Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Best Animated Short - 1947

Sometimes I've been thinking, why do I even bother? I've been putting hours upon hours into this blog, and the posts with the most views have had nothing to do with Oscar nominated shorts. Granted I've done more advertising with those posts, but that may be because I don't feel like the actual reviews are good enough to warrant advertising. If I post it on reddit like I did with the Rainbow Dash film I'm sure it'll get a negative score so fast it'll make my head spin. So yeah, with my work ramping up exponentially I'm thinking I may have to go into another hiatus. But if a blog that nobody reads go into hiatus, does it matter?


1947 is probably best known for being the year Jackie Robinson broke into the majors, thereby ending the Color barrier that had been an unwritten rule in baseball since the days of the racist Cap Anson back in the 1880s. But since this is an Oscar blog we'll focus on the Oscars instead of the implications of Robinson's heroism those many years ago. The Best Picture race was between the delightful Christian romantic fantasy The Bishop's Wife (five nominations), the murder mystery Crossfire (four nominations), the socially charged Gentleman's Agreement (eight nominations), David Lean's adaptation of Chuck Dickens's Great Expectations (five nominations), and the psych-focused Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street (four nominations). Of those only Miracle went without a Best Director nomination, with George Cukor getting the nod for A Double Life instead.

And they're off! The music awards went to Mother Wore Tights for Best Music (Musical), A Double Life for Best Music (Comedy/Drama), and the highly controversial and banned Disney film Song of the South won Best Original Song for their famous "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." The Bishop's Wife won Best Sound to close out the audio awards. In the visual technicals, Great Expectations swept Black/White awards (only Cinematography and Art Direction because Costume Design wouldn't debut until a year later), while Black Narcissus won both Color awards. The boxing film Body and Soul won Best Editing while the historical film Green Dolphin Street won Best Special Effects. In the writing awards, Miracle on 34th Street won both Best Original Story and Best Screenplay while Best Original Screenplay went to The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

The acting awards that year were quite contentious. Well, perhaps only one of the categories was, because nobody really quibbled about Edmund Gwenn winning Best Supporting Actor for his delightful role as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, or Celeste Holm winning Best Supporting Actress for Gentleman's Agreement. And nobody was really surprised when Ronald Colman won Best Actor as an actor that took his roles too seriously in A Double Life. However, it was Best Actress that would go down in history as one of the most surprising races. Most people felt that the award would go easily to Rosalind Russell for Mourning Becomes Electra. After all, she won the Golden Globe and her performance remains gripping even 66 years later. Still, even if doesn't go to Russell it should at least go to Joan Crawford for Possessed, Susan Hayward for Smash-Up, or Dorothy McGuire for Gentleman's Agreement. And what happened? The one performance that nobody really felt had a chance, Loretta Young for The Farmer's Daughter, took home the Oscar. The controversy has become forgotten over the years, but for Oscar buffs it's still one of the greatest Oscar travesties.

Meanwhile, things were down to the final two Oscars. Miracle on 34th Street had the most wins with three, but it lacked a Best Director nomination and things weren't like in the 1930s where films could waltz to Best Picture with no Best Director nomination. Meanwhile, Great Expectations is the only other Best Picture nominee with two wins. Gentleman's Agreement joined that group when Elia Kazan won for Best Director. Still, winning Best Director was no guarantee of an Oscar win, but it was not this case when Gentleman's Agreement overcame all of its losses and took home the Best Picture Oscar.

And amidst all that excitement a small category was being overlooked. Yet that shouldn't have been the case as the Best Animated Short Oscar was going to make some history.

Chip an' Dale
It is a bitterly cold night,  and poor Donald Duck is freezing in his unheated winter cabin. The fire has burned out in his fireplace, and he has no more firewood. So he braves the winter night to try to find something he can use to warm up. He spots a nice little husk of an old tree in the distance and chops it down. Little did he know is that the tree already had occupants, and they are none too pleased with their house being used for firewood. And little Chip and Dale will stop at nothing to save their home. A duo of little rodents have made appearances as foils for Disney's regular mascot characters before 1947, most notably in Private Pluto and the classic Squatter's Rights, which we'll be seeing shortly. It wasn't until Chip an' Dale that these two finally got names and distinctive personalities. You've got Chip the intelligent but abusive one and Dale the dim-witted one, Yeah, they're very similar personality-wise with Warner Bros.'s Hubie and Bertie, whom we saw last week in Mouse Wreckers, only these two pester their victims with more mischief rather than out and out violence and mind games. Somehow I don't find Chip and Dale as annoying as Hubie and Bertie, partially because I grew up watching Chip and Dale while I didn't see Hubie and Bertie until I was older, but it may also be because while Hubie and Bertie torment their victims sight unseen, Chip and Dale do it in plain sight, which has the added benefit of letting you see the friendship that the two have in spite of Chip abusing Dale for being a stupid idiot. Anyways, Chip an' Dale was the first cartoon played in the Disney Cartoon Classics tape I watched to death when I was a kid so I really have strong feelings for this film, but even I was surprised at how well it holds up after 25 years. The gags are mostly slapstick, such as Dale completely failing at spitting water at the flames or having the two drop snowballs on Donald (with amusing sound effects), but they are still very funny. The sound effects and music are also quite memorable. Chip an' Dale was a great film that really helped to launch the careers of these two chipmunks into their status as legitimate Disney mascot characters.
Where Can I Watch It?

