Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ranking the Oscar Nominated Shorts: 1952-1961

Well, here we go...the sixth edition of the Ranking the Nominated Short post. I've always enjoyed these posts because I love making lists, and there's nothing better than going back over the films I've reviewed and making a list of how much I like the film. Of course it's always going to be about my opinion because it's much easier to gauge preference than quality when I don't even have an actual set of guidelines to define quality. And because it's based on my own preference there will be cases where a masterpiece gets ranked low while a rather mundane film gets ranked high. And there would be more cases because we're now in the golden era of studio animation, many of which I've watched while growing up. And nostalgia plays a big role in how much I like a certain film.

Oh well. Let's get started.

NULL: O misto na slunci (A Place in the Sun) (1960)
This was the first animated film made outside North America that got love from the Academy. Unfortunately, nobody else loved it enough to save a copy of it so now the only way I have of watching it is to learn Czech and travel to Prague to get a copy somehow. I've never even been to Europe!

43. The Jaywalker (1956)
A snazzy design doesn't make up for an unfunny concept and an unlikeable protagonist

42. Magoo's Puddle Jumper (1956)
The antics of the near-sighted Mr. Magoo are normally funny, but not in this bland film.

41. Tabasco Road (1957)
The lame gags and annoying characters make this one of the worst Speedy Gonzales films

40. The Violinist (1959)
The filmmakers go for a tongue and cheek satire on artistic value, but it falls flat and is just lame.

39. Aquamania (1961)
There are some decent slapstick, but the film just feels like two different films that don't connect at all.

38. The Pied Piper of Guadalupe (1961)
The Pied Piper sequence is the best part of this Speedy Gonzales film, but it is less than a quarter of the film.

37. The Romance of Transportation in Canada (1952)
There are some good information in this tongue in cheek documentary, but the material dry and the jokes are not funny.

36. Madeline (1952)
Ludwig Bemelmans's iconic heroine gets an animated adaptation, but the film really doesn't add much to the original story.

35. Beep Prepared (1961)
Wile Coyote and Road Runner's only nomination has some clever gags, but overall doesn't distinguish itself from the rest of the films.

34. Little Johnny Jet (1952)
Tex Avery had to wait almost a decade for another one of his films to get nominated, and the Academy chose the one that was rather bland.

33. No Hunting (1955)
There are some funny ironic gags in this Disney mockumentary on modern day hunting, but overall the film doesn't form a very coherent whole.   

32. Nelly's Folly (1961)
Chuck Jones's film about the rise and fall of a singing giraffe is a spot on observation on the precariousness of celebrity, but it just doesn't click with me.

31. High Note (1960)
The early scenes involving the creation of a musical score is great, but it doesn't make up for the annoying random gags that take up most of the film.

30. Birds Anonymous (1957)
Tweety and Sylvester explores the anonymous addiction group craze. There are some excellent design work, but the film doesn't go far enough into the satire.

29. Paul Bunyan (1958)
The theme song is certainly catchy, but I never really liked the tall tale of Paul Bunyan, and the final showdown has always bugged me.

28. Noah's Ark (1959)
Disney's musical adaptation of the tale of Noah's Ark has some interesting stop motion animation and character design, but the song quality is very variable.

27. Goliath II (1960)
Goliath II helped to bring the Xerox technology to Disney animation, but that led to rampant reuse of old pieces of animation, and Goliath II is just annoying.

26. Trees and Jamaica Daddy (1957)
The animation in this two-films-in-one collection is downright terrible, showing how far UPA had fallen at this point. Yet the songs are just so gosh-darned catchy.

25. Crazy Mixed Up Pup (1954)
Tex Avery's first film upon his return to the Walter Lantz Studio has the madcap humor that is his trademark, but it also has timing issues that make it kind of annoying.

24. Moonbird (1959)
Two boys go adventuring during the night, and their adventure shows off the simple innocence of childhood imaginary play very well. However, it does drag quite a bit.

23. From A to Z-Z-Z-Z (1953)
A young boy daydreams during his monotonous classes. His imaginary adventures are varied and quite interesting, but young Ralph's attitude can be a bit irritating.

22. Mouse and Garden (1960)
This Warner Bros. film is like the anti-Friendship is Magic. Sylvester and his "buddy" Sam spend the entire film stabbing each other in the back, and the results are quite funny.

21. Mexicali Shmoes (1959)
Yes, this Speedy Gonzales film does have the ultra-stereotyped Slowpoke Rodriguez scene, but the rest of the gags are quite funny, and I actually like the Slowpoke Rodriguez joke.

