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Director: Charles Nichols
Release Date: July 1, 1959
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

How to Have an Accident at Work © Walt Disney‘How to Have an Accident at Work’ is a clear follow-up to ‘How to Have an Accident in the Home’ from 1956.

Like its predecessor the tale is told by J.J. Fate, a little bearded variation on Donald Duck, who shows us that carelessness and fate are not the same thing. The short is more a spot gag cartoon than strictly educational, and features a running gag of Donald repeatedly ending up at the (human) first aid nurse. Luckily, Donald’s ways of getting an accident are less gross than they would have been in real life.

Extraordinarily, the short depicts our feathered friend as being married and as a father of a son. Also noteworthy are some beautiful depictions of industrial machines, wonderfully laid out by Eric Nordi, and artfully painted by background artist Al Dempster.

Watch ‘How to Have an Accident at Work’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 117
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald in Mathmagic Land
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald and the Wheel

‘How to Have an Accident at Work’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume Four 1951-1961’

Director: Hamilton Luske
Release Date: June 26, 1959
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Donald in Mathmagic Land © Walt Disney‘Donald in Mathmagic Land’ is a long educational special, lasting almost half an hour.

The film starts with Donald Duck entering a surreal landscape, dressed as a tropical hunter and wondering where he is. His questions are answered by the spirit of adventure, who remains unseen throughout the cartoon. The Spirit of adventure takes Donald on a trip through mathematics, trying to convince him it’s not only for eggheads.

The film tells about the golden ratio, the pentagram, and billiards. Also featured is a stop motion game of chess, of which the mathematics remain completely unclear. This episode shortly changes Donald into Alice in Wonderland, which makes him look particularly goofy.

The looks of this short are very beautiful: Mathmagic land is rendered in appealing reds, blues, pinks and violets, giving it a magical atmosphere, indeed. Pythagoras and his friends are rendered in Cartoon Modern style, echoing Ward Kimball’s earlier works from the 1950s. The short also uses some live action footage of a jazz band, and of a star billiard player.

The complete cartoon is a charming piece of education, if still rather shallow, and more impressive in memory than when actually watching it.

Watch ‘Donald in Mathmagic Land’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 116
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: How to have an Accident in the Home
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: How to Have an Accident at Work

‘Donald in Mathmagic Land’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume Four 1951-1961’

Director: John Hubley
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Tender Game © John HubleyBy the end of the 1950s John Hubley had survived the McCarthy era that had hit him hard*, and with his Storyboard studio he could finally make the films he really wanted to.

‘The Tender Game’ is a wonderful example of Hubley’s great and gentle art. The short is a delightful little wordless film about love set to the song ‘Tenderly’, sung by Ella Fitzgerald, and accompanied by the Oscar Peterson trio. The cartoon’s setting is a city, vaguely reminiscent of Paris. Here a flower girl falls in love with a street cleaner.

The designs of this cartoon are very bold: for example, the two main protagonists don’t have solid bodies, but consist of loose parts, and sometimes it seems as if they’ve walked straight from a Pablo Picasso painting. Both their designs and that of the backgrounds have a strong painting quality, being rendered in broad brush strokes, and verging on the abstract.

The poetic artwork contrasts a little with the animation, done e.g. by fellow-UPA alumnus Bobe Cannon, which is still clearly rooted in the comic tradition. Highlight is the interior scene, in which the two lovers reluctantly try to court each other. This is a marvelous little piece of character animation, full of telling expressions and poses.

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

‘The Tender Game’ is released on the DVD’s ‘Selected Films of John and Faith Hubley 1956-1973’ within The Believer Magazine March/April 2014 and ‘Art and Jazz in Animation’

* for a full account on how McCarthyism affected the animation world see Adam Abraham’s excellent book ‘When Magoo Flew – The Rise and Fall of Animation Studio UPA’.

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mail Early for Christmas © Norman McLaren‘Mail Early for Christmas’ is a short commercial, the message of which is in the title.

Set to a rather loud dixieland score McLaren has put his expressionistic and frantic direct-on-film style into action to make this message come across. The film lasts only 39 seconds and was made in chronological order, without any cuts. The film thus has a very spontaneous feel and features all kinds of abstract shapes splashing from the screen. In between we can see the words ‘Mail early for Xmas’ appearing and disappearing again.

