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Directors: Stefan Fjeldmark & Karsten Kiilerich
Release Date: 1996
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

‘When Life Departs’ is a cute little Danish film in which eight children share their thoughts on death.

Their musings include ideas on the soul, on heaven, on hell, on God and reincarnation. These are illustrated with very simple, but very charming color pencil drawings on monochrome backgrounds. The drawing deliberately have a childlike, pseudo-clumsy quality, but the animation is, in fact, of a very high degree. Especially the depiction of the children talking is very well done. Despite the simplicity of the drawings these scenes betray a wide range of emotions and involuntary gestures in a short time span.

One stunning scene is one child’s view of heaven, illustrated by an ever in-zooming background animation, as if one flies through the endless heavenly landscapes. At times the pleasant animation helps to keep the subject light. Nevertheless, the story of a boy who has lost his baby brother remains poignant and infinitely sad.

Watch ‘When Life Departs’ yourself and tell met what you think:

‘When Life Departs’ is available on The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 3

Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Release Date:
June 25, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

Director Mamoru Hosoda rose to prominence with the feature films ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’ (2006) and ‘Summer Wars’ (2009), both made at the Madhouse studio.

To make his next film, ‘Wolf Children’ he created his own studio, Chizu, allowing him to make ‘author films’. And indeed, Hosoda has proven to be a strong voice in Japanese animated cinema, especially with ‘The Boy and the Beast’ (2015) and ‘Mirai’ (2018). Many place ‘Wolf Children’ in the same league, but I’d disagree, as I will explain below.

‘Wolf Children’ tells about Hana, a student who falls in love with an enigmatic boy, who turns out to be half man half wolf. She bears him two children, who have inherited her boyfriend’s dualistic nature, but then he dies, and she must raise the two on her own. But how will she manage as her children are both human and wolf?

The film encompasses a long time period, up to ca. twenty years, and from time to time a voice over (by Hana’s daughter Yuki) takes over. The film thus is very episodic, but also remarkably low key, poetic and tranquil. Several scenes are mood pieces, only carried by music, letting the images do the work. Moreover, most of the emotions are seen from a distance, and the most dramatic moment of the movie, Yuki’s rescue of her little brother Ame, isn’t even shown.

Unfortunately, the episodic nature also means that the film lacks focus. The story doesn’t stay with Hana but diverts to the experiences of Yuki and Ame and back, story lines are introduced and dropped as well as characters. For example, when Hana moves to the countryside, several scenes are devoted to her relationship with the villagers, most importantly one grumpy old Nirasaki. But later this theme is dropped, and the characters are not seen again.

Hosoda does succeed in showing how little events in children’s lives can change their character and outlook on life forever. Indeed, Yuki and Ame go different directions in life, proving that one upbringing can have very different outcomes.

Despite the film’s interesting message, the lack of focus, the episodic nature, the slow speed, and the sheer length (the film clocks almost two hours) all hamper the film. One wishes Hosoda dared to be more concise, killing more darlings.

Moreover, stylistically the film doesn’t deviate from the general anime style. As all other anime films of the era, the movie exploits very realistic and intricate background art, and the character design feels generic and uninspired, despite being designed by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto of ‘Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water’ (1990) and ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ (1995) fame. In fact, with their rather ugly line work and flat colors, the characters contrast greatly with the often beautiful background art, and are simply subpar.

The animation and cinematography, on the other hand, are excellent, and there’s some clever use of computer animation, especially during the scene in which Yuki and Ame run through a snow-covered forest.

‘Wolf Children’ is certainly an interesting and by no means a bad movie, but for a director being able to do his own thing, Hosoda certainly could have been more daring artistically, and more focused storywise.

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

‘Wolf Children’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Directors: Stephan Schesch & Sarah Clara Weber
Release Date:
June 8, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

Germany is the biggest economy of Europe, but as producer of animation it’s a surprisingly minor player, especially when compared to France. It certainly didn’t help that the Nazi regime virtually wiped out all art life, and that from 1949 until 1991 the country was split into two.

