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Director: Earl Hurd
Release Date:
August 21, 1921
Stars: Bobby Bumps & Fido
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

In ‘Hunting an’ Fishing’ Bobby Bumps does exactly that, and in an area where it’s prohibited, too. But how he’s supposed to know? He has blasted off the ‘no’ from a ‘no hunting allowed’ sign while trying to hit a rabbit. In any case, soon the gamekeeper is on his tail…

‘Hunting an’ Fishing’ looks uncommonly cheap for a Bobby Bumps cartoon: the background art is extremely limited, and Hurd uses quite some animation cycles. More interesting is the fact that this short seems like a very early ancestor of the chase cartoon. A great deal of the cartoon features the gamekeeper chasing Bobby, and Bobby and Fido trying to get rid of the fellow in various ways.

Yet, the best gag is reserved for a completely different set of characters: a bird and a frog using a sleeping rabbit’s stomach to rock themselves to sleep as well. This is an inventive, unique and surprisingly well staged gag.

‘Hunting an’ Fishing’ is available on the Blu-Ray/DVD-combo ‘Cartoon Roots: Bobby Bumps and Fido’

Director: Earl Hurd
Release Date:
January 24, 1919
Stars: Bobby Bumps & Fido
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

‘Bobby Bumps’ Last Smoke’ starts with Earl Hurd’s hand drawing Bobby Bumps, tickling him on the way. Then finished he gives the boy a cigarette, and immediately the scenery sets in.

Bobby starts smoking enthusiastically, but soon gets dizzy and throws the cigarette away. The cigarette smoke transfers him and Fido to a sultan’s palace in a 1001 Arabian night version of Turkey. The duo rescue a lady from the Sultan’s dungeons, with Bobby knocking out all the guards, and some lions, with the lady’s former ball and chain. He earns the damsel’s kiss in reward, which turns out to be Fido licking him.

Now, one would suspect that ‘Bobby Bumps’ Last Smoke’ is a typical anti-smoking cartoon, with Bobby giving up smoking after this trippy experience. But no, the one thing he’ll never do again isn’t smoking, but “insulting a sultan”. And so, with this pun, the short ends.

‘Bobby Bumps’ Last Smoke’ boasts elaborate human designs and intricate background art, but as with most animated cartoons from the 1910s, the animation is limited and jumpy.

‘Bobby Bumps’ Last Smoke’ is available on the Blu-Ray/DVD-combo ‘Cartoon Roots: Bobby Bumps and Fido’

Director: Josh Cooley
Release Date: November 3, 2015
Rating: ★★★
Review:

‘Riley’s First Date?’ is an unnecessary, but fun spin off short from ‘Inside Out‘. During this short a boy comes to visit Riley, an event freaking out her parents, until Riley’s father and the boy suddenly find something they have in common.

As in ‘Inside Out’ we take a look inside the four protagonist’s heads, this time focusing on dad’s inside. Nevertheless, Mom and dad are less round characters than they had been in ‘Inside Out’, being little more than cliches. The boy, too, is more a caricature than a real person, sitting lethargically and mindlessly in his chair most of the time. The only real person in this short is Riley herself, but she hardly takes part.

Let’s face it, ‘Riley’s First Date?’ doesn’t come near the sophistication of ‘Inside Out’, but it doesn’t aspire to, and can be safely regarded as ‘just a bit of fun’.

Watch ‘Riley’s First Date?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Riley’s First Date?’ is available on the Blu-Ray and DVD of ‘Inside Out’ and ‘Pixar Short Films Collection 3’

Director: Sanjay Patel
Release Date: June 15, 2015
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Sanjay’s Super Team’ is animator Sanjay Patel’s semi-autobiographical dive into his own childhood.

The film stars a small Indian boy who just loves superheroes, greatly disturbing his praying father. When he joins his father’s praying, he accidentally blows out the candle for the Hindu Gods. This prompts a dream sequence in which the smoke brings forth a large demon, battled by the three Gods in his father’s little shrine: Hanuman, Durga and Vishnu. These become Sanjay’s new superheroes.

