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Director: Till Nowak
Release Date:
January 28, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★★
Review:

‘The Centrifuge Brain Project’ is a mockumentary in which a professor (Leslie Barnaby) of “the institute for centrifugal research, Florida” tells us about his research.

It’s best to let the film surprise you, so I’m not going to tell you too much, but the film’s main attraction is that Nowak has tried to hide the fact that any animation has been involved in the footage. The film makes clever use of live action shots of rides on fairs, ingeniously manipulated with computer animation, sometimes with quite ridiculous results. But as all experiments shown are based on real rides, the images remain stunningly convincing, even an extended Ferris wheel that seems to fill the complete sky.

The result is a fun short, with understated humor, which is over before you know it.

Watch ‘The Centrifuge Brain Project’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Centrifuge Brain Project’ is available on The Animation Show of Shows DVD Box Set 7

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1920
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

In ‘Dans les griffes de l’araignée’ Starewicz tells his own, quite elaborated version of the classic ‘Spider and the Fly’ tale.

In Starewicz’s version the fly is called Dame Aurélie, a simple fly living at the countryside with her uncle, Beetle Anatole, and being in love with a longhorn beetle. One day a famous Paris star, a butterfly called Phalène, crashes in the fly’s village, and stays at her home. Phalène paints an all too rosy picture of Parisian life, and soon after her departure, Aurélie goes to the capital, as well.

First all goes well, as Aurélie works as Phalène’s house maid. But when she’s fired because of seeing a secret lover, things go downhill, indeed. The tale ends rather gruesomely with quite a spectacular finale, and in the epilogue we watch Aurélie returning to the village…

‘Dans les griffes de l’araignée’ is quite a tragic tale, but it’s hard to call it very engaging. Starewicz’s puppets are quite sophisticated, e.g. capable of rolling their eyes, but they don’t transgress the emotions very well, which remains emblematic. The emotional scenes are augmented by close-ups of the insect characters, in which live action puppets are used. Most spectacular is the finale, in which the title cards make place for a long action scene. The surviving print is gorgeous with its hand-painted colors, which certainly add to the film’s unique atmosphere.

‘Dans les griffes de l’araignée’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Starewitch 1882-1965 DVD Cinquantième anniversaire’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: February 27, 1920
Stars: Jerry on the Job
Rating: ★★★★
Review

‘The Wrong Track’ is a short gag cartoon featuring ‘Jerry on the Job’, apparently a little kid doing all kinds of jobs.

In this short he’s a train engineer, who’s scolded by his boss of killing too many animals on the train track. And indeed, only a few seconds after leaving the train station Jerry encounters a cow, which after some action is killed.

The short features quite some funny gags and ends with a great punchline. The designs are simple, but pleasant and Walter Lantz’s animation is fair and effective. ‘The Wrong Track’ may not be a masterpiece, it’s a fun bit of early animation, and certainly one of the better shorts from this era.

The Wrong Track’ is available on the Thunderbean Blu-Ray/DVD-combo ‘Technicolor Dreams an Black & White Nightmares’

Director: Steve Martino
Release Date: November 1, 2015
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

‘The Peanuts Movie’ was a project initiated by Craig Schulz, son of Charles M. Schulz, creator of the famous comic strip, and his own son, Bryan Schulz. The two chose the Blue Skye studio for fulfilling their dream, as the studio had been faithful to Dr. Seuss before, in ‘Horton Hears a Who’ (2008). And indeed, this Blue Sky film is a much more satisfying product than the two later Dr. Seuss adaptations by Illumination.

Blue Skye, of course, is a 3D computer animation studio, but the studio has done a remarkable job in combining the 3D techniques with Schulz’s essentially flat drawings. This means that there are added textures and 3D settings in which the characters can move around and about.

But at no point the characters get distorted or become too realistic for their own good. Blue Sky doesn’t fall into the trap of Sony Animation’s ‘The Smurfs’ (2011), uglifying the original designs by trying to make them too realistic.

