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Director: Charles Nichols
Release Date: July 1, 1959
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

How to Have an Accident at Work © Walt Disney‘How to Have an Accident at Work’ is a clear follow-up to ‘How to Have an Accident in the Home’ from 1956.

Like its predecessor the tale is told by J.J. Fate, a little bearded variation on Donald Duck, who shows us that carelessness and fate are not the same thing. The short is more a spot gag cartoon than strictly educational, and features a running gag of Donald repeatedly ending up at the (human) first aid nurse. Luckily, Donald’s ways of getting an accident are less gross than they would have been in real life.

Extraordinarily, the short depicts our feathered friend as being married and as a father of a son. Also noteworthy are some beautiful depictions of industrial machines, wonderfully laid out by Eric Nordi, and artfully painted by background artist Al Dempster.

Watch ‘How to Have an Accident at Work’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 117
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald in Mathmagic Land
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald and the Wheel

‘How to Have an Accident at Work’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume Four 1951-1961’

Director: Hamilton Luske
Release Date: June 26, 1959
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Donald in Mathmagic Land © Walt Disney‘Donald in Mathmagic Land’ is a long educational special, lasting almost half an hour.

The film starts with Donald Duck entering a surreal landscape, dressed as a tropical hunter and wondering where he is. His questions are answered by the spirit of adventure, who remains unseen throughout the cartoon. The Spirit of adventure takes Donald on a trip through mathematics, trying to convince him it’s not only for eggheads.

The film tells about the golden ratio, the pentagram, and billiards. Also featured is a stop motion game of chess, of which the mathematics remain completely unclear. This episode shortly changes Donald into Alice in Wonderland, which makes him look particularly goofy.

The looks of this short are very beautiful: Mathmagic land is rendered in appealing reds, blues, pinks and violets, giving it a magical atmosphere, indeed. Pythagoras and his friends are rendered in Cartoon Modern style, echoing Ward Kimball’s earlier works from the 1950s. The short also uses some live action footage of a jazz band, and of a star billiard player.

The complete cartoon is a charming piece of education, if still rather shallow, and more impressive in memory than when actually watching it.

Watch ‘Donald in Mathmagic Land’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 116
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: How to have an Accident in the Home
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: How to Have an Accident at Work

‘Donald in Mathmagic Land’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume Four 1951-1961’

Director: Bill Justice
Release Date: November 10, 1959
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Noah's Ark © Walt DisneyThis is the second of no less than three Disney interpretations from the classic story from Genesis, the other ones being the Silly Symphony ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ (1933) and a sequence from ‘Fantasia 2000’ (1999), starring Donald Duck.

This second version is the most extraordinary of the three as it exchanges the ordinary cel animation for stop motion, an animation technique not practiced at the Disney studio. Yet animators Bill Justice and X Atencio gave it a go. For novices in this particular technique, the stop motion is of a remarkably high quality, on par with other stop motion films of the time.

In classic animation tradition, the film start with human hands handling the material, and even the film’s title is animated in stop motion, using a string of wool. Justice’s and Atencio’s designs, too, are refreshing: all characters are mostly made of ordinary material, like corks, pencils and clothespins, often still very visible. The cinematography, too, is superb. For example, there’s a clever montage scene of Noah and his sons building the ark.

The story (by T. Hee) is told by Jerome Courtland in rhyme and features a jazzy score by George Bruns and several songs by Mel Leven. The makers don’t take their story too seriously, and at one point there’s even room for a blues song sung by an abandoned female hippo who grieves, while her husband Harry dances with all other female creatures.

In all, ‘Noah’s Ark’ is a nice departure for Disney, and the film’s looks remain unique within the Disney canon. At 20 minutes the short may be a little too long, but the sheer fun with which this film has been made is contagious.

Watch ‘Noah’s Ark’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Noah’s Ark’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: John Hubley
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Moonbird © John HubleyWith ‘Moonbird’ John and Faith Hubley entered the field of animated documentary.

