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Director: Alexandre Alexeieff
Release Date: 1933
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Une nuit sur le mont chauve © Alexandre AlexeieffPredating Disney’s film to the same classical piece by seven years, this ‘video clip’ to the music of ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ by Modest Mussorgsky is an impressive mood piece.

The Russian-French artist Alexeieff animated ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ on a so-called pinscreen, a device he invented himself , and which consists of a screen with numerous pins, which can be pushed further in or out, to produce a shadowy image together. This technique is highly original, and the images produced are totally unique.The film’s imagery has more in common with surreal paintings from the era than with any other animation film from the 1930s. ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ was Alexeieff’s first film on the pinscreen. Together with his wife Claire Parker he would animate five more, of which ‘The Nose’ (1963) is arguably the best.

The film does not tell a story, but shows us a string of expressionistic images of animal and human forms, floating through air, and morphing into disturbing creatures. The animation is sometimes excellent (with a human figure circling through the air as a particular standout), but at times primitive, too, and the film suffers a little from the crude montage. Both shortcomings are a direct result of the limitations of the pinscreen. However, Alexeieff’s vision overcomes the film’s drawbacks, and ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ is rightly considered an animation classic.

Watch ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ is available on the DVD ‘Alexeïeff – le cinéma épinglé’

Director: Boris Kossmehl
Release Date: 1993
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Not Without My Handbag © AardmanWhen she hasn’t paid her washing machine, a girl’s aunt has to go to hell.

However, she soon returns as a zombie to fetch her handbag. The devil tries to take her once again, this time disguised as the handbag.

Atypical for the Aardman studios, ‘Not Without My Handbag’ features puppet animation and hardly any clay animation. It’s a highly designed film, using stark colors, extreme camera angles and expressionistic decors. Its unique style is somewhat akin to that of Tim Burton, but is even more idiosyncratic. Despite its horror theme, the film is more lighthearted than the earlier Aardman films ‘Adam‘ (1991) or ‘Loves Me, Loves Me Not‘ (1992), because of its zany humor and matter-of-fact dialogue. For example, when her aunt returns as a zombie, the girl suddenly turns to camera and says proudly: “My auntie is a zombie from hell!”.

‘Not Without My Handbag’ is a modest masterpiece: it’s unpretentious, but it combines originality with virtuosity. The animation of the evil handbag is particularly good. Director-animator Boris Kossmehl later moved to 3D computer animation, performing character animation for Dreamworks’ ‘Antz’ and ‘Shrek’.

Watch ‘Not Without My Handbag’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Not Without My Handbag’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date:
 April 19, 1952
Stars:
 Bugs Bunny
Rating:
 ★★★★
Review:

Water, Water Everyhare © Warner BrothersSix years after ‘Hair-raising Hare’ (1946) Bugs Bunny faces the orange monster in sneakers again.

‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is a horror cartoon featuring almost everything a horror movie should have: an evil scientist, a monster, a mummy and a robot. This story is rather awkwardly framed, however, by a story about the river flooding Bugs’s home and transporting him to and from the castle. Facing the monster Bugs repeats his manicure-tric from the earlier film, although this time he pretends to be a hair dresser. He also makes himself invisible and he makes the monster shrink.

If not as funny as ‘Hair-raising Hare’, ‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is full of clever gags. It moves at a relatively relaxed pace, which only a very confident film maker could use with such effect. In that respect, ‘Water, Water Evey Hare’ shows the mastery director Chuck Jones had achieved. He needn’t be fast and furious to be funny and he knew it.

Watch ‘Water, Water Every Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/7621186/water_water_every_hare_1952/

‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 90
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Foxy Proxy
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hasty Hare

Director: Fernando Cortizo
Release Date: October 31, 2012
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

O Apostolo2012 was a good year for stop motion animation fans: no less than four stop motion features were released that year. In March we had Aardman’s ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!’, followed by Laika’s ‘ParaNorman’ in August and Disney’s ‘Frankenweenie’ in September. Least known among these was the last release, from October: ‘O Apóstolo’ from Spain.

Somehow, stop motion feature film makers seem to favor horror-inspired plots, and ‘O Apóstolo’ is no exception. However, unlike ‘ParaNorman’ or ‘Frankenweenie’, ‘O Apóstolo’ is not a lighthearted family film. Instead, it’s a dark gothic thriller, and it succeeds surprisingly well in maintaining a high level of suspense throughout most of the picture.

Both the film’s theme and setting are typical Spanish: the film is drenched in a catholic atmosphere, and it’s set in a remote village on the road to Santiago de Compostela, famous for its numerous pilgrims. We follow the thief Ramon, who has escaped from prison to turn to this village to collect a treasure his cell mate has hidden there.