When I think of post-war German animation I immediately think of Die Maus (The Mouse), the silent host of the educational children program ‘Die Sendung mit der Maus’, and of die Mainzelmännchen, the six little guys who embellish advertising blocks on German television since 1963. Germany also boasts some major independent animation artists, like Raimond Krumme, Andreas Hykade and Gil Alkabetz, but otherwise the country produces mostly rather listless feature films which make no impression whatsoever.

So it came as a surprise to me to find in a department store in Berlin an animated film based on a children’s book by Tomi Ungerer, one of the greatest children’s book artists in the world. Even more surprisingly, this is not the first German feature film based on his work. In 2007 Animation X Gesellschaft zur Produktion von Animationsfilmen mbH released a film based on Ungerer’s classic ‘Die drei Räuber’ (The Three Robbers) from 1961. I certainly wish to see that film, too, because ‘Der Mondmann’ is a pleasant surprise.

This feature film is much more elaborate than Ungerer’s original children’s book from 1966 (which Gene Deitch already turned into an animated short in 1981), but the character designs of the moon man and the children are very faithful to Ungerer’s artwork. Even better, Ungerer himself appears as the narrator of the tale (although his voice over is hardly used in the film). The adult characters, however, are more removed from Ungerer’s style, as is the extraordinarily colorful background art, which has a trace of surrealism to it. The looks of the film are on the verge of independent animation, but remain friendly and inviting nonetheless.

The story tells about the moon man, who occupies the complete sphere of the moon, and who is bored to death inside this cramped space. One day he grabs the tail of a fiery comet and descends to earth, hoping for some excitement. The shots of the moon man discovering animals and plants are particularly delightful. Earth, meanwhile, has apparently been occupied by a rather fascist looking regime (a great take is that its flag features a flag). The world president mourns he has conquered the complete world, and has nothing left to conquer, until some lady suggests to conquer the moon. Apparently, in this parallel universe space travel has not been invented, yet, while for example cell phones have.

The world depicted thus is not entirely ours, and this adds to the atmosphere of surrealism, as do several odd side gags that enter the screen and which are completely unrelated to the story. This type of throwaway gags are reminiscent of ‘La planète sauvage’ (Fantastic Planet) from 1973, and indeed, ‘Der Mondmann’ has something in common with that strange film, even if it is much friendlier, and less bizarre. These gags keep the adult audience awake in a film that is otherwise clearly directed to children. There’s also a running gag of a military officer who keeps saying “höchst bedauerlich”(most regrettable) as answers to the president’s complaints.

Anyway, both the Moon Man and the president turn to an inventor called Bunsen van der Dunkel to bring them to the moon. The moon man all too quickly discovers that Earth is not an entirely welcome place, and he discovers his role in the lives of children, who cannot sleep without him watching over them. The central theme of the film is what it means to be friends, something both Bunsen van der Dunkel and the Moon Man discover during the film.

‘Der Mondmann’ is well-told, focusing on only a handful characters, but it is also one of those delightful non-American feature animation films completely throwing American story rules overboard. For example, the film stars a father and his daughter travelling inside an American 1950s cabriolet. The two return several times during the film, but are only marginally involved in the plot. Despite being a children’s film there’s also a clear suggestion of a sex scene. The music choice, too, is pretty idiosyncratic, with important roles for the songs ‘Moon River’ sung by Louis Armstrong and ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ by Iron Butterfly.

In all, ‘Der Mondmann’ is arguably the greatest animated feature film to come from Germany in the 2010s and well worth a watch, especially because it is available with English subtitles.

‘Der Mondmann’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Earl Hurd
Release Date:
August 26, 1922
Stars: Bobby Bumps & Fido
Rating:
 ★★★★½
Review:

Earl Hurd left Paramount for Educational Pictures, and with this move his style changed from pure cartooning to a very inventive and entertaining blend of live action and animation, starring his own little son as a live action director directing the cartoon stars Bobby and Fido.

‘Fresh Fish’ is a perfect example. The opening title card is already promising, reading “Bobby Bumps Film co. Feetures & Comydies. No admitence. Aplie at Offis.” Inside, we watch Hurd jr. filming Bobby and Fido, who are on a fishing boat. First the cartoon concentrates on the cartoon gags, e.g. with Fido pitying the poor fish, before the fish tantalizes the poor dog. This sequence ends when a live action cat catches the fish and runs away with it.

