Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Best Animated Short - 1983


In recent entries we have moved into the era where I've had infantile amnesia, and now we're all the way out to the years preceding my birth. That's why these introductions have been less my anecdotes and more an overview of what happened that year. Normally I can come up with a few items off the top of my head, but 1983 is such a non-descript year for me (other than the fact that a couple of my good friends were born this year) that I just can't think of anything. So it's off to Wikipedia I go. Hmm. Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie is arrested in South America. Bjorn Borg retires from tennis. The last episode of M*A*S*H airs to great ratings. The EPA evacuates Times Beach, MO for dioxin contamination. Nintendo's Famicom (short for Family Computer) launches in Japan. Those are interesting news items, I suppose.

Maybe I should stick with the things I know without having to look stuff up: baseball and the Oscars.

Yet even baseball remains mostly non-descript for me. I'd have to think for a few seconds before remembering that the Baltimore Orioles won the World Series that year, and I was at their stadium watching a game recently. The only two things that stick out for me are Steve Carlton winning his 300th game, and the Lenn Sakata game. Carlton is one of the top pitchers in baseball history. He dominated hitters with his famous slider, and he became the first pitcher to win four Cy Young awards. His first Cy Young year was one of the most famous, when he went 27-10 in 1972 for a Phillies team that went 59-97. On September 23, 1983, the 38-year-old Carlton went into a game against the defending champs St. Louis Cardinals, the team that traded him for Rick Wise before the 1972 season. Carlton beat them a few days earlier for his 299th win. Carlton pitched well in the rematch. He struck out 12 in eight innings and allowing only a two-run home run to David Green. However, the Phillies offense beat up on Joaquin Andujar, and Carlton had himself a 6-2 win...his 300th career win.

And then the Lenn Sakata game. Most people outside of Baltimore probably don't know about the Lenn Sakata game, but I've become quite familiar with the game through the legend of Lenn Sakata. One of my early baseball cards was a Topps 1986 Lenn Sakata card, and to me he looks like he'd fit in more in an academic setting than on the baseball diamond, with his timid Asian countenance and his massive glasses. (This is more evident in his 1983 Topps card, which I acquired a few years later.) Still, he was drafted in the 14th round out of community college in 1972, and in the fifth round out of Gonzaga in 1974. He never signed both times, and in the 1970s they still had the January draft for players from the summer draft that didn't sign. He was drafted 10th by the Brewers. He went straight into AA, and hit well enough to advance to AAA, where he continued to hit well, well enough to make his major league debut in 1977. However, he struggled in the majors, and after three years they traded him to the Orioles. Sakata blossomed with the Orioles. He never did hit .300 like he did in the minors, but he hit well enough to get regular playing time as a middle infielder. By 1983 he was relegated to second base duties thanks to the emergence of a young Cal Ripken Jr., but he was still playing for a contender. On August 24, 1983, the Orioles were in second place, a half a game behind the defending AL champs and Sakata's former team, the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers won, so the Orioles had to win just to keep pace. To top it off, they were facing the third place Blue Jays, who were just one game behind the Orioles.

Sakata did not start the game. Rich Dauer got the start at second. Sakata watched on the bench as the Blue Jays took a 2-1 lead, with the go-ahead run scoring on an error by the light-hitting third baseman Todd Cruz. Sakata finally got in the game in the eighth when Dauer moved to third to replace Cruz, who had left the game for a pinch hitter in the seventh in a failed rally. Yet Sakata can only watch helplessly as the Blue Jays scored their third run on two singles to left field and a sacrifice fly. The game went to the bottom of the 9th. With two outs and a runner on first, Sakata had his first plate appearance of the day. He walked. Blue Jays manager Bobby Cox went out and replaced the right handed Jim Clancy with the southpaw Dave Geisel. Orioles manager Joe Altobelli countered by replacing the lefty catcher Joe Nolan with right handed pinch hitter Benny Ayala. Ayala came through, singling to center for a huge run. Al Bumbry followed with another single, sending Sakata home with the game-tying run. However, the next batter struck out, stranding the winning run at third.

