Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Best Animated Short - 1954

So today is George Brett's 60th birthday, and it is also one of the saddest days of my trip. Yes, as this post is going up I will be returning from Taiwan to prepare to return to my normal life, which includes graduating from med school, either moving or getting my unexpected roommate to move out after seven long months, and onto residency and beyond. Considering I'm only in my first week at Taiwan, it's a bit sad to think that in a few short days I'll be leaving, but that's just a consequence of the inevitability of the passage of time. That's something that has been bothering me for ages and is now still haunting me.

Of course I am not alone in suffering under the relentless forward passage of time. It is a common experience in the human experience. Everybody from the cavemen from ten of thousands of years ago to today are under the clutches of time. Just look at the films of 1954. 60 years ago, these films would have been in early production or pre-production, to come out under huge fanfare the next year. Time has passed and some of these films are recognized as classics while others are largely forgotten. Either way these films are now seen as really, really old, but I'm sure there are those out there that still remember when they were new and fresh.

Two of the 1954 films that are still best remembered include Alfred Hitchcock's classic Rear Window and Marlon Brando's stirring drama On the Waterfront. Rear Window had done better at the box office, but when the Academy Award nominations were released it only received four nominations, although one was for Best Director. On the other hand, On the Waterfront wound up with an incredible 12 nominations, including one for Leonard Bernstein for his incredible score and three in the Best Supporting Actor category. The other Best Picture nominations went to The Caine Mutiny (seven nominations), The Country Girl (seven nominations), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (five nominations), and Three Coins in the Fountain (three nominations). Of those only On the Waterfront and The Country Girl received Best Director nominations, with the other three slots taken up by Hitchcock for Rear Window, William Wellman for The High and the Mighty, and Billy Wilder for Sabrina.

On the Waterfront's soundtrack is well remembered today, but it wasn't that well received in 1954 and Bernstein lost the Oscar to The High and the Mighty. Seven Brides with Seven Brothers won Best Score (Musical), Three Coins in the Fountain won Best Original Song, and the biopic The Glenn Miller Story won Best Sound Mixing, beating out Rear Window even though the latter is celebrated for its use of diagetic sound. On the Waterfront did better in the visual categories, winning for B/W Cinematography and Art Direction. The other split categories went to Sabrina (B/W Costume Design), Gate of Hell (Color Costume Design), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Color Art Direction), and Three Coins in the Fountain (Color Cinematography). 20,000 Leagues also took home Best Special Effects while the crucial Best Editing Oscar went to On the Waterfront. On the Waterfront also won Best Story and Screenplay, the modern day equivalent of Best Original Screenplay, even though it was based off of a series of newspaper articles. Best Screenplay went to The Country Girl, while Best Story went to the Western film Broken Lance.

All eyes were on the Best Supporting Actor category, where 60% of the nominees were from the film On the Waterfront. However, the presence of three strong actors giving the performances of their lives in the same film might have caused a split vote, leading to somebody else winning entirely, in this case being Edmund O'Brien for The Barefoot Contessa. Despite the loss, On the Waterfront's Eva Marie Saint, a television actress making her film debut, had no problems winning Best Supporting Actress. Grace Kelly, the beautiful American actress who would abruptly retire two years later when she married into the Monaco royal family, won Best Actress for one of the five films she appeared in that year. However, it was not for either one of the two Hitchcock films (including Rear Window), but for The Country Girl. Along the way she defeated Dorothy Dandridge, trying to make history for an African American actress, and Judy Garland in her only film appearance in an 11-year old period. And Best Actor went to Marlon Brando, who finally struck gold after four consecutive losses in the same category in one of his most iconic roles.

Despite the disappointing loss in the Best Supporting Actor category, On the Waterfront was streaking as the final two award came about. It had six wins while none of the other had more than two. Of course, 18 years later Cabaret would go in with seven wins, take Best Director, and still lose to a film with two wins. But it's The Godfather! There were no other films at the same level of The Godfather this year, and On the Waterfront cruised to wins for Best Director and Best Picture, bringing its grand total to eight wins.

