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Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1912
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

es métamorphoses comiques © Émile CohlMany of Émile Cohl’s films contain metamorphosis, but this is Cohl’s only film with the word ‘metamorphosis’ in its title.

‘Les métamorphoses comiques’ is arguably Cohl’s most avant-garde film. the short features live action images changing into animation and back again. Metamorphosis indeed runs galore, with Cohl’s typical stream-of-consciousness-like flow. Many of the images are pretty abstract, anticipating the work of Norman McLaren. Nevertheless, despite all the avant-garde frenzy, the most disturbing picture is a live action shot of a young boy smoking…

Watch ‘Les métamorphoses comiques’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

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

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Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1910
Rating: ★★★
Review:

La musicomanie © Émile Cohl‘La musicomanie’ opens with a live action sequence in which a man and a woman make music in a small room with instruments that appear and disappear.

Nothing of their antics is remotely interesting, but when the man goes to sleep he dreams of instruments and music notes. The man’s dream is an elegant animated sequence in which Cohl uses his trademark metamorphosis technique, now using instruments as a theme.

As always, Cohl’s stream-of-conscious-like metamorphosis animation is interesting to watch, even though this film brings nothing new. When the woman wakes the man, the film ends.

Watch ‘La musicomanie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘La musicomanie’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: May 21, 1910
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Le songe du garçon du café © Émile CohlIn this film the waiter of a cafe falls asleep during work, and dreams of glasses, bottles, wine, beer and absint all haunting him.

As may be expected in an Émile Cohl film the dream sequence is done in animation, in a quite remarkable blend of cut-out and pen animation. Cohl uses his trademark metamorphosis technique and imagination to make all kinds of associations with alcohol, in a rather directionless sequence. But as this is supposed to be a dream, this stream-of-consciousness-like approach works pretty well.

In the end, the waiter is awoken by four card-playing guests, who spray spray water on the hapless victim.

Watch ‘Le songe du garçon de café’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le songe du garçon de café’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: February 19, 1910
Rating: ★★
Review:

Le Binetoscope © Émile CohlIn ‘Le Binetoscope’ a clown presents some kind of apparatus that absorbs something from the audience and puts it on the screen.

This idea is an excuse for some animation, first shown on a screen behind the (live action) clown, but after two minutes filling the complete movie screen. In this sequence Cohl uses his metamorphosis technique on faces. He even changes a complete alphabet into faces. Then the clown returns to take a bow.

Cohl’s metamorphosis technique remains always interesting to watch, and it’s clever how he uses pen animation and cut-out together in this film, but his pictures in ‘Le Binettoscope’ aren’t too remarkable, and pale when compared to some of his 1909 films like ‘Les générations comiques‘ or ‘Les transfigurations‘.

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

 

‘Le Binetoscope’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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

Les transfigurations © Émile Cohl‘Les transfigurations’ starts with some live action footage of some street artist inviting passers-by to take a peak inside his fortune-telling machine on a street corner.

The machine shows one man his future wife, another his career, and another his rise and fall. The three customers all leave the machine in anger, much to the street artist’s delight. Only the fourth, who gets a vision of his mother-in-law leaves the stage laughing and hopping with the man from the machine.

The images of the machine are rendered in a great mix of pen animation, cut-out and stop-motion, and know a great deal of metamorphosis, Cohl’s strong point. For example, the future wife changes into an old hag, into a weather-vane and into a doll, while the mother-in-law changes into another hag, and into a crocodile. The best animation is that for the third man. The message of his transformations are rather unclear, but they are mesmerizing nonetheless, as we watch the man change e.g. into a devil and into a monkey.

‘Les transfigurations’ is comparable to ‘Les générations comiques‘ and ‘Les lunettes feériques‘ from the same year, and certainly one of Cohl’s best satirical movies.

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

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: September 1, 1909
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Les générations comiques © Émile Cohl‘Les générations comiques’ is Cohl’s best animation film of 1909, and his best film since ‘Fantasmagorie‘ (1908).

The short uses a unique combination of pen animation, cut outs and live action to paint some sharp portraits of stereotypes, like the fisherman, the miser and the policeman. The portraits are a series of free associations, with metamorphosis running wild, and finally resulting in a live action version of the stereotype.

Like in ‘Fantasmagorie’ Cohl’s imagination knows no boundaries, and the film shows more images than one can possibly register in the short time frame. This makes watching ‘Les générations comiques’ a mindblowing experience. The film may lack ‘Fantasmagorie’s playfullness, it’s much more sure in its style, and shows that Cohl could draw very well.

Watch ‘Les générations comiques’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: July 10, 1909
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Les joyeux microbes © Émile Cohl‘Les joyeux microbes’ is one of Cohl’s most inventive and most creative films.

The short starts with a live action scene of a man visiting a scientist, who claims the man is full of microbes. To prove his point he shows the man his microbes through the microscope. We watch what the man sees: this is where the animation starts, as the microbes under the microscope start moving and morphing, and change into caricatures of politicians, of a car driver, a man drinking, etc.

Cohl’s inspired metamorphosis and readable drawing style come together in this film to entertaining effects. In the end the man exclaims ‘Dieu! Je suis malade!‘ (My God, I’m ill!), and throws a painting over the laughing scientist, before rushing out.

Watch ‘Les joyeux microbes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: August 17, 1908
Stars: Fantoche
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Fantasmagorie © Émile Cohl‘Fantasmagorie’ is without doubt the very first real drawn animation film.

