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Directors: Charlie Kaufman & Dick Johnson
Release Date: September 4, 2015
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

A welcome new phenomenon of the 21th century was the arrival of live action directors turning to animation, and to stop motion, in particular. Wes Anderson was the first, directing the gritty ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ (2009), while maintaining his idiosyncratic style. Next was Gore Verbinski, with the peculiar ‘Rango’ (2011), and in 2015 Charlie Kaufman followed with ‘Anomalisa’, which fits very well in his oeuvre. ‘Anomalisa’ is extra welcome, because this is an adult film, not a family film, which normally appears to be the only type of animated films allowed in the U.S.

Main protagonist of this film is British customer service expert Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), who is invited to give a speech on customer service in Cincinati, Ohio. Michael seems to suffer from a disease, which could almost only dreamed up by Kaufman: to him all people look and sound the same, making it impossible to distinguish between them. All the people Michael encounters have the same plain face, and the same voice (provided by Tom Noonan). Children, women, men, film stars and even opera singers – they’re all utterly indistinguishable to him.

But then he hears a voice, different from all the others, and desperately tries to contact her. This voice belongs to one Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), a telephone sales employee from a food company based in Akron, Ohio. Lisa is homely and insecure, especially when accompanied by her much more beautiful friend Emily (we viewers cannot judge that, however, as we see Emily only through Michael’s eyes, which means she has the same bland face and voice as all other characters in the film). Lisa thinks she’s ugly and stupid, thus she’s utterly puzzled by Michael’s interest in her, and not very convinced, either. But Michael’s so glad he’s found someone different that he even dreams of leaving his wife and son, to spend the rest of his life Lisa, whom he calls Anomalisa, as she’s the only one different in a sea of sameness.

It’s important to note that Michael Stone is far from a sympathetic character: he’s self-absorbed, evidently hardly interested in other people, and clearly bored to death with his current life. Even though he has a wife and son at his home in California, he tries to have sex as soon as he has arrived in Cincinnati. So one could argue that his disease is only symbolic of his disinterest in others, but Kaufman does play it as a real disease. For example, when waiting for his old flame Bella, he only acknowledges her after she has recognized him.

Nevertheless, it’s clearly Michael’s own negative attitude which eventually spoils his idyll… Next morning Lisa quickly loses her special charm to him, fading into the sameness of others at a breathtaking speed. The scene in which this takes place, is the most horrifying of the entire movie, despite a nightmare scene preceding it. Especially because at this point our sympathy has long since shifted to Lisa, instead of Michael, who remains, in the end, a pedantic, egotistical prick.

Unfortunately, this great scene is followed by one in which Michael finally delivers his speech. This is a very unconvincing, disappointing scene, by all means. It’s not only rather superfluous, it also stretches the plausibility too much, and almost spoils the entire movie.

Apart from a short prelude in which Michael arrives by plane, a short scene at a “toy store”, and a short postlude, which takes place at his own home, the entire film is set in a very common and extremely bland hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Michael is invited to give a speech on customer service. The hotel setting and short time span (the whole film takes place in less than 24 hours) gives the movie a unity of time and space, rarely encountered in current films. Indeed, the hotel’s bland browns and beiges color the film, adding to its visual character. Incidentally, the hotel is called ‘Fregoli’, after a disorder called the Fregoli delusion, in which the patient thinks several people are, in fact, one and the same person. Note that this Fregoli delusion is markedly different from Michael’s disease – he perceives people as different beings, but cannot distinguish them from each other.

The claustrophobia of the film is greatly enhanced by the stop motion, which always provides a sense of surrealism. Indeed, stop motion is such a logical choice for such an outlandish concept that one almost cannot believe the film is based on a stage play.

The film makes use of very lifelike sets and puppets. Nevertheless the puppets have different proportions than real people (the heads, hands and feet being larger than in real life), and have clearly visible seams at the eyes and ears, as the puppets have replaceable mouth parts. These seams give the puppets a rather uncanny edge. Kaufman even plays with this concept. At one point, Michael seems to be able to cut his own facial part loose, and in a nightmare scene it just drops to the floor, exposing the inner workings of his puppet self.

The realism of the puppets thus is mostly achieved through animation. Indeed, the animation of the puppets, directed by Duke Johnson, is of an extraordinarily high level. Highlight of the film is the sex scene, which in all its awkwardness and clumsiness is one of the most real sex scenes ever put to film, despite being acted out by puppets. The animators used reference from real sex actors for this scene, which took several months to shoot, and the result is a stunning tour-de-force of stop motion.

