Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Best Animated Short - 1978

Well, I kind of suffered through a crisis situation with this blog, one that on led me to question whether or not to keep on going. In the end I decided to keep the blog, but I still never even touched it for a good three weeks. Good thing I had enough posts in queue to weather this storm, but now the crisis is over and I can move on. Although if you consider how much fun I had the past three weeks maybe I shouldn't have to stress about the blog.* Then again I had agreed to take up the responsibility of sharing these Oscar nominated films to the world, and I might as well make good on this responsibility!

*After all, since that little crisis I had a great lock-in with the people of the Longview Comic Book Club; I drove 20 hours from Texas to Northern Virginia in essentially one sitting, where I watched the Sun set and rise again nine hours later; I went to a Nationals game and watch the Nats topple Cole Hamels; I went to the National Sports Collectors Convention and got to meet Whitey Herzog, Phil Niekro, and Gaylord Perry; I went to Akron General where I had a great rotation in infections disease; I went to Pittsburgh and saw the grave of Pud Galvin and watched Jason Marquis throw a complete game shutout against the Pirates, my first since August 7, 2005

So we can play the "Who was born this year" game again. I can think of several people born in 1978 off the top of my head: there's one of my classmates in Chinese school around 1992-1995. Only in Chinese school can somebody in high school be classmates with a second - fourth grader. Of course, such age disparities exist in college and most definitely in graduate school. One of the people the class behind me at TCOM doing his third year in Longview, Texas was born in 1978. I find it kind of interesting because my OB-Gyn attending physician was born the same year. There was also one of campus ministers at UVA, one that was elemental in building my faith, and who was with me at Randy Johnson's 300th win. And finally, there is somebody that I don't actually know, but pretty important to me nonetheless:

Yes! Garfield, the ubiquitous fat cat whose gluttony and sloth has become a symbol of our increasingly obese society, made his debut in American comics on June 19, 1978. Garfield made his mark early on by being fat and lazy and proud of it, and the public loved it. He became an international sensation not only on the comic pages but also on the silver screen. Garfield specials such as Garfield on the Town and Garfield in Disguise may not have qualified for the Academy Awards (due to a rule change thanks to a film that we'll review in a few weeks), but they did win Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Animated Program* (along with Garfield in the Rough and Garfield Babes and Bullets). And the Garfield and Friends television show reached millions of youngsters, including me. Even as the strip moved beyond Garfield's penchant for food and sleep and onto his constant torment of his hapless owner Jon Arbuckle, it is still tremendously popular, especially with parody sites such as Garfield Minus Garfield and Square Root of Minus Garfield.

I personally grew up with Garfield. I was reading the collections when I was only five years old, and then Garfield and Friends was the highlight show during my peak Saturday morning cartoon years*. In 1997 I began clipping Garfield comics and putting them in notebooks. (Actually, we began by cutting every single comic, but that quickly became overwhelming.) Over the years there were times when I didn't have access to any newspapers. And there were times when I got lazy didn't do any clippings (for two years at one point, but I kept collecting the comics sections). But 15 years on I'm still going with over 3,000 comics.

*The lineup also included Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Little Mermaid and An American Tale: Fievel Goes West series, and Beakman's World which I loved but rarely got to see because it aired at 6:30 in the morning, the same time as Pokemon five years later. I woke up in time for that because it was the weekday.

In a Garfield strip from that first year of 1978, Garfield makes reference to one Tom Seaver, telling him to "Eat your heart out." This remains the only time that the strip references a professional baseball player, and a future 300-game winner to boot. George Thomas Seaver is closely associated with the New York Mets, so much so that one of his nicknames is "The Franchise." He burst onto the scene in 1967, winning 16 games for a Mets team that won only 61, and claimed the Rookie of the Year award. Two years later he won 25 and led the Mets to a surprising division title and even more surprising World Series win over the Orioles. He was named the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, and his first Cy Young award. He would add two more in 1973 and 1975. However, when that strip aired in October of 1978 Seaver was in his second season with the Reds, having left in an inexplicable trade at the 1977 trading deadline. Nevertheless, he was still the standard for pitching excellence, as his appearance in Garfield attests. He had won his 200th career game late in the 1977 season, his 11th season, and in June of 1978 (three days before Garfield's debut) he threw a no-hitter.