In fact, the studio does an amazing job in transferring Schulz’s drawings into a 3D world. It’s refreshing to see that the crew did no ill-conceived attempt to ‘update’ the characters and their setting. There are no new characters introduced, but also no computers or cellphones in sight, but old-fashioned rotary phones and typewriters.

And, true to the original comic, no adult can be seen, not even partly. Instead, we have the famous baseball mound, and even a scene featuring the stone wall present in so many comic strip panels. Even better, during the opening and in some thought scenes the film reverts back to Schulz’s original black and white 2D style, rendering the style of the original comic strip convincingly, indeed.

Moreover, the film is not only faithful to the original comic strip, but also to Bill Melendez’s animated interpretations of it (1965-2006). This means that all children are voiced by real children, all adults by a trombone sound (courtesy of Troy “Trombone” Shorty), and Snoopy’s and Woodstock’s incomprehensible jabberings by Bill Melendez himself (Melendez had died in 2008, so the vocalizations all come from archive material, but you’d never notice). The film clearly plays homage to Melendez’s vision, copying the dance moves of several characters from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ (1965). Moreover, the film starts with two of Vince Guaraldi’s tunes for that famed first Peanuts television special: the iconic and intoxicating ‘Linus and Lucy’ and ‘Skating’.

All familiar Peanuts characters are introduced in the intro, even older ones like Shermy, Patty, Violet, Frieda and Pig Pen. But as every Peanut fan would hope, the film concentrates firmly on Charlie Brown, leaving all the other characters, except Lucy, rather sketchy. Even Linus hardly gets screen presence. As I’m a lifelong Peanuts fan, it’s hard for me to guess what impression the gang makes on newbies. For example, there’s Marcie, calling Peppermint Patty sir, and Lucy having a psychiatrist’s booth in the street. Wouldn’t this strike odd to newcomers? I’ve no idea, for as a fan, these familiar tropes are most welcome.

As said, the film concentrates on Charlie Brown. The film essentially is his story. We watch him playing baseball and flying kites, and failing at both, but the crew chose the most moving of all of Charlie Brown’s subplots: his love for the little red-haired girl. In the movie, she moves in as Charlie Brown’s neighbor, and becomes his new classmate. Unlike the strip, in which Charlie Brown’s dream girl is never seen, the little red-haired girl gets screen presence. But the crew cleverly keeps her mysterious, offering us just glimpses of her during most of the movie. Thus we see her mostly with Charlie Brown’s eyes as a desirable but unreachable creature.

Surprisingly, the film is neither hasty nor all too straightforward in unfolding its story. At one point Lucy gives Charlie Brown a book titles ’10 Ways to Become a Winner’, and for a while it seems this book will be guiding line the story will adhere to. Charlie Brown even manages to read the whole of ‘Leo’s Toy Store’ by Warren Piece (as Peppermint Patty recalls the famous Russian novel), all to no avail. But then another story arc starts, in which Charlie Brown mistakenly is seen as a school genius, which also ends prematurely. Likewise, most of the film takes place during winter, but near the end we suddenly skip to summer, and even to the last day of school. Overall, the film’s speed is relaxed and unhurried, focusing on Charlie Brown’s emotions, as he blunders through everyday life.

Yet, there’s enough of excitement, because Charlie Brown’s mishaps are alternated with scenes starring Snoopy, who has his own subplot as, could it be otherwise?, a World War I flying ace pilot combating the Red Baron, and rescuing a female fellow pilot called Fifi. I wasn’t familiar with Fifi, and though of her as the only new character in the movie, but even she has appeared before, in ‘Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown’ (1980). As a lot of Snoopy’s imagined action takes place in the air, these scenes make welcome use of all possibilities 3D animation offers, resulting in breathtaking air battle scenes, which of course become ridiculous as Snoopy flies his own dog house, instead of a proper World War I plane. Even better are the scenes in which Snoopy’s fantasy is altered with scenes from the real world, featuring Snoopy sneaking, running and diving into scenes to the bewilderment of the children.

