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Director: Pete Docter
Release Date: May 18, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

In the first decade of the new millennium the Pixar Studio had been the king of animation, virtually topping each film with a better and more original one. But the 2010s were a completely different matter: of the eleven feature films released by the studio in the 2010s only four were no sequels.

But even worse, suddenly the average quality of the films dropped from excellent to a mere okay, with ‘Cars 2’, ‘Brave’, ‘Monsters University’ and ‘The Good Dinosaur’ being particularly disappointing. The only three bright lights in this unsatisfying decade were ‘Toy Story 3’ (2010, arguably the best animated sequel ever made), ‘Inside Out’ (2015) and ‘Coco’ (2017).

Of these three films, ‘Inside Out’ is by far the most original. In fact, it’s one of the most original mainstream feature animation films ever. The whole premise of making someone’s emotions the stars of the film is as daring as possible. True, the idea of showing emotions itself as little persons was far from new, after all, Disney’s own ‘Reason and Emotion’ (1943) was an obvious forerunner, as were more or less the Christian angels and devils aiding Pluto and Donald in ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto’ (1933) and ‘Donald’s Better Self’ (1938), respectively. But as you may notice, there never were more than two, contrasting each other.

‘Inside Out’, on the other hand, features five, based on work by psychologist Paul Ekman, omitting his sixth primary emotion surprise. The five, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust, are being shown to be in control in the brain. We watch the emotions of one eleven year old girl called Riley in particular, collecting memories, and coloring them with their particular flavor (bright yellow for joy, blue for sadness, and so on) – following scientific knowledge, in which is acknowledged that emotions affect and change memories. Now, the depiction of the inside of Riley’s brain is a wonderful piece of imaginative world-making, but still surprisingly well-rooted in science, although the idea of ‘core memories’ seems to be an invention of the film-makers alone. In the world of ‘Inside Out’ these core memories build islands of personality, in Riley’s case e.g. goofball island, hockey island, honesty island, and family island.

The film focuses on Joy, and her appreciation of her opposite, Sadness. Together with Joy we learn that sadness strengthens relationships (an idea based on the work of Dacher Keltner, another psychologist), and that sadness is a part of life. We also learn that it can be difficult to grow up, and that it’s okay to be sad about it. These are surprisingly mature messages to come from a mainstream animation film directed to the whole family, and because they’re brought so well, they make the film extra impressive.

The film starts with an introduction, narrated by Joy (Amy Poehler), in which Riley gets born and gets her first experiences, introducing the five emotions in succession. After the introduction, the main plot of the film is set in motion when eleven year old Riley moves with her parents from Minnesota to San Francisco, changing her whole life.

Meanwhile, inside her head, Joy and Sadness get lost inside Riley’s head, and have to try to find their way back home. In this sequence the two cross several sections of the brain, like the memory, imagination land, the dream factory (with film posters like ‘‘I’m Falling for a very long time in a pit’, ‘I Can Fly’, and ‘Something’s Chasing Me!’), and Riley’s subconsciousness. Highlight of this road-trip inside Riley’s head must be abstract thought, in which the characters undergo the four stages of abstraction, rendering them abstract, deconstructed, two-dimensional, and finally non-figurative. During their journey they meet Riley’s imaginary friend Bing-Bong from when she’s was only very little.
While Joy and Sadness are lost, the other three emotions try to direct Riley like Joy would do. Their funny antics correspond surprisingly well with Riley’s conflicting reactions to her new life, which leads to frustration and anger, and finally, depression.

Riley’s emotions are a mix of female (Joy, Sadness, Disgust) and male (Fear, Anger) characters, but when we take a look inside the heads of her mom, they are all female, while inside her father’s head there are only mustached male characters. Interesting is that while Riley is mainly steered by Joy, in her mother’s head Sadness is in full control, while Anger has taken the lead inside her father’s head, making one wonder what made these two adults so. At the end of the film and during the titles the emotions of several other people are shown, even including a dog and a cat.

All the settings inside Riley’s head are depicted in the most colorful and fantastic way. This is a very convincing fantasy world, indeed. The character designs, too, are inspired. The five emotions are depicted as little people, but also as bundles of energy: especially Joy’s edges are bubbly and undefined, and she has a permanent glow around her. This is an incredible tour de force of effect animation, but luckily never distracts from the well-defined characters the five emotions are. The depiction of the real world is also top notch, and seems effortless, convincingly bringing Riley’s new home of San Francisco to life, from her empty bedroom to her new ice hockey stadium. The soundtrack too, by Pixar regular Michael Gioacchino, is very inspired, and the composer gives Joy a theme song that almost matches the theme from ‘Up’ in evoking an emotional response from the audience.

