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Director: Ideya Gagarina
Release Date: 1981
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Cabaret © SoyuzmultfilmBased on plays by Federico García Lorca, Cabaret (a better translation would be ‘farce’) is a puppet animation film, using puppets in a puppet theater.

The film is something of a musical and tells about the love between Donna Rosita and Don Cristobál. The music, by world famous composer Sofia Gubaidulina is odd and rather unconvincing in its avant-garde version of the musical genre.

The film falls into two parts: the first part looks most like an ordinary puppet play: it’s fast, hectic, humorous, and even vulgar, with a strong sense of eroticism. Halfway the film, however, the mood changes drastically. Don Cristobál gets rid of his strings and tears off his grotesque mask to reveal a more noble face. With that the film enters the second part, a dreamlike, lyrical one. Unfortunately, the narrative gets lost in this part, and in the end the film suffers from its length, from its meandering music and beautiful, but vague imagery.

‘Cabaret’ was Gagarina’s Fourth film, and her third after she had joined Soyuzmultfilm in 1976. In 1988 Gagarina and Gubaidulina would work together again on “The Cat That Walked by Itself”, a feature film based on Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’. Unfortunately she came to a tragic end, as she was murdered in her own house in 2010.

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

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Director: Roman Kachanov
Release date: 1981
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Tayna Tretyei Planeti (The Mystery of the Third Planet) © Soyuzmultfilm‘Tayna Tretyei Planeti’ (‘The Mystery of the Third Planet’, also ‘[Alice and] The Secret of the Third Planet’) is a delightful science-fiction film for children about the little girl Alice, who accompanies her father, a bespectacled scientist, and the melancholy captain Green on their trips to collect alien animals for the Moscow zoo.

On their way they encounter a mysterious professor, and learn about the illegal slaughter of ‘chatterers’, some kind of alien bird species. The one surviving chatterer provides the key to the mystery, leading our heroes to two heroic astronauts, who have been captured by pirates.

Despite the mystery plot, the overall mood of the film is optimistic, unhurried and relaxed. At no point there’s is any real danger or violence. Even when the villain commits suicide at the end, it turns out to be fake. The film’s delight is not as much found in its story as in its gorgeous designs, its alien images, its surreal backgrounds, Aleksandr Zatsepin’s wonderful soundtrack, full of electronic space-funk, and in its exuberant animation. Alice, for example, has the habit to pull back her hair continuously, while her dad keeps putting his glasses straight. Also featured is a comical alien creature, called Gromozeka, who possesses no less than six arms, which are all animated separately.

It seems that there were no budget problems at Soyuzmultfilm at that time, if animators could indulge that much in excessive animation. The results are gorgeous, but sometimes the elaborate animation slows down the action, especially during the action scenes, which are anything but fast. Nevertheless, ‘Tayna Tretyei Planeti’ is a gem of an animation film, and a feature that definitely deserves to be more well-known, even though it’s a short one, clocking only 45 minutes.

Watch ‘The Mystery of the Third Planet’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: René Laloux
Release date: March 24, 1981
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Les maîtres du temps © René LalouxIn the science fiction film ‘Les maîtres du temps’ Jaffar, the muscular pilot of a spaceship, tries to rescue the little orphan Piel, who is the sole survivor of a massacre on the dangerous planet Perdide.

Jaffar’s only means of contact with the little boy is through an egg-shaped microphone which Piel calls ‘Mike’. Jaffar is aided by a jolly old man called Silbad, and two little telepathic creatures Silbad rescued from a flower, called Jad and Yula. His only passenger, however, the evil prince Matton, on escape with a treasure, tries to kill Piel in order to get sooner to Aldebaran…

‘Les maîtres du temps’ was René Laloux’ second animated feature film and it shares many characteristics with his first, ‘Le planète sauvage‘: it’s a science fiction film based on a novel by Stefan Wul and using designs by a famous french illustrator, this time comic artist Moebius (Jean Giraud). ‘Les maîtres du temps’ nevertheless is less outlandish than ‘Le planète sauvage’: it’s an ‘ordinary’ cel animation film and Moebius’s drawings are less surreal than Topor’s. Yet, they still manage to give the film an otherworldly quality. Especially his designs of Perdide are disturbing, rendering it an uncanny, dangerous planet, indeed.

Moebius’s style is very visible throughout the picture, except for the humans, who are drawn pretty uglily and fail to live up to Moebius’s own high standards. Only the little orphan Piel and the jolly old man Silbad are true to Moebius’s designs. Consequently, they are both very believable and likeable characters, where the others remain flat cardboard examples of ‘the hero’, ‘the beautiful woman’ and ‘the villain’. Their animation, too, remains stiff and unconvincing  In contrast, the funny little gnomes Jad and Yula are rendered very flexible and are responsible for some of the most beautiful animation in the film, which was practically all done by the Hungarian Pannonia Film Studio.

‘Les maîtres du temps’ is far from perfect, but mainly thanks to Piel’s character, with whom we can identify immediately, it’s a film with a heart. This, combined with some impressive science fiction images, especially of Perdide and of the planet Gamma 10, make the film one to return to over and over again.