In all, ‘Anomalisa’ is a unique stop motion film. It’s admittedly not without its flaws, but Kaufman can proudly add it to his oeuvre of weird tales, and the film certainly is a welcome departure from the family film tropes of standard American studio animation.

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

‘Anomalisa’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Kevin Lima
Release Date: April 7, 1995
Stars: Goofy, Max, Pete
Rating: ★★★
Review:

‘A Goofy Movie’ arguably is the least known of Disney’s theatrical movies from the studio’s Renaissance period. The film is not even in its official canon of animated features. Maybe because it was Disney’s first animated theatrical feature based on a television series, in this case ‘Goof Troop’, which run from September to December 1992.

Now I’ve never seen an episode of this television series myself, but I comprehend that it does resolve around Goofy being a single father of his son, Maximilian (in short Max), and being neighbor to Pete, who is a single father of a son, too, Pete Junior or P.J. in short. ‘A Goofy Movie’ uses exactly this premise, focusing on the relationship between Goofy and his son, with Max being the undisputed main character of the movie.

Now, Goofy’s family life has always been odd, being the classic Disney character that changed the most during his career. And indeed, he has been seen having a son in a few of his classical cartoons, starting with ‘Fathers are People’ from 1951, but by that time Goofy had transformed into everyman George J. Geef, and this son clearly isn’t Max, as he’s called George Geef jr. In both ‘Goof Troop’ and ‘A Goofy Movie’ Goofy once again is his clumsy self, so he has evolved once more. Pete, too, has had a son in earlier entries, most notably in ‘Bellboy Donald’ from 1942. In ‘A Goofy Movie’ he’s not really the villain of the old days of old, but still a disruptive voice, not taking Goofy for full, and giving him ill advice.

Voice artist Bill Farmer reprises his role as Goofy from ‘Goof Troop’ and is an excellent successor to Pinto Colvig. Max is voiced by Jason Marsden, a different voice than in ‘Goof Troop’, in which he was voiced by a woman (Dana Hill). But this is understandable as the events in ‘A Goofy Movie’ take place several years after the ones in ‘Goof Troop’. Max’s singing voice is provided by Aaron Lohr.

Added to the mix, and apparently not present in ‘Goof Troop’, is Max’s love interest Roxanne, and the film starts with Max’s last day at school, on which he tries to impress Roxanne, in which he succeeds, and he manages to ask her on a date to a party. Unfortunately, his father, realizing he might be losing grip on his son, has planned a trip for two to some fishing lake, and Max invents a totally unconvincing lie of why he has to cancel the date, involving both Max’s and Roxanne’s pop idol Powerline (who, voiced by Tevin Campbell, sounds a little like Michael Jackson).

As said, the father-son relationship between Goofy and Max is the focal point of the cartoon, and as such the film is surprisingly realistic and down to earth, with Max being ashamed of his old-fashioned, awkward and clumsy father, and Goofy uncomprehending of Max’s interests as an independent teenager. However, the two learn to know and to respect each other on a rather forced road trip through America. In this respect, one can see ‘A Goofy Movie’ as a forerunner of ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003), which explores a similar theme.

The road trip, which takes place on Route 66, and which takes the two Goofs all through America, forms the main part of the film, and it’s surprising to note that this piece of Americana was animated in studios in Paris, France and Sydney, Australia. Unfortunately, ‘A Goofy Movie’ defies all realism in several scenes, hampering the heartfelt story with outlandish scenes, like the two Goofs encountering Bigfoot, falling off a cliff with their car, and escaping a waterfall in an all too improbable and inconsistent series of events.

Moreover, for a film starring Goofy there’s surprisingly little humor – it’s all not that goofy. Yet, the team has managed to keep Goofy’s optimistic and naive character, while adding some depth to the former simpleton, mostly his struggle in being a father to Max. Indeed, the film is at its best when keeping focus on the relationship between Goofy and Max. This focal point remains interesting despite the deviations from reality.

As a film of the early nineties, ‘A Goofy Movie’ is an obligate musical, and the movie knows three nice if forgettable songs by Carter Burwell, sung by Max, with Goofy joining in in two of them. They at least succeed in not being obnoxious.

