Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Best Animated Short - 1987

Well, here we are in our 25th review! On one hand I'm thinking, "Yey! We're at 25 reviews already!" On the other hand, we've been doing this since February. With only 25 reviews in four months, it'll take a long time before I finally finish. Oh well. I'm liking this one review / week pace. I don't foresee myself doing it any faster again, especially with board studying coming up. Plus, it should give me more time to get those last seven shorts I am missing. Although it'll be hard with one still locked up in Disney vaults, this time without a Prometheus-like director to release it to the public, and another one considered lost. But I'll still do my best.

Anyways, 25 years is quite a milestone. As Marilyn Monroe's character in Some Like It Hot says, it's a quarter to a century. (Although Monroe was 32 at the time she made Some Like It Hot. It's pretty impressive how she was still able to pass for 25.) Yet now that I'm past 25 I can't help but think that 25 years is still a fairly short amount of time. I guess it's since people I see as pretty young are turning 25. Then again, there's a lot of people that have done a lot of great things by 25 (Orson Welles made Citizen Kane when he was only 25), and a lot of people that have amounted to nothing by 25 (like me.)

25 years ago was 1987. There were a few events from 1987, such as President's Ronald Reagen's famous speech when he called for Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." It was also the year of Black Monday, the massive global stock market crash that represented the largest % drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It was also the year of birth for my celebrity crush, the lovely Rachel Liang Wen Yin. Three Men and a Baby was the top grossing film at the box office, but the Academy Awards was dominated by a different film, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor. The gorgeous dramatization of the life of Pu Yi won all 9 of its nominations, tying Gigi for most wins without a loss. (The record would later be broken by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). The film had a sense of authenticity, being the first international production to film in the Forbidden Kingdom. However, it also bothered me greatly. Everybody spoke in English, so the entire movie felt like a bad dub.

Thanks to The Last Emperor hogging most of the awards, three of the five Best Picture nominees were left without a win. Moonstruck was the only other one to win, winning three. The rest of the awards were distributed among some very good movies (Wall Street, The Untouchables) and some average movies (Innerspace, Harry and the Hendersons) and Dirty Dancing, which won for the song "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," and Babette's Feast which captured Best Foreign Language Film.

And then there was one of these three nominees for the Best Animated Short Oscars.
George and Rosemary
George Edgecomb is an elderly man with a simple life. He lived with his cat in a small flat and would spend most of his time playing checkers or putting model ships in bottles. However, his favorite activity is to sit on his front porch watching the people pass by, most specifically Rosemary Harris, his neighbor across the street. He'd imagine all of the romantic things that they'll do together, but can never muster up the courage to profess his love. One day he decided that today will be the day, but things always seem to get in his way. Will he ever find happiness? This fun little short film is from British-Canadian animators Alison Snowden and David Fine, who are husband and wife in real life. This is their first animated film where both were credited as director, although they had collaborated two years earlier with the Oscar nominated Second Hand Mail. Strangely enough, neither of them were credited with the nomination for this film. The nomination went instead to producer Eunice Macaulay of the National Film Board of Canada. (Snowden and Fine will eventually strike gold seven years later with Bob's Birthday.) Anyways, the duo are known for their simplistic animation style that includes characters with big noses, and their witty observations of everyday life. George and Rosemary is one of their most charming films, one that is much more amusing than what you'd expect from a film about a geriatric romance. While it lacks the visual humor of Bob's Birthday, much of the charm in George and Rosemary comes with its deliberate pacing. There are moments of action, such as the many fantasies that George has involving his beloved Rosemary. There are also stretches where very little happens, yet those moments don't feel slow with the adorable character design that really highlights the beauty of the mundane. And the ending is absolutely genius. Yes, there is some strangely voyeuristic undertones throughout the entire film, but George and Rosemary are such appealing characters that you don't really mind. And despite the film's simple animation style, there are a lot of artistry with the transitions and the shot design. The narration by Canadian actor Cec Linder is also good. It tells you all you needed to know without any excesses. It's probably not the deepest film, but it's a great film to watch whenever you need your spirits lifted.
Where Can I Watch It?

