Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Best Animated Short - 1979 (NSFW)

We have arrived in the 1970s in our trip through the Best Animated Short Oscar. The 1970s, as you know, are a decade full of crisis and turmoil. Another source of crisis and turmoil for this blog is our ever-lengthening introductions. Originally I had trouble putting enough substance in my intros, but for the past four reviews I've noticed that my introductions are getting longer than my reviews. This probably came about from when I started adding baseball stories for that particular year. I love baseball and have the tendency to ramble when it comes to baseball. And I can go off on Oscars stuff as well. Frankly I love doing these things more than coming up with historical events for that year, but if you have any suggestions as to what I should to please leave it in the comments. I've only gotten one comment so far, and it wasn't even in any of the reviews.

Another fun game I can play was the "Who do I know that was born in this year" game. I played it last year when talking about my cousins, and I can do it again this year. People born in 1979 used to seem pretty old to me since they were older than my oldest cousin, but now that I look at it, I'm closer in age to people born in 1979 than somebody that turns 20 years old this year. Hooray for the unrelenting and inevitable passage of time so that it's now 20 years since 1992. Anyways, there are three people that I can think of born in 1979. Two of them have never actually confirmed it, but I have my suspicions. ;)

The one that is public with his birth year is Sam Yi, the class president of TCOM 2013. He seemed destined to the title even before school started, when he e-mail the class about going to a Rangers game. However, he didn't take the title until our second year, preferring to take the title of Vice President. Still, he's done a bang-up job, and even made it into the top 25% of the class for the first year. And he's a nice guy to boot. The first unconfirmed person is an insanely cool person I met during my days at UVA. His name is Brendan Becker, better known to some as Mr. MAGFest and others as Inverse Phase. Yes, not only is he man responsible for running the Mid Atlantic Gaming Festival, but in his free time he does remixes using chiptunes, which is basically 8-bit music. He recently made quite a hit when he did a remix of the Nine Inch Nails (featuring Oscar winner Trent Reznor - 2010, Best Original Score, The Social Network) album Pretty Hate Machine. Back in 2005 he had my sister and me over to his place where he showed us how everything worked. It was pretty neat. The other unconfirmed fellow is somebody I met at the Longview Comic Book Club, a nifty group of people that makes living in Longview, TX quite awesome. Of course most of the people are in high school or their early 20s, so when Courtney Allen Case started coming to meetings everybody began lovingly calling him "Grandpa." He works as a photographer for the Marshall News Messenger when he's not partaking in the shenanigans of the Comic Book Club, and also does some freelance work. Anyways, those are the two people that instantly come to my mind I think of people born in 1979.

I guess it's good that I filled up so much room already because I really can't think of much to say about the world of baseball other than the "We are Family" Pirates winning the World Series over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles. While the late Willie Stargell was the heart and soul of that Pirates team, my favorite member is probably Bert Blyleven, for reasons I shared elsewhere. He was probably more like the disgruntled uncle in the team. Blyleven is known for wanting to complete games, but he came into odds with manager Chuck Tanner because those Pirates have a strong bullpen and he's darned well going to make the most of that advantage. Blyleven made 37 starts, most on the team, but threw only four complete games. He had only 17 decisions, putting up a 12-5 record. Incidentally, it was one fewer than closer Kent Tekulve, who went 10-8 despite 31 saves. His 20 no-decisions is still the most ever by a starting pitcher. He pitched well in the post-season, winning the deciding game in the NLCS and Game 5 of the World Series. He spent one more unhappy season with the Pirates in 1980, but only went 8-13 with a below average ERA. He forced a trade to the Indians in 1981, where he pitched well in the strike-shortened season, then missed most of 1982 with an elbow injury. He finished with 287 wins, but it's easy to see if it weren't for a couple of factors in these four seasons he may have gotten those last 13 wins.

