Director: J. Stuart Blackton
Release Date: July 15, 1907
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Lightning Sketches © Vitagraph‘Lightning Sketches’ is the third surviving film by J. Stuart Blackton in which he used drawn animation.

Unfortunately the film has less in common with his ground-breaking film ‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces‘ (1906), and much more with his first trick film ‘The Enchanted Drawing’ from 1900: Once again Blackton himself appears on screen, and not only his hand. As in the earliest film, he now draws with a brush on paper, replacing the chalk and chalkboard.

Compared to ‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’ ‘Lightning Sketches’ is by all means the lesser product: there is less animation or movement (the best is of a bottle of champagne and a bottle of soda water filling a glass). Worse, Blackton’s first gag involves a stereotype ‘coon’ and Jew, but no animation at all.

In no sense ‘Lightning Sketches’ did propel the medium of animation forward, and it was up to others pioneers, like Émile Cohl, Winsor McCay and J.R. Bray to advance upon the new technique.

Watch ‘Lightning Sketches’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Lightning Sketches’ is available on the DVD/Blu-Ray ‘Cartoon Roots’

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Director: J. Stuart Blackton
Release Date: April 6, 1906
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Humorous Phases of Funny Faces © Vitagraph‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’ is arguably the first drawn animation film. Like Blackton’s first film, ‘The Enchanted Drawing’ from 1900, the short combines the tradition of live sketching with that of trick filming to a novelty effect. Made for Thomas A. Edison, the film is an important step forward, however, because, unlike ‘The Enchanted Drawing’ there now is animated movement.

The film starts with a live action hand drawing the face of a man on a chalkboard. Next to the man a woman is drawn, now without the hand. The two faces alter, and at one point the man grows a cigar and a top hat. This ‘scene’ ends when the man’s smoke covers the whole woman, and the hand erases the drawing.

Next come two other faces. Little is happening here, so soon we cut to an old man with an umbrella. This part shows a little arm movement, done with cut-out. Blackton used the cut-out technique more extensively in the last shot, that of a clown, toying with his hat, a hoop and a poodle. The film ends with the hand erasing again. The whole experience lasts less than three minutes.

Overall, the image is pretty static, and it’s clear that the whole film is made pure for the novelty of its tricks. Of course, ‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’ is historically important, yet, it’s difficult to call this first hand-drawn animation film (and probably the first one to use cut-out) an instant classic, as apart from the movement hardly anything is happening, and only the smoke gag comes somewhere near being funny. Moreover, Blackton’s arm can be seen a few times, which hampers the trick.

Watch ‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’ is available on the DVD ‘Before Walt’

Director: Maarten Koopman
Release Date: 2008
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Theatre Patouffe © Musch & Tinbergen‘Theatre Patouffe’ features a performance of lifeless objects, mostly of things on wheels, but also of some furniture performing acrobatics, and of three flying machines.

The objects and theater settings are beautifully made, and evoke a very surreal atmosphere, reminiscent of Jan Švankmajer’s films. Moreover, the film is full of clever ideas, and at one point one of the contraption even shows films of other contraptions performing, creating quite a Droste effect.

Unfortunately, the film suffers from the lack of a story arc. This renders the short unsatisfying, despite the intriguing images, and unique atmosphere

‘Theatre Patouffe’ is available on the DVD ‘Animazing! – Mindblowing Animation Films Supportes by the Netherlands Film Fund 1998-2008’

Directors: Paul Driessen & Kaj Driessen
Release Date: 2008
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The 7 Brothers © Paul DriessenWith ‘The 7 Brothers’ Dutch director Paul Driessen elaborates on the fairy tale ideas he had explored in ‘3 Misses’ (1988).

‘The 7 Brothers’ tells the tale of no less than seven old writers, and their stories, all Driessen’s own idiosyncratic variations on classic fairy tales, featuring a mixture of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats, Snow White, Puss in Boots and Hansel and Gretel. There are seven short gags, all rather cruel takes on the familiar tales.

The film is unique within Driessen’s oeuvre, for its use of live action: the seven gag segments are bridged by shots of the old men wandering on a cobbled street at night. These surreal live action images were directed by his son, Kaj Driessen. The result is a beautiful and funny, if rather unassuming film.

