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

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Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  July 27, 1913
Rating:
Review:

He Poses for his Portrait © Éclair New York‘He Poses for his Portrait’ is the second of only two surviving Newlyweds cartoons Émile Cohl made in the United States.

Like ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille‘ the film is based on the comic strip by George McManus, and the film is essentially an animated comic strip, with text balloons playing the most important part in telling the story.

In ‘He Poses for his Portrait’ a couple wants to have a picture painted of their little baby. Unfortunately, the brat drives the painter mad. As in ‘Zozor ruine la réputation de sa famille’ there’s hardly any animation, resulting in a pretty static and remarkably boring film. By all means, Cohl’s animated comic strips should be regarded as a failure, and belong to the weakest films in his enormous output, despite their success at the time. If anything, the series demonstrated that one needed little animation to please an audience, a message which several studios would take at heart in the decades afterwards.

Watch ‘He Poses for his Portrait’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘He Poses for his Portrait’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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’

 

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

es métamorphoses comiques © Émile CohlMany of Émile Cohl’s films contain metamorphosis, but this is Cohl’s only film with the word ‘metamorphosis’ in its title.

‘Les métamorphoses comiques’ is arguably Cohl’s most avant-garde film. the short features live action images changing into animation and back again. Metamorphosis indeed runs galore, with Cohl’s typical stream-of-consciousness-like flow. Many of the images are pretty abstract, anticipating the work of Norman McLaren. Nevertheless, despite all the avant-garde frenzy, the most disturbing picture is a live action shot of a young boy smoking…

Watch ‘Les métamorphoses comiques’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Les métamorphoses comiques’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1911
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Les exploits de Feu Follet © Émile Cohl‘Les exploits de Feu Follet’ is the first of only two surviving films Émile Cohl made for French film company Eclipse, the other being ‘Les métamorphoses comiques’.

With this film Cohl returned to the looks of his first films ‘Fantasmagorie‘ (1908) and ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche‘ (1908): the film is shot in white on black and features a stickman. This stickman flies with a balloon to the moon and falls down into the ocean, where he is swallowed by a whale. Curiously, the whale, moon, and an eagle are drawn much more classically than the stickman, making ‘Les exploits de Feu Follet’ less consistent in its looks than either ‘Fantasmagorie’ or ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’.

Cohl’s timing is very sloppy in this film, and unfortunately there’s is little metamorphosis, with Cohl relying much on cut-out shortcuts. There’s practically no story, only a string of events. So, this film is not among Cohl’s best.

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

 

‘Les exploits de Feu Follet’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1911
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Le cheveu délateur © PathéIn this short comedy a man disapproves of the suitor of his daughter and consults a magician, who can extract a man’s history from a single hair.

The hair reveals that the suitor has spent some time in prison, so the man throws the suitor out, leaving it to the magician to ask the hand of the daughter. ”Le cheveu délateur’ is a rather silly film, full of broad comedy.

As may be expected, the hair section is done in animation. Unfortunately in this segment Cohl’s animation isn’t too interesting, showing mostly the suitor travelling, by train, by balloon, and by elephant. Cohl’s metamorphosis technique is only used sparingly, and never leads to strange associations like in his best films.

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

 

‘Le cheveu délateur’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1910
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Le retapeur de cervelles © PathéThis short starts with a couple visiting a psychiatrist.

The woman exclaims that her husband is rather cuckoo, so the psychiatrist takes a look inside the husband’s head using a ‘cephaloscope’. As may be expected in an Émile Cohl film what the doctor sees is shown in animation: a series of weird images, tied by Émile Cohl’s trademark metamorphosis.

When the psychiatrist has seen enough, he drills a hole in the man’s skull and pulls out the crazy thoughts, which manifest themselves as more animation on a black screen, much in the vain of Cohl’s debut film ‘Fantasmagorie‘ (1908). Thus the man is saved and the film ends.

Cohl’s stream-of-consciousness way of animating works quite well for a film about craziness, and the framing story is amusing enough to keep the film interesting, even though it’s certainly not one of Cohl’s masterpieces.

Watch ‘Le retapeur de cervelles’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Le retapeur de cervelles’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1910
Stars: Lucien Cazalis
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Jobard a tué sa belle-mère © Pathé‘Jobard a tué sa belle-mère’ is not an animation film, but one of ten comedy shorts Émile Cohl directed in a collaboration with actor Lucien Cazalis for Pathé.

The ten films all feature the character Jobard, played by Cazalis. It’s a pity that ‘Jobard a tué sa belle-mère’ appears to be the only one to have survived in some quality, because the film shows Cohl’s skills as a live action comedy director. Indeed, the film is a prime example of early French comedy film.