It’s a wonder that such avant-garde film making was used for a message directed at such a general public.

Watch ‘Mail Early for Christmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mail Early for Christmas’ is released on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Le merle © Norman McLaren‘Le Merle’ is based on a French-Canadian addition song, in which a blackbird loses body parts, but regains them manyfold.

Sung by le trio lyrique, this spirited song is illustrated by cut-out animation of the simplest shapes, which together form the bird, which hops and flies around. However, during the film the bird undergoes constant metamorphosis, forever changing into pure abstract patterns and back again, and losing and gaining body parts, following the song closely. All the action takes place against a simple surreal, but long vertical background, which suggests that during the song the bird moves skyward, past the clouds and into a starry night. There’s also a mind-blowing scene in which the bird travels through the starry space.

‘Le Merle’ is as mesmerizing as it is pure fun. The film takes the cartoon modern style to the max in its elementary designs, and must be counted among McLaren’s masterpieces.

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

‘Le Merle’ is released on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: July 4, 1959
Stars: Speedy Gonzales
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mexicali Shmoes © Warner Bros.In ‘Mexicali Shmoes’, Speedy Gonzales’s usual adversary Sylvester is replaced by a couple of slow dumb Mexican cats called Manuel and José.

When Manuel does an ill-fated attempt to catch Speedy, José tells him you need brains to catch the little mouse. As José provides the brains, the two immediately set out to catch the rapid rodent. What follows are some blackout gags, the best of which features a street full of landmines.

Writer Warren Foster saves the best gag for the finale: tired of trying to catch the fastest mouse in all Mexico, Manuel suggests they should try to catch Slowpoke Rodriguez, the slowest mouse in all Mexico. José immediately rushes away to do so, but Manuel still has to tell him something important about Slowpoke…

‘Mexicali Shmoes’ is no all-time classic, but it must be the funniest of all Speedy Gonzales films, thanks to the interplay between the two cats. Because of their characterization, the film actually works. Manuel may clearly be the dumber of the two, José fares hardly better, and is equally hilarious to watch. Speedy Gonzales, on the other hand, is as bland as ever, and only speaks during the opening scene. All the more a pity that the two cats weren’t used again.

Watch ‘Mexicali Shmoes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mexicali Shmoes’ is released on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1956
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Rythmetic © Norman McLarenWith ‘Rythmetic’ McLaren attempted to make arithmetic more fun for children.

Indeed, the complete film consists of additions and subtractions of numbers up to 8. The white numbers slowly fill the blue screen, accompanied by McLaren’s trademark rhythmical electronic sounds, which he made by scratching directly on film.

The complete film may be a little dry, it is nevertheless surprisingly playful, especially given the fact one watches only one blue screen filling with numbers and equations. McLaren manages to evoke something human in those numbers, through subtle animation. For example, in the end some zeros start fooling around, disrupting the equations, much to the distress of some equation marks who repeatedly try to get the zeros back in line. This finale in itself is so much fun to watch, it alone makes watching the film worthwhile.

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

‘Rythmetic’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Han van Gelder
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Van Inca tijd tot Blooker tijd © Toonder StudiosIn this film director-animator Han van Gelder uses his unique technique of mixing cut-out with stop-motion for a short advertising film for Blooker cocoa.

The film tells about the Incas who invented cocoa, and how the Spanish conquistadors brought cocoa with them to Europe, where Jan Blooker’s factory uses only the best cocoa for its chocolate. The jump from the conquistadors to Blooker is a rather abrupt and not all too convincing one.

For this film Van Gelder uses UPA-inspired cartoon modern style characters and backgrounds. The film’s story isn’t too interesting, but these designs certainly make it a fun watch. The Blooker factory only lasted until 1962, but the brand is still available today.

Watch ‘Van Inca tijd tot Blooker tijd’ yourself and tell me what you think:

From Inca time to Blooker time 1958

‘Van Inca tijd tot Blooker tijd’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: Børge Ring
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Lokkend goud of gouden lokken © Toonder StudiosThis is the story of a man full of debts who marries a rich woman for her money, but he gets remorse when he discovers the rich lady is bald.