This short is cute and clearly made with love. Moreover, the film is a welcome foray into the world of other cultures. But the cartoon is hampered by the extreme designs on little Sanjay and his father (both are extremely large headed and wide eyed), and the rather cheap-looking computer effects during the dream scene. Moreover, the battle scene in itself is typical for superhero films, and of no particular interest, and in the end the film is too short to engage with little Sanjay and his emotional bond to his father. Of course, this is hinted at during the final scene, but one whishes Patel had spent more time on father and son rather than on the generic superhero battle scene.

‘Sanjay’s Super Team’ was played in theaters before ‘The Good Dinosaur‘ and was nominated for the 2015 Academy Award, which eventually went to ‘Bear Story’ from Chili.

Watch ‘Sanjay’s Super Team’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sanjay’s Super Team’ is available on the Blu-Ray’s and DVD’s ‘The Good Dinosaur’ and ‘Pixar Short Films Collection 3’

Director: Emily Hubley
Release Date:
1995
Rating:
★★★

‘Her Grandmother’s Gift’ is directed and animated by Emily Hubley, and narrated by her mother, Faith Hubley.

Faith Hubley recalls her own first period, and the unhealthy attitude her own mother had towards this natural phenomenon. Emily Hubley illustrates this remarkably frank and autobiographical tale with images that are related to but different from her own mother’s art. The younger Hubley relies much less on animation cycles than her mother, and pimps her images with collage art, photographs and the use of bits of cut-out animation. Her style is less poetic than her mother’s, but her images support her mother’s narrative very well.

Watch ‘Her Grandmother’s Gift’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://vimeo.com/89536021

‘Her Grandmother’s Gift’ is available on the DVD ‘The Hubley Collection Volume 2’

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date:
1995
Rating:
★★★

‘Remember to Keep the Holy Sabbath Day’ is the most absurd and arguably the funniest of Phil Mulloy’s ‘The Ten Commandments’ films.

The short tells the strange (and rather silly) tale of Ezechiel Mittenbender, a citizen of Joesville, Mulloys mythical town, which he had introduced in ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal‘. When Ezechiel witnesses the landing of a flying teacup, he gets abducted by evil aliens called Zogs. The Zogs want to destroy the earth, but Ezechiel saves the day by reminding the Zogs that it’s Sunday…

The Zogs have genitalia where our heads would have been and vice versa. Mulloy clearly delighted in these creatures, because they would return in his ‘Intolerance’ double bill of 2000/2001.

‘Remember to Keep the Holy Sabbath Day’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Douglas McCarthy
Release Date: August 25, 1995
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Tweety, Laszlo, Penelope Pussycat, Pepe le Pew a.o.
Rating: ★★★
Review:

‘Carrotblanca’, as the title implies, is a parody on the classic feature ‘Casablanca’ (1942) and appears on several DVD releases of that film.

The short, however, originally was shown theatrically, accompanying the live action feature ‘The Amazing Panda Adventure’ in North America and the animated feature ‘The Pebble and the Penguin’ internationally. Thus, the film is a clear product of the cartoon renaissance, reviving many characters from the classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.

The most familiar faces have the starring roles, so we watch Bugs Bunny as Rick Blaine, Daffy Duck as Sam, Yosemite Sam as ‘General Pandemonium’, Tweety as Ugarte, Sylvester as Laszlo, Penelope Pussycat as Ilsa, and Pepe le Pew as Captain Louis. Also visible are e.g. Foghorn Leghorn, Sam Sheepdog, Porky Pig, the Crusher, Beaky Buzzard, Miss Prissy, Giovanni Jones and Pete Puma. Strangely absent are Elmer Fudd on the Looney Tune side, and Signor Ferrari on the Casablanca side.

The short compresses the original movie into a mere eight minutes, and parodies many of its classic scenes, including the flashback scene. As expected, the result is rather silly, but unfortunately not very funny, as somehow most of the gags fall flat (it doesn’t help that Tweety goes into a Peter Lorre impersonation four times). The film remains at its best when parodying the feature, but as soon as the cartoon characters go into their own routines the results get unpleasantly stale. Thus the film is more a product of nostalgia than one breathing new life into the decades old characters.

Thus ‘Carrotblanca’ may not be an essential film, yet it’s still a fun watch, I guess more for Looney Tunes lovers than Casablanca lovers. If anything, the short showed that the characters still had potential to entertain, a notion Warner Bros. cashed on with the feature length ‘Space Jam’ (1996).