The films has one major flaw, however. By focusing on Joy, this emotion must be a round character, capable of more than one emotion. Indeed, we watch Joy being fearful, and even sad. Joy being sad is such an absurd concept that at that point the suspension of disbelief is breached. Nevertheless, when Joy finally lets Sadness do her thing, this a beautiful moment in the film.

In all, ‘Inside Out’ is a very fine film, one of Pixar’s best, and certainly one of the most interesting animation films to come out of the United States in the 2010s, which can hardly be called the best decade for the medium.

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

‘Inside Out’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Don Hertzfeldt
Release Date:
March 31, 2015
Rating:
★★★★★

In ‘World of Tomorrow’ independent film maker Don Hertzfeldt greatly expands his simple stick-man style with colorful computer graphics to tell a harrowing tale of the future.

The sixteen minute-short stars a ca. 3 year old girl called Emily, lovely voiced by real youngster Winona Mae. When the phone rings, this turns out to be a call from the future, from a third generation clone of herself, voiced by Julia Pott, who uses the same flat way of speaking as Hertzfeldt himself did in his masterpiece ‘It’s Such a Beautiful Day‘. The clone sketches a rather bleak future, in which all the new and mind-blowing technology does nothing to exterminate man’s existential loneliness and anguish.

The film is part wonder part absurdist humor and part tragedy, and shares the important message with ‘It’s Such a Beautiful Day’ to celebrate life. As the clone says: “Now is the envy of all the dead“. Among the highlights are a museum of memories, death-fearing robots writing poetry, and an alien talking gibberish. The film relies heavily on the dialogue, but never ceases to show amazing images, and the sound design is fantastic, with little Winona Mae probably ad-libbing part of the dialogue. As a distant cousin of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968), ‘World of Tomorrow’ has a soundtrack that features two romantic pieces of classical music: a waltz from ‘Die Rosenkavalier’ by Richard Strauss, and a romance by Reinhold Glière.

‘World of Tomorrow’ may be less compelling than the incomparable ‘It’s Such a Beautiful Day”, it’s absolutely a wonderful testimony of Don Hertzfeldt’s idiosyncratic art. Moreover, despite its short length the film is a great little piece of science fiction, comparable in scope and depth with much more well-known live action feature films like the aforementioned ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968), ‘Moon’ (2009), ‘Interstellar'(2014), and ‘Arrival’ (2016).

The film was followed by two sequels in 2017 en 2020, which unfortunately I haven’t seen, yet.

Watch the trailer for ‘World of Tomorrow’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘World of Tomorrow’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘It’s Such a Beautiful Day’

Directors: Mark Burton & Richard Starzak
Release Date:
January 24, 2015
Stars: Shaun the Sheep
Rating:
★★★★★

Thank God for the LAIKA and Aardman Studios, which, in a time of cliché-ridden computer animated films, devote their time to the ancient art of stop-motion, and who dare to tell stories that are less trope-rich than most contemporary mainstream animation films. Of this the ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’ is an excellent example.

Shaun the Sheep made his debut in the Wallace and Gromit film ‘A Close Shave’ from 1995. From 2007 on the little sheep stars his own television series. In this series Shaun gets his own world: he’s part of a flock, owned by a nameless farmer and guarded by a partly anthropomorphized sheepdog called Bitzer. The series is rather unique in the present television animation world for both being completely animated in stop-motion, and being completely devoid of dialogue.

The first feature length movie about Shaun the Sheep features all the main protagonists from the series, and retains the lack of dialogue, a tour de force in a feature length film, rarely done before (an obvious example is ‘Les triplettes de Belleville’ from 2002). When taking Shaun the Sheep from the small television screen to the big screen of movie theaters, the studio also took the little sheep and his co-stars out of their comfortable little barnyard world and into the big city (consequently called ‘Big City’). This not only meant completely new plot possibilities, but also a multitude of very elaborate sets, full of props, which never seize to amaze in their grand scale, and richness of detail.