The film is an illustration of a nightly fantasy adventure by their own two little boys Mark and Humpy (ca. five and three). The main narrative of their fantasy is that they try to catch a large bird, using candy for a bait. But being two little boys, their story meanders a lot, and is interrupted by random singing, and even crying.

John and Faith Hubley illustrated this unedited piece of recorded dialogue as if the boys’ adventure were real. What’s more, they added subtle action that is not in the soundtrack. For example, the Moonbird itself is seen much earlier than heard.

The background art is pretty avant-garde, rendered in bold black, blue and pink brush strokes. These images verge on the abstract, but manage to evoke a nightly garden, nonetheless. Animators Bobe Cannon and Ed Smith, however, animated the two boys in classic Disney style, even though they are rendered in monochromes and with the pencil lines still visible.

‘Moonbird’ is a charming little film, and an ode to children’s fantasy. It was immediately recognized as something new, and it won the Academy Award for best animated short.

Later, the Hubley’s made more films based on unedited dialogue, e.g. ‘The Hole’ (1962), ‘The Hat’ (1964) and ‘Windy Day’ (1968), the last film starring their two daughters. In the late 1970s the fledgling Aardman studio followed suit with their Animated conversations series (e.g. ‘Down & Out‘ and ‘Confessions of a Foyer Girl‘).

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

‘Moonbird’ is released on the DVD’s ‘Selected Films of John and Faith Hubley 1956-1973’ within The Believer Magazine March/April 2014 and ‘The Hubley Collection Volume 2’

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: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Short and Suite © Norman McLarenIn ‘Short and Suite’ a jazzy score for clarinet, piano and double bass by E. Rathburn is interpreted by dots, shapes and lines, scratched directly on film.

The film knows no narrative, and is highly abstract, but at one point one can clearly see flowers and even human shapes. The film consists of several episodes, following more or less frantic parts within the score. McLaren’s images are very well-timed to the music, and the shapes get extra dimensions by the shadows they cast on the black and monochrome backgrounds.

‘Short and Suite’ may not be among McLaren’s best, it’s still a nice example of his great art.

Watch ‘Short and Suite’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Short and Suite’ is released on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mail Early for Christmas © Norman McLaren‘Mail Early for Christmas’ is a short commercial, the message of which is in the title.

Set to a rather loud dixieland score McLaren has put his expressionistic and frantic direct-on-film style into action to make this message come across. The film lasts only 39 seconds and was made in chronological order, without any cuts. The film thus has a very spontaneous feel and features all kinds of abstract shapes splashing from the screen. In between we can see the words ‘Mail early for Xmas’ appearing and disappearing again.

It’s a wonder that such avant-garde film making was used for a message directed at such a general public.

Watch ‘Mail Early for Christmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mail Early for Christmas’ is released on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

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: Max Fleischer
Production Date: 1959
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Imagine That © Max Fleischer‘Imagine That!’ is one of the last products by animation pioneer Max Fleischer.

On January 14, 1958 Fleischer founded a new animation studio, called ‘Out of the Inkwell Films, Inc’, with which he clearly returned to his roots. ‘Imagine That!’ is a product of that studio, scripted and drawn by Fleischer himself. The short is a pilot film for a proposed new nature series for television. In this short Fleischer returns to his earliest films, starting with an inkwell. Soon, a narrator asks the spectator what bird he would like to be if he could be one. In the end he settles on the swift, for sheer looks. What follows are some facts about the swift’s nature and behavior.

Unfortunately, there’s practically no animation, and even that is limited. Even worse, the still images have an extremely old-fashioned look, and the complete film looks like a product of the 1910s, not the late 1950s. One wonders how Fleischer ever thought this miscalculated product would ever work. In any case no one was interested in this product by the old man.

Fleischer had a better chance with a revival of Koko the Clown in a new ‘Out of the Inkwell’ series. This, too, suffered from low budgets and very limited animation, but the series at least reached television in the 1960s. Nevertheless, this new series was far from successful, and ‘Out of the Inkwell Films, Inc’ was finally dissolved at the end of 1964.

