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Director: Paul Grimault
Release Date: 1947
Rating:  ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Le petit soldat © Paul GrimaultOne of the most poetic animation films ever made, ‘le petit soldat’ is a very inspired re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale of the steadfast tin soldier.

In this version, written by poet Jacques Prévert and undoubtedly inspired by the recent experiences of World War II, the soldier is actually an acrobat doll who gets drafted by a humming-top into an unexplained war.

In his absence, Jack-in-the-box tries to seduce his love, a ballerina doll. And when our little soldier finally returns from the battlefield, injured, Jack tries to kill him by taking his heart-shaped winding key away and by trying to drown him into an icy river. Fortunately, in a dramatic climax, the ballerina saves her love from drowning, while the villain gets stuck in a gin-trap.

‘Le petit soldat’ is entirely told in pantomime and a great improvement upon ‘La flûte magique‘, Grimault’s film from the previous year: its storytelling is better, its settings more dramatic, its characterization more convincing, and its animation more sophisticated. Indeed, this beautiful short about triumphant love arguably is Grimault’s masterpiece, even topping his beautiful, but uneven feature film ‘Le roi et l’oiseau’ (1952/1980), which is also based on a Jacques Prévert story.

Watch ‘Le petit soldat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le petit soldat’ is available on the DVD ‘Le roi et l’oiseau’

Director: Ruth Lingford
Release Date: 1997
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Death and the Mother © Ruth LingfordWhen death takes away her child, a mother gives up everything to get her back.

‘Death and the Mother’ is Ruth Lingford’s re-telling of a classic fairy-tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s an animation masterpiece: its strong and gritty animation, the beautiful string quartet music by Nigel Broadbent, the subtle sound effects –  all add up to a very strong, dark and emotional film. Lingford makes clever use of the computer to create a very graphic film that looks like an animated woodcut. In an age in which computer animation almost equals 3D animation, this is a refreshing technique, with a stark impact and an imagery unparalleled in the animation field.

Moreover, Lingford captures Andersen’s tale of grief, love and sacrifice very well, without trying to update it. Just by staying true to the essence of the original story she has made a timeless classic. Her wordless film is as universal as it can get, and capable of communicating to audiences worldwide. It’s a welcome antidote to the Disney fairy tale retellings, which get more and more watered down, and which lose a lot of the originals’ charm with it.

Watch ‘Death and the mother’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Death and the Mother’ is available on the DVD inside the book ‘Animation Now!’

Director: Jiří Trnka
Release Date: April 15, 1949
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Emperor's Nightingale © Jiri Trnka‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’ is Jiří Trnka’s second feature film (he made no less than six in total).

It tells the familiar story by Hans Christian Andersen from an original perspective: he frames the fairy tale by a live-action story about a lonely rich boy, who lives in a restricted environment. When the boy goes to bed, he dreams the fairy-tale, which stars some of his toys. Thus, after more than seven minutes, the animation kicks in.

In the boy’s dream, the Chinese emperor is a lonely little rich boy, restricted by rules, too, and the whole film seems a plea for freedom and against rules and restrictions, quite some message in communist Czechoslovakia. This theme is enhanced by the English narration, wonderfully voiced by Boris Karloff, which is a welcome addition to Trnka’s silent comedy. The whole film breathes a kind of surrealistic atmosphere and Trnka’s use of camera angles is astonishing, as is his sometimes very avant-garde montage.

Nevertheless, the pacing of the film is slow, its humor sparse and only mildly amusing, and the puppet animation still too stiff to allow elaborate character animation. Therefore, the film hasn’t aged very well, and although a tour-de- force, ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’ falls short as a timeless masterpiece.

Watch ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Jack Cutting
Release Date: April 7, 1939
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Ugly Duckling 1939 © Walt DisneyThe remake of ‘The Ugly Duckling‘ (1931) is the last of the Silly Symphonies and, like the very first (The Skeleton Dance, 1929) one of the best.

Following Hans Christian Andersen’s tale much closer than the original ‘Ugly Duckling’, the 1939 version reaches the apex in animated storytelling. One can even watch it silent and understand the cartoon perfectly, and even more significant, remain emotionally involved, as well.

The Duckling is an instantly likeable character whose emotions are totally convincing and moving. Even the colors of the backgrounds add to the drama, changing from bright greens to blues when the Duckling is expelled. The 1931 version was a milestone in its time, yet it looks crude and primitive today. This 1939 version of The Ugly Duckling, however, is an all time animation masterpiece, and it will doubtless never date.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 75 (the last in the series)
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Practical Pig

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