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Director: Dave Borthwick
Release Date: December 10, 1993
Rating: ★★★

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb © Bolexbrothers1993 was a great year for stop-motion animation: it saw the screening of the groundbreaking feature film ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, as well as the Wallace & Gromit short ‘The Wrong Trousers’, which also covered new grounds.

Much less well known is the stop-motion feature film ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’, also released that year. Made by Dave Borthwick at the British Bolexbrothers studio the film is a much rougher affair than the smooth stop-motion efforts of Disney and Aardman. In fact, it stands firmly in a tradition of gritty and disturbing stop-motion films that via Jan Švankmajer harks all the way back to Władysław Starewicz.

To begin with the film takes place in a dark and disturbing world, where large insects crawl and violence roams. In this gloomy world a poor couple gives birth to a child the size of a small fetus, whom they call Tom Thumb (in one of ca. three lines of dialogue in the entire film).

But Tom soon is kidnapped and taken to a sinister laboratory populated by several chimeral creatures tortured by insane experiments. A two-legged lizard-like creature helps Tom escape. Outside Tom meets a human tribe his own size, who unfortunately kill his chimeral companion. Jack, the leader of the tribe and a master of weapons, takes Tom back to the laboratory, where they eventually apparently destroy the laboratory’s power…

Much of what’s happening in this film is rather incomprehensible, and the plot could do with some cleaning. For example, it remains utterly unclear why Tom is kidnapped, and what the origin of the little people is. Throughout Tom remains a silent and innocent character, not unlike Pinocchio or Dumbo, and he hardly acts.

In the end the film is more interesting because of its disturbing images and for its unique artwork than for its story. The creators made especially well use of pixillation (the animation of people), giving all actors a grotesque appearance and ditto movement.

The best scenes remain the ones inside the laboratory, where Tom sees some pathetic creatures. Especially the one in which one of the creatures asks Tom to shut down the power that sustains them, is a moving piece of animation.

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ may never get the classic status of a ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ or a ‘The Wrong Trousers’, it still is a film that shows the limitless power of animation in the hands of creators with a lot of imagination.

Watch ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ is available on DVD

Directors: Herbert M. Dawley & Willis O’Brien
Release Date: November 17, 1918
Rating: ★★★

The Ghost of Slumber Mountain © Willis O'BrienThis film was produced, acted and animated by Herbert M. Dawley and Willis O’Brien.

Dawley plays ‘Uncle Jack Holmes’, who tells two boys a story about how he camped out on slumber mountain and meets the ghost of Mad Dick there (played by O’Brien). The ghost tells Holmes to watch through a magic instrument, and the uncle suddenly sees prehistoric animals in the distance.

At this point the film is nine minutes away, and by O’Brien’s skillful animation we watch a Brontosaurus wandering, a Diatryma (a giant flightless bird, now Gastornis) catching a snake, two Triceratopses fighting, and a Tyrannosaurus killing one of the Triceratopses.

Especially the animation on the first Triceratops is well done, O’Brien even shows the creature breathing. Another nice detail is that of the Tyrannosaurus licking its lips. Most importantly, O’Brien doesn’t show the prehistoric creatures not as monsters but as convincingly living creatures. No wonder this master animation was asked to do the dinosaur animation for ‘The Lost World’ (1925), and for all kinds of creatures in ‘King Kong‘ (1933).

It’s a pity the film is rather lackluster (in the end it all appears to be a dream, and even the boys don’t really buy that trite ending), for the animation is certainly worth watching once.

Watch ‘The Ghost of Slumber Mountain’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Ghost of Slumber Mountain’ is available on the Blu-Ray of ‘The Lost World’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1918
Rating: ★★★

Les adventures des Pieds-Nickelés © Éclair‘Les adventures des Pieds-Nickelés’ is a short series of animated cartoons that Émile Cohl made for Éclair.

The first episode hasn’t survived, and only parts of the fifth, but from the surviving episodes one can distill that this series is about three criminals: Ribouldingue, who has a beard, Croquignol, and Filochard, who wears an eyepatch. The three flee from an inspector and have all kinds of adventures in Paris.

