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Directors: Herbert M. Dawley & Willis O’Brien
Release Date: November 17, 1918
Rating: ★★★

The Ghost of Slumber Mountain © Willis O'BrienThis film was produced, acted and animated by Herbert M. Dawley and Willis O’Brien.

Dawley plays ‘Uncle Jack Holmes’, who tells two boys a story about how he camped out on slumber mountain and meets the ghost of Mad Dick there (played by O’Brien). The ghost tells Holmes to watch through a magic instrument, and the uncle suddenly sees prehistoric animals in the distance.

At this point the film is nine minutes away, and by O’Brien’s skillful animation we watch a Brontosaurus wandering, a Diatryma (a giant flightless bird, now Gastornis) catching a snake, two Triceratopses fighting, and a Tyrannosaurus killing one of the Triceratopses.

Especially the animation on the first Triceratops is well done, O’Brien even shows the creature breathing. Another nice detail is that of the Tyrannosaurus licking its lips. Most importantly, O’Brien doesn’t show the prehistoric creatures not as monsters but as convincingly living creatures. No wonder this master animation was asked to do the dinosaur animation for ‘The Lost World’ (1925), and for all kinds of creatures in ‘King Kong‘ (1933).

It’s a pity the film is rather lackluster (in the end it all appears to be a dream, and even the boys don’t really buy that trite ending), for the animation is certainly worth watching once.

Watch ‘The Ghost of Slumber Mountain’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Ghost of Slumber Mountain’ is available on the Blu-Ray of ‘The Lost World’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: September 30, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Flintstone Flyer © Hanna-Barbera‘The Flintstone Flyer’ was the very first Flintstone episode aired on television. The story was one of two already conceived before the series went to production and used to sell the series (the other one was ‘The Swimming Pool‘).

The episode establishes many aspects of the series: the setting may be in the stone age, this is a rather poor excuse for a suburban situation comedy depicting very a very standard family from mid-20th century indeed, complete with modern inventions like cars, telephone and television (how the latter two work is never revealed). This is little wonder, as the series was modeled after ‘The Honeymooners’ (aired 1955-1956), which features remarkably similar characters (for example, they love bowling, too).

Hanna and Barbera’s stone age is one of pure fantasy, and features dinosaurs coexisting with humans, despite the fact that dinosaurs had died out 65 million years before the dawn of man. In that respect ‘The Flintstones’ stand in a long tradition: dinosaurs co-existing with man could be seen in e.g. Willis O’Brien’s short ‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ (1916), in the Alley Oop comics (starting in 1932), in ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur‘ (1939), in ‘Prehistoric Porky’ (1940), and Fleischer’s Stone Age cartoons from 1940.

The Flinstones tells about Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. The two are neighbors in some suburban area of ‘Bedrock’ (population 2500). They both love bowling, and are willing to lie to their wives (Wilma and Betty, respectively) to go out to play their favorite game. When bowling, Fred has a particular walk on his toes, and when excited he shouts ‘Yabba-dabba doo!’.

In this particular episode, the guys want to go bowling, while they have to go to the opera with their wives. So, Fred pretends to be ill and then the two literally fly off to the bowling alley, using a flying machine Barney has invented before. The opera itself is a typical mismatch of Wagnerian costume and bel canto singing, a trope frequently encountered in cartoons.

The complete cartoon moves at a steady pace, and by 2018 one can only conclude that the humor is rather dated. One cannot resist the thought what poor marriages these must be that one cannot be honest to each other. This sets the tone of many episodes to come: by now they only seem to demonstrate the inequality between men and women at the time.

Moreover, little to nothing is done with the stone age concept: we watch monkeys grabbing the pins, and a soda machine that’s operated by a man, but that’s about it.