In all, ‘The Peanuts Movie’ is a delightful film, refreshing with its focus on every day life, and rewarding in its faithfulness to the original comic strip. Only the end may be too cloying and too optimistic, out of tune with the persistent sense of failure so present in the original comic strip. Yet, Craig and Bryan Schulz can be proud of this product, for together with Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ this is the most rewarding American animated movie of 2015.

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

‘The Peanuts Movie’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD.

Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Release Date: July 11, 2015
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

For quite a time only three Japanese author directors of animated films were known in the West: Osamu Tezuka, Katsuhiro Otomo and Hayao Miyazaki (well, and perhaps Miyazaki’s friend and Ghibli-associate Isao Takahata). But in the 2000s several others were added, most notably Satoshi Kon (who, unfortunately, died prematurely), Masaaki Yuasa, Makoto Shinkai, and Mamoru Hosoda. The latter impressed audiences with his films ‘The Girl Who Lept Through Time’ (2006), ‘Summer Wars’ (2009) and especially ‘Wolf Children’ (2012), for which he had erected his own studio, Studio Chizu.

‘The Boy and the Beast’, like ‘Wolf Children’, was made at Hosoda’s own Chizu studio. It’s a coming-of-age story, largely set in a parallel world of Bakemono, shapeshifting spirits that in Hosoda’s film have taken the shape of anthropomorphized animals. The whole concept of Bakemono is, of course, unknown to us Westerners (I, at least had no knowledge of this part of Japanese folklore), but luckily, Hosoda provides the film with an introduction, which sortly sets out this strange otherworld, and its major inhabitants: an aging Grandmaster (who turns out to be an old rabbit), and his rival successors, Iouzen (a hog) and Kumatetsu, a bear.

Then we cut to present Tokyo, where nine years old Ren wanders the streets. After the death of his mother he has run away from home and he has nowhere to go. By some strange events he enters the parallel Bakemono world called Juutengai, where he becomes Kumatetsu’s pupil.

Kumatetsu can be viewed as Ren’s counterpart: he’s alone and lonely, having grown up without parents. But the old bear is also immature, lazy, selfish, and extremely quick-tempered. In fact, he can learn something from his own young pupil, and although the two quarrel throughout the picture, it becomes clear the two recognize something in each other, and love each other for it.

On this premise Hosoda builds a surprisingly complex story about what it means to grow up without parents. In fact, despite the elaborate fantasy world and spectacular fight scenes this is a film about loss and of the empty feeling inside of having no father or mother or either. Indeed, halfway the film jumps several years forward and the now seventeen years old Ren (or Kyuta, as Kumatetsu calls him) has to deal with the emptiness inside him. He learns that this can be filled with love of others. Back in the real world, he meets a girl called Kaede who helps him to cope.

More than any of Hosoda’s previous films, this movie seems to owe quite a lot to the Ghibli studio influence: the coming-of-age story, the parallel world, children working and learning how to become disciplined, adult figures becoming quite fond of the human child in their world – it’s all very similar to particularly ‘Spirited Away’ (2001). But unlike Miyazaki’s masterpiece, ‘The Boy and the Beast’ does know a real villain, a boy called Ichirōhiko, even if his villainy is explained by loss. Ichirōhiko is similar to Ren, but he has never been able to fill the void inside him, and consequently, he’s filled with anger and hate.

Ichirōhiko provides the most surreal scene in the entire film: the shadow of a whale swimming through the streets of Tokyo. But throughout the background art and imagery is rich and colorful: Tokyo feels absolutely real, as does the fantasy world of Juutengai. As said, the story is rather complex, but it remains engaging throughout and never loses focus on its main message. The animation, too, is fine, if not exceptional, as is the drawing style, which is a little more generic than the average Ghibli product.

In all, ‘The Boy and the Beast’ corroborates Hosoda as a strong author-director. If only American animated cinema would allow strong individual voices like him!