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

‘Carrotblanca’ is available on several Blu-Ray and DVD editions of ‘Casablanca’

Director: Brian Wood
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★
Review:

‘Mr Jessop’ tells the simple story of a man who goes to town to buy some perfume for his wife, who stays home, frantically cleaning.

This plot may not sound too interesting, but Brian Wood’s way of telling this story certainly is. In his vision even this every day action is depicted so uniquely that it becomes something completely different. In his world everybody is obsessed with looking, continuously watching each other and the products on the shelves.

The film has a very nervous atmosphere, greatly helped by the soundtrack, and at points reaches an atmosphere of pure paranoia. The animation itself too is nervous, with expressionistic images, lots of deformations, tunnel-perspectives and animated backgrounds. Wood’s drawing style is crude and expressionistic, even if it retains a certain cartoony quality. And even though the ending feels like a punchline, it’s Wood’s unusual, frantic style that stays in your head after watching the short little film.

Watch ‘Mr Jessop’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: John Eng
Airing Date: May 1, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★
Review:

In this episode Ajax’s English teacher discover that Ajax is a poet. Soon Ajax recites his totally incomprehensible poems to a huge audience at a hip beatnik club called Kolchnik’s.

But then Duckman sells his son away to the ‘Watermark’ company (an obvious parody of Hallmark)… The introduction of the humongous Watermark company is a great little piece of cinema and involves some animated backgrounds, a rare feat since the early 1930s.

‘Research and Destroy’ is one of the most straightforward of all Duckman stories, with a clear story from start to end. Highlight is the screwball image that returns as a running gag throughout the picture, but most interesting is the supercomputer assembling metadata on all customers. In ten years time this would become more than true…

Watch ‘Research and Destroy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 21
To the previous Duckman episode: In the Nam of the Father
To the next Duckman episode: Clip Job

‘Research and Destroy’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Norton Virgien
Airing Date: April 24, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★
Review:

When Cornfed gets a visit from one Ng claiming to be his son, he has to get back to Vietnam to find out the truth. He asks Duckman to come along. Duckman brings his family with him as Cornfed pays for the trip and the family demands a vacation.

While the Duckman family amuses themselves in the war-themed ‘Euro Asia Land’, Cornfed looks hopelessly for his wartime love interest Mai Ling. The Vietnam setting allows for some spoofs on Vietnam films, like ‘Apocalypse Now,’ ‘Forrest Gump’ and ‘Good Morning Vietnam’. Unfortunately, the pace is rather slow and rambling, hampering the flow of the episode.

Fluffy and Uranus have a larger role than normally: when the two cute teddy bears ask for a vacation for themselves after eleven years of hard work, Duckman makes them explode inside a microwave. Yet, later we watch them entertaining Ng by showing him slides, much to Ng’s distress.

This is the first Duckman episode to use a shortened intro, leaving out the introduction of Duckman’s co-stars.

Watch ‘In the Nam of the Father’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 20
To the previous Duckman episode: The Germ Turns
To the next Duckman episode: Research and Destroy

‘In the Nam of the Father’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Paul Demeyer
Airing Date: April 10, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★
Review:

‘America the Beautiful’ starts with a warning sign stating that “the following contains scene of heavy-handed and over-obvious allegories and is not recommended for small children and certain congressmen from the South”.

And indeed, this is an allegorical episode, with Duckman and Cornfed in search of America (who has taken form of a beautiful and noble woman) on behalf of some overtly cute little children. The quest takes them to a 1950s suburbia, a 1960s hippie university, a 1970s disco, and 1980s Wall Street. All the four have exploited America, giving nothing in return. Duckman finally finds America at a dump. The episode ends with a corny ‘We Are the World’-like song sung by all protagonists and the children called ‘We Are Here’.

The episode indeed suffers from heavy-handedness, and Duckman in particular, seems quite at loss here. The best part is when Duckman and Cornfed drive into the 1950s suburbia, which changes them from full color into black and white, prompting Cornfed to say “it appears they don’t allow people of color in this community“. Also remarkable, but much less functional is the beauty pageant-turning-into-a-big fight with which the episode opens.