And then the years went by and On the Waterfront went from being a great new film to a classic really, really old film. As of now the only member of the main cast still living is Eva Marie Saint. She was 30 when the film was made and now going on 89. Along the way she saw the deaths of so many of her co-stars from the film. Lee J. Cobb, who was brilliant as the corrupt union boss Johnny Friendly, died in 1976. Rod Steiger, who played Marlon Brando's brother Charlie, died in 2002. Two years later Marlon Brando himself succumbed to the ravages of time. And in 2009, Karl Malden, who was so magnificent in his role as the fiery waterfront priest, passed away at the age of 97. For all of them On the Waterfront was a memorable part in their careers, but one that became further and further in the past as time continues on, the same as it is with all of us.

And the same as it is with these five nominees for the Best Animated Short category.

Crazy Mixed Up Pup
Samuel is a loyal but rather passive husband who has an unfortunate tendency to get run over by cars. One day when buying groceries with his dog Rover the pair get run over again. The EMT that arrives to save the pair has terrible eyesight and mixes up the dog and the human plasma. Now Samuel thinks he's a dog while Rover acts like a human. All this is very confusing to Samuel's wife Margaret and her dog Fifi. Will there ever be a resolution to this mix-up? Frederick "Tex" Avery is one of the most renowned directors in animation history. He got his start with the Walter Lantz Studios before moving on to the legendary Termite Terrace at Warner Bros., where he introduced Daffy Duck and solidified the characterization for Bugs Bunny (more on that in a later review.) He eventually left Warner Bros. and wound up at MGM, where he created numerous highly regarded films that were nevertheless largely ignored by the Academy in favor of his colleagues Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. He ended up back at Walter Lantz Studios, and his first film with his old studio was Crazy Mixed Up Pup. Avery is best known for his wild and frantic brand of slapstick, and it is certainly present in Crazy Mixed Up Pup. The majority of the film is made up of the Samuel and Rover switching roles, as well as the reactions from those around them. The gags are funny enough, but I feel that they are too over the top and feel kind of suppressive, like getting hit in the head by the message of some of the Pixar shorts. One particular oft-used gag is that the people are so shocked by the switch that stuff come out of their heads, such as flags through their ears. It's so strange, random and out of place that by the third time it appears I've had enough. And it appears four times. The idea that plasma can lead to such changes is so nonsensical that I find it kind of irritating.The animation and voice acting are good, but nothing phenomenal. Overall, Crazy Mixed Up Pup was funny the first time around, but it gets old pretty quickly on repeated viewings.
Where Can I Watch It?

Pigs is Pigs
Flannery is an able railway agent, mostly because he does things by the books. However, that turned out to be troublesome in one unfortunate incident. One day he receives a shipment of guinea pigs for a customer. He decided to treat them as pigs, since they have pigs in their name and everybody knows pigs is pigs. Unfortunately, the rate for shipping pigs is four cents more than the rate for pets. The customer refused to pay the higher rate and left Flannery in charge of the guinea pigs. Flannery appealed to the railroad executives for an answer of classification of the guinea pigs, and has to deal with their reproductive system while his query goes through bureaucratic hell. Pigs is Pigs was a popular short story written by American author Ellis Parker Butler poking fun at those people that stick strictly to the book. It was adapted to short films a couple of times, including this version by Disney. For this version they converted the tale to a musical, and threw in a couple of extra verses making fun of the inefficiency of bureaucracy. The entire story is told in rhyme and song, much of which incorporates the popular Irish jig "The Irish Washerwoman" (you'll know it when you hear it.) The lyrics are well written, and the bureaucracy scenes are especially delightful, because we've all dealt with the red tape before. Another side story to the story is Flannery's inability to deal with the growing population of guinea pigs. In the original the growth was due to the lengthy time, but the film version condenses all that into a short time so you get many visual gags of the guinea pigs reproducing like crazy. The animation is done in a more limited style but still has the traditional Disney look. There are some good use of camera angles in certain scenes. The voice acting is decent, especially with Bill Thompson as Flannery in his thick Scottish voice. Pigs is Pigs is now a lesser known Disney film, but it is still a worthy part of their canon.
Where Can I Watch It?

