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Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Release Date: January 21, 1960
Rating: ★★
Review:

Goliath II © Walt Disney‘Goliath II’ is a slow and gentle children’s film, penned by storyman Bill Peet, about a tiny elephant, who is the shame of the herd, until he bravely defeats a cocky mouse, which scares all the others away.

With its fifteen minutes of length, Reitherman’s all too relaxed timing, George Bruns’s uninspired score, and studio favorite Sterling Holloway’s dull narration, ‘Goliath II’ is one of the most boring of the Disney specials. Moreover, there are several instances of reused animation (e.g. the tiger from ‘Tiger Trouble’ (1945), the crocodile from ‘Peter Pan’, and an owl from ‘Bambi‘), giving the film a rather cheap look.

Nevertheless, ‘Goliath II’ is a milestone, as it is the first animated film to exploit the xerox technique on cel animation, an innovation developed by Ub Iwerks in the 1950s. The xerox process meant the characters needn’t be retraced by the ink department, and could keep their vibrant animated lines, giving them a more graphic look. For better or worse, the xerox technique dominated Disney animation up to the late 1980s. By then it had long lost its charm, and was finally discarded (‘The Little Mermaid’ is the first film in the new style).

The xerox technique, combined with Reitherman’s direction, the film’s setting and elephant characters, make ‘Goliath II’ a forerunner of ‘Jungle Book’ (1967). The short even introduces the gag in which the elephants are forced to stop their march, and fall on top of each other.

Despite the new techniques, and fine animation, there’s little to enjoy in ‘Goliath II’, but I would like to single out the extraordinary background paintings by Richard H. Thomas, Gordon Legg and Thelma Witmer, which schematically indicate a jungle without going into too much detail.

Watch ‘Goliath II’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Goliath II’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: September 26, 1959
Stars: Foghorn Leghorn, Miss Prissy
Rating: ★★
Review:

A Broken Leghorn © Warner Bros.As MGM and Disney more or less had stopped production of animated shorts, by 1959 the Warner Bros. shorts were easily the best looking animated cartoons around: the background art and the animation were both still top notch, and didn’t show any sign of cheapness, present at for example the Paramount and Lantz studios.

Unfortunately, story lines and gags were often another matter. ‘A Broken Leghorn’ is a good example: despite the clear quality of design, animation and background art, the story is a rather tired amalgam of blackout gags in which the Foghorn Leghorn tries to get rid of a young smart-alecky competitor.

His attempts to kill the competition includes making the little fellow cross the road (initiating a revival of Tex Avery’s road gag from ‘Señor Droopy‘), blowing him up with dynamite through a rain pipe, tying corn-to-the-cob to a gun, and attaching a fake worm to a landmine. Needless to say, all these attempts backfire.

The Foghorn Leghorn were always very talkative, and the large amount of dialogue wears down the comedy, hampering the already stale routines.

Watch ‘A Broken Leghorn’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Broken Leghorn’ is released on the DVD-box set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection’

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: January 7, 1961
Stars: Speedy Gonzales, Sylvester
Rating: ★★
Review:

Cannery Woe © Warner Bros.‘Cannery Woe’ centers on Manuel and José, two poor mice, who live at the beach and who are starving.

They really would like to join the Grand Cheese Fiesta, organised by the mouse mayor for his re-election, but they are thrown out. Yet, the mayor has more problems: there’s no cheese at the fiesta (‘something new is added to the store’, explains one of the cheese committee mice). Luckily, José is friends with Speedy Gonzales, and only has to whistle to get Speedy’s help.

Speedy fetches the cheese from the store, unhindered by guarding cat Sylvester, who only gets hindered by his own tacks, mousetraps and cannon. In the end, José and Manuel are awarded as cheese inspectors, but Speedy gets even a better job as ‘chick inspector’.

‘Cannery Woe’ is a very mediocre cartoon with rather run of the mill gags. In fact, the mice José and Manuel are more interesting than anything that follows, and one wonders why storyman Tedd Pierce and director Robert McKimson didn’t devote more of the cartoon to them.

Watch ‘Cannery Woe’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cannery Woe’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: August 29, 1959
Stars: Speedy Gonzales, Sylvester
Rating: ★★
Review:

Here Today, Gone Tamale © Warner Bros.‘Here Today, Gone Tamale’ starts with a cheese famine in a harbor village.