Watch ‘The 7 Brothers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The 7 Brothers’ is available on the DVD ‘Animazing! – Mindblowing Animation Films Supportes by the Netherlands Film Fund 1998-2008’

Director: Arjan Wilschut
Release Date: 2006
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Hard Boiled Chicken © il Luster‘Hard Boiled Chicken’ is a short gag short about a rooster and a chicken who try to save their egg from the farmer.

The film is shot in sepia tones, and uses simple comic designs on the chickens, while the cat and the farmer are a little more elaborate in design. The short partly evokes the atmosphere of a film noir detective, but this idea is not worked out well (for example, the short also features a totally unrelated The Matrix-inspired moment), and in the end the short falls short in its inconsistency. Yet, ‘Hard Boiled Chicken’ is a small, gentle film, and excellent for children.

Watch ‘Hard Boiled Chicken’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hard Boiled Chicken’ is available as a bonus on the DVD ‘Animazing! – Mindblowing Animation Films Supportes by the Netherlands Film Fund 1998-2008’ and on the DVD ‘Independent Animation from The Netherlands Volume 2’

Director: Cody Cameron
Release Date: August 8, 2007
Rating: ★★
Review:

The ChubbChubbs Save Xmas © Sony‘The ChubbChubbs Save Xmas’ sees the return of the ChubbChubbs, the title heroes of Sony’s Academy Award winning short ‘The ChubbChubbs!‘ from 2002, and their alien keeper Meeper.

After five years these personas are still as annoying as they had been in 2002, but surprisingly, ‘The ChubbChubbs Save Xmas’ is a better movie than the original short had been. Things at Sony animation clearly had improved in the five years that separate the two films, and both character design, color schemes and overall design are much more consistent in the new film than in the original. Consequence is that Meeper and his friends are rather out of tune with their more modern and slicker surroundings, which makes them even more obnoxious.

The short’s story is utterly forgettable, but there are some good gags, even if some are pretty violent for a Christmas film. Nevertheless, ‘The ChubbChubbs Save Christmas’ is only one notch up from the earlier film, and remains mediocre, if only because Meeper and the ChubbChubbs themselves are such ugly-voiced and annoying characters.

Watch ‘The ChubbChubbs Save Xmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The ChubbChubbs Save Xmas’ is available as a bonus on the DVD ‘Surfs Up’

Director: Kunio Katō
Release Date: June 10, 2008
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The House of Small Cubes © Robot CommunicationsIn ‘The House of Small Cubes’ (better known by its french title ‘La maison en petits cubes’) an old man lives in an almost abandoned town, flooded by an ever rising sea level.

Each time the level reaches his doorstep, he builds another level on top of the former one. One day his pipe falls down into a former home. The man dives to retrieve his pipe, but also into his own memories. By diving into ever deeper levels the old man remembers his deceased wife, his former family, and even the times before the flood began.

‘The House of Small Cubes’ is a gentle and sweet little movie on memory and loss. Despite being made in Japan, nothing in the film looks Japanese, and the short’s surreal but moving story is by all means universal. The film thus rightfully won the 2008 Academy Award for best animated short film.

Watch ‘The House of Small Cubes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The House of Small Cubes’ is available on the DVD Box ‘The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 9’ and on the French DVD box set ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e anniversaire’

 

 

Director: Luis Cook
Release Date: June 11, 2007
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Pearce Sisters © Aardman Studio‘The Pearce Sisters’ is an atypical product from the Aardman studio, as it does not use claymation, but 2D computer animation.

Cook tells a tale by Mick Jackson about two ugly sisters who live on a windy beach, far from the rest of the world. Their life is harsh, but they have each other. Then, one day, they save a man out of the sea…

The short is a rather morbid tale, but Cook manages to focus on the relationship between the two sisters, making the film gentler than one would expect. Cook’s style is completely his own – and owes nothing to Aardman’s general ‘Nick Park’ style. Cook tells his tale in great silent scenes, enhanced by a superb audio design – there’s only one line of dialogue in the entire film.

Watch ‘The Pearce Sisters’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Pearce Sisters’ is available on the DVD Box ‘The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 6’ and on the French DVD box set ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e anniversaire’

Directors: The Blackheart Gang
Release Date: March 2006
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Tale of How © The Blackheart Gang‘The Tale of How’ is a tale about birds trapped on an island by a large sea monster, but rescued by a mouse.