We soon discover that there is something terribly wrong with the little village. Its inhabitants seem to lure innocent pilgrims, and try to keep them there. It remains long unknown why, keeping the suspense at a high level. And even when the obligatory explanation of the events comes, the makers present it elegantly: the explanation, despite being long and quite absurd, is beautifully done in 2D animation with quasi-medieval designs, accompanied by a song.

Luckily, the film also has its lighter moments, mostly in a subplot, involving a particularly unsympathetic archbishop, who goes on his way to invest the loss of pilgrims. It’s soon clear that the film makers have plotted a punishment for this haughty, selfish character.

Apart from the gripping plot, ‘O Apóstolo’ excels in gorgeous production values. The little village and its sinister forest surroundings are conceived with stunning detail. They are as rich as any life action background, and contribute highly to the dark and creepy atmosphere. The puppets are designed less originally than the other features mentioned above, but retain a certain realism, which makes it possible to relate to them, especially with the main protagonist, Ramon the thief. The sole exception is the priest, whose appearance is too absurd and too sinister to blend in. It’s a pity, because his dominant presence casts a shadow on the more underplayed (and underdesigned) other village characters, whose threat is much more subtle, and therefore more disturbing.

In all, ‘O Apóstolo’ easily draws you in. It is without doubt one of the most original and best animated films of 2012. It definitely deserves to be more well-known.

Watch the official trailer of ‘O Apóstolo’ and tell me what you think:

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date:
 December 18, 1948
Stars:
 Porky Pig, Sylvester
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

Scaredy Cat © Warner BrothersChuck Jones was the only director to pair Porky Pig with Sylvester.

His Sylvester is very different from the one in Freleng’s Tweety cartoons. In Jones’s shorts he’s a cowardly cat that cannot speak. In all Porky-Sylvester cartoons Porky tries to stay asleep unaware of the real dangers around him. Sylvester, on the other hand, sees them all, but fails completely in convincing his master of the dangers.

The aptly titled ‘Sacredy Cat’ was the first of a series of three. In this cartoon Porky and his cat Sylvester enter their new mansion, which has genuine horror allure, scaring Sylvester to death. And for a good reason, because this mansion is inhabited by homocidal Hubie and Bertie-like mice who make several attempts to murder Sylvester and Porky.

Only when Porky discovers the mice, too, who lead him to a certain death, Sylvester rediscovers his courage and chases all the mice out of the house, except for the headsman mouse, who knocks the cat down, and reveals to be a caricature of comedian Lew Lehr (1895-1950), exclaiming a twist on the comedian’s catchphrase: “pussycats is the craziest people!”. An odd ending to a sometimes rather unsettling cartoon.

Porky and Sylvester would reunite six years later in an all too similar cartoon called ‘Claws for Alarm’ (1954), and again in ‘Jumpin’ Jupiter‘ (1955).

Watch ‘Scaredy Cat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Scaredy Cat’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 121
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Riff Raffy Daffy
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Awful Orphan

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: 
March 23, 1946
Stars:
 Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:
 ★★
Review:

Hare Remover © Warner BrothersIn ‘Hare Remover’ Elmer Fudd is an unlikely evil scientist developing a potion to change animals into monsters.

He tries it on a dog, but it only makes it eat grass. Because he has run out of test animals, he has to find a rabbit to try the potion on. Enter Bugs Bunny. What follows is a plot in which both characters think they’ve turned the other into a monster, which happens to be a totally confused bear.

‘Hare Remover’ was to be Frank Tashlin’s last Warner Brothers cartoon and the second of only two Bugs Bunny cartoons directed by him. Unfortunately, it’s not a grand finale.

Despite some great gags and a clever story, the director seems at loss with the two personalities. Elmer, who has a slightly altered design, having suddenly received buck-teeth, is awkward enough as a scientist. But watching Bugs being aghast that he really has made his foe into a monster, and trying to revive Elmer’s former self by making a chemical drink of his own, is just out of character.

In September 1944 Frank Tashlin would leave Warner Brothers, to direct puppet films for the Joan Sutherland studio. Then he left animation all together to work at feature films, first as a gag writer and screen writer, then as a director, in 1951.

Robert McKimson would succeed Frank Tashlin as a director. When Bob Clampett left Warner Brothers, too, in May 1945, the studio had entered a new era. The wild days were over.

Watch ‘Hare Remover’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 36
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon:  Baseball Bugs
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hair-Raising Hare

Director: David Hand
Release Date: January 21, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Mad Doctor © Walt Disney‘The Mad Doctor’ is Mickey’s third horror cartoon and easily his best (the other two are ‘The Haunted House’ from 1929 and ‘The Gorilla Mystery’ from 1930).