But then a ship called ‘Dutch Treat’ arrives, full of cheese. Unfortunately, the ship is protected by Sylvester, but the starved mice get Speedy Gonzales (he knows one’s sister – let me correct this – he knows everybody’s sister) to get the cheese. In some blackout gags Sylvester does his best to catch Speedy Gonzales, e.g. with a large mallet and a guillotine. In the end, Sylvester has to admit defeat, and adding ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, he puts on some Mickey Mouse-club-like mouse ears and joins some dancing mice.

The best gag is when Speedy Gonzales locks Sylvester inside a storage room full of Limburger cheese, but otherwise there’s not too much to enjoy in ‘Here Today, Gone Tamale’ and one has ample time to enjoy the functional layouts by Hawley Pratt, beautifully painted by Tom O’Loughlin.

Watch the opening of ‘Here Today, Gone Tamale’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Here Today, Gone Tamale’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’

Director: Lucjan Dembiński
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★
Review:

Pyza © Studio Filmów Lmów Lalkowych‘Pyza’ is based on children’s books by Polish author Hanna Januszewska (1905-1980).

‘Pyza’ starts with a mother making dumplings for her numerous children. One of the dumplings changes into a girl, who soon goes for a walk. Outside she meets a rabbit, and the two become friends and have some little adventures together.

‘Pyza’ features no dialogue and uses the simplest puppet designs. This children’s film looks attractive, but emotion is more suggested than felt, and the animation is rather lifeless and stiff. Moreover, Dembiński’s timing is pretty relaxed, and the film balances on the verge of boring. In the end, the directionless story and the uninspired animation render a film too poor to enjoy.

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

 

‘Pyza’ is available on the DVD set ‘Anthology of Polish Children’s Animation’

Director: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: April 3, 1959
Stars: Herman & Katnip
Rating: ★★
Review:

Fun on Furlough © ParamountWith ‘Fun on Furlough’ Herman and Katnip return to the department store scenery of ‘From Mad to Worse‘ (1957).

This time Herman’s cousins are having fun at the toy department until Katnip almost catches them. Then Herman enters, who inexplicably has a three days leave from the army. He reveals that Katnip once had been in the army, too. What follows is a chase sequence with an army theme, using toy soldiers, a toy tank, a toy plane etc. The idea already is preposterous, and the follow-up is hampered by trite and formulaic gags.

Watch ‘Fun on Furlough’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fun on Furlough’ is released on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

Director: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: February 20, 1959
Stars: Herman & Katnip
Rating: ★★
Review:

Felineous Assault © Paramount‘Felineous Assault’ is Famous studio’s variation on Tom & Jerry’s ‘Professor Tom‘ (1948): Katnip teaches his nephew Kitnap how to catch mice.

When Kitnap passes the test with a fake mouse, Katnip orders the little one to catch Herman. But inside the mouse hole Kitnap gets stuck and Herman rescues him. What follows is one long chase sequence in which Katnip tries to catch Herman, while Kitnap makes him fail.

Herman is pretty helpless in this cartoon, which is hampered by angular designs (especially on Katnip), and by stiff and schematic animation. In fact, the little kitten looks and moves better than either Herman or Katnip.

Watch ‘Felineous Assault’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Felineous Assault’ is released on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: November 16, 1957
Stars: Sylvester, Sylvester jr., Hippety Hopper
Rating: ★★
Review:

Mouse-Taken Identity © Warner Bros.‘Mouse-Taken Identity’ is the eleventh cartoon featuring Hippety Hopper and by now the routine is so stale, only the setting can provide some variation.

Thus this episode takes place in a museum, which Hippety Hopper enters directly from the zoo where he’s dropped. That night Sylvester brings his son with him on his night job as a mouse catcher at the museum. Sylvester brags about his mice catching abilities. But this works against him when junior encounters a real one, way too feeble compared with the ferocious monsters his father said to battle. So Sylvester lies to his son, stating that mice come in all sizes, taking a stuffed kangaroo as an example. Unfortunately, Hippety Hopper has been hiding inside the kangaroo’s pouch, and when Sylvester approaches the stuffed animal, he gets his first kick.

What follows is a tiresome routine, with way too much dialogue and uninspired gags, a few involving the museum itself (a Neanderthal diorama, a crossbow). Nothing of this is remotely interesting. In fact, the cartoon’s highlight are the evocative background paintings.

