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Directors: Stephen J. Anderson & Don Hall
Release Date: April 15, 2011
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

In 1961 Walt Disney obtained the film rights to A.A. Milne’s famous books, and over the years made five short specials about the character (1966-1983), of which the second (Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, 1968) and third (Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, 1974) have become absolute classics. In 1977 the first three were stitched together into the feature film ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’, and its in this form they’re available on home media today.

Now, one can lament the fact that many children will know Winnie the Pooh better by its Disney version than by E.H. Shepard’s original irreplaceable illustrations, but within animation history these specials are highlights of inventive story-telling and wonderful character animation. A particular delight are the playful interactions of the characters with the pages of the book they appear in. Moreover, Disney retained the contrast between the naive stuffed animals and the pompous forest animals, Rabbit and Owl, who only think they’re wiser than their plush counterparts.

Unfortunately, following these classic specials, Disney took more and more liberties with the Pooh franchise, resulting in television series, direct to video movies, and even video games. Also, the three feature films made by the Disneytoon Studio division, ‘The Tigger Movie’ (2000), ‘Piglet’s Big Movie’ (2003) and ‘Pooh’s Heffalump Movie’ (2005) seemed to drift away more and more from the source material than either desired or necessary.

In this light one cannot but be weary before approaching the 2011 film, called ‘Winnie the Pooh’ in surprisingly plain fashion. However, the film deviates significantly from the trends set in the previous decade: first, it was made by the Walt Disney Animation Studios itself, being Disney’s last hand drawn animated feature to date, and the quality of animation simply is undeniable. Especially Andreas Deja’s animation of Tigger is fantastic. Moreover, there’s only a little computer animation, most notably the swarm of bees and some flowing honey. Second, the film returns to the original source material, mixing two original chapters together: ‘Eeyore loses a Tail’ from Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and ‘The Search for Small’ from ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ (1928).

The film is surprisingly concise, only lasting 51 minutes, and not dragging one second of it. On the contrary, I rank ‘Winnie the Pooh’ as one of the best told and most entertaining of all 2010s animation films. The film successfully revives the playful spirit of the original specials, greatly helped by using John Cleese as its narrator. There’s plenty of humor, mostly deeply rooted in the interplay between the contrasting characters. For example, at one point Owl boasts he has “achieved completion of [his] autobiographical treatise”, prompting Winnie the Pooh to reply “Oh. Was it painful?”. In another sequence there’s a great confusion when the words ‘not’ and ‘knot’ are mixed together.

Two of the original songs are reused, the ones introducing Winnie the Pooh himself, and Tigger’s song. Five original songs are added, penned by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. These are functional, pleasant and short enough to please even a musical aversion-bearer like me. Even better, the Backson song is accompanied by a wonderful fantasy sequence emulating the 1950s cartoon modern style. The ‘Everything is Honey’ song is illustrated with surreal images of honey pots in the forms of e.g. crabs, jellyfish and whales.

The voice cast, too, is excellent. As the voice of Pooh Jim Cummings does an excellent Sterling Holloway imitation, Bud Luckey sounds delightfully gloomy as Eeyore, while Craig Ferguson and Tom Kenny make their characters Owl and Rabbit perfectly pompous and self-important.

Even the end titles are a delight. First, the film’s adventures are retold using stills of the live action puppets in Christopher Robin’s room, then the rest of the titles are accompanied by several antics of the characters, much in the vein of the titles of ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003). And there’s a surprise at the very end of them, so keep watching!

In all, ‘Winnie the Pooh’ is a wonderful surprise, a true gem of a film, no doubt delighting children and adults alike. Unfortunately, it was to be the Disney studio’s last traditionally animated feature. It’s unbelievably sad that the high art of drawn animation was abandoned even by the studio that had elevated the technique to inconceivable heights in the first place. I surely hope Disney will return to this art form one day.

Airing Date: December 4, 1996

Dollhouse Drama

Director: Rob Renzetti
Stars: Dexter
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

‘Dee Dee’s absence in his lab makes Dexter worried, so he concludes his big sister must be up to something.

In order to find out Dee Dee’s supposedly evil scheme, he uses a shrink ray, shrinking himself, ignoring the possible side-effects of imagination running wild due to the shrinking. Dee Dee, who has been playing with dolls all along, makes great use of this side-effect.

‘Dollhouse Drama’ is one of the most inspired Dexter’s Laboratory episodes of all. The episode builds on earlier idea, presented in ‘Dee Dee’s Room‘: that of Dexter’s imagination running wild in Dee Dee’s room. The scenes in which Dexter stars in Dee Dee’s soap opera story are no less than fantastic, and form a faint echo of the drug-influenced Perky Pat plays in Philip K. Dick’s novel ‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’ (1965). I wonder whether this is pure coincidence or not.

The Justice Friends: Krunk’s Date

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: The Justice Friends
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The bridging episodes within Dexter’s Laboratory three-part episodes were always the weakest, and ‘The Justice Friends: Krunk’s Date’ is no exception.

In this episode of the Justice Friends the Infraggable Krunk falls in love with a member of the enemy team, called She-Thing. This episode drags on, and milks the idea of the Krunk falling in love, while the two teams are clobbering each other way too long. Highlight of this tiresome and disappointing episode is the villain, ‘Comrade Red’, who’s some kind of ridiculous Soviet superhero.