The plot is simple: it’s night, the weather is foul and Pluto is kidnapped by an evil scientist called Dr. XXX, who takes him into his laboratory, which is reminiscent of that of Frankenstein in James Whales’ film of the same name, 1931. Mickey follows Pluto’s tracks into a creepy castle, entering it in a scene which reuses some footage of ‘Egyptian Melodies‘ from 1931. Inside the castle he has to deal with several skeletons, including a ridiculous hybrid of a skeleton and a spider. Soon, he’s captured, too, and about to be killed by a chainsaw. Fortunately, it turns out to be all just a dream…

Besides the horror, this cartoon also features elaborate designs and loads of special effects. Especially beautiful is its shadowing on the characters. It also has a strong musical element, as the mad scientist sings all his lines. Some of the gags are quite surreal and reminiscent of the Fleischer style, like a lock locking itself or the scientist cutting off Pluto’s shadow. The cartoon also features a gag with many doors in one doorpost. This gag would be reused and improved by Tex Avery in ‘The Northwest Hounded Police’ from 1946.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 52
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Building a Building
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Pal Pluto

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 22, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★★
Review:

A gruesome gorilla has escaped. Mickey rings Minnie to warn her about it, but she’s not afraid and she plays Mickey a tune* through the telephone, until the gorilla enters and kidnaps her. Of course Mickey rushes to her house to save her.

This cartoon is interesting for the rather extensive dialogue in the beginning of the cartoon. By now the Disney animators had mastered lip-synch, and neither Mickey nor Minnie show any awkward faces anymore while talking.

Even more interesting is the cartoon’s quite elaborately drawn gorilla, which in several scenes is staged originally to show its huge size. The cartoon is a great improvement on Mickey’s earlier horror cartoon, ‘The Haunted House‘ (1929) and cleverly explores the possibilities of suspense by using some spectacular elements of horror: whispers, shadows, darkness and false alarms. It also contains a classic corridor-with-doors-scene, which may very well be the very first in its genre.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 22
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Chain Gang
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Picnic

* The tune is “All Alone”, a hit song from 1924, which of course still was copyrighted in 1930. The use of a copyrighted tune marks a change in Disney’s musical policy. Apparently by 1930 he could afford it to pay rights. Disney’s use of well-known pop tunes remained sporadical, however. And Disney soon turned to producing hit songs of his own, most notably ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ from ‘Three Little Pigs‘ (1933).

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: May 10, 1929
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Skeleton Dance © Walt Disney‘Skeleton Dance’ is the first of the Silly Symphonies and easily one of the best. It deservedly even ranks among the best cartoons of all time.

It starts spectacularly to begin with: we first watch lightning crack, immediately followed by an extreme close up of huge eyes, which only after the camera zooms out appear to belong to an owl.

The complete film is simple, yet perfect in its timing and its peculiar mix of eerie atmosphere and silly gags. The animation (which includes a remarkable quantity of repetition) is extraordinary fluent and the skeletons are convincing throughout the picture.

More than in any earlier cartoon the animation and music are a perfect match. This cartoon single-handedly puts Walt Disney, animator Ub Iwerks and composer Carl Stalling to the eternal hall of fame. A masterpiece.

‘The Skeleton Dance’ clearly shows Disney’s ambition. From now on Disney would use the Silly Symphony series to propel the art of animation forward, until the series ended 1939, after becoming a little obsolete, because their role had been taken over by the animated features.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 1
To the next Silly Symphony: El Terrible Toreador

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 19, 1931
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Egyptian Melodies © Walt Disney

In ‘Egyptian Melodies’ the little six-legged spider from ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop‘ (1930) returns to the animated screen.

The short is one of those early Silly Symphonies that offers quite a dull dance routine only (and no story). Nevertheless, the introduction of the cartoon is well worth watching: when we follow the spider down into the pyramid, we experience some astonishing 3D-effect animation, creating the feeling that the camera wanders with the spider through corridors and staircases.

This unique exercise in perspective would not be repeated in animation until labyrinth computer games were introduced in the 1980s. The Disney Studio itself must have been impressed by this stunning piece of animation, for it was reused two years later in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Mad Doctor‘ (1933).

Once inside the pyramid, the spider watches four mummies dance, and the drawings on the walls coming to life. These last scenes feature 2-dimensional characters, which can be seen as very early and primitive forerunners of the cartoon modern style of the 1950s. Unfortunately, these scenes are a little bit dull, but they do lead to a great finale. This is one of the earliest nightmare-sequences, in which the montage of images is diffuse and increasingly sped up, in order to suggest the feeling of getting insane. This predates similar sequences in films like ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face‘ (1943) by many years.

The idea for ‘Egyptian Melodies’ may have come from the Van Beuren cartoon ‘Gypped in Egypt‘ (1930), which also features dancing hieroglyphs, nightmarish scenes, and even a corridor scene. Notice that the classic horror film ‘The mummy’ (1932) hadn’t been released, yet, at the time.

This is Silly Symphony No. 21
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Cat’s Out
To the next Silly Symphony: The Clock Store

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