Watch ‘Mouse-Taken Identity’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mouse-Taken Identity’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Sylvester & Hippety Hopper’ and on the Blu-Ray-set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1958
Stars: Patapouf
Rating: ★★
Review:

Winter Carousel © Ladislaw StarewiczWładysław Starewicz was a stop motion pioneer, who had made some very important films in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. ‘Winter Carousel’ was the last film he completed, and the short’s style is practically the same as that of his films of forty years earlier: the film is essentially silent, and populated by various animals, whose rather gritty look is typical for the Polish-Russian filmmaker.

‘Winter Carousel’ stars brown bear Patapouf and his rather mischievous friend Rabbit, who had been introduced in Starewicz previous film, ‘Nez au Vent’ (Nose in the Wind, 1956). In ‘Winter Carousel’ the duo encounters a jolly snowman, who apparently is father Winter, and a female polar bear. Both Patapouf and Rabbit are clearly interested in the female creature, and the three go skating together, playing blind man’s buff, and riding a Christmas tree carousel. This part of the film is a delightful sequence: Starewicz’s arctic backgrounds are pretty evoking, there’s a unique sense of poetry in the images, and his suggestion of speed during the skating and carousel scenes is impressive.

But then suddenly Father Winter starts to melt and reveals a female wooden creature (clearly a goddess of spring) underneath. Thus, strangely, the last five minutes of the film take place in spring. Unfortunately, from that moment all suggestions of narrative are thrown out of the window, and things just happen on the screen. We watch Patapouf en Rabbit gamble with some dice, watching a performance by a grasshopper and drinking in a long, plotless and completely superfluous kind of epilogue. None of theses spring images matches the winter scenes, and in the end the film is too uneven and too rambling to be a lasting work.

The animation is at times quite good, especially in Rabbit’s and Patapouf’s little gestures, but the complete result is unfortunately rather boring. In fact, this product, already old-fashioned and hopelessly dated by its release, is a rather sad ending to Starewicz’s great career. With this film he only managed to proof that he was a relic from another era.

Watch ‘Winter Carousel’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Winter Carousel’ is available on the DVD ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge & other Fantastic Tales’

Director: unknown
Production Date: 1959
Stars: Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Weather Crystal © Toonder Studios‘The Weather Crystal’ is the second of nine Tom Puss films that were made for the American television market, but which were never released.

This short is based on a Tom Puss comic made for the Dutch Donald Duck magazine in 1959. In this film Tom Puss and Ollie find find a crystal that controls the weather. Ollie Bungle immediately conceives a plan to sell the weather, but as every client asks for something different, all goes wrong.

This is a very weak story, with both Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle behaving completely out of character (in Marten Toonder’s original comic strip none of the two would think of exploiting a commercial enterprise). Moreover, the short places the two in a human world, instead of the fable world they usually live in.

‘The Weather Crystal’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: Michael Lah
Release Date: July 4, 1958
Stars: Droopy, Butch (Spike)
Rating: ★★
Review:

Droopy Leprechaun © MGMIn his last screen appearance, Droopy is a tourist with a few hours in Dublin, Ireland where he buys a leprechaun hat.

Then street bum Butch (Spike) thinks Droopy is a real leprechaun, and follows him into (non-existing) Shillelagh Castle to catch him. There Droopy mistakes Spike for the mad duke of Shillelagh Castle. What follows are several appallingly uninspired blackout gags, involving medieval instruments like an iron maiden, a catapult, and a crossbow.

Droopy is completely out of character in this cartoon: he’s no more than a helpless victim of Spike’s fancy, never in control, and constantly fleeing for ‘the mad duke’. Spike, too, has little of himself: he speaks with an Irish accent and has none of the trickster character traits of earlier Droopy films. The result is certainly the least funny Droopy film ever made. As ‘Droopy Leprechaun’ was also the last of the Droopy cartoons, this is a particularly sad farewell to the once so hilarious character.

Watch ‘Droopy Leprechaun’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Droopy Leprechaun’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Tex Avery’s Droopy – The Complete Theatrical Collection’

Director: Michael Lah
Release Date: April 4, 1958
Stars: Droopy, Butch (Spike)
Rating: ★★
Review:

Mutts About Racing © MGMIn this Cinemascope cartoon ‘Daredevil Butch’ (Spike) and ‘Buzz Droopy’ race against each other in a car race.

As should be expected, Spike hardly plays fair, and the cartoon consists of several blackout gags in which Spike tries to stop Droopy from racing, including the classic paint-a-tunnel-on-a-wall gag.

