Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Best Animated Short - 1944
Aah! It's July 31, which means that not only is it the 23rd anniversary of Nolan Ryan's 300th win, but it's also the first anniversary of my epic drive from Texas to Virginia, my first of six marathon drives of at least 12 hours with no more than one hour break in the middle at one time. I've never come close to driving that long before so my memories of that night and day is pretty well implanted in my mind. It's hard to believe that a year has passed since then. You can enjoy my live blog of the drive.
Anyways, back to where we were. It was 1944 and war was raging in the east and in the west. So many young men in the prime of their lives were being sent to Europe and Africa and Asia to die in the name of freedom. On June 6, 1944, the Allied nations landed on the beaches of Normandy to begin the reclamation of western Europe from Germany. Despite the loss of over 12,000 troops - that's 12,000 young men who would forever lose conscious even as time stretches on for a googleplex years - it was still a successful landing that eventually lead to the end of the war.
Meanwhile, while young men were out their losing their lives while fighting for the Allied way, citizens in the United States were still able to enjoy forms of entertainment, including baseball and film.
American citizens found solace in the warm voice of Harry Lillis Crosby, better known by his nickname of "Bing." He was the top singer of the 1930s and 1940s, and this success followed him into an illustrious film career. He was a top box office draw, whether it was starring with Bob Hope in the Road to films or in his many musicals like Holiday Inn and White Christmas. In 1944 he had perhaps his greatest success. That year he made Going My Way, where he played a priest whose liberal ways frustrate the elder pastor. The film was a hit, and when Oscar nominations were announced it had 10 nominations, tied with the Woody Wilson biopic Wilson for tops. The rest went to the Billy Wilder epic Double Indemnity (seven nominations), Gaslight (seven nominations), and Since You Went Away (eight nominations). Of those Since You Went Away and Gaslight went without Best Director nominations, which went instead to Alfred Hitchcock for Lifeboat and Otto Preminger for the film noir Laura.
Once again the Academy had no limits for nominees in some of the technical awards. Cover Girl beat out 13 other films to win Best Music (Musical) while Going My Way won Best Original Song for "Swinging on a Star" over 11 other songs. However, Since You Went Away had the most significant win as it beat out 19 other nominees to win Best Music (Comedy/Drama). Wilson won Best Sound over 10 other films. In the visual technicals, Wilson won Best Color Cinematography in a field of six while Laura had to beat out nine others to win the Black and White category. Wilson also won Best Color Art Direction over six other films while Gaslight won the Black/White category in a field of eight. The thrilling war film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo won Best Special Effects in a field of seven, while Wilson won Best Editing in a traditional five-nominee category. Wilson won a writing Oscar with its win in Best Original Screenplay, while Going My Way won the other two: Best Screenplay and Best Original Story.
The acting categories in 1944 had a very unique, once-in-a-lifetime milestone. Back in the day voters for nominations could cast their ballots for an actor in either the leading or supporting category. Usually the distinction is pretty clear, but that wasn't always the case. Take Barry Fitzgerald. His role as the conservative Father Fitzgibbon in Going My Way was very popular, but people were divided as to whether it was leading or supporting. When the ballots were totaled it turned out he had enough votes to be nominated for both! The Academy was quite surprised but decided not to rescind one of Fitzgerald's nomination, but they changed the rules to prevent this from happening again. Fitzgerald must have been thankful that he was not disqualified, as he went on to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Ethel Barrymore won Best Supporting Actress for None But the Lonely Heart. Ingrid Bergman won Best Actress for her stirring role in Gaslight. And Barry Fitzgerald can make history by capturing both leading and supporting categories for the same performance, but his bid was denied by his co-star Bing Crosby.
Going into the final two awards of the night there were two films that were on top. Going My Way and Wilson had both won five Oscars. They also happened to be the top two highest grossing films of the year. Wilson cleaned up most of the visual technical categories, while Going My Way did well in the acting and writing categories. Which one would come out on top? In the end the Academy decided to go with the musical, as they awarded Leo McCarey the Best Director crown, and then Going My Way took Best Picture, bringing its total to seven, the most since Gone with the Wind won eight five years earlier.