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

‘The Boy and the Beast’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Paul Tibbett
Release Date: January 28, 2015
Stars: SpongeBob Squarepants
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

There are animation feature films that contain some humor, and then there are those completely devoted to it. ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water’ belongs to the latter category.

This is the second feature film based on Nickelodeon’s top animation series, after ‘The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie’ from 2004, and the first by the Paramount Animation Studio, which was founded in 2011 after the success of Paramount’s feature film ‘Rango’. True to the original series, absolutely nothing that hits the screen can be taken seriously. Even Spongebob’s mutterings about teamwork sound more like a parody on such moralizing in other contemporary animation films than as a genuine message.

‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water’ starts with a live action pirate (Antonio Banderas in arguably the silliest role of his career) seeking a treasure on a remote island. The treasure turns out to be a book, in which the Spongebob story is told. The pirate reads the book aloud to a bunch of CGI seagulls, which cuts us to the traditional 2D-animation of Spongebob’s world. The story builds completely on the ingredients already present: Plankton trying to steal the secret formula of The Krabby Patty burger. I won’t spoil the events here, but there are some surprising meta-story developments, reminiscent of ‘The Lego Movie’ from the previous year.

At one point our heroes have to leave the water, and at this point they turn into 3D-versions of themselves interacting with the real world (these scenes were apparently partly filmed in and around Savannah, Georgia, although clearly a lot of CGI is involved). Luckily, the 3D-versions of Spongebob and his friends remain faithful to the original designs and do not try to be more realistic than necessary. Done by the Rough Draft Studios in South Korea, both the CGI parts as the traditional 2D animation are excellent and rather outrageous, with some characters displaying insane facial expressions, reminiscent of Ren & Stimpy. Especially Sandy gets some outrageous takes when she turns into a mad prophet. There’s also a bit of stop-motion, done by Screen Novelties, that adds to the film’s absurdism.

The whole film is a delightful pile of complete nonsense, but highlights may be Plankton’s travels inside Spongebob’s mind and the time travel scenes, which are accompanied by complete visual extravaganza and N.E.R.D.’s catchy ‘Squeeze Me’ song, which sounds like a silly variation on Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ (both songs are co-authored by Pharrell Williams, so maybe this is a self-parody). Also noteworthy is the teamwork song, in which the visuals hark back to the cartoon modern era of the 1950s, especially in the background art.

‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water’ is not flawless, however. Banderas is a little too over the top in his depiction of the pirate, and his acting is more irksome than genuinely funny. Moreover, several of the gags fall flat, especially those devoted to the bunch of seagulls. And after a while the scenes ashore become quite tiresome, partly because of some bad acting by the numerous extras, who have to pretend to interact with CGI phenomena. Especially, the finale, a long chase between the pirate and our heroes, now transformed into rather bizarre superheroes, is too long. During these events, John Debney’s score is that of an action movie, and his serious up tempo music often contrasts with the silliness depicted. This scene does feature an ‘all hope is lost moment’, a trope often found in animation films, but luckily this one is too unconvincing and too brief to be taken seriously, and can stand as another parody of such all too familiar tropes.

The flaws aside, ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water’ is a film of pure fun, and despite its 92 minutes, the movie is over before you know it.

Watch the trailer for ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Bob Godfrey
Release Date: 1995
Rating: ★★ ★ ★
Review:

‘Know Your Europeans, UK’ is apparently the only entry in what should have been a series about all nations within the European Union, showcasing the best animation of each country.

The British entry, of course, tells about the UK and its inhabitants, and Bob Godfrey and his team make the introduction to their country a particularly tongue-in-cheek affair. The film is more or less presented by (a caricature of) Prince Charles of Wales, and features a silly song (sung e.g. by the director himself, and penned to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan) and equally silly images in a rapid succession.

The short deals with British habits, British celebrities and the British weather, and is rendered in jolly pencil and cel animation. ‘Know Your Europeans, UK’ may be on the light side, it’s all in good fun.

