Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Best Animated Short - 1982

Well, we have finally reached the 30 year mark. Sure it's taken us almost six months, and part of that time was spent at a rate of two reviews a week, but we're making our way slowly but surely. At this rate we'll probably be looking at finishing less than a year from now! Huzzah!

So it's kind of hard to believe that 1982 is thirty years ago. I mean, it was before I was born, but not much earlier. There are people that I went to high school with born in 1982. Sure, they were juniors or seniors when I was a freshman, but that still doesn't change the fact that, well, I'm getting old. And yet I'm still watching animated shorts and reading comics like "Amelia Rules." But you know what? There's no shame in that! Especially since all of these has much better storytelling and entertainment value than some of the more "adult" things out there!

So, about the year of 1982 itself, I don't remember much of it. (Although if you really want to be technical, I shouldn't remember anything because it was three years before I was born.) I do know that it was the year Spielberg's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial first appeared in theaters. I always found the film incredibly boring, but it dazzled the country and broke all sorts of box office records. It was also nominated for Best Picture, but it had no chance against Sir Richard Attenborough's biographical film about the life of Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi had 11 nominations to E.T.'s nine (third most behind Tootsie's 10.) And while E.T. captured four Oscars (including John Williams's fourth out of five awards - he would later win for Schindler's List), Gandhi won eight, becoming the first film in ten years to win eight Oscars, since Cabaret in 1972. And while Cabaret shockingly lost Best Picture, Gandhi didn't suffer the same fate and took home the top prize. Of course, 25 years later Sir Richard Attenborough himself came out and said that E.T. should have won, but there's no erasing what the Academy decided.

Another seminal event that I know of from 1982 was Gaylord Perry winning his 300th game on May 6. Winning 300 games is a big deal now, but it couldn't compare to the frenzy that the "Ancient Mariner" experienced with his 300th win, mostly because nobody had accomplished the feat since Early Wynn almost 19 years earlier. After Perry defeated the Yankees by a score 7-3 in a complete game effort (the 297th complete game of his career...at the age of 43), the Mariners celebrated as if they won the World Series. And he even received a call from President Ronald Reagen in the clubhouse. He even made the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week. Compare that to the fanfare Randy Johnson's 300th win got: a standing ovation and a tip of the cap, but no raucous celebration, no call from President Obama, and just a blurb in Sports Illustrated.

It probably doesn't help that Perry's 300th win was the first in a long series of pitchers that reached the 300-win milestone. In the 10 years after Perry won 300, Steve Carlton won his 300th in 1983. Tom Seaver and Phil Niekro achieved the mark in 1985. Don Sutton did it in 1986 (two days after Jamie Moyer's Cubs debut...against Steve Carlton). And Nolan Ryan achieved the mark in 1990. And then came a lull of 13 years, but came another deluge. Roger Clemens reached the milestone in 2003, Greg Maddux in 2004, Tom Glavine in 2007, and Johnson in 2009. In the 30 years since Perry's win, ten pitchers reached the 300-win milestone. Only two pitchers joined the club in the 30 years before Perry: Wynn and Warren Spahn, in 1961. People think that the 300 win club is going the way of the dodo, and that it's a milestone for the old timers, but more people have reached 300 wins in the last 30 years (10) than the first 30 years of the 300-win club (nine*.) And while Moyer and Pettitte's run for 300 may fall short, there are still plenty of candidates with a more than decent shot at 300, namely Roy Halladay and C.C. Sabathia. So no, the 300 win milestone will probably remain relevant for a long time.

*The nine are James Francis "Pud" Galvin in 1888, Timothy John Keefe and Michael Francis "Mickey" Welch in 1890, Charles Gardner "Old Hoss" Radbourn in 1891, John Gibson Clarkson in 1892, Charles Augustus "Kid" Nichols in 1900, Denton True "Cy" Young in 1901, Christopher Mathewson in 1912, and Edward Stewart "Eddie" Plank in 1915.