Sandy Claws
Dat bad ol putty tat Sylvester is at it again. This time he's at the beach trying to catch a fish for food at the beach when he watches sight of Tweety Bird who was with Granny on one of her beach trips. He tries to catch Tweety, but before he can get his paws on the bird the tide came in, leaving Tweety stuck on the rock surrounded by the sea. Sylvester tries many strategies to get to Tweety, even teaming up with Granny. Can they ever succeed and save Tweety? Sylvester and Tweetyis one of the most famous pairings at Warner Bros., and certainly one that the Academy has enjoyed. The pair has been nominated officially three times (and once unofficially), more than any other Warner Bros. pairings. Of course, the Academy should never be the be all end all on animation, especially in regards to Warner Bros. films, but the fact that the pair spawned a spinoff TV series, Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, almost 50 years after their first pairing is a sign of their continued popularity. Sandy Claws is one of these films that perpetuated their popularity. It doesn't exactly try to inject something completely different like with Birds Anonymous three years later, but it's still an interesting film. Like most other Sylevester and Tweety films, this one is made up of mostly gags of Sylvester trying different ways to get his hands on Tweety, and having all of them fail miserably either due to bad luck, incompetence, or Tweety's cleverness. (These Warner Bros. antagonistic characters sure have their work cut out for them.) The ones Sandy Claws are mostly water based, as Tweety spend much of the film stuck on the rock ledge. They're pretty funny, but the film really starts getting good when Granny teams up with Sylvester to save Tweety. There was a great joke when Granny tries to revive Sylvester just as a wave was coming in. The method of Tweety's rescue is clever, and the ironic ending is a classic. Sandy Claws doesn't exactly transcend the Sylevester and Tweety films, but it has its great moments.
Where Can I Watch It? 
Yeah, it's totally not available on any standard American sites. There's a Russian site that has it, but you're probably better off being Warner Bros.'s bitch and paying for it on iTunes or Amazon or the complete Warner Bros. Academy Awards Animation Collection that also has the 26 nominees that didn't win.

Touché, Pussy Cat!
Jerry the mouseketeer was relaxing in his Paris home when he was interrupted by an impetuous and talkative little mouse stabbing at his door with an rapier. The little mouse is Tuffy, the young son of Jerry's friend Francois Mouse. Jerry had promised to make Tuffy a mouseketeer, and he is here to deliver on his promise. However, Tuffy proves to be incompetent, and worse of all he recklessly gets into a scuffle with Tom. Can Tuffy ever make it as a mouseketeer? Tom and Jerry are two of the most famous cartoon characters. Their brand of chase-based slapstick and visual gags helped bring Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera into the limelight, and as I've mentioned before were beloved by the Academy. The repetitiveness of their formula has come under some scrutiny in recent years, but their legacy is undeniable This is the first time we're seeing the cat and mouse duo in a review, but that's because this is the last of their 13 nominations, so you'll be seeing a lot of them in coming weeks. Touché, Pussy Cat! is a follow-up and a sort of prequel to The Two Mouseketeers, one of the more popular Tom and Jerry cartoons (although in my opinion not one of the best, but you'll get the full story shortly.) These two films take the conflict from a suburban setting where most of the film occur to the streets of Paris, and gives Jerry's sidekick Nibbles the ability to speak French. I suppose it's a change from the usual pace, but the films are still largely made up of slapstick, which is solid if unspectacular in this case. However, what sets Touché, Pussy Cat! apart is the added storyline of Nibbles/Tuffy's training. It adds an extra humanist dimension that is rarely seen in Tom and Jerry films but is a welcomed addition. Touché, Pussy Cat! probably still won't go down as one of the best Tom and Jerry films, but it's a decent one.
Where Can I Watch It?
Warner Bros. has the rights to the old Tom and Jerry cartoons new, and they've been kind of set in keeping these films off YouTube. Most of the current films have been there much less than a year, so here's a Metacafe version that's been there for almost five. I hope it works.