The story is a humorous old Irish ballad called ‘Very Unfortunate Man’, translated by Annie M.G. Schmidt into Dutch and sung by Dutch actor Otto Sterman. Danish animator Børge Ring provides the story with strong cartoon modern images in the best UPA tradition, matched by equally stylized background art and color schemes by Alan G. Standen. The two give the otherwise rather Dutch film a very international feel, both in design and quality. The complete cartoon may be quite on the light side, it is nevertheless a delight to watch.

‘Lokkend goud of gouden lokken’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: Han van Gelder
Release Date: 1957
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

De verzonken klokken © Toonder Studios‘De verzonken klokken’ is a very beautiful animation short in which director Han van Gelder combines two-dimensional cut-out figures with three-dimensional sets to unique results.

The story is narrated by Dutch actor Ton Lutz, and written by Jan Gerhard Toonder, the brother of producer Marten Toonder, who based his narrative on legends from Zeeland.

The film tells about a sexton who falls in love with the beautiful  girl Neeltje, but when she rejects him, he gets drunk and rings the church bells in the middle of the night, until the complete clock tower gets swallowed by the sea. In the end Neeltje marries school master Piepkema, but at their wedding they hear the church bells ringing from the sea. Piepkema provides a moral in rhyme that this ringing means that the sexton’s soul has found no rest, but Van Gelder shows us the Sexton at the bottom of the sea, happily in love with a mermaid, defying the classic Christian moral.

‘De verzonken klokken’ knows little, but effectively used animation. Van Gelder’s character designs and sets are simply gorgeous, and give the film a unique atmosphere. There are also some very convincing water rippling effects in the underwater scenes.

Watch ‘De verzonken klokken’ yourself and tell me what you think:

De verzonken klokken 1957

‘De verzonken klokken’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: Lew Keller
Release Date: January 30, 1958
Stars: Ham and Hattie
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Trees and Jamaican Daddy © UPA

UPA’s last theatrical cartoon series consisted of four films only, but these four are beautiful and delightful shorts well worth watching.

The four shorts are all double-bills showcasing two songs each: the first is a children’s song by Mel Leven (who would become famous for his songs for ‘101 Dalmatians’), who sings and plays the ukulele. This first song stars the little girl Hattie, who herself remains a silent character. After Hattie’s song comes a more general song, starring the mustached wizard Ham. Ham was actually a non-character, as for each song he changes himself into someone else.

All four Ham and Hattie films boast beautiful designs, superb cartoon modern background art, but extremely limited animation, with little to no movement and practically no inbetweening. The first song of ‘Trees and Jamaican Daddy’ is a gentle children’s song about er… trees. The images feature Hattie and her toy bird playing in a forest. The second song, ‘Jamaican Daddy’, stars Ham as a Jamaican maracas player and is arguably the best song in the series. This catchy Calypso song tells how one should maintain the family tree by getting as many babies as possible. The song is accompanied by sunny and tongue-in-cheek images of Latinos with very large families.

Watch ‘Trees and Jamaican Daddy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Trees and Jamaican Daddy’ is available on the DVD box set ‘UPA – The Jolly Frolics Collection’

Directors: Stephen & Timothy Quay
Release Date: 1992
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Stille Nacht II Are We Still Married © Brothers Quay‘Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married?’ is the second of four ‘Stille Nacht’ films the Brothers Quay  made: all four are very short and shot in black and white.

The second, like the fourth, is set to a song by the band His Name Is Alive, in this case their song’Are We Still Married’, and thus essentially is a video clip. The film features a small rabbit trying to catch a ping-pong ball which flutters across the room like a moth. Also featured is a breathing girl doll.

Like the other Stille Nacht films the Brothers Quay manage to evoke a wonderful atmosphere, while using various camera techniques from the silent movie era, sometimes zooming in on a very small detail of the scene. The Jan Švankmajer influence, too, is very present. The film may be very incomprehensible, it makes a very intriguing watch.

Watch ‘Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married?’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Brothers Quay – The Short Films 1979-2003’

Directors: Stephen & Timothy Quay
Release Date: 1988
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Stille Nacht I Dramolet © Brothers Quay‘Dramolet’ is the first of four films the Brothers Quay made between 1988 and 1993 bearing the title ‘Stille Nacht’ (silent night).

