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Director: ?
Release Date: June 24, 1933
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Techno-Cracked © Ub IwerksIn ‘Techno-Cracked’ the elder lady from ‘School Days‘ and ‘The Music Lesson‘ orders Flip to mow the lawn. What her relation is to Flip that she can do that, remains utterly unclear. It seems she was a sort of staple authority figure the Iwerks studio could use anytime.

Anyway, inspired by an article on robots, Flip builds his own one, being the last cartoon star to follow the robot trend of 1932/1933, after Fleischer’s ‘The Robot‘ (1932), Lantz’s ‘Mechanical Man‘ (1932), Disney’s ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ (1933) and Columbia’s ‘Technoracket‘ (1933).

Of all these animated robots, Flip’s is the most improbable one. Indeed, Flip’s creation is more like a cousin of Frankenstein than a mechanical man: first, it comes to life by electric charge. Second, it has a pumpkin head, defying its mechanical character. Third, it hardly moves like a robot at all, and more like an ordinary rubber hose animated character, and fourth, it eats, it laughs and it uses a toilet.

However, the cartoon is a great showcase of what can go wrong with robots. When Flip orders the robot to mow the lawn, it does so with zeal, mowing everything in sight. In the end, the robot turns evil, and Flip has to destroy it.

‘Techno-Cracked’ is a fast-paced, gag-packed cartoon and among Flip the Frog’s best. The action is greatly enhanced by Carl Stalling’s inspired score, which uses The Song of the Volga Boat Men as a leitmotif, but in a major key.

Watch ‘Techno-Cracked’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 34
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Flip’s Lunch Room
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Bulloney

‘Techno-Cracked’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: ?
Release Date: May 20, 1933
Stars: Scrappy, Oopy
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Technoracket © ColumbiaPenned by Sid Marcus and animated by Art Davis, ‘Technoracket’ is one of those cartoons inspired by rumors of robots taking over, like Fleischer’s ‘The Robot‘ from 1932, and ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ from one month later.

Unlike those boxing-themed cartoons ‘Technoracket’ is surprisingly prophetical. In this cartoon Scrappy has a farm, in which Oopy does all the work, with help of the farm animals. But when Scrappy reads about the new age of technocracy he fires all animals, switching to robots, instead. Because it’s a cartoon, even the cows and chickens become robots, with the cows producing bottles of milk instantly. There’s also a scene in which a robots plants bolts to grow plants of canned tomatoes.

At one stage, however, Oopy sneaks into Scrappy’s house and destroys his controls, making the robots go wild. This leads to some nightmarish scenes. There’s for example a robot which devours a pig to spit out hams, another robot brutalizes a mechanical chicken forcing it to produce numerous eggs. Soon the robots create havoc in Scrappy’s home, and he himself removes the controls, which explode in the backyard, destroying all robots.

‘Technoracket’ illustrates the 1930’s fear of work replacement by robots very well. Nevertheless, its predictions have somewhat become true, albeit in a less cartoony fashion, as farms are all but mechanized factories, today…

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: March 19?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Le grand ordinateur © Procidis‘La grand ordinateur’ completely takes place in the robot city that took flight in the previous episode, ‘Cité en vol‘.

First we watch Pierrot and Metro wandering endless corridors in search for Psi. Then the flying city invites Omega’s large space ship inside, which is dwarfed by the gigantic city. Inside, colonel Pierre and Maestro from the ship are soon reunited with Pierrot, Psi and Metro, and we meet the great computer itself at last, which is the robot city of Yama itself.

The great computer tells about its origin and how it has been behind every robot scheme in the series (e.g. the robot revolt in ‘La révolte des robots‘, and the doomsday rocket in ‘L’imparable menace‘). It reveals its ultimate plan, which is to stop man from its own inclination to violence. It does so by taking total control of humanity, so “no man will ever know any pain or sorrow again”. In the end the great computer shows its immense war fleet, and sends our heroes back to Omega with its message.

This episode is hampered by some odd staging, and at times terrible drawings of our heroes, but it’s also arguably Barillé’s most daring episode: a great deal of it is filled with a philosophical discussion on questions like what makes man human? Is it allowed to sacrifice lives for the greater good? And is violence to end all violence ethical? Bold subjects for a children’s series, indeed!