The plot starts when Shaun decides to have a day off. He manages to lull the farmer into sleep inside a caravan, and takes over possession of the farmer’s house. Unfortunately, the caravan plunges downhill, out of the farmer’s terrain, and into the big city. Bitzer immediately recognizes the danger, but Shaun, free at last, is a slower learner. Only when he realizes the sheep will soon run out of food, he comes into action, and follows both the farmer and Bitzer into town.

Matters get extra complicated when his flock follows him, when they encounter an animal catcher called A. Trumper, and when the farmer gets hit by a traffic light bulb, making him losing his memory. Luckily, the gang meets an ugly, but very friendly orphan mongrel called Slip (although her name is never revealed during the film), which helps them throughout the movie.

The film is full of delightful scenes, and despite Shaun’s slightly moralistic story arc (which can be summarized as ‘be careful what you wish for’ and ‘appreciate what you’ve got’), it’s clear that humor has a number one seat. Especially delightful are Bitzer’s scene at an operation room, the flock of sheep, poorly disguised as humans, dining in a fancy restaurant, and the animal prison scenes, complete with references to ‘Night of the Hunter’ (1953) and ‘Silence of the Lambs’ (1991, especially cleared for the occasion by Warner Bros.).

The movie isn’t entirely devoid of tropes, however. There’s the typical ‘all hope is lost’ scene, but even in this scene the gang stays together. There’s no conflict between the main protagonist and his friends, unlike many contemporary films (e.g. ‘Up’ (2009), ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2’ (2013), and ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ from 2016), a welcome diversion to this almost obligatory scene.

Another trope is that of the almost invincible villain (see also e.g. ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’ from 2012), played out by Trumper, who even follows the gang home in order to destroy them. Nevertheless, the story is original enough to surprise and to entertain throughout. It’s also admirable how the makers managed to even give the hapless farmer his own subplot.

The lack of dialogue means that all emotions have to be acted out solely with gestures and facial expressions. In this respect, the animators do an excellent job. There’s especially a lot of subtle emotion in the eyes, and there’s plenty of animation depicting the characters’ inner thinking. This is animation art at its peak. This, in combination with the stunning handicraft depicted in every scene, makes ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’ a stand-out in the present animation film era. The film may be targeted to children, it’s absolutely a delight for the whole family, with something entertaining for everyone. Highly recommended.

Watch the trailer for ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Release Date: July 15, 1995
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Surprisingly, ‘Whisper of the Heart’ opens with a rendition of John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’ by Olivia Newton-John, implying one of those Ghibli films with a longing for the old country side. Not so. Country Roads remains the theme song throughout the picture, but the story entirely takes place inside the city of Tokyo, and completely lacks the nostalgia of ‘My Neighbor Totoro‘ (1988), ‘Only Yesterday’ (1991) or ‘Pom Poko’ (1994).

‘Whisper of the Heart’ is one of the lesser known of the classic Ghibli films. Perhaps because it isn’t directed by either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, but instead by the much lesser known Yoshifumi Kondō, being the first theatrical Ghibli film not directed by either founder (although it must be emphasized that Miyazaki both wrote the screenplay and storyboarded the film). Or it’s perhaps because the feature’s story is surprisingly mundane when compared to contemporary Ghibli films like ‘Pom Poko’ or ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997). In fact, like the earlier TV-Feature ‘Ocean Waves’ the story of ‘Whisper of the Heart’ never really departs from reality, and has little need for animation. Only the scenes of Shizuku’s story, and perhaps the old clock and the journeys of the fat cat Muta may require the medium of animation.

The film is based on a manga by Aoi Hiiragi and tells about ca. fourteen year old girl Shizuku, who is very fond of reading, but who, during one hot summer, is obliged to leave her fantasy world and enter a more mature one of love and responsibility. ‘Whisper of the Heart’ thus is a coming of age story, and we remain with Shizuku and her inner development all the time.

There are times in the film that we, Western viewers, being used to certain tropes, are misled on what’s coming. For example, at one point, the imagery certainly invokes death, but not so. Also, in a Western film we would expect to watch Shizuku and her friends performing the song they’re talking about during the whole film. Or we would expect a loyalty conflict between Shizuku and her best friend Yuko. Again, nothing of the sort. Nor do Shizuku’s parents thwart Shizuku’s ambitions.

