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Director: Nicole van Goethem
Release Date: 1985
Rating:
Review:

Een Griekse tragedie © Nicole van Goethem‘A Greek Tragedy’ won an Academy Award and the first prize at the Annecy Inernational Film Festival. I remain puzzled why.

‘A Greek Tragedy’ was Van Goethem’s first own film. It’s a classic gag cartoon featuring three living, scarcely clad female caryatids supporting an old ruin. When the ruin crumbles, and they’re finally free, we watch them dancing into the distance.

The designs are trite, the synthesizer music is ugly, the humor is poor, and the story forgettable. If this short has a hidden, perhaps feminist message, it’s lost on me. And then to imagine, that one of the short’s competitors for the Oscars was ‘Luxo jr.’, a far more convincing and rewarding film in every respect!

Watch ‘Een Griekse tragedie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Een Griekse tragedie’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

Directors: Ted Berman & Richard Rich
Release Date: July 24, 1985
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Black Cauldron © Walt Disney‘The Black Cauldron’ was the first new Disney animation film I saw when I was a kid. At the age of twelve I found it an exciting and scary adventure. Unfortunately, watching it again many years later my views have changed.

‘The Black Cauldron’ was a clear attempt by a young team to bring something new to the screen. It was to be Disney’s first and only step in the realm of ‘epic fantasy’, a genre explored before by Ralph Bakshi in the unsuccessful features ‘Wizards’ (1977), ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (1978) and ‘Fire and Ice’ (1983), by Jim Henson’s much more interesting puppet movie ‘The Dark Crystal’ (1982), and by the then popular television series ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’ (1983-1985), whose evil character, Skeletor, looks remarkably similar to the Horned King in ‘The Black Cauldron’.

The film’s source however, is much older, and lies in the first two novels of the children’s fantasy series ‘The Chronicles of Prydain’ (1964-1968) by Lloyd Alexander, and the Disney studio already started working on it in 1971. The film tries to squeeze the contents of Alexander’s two books into 77 minutes and it shows.

The Disney studio clearly is at unease with the serious atmosphere of the epic fantasy. It’s the only animated Disney feature not to feature any song at all, and even the comic reliefs Gurgi and Flweddur Fllam are hardly funny. Instead, the studio follows ex-Disney artist Don Bluth into a much darker realm. With ‘The secret of NIMH.’ (1982) Bluth had shown that an animated feature could contain a more serious and darker tone, and ‘The Black Cauldron’ is clearly Disney’s own attempt at it.

This is exemplified most by the Horned King, and his army of skeletons. The horned king is nothing more than a skull himself, and remarkably scary for a Disney film. Not only this villain, but most of ‘The Black Cauldron’ is drawn in grim tones, however, and there is hardly any air from the gloomy atmosphere.

The story, on the other hand, is remarkably light. And here lies the main problem with ‘The Black Cauldron’. Despite his evil appearance, the Horned King never tries to harm our heroes, and his castle is leaky as a sieve. Taran and princess Eilonwy can wander about in the dungeons of the castle undisturbed, where Taran absurdly easily finds a magic sword. The escape, too, is an easy one. And it seems that outside his castle the horned king has no power, at all. And when he finally has his army of the dead, it is destroyed when it’s still crossing the drawbridge. Ironically, the feature’s scariest scene is when the horned king dies.

The story is hampered by its episodic character. Most of what happens is a result of chance, and our heroes wander around cluelessly throughout the film. The film’s hero, Taran, suffers from a badly cast voice and remains a bland character, who, unlike Gurgi, fails to steal the audience’s heart. Moreover, the character animation wanders at times, sometimes becoming over-excessive, and the film contains one conflict scene that feels utterly forced and superfluous. The film’s message only appears at 56 minutes, with an almost gratuity ‘you must believe in yourself’, which hardly forms a turning point in the series of events.

