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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

Director: Max Fleischer
Release Date:
1920
Rating:
 ★★★★½
Review:

‘All Aboard for a Trip to the Moon’ is a very early educational animation short. The short was animated by Max Fleischer at the Bray Studios, and apparently part of a series called ‘Goldwyn Bray Pictograph – The Magazine on the Screen’. For this short Fleischer got assistance of the Popular Science Monthly for the scientific details.

In less than 8 minutes ‘All Aboard for a Trip to the Moon’ tells about a hypothetical trip to the moon, telling us how far the moon is, and how to overcome the Earth’s gravity by using a radium-propelled rocket. Fleischer depicts quite a hard, bouncing landing of the rocket on the moon, and it’s never revealed how the vessel would be able to return to Earth, but we get some nice and convincing shots of the moon’s landscape and earth from the moon itself.

Fleischer’s drawings and animations are combined with live action footage, e.g. of a man handling radium, and another one getting dressed for the trip. Apparently in 1920 the scientists deemed a thick fur coat and a gas mask enough protection in outer space…

The short also states that radium alone can create the force to overcome the Earth’s gravity, while the Saturn V rockets that eventually would put man on the moon were fueled by a modified form of kerosene, and in 1920 kerosene itself was already well-known…

Anyhow, scientific errors aside, ‘All Aboard for a Trip to the Moon’ is an entertaining piece of infotainment. It not only predates Disney’s similar futurist television specials, like ‘Man and the Moon‘ (1955) with a staggering 35 years, it also gives an insight look in how space travel was perceived in the 1920s.

‘All Aboard for a Trip to the Moon’ is available on the Thunderbean Blu-Ray ‘Fleischer Rarities’

Directors: Frank Sherman & George Rufle
Release Date: July 31, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Phantom Rocket © Van Beuren‘The Phantom Rocket’ starts with a stereotype homosexual announcer announcing that Tom and Jerry will man a dangerous flight on a new rocket.

Unfortunately, an escaped convict climbs along. While the convict holds up Tom and Jerry inside the machine, the rocket goes haywire, creating havoc in the whole neighborhood, before diving into the sea. It finally crashes on top of a prison, and the cartoon ends with Tom and Jerry earning the reward.

With ‘The Phantom Rocket’ the Van Beuren studio joined the Walt Disney studio in its operetta phase. Following the Silly Symphony ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ and the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Mail Pilot‘ in particular, the short opens with several people singing an introduction song, including engineers, scientists, photographers and Tom and Jerry themselves. Gene Rodemich’s score is very lively throughout, and the gags come in fast and plenty.

Nevertheless ‘The Phantom Rocket’ was the merry duo’s very last cartoon. Since then they’ve gone into oblivion, and it’s true that only a few of their 26 cartoons are enjoyable enough to justify resurrection (to me ‘Wot a Night‘, ‘Pots and Pans‘, ‘Jolly Fish’ and ‘Pencil Mania‘ are the best candidates). The Van Beuren studio replaced Tom and Jerry with new, but equally unsuccessful stars like Cubby the Bear and The Little King.

Although the rocket itself is nicely animated, Tom and Jerry’s last stand suffers the same problems as their earlier outings: sloppy designs, erratic animation and a total lack of character. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to compare ‘The Phantom Rocket’ to the earlier ‘Rocketeers‘ (1932), which covers similar grounds. It shows that even this sloppy studio had grown with the years.

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

This is the 26th and last Tom & Jerry cartoon
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Doughnuts

‘The Phantom Rocket’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 January 30, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Rocketeers © Van BeurenWhile Van Beuren’s Aesop’s Fables gained some quality, the Tom and Jerry series remained downright poor in terms of storytelling, staging and animation.

For example, the opening scenes of ‘Rocketeers’ are so deeply drenched in the 1920’s comic tradition that the scene’s silent acting feels terribly old-fashioned. In it, Tom and Jerry are members of the Royal Experimental Society, firing themselves to the moon in an over-sized sky-rocket. Then the cartoon takes quite an unexpected turn: instead of flying to the moon, the rocket plummets immediately and falls into the ocean, reaching the sea floor, where Tom and Jerry encounter some sea monsters and some skeletons (looking back to the Waffles and Don cartoon ‘The Haunted Ship‘ from 1930). But just when one starts to prepare for yet another horror-inspired cartoon, the duo hits on some sexy mermaids. Tom & Jerry perform a song, while the mermaids dance.

The designs of the mermaids are halfway those of Fleischer’s ‘Barnacle Bill‘ (1930) and Disney’s later ‘King Neptune‘ from September 1932. Their stylized, pretty human designs contrast greatly with Tom & Jerry’s own primitive features, and are without doubt the highlight of the cartoon.

Tom and Jerry would fly a rocket again in their last cartoon ‘The Phantom Rocket‘ (1933), which also plummets into the sea.

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

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 6
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: A Swiss Trick
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Rabid Hunters

‘Rocketeers’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: January 22?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

L’imparable menace © ProcidisIn ‘À Cassiopée‘ the hostile constellation of Cassiopeia had made plans to invade the earth. In ‘L’imparable menace’ it has become clear their plans have changed…

This episode starts with Cassiopeia firing a deadly rocket to Earth in order to make Omega surrender to Cassiopeia unconditionally. So now Omega itself is at stake, with Earth as a hapless pawn in interstellar politics.

Luckily for Omega, our heroes Pierrot, Petit Gros and Psi are still in the neighborhood of Jupiter, and they are the only ones who can stop the doomsday rocket in time. In fact, it’s the androids Psi encountered in ‘Les anneaux de Saturne‘ who had fired the rocket in the first place.

The whole episode is one race against time, which makes it one of the most exciting episodes of the entire series.

Watch ‘L’imparable menace’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 16th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 15th episode: Les anneaux de Saturne (The Rings of Saturn)
To the 17th episode: Terre! (Earth)

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

Mouse Into Space © MGMIn ‘Mouse Into Space’, the fifth of the Gene Deitch Tom & Jerry cartoons, Jerry becomes an “astro mouse”, because there are no cats in space.

By a strange accident, Tom ends up in the same rocket. He apparently has no problems with the void in this directionless, rather weird and unfunny cartoon.

Watch ‘Mouse Into Space’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 119
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: High Steaks
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Landing Stripling

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