Watch ‘America the Beautiful’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 18
To the previous Duckman episode: Inherit the Judgement: The Dope’s Trial
To the next Duckman episode: The Germ Turns

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

Director: Kevin Lima
Release Date: April 7, 1995
Stars: Goofy, Max, Pete
Rating: ★★★
Review:

‘A Goofy Movie’ arguably is the least known of Disney’s theatrical movies from the studio’s Renaissance period. The film is not even in its official canon of animated features. Maybe because it was Disney’s first animated theatrical feature based on a television series, in this case ‘Goof Troop’, which run from September to December 1992.

Now I’ve never seen an episode of this television series myself, but I comprehend that it does resolve around Goofy being a single father of his son, Maximilian (in short Max), and being neighbor to Pete, who is a single father of a son, too, Pete Junior or P.J. in short. ‘A Goofy Movie’ uses exactly this premise, focusing on the relationship between Goofy and his son, with Max being the undisputed main character of the movie.

Now, Goofy’s family life has always been odd, being the classic Disney character that changed the most during his career. And indeed, he has been seen having a son in a few of his classical cartoons, starting with ‘Fathers are People’ from 1951, but by that time Goofy had transformed into everyman George J. Geef, and this son clearly isn’t Max, as he’s called George Geef jr. In both ‘Goof Troop’ and ‘A Goofy Movie’ Goofy once again is his clumsy self, so he has evolved once more. Pete, too, has had a son in earlier entries, most notably in ‘Bellboy Donald’ from 1942. In ‘A Goofy Movie’ he’s not really the villain of the old days of old, but still a disruptive voice, not taking Goofy for full, and giving him ill advice.

Voice artist Bill Farmer reprises his role as Goofy from ‘Goof Troop’ and is an excellent successor to Pinto Colvig. Max is voiced by Jason Marsden, a different voice than in ‘Goof Troop’, in which he was voiced by a woman (Dana Hill). But this is understandable as the events in ‘A Goofy Movie’ take place several years after the ones in ‘Goof Troop’. Max’s singing voice is provided by Aaron Lohr.

Added to the mix, and apparently not present in ‘Goof Troop’, is Max’s love interest Roxanne, and the film starts with Max’s last day at school, on which he tries to impress Roxanne, in which he succeeds, and he manages to ask her on a date to a party. Unfortunately, his father, realizing he might be losing grip on his son, has planned a trip for two to some fishing lake, and Max invents a totally unconvincing lie of why he has to cancel the date, involving both Max’s and Roxanne’s pop idol Powerline (who, voiced by Tevin Campbell, sounds a little like Michael Jackson).

As said, the father-son relationship between Goofy and Max is the focal point of the cartoon, and as such the film is surprisingly realistic and down to earth, with Max being ashamed of his old-fashioned, awkward and clumsy father, and Goofy uncomprehending of Max’s interests as an independent teenager. However, the two learn to know and to respect each other on a rather forced road trip through America. In this respect, one can see ‘A Goofy Movie’ as a forerunner of ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003), which explores a similar theme.

The road trip, which takes place on Route 66, and which takes the two Goofs all through America, forms the main part of the film, and it’s surprising to note that this piece of Americana was animated in studios in Paris, France and Sydney, Australia. Unfortunately, ‘A Goofy Movie’ defies all realism in several scenes, hampering the heartfelt story with outlandish scenes, like the two Goofs encountering Bigfoot, falling off a cliff with their car, and escaping a waterfall in an all too improbable and inconsistent series of events.

Moreover, for a film starring Goofy there’s surprisingly little humor – it’s all not that goofy. Yet, the team has managed to keep Goofy’s optimistic and naive character, while adding some depth to the former simpleton, mostly his struggle in being a father to Max. Indeed, the film is at its best when keeping focus on the relationship between Goofy and Max. This focal point remains interesting despite the deviations from reality.

As a film of the early nineties, ‘A Goofy Movie’ is an obligate musical, and the movie knows three nice if forgettable songs by Carter Burwell, sung by Max, with Goofy joining in in two of them. They at least succeed in not being obnoxious.

The animation is of a very high quality, with considerable attention detail. There are some nice touches, like Max’s reflection in a window, or colors turning blue when Goofy gets sad.

In all, ‘A Goofy Movie’ is a nice little movie with a surprisingly mature theme. The film may not be a masterpiece, it’s of enough quality to be worth a watch.