Cohl’s sketchy drawing style looks like something of the 19th century, and his animation, mostly done in cut-out, is rather stiff and badly timed, with none of the movement being remotely natural. Yet, Cohl’s gags are impressive as they seem to be embryonic versions of common cartoon gags of the 1940s and 1950s. For example, in the second episode there’s a scene in which numerous policemen pop-up from everywhere.

The third episode is the most impressive in this respect: the short contains a scene in which the trio enters a subterranean and rather nightmarish chamber in which everything can happen, making this scene a direct forerunner of ‘Bimbo’s Initiation‘ from 1931. Later, when a part of a fence falls on the inspector, he breaks into several pieces, just like a Tex Avery character. The fourth episode features a policeman who, when hitting a wall, contracts into a flat disc, and later Filochard rolls up like a piece of paper.

The fifth episode is the most incomprehensible of the four surviving films, partly because of only parts of it have survived. The best gag of this episode is when Croquignol almost drowns, and when rescued spits out hundreds of liters of water, including some fishes, only to ask for a drink.

All these gags are way ahead of the humor of contemporary American cartoons, but combined with the archaic drawing style the end result is a strange mix, indeed.

Watch ‘Les adventures des Pieds-Nickelés’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Wallace Carlson
Release Date: January 9, 1919
Stars: Us Fellers
Rating: ★★★

Dud Leaves Home © Wallace CarlsonWallace Carlson (1894-1967) was a comic strip artist, who had a brief career as an animator from 1914 to 1921. Carlson joined the Bray studio in 1917, for which he created the ‘Us Fellers’ series. The series stars a boy character called Dreamy Dud, whom Carlson had conceived earlier.

Dud is a boy who breaks his bank (and unfortunately the one coin therein) to buy his girlfriend Mamie some ice cream. But instead he’s punished and sent to bed without supper. At night Dud sneaks out and first imagines how his mother gets filled with remorse, while he finds a treasure. But then the figments of his imagination turn into scary monsters, and he runs home, only to get spanked.

‘Dud Leaves Home’ is a well-told film, with great attention to the child’s world and imagination. The night scenes show some pretty background art. The animation, on the other hand, is rather stiff and robotic, especially when compared to Earl Hurd’s or Raoul Barré’s animation from the same era.

Carlson left animation in 1921 to concentrate on comic strips again, creating the highly successful comic strip series ‘The Nebbs’ in 1923.

Watch ‘Dud Leaves Home’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Dud Leaves Home’ is available on the DVD ‘Before Walt’

Directors: Charles Bowers & Raoul Barré
Release Date: March 2, 1919
Stars: Mutt and Jeff
Rating: ★★★

Fireman Save My Child © Raoul BarréIn this short Mutt and Jeff are firemen. First they extinguish the ‘fire’ of a smoking policeman, then they rush to a real fire. Mutt has to rescue a girl (which turns out to be a vicious dog), while Jeff relaxes, eats some fried eggs and drinks some coffee. In order to escape from the dog Mutt jumps down, but his colleagues are too busy looking at a beautiful dame descending a ladder…

‘Fireman Save My Child’ is a pure gag cartoon, with the gags coming in fast an plenty. The film is pretty fast and funny for its age, but animator Dick Huemer uses some surprising tricks to cut short on animation, making Mutt and Jeff move across the room without movement, or firemen sprouting from beds using the vaguest inbetween drawings. Nevertheless, it’s nice to watch some animation by this later Disney legend.

‘Fireman Save My Child’ is available on the Blu-Ray-DVD-combo ‘Cartoon Roots’

Director: Leon Searl
Release Date: February 29, 1916
Stars: Krazy Kat
Rating: ★★★

Krazy Kat Goes a-Wooing © J.R. Bray Productions‘Krazy Kat’ was the very first animal cartoon star featured in a cartoon series of her own.

‘Krazy Kat’, of course, was taken from George Herriman’s celebrated comic strip, which had started in 1913. The film series started three years later, and lasted until 1940. By then the character had become a far cry from Herriman’s creation.

But the earliest Krazy Kat cartoons still had a lot in common with George Herriman’s comic strip, on which they were based. ‘Krazy Kat Goes a-Wooing’, the fourth Krazy Kat cartoon, is a good example. This short animation film lasts only three minutes and seemingly re-tells one Sunday Page, using a lot of text balloons. Both the designs, backgrounds and characters are still in tune with Herriman’s creations.

