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Directors: Stephan Schesch & Sarah Clara Weber
Release Date:
June 8, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

Germany is the biggest economy of Europe, but as producer of animation it’s a surprisingly minor player, especially when compared to France. It certainly didn’t help that the Nazi regime virtually wiped out all art life, and that from 1949 until 1991 the country was split into two.

When I think of post-war German animation I immediately think of Die Maus (The Mouse), the silent host of the educational children program ‘Die Sendung mit der Maus’, and of die Mainzelmännchen, the six little guys who embellish advertising blocks on German television since 1963. Germany also boasts some major independent animation artists, like Raimond Krumme, Andreas Hykade and Gil Alkabetz, but otherwise the country produces mostly rather listless feature films which make no impression whatsoever.

So it came as a surprise to me to find in a department store in Berlin an animated film based on a children’s book by Tomi Ungerer, one of the greatest children’s book artists in the world. Even more surprisingly, this is not the first German feature film based on his work. In 2007 Animation X Gesellschaft zur Produktion von Animationsfilmen mbH released a film based on Ungerer’s classic ‘Die drei Räuber’ (The Three Robbers) from 1961. I certainly wish to see that film, too, because ‘Der Mondmann’ is a pleasant surprise.

This feature film is much more elaborate than Ungerer’s original children’s book from 1966 (which Gene Deitch already turned into an animated short in 1981), but the character designs of the moon man and the children are very faithful to Ungerer’s artwork. Even better, Ungerer himself appears as the narrator of the tale (although his voice over is hardly used in the film). The adult characters, however, are more removed from Ungerer’s style, as is the extraordinarily colorful background art, which has a trace of surrealism to it. The looks of the film are on the verge of independent animation, but remain friendly and inviting nonetheless.

The story tells about the moon man, who occupies the complete sphere of the moon, and who is bored to death inside this cramped space. One day he grabs the tail of a fiery comet and descends to earth, hoping for some excitement. The shots of the moon man discovering animals and plants are particularly delightful. Earth, meanwhile, has apparently been occupied by a rather fascist looking regime (a great take is that its flag features a flag). The world president mourns he has conquered the complete world, and has nothing left to conquer, until some lady suggests to conquer the moon. Apparently, in this parallel universe space travel has not been invented, yet, while for example cell phones have.

The world depicted thus is not entirely ours, and this adds to the atmosphere of surrealism, as do several odd side gags that enter the screen and which are completely unrelated to the story. This type of throwaway gags are reminiscent of ‘La planète sauvage’ (Fantastic Planet) from 1973, and indeed, ‘Der Mondmann’ has something in common with that strange film, even if it is much friendlier, and less bizarre. These gags keep the adult audience awake in a film that is otherwise clearly directed to children. There’s also a running gag of a military officer who keeps saying “höchst bedauerlich”(most regrettable) as answers to the president’s complaints.

Anyway, both the Moon Man and the president turn to an inventor called Bunsen van der Dunkel to bring them to the moon. The moon man all too quickly discovers that Earth is not an entirely welcome place, and he discovers his role in the lives of children, who cannot sleep without him watching over them. The central theme of the film is what it means to be friends, something both Bunsen van der Dunkel and the Moon Man discover during the film.

‘Der Mondmann’ is well-told, focusing on only a handful characters, but it is also one of those delightful non-American feature animation films completely throwing American story rules overboard. For example, the film stars a father and his daughter travelling inside an American 1950s cabriolet. The two return several times during the film, but are only marginally involved in the plot. Despite being a children’s film there’s also a clear suggestion of a sex scene. The music choice, too, is pretty idiosyncratic, with important roles for the songs ‘Moon River’ sung by Louis Armstrong and ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ by Iron Butterfly.

In all, ‘Der Mondmann’ is arguably the greatest animated feature film to come from Germany in the 2010s and well worth a watch, especially because it is available with English subtitles.

‘Der Mondmann’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: June 6, 1958
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Nibbles
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Robin Hoodwinked © MGM‘Robin Hoodwinked’ is similar to Tom & Jerry’s four musketeer cartoons, but this time Jerry and Little Nibbles belong to Robin Hood’s merry men.