20. Sandy Claws (1954)
Sylvester and Tweety hit the beach. The slapstick gags are formulaic but funny, especially after Granny misinterprets Sylvester's actions as being heroic. The ending is hilarious as well. 

19. Good Will to Men (1955)
This film is just a remake of MGM's Peace on Earth from 16 years earlier with updated methods of war. Still, the film's message is quite powerful, even if the Biblical element are simplified. 

18. One Droopy Knight (1957)
Droopy's only Oscar nomination features recycled gags from some of his earlier films, but there's nothing wrong with that since those gags are still funny. Great voice work from Bill Thompson.

17. Touche, Pussy Cat (1954)
Even though this is a prequel to the Oscar winning The Two Mouseketeers, which I don't really like, it surpasses its predecessor with better gags and an actual storyline about Tuffy's training.

16. Gerald McBoingBoing on Planet Moo (1956)
This film has come under some criticism with its departure from the classic Gerald McBoingBoing rhyming formula, but it's still a great piece of satire on miscommunication and the importance of titles.

15. Speedy Gonzales (1955)
The character of Speedy Gonzales has become controversial in recent years. Still, his solo debut film is terrific, with clever slapstick and the classic "Speedy Gonzales is friend of eveybody's sister" line.

14. Pink and Blue Blues (1952)
The near-sighted Mr. Magoo is at his best while showing off the Magoo style of babysitting. The madcap antics between Magoo and his neighbor's son and dog that is trying to catch a thief is quite hilarious.

13. Pigs is Pigs (1954)
Disney took the famous short story by Ellis Parker Butler and adapted it to the screen, but rather than making it a straightforward adaptation, the studio added music and sight gags to make it an absolute delight.

12. Christopher Crumpet (1953)
Yes, Christopher is an incorrigible brat with his chicken trick, manipulating his father into granting his every wish, but this film is still a delight, full of the expert storytelling and deceptively simple animation that made UPA such a success.

11. Sidney's Family Tree (1958)
Terrytoon's final nomination is not a great film. The story is kind of silly, and the main character is pretty dumb. However, the voice acting and the situational gags make this a very funny film, and the nifty jungle beats is icing on the cake.

10. The Truth About Mother Goose (1957)
Disney has tackled the subject of nursery rhyme before, but never in this capacity. This edutainment film takes three classic nursery rhymes and explores the history behind each of them. They do spend too much time talking about the history of the London Bridge instead of using it to explain a fourth nursery rhyme like Hey Diddle Diddle, but the rest of the film is full of atmosphere and quite educational, even if the stories were rather simple. There's also good vocal performances from the Page Cavanaugh Trio.

9. Johann Mouse (1952)
The Tom and Jerry formula is tried and true, having brought Fred Quimby a total of seven Oscars in ten years. Their final Oscar is a film that takes the relationship between cat and mouse into a whole another level. The slapstick gags play only a minimal role, and the majority of the film is about the waltzing mouse and the cat that learned to play the piano to catch him. It's a very different film from the rest of the Tom and Jerry canon, but a breath of fresh air as well. And the scene where Tom learns the piano is a classic.

8. When Magoo Flew (1954)
Mr. Magoo goes out to see a movie, but instead of making it to the theater he embarks on one of his most memorable adventures. It's true that When Magoo Flew relies less on slapstick and more on the observational humor that Magoo's Puddle Jumper had, but the gags in  this one are quite good, with mistakes that kind of make sense. But what really sets this one apart is how it pokes fun at the films of the period. The banter between the stewardess and the cop is brilliant, and the self-referential ending is not bad either.

7. Knighty Knight Bugs (1958)
Bugs Bunny may be the most famous cartoon character in history, at least according to TV Guide, but many of his greatest works were unfairly kept from competing for the Oscar. Knighty Knight Bugs may not be at the same level as What's Opera Doc or the Hunting Trilogy, but it's still a hilarious film. The slapstick involving Yosemite Sam as the Black Knight infiltrating his own castle is brilliantly done, and there are a lot of other terrific jokes in this one as well. I'll never get tired of the sight of Sir Osis of Liver drinking wine out of a goblet.

6. The Legend of Rockabye Point (1955)
Tex Avery's career at Walter Lantz Studios lasted only four films, but in those films he had the Oscar recognition that had been denied him at MGM. The Legend of Rockabye Point really made a star of Chilly Willy, even if he was only a supporting character in favor of Charlie the polar bear. The gags involving the various ways Willy gets the guard dog to chase Charlie the polar bear and how Charlie defuses the situation with the classic lullaby are exciting and varied, keeping the film fresh. What make the film a classic is the touching ending.

5. Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom (1953)
I'm probably not the only person that knows Professor Owl primarily from being the host of the Disney's Sing-a-long video tapes, but over 30 years before that he was the host of the Adventures of Music films. Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom was the second of these films, and it was not only the film that brought Disney into the wonderful world of Cinemascope, but also a great piece of edutainment. It provides good information about musical instruments and their history, and does it in a way that is full of wonderful visual humor and unfortunately some ugly stereotypes.

4. Surogat (1961)
The Academy had finally saw fit to include films from countries outside of North America with the unfortunate O misto na slunci in 1960, and it took only a year before a foreign film would win the Oscar for the first time, but Dusan Vukotic's classic film is certainly a deserving one. This story of a man's visit to the beach in a world consisted entirely of blowup items is full of humor of both slapstick and situational nature and stylized animation that make it thoroughly enjoyable film. Plus the theme song can stick in your head for days. The ending is also quite clever and borders on absurd existentialism.

3. Munro (1960)
Jules Feiffer is best known as a cartoonist, but he has also done some writing, primarily in the realm of satire. Munro is one of his most famous satirical works, and this classic animated adaptation may be one of the reasons why. The film uses the story of a four year old not only getting drafted but also making it all the way through boot camp to comment on the absurdity of bureaucracy and the over-reliance of description, similar to what Joseph Heller would do in his classic Catch-22 which came out a year after this film. The film is absolutely hilarious, and little Munro will melt your heart with his oft-repeated "I'm only four" line.

2. The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)
Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most famous American authors, and one of his most famous works is The Tell-Tale Heart, which over 100 years later the legendary UPA Studios would use as the basis of one of their greatest films. The film was a successful attempt to use animation as a serious piece of art instead of mere childish entertainment. It uses all facets of the film medium to express the theme of insanity from the original story. The animation is largely static images but is styled in a way to bring out the feeling of dread, which is compounded by the eerie musical score and James Mason's cold narration. All that combine to result in a film that is just as bone-chilling as the original story, but one where you just can't turn away.

1. Rugged Bear (1953)
And through it all, my favorite Oscar nominated film from 1952-1961 was Rugged Bear. The film about the antics of the lazy Humphrey the Bear and his efforts to live through hunting season as a rug for a hunter beat out the likes of the other 42 film that you read about. How could the film that I ranked last by quality in that particular year end up being my favorite film from not just that year but this particular 10-year period? Well it gets into the goal of animation and the power of nostalgia. Rugged Bear may not have the artistry or the depth of the other four nominees from 1953, but it is the only genuinely funny film from that year. It is clear that comedy is the primary goal behind Rugged Bear, and it hits the mark. The events that befell poor Humphrey are hilarious and would have you laughing even as you feel bad for his predicament. Sometimes all you really need is a good laugh, and that's what Rugged Bear does well. More importantly, it was one of those films that I watched countless times when I was growing up. The combination of childhood nostalgia and humor that holds up well after 60 years lead to it taking the title of my favorite Oscar nominated film from 1952-1961.

Well, that's all 43 films I've seen ranked. After three straight decades with less than 35 films to rank, it's good in a way to be above 40 again. Of course it also means that I'll take that much longer to write this, but I can't really complain. It's better than the next 10 years, when I'll have 50 films to rank, so I might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

Highest ranked non-winner: Rugged Bear (1)*

*Only the second time that a film that lost the Oscar took the #1 spot. The other instance was Hunger (1974).

Lowest ranked winner: Magoo's Puddle Jumper (42) - a record!
Number of winners in the top ten: Six (Munro, Surogat, Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom, Knighty Knight Bugs, When Magoo Flew, Johann Mouse) - another record!
Average rank of the ten winners: 14.7
Number of films that were my favorite in a year outside the top 10: Two [Gerald McBoingBoing on Planet Moo (16), Mexicali Shmoes (21) - a record for lowest favorite]
The two films that were not my favorite in a year in the top 10: The Tell-Tale Heart (2), Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom* (5)
Highest average rank: 1953 (8.6)*

*There were two other years in the past that had three films in the top 10, which were 1974 and 1978, but 1953 is the first year that had three films in the top 5. No wonder it set a record for highest average ranking in a year with five nominees.

Lowest average ranking in a year: 1956 (33.7)

The top 10 from 1952-1961

Other decades:


  1. Nice list... And also nice to know that there's so many films I haven't seen, Rugged Bear included! Of that lot, my favourite that I've seen would be either Munro, Surogat or Johann Mouse.

    Never even knew Disney had done a stop-motion version of Noah's Ark.

    1. I try to include links to the films in the individual reviews. Some may be broken if the video gets removed since I don't go back and check on them. :p