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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 available 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: Bobe Cannon
Release Date: January 24, 1952
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Oompahs © UPAIn ‘The Oompahs’ a voice over tells a story about a family of musical instruments.

‘The Oompahs’ is one of UPA’s most avantgardistic cartoons. Its story and designs are by caricaturist T. Hee, who went for the extremes. The instruments are very basic paper cut outs, with very little animation on them. Mostly they just move across the screen. It’s almost unbelievable that such a modern cartoon could come from a Hollywood studio, at all.

The cartoon is the prime example of director Bobe Cannon’s wish to let the audience watch “drawings that moved”. Even if the founding idea of humanized musical instruments is the same as in Disney’s ‘Music Land‘ (1936), ‘The Oompahs’ is aesthetically miles away from the earlier cartoon.

Like some other UPA cartoons ‘The Oompahs’ tells about a young character with a free spirit. Young Orville, a trumpet, wants to play and improvize freely with his friends (some other instruments), in a game that is depicted by a baseball match, and which sounds like a dixieland band. But Oompah Pa doesn’t approve and makes young Orville practice boring tunes. Then young Orville loses all spirit, gets sick, and only his friends can revive him.

This message of letting creative energy run free must have appealed a lot to its makers, for creative freedom was the raison d’être of the whole studio.

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

Director: Bobe Cannon
Release Date: November 29, 1951
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Wonder Gloves © UPA‘The Wonder Gloves’ is one of the more extreme films by the UPA studio: the characters have an extraordinarily thick outline, and Paul Julian’s backgrounds are minimal and very graphic, indeed, using photographic material to indicate textures.

Moreover, the animation is limited, sometimes no more than several poses without movement inbetween. Lou Maury’s music, too, is strikingly modern, more reminiscent of contemporary French music than of classic cartoon music.

In the cartoon Uncle George tells his nephew how he found yellow wonder boxing gloves with which he became a star boxer. The framing story uses dialogue, but Uncle George’s story is told in pantomime.

Unfortunately, the story is less interesting than the designs of the cartoon. At points the limited animation hampers a fluent telling instead of enhancing it.

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

Director: Bobe Cannon
Release Date: September 27, 1951
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Georgie and the Dragon © UPA‘Georgie and the Dragon’ is one of those UPA shorts about young people trying to break free, a topic the studio favored (see also ‘Gerald McBoing Boing’ from 1951) and ‘The Oompahs‘ from 1952).

‘Georgie and the Dragon’ is set in Scotland, and tells about the lonesome boy Georgie. His father forbids him to bring pets in the house, but little Georgie befriends a little dragon. When he takes it home it grows larger every minute. Nevertheless Georgie manages to hide the dragon from his parents, even if the dragon’s fire repeatedly damages his father and his surroundings.

‘Georgie and the Dragon’ is a gentle story, but the film is hampered by the tiresome Scottish dialogue and all too present angular backgrounds by Bill Hurtz, against which the fluently animated characters don’t read well.

Watch ‘Georgie and the Dragon’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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