The animation is of a very high quality, with considerable attention detail. There are some nice touches, like Max’s reflection in a window, or colors turning blue when Goofy gets sad.

In all, ‘A Goofy Movie’ is a nice little movie with a surprisingly mature theme. The film may not be a masterpiece, it’s of enough quality to be worth a watch.

Watch the trailer for ‘A Goofy Movie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Goofy Movie’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Raymie Muzquiz
Airing Date: March 18, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

‘Married Alive’ start with Duckman’s house being in the baddest shape imaginable, with everything broken and undefined gore lying in heaps everywhere.

It turns out that aunt Bernice has been away, but when she returns, she’s not even mad, but sings Giacomo Puccini’s aria ‘O mio babbino caro‘, because she’s in love. During her holiday a billionaire and media magnate called Baron von Dillweed proposed to her to star the first infomercial-wedding ever. Duckman only starts to worry when Bernice reveals she’ll move to Switzerland and take the boys with her. At that point Duckman comes into action, and uses his dormant detective skills to unmask the baron in his own unique way.

This episode features a short reference to Indiana Jones, Cornfed doing karaoke, and Duckman grinding Fluffy and Uranus to rice, but the episode’s highlight must be aunt Bernice’s lovesick behavior.

Watch ‘Married Alive’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 15
To the previous Duckman episode: Papa Oom M.O.W. M.O.W.
To the next Duckman episode: Days of Whining and Neurosis

‘Married Alive’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Raymie Muzquiz
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: June 4, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★

‘About Face’ is one of the deepest of the Duckman episodes, and together with ‘Psyche‘ and ‘American Dicks’ forms the highlight of the first season.

Despite the usual dose of absurd humor and fast verbal wisecracking, the episode is actually moving, and knows an unexpectedly touching and somber ending, a very rare feat in both animated series and television comedy, indeed.

In this episode Mambo accidentally swallows a model of the titanic, which prompts Duckman to call 911. He immediately falls in love with the sweet voice on the other side of the line, and when she calls back, he immediately sets out to date her. Her name turns out to be Angela, and she is the sole person with whom Duckman not only feels like a good person, but also behaves like one.

Problem is, she’s “facially challenged” as Cornfed puts it, not to say hideously ugly (this trait is played out grotesquely, with people becoming terrified, fainting and fleeing when she walks by, echoing the skunk gags in Tex Avery’s ‘Little ‘Tinker’ from 1948). But then she decides to change all this…

This is one of the Duckman episodes deepening the character of the series’ protagonist, and actually make the audience feel for him. Notwithstanding, the episode contains plenty of comedy, with as highlights the scene in which Duckman is holding a telephone conversation with his beloved while his house burns down, and the scene in which Cornfed and his own date are mime dancing to no music.

Watch ‘About Face’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 12
To the previous Duckman episode: American Dicks
To the next Duckman episode: Joking the Chicken

‘About Face’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

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’

Directors: Włodzimierz Haupe & Halina Bielińska
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Zmiana warty (The Changing of the Guard) © Włodzimierz Haupe & Halina Bielińska

‘The Changing of the Guard’ is a stop motion film that tells a story with the simplest of means.

The background consists of highly graphical wiry outlines of buildings set in an empty stage. The ‘actors’ are matchboxes. We watch them marching, while one of them, a night guard, falls in love with a female matchbox in a window (the matchbox is recognizable as a woman, because of the three lips painted on its front). When the two meet at night, they catch flame, which devours the complete regiment. So, the next day the civilians put up a ‘no smoking’ sign.

Haupe’s and Bielińska’s stop motion is very primitive, yet effective, and their minimalist approach shows how little one needs to tell a communicating and resonating story. Admittedly, their story is not too interesting, verging on the brink of a farce, but the elegant designs and effective animation make it a short fun to watch.

Watch ‘Zmiana warty’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Zmiana warty’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Anthology of Polish Animated Film’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1909
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Affaires de coeur © Émile Cohl‘Affaires de coeur’ is a film about love using hearts as a common thread.

Even the frame in which all action takes place is heart-shaped. In this film Cohl uses every animation technique known at the time to tell a rather abstract story of love. We watch hearts filling cards, cards playing badminton, and a male heart courting and eventually marrying a female heart, and even dueling a rival heart with a mustache.

Despite the clear theme, the film is one of Cohl’s less successful efforts. There’s an aimlessness in this film, which only halfway forms some sort of story. Moreover, none of the animation is particularly noteworthy, even though the hearts in love have some charm.