In this short the Blackheart Gang has used a mix of 2D and 3D computer techniques to make a film that is baroque in its complexity of images and intricate designs. The combination of weird surrealism and quasi-medieval ornamentation give the film its unique atmosphere. Unfortunately, the film’s story is less compelling than the images: the tale is sung in an all too uninteresting quasi-operatic style and very hard to follow, indeed.

Watch ‘The Tale of How’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Tale of How’ is available on the French DVD box set ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e anniversaire’

Director: Makoto Shinkai
Release Date: March 3, 2007
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

5 Centimeters per Second © Co‘5 Centimeters per Second’ is a rather original love story in three parts. Central character is high school student Takaki, whose love interest Akari, moves from Tokyo to Iwafune, a distance three hours by train.

The first part consists of Akari’s voice over reading her letters to Takaki, accompanied by a lightning rapid montage of images of Takaki and his memories to his girl. When, after a year of exchanging letters, Takaki is about to move to the South himself, he decides to make a one time visit to Akari. This train journey through a snow storm, which delays him for no less than four hours forms the emotional highlight of the film. Nevertheless, Takaki and Akari are reunited in Iwafune, only to have to part again.

The second part is set in Tanegashima, a small island in the far South of Japan, and although set in October, its sunny images form a welcome contrast to the snowy images of the first part. This part is told by Kanae, who’s secretly in love with Takaki, but never able to tell him that. Like the first part, the second part ends with an opportunity lost.

The third part is set in Tokyo again. This part is the shortest, the most fragmentary, and the least satisfactory of the three. Sadly this episode shows that Takaki hasn’t really learned to love and to allow others near him, still longing for something else. Akari is seen, too, but her ‘story’ is touched on so little it could well be missed. Added to Takaki’s admirers is yet another girl, who is hardly seen, but as he declines her calls, her pain and loneliness are certainly felt. The episode ends with images set to the rock ballad ‘One More Time, One More Chance’ (1997) by Masayoshi Yamazaki, unknown to us Western viewers, but apparently instantly recognizable to the Japanese audience, and adding to the film’s nostalgic feel. The film ends undefined, and with its mere sixty minutes the feature feels a little incomplete.

Like many other Japanese anime, ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ needn’t necessarily be made with animation, as its characters and settings are highly realistic, and drawn from everyday life. But as it is animated, one can only marvel at Shinkai’s beautiful and engaging images. ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ is a story about distance and love, but despite being a story of emotions, the character designs and human animation, both by Takayo Nishimura, are not very impressive: the character designs are very generic, while the facial expressions never reach enough subtlety to draw one into the character.

No, the real emotional story is told almost exclusively by the background art. This film uses a multitude of shots, often lasting only a fraction of seconds, and in its in these extraordinarily beautiful images that Shankai tells his tale. Indeed, many of these images he drew himself. The images are highly realistic, but as Shankai tells in the interview included in the DVD, they’re drenched in emotional memory, and they’re never neutral. And neither is his staging or cutting, which are both highly original. All these background images, with their glorious colors and superb lighting (made in Photoshop) give the film its unique and poetic character.

With ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ Shankai proved to be a new important voice in the Japanese animation field, a reputation he steadied with his next films, ‘Children Who Chase Lost Voices’ (2011) and most notably, ‘Your Name’ (2016), which also deals with distance and love.

Watch ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Eric Armstrong
Release Date: July 3, 2002
Rating:
Review:

The ChubbChubbs! © Sony PicturesThe star of ‘The ChubbChubbs!’ is a humble alien who swipes the floor of a nightclub on some planet.

When the nightclub is threatened by some monsters, the alien repeatedly tries to warn its clientele, but only manages to ruin the singer’s act three times. In the end the alien disposes of the approaching army of monsters with help of some yellow animals, the ChubbChubbs of the title. These turn out to have rotating razor-blade mouths, belying their cute appearance.

‘The ChubbChubbs!’ was a sort of test film for Sony Pictures Imageworks, and thus it’s not a very deep film. In fact, the film feels rather childish and immature, and the only source of humor stems from the cameos of familiar science fiction movie characters, like Darth Vader, Yoda, Alien and E.T.. The rest of the cartoon humor feels forced and overtly cliche.

The film isn’t helped by a trite story, a too talkative soundtrack, ugly voice designs (especially of the alien itself), ugly color designs, mediocre animation, and very inconsistent computer art, blending an array of styles from cartoony to realistic into a far from convincing world. That this utterly forgettable film managed to win an Academy Award is beyond me, especially when considering that one of the other nominees was Kōji Yamamura’s classic short ‘Mt. Head’.