In fact, there’s absolutely no conflict, at all during the entire movie: Shizuku can boast to have loving friends, understanding parents, and a supportive older sister. Moreover, all the strangers she meets are absolutely kind. All the conflict Shizuku faces, takes place entirely in her own head. Yet, the Ghibli studio manages to craft a surprisingly engaging and deep story out of such little material, focusing not only on the love theme, but also on how to find your own talents and what it takes and what it means to be an artist. Thus the geode allegory forms the central message of the film, a message directed to us all.

Another aspect of the film is the extraordinary attention to detail of every day life, so typical of the Ghibli studio. Thus we get glimpses of Shizuku’s family living, studying and working in their tiny apartment. We watch dogs bark from a garden as Shizuku walks by, we watch shadows of trees moving on the pavements, the sun breaking through the clouds, etc. etc. All these little details enhance the realism of the film, which only departs into the whimsical when going inside Shizuku’s story. The animation, too, is of a high realism, as exemplified by e.g. Seiji’s effort to climb a steep hill on his bicycle. Only at a few takes the animation turns comical, for example when Shizuku’s class mates spy on her and Seiji.

‘Whisper of the Heart’ may lack the extraordinary fantasy of ‘Pom Poko’ or ‘Spirited Away’, and it’s certainly not as epic as ‘Princess Mononoke’, but it’s a moving film with a lot of heart, and certainly belongs to Studio Ghibli’s best feature films. Tragically, in 1998, Yoshifumi Kondō, who was thought of as the successor to the aging Miyazaki and Takahata, died prematurely at the age of 47, and ‘Whisper of the Heart’ remains the only film he directed. In 2002 Ghibli released a spin-off film called ‘The Cat Returns’, which incidentally became only the second Ghibli film not to be directed by either Miyazaki or Takahata.

Watch the trailer for ‘Whisper of the Heart’ yourself and tell me what you think:


‘Whisper of the Heart’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Erica Russell
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Six years after ‘Feet of Song‘ Erica Russell returned with another extraordinarily beautiful dance film, this time using three dancers in a triangular relationship.

During most of the dance two women compete for a man, and the film features several dances between the man and either one of the women, the two women together, and, in the end, all three together.

The fluency of the movement combined with the elegance of Russell’s paintwork make the film a delight to watch. During most of the film the three dancers remain recognizable as human forms, but at times they change into almost abstract forms, with a strong Bauhaus influence.

Despite the high level of abstraction ‘Triangle’ is a very sensual film, and one never loses the idea that the film is about three characters with solid bodies, no matter how sketchily drawn. Charlie Hart’s score fits the images very well with its quasi-African touch to it.

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

‘Triangle’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of British Animation Awards 1’

Director: Jonathan Hodgson
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

This hilarious little film features the most outlandish bedtime story ever put to screen.

A father starts to tell this story when his disobedient son starts hitting him with a mallet. Unusually for an animation film, the spoken tale is by far the main attraction of the film, as it winds in unpredictable directions, far from the realms of the ordinary fairy tale. But Jonathan Hodgson keeps the images interesting, as they illustrate the story, sometimes vaguely, sometimes very directly. Thus we watch the father and his son wandering on Mars, driving, in a forest and on a stage.

The film’s atmosphere is wonderfully surreal, greatly enhanced by dreamlike lighting and great timing on the otherwise rather simple, but definitely effective puppet animation. ‘Hilary’ may not have gained the fame of a ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ or ‘The Wrong Trousers‘, it still is one of the most enjoyable stop-motion films of the nineties.

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

‘Hilary’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of British Animation Awards 1’ and on The Animation Show of Shows Box Set I

Director: Jeff McGrath
Airing Date: May 8, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Season Two of Duckman lasted only nine episodes, much shorter than the other three (13, 20 and 28 episodes respectively).

The season ends with a “cheater”, a cartoon consisting substantially of existing material. But this is done in a surprisingly sophisticated way, resulting in one of the most “meta” of all Duckman episodes. In fact, even the first scene is a cheater, showing the same footage no less than three times, as Duckman, tied to a hospital bed, tries to remember what happened.

It turns out he’s kidnapped by one Harry Medfly, “currently unemployed TV-critic”, who reveals to Duckman that he’s in fact star of a TV-show, which Medfly finds repulsive. Medfly proves his point by showing short clips from previous episodes, showing Duckman at his most sexist, at his most politically incorrect, at his most inapt as a detective, as most cruel to his employees Cornfed, Fluffy and Uranus, and at his most insensitive to his family. These five series of snippets are very entertaining in themselves, but the framing story is interesting, as well.