Okay, I'm still rambling about stuff. I guess my introductions are destined to be long. Let's talk a little bit about Oscars. Apocalypse Now is probably the most remembered film from 1979, as much for its hellish production history as it is for its filmmaking. The film was rewarded with 8 Oscar nominations come Oscar night, including three for writer-producer-director Francis Ford Coppola. However, it still found itself behind Bob Fosse's autobiographical musical All That Jazz and Robert Benton's domestic drama Kramer vs. Kramer, both of which received 9. (One of the nominations for Kramer vs. Kramer was for 8-year-old Justin Henry, who played the Kramer Kid. He was the youngest person to be nominated for an acting award.) Breaking Away (my personal favorite from 1979) and Norma Rae rounded out the Best Picture lineup. Come Oscar night, Apocalypse Now was only able to pick up awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound. As expected, All That Jazz and Kramer vs. Kramer took home most of the statuettes. Fosse's film won four technical awards while Kramer won a Screenplay Oscar (along with Breaking Away) and acting awards for Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. And it topped the night with Best Director and Best Picture. Unfortunately, young Justin Henry failed in his efforts to break Tatum O'Neal's record for youngest acting Oscar winner when he lost to 78-year-old Melvyn Douglas who won for Being There. Of course now it can be parodied on something like Family Guy and most people don't recognize it.

Of course at least Kramer vs. Kramer has parodies. Are the Best Animated Short nominees prominent enough to get parodies? Let's find out.

Dream Doll
Once upon a time, there was a middle aged man living in England. He lives comfortably and has a good job, but there is something missing in his life: a constant companion. Everywhere he goes he is reminded of what he is missing. One day he goes walking when he sees what may finally solve his problem: an inflatable sex doll. He quickly buys one, but when he finally inflates it it floats away just out of reach, as though it has a mind of its own. Is our desperate hero ever going to be able to get what he desires so much? Back in my 1985 review, I mentioned that Second Class Mail was the second Oscar nominated short film to feature an inflatable doll used for somewhat dubious reasons. Well, this is the first. Dream Doll has quite a pedigree. It is an international collaboration between the United Kingdom and Croatia, so the creators read like a who's who of animation. The producer was John Halas, the British animator who in 1954 helmed the first full length animated feature in England, Animal Farm. One of the co-directors was Zlatko Grgic, the Croatian animator that created the famous Professor Balthazar series in Croatia. And the other is Bob Godfrey, the legendary animator that also made Small Talk. And it is Godfrey that left the biggest mark on this production. Not only does it feature the Godfrey animation style seen in Small Talk and several other films that we'll be reviewing, but it's also chock full of a theme that is found in many of Godfrey's short films: sexual innuendo. The story itself is a parody of the classic French film The Red Balloon (still the only short film to win an Oscar in a non-short category.) It follows the storyline fairly closely, down to the hopeful ending. However, instead of a balloon it stars an inflatable sex doll. The animation itself is well done. It's got that Godfrey feel as I mentioned, but it's also filled with emotion and longing. The music is very catchy but helps move the story along. If you're into this sort of thing this film is a hilarious but touching tribute. If you're not, well, you'd be best off skipping this one.
Where Can I Watch It?
If you do a search for Dream Doll on like Google Video, you may find a Russian paint on glass animation. That is not the real Dream Doll. This is the real Dream Doll, but Bob Godfrey's family has been pretty stingy about his old films, so it may be taken down. If that's the case then it's still available on one of the Best of Zagreb Films DVDs: Nudity Required. Yeah, that's the sort of film this is. Or you can watch a low quality version on the Rembrandt Films site. Or you can do a digital download on it on the newly launched Bob Godfrey Films website.