Both the great computer’s reasoning and action are very believable, and its consequences food for thought. It’s ironic how its destructive approach is fueled by a wish to end all violence. It makes it one of the most interesting villains ever put to the screen, especially because it’s not really visible.

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

This is the 24th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 23rd episode: Cité en vol (City in Flight)
To the 25th episode: Combat de titans (The Battle of the Titans)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: February 26?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Les humanoïdes © ProcidisIt’s the last ride of the Libellule, Pierrot’s and Psi’s little spaceship, and the last flight of our heroes as a team.

What should have been a routine flight, turns into disaster, when our heroes encounter enormous space vessels, which together are able to destroy complete planets (similar to the Death Star in ‘Star Wars’ from 1977). Composer Michel Legrand enhances the menace of these weapons of mass destruction by accompanying the images with a repeated, uncanny electronic riff.

When intercepted by space ships, the Libellule crashes on the planet Apis, where Psi is captured by the very humanoids she had encountered in ‘Les anneaux de Saturne‘. While she is taken to the neighbor planet Yama, Pierrot joins a rebel group of humans fighting the humanoids, and two of them, Sylva and Gillio, join him and Metro on a journey to find one captain Murdock, the only one on Apis that owns a spaceship.

In ‘Les humanoïdes’ the mysterious ally of Cassiopeia, Yama, reveals itself. It turns out to be a whole planet of humanoids, controlled by a supercomputer. In fact, Yama is behind every robot-involved scheme in the entire series, as they will reveal later.

‘Les humanoïdes” is the first episode of the six-part mini-series within the ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ that constitutes its great finale. This finale in particular elevates the series above average, giving this series its extra grandeur. Barillé himself must have seen their potential, as these episodes were modified into a feature film called ‘la revanche des humanoïdes’ (Revenge of the Humanoids) and released later that year.

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

This is the 21st episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 20th episode: La revanche des robots (The Revenge of the Robots)
To the 22nd episode: Un monde hostile (An hostile world)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: February 19?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

La revanche des robots © ProcidisIn the opening scene of this episode Pierrot, Psi, Petit Gros and Metro are honored for their heroic deeds in a.o. ‘L’imparable menace‘.

Adventure immediately announces itself, however, when the planet Leto (see ‘La révolte des robots‘) asks especially for Metro to mediate in a new conflict between robots and humans. This time, the robots want Metro to fight two of their battle robots, generals Goldenbar II and III, improved versions of the giant robot Metro defeated in ‘La révolte des robots’. Metro wins both fights, but surprisingly, the robots regard these losses only as temporary setbacks on the way to success. The last six episodes will show why…

Like ‘La révolte des robots’, ‘La revanche des robots’ is a highly enjoyable episode, with a star role for the matter-of-factly little robot Metro, battling two giant Grendizer (Goldorak)-like robots, with a rather improbable, but scary capability of duplication.

Watch ‘La revanche des robots’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 20th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 19th episode: L’étrange retour vers Oméga (The Strange Return to Omega)
To the 21st episode: Les humanoïdes (The Humanoids)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: February 12?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

L’étrange retour vers Oméga © ProcidisIn the opening sequence of this episode the brave little robot Metro (who had been destroyed in ‘Les anneaux de Saturne) has been repaired and he joins Pierrot and Psi when they leave earth in a cruise ship called the Cosmopolitan.

Strange things are happening there, however, and our heroes are shadowed continuously. They discover that part of the crew has been replaced by robots…

‘L’étrange retour vers Oméga’ has a great mystery plot and together with ‘La revanche des robots‘ it forms a great prelude to the one-story-finale, which consists of the last six episodes.

Watch ‘L’étrange retour vers Oméga’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 19th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 18th episode: L’Atlantide (Atlantis)
To the 20th episode: La revanche des robots (The Revenge of the Robots)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: January 15?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Les anneaux de Saturne © Procidis‘Les anneaux de Saturne’ follows three boring episodes that rather stood on their own.

How different this episode is! Like ‘La révolte des robots‘, ‘Les anneaux de Saturne’ is no less than a key episode. With this episode starts the finale of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’, the long continuous saga that makes the series such a remakable effort.