Watch ‘Affaires de coeur’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Affaires de coeur’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1909
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Les chaussures matrimoniales © Émile Cohl‘Les chaussures matrimoniales’ is a gentle trick film, showcasing Émile Cohl’s narrative skills.

The film starts with a woman and a man taking adjacent rooms at a hotel. When they both put their shoes outside to let them brush, the man’s shoes start to make advances on the woman’s shoes. When the woman takes them back inside, the man’s shoes even follow them inside. As a consequence the man loses his shoes, but he finds them inside the woman’s room, where he starts making advances on the woman himself. In the end, the new couple leaves the hotel happily together.

Most of the film is done in live action, but the wandering shoes are done in pretty convincing stop motion. When the male shoes start advancing on the woman’s shoes, Cohl even manages to give the objects some character. It’s touches like this that make the film a little more interesting than the usual trick films of the era.

Watch ‘Les chaussures matrimoniales’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Les chaussures matrimoniales’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Makoto Shinkai
Release Date: March 3, 2007
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

5 Centimeters per Second © Co‘5 Centimeters per Second’ is a rather original love story in three parts. Central character is high school student Takaki, whose love interest Akari, moves from Tokyo to Iwafune, a distance three hours by train.

The first part consists of Akari’s voice over reading her letters to Takaki, accompanied by a lightning rapid montage of images of Takaki and his memories to his girl. When, after a year of exchanging letters, Takaki is about to move to the South himself, he decides to make a one time visit to Akari. This train journey through a snow storm, which delays him for no less than four hours forms the emotional highlight of the film. Nevertheless, Takaki and Akari are reunited in Iwafune, only to have to part again.

The second part is set in Tanegashima, a small island in the far South of Japan, and although set in October, its sunny images form a welcome contrast to the snowy images of the first part. This part is told by Kanae, who’s secretly in love with Takaki, but never able to tell him that. Like the first part, the second part ends with an opportunity lost.

The third part is set in Tokyo again. This part is the shortest, the most fragmentary, and the least satisfactory of the three. Sadly this episode shows that Takaki hasn’t really learned to love and to allow others near him, still longing for something else. Akari is seen, too, but her ‘story’ is touched on so little it could well be missed. Added to Takaki’s admirers is yet another girl, who is hardly seen, but as he declines her calls, her pain and loneliness are certainly felt. The episode ends with images set to the rock ballad ‘One More Time, One More Chance’ (1997) by Masayoshi Yamazaki, unknown to us Western viewers, but apparently instantly recognizable to the Japanese audience, and adding to the film’s nostalgic feel. The film ends undefined, and with its mere sixty minutes the feature feels a little incomplete.

Like many other Japanese anime, ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ needn’t necessarily be made with animation, as its characters and settings are highly realistic, and drawn from everyday life. But as it is animated, one can only marvel at Shinkai’s beautiful and engaging images. ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ is a story about distance and love, but despite being a story of emotions, the character designs and human animation, both by Takayo Nishimura, are not very impressive: the character designs are very generic, while the facial expressions never reach enough subtlety to draw one into the character.

No, the real emotional story is told almost exclusively by the background art. This film uses a multitude of shots, often lasting only a fraction of seconds, and in its in these extraordinarily beautiful images that Shankai tells his tale. Indeed, many of these images he drew himself. The images are highly realistic, but as Shankai tells in the interview included in the DVD, they’re drenched in emotional memory, and they’re never neutral. And neither is his staging or cutting, which are both highly original. All these background images, with their glorious colors and superb lighting (made in Photoshop) give the film its unique and poetic character.

With ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ Shankai proved to be a new important voice in the Japanese animation field, a reputation he steadied with his next films, ‘Children Who Chase Lost Voices’ (2011) and most notably, ‘Your Name’ (2016), which also deals with distance and love.

Watch ‘5 Centimeters per Second’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Norman McLaren
Production Date: 1938
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Love on the Wing © Norman McLarenIn the late 1930s Scottish film maker Norman McLaren made several films for the British Post, like the promotional live action films ‘Book Bargain’ (1937) about how telephone books were made, and ‘News for the Navy’ about how letters were delivered worldwide.

Much more interesting than these films, however, is the small advertisement film McLaren made for Empire Air Mail, ‘Love on the Wing’. The film is clearly strongly influenced by the surreal movement. It uses, for example, music from Jacques Ibert’s quirky ‘Divertissement’, which was by that time only eight years old, and the film’s opening images are reminiscent of works by Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí.

In ‘Love on the Wing’ McLaren’s exploits his trademark technique of drawing direct on film, and he combines these images with beautiful painted and highly surreal backgrounds, reminiscent of the otherworldly landscape paintings by Giorgio De Chirico and Yves Tanguy.

The film tells a little love story, but is wildly associative, with metamorphosis and symbolism simply exploding from the screen. The three protagonists change into letters and back again, as well in numerous other symbols of love. So much is happening in the mere four minutes, it leaves the viewer breathless.

‘Love on the Wing’ surely must be one of the most avant-garde advertisement films ever made, and the short is without doubt McLaren’s first animated masterpiece. Unfortunately, the film displeased the authorities of the post office, and they never distributed this extraordinary short.

Watch ‘Love on the Wing’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Love on the Wing’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 29, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

I Yam Love Sick © Max Fleischer‘I Yam Love Sick’ opens with Olive Oyl reading a romance.

Popeye drops by, but Olive ignores him completely. Later she explains she has a new boyfriend now, Bluto. To win her back, Popeye feigns to fall very ill. This leads to a bizarre, and rather surreal series of hospital scenes, in which weird bearded doctors try to examine Popeye. In the end Popeye reveals he was only fooling, only to get clobbered by Olive.

‘I Yam Love Sick’ is full of delightful nonsense. The best gag is when Olive steps out of the panel to address the audience with an ‘is there a doctor in the house?’.

Watch ‘I Yam Love Sick’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 60
To the previous Popeye film: Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh
To the next Popeye film: Plumbing is a “Pipe”

‘I Yam Love Sick’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

 

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 20, 1932
Stars: Ethel Merman, Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating:
Review:

Let me Call you Sweetheart © Max Fleischer‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’ is a Screen Song featuring Ethel Merman singing the 1911 hit song.

The cartoon opens with Betty Boop being a baby sitter in a park where Bimbo is a park warden. Bimbo doesn’t try to hide his lust, panting in front of our female hero. To be with Betty, Bimbo kicks off the baby-carriage. The baby falls into the water, steals a hot dog and plays with a fountain. When he returns to the loving couple, it’s night already. Enter Ethel Merman. At the end cartoon there’s some strange sequence with a chicken hatching three eggs, and the chicks being followed by a cat.

Unfortunately, this scene cannot rescue the short, and the cartoon remains completely forgettable.

Watch ‘Let me Call you Sweetheart’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Let me Call you Sweetheart’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Gil Alkabetz
Release Date: 2004
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Morir de Amor © Gil AlkabetzTwo parrots in a cage relive the day they were caught, while their owner is asleep. Unknowingly, they betray a secret to their owner, with deadly results.

‘Morir d’Amor’ (the title comes from a Mexican song of the same name) is a funny and sweet film about love. It is told basically through the imitations the parrots make of real sounds, which evoke their memories of that fateful day. The film contrasts the dull present (in black and white) with their colorful memories of the forest.

Alkabetz shows some impressive handling of perspectives that is reminiscent of the work of George Schwizgebel. Despite the fast montage, the film suffers from a slow timing, however, and perhaps it is a bit too long. Nevertheless, its gentle humor makes it one of Alkabetz’s most accessible films, lacking the experimentalism of much of his earlier work.

Watch ‘Morir de Amor’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Morir de Amor’ is available on the DVD ‘International Animation: Modern Classics’

Directors: Nick Park & Steve Box
Release Date: September 4, 2005
Stars: Wallace & Gromit
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Wallace & Gromit - The Curse of the Were-Rabbit © AardmanAfter three excellent two-reelers British animation heroes Wallace and Gromit were ready for their first feature film.

‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ elaborates primarily on the themes of ‘A Close Shave‘: love and horror. This time Wallace and Gromit are after a giant rabbit threatening the crops breeds for a vegetable contest in the village.

The stop motion animation in this film is practically flawless, elevating the century old technique to the highest standards possible. Indeed, both this film and ‘Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride‘, another stop motion film, were far superior to any computer animated feature film released in 2005 or 2006.

‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ is not only a great animation film, it is great cinema, with excellent camera work, a flawless story, wonderful characterization and lean storytelling that builds to a spectacular climax. Especially the animation of Gromit is stunning, because his acting is completely silent throughout the picture and uses only the eyes to suggest emotion.