Highlight, however, is Medfly’s attempt to kill Duckman by signalling a huge mass of television history through his head. At this stage Duckman changes into several very different television personalities in a very rapid succession of metamorphoses. This is by all means great television animation, topped only by the self-aware dialogue at the finale.

Watch ‘Clip Job’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 22
To the previous Duckman episode: Research and Destroy
To the next Duckman episode: Noir Gang

‘Clip Job’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Michaela Pavlátová
Release Date: 1991
Rating: ★★★★★

‘Words Words Words’ is set in a cafe, and explores different types of dialogue, like gossip, seduction, quarrel, pep talk, and talk of love.

The different ways of talking are depicted by colorful balloons that, contrary to the familiar text balloons in comic strips, are devoid of text. This leads to humorous and inventive images in the best surrealist tradition. The best sequence involves a couple falling in love, but then falling into discord. Luckily, the humble waiter saves the day. Running gag of the film is a little yellow dog, who secretly drinks from the visitors’ cups and glasses.

‘Words Words Words’ is a highly entertaining film, and was rightly nominated for an Academy Award.

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

‘Words Words Words’ is available on the DVD ‘Desire & Sexuality – Animating the Unconscious Vol.2’

Director: Raymie Muzquiz
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: June 4, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★

‘About Face’ is one of the deepest of the Duckman episodes, and together with ‘Psyche‘ and ‘American Dicks’ forms the highlight of the first season.

Despite the usual dose of absurd humor and fast verbal wisecracking, the episode is actually moving, and knows an unexpectedly touching and somber ending, a very rare feat in both animated series and television comedy, indeed.

In this episode Mambo accidentally swallows a model of the titanic, which prompts Duckman to call 911. He immediately falls in love with the sweet voice on the other side of the line, and when she calls back, he immediately sets out to date her. Her name turns out to be Angela, and she is the sole person with whom Duckman not only feels like a good person, but also behaves like one.

Problem is, she’s “facially challenged” as Cornfed puts it, not to say hideously ugly (this trait is played out grotesquely, with people becoming terrified, fainting and fleeing when she walks by, echoing the skunk gags in Tex Avery’s ‘Little ‘Tinker’ from 1948). But then she decides to change all this…

This is one of the Duckman episodes deepening the character of the series’ protagonist, and actually make the audience feel for him. Notwithstanding, the episode contains plenty of comedy, with as highlights the scene in which Duckman is holding a telephone conversation with his beloved while his house burns down, and the scene in which Cornfed and his own date are mime dancing to no music.

Watch ‘About Face’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 12
To the previous Duckman episode: American Dicks
To the next Duckman episode: Joking the Chicken

‘About Face’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: John Eng
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: May 28, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★

In what is arguably one of the most inspired Duckman episodes of all, Duckman is the unlikely star of a reality television show called ‘American Dicks’, a spoof on the television series Cops, which first appeared on television in 1989, and still runs.

In this episode Duckman suppossedly is followed by a cameraman with a hand-held camera, which leads to scenes with odd staging, distorted body parts, as Duckman and the others repeatedly talk into the camera, and even animated backgrounds, a rare feat since the early 1930s.

Moreover, the images are more often than not in constant motion, suggesting camera movements and even walking. This is done with such skill that the ‘documentary camera style’ is evoked very convincingly, despite the looney images within them.

This episode is one of the very few episodes in which Duckman veritably is a private detective, even if he turns out to be the worst and most oblivious one around, leaving it to Cornfed to solve the case.

What doesn’t help is that Aunt Bernice interferes with the program when she learns that the audience is predominantly male between the age of 20 and 55. Promptly, she advertises herself as wedding material. During the finale there are even severe closeups of her breasts and buttocks.

Even the kids get their moments in this episode, which is full of great gags, both in visually as in the soundtrack. A true classic.

Watch ‘American Dicks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 11
To the previous Duckman episode: Cellar Beware
To the next Duckman episode: About Face

‘American Dicks’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

This episode is all about Duckman’s sexual fantasies.

Director: Paul Demeyer
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: March 26, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★

After the death of his wife Beatrice, one and a half year ago, Duckman’s sexual live has come to a standstill, while Cornfed even admits he’s still a virgin.

Matters get worse when Duckman and Cornfed are visited by a blonde twin, who look like the epitome of male fantasies, with their huge boobs and seductive voices. But Duckman is so insecure he goes through plastic surgery, enlarging his bill, to dare to confront the twin.

