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Airing Date: January 1, 1997

‘Inflata Dee Dee/The Justice Friends: Can’t Nap/Monstory’ was the last episode of the first season Dexter’s Laboratory, and thus, alas, the last of the Dexter’s Laboratory episodes to be released on DVD. Why the other seasons never saw a home media treatment is a mystery to me. It sure is an eternal shame that this great show is not available in its entirety.

Inflata Dee Dee

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

In ‘Inflata Dee Dee’ Dee puts Dexter’s “hydroplasmatic inflation suit” on, making her floating like a bubble in Dexter’s lab, much to the little boy’s annoyance.

What follows is an almost classic chase sequence in which Dexter tries several ways to bring Dee Dee down. One involves a particularly silly suit with springs and a plunger. We also learn that Dee Dee has a watch with indicates when it’s time to play with Dexter. Dexter’s Laboratory rarely was so looney tunes-like.

The Justice Friends: Can’t Nap

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

In another tiresome episode of ‘Justice Friends’ Valhallen takes a justice friend called White Tiger home, which behaves like a cat. Unfortunately, Major Glory is allergic to cats, and with help of Krunk goes at lengths to get rid of the creature.

‘Cat Nap’ is anything but funny, leaving the opening scene, which involves a particularly silly supervillain called Mental Mouse as the most inspired part of the episode. Nevertheless, White Tiger is well-animated, perfectly blending human and cat-like moves.

Monstory

Directors: Rob Renzetti & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

When Dee Dee visits Dexter to tell him a particularly stupid story, Dexter grabs an ampule with a silencer to shut her up. Unfortunately, he grabs the wrong elixir…

‘Monstory’ is great fun and knows some nice references, not only to Godzilla and other monster movies, but also to ‘Horton Hears a Who’ and ‘King-Size Canary’ (1947). The transformation scenes are particularly good, especially the first one involving Dee Dee. Also great is the montage in which a caterpillar-like Dexter lies dormant in a cocoon, with Dee Dee waiting for him to emerge.

‘Inflata Dee Dee/The Justice Friends: Can’t Nap/Monstory’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director: Michèle Cournoyer
Release Date: 1996
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

‘Le chapeau’ is a nonlinear, stream-of-consciousness-like film of flowing pen drawings morphing into each other on a white empty canvas, using the hat as a recurring motive.

The film is very associative, but it clearly says something about the male gaze and how it reduces women to mere objects of desire. The images show e.g. a female dancer dancing nude for a male audience, and images of sex. Most disturbing are the images in which the adult woman suddenly changes into a little girl and back, suggesting child abuse.

Cournoyer’s animation is flowing, her pen drawings are rough and sketchy, and her use of metamorphosis is mesmerizing. The result is a powerful, if rather uncomfortable short.

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

‘How Wings Are Attached to the Backs of Angels’ is available on the DVD ‘Desire & Sexuality – Animating the Unconscious Vol.2’

Airing Date: May 11, 1996

Dexter’s Rival

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee, Mandark
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

‘Dexter’s Rival’ introduces Dexter’s arch nemesis, Mandark (who apparently is called Astronominoff in real life).

In this episode Mandark outwits Dexter in every single task at school, being genuinely smarter than Dexter is. Even Mandark’s lab is much bigger than Dexter’s (and even contains a death star lurking outside). This of course, greatly upsets Dexter, but then he discovers that Mandark has one weak spot…

Mandark immediately is a priceless character – his arrogance, his typical way of talking and his trademark offbeat laughter make him a perfect foe. The way he perceives Dee Dee is a particular highlight of this episode, turning Dexter’s big sister in a piece of pure romantic beauty.

Dial M for Monkey: Simion

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

In ‘Dial M for Monkey: Simion’ monkey does not only have superpowers, he also lives in a futuristic science fiction world, even though this episode has the same introduction as the previous two Monkey episodes.

In this episode we see a little more of agent Honeydew, but most of the time is devoted to a very long speech by the villain, Simion. This tale of revenge simply bursts with familiar superhero tropes, but that doesn’t necessarily make it very funny. Like the other ‘Dial M for Monkey’ episodes ‘Simion’ remains mediocre at best, and the episode pales when compared to the bridging Dexter’s Laboratory episodes, ‘Dexter’s Rival’ and ‘Old Man Dexter’.

Old Man Dexter

See the post devoted to this episode

‘Dexter’s Rival/Dial M for Monkey: Simion/Old Man Dexter’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Directors: Craig McCracken & Genndy Tartakovsky
Airing Date: March 24, 1996 & May 12, 1996
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

‘Old Man Dexter’ is the third of four pilot episodes of ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’. It would later return as the third part of the third episode.

‘Old Man Dexter’ plays with the idea that Dexter is still a little boy. In this episode Dexter is too young to stay awake for the 20:00 h ‘late early movie’. Dexter’s solution is to make himself older, but then Dee Dee messes with his experiment…

‘Old Man Dexter’ is a funny little gem. Especially the sequence in which Dexter descends the stairs is hilarious. The sound effects accompanying his shaky arms are priceless. Parts from this episode would return in the end titles of the official series.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Old Man Dexter’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Old Man Dexter’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Airing Date: February 26, 1995 & May 19, 1996
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

‘Changes’ is the very first Dexter’s Laboratory episode. The short first appeared on Cartoon Network’s ‘World Premiere Toons’ on February 26, 1995, although it would reappear as the third part of the fourth episode.