However, after 1978 he never recaptured the success of his earlier years. He reached 200 strikeouts for the tenth time that year, but he never even struck out 150 after that. He led the league with 14 wins in the strike-shortened 1981 season but lost the Cy Young to rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela. He fell to an embarrassing 5-13 record with an even more embarrassing 5.50 ERA a year later. The silver lining of that year was that it led to his return to the Mets for 1983. But that reunion would only last a year, when the Mets left him unprotected from the free agent compensation pool, and he was plucked by the White Sox, with whom he won his 300th game on August 4, 1985. He was traded once more to the Red Sox in 1986, where he mentored a young Roger Clemens. Injuries kept him out of the legendary post-season run, and kept him from making a comeback in 1987. He retired with 311 wins, 3640 strikeouts, and a 2.86 ERA. Five years later he was elected to the Hall of Fame with the highest percentage of the vote, a record that still stands 20 years later.

In the movie side of things, Grease and Superman were the major box office hits of 1978, but neither film made much of a splash when the Oscars came around. Grease received only one nomination for Best Original Song for "Hopelessly Devoted to You." Superman did a little bit better, getting three nominations and even picking up a special Oscar for its visual effects. The big winner that night was the Vietnam/Russian Roulette film The Deer Hunter, which picked up five Oscars in nine nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken. Warren Beatty's Heaven Can Wait, a remake of the Best Picture nominated Here Comes Mr. Jordan (and not the Best Picture nominated film of the same title from 1943) also had nine nominations, but it won only in Best Art Direction. Coming Home took home three Oscars: a screenplay Oscar and acting Oscars for Jon Voight and Jane Fonda. The final acting Oscar went to Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall herself) for California Suite. The interesting thing about that role is that Smith played an actress who was nominated for an Oscar. She loses the Oscar in the film but won it in real life. She is the first person to have that dichotomy*.

*Robert Downey Jr. almost joined her thirty years later for Tropic Thunder, but he had no chance against the late Heath Ledger's Joker.

And then there was Best Animated Short.
Oh My Darling
A baby is born to a young couple, and she quickly grows up to be their darling little daughter. They adore her and give her all sorts of attention. And the little girl loves her father. She delights in all of his antics, and places him on a pedestal. Things are a bit different with the mother, who is afraid of losing the little darling and treats her like a little girl. This is just fine when the daughter is a little girl, but not when she becomes an adult. When the daughter meets a man one day, her relationship with both her parents will change. Oh My Darling is a film by Danish animator Borge Ring, who would go on to make Anne & Bella, which not only won an Oscar but also ranked as my favorite Oscar nominated short from 1982-1991. Like his later film, Oh My Darling is about relationships, this time about parents and their children. This film presents the case of a couple and their daughter - their darling - as she grows from a fetus to an adult. The daughter's relationship to her parents is a study of contrasts, from her adoration of her father to the more rocky one with her overbearing mother who still does things out of love. Furthermore, the film touches upon the couple's relationship with each other. These relationships are presented wonderfully in a series of vignettes. Also like in Anna & Bella, Borge Ring uses plenty of visual metaphors in this film. For example, the daughter falling in love and starting her own life is presented with the two flying in the sky and building a nest like a bird, which morphs into their house. The parents parents respond by taking out a wheel and putting it on top of the roof (apparently so birds can make a nest or something), driving the metaphor home when they jump in and begin cooing. Alas, this does not lure the daughter home, and the parents are left with an empty nest. The animation is fluid, with appealing character designs and brilliant use of color. The music is good and carries the film's story, making use of not only "Oh My Darling, Clementine" but also the French folk song "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman." Overall, Oh My Darling is a charming and touching film from a master animator.
Where Can I Watch It?