Yet he really gets cured by a weird dominatrix-psychiatrist. This part contains a great journey inside Duckman’s inner soul, and we learn how his former wife Beatrice died.

This highly entertaining episode knows some great reuse of Avery’s classic wolf takes, and features excerpts from two Frank Zappa songs.

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

This is Duckman episode no. 4
To the previous Duckman episode: Gripes of Wrath
To the next Duckman episode: Gland of Opportinity

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

Director: Mark Baker
Release Date: May 1993
Rating: ★★★★★

The Village © Mark BakerAfter ‘The Hill Farm‘ (1989) Mark Baker returns with another strong parable on the human condition. If ‘The Hill Farm’ explored man’s relation to nature, ‘The Village’ is concerned with man’s internal relationships.

The village of the title is a circular isolated village with all houses facing the same square. The neighbors seem godly souls, but they are all hypocrites spying on each other. Everything has to be done in secret: a cleaning lady secretly steals apples, the vicar secretly sips wine, and a stingy, bearded guy secretly plays with his money.

In this narrow-minded and stifling community a married woman falls in love with a bachelor with glasses, but they have to flee into the surrounding woods to escape the eternal gaze of their neighbors. Meanwhile the woman’s husband kills the miser, and steals his money, but it’s the bespectacled lover who gets the blame.

The village gladly builds a gallows out of the unjustly accused’s very own trees, but the lover manages to escape, accidentally killing the vile husband in the process. In the morning the omnipresent ants, which form a rather morbid running gag during the whole film, have eaten the corpse dry, and the villagers think it’s the body of the escaped convict. They break down the gallows in deep disappointment, while the two lovers flee from the village into the world.

‘The Village’ is told without words, only using unintelligible dialogue. Baker’s simple and quasi-naive style is used to a great effect, and adds to the story’s timeless value. Moreover, Baker’s timing is excellent, mixing the painful with comedy, especially when using the ants, injecting some black humor into the disturbing tale.

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

‘The Village’ is available on the The Animation Show of Shows DVD Box Set 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Director: Gil Alkabetz
Release Date: October 1992
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Swamp © Gil AlkabetzWith ‘Swamp’ Gil Alkabetz showed to be a strong new voice in the animation world.

Made at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart in Germany, Alkabetz uses a deceptively simple setting of only two dimensions, with no background whatsoever. In this world two armies of knights on horses, armed with giant balloons and giant scissors are fighting a senseless war over a swamp.

The film is a strong allegory on the folly of war. The film’s power is greatly enhanced by its simple yet very clear designs (all knights are drawn in black ink, the balloons in bright ecoline reds and blues) and by its great sound design. But most of all, the short shows Alkabetz’s strong sense of comic timing. ‘Swamp’ is one of the best student films of all time, and deserves to be shown over and over again.

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

 

‘Swamp’ is available on the DVD box set ‘The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 2’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1912
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

es métamorphoses comiques © Émile CohlMany of Émile Cohl’s films contain metamorphosis, but this is Cohl’s only film with the word ‘metamorphosis’ in its title.

‘Les métamorphoses comiques’ is arguably Cohl’s most avant-garde film. the short features live action images changing into animation and back again. Metamorphosis indeed runs galore, with Cohl’s typical stream-of-consciousness-like flow. Many of the images are pretty abstract, anticipating the work of Norman McLaren. Nevertheless, despite all the avant-garde frenzy, the most disturbing picture is a live action shot of a young boy smoking…

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

 

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

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

Le placier est tenace © Émile Cohl‘Le placier est tenace’ is arguably Cohl’s best venture into comedy.

In this film a man tries to escape from a stubborn seller of medicine. The man’s attempts to flee the seller involve taking a cab (the seller turns out to be the cab driver), taking the train (the seller turns out to be the ticket vendor) and taking a balloon (the seller is in the same basket).