Because Pierrot has to recover from his injuries he got on the Jurassic planet in ‘Chez les dinosaures‘, Psi is allowed to go on a holiday – alone. Together with Metro she wants to explore the asteroid belt of our own solar system, but near Mimas, one of Saturn’s moons, she’s intercepted by unknown spaceships. These appear to be from a secret society of humanoid robots, and General Le Teigneux’s mysterious allies. Psi and Metro are thus the first to encounter this new threat, which will dominate the episodes 19 to 26. In an attempt to escape, Psi and Metro crash on an asteroid, leaving Metro in shambles. Luckily, Pierrot and Petit Gros come to the rescue…

This episode is not only mysterious and exciting, but also educational on Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter and the asteroid belt.

Watch ‘Les anneaux de Saturne’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 15th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 14th episode: Chez les dinosaures (In the Land of the Dinosaurs)
To the 16th episode: L’imparable menace (The Unstoppable Menace)


Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: November 13?, 1982
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

La révolte des robots © ProcidisLa révolte de robots’ is the first highlight in the ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ series.

Unlike the earlier episodes the threat does not come from stock villain Cassiopeia, but from a rebelling robot planet called Leto. We’re introduced to this planet first, with our heroes only entering the scene after twelve minutes. Our heroes save the day, especially the little robot Metro, who battles a large robot, which looks like a copy from Grendizer (Goldorak), the famous robot from the Japanese 1970s series of the same name.

However, who is really responsible for the robots’ rebellion remains unknown. This would grow into the series’ most important story element, dominating its great last third. If anything, this episode shows the risks of man’s dependency on technology, but Barillé clearly states that humans are superior to robots, something he tries to illustrate rather unconvincingly in this episode. The whole argument of humans vs. machines would come back with a vengeance in the 23rd episode, ‘Le grand ordinateur‘.

Watch ‘La révolte des robots’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 6th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 5th episode: Les Cro-Magnons (The Cro-Magnons)
To the 7th episode: La planète Mytho (The Planet Mytho)

Director: Ben Washam
Release date: August 25, 1967
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating:  ★
Review:

Advance and Be Mechanized © MGM‘Advance and Be Mechanized’ is the third of three science fiction cartoons starring Tom & Jerry, released in 1967, the others being ‘O Solar Meow‘ and ‘Guided Mouse-ille‘.

In their third science fiction short Jerry’s stealing cheese from a ‘cheese mine’ protected by police officer Tom. Both use the robots from ‘Guided Mouse-ille’ to fight each other. The film uses a whole scene twice and reuses a complete scene from ‘Guided Mouse-ille’, adding to a very cheap feel.

The end is particularly depressing when the two robots turn Tom & Jerry themselves into mindless robots… They could hardly be further removed from their glory days than in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Advance and Be Mechanized’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 161

To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Shutter Bugged Cat
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Purr-Chance to Dream

Director: Chris Wedge
Release Date: March 11, 2005
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Robots © Blue Sky2005 was to be the first weak year in the history of computer animated features. This was a year in which no films were made that felt as if they were better than the last ones.

In fact, both Blue Sky’s ‘Robots’ and Dreamworks’s ‘Madagascar’ are mediocre in the whole catalog of computer animation. Surprisingly, the two most interesting features of 2005 were stop motion films: Aardman’s ‘Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit‘ and Warner Brothers’ ‘Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride‘. This age-old technique defeated the modernity of computer animation, as both films topped the computer animated features in originality and consistency of story and design.

‘Robots’ is unfortunately typical for the regression in the computer animated field. First the animation: the robots are a good excuse for rather jerky motions, and its colorful setting never feels real. This setting is similar to that of ‘Monsters Inc.‘ (2001): a totally different world, this time inhabited with robots, which at the same time is an exact copy of our own modern urban world. Also, main protagonist Rodney’s arrival in Robot City is very reminiscent of a similar scene in ‘A Bug’s Life’ (1998), and the all too obligatory ‘follow your dream’ story line had already become stale by 2005, too. In all, the film’s story is much more standard than its exotic setting would suggest.