No, despite Warner Bros. veterans Warren Foster and Michael Maltese working on the stories, the classic status of this very first animated series to be aired on prime time must come from its appealing designs by Ed Benedict (who had designed cavemen before, for Tex Avery’s ‘The First Bad Man’ from 1955), clever layouts by Dick Bickenbach and Walt Clinton, and great background artwork (e.g. featuring olive skies) by Art Lozzi, Fernando Montealegre, Robert Gentle and Dick Thomas. Even the limited animation (by the likes of top-animators Ken Muse, Carlo Vinci, Ed Love, Don Patterson and Dick Lundy) remains quite interesting throughout, even if the designs are rather off at times.

Watch an excerpt from ‘The Flintstone Flyer’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the first Flintstones Episode. To the demo episode: The Flagstones
To the next Flintstones episode: Hot Lips Hannigan

‘The Flintstone Flyer’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: October 12, 1940
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Prehistoric Porky © Warner Bros.In ‘Prehistoric Porky’ Porky Pig follows the footsteps of Daffy Duck, who had started a prehistoric cartoon in ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur‘.

Set rather extravagantly ‘one billion, trillion years b.c. (a long time ago)’ the short opens beautifully with several moving silhouettes of dinosaurs. Soon we cut to caveman Porky, who has a pet Brontosaur (erroneously with visible ears) called ‘Rover’. Porky reads in ‘Expire – the magazine for cavemen’, and discovers that his own bearskin is outdated. So he goes out to hunt for one. Unfortunately, he encounters a vicious sabertooth tiger…

Like almost all films set in the prehistory, ‘Prehistoric Porky’ cheerfully mixes all kinds of prehistoric periods together. Unfortunately, the short is rather low on gags, and has a trite ending. Moreover, most dinosaurs look like fantasy dragons, instead of the real thing. Yet, the sabertooth tiger is well animated, and it’s interesting to see Porky in a quasi-urban caveman setting, making the cartoon one of the forerunners of ‘The Flintstones’.

Watch a colorized version of ‘Prehistoric Porky’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 78
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Calling Dr. Porky
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: The Sour Puss

‘Prehistoric Porky’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

 

Directors: Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack
Release Date:
 March 2, 1933
Stars: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, King Kong
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

King Kong © Universal‘King Kong’ is, of course, a live action movie, but I follow Andrew Osmond in including the film in the animation canon, as it is the first live action movie to feature an animated star – indeed Kong gets star billing in the opening credits, after the live action actors. The feature is also arguably the first live action movie in which animation is used not incidentally, but extensively, to the point of dominating several scenes.

‘King Kong’ is the father of all monster movies, and much of animator Willis O’Brien’s animation can be regarded as spectacular special effects, but in his portrayal of Kong himself O’Brien has put a surprisingly amount of character. Especially Kong’s death scene is astonishing. There’s real tragedy and sadness in Kong’s eyes and in his last caresses of Ann Darrow (Fay Wray, the first of all scream queens). This is no mere feat, as character animation was still unheard of at the time – even Walt Disney was not that far – and it would take stop motion artists several years to reach a similar sense of emotional depth.

Most of the film, however, is not as much about emotion as well as thrills. The film’s main focus is to thrill the audience, and as soon as Ann Darrow is kidnapped by the natives of Skull Island, it does so relentlessly. The complete island is one big threat to the hapless crew that tries to regain Ann from the giant ape. But also to Ann and Kong themselves, for Kong has to rescue his human love interest no less than three times: from a large Tyrannosaurus rex, from a Plesiosaurus, which moves remarkably comfortably on land like a snake, and from a Pteranodon. This results in three fights, in which O’Brien can show off his skills. Especially the first fight is magnificent. It’s surprisingly lengthy, and it has a real sense of effort, with both forceful animals fighting for their lives. O’Brien also animates a surprisingly lifelike Stegosaurus, and a sauropod that strangely enough has gone carnivorous. And, of course, the girl, some other people, and the planes, at times, when in interaction with Kong.

Obviously not all the 1933 special effects have stood the test of time, but the trick photography is surprisingly good, and at times live action and animation blend into each other seamlessly. Some scenes are no less than astounding in this respect, even after all these years: a good example is a scene depicting Kong handling a tree trunk on which several crew members are clung. One really does believe the animated figure handles the tree trunk, which is filmed in live action. O’Brien has managed to bring a great sense of weight into Kong’s actions.