Krazy Kat goes serenading her love Ignatz Mouse, but he rushes off to fetch some bricks to throw at her. Leon Searl’s drawings are appealing, but his animation is very stiff. For example, when we watch Krazy serenading, only two drawings are used.

Watch ‘Krazy Kat Goes a-Wooing’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Krazy Kat Goes a-Wooing’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: George Vernon Stallings
Release Date: September 4, 1915
Stars: Colonel Heeza Liar
Rating: ★★★

Colonel Heeza Liar at the Bat © J.R. Bray‘Colonel Heeza Liar at the Bat’ is a Colonel Heeza Liar cartoon directed by George Vernon Stallings, who would later join Van Beuren and Disney.

Stallings’s approach to animation is very comic strip-like in this short: the scenes are very flat, and although the drawing and posing are very good, the animation is extremely limited and stiff, relying heavily on repeated drawings and on poses instead of movement.

In this short the colonel joins a ball game, winning it with ease, e.g. by pitching curve balls that defy all laws of nature, and by running a home-run three times in a row. The film uses titles in rhyme, but text balloons are reserved for the umpire only.

Watch ‘Colonel Heeza Liar at the Bat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Colonel Heeza Liar at the Bat’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’ and on the DVD ‘Before Walt’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1916
Rating: ★★★

Les exploits de Farfadet © Émile Cohl‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ is a very short cut-out animation film, not even clocking two minutes.

In this short a man dreams he loses his hat at sea, drowns and gets swallowed by a huge fish.

The atmosphere of this film is very surreal and, indeed, dream-like, with a clear feel of unreality, and an illogical flow of events. The man speaks in text balloons , and in the end he blames his bad dream on rum, very much like Winsor McCay’s rarebit fiends.

Watch ‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: April 7, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

Fred Flinstone Before and After © Hanna-Barbera‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ starts with a television studio in search of a ‘before man’ for their commercial for ‘Fat Off Reducing Method’.

B.J., the president of the company picks Fred from the street. An outrageously proud Fred invites all his friends to watch him on television, only to realize afterwards he was the ‘fat guy’, not the muscular after guy…

In a very unlikely follow up scene the studio offers Fred $1000 if he can reduce his weight with 25 pounds. It remains completely mysterious what the studio would gain with this bet. In any case, Fred sets out to eat less, only to discover that it’s much, much harder than he thought. So, he seeks help from ‘Food Anonymous’….

‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ suffers from a rather weak and implausible story, and rather repetitive scenes of Fred not dieting at all. For a while it seems that the $1000 reward doesn’t play any role, at all. Nevertheless, Fred’s wild looks when begging for a burger are priceless and belong to the best pieces of character animation on the whole show.  However, the episode’s highlight is in the beginning, when Fred thinks he’s on camera, and goes berzerk.

‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ rounds up the first season of The Flintstones. Five seasons would follow, lasting until 1966. In the first season the series had shown to be an original mix of sitcom, slapstick comedy, sight gags and cartoon humor. Moreover, the series proved that cartoons could be prime time material, although that lesson would only get a real follow up when The Simpsons started airing in 1989.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 26th and final episode of Flintstones Season One
To the previous Flintstones episode: Rooms for Rent

‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: March 10, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Long, Long Weekend © Hanna-BarberaThis episode starts with Fred complaining that none of his old pals ever writes him.

Promptly he gets a letter by old pal Smoothy, who runs a seaside hotel, so Fred gives old Smoothy a ring. Unfortunately, Smoothy just has had a major problem: all his staff has walked out of him, as Smoothy couldn’t pay them. So Smoothy invites Fred and his neighbors to come over and stay for free, only to make them work at his hotel with more than 200 guests coming to a convention. Of course, his plan doesn’t succeed.

‘The Long, Long Weekend’ is a rather badly scripted episode: Smoothy’s plan is laid out in advance; at no point his plan sounds feasible, and indeed it works for only a couple of minutes. A lot of screen time is wasted on Fred and Barney going swimming, fishing and skin diving – all without success. The fishing episode at least features a beautiful painting of Fred and Barney in a boat, silhouetted against an orange sky.