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse
Despite his best efforts, Tom the cat couldn't stop Jerry the mouse from drinking his beloved milk. Angry at the rodent's constant theft of his drink, Tom decides to get back at him once and for all. He mixes a deadly brew of various poisons into the milk, hoping that the deadly drink would kill Jerry. Jerry takes the bait and drinks it up, but instead of dying he becomes a vicious and muscular specimen that terrorizes Tom with his brute strength. However, the concoction has a limited lifespan. Can Jerry recreate the mixture before it's too late? Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the most famous stories in English literature. The mysterious tale of a refined gentleman and his insane murderous alter ego has infiltrated pop culture, and it was even incorporated into this particular Tom and Jerry film. The idea of mild-mannered Jerry having this alter ego is an interesting one, and it was executed fairly well in this case. Jerry's menacing form stalking Tom is certainly a site to see, especially with the added gags of the various ways Tom tried to stop the beast. Unfortunately, while the film captured the facet of a serum causing the transformation, it didn't exactly go into the morality tale of the original short story. Then again, it's tough to go into such complex issues in a seven minute short film. Still, Jerry spends a little bit more than a minute of the running time as the muscle-bound freak. The rest of the film is filled with the normal slapstick focusing on the many impossible ways Jerry can sneak the milk or Jerry running away from Tom after the potion runs out. The ending is pretty good, but still kind of has the feel of wasted opportunity. I'm sure Hanna and Barbera could have done much more with Jerry's other form, which they kind of did three years later with Jerry's Cousin. Still, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse is an interesting film.
Where Can I Watch It?

Pluto's Blue Note
Pluto is in a musical mood. He wakes up to the sound of tweeting birds and wants nothing more than to join them in song. The problem is that he has an absolutely awful singing voice. He tries the same with a bee and a cricket, but they all run away from his awful noise. Feeling dejected, he decides to listen to a radio that has been placed in front of a store, but when he begins singing along the manager comes out and removes the radio set. Pluto sneaks into the music store and discovers that he has an amazing skill with a record player. Can this turn his musical career around? Poor Pluto. He ranks up there alongside Mickey and Donald and Goofy as one of the most recognizable mascot characters, but he's still a non-anthropomorphized animal surrounded by anthropomorphic animals. Since he acts like a regular dog it kind of limits what can be done with the character. Sure, Disney animators have done a great job with the character animation, expressing his emotions with facial expressions and some slightly exaggerated movements, but he ends up usually spending time getting scolded by Mickey or getting pestered by some other characters, the latter of which is already done to perfection by Donald. Still, it's quite rare for him to have a film like Pluto's Blue Note where he can just be Pluto. The film is centered around his (admittedly poor) efforts to partake in the music going around him, and his profound sadness at getting rejected. As a Pluto film, the entire film is driven by his reactions to whatever was happening. As a film devoid of dialogue or even any slapstick it feels a little bit slower than some of the other films of the era, but there are a lot of good moments, such as Pluto's goofy dance to a remix of the Chinese Dance from the Nutcracker. The scene of Pluto lip synching to a recording of Bing Crosby's "You Belong to My Heart" seems a bit forced and out of place, but overall Pluto's Blue Note serves as a good lesson to never give up on one's interests, even if you completely suck at it.
Where Can I Watch It?

