Tag Archives: animation

Stream It!: Robin Hood (1973)

[Showcasing the best and highlighting the newest additions to the various streaming services, including but not limited to Netflix Instant, HuluPlus, and Amazon Prime.]

New on Netflix: Robin Hood

Growing up, I saw many of the classic Disney films – Pinocchio, Bambi, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Lady and the Tramp, etc. – but as a child my favorite one was without a doubt the 1973 version of Robin Hood, with a foxy Robin Hood and Maid Marian, a petulant shorn lion as Prince John, and various other characters given appropriate animal form. I didn’t know it at the time, but Disney was in recycle mode here, not even bothering to disguise the re-use of Baloo the Bear from The Jungle Book as Little John, or the King of the Animals from Bedknobs and Broomsticks as the ineffective Prince John. Sometimes there’s something to be said for ignorance, and my childhood glee at watching and rewatching this film is something that will never escape me. I’ve heard others who saw this film first as adults say that they didn’t like it much at all, but I’ll never be able to watch it without nostalgia glasses, I guess. Thankfully, Jonathan feels the same way about it, so at least I have one very important person on my side. If you do have kids who are into adventure but may not quite be ready for the 1938 Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood quite yet, give the Disney version a try. It’s a good stepping stone, and they won’t know that it falls into Disney’s “lazy” period.

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Watch This: Mickey Mouse in Ghoul Friend

Disney has been producing new Mickey Mouse cartoons for a while now, but I first really became aware of them when I happened to catch one playing at the Disney Store and was like, what is this, it’s awesome! Because they are awesome. I’ve been pretty vocal in the past about how little I like the things that Warner Brothers has tried to do with Looney Tunes in recent years, but for some reason, I have absolutely no problem with the way Disney has brought Mickey into contemporary cartoons. For one thing, they aren’t using gimmicks like 3D, they aren’t trying to fit the characters into a sitcom format, and most importantly, they’ve got a distinctive but classic-looking style to them.

Here’s this month’s short, appropriately Halloween-themed with a zombie Goofy. I’ve embedded the playlist below – check out the others as well, because this one isn’t even my favorite (that might be “Bad Ear Day,” which uses sound really cleverly or “Croissant de Triomphe,” which was the one I saw at the Disney Store and immediately grabbed me with its Parisian setting and stylish backgrounds).

Short Cuts: Gene Deitch Animation

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Originally posted on Row Three.

Los Angeles’ fabulous repertory company Cinefamily shows an animated series every month hosted by Cartoon Brew‘s Jerry Beck. It’s always a great program, but a recent program focusing on the work of animator Gene Deitch is easily the most impressive of all the ones I’ve been to, despite the fact that I was not familiar with Deitch’s work beforehand. Deitch started off as an animator with UPA in the 1950s, then moved to Fox’s Terrytunes, with stints doing Tom & Jerry, Popeye, and Krazy Kat as well, before finally taking an opportunity to head an animation studio in Prague (where he still lives and works). Quite a varied and unusual career, held together by his unique eye and constant quest for new visual styles and innovative ways to use the medium. Deitch himself was here for the program, talking with Jerry about his career and his films, which was pretty special as he’s rarely back in the United States anymore. And of all the filmmakers who I’ve seen at Cinefamily screenings, he was probably the most engaging, with the most fascinating stories to tell.

But great stories are even better when the films they support are good, and I was quite simply blown away by the quality and creativity of these films, especially considering he was working with MGM and Fox, who are not as well known for pushing the envelope as UPA and Warner Bros. Deitch pushed it anyway, using a very angular, minimalist visual style as well as a highly abstract sense of story and narrative.

Watch what he does with Tom and Jerry here, taking two familiar characters and putting them in a very self-aware, meta-narrative story.

But more of the shorts we saw were original characters, like Flebus, a cartoon that was written and begun by Ernest Pintoff but completed by Gene Deitch, who was also the supervising director.

Or characters from books, like little Munro, who was drafted into the army at the age of four and had a Yossarian-esque odyssey trying to convince the higher-ups that their paperwork was in error.

There’s a wonderful simplicity to these stories – a walking box who just wants to be friends, a little boy who runs head-on into bureaucracy – but they’re both set apart by the uncharacteristically world-weary narration and the unusual animation style. Everyone raves, and rightly so, about the voice work that Mel Blanc did on Looney Tunes, but this is an almost wholly opposite strain of voice acting here that provides a wonderful counterpoint to what was going on over at Warners. It’s a bit more cynical, a bit harder-edged, and a bit more grounded in some ways. (Flebus is voiced by Allen Swift, Munro by Howard Morris.)

After moving to Prague (motivated in part by the promise of financing for Munro, which he obviously got – and the film won an Academy Award soon after), Deitch oversaw a bunch of Czech animators, who were working on animating children’s books. If you’ve seen Czech stop-motion animation, you’ll know how creative and off-beat their style is, and Czech hand-drawn animation is no different. Here’s a very strange short called Giants that was released in Czechoslovakia in 1968 – although Deitch originally meant it to be about Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it was immediately interpreted as a political statement on US/Russia relations, which fit rather well with events in Prague in 1968. I find it a little off-putting, personally, but it is….interesting. Yeah, let’s go with that. YouTube only has the Czech language version, unfortunately.