Alas! Poor Robin Hood has been locked inside the sheriff’s prison, so Jerry and Little Nibbles go to the rescue. Unfortunately, the prison is guarded by Tom. At one point Tom swallows the key, and Nibbles goes inside the sleeping Tom to retrieve it. This makes Tom getting the hiccups, and he swallows a jug of wine to stop them. Of course, Nibbles gets drunk, and at one point we watch him reappearing from Tom’s mouth, singing ‘The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond’. Unfortunately, the rest of the cartoon doesn’t build on this story idea, and all too soon Robin is rescued.

‘Robin Hoodwinked’ is not a bad cartoon, but rather routine and uninspired. Nibbles, who makes his twelfth and last screen appearance in this cartoon, speaks with an English accent in this short.

Watch ‘Robin Hoodwinked’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 113
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Vanishing Duck
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Tot Watchers

‘Robin Hoodwinked’ is available on the European DVD Box set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 29, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Ethel Merman
Rating:
Review:

You Try Somebody Else © Max Fleischer‘You Try Somebody Else’ is a screen song with Ethel Merman featuring the rather sentimental title song.

The cartoon opens with a cat being released from prison. He immediately sneaks into a house, emptying a fridge and almost eating a fish, the fish’s wife and his children. But then the owner enters, who turns out to be Betty Boop with a shotgun.

Soon the cat is back in prison again, where he reads the newspaper, with the picture of Ethel Merman in it, who immediately starts singing. The second chorus is accompanied by several prison gags, culminating in a jailbreak. In the end we watch four escaped convicts singing the song in a streetcar, all on electric chairs…

‘You try Somebody Else’ is a typical, yet mediocre Screen Song. Despite Betty Boop’s short cameo in the introduction, the second chorus is the most interesting part to watch, with its combination of silly and morbid gags.

Watch ‘You try Somebody Else’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘You try Somebody Else’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 August 18, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Peg Leg Pete, (Pluto)
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Chain Gang © Walt DisneyIn ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘ Mickey had been depicted as a bandit, but it still comes as a surprise to see him being a prisoner in ‘The Chain Gang’. We’re sure some injustice has been done, and that Mickey is in fact innocent…

Mickey is imprisoned in a mixed prison (one of the inmates is a cow), where Peg Leg Pete is one of the guards. When Pete goes to sleep Mickey brings out his harmonica, like he did in ‘The Shindig‘ one month earlier, and starts playing Vernon Dalhart’s 1924 hit ‘The Prisoner’s Song’.

This leads to an unremarkable sing-and-dance-routine, which abruptly ends in a massive jailbreak. Mickey escapes, but is followed by two bloodhounds, possibly the most elaborately designed dogs hitherto. Animated by Norm Ferguson, these bloodhounds would become the prototype of Pluto later on. Indeed, the animation of the blood hound approaching and sniffing into the camera was reused for Pluto as late as 1939 for ‘The Pointer’. The real Pluto would appear on the screen two months later in ‘The Picnic‘, and even then he still was called ‘Rover’.

The ‘birth’ of Pluto is the single most important feature of this cartoon, although it’s also noteworthy for the presence of gags involving recurring characters (something pretty new at the time), and for the chase scenes, which contain some nice perspective effects.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 21
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Shindig
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Gorilla Mystery

‘The Chain Gang’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: ‘Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 22, 1950
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Big House Bunny © Warner Bros.To escape some hunters, Bugs Bunny hides inside a prison, where Sam Schultz (Yosemite Sam) is a prison guard.

What follows is a great series of prison gags, including two morbid ones resulting in Sam hanging on the gallows and being electrified in an electric chair. Throughout the cartoon the warden keeps calling for Schultz, not unlike the Nazi officer in the Ernst Lubitsch feature ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ (1942).

‘Big House Bunny’ is full of excellent gags and Freleng’s timing is superb throughout, making ‘Big House Bunny’ one of those little known masterpieces.

Watch ‘Big House Bunny’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Big House Bunny’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 71
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Homeless Hare
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: What’s Up, Doc?

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