Blue Sky’s storytelling is also very inconsistent and has many flaws in its timing. For example, the big finale never pays off and his topped by a very cloying ending. Worse, Rodney has no less than two love interests, one of which is suddenly dropped, while the love between him and Cappy, the other, is hardly shown. In effect it seems non-existent. Then there are way too many side characters, none of which is well-developed. Most of them are wise-crackers, who place their one-liners in a nasty, unpleasant way. Robin Williams’s character Fender is as tiresome as his genie was delightful in ‘Aladdin’ (1992). Even Rodney’s hero Bigwald is unappealing in his first scene. And it remains unclear why he has retreated in the first place.

All these flaws are such a pity, for one can feel the great joy in the making of ‘Robots’, especially in the transport sequence, where Rodney and Fender are travelling in a giant Rube Goldberg machine. This scene, although unimportant to the story, is the highlight of this otherwise very disappointing film.

Unfortunately, 2006 would be hardly better, with Blue Sky’s weak  ‘Ice Age 2: The Meltdown’, and the entertaining, but a little too routine films ‘Over The Hedge‘, ‘Flushed Away’ (Dreamworks) and ‘Open Season‘ (Sony’s debut in the field). Even Pixar would release its then weakest picture with ‘Cars’…

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

Directors: various
Release Date: June 3, 2003
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The enormous success of ‘The Matrix’ (1999) not only spawned two sequels, but also a direct-to-video release with several animation films, expanding the film’s theme and providing some background history.

‘The Animatrix’ is an American/Japanese/South Korean co-production and consists of nine parts, produced by four different animation film studios (Square, Studio 4°C, Madhouse Studios and DNA). The nine parts differ a lot in style, content and quality, and the end result is pretty uneven to say the least. However, for fans of ‘The Matrix’ it contains very welcome background material to The Matrix universe.

The Animatrix - The Final Flight of the Osiris1. Final Flight of the Osiris
Director: Andy Jones
Rating★★★½

The first of the nine segments of The Animatrix is the most straightforward. It’s a dark action episode that tells what happened to the Osiris, a human vessel that shortly appears in ‘The Matrix’. The Square Studio, then already famous for the groundbreaking animation in ‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within’ (2001), tops itself with for 2003 ultra-realistic computer animation, with human characters of a then unsurpassed realism. Especially its opening sequence, an erotic martial arts fight, is impressive and made many viewers doubt whether it was real or not they were looking at.

The Animatrix - The Second Renaissance2. & 3. The second Renaissance
Director: Mahiro Maeda
★★★½

Made by Studio 4°C and brought in two episodes, The Second Renaissance tells us what happened before the Matrix in an American anime-style. It uses a robotic female voice-over to tell us about a robotic revolution and a human-robot-war which ends in defeat for the human population, which is then used as an energy source for the robots. These episodes are the most satisfying as an addition to The Matrix trilogy.

The Animatrix - Kid's Story4. Kid’s Story
Director: 
Shinichirô Watanabe
Rating

‘Kid’s Story’ is the first of four episodes dealing with people who discover the matrix. This episode is about a teenager who doubts reality and who wakes up in the real world. The episode uses a very realistic, yet graphic style that is very American and rather ugly. Especially the animation (by Studio 4°C) is slow, unsightly and unsteady, making it one of the most unappealing parts of ‘The Animatrix’ to watch.

The Animatrix - Program5. Program
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Rating: ★★

‘Program’ is another weak entry in ‘The Animatrix’. Animated by Madhouse Studios and drawn in a rather American comics/anime-style and using sharp shades, it tells about a treacherous character trying to persuade a girl to join him in a Japanese samurai setting (the program the two are in). The whole episode is rather melodramatic and forgettable.

The Animatrix - World Record6. World Record
Director: Takeshi Koike
Rating: ★

By far the most unappealing of all episodes of ‘The Animatrix’, ‘World Record’, by Madhouse studios, is drawn in a a gruesomely ugly comics design to tell the story of an athlete who discovers the matrix and who has to pay for it.