Watch ‘Know Your Europeans, UK’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Know Your Europeans, UK’ is available on the DVD accompanying the book ‘Halas & Batchelor Cartoons’

Director: Guillaume Lorin
Release Date: 24 October 2020
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

I’m trying to cover as many films as possible from the Dutch Kaboom Animation Festival, which is completely online this year. It’s simply impossible to cover everything, as the festival shows more than 300 films, requiring several days of non-stop watching. One of the programs focuses on the French animation studio Folimage, which is known for its high quality animation films for children, like ‘Une vie de chat’ (A Cat in Paris, 2010) and ‘Phantom Boy‘ (2015). Part of this program is a new children’s film from 2020 called ‘Vanille’.

‘Vanille’ is a charming little children’s film, lasting half an hour, about Vanille, a little girl from Paris who’s sent off by her father on holiday to her aunt on the Caribbean island Guadeloupe, much against her will. Vanille has many difficulties adapting to the friendly but new environment, and she is pretty homesick. But then something magical happens, involving a so-called Soukounian, a magical creature from Creole folklore.

‘Vanille’ explores very charming human designs and sets. These are combined with live action background footage of the tropical island, and the drawings and real life pictures blend surprisingly well, despite the European cartoon style of the drawings. The story remains with Vanille and her emotions, but also shows some subtle human interaction in the background, lost on the little girl. ‘Vanille’ tells something about embracing one’s roots (a theme that revolves around Vanille’s hair), but above all it’s an exciting adventure for kids. The story of ‘Vanille’ may be a bit weird, the film is a delightful little piece for children and adults alike.

Watch a teaser for ‘Vanille’ and tell me what you think:

Directors: Darren Doherty & Nick Smith
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

In ‘The Wooden Leg’ a girl is born with only one leg. One day she gets a wooden leg for Christmas, but the leg has a will of its own…

‘The Wooden Leg’ is an animation film made directly on film (apparently using a wooden twig) with a wooden twig and ink on white paper, with the images reversed later from black on white to white on black (many thanks to Darren Doherty for clarifying the method below!). Thus it features very simple, but surprisingly effective designs, all consisting of white lines on a black canvas. Yet, Doherty & Smith manage to put a lot of emotion in their simply drawn characters. Despite the rather dark subject matter, the film retains a lighthearted feel and stays with the girl and her special bond with the leg. The animation is accompanied by an effective piano score by Mike Taylor.

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

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

Director: John Eng
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: April 9, 1994
Rating: ★★★★

‘Gland of Opportunity’ starts with the family being stuck in a long traffic jam on their way to an amusement park, loosely based on Disneyland.

Inside the amusement park, Duckman and his family spend the rest of the day waiting in an overlong line for a roller coaster, but Duckman chickens out just before the ride.

In a rather incomprehensible scene switch he suddenly finds himself in a hospital about to get an andrenoid gland transplant. He goes through with it in the hope to get more courage, and to become more of a role model to his kids.

And indeed, as soon he awakes, and convinces himself he has the gland of a deceased daredevil he becomes a superhero, solving crimes by the dozen and becoming a superstar in now time. But he also is a bad influence on his kids, whom he takes from school to experience ‘the school of life’, which is one long trip around the world. It’s up to Cornfed to restore the situation.

What’s great about ‘Gland of Opportunity’ is that the makers make clear that Duckman’s newborn drive may be originated in a delusion, but that it’s motivated by Duckman’s desire to be respected and admired by his sons. Of course, in the end he utterly fails, but by then we viewers have had a wonderful roller coaster ride of an episode.

Watch ‘Gland of Opportunity’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 5
To the previous Duckman episode: Psyche
To the next Duckman episode: Ride the High School

‘Gland of Opportunity’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Willis O’Brien
Release Date: 1917
Rating: ★★★★

R.F.D. 10,000 B.C. © Willis O'Brien‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ is a short cartoon by stop motion pioneer Willis O’Brien (1886-1962) of later ‘King Kong‘ fame.