But then Bobby accidentally stands on the water, a fact Hurd jr. has to point out to him. At this point Bobby falls into the water after all. The idea that gravity only works when one is aware it should work is of course a familiar cartoon trope, but this is the oldest instance of this gag type I know of.

After the fall, Bobby blames the poor scenery, which, indeed, hardly indicates the presence of water. Thus, the young director places the scenery in a tub. At first Bobby and Fido are very pleased with the added realism, but they almost drown in it.

This cartoon features quite some very effective special effects, making us easily believe the cartoon Bobby and Fido are in the same room as the cat and the director. Especially the water splashing when Bobby and Fido jump into the tub is very convincing. The result is no less than delightful, and ‘Fresh Fish’ should be regarded as one of the highlights from the silent cartoon era.

‘Fresh Fish’ is available on the Blu-Ray/DVD-combo ‘Cartoon Roots: Bobby Bumps and Fido’

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: Wallace Carlson
Release Date: January 9, 1919
Stars: Us Fellers
Rating: ★★★

Dud Leaves Home © Wallace CarlsonWallace Carlson (1894-1967) was a comic strip artist, who had a brief career as an animator from 1914 to 1921. Carlson joined the Bray studio in 1917, for which he created the ‘Us Fellers’ series. The series stars a boy character called Dreamy Dud, whom Carlson had conceived earlier.

Dud is a boy who breaks his bank (and unfortunately the one coin therein) to buy his girlfriend Mamie some ice cream. But instead he’s punished and sent to bed without supper. At night Dud sneaks out and first imagines how his mother gets filled with remorse, while he finds a treasure. But then the figments of his imagination turn into scary monsters, and he runs home, only to get spanked.

‘Dud Leaves Home’ is a well-told film, with great attention to the child’s world and imagination. The night scenes show some pretty background art. The animation, on the other hand, is rather stiff and robotic, especially when compared to Earl Hurd’s or Raoul Barré’s animation from the same era.

Carlson left animation in 1921 to concentrate on comic strips again, creating the highly successful comic strip series ‘The Nebbs’ in 1923.

Watch ‘Dud Leaves Home’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Dud Leaves Home’ is available on the DVD ‘Before Walt’

Director: Earl Hurd
Release Date: November 20, 1918
Stars: Bobby Bumps
Rating: ★★★★

Before and After © Earl HurdIn ‘Before and After’ Bobby Bumps tricks his father into buying a hair restoring lotion, with the help of his pooch Fido and two other dogs.

Bobby spends his father’s dollar on ice cream, but gets spanked in the end by father’s scalp massage machine.

This is a charming short cartoon, full of elegant designs and fine animation, even if it remains as stiff and repetitive as that of contemporary cartoons. But at least the poses look lifelike.

‘Before and After’ is available on the DVD ‘Before Walt’

Director: Lew Keller
Release Date: January 16, 1959
Stars: Ham and Hattie
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Picnics are Fun and Dino's Serenade © UPA

‘Picnics are Fun and Dino’s Serenade’ is the last of only four Ham and Hattie cartoons, and one of UPA’s last theatrical cartoons, overall (it was followed by only four Mr. Magoo cartoons).

‘Picnics are Fun’ is a particular highlight within the series. In this charming children’s song Mel Leven, with his ukelele, sings about the delight of picnicking. His song clearly is about picnic in the countryside, and features a pool, a waterfall, and wild flowers. But Lew Keller places Hattie on the roof top of a tall building, juxtaposing the song’s rural lyrics with surprisingly urban images. Especially when Leven sings about “the clean country air” the brown images become poignant indeed. At the same time this little film is an ode to children’s fantasy, which can change a roof top into a forest worth picnicking in.

‘Dino’s Serenade’ is less successful. The song is sung by Hal Peary, who had used mock-Japanese in ‘Saganaki’ and who uses mock-Italian in this song. ‘Dino’s Serenade’ is a song about love, and Lew Keller’s images are most original, as Dino provides the complete setting for the song himself: not only his violin, but also the Italian restaurant, and the girl, who long looks like a lifeless doll. Unfortunately, a rival uses Dino’s serenade to woo the girl, leaving Dino empty-handed, yet the song ends on an upbeat note: “It’s a good day to make love”.

