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Airing Date: May 11, 1996

Dexter’s Rival

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dexter, Dee Dee, Mandark
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

‘Dexter’s Rival’ introduces Dexter’s arch nemesis, Mandark (who apparently is called Astronominoff in real life).

In this episode Mandark outwits Dexter in every single task at school, being genuinely smarter than Dexter is. Even Mandark’s lab is much bigger than Dexter’s (and even contains a death star lurking outside). This of course, greatly upsets Dexter, but then he discovers that Mandark has one weak spot…

Mandark immediately is a priceless character – his arrogance, his typical way of talking and his trademark offbeat laughter make him a perfect foe. The way he perceives Dee Dee is a particular highlight of this episode, turning Dexter’s big sister in a piece of pure romantic beauty.

Dial M for Monkey: Simion

Directors: Paul Rudish & Genndy Tartakovsky
Stars: Dial M for Monkey
Rating: ★★★
Review:

In ‘Dial M for Monkey: Simion’ monkey does not only have superpowers, he also lives in a futuristic science fiction world, even though this episode has the same introduction as the previous two Monkey episodes.

In this episode we see a little more of agent Honeydew, but most of the time is devoted to a very long speech by the villain, Simion. This tale of revenge simply bursts with familiar superhero tropes, but that doesn’t necessarily make it very funny. Like the other ‘Dial M for Monkey’ episodes ‘Simion’ remains mediocre at best, and the episode pales when compared to the bridging Dexter’s Laboratory episodes, ‘Dexter’s Rival’ and ‘Old Man Dexter’.

Old Man Dexter

See the post devoted to this episode

‘Dexter’s Rival/Dial M for Monkey: Simion/Old Man Dexter’ is available on the DVD ‘Dexter’s Laboratory Season One: All 13 Episodes’

Director Tomohiko Itō
Airing of first episode: January 8, 2016
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

‘Erased’ (the Japanese title translates as “The Town Where Only I Am Missing”) is an anime miniseries consisting of a mere twelve episodes and telling about young adult Satoru, who’s apparently often transported a few moments back in time to prevent some horrible disaster.

This is a weird concept to start with, especially because it’s never explained nor used consistently during the series. But this is the starting point of the complete series. Anyhow, when a mysterious killer goes rampant, threatening Satoru’s own very existence, he’s suddenly sent back not a few moments back into time, but way back to February 1988, when Satoru was eleven years old. Moreover, Satoru’s transferred to a different place, as well, his childhood hometown of Chiba, near Tokyo.

Satoru, who keeps his adult mind, knows he must do something about his classmate Kayo, a girl who has visible bruises because she’s molested by her mother, but who also is the first victim of a child-abducting serial killer that terrorizes the neighborhood, something Satoru knows beforehand, because he relives the past. He has only a few days to set things right. Will he be able to rescue Kayo and the other children from the clutches of the murderer, this time?

The series thus plays with the wish to go back in time to do things differently than you have had before. Satoru certainly changes the behavior of his eleven-years old self, changing from a rather distant, lonesome child into one who becomes a responsible and valuable friend, discovering the power of friendship along the way.

Now this is the first anime series I’ve seen in its entirety, so to me it’s difficult to assess the series’ value compared to others. In the distant past I’ve seen episodes from ‘Heidi’ (1974), ‘Angie Girl’ (1977-1978), and ‘Candy Candy’ (1975-1979), as well as ‘Battle of the Planet’s (1978-1980), the Americanized version of ‘Gatchaman’, but that’s about it – the only other more recent series I’ve seen is ‘FLCL’ (2000-2001), but I’ve only seen the first couple of episodes, so I cannot judge that series in its entirety.

Nevertheless, ‘Erased’ receives a high rating on IMDb, thus is clearly valued as one of the better series. And I can see why. The series is very good with cliffhangers, and there’s enough suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat most of the time. Moreover, apart from the time travelling and killer plot, there’s a sincere attention to the horrid effects of child abuse. Even better still, the series shows how being open and friendly towards others can make a significant positive change to their lives, as well as to your own. This is a rare and very welcome message, which the series never enforces on the viewer, but shows ‘by example’.

I particularly liked the fact that each episode starts with an intro, which is not an exact recapture of events in the previous episode, but which contains new footage, subtly shedding new light on the events. Nevertheless, ultimately, the thriller plot, which its red herrings, false alarms, and rather unconvincing villain, is less impressive than the subplots on child abuse and friendship.

