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Directors: Yasuji Murata & Chuzo Aoji
Release Date: 1932
In this film we watch several sports events: monkeys turning, a judo match between a tiger and a lion, several polar bears and a hippo diving, a boxing match between a pig and a kangaroo, and finally, a tug-of-war between an elephant and numerous other animals.
There’s pretty little to enjoy in this lighthearted film, but it contains one nicely staged scene of a polar bear diving from a ridiculously high platform. However, the best animation is found in the tug-of-war scene, in which Murata manages to put a real sense of weight and muscle tension.
Watch ‘Sports Day at Animal Village’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Sports Day at Animal Village’ is available on the Japanese DVD Box Set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’.
Directors: Harry Bailey, John Foster, Frank Moser & Jerry Shields
Release Date: June 2, 1929
The cartoon stars a couple of mice, with the hero being indistinguishable from the others. The mouse plays a polo game with the others on mechanical horses, and most of the gags (even the final one) stem from the horses falling apart. Meanwhile the hero’s sweetheart is harassed and later kidnapped by a mean old cat. Our hero pursuits the cat and saves his sweetheart.
The cartoon is pretty fast and full of action, but none of the gags are interesting enough to keep the viewer’s attention. Nevertheless, the short was re-released in 1932 as ‘Happy Polo’, with an added soundtrack.
It’s pretty likely that the inspiration for the mechanical horses stems from the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon ‘Ozzie of the Mounted‘ (1928) in which Oswald rides a mechanical horse himself. In any case, mechanical horses were clearly much easier to animate than real ones, and one was reused in ‘Hot Tamale’ (1930).
Watch ‘Polo Match’ (or ‘Happy Polo’) yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Polo Match/Happy Polo’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’
Director: Bruno Bozzetto
Release Date: 1983
The cartoon consists of one scene in a blue room in which a bespectacled little boy imagines himself as the sport stars he watches on television. The little boy’s imagination is shown by metamorphosis: we watch him change into the sport stars, growing with every metamorphosis.
‘Sigmund’ is a sweet short, but neither memorable, funny or one of Bozzetto’s best.
Watch ‘Sigmund’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Release Date: June 3, 2003
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 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.
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.
‘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.
‘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.
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.
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).
‘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.
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: Georges Schwizgebel
Release Date: 1977
With this short film Schwizgebel builds on the concepts introduced in his previous film, ‘Perspectives‘. In ‘Hors-jeu’ he incorporates sound-effects and a rather surrealistic play with the rotoscoped images into his style. Surrealism would dominate his next film, ‘Le ravissement de Frank N. Stein‘ (1982), but in its visual style ‘Hors-jeu’ looks more forward to later films, like ‘78 Tours‘ (1985).
Watch ‘Hors-jeu’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Hors-jeu’ is available on the DVD ‘Les Peintures animées de Georges Schwizgebel’
Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: September 23, 1949
In this short Goofy orders some home training devices to improve his condition. All his attempts fail, of course, sometimes in surprisingly long and elaborate gags, involving great situation comedy. It’s this cartoon Roger Rabbit watches in the cinema in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?‘ from 1988.
Together with the previous ‘Tennis Racquet‘, Goofy Gymnastics’ is a transitional Goofy cartoon: it’s the first cartoon showing the restyled Goofy as an average American citizen. Unlike ‘Tennis Racquet’, however, there’s only one Goofy in this cartoon, who even sings his own theme song ‘The world owes me a living’ again. ‘Goofy Gymnastics’ marks the last time we see Goofy in his original hat, which he only puts on after changing into his gym costume. It’s also the last of the Goofy sports cartoons. The next year, the same tired Goofy is advised to get a hobby, in ‘Hold That Pose‘.
Like the earlier great sports cartoons it uses a posh voice over, who’s completely out of tune with Goofy’s antics with his home training gear. The action is a bit slow, however, and the animators make no attempts to synchronize their character’s lip movements with the now obligate Goofy vocalizations.