Like Blackton’s films the short starts with a hand drawing a figure. But where Stuart J. Blackton’s ‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces‘ and ‘Lightning Sketches‘ were pretty static tricks, ‘Fantasmagorie’ is a dazzling series of tableaux, moving into each other through metamorphosis. There’s no plot, but a strong sense of stream-of-consciousness, making this one of the very first surreal films ever.

Apart from the mind blowing images, the film also features the world’s first animated cartoon hero, Fantoche, a clown that starts the film and ends it by riding a horse and waving goodbye. In between, Fantoche keeps appearing, disappearing and changing into things and other characters. At one point he falls and loses his head, and Cohl’s hands have to put him together again. Even though by that time we did know the clown for only a few seconds, this still comes as a rather unsettling event.

Apart from the clown’s death and resurrection, so much is happening on the screen that after a mere two minutes the film leaves the viewer almost exhausted. There’s only one elongated gag, in which a man in a cinema is hindered by the giant head of the lady in front of him. It’s interesting to note that this early experiment of cinema uses its own still fresh medium as a setting.

Cohl’s drawing style is extremely simple, almost naive, and his stick-man-like figures have a child-like charm, which adds to the surrealism of the images. The film is totally devoid of timing, and the fast but steady flow of images give the film its unique character.

By all means ‘Fantasmagorie’ is not only a milestone of animated cinema, it still is a strong film in its own right, perfectly able to mesmerize even after more than a century since its completion.

‘Fantasmagorie’ was most probably Émile Cohl’s first film. He made the short inspired by Blackton’s influential stop-motion film ‘The Haunted Hotel’. Cohl was already 51 when he made this film, yet he would become one of the most prolific animators of all time, completing more than 250 films (not all of them animated) over a span of 13 years. Unfortunately, by the 1930s he was largely forgotten, and in 1938 he died as a poor man, never enjoying a rediscovery like the one that happened to his compatriot and fellow film pioneer Georges Méliès.

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

‘Fantasmagorie’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’ and ‘Before Walt’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 31, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★★★♕
Review:

Snow-White © Max FleischerOf all Fleischer cartoons ‘Snow-White’ is probably the most famous. And rightly so, because it brings the Fleischer’s unique brand of surrealism to the max, being simply stuffed with mesmerizing images, unexpected metamorphosis and stream-of-consciousness-like story flows.

The short is also the second of three cartoons featuring the unique voice of Cab Calloway, the others being ‘Minnie the Moocher‘ (1932) and ‘The Old Man of the Mountain‘ from five months later. According to Leslie Cabarga (‘The Fleischer Story’, p.64) the film was animated by one man, Doc Crandall. Indeed he’s the only animator credited on the title card. This may be the cause of the short’s remarkable inner consistency. For the images may make no sense, they do flow into each other in a seamless way, with Betty Boop’s ride into an ice coffin as a particular highlight of absurd logic.

The Fleischer’s ‘Snow-White’ has a winter setting. It starts classical enough with the queen consulting her magic mirror. But then Betty Boop enters the scene, making the knights fall apart and the queen’s head turn into a frying pan, symbolizing her angry jealousy. The queen orders ‘off with her head’, demonstrating the action with her own fingers, and soon Koko and Bimbo (as two knights) prepare for the execution. However, in a very strange string of events they disappear into the hole they’ve dug themselves, while the tree to which Betty is tied sets her free himself.

In another weird string of events Betty Boop ends in an ice coffin at the dwarfs’ door. They drag her into the ‘mystery cave’, followed by the queen, who, using her magic mirror, has turned herself into a witch. Koko and Bimbo also enter the cave. Koko starts singing the St. James Infirmary Blues, one of Calloway’s classic hits, with Cab Calloway’s voice and movements. But when the queen turns him into a ghost, Koko suddenly becomes able to morph into a gold chain and into a bottle, illustrating the lyrics of the song. Later the mirror turns the witch into a dragon, which chases the trio, until Bimbo turns it inside out.

There’s a lot going on in this mind-blowing cartoon, which is over before you know it. Being very, very unlike Disney’s later feature film, ‘Snow-White’ is an undisputed highlight of cartoon surrealism, matched by very few other cartoons (the other one which comes to mind is ‘Porky in Wackyland‘ from 1938). With this short the Fleischers reached the pinnacle of their pre-code cartoon style, before a combination of the Hays code and a tendency to imitate Walt Disney more toned down their unique vision.

Watch ‘Snow-White’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 13
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Penthouse
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Birthday Party

‘Snow-White’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

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: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 5, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop, Fearless Freddie
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:
She Wronged Him Right © ParamountBetty is the star in a melodrama with an evil landlord and a classic hero.

Arguably the first Betty Boop cartoon with a clear plot, ‘She Wronged Him Right’ marks the debut of Fearless Freddie, who seems to be designed as Betty’s new suitor (Bimbo, being an animal, was no longer accepted in a Hollywood dominated by the puritan Hays Code). His stay would be short, however, because very soon Betty would lose interest in men altogether, taking the Code even further.

Only nine months later the formula of this cartoon was repeated with less successful results in ‘Betty Boop’s Prize Show’. ‘She Wronged Him Right’ still contains some wonderful metamorphosis gags and some inanimate objects speaking or suddenly growing hands, preserving some of Fleischer’s famous surrealism.

The very idea of Betty performing in a melodrama may have been borrowed from Disney, who had released the comparable ‘Mickey’s Mellerdrammer‘ in 1933.

Watch ‘She Wronged Him Right’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 24
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Parade of the Wooden Soldiers
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Red Hot Mamma

‘She Wronged Him Right’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

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