The cartoon suffers from a bad sound design (especially Butch’s voice sounds like it was recorded in a toilet) and from an inconsistent story line, which does not build to a climax. Moreover, Lah’s timing is too relaxed for the race theme, and none of the gags really come off. All this unfortunately makes ‘Mutts About Racing’ one of the weakest of all Droopy films. Only the last one, ‘Droopy Leprechaun‘, would be worse…

Watch ‘Mutts About Racing’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mutts About Racing’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Tex Avery’s Droopy – The Complete Theatrical Collection’

Directors: Bill Justice & Wolfgang Reitherman
Release Date: August 28, 1957
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Truth about Mother Goose © Walt DisneyThis fifteen minute short tells about the historical origin of three nursery rhymes: ‘Little Jack Horner’, ‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary’ and ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’.

Each rhyme is first sung in quasi-jazzy style by the The Page Cavanaugh Trio, then a voice over takes over, telling the real stories. The presentation is rather dour, with only a few rather poor attempts at gags. These ‘gags’ are at times uneasily at odds with the grave subject matter, like the tragic fate of Mary, queen of Scots or the London fire of 1666. In fact, the short is quite educational, but also remarkably boring, and fails to entertain.

The short is noteworthy, however, for its very intricate background art, e.g. by Eyvind Earle. Unfortunately, against these elaborate backgrounds the rather angular characters don’t read very well. In this respect ‘The Truth about Mother Goose’ foreshadows the problems of ‘Sleeping Beauty‘ (1959). The design is stylized and baroque, but not very elegant, except for some silhouette scenes in the Queen Mary episode, which combine blacks and blues in an graceful way, reminiscent of the color scheming in ‘Cinderella‘ (1951).

Nevertheless, the background art is far more interesting than the animation, and several shots contain little or no animation at all. The best animation goes to two knights in a tournament, otherwise a rather superfluous scene, adding little to the narrative.

The short is further hampered by the ugly, uninspired music, and consequently, ‘The Truth About Mother Goose’ must be regarded as one of the weakest of all Disney one-shots, despite the clear effort that went into the film.

Watch ‘The Truth about Mother Goose’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Truth about Mother Goose’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: February 24, 1958
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★
Review:

Watch the Birdie © Walter LantzIn ‘Watch the Birdie’ we follow a bird watcher, who repeatedly addresses the audience with his sophisticated voice (by Daws Butler).

After watching two love birds and a humming bird (both gags are puns), Woody Woodpecker invites the bird watcher to watch him. First the bird watcher doesn’t believe Woody is a bird, but then he does, and the rest of the cartoon consists of Woody taunting the bird watcher, for no apparent reason.

This cartoon falls short in several ways. First, Homer Brightman’s story is less consistent than his contemporary efforts, and the gags more trite than usual. Second, Alex Lovy’s timing is too relaxed to make the gags come off, especially when compared to contemporary Woody Woodpecker cartoons by Paul J. Smith. Third, the bird watcher himself is a rather unfunny character, and the cartoon is hampered by the large amount of dialogue. And fourth Woody’s appearance feels too small in this cartoon.

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

This is Woody Woodpecker cartoon No. 83
To the previous Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Misguided Missile
To the next Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Half Empty Saddles

‘Watch the Birdie’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: August 16, 1957
Stars: Herman and Katnip
Rating: ★★
Review:

From Mad to Worse © Paramount‘From Mad to Worse’ takes place at a department store, where Katnip is a night guard.

We watch Herman and his cousins playing with a toy train in the toy department. When Katnip tries to catch them, Herman and his fellow mice play tricks on the cat, making him think he has gone mad, much like Hubie and Bertie did to Claude Cat in the Chuck Jones cartoon ‘Mouse Wreckers‘ (1949). Katnip even goes to a psychiaCATrist (got it?).

Compared to Chuck Jones’s cartoon, ‘From Mad to Worse’ is a rather tiresome experience. The short is surprisingly dialogue-rich, hampering the gags, and in this short Herman ‘quotes’ Confucius twice, turning into a stereotyped China-man while doing so. The animation is full, but mediocre. In fact the cartoon’s highlight is the cartoon modern background art, especially the background paintings of the first scenes are very beautiful.

Watch ‘From Mad to Worse’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘From Mad to Worse’ is available on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

Director: Goran Sudžuka
Release Date:  1992
Rating: ★★
Review:

Paranoia © Zagreb Film‘Paranoia’ is a short film (lasting only four minutes) about a young man who thinks he’s followed on the street.