Watch ‘Goofy Gymnastics’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: August 26, 1949
Kinney’s first Goofy film in four years, ‘Tennis Racquet’ is a transitional film: together with the next Goofy short, ‘Goofy Gymnastics‘, it’s firmly rooted in the 1940s Goofy tradition, being a sports cartoon, similar in content to ‘How to Play Football‘ (1944) and ‘Hockey Homicide‘ (1945). Moreover, in the first scene we hear one of the Goofy characters (the cartoon contains several of them) singing Goofy’s own theme song “the world owes me a living”, and in the end we can hear the typical Goofy yell, introduced in “The Art of Skiing” (1941). The short even features a slow motion gag, not seen since ‘How to swim‘ (1942).
On the other hand, it can also be seen as the first entry of Goofy’s second series, for the character has been completely redesigned. The next year this new, redesigned Goofy would turn into Mr. Geef, the everyman.
Like ‘How to Play Football’ and ‘Hockey Homicide’, ‘Tennis Racquet’ has no educational value: the cartoon consists of one frantic tennis match between two Goofy characters. It’s a fast and funny cartoon, full of silly gags. The highlight may be the running gag of the stoic gardener, who enters the game at several points, undisturbed by the frantic action around him.
Watch ‘Tennis Racquet’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: December 10, 1949
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Meathead
‘Tennis Chumps’ is one of the most violent of all Tom & Jerry cartoons, and none of the three protagonists is sympathetic in it. It’s perhaps because of this that the humor of ‘Tennis Chumps’ never comes off, despite its fast timing and abundance of Tex Averyan gags.
The inspiration of the subject of ‘Tennis Chumps’ may have come from the otherwise very different Goofy short ‘Tennis Racquet‘ from four months earlier.
Watch ‘Tennis Chumps’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: February 2, 1946
Stars: Bugs Bunny
Bugs Bunny, who’s watching the game, wearing an innocent straw head, boasts that he can beat the Gas-House Gorillas single-handedly, so he gets himself a game. Playing in every position he manages to win the ball game in this wild and hilariously funny cartoon.
Highlight among the many gags may be Bugs’s constant jabbering. Some of it was copied by Jones in ‘Rabbit Punch‘ (1948). ‘Baseball Bugs’ reuses several gags from the Woody Woodpecker cartoon ‘The Screwball’ (1942), but with much better results, making it a classic, where ‘The Screwball’ was not.
Watch ‘Baseball Bugs’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Baseball Bugs’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’
This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 35
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hare Tonic
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hare Remover
Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: April 10, 1948
Stars: Bugs Bunny, The Crusher
The boxing game soon changes into a wrestling match with blackout gags, in which we only see round 37, 49, 73, 98 and 110. These blackout gags foreshadow the complete Road Runner series. In the last one the champ uses a train in order to ride over Bugs, but then the film abruptly breaks, a revival of a gag Jones used in ‘My Favorite Duck‘ (1942).
‘Rabbit Punch’ is one of the earliest cartoons in what we can call Chuck Jones’ mature style, which consolidated in 1949. Like in his earlier Bugs Bunny cartoons ‘Case of the Missing Hare‘ (1942) and ‘Hare Conditioned‘ (1945), Jones uses his sense of grace and deftness to portray a particularly large, human opponent to Bugs. And like in those cartoons he does that with stunning ‘camera angles’ and a cinematic approach. Bugs is pretty suave in this cartoon, acting out complete terror in the final scene, only to appear in full control, after all.
Watch ‘Rabbit Punch’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 48
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: A Feather in his Hare
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Buccaneer Bunny
Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: September 21, 1945
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
‘Hockey Homicide’ is an account of a frantic Ice Hockey Game between two teams, of which all players share names with Disney employees (while the referee is named after the cartoon’s director, Jack Kinney).
