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Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1933
Stars: Fétiche
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Mascot © Wladyslaw Starewicz‘The Mascot’ shows that by 1933 Starewicz was the undisputed master of stop motion.

This 26 minute long film starts with live action, and is a typical melodramatic product of its time: we watch a poor mother making a dog doll, while her ill child lies in the back of the small room with fever. When she sheds a tear on the puppy doll, it comes alive. The puppy doll makes friends with the little girl, but the next day he’s about to be sold by a poor mother together with several other dolls she made.

On the way, however, a thief doll cuts a hole through the cardboard box they’re in, and all dolls leave the box, except for the little dog, who’s sold and hung in a car. Finally the dog makes his way home and rescues the little ill girl from a certain death by fetching her an orange.

The plot is more complicated than this main narrative, however, and features countless puppets. Besides the dog’s story, there’s a menage à trois featuring a ballet dancer, a Pierrot and the thief doll, and there are also a monkey doll and a cat doll involved.

Highlight of the film is a night scene, in which everything comes alive, from pieces of paper to skeletons of fish and birds. No less than the devil himself invites all creatures inside his cavern, where an grand ball is taking place. This sequence has a nightmarish character comparable to Alexeïeff’s ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ from the same year.

The whole film has a unique, gritty atmosphere, however. Throughout, the animation ranges from primitive to astounding. Starewicz especially excels in facial expressions, which really make some of the characters come alive. The dog, for example, clearly is a timid, reluctant character.

Unfortunately, the film is completely silent, despite a sparsity of dialogue and sound effects, and sometimes Starewicz’s dolls fall prone to overacting to overcome the lack of sound. Edouard Flament’s angular soundtrack doesn’t help either. Moreover, the all too complex plot hampers the film, making it meander too much. The melodrama, too, is a little too much for present day audiences.

Nevertheless, ‘The Mascot’ is a tour de force of stop motion animation. At least it provided Starewicz with a contract for eleven more films about the cute little dog, which was baptized Fétiche and finally starred five more films.

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

https://archive.org/details/The_Mascot_Complete

‘The Mascot’ is available on the DVD ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge & other Fantastic Tales’

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Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: March 5?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Un monde hostile © Procidis‘Un monde hostile’ is the exciting second of six episodes, which form the finale of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’.

It immediately starts where ‘Les humanoïdes‘ left off, with Pierrot’s ride through the hostile world of Apis. Practically the complete episode is devoted to Pierrot’s journey.

Meanwhile Psi is visited by Le Nabot (Dwarf), who’s actually proposing to her. Because Psi’s certain Pierrot will come to rescue her, she accidently reveils that he’s not dead, endangering his life. Le Nabot immediately restarts the search for our hero. He succeeds in destroying their mounts, and Pierrot and his fellow travellers have to continue on foot.

Soon however they’re are captured by bandits, whose captain turns out to be Murdock, the very man they seek. After some discussion, Murdock decides to help our heroes, and the episode ends with them flying to the neighboring planet Yama…

Because of its one-dimensional subject (Pierrot is travelling to Murdock’s place throughout the picture), ‘Un monde hostile’ is a little less compelling than the other final episodes. But on the way Sylva provides some necessary background information, which will be expanded upon in the following episodes.

Watch ‘Un monde hostile’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 22nd episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 21st episode: Les Humanoïdes (The Humanoids)
To the 23rd episode: Cité en vol (City in Flight)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: January 8?, 1983
Rating: ★
Review:

Ches les dinosaures © Procidis‘Chez les dinosaures’ is the last of three vaguely educational episodes. It’s also one of the weakest episodes in the series.

Pierrot, Psi and Metro now visit a planet inhabited by dinosaurs from the Jurassic period. Its educational value, however, is doubtful: Barillé’s theories on the end of the dinosaurs are no less than ridiculous, and the dinosaurs are designed and animated terribly.

Furthermore, one grows tired of all these earth-like planets, populated by the same creatures that have roamed the earth, too (such planets occur also in ‘La Planète verte‘, ‘Les Cro-Magnons‘, ‘La planète Mytho‘, ‘Les géants‘ and ‘Les Incas‘). As if everywhere in space the same history occurs over and over again.

Luckily, this was the last so-called ‘educational’ episode. With the next episode, Barillé would go back to the main story without leaving it again. Indeed, even ‘Chez les dinosaures’ contributes to it, as Pierrot gets injured during this episode, leaving Psi on her own in the next one, with dramatic results…

Watch ‘Chez les dinosaures’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 14th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 13th episode: Les Incas (The Incas)
To the 15th episode: Les anneaux de Saturne (The Rings of Saturn)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: December 18?, 1982
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Les naufragés de l’espace © ProcidisThis episode starts immediately where ‘La planète déchiquetée‘ has left off: the space vessel ‘Ursus’ has crashed on, luckily, an earth-like planet.

Unfortunately, its captain is ill, and our heroes have difficulties with the second in command, the skeptical and cowardly lieutenant Sanders. While Metro is used for all kinds of reparations, Pierrot and Psi go on two expeditions.

On the first they encounter strange lifeforms, like walking trees, spider-like aliens, green gorillas, and friendly little black people called Ptax. Like the lizards in ‘Les Sauriens‘, the Ptax are telepathic and they help our heroes against the green gorilla creatures.

On the second expedition, our heroes go searching for metal, but what they find is a military ship from Cassiopeia… Aware of the threat, Pierrot and Psi hurry back to the camp, only to learn the captain has died. Only when a riot breaks out between Pierrot and Sanders, Omega comes to the rescue.