The cartoon tells about two rivaling cavemen, one of them a mailman, craving for the same cave woman, Winnie Warclub. At St. Valentine’s Day the mailmen exchanges Johnny Bearskin’s valentine for an insulting one, but Johnny soon finds out the truth, and knocks the mailman literally in two, winning both Winnie and the mailman’s job.

‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ precedes The Flintstones by 45 years, and shows that from the start Willis O’Brien was a capable stop motion animator. The film also shows he was interested in the prehistory right from the outset. The mailman’s cart is pulled by a sauropod, which we can clearly see breathing heavily in the end.

The puppets of the cavemen are elaborate and capable of rolling their eyes. O’Brien’s animation of the mailman is most impressive: we can clearly watch him carrying heavy mail (the sense of weight is well brought across in the animation), and his moves are genuinely sneaky. Johnny and Winnie aren’t half as good.

The film is entertaining, and shows O’Brien on par with Władysław Starewicz as the major pioneer in stop motion animation.

Watch ‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ is available on the Blu-Ray of ‘The Lost World’

Director: Earl Hurd
Release Date: November 20, 1918
Stars: Bobby Bumps
Rating: ★★★★

Before and After © Earl HurdIn ‘Before and After’ Bobby Bumps tricks his father into buying a hair restoring lotion, with the help of his pooch Fido and two other dogs.

Bobby spends his father’s dollar on ice cream, but gets spanked in the end by father’s scalp massage machine.

This is a charming short cartoon, full of elegant designs and fine animation, even if it remains as stiff and repetitive as that of contemporary cartoons. But at least the poses look lifelike.

‘Before and After’ is available on the DVD ‘Before Walt’

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

Cramps © Bud FisherIn this cartoon Mutt and Jeff share an apartment and sleep in the same bed. At night Jeff gets a terrible belly ache, and Mutt tries to prepare a medicine to cure his pal. At one point, however, he thinks he has killed his friend, while he, instead, has cured the little fellow.

‘Cramps’ is a pure gag cartoon that uses quite a lot of text balloons without getting too “talkative”. Instead, the drawing, the staging and the animation are all outstanding. One can really feel the bond between the two friends and we’re totally with Mutt in his attempts to save his partner from the aching pains. The short shows that the Mutt and Jeff cartoons were among the best animated studio shorts of the 1910s. It also reveals that Mutt and Jeff wear their gloves even in bed.

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

‘Cramps’ is available on the DVD ‘Mutt and Jeff – The Original Animated Odd Couple’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1914
Rating: ★★★★

L'avenir dévoilé par les lignes de pied © Émile Cohl‘L’avenir dévoilé par les lignes de pied’ is a short comedy in which a fortune teller, Mrs. Sarafine, decides she should marry.

At that point Mister le vicomte Kelly d’Yeaut enters (his name’s pronounced as ‘quelle idiot’ meaning ‘what an idiot’). The viscount wants to know if he should marry, and if yes, to whom. Mrs. Sarafine makes a print of his hand using photographic paper, puts it in a box, and asks Mr. d’Yeaut to take a look inside.

What follows is some pen animation in Cohl’s idiosyncratic stream-of-consciousness-like style. We watch the hand poking in a nose and in one’s eye, and morphing into a man that melts and burns away. Mrs. Sarafine concludes the lines of the hand inconclusive, and makes a print of Mr. d’Yeaut’s foot. The second piece of animation shows images of loving couples, interchanged by decorative forms, although one of the last images shows a beautiful woman changing into an old hag.

Mrs. Sarafine explains those images to Mr. d’Yeaut that he’ll be happy with the first woman he’ll speak to, which is, of course, herself. In the end the two embrace.

Cohl’s animation is rather poor in this short, but his style of morphing and association remains mesmerizing. The live action scenes are entertaining, too, with subtle comedy revealing the two distinct characters by rather small gestures.