Watch the trailer for ‘A Goofy Movie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Goofy Movie’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Norton Virgien
Airing Date: March 11, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The second season of ‘Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man’ starts with a rather rambling episode in which Duckman tries to get famous by exploiting the sleazy reputation he got by pinching the butts of two sexy ladies on camera.

The set up of this episode is rather incomprehensible and involves the president visiting town, and three sexy but dumb ladies visiting Duckman’s office for no apparent reason. Also involved is a commercial fellow with shades, a ponytail and an annoying voice, making Duckman sign a contract to get him famous. Nothing is done with this devilish scheme, however.

Highlight of this otherwise disappointing episode is Duckman’s feature film on his life called “Pinch Me, Kiss Me Kill Me: The Duckman Story”. This part is acted out in live action, and includes over the top sexy women falling for the cool Duckman character as well as ridiculous dialogue full of sexual references, and even blatant advertising.

Watch ‘Papa Oom M.O.W. M.O.W.’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 14
To the previous Duckman episode: Joking the Chicken
To the next Duckman episode: Married Alive

‘Papa Oom M.O.W. M.O.W.’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★

‘The Invention of Writing (and Its Destruction)’ is the second of only three films in Phil Mulloy’s ‘The History of the World’-series, which apparently should have existed of 140 different shorts.

Like ‘The Discovery of Language‘ this is a film about sex. The short uses the same white characters as ‘The Discovery of Language’, and takes place in 2,000 years B.C. The short tells about a man who doesn’t manage to get sex, because he’s beaten again and again by other men.

Then the man uses his own penis as a pen, writing ‘The penis (pen is) mightier than the sword’. The invention of writing earns him a multitude of women to have sex with, but it won’t last.

Like ‘The Discovery of Language’ ‘The Invention of Writing (and Its Destruction)’ is essentially a silent film, with intertitles. Mulloy’s animation is simple and crude, and makes effective use of cut-out techniques. The result is a strange mix of sex, violence and absurd humor.

Watch ‘The Invention of Writing (and Its Destruction)’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Invention of Writing (and Its Destruction)’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★

‘The Discovery of Language’ is ‘episode 10’ of Phil Mulloy’s ‘The History of the World’, which in real life only consists of three films, of which this one is the first.

The film series uses Mulloy’s typical crude black and white style, enhanced by reds to depict blood. But unlike his other films, his characters are not black blots of inks, but white.

The short tells about a primitive tribe of women, 1,000,000 b.c. who discover letters in the soil, which together form the word ‘vagina’. As soon as they realize the meaning of the word they create their own Fall of Man, covering their crotches with skirts, and forbidding masturbation. Meanwhile, the men are on a similar quest to form the word ‘Penis’, but they are too stupid to fulfill the task.

The crude humor of this short is enhanced greatly by the effective soundtrack, featuring excellent music by Alex Balanescu.

Watch ‘The Discovery of Language’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Discovery of Language’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Phil Mulloy
Release Date: 1993
Rating: ★★★

‘The Sound of Music’ is easily one of the more serious and more depressing films British animator Phil Mulloy created. The film is one misanthropic view on mankind.

The film stars Wolff, a saxophone player, who works as a window cleaner during daytime. The window cleaning part allows Mulloy to indulge in his misanthropic world view, as every room Wolff and his colleague watch from the outside is filled with scenes of violence, loneliness, despair and death.

But Wolff’s night job is even worse. He plays the saxophone at one charity diner, which turns out to be an orgy of indulgence for the rich and famous. When the cooks run out of meat, they empty the streets and hospitals to feed the do-gooders. These visions of cannibalism are as depressing as it can get in animation film. And yet, the end of this film holds some hope…

Mulloy’s crude drawing and animation style suits the black humor and extremely bleak world view fine. The film is devoid of dialogue, with Mulloy employing title cards as if it were a silent film. But the images are enhanced by screeching avant-garde music by Alex Balanescu, whose string quartet is enhanced with voice, saxophone and drums.

