Category Archives: Animation

Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor

Directed by Dave Fleischer
Produced by Max Fleischer
Voices by Jack Mercer (Popeye)
Mae Questel (Olive Oyl)
Gus Wickie (Bluto)
Music by Sammy Timberg, Sammy Lerner & Bob Rothberg
Animation by Willard Bowsky, George Germanetti, Edward Nolan & Orestes Calpini
Studio Fleischer Studios
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) November 27, 1936
Color process Technicolor
Running time 16 min (two reels)
Language English

Today I am going to do something a little different. Instead of watching a feature film I have watched a number of great short films. The first of those is this one from 1936, Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor.

Now I know what you grown ups will be saying, cartoons are strictly for kids. That is simply rubbish. So many artists worked on this, so many drawings done, for this simply to be something to amuse children.

These Fleischer Popeye cartoons have become my favourites and it is easy to see why. Whilst they were never the best animated cartoons they do have a grittiness about them that is different to what the other studios, notably Disney, were doing.

I also love the 3D backgrounds that Fleischer used here and in their other cartoons too. This gave them a unique feeling as did the great ad-libbing between Jack Mercer, Mae Questel and Gus Wickie.

It is easy to forget how popular Popeye was and just how important short cartoons were on a film program. In the 1930s, 40s and 50s patrons would often go to the cinema just to see Popeye, Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny rather than the feature length film that the cartoons accompanied.


The Simpsons Movie

Directed by David Silverman
Produced by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Mike Scully & Richard Sakai
Written by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer,
David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder & Jon Vitti
Starring Dan Castellaneta
Julie Kavner
Nancy Cartwright
Yeardley Smith
Hank Azaria
Harry Shearer
Albert Brooks
Tress MacNeille
Music by Hans Zimmer
Danny Elfman (Theme)
Editing by John Carnochan
Studio Gracie Films, Film Roman & Rough Draft Feature Animation
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) July 26, 2007 (United States)
Running time 87 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Simpsons celebrated their 20th anniversary on TV last year but I really wonder just how relevant they are in the 21st Century. It has been about a dozen years since The Simpsons was essential viewing while the last of the really classic episodes was made a decade ago. The big problem that I have with The Simpsons is that they have become mediocre and come to rely on clichés, celebrity guest voices and crudity. Where once this was the cleverest show on TV and you could view an episode several times and still be discovering new things, now there is no subtlety, the gags obvious and nothing is left to the imagination. The old shows had the ability to make the viewer think while now The Simpsons have become just like other animated shows like Family Guy, in that it’s best not to think about things too much. The fact is that to Matt Groening and Al Jean, the voice actors and the other creative staff who work on the show it doesn’t matter whether the quality of the show, Fox will never cancel them as long as it remains in syndication round the world. It was with this sense of trepidation that I watched The Simpsons Movie for the first time since I saw it at the cinemas in 2007.

To me The Simpsons Movie is like an extended episode of the show, although this would be one of the better episodes when compared to those aired in the last decade. Sure, we all know that Homer is going to do something stupid and cause mass chaos, as that is the clichéd plotline that the shows writers have been using for years, but there were a couple of funny scenes that made me laugh. (The one where Bart skateboards nude through Springfield and Spider-pig!) Considering most of the writers who made the show great (with the exception of Conan) returned to write the film it should have been funnier. The animation is first rate as is the direction from David Silverman. It is well worth watching but don’t expect it to be too deep or meaningful like The Simpsons was back in the 1990s.


Up

Directed by Pete Docter & Bob Peterson
Produced by Jonas Rivera, John Lasseter & Andrew Stanton
Written by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter & Thomas McCarthy
Starring Edward Asner
Christopher Plummer
Jordan Nagai
Bob Peterson
Music by Michael Giacchino
Studio Pixar Animation Studios
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures
Release date May 29, 2009 (2009-05-29)
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Up is the latest film by Pixar and it is certainly their best yet. It is simply a wonderful film that both adults and children will enjoy immensely. Of course this is what separates Pixar from their contemporaries, in that they can make animated movies that are much more sophisticated in their plot and characterisations than the others and even many live action films.

The unlikely hero of Up is Carl, an elderly gentleman who finds out after his wife dies that life has past him by and that he never achieved any of the dreams that he had as a child. This is a far cry from the talking animals and fart jokes that other animation studios often use, and this is what separates Pixar from the rest, in that they are able to think outside the box and experiment and do something unexpected. Other studios make films just to sell merchandise and toys, but Pixar took a gamble. No toy company took the risk of bringing out Up merchandising because they wrongly thought that no-one would want to see an animated film about an old man. Thankfully they were all wrong.

I also liked the visual aspect of Up. The colours are wonderful and the depth and look of the backgrounds look spectacular. Just the visual aspect of seeing Carl’s house attached to the balloons and floating in the sky is very cool looking.

This is the best film that I watched from 2009 and certainly the best film that I have watched this month so far. Pixar shows that there is someone making incredible, thoughtful movies now and not just the mindless crud that usually comes out of Hollywood.

Up should be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards but it won’t be because it’s animated. There is an undoubted bias against animated films by the Academy which is why only Beauty & The Beast has ever been nominated for best picture. Up contains a warmth and heart not found in many films these days.

* I must make a note that I have only just made my self-imposed deadline of a post a day by 30 minutes. I thought that this was going to be one that I did not get online in time due to a busy, demanding day.

* Sorry that my words do not do any justice to this brilliant film. I wish I could articulate better how much I loved this movie.