Hopefully the Best Animated Short Oscar will remain relevant for just as long as well.
The Great Cognito 
Welcome to the dinner show, where the main attraction of the night is the Great Cognito, the greatest stand-up comedian of them all. This master of mimicry can not only imitate the voices and personalities of celebrities, but their likeness as well. So sit back as he regales you with his tales about World War II, poking fun at the various military and world leaders of the time, and recreating some of the most famous battles captured on film by Hollywood directors. In the years before Nick Park and Aardman Entertainment burst onto the scene, Will Vinton and his production company were perhaps the most prolific claymation animation studio out there. While he is probably best known nowadays for creating the California Raisins*, Vinton and his team were responsible for dozens of excellent animated short films, many of which were recognized by the Academy. The Great Cognito was his final Oscar nomination in this category, as he left directing and took on more of a producer role around this time. For this film he collaborated with fellow claymation animator Barry Bruce for a film about a comedian with a thousand faces, quite literally. The joke is that he would talk about a notable figure and then literally morph into that figure. The lifelike caricatures and the morphing animation are interesting, but otherwise the schtick kind of gets formulaic after a while. Thankfully this only takes up the first half. The second half features Cognito reliving the actual war through the movie cliches from that time, and that's when things get more interesting. He begins imitating not just people but inanimate objects like warships and submarines. Things begin to get so crazy that he just gives up morphing his head back and pops out of his collar. It gets really funny at this time but then it ends just as things get interesting. The animation for the film is terrific. It's got the lifelike character design that Vinton has become quite famous for, and the morphing animation is great throughout. Co-writer and voice actor John Morrison is very good as the madcap comedian. The Great Cognito is a very interesting film, but ultimately it felt kind of lacking.

*Vinton was also responsible for creating the Red and Yellow M&M candy characters in 1995. He also has a wicked mustache
Where Can I Watch It?

The Snowman
Depending on what version you see, a British author walks across a field remembering a snowfall from years past, a legendary rock star waxes nostalgia while exploring an attic in a house he used to live, or an animated St. Nick talks about an unforgettable night. No matter the opening you saw, the film tells the story of a young boy, James, who awakens to a fresh new snowfall. He rushes out for a day of fun, where he ends up building a majestic snowman. He admires his work but has to go to bed. However, he sneaks up in the middle of the night and is greeted with a wonderful surprise as he has a night he'll never forget. The Snowman has become a Christmas staple pretty much around the world since it first debuted on the fledgling Channel 4 network in England. While its plot is similar to that of the popular song "Frosty the Snowman," it was actually based off of a picture book by British author Raymond Briggs (who also wrote When the Wind Blows). Of course, it's also possible that Briggs himself was inspired by the song. Anyways, if you've never seen it, you can probably guess by now that the Snowman comes to life. An excited James spends the first half of the film showing his new friend around the house. He takes him to the living room and the kitchen and his parents' room before going on a motorcycle ride around the forest. Then the Snowman takes a boy on another adventure, flying through the air before ending up at the party of Father Christmas. It's a very sweet film, although the pacing is somewhat slow, and I found myself getting kind of bored, especially during the flying scenes. The animation is brilliant, done throughout in an animation style involving crayons and colored pencils that captures the warmth and liveliness of Briggs's original drawings. The film is mostly wordless, supported by the actions on screen and Howard Blake's score, except for the song Walking In the Air during the flying scene. The song, sung by a British choirboy named James Auty, is nice, but I'm personally not a fan. The ending of the film has become as famous as the film itself. I'm not going to spoil it, but it is very powerful. It's a very fitting end, and I feel it really helps to elevate this film to the classic that it is today.
Where Can I Watch It?

In the middle of Poland there is a room that is empty except for the furniture, including a package that sits on top of a shelf. A ball that resembles a basketball comes flying through the window. A boy peeks in, retrieves the ball and head back out. The ball and the boy comes back, but as they come, a nursing mother comes in with her crying baby. A shady man climbs through the window and steals the package,while a middle aged gentleman comes and puts the package back. Eventually more people come and go. Just how many people can this small room hold? Tango is a mesmerizing experimental film from Polish director Zbigniew Rybczynski. There is essentially no plot. Rybczynski just has the boy with the ball on a loop, and with every loop he throws somebody else into the loop, where they continually do their action. Some of the people do a lot, while others do little. One person just walks across the room with a toilet or something. That's all he does. Yet no matter how many people are walking around - I once tried to count, but I lost count when there were over 30 - nobody ever gets in anybody's way. It blows my mind just how much storyboarding or how much planning it takes to set up a film like this, especially since the animation is really just filmed footage that Rybczynski can manipulate. To get the timing and the positioning just right is quite a feat. Moreover, this film can also serve as somewhat of a piece of social commentary, showing off the overcrowding that was quite commonplace in Polish cities under Communist rule at the time. From a viewer's standpoint the film can be a bit overwhelming. It's easy to get lost as the number of people in the room increase, and there comes a point where you don't know where to put your focus. And if you get to that point early, then it may be inevitable to think that the 8-minute running time is too long. Still, I think that is part of the director's vision, that you don't know where to focus. The entire film features a catchy little tune that somewhat resembles tango music. The music is somewhat drowned out by the numerous sound effects, but it is there to the very end. The sound effects are decent, but the most notable is the sound of a guy screaming as he falls off the table trying to change a light bulb. It's probably a bit mean, but he keeps things interesting. Overall, Tango is a great film that serves as both art and commentary.
Where Can I Watch It?

