Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Best Animated Short - 1955

We have now gotten to the year 1955, which is the year that my dad was born. When I was young I idolized my dad and thought everything in the world about him.* I even thought that he was really old, and that anything or anybody that was older than him would be really, really old. Of course he was only in his 30s back then, but it's been over 20 years since those days and my dad is closing in on his 60th birthday. So I guess the films from this year and the ones I'll be reviewing later would be really, really old.

*I still think everything of my dad. He is the mot selfless and hard working person I've ever known. I know that we have clashed from my laid back nature and his more serious nature, but I understand that he wants me to be the best that I can be because he is always demanding his best. I don't think I've ever told him that I appreciate everything he's done for me and that I love him, but I might as well do it here. 爸爸,我愛你.

So we're now in 1955, and the biggest film news from this year was the sudden and unexpected death of actor James Dean in a car accident at the tender age of 24. It was a month before the release of his second and possibly his most endearing film, the teen angst film Rebel Without a Cause. That film went on to become the fifth highest grossing film of the year, and is now recognized as an American classic. When the Oscars were announced, the film did decent, picking up nominations for Best Story and Best Supporting Actor/Actress nominations for co-stars Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood. Dean was also nominated, not for Rebel, but for his first film, East of Eden. It was the first posthumous acting nomination for an actor. (Jeanne Eagles was nominated posthumously in 1929 for The Letter.)

Neither East of Eden nor Rebel Without a Cause were nominate for Best Picture (although the former was nominated for Best Director.) The Best Picture nominations were given to the Eurasian love film Love is a Many Splendored Thing (eight nominations), the romantic dramedy Marty (eight nominations), the naval dramedy Mister Roberts (three nominations), the film adaptation of the stage play Picnic (six nominations), and the romantic drama The Rose Tattoo (eight nominations). Of those only Marty and Picnic received corresponding Best Director nominations, with the rest going to Elia Kazan for East of Eden, David Lean for Summertime, and John Sturges for Bad Day at Black Rock.

With three films tied for most nominations, it was a mighty tight competition. The sound categories were dominated by Love is a Many Splendored Thing and the Rogers and Hammerstein adaptation Oklahoma! The former won Best Original Song and Best Score (Dramatic/Comedy), while the latter won Best Score (Musical) and Best Sound. The split visual categories were also evenly matched. The Rose Tattoo is the only film to win two, winning for B/W Art Direction and Cinematography (for Chinese cinematographer James Wong Howe in his first Oscar). B/W Costume Design went to I'll Cry Tomorrow. Picnic won Color Art Direction. Love is a Many Splendored Thing won Color Costume Design. And Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief won Color Cinematography. Picnic won the crucial Best Editing award, while The Bridges at Toko-Ri won Best Special Effects. Marty won its first Oscar of the night when it took home Best (now Adapted) Screenplay. The Eleanor Parker biopic Interrupted Melody won Best (now Original) Story and Screenplay. And the Doris Day biopic Love Me or Leave Me won the now-defunct Best Story.

The acting categories did little to break the deadlock. Best Supporting Actor went to a relatively young actor who had previously starred mostly in television named Jack Lemmon for his role in Mister Roberts. Meanwhile the older Jo Van Fleet won Best Supporting Actress for her role as James Dean's mother in East of Eden. Best Actress went to Italian actress Anna Magnani for her role in The Rose Tattoo. But all eyes were on Best Actor where people were eager to see if James Dean could ride his tragic death to a victory. Alas, it was not to be, as Ernest Borgnine won for his portrayal of the lovable but socially awkward title character in Marty.

With the final two awards of the night rolling around, Love is a Many Splendored Thing and The Rose Tattoo were in the lead with three wins, but with no Best Director nominations their chances seemed slim. Picnic and Marty were among the films with two, and they both had Best Director nominations so it seemed like the race was down to those two. Marty pulled off a huge victory when television director Delbert Mann took home Best Director in his first foray into the film world. And then it went on to win Best Picture, which just goes to show how important Best Director is and how unusual it is for Argo to dominate this past year.

Another rather evenly matched race, at least in terms of nomination, was going down in the Best Animated Short category. Who are the competitors? We shall see.

