Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Best Animated Short - 1989
Ah, we have reached 1989. Not only are we at a new decade, but as a popular xkcd comic noted, we have arrived at a year which is closer to the moon landing than it is to present day. Then again, the first year of the Best Animated Short category (1932) is now closer to the birth of Old Hoss Radbourn* than it is to the present day. Beyond the fact that most people born in 1989 would now be finishing college, it was also a rather significant year in animation history, as it was the year that marked the beginning of the Disney Renaissance.
*Charles Gardner "Old Hoss" Radbourn was the earliest born of all 300-game winning pitchers in baseball, having been born in 1854. He began his career with the Providence Grays in 1881, and three years later won 59 games in one year, a record which may never be broken. He was also the first person to be photographed giving the finger back in 1886. He won his 300th game on June 2, 1891 and died in 1897 from neurosyphilis. Yet his spirit lives on - as snarky as ever - on Twitter.
The Walt Disney Corporation had been a titan in animation essentially since the 1920. However, the company ran into some troubled times following the death of Walt and his brother Roy. The films from the 1970s and 1980s failed to capture the financial or critical success of their earlier films. The 1980s were an especially dark time. It began on a sour note with the resignation of veteran animator Don Bluth, who started his own studio in 1979 along with several other Disney animators. The studio would go on to make films like The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, and The Land Before Time, the latter two of which were produced by Steven Spielberg and smashed outgrossed Disney efforts.
Meanwhile Disney Studios tried to get by. The Fox and the Hound was a modest success, and afterward they decided to adapt Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron. The film took several years to make and cost $25 million, which at the time was the most expensive animated film ever made. However, it was tagged with a PG rating (their first for an animated film), and bombed at the box office. It was such a poor showing that there was talk of shutting down the animation division. They decided to proceed with The Great Mouse Detective, which was released a year later. It opened to good reviews, and outgrossed The Black Cauldron. The success convinced Disney to keep their animation division, which led to the release of two major box office hits in 1988: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the animation/live action hybrid film which broke the $100 million mark despite being rated PG and released under the Touchstone label, and Oliver & Company, which earned $50 million despite mixed reviews.
The success of these films led Disney to proceed with an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid. The film was one of the proposed projects back in the 1930s but was shelved, and had bounced around in production limbo after it was rebooted in the 1980s. With the success of Oliver & Company and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the heads of Disney were more bold in allotting a greater budget for the film. And the extra money was put to good use as the creative minds that survived the Bluth walkout crafted a brilliant story that was suspenseful yet romantic. And the decision was made to make the film into a musical, after which they brought along the team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who turned a play about man-eating plants into an off-Broadway hit. They rafted a soundtrack with a distinctive Caribbean flair.
The Little Mermaid ended up costing an estimated $40 million, which was $15 million more than The Black Cauldron, but chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg was convinced it would be a hit, and it was. It opened to fantastic reviews, and while the film fell short of the $100 million plateau domestically, which Katzenberg predicted it would, it still doubled its budget. It received a nomination at the Golden Globes for Best Picture - Musical or Comedy, but it lost to Driving Miss Daisy. Miss Daisy along with four dramatic films (Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, Field of Drams, and My Left Foot) kept The Little Mermaid out from the Best Picture race, but it still picked up nominations in score and song for Menken and Ashman. It was the first nominations for films released under the Disney label since The Rescuers and Pete's Dragon both picked up Best Original Song nominations 13 years earlier. And when the duo won for Best Score an Best Song for "Under the Sea," it was the first Oscar wins for Disney since Bedknobs and Broomsticks won Best Visual Effects 19 years earlier.
The Little Mermaid marked the beginning of one of the most artistically and commercially successful eras in Disney history. After a relative dud in The Rescuers Down Under (which still made more money than The Great Mouse Detective), Disney followed with eight films, all but one of which grossed over $100 million domestically. And the one that didn't still grossed $99 million. Each of the films received at least one Oscar nomination, with Beauty and the Beast picking up the exalted Best Picture nomination. It is still known as the Disney Renaissance, and it all started in 1989 with The Little Mermaid.
Here are three other films that made a mark in the 1989 Oscars. They are the three films nominated for Best Animated Short.
Where Can I Watch It?
The Hill Farm
Where Can I Watch It?
Korova (The Cow)
Rusalka (1997), the Oscar winning The Old Man and the Sea (1999), and My Love (2007), which ranked 7th in my rankings of films from 2002-2011.] Since I've done so many of Petrov's other films I don't really need to comment much on the animation. It is just as well done as the others despite coming about a decade or more earlier. The colors are crisp and the art is detailed. The plot of this film is based off of a short story by Russian writer Andrei Platonov. It illustrates the hardships faced by Russian peasants, when things are so difficult that it is more cost effective to sell a calf to a slaughterhouse than to have another animal to feed. Most of the plot is relatively straightforward, but Petrov is known for projecting his characters' dreams and fantasies on the screen. In this case he only has one such scene, which is the boy's dream, but he uses it as the climactic scene. It not only shows the boys adoration of the cow, but also the cow's fate. There is quite a bit of foreshadowing as well. Still, while the film is quite deep it's not an example of the most enjoyable experience. The film moves at a fairly slow pace. It does have brief bursts of action, but it may still be boring for some of the less initiated viewers. The story is also quite depressing. And I think the boy is kind of annoying. Still, it is a beautiful film from the master of paint on glass animation.
Where Can I Watch It?
This was actually quite hard to find online, and usually it's Russian without subtitles. They do have it dubbed, and I guess that's as good as any.
There's not much I can say about this set of nominees, except none of them are from the US. Balance is from Germany, The Hill Farm is from Britain, and Korova is from Russia. Then again none of the nominees from 1990 or 1991 are American, so this is the first of three years without a single American nominee. There was only one US nominee in 1992, Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase, and of course that one went on to win. Of course, it's a good thing that after 30 years of being dominated by the studio system, the Academy has embraced foreign animation.
Anyways, of these three films Balance is a grand piece of social commentary, Korova is gritty realist film, and The Hill Farm is just fun to watch. Of course, Balance is also an easy watch as well. It combined both depth and entertainment, and for that is the best of the bunch. And of course the Academy agreed, giving the Lauenstein brothers the Oscar. So for all of you aspiring animators working at your parents' house, if you make a great film you may find yourself standing at the Shrine Auditorium someday holding an Oscar.
My rankings (by quality)
Balance > Korova > The Hill Farm
My rankings (by preference)
Balance > The Hill Farm > Korova