Well, here we go. We got three great films, but which one comes out on top? The Great Cognito was a good film, but it wasn't one of Vinton's greatest, and it doesn't stand out in this crowd. The Snowman is a beloved holiday classic, and it's probably the film that the most people have seen. While it's a great film (buoyed by the terrific ending), I wasn't a big fan of its slow pacing. I still think Tango comes out on top. It is just a brilliant film, ambitious in its scope and perfect in its execution. The Academy agreed with the choice, one of the few times that's happened. However, Rybczynski didn't have the greatest night on Oscar night. His name was butchered by presenter Kristy McNichol, and his speech was cut short, which was all captured in a YouTube video that featured that Oscar night (but was tragically removed.) However, not even YouTube captured what happened next.

According to IMDb: "After talking to reporters in the press room, Rybczynski stepped outside the auditorium to have a cigarette. When he tried to return, an overzealous security guard refused to let him in. Rybczynski was holding his Oscar, but was dressed in a cheap suit and sneakers because he had been unable to afford better clothes. He tried to explain to the guard that he was an Oscar winner, but his English was limited. Hearing Rybczynski's Polish speech, the security guard assumed the director was drunk and shoved him up against a wall. During the altercation, Rybczynski reportedly yelled, "American Pig! I have Oscar!" and tried to kick the guard in the groin. Rybczynski spent the night in jail before the mess was sorted out." Yep, that's why everybody should quit smoking!

My rankings (by quality and preference)
Tango > The Snowman > The Great Cognito

Well, that's another decade down! We'll have another one of those special countdown posts for the films of 1982-1991! Hooray!


  1. 1982 also saw the release of Don Bluth's first feature film after leaving Disney's, "The Secret of NIMH", but the failure of a movie studio to properly distribute the thing was it's downfall (still it got a nice Blu-Ray release a while back).

    "I do know that it was the year Spielberg's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial first appeared in theaters. I always found the film incredibly boring, but it dazzled the country and broke all sorts of box office records."

    I was 5 when I saw the film and loved it. Of course I benefitted from a time when the film didn't came out on home video until 1989 or so, as the film was re-released only two more times in the 80's (1985 and 1988 I think). They were certainly giving it the Disney treatment such as how they would not release their features on home video at all until it caught up with them soon enough.

    "In the years before Nick Park and Aardman Entertainment burst onto the scene,"
    Although at that time, Aardman was starting to make it's name known back it's home country otherwise for commercials and short films such as this little doozy that came out around '83...

    Of course I took this off-topic, but I often felt Aardman knew how to be sophisticated than whimsical as Will Vinton Productions has shown in their works, especially with the morphed images the guy makes in The Great Cognito. I recall Charles Solomon whom I've brought up from time to time because I had listen to him comment on these films from a LaserDisc for "The World's Greatest Animation". I recall his opinion on this film as saying "Will Vinton has had amazing technical fascilities and skilled people, yet he gives them these stupid films to do." He wasn't tuned on by the caricatures and approach to this film in particular. It's certainly a nifty idea and it doesn't drag on too long. It kinda seems like something I would show to a class on World War II as a little joke before the school holiday, but the bit with the Japanese soldiers using very non-PC depictions does turn me off a little.

    "Depending on what version you see, a British author walks across a field remembering a snowfall from years past, a legendary rock star waxes nostalgia while exploring an attic in a house he used to live, or an animated St. Nick talks about an unforgettable night."

    We hope a fourth one never shows up, I still enjoy the first intro myself.

    I personally loved "The Snowman" for as long as I can remember, and it's ending is one of the most tear-jerking moments to witness. Incidentlaly this year saw the passing of John Coates who was the producer behind this film for his studio TVC. The same year has also saw a release of a new sequel to "The Snowman" that aired on Channel Four recently. I haven't seen it yet, but I hope the new staff on it got much of the look and feel right.

  2. TANGO
    The look of Tango kinda made me think of early CD-Rom renderings of live-action footage on CG backgrounds the way it was produced. If you recall that sort of thing yourself you might see why. It's hard to think of it as "animation" in that respect despite the technique used to acheive it through optical printing. I recall seeing a picture showing he had to place white strips on the floor to criss-cross the entire area for the people to walk around on as he filmed each one for this, then to combine all those elements into the final film you see here. One odd thing I often noticing is the doorway to the left of the window that should've remained closed throughout the film when people aren't going in and out of it, but that's the only mistake I really notice in this.

    Amid Amidi went into detail on Rybczynski's terrible Oscar night you might like to read...

    Eventually he would go on to produce music videos and several other experimental videos in his lifetime, such as this interesting excerpt from 1987's "Steps"...