Now the game went into twilight zone territory. Altobelli was going for the win by pinch-hitting for his catcher. Nolan himself had been a pinch hitter for regular catcher Rick Dempsey. With no more catchers, Altobelli turned to a good fielder to take over for catcher: our good friend 坂田春樹 (that's Haruki Sakata, Lenn's Japanese name.) Sakata hadn't caught since Little League, and is not sure whether he can catch curveballs. Throwing only fastballs, reliever Tim Stoddard allowed a go-ahead home run to Cliff Johnson, and a single to Barry Bonnell, the #1 draft pick in the 1975 January draft. Stoddard was promptly replaced with Tippy Martinez. Bonnell knew that the new Orioles catcher had never caught a game in professional baseball, and was itching to go to second, probably even third if Sakata unleashes a wild throw. Yet in his eagerness to advance, he didn't notice Tippy throwing over, and Bonnell was picked off. Next up came pinch hitter Dave Collins. He too wandered too far from first and was picked off. Finally, Willie Upshaw hit an infield single to second, because replacement second baseman John Lowenstein was 36 and hadn't played second in eight years. Still, the Orioles got out of that threat, as the over-eager Upshaw didn't learn from the mistakes of Bonnell and Collins and was picked off as well. Three baserunners, three pickoffs, and Sakata never had to throw to second. It established a new major league record.

In the bottom of the 10th, Cal Ripken Jr. led off with a home run to guarantee at least a tie. Two runners got on base via walks, but Lowenstein grounded out to first and Gary Roenicke struck out to put things at two on two outs. Next up was Lenn Sakata. He knew in his mind that if he made an out, then the game would go into the 11th, and he'd have to go out again and catch. He decided to put an end to things himself. Sakata was never much of a power hitter. He had only 15 career home runs up to that time, with a season high of only five. Yet reliever Joey McLaughlin threw him a ball he could handle, and Sakata launched it into the Baltimore night sky for a walk-off home run. The Orioles went on a roll after the game. They got on an eight game winning streak, allowing them to overtake the Brewers, and won 23 times in 27 games. They stumbled a bit near the end but still won the division by six games. They defeated the favored Chicago White Sox in the ALCS in four games, and then walked over Steve Carlton and the Phillies in five games to claim their first championship since 1970. They have yet to win another pennant, much less the World Series.

Whew. That took longer than I thought. I don't even have to spend much time talking about the Oscars. Terms of Endearment was the biggest winner of the night, winning for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine), Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson), and Best Adapted Screenplay. The Right Stuff had four wins before Best Picture, but they were only in sound and editing categories. Fanny and Alexander also had four wins, in the other technical categories and Best Foreign Language Film. It is still the record for wins by a foreign language film, although 臥虎藏龍 (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) would tie it 16 years later. Robert Duvall finally won an acting award for Tender Mercies, while Linda Hunt won Best Supporting Actress for The Year of Living Dangerously, even though she played a male character, the first and only time an actor or actress took home an Oscar for a gender bending role.

And then...Best Animated Short.
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Mickey's Christmas Carol
It is morning, the morning of Christmas Eve. Everybody is feeling the Christmas cheer, all except Ebenezer Scrooge (Scrooge McDuck), one of the stingiest men in all of England. He is rich beyond belief, but still keeps his workplace frigid to save money. Even though the next day is Christmas, he still wants his only employee, the overworked and underpaid Bob Cratchit (Mickey Mouse), to work a half day. However, that night he is visited by his old partner Jacob Marley (Goofy), who tells him that he will be punished after death if he does not change his ways. But he has another chance, as that night he is visited by three spirits that will change his life forever. Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol has been one of the most popular stories in English literature. The tale of redemption of a seemingly non-redeemable soul in the purest of all holidays has touched people since its publication in 1843. It's been adapted in both live action and animated forms since the earliest days of cinema. An animated adaptation by Richard Williams won an Oscar in 1972. (We'll be reviewing that in a few months.) Around ten years later, Walt Disney Studios adapted A Christmas Carol and touted it as the film that will mark Mickey's first theatrical appearance since 1953. However, Mickey has only a minor role in the film. Scrooge McDuck wad the central character as he played the part of Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge had been a major player in the Donald Duck comic books since Carl Barks introduced him in 1947, but other than a 1967 short film, his appearances had been only in comic books. Nevertheless, he was born to play the part, and his characterization is one of the highlights of the film. Even in his most cold-hearted he is strangely appealing. Part of it is the strong voice work from Alan Young, who would go on to voice Scrooge in DuckTales, which debuted four years later. He crafted Scrooge as a grumpy old Scot who hates everything but delights in his own miserly ways. Another aspects of Mickey's Christmas Carol that makes it such an enjoyable experience is all of the Disney references. You got the Three Little Pigs singing Christmas carols next to the Big Bad Wolf playing Santa. Maybe Goofy doesn't seem like a good fit for Jacob Marley, but it give animators* an opportunity to include some Goofy jokes, giving us one of the funniest scenes in the film. Sure, all of the Disney overtones overshadows the Dickinsonian elements, but Mickey's Christmas Carol is still a fun little (corporate) film that is a joy to watch and captures the spirit of Christmas. But maybe I'm just biased towards Disney.