The Man Who Planted Trees
In the year before World War I, a young man went on a hiking expedition in Southeast France and came across a desolate, abandoned landscape. He runs out of water in the middle of a barren wasteland, and in looking for water he sees only deserted buildings. After walking for five hours he was saved by a shepherd who invited him over. The man listens to the shepherd's stories of the tortured lives of the people that once occupied that land, and observes the shepherd's curious habit of separating acorns. The next day the man watches as the shepherd meticulously planted each of the acorns. The shepherd, named Elzeard Bouffier, explained how he had been planting 100 acorns a day for three years, and had been raising other types of trees as well. He had been doing this to see what he could do to restore the lands to the natural beauty that had been present two millennia ago, since he has nothing better to do. He thought he planted 100,000 oak trees in the three years, of which he felt only 10% of them will grow in such harsh climates. The young man parts the next day and ends up fighting in the Great War. He survives the conflict, and retraces his hike from 1913. He sees Bouffier alive and well, keeping bees this time, and that the trees of ten years ago had grown, already making changes in the land. Over the next 30 years, the young narrator comes back and watches the continued change in the land, surviving the officials who believed it to be a natural forest as well as World War II, and become a new paradise for thousands of people. And it was all thanks to one man.

Frederick Back's The Man Who Planted Trees, based off of the short story by Jean Giorno, is one of the most inspiring films out there, animated or otherwise. The theme of one man dedicating his life to a task and having it change the lives of many has been featured in many films, including Akira Kurosawa's brilliant Ikiru, but few do it as well as this. The vivid descriptions of one man tirelessly changing a barren wasteland into a beautiful paradise has a profound impact on anyone who read the story or watches the film. While Giorno later confessed that the story is a work of fiction, it doesn't change the power that the story has over people. In fact, Wikipedia cites many examples of people being inspired to plant trees just because of this film. And Back, the French Canadian animator who also directed The Mighty River, does an excellent job at bringing the film to life. He is known for his fluid artwork and the environmentalism that permeates his films. This film allows him to illustrate the beauty of the forest and the land, most notably in a stunning sequence at the end of the film that shows off the flora and fauna of the rebuilt land and the unfiltered joys of the people that live there. Of course, the film is not all about the beauty of nature. In fact, half of the film is set in the barren wastelands, which Back still effectively displays with his soft pencil strokes and brilliant use of color. He also adds several shocking scenes of terror and violence in describing the lives of the old inhabitants of the lands and the battles of World War I. The film moves along at an unhurried pace, which may seem slow at times, but the constant calm narration of Oscar-winner-to-be (it wouldn't be until this year for Beginners) Christopher Plummer keeps things interesting. It seems to be lifted from a translation of the story, so it's like listening to a book on tape with arresting visuals. The Man Who Planted Trees was listed as one of the top short films by the voters of IMDb and by industry professionals, and it deserves it with its inspiring tale and brilliant animation.
Where Can I Watch It?