Watch ‘L’avenir dévoilé par les lignes de pied’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘L’avenir dévoilé par les lignes de pied’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: J.R. Bray
Release Date: January 10, 1914
Stars: Col. Heeza Liar
Rating: ★★★★

Col. Heeza Liar's African Hunt © J.R. BrayCol. Heeza Liar was the first animated series, and the character was the first specially designed for animation.

Col. Heeza Liar was the first star of J.R. Bray’s fledgling studio, only founded in 1913. The character was apparently based on Theodore Roosevelt, but he looks very different. Col. Heeza Liar’s African Hunt’ is only the second film featuring the character.

Drawn by J.R. Bray, the cartoon is filled with loose gags, in which the colonel unwillingly hatches an ostrich egg, has to climb into a palm to flee from a bear, shooting six animals within one shot, and planting a seed which grows into a palm tree instantly.

The looseness of the cartoon betrays the short’s origin as a cheater, for it shares no less than sixty percent with the preceding Col. Heeza Liar cartoon ‘Col. Heeza Liar in Africa’. In this respect, Col. Heeza Liar’s African Hunt’ is a ‘milestone’ of animation, being the first cheater in the business.

Despite being a cheater, the short is well animated. There’s some excellent perspective animation, when a kangaroo hops towards the camera, with the colonel inside, casually defying the African setting. The scene with the bear contains some great comedy. The animation over all is fair, ranging from fast to slow, and cleverly reusing animation cycles.

Col. Heeza Liar is not an immediately engaging character. And worse, as time progressed, his antics became less and less well animated. Nevertheless he would star more than fifty cartoons, lasting until 1924.

‘Col. Heeza Liar’s African Hunt’ is available on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: J.R. Bray
Release Date: June 12, 1913
Stars: J.R. Bray
Rating: ★★★★

The Artist's Dream © J.R. BrayJ.R. Bray is the father of the cartoon industry, but this short is from a period in which J.R. Bray was still a lone artist, like other animation pioneers as J. Stuart Blackton, Émile Cohl and Winsor McCay.

In fact, ‘The Artist’s Dream’ is only J.R. Bray’s second attempt at animation, and the film is still rooted in the drawings come to life tradition of the earliest animated films.

Bray plays an artist drawing a dachshund and a sausage. While he’s away the dachshund eats the sausage, and later another till he explodes. Of course, all has been a dream, which clearly shows the strong influence of Winsor McCay’s dreams of the rarebit fiend.

‘The Artist’s Dream’ shows Bray’s extraordinary drawing skills, as his drawings are very clear and contain elegant shading. His handling of perspective is perfect and no less than McCay’s. The animation, on the other hand, is less fluent than McCay’s, if still of a remarkably high quality. Unfortunately, he would not transfer this level of art to his later studio films.

Watch ‘The Artist’s Dream’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Gene Deitch
Release Date: September 1960
Rating: ★★★★

Munro © Gene Deitch‘Munro’ is a charming little film which understandably won an academy award.

Jules Feiffer wrote the story based on a short story of his own. Howard Morris narrates the story and does all the voices of the cartoon except Munro’s, which is done by Deitch’s son Seth. The story tells about Munro, a little boy of four, who is drafted and who has a hard time convincing all the officials he’s only four.

Despite its fully American setting, director Gene Deitch made this film in Czechoslovakia. When one of his clients of his commercial work, Rembrandt films, promised to fund the film Deitch moved his production company to Prague, home of Rembrandt films. Deitch planned only to stay there for a few days, but on meeting his future second wife, he stayed there for the rest of his life.

Deitch uses very pleasant cartoon modern designs and monochrome painted backgrounds which fit the story very well. The Czech animators do an excellent job at the simple and limited, yet effective animation. There’s an undercurrent of anti-militarism in the cartoon that’s never played out in the open. The most critical scene is when the general explains why they’re fighting: “our side is on the fave of God, and the other side isn’t”.