The episode is most important for introducing the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, the order Fred and Barney would join in the future.

Watch ‘The Long, Long Weekend’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 23
To the previous Flintstones episode: The Tycoon
To the next Flintstones episode: In the Dough

‘The Long, Long Weekend’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: February 17, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

Love Letters on the Rocks © Hanna-BarberaThe plot of this episode gets in motion when Wilma discovers an old love letter from Fred in a box full of memories. When Fred discovers his own poem in the drawer, he thinks it’s by somebody else, and suspects that Wilma has a secret lover.

What follows is a classic comedy of errors, also involving roller skates, a watch, and a private eye with a funny walk and the voice reminiscent of that of Tony Curtis as a millionaire in ‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959). Fred’s dramatic stances are priceless.

The episode is further uplifted by some amusing prehistory gags: a giant dinosaur from ‘Mastodon Motor Inc.’ full of cars on its back, a photo camera with a little bird drawing a picture in it, and a taxi you have to walk yourself. We also discover that Fred’s job, which already had been depicted in ‘The Snorkasaurus Hunter’, is being a “dino-operator”.

Watch ‘Love Letters on the Rocks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 21
To the previous Flintstones episode: The Hypnotist
To the next Flintstones episode: The Tycoon

‘Love Letters on the Rocks’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: January 27, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Snorkasaurus Hunter © Hanna-BarberaThe story of this episode is set in when Fred gets angry about meat prices in a supermarket. So he decides to use his vacation to hunt the meat himself.

Thus the four neighbors are off with a trailer to the mountains where Fred and Barney try to clobber a ‘Snorkasaurus’ to death, while their wives experience all kinds of camping annoyances, like mosquitoes and ants. The Snorkasaurus turns out to be a wise-cracking, refined talking animal with a suave voice (according to Wikipedia imitating comedian Phil Sivers).

In the end the episode turns out to give us the origin of Dino, Fred and Wilma’s pet. This is a weird turn of events, as Dino has been seen before as a four-legged yelping dinosaur, behaving like a dog, not the two-legged suave and talkative animal as shown here. Indeed, this is this the only episode in which Dino talks.

‘The Snorkasaurus Hunters’ is the first episode to show Fred working as an excavator machinist at ‘Rockhead and Quarry’s Cave Construction Company’. In ‘Love Letters on the Rocks‘ Fred says he’s a ‘dino-operator’. Both his work and the supermarket lead to several prehistoric gags. The camping episode is particularly slapstick rich, and has surprisingly much in common with earlier Warner Bros. cartoons. For example, Barney chops an enormous redwood tree, which crashes on Fred’s car and trailer. Later, Barney goes fishing, but gets swallowed by a large fish himself. The best gag, however, is when the four dream what they could do with the money they save by hunting their meat themselves. Barney’s dream in particular is a delight.

Watch an excerpt from ‘The Snorkasaurus Hunter’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 18
To the previous Flintstones episode: The Big Bank Robbery
To the next Flintstones episode: The Hot Piano

‘The Snorkasaurus Hunter’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: January 20, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Big Bank Robbery © Hanna-BarberaThis episode starts with two bank robbers (voiced by Mel Blanc and Stan Freberg) followed by a police car.

The robbers get rid of the loot, which lands on Fred’s head. When the wives convince Fred and Barney to return the money to the police, the boys are quickly seen as the robbers themselves. Fred and Barney flee into the wild Meanwhile, Wilma thinks of a rather unhealthy way to attract the real bank robbers, posing as sleazy gals (“Shirl” and “Myrt”) with too much dough on their hands. It remains a wonder that they only attract the original bank robbers to their house, and not the complete criminal scene of Bedrock with their act.

Anyway, in the end Fred accidentally knocks out the real crooks, earning the reward. But his bragging about it makes him all too vulnerable to blackmail, and in the end it’s the other three who spend all the money, leaving Fred only with his story as a conquering hero.

This episode features a gas station using a mastodon, but the best gag may be the police sketch, which is much more inspired than the tiring and completely superfluous scene in which Barney ends up in a pterodactyl nest. Moreover, this pterodactyl looks more like a bird than the real thing.

