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Director: Nick Park
Release Date: December 26, 1993
Stars: Wallace and Gromit
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

The Wrong Trousers © Aardman‘The Wrong Trousers’ was the second short featuring the cheese-loving duo Wallace & Gromit.

Their first outing, ‘A Grand Day Out’ had been a virtuoso piece of clay animation, but even so, ‘The Wrong Trousers’ was a giant leap forward, taking Aardman’s claymation out of the independent animation atmosphere into the mainstream of slick studio productions, without losing an inch of character.

Despite being only 29 minutes long and featuring only three characters, ‘The Wrong Trousers’ feels like classic cinema. The fifties horror typography of the opening titles immediately makes it clear that we’re in for a mystery plot, and indeed this is a crime thriller with a small penguin as a most unlikely, but very convincing villain.

The film opens on Gromit’s birthday, a day which turns out quite sour. First, Wallace seems to have forgotten all about it, then he gives him the most useless gift imaginable: automatic trousers to walk him out without his faithful master. Then it turns out that Wallace has to cut expenses and … a room for rent.

That very evening the penguin comes in as the new boarder, but instead of taking the vacant room, he heads immediately for Gromit’s room. The mysterious penguin first takes care of Gromit, chasing the poor dog out of the house, then he uses the trousers in a diamond heist scheme.

The whole film is very well shot, featuring expressionistic angles and clever zooming in and out between the  front and back of the set. The suspense is greatly added by dramatic orchestral music by Julian Nott. And throughout the animation, by Nick Park himself and by Steve Box, is top notch.

Especially the two silent characters, the penguin and Gromit, are very well animated: the penguin creepy and enigmatic, hardly revealing its emotions, except in the heist scene, Gromit with a multitude of expressions, making great use of Nick Parks trademark brow technique. In fact, Gromit is such a rounded character, he easily carries the whole film easily using the expressions of his eyes alone. Especially Gromit’s agony, having to watch how the penguin silently takes over his home, is tantalizing.

Nevertheless, the most impressive part of this short is the finale. This is a remarkable chase scene, ridiculously set indoors on miniature trains, but it consists of five frantic minutes with a sense of speed never seen before in a stop-motion film. This finale alone takes the possibilities of stop-motion forward to new heights, and together with ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ from the same year, ‘The Wrong Trousers’ must be regarded as a milestone in animation. Thus, the next year the film rightfully won the Academy Award for animated short.

The film also started a sort of Wallace and Gromit tradition of combining silly inventions with mystery thriller plots, as this would be the promise of all three subsequent Wallace and Gromit films.

Watch ‘The Wrong Trousers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Wrong Trousers’ is available on the DVD ‘Wallace & Gromit – The Complete Collection’

Director: Tomomi Mochizuki
Release Date: December 25, 1993
Rating: ★★★★½

Ocean Waves © Ghibli‘Ocean Waves’ was an animated feature the Studio Ghibli made for television. It’s also one of those Japanese animation films that could pretty well be made in live action.

According to Wikipedia the film was an attempt by Studio Ghibli to allow their younger staff members to make a film reasonably cheaply. So, it may not come to a surprise that the film is a little underwhelming when compared to contemporary Ghibli films like ‘Porco Rosso‘ (1992) or ‘Pom Poko’ (1994), let alone later masterpieces like ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997) or ‘Spirited Away‘ (2001).

But taken on its own, ‘Ocean Waves’ is a very nicely told tale of high school romance, full of nostalgia, especially in its depiction of hot summers. The film takes place in Kōchi, on the Southern island of Shikoku. The film is told by Taku, now a student at a University in Tokyo. He reminisces about his high school friendship with bespectacled Matsuno Yutaka, and how he met the erratic girl Muto Rikako.

Rikako clearly is a troubled girl: she has moved to Kōchi from Tokyo, only with her mother and brother, and she hardly makes friends. Yutaka is clearly interested in her, raising jealousy in Taku, but it’s Taku who ends up in an all too improvised trip to Tokyo with Rikako, who wants to see her father again. The trip turns into a disaster, and Rikako even unwillingly manages to separate the two friends, but the film ends on a high note, even if years later.

The film’s style is very understated: only little is spoken out, and most of the feelings transgress through body gestures. Rikako remains enigmatic to the very end, and Taku blunders through his meetings with her. The film remains highly realistic, and the characters believable throughout.

‘Ocean Waves’ may not be a Ghibli masterpiece, it’s still a gentle animation film, well worth seeing.

Watch the trailer for ‘Ocean Waves’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ocean Waves’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Director: Dave Borthwick
Release Date: December 10, 1993
Rating: ★★★

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb © Bolexbrothers1993 was a great year for stop-motion animation: it saw the screening of the groundbreaking feature film ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, as well as the Wallace & Gromit short ‘The Wrong Trousers’, which also covered new grounds.