Indeed, the series’ best parts all play in February-March 1988, not in the present, with the gentle eight episode, ‘Spiral’ forming the series emotional highlight. The creators succeed in giving these school parts an air of nostalgia, as exemplified by the leader of the series, which is intentionally nostalgic, focusing on Satoru’s childhood, before becoming more confused, indicating a lot, without revealing anything. Oddly, the intro is accompanied by neo-alternative guitar rock, suggesting more the early nineties than late 1980s.

Anyhow, when focusing on the relationships between the children the series is at its very best. In fact, I wonder why the creators didn’t make this series without the rather enforced killer plot. In my opinion the series needn’t any, although it certainly accounts for some chilling moments, like when Satoru becomes a victim of child abduction himself…

Unfortunately, the creators of ‘Erased’ are better in building its subplots than ending them. The last three episodes become increasingly unconvincing. They quickly lost me, making me leave the series with a rather sour taste in my mouth. The finale certainly stains the whole series and diminishes its power.

I have difficulties to say something about the design and animation. The animation, typically for television anime, is rather limited, but still looks fine, as does the staging. The character designs and background painting, however, don’t transcend the usual Japanese conventions, and are indeed pretty generic. In that respect, ‘FLCL’, the only other anime series I can say something about, is much more cutting edge.

In all, ‘Erased’ is a gripping series with a very welcome attention to the horrors of child abuse and the benefits of friendship. I’d certainly say it deserves a watch, even if it can turn out a little disappointing one, given the series’ potential.

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

‘Erased’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Earl Hurd
Release Date: September 17, 1917
Stars: Bobby Bumps
Rating: ★★½

Bobby Bumps Starts for School © Bray PicturesThe Bobby Bumps series was conceived and drawn by Earl Hurd, the inventor of cel animation, and his series is the first to employ this new technique.

‘Bobby Bumps starts for School’ is the 23rd entry in the series, and this film transcends the tiresome dullness of the limited animation dominating the cartoons of the 1910s with the charm of the drawings.

Bobby Bumps has to go to school. First he’s washed by his ma, then we watch him walking to school, carrying ridiculously large books on his back. At school he imagines himself playing ball with his dog Fido (visualized on his desk). The body of the film involves some antics with the school bell and the headmaster. The film ends with a little mouse writing ‘Earl Hurd’.

‘Bobby Bumps Starts for School’ is full of clever ideas and elegant, if very limited animation. Especially the animation on Fido’s walk is very well done. Throughout it’s clear that Earl Hurd knows how to draw and his perspective drawing is excellent.

Watch ‘Bobby Bumps Starts for School’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bobby Bumps Starts for School’ is available on the Blu-Ray-DVD-combo ‘Cartoon Roots’

Director: Jiří Brdečka
Release Date: 1963
Rating: ★★★½

Spatne namalovana slepice (Gallina vogelbirdae) © Jiří BrdečkaIn ‘Spatne namalovana slepice (which translates as ‘Badly Drawn Hens’)’ we watch three kids in a school class: a dreamy boy, a little girl who sits next to him, and a nerdy boy with glasses.

When the teacher orders the class to reproduce an intricate drawing of a chicken, the bespectacled boy reproduces the poster with photographic accuracy. The dreamy boy, however, makes a semi-abstract interpretation of the subject and the teacher reprimands the little boy. But then, at night, his colorful drawing comes to life…

This film is a clear ode to fantasy and celebrates the breaking of rules. This is a subject that’s often encountered in European animation films from the 1950s and 1960s, and which would have special appeal in the Eastern Bloc, with its repressive communist regimes.

Brdečka uses an idiosyncratic angular style, clearly influenced by the cartoon modern movement of the 1950s, but especially akin to contemporary developments at Zagreb film in Yugoslavia. His film uses vocal sounds, but no dialogue, and relies mostly on visual gags. However, there’s one great scene in which a famed ornithologist called Dr. Vogelbird repeatedly listens to a tape recorder saying his own name.

In the end, the film is a little too inconsistent and too wandering to become a classic, but its sympathetic story and charming drawing style make the short a nice watch.

Watch ‘Spatne namalovana slepice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Spatne namalovana slepice’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e Anniversaire’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 27, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Swing School © Max Fleischer‘The Swing School’ marks a return of Betty Boop to the animal world she came from in the early 1930s.

In this cartoon she runs a swing school for anthromorpic kid animals, including an elephant, a hippo, a giraffe, and Pudgy. Pudgy, like Pluto, had been only a half anthropomorphized dog and wasn’t able to speak. So in this cartoon, in which he’s more treated as a little kid than as a dog, all these animals are devoid of speech. However, they can sing and play the piano.