When Magoo Flew
One night Mr. Magoo decides to go out and watch one of those new fangled 3D movies that everybody is talking about. After surviving a near attack from a vicious dog, Mr. Magoo finally makes it to what he thinks is a theater but is actually an airport. He buys a ticket from a weight & fortune machine and somehow ends up in the plane seated next to a nervous looking man with a mysterious briefcase. After a cop appears on the plane looking for a man, Magoo's neighbor disappears leaving his briefcase. Magoo goes walking around the plane looking for the man. Can he find the man while staying safe? When Magoo Flew is another misadventure of UPA's most well known mascot, the near-sighted Mr. Magoo, and certainly one of the more famous films. Why, animation historian Adam Abraham even named his book on the rise and fall of the UPA animation studio after this film. So how is the film itself? Well, like most Mr. Magoo films it features Magoo mistaking things in his surroundings for what he believes it should be. In this case Magoo is walking around in and literally on a commercial jet thinking he's in a movie theater watching a movie. Like Magoo's Puddle Jumper two years later, the humor in this film is largely based on Magoo's comments on what he perceives instead of the slapstick from some of his earlier films, but there is enough diversity in When Magoo Flew that it's actually kind of funny. Plus there are a few great gags surrounding the crime and airplane pictures that were so prevalent in the 1950s (and the latter of which inspired one of the greatest parody film ever in Airplane!) The banter between the cop and the waitress is very funny. Yeah, it's questionable how Magoo ever got on the plane in the first place, and how he can walk around on a commercial jet without getting blown off (although wing walking was and still is a legitimate stunt), but overall When Magoo Flew is a solid Mr. Magoo film and one that incorporates most of what makes him such a popular character.
Where Can I Watch It?

Well, there are five nominees that are all pretty good. There doesn't seem to be one that stands out. Crazy Mixed Up Pup is one that I don't like as much but it is a decent Tex Avery films and it has a lot of fans. Touché Pussy Cat!, Sandy Claws and When Magoo Flew are solid but unspectacular films. In the end that leaves Pigs is Pigs as being the best, as it takes a popular short story and adds to it in the adaptation. However, it doesn't tower over the other nominees like some films do in other years. Ultimately the Academy disagreed and awarded the Oscar to When Magoo Flew, which isn't a bad choice, as it's one of the better Mr. Magoo films out there.

My rankings (by quality)
Pigs is Pigs > When Magoo Flew > Sandy Claws > Touché Pussy Cat! > Crazy Mixed Up Pup

My rankings (by preference)
When Magoo Flew > Pigs is Pigs > Touché Pussy Cat! > Sandy Claws > Crazy Mixed Up Pup


  1. Incidentally 1954 (and much of '53) would also be the first time many of these films started to be presented in a matted widescreen ratio that made them appear wider in theaters, yet still retained a full-frame look that was suitable for TV later on. You'll note that with the opening title/credit sequences in some of these shorts in the way they wouldn't go out of a required safe area for theaters to show them in. Before this point, credits would nearly cover the entire film frame itself, often making it a tad hard to read the names on a CRT monitor when home video began.

    "One particular oft-used gag is that the people are so shocked by the switch that stuff come out of their heads, such as flags through their ears. It's so strange, random and out of place that by the third time it appears I've had enough. And it appears four times."

    I find it interesting how it doesn't happen to the wife for a good chunk of the plot until she finally has it and leaves.

    "Overall, Crazy Mixed Up Pup was funny the first time around, but it gets old pretty quickly on repeated viewings."

    Of course as a kid in the 80's when it might show up from time to time on TV, it was still pretty cool to see the madness happen again and again with those crazy takes.

    "Yeah, it's questionable how Magoo ever got on the plane in the first place, and how he can walk around on a commercial jet without getting blown off (although wing walking was and still is a legitimate stunt),"

    That's good to know I don't have to question it further! Don't have anything else to say since this film was perfect on it's own.

  2. Just reminded myself one of the staffers on "Pigs is Pigs" passed away recently named "John Wilson", though his name wouldn't bring up much with animation itself, he was still very instrumental in it's history starting in the 1940's working on the "Animaland" series for former Disney man David Hand, eventually to form his own indie studio which produced the familiar animation sequences on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and the opening animation to the film "Grease". One noted production for him was 1971's "Shinbone Alley" based on a musical which in itself taken from the writings of Don Marquis. It's not a great film but still pretty interesting for a time when animation had fallen into that dead period as I put it.