Much less well known is the stop-motion feature film ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’, also released that year. Made by Dave Borthwick at the British Bolexbrothers studio the film is a much rougher affair than the smooth stop-motion efforts of Disney and Aardman. In fact, it stands firmly in a tradition of gritty and disturbing stop-motion films that via Jan Švankmajer harks all the way back to Władysław Starewicz.

To begin with the film takes place in a dark and disturbing world, where large insects crawl and violence roams. In this gloomy world a poor couple gives birth to a child the size of a small fetus, whom they call Tom Thumb (in one of ca. three lines of dialogue in the entire film).

But Tom soon is kidnapped and taken to a sinister laboratory populated by several chimeral creatures tortured by insane experiments. A two-legged lizard-like creature helps Tom escape. Outside Tom meets a human tribe his own size, who unfortunately kill his chimeral companion. Jack, the leader of the tribe and a master of weapons, takes Tom back to the laboratory, where they eventually apparently destroy the laboratory’s power…

Much of what’s happening in this film is rather incomprehensible, and the plot could do with some cleaning. For example, it remains utterly unclear why Tom is kidnapped, and what the origin of the little people is. Throughout Tom remains a silent and innocent character, not unlike Pinocchio or Dumbo, and he hardly acts.

In the end the film is more interesting because of its disturbing images and for its unique artwork than for its story. The creators made especially well use of pixillation (the animation of people), giving all actors a grotesque appearance and ditto movement.

The best scenes remain the ones inside the laboratory, where Tom sees some pathetic creatures. Especially the one in which one of the creatures asks Tom to shut down the power that sustains them, is a moving piece of animation.

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ may never get the classic status of a ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ or a ‘The Wrong Trousers’, it still is a film that shows the limitless power of animation in the hands of creators with a lot of imagination.

Watch ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ is available on DVD

Director: Mark Baker
Release Date: May 1993
Rating: ★★★★★

The Village © Mark BakerAfter ‘The Hill Farm‘ (1989) Mark Baker returns with another strong parable on the human condition. If ‘The Hill Farm’ explored man’s relation to nature, ‘The Village’ is concerned with man’s internal relationships.

The village of the title is a circular isolated village with all houses facing the same square. The neighbors seem godly souls, but they are all hypocrites spying on each other. Everything has to be done in secret: a cleaning lady secretly steals apples, the vicar secretly sips wine, and a stingy, bearded guy secretly plays with his money.

In this narrow-minded and stifling community a married woman falls in love with a bachelor with glasses, but they have to flee into the surrounding woods to escape the eternal gaze of their neighbors. Meanwhile the woman’s husband kills the miser, and steals his money, but it’s the bespectacled lover who gets the blame.

The village gladly builds a gallows out of the unjustly accused’s very own trees, but the lover manages to escape, accidentally killing the vile husband in the process. In the morning the omnipresent ants, which form a rather morbid running gag during the whole film, have eaten the corpse dry, and the villagers think it’s the body of the escaped convict. They break down the gallows in deep disappointment, while the two lovers flee from the village into the world.

‘The Village’ is told without words, only using unintelligible dialogue. Baker’s simple and quasi-naive style is used to a great effect, and adds to the story’s timeless value. Moreover, Baker’s timing is excellent, mixing the painful with comedy, especially when using the ants, injecting some black humor into the disturbing tale.

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

‘The Village’ is available on the The Animation Show of Shows DVD Box Set 7

Director: Frédéric Back
Release Date: June 1993
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Le fleuve aux grandes eaux © Frédéric BackFollowing the extraordinary success of ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’, which inspired several tree planting projects, Frédéric Back turned his attention to Canada’s majestic St. Lawrence river in ‘The Mighty River’.

Clocking almost half an hour, this is Back’s last and most impressive film. Told by Donald Sutherland, the film is both an ode to this impressive river, showing nature’s grandeur and spectacular sights, and a tale of the river’s sad history, which with the arriving of the Europeans turns a dark page. Soon, the story is one of slaughter, exploitation, destruction, pollution, and greed.

The film’s pessimistic and environmentalist message at times contrasts greatly with the extraordinarily beautiful and highly virtuoso images, not only of the river itself, or of the abundance of creatures the river inhabits, but also of mankind living around the stream.

Back’s style ranges from highly naturalistic to impressionistic, pointillistic, and even Van Gogh-like. His animation style is in constant motion, taking the spectator from one image to another in an organic string of continuity, as if the film itself flows like a river. Metamorphosis and swooping camera movements add to the flowing nature of the film.

Despite the extraordinary beauty of the more peaceful images, Back shows us many pictures of death and destruction: images of the slaughtering of once abundant species, of decimation of the surrounding forests and of the emptying of life in the nearby Ocean bay. These images give the film a sad and disturbing outlook, and there’s makes no mistake that Black blames sheer greed for these atrocities.

Yet, by altering the images of woe with images of wonder, Back keeps his film from becoming a depressing work of agitprop. Still, his message is crystal clear: man has exploited this mighty river long enough, and now it’s time to give its nature rest and time to heal. And even then the once countless flocks of great auk and passenger pigeons will never return, as man has driven them to extinction.

