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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 released 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: John Hubley
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Tender Game © John HubleyBy the end of the 1950s John Hubley had survived the McCarthy era that had hit him hard*, and with his Storyboard studio he could finally make the films he really wanted to.

‘The Tender Game’ is a wonderful example of Hubley’s great and gentle art. The short is a delightful little wordless film about love set to the song ‘Tenderly’, sung by Ella Fitzgerald, and accompanied by the Oscar Peterson trio. The cartoon’s setting is a city, vaguely reminiscent of Paris. Here a flower girl falls in love with a street cleaner.

The designs of this cartoon are very bold: for example, the two main protagonists don’t have solid bodies, but consist of loose parts, and sometimes it seems as if they’ve walked straight from a Pablo Picasso painting. Both their designs and that of the backgrounds have a strong painting quality, being rendered in broad brush strokes, and verging on the abstract.

The poetic artwork contrasts a little with the animation, done e.g. by fellow-UPA alumnus Bobe Cannon, which is still clearly rooted in the comic tradition. Highlight is the interior scene, in which the two lovers reluctantly try to court each other. This is a marvelous little piece of character animation, full of telling expressions and poses.

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

‘The Tender Game’ is released on the DVD’s ‘Selected Films of John and Faith Hubley 1956-1973’ within The Believer Magazine March/April 2014 and ‘Art and Jazz in Animation’

* for a full account on how McCarthyism affected the animation world see Adam Abraham’s excellent book ‘When Magoo Flew – The Rise and Fall of Animation Studio UPA’.

Director: Władysław Nehrebecki
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Myszka i kotek © Studio Filmów Rysunkowych‘Myszka i kotek’ is a very beautiful example of the cartoon modern style of the 1950s.

The film is a very playful tale of a real mouse chased by a line drawing kitten, which has jumped from a postcard. During the chase the cat repeatedly dissolves into a line only, and the animators play with the fact that the animal is outline only.

Both cat and mouse are pleasantly designed and very well animated, but it’s the gorgeous background art that draws the main attention. Every single panel is a beauty, depicting a nightly room in bold designs, verging on the abstract. The main background color is black, and the light blue outline of the kitten reads very well against the background art.

In short, ‘Myszka i kotek’ is a Polish little gem that deserves to be better known.

Watch ‘Myszka i kotek’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Myszka i kotek’ is available on the DVD set ‘Anthology of Polish Children’s Animation’

Director: Ward Kimball
Release Date: June 18, 1959
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Eyes in Outer Space © Walt DisneyWhile eight of the nine old men were busy with feature film animation, like ‘Sleeping Beauty‘, number 9, Ward Kimball spend his energy to quite different films, blending science with science fiction.

‘Eyes in Outer Space’ is an excellent example of Kimball’s trade. Made when satellite technology was still brand new (by the time of this short’s release ca. 13-14 satellites had been successfully launched into space, the majority by the U.S.), ‘Eyes in outer space’ tells how satellites can help mankind not only to predict, but even to control the weather. The film first shows us the new technology: rockets and satellites, then it shows the destructive and beneficial powers of the weather.

After this we cut to the animated sequence. This lasts not even five minutes, but is an absolute joy to watch: first we watch a funny sequence about how weather affects our emotions, and how we used to try to predict the weather in the past. This is a delightful little piece of cartoon modernism, but the designs get bolder and more abstract when narrator Paul Frees tells about the life-cycle of a droplet. This is a very beautiful piece of avant-garde animation, featuring bold colors and designs and greatly helped by the rhyming narration and George Bruns’s jazzy score.

Unfortunately, it’s not to last, and soon we’re back to live action footage telling how meteorologists predict the weather today and how satellites come in handy. The last eleven minutes are devoted to a particularly noteworthy piece of infotainment. Here we cut to a future in which we cannot only predict the weather (months in advance!), but control it, too. The film shows us how a global weather station alters the course of an Atlantic hurricane, with the help of e.g. robot planes and a space station. This is a nice piece of 1950s science fiction. Needless to say nothing of this has materialized, yet, and it’s highly questionable if it will ever.

Watch ‘Eyes in Outer Space’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Eyes in Outer Space’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrow Land -Disney in Space and Beyond’

Director: Han van Gelder
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Van Inca tijd tot Blooker tijd © Toonder StudiosIn this film director-animator Han van Gelder uses his unique technique of mixing cut-out with stop-motion for a short advertising film for Blooker cocoa.