Watch an excerpt from ‘The Sound of Music’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://www.philmulloy.tv/the-sound-of-music

‘The Sound of Music’ is available on the BFI DVD ‘Phil Mulloy – Extreme Animation’

Director: Isao Takahata
Release Date: July 16, 1994
Rating: ★★★

To start: this film is not about raccoons, but about raccoon dogs, which, despite their similarity, are only distantly related to raccoons, being more akin to foxes. The story tells about a population of raccoon dogs living on the Tama hills in Southwest Tokyo. The raccoon dogs see their own environment giving way rapidly to the ever growing metropolis, and decide to fight back in order to save their homes by reviving their old shape-shifting skills…

Apparently, the Japanese raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus) or Tanuki, as the Japanese call him, has been a subject of a long folkloristic tradition. In this folklore the Tanuki has magical powers, being able to shape-shift, but he’s often too lazy, and too distracted to use them. Another peculiarity of this folklore is the focus on the raccoon dog’s testicles, which have magical powers themselves.

These character traits are clearly visible in ‘Pom Poko’: the raccoon dogs are depicted as carefree, fun-loving characters, their testicles are clearly visible, and used in some shape-shift transformations. For example, in one scene an elderly raccoon dog transforms his testicles into a giant carpet, in another a group of raccoon dogs use their inflated testicles as parachutes.

The shape-shifting scenes lead to some remarkable sequences, some of which are very close to pure horror, like a scene in which a cop meets all kinds of people without faces. This would have been a very frightening scene, indeed, if it were not depicted rather playfully, focusing on the police officer’s rather silly-looking panic, instead of the horror of the visions.

Most impressive of the shape-shifting sequences, and the undisputed highlight of the film, is the goblin parade. Here, too, some of the images are genuinely scary, but again, the depiction remains on the light side. For example, there’s a long scene with two men discussing the supernatural at a bar, completely oblivious of the mayhem behind them.

It’s interesting to compare ‘Pom Poko’ to other environmentalist film of the era, like ‘FernGully: The Last Rain Forest’ (1992). Compared to the earlier film, ‘Pom Poko’ is remarkably mature. There’s nothing of FernGully’s magical ‘healing power’, nor does the film need a supervillain. In ‘Pom Poko’ ordinary men, none of them intrinsically mean, form a threat enough to the little forest creatures.

Soon it becomes clear that the raccoon dogs cannot win, and we have to witness several tragic deaths of these critters. Some die in one desperate last fight, others disappear on a mythical ship to the netherworld, some blend in into human society, and still others keep on living in an urban environment, scavenging the suburbs.

In the end, the raccoon dogs must admit that man’s ability to transform the environment is much greater than their own shape-shifting abilities. Yet, this conclusion comes with a feeling of sadness of what’s been lost. Like many other Studio Ghibli films, there’s a longing to earlier times in this film, and especially the raccoon dogs’ last trick, reviving the landscape of old, is one of pure nostalgia.

‘Pom Poko’ is a mature film, but it’s not without its flaws. The film is told by using the weak voice over device, and it has a rather episodic nature, covering several years. Thus the story moves on a leisurely speed, not really building up to a grand finale. Moreover, there are a lot of characters in this film, and we don’t follow one in particular, thus scattering the viewer’s focus.

Another peculiarity is that the film uses three styles to depict the raccoon dogs: first, a very realistic one, which accounts for some very impressive naturalistic animation. Second, the most dominant one, in which the raccoon dogs are depicted as clothed anthropomorphic characters. And third, a highly simplified one, in which the raccoon dogs suddenly become flat comic book characters, especially when celebrating. To me, it’s completely unclear why this third style is even present, and during these scenes the animation is often crude and repetitive, relying on reused animation cycles.

What doesn’t help is that the film is very, very Japanese: the behavior and rites of the raccoon dogs are sometimes enigmatic, and there are a lot of Buddhist and Shintoist references that are completely lost on the Western viewer. In that respect it’s a surprise that foxes have the same character traits in Japanese folklore as in Western tradition: in ‘Pom Poko’ the foxes are sly tricksters, too.

‘Pom Poko’ may not be perfect, it still is a very interesting film on human-animal relationships, it provides a small window into Japanese folklore, and it certainly is a very humane and mature film, showing us that one doesn’t need villains for destruction, and that some very valuable things are getting lost in the march of progress.

Watch the trailer for ‘Pom Poko’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Pom Poko’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Director: Henry Selick
Release Date: October 29, 1993
Rating: ★★★

Tim Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ is an impressive film. Combining replacement techniques with puppets with complex armatures, computer-controlled camera movements, and a bit of drawn animation, Burton’s team takes the art of stop-motion to new heights.