The Princess and the Frog

Directed by Ron Clements
John Musker
Produced by Peter Del Vecho
John Lasseter
(Executive producer)
Written by Ron Clements
John Musker
Rob Edwards
(Screenplay)
Ron Clements
John Musker
Greg Erb
Jason Oremland
Don Hall
(Story)
Starring Anika Noni Rose
Bruno Campos
Keith David
Michael-Leon Wooley
Jim Cummings
Jenifer Lewis
John Goodman
Oprah Winfrey
Jennifer Cody
Peter Bartlett
Terrence Howard
Music by Randy Newman
Editing by Jeff Draheim
Studio Walt Disney Animation Studios
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures
Release date(s) November 25, 2009 (2009-11-25)
(Los Angeles premiere)
December 11, 2009 (2009-12-11)
Running time 97 minutes
Country United States

Much has been made of The Princess And The Frog for a variety of reasons. Firstly, Tiana is the first AfricanAmerican to become one of Disney’s famed princesses, which really just means that  now a black face has been added to Disney merchandising.

Secondly, The Princess And The Frog marks a return to Disney doing things the old-fashioned way. Disney decided to once again try to return to hand drawn 2D animation after their recent dismal failures with CGI.

Finally and most importantly, The Princess And The Frog sees Disney once again become ambitious with their movies. No longer are they going to rely on celebrity voices or imitating Pixar and Dreamworks. Instead they have gone back to doing things the traditional Disney way, with a great storyline and music. It may be familiar and old-fashioned, not as hip or trendy as Dreamworks, but it works well and sees Disney return to form impressively. Then again Dreamworks’ films tend to age very quickly as the references contained within them go out of date, however I feel that The Princess And The Frog is a little more timeless.

I was quite impressed with some of the animation, especially in one scene early on where Tiana is dreaming of opening her own restaurant. This scene had a 1920s, art deco feel to it, thanks to some striking backgrounds and character designs, but it also featured some really great animation work that I found to be very impressive.

The music too is very good. The score features lots of Randy Newman penned jazz songs that complements the film’s setting of New Orleans. These are not pop songs by some lame band, ala the Shrek movies, but songs that are reminiscent of the best music from Disney’s second heyday of  the late 1980s and 90s.

All in all I thought that The Princess And The Frog was a great movie and one that is almost as great as past Disney hits like The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast and Aladdin. Hopefully Disney will now leave the CGI stuff to Pixar and continue to make these wonderful hand-drawn movies in their traditional style, as this is the stuff that Disney does best.


The Puppetoon Movie

Directed by Arnold Leibovit
Produced by Arnold Leibovit
Written by Arnold Leibovit
Starring Dick Beals, Art Clokey, Paul Frees, Victor Jory, Dal Mckennon
Release date(s) June 12, 1987
Running time 90 minutes

Tubby The Tuba

I bought this a while ago and it has become a DVD that I have come to cherish. The Puppetoon Movie was released in 1987 as a tribute and retrospective to stop-motion pioneer George Pal. Pal was responsible not only for the Puppetoons, but also for assisting another young stop-motion animator, Ray Harryhausen, who would soon make his own mark on the film world. After he was finished with the Puppetoons George Pal then went on to producing a number of hit live action films, such as War Of The Worlds and The Time Machine, for which he also created the special effects.

The Puppetoon movie features eleven of the Puppetoon short animated films from the 1930s and 40s. The film is hosted by Art Clokey’s little green clay man Gumby, and his pals Pokey and Arnie the Dinosaur. Arnie explains to Gumby the significance of George Pal and the Puppetoons to stop-motion characters like himself, and then shows Gumby some of the Puppetoons.

Eleven of the Puppetoon animated films are shown in all, but the first four of these, The Little Broadcast and The Big Broadcast of 1938,  Hoola Boola and South Sea Sweethearts and only shown in part.

My favourite Puppetoons are John Henry and the Inky Poo, which retells the African-American folk tale of how railway worker John Henry beat the Inky Poo (a railway track laying machine) in a competition to see which was more efficient at laying railway tracks, but died of exhaustion at the end, and Tubby The Tuba, which tells the story of a Tuba who longs to be able to play a melody rather than just going oompah, oompah. (My explanation doesn’t really do justice to  these films.)

Puppetoons included in the movie are:

1 – The Little Broadcast/The Phillips Broadcast of 1938
2 – Hoola Boola/South Sea Sweethearts
3 – The Sleeping Beauty
4 – Tulips Shall Grow
5 – Together In The Weather
6 – John Henry and the Inky-Poo
7 – Phillips Cavalcade
8 – Jasper In A Jam
9 – Tubby the Tuba

Included with the DVD are 12 bonus cartoons which are all a joy to watch.

They are:
1 – What Ho She Bumps
2 – Mr. Strauss Takes A Walk
3 – Olio For Jasper
4 – Phillips Cavalcade (full film)
5 – Jasper’s Derby
6 – Hoola Boola (full film)
7 – Ether Symphony
8 – Aladdin and His Magical Lamp
9 – The Magic Atlas
10 – Jasper and the Haunted House
11 – The Phillips Broadcast of 1938 (full film)
12 – The Ship of Ether

Hopefully there will be a second Puppetoon DVD soon, as I would like to see some more of these wonderful films, including the two Oscar nominated adaptations that George Pal made of Dr. Seuss stories. These are great pieces of entertainment and it’s is fascinating to see the infancy of stop-motion animation. With the renewed interest in this art form thanks to the likes of  Fantastic Mr. Fox and Coraline we can only hope that Arnold Leibovit and Paramount can see fit to release more of these great films that served as inspiration to today’s stop motion animators,  onto DVD where everyone has the ability to see them.