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 17
To the previous Flintstones episode: Arthur Quarry’s Dance Class
To the next Flintstones episode: The Snorkasaurus Hunter

‘The Big Bank Robbery’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: January 13, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

Arthur Quarry's Dance Class © Hanna-BarberaWilma gets four free tickets for a big charity dance, but Fred and Barney refuse to go.

It turns out they can’t dance, and they are too ashamed to tell this to their wives. Thus they join ‘Joe Rockhead’s Fire Department’, a scam for husbands who want to go out each night, so they can go out and take dance lessons at ‘Arthur Quarry’s Dance School’.

Like many other Flintstones episodes ‘Arthur Quarry Dance School’ leans heavily on Fred and Barney’s rather depressing tendency to keep things secret from their wives, but this time it’s all for the good, and this is one of the rare episodes with a happy ending, even though Barney and Fred still can hardly dance in the end.

Highlight of the episode is the scene in which Fred and Barney meet their dancing partners at the school, two beautiful young ladies. The prehistoric gag department is limited to the mailman who uses a small Ceratopsian as a mail cart, and the bird as a record player, which by now has become a staple gag.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Arthur Quarry’s Dance Class’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 16
To the previous Flintstones episode: The Girl’s Night Out
To the next Flintstones episode: The Big Bank Robbery

‘Arthur Quarry’s Dance Class’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: December 16, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Sweepstakes Ticket © Hanna-BarberaBoth Fred and Barney and Betty and Wilma buy a sweepstakes ticket. They hide from each other, which leads to a small comedy of errors.

‘The Sweepstakes Ticket’ is not the most inspired of the Flintstones episodes: it relies heavily on tried and tested formulas. Most prominent is the ancient trope of devilish and angelic sides (typical examples include ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto‘ from 1933 and ‘Donald’s Better Self‘ from 1938), which this time come to visit Fred. Then there is a W.C. Fields-like beggar, and Fred’s rather atypical asides to the audience.

Moreover, the episode reuses a gag from ‘The Engagement Ring’, aired only a few weeks before. At one point the story even reverts to the comedy of Tex Avery’s ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point‘ and ‘Deputy Droopy’ (both 1955) with Fred running away to a far away place to scream out his pain, and quickly singing a lullaby to the awakening Barney.

Fred’s behavior is highly questionable in this episode, burgling his very own neighbor, and it’s amazing to see his crime being unpunished.

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

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 12
To the previous Flintstones episode: The Golf Champion
To the next Flintstones episode: The Drive-in

‘The Sweepstakes Ticket’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: November 4, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Monster from the Tarpits © Hanna-Barbera“Hollyrock” company ‘Miracle Pictures’ is going to shoot a low-budget one-day quicky monster movie called ‘The Monster of the Tar Pits’.

The producers randomly choose Bedrock as a location, because they cannot spend the money on a prop set. The whole town gets excited, because Hollyrock actors Gary Granite, Rock Pile and Tuesday Wednesday are in it.

Gary Granite is clearly a parody of Cary Grant, not really in looks, but certainly in voice. Wilma and Betty even go auditioning, but it’s Fred, who gets hired as Gary Granite’s stunt double. The look on Fred’s face when the director says he’d be perfect [as an actor] is priceless, and one of the best facial expressions in the entire series. Of course, Fred mainly gets hit by rocks and clubs, which are all too real, as the company cannot afford props for those, either.

The Movie Company’s slogan, “If it’s a good picture, it’s a miracle”, is a variation on similar slogans in ‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood‘ (1938), which uses the word Wonder, and the Popeye cartoon ‘Doing Impossikible Stunts‘ (1940) with the word Mystery.

The episode is only mildly funny, but contains a few stone age gags: Fred and Barney eating a huge brontosaur steak and pterodactyl drumstick, respectively, and Wilma doing the laundry using a pelican, and handling a little mastodon as a vacuum cleaner.

Watch ‘The Monster from the Tarpits’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 6
To the previous Flintstones episode: The Split Personality
To the next Flintstones episode: The Baby Sitters

‘The Monster from the Tarpits’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: October 14, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Swimming Pool © Hanna-Barbera‘The Swimming Pool’ was the very first Flintstones episode made, and it shows: Barney, Fred and Wilma all look different from later episodes, and Barney sounds quite different, too. Nevertheless, the episode introduces the visual style of the series: pleasant color schemes with olive skies, thick character lines, and limited animation.

This first episode of the Flintstones also establishes the Flintstones formula: although set in the stone age, it clearly portraits modern suburban neighbors, with telephones, television sets and such. Already in this episode Fred and Barney are portrayed as quarreling, but loving neighbors and friends, and there’s also a short shot of Fred working at the excavation.

In this episode Barney digs a swimming pool in his own backyard, and Fred talks him into sharing a pool with him, spanning both backyards. Nevertheless, it’s still Barney doing all the digging. Unfortunately the shared pool tests Fred’s neighborly attitude, and he even ends up in jail.

The humor in this episode is a little bit slow, with more room for slapstick than later episodes.

Watch an excerpt from ‘The Swimming Pool’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 3
To the previous Flintstones episode: Hot Lips Hannigan
To the next Flintstones episode: No Help Wanted

‘The Swimming Pool’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

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

Serenal © Norman McLaren‘Serenal’ is a film made directly on film and set to a Caribean score by the Grand Cunucaya String Orchestra Trinidad.

The images consist mostly of purely abstract shapes flashing on a black screen. The shapes are very rough, but surely colorful (the film was hand-colored), and the end result is a nice piece of abstract expressionism, if still one of McLaren’s less engaging films.

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

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

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: January 23, 1960
Stars: Speedy Gonzales, Sylvester
Rating: ★★★
Review:

West of the Pesos © Warner Bros.The setting of ‘West of the Pesos’ is a ‘veelage’, where several mice have been caught and put into cages inside the ‘ACME Laboratorio por experimentao’, guarded by Sylvester.

The remaining mice of the village would gladly rescue their comrades, so Speedy Gonzales is lured by the beautiful female mouse Camilla to come to the rescue. As the gags come fast and plenty, this is one of the more satisfying Speedy Gonzales cartoons, if hardly really funny. This time, Sylvester doesn’t stand a chance, and isn’t even given time to think of some counter measures.

Despite all the action, the main attractions of this cartoon are the attractive and strikingly modern backgrounds by Robert Givens and William Butler. The list of mice caught for the laboratory includes the names of animators Rudy Zamora, Manuel Perez and Gus Arriola, as well as painter Pablo Picasso.

Watch ‘West of the Pesos’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘West of the Pesos’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’

Director: Ward Kimball
Release Date: June 18, 1959
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Eyes in Outer Space © Walt DisneyWhile eight of the nine old men were busy with feature film animation, like ‘Sleeping Beauty‘, number 9, Ward Kimball spend his energy to quite different films, blending science with science fiction.

‘Eyes in Outer Space’ is an excellent example of Kimball’s trade. Made when satellite technology was still brand new (by the time of this short’s release ca. 13-14 satellites had been successfully launched into space, the majority by the U.S.), ‘Eyes in outer space’ tells how satellites can help mankind not only to predict, but even to control the weather. The film first shows us the new technology: rockets and satellites, then it shows the destructive and beneficial powers of the weather.

After this we cut to the animated sequence. This lasts not even five minutes, but is an absolute joy to watch: first we watch a funny sequence about how weather affects our emotions, and how we used to try to predict the weather in the past. This is a delightful little piece of cartoon modernism, but the designs get bolder and more abstract when narrator Paul Frees tells about the life-cycle of a droplet. This is a very beautiful piece of avant-garde animation, featuring bold colors and designs and greatly helped by the rhyming narration and George Bruns’s jazzy score.

Unfortunately, it’s not to last, and soon we’re back to live action footage telling how meteorologists predict the weather today and how satellites come in handy. The last eleven minutes are devoted to a particularly noteworthy piece of infotainment. Here we cut to a future in which we cannot only predict the weather (months in advance!), but control it, too. The film shows us how a global weather station alters the course of an Atlantic hurricane, with the help of e.g. robot planes and a space station. This is a nice piece of 1950s science fiction. Needless to say nothing of this has materialized, yet, and it’s highly questionable if it will ever.

Watch ‘Eyes in Outer Space’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Eyes in Outer Space’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrow Land -Disney in Space and Beyond’

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