Good Will to Men
One snowy night an old pastor mouse was practicing with his mice choir, and he lead them in a spirited rendition of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." After the song the old pastor began thinking about the lyrics, and felt a pity that the men did not practice what they preached, which confused the younger mice, because they did not know what men were. The pastor then proceeds to talk about his memories of mankind and their tendency for warfare. Is there a better way to live? Good Will to Men is a film from MGM produced and directed by the legendary Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. Their Tom and Jerry films were beloved by the Academy, with seven wins in 13 nominations. However, they never got proper recognition because of the Academy's rule to award short Oscars to producers, and the producer credit always went to Fred Quimby, the head of the MGM animation division. Quimby retired in 1955, and both Hanna and Barbera was finally able to be credited as producers and enjoy the honor of an Oscar nomination. Good Will to Men was their first effort, which is an anti-war film that expresses its anti-war sentiments through depictions of war. The idea is that once we make ourselves extinct through excessive warfare, all the woodland creatures would remember of us are our constant fighting. When asked to describe what men look like, all the old pastor could remember is a man dressed for combat complete with gas masks. It's a noble idea, but there are two things about the film that bothers me. First of all the Bible is presented as the solution to all this fighting, which is probably true, but it is portrayed as being simply a book of rules. But isn't seeing the Bible as simply a book of rules missing the point? It's supposed to lead us to Christ so that we aren't bound by the Law anymore. But this is a minor nitpick. A more serious issue is that this is essentially a remake of an earlier MGM film Peace on Earth (1939). Sure the story was moved from a home into a church, and there are a few more updated methods of warfare, such as mutually assured destruction, but really it's essentially the same film. Then again, many other films loved by the Oscars have been remakes or unoriginal, like Ben-Hur and Brave. It's also sad that in spite the presence of two films arguing for peace warfare is still rampant in today's society. Perhaps the pastor mice is right, that it's only a matter of time before we annihilate each other.
WhereCan I Watch It?

The Legend of Rockabye Point
An old sailor sailing in the Antarctic wistfully remembers the legend behind an ice mountain called Rockabye Point, where the famous lullaby is constantly heard. It started 20 years ago after he had just had a particularly large haul of fish, attracting the attention of a local polar bear. The polar bear just wants some fish, but he has to deal with a vicious guard dog and a pesky penguin. The polar bear quickly finds the guard dog's weakness, which is the titular lullaby, but does the penguin have one? Every animation studio in the Golden Age of Animation had a lineup of mascot characters. Disney, Warner Bros., and MGM had the most well known ones, and they were the biggest studios. Of the other studios that must fight to survive, the one with the most recognizable mascots has to be that of Walter Lantz Studios/Universal. Their flagship character is Woody Woodpecker, and their second most popular character is arguably the perpetually cold penguin Chilly Willy. Chilly Willy made his debut in 1953, but came into his own under the direction of legendary director Tex Avery, who joined Lantz Studios after a decade at MGM. Despite being a Chilly Willy film, the focus of the film is the polar bear, named Charlie in the film but who would later be known as Maxie. Anyways, Charlie wants fish, but the guard dog wants to protect the fish. Willy wants to see the guard dog get Charlie so he can get the fish for himself. Most of the film is made up of the various ways that Charlie comes across the guard dog, and the various ways that Charlie would sing the lullaby to placate the dog. There are some overused gags such as using dynamite to wake the dog, but there are some clever ones, such as Charlie deciding to use a clarinet as a bludgeoning tool instead of singing the lullaby again. Either way the entire film is full of the frantic action that is typical of a Tex Avery film. The best part of the film is the ending, one that is inspiring in showing how even the most hardened enemies can make up, but one that is bittersweet at the same time.
Where Can I Watch It?
This has an annoying opening and is of lower quality, but the higher quality version has been uploaded for less than a year, and has a website watermark the entire time. You can watch it here if you so choose.