This first film is by far the shortest of the four, but establishes the overall style of the series: black and white images featuring dolls and lifeless objects interacting, camera techniques from the silent era, moving in on very small details within the scene, a high level of surrealism, Jan Švankmajer-like animation, and no hint of a story.

In ‘Dramolet’ a rather rugged doll looks through a window into another room, where iron screw grows a plenty. Then he returns to his own table, where the same stuff appears in his bowl. When he tries to grab his spoon, the wall behind him sprouts several others.

This  very short film was made for MTV and is a beautiful product of the highly creative atmosphere of the time, when MTV invited artists from the whole world to create short films for them.

Watch ‘Stille Nacht I: Dramolet’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Stille Nacht I: Dramolet’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Brothers Quay – The Short Films 1979-2003’

Director: Faith Hubley
Release Date: 1993
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Cloudland © Faith HubleyIn ‘Tall Time Tales’ Hubley had illustrated ‘dream time’, a concept from aboriginal mythology.

In ‘Cloudland’ she returns to the aboriginal mythology, illustrating three more concepts: 1. a creation myth, in which the sun woman wakes up the earth, 2. the story of hunger at the land of plenty, and 3. Gifts from the ancestors. Like in ‘Upside down‘ and ‘Tall Time Tales‘ the episodes are announced by a voice over (this time her daughter Emily’s) telling their titles.

Hubley’s style is particularly fit for mythology, and this film doesn’t disappoint. Especially, the creation myth is wonderfully done, yet the best part is the story of hunger, with its remarkably straightforward story. This part also features the most elaborate animation, on a bird, a kangaroo and a turtle. Most of the film, however, is filled with Faith Hubley’s characteristic primitive-looking things and beings, which vibrate, move, morph and dance in short and simple animation cycles.

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

 

‘Cloudland’ is available on the DVD ‘The Hubley Collection Volume 1’

Director: Faith Hubley
Release Date: 1992
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Tall Time Tales © Faith Hubley‘Tall Time Tales’ is a meditation on time.

Like ‘Upside Down‘ the film consists of several parts, divided by a voice over. ‘Tall Time Tales’ consists of five parts: 1. Time waits for no one, 2. Tick Tock Clock, in which Hubley illustrates the grind of daily work routines, 3. The twin paradox (a concept from the relativity theory), 4. Dreamtime (a concept from aboriginal mythology) and the vague ‘Arrows or circles’, probably musing whether time is linear or circular. The film ends with a great finale of beautiful, if utterly incomprehensible images moving to Don Christensen’s percussive dance music.

‘Tall Time Tales’ is one of Faith Hubley’s more successful films, blending inspired music with ditto images. Its philosophy me be light, this is still one of those films that make you stop and wonder.

Watch ‘Tall Time Tales’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Tall Time Tales’ is available on the DVD ‘The Hubley Collection Volume 1’

Director: Michel Ocelot
Broadcast Date:  1992
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Les Contes de la nuit’ (Tales of the Night) are three fairy tale films French animation master Michel Ocelot made for television, not to be confused with his feature film of the same name from 2011.

The three fairy tales are entirely original and are done in very elegant Lotte Reiniger-like cut-out animation, using black silhouettes only against handsomely colored backgrounds. Both the design and the animation are top notch throughout, making this mini-series a delight to watch.

La belle fille et le sorcier © Michel Ocelot‘La belle fille et le sorcier’ (Beauty and the Sorcerer) is first and shortest fairy tale of ‘ Les Contes de la nuit’ and features a fat ugly girl rescuing a wizard. Soon she’s turned into a handsome young lady… The film is more comical than the other two, and hard to take seriously.

 

 

La bergère qui danse © Michel Ocelot‘La bergère qui danse’ (The Dancing Shepherdess) is the second story of ‘Les Contes de la nuit’. This fairy tale features a powerful fairy queen in love with a young handsome shepherd. He, however, prefers his shepherdess. But then the fairy queen takes the shepherd to ‘the tower of sleep’, to sleep for a hundred years, and it’s up to the shepherdess to rescue him… This is a particularly attractive fairy tale, showing the power of hope and love.