Seven was also the number of nominees there were in the Best Animated Short category. Which of them would go on to take it all? Let's see what they are first.
And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street
Gerald McBoing!Boing!, Seuss began his career modestly enough with a cute little picture book titled And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street. The book hit the bookshelves in 1937, and the simple little tale about a young boy and his elaborate story soon became a hit. One of the readers was an animation director named George Pal, and he set out to adapt the story for the screen using his Puppetoons. He had already adapted another Dr. Seuss story the year before, and adapting Mulberry Street must have been a cinch in comparison. The film remains loyal to the original story by essentially using the book's text as a script and setting the sights to Puppetoons. The item have the distinct Puppetoons look rather than the familiar illustration style of Dr. Seuss, but it still adds something to see the puppets in motion. Of course, having to stretch out a 770-word story into a seven-minute film would lead to rather slow pacing, but it's fun enough. The film also does well cutting between the Puppetoon animation and live action footage of the young narrator, played by 40s child star Gary Gray. And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street is a good adaptation of the first story of a great American author.
Where Can I Watch It?
I couldn't ever find it online and had to get it from Jerry Beck's Cartoon Research Garage Sale. Of course, he doesn't seem to be offering any Puppetoons anymore, probably because it's going to be released as a special feature on the new Puppetoons Movie blu-ray set along with several other hard to find Puppetoon films.
Dog, Cat, and Canary
the little studio that couldn't." Even Terrytoons, the lowest budget studio managed to outshine Screen Gems thanks to the presence of popular mascot characters Heckle & Jeckle and Mighty Mouse. All Screen Gems had were Scrappy, who folded in 1941, and Fox and the Crow, which had much more success under the direction of UPA and DC Comics. Screen Gems tried their hand at creating new mascot characters but it generally ended in failure. At least one of those mascot characters received an Oscar nomination. Flippy the Canary is a happy go lucky canary that is stalked by Flop the Cat. Thankfully, he is protected by the loyal Sam the Dog. The cat and bird concept predates Sylvester and Tweety by two years, and even throws in a third character. So why is it Warner Bros.'s duo is celebrated today while Flippy and Flop are forgotten? Well, Dog, Cat, and Canary*, their first film, hints at why. The film is actually well done, with a lot of visual and situational gags that are actually quite funny. However, they don't quite reach the absurd comedic heights of Termite Terrace. And the animation, while decent, doesn't quite have the fluidity of the work of Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones. The characters are non-anthropomorphized and don't have the personality of Warner Bros.' mascot characters, and Flop is presented as a somewhat sympathetic character, which makes his inevitable defeat less enjoyable than that of the over-the-top Sylvester. If you don't compare it to Warner Bros. films, Dog, Cat, and Canary is actually a rather enjoyable film, but it invariably pales in comparison to the masters.
*Also known as Sweet Tweets, as it is listed in the opening credits, but the Academy lists the film as as Dog, Cat, and Canary, so that will be how I'll list it.
Where Can I Watch It?
*It is true that Walter Lantz produced the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts during his height of popularity in the 1930s, but Oswald was created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks.
Where Can I Watch It?
How to Play Football
Aquamania. These "How to" mockumentaries are full of different varieties of gags, and they all feature a narrator so that they won't miss the departure of Colvig. How to Play Football is perhaps the best of these films. It is chock full of these comedic elements from beginning to end. Every shot is full of some sort of jokes designed to make people laugh, and they range from slapstick to visual gags to situational gags and finally irony. Heck they can even create a joke using audio, as in one scene the narrator explains the rules of football, but is drowned out by the crowd so you can't understand anything. More typical jokes are ones where the narrator says a line that is taken literally, such as having players run into a wall of players when the narrator says "Taxidermy runs into a stone wall." The film also features a staple of some of the later "How to" mockumentaries, in that Goofy becomes a species rather than a particular character, so everybody is a variation of Goofy. At any rate, How to Play Football is a hilarious film and certainly one of the funniest in the Disney series.
*Colvig eventually returned to Disney as a freelance voice actor where he is free to develop the character of Bozo the Clown and play roles such as the Country Wolf in Tex Avery's Little Rural Riding Hood. He (perhaps deliberately) used the Goofy voice, I always got a kick of hearing the Goofy voice saying "Bring out the babe."