*Fun Fact: One of the people who lent his creative talents to the film was a young animator not long out of CalArts. His name is John Lasseter. Also, it was also the last time the legendary Clarence Nash would portray Donald Duck, who plays Fred (kind of a weird casting choice, especially since Fred is described as being "full of kindness.") Nash would pass away in February 1985.
Where Can I Watch It?


Sound of Sunshine - Sound of Rain
It is morning. A young boy wakes up to the usual morning sounds. He is blind, and he defines his life through what he hears and what he feels. He takes in everything around him. His sister takes him to the park on her way to school. He enjoys his time in the park, although his sister is dubious about it. An ice cream man named Abram befriends him, giving him an ice cream bar and also a special present. His sister comes later and takes him to a special new grocery store, where they have an encounter that will change their lives. Sound of Sunshine - Sound of Rain is based off of a picture book by the late Florence Parry Heide and illustrated by Kenneth Longtemps. On the surface, it is kind of like a companion piece to Blindscape (1993). Much of the film features the unnamed blind young boy talking about the sounds and sensations that make up his life. He uses almost poetic terms to describe these things, comparing them to things like a warm pillow, or using adjectives like soft and hard. The descriptions are animated, as we see not what is making the sounds, but the representation of these sounds as they may appear to the boy. Later Abram the ice cream man compares colors to sounds and we get the same animation effects. It works out for quite a visual treat. However, Sound of Sunshine - Sound of Rain is much more than a young boy's view of the world. It is also a contemplation of race and prejudice. The original storybook was written in 1970, still somewhat in the earlier days of the civil rights movement, and it attempts to tackle these difficult issues. You see, the boy and his family are African American. The climax of the film is related to a confrontation where the storekeeper makes a generalization based on the main character's race. Earlier Abram had mentioned that there is no best color, that colors are just a cover. By the end these words take on a whole new meaning. The integration of the film's message is pretty effective. The voice work in the film is superb, featuring Damon Hines (who would later play Danny Glover's son in the Lethal Weapon series) as the boy, and Lisa Bonet (who would later come to fame as Denise in The Cosby Show) as the sister. In the end, Sound of Sunshine - Sound of Rain is a strong piece of work. It's a fairly deep film that captures the more magical part of life while displaying the grittiness of reality.
Where Can I Watch It?
Sadly, Sound of Sunshine - Sound of Rain is one of the harder of the nominees to watch. I could never find the film in my four years of searching. Finally, I found out that the University of North Texas library had a copy. Since I go to UNT HSC, I was able to use the inter-library loans to acquire the VHS. Now that I'm looking again on WorldCat, there are quite a few locations around the country that has a copy, but it's still not that easy to find.

Sundae in New York
It is morning in New York City, and a man who may or may not be New York City major Ed Koch wakes up in the middle of a park dressed only in his undies. He then proceeds to sing a song that sounds similar to the theme from Martin Scorsese's New York New York while taking a tour around New York. It takes him to many different locations around the city, where he hangs out with dozens of famous celebrity, who all have different reactions to the man. Sundae in New York is an interesting satire on life in New York in the early 1980s made by Jimmy Picker, the other major claymation artist from the 1970s and 1980s. Of course, I am not from New York, and I was not even alive in the early 1980s, so a lot of what the film references went way over my head. I'm sure the people that are familiar with the city and what it was like 30 years ago would find the film charming, but I'm so out of the loop it took me a while before I knew that the guy in the film is a caricature of Ed Koch. Even to this day the only thing I know about Ed Koch is that he was caricatured in this film. The film is filled with literally dozens of other celebrities with strong ties to New York, but I draw a blank to most of them. The only ones I knew were Frank Sinatra, who popularized the song that Koch sang, and Groucho Marx. I was able to recognize David Letterman, Woody Allen, and Alfred E. Neuman (from Mad magazine and Peanuts) after reading other posts that said they made appearances, but other than that I still have no clue who the others are. (And Neuman looks to me like David Letterman, because Letterman looked like the Neuman caricature while I was growing up.) Of course, the worst part of the film is not that I am mostly lost while watching, but that I just find the song so gosh darned annoying. Perhaps the film plays off some of Koch's speech habits, but I find his constant "uh"s and interspersed moments of talking to be very distracting. That's not to say that all of Sundae in New York is bad. The claymation animation is very well done. The characters are very lively. And other than the cameos (which doesn't do much for me), Picker includes a lot of visual humor that makes the film somewhat watchable. Still, Sundae in New York is a rather dated film about a bygone era, and I don't really care for that era. Maybe in another 30 years it'll become more interesting, kind of like all of the films in the 1930s that caricatures celebrities from that era.
Where Can I Watch It?