Your Face
A middle aged man wearing a brown suit sits on a chair in the middle of an empty room and begins to sing in falsetto about...your face. He says it is like a song, and continues to compare it to music. As he sings strange things happen to the man's face. His mouth goes moves all around his face, and his face turns upside down, and more. What sort of strangeness will happen to this mysterious singer? Your Face is one of the earlier and more popular works of the American animator Bill Plympton, who made the popular Guard Dog, which ranked as my #5 favorite nominated short between 2002-2011, as well the couch gag for a recent episode of The Simpsons. He has become as well known for his off-beat sense of humor as he has for his distinctive art style. Your Face doesn't really have much of a plot. It really is just a guy singing while weird things happen to his face. The film is still quite entertaining, since you can never really tell what's going to happen next. And being Bill Plympton, a lot of what happens are stuff that you really can't predict. The things that were mentioned earlier like the roving mouth and the upside down face are mundane compared to some of the craziness that occurs later. And the action gets even more fast and furious the later in the film. While there are a few seconds between events early on, by the end of the film one begins as soon as the other one finishes. You become breathless just watching, which makes the abrupt and unexpected ending somewhat welcome. It also helps that the ending is quite hilarious. The song was written exclusively for this film by longtime Bill Plympton collaborator Maureen McElheron (who was credited first in the film), and features a lot of comparison to music. It's a nice little song, but I never find myself paying any notice to it because all of my attention is focused on the insane action occurring onscreen. And Maureen sang the song herself, which was then slowed to give the feel of a man singing falsetto. It is an interesting and understated effect. Your Face is a bizarre but entertaining film that fits well in the Bill Plympton canon. Furthermore, every time somebody uses the "Your face" insult, I can't help but think back to this film. I wish I had a way to play the film every time I hear the insult.
Where Can I Watch It?
There are no copies on American sites, so I've been trying to embed this from Tudou. I don't know if the embed link from Tudou works. In case it doesn't, here is the link to the film on Tudou.
Well, this was the animated short race from 25 years ago. It really wasn't much of a race, with about as much excitement as the Best Picture race. As enjoyable as George and Rosemary and Your Face were, they couldn't compare with the depth, the artistry, and the inspirational message of The Man Who Planted Trees. And evidently the Academy agreed, and Frederick Back walked away with his second Oscar that night. Of course, all three of the films were good and deserve to be remembered 25 years on.

My rankings (by quality)
The Man Who Planted Trees > George and Rosemary > Your Face

My rankings (by preference)
George and Rosemary > The Man Who Planted Trees > Your Face


    The film moves along at an unhurried pace, which may seem slow at times, but the constant calm narration of Oscar-winner-to-be (it wouldn't be until this year for Beginners) Christopher Plummer keeps things interesting."

    I'm only glad he managed to get one, he deserved it greatly for the years he's put into these things.

    This was a very powerful film and I'm glad that it received the attention that it did. A far more serious work for Back long after winning his first Oscar for the light-hearted "Crac". Both films as well as "The Might River" was were produced through the cooperation with the public broadcaster, Radio-Canada (the French section of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), which had employed Back in the early years to provide graphics and animation for many TV programs and ID bumpers prior to making short films.

    For someone who just came onto the scene like he had, Bill Plympton's eye for bizarre, twisted craziness wrapped into a little song number proved an interesting ground to test his new-found skills in animation after a few years of other experimental shorts outside his usual work for magazines (and to think he only did this with colored pencils on paper). I sometimes wish he did win the Oscar out of sheer lucky if it wasn't for being up against Frederic Back's opus. This was certainly a start down a successful road for Plympton and his brand of animated zany atmosphere he would continue with other works that followed, as well as TV commercials like these...

  2. I just thought of other noteworthy things in '87, though on the TV side, such as Brad Bird's directorial opus, "Family Dog", an episode of Steven Spielberg's "Amazing Stories". Then we had a start of a new network and a show that would debut a certain yellow-skinned family that would go on to become a show of it's own, The Simpsons!

  3. Oh yeah...I was so focused on the film side of things that I kind of neglected the important television animation news. Thanks for catching my oversight.

  4. That's OK, at least I got your back there.

    1987 also saw Ralph Baskhi enter the Saturday morning grind (again technically if you count his 60's Terrytoon involvement) with "Mighty Mouse: The New Adventure", a cartoon that paved the way for very similar titles that followed like Ren & Stimpy and the other shows in the 90's that followed (many tend to call this a silver age in TV animation).

  5. Oh yeah. I have old Saturday morning cartoons from 1988, and I see commercials for the Bakshi Mighty Mouse cartoon. We never did get it on tape, though.

  6. Your Face (The Song):

    The Actual Film: