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Director: Norman McLaren
Release 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.

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’

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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:

‘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: ★★★½
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.

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

Director: Gene Deitch
Release Date: June, 1962
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★
Review:

Calypso Cat © MGMTom chases Jerry at the harbor. There he falls in love with a kitten and he follows her on a cruise ship to the Caribbean. All the time Jerry tries to break their love. He succeeds in the end, and Tom chases Jerry back into the harbor.

Although Jerry is quite unsympathetic in all Gene Deitch’s Tom & Jerry films, his character is particularly nasty in this one. Unlike a Hanna-Barbera Tom & Jerry like ‘Springtime for Thomas’ (1946), one cannot sympathize with Jerry’s actions, as his reasons remain unclear.

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

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 121
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Landing Stripling
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Dicky Moe

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