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So, we've got the three nominees from 1983. Mickey's Christmas Carol is undoubtedly my favorite. I grew up with Disney films, and still find them very enjoyable. There's nothing better than seeing them get together to tell the legendary story from Charles Dickens. Yet I'm still going to have to say that Sound of Sunshine - Sound of Rain was better, the way it combined a sense of wonder presented visually and verbally with effective social commentary. Yet when the award was decided, the film went to the New York satire film Sundae in New York. It's definitely one of the decisions that I disagree with the most. Yet there's nothing that can be done about it

My rankings (by quality)
Sound of Sunshine - Sound of Rain > Mickey's Christmas Carol > Sundae in New York

My rankings (by preference)
Mickey's Christmas Carol > Sound of Sunshine - Sound of Rain > Sundae in New York

6 comments:

  1. This is the worst blog I have ever seen!

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  2. Please don't mind what the last poster said, you're doing swell!

    "Those are interesting news items, I suppose."

    Well, I turned 6 that year.

    MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL
    Mickey's Christmas Carol was origianlly concieved as a long-playing storybook record Disney released in the mid 1970's that I think Alan Young was a part of as well. Here's a pic of that album cover.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ufg8r/2268150246/

    The adaptation of it into an animated film was kinda interesting and it's director Burny Mattinson, talked about it in a few interviews he gave like these...
    http://animationpodcast.com/archives/2006/09/04/burny-mattinson-part-two/
    http://animationpodcast.com/archives/2007/05/16/burny-mattinson-part-three/
    http://animationguildblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/talking-to-burny-part-i.html

    Also, it was also the last time the legendary Clarence Nash would portray Donald Duck, who plays Fred (kind of a weird casting choice, especially since Fred is described as being "full of kindness.") Nash would pass away in February 1985.

    Clarence Nash also lend his voice to some sequences in an early Disney Channel program called "Donald Duck Presents", you can hear one of his pieces here...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPyhs0E77qQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loAtfAIQ7k4

    SOUNDS OF SUNSHINE, SOUND OF RAIN
    I do have a 16mm copy of this in my film collection. I never did think to watching it as I rarely break out the projector for these things unless I really have to for some reason (don't want to waste my bulbs). Nice to get some idea of what goes on in it. Animation historian Charles Solomon didn't help much when he summed it up as saying it was an "awful little film about a blind black boy that was so right-on." He would suggest 1983 was not a good year for the Oscar category for best animated short film.

    "Even to this day the only thing I know about Ed Koch is that he was caricatured in this film."

    I first heard of him courtesy of the short-lived animated series "The Critic" where Koch's "How I'm Doin'?" often got joked on a few times such as the guy being used as a monster in Jay Sherman's film.

    Certainly the use of caricatures of famous people like Letterman (who at the time was an up 'n comer thanks to his late-night program on NBC), of course I was hoping Howard Stern would be here too, though he was still toiling away at WNBC Radio and hadn't quite became synonymous with New York as he will in the future.

    I personally don't care for Jimmy Picker's work myself, and Charles Solomon I mentioned before questioned "Why would anyone go to this much bother to produce something that would have such a short shelf life?" Lord knows simply using NY's mayor as the main character alone does date this one greatly. Still, I'm sure Mr. Koch was a decent mayor over Mr. Bloomberg today with all his priorities.

    "Still, Sundae in New York is a rather dated film about a bygone era, and I don't really care for that era"

    Some still yearn for a time when Times Square was less Disney-fied and more porn-laden! So yeah, everyone has their tastes.

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    Replies
    1. Love The Critic. "If the movie stinks, just don't go" ;)
      https://m.youtube.com/?#/watch?v=fzKEzjUWavA
      (alternate ending to Sundae In New York: Director's Edit, which I prefer over the original)

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  3. Great review for Sundae in New York!

    We're linking to your article for Academy Monday at SeminalCinemaOutfit.com

    Keep up the good work!

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  4. One reason, IMO, for Sundae's win is if you given the award:
    1979: Heartwarming tale
    1980: Experiment
    1981: Heartwarming tale
    1982: Experiment
    (If)1983: Heartwarming tale (Mickey over Sundae)

    Love Disney, but it made sense that SINY won in order to not repeat itself

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  5. To my mind at least the biggest news story of 1983 was when Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet jet fighter, killing all aboard.

    Just watched "Sundae In New York". Not good.

    ReplyDelete