Watch ‘Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Unknown
Release Date: March 5, 1928
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Honey, Pete
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Rival Romeos © Walt DisneyIn this gag-packed cartoon Oswald and Pete compete over Honey, a female cat character, who was Oswald’s girlfriend in 1928.

Pete and Oswald both ride in their cars to her house in a scene looking forward to the early Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Barn Dance‘ from later that year. Oswald serenades her until a goat eats all his sheet music and even his banjo. Then he turns the animal into a hurdy gurdy, like Mickey would do later that year in ‘Steamboat Willie‘. When Pete arrives, he and Oswald fight over Honey, almost tearing her apart. Honey gives them the cold shoulder and leaves with a third guy into the distance. Then our rivals kick each other in remorse, like Donald Duck and Peter Pig would do six years later in ‘Wise Little Hen‘ (1934).

As you may notice, ‘Rival Romeos’ contains quite a lot of embryonic gags that Walt Disney would reuse later in other cartoons. Because of these prophetical gags ‘Rival Romeos’ is a highlight among Disney’s Oswald cartoons.

Watch ‘Rival Romeos’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon No. 14
To the previous Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: Africa Before Dark
To the next Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: Bright Lights

Director: Bill Plympton
Release Date: October 11, 2013
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Cheatin' © Bill Plympton‘Cheatin’ is Plympton’s sixth feature – no small achievement for an independent animator who insists on drawing everything on his own.

‘Cheatin’ is no exception to his rule. True, for this film Plympton had hired some staff to reproduce the looks of his watercolor illustration style, but he still drew every single frame himself. According to Plympton*, the costs of the extra staff broke him, and he had to go for a (luckily successful) Kickstarter campaign to be able to finish his film. Unfortunately, distribution in his homeland, the United States, will remain problematic, as, according to Plympton, ‘Cheatin’ is 1) no computer animation film, and 2) it’s not directed at children. Both ‘handicaps’ are enough to alienate the average American distributor. Add the absence of dialogue, and ‘Cheatin”s chances become mighty low, indeed…

This is a pity, for Plympton is in great shape in this film. His sketchy drawing style is as virtuoso as ever, and his human protagonists are drawn to the extreme – using weird camera angles and outrageous exaggeration. Practically every single frame is a beauty.

‘Cheatin’ is a surprisingly lighthearted love story. It tells about Ella and Jake, who meet each other at a bumper car stand – and it’s love at first sight. They marry shortly after, and nothing seems to stand in the way of their happiness. Unfortunately, more women take interest in the muscular Jake, and one of them frames Ella – making Jake belief she meets other men. Prostrated with grief, Jake decides to take revenge, and to pick up as many girls as possible himself…

At this point, the film starts to falter a little. Plympton steers away from reality to plunge into a weird plot using a strange machine to get to his happy end. This is a pity, for his outrageous portraits of the common aspects of love are perfect in itself. To me the film would have been better if he’d stuck to a more familiar pattern of love, rut, adultery, and revenge. For example, Plympton’s depiction of Ella opening her heart to let love in is the most endearing sequence in the whole film. And his depiction of the married couple’s happiness accounts for the film’s most stream-of-consciousness-like sequence, accompanied by the drinking song from Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’.

When Jake starts cheating, Plympton focuses on his behavior at the EZ motel. However, it remains a rather unclear how Jake behaves at home. He has clearly become cold and distant, and denies Ella the love and sex she desires. But at no point in the film there’s any trace of irritations, rows or fights between the two lovers.

Plympton says the film is based on a experience of his own, in which he discovered he wanted to strangle and to make love to his girl at the same time. There’s indeed a scene depicting this feeling. However, it gets a little lost in the strange plot twist. What it does show is that Ella’s desire to hurt Jake is weaker than her desire to be loved by him. Although both characters look rather cliche, in the end Ella is a far more interesting character than Jake, who remains a rather simple strong man loaded with testosteron. Plympton doesn’t show much of Ella’s character, but her more complex inner feelings can be distilled from several scenes.

Despite the plot flaws, ‘Cheatin’ remains a well-told film throughout, making clever use of Nicole Renaud’s gorgeous score, and of some classical pieces –  apart from Verdi, e.g. Leoncavallo’s ‘Ridi Pagliaccio’ sung by Caruso, and Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. The absence of dialogue never becomes a handicap –  on the contrary. And the emotions of the characters are played out well – sometimes grotesquely cliche, like Jake’s ride of grief; sometimes subtle and sincere, like Ella’s suffering from Jake’s rejection.