Every Child 
Once upon a time, there was a peaceful street in a peaceful neighborhood. However, the peace is about to be disturbed with the arrival of a most peculiar figure: an unwanted baby. It is passed to a busy executive, an old couple with a dog, and an opera-singing couple. Each time the people delight in the surprising visitor, but each time they pass the baby on due to different reasons. The baby is passed between rest of the houses. Will it ever find a home? Every Child is a collaboration between the National Film Board of Canada and UNICEF, as a way to demonstrate one of UNICEF's central tenets, that every child is entitled to a name and a nationality. The link between an orphan without a home and having an identity seems tenable at best, but I guess a home is part of a person's identity. At any rate, the film deals with a pretty serious topic. The idea of a child not having a home is very tragic, especially considering the fact that there are millions such orphans around the world. However, the gravity of the situation seems lessened when considering how light this film feels. Okay, it's nice to have some humor to keep people from getting demoralized, but when I watch the film it feels more like a Cartoon Cartoon than an Oscar-nominated film. (The fact that the old couple's dog reminds me of Courage the way it's been partially anthropomorphized probably doesn't help.)  And the scene with the opera singing couple is just absurd. The rather simple animation also makes this production feel kind of light. However, if there's one bright spot it is the film's sound design. All of the film's sound, from the voices to the sound effects to the "music", is supplied by Les Mimes Electriques, a two man performance group, with some direction by legendary animation composer Normand Roger (Father and Daughter, The Old Man and the Sea, The Man Who Planted Trees, Crac). And they are darned good. Do they make up for the rest of the film's lightness? I would say they do, but that's just my opinion.
Where Can I Watch It?

It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House
Once upon a time, there was an old man that lived in a house along the harbor with his old pets Peppy the dog, Ginger the cat, and Lightning the goldfish. One day the old man decides to hire somebody to come inject energy into their old lives. He puts an ad in the paper and the next thing you know they are visited by Cuthbert Q. Divine, somebody who looks like a wolf but claims he is a German Shepherd. Cuthbert does exactly what he was supposed to do and the lives of the old man and his pets improve dramatically. However, Cuthbert has some dark secrets that could destroy him. It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House is an animated adaptation of a storybook by Harry Allard and illustrated by the late James Marshall made by the Learning Corporations of America. Allard and Marshall collaborated for several classic children's story in the 1970s, including the Miss Nelson series and The Stupids series. This was one of their lesser known books. (At least I hadn't heard of it before watching this film.) Learning Corporations of America was a production company that made animated adaptations of children's books, much like Weston Woods of Doctor Desoto fame. This film sends the message to be yourself; to overcome the suppressive power of stereotypes. And it does so in a very light-hearted, humorous fashion. Early on the film is full of geriatric humor, done in a way that is non-malicious. Once Cuthbert appears on the scene, his boundless energy becomes a source of humor. Even his secret is done in more of a comedic effect. Does the humor dilute the message like in Every Child? Maybe it does, but it sure makes for a more enjoyable viewing experience. The animation is solid for a picture book adaptation, capturing the feel of James Marshall's artwork while incorporating a lot more animation. The narration is supplied by the late Jim Thurman, who also provides voice work for all of the characters, and he injects a lot of life to the film. Overall, this is a solid adaptation of a relatively forgotten picture book.
Where Can I Watch It?

Hmm. Here are three films, all of which are quite interesting to watch but none of them feel groundbreaking in their quality. Dream Doll is an...interesting tribute to a classic film, but its prohibitive subject matter may alienate some people. Every Child and It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House both deal with serious topics in less than serious manners. While the former has its tremendous sound design, the latter has a sort of frenzied energy that makes it fun to watch. The Academy liked the aural innovations and awarded Every Child with the Oscar. For me, I don't really have a problem with Dream Doll's sexuality, and I like how it meshed the classic with Godfrey's twisted sense of humor, so that may be the best, but is it my favorite? Hmm.

My rankings (by quality)
Dream Doll > Every Child > It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House

My rankings (by preference)
It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House > Dream Doll > Every Child


    The fact that "Dream Doll" spoofs "The Red Balloon" does take it down a notch for me (having saw that classic short as a child), it's still pretty good and certain has more Godfrey than it does Grgic in it I suppose (Grgic isn't particular big on the 'adult' thing himself certainly though I still think "Hot Stuff" comes close).

    It should be pointed out this was the first and only time that animator Paul Fierlinger had a film nominated for an Oscar. He is probably best known for his short films he produced for Sesame Street such as ones involving "The Teeny Little Super Guy". He has had a interesting childhood he chronicled in the film "Drawn From Memory" and recently produced a feature film a few years ago called "My Dog Tuplip" based on a book by J. R. Ackerley.

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