In this episode Jobard scares his mother-in-law to death. Literally. Or so he thinks. So he sets out to buy a wreath, which he loses immediately at a cafe. So he buys a circular bread instead, which he accidentally replaces with a tire. In the end he ends with a cushion, accidentally stolen from the police office.

Lucien Cazalis, who plays Jobard is quite a good comedian, and the film clearly shows that French comedy had a huge influence on American slapstick comedy. It’s a pity Lucien Cazalis has been completely forgotten, today, for he clearly deserves more recognition.

Watch ‘Jobard a tué sa belle-mère’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Jobard a tué sa belle-mère’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1910
Rating: ★★★
Review:

La musicomanie © Émile Cohl‘La musicomanie’ opens with a live action sequence in which a man and a woman make music in a small room with instruments that appear and disappear.

Nothing of their antics is remotely interesting, but when the man goes to sleep he dreams of instruments and music notes. The man’s dream is an elegant animated sequence in which Cohl uses his trademark metamorphosis technique, now using instruments as a theme.

As always, Cohl’s stream-of-conscious-like metamorphosis animation is interesting to watch, even though this film brings nothing new. When the woman wakes the man, the film ends.

Watch ‘La musicomanie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘La musicomanie’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1910
Rating: ★★
Review:

Rien n'est impossible à l'homme © Émile CohlÉmile Cohl was an extremely prolific animation artist, virtually responsible for almost the world’s complete animation output of 1908-1910. Thus it doesn’t come as a surprise that not all his films are masterpieces.

For example, ‘Rien n’est impossible à l’homme’ is a rather disjointed gag film about what man can do nowadays. The most interesting scene is the first one, in which we watch a live action street scene from above (supposedly from an airplane, but the camera remains static throughout). Other scenes use cut-out animation to show a diver smoking at the bottom of the sea, or a musician making an obelisk cry.

None of the gags are remotely funny, and the whole film feels like a garbage bag of unrelated gag material, making watching the short a rather tiresome experience.

Watch ‘Rien n’est impossible à l’homme’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rien n’est impossible à l’homme’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1910
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Monsieur de Crac © Émile Cohl‘Monsieur de Crac’ is a short animated gag film in which Mr. Crac (the French name for the Baron von Münchhausen) has some strange adventures, including his half horse drinking from a fountain. Most strange is Mr. Crac’s adventure inside the Etna, where he encounters a multitude of staring faces.

‘Monsieur de Crac’ is solely done in cut-out animation. Cohl’s drawing style often was old-fashioned, but in this film his drawings have a particularly 19th century feel, especially in Cohl’s neat and detailed background art. The drawings are reminiscent of the drawings of 19th century comic masters Wilhelm Busch and Rodolphe Töpffer, and they fit Rudolf Erich Raspe’s classic 1785 story very well.

‘Monsieur de Crac’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1910
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Le mobilier fidèle © Émile Cohl‘Le mobilier fidèle’ can be translated as ‘The Faithful Furniture’.

This short is a comic live action film in which a man is in love with his furniture, giving it much attention. Unfortunately, the man is too poor to pay the rent, and his furniture is sold on the street. But his pieces of furniture get bored at their new homes, and all return to their former owner, in rather funny scenes using stop motion.

‘Le mobilier fidèle’ is an enormous improvement on J. Stuart Blackton’s moving furniture in ‘The Haunted Hotel’ (1907), and an early example of European comic film art. Two years later, however, the film would be topped by Romeo Bossetti’s ‘The Automatic Moving Company’.

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

‘Le mobilier fidèle’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  August 23, 1910
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Les quatre petits tailleurs © Émile Cohl‘Les quatre petits tailleurs’ is a fairy tale, in which four tailors all desire the heart of the same woman. The woman’s father tells them that the best tailor will win the heart of his daughter, and they are all invited to his house to show him their skills.

The first makes use of a bendable needle, the second doesn’t even need a needle – making the thread doing the work, and the third is so delicate he can even sew the wings of a fly. The fourth tailor works slowly and meticulously. Yet it’s he who completes his task, and it’s him the daughter wants.

‘Les quatre petits tailleurs’ is a live action film, with the tricks of the first three tailors done in stop motion. The film profits from some nice staging, and good comic acting. For example, it’s made clear that the fourth tailor and the woman desire each other even before the contest begins. He’s the only one giving her attention (and a rose) beforehand.