The animation is painstakingly slow in this episode, and there’s more urge in the dialogue than in the action. Because of these shortcomings the episode is only half as captivating as it could have been.

Watch ‘Les naufragés de l’espace’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 11th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 10th episode: La planète déchiquetée (A Planet Blown to Pieces)
To the 12th episode: Les géants (The Giants)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: November 20?, 1982
Rating: ★★
Review:

La planète Mytho © ProcidisIn this seventh episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ our heroes Pierrot, Psi and Metro land on a planet, where the survivors of a stranded spaceship play Gods.

This episode toys with Erich von Däniken’s ideas about the gods having been astronauts (Barillé would revisit that idea in ‘Les Incas‘). The stranded people are like the gods of the ancient Greek, sharing their names and habits.

The commander of the ship, Zeus, is a strong and valiant man, but he is also selfish, autocratic, and paternalistic. He keeps the mortals, the original humans populating the planet, ignorant and miserable. Pierrot and Psi disagree with the commander’s choice, and secretly give the humans bricks, the wheel, the sail, music and fire, thus turning them into some Prometheus and Athena, and showing Barillé’s personal political view.

Unlike its predecessor, ‘La révolte de robots‘, ‘La planète Mytho’ is more or less a stand-alone episode. It is also vaguely educational, telling kids a little about Greek mythology, although this is much easier to understand and to enjoy by the educated viewer than by the intended audience.

Apart from the Gods, Barillé shows us three Greek myths: Peleus and Thetys, Pan and Syrinx, and Eris’s apple of discord. The bronze giant Talos is transformed into a robot.

Because of the use of Greek mythology, the overall episode is inconsistent, hard to follow and slow. One wonders what Barillé’s aim was with this entry: did he want to educate or did he want to tell about political ethics?

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

This is the 7th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 6th episode: La révolte des robots (The Revolt of the Robots)
To the 8th episode: Le long voyage (The Long Voyage)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: October 16?, 1982
Rating: ★
Review:

Les Sauriens © ProcidisIn this second episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ the feisty little robot Metro gets his name.

Metro joins Pierrot and Petit Gros on their first mission. The trio explores a Jurassic planet inhabited by large iguana-like people who communicate by telepathy.

If anything, this episode shows how differences between cultures can lead to aversions and misunderstandings. Nevertheless, it is one of the slowest and weakest episodes of the series.

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

This is the 2nd episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 1st episode: La planète Omega (The Planet Omega)
To the 3rd episode: la planète verte (The Green Planet)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: October 9, 1982
Rating: ★★½
Review:

La planète Omega © ProcidisAfter the success of ‘Il était une fois… l’homme’ (Once upon a Time… Man) Albert Barillé returned with the boldest and most artistic children series of his entire career.

Largely abandoning education, the raison d’être of his last series, he embarked on a fictional and after a while remarkably integrated story, set in the far future, telling about a United Nations-like intergalactic union, and its problems.

Even more than the previous series, ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once upon a Time… Space) is a vehicle of Barillé’s highly personal views on the world and mankind. The series expresses a strong love for nature and mutual understanding, and an aversion to imperialism, war and, to a certain extent, technology.

New is a strong spirituality, embodied by the mild, and vaguely South American-looking girl Psi, who possesses psychic powers. Unlike the other main characters, she had not been in the original series, and she is less stereotypical than the rest of the cast. Her role in this first episode (in which she’s introduced as ‘Mercedes’, but everyone calls her ‘Psi’) is still minor, but soon she would become as important as Pierrot (Peter), the series’ main hero.

Pierrot, like all other good guys from ‘Il était une fois… l’homme’ has been redesigned and fixed into a single role. Pierrot now is a guy in his early twenties. Petit Gros (Jumbo), too, has changed. He is less dim, less strong and less obese than in the original series. In fact, he’s only recognizable by his red hair. His dad is equally slender and has grown a blonde mustache, while a stern-looking Pierre, head of the intergalactic police, is fixed at an older age (say 50).

The most surprising transformation may be that of Pierrette, who is head of the Union, and who has received a modern hairdo and some fancy glasses. By placing her as head of the union Barillé makes a strong feminist statement that was still pretty bold in the early 1980s. The only characters to remain the same are Maestro, and the two villains Le Nabot (The Dwarf) and Le Teigneux (The Pest). Remarkably, children are totally absent from the series.

In this first episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ Maestro conceives the little robot Metro, who would play a major part in the series, eclipsing his master, while Le Teigneux and le Nabot are introduced as the ambassador and general of Cassiopeia, a galaxy with militaristic ambitions, but which is part of the Union nonetheless. Taking time in introducing all these characters, there is very little action in ‘La planète Omega’. Nevertheless, the stage is set when the Union is confronted by an unknown spaceship of some supreme alien race…

Apart from Barillé’s original story and its classic characters, ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ is a highlight of television animation because of its great music by Michel Legrand and its superb backgrounds by Philippe Bouchet, Manchu and Afrula Hadjiyanakis. This trio clearly draws inspiration from contemporary science fiction illustrators like Lukas Foss, Colin Hay, Angus McKie and Tony Roberts.

The animation itself, by the Japanese Eiken studio, is better than in ‘Il était une fois… l’homme’, but it’s still mediocre and uneven, and especially the designs of Psi are far from consistent. This would remain a problem throughout the series, together with a sometimes terribly slow narration. These drawbacks, however, do not overcome the series’ merits, and ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ may be praised as Barillé’s masterpiece.

Watch an excerpt from ‘La planète Omega’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 1st episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 2nd episode: Les Sauriens (The Saurians)

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