No Hunting
Donald Duck is the very model of a modern major consumer, enjoying a hedonistic lifestyle with all the comforts of modern living. His way of life is in sharp contrast to that of his grandpappy who had to struggle for survival. However, when he finds that hunting season began the next day, the spirit of his grandpappy comes to life to awaken the primal urges in Donald as he went to join the hunt. Would hunting be everything that he dreamed it was? Can he even survive the hunt? No Hunting is a satirical film from Disney poking fun at the time-honored sport of hunting and the changes that it would have in the consumerist culture of the 1950s. The film is essentially split up into two halves with very different subjects and types of gags. The first half is largely about making preparations for the hunt. Most of the humor is derived from showing how hunting would be like in the 1950s. For example, the roads to the hunting ground are jammed with cars, and peddlers of hot dogs and popsicles line the hunting grounds. It's interesting to say the least, but kind of overdone that it's not very funny anymore. The second half is the actual hunt, which plays out as a war film. Hunters come out of boats like in D-Day and use artillery weapons. It's an interesting contrast to Good Will to Men. There are a lot of visual gags about Donald's struggle for survival in this mad chaos, but I don't really find it to be very funny either. The action is too frantic and the timing is poor. There are two great scenes in the film, though. The first is a short cameo of Bambi and his mother, and the second is the scene where Donald waits for the hunt to start. It's got the cutaways to clocks and Donald's mother and the same sort of choppy narration that is found in Icarus Montgolfier Wright. It's a very well made segment that was tragically too short. Clarence Nash as Donald is always great while Bill Thompson does a decent job as Donald's grandpappy. Still, it doesn't make up for the gags that don't really work for me.
Where Can I Watch It?

Speedy Gonzales
A group of mice sit hungrily on the Mexican side of the border staring at a cheese factory on the American side while dreaming of the delectable treats that sit in the factory waiting to be devoured by American consumers. Unfortunately, a vicious pussycat guards the grounds, one that is too fast for the unfortunate mice that try to get at the cheese. After another failure, one of the mice suggests inviting Speedy Gonzales, the fastest in all of Mexico. Can he defeat the pussycat and help the mice get their cheese? Well, here it is, the film that introduced the current form of the most controversial mascot character for Warner Bros*. and the one that is most beloved by the Academy. In this film he faces off against Sylvester, who is guarding the factory, but the first confrontation doesn't happen until halfway through the film. There are a few good jokes in the first half of the film (I especially like the "Speedy Gonzales [is] friend of everybody's sister" line because of the double entendre), but the buildup is a bit slow. Why couldn't they have asked Speedy before sacrificing the life of Manuel and the other mice? Thankfully the rest of the film more than makes up for it. The action is mostly visual gags involving Speedy outrunning and outsmarting Sylvester, and are generally quite fast paced and funny. In one scene Sylvester puts on a catcher's mitt to catch Speedy but ends up catching a baseball instead. He throws the ball away only to find that Speedy was hiding inside. (I guess that scene resonates with me because of how much I enjoy baseball.) It doesn't matter that we're cheering on somebody that is committing illegal activities. Speedy Gonzales may have become quite controversial over the years, but his first film in his current form is fairly decent.

*Speedy made his debut in the film Cat-Tails for Two, although he looks completely different.
Where Can I Watch It?
It's not readily available in embeddable form due to Warner Bros. cracking down on their copyrighted films, but it is available on the Warner Bros. Academy Award Animation Collection, and in non-embeddable form on

Well, here we have the four nominees from 1955. Of those two of them were older than my dad, so they become the first two films with the really, really old designation. They certainly won't be the last. Of these films I might have to say the best is The Legend of Rockabye Point. It's got the best humor and that great ending. Good Will to Men was good, but it kind of loses points for being a blatant remake. Speedy Gonzales was funny, but it spent too much time with the bland first half. Unfortunately (for Walter Lantz), the Academy hates Tex Avery and loves Speedy Gonzales, so that walked away with the Oscar. Too bad.

My rankings (by quality and preference)
The Legend of Rockabye Point > Speedy Gonzales > Good Will to Men > No Hunting


    "Quimby retired in 1955, and both Hanna and Barbera was finally able to be credited as producers and enjoy the honor of an Oscar nomination."

    It was nice they managed to take over the production end of things by that point, though the studio would close in a few years after that. In the years of Oscar-winning Tom & Jerry's, they were that close to getting one this year in their name!