 

Le prince des joyaux © Michel Ocelot‘Le prince des joyaux’ (The Jewel Prince) is the third and last tale of ‘Les Contes de la nuit’. This fairy tale again is entirely original, but looks like a story from 1,001 Arabian Nights. The plot is rather Aladdin-like, and features a boy in love with a princess, whom he wins by defeating an evil old man, who cheats on him. Like the other two this is a delightful little film, even if it is a little heavy on dialogue.

 

‘Les Contes de la nuit’ are available on the French DVD ‘Les trésors cachés de Michel Ocelot’

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Release Date:  July 1, 1992
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Porco Rosso © Studio Ghibli‘Porco Rosso’ is the strangest movie in Hayao Miyazaki’s filmography. The film eschews most laws of animated film story telling, seemingly just starting and ending in the middle of a bigger story.

Like ‘Laputa: island in the sky’ (1986) and the later ‘The Wind Rises’ (2013) the film is clearly born out of Miyazaki’s love for planes. Like ‘Laputa’ ‘Porco Rosso’ is set in an alternative history Europe (this time the Adriatic sea ca. 1930), and features flying pirates.

The title character is an ex-war pilot with the face of a pig (why this is so is never really revealed). Porco Rosso now is a bounty hunter, battling a federation of air pirates, and their leader, the American Curtis in particular, and secretly loving Gina, the owner of a hotel on an island.

Halfway the movie Porco has to take his injured plane to Milano to get it fixed. There he meets Fio, the young granddaughter of his old mecanic. There’s a vague sense of a Nazi threat, but this is hardly played out. The story evolves around Porco’s return to the Adriatic and final battle with Curtis.

The overal atmosphere is light and comical, but there are a few touching moments, especially between Porco and Fio. Typically for Miyazaki, the film features strong women, and women and children working (Porco’s plane is set together by a crew of women, only).

The animation is outstanding throughout, although it seems the animators didn’t do their best to lip-synch. Most interesting are the scenes of Porco’s take off and flight back to the Adriatic, which feature some spectacular animated backgrounds.

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

‘Porco Rosso’ is available on DVD

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

Le mobilier fidèle © Émile Cohl‘Le mobilier fidèle’ can be translated as ‘The Faithful Furniture’.

This short is a comic live action film in which a man is in love with his furniture, giving it much attention. Unfortunately, the man is too poor to pay the rent, and his furniture is sold on the street. But his pieces of furniture get bored at their new homes, and all return to their former owner, in rather funny scenes using stop motion.

‘Le mobilier fidèle’ is an enormous improvement on J. Stuart Blackton’s moving furniture in ‘The Haunted Hotel’ (1907), and an early example of European comic film art. Two years later, however, the film would be topped by Romeo Bossetti’s ‘The Automatic Moving Company’.

Watch ‘Le mobilier fidèle’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: August 11, 1909
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Les couronnes © Émile Cohl‘Les couronnes’ is a tableau vivant film like ‘L’éventail animé‘, now showing wreaths and crowns through the ages.

And, as may be expected, the tableaux are now shown inside a wreath-shaped frame. Like in ‘L’eventail animé’ this is a live action film, featuring no animation. Like in the former film the tableaux themselves are very stylized and beautiful, helped by the elegant score for harp and guitar.

Even if the film may be slightly less beautiful than ‘L’eventail animé’, it’s certainly more moving, with a scene of Christ receiving his crown of thorns, and a contemporary, but surprisingly sentimental scene of a rich couple giving a poor man a wreath-shaped bread.

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

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: June 12, 1909
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

L'éventail animé © Émile CohlDespite its title ‘L’éventail animé’ is not an animated film, but the first of several films by Émile Cohl consisting of tableaux vivants. I’m including the film in this blog because it’s interesting to watch Émile Cohl’s very diverse oeuvre as a whole.

‘L’éventail animé’ shows ladies and their fans throughout the ages, e.g. Eve, Sappho, Cleopatra, empress Messalina, Aude (a character in ‘Chanson de Roland’), and a modern woman. The action is set in a fan-shaped frame, and the tableaux are remarkably beautiful and stylized. On the DVD the film is greatly enhanced by a lovely score using guitar and harp.

Watch ‘L’éventail animé’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘L’éventail animé’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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