Rip Van Winkle
In a small town populated by Dutch settlers at the foot of the Catskills Mountain in New York state, there lives a man named Rip Van Winkle. He is a laid back fellow who prefers to sing songs and fly kites with kids over tending to his garden, much to the chagrin of his wife and his landlord Peter Vanderdonk. One day he goes to the market, but ends up dropping more vegetables than he'd sell. Facing the threat of eviction, he decides to go squirrel hunting up in the Catskills. However, he then comes face to face with the mysterious forces that live in those mountains. The tale of a man that slept the years away is a common motif is fables legends, and I'm sure most Americans would know the American version: the story of Rip Van Winkle, the most famous of Washington Irving's many short stories. About 160 years after Irving wrote the story, claymation animator Will Vinton (The Great Cognito) adapted the story into a short film as part of his Clay Classics series. Vinton follows the basic plotline, but took a few liberties in fleshing out the story. He took the role of Rip's primary antagonist from his wife and gave it to Peter Vanderdonk. The well versed historian in the original story became Rip's miserly landlord. Dame Van Winkle now has but a short appearance a few minutes in. Vinton gave Rip a couple of songs to sing. Most importantly, he pieced together a five minute sequence representing Rip's hallucinatory experiences during his long sleep. It is a breathtaking sequence, with scenes of fantasy and wonder and Rip communing with nature, talking with rocks and trees. The entire scene is thrilling to watch, and has a strong 1970s vibe. The claymation is fantastic, with excellent character design and wondrous expressions of emotions, although it is not quite as fluid as some of his later works. The music by Billy Scream is fantastic, especially in the climactic meeting with Hudson and his gang and the hallucination scene, although I can't say I care much for Rip's songs. Still, Rip Van Winkle is a dazzling work if you can get your hands on it.
Where Can I Watch It?
Unfortunately, it's not available online, at least not for free. (You can purchase it on YouTube for a mere $2.99). Billy Budd Films has released a DVD for this film that you can purchase on Amazon, or get from Netflix if you have Netflix access. Unfortunately it's not available for streaming.

Special Delivery
It is winter in Canada, and if you've ever been to Canada during the winter you know that it's nothing to sneeze at, especially in a day after freshly fallen snow. In one such snowy day, Alice Phelps told her husband Ralph to shovel the front walk before going off to work while Alice went off to judo class. When he got back he found that the mailman had slipped on the frozen steps and broken his neck. This sets off a chain reaction that would change the lives of Alice and Ralph forever. Special Delivery is a very interesting film from the National Film Board of Canada. It's one of those films where one small action (or in this case an action that was not taken) sets off many profound results. It's kind of like "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie," only except for an increasingly greedy mouse you have a dead mailman and an unfaithful wife. Of course the story is so unbelievably bizarre yet told in such a matter of fact manner by an calm and collected narrator that the film is quite hilarious. The pacing of the story is practically perfect. There doesn't seem to be any wasted moments, and the story moves quickly and smoothly from one plot point to the next. From the involvement of death and the unveiling of adultery you can tell that the film is on the more adults-only side of the family-friendly spectrum, and this is compounded with a scene in the middle where Ralph strips the mailman of his uniform, literally and completely. Of course you'd never guess with the colorful and fluid animation done in a colored pencil format that completely belies the film's content. The film also has dozens of witty and creative transitions to keep things visually interesting, such as a scene where the film moves to a new setting by having the location rise out of the floor. The narrator guides the viewer through the story, and as I mentioned he adds to the enjoyment by telling the fantastic moments with an even-keeled nature. And the organ music that plays in the background adds a certain level of atmosphere to the film. Special Delivery is a hilariously brilliant film from our neighbors to the North. Highly recommended.
Where Can I Watch It?


Hmm. With the films of 1979 I had a hard time ranking the short films because they were all good but not great. With the films this year I have a similar problem, but this time it's because I feel all three of these films are all excellent. They all tell a great story with aplomb and terrific animation. Oh My Darling is very sweet and explores a major part of the human experience, although it suffers in comparison with Anna & Bella, which is no fault of the film itself. Rip Van Winkle is an excellent adaptation of a classic short story that somewhat elevates it with the wild scene in the middle. Special Delivery has the best storytelling of them all, but I can't really see any meaningful message other than "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Still, I like a well told story, and for that Special Delivery may rise up above the others because of that. Or maybe it's because there's some bias involved from it actually winning the Oscar that serves as a tie-breaker. Still, watch all of them if you can. You won't be disappointed. (Or maybe you will. I can't vouch for anybody's taste.)

My rankings (by quality and preference)
Special Delivery > Rip Van Winkle > Oh My Darling


  1. The other title that "Garfield in Disguise" is also known for is "Garfield's Halloween Adventure". That's the title I recall more, as the other title, unless it was used internationally, was only used in book form when a comic adaptation of the special was released in the 80's.

    I still love the ending and the big question it never answers. Borge would go on to make another film with a simialr problem between parents and their kids with "Run Of The Mill".

    "It is winter in Canada, and if you've ever been to Canada during the winter you know that it's nothing to sneeze at"

    I live in Ohio, it's about up there. Special Delivery is a pretty unique film and one that propelled John Weldon into the heights of Canadian Animation for a number of years. He would continue to make more films for the NFB up until the mid 2000's. A later film he did that sorta reminds me of "Special Delivery" a little was "Frank the Wrabbit".

  2. I saw at GoodTimes edition of RVW at a thrift store in Corry, PA called Star104.