‘Changes’ already contains all elements that make Dexter’s Laboratory such a striking and refreshing addition to animated television: first a strong 1950s influence in design, particularly emulating the work of UPA and John Hubley’s early Storyboard studio work, with the bold line work and highly stylized characters, emphasizing primary forms, like triangles and ovals. Second, the equally stylized animation, with its often unnatural movement, strong emphasis on poses, and striking alterations between fast and slow actions. This, too, harks back to the cartoon modern era (a third element, a cinematic approach with elements of anime, would appear in the second installment, ‘The Big Sister‘). Fourth, the unnatural sound effects, often accompanying silent action, like eye movement or stretching arms. Fifth, the musical soundtrack, which follows the action closely, and remains interesting throughout.

The premise is that Dexter is a hyper-intelligent kid who somehow has an enormous secret lab somehow stowed away in his room, while his big and not so bright sister Dee Dee is a pest to him. ‘Changes’ contains some material that would return in the opening credits, as the episode opens with Dexter finishing his latest invention, which looks like a remote control with only one red button. Of course, Dee Dee grabs the remote and it turns out it changes the other into an animal. Both children turn into a wide range of animals, one more outlandish than the other, in a fast sequence of events. However, highlight may be Dee Dee’s expressions upon entering her brother’s forbidden room.

With ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ both Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network joined the American animation renaissance. The network contributed greatly to the revival, with beautifully stylized and idiosyncratic series like ‘Cow and Chicken’ (1997-1999), ‘The Powerpuff Girls’ (by Craig McCracken, who also worked on Dexter’s Laboratory, 1998-2005) and ‘Samurai Jack’ (again by Tartakovsky, 2001-2004), and to a lesser extent ‘Ed, Edd & Eddy’ (1999-2009) and ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ (1999-2001).

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

‘Changes’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director: John Eng
Airing Date: March 2, 1996
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

This episode starts with Duckman blackmailing an employee of the ‘McJaggers’ fastfood chain, so he gets to win a vacation to some third world paradise, called Puerto Guano.

This turns out to be quite a hell-hole (there’s even a reference to the Exxon Valdez oil spill from 1989), and Duckman’s rant about it starts no small revolution, turning him into the country’s dictator. As Duckman himself says, when he gets unlimited power, what can possibly go wrong?

‘Clear and Presidente Danger’ does little with the characters’ personalities, and works better as a satire than as a Duckman episode per se. Much more fun than Duckman’s rather predictable government style is the depiction of Cornfed as some sort of Rambo-like rebel. The sequence in which he trains his rebel group is accompanied by some nice steel drum music, while Ajax provides the comedy. Cornfed’s moralistic end speech is also a delight, but the episode’s sting lies in its depiction of the United States as helper of South American dictators.

Watch ‘Clear and Presidente Danger’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 30
To the previous Duckman episode: Apocalypse Not
To the next Duckman episode: The Girls of Route Canal

‘Clear and Presidente Danger’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Paul Demeyer
Airing Date: January 13, 1996
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The best Duckman episodes contain an element of satire, and the best satire still rings today. And this certainly applies to the ‘Forbidden Fruit’ episode.

This episode starts with a VHS tape of a school psychiatrist recommending a tutor for Ajax, Charles and Mambo. After some mishaps (e.g. Michael Jackson) a sexy young French nanny called Régine Poulet applies. Bernice forbids Duckman to make one single sexual remark to the girl, but he gets sued for sexual harassment nonetheless. At this point the episode spoofs an all too sensitive reaction to an otherwise condemnable crime, and political correctness carried too far, complete with changing of names, like Hebrew to Webrew.

This episode’s satire can easily translate to the #metoo movement and to the cancel culture of this day and age. However, highlight of the episode is Duckman’s visit to Fluffy and Uranus’s gingerbread house-like home, which inside is stuffed with cutesy material like rainbows and unicorns.

Watch ‘Forbidden Fruit’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 24
To the previous Duckman episode: Noir Gang
To the next Duckman episode: Grandma-ma’s Flatulent Adventure

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

Director: Natalia Chernysheva
Release Date:
September 2012
Rating:
 ★★★★
Review:

In ‘Snowflake’ a little boy in Africa gets a paper-cut snowflake by mail. That night he dreams his surroundings are covered with snow, making all animals shiver.

This is a charming little film done in a quasi-naive style, and making good use of black and whites, with occasional flashes of color. Especially the scenes in which the boy explores the snow-covered world are beautiful, with his red coat, shawl, hood and mittens standing out against the blacks, whites and greys of the animals and their surroundings. Also noteworthy is Chernysheva’s excellent timing, and the sound design, which is spot on.

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

‘Snowflake’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Haas & Hert en andere verhaaltjes’

Director: Joel Simon
Release Date:
July 5, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★★
Review:

‘Macropolis’ was commissioned by the ‘Unlimited Programme’, part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and dedicated to deaf and disabled arts and culture.