The film tells about the Incas who invented cocoa, and how the Spanish conquistadors brought cocoa with them to Europe, where Jan Blooker’s factory uses only the best cocoa for its chocolate. The jump from the conquistadors to Blooker is a rather abrupt and not all too convincing one.

For this film Van Gelder uses UPA-inspired cartoon modern style characters and backgrounds. The film’s story isn’t too interesting, but these designs certainly make it a fun watch. The Blooker factory only lasted until 1962, but the brand is still available today.

Watch ‘Van Inca tijd tot Blooker tijd’ yourself and tell me what you think:

From Inca time to Blooker time 1958

‘Van Inca tijd tot Blooker tijd’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: Børge Ring
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Lokkend goud of gouden lokken © Toonder StudiosThis is the story of a man full of debts who marries a rich woman for her money, but he gets remorse when he discovers the rich lady is bald.

The story is a humorous old Irish ballad called ‘Very Unfortunate Man’, translated by Annie M.G. Schmidt into Dutch and sung by Dutch actor Otto Sterman. Danish animator Børge Ring provides the story with strong cartoon modern images in the best UPA tradition, matched by equally stylized background art and color schemes by Alan G. Standen. The two give the otherwise rather Dutch film a very international feel, both in design and quality. The complete cartoon may be quite on the light side, it is nevertheless a delight to watch.

‘Lokkend goud of gouden lokken’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: Charles Nichols
Release Date: May 18, 1951
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Milton
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Plutopia © Walt DisneyIn ‘Plutopia’ Mickey and Pluto reach a cabin in the mountains called Utopia.

The place turns out to be dog-unfriendly however: Pluto has to stay outside and even worse, has to be muzzled. Frustrated, Pluto falls asleep. He dreams he’s in Plutopia where Milton (one of the cats from ‘Puss-Cafe‘, and here the cabin’s cat) is his willing servant, serving him food every time Pluto bites him in his tail.

The dream sequence is a delight to watch: its backgrounds consists of no more than changing monochromes featuring ‘scribbled’ outlines of doors, stairs e.g. With this sequence Pluto enters the ‘cartoon modern’ era. Unfortunately, it would be his only cartoon featuring such modern designs.

‘Plutopia’ is the last of only three Pluto cartoons featuring Mickey Mouse (the other two being ‘Pluto’s Purchase’ from 1948 and ‘Pueblo Pluto‘ from 1949). Normally cartoons featuring Mickey would appear under his own name. Indeed, after ‘Plutopia’ the Pluto series had only one entry left, but Pluto would return in Mickey’s last four cartoons.

Remarkably, ‘Plutopia’ features animation by two of the greatest animators of Mickey and Pluto in the 1930s: Fred Moore and Norm Ferguson. Both animators had been eclipsed by Disney’s Nine Old Men, and ‘Plutopia’ is one of the last films they worked on before their premature deaths in 1952 and 1957, respectively.

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

This is Pluto cartoon No. 42
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Cold Storage
To the next Pluto cartoon: Cold Turkey

Director: Bill Justice
Release date: July 18, 1956
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Jack and Old Mac © Walt DisneyDirector Bill Justice had co-directed two educational shorts in 1943: ‘The Grain That Built a Hemisphere‘ and ‘The Winged Scourge‘, but ‘Jack and Old Mac’ marks his solo direction debut.

Taking the cartoon modern-style to the max, ‘Jack and Old Mac’ brings jazzy versions of two familiar addition songs: ‘The House That Jack Built’ and ‘Old MacDonald Had A Farm’.

This simple and unpretentious idea leads to one of Disney’s most daring cartoons. The first song only uses characters made out of words and throughout the picture startlingly modern backgrounds are used, which constantly change and which are totally abstract, giving no sense of space whatsoever. The animation, too, is mostly very limited, although some animation is reused from the ‘All the Cats Join In’-sequence from ‘Make Mine Music’ (1946).

George Bruns’s score is strikingly modern for a Disney cartoon, using genuine bebop jazz. In comparison, Louis Prima’s dixieland jazz in ‘Jungle Book’ from eleven years later is much more old-fashioned.

In all, ‘Jack and Old Mac’ is a neglected little masterpiece, and Disney’s modest, but most daring contribution to the cartoon avant-garde.

Justice would direct four more specials: ‘A Cowboy Needs a Horse’ (1956), ‘The Truth about Mother Goose‘ (1957), ‘Noah’s Ark‘ (1959) and ‘A Symposium on Popular Songs’ (1962), all strikingly modern in design.

Watch ‘Jack and Old Mac’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Jack and Old Mac’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

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