The film is set in monochromes, with strong black and white contrasts. Sudžuka indeed includes in his images a reference to Corto Maltese, a comic hero by Hugo Pratt, an artist with a similar palette. Sudžuka’s own style is much more angular than Pratt’s, however, and more confined to the 1980s. The film looks well, but is hampered by its trite ending.

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

 

‘Paranoia’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of Zagreb Film: Be Careful What You Wish For and The Classic Collection’

Director: Ralph Bakshi
Release Date:  July 10, 1992
Rating: ★★
Review:

Cool World © Paramount‘Cool World’ looks like a poor man’s version of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit‘.

Sure, the film boasts Brad Pitt and Kim Basinger as leading actors, and it even features a title song by David Bowie, but Ralph Bakshi’s product feels half-baked and derivative compared to Touchstone’s milestone film from 1988.

The film’s main problem is its story: it features a weird and obligate prologue to explain (unconvincingly) why Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) even wanders in the ‘doodle world’. Only half way we can extract this world’s core problem: ‘doodles’ and ‘noids’ (real people) cannot have sex together, because this will distort the universe. But sexy doodle ‘Holli Would’ (yes, that’s her name) would. And she does, with her own creator Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne).

This idea is preposterous to start with, but the execution is worse. Frank Harris, who apparently has become a cop, wanders through cardboard sets most of the time, aimless and clueless. All dialogues feel wooden and disjointed, and in several key dialogue scenes the actors clearly aren’t even together in the same room (!) with Bakshi falling back to a very unconvincing technique of suggestion of continuity of space that goes all the way back to the Keystone Comedy films of the early 1910s.

Kim Basinger acts more like a caricature of a sexy woman than being one, and the role of Jack Deebs remains vague and unclear to the very end: if he’s the creator, why did Cool World already exist in 1945, if he’s not, why is he the only one depicting it? Frank Harris somewhere suggests that more visitors are coming to this world, why then is Harris the only one allowed to stay? It just makes no sense.

The film’s main attraction, of course, is the animation. Supervised by Bruce Woodside, most of the animation is in fact is quite good (the crew even boosts a veteran animator like Bill Melendez), if completely arbitrary most of the time. Many scenes are filled with random animated scenes, mostly rather violent, sometimes grotesque, sometimes harking back to Max Fleischer, Warner Bros. or Tex Avery, at other times spoofing Disney (a cute rabbit, a hippo from Fantasia emerging from cigarette smoke, Gepetto and Pinocchio depicted in the inside of one of Holli’s ‘goons’). Being a Bakshi film, ‘Cool World’ also features a fair deal of rotoscope, most clearly so on Holli Would and Brad Pitt’s flat doodle girl friend Lorette.

Despite the high quality of the full animation, the animated scenes are mostly insane, not funny. The best attempt at humor is the finale, in which Deebs inexplicably changes into a rather pompous superhero, completely losing his former character.

Unfortunately, the scenes in which animated characters interact with humans have nothing of the sophistication of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’. Instead, Bakshi only deploys static scenes, a technique in existence since ‘The Three Caballeros‘, and in no scene in which ‘doodles’ and humans touch each other, one has the feeling that this is really happening.

Sadly, we must conclude that a lot of animation talent has been wasted on a meandering, clueless, badly written and badly directed film, with an immature focus on sex. The film did bad at the box office, and I’m afraid I must judge rightly so.

Watch the trailer for ‘Cool World’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cool World’ is available on DVD

Director: Bill Kroyer
Release Date:  April 10, 1992
Rating: ★★
Review:

FernGully - The Last Rainforest © 20th Century FoxUp until the rise of computer animation in the late 1990s, with powerful players entering the field (first Pixar, then Dreamworks, followed by BlueSky, Sony Animation and Illumination) the Walt Disney studio was the virtual monopolist of the animated feature.

In the 1980s their only challenge had come from former Disney-animator Don Bluth, who made three successful animated features during that decade, before going downhill with ‘All Dogs Go to Heaven’ (1989) and ‘Rock-a-Doodle’ (1991).

All the more surprising to find the young animation studio Kroyer Films (only founded in 1986) to make a brave attempt to beat Disney at its own game with ‘FernGully: The Last Rain Forest’. The film is extraordinarily Disney-like, starring a heroin, with a rather bland male love interest, Disney-like designs and animation, and a plethora of songs, changing the film into one of the obligate musicals, which animated features up to 1996 were expected to be.