‘Imagine That!’ is released on the DVD ‘Before Walt’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: July 4, 1959
Stars: Speedy Gonzales
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mexicali Shmoes © Warner Bros.In ‘Mexicali Shmoes’, Speedy Gonzales’s usual adversary Sylvester is replaced by a couple of slow dumb Mexican cats called Manuel and José.

When Manuel does an ill-fated attempt to catch Speedy, José tells him you need brains to catch the little mouse. As José provides the brains, the two immediately set out to catch the rapid rodent. What follows are some blackout gags, the best of which features a street full of landmines.

Writer Warren Foster saves the best gag for the finale: tired of trying to catch the fastest mouse in all Mexico, Manuel suggests they should try to catch Slowpoke Rodriguez, the slowest mouse in all Mexico. José immediately rushes away to do so, but Manuel still has to tell him something important about Slowpoke…

‘Mexicali Shmoes’ is no all-time classic, but it must be the funniest of all Speedy Gonzales films, thanks to the interplay between the two cats. Because of their characterization, the film actually works. Manuel may clearly be the dumber of the two, José fares hardly better, and is equally hilarious to watch. Speedy Gonzales, on the other hand, is as bland as ever, and only speaks during the opening scene. All the more a pity that the two cats weren’t used again.

Watch ‘Mexicali Shmoes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mexicali Shmoes’ is released on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and 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’

Directors: Jerzy Zitman & Lechosław Marszałek
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Bulandra i diabel © Studio Filmów Rysunkowych‘Bulandra i diabel’ retells a story by Polish writer Gustaw Morcinek (1891-1963).

Unfortunately, the story is very hard to follow, not to say incomprehensible. It doesn’t help that there’s no dialogue (when the protagonists talk, you hear some sped up tape sounds). At least the narrative features a miner, a goat, a king and a devil.

Zitman and Marszałek have designed their film like a picture book, and all action takes place in absolute flat space. Neither the background art nor the cut-out figures get any feeling of depth. The background art is neatly designed, combining a naive folk-like quality with a stark cartoon modern design. The cut-out figures however, are animated rather poorly, and hardly display any sense of emotion. The result is rather disappointing.

In fact, ‘Bulandra i diabel’ is most interesting for featuring music by avant-garde composer Krzysztof Penderecki. During this time Penderecki was already experimenting with stochastic techniques and new timbres, but none of that in this film. Here he sticks to a way more accessible rather gritty Béla Bartók-like mid-century modernism.

Watch ‘Bulandra i diabel’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bulandra i diabel’ is available on the DVD set ‘Anthology of Polish Children’s Animation’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Director: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: October 30, 1959
Stars: Herman & Katnip
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Katnip's Big Day © Paramount‘Katnip’s Big Day’ was the last of the Herman and Katnip cartoons. Fittingly, it’s a cheater, a compilation cartoon with Katnip looking back on his not too illustrious career in a ‘This is your life’-like television program.

Katnip sits on a throne and is visited by his old ‘pals’ Spike, Herman’s cousins (whose names are revealed to be Rubin, Dubin and Louie), Buzzy and Herman himself. They all reminisce how they tricked the poor cat in earlier cartoons, which lead to excerpts from ‘A Bicep Built for Two’ (Spike, 1955), ‘Cat-Choo’ (Buzzy, 1951), ‘Drinks on the Mouse’ (Rubin, Dubin & Louie, 1953) and ‘Mousetro Herman’ (1956).

What the cartoon manages to demonstrate is that Herman and Katnip never were really funny, but that only three years before they at least were well animated. Compared to the archive footage the animation of the actual cartoon looks terribly stiff, lifeless and cheap.

Watch ‘Katnip’s Big Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Katnip’s Big Day’ is released on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

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: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: January 2, 1959
Stars: Herman & Katnip
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Owly to Bed © ParamountThis cartoon centers on a small owl who starts sleepwalking during daytime. To save him from certain death Herman takes the little fellow home and christens him ‘Hootie’.