Tubby the Tuba
Tubby is a tuba that plays in giant orchestra full of living instruments. They were a well functioning orchestra full of instruments that were happy with their current situation, all except poor Tubby. He was tired of just playing the accompaniment and wanted his own melody. He tried spicing things up by dancing during practice but was laughed out of the room. Tubby went to sit by the river where he was joined by a frog, who emphasizes with Tubby. He teaches Tubby the song he sings every night. Can this song be a new breakthrough for Tubby? George Pal is one of the most influential animators in history. We've seen his name before as the producer and director of many of the films that won Best Special Effects Oscars, such as The War of the World, tom thumb, and The Time Machine. Of course, before that he worked in animation and made the live action Puppetoons films using his innovative technique where he would switch out different puppets rather than moving a single puppet. This allowed for a more streamlined look. The Puppetoons films were exceedingly popular, and it won George Pal an honorary Oscar in addition to seven nominations in the Best Animated Short category. Tubby the Tuba was the last of it, and indeed it was the last of the Puppetoons shorts before Pal went on into live action work. It was an adaptation of a musical short story by Paul Tripp and George Kleinsinger and told the tale of an under-appreciated member of an orchestra that went on to find success through the tenacity and the help of an understanding friend (because friendship is magic.) It's a heart-warming story that teaches the importance of never giving up. And George Pal did well to bring the story to life with his Puppetoons. Tubby is a much more sympathetic character in the film especially with the more antagonistic characters of Peepo the Piccolo and the devious French Horn being animated as well. All this is thanks to Pal's excellent technique. Victor Jory provides the narration in this film and he does an excellent job. Overall Tubby the Tuba is a great adaptation of a great story. It's a shame that the Puppetoon animated films went into retirement after this but at least the series went out with a bang. Or an oompa.
Where Can I Watch It?

Tweetie Pie
It is a cold winter night, and a shivering little bird huddles over a lit cigar butt trying to keep warm. Thomas the cat sees this while hiding inside a snowman and decides that the bird would make a good meal. He tries to catch the bird, but gets the cigar butt instead because the bird had "tawt he taw a putty tat." After tossing away the cigar butt Thomas catches the bird, but this time he is caught by his female owner. The owner takes the Tweety Bird in, but Thomas is not ready to give up his quest of getting the bird quite yet. Can he ever succeed? Tweetie Pie is a historic work in the Warner Bros. canon, for it was the first film that paired Tweety Bird with Sylvester the Cat. Tweety was the creation of Bob Clampett and had appeared alongside minor cats. Meanwhile, Sylvester was at that time a still unnamed black and white cat that had made appearances in several other films including the Oscar nominated Life with Feathers. Clampett was working on another Tweety project when he left Warner Bros., and Friz Freleng decided to use the Tweety character in place of a woodpecker character he had used to pair with Sylvester. Supposedly Edward Selzer was so vehemently opposed with this move that it took a threatened resignation from Freleng to get the project green-lit. The resulting film was full of the slapstick that would make Sylvester and Tweety such a popular pairing even 66 year after Tweetie Pie. It features Sylvester trying several methods to get at Tweety in his cage, but it always fails due to bad planning or interference from Tweety. As the first film in the series the gags in Tweetie Pie still feel fresh. The highlight is a ridiculously complex Rube Goldberg machine that ends with a cuckoo bird pushing a bowling ball out, meant to hit Tweety, but due to a miscalculation it hits Sylvester instead. The oft-repeated scene of Sylvester's owner whacking him with a broom is also good for some laughs. Some of the later Sylvester and Tweety films feel old and tired, but their first pairing still works pretty well.
Where Can I Watch It?

So here are the five nominees. Chip an' Dale is without a doubt my favorite due to the fact I've been enjoying it since my infantile amnesia days. However, I must admit that it probably isn't the best of the bunch. In this year my pick would be Tubby the Tuba. The short story is a classic, and George Pal's excellent Puppetoons really adds volumes to the story. The Academy opted for Tweetie Pie instead, giving Edward Selzer the Oscar after he almost nixed the project. Considering the Sylvester and Tweety pairing would give him two Oscars over the years, I'm sure he was glad he kept it. The win was also significant because it ended a four-year winning streak by Fred Quimby and his cat and mouse duo. Nobody else would string together four straight Oscars in this category again.

My rankings (by quality)
Tubby the Tuba > Tweetie Pie > Chip an' Dale > Pluto's Blue Note > Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse

My rankings (by preference)
Chip an' Dale > Tubby the Tuba > Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse > Tweetie Pie > Pluto's Blue Note


  1. Although it might not SEEM like you get a lot of readers, I'm sure those that DO read it get a lot of enjoyment from it. Me included!

    Could do without the pony stuff, but if that's what you're into, go for it. I see this as a high-quality version of "Your Daily Cartoon" (ever been there?). With every short shown here being Oscar-nominated, I know they're going to have at least SOME merit.

    Plus, the mini-Oscar histories are informative. Knowing what "big" films were up for nomination in the same year as my favourite cartoons were and all that.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement. It's always good to hear kind words of support.

    2. Thinking of this as a "high quality version of Your Daily Cartoon" probably is a good way to put it given how the blogger does go out of his way to detail and comment over these films in a manner that perhaps other bloggers might overlook when simply "presenting" the material.

    3. Definitely, definitely... Nothing against Your Daily Cartoon, obviously - I've been introduced to a lot of great stuff through that blog, but THIS one tells me things about some of my favourite cartoons that I might otherwise have never known.

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