Moreover, the film is surprisingly elaborate, and uses nineteen stages, 230 sets, sixty characters, and hundreds of puppets to tell its story. The opening scene alone is a tour-de-force of mind-blowing images, with too much happening to register it all.

The result is a stop motion film with the highest production values thus far, and simply bursting with stunning visuals. Together with Aardman’s ‘The Wrong Trousers’ from the same year the feature easily sets new standards for stop-motion.

So why don’t I give this film a five-star rating? The main reason is the songs. ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ was made at a time when American animation film practically equaled musical, but even so in this film soundtrack composer Elfman takes the musical idea to the max. There are no less than eleven songs within the 68 minutes the feature lasts, taking a staggering 43% of the screen time.

But Elfman is no Alan Menken, and all his songs are terribly meandering and forgettable, slowing down the action, with characters halting to express their emotions, like in a Baroque opera.

Low point arguably is Sally’s song, which could have been a moving expression of feelings, but turns out to be an all too short and completely aimless bit of music, lasting only 96 seconds. If one compares Elfman’s absent song-craft to the strong melodies of Menken’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1991) or ‘Aladdin’ (1992), it becomes clear that Elfman’s efforts don’t add to the story, but drag it down, to a point that one screams to be freed from the omnipresent singing.

The film is typical Burton with its friendly take on horror, and Burton’s head animator Henry Selick rightly calls the film’s overall style a mix of “German expressionism and Dr. Seuss”. Selick and his team manage to make Burton’s pen and ink drawings come to life in believable puppets, despite the often very long limbs and unsteady balance of some of the characters.

With this animation effort Selick turned out to be a strong new voice in the animation field, and after ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ he continued to impress, first with ‘James and the Giant Peach’ (1996), then with ‘Coraline’ (2009), although his feature ‘Monkeybone’ (2001) was much less of a success.

Burton’s story is based on an original idea, but is not worked out too well. The idea of Holiday lands is a good one, but how does one return from Christmas land to Halloween land? And there is a focus problem: ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ follows two main characters, Jack Skellington and Sally, without choosing one as its principal character.

Jack is a bit of a problematical character anyhow: he’s king of his land, but remarkably bored, and he’s willing to take a huge risk to fill his own feelings of emptiness. Moreover, his selfish plans means a year without Halloween, not to mention the disastrous Christmas he makes. Jack does develop during the film, but his remorse and recovery come too quickly to be entirely convincing.

In the end, it’s Sally who turns out to be the most interesting character of the two: when we first watch her, she literally falls apart. She’s controlled and hold back by her maker, the possessive Dr. Finkelstein, and naturally very shy, but during the movie she becomes bolder and more venturous.

The film’s villain, The Bogeyman, is scary, but his role in Burton’s universe is obscure: why is he the only nightmarish character that is genuinely scary and unfriendly? I have no idea. A nice touch are the Cab Calloway influences on this character. He even literally quotes Calloway when saying “I’m doing the best I can” like Calloway did in the Betty Boop cartoon ‘The Old Man from the Mountain’ (1933).

The film’s story flaws would certainly be forgivable, given the film’s stunning visuals, if it were not for the songs. The biggest problem of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ remains its unappealing soundtrack, reducing an otherwise fantastic film into a hardly tolerable one. An immense pity, for one remains wondering what the film could have been if it had not been the obligate and ugly musical it turned out to be.

Watch an excerpt from ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Director: Raymie Muzquiz
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: April 16, 1994
Rating: ★★★

In this episode Duckman’s backward son Ajax is invited to attend a boarding school. After Duckman has visited Ajax’s present school, he sends his son off quickly.

Duckman’s visit to Ajax’s most atrocious school is a highlight. He e.g. gets beaten by caricatures of ‘Our Gang’. Better still is the montage sequence of Duckman and Ajax having some quality time during their last weekend together. Yet, the best line is for aunt Bernice, who tells Duckman when he drools over an attractive boarding school student: “You’re despicable! You’ve got kidney stones older than her!”.

‘Ride the High School’ introduces King Chicken as Duckman’s arch nemesis. King Chicken would never become a frequently recurring star, but he would return in eleven more episodes, including the very last one.

Watch ‘Ride the High School’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 6
To the previous Duckman episode: Gland of Opportunity
To the next Duckman episode: A Civil War

‘Ride the High School’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

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

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