What makes the film unique is its Australian setting and its ecological message, which quite fits the time, but which falls into the trap of over-romanticizing nature severely: why did the animators consider it necessary to add elves and an evil spirit? Why couldn’t the forest animals themselves be the heroes, and the humans the only villains? Why showing surprising healing powers at the end of the movie, while its scientifically known that it takes several centuries for primary forest to recover, if ever?

Despite its Australian setting, the film is very American (using voice artists like Robin Williams, Tone Lōc, and Cheech and Chong, and film music by Alan Silvestri for example), and as said, very Disney-like. Unfortunately, the film hardly lives up to its high ambition: the animation never reaches Disney’s height – there’s in fact quite some superfluous movement, revealing the use of rotoscope. Moreover, the designs remain generic to downright ugly. For example, the film’s heroin, Crysta, is not half as appealing as Disney’s Ariel (The Little Mermaid, 1989) or Belle from ‘Beauty and the Beast (1991). Worse, Crysta and Zak are surprisingly devoid of character, and comedy duo Cheech and Chong are wasted on side characters of no interest.

The music is by Alan Silvestri, of ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit‘ fame, but his romantic themes get to the nerves. Besides, there are way too many songs, most of which stop the action, instead of pushing it forward. The best song, sung by rapper Tone Lōc, is also the most superfluous. The character who sings it, a goanna (or monitor lizard, as it is known outside Australia) enters the film to sing this song, only to disappear again.

On the positive side: the opening sequence, done in aboriginal style, is beautiful; Robin Williams does his best as the comic relief Batty Koda, a laboratory bat; the animation on the amorphous villain Hexxus is quite impressive, making him into a remarkably scary character; and the healing sequence is simply beautiful, with its bold Fantasia-like colors and abstract designs.

‘FernGully’ did moderately well at the box office, but remains Kroyer Films’ only feature. Later in the nineties, distributor 20th Century Fox teamed up with Don Bluth to make two more animated features, the successful, and again very Disney-like ‘Anastasia’ (1997), and the flopped science-fiction feature ‘Titan A.E.’ (2000). It was only after 20th Century Fox purchased the animation studio ‘Blue Sky’ (1997) and released ‘Ice Age’ (2002) that the company became a major player in the animation feature field.

In hindsight, ‘FernGully’ is most interesting for being a forerunner of ‘Avatar’ (2009), which features a surprisingly similar tale. Like most of the Don Bluth films, the movie mostly manages to demonstrate how Disney’s ideas on animated features had become the gospel on how to make one. And even though some of these dogmas were to be seriously challenged from 1996 on (the idea that all animated features have to be musicals, for example), most of these unwritten rules remain to this day, making most American animated features, and many of their European imitations, awfully generic.

Watch the trailer for ‘FernGully: The Last Rain Forest’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘FernGully: The Last Rain Forest’ is available on DVD

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1912
Rating:
Review:

Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille © Éclair New YorkAfter his move to the United States in 1912 Émile Cohl starting experimenting with putting the idiom of comic strips to the animated screen, being the first person to do so.

Cohl used ‘The Newlyweds’ my comic artist George McManus as the source for his new series, and the resulting films form not only the first animated series, but also the first pictures that could be titled animated cartoons.

This could have been a milestone in animated cinema, but unfortunately, the result is appalling: apart from the metamorphosis with which Cohl bridges scenes, there’s no animation at all, resulting in extremely static images. The text balloons fill the whole screen, more often than not obscuring complete personages.

Without the text balloons, there’s no story to follow. The result is that this is probably the first film suffering from too much dialogue, despite being silent!

Despite all its flaws, the Newlyweds films were a success, and Cohl made several of these pictures, of which only two survive: this one, ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’, and ‘He Poses for his Portrait‘ (also known as ‘Le Portrait de Zozor’).

Watch ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  May 4, 1913
Rating: ★★
Review:

Bewitched Matches © Éclair New YorkAfter short stints at Pathé and Eclipse Cohl sailed to the United States to join Éclair New York.

‘Bewitched Matches’ is one of the few films Cohl made in the United States before sailing back again to France in 1914.

‘Bewitched Matches’ has a rather zany fairy tale plot of a witch visiting three daughters. When their father chases the witch out of his house, the witch bewitches the matches. This leads to a long animation sequence in which the matches form images of a horse, crosses, a windmill, the American flag, a pipe smoking man, a radiant sun, an acrobat on the tightrope and a skeleton.

Neither the framing story nor the animated part is too interesting, and ‘Bewitched Matches’ should be regarded as one of Cohl’s lesser inspired films.

‘Bewitched Matches’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

 

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