In all, ‘The Mighty River’ is an impressive piece of work, a film that will leave no viewer unmoved, and a crowning achievement on Back’s already impressive oeuvre.

Watch ‘Le fleuve aux grandes eaux’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le fleuve aux grandes eaux’ is available on the DVD-box ‘L’intégrale de Frédéric Back’

Directors: Stephen & Timothy Quay
Release Date: 1993
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Stille Nacht IV Can't Go Wrong Without You © Brothers QuayThe fourth and last Stille Nacht film returns to the music of His Name Is Alive, and the rabbit and doll from the second film.

The most disturbing image is that of the girl doll somehow bleeding. In another scene a death-like man tries to steal the rabbit’s egg, using string. The rabbit saves his egg by cutting the string with his teeth, and hides the egg in a glass on the ceiling. This is the most story-like part of the film, which looks beautiful, but is drenched in mystery, just like the other three Stille Nacht films.

Watch ‘Stille Nacht IV: Can’t Go Wrong Without You’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Stille Nacht IV: Can’t Go Wrong Without You’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Brothers Quay – The Short Films 1979-2003’

Director: Faith Hubley
Release Date: 1993
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Cloudland © Faith HubleyIn ‘Tall Time Tales’ Hubley had illustrated ‘dream time’, a concept from aboriginal mythology.

In ‘Cloudland’ she returns to the aboriginal mythology, illustrating three more concepts: 1. a creation myth, in which the sun woman wakes up the earth, 2. the story of hunger at the land of plenty, and 3. Gifts from the ancestors. Like in ‘Upside down‘ and ‘Tall Time Tales‘ the episodes are announced by a voice over (this time her daughter Emily’s) telling their titles.

Hubley’s style is particularly fit for mythology, and this film doesn’t disappoint. Especially, the creation myth is wonderfully done, yet the best part is the story of hunger, with its remarkably straightforward story. This part also features the most elaborate animation, on a bird, a kangaroo and a turtle. Most of the film, however, is filled with Faith Hubley’s characteristic primitive-looking things and beings, which vibrate, move, morph and dance in short and simple animation cycles.

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

 

‘Cloudland’ is available on the DVD ‘The Hubley Collection Volume 1’

[this is my 1000th post]

Director: ?
Release Date: August 12, 1933
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Soda Squirt © Ub IwerksBy 1933 the Flip the Frog cartoons had become as good as they would ever be, with clear stories and many gags.

However, MGM was not impressed, and the series was discontinued, making way for Iwerks’s new star, more fit to the goody-goody-era of 1934-1937, Willie Whopper.

‘Soda Squirt’ was Flip’s very last cartoon, and it looks like Iwerks answer to Disney’s ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ from one month earlier. But where Mickey was the star of a gala evening, Flip is only a soda joint owner. Nevertheless, on the grand opening of his new eatery, many Hollywood stars drop by, including Laurel and Hardy, Jimmy Durante, Buster Keaton, Lionel Barrymore (as Rasputin from ‘Rasputin and the Empress’, 1932), the Marx Brothers, Mae West, and Joe E. Brown.

Unfortunately, the voices are terrible, hampering the caricatures. Especially those of the Marx Brothers are way off the mark. Moreover, halfway the cartoon goes haywire when a gay stereotype turns into a monster, wrecking the whole place. It’s a pity that Iwerks couldn’t do anything more interesting with the Hollywood stars, and so ‘Soda Squirt’, despite a few nice ideas and a jazzy score, isn’t quite the classic ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ definitely is.

Watch ‘Soda Squirt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 38th and last Flip the Frog cartoon
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Pale-Face

‘Soda Squirt’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: Boris Kossmehl
Release Date: 1993
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Not Without My Handbag © AardmanWhen she hasn’t paid her washing machine, a girl’s aunt has to go to hell.

However, she soon returns as a zombie to fetch her handbag. The devil tries to take her once again, this time disguised as the handbag.

Atypical for the Aardman studios, ‘Not Without My Handbag’ features puppet animation and hardly any clay animation. It’s a highly designed film, using stark colors, extreme camera angles and expressionistic decors. Its unique style is somewhat akin to that of Tim Burton, but is even more idiosyncratic. Despite its horror theme, the film is more lighthearted than the earlier Aardman films ‘Adam‘ (1991) or ‘Loves Me, Loves Me Not‘ (1992), because of its zany humor and matter-of-fact dialogue. For example, when her aunt returns as a zombie, the girl suddenly turns to camera and says proudly: “My auntie is a zombie from hell!”.

‘Not Without My Handbag’ is a modest masterpiece: it’s unpretentious, but it combines originality with virtuosity. The animation of the evil handbag is particularly good. Director-animator Boris Kossmehl later moved to 3D computer animation, performing character animation for Dreamworks’ ‘Antz’ and ‘Shrek’.

Watch ‘Not Without My Handbag’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Not Without My Handbag’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

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