Unfortunately, Hootie immediately starts walking out of Herman’s lair to make a nest on Katnip’s back. When Katnip discovers the bird, he tries to catch it and eat it. What follows is a chase cartoons that gets complicated by the fact that Hootie may be blind and helpless during daytime, he sure can see when it’s dark en then he suddenly changes into a violent foe to Katnip.

‘Owly to Bed’ contains one of the most violent takes on Katnip: during one scene we watch him being split in two by Hootie’s axe, and trying to put himself back together again. More interesting than either the violence or the chase, however, is the music that accompanies Hootie’s sleepwalking.

Watch ‘Owly to Bed’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Owly to Bed’ is released on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: January 28, 1959
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Sleeping Beauty © Walt Disney

Taking six years to make and costing about six million dollars ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was destined to be Walt Disney’s grandest animated feature film ever. Unfortunately, the result never reaches the heights aimed at, and at times the film feels as trying to be too smart for its own good.

It certainly didn’t help that Walt himself was hardly involved in the film’s production process, as by this time he had become more interested in live action movies and his pet project, Disneyland.

The first of the film’s problems is the extraordinarily detailed background art. Art director Eyvind Earle clearly put his stamp on the artwork, which he based on Gothic art, especially late medieval tapestries. The result is a strange mixture of stylized forms and extremely dense textures. This artwork without doubt is very beautiful, so much so that the backgrounds steal the attention in almost every scene. But unlike Mary Blair’s artwork Earle’s style is devoid of charm and warmth, and the much less detailed animated characters don’t read well against the intricate backgrounds.

The characters were designed by modernist Tom Oreb, who gave them a rather angular outlook, which diminishes their attractiveness. Especially the goons and the drunk minstrel look rather poor, and their designs look forward to the leaner designs of the 1960s and 1970s.

The film’s second problem is its story, which takes a long time to even start. Sleeping Beauty’ was Disney’s third fairy tale princess film, after ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and ‘Cinderella‘, and like the earlier films the feature starts with a fairy tale book. But after that the story moves slowly, and up to seventeen minutes it still requires a voice over for the narration. Only after 30 minutes something happens (the Sleeping Beauty meets a stranger). The film is three quarters away before conflict sets in (she is lured away by Maleficent). Moreover, the central theme of the original fairy tale is thrown out of the window: after all, in the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty sleeps for a hundred years. The studio plays that time span down to a mere day, and the sleeping doesn’t occur before two-thirds of the film.

The third issue is with the characters themselves. The Disney studio christened the Sleeping Beauty Aurora, but she doesn’t really gain a character of her own, and she remains less appealing than Cinderella had been. Worse, nowhere is she is in control of her own destiny.

Her love interest, prince Phillip, fares hardly better. There are only two scenes in which he goes his own way: first when he hears Aurora’s voice, and second when he rushes off to meet her again, despite his father’s objections. True, he is less bland than the prince in ‘Snow White’, but nonetheless he never becomes a full or engaging character, and it’s a pity that he has to guide the audience through the film’s last fifteen minutes.

No, the real main protagonists of the film are the three fairies, who in the original fairy tale only appear at the beginning, but whom the Disney studio has made instrumental to the plot throughout the movie. The studio has made the three (called Flora, Fauna and Merryweather) into three gentle, but fussy old aunts, and especially Merryweather is very well done. In fact, she’s arguably the most interesting character of the whole movie, a striking notion, given the fact that actually the love between Princess Aurora and Prince Philip should stand central.