The Big Cheese

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

‘The Big Cheese’ is a great episode in which Dexter tries to learn French while sleeping. Unfortunately, the record player gets stuck on a single word: ‘omelette du fromage’…

‘The Big Cheese’ is one of the all time classsic episodes of Dexter’s Laboratory, and one that viewers still remember 25 years after viewing. The whole idea of Dexter being able to utter ‘omelette du fromage’ only is hilarious in itself, but the execution is even better, taking unexpected turns. Especially, the montage sequence is an absolute delight, as is the catastrophic punchline of the episode. But to me the best part are Dee Dee’s first two expressions when she realizes Dexter can only say ‘omelette du fromage’.

Note that one of Dexter’s records is ‘Steven Hawks Sings’, which clearly refers to Stephen Hawking.

‘Dollhouse Drama/The Justice Friends: Krunk’s Date/The Big Cheese’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director: Tim Burton
Release Date: October 1, 1982
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Vincent © Walt Disney‘Vincent’ a is short film, which director Tim Burton made while still working at Disney.

The short is as typical for Tim Burton as it is atypical for Disney. First, it’s a stop-motion film, something the studio was not famous for, at all. The only other stop-motion film ever released by the studio was ‘Noah’s Ark‘ from 1959. Second, the film is in black and white, and third, it has a genuine horror theme, miles away from the child friendly worlds of contemporary Disney films, like ‘The Fox and the Hound‘ (1981) or ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol‘ (1983).

The film uses the deep voice of classic horror star Vincent Price to tell the story of Vincent in rather Dr. Seuss-like rhyme. Vincent is a little seven year old boy, who wants to be like, well… Vincent Price. Because his mind has become twisted by reading stories by Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent imagines himself a madman haunted by his deceased wife, and locked in by a cursed house. In the end his imagination runs haywire, taking hold of him.

Burton does an excellent job mixing horror with silliness. The result is a rather twisted version of ‘Gerald McBoingBoing’ – equally weird, equally expressionistic, but much darker. In ‘Vincent’ you find much of the Tim Burton to come. It’s not hard to see the link between this wonderful short and ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ (1993),  ‘Corpse Bride‘ (2005) or with his live action films like ‘Beetlejuice’ (1988) or ‘Sleepy Hollow’ (1999).

Interestingly, in the same year, Vincent Price would also lend his voice to the Michael Jackson song ‘Thriller’.

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

Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1971
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Jabberwocky © Jan Svankmajer‘Jabberwocky’ has little to do with the poem from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through The Looking Glass’, although we hear it being recited by a little girl during the opening sequence.

The film it is Švankmajer’s surrealistic masterpiece on the loss of childhood, depicted by several episodes, which are separated by a box of bricks, a labyrinth and a black cat crushing the box of bricks.

During the episodes we are treated on extremely surrealistic images of very active inanimate objects in a child’s room. First we watch a boy’s suit growing a forest in his room, defying both time and authority (symbolized by the portrait in the room). Then we watch large cannibalistic dolls grinding, ironing and eating little dolls, a china baby in a cradle destroying two tin armies, a pocket knife performing acrobatic tricks until it makes an ill-fated fall and stabs itself, and finally, schoolbooks producing paper boats and planes, which fly out of the window, while the father’s portrait produces pictures of beautiful women.

This last episode shows the child’s changing interests. In the end the labyrinth is solved, the cat – the only living thing in the entire film – is caged, and the boy’s suit is replaced by an adult one. The boy is free from his parent, but the days of imagination are over, the fantasy is gone.

For this film Švankmajer makes excellent use of 19th century imagery (sailor suit, vintage dolls and toys) to create a completely unique world. It’s the film maker’s most typical film, partly expanding on ideas explored in ‘Historia Naturae, Suita‘ (1967), and showing his fascination with fantasy, cruelty and decay, which roam freely in the child’s self-contained room. The rather morbid behavior of the everyday objects is quite unsettling and it shows how a child’s fantasy can be both imaginative and cruel.

‘Jabberwocky’ is without doubt one of Švankmajer’s most powerful films. He would only top it eleven years later, with ‘Dimensions of a Dialogue‘ (1982). Švankmajer would explore the imagination of children further in the moving ‘Down to the Cellar‘ (1983), and in his unique adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s most famous work ‘Alice‘ (1987).

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

‘Jabberwocky’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 14, 1937
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Pudgy Picks A Fight' featuring Pudgy terrified by a cuckoo clockBetty has bought a fox. Pudgy, jealous of the lifeless animal, starts a fight, but after knocking his enemy down, he thinks he has killed it.

What follows is a great depiction of his feeble attempts to revive his foe, and then his genuine horror when he realizes he has killed the animal. His feeling of guilt turns his surroundings into a nightmare.

‘Pudgy picks a Fight’ is undoubtedly the most inspired of all Pudgy cartoons, the nightmare sequence being particularly imaginative. Its theme of guilt and imagination running away with it would be revisited by Disney in ‘Donald’s Crime’ (1945) with equally impressive results.

Watch ‘Pudgy Picks A Fight’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 63
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy Takes a Bow-Wow
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: The Impractical Joker

‘Pudgy Picks A Fight’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

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