After ‘Les maîtres du temps’ Laloux would make yet another Science fiction feature, now based on drawings by French comic artist Caza: ‘Gandahar‘. Unfortunately, it would prove to be the weakest of the trio.

Watch the trailer for ‘Les maîtres du temps’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: John Halas
Release date: 1981
Rating:  ★
Review:

Dilemma © Halas & Batchelor‘Dilemma’ is one of the earliest computer animation films ever, and probably the first fully digitally produced one.

Unfortunately it is a rather vague, non-narrative film, which seems to try to tell us that we could better use the human mind for art and science than for violence and war.

‘Dilemma’ doesn’t make any use of 3D effects, but stays in a very graphic 2D design style. The only clear additions of the computer are the very primitive morphing sequences. Outside these, the animation is very limited. The film uses the same static head over and over again to illustrate the human mind.

The designs are rather ugly, and so is the synthesizer music. Moreover, the filmmakers seem to want to tell us too much, resulting in a rather tiresome film, in spite of its avant-gardism. It was to other film makers to use the full potential of the new technique of computer animation.

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

‘Dilemma’ is available on the DVD inside the book ‘Halas & Batchelor Cartoons’

Directors: Ted Berman, Richard Rich & Art Stevens
Release Date: July 10, 1981
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Fox and the Hound © Walt Disney‘The Fox and the Hound’ tells about a young adopted fox called Tod and a young hound dog called Copper, who become friends, but later enemies, partly due to their nature.

‘The Fox and the Hound’ was the feature in which the last of the nine old men, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, passed on their knowledge and their legacy to a younger generation of animators. In this respect it’s the most transitional film in Disney history. And unfortunately, it shows, because it’s neither an old classic, nor does it have the spirit of a film by young Turks, despite most of the animation being nothing less than great.

On the contrary, the end product is a tame, slow moving and rather tiresome movie more belonging to a time long past than to the 1980s, the decade in which it was made. Its main flaws are in storytelling: none of the actions of the protagonists are very well motivated, the villains are hardly threatening and a lot of screen time is spent on the totally non-related antics of a sparrow called Dinky and a loony, rather annoying woodpecker called Boomer trying to catch a caterpillar. These birds, like the friendly old female owl Big Mama (voiced by black jazz singer Pearl Bailey), do nothing more than watching the main action.

The songs do not propel the action forward, either, but tend to drag the film down. And in the scenes in which Tod tries to survive in the forest, it becomes very difficult to see him interact with birds and furry animals. How he’s going to survive in the forest without killing animals remains unexplained. Finally, at the end of the film, a bear appears out of nowhere, like a deus ex machina, to be the sole reuniter of the two friends.

In fact, the only appeal of ‘The Fox and the Hound’ lies in the quality of the animation itself, and in the film’s beautiful backgrounds. Because of its out-of-time setting the film can be regarded timeless, but a timeless classic it ain’t.

Watch the fight scene from ‘The Fox and the Hound’ and tell me what you think:

Director: Zhou Keqin & Ah Da
Release Date: 1981
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Monkeys Fish The Moon © Keqin Zhou‘Monkeys Fish the Moon’* tells about a troupe of monkeys who try to catch the moon.

When they finally succeed to catch its reflection in a bowl, they drop it, only to discover that the moon still is in the sky.

‘The Monkeys who tried to catch the moon’ is, like many other Chinese films, based on an ancient fable. And, like many others it uses silent acting to tell its story. Nevertheless, the film is also a little atypical. Its elegant designs are not inspired by ancient painting, but more akin to Lotte Reiniger’s films. Moreover, the movements are not really naturalistic and the film doesn’t use Chinese music. Instead we have a lush and colorful forest world accompanied by rich film music. The cut-out models of the monkeys are soft and subtle in design, and there’s a striking use of light.

The result is one of the most beautiful Chinese animation films ever made.

Watch ‘Monkeys Fish the Moon’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Monkeys Fish the Moon’ is available on the French DVD ‘Impression de montagne et d’eau’

* this film is also known by its French title: ‘les singes qui veulent attraper la lune’

Director: Paul Driessen
Release Date: 1981
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Het treinhuisje (Home on the Rails) © Paul Driessen‘Het treinhuisje’ is one of Paul Driessen’s most beautiful films.

This short builds on the surreal concept of a home built right on a railway track. The daily life of the couple living in the house is dominated by a train passing right through their home at certain times.

With simple and direct storytelling Driessen sets the drama, in which this very train ruins the life of the couple. All the time we stick inside the couple’s home. Only when the man tells of his misfortunes, we shortly cut to the outside world. Ironically, it’s the railway itself that ruins the couple’s life.

The story is told without dialogue, and supported by beautiful country music. The emotions of the couple are depicted well, and are very subtle. However, the film also shows Driessen’s typical animation style at its most radical: the film’s surrealism is enhanced by strange disappearances of the characters when they cross the room and by a ghostly avant-image of the train before it really enters the house.

The film also shares the trademark morbid humor with other Driessen films, especially in the cuckoo clock and in the persistent fly bugging the characters throughout the picture. Nevertheless, the melancholy atmosphere dominates, and its the film’s drama that impresses the viewer time and time again.

Watch ‘Het treinhuisje’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Het treinhuisje’ is available on the DVD ‘The Dutch Films of Paul Driessen’

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