Like all ‘Ham and Hattie’ cartoon, ‘Picnics are Fun and Dino’s Serenade’ is a delight to watch: the designs are beautiful, and the characters are appealing, even in their extremely limited animation. It’s a pity no more were made.

Watch ‘Picnics are Fun and Dino’s Serenade’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Picnics are Fun and Dino’s Serenade’ is available on the DVD box set ‘UPA – The Jolly Frolics Collection’

Director: Lew Keller
Release Date: February 27, 1958
Stars: Ham and Hattie
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Sailing and Village Band © UPA‘Sailing and Village Band’ is the second of four ‘Ham and Hattie’ cartoons, virtual video clips to two songs each.

‘Sailing’ is a very nice children’s song by Mel Leven on his ukelele. In this song he sing about sailing, and his lyrics are accompanied by images of little girl Hattie with a toy sail boat in a fountain in a park. This song is more narrative than ‘Trees’ was, and when Mel Leven sing about a sea monster, Hattie’s toy boat encounters a frog in the pool.

For the second song, ‘Village Band’ Ham changes himself into blue dog Roscoe, a tuba player in a very undignified village band in small, but very dignified village. Unlike any other Ham and Hattie episode this is actually a story, using a narrator. This is a typical UPA story of misfits and outcasts getting respect from their environment. Nevertheless, there’s an unwelcome sense of conformism present, for the beatnik-like band gets ‘dignified’ by wearing official costumes, emblem of their incorporation into the system…

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

‘Sailing and Village Band’ is available on the DVD box set ‘UPA – The Jolly Frolics Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 7, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Wimmen is a Myskery © Max Fleischer‘Wimmen Is a Myskery’ opens with Popeye proposing to Olive.

Olive tells our favorite sailor that she’ll answer him next morning. That night Olive dreams of her married life. Popeye is nowhere to be seen, but she sure has a hard time with their children: Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye, who after taking spinach give her a good spanking.

‘Wimmen Is a Myskery’ is one of those cartoons in which cartoon characters dream of marriage, with unfavorable results. In this respect, Olive follows Mickey Mouse in ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932), and Porky Pig in ‘Porky’s Romance‘ (1937). Like Mickey Olive’s main fear is numerous disobedient children, and indeed, Popeye’s offspring have none of his gentle character. No wonder Olive turns Popeye down in the morning….

Nevertheless, Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye would materialize in the real world as Popeye’s nephews in ‘Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye an’ Peep-eye’ (1942), just like the little mice from ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ had done in ‘Giantland‘ (1933). Obviously, Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye have more in common with Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, introduced in ‘Donald’s Nephews‘ (1938), and no doubt are inspired by them.

Watch ‘Wimmen Is a Myskery’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 81
To the previous Popeye film: Onion Pacific
To the next Popeye film: Nurse-Mates

‘Wimmen is a Myskery’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 August 13, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Nightmare © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ is not a spooky horror cartoon like ‘The Haunted House‘ or ‘The Gorilla Mystery‘. No, it’s more of a bachelor’s nightmare…

The short’s plot harks back all the way to ‘Poor Papa’ (1928), the pilot film for the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series, Mickey’s predecessor. In ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ Mickey dreams he finally marries Minnie, and is soon visited by a stork delivering a baby, and another, and another… Until the storks deliver tons of little kids. When he is awake he’s very happy to be still a bachelor.

‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ introduces the little orphan mice, who would replace the little kittens of ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (1931) and ‘Mickey’s Revue’ (1932) as a cause of complete destruction. In Mickey’s dream they ruin the house, especially with paint. In order to show Mickey’s horror scenario, the short uses some excellent and complex use of animation cycles featuring lots and lots of little kids.

It’s interesting that the orphan mice first were introduced as Mickey’s children, and only in dream form. In their next cartoon, ‘Giantland‘ (1933), they suddenly materialized into the real world. The orphan mice would stay around until 1936, starring five more cartoons, before returning one final time in ‘Pluto’s Party‘ from 1952.