Unfortunately, Pudgy is not doing well at all, singing Betty Boop’s trite Lalala song way out of tune. So Betty makes him sit in the dunce’s corner. But when a female dachshund takes pity on the pup, and kisses him, Pudgy suddenly bursts into some serious scatting, making the whole class swing.

‘The Swing School’ surfs on the swing craze, which was in full swing (pardon the pun) by 1938. Although the catchy scatting part is a warm welcome back to Betty Boop’s early jazz days, most of the cartoon is terribly slow and extremely childish, and so tiresome that it comes close to the point of being unwatchable. In no sense the cartoon comes close to the Fleischers’ greatest swing cartoons, like ‘Swing, You Sinners!‘ (1930) or ‘Minnie the Moocher‘ (1932).

Only two weeks later, Warner Bros. would release ‘Katnip Kollege‘ covering the same subject, but with much, much more spirit.

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

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 74
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Out of the Inkwell
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy the Watchman

‘Out of the Inkwell’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Vol. 4’ and the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: March 11, 1938
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Donald's Better Self © Walt DisneyWhen ‘Donald’s Better Self’ was released, it was not yet firmly established whether Donald Duck was a boy or an adult.

This would be settled in the next cartoon, ‘Donald’s Nephews‘, with Donald clearly playing a rather unlikely role of authority figure. But in ‘Donald’s Better Self’ he’s young enough to go to an elementary school.

Throughout the cartoon, Donald is advised by both is angelic and his devilish self. The devilish self makes him skipping school and smoking a pipe, which renders Donald sick. Luckily, his angelic side comes to the rescue, mimicking a war plane, and clobbering the devilish side straight into hell.

‘Donald’s Better Self’ is animated wonderfully throughout, but as often, Jack King’s timing is terrible, wearing down the action. Worse, the tale is overtly moralistic (typical for the mid-1930s), and low on gags. The result is another mediocre entry in Donald’s fledgling series. Luckily, with the next Donald Duck cartoon, ‘Donald’s Nephews’, the studio would hit the jackpot.

Together with material from ‘Self Control‘, animation from ‘Donald’s Better Self’ was reused in the film ‘Donald’s Decision‘ (1941), a war propaganda film for the Canadian government.

Watch ‘Donald’s Better Self’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 3
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Self Control
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Nephews

‘Donald’s Better Self’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: unknown
Release Date:
 May 13, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating:
Review:

School Days © Ub IwerksIn most of his films Flip the Frog, like Mickey Mouse, is somewhat of a young adult. Yet, in ‘School Days’ Flip suddenly is young enough to have to attend school, where he gets music lessons among human kids.

Unfortunately, Flip’s dog (introduced in the previous cartoon, ‘Puppy Love’) has followed him to school, and battles with a skunk, which has popped out of nowhere, making all people, including the desks, flee the building.

‘School Days’ is a very weak and terribly unfunny cartoon, anticipating many childish cartoon of the later 1930s. Its story is less consistent, but also less sentimental than that of ‘The Milkman‘ or ‘What a Life‘ from earlier that year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exchange the sentimentality for anything, rendering a bland, forgettable cartoon. To illustrate this: the ‘best gag’ is when the teacher accidentally picks up an erotic magazine instead of a schoolbook.

Watch ‘School Days’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 21
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Puppy Love
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: The Bully

‘School Days’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: unknown
Release Date: November 1, 1924
Stars: Virginia Davis (Alice)
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'Alice Gets in Dutch' featuring the teacher, three books and a canonAlice is at school singing out of tune and blowing a balloon that contains ink. When it explodes in the teacher’s face, Alice is cornered. There she falls asleep.

Alice dreams she’s making music with a cat, a dog and a donkey, until they are being attacked by a evil horned teacher and three anthropomorphized schoolbooks called ‘reading’, ‘writing’ and ‘arithmetic’. The cat invents a canon to shoot pepper with. The first shot is successful, but the second one explodes in their faces, so Alice and the gang are sneezing their heads off. At that point Alice awakes.

‘Alice Gets in Dutch’ is a rather unremarkable entry in the Alice Comedies series. None of the animation in this short is particularly noteworthy, although the animation of the cat thinking up an invention looks quite good. This cat character would eventually evolve into Alice’s main sidekick, the very Felix the Cat-like Julius. The technique of combining live action and drawings suffers in this short; at some scenes Alice is rendered so light, she’s almost invisible.

Watch ‘Alice Gets In Dutch’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Alice Gets In Dutch’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

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