Watch ‘The ChubbChubbs!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://vimeo.com/5603230

‘The ChubbChubbs!’ is available as a bonus on the DVD ‘Surfs Up’

Director: Gil Alkabetz
Release Date: April 29, 2007
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Ein sonniger Tag (A Sunny Day) © Gil Alkabetz

‘Ein sonniger Tag’ is a charming little film with no less than the sun itself as its star.

In Alkabetz’s short the sun tries to impress the people, and one little girl in particular. Unfortunately, he only manages to make them feel hot, and they all try to get away from him. Only when he gives up, and sinks back into the sea, he gets the attention and appreciation he had longed for all day long.

Alkabetz’s style is loose and cartoony, and his film is full of clever sight gags, like the sun using clouds as shaving cream, or the sun blushing red when being photographed at sunset. The result is a film that’s not only charming and funny, but also impresses in how it manages to follow its inner logic from start to end, with surprising results.

Even if ‘Ein sonniger Tag’ is far from an ambitious short, it shows the skill of a true master. The short is a great example of the endless possibilities of animation, in which there’s no limit to the imagination.

Watch ‘Ein sonniger Tag’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ein sonniger Tag’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Kleine helden & rare kwasten – 14 animatiefilms voor kinderen’

Director: Milen Vitanov
Release Date: April, 2007
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

My Happy End © Milen Vitanov‘My Happy End’ is an enjoyable little children’s film about a dog being in love with its own tail, which in Vitanov’s film also has a mouth.

The most remarkable aspect of Vitanov’s film is its technique: Vitanov blends traditional pencil animation with 3D computer effects, making the dog look like a single piece op paper moving around in a paper world. This illusion is enhanced by using only grey-tones, giving ‘My Happy End’ a sketchy look.

Unfortunately, Vitanov’s cartoon style is less original, and his story rather stretches the imagination (I could hardly swallow the concept of both the humanized tail and the regeneration which takes place in the end). The result is an amiable, if unassuming little film.

Watch ‘My Happy End’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘My Happy End’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Kleine helden & rare kwasten – 14 animatiefilms voor kinderen’

Director: Sergei Ryabov
Release Date: February 20, 2007
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Tiny Fish © Soyuzmultfilm‘The Tiny Fish’ is a charming little children’s film with a winter setting.

We follow a little girl who encounters an evil fisherman catching a fish. Shocked by this event the girl stays at home, leaving it to other kids to play outside in the snow. She draws a picture of the fish and then dreams that she and the fish are attacked by a giant version of the fisherman, who grows bigger and bigger in size. With her paper fish the girl returns to the ice hole where the fish had been caught. She returns her paper fish to the water, which immediately comes to life.

‘The Tiny Fish’ is made with a virtuoso cut-out technique. The designs are soft and tender, if a little old-fashioned. The story is told without words, and with a great feel of atmosphere. The girl’s emotions are not shown all too explicitly, but one immediately feels with her. The magical transformation of the paper fish is in complete agreement with the child’s world of wonder.

Watch ‘The Tiny Fish’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Tiny Fish’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Kleine helden & rare kwasten – 14 animatiefilms voor kinderen’

Director: UrumaDelvi
Release Date: 2005
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio © UrumaDelvi‘(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio’ does not have much of a story: Mr. Calpaccio goes to work, even flies to another place to work there, and returns home to do some shopping and outdoor eating with his family. That’s about it.

But boy, the looks of this cartoon! ‘(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio’ boasts a completely unique style, with circus-like designs with stark black and white contrasts, and no shading whatsoever. There’s a very strange mix of expressionism and genuine silliness. The cartoon simply bubbles with weird images and original animation cycles, to a psychedelic effect. The bubbly images are accompanied by a fitting circus-like musical score by Yoshiyuki Usui.

The world of Mr. Calpaccio, its dull subject notwithstanding, is a magical place, a place of wonder. And this little gem by UrumaDelvi (a rather mysterious Japanese couple) by all means deserves to be seen. It’s a pity the film cannot be found online.

‘(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Kleine helden & rare kwasten – 14 animatiefilms voor kinderen’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Premiere Date: December 4, 1941
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mr. Bug Goes to Town © Max Fleischer‘Mr. Bug Goes to Town’ was the second and last feature by the Max Fleischer studio.