The little brats also appeared in the Sunday Pages of Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comic, starting on September 18. In Gottfredson’s comics the mice are reduced to two, but no less disastrous. They are introduced as Mrs. Fieldmouse’s children and are apparently Mickey’s nephews. These two would eventually be christened Morty and Ferdie, and reenter the movie screen once in ‘Mickey’s Steamroller‘ (1934).

‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ spawned at least two similar cartoons: first the Warner Bros. cartoon ‘Porky’s Romance‘ (1937), and second, the Donald Duck short ‘Donald’s Diary‘ from 1954.

Watch ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 44
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey in Arabia
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Trader Mickey

‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Release Date: April 16, 1988
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

My Neighbor Totoro © Ghibli StudioSet in the early post-war period, ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ is the sister film to ‘Grave of the Fireflies‘, released on the same date as a double bill.

The film is a way more lighthearted affair than ‘Grave of the Fireflies’, however. With ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ Miyazaki definitely entered the children’s world, which he had already explored a little in ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky‘ (1986). But where the latter film firmly puts the children into an adult world, in ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ Miyazaki explores the children’s world itself.

The film focuses on two little girls: ca. eight year old Satsuki and her sister, four year old Mei. They move with their father to an old ramshackle house in the countryside to be near the hospital where their ill mother is staying. In a giant camphor tree next to this new home Mei and Satsuki meet the Totoros, three forest spirits: a tiny one, a small one and a huge one. When Mei gets lost, the giant Totoro and a cat bus help Satsuki to find her.

‘My Neighbor Totoro’ is a delightful film for children and their parents. There’s no conflict or villain whatsoever, and even when there seems to be drama, when the two children think their mother may be dying, there’s really little to worry about. But like in ‘E.T.’ (1982) we share the children’s point of view, in which there really is a problem. ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ draws us convincingly and irresistibly into this magical world of children. The film knows no dull moments, and is full of wonderful scenes, the best being Satsuki, Mei and the giant Totoro waiting for the bus in the pouring rain. Its strong focus and perfect execution makes ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ arguably the best of all Studio Ghibli films.

At any rate ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ is a gem even among Miyazaki’s films, which are of a constant high quality throughout. He must have felt so himself, for it’s the large Totoro which gave the Ghibli Studio their studio icon.

Watch the trailer for ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Isao Takahata
Release Date: April 16, 1988
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Grave of the Fireflies © Studio GhibliBased on the semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is a strong, emotional and immensely sad film. It kicks in right away, when we hear Seita say “September 12, 1945. That was the night I died”.

What follows is Seita’s story: this boy, about fourteen, first loses his mother in the fire raid of Kobe, which destroys the wooden town completely. Then he and his little sister Setsuko try to live at their aunt’s place, but the initially kind woman grows increasingly hostile to them. So Seita decides to find his own living space for him and his sister in an abandoned shelter, first trying to get food by buying it, then by stealing. Unfortunately, Setsuko sickens from malnutrition, and while he finally has a real meal for her, she dies. Seita manages to build her funeral, but although not shown, the film suggests Setsuko’s death has broken his will, leading to his own death as depicted in the first scene.

The rather straightforward story is told with several flashbacks and flash-forwards and with a unique focus on details of everyday life, which really makes the two children come to life. The realism of ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is unprecedented, the animation of Setsuko in particular being very lifelike, despite a less fluent animation technique. Never before has such a realistic and endearing child entered the animated screen.

The film’s subject matter, which confronts the Japanese viewer with the lowest point in their recent history, is daring and so is its execution, with its concise focus on human suffering, instead of heroism or action. The film makes the viewer really feel the impact of war on innocent civilians: the agony of shortages, hunger and despair, while the rest of the war remains at the background.  Takahata focuses on Seita’s love for his little sister, and his struggle to shield her from the effects of war. Seita is a sympathetic character, but not without flaws. His struggle to survive and to nurture his sister is heroic, but his decision to leave his aunt is also iinduced by pride, and it’s partly his own stubbornness that prevents him from reconciling with his aunt, which may have prevented Setsuko’s death. It’s hard to blame him, though, for he’s a child himself, after all.

‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is one of the most serious animation features ever made, dealing with war and death. It’s also very sad, bringing tears to the eyes of almost every viewer. Like ‘Animal Farm‘ (1954), ‘Le planète sauvage‘ (1973) or ‘Watership Down’ (1978), ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is one of the few truly serious animation features, expanding the medium’s subject matter, and it’s a cinematic masterpiece by any standard.

‘Grave of the Fireflies’ was released as a double bill with ‘My Neighbour Totoro‘, which is equally classic, but very different in tone, indeed.

Watch the trailer for ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Vladimir Pekar
Release Date: 1971
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Adventures of the Young PioneersIt seems that in the early 1970s Soviet Propaganda took a rather retrograde course, being more overtly propagandistic and using images that went all the way back to the 1920s.

Films with a peaceful message, like ‘Proud Little Ship‘ (1966) or ‘We Can Do It‘ (1970) were interchanged for self-important glorifications of the Soviet Union, and its ‘heroic’ history. This period produced some of the most terrible propaganda films ever made. ‘The Adventures of the Young Pioneers’ is a prime example.

The film plays during World War Two, Russia’s Great War. When their village is occupied by some goofy Nazi Germans, three communist children decide to withstand their occupants. They are betrayed by a collaborator, however, and captured when raising a red flag. Luckily, they are saved by the red army.

This children’s film uses ugly designs and very old-fashioned looking caricatures of Nazis, while the children and especially the red army are drawn quite heroically. The result is as unappealing and unfunny as it is sickeningly propagandistic.

Watch ‘The Adventures of the Young Pioneers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.fandor.com/films/the_adventures_of_the_young_pioneers

‘The Adventures of the Young Pioneers’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: May 1, 1924
Stars: Virginia Davis (Alice)
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Still from 'Alice's wild west show' featuring Virginia Davis blowing smoke ringsAlice organizes a wild west show for the kids in the neighborhood.

All goes well until the bully Tubby O’Brien and his gang show up. Her fellow actors chicken out, so Alice has to improvise some stories about her experiences in the ‘wild and woolly west’. Enter the cartoon sequence.

In her first story she defeats some Indians. In the second one she’s a sheriff in a saloon, smoking a cigar and attending a bad performance of ‘Sweet Adeline’. Meanwhile, the villain, “Wild Bill Hiccup” tries to steal the safe. He and Alice end up in a gunfight in which every other person in the saloon gets killed. She chases the villain by car, returning the safe in the end.

The gang of bullies is not impressed and they pelt her with vegetables. But Alice chases them all out of her humble theater, beating up Tubby O’Brien herself. The cartoon ends with her triumphant smile.

The live action footage, with the instantly lovable Virginia Davis as Alice and a bunch of local children, is highly entertaining. None of the animation, by Ham Hamilton and Walt Disney himself, is particularly interesting, however. Indeed, two months later, Disney would quit animating himself, leaving that to his more skilled employees, like Ub Iwerks.

Watch ‘Alice’s Wild West Show’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Alice’s Wild West Show’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 17, 1936
Rating:

Review:

Somewhere in Dreamland © Max FleischerMax Fleischer’s first full color cartoon is in the same vein as Disney’s ‘Lullaby Land‘ (1933) and Walter Lantz’s ‘Candy Land’ (1934), depicting little children’s wonderful dreams.

‘Somewhere in Dreamland’ deals with two very poor children who dream that they are in dreamland which is full of candy and toys. Fleischer’s 3D-technique is used with stunning results, and the cartoon must have struck a chord with the audience during the Great Depression era, in which poverty was an all too familiar thing. Indeed, as children the Fleischer Brothers themselves had known hunger like depicted in the film, when their father ran out of business. Unfortunately, the cartoon is remarkably unfunny and sickeningly sweet, following similar sugary outings in Disney’s Silly Symphonies series, like ‘Funny Little Bunnies‘ (1934) and ‘The Robber Kitten‘ (1935).

Unlike those films, however, ‘Somewhere in Dreamland’ suffers from primitive designs. The children’s mother looks like a relative of Olive Oyl, while the little children are drawn in typical thirties kids style resembling Hänsel and Gretel from Disney’s ‘Babes in the Woods‘ from four years earlier. The result is that none of the characters seem to fit within the elaborate 3D-sets.

Watch ‘Somewhere in Dreamland’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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