The villain, Maleficent, is good, too. She’s certainly the most powerful Disney villain since Chernobogh from Fantasia. Unfortunately, she’s surrounded by a highly incompetent army of ‘goons’, whose inability contrasts too much with Maleficent’s own frightening powers. The goons provide a ghoulish dancing scene, reminiscent of the Night on the Bare Mountain sequence of Fantasia, but which in fact harks all the way back to the dance of the devils in the Silly Symphony ‘The Goddess of Spring’ from 1935. Earle and his team gave Maleficent and her scenes a striking and rather eerie color mix of green, purple and black. The eerie green was influential enough to return in the depiction of Minas Morgul in Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

Maleficent also provides the film’s most moving scene, in which she sketches her release of prince Philip, then an old and frail man, to awake his love, eternally young in her sleep. Of course, nothing of that image comes true, and prince Philip defeats the evil sorceress in the film’s deservedly most famous scene: the battle with the dragon. The animation of the dragon is one of sheer power, and the towering figure is impressive even on a small screen. However, this iconic scene not even lasts ninety seconds, and in fact the dragon is slain surprisingly easily, and not by Phillip, but by Fauna – Thus even the final victory is denied to the hero…

The other characters are even more forgettable. The two kings have a rather superfluous scene together, hampered by the antics of the drunken minstrel, and Aurora’s mother is actually nothing more than a moving picture. None of the characters mentioned are funny, and the movie is painfully devoid of humor, love and empathy.

The fourth issue is the soundtrack: composer George Bruns was largely based on Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet music for the fairy tale. This accounts for a sophisticated score, but not for any memorable songs.

Certainly no issue is the animation. Done by eight of the Nine Old Men (by this time Ward Kimball was pursuing other interests), the animation is, of course, top notch. But this cannot save a film that crushes under its own pretentiousness, and that is in fact remarkably unsubstantial and boring. Indeed, the film grossed $5.3 million at the box office, which didn’t even meet the production costs. Thus, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ stands as Disney’s last lavish production, a sad and questionable end of an era.

Watch ‘Sleeping Beauty’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sleeping Beauty’ is released on DVD and Blu-Ray

Directors: Chuck Jones & Abe Levitow
Release Date: January 10, 1959
Stars: Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Baton Bunny © Warner Bros.

‘Baton Bunny’ is the last of Chuck Jones’s great tributes to classical music, following ‘Long-Haired Hare‘ (1949), ‘Rabbit of Seville‘ (1950) and ‘What’s Opera, doc?‘ (1957).

The short also forms the closing chapter on a long tradition of concert cartoons with cartoon stars conducting, which goes all the way back to the Mickey Mouse short ‘The Barnyard Concert‘ from 1930. True, ‘Baton Bunny’ is not the last of such cartoons (it was e.g. followed by MGM’s ‘Carmen Get It (1962) starring Tom & Jerry, and ‘Pink, Plunk, Plink‘ (1966) starring the Pink Panther), but these cartoons are hardly the classics ‘Baton Bunny’ certainly is.

Bugs Bunny is the sole performer in the cartoon – we don’t even see the orchestra members, only their instruments. Bugs Bunny and the orchestra play Franz von Suppés overture ‘Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna’ (1844), which Bugs conducts not only with his hands, but also with his ears and feet. Like earlier conductors Mickey (‘The Band Concert‘, 1935) and Tom (‘Tom & Jerry at the Hollywood Bowl‘, 1950) Bugs has some troubles while conducting: with a fly, echoing Mickey’s problems with a bee in ‘The Band Concert’, and with his collar and cuffs, echoing Mickey’s problems with his over-sized costume. Highlight is Bugs’ reenactment of a Western pursuit featuring a cowboy, an Indian and the cavalry, only using his ears to change into each character.

But throughout the cartoon Bugs is beautifully animated, with strong expressions, and deft hand movements. It’s a sheer pity that in the end, the fly turns out to be Bugs’ only audience. But Bugs is not too proud to bow for the tiny creature that had troubled him so much just before. Apart from the animation and Michael Maltese’s entertaining story, ‘Baton Bunny’ profits from Maurice Noble’s beautiful background art, and great staging. Thus the short is a wonderful testimony of Warner Bros. cartoon art of the late fifties.

Watch ‘Baton Bunny’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 140
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Pre-hysterical Hare
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hare-Abian Nights

‘Baton Bunny’ is available on the DVD-box ‘The Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 1″

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