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Director: Van Partible
Airing Date: March 26, 1995
Stars: Johnny Bravo
Rating: ★★
Review:

Johnny Bravo was one of the striking characters of the cartoon renaissance happening at Cartoon Network. Together with Dexter’s Laboratory, Cow and Chicken, The Powerpuff Girls, and Courage the Cowardly Dog he was the flagship of the creativity at the network in the second half of the nineties.

Yet, this isn’t immediately visible in the very first short starring the character, aptly titled ‘Johnny Bravo’. This very first Johnny Bravo episode first aired as part of Cartoon Network’s ‘World Premiere Toons’ (later renamed ‘What a Cartoon’), and was re-shown later as the first part of three shorts forming the first Johnny Bravo episode broadcasted on July 7, 1997.

The episode firmly establishes Johnny Bravo as a character obsessed by his own body and presumable attractiveness to women, who don’t care about him in a bit. The short starts at a zoo where Johnny Bravo hopelessly tries to impress passing girls. When a gorilla has escaped he offers the female zookeeper to retrieve the animal.

The gorilla is a badly designed, purple talking beast that is one of the least funny characters to hit the television screen, especially when Partible tries to make him Bugs Bunny-like funny when talking to Johnny Bravo. This is a painful attempt at humor, indeed. Much better are Johnny Bravo’s attempts to show off and to attract women.

The animation overall is limited and very jerky, with especially Bravo jumping from pose to pose, an animation style that was remarkably fresh at the time. The hands mostly are mere paws until the fingers have to be drawn. This style unfortunately gives the character an ugly and cheap look. The color design, too, is far from interesting and arguably non-existent. In all, this debut cartoon hasn’t aged very well. Yet, the character would last four seasons, being on television between 1997 and 2004.

‘Johnny Bravo’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Johnny Bravo Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director: John Eng
Airing Date: March 25, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★½
Review:

In this mediocre Duckman episode a guy named Milo, owner of a rehab clinic for the rich and famous, asks the help of Duckman to find out who wants to murder him.

Unfortunately, the man is killed even before Duckman can start the case. But Duckman isn’t focused anyway, and it’s up to Cornfed to solve the murder mystery, while Duckman gets ravingly mad in rehab.

Duckman behaves more cartoony than ever in this episode, and his hallucinatory ride in which he has visions of food and women forms the highlight of the cartoon. But he’s playing second base this time, for much screen-time is devoted to his assistant Cornfed at his most serious. There’s also some random violence by Duckman on his cutesy-wootsy assistants Fluffy and Uranus.

Watch ‘Days of Whining and Neurosis’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 16
To the previous Duckman episode: Married Alive
To the next Duckman episode: Inherit the Judgement: The Dope’s Trial

‘Days of Whining and Neurosis’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Raymie Muzquiz
Airing Date: March 18, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

‘Married Alive’ start with Duckman’s house being in the baddest shape imaginable, with everything broken and undefined gore lying in heaps everywhere.

It turns out that aunt Bernice has been away, but when she returns, she’s not even mad, but sings Giacomo Puccini’s aria ‘O mio babbino caro‘, because she’s in love. During her holiday a billionaire and media magnate called Baron von Dillweed proposed to her to star the first infomercial-wedding ever. Duckman only starts to worry when Bernice reveals she’ll move to Switzerland and take the boys with her. At that point Duckman comes into action, and uses his dormant detective skills to unmask the baron in his own unique way.

This episode features a short reference to Indiana Jones, Cornfed doing karaoke, and Duckman grinding Fluffy and Uranus to rice, but the episode’s highlight must be aunt Bernice’s lovesick behavior.

Watch ‘Married Alive’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 15
To the previous Duckman episode: Papa Oom M.O.W. M.O.W.
To the next Duckman episode: Days of Whining and Neurosis

‘Married Alive’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Norton Virgien
Airing Date: March 11, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The second season of ‘Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man’ starts with a rather rambling episode in which Duckman tries to get famous by exploiting the sleazy reputation he got by pinching the butts of two sexy ladies on camera.

The set up of this episode is rather incomprehensible and involves the president visiting town, and three sexy but dumb ladies visiting Duckman’s office for no apparent reason. Also involved is a commercial fellow with shades, a ponytail and an annoying voice, making Duckman sign a contract to get him famous. Nothing is done with this devilish scheme, however.

Highlight of this otherwise disappointing episode is Duckman’s feature film on his life called “Pinch Me, Kiss Me Kill Me: The Duckman Story”. This part is acted out in live action, and includes over the top sexy women falling for the cool Duckman character as well as ridiculous dialogue full of sexual references, and even blatant advertising.