But more importantly, the film is about how so-called authorities abuse and bully people, making them even believe themselves they are something they’re not. In this respect, the story of Munro is very akin to Frank Tashlin’s children’s book ‘The Bear That Wasn’t (1946), which was turned into an animated short itself in 1967.

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

As far as I know ‘Munro’ has not yet been released on DVD or Blu-Ray
‘Munro’ is available on the DVD ‘Rembrandt Films’ Greatest Hits’ (thank you, Jonathan Wilson!)

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: November 18, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★★

At the Races © Hanna-BarberaThis episode starts with Fred and Barney playing pool in ‘Boulder Dan’s Billiard’. When they hear Dan wants to sell the place for 2 grand, Fred smells an opportunity.

Unfortunately, neither of them can raise the two grand in cash – they don’t even have the fifty bucks to bet on a horse (er… dinosaur) at one to forty to raise the big money. So Fred decides to use his pay, and to fool Wilma they think up a fake stick up. But as it goes in comedies like this, later a real stick up takes place…

‘At the Races’ is a fun episode, with Fred’s lies and over-confidence coming back upon him with a vengeance. Most painful in this respect is Fred’s rough treatment of his own boss, Mr. Gravelpuss, even before he has won the two grand that would make him independent. Strangely enough, Fred’s subsequent unemployment is not mentioned again during the rest of the episode.

This short contains a rare classic cartoon gag in which Fred makes the eight ball go through his skull: we can watch the ball rolling behind his eyes. A gag like this makes Fred suddenly akin to Hanna and Barbera’s earlier creation, Tom Cat. Also featured is a small elephant which Wilma uses as a vacuum cleaner, and a rather lame bus gag.

The designs of the characters vary a lot during this episode. Especially the drawings of Barney often seems rather off, giving him a huge nose in several scenes. Mel Blanc also voices a crackpot doctor with a strange accent.

Watch an excerpt from ‘At the Races’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 8
To the previous Flintstones episode: The Baby Sitters
To the next Flintstones episode: The Engagement Ring

‘At the Races’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Director: Hawley Pratt
Release Date: August 1, 1964
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Señorella and the Glass Huarache © Warner Bros.

‘Señorella and the Glass Huarache’ was the last Looney Tunes short released before Warner Bros. closed down its cartoon department in 1963.

It’s also the only Warner Bros. Short directed by layout man Hawley Pratt, whom Friz Freleng already had given co-director credits in earlier cartoons from the 1960s.

The cartoon features two Mexicans in a canteen, of whom we only see their shadows. One tells a Mexican version of the Cinderella to the other, with the prince being a bullfighter, the castle being a ranchero etc. Otherwise the story is quite faithful, and the cartoon is rescued by the bold backgrounds and pleasant cartoon modern designs. These betray a strong UPA influence, as does the fact that this short stars human characters, instead of the stock talking animals of earlier Warner Bros. cartoons.

The end of the Warner Bros. studio didn’t mean the end of Warner Bros. cartoons; between 1964 and 1968 Warner Bros. suddenly started releasing cartoons again, now produced by Friz Freleng’s DePatie-Freleng company, most famous for its Pink Panther cartoons.

Watch ‘Señorella and the Glass Huarache’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Señorella and the Glass Huarache’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Five’

Director: unknown
Production Date: 1960
Stars: Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Vengeance Valley © Toonder Studios‘Vengeance Valley’ is based on the Tom Poes comic strip ‘De wraakgier’ (which can be translated as ‘the revenge vulture’) from 1956.

The comic strip is one of the best in the series, and features Tom Puss encountering an island of vengeance-loving vultures. In the film the vultures inhabit a hick town in the mountains called ‘Vengeance Valley’. The whole concept of avenge, revenge and counter-revenge is played out well, and this short makes particularly well use of the limited animation. This makes this episode arguably the best of the whole series, despite the lame ending, in which a female vulture blows up the whole town, wiping it off the map, literally.

‘Vengeance Valley’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

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