refuses to let him go out before he has paid some tips. This last gag is arguably the best of the whole film.

The unknown actor who plays the hapless visitor clearly is a professional clown: he acts out his emotions to the audience with broad gestures, and he’s clearly used to slapstick comedy, making him a forerunner of the American slapstick tradition. The camera remains static, with all the actions taking place in two tableaux: the lobby and the bedroom. Cohl uses a lot of contraptions and quite some trick photography, but no animation to tell his story, which is quite static, but pretty amusing for a film of the 1900s.

Watch ‘L’hôtel du silence’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘L’hôtel du silence’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: November 12, 1908
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Un drame chez les fantoches © Émile CohlAfter two drawn animation films of mind-blowing surrealism, Émile Cohl turned down his wild fantasy to tell a much more consistent tale.

‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ tells of a man, who, after being rejected by a woman, enters her house, chases her away and rips off her dress. The woman is rescued by a policeman, who gets awarded for this deed. The evil man gets arrested, but he escapes from jail to beat up another man. In the end the woman declares her love for the policeman, and all four protagonists take a bow to the audience.

‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ is told in the same simple stick man style as ‘Fantasmagorie‘ and ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche‘, but metamorphosis now is used as a story device to go from one scene to another. At that point the scene devolves into abstract shapes, which then rearrange into another setting. This is a novel and totally unique way of cutting, and it’s a pity it has not been used more often. The cartoon’s clear plot makes ‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ the first drawn film ever to tell a story.

Watch ‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: October 16, 1908
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Le cauchemar de Fantoche © Émile Cohl‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’ can be seen as the sequel to ‘Fantasmagorie‘.

Like Cohl’s groundbreaking film, the short consists of a stream-of-consciousness-like series of images, in which metamorphosis and free association run wild. The little clown from ‘Fantasmagorie’ is nowhere to be found, and the hero of this film, despite being called Fantoche as well, is a rather bland stick man, who has to endure quite some body deformations, for example changing into a pumpkin and into an umbrella. At one point he’s even hanged.

Nothing is certain in Cohl’s fantasy world, and ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’ is every bit as interesting as ‘Fantasmagorie’, and the only reason it is much, much less known, is because it suffers the fate of simply not being the first.

Watch ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Directors: Paul Driessen & Kaj Driessen
Release Date: 2008
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The 7 Brothers © Paul DriessenWith ‘The 7 Brothers’ Dutch director Paul Driessen elaborates on the fairy tale ideas he had explored in ‘3 Misses’ (1988).

‘The 7 Brothers’ tells the tale of no less than seven old writers, and their stories, all Driessen’s own idiosyncratic variations on classic fairy tales, featuring a mixture of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats, Snow White, Puss in Boots and Hansel and Gretel. There are seven short gags, all rather cruel takes on the familiar tales.

The film is unique within Driessen’s oeuvre, for its use of live action: the seven gag segments are bridged by shots of the old men wandering on a cobbled street at night. These surreal live action images were directed by his son, Kaj Driessen. The result is a beautiful and funny, if rather unassuming film.

Watch ‘The 7 Brothers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The 7 Brothers’ is available on the DVD ‘Animazing! – Mindblowing Animation Films Supportes by the Netherlands Film Fund 1998-2008’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 19, 1941
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Nix on hypnotricks © max fleischer‘Nix on Hypnotricks’ starts with some Eastern hypnotist called Prof. I. Stare, who needs a human victim.

He chooses one randomly, with the use of a phone book. This random victim happens to be Olive Oyl, who he manages to hypnotize through the phone, ordering her to come to him. This turns her into a mindless zombie walking to his office. This passage leads to more or less a remake of ‘A Dream Walking’ (1934), with Olive Oyl walking on great heights, and Popeye going at great lengths in saving her. This sequence is no less than hilarious, with gags rolling in plenty. At one point we even watch the both walking absentmindedly on top of a building in construction. Spinach turns Popeye into a Superman, with S-logo and cape, in a tribute to his new fellow cartoon star (at the time of the film’s release, the Fleischers had released two Superman cartoons). However, to save Olive from the spell, Popeye has to slap her. Unfortunately, Olive immediately punishes him for doing so…

‘Nix on Hypnotricks’ is a genuine gag cartoon and shows the Fleischer studio in top form. Who would have thought the two brothers would be out of business within half a year?

Watch ‘Nix on Hypnotricks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 101
To the previous Popeye film: The Mighty Navy
To the next Popeye film: Kickin’ the Conga ‘Round

‘Nix on Hypnotricks’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: November 24, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

what's cookin' © walter lantzThis short opens with a groundhog warning for a terrific cold wave and urging all birds to go South at once.

All birds (drawn in cute 1930s fashion) leave the forest at once to take off to Miami. Not Woody Woodpecker, who takes another swim, only to discover that his summer scene changes into harsh winter within a second. Later a whirlwind deprives him of all his food, and Woody is left hungry and miserable. At that point an equally hungry cat drops by, and both characters try to eat each other, in what must be the grimmest and most violent cartoon of the sound era thus far.

The idea of characters trying to each other was revisited later by other film makers, e.g. Chuck Jones in ‘Wackiki Wabbit‘, Tex Avery in ‘What’s Buzzin’ Buzzard’ (both 1943), and James Culhane in ‘Fair Weather Friends’ (1946), which also stars Woody Woodpecker. Woody Woodpecker’s search for food would become a recurring theme in his films, e.g. ‘Ski for Two’ (1944), ‘Chew-Chew Baby’ (1945) and ‘Banquet Busters’ (1948).

Watch ‘What’s Cookin’?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Woody Woodpecker cartoon No. 3
To the previous Woody Woodpecker cartoon: The Screwdriver
To the next Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Hollywood Matador

‘What’s Cookin’?’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’ and on the Thunderbean DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: August 1, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Truant Officer Donald © Walt Disney‘Truant Officer Donald’ opens with Huey, Dewey and Louie having fun at the lake.

Unfortunately, they’re soon caught by Donald, the truant officer, who uses quite some fisherman’s gear to catch the brats. Nevertheless, the hooky playing trio succeeds in escaping from Donald’s car, and flee into their ‘pirates’ den’. What follows is a great chase routine with Donald trying to enter the hut, and the nephews defending it in ingenious ways.

The film’s highlight is the scene in which Donald tries to smoke out his nephews. Huey, Dewey and Louie use some roast chickens to pretend that Donald has killed them. They even take the gag further by letting one of them go down dressed as an angel to punish their uncle. Donald nevertheless has the last laugh, only to discover that the school is closed for summer holidays.

‘Truant Officer Donald’ is a great gag cartoon and one of Huey, Dewey and Louie’s finest. Carl Barks, who had worked on the story for this film, would revisit the idea of Donald being a truant officer and battling his nephews, in his Donald Duck comic WDC 100 (1949), with equally funny results.

Watch ‘Truant Officer Donald’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 26
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Early to Bed
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Old MacDonald Duck

‘Truant Officer Donald’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

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