Where Can I Watch It?
Where Can I Watch It?
My Boy Johnny
Modern Inventions, or the take-copter in Doraemon. The film also addresses the idea of giving benefits such as jobs to the GIs which was eventually put into law with the GI Bill, but it doesn't spend that much time on it. The ideas presented in the the film are certainly creative but it certainly feels very uneven, switching from modern day returning GI scenes to really futuristic scenes, and combining both animal veterans with soldier veterans. And though it's not the main focus, the gags aren't very funny. At least the music, which takes the "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again" song with new lyrics, is well done.
Where Can I Watch It?
This was another film that's not available online that I had to get from the Cartoon Research Garage Sale. Thankfully it's still being offered.
Powerhouse. He prides himself in exceeding his quota, which is used to ship to the Allied nations around the world. However, the productivity is threatened one day when a crooning rooster shows up, and all of the chickens wind up having passed out on the ground. An angry Porky decides to look for another singing rooster that can make his hens lay more eggs. Can he succeed in his quest? Porky Pig is the first major star for Warner Bros. Since his debut in I Haven't Got a Hat the jovial stuttering pig became a staple in Warner Bros. cartoons even after getting pushed to a more supporting role in favor of stars like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck,* but Porky has what Daffy doesn't have, which is an Oscar nomination, which he got for Swooner Crooner. But of course, even in his Oscar nominated film Porky had been pushed mostly to the periphery. The stars of this particular short are the roosters that caricature the singing style and appearances of famous singers. The two that take up most of the film's focus are roosters parodying Frank Sinatra (I never understood his rooster's portrayal as being a beanpole as wide as the microphone stand, but I don't know enough about Sinatra to know about his body composition in 1944) and Bing Crosby. The roosters sing their song, which are the slow paced love ballads associated with the crooners. Since there isn't too much excitement with singing roosters, the film is thus mostly composed of visual gags of the chickens swooning in hilarious ways. Of course the film also has a scene where other roosters audition, allowing them to caricature other famous singers, including Nelson Eddy (whom I never heard of and only know through Wikipedia), Al Jolson (in politically incorrect blackface), Jimmy Durante (singing the Oscar winning "Lullaby of Broadway"), and Cab Calloway. The mostly audio format of the film is a stark departure to the normal largely slapstick antics of Warner Bros., which still exists in the factory scene in the film's first two minutes. And to be honest, I actually prefer this part of the film because the songs bore me, but Swooner Crooner is still a very unique film in the Warner Bros. canon.
*Like Andy Panda and Mickey Mouse, I think this shift could have possibly been because he was too honest and genial and too much of a goody two shoes, although he did have this popular scene which was made as part of a blooper reel, much like the famous naughty episode of Rainbow (not Dash).
Where Can I Watch It?
Warner Bros. sure like taking it down. So I'm trying to embed from a Romanian site. If it doesn't work, you can always watch it on SuperCartoons.net, or actually, you know, buy it legally.
Well, here are the seven nominees, one for every of the major studio in the Golden Age except for Famous Studios (and who cares about them anyways?) And yet even then only the films from the three biggest studios stand out: Disney's How to Play Football, MGM's Mouse Trouble, and Warner Bros.'s Swooner Crooner. The Warner entry is very different from not only the other nominees but also other films from the studios, but it still doesn't quite match up to the other two more traditional gag-filled films. How to Play Football is a rip roaring laugh a minute film, but it doesn't quite match the deep sense of futility that Mouse Trouble projects. Or maybe because I'm just biased because Mouse Trouble was one of my favorite films growing up before I saw How to Play Football. But I'm not alone in making the choice as the Academy agreed as well, handing the cat and mouse duo their second straight Oscar.
My rankings (by quality)
Mouse Trouble > How to Play Football > Swooner Crooner > And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street > Dog, Cat, and Canary > My Boy Johnny > Fish Fry
My rankings (by preference)
Mouse Trouble > How to Play Football > Swooner Crooner > Dog, Cat, and Canary > And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street > My Boy Johnny > Fish Fry