The Animatrix - Beyond7. Beyond
Director: Kôji Morimoto
Rating:★★★★

Studio 4°C’s ‘Beyond’ is the third of four Animatrix episodes about people who discover the matrix, and it is easily the best of the lot. Set in Japan, it tells about a young woman, who is looking for her cat Yuki, and who’s led by some kids to a house where the ‘program’ has gone haywire, resulting in some wonderful surreal effects (like objects defying gravity). Unlike the rest, the episode has a lighthearted feel to it, which is enhanced by its appealing graphic anime design and its excellent animation, which makes clever use of 3D-effects. More than in any other part of the Animatrix one has the feeling that this episode is about real people in a real environment. The short is another showcase for Morimoto’s great direction skills, which he had already shown with the ‘Magnetic Rose’ sequence in the compilation feature ‘Memories‘ (1995).

The Animatrix - A Detective Story8. A Detective Story
Director: Shinichirô Watanabe
Rating: ★

‘A Detective Story’ is the fourth and last episode about people who discover the matrix. This episode is about a private detective and it uses all film noir cliches, including a very trite voice over. The nice black and white backgrounds evoke a forties atmosphere, even though the story is about hackers and chat rooms. But they cannot hide Studio 4°C’s very limited animation or the corny story, making ‘A Detective Story’ one of the weakest episodes of this package film.

The Animatrix - Matriculated9. Matriculated
Director:
Peter Chung
Rating: ★★★★

Penned and directed by Æon Flux-director Peter Chung and produced by the Korean DNA studio, ‘Matriculated’ is the most philosophical of the nine episodes of ‘The animatrix’. The story is set in the ‘real’ world. It deals with humans who try to make robots defending them by making them dream. Although its angular human designs are once again quite unattractive, this episode’s clever story makes it one of the highlights of ‘The Animatrix’.

Watch the first part of ‘The Animatrix’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Release Date: August 2, 1986
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Laputa Castle in the Sky © Studio GhibliDrawing inspiration from Jonathan Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘Laputa, Castle in the Sky’ takes Miyazaki’s love for flying machines to the max, introducing a humongous flying island.

Its story is set in a parallel world, which has a genuinely late 19th century European feel, but where flying machines are very common. The strange machines imagined for the film are both wonderful and convincing.

We follow the two orphan children Pazu, a poor mine worker, and Sheeta, who falls from the sky carrying a mysterious amulet, which reveals that she’s a Laputan princess. Followed by the Dola clan, a gang of pirates led by an old pink-haired woman, and by the military led by the enigmatic gentleman Muska, the children seek out to find the flying island.

Unlike other films by Miyazaki, ‘Laputa’ knows a real villain, the ruthless prince Muska. While the children admire Laputa for its nature, and while the pirates and the soldiers are only after its treasures, Muska seeks the island’s destructive possibilities to obtain world power. On the way, the film moves to a grander and grander scale, with a finale on the floating island that shows us dazzling heights, and which doesn’t eschew many killings, making ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’ Miyazaki’s most violent movie.

‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’ is Studio Ghibli’s very first feature film. It’s akin to the earlier ‘Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind‘ (which predates the studio’s foundation) in its focus on the importance of love and nature and its aversion to short-minded people only interested in power and destruction. Despite its violent finale, ‘Laputa’ is more overtly a film for children than ‘Nausicaä’. Its focus stays with the rather naive children, and it contains more humor, especially in the depiction of the pirates, who are almost used as a comic relief only.

In any sense, ‘Laputa’  is a powerful film: its depiction of an original made-up world is convincing, its animation is outstanding, and its message complex and far from black and white. It once again shows the mastery of Miyazaki and the Ghibli studio.

Watch the trailer for ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 21, 1941
Stars: Superman
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

The Mechanical Monsters © Paramount‘The Mechanical Monsters’ was Superman’s second cartoon, and it is almost a copy of the first one.

Again, there’s an evil scientist, this time a jewel thief, who robs jewelry using huge flying robots. Again, Lois gets herself into trouble by her curiosity and, again, after Superman has saved the day, Lois and Clark discuss Lois’s article in the newspaper.

This copying of a formulaic story format is the main weakness of the Superman series, and it’s saddening to see it already happening in the second cartoon. Luckily, the execution of the formula is better than in the first cartoon. This evil scientist is drawn more realistically, and the sidekick has gone. The elaborate intro has been shortened into a few seconds, leaving more room for the story. Moreover, watching Superman knocking down giant robots is more enjoyable than watching him defeating a ray.

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

This is Superman film No. 2
To the previous Superman film: Superman
To the next Superman film: Billion Dollar Limited

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