The film’s undisputed highlight lies in its inspired soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein and in the character of the furry creature Gurgi, who, with hindsight, looks like the inspiration for Gollum in Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’, in his speech and behavior. The cowardly Gurgi for example attaches to Taran half-heartedly, calling him ‘master’, just like Gollum does with Frodo in ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

‘The Black Cauldron’ was a failure at the box office. And thus it proved to be an experiment the studio never repeated. The next year, Disney returned to much more familiar territory with ‘The Great Mouse Detective’ with much better results. Indeed, the studio’s final breakthrough in its attempts to rejuvenate, ‘The Little Mermaid’ (1989), was the result of a return to the successful princess films ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937), ‘Cinderella’ (1950) and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1959).

Watch the trailer for ‘The Black Cauldron’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Hu Jinqing
Release Date: 1985
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Straw Man © Hu Jinqing‘The Straw Man’* is yet another example of China’s typical preoccupation with nature, water and fishermen.

Based on an ancient proverb (which one could translate into ‘it’s dogged as does it’), this film tells about a fisherman who is disturbed by two pelicans and who disguises himself as a scarecrow to catch the two birds.

The cut-out animation of the birds is very naturalistic, yet the backgrounds, based on paintings from the Tang dynasty, are are very graphical. Unfortunately, compared to the stunning animation of the animals, the animation of the fisherman is very crude and primitive, and the film suffers a little from a slow pace and all too present music.

Watch ‘The Straw Man’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Straw Man’ is available on the French DVD ‘Impression de montagne et d’eau’

* this film is also known by its French title: ‘l’épouvantail’

Director: Paul Driessen
Release Date: 1985
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Spiegeleiland © Paul Driessen‘Spiegeleiland’ is a short and stylized animation film, which uses one scene and one perspective only.

We watch a castaway on an island and his reflection. The castaway is visited by a female companion and rescued by a ship. Or is he? The reflection tells another tale…

This simple story is told without dialogue and with the greatest economy. Like ‘Ei om zeep’ (The Killing of an Egg’) and ‘Het treinhuisje’ (Home on the Rails) we watch a single tableau. In ‘Spiegeleiland’ Driessen takes this format even further, limiting his action to a circle with only a tiny island within.

The result is without doubt one of Driessen’s strongest and most poetic films. Driessen would reuse this method of parallel depiction of reality and fantasy to a great effect in the tragic ‘The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg’ from 2000.

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

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

Director: Georges Schwizgebel
Release Date: 1985
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

78 Tours © Georges SchwizgebelIn ’78 Tours’ Schwizgebel uses his technique of rotating perspectives and metamorphosis, which he had developed in films like ‘Perspectives‘ (1975) to stunning effects.

’78 Tours’ is a short film set to accordion music, which uses circles as a leitmotiv, as well as coffee and a park. The film is completely painted, using deep colors and stark shadows. Schwizgebel’s unique virtuoso style really comes to a full bloom in this film, which must be regarded as his first masterpiece.

Watch ‘78 Tours’ yourself and tell me what you think:

’78 Tours’ is available on the DVD ‘Les Peintures animées de Georges Schwizgebel’

Compiler: Marv Newland
Release Date: 1985
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Anijam © Marv NewlandAnijam is a compilation cartoon, organized by Marv Newland, and animated by 22 different animators.

The short features a strange yellow fellow on high heels called Foska. All scenes start and end with this character, and most of the animators feature him in their own scenes. The result is a dazzling string of totally unrelated scenes, some funny, some weird and some totally abstract.

A few animators bring their own typical style strongly into their scenes, like Zdenko Gašparović, Sally Cruikshank and Paul Driessen, others turn to abstract patterns, like Kathy Rose, Kazurai Furuya, and Per Lygum. The latter’s contribution is an early computer animation, featuring geometrical forms only. Highlight, however, is Frank Nissen’s contribution, in which a swimming octopus transforms into a naked woman.

The complete film is an ode to the imagination of the animators and the endless possibilities of the medium.

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

‘Anijam’ is available on the DVD inside the book ‘Animation Now!’

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