Watch ‘Papa Oom M.O.W. M.O.W.’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 14
To the previous Duckman episode: Joking the Chicken
To the next Duckman episode: Married Alive

‘Papa Oom M.O.W. M.O.W.’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Michaela Pavlátová
Release Date: 1995
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

After the critically acclaimed ‘Words Words Words’ (1991) Michaela Pavlátová returned with an even better film called ‘Repete’. This film explores daily routines, with a man walking a dog as a bridging elements.

The walking man repeatedly watches a beautiful woman passing by, a cyclist, and a hurried man looking at his watch. These street scenes are interspersed with scenes depicting three couples, all stuck in an unhealthy repetitive relationship. The first shows a woman feeding a man, who doesn’t even look at her, but keeps on reading the newspaper. The second depicts a man threatening to commit suicide the moment his love rejects him. And the third shows a couple about to have sex until a telephone calls the woman away, leaving the man waiting.

At one point the dog refuses to go on, and the repetition stops, allowing the couples to get mixed. It looks like the mingling of these people improves their relationships, but all too soon new repetitions set in…

Like ‘Words Words Words’ Repete is a great work of animated surrealism, making full use of the medium. Pavlátová uses a very crude and scribbly pastel technique, shifting perspectives and no dialogue. Her style is completely her own, and very engaging. No wonder Repete, too, swept many awards.

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

‘Repete’ is available on the DVD ‘Desire & Sexuality – Animating the Unconscious Vol.2’

Director: Andreas Hykade
Release Date: 1995
Rating: ★★★½

‘Wir lebten im Gras’ is the first of three films in which German animator Andreas Hykade explores the loss of innocence, the other two being ‘Ring of Fire’ (2000) and ‘Der Kloane’ (The Runt, 2006).

The film is also the most cryptic of the three, full of images that are very difficult to decipher. The film is set in a rather mythical place, ‘two streets away from the end of the world’ and has a timeless and universal feel.

The story is told by a boy voice over, who reminisces about his father, who told him that “All women is whore and all men is soldier”. Outside the voice over there is no dialogue. The little boy tries to see the world through his father’s eyes, but this conflicts with his softer side, and he’d rather fall in love with the enigmatic ‘dandelion girl’.

The film is less straightforward than this synopsis suggests, however, and the film is more surreal and suggestive than narrative. For example, the boy’s adventures are interjected by nightmarish dream sequences, the meaning of which is never really explained. These dream sequences are rendered in an expressionistic pastel style, reminiscent of Lorenzo Mattotti’s art work. This style contrasts highly with the simple cel animation.

Hykade’s drawing style is highly original. His human designs are simple, almost stickman-like, but genitals are very prominent, and the father is drawn as a more robust, earthly character.

The animation is very virtuoso, with a great feel for timing. Moreover, Hykade uses a lot of changing perspective, and has an admirable command of movement.

‘Wir lebten im Gras’ was Hykade’s last student film, but it certainly is his first major work. With this film Hykade proved to be a strong new voice in the animation world, a fact he consoled with his masterpiece ‘Ring of Fire’ from 2000.

Watch ‘Wir lebten im Gras’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Wir lebten im Gras’ is available on the DVD ‘Desire & Sexuality – Animating the Unconscious Vol. 2’

Director: Darko Kreč
Release Date: 1995
Rating:
Review:

Posljednji valcer u starom mlinu (Last Waltz in the Old Mill) © Zagreb FilmIn this latter-day Zagreb Film studio short two grains change into a prince and princess who waltz around a remote water mill.

This film combines live action footage of the water mill with cell animation of the prince and princess. Unfortunately, the film is hampered by its poor story, its mediocre designs, and unremarkable music by Ozren Depolo. If anything this film makes clear that in the post-communist era the Zagreb Film studio was severely struggling. With films like these one can feel the Zagreb school dying.

Watch ‘Last Waltz in the Old Mill’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Last Waltz in the Old Mill’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of Zagreb Film: Be Careful What You Wish For and The Classic Collection’

Director: Kōji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura & Katsuhiro Otomo
Release Date: December 23, 1995
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Seven years after ‘Akira‘, Katsuhiro Otomo returned to the animated screen with ‘Memories’, a package film, which impresses, but fails to reach the heights of ‘Akira’. Indeed, the film is much, much less well known than either Otomo’s previous film, or ‘Ghost in the Shell’, which was the anime hit of 1995.

Based on his own short stories, ‘Memories’ consists of three unrelated parts: ‘Magnetic Rose’, ‘Stink Bomb’ and ‘Cannon Fodder’, which are discussed separately below.