    "But isn't seeing the Bible as simply a book of rules missing the point? It's supposed to lead us to Christ so that we aren't bound by the Law anymore. But this is a minor nitpick"

    Well I suppose to an American audience of the 50's that was predominantly Judeo-Christian, they probably didn't think far ahead of what the producers wanted them to remember of what the 'book' taught us of peace and kindness to one another. Not to simply take it into the usual dogma and didactic nature religion is so often associated with. Unlike it's 1939 counterpart, we do get to see what this book is on-screen when they couldn't even suggest more than a few visual cues of this being a burnt-out church and this was the book taught there. Call that progress withing a 15 year period. Certainly a move from land and air combat of the first to atomic warfare and "M.A.D." in the second showed the evolution in war and it's escalating tensions that still continue with us today.

    "Perhaps the pastor mice is right, that it's only a matter of time before we annihilate each other."

    It makes for an interesting read if someone wanted to tell a post-apocalyptic tale involving animals somehow obtaining human sentience and nearly repeating the same mistakes as before (oh yeah, we did get that kind of animated film, "Rock & Rule" from 1983).

    Arguably Tex Avery really solidified Chilly's looks, personality and premise that would live on long after he had already left the studio after these brief several films he made during the mid 50's. His other short featuring the character "I'm Cold" would also introduce us to the southern drawl-speaking pooch name Smedley, a recurring character in many Chilly Willy shorts.

    "Despite being a Chilly Willy film, the focus of the film is the polar bear, named Charlie in the film but who would later be known as Maxie."

    There would also be a bird name Gooney too but that would also come later on as well (as they continued cranking these out up to the studio's end in '72).

    The premise of Rockabye Point, at least in how it begins is no different from what Avery used before in the MGM short "Deputy Droopy" involving a character having to race outside the area whenever he needed to yell or get some tension off himself so that nobody else heard it inside. I suppose what really put it over the top here is the whole "Rockabye Baby" bit that repetitively continues on to the film's climax as we see it happen.

  2. CONTD...

    "The best part of the film is the ending, one that is inspiring in showing how even the most hardened enemies can make up, but one that is bittersweet at the same time."

    It's also bittersweet to note this being the last of Tex's interest in the theatrical cartoon biz from then on. He originally worked for Walter Lantz in the early 30's mostly as an animator I think, but it wasn't until 1954 or so when he came back to work for him as a director on four shorts. Two of which starred Chilly Willy, while the others were original one-shots written and directed by Avery himself, "Crazy Mixed Up Pup" and "Sh-h-h-h-h-h". The Film "Sh-h-h-h-h-h" alone really does wrap up everything in a swansong fashion the way the film goes from serious silence to tragedy with a good pay-off at the end. Too bad that wasn't nominated instead! It really falls into a list of shorts I would sight as my inspiration for what I like about animation, others on in included Max Fleischer's Koko's Earth Control, Paul Driessen's The Killing of an Egg, and perhaps anything from Bruno Bozzetto.

    While Tex left the world of theatrical cartoons for the morbid avenue of TV commercials, his legacy was still felt at Lantz's as his work influenced other directors and writers to come up with very zany stuff like he did (though with some limited success). Tex would leave the theatricals for good in favor of the budding TV industry in advertising through producing TV commercials featuring Raid bugs and Bugs Bunny touting Kool-Aid, only wrap up his final years at Hanna-Barbera before his untimely end at the drawing board. Sad really.

    Yeah this one wasn't my fav either, in those later Donald Duck shorts, they seemed to like sticking him into these kind of plots I've noticed. THe same thing would happen again later in the decade with two shorts called "How To Have An Accident In The Home" and "How To Have An Accident At Work". Both featured a narrator in the form of some little sprite figure name J.J. Fate as he discusses Donald's unfortunate problems with accidents that could be avoided if he only knew.

    Thinking about the premise of these shorts, I'm reminded of Bruno Bozzetto's work with a character he created in the 60's called "Mister Rossi" whom often found himself in these tight situations upon doing certain things like vacationing, planning and sports.