Watch ‘Les quatre petits tailleurs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Les quatre petits tailleurs’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  June 21, 1910
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Les douze travaux d'Hercule © Émile Cohl‘Les douze travaux d’Hercule’ is a funny re-telling of the twelve labors of Hercules.

In Émile Cohl’s cut-out film Hercules is a rather fat man with quite a stupid look on his face, and the way in which he does the twelve labors is devoid of all realism. For example, every scene ends with hercules leaving the scene flying. Because of its comic character and silly animation, the film is quite entertaining.

The short even contains a novelty: in ‘la ceinture d’Hyppolyte’ Cohl suggests a fight between Hercules and the Amazones by showing 37 frames of pure abstract shapes, which are held for only 1 to 2 frames, giving the viewer an impression of a series of explosions. This comic device of abstract images suggesting a fight most probably had never been used on the animated screen before. But of course would be repeated in many cartoons after. The cut-out shapes are similar to those of artist Jean Arp, whose much more famous work is of a later date.

Watch ‘Les douze travaux d’Hercule ‘ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les douze travaux d’Hercule ‘ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  June 18, 1910
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

le tout petit Faust © Émile Cohl‘Le tout petit Faust’ is a retelling of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust II using puppet animation.

This is arguably Émile Cohl’s best pure stop-motion film. Although the short is still only comprehensible if you know Goethe’s famous story, it greatly profits from elaborate sets and beautiful background art. There’s even some primitive evocation of emotion during the love scenes between Faust and Margarete. The devilish Mephisto fails to become scary, however, being just a doll just like the other dolls, but in different clothes.

Watch ‘Le tout petit Faust ‘ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Le tout petit Faust ‘ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1910
Rating: ★★
Review:

Le champion du jeu à la mode © Émile Cohl‘Le champion du jeu à la mode’ is about a company of people, who all try to solve a jigsaw puzzle, until one of the men exclaims that he can solve the puzzle in no time. How he does it is never revealed, but we watch the puzzle assemble itself through stop motion.

Essentially, this is a one trick film, and both the comedy and the animation pale, when compared to Cohl’s contemporary films, like ‘Le placier est tenace’ and ‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’.

Watch ‘Le champion du jeu à la mode’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le champion du jeu à la mode ‘ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1910
Rating: ★★
Review:

L'enfance de l'art © Émile CohlThis animation film uses both cut-out, stop-motion and pen animation in a mix unique to Émile Cohl.

Nevertheless ‘L’enfance de l’art’ is among Cohl vaguest and least impressive films: things are just happening on the screen, like a monster disturbing a painter or some monsters drawn on human hands. We can also watch some morphing images of animals and more monsters. In this respect the title is well chosen…

Watch ‘L’enfance de l’art’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘L’enfance de l’art ‘ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1910
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Le peintre néo-impressioniste © Émile Cohl‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’ is a pure comedy film by cinema pioneer Émile Cohl.

This short is about a painter who cannot even draw a live model (his painting is that of a stick man). When a client arrives the talentless painter tries to sell his monochrome paintings to a client, exclaiming that they are all figurative. For example, the red painting involves a cardinal eating lobster at the red sea, and the green one shows a green devil playing billiards in the grass, while drinking absint.

The imaginary pictures are all shown in cut-out animation, and the colors are beautifully rendered by hand coloring. In the end the client buys them all, leaving the painter and his model laughing.

Watch ‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1910
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Le placier est tenace © Émile Cohl‘Le placier est tenace’ is arguably Cohl’s best venture into comedy.

In this film a man tries to escape from a stubborn seller of medicine. The man’s attempts to flee the seller involve taking a cab (the seller turns out to be the cab driver), taking the train (the seller turns out to be the ticket vendor) and taking a balloon (the seller is in the same basket).

The most extraordinary flight is when the man is eaten by an Indian and finds some peace an quiet in the belly of the native American, until the seller volunteers to get eaten by the same man…

‘Le placier est tenace’ is a live action film, even if the scenes in the belly of the Indian are animated with cut-outs. Yet, the film is most important for cartoon lovers, who will immediately recognize the film’s story as an ancestor of some of Tex Avery’s greatest films, most notably ‘Dumb Hounded‘ (1943) and ‘Northwest Hounded Police‘ (1946). In the latter film the wolf flees into the belly of a lion, only to meet Droopy in the lion’s stomach. Even this bizarre idea clearly stems from Cohl’s film. It’s astounding to see that such absurd comedy was already done before World War I, and one wonders if Avery has ever seen Cohl’s film…

Watch ‘Le placier est tenace’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Le placier est tenace’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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