Here’s The Three Robbers, an example of the children’s book adaptations Deitch oversaw; in this case, he also provided the voiceover and all the sound effects, which makes for a unique experience. I love the abstractness of the animation here, how the robbers’ coats become darkness, and so on.

They ended the show with this short, The Juggler of Our Lady, even though it comes from earlier in Deitch’s career, back when he was with Terrytunes in the early 1960s, and fittingly so – it’s simply breathtaking.

Terrytunes has a reputation for being a little less willing to think outside the box than some of the other studios, for playing it safe, and sticking with formula. That’s surely not the case here, as Deitch and Co. take an existing picture book and stay true to the original minimalist, parchment-looking drawing style. He said he was fascinated by the idea of having this huge wide screen (CinemaScope had just been introduced) and having just little scribbles on it. The amount of negative space here is astounding, and used astoundingly well. It doesn’t show up as well in this version, which is not the CinemaScope version, but shown in the theatre in 35mm CinemaScope? Amazing. Not to mention the gorgeous score, which is also highly unusual for the time period.

He also had some interesting things to say about CinemaScope and how restrictive it actually was, especially on animation. With a nearly square screen, you could use it all and do interesting effects like spins that you couldn’t easily do with a physical camera. With CinemaScope, you couldn’t do those anymore, because the width being so much greater than the height, you couldn’t change orientation without losing a lot of the image – it restricted animation to be more like what you could in live-action. Also interesting was that for cartoons especially, you still had to make them so they looked good in non-CinemaScope theatres and on TV, so you basically had to compose everything for three different ratios (that’s presumably why the non-CinemaScope version of The Juggler of Our Lady is the one that’s prevalent on YouTube).

In addition to the cartoons above, we saw an entry in the Nudnik series, a character original to Deitch. The one we saw, which I think was Here’s Nudnik, I was unable to find on YouTube, but here is a sampling of the ones that are. We also saw an early Howdy Doody cartoon he did that never aired because he and his crew (who were young and rebellious at the time) refused to follow the house style of the show, and also a bit of “Tom Terrific,” a cartoon that aired as part of the Captain Kangaroo show. I quite liked Tom Terrific, which puts simple line drawings to really imaginative use, but again couldn’t find the one we watched. Here’s a little snippet of the opening, but most of the videos on YouTube have embedding disabled, so you’ll have to go there to see more.

All in all, it was a fascinating program with Deitch, and I’m very grateful to have been introduced to his work. I can’t believe I hadn’t seen any of it before, but be sure I’ll look for more of it now. Some of these things are difficult to find outside of YouTube bootlegs; it would be great if some of this stuff, especially the more obscure things like Tom Terrific, could find its way into DVD collections at some point. I’d eat it up.

TV: Animation Domination #1

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Family Guy 8×01: Road to the Multiverse

How did Family Guy know alternate universes were my favorite thing ever? Aside from the one where everything is 1000 years more advanced because Christianity never existed (seriously, I love the show, but does it have to take potshots at Christianity in almost every episode?), almost all the others had me laughing out loud, especially the ones that lampooned other animation styles. The Disney one CRACKED ME UP. And then following it up with Robot Chicken? Sweet.

That could easily allow an argument that Family Guy is out of ideas (a criticism leveled at it a lot last year), but I really enjoy that kind of referencing. And with that, Family Guy remains atop the animation category.

The Simpsons 21×01: Homer the Whopper

Comic book geeks! I love this episode. And a Guernica reference? I super love this episode.

But then after that it got a bit more routine. I mean, good enough, right, with the parody of big-screen blockbuster filmmaking. Kind of an easy target, though.

The Cleveland Show 1×01: Pilot (spoilers)

It’s better than the previews. The style’s like a slightly less manic Family Guy. Perhaps a Family Guy with a little more heart? We’ll see. At least I don’t feel like I’m only watching it because I know people who work on it. I do have just one question, though…BEAR NEIGHBORS WTF?

I did think the courtship part was going to take longer. Interesting they decided to jump straight to the wedding and make it about the new family rather than taking more time to lead up to that. Kinda felt rushed at the end, but perhaps that’s better than stretching it over a season or something.

July 2007 Reading/Watching Recap

In an effort to get caught up on these recap posts, I did shorter write-ups on some of the films I didn’t care about as much (and I’m going to do the same thing for August, hoping to get it out by, you know, the end of September so I can, you know, do September’s). I intended there to be more shorter ones, but it turned out, I cared about a lot of the films this month. Ah well. If I give a quickie reaction to something you’d like to hear more about, let me know and I’ll do a more detailed writeup on it later. I doubt most people read all these anyway. Not that that’s why I write them; I write them so in ten years I can look back and see how stupid my reactions to thing were when I first saw them. ;)

After the jump, reactions to Happy Feet, Orlando (book and film), Vivre sa vie, The Fountain, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the Three Colours Trilogy, Winter Light, Renaissance, Little Children, Sophie’s World, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and more.

Continue reading July 2007 Reading/Watching Recap