The cartoon is bursting with cartoon violence. For instance, there’s a hilarious running gag of two star players, Bertino and Ferguson, who, when they leave the penalty box, immediately start beating up each other, only to be send back into the penalty box again.
But the real treat of this fast and furious cartoon is its final sequence, when the crowd takes over and the cartoon runs totally haywire, even using non-related footage from ‘How to Play Football’ (1944), ‘How to Play Baseball‘ (1942), ‘Victory Through Air Power’ (1943) and Monstro the Whale from ‘Pinocchio’ (1940), to add to the feeling of complete chaos.
‘Hockey Homicide’ must be the wildest, fastest and most violent cartoon Disney ever produced. Like earlier Goofy cartoons by Jack Kinney, it is clearly influenced by contemporary cartoons at Warner Bros. and MGM, and it has a genuine Tex Averyan spirit rarely seen at Dosmey outside the Goofy series.
With ‘Hockey Homicide’ the Goofy series reached its apex. More entertaining films were to follow, but none as wild and extreme as this one. After it Kinney was fully involved in feature films, only to return to the Goofy series again in 1949. By then the humor of Hollywood cartoons had toned down. In the meantime five Goofy cartoons were produced: four directed by Donald Duck-director Jack Hannah, and one by Clyde Geronimi.
Watch ‘Hockey Homicide’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Goofy cartoon No. 17
To the previous Goofy cartoon: Californy’er Bust
To the next Goofy cartoon: A Knight for a Day
Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: October 9, 1942
Goofy has particular problems with the narrator in this short: he’s almost burned by the eternal flame while the narrator pompously chatters away, and he has to try to balance on a pole, while the narrator is reciting a poem.
‘The Olympic Champ’ is not the best of Goofy’s sports cartoons, but it is enjoyable in its successful blend of blackout gags and great animation.
Watch ‘The Olympic Champ’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: September 4, 1942
The short features multiple Goofies to explain baseball, ending with an exciting finale of the World championship. The gags come fast and plenty, depicting a lot of nonsense. Nevertheless, the cartoon is not only funny, it’s also surprisingly educational.
In the years following ‘How to Play Baseball’ baseball would return to the animated screen in the Woody Woodpecker cartoon ‘The Screwball’ (1943) and in the Bugs Bunny cartoon ‘Baseball Bugs‘ (1944).
Watch ‘How To Play Baseball’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Goofy cartoon No. 6
To the previous Goofy cartoon: The Art of Self Defence
To the next Goofy cartoon: The Olympic Champ
Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: April 13, 1932
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Mickey is joining a cross country race that involves running, rowing and cycling (which is beautifully animated). His main opponent is a rather unrecognizable Pete, who looks like just a big mean cat without a peg leg.
‘Barnyard Olympics’ was inspired by the upcoming Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1932. It’s a brilliant gag cartoon: it’s fast, consistent and exciting, and without doubt one of Mickey’s finest. It immediately starts with an excellent gag when a spectator suddenly discovers he’s being filmed and waves at ‘the camera’.
In a way ‘Barnyard Olympics’ marks Goofy’s debut. He’s not seen at all, but during a boxing match his characteristic laughter, provided by story man Pinto Colvig, can already be heard. In Mickey’s next film, ‘Mickey’s Revue’, Goofy would appear on the screen himself.
With ‘Barnyard Olympics’ Mickey entered the zenith of his career. His films from 1932-1934 are his best. Almost all portray him as the little, but brave underdog fighting the odds, and importantly, in these films Mickey still is the star himself. After 1934 Mickey became more and more of a straight man, losing screen time to Pluto, Donald and Goofy. Yes, the Mickey Mouse films from the second half of the 1930s are also great, but by then Mickey’s own stardom was in a clear decline. But in ‘Barnyard Olympics’, like the other films from 1932-1934, he’s still in top form as the greatest cartoon star of his era.
Watch ‘Barnyard Olympics’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 40
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Mad Dog
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Revue