In almost every aspect, the film is a great improvement on the studio’s first, ‘Gulliver’s Travels‘. Its story is more engaging, its characters are more likable, the animation is of a higher quality, the stylized New York backgrounds are more impressive, the score (by Disney veteran Leigh Harline, of Pinocchio fame) is much more inspired, and the cinematography more interesting.

In a way ‘Mr. Bug Goes to Town’ is the inverse of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. Where Gulliver was a human giant in a land of tiny people, Hoppity and his friends are tiny (four-legged) insects in a land of human giants. These humans, all heavily rotoscoped, are faceless giants who seem to have walked straight from a Superman cartoon. Nevertheless, two of the ‘human ones’ (as the insects call us), a songwriter and his wife, become important to plot, as owners of the land the little insects live in. The plot resolves on the insects’ struggle to survive after the fence has been broken, and their houses are being trampled by crossing pedestrians, or set on fire by discarded cigarettes and cigars.

Hoppity, the James Stewart-like hero of the picture, tries to help, but his actions are thwarted by the evil Mr. Beetle (voiced by storyman Ted Pierce) and his helpers Smack the Mosquito and Swat the Fly. The creepy Mr. Beetle has an eye on Honey, the lovely daughter of Mr. Bumble and Hoppity’s love interest. It’s this setting which propels the film forward, and the film only ends when Hoppity and his friends are safe, and he and Honey united in marriage.

The trio of villains is a great improvement on the trio of spies Sneak, Snoop, and Snitch in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’: their interaction is delightful to watch and provides the necessary comic relief. The love story between Hoppity and Honey, of course, is more interesting, too, than that of the bland prince and princess of the earlier film. Unfortunately, Honey remains a terribly bland stock figurine, and has no personality whatsoever of her own. Hoppity is better as the typical optimistic underdog who will fight to the very end, no matter how dire the straits.

The character designs are a little old-fashioned and remain rooted in the cute designs of the second half of the 1930s. Some of the dialogue even is in rhyme, harking back to these more childish days. There’s none of the experimentalism that can be found in the Disney features of the time, including ‘Dumbo‘. The most advanced scene is when Hoppity gets electrified in the nightclub. This accounts for some pretty surreal images.

The cinematography, however, is great overall, and at several times the tiny insects are juxtaposed to the huge world of human hands and feet (a film like ‘Mouse in Manhattan‘ (1945) is by all means tributary to this feature). Because rotoscope is restricted to the faceless humans, who remain in the background, the technique is less irritating than in Gulliver. On the contrary, this feature makes the humans blend within the background of the story that is about insects, after all.

In any way the film is certainly worthy to watch, even though it’s no masterpiece. The songs, for example, by star writers Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser, are unmemorable. Worse, the film retains an awfully relaxed pace without ever reaching real excitement. There are also some plot twists that are hard to swallow: the film’s greatest drama, when Hoppity’s dream garden appears to be less perfect than expected, is very weak and unconvincing. Then we are asked to believe that a sprinkler floods all the insects back to their original lot. Later, when Mr. Beetle and his helpers imprison Hoppity, they do that in the very letter Hoppity desperately had been waiting for. Moreover, when he has thus disappeared, nobody seems to go looking for him. And the finale, in which the insects climb a new skyscraper, while its being built to reach a rooftop garden in full bloom, stretches the concept of time beyond believe. Nevertheless, this finale is pretty exciting, and makes a fantastic watch. I’ve no doubt that it’s this spectacular trip that will stick into the viewer’s mind.

‘Mr. Bug Goes to Town’ absolutely shows that the Fleischers were very able to make feature films. Unfortunately, they weren’t allowed to make another one. ‘Mr. Bug Goes to Town’ premiere date preceded the attack on Pearl Harbor by just two days, and after the attack its general release was postponed. By the time the film got a wide screening (as ‘Hoppity Goes to Town’) in mid-1942, the Fleischers were already out of business. Paramount hardly promoted the picture, and the feature unfortunately flopped. Since Fleischer’s successor, Famous Studios, never made a feature film either, Walt Disney remained the virtual monopolist of feature length animated entertainment in America for more than forty years…

Watch ‘Mr. Bug Goes to Town’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: December 1, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

$21 a Day (Once a Month) © Walter Lantz‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ is the first of the Swing Symphonies, a wartime cartoon series of fifteen based on swing music.

‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ reflects the war era perfectly, even though it appeared five days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The cartoon celebrates the draft that had been installed in 1941. The short’s original twist, however, is that the title song (by Felix Bernard and Ray Klages) is sung by toy animals, toy dolls, toy soldiers etc.

The designs are a mixed bag, some harking back to the early 1930s. Some animals are clearly stuffed, while others look like any other cartoon animal. Unfortunately, this first Swing Symphony hardly really swings. Darrel Calker’s arrangement features a lot of close harmony, but no jazz solos. Only after five minutes some boogie-woogie piano kicks in. Woody Woodpecker has a cameo, making some marching toy soldiers walk differently.

‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ is a joyful cartoon, but there were much better Swing Symphonies to follow.

Watch ‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: George Pal
Release Date: March 27, 1942
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Sky Princess © George Pal‘Sky Princess’ tells the tale of a prince rescuing a princess from a witch, who holds her in a castle in the sky.

In the beginning the story is told by a voice over. But all too soon the prince arrives, serenading his love with a violin. The love between the two destroys the witch’s power, and a great deal of the cartoon is devoted to the couple dancing in the castle in the sky. This sequence reflects the MGM musicals of the era, and excels in lighting and staging. Yet, as nothing really is happening, it’s also a bit boring. In the end we watch the couple sail away on the prince’s sky ship.

‘Sky Princess’ is a lovely cartoon, full of pretty colors, and a feast for the eye. The score makes great use of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Flower Waltz. What the short lacks in story, it covers with its beautiful looks and dreamlike atmosphere.

‘Sky Princess’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Puppetoon Movie’

Director: George Pal
Release Date: December 26, 1941
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Rhythm in the Ranks © George PalIn ‘Rhythm in the Ranks’ the action already starts during the opening titles, when we watch a package unwrap itself. The package reveals to contain a battalion of toy soldiers, who quickly come to life.

Our hero is ‘Little Jim’, a toy soldier who has to carry a large cannon. When he meets a skating girl in Dutch costume, he forgets the cannon. He gets punished, having to paint the barracks, which he does with invisibility paint, anticipating the Donald Duck short ‘The Vanishing Private‘ (1942), which uses the same story idea.

Both the vanishing paint and the cannon come in handy, when an evil army invades the countryside, although it remains pretty unclear how our hero conquers the foreign troops. Nevertheless, in the end he’s decorated and earns a kiss from the Dutch girl.

‘Rhythm in the Ranks’ is a charming, but uneven cartoon that suffers from an erratic story. The models, colors and staging, on the other hand, are top notch, as always in Pal’s works. The trickery used to make things becoming invisible is very well done.

The evil army of mindless robots, which invade the toy countryside reflect the war era. Yet, Pal’s film never becomes really topical, sticking to the fairy tale world of wonder. ‘Rhythm in the Ranks’ makes great use of two Raymond Scott compositions: ‘Toy Trumpet’ for the marching soldiers, and ‘Powerhouse’ to accompany the evil army.

‘Rhythm in the Ranks’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Puppetoon Movie’

Director: George Pal
Release Date: June 27, 1941
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Hoola Boola © George PalJim Darcy, the main protagonist in ‘Hoola Boola’, must be the most relaxed castaway in animated history.

In the opening scene we watch him sailing on a series of rafts from his stranded ship, relaxing in his chair, and listening to the radio. Almost immediately he hits an island, where his house builds itself. Soon he meets a native woman called Sarong-Sarong, and the two fall in love instantly. Then a canoe full of cannibals appear, capturing Jim. However, with help of some magic Sarong-Sarong rescues our hero, reuniting the two lovers.

‘Hoola Boola’ is a wonderful example of George Pal’s art, if not among his best films. One can marvel at the lovely decors, the bright colors, the cinematic staging and clever lighting. Yet, the facial expressions of the sailor and Sarong-Sarong are poor and primitive, and, of course, the story is drenched in cliches, with its castaway-meets-noble savage-and-cannibals story. Even Sarong-Sarong’s rescue is a cliche, with the black cannibals fleeing in terror, all too easily. On the other hand, Sarong-Sarong manages to summon five goblins out of nowhere to chase the cannibals away. I’d be scared of them, too…

‘Hoola Boola’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Puppetoon Movie’

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