Plympton calls his film ‘anti-Disney’, but ‘Cheatin” is in no way a reaction to Disney’s world. One can say it’s decidedly non-Disney: the film stands on its own and shows us an animation world totally different from Disney’s, one in which American animated features are not synonymous to family films, but can be as wildly diverse as live action features.

I certainly hope Plympton’s world will once come true.

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

* quotations from Bill Plympton are taken from his introduction to the film at the screening at the Holland Animation Film Festival, March 19, 2014.

Director: Jeff Newitt
Release Date: 1992
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Loves Me, Loves Me Not © AardmanA gentleman uses a flower to determine whether his girl loves him or not.

The contrasts between happiness (she loves him) and pain (she loves him not) get more and more extreme during the film, providing unsettling images of terror.

Like ‘Adam‘, ‘Loves Me, Loves Me Not’ is an example of dark humor, typical for the Aardman Studios at the time. The dark humor is typified by the screams of pain the flower exclaims, when its petals are removed, by the highly disturbing soundtrack and by the images of suicide and threat.

Combining virtuoso clay animation with some cel animation, the film is a technical masterpiece. It also features some great silent comedy, and especially the deft gestures of the Clark Gable-like gentleman are nicely done.

Watch ‘Loves Me, Loves Me Not’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Loves Me, Loves Me Not’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: January 6, 1951
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Meathead, Toodles
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Casanova Cat © MGMIn ‘Casanova Cat’ Tom is visitingToodles,  who has inherited a million dollars and who now lives in a classy apartment downtown.

Tom brings Jerry along as a present, who is forced to dance with a blackface on a hot plate, a scene which is probably censored on many copies. The annoyed Jerry invites alley cat Meathead, too, and a feud starts between the two rivaling cats. However, in the end it’s Jerry who’s the lucky one, driving off with Toodles into the distance and kissing her.

‘Casanova Cat’ doesn’t cover any new grounds, but it combines the themes of earlier romance cartoons ‘Puss ‘n’ Toots’ (1942) and ‘Springtime for Thomas’ (1946) with great and remarkably fresh results.

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

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 55
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Cueball Cat
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Jerry and the Goldfish

Director: Charles Nichols
Release Date:
 January 6, 1950
Stars:
 Pluto, Butch, Dinah
Rating:
 ★★★★
Review:

Pluto's Heart Throb © Walt DisneyIt seems that at the end of the Pluto series, the animators had found new inspiration, for most of Pluto’s best cartoons were made in the series’ last two yearsIn fact, almost every Pluto cartoon from 1950/1951, Pluto’s last two solo years, is a winner.

‘Pluto’s Heart Throb’ is a good example. In this rather weird short both Butch an Pluto fall in love with Dinah (whom we hadn’t seen since ‘In Dutch‘ from 1946). They’re acting like rivals, but they have to pretend to be friends when she’s watching. When Pluto saves Dinah from drowning, he gains her love and Butch makes a sad retreat.

Penned by Roy Williams, one of the most original of the Disney story men, this short is stuffed with silly ideas, starting with the silly little pink dog cupid, who makes Pluto and Dinah fall in love with each other. The animation is extremely flexible, with wonderful expressions on all three characters. The excellent silent comedy is further enhanced by a very lively score. In all, ‘Pluto’s Heart Throb’ is a great improvement on the earlier in-love-with-Dinah-cartoon: ‘Canine Casanova’ from 1945.

Watch ‘Pluto’s Heart Throb’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Pluto cartoon No. 33
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Sheep Dog
To the next Pluto cartoon: Pluto and the Gopher

Director: Chuck Jones & Ben Washam
Release Date: April 28, 1966
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Love, Love My Mouse © MGMTom gives Jerry to his beloved, but she takes pity on the poor little mouse and protects him against Tom.

Jerry takes advantage of the situation, however, never stopping at putting the blame on Tom. Then, in the end, the puss’s love changes into hunger…

This is a very Chuck Jonesy cartoon, with loads of his wonderful trademark elegant designs and strong facial expressions. These solely make this cartoon one of the better entries in the series.

Watch ‘Love, Love My Mouse’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 147
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Jerry-Go-Round
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Puss ‘n’ Boats

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