The short stars a toy cat, who’s rejected from the factory because he’s only got one eye. He teams up with a little toy dog with only one leg. The cat gives the dog a leg prosthesis, the dog gives the cat an eye patch and together they try to catch the truck which delivers all the other toys to the toy store.

‘Macropolis’ is a gentle little film which succeeds in moving the audience without any dialogue. The stop motion is mixed with pixillation and live action, and filmed partly outdoors. A nice touch is that the film makers don’t hide the fact that stop motion takes a lot of time, and the background is buzzing with movement as the two little animals wander the streets.

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

‘Macropolis’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Haas & Hert en andere verhaaltjes’

Director: Peter Lord
Release Date:
March 28, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★★
Review:

Aardman’s fifth feature film was, after two computer animated films, a welcome return to the stop-motion the studio is most famous for. It had been seven years since their last stop-motion feature film, ‘Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’, and meanwhile the studio had exchanged partnership from Dreamworks to Sony Pictures Animation.

Not that that is visible in ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’ (also known as The Pirates! Band of Misfits’), however, as the film is one hundred percent Aardman. More precisely, even though Nick Park was not involved in this project, his recognizable style now had become the trademark general Aardman style, thus ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’ explores characters with the same googly eyes and large teeth, if slightly more ‘realistic’ than in the Wallace & Gromit universe.

Unlike Aardman’s earlier features, ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’ is not an original story, but an adaptation of a children’s novel by British writer Gideon Defoe. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on any differences, but the film certainly is a pretty silly affair, and much of it must have been present in the original writing.

The film takes place in some fantasy take on the 19th century, and stars several historical figures, like Queen Victoria (here depicted as a furious pirate-hating monarch and the villain of the film), Charles Darwin (depicted as a whiny and cowardly character, longing for a girlfriend, and having an all too intelligent chimpanzee as a butler), and, in a small cameo, Jane Austen (the latter’s inclusion is particularly odd, as she died twenty years before Victoria became queen).

The pirates of the title have more in common with Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta ‘Pirates of Penzance’ (1879)* than with the real thing and are depicted with all the present day cliches imaginable. They’re all dressed in 17th century fashion, belying the 19th century setting, there are wooden legs, flags with skulls, several ‘arrrr’s etc. The modern take on this time period in emphasized by a soundtrack of modern British pop music featuring songs by e.g. Tenpole Tudor, The Clash, The Beat and Supergrass. Thus historicity clearly isn’t the film’s main goal.

On the contrary, the film is self-consciously loony, and chock full of gags and pure nonsense. For example, there’s a pirate festival in which one pirate will be awarded ‘pirate of the year’; one of those pirates makes his entrance from the insides of a giant sperm whale landing on the small harbor; queen Victoria’s dress turns out to be a military killing machine, and so on and so forth.

The story tells about ‘The Pirate Captain’ (he nor his crew do carry names), who dreams of winning ‘the pirate of the year’ award, but who’s actually the laughing stock of the pirate community. In one of his puny attempts to loot a ship he meets Charles Darwin (on his voyage on ‘The Beagle’, which in reality also occurred before Queen Victoria was crowned). Darwin takes interest in the Pirate Captain’s parrot Polly, who’s actually a dodo, and persuades the captain to hand her over for science…

‘The Pirate Captain’, excellently voiced by Hugh Grant, is a round character, dim but enthusiastic, incapable but ambitious, and the story’s focus rests on the tension field between his own ambitions and the love for his crew, mostly personified by pirate ‘Number Two’, who acts as the conscience of the ship. The other six crew members are less well-developed, but allow for a lot of laughs, especially ‘Albino Pirate’ and ‘Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate’ (an obvious woman with a false orange beard).

In the end the story is less interesting than the general silly atmosphere and the multitude of gags. In fact, the plot is disappointingly generic, containing the obligate break-up scene in which the ambitions of the main protagonist lead to an alienation of his friends (also present in e.g. ‘Up’ from 2009 and ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2’ from 2013), and an equally generic gravity-defying finale, once again bringing back memories to ‘Up’.

The animation is outstanding throughout, and one quickly forgets it’s all done in laboring stop motion. There’s way too much action, and even a breathtaking chase scene (inside Darwin’s London home) to stand still and marvel at the animation itself – it’s simply too fluent, and seemingly effortless – a testimony of the enormous talent present at the British studio. There’s even some traditional animation, when the Pirates’ voyages are depicted on a map of the world. Likewise, there’s hardly time to gape at the sets, which are magnificent in their elaboration and made with so much love and care that one gets immediately submerged into the pirates’ world. I’ve seen the pirate ship at an Aardman exhibition in Groningen, The Netherlands, and that alone is a prop of 3 meters high(!). The captain’s room, too, was something to marvel at – containing a lot of subtle jokes you’ll hardly notice in the movie – if at all. Look for the captain’s log!

In all, ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’ is great fun, brought to you with bravado and a virtuosity that will leave you breathless.

* the whole concept of Pirate King seems to come from this operetta.

Watch the trailer for ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

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’

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