Another wonderful example of great blending of animation and live action is Kong peeling off Ann Darrow’s dress. This scene is a little erotic, and deepens Kong’s simple and playful character. Of course, O’Brien was not solely responsible for Kong’s portrayal. At times we see close-ups of Kong’s face, which is a giant non-animated model, and some scenes feature a large, mechanical hand. Nevertheless, most of Kong’s appeal is due to O’Brien’s animation. And the big ape has appeal! Indeed, the film is so iconic that Kong is still pretty famous today.

Unfortunately, not all aspects of the movie have aged well. For example, the natives, all portrayed by black people, are pretty backward, and even worse is Charlie, the Chinese cook, who is as cliche as possible, and who even cannot talk right. But the film succeeds in being a real thrill ride, and Fay Wray manages to squeeze more feelings in her one-dimensional role than one would expect. The other actors are less interesting, and pale when compared to O’Brien’s classic creation.

The film’s last 18 minutes take place in New York, and these scenes really make the film into the ancestor of all monster movies, with Kong wandering the streets, causing havoc, and crushing a subway car. However, Kong’s final scene on top of the Empire State Building changes the monster into an utterly tragic figure. Even Mark Steiner’s score, which follows the action closely, adds to the feeling, turning into sadder themes when Kong nears his end. The sole scene elevates the film above most of its successors. And it’s this particular scene, in which Kong battles the aeroplanes on top of the Empire State Building, that provides the movie’s most iconic picture.

Watch an excerpt from ‘King Kong’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

 

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: January 8?, 1983
Rating: ★
Review:

Ches les dinosaures © Procidis‘Chez les dinosaures’ is the last of three vaguely educational episodes. It’s also one of the weakest episodes in the series.

Pierrot, Psi and Metro now visit a planet inhabited by dinosaurs from the Jurassic period. Its educational value, however, is doubtful: Barillé’s theories on the end of the dinosaurs are no less than ridiculous, and the dinosaurs are designed and animated terribly.

Furthermore, one grows tired of all these earth-like planets, populated by the same creatures that have roamed the earth, too (such planets occur also in ‘La Planète verte‘, ‘Les Cro-Magnons‘, ‘La planète Mytho‘, ‘Les géants‘ and ‘Les Incas‘). As if everywhere in space the same history occurs over and over again.

Luckily, this was the last so-called ‘educational’ episode. With the next episode, Barillé would go back to the main story without leaving it again. Indeed, even ‘Chez les dinosaures’ contributes to it, as Pierrot gets injured during this episode, leaving Psi on her own in the next one, with dramatic results…

Watch ‘Chez les dinosaures’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 14th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 13th episode: Les Incas (The Incas)
To the 15th episode: Les anneaux de Saturne (The Rings of Saturn)

Director: Winsor McCay
Production Date: ca. 1918-1921
Stars: Gertie the Dinosaur
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Still from 'Gertie on Tour' featuring Gertie the dinosaur and a streetcar

‘Gertie on Tour’ is but a short fragment from an unfinished and unreleased film featuring the prehistoric star from ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ (1914).

In this excerpt Gertie lives in the modern world: she plays with a frog and with a streetcar, then she dreams she’s back in the Mesozoic, dancing for her dinosaur friends.

‘Gertie On Tour’, like almost all sequels, cannot compare to the first film. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see slightly more footage of this sympathetic brontosaur. The dancing scene in particular catches her playful spirit. Like ‘The Centaurs‘, this short contains very beautiful and elaborate backgrounds, which, undoubtedly thanks to the invention of the cell, are a great improvement over the backgrounds in ‘Gertie The Dinosaur’, which had to be retraced over and over again for each single frame.

Watch ‘Gertie on Tour’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Winsor McCay’s sixth film
To Winsor McCay’s fifth, unfinished film: The Centaurs
To Winsor McCay’s seventh, unfinished film: Flip’s Circus

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