Memories - Magnetic Rose © Katsuhiro OtomoMagnetic Rose
Director:
Kōji Morimoto
Rating★★★★★

‘Magnetic Rose’ starts the Memories trilogy, and it’s arguably the feature’s most satisfying episode. Animated by Morimoto’s own Studio 4°C, it is the only part that clearly deals with memories.

In this episode a rescuing squad of space garbage collectors is ensnared in the memories of a long deceased opera singer, who still seems alive in her remote satellite home in space, blurring the boundaries of reality. This accounts for an exciting story, greatly enhanced by Yoko Kanno’s superb soundtrack, in which she mixes an eerie choir, ambient guitar work and dark electronic with bites of Giacomo Puccini (the famous aria ‘un bel di vedremo’ and the finale from ‘Madame Butterfly’, an opera set in Japan, and a small soundbite from ‘Turandot’, which is set in China). Also featured is a stage set from Puccini’s ‘Tosca’, in which the opera singer, as Tosca, stabs Heinz, one of the rescuers.

Even though the science fiction setting with its touches of horror is typical anime, the underlying drama is very mature and quite unique. This episode’s screenplay was penned by future director Satoshi Kon. Kon certainly established himself with this screenplay, and he would further explore the theme of memory and loss in ‘Millennium Actress’ (2001), and the blurring of reality and fantasy in both that film and ‘Paprika’ (2006) with even more spectacular results. Director Kōji Morimoto, meanwhile, would prove his worth as a director in ‘Beyond’, the best episode of ‘The Animatrix‘ (2003).

In ‘Magnetic Rose’ the characters are from all over the world, and this is one of the few anime, in which the Japanese character looks distinctively Asian compared to the European characters.

Memories - Stink Bomb © Katsuhiro OtomoStink Bomb
Director:
Tensai Okamura
Rating★★★

Penned by Katsuhiro Otomo, but directed by Tensai Okamura, and animated by the Madhouse animation studio, ‘Stink Bomb’ feels like a comical interlude between the two more serious outer episodes. The story is set in present day Japan and features a very stupid, but surprisingly indestructible protagonist who turns into a nonsensical weapon of mass destruction. The story is simple: Nobue Tanake, our ‘hero’, works in a biochemical laboratory. To cure his cold one of his colleagues suggests he takes a sample of the new medicine they’ve developed at the lab. But Tanake accidentally swallows the wrong pills, which turn him into a lethal weapon, sweating poisonous gasses that kill everything in sight. Although he remains unaware of this, he becomes the cause of the annihilation of Japan.

This story is rather silly – there’s a lot of broad comic acting, and it even ends with a kind of punch-line. And yet, the episode manages to be unnerving at the same time; the short has some disturbing undertones, with the fear of mass destruction weapons and corrupt governments played out well. The unsettling atmosphere is greatly enhanced by Jun Miayke’s score, in which he uses nervous free jazz saxophones to a great effect.

Memories - Cannon Fodder © Katsuhiro OtomoCannon Fodder
Director:
Katsuhiro Otomo
Rating: ★★★★½

Otomo himself directed the last and most beautiful sequence of Memories. This episode once again is animated by Studio 4°C, but has a distinctive graphic style that doesn’t resemble any other anime. Especially the background art and character design are highly original. But even more startling is the fact that the film is ‘shot’ in one long camera take (with a little bit of smuggling, but very impressive nonetheless). The cinematography is outstanding, and uses a little bit of computer animation. One moving shot of a colonel ascending on a platform is a great piece of character animation. Nevertheless, the boys’ own dream of becoming a colonel himself, done in charming children’s drawings, may be the highlight of the entire film.

‘Cannon Fodder’ deals with an alternative, distinctively European world, where a totalitarian military regime enters every aspect of life. It’s a kind of steam punk, vaguely based on images of the first world war, with its giant cannons, gas masks, and pompous generals. We’re following one day in the life of a single family. They live in a city were all work and school is directed to a war with a mysterious city, which remains unseen throughout the movie. This war is fought entirely by using cannons, fired at the distant enemy.

Despite the caricatured humans, the atmosphere is hardly comical, but dark and disturbing. The unseen foe reminds one of ‘1984’, and one wonders whether the enemy is real – but then, in the end, the air alarm kicks in. ‘Cannon Fodder’ is more a film of concept than of drama, and thus less engaging than ‘Magnetic Rose’. Still, because of its unique style, and strict control of cinematography, ‘Cannon Fodder’ is a small masterpiece.

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

‘Memories’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

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