The most extraordinary flight is when the man is eaten by an Indian and finds some peace an quiet in the belly of the native American, until the seller volunteers to get eaten by the same man…

‘Le placier est tenace’ is a live action film, even if the scenes in the belly of the Indian are animated with cut-outs. Yet, the film is most important for cartoon lovers, who will immediately recognize the film’s story as an ancestor of some of Tex Avery’s greatest films, most notably ‘Dumb-Hounded‘ (1943) and ‘Northwest Hounded Police‘ (1946). In the latter film the wolf flees into the belly of a lion, only to meet Droopy in the lion’s stomach. Even this bizarre idea clearly stems from Cohl’s film. It’s astounding to see that such absurd comedy was already done before World War I, and one wonders if Avery has ever seen Cohl’s film…

Watch ‘Le placier est tenace’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le placier est tenace’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: September 1, 1909
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Les générations comiques © Émile Cohl‘Les générations comiques’ is Cohl’s best animation film of 1909, and his best film since ‘Fantasmagorie‘ (1908).

The short uses a unique combination of pen animation, cut outs and live action to paint some sharp portraits of stereotypes, like the fisherman, the miser and the policeman. The portraits are a series of free associations, with metamorphosis running wild, and finally resulting in a live action version of the stereotype.

Like in ‘Fantasmagorie’ Cohl’s imagination knows no boundaries, and the film shows more images than one can possibly register in the short time frame. This makes watching ‘Les générations comiques’ a mindblowing experience. The film may lack ‘Fantasmagorie’s playfullness, it’s much more sure in its style, and shows that Cohl could draw very well.

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

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: November 23, 1908
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Le cerceau magique © Émile Cohl‘Le cerceau magique’ starts with a live action sequence taking place in a park.

There a girl brings her broken hoop to her uncle, who conjures a new one, a bigger one, and an even bigger one. The last hoop is a magical hoop, able to change the man’s and girl’s outfits into 16th century costumes.

Happily the girl runs off with the hoop, which leads to a short string of images showing life in 1908 Paris. But at one point she hangs the hoop on a wall, and here the real film starts, because inside the hoop all kinds of images form and move, like origami animals, some dice forming a word, a paper man with a wheelbarrow circling the hoop from the inside, a compass drawing a flowery figure, a moon-face, a clown balancing on his nose, etc. The film ends when the girl takes the hoop from the wall again and bows to the audience, implying that she was the conjurer of these images.

‘Le cerceau magique’ is a unique film because it features both stop-motion and drawn animation. Rarely are these techniques used together. Cohl even adds live action to the mix, leading to a quite enjoyable film, if a rather directionless one. Unfortunately, the surviving print is very bad, and quite a bit of the middle section is indistinguishable through the wearing of the film.

Watch ‘Le cerceau magique’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le cerceau magique’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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Director: Gil Alkabetz
Release Date: April 29, 2007
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Ein sonniger Tag (A Sunny Day) © Gil Alkabetz

‘Ein sonniger Tag’ is a charming little film with no less than the sun itself as its star.

In Alkabetz’s short the sun tries to impress the people, and one little girl in particular. Unfortunately, he only manages to make them feel hot, and they all try to get away from him. Only when he gives up, and sinks back into the sea, he gets the attention and appreciation he had longed for all day long.

Alkabetz’s style is loose and cartoony, and his film is full of clever sight gags, like the sun using clouds as shaving cream, or the sun blushing red when being photographed at sunset. The result is a film that’s not only charming and funny, but also impresses in how it manages to follow its inner logic from start to end, with surprising results.

Even if ‘Ein sonniger Tag’ is far from an ambitious short, it shows the skill of a true master. The short is a great example of the endless possibilities of animation, in which there’s no limit to the imagination.

Watch ‘Ein sonniger Tag’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ein sonniger Tag’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Kleine helden & rare kwasten – 14 animatiefilms voor kinderen’

Director: UrumaDelvi
Release Date: 2005
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio © UrumaDelvi‘(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio’ does not have much of a story: Mr. Calpaccio goes to work, even flies to another place to work there, and returns home to do some shopping and outdoor eating with his family. That’s about it.

But boy, the looks of this cartoon! ‘(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio’ boasts a completely unique style, with circus-like designs with stark black and white contrasts, and no shading whatsoever. There’s a very strange mix of expressionism and genuine silliness. The cartoon simply bubbles with weird images and original animation cycles, to a psychedelic effect. The bubbly images are accompanied by a fitting circus-like musical score by Yoshiyuki Usui.

The world of Mr. Calpaccio, its dull subject notwithstanding, is a magical place, a place of wonder. And this little gem by UrumaDelvi (a rather mysterious Japanese couple) by all means deserves to be seen. It’s a pity the film cannot be found online.

‘(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Kleine helden & rare kwasten – 14 animatiefilms voor kinderen’

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