Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Best Animated Short - 1942

1942. For all intents and purposes, many Americans probably believe that World War II began around this time. Never mind that there has been fighting in Europe for three years and in Asia for over a decade, but 1942 is significant for being the first full year of involvement by the United States of America, and that's when stuff got real. Because America!

Yeah...I'm sure that's how the Europeans and Asians view Americans. Oh well.

1942 was also the year that studios began to make films addressing the war. There have been a few films made in America about the army and what eventually became World War II, but there number really exploded in 1942. And of course none was more popular than William Wyler's Mrs. Miniver, an American film set in Britain that explored the effects of the war on the common citizens overseas. According to Wyler he made the film showing what the sacrifices the people in Britain must make in order to generate support for the war in America, who was observing a mostly isolationist policy when production began. And it was a major hit, possibly because by the time it was finally released America was deeply involved. Mrs. Miniver was the highest grossing film of 1942, and when Oscar nominations were released it also led the way with 12 nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, and at least one nomination in every acting category, the first film to do so. The other nominees went to (in descending order of nominations) the Lou Gehrig biopic The Pride of the Yankees (11), the George M. Cohen biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy (eight), Random Harvest (seven), The Talk of the Town (seven), The Magnificent Ambersons (four), Wake Island (four), 49th Parallel (three), Kings Row (three), and The Pied Piper (three). Of those Best Director nominations went to Kings Row, Random Harvest, Wake Island, and Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Yankee Doodle Dandy started off well, capturing the Oscar for Best Music (Musical), beating out seven other flicks. Meanwhile, Now Voyager had a much harder time to come up with Best Music (Comedy/Drama), as it had to beat out 17 other films. Meanwhile, the Bing Crosby classic "White Christmas" from Holiday Inn came out on top against nine other songs for Best Original Song. Yankee Doodle Dandy also won Best Sound, beating out 11 other films. In the visual technicals, Mrs. Miniver won Best B/W Cinematography (in a field of ten) while the pirate adventure The Black Swan won for Color (field of six). The wartime romance This Above All won B/W Art Direction (in a field of ten), while the musical biopic My Gal Sal won Color Art Direction (in a field of only five). The Pride of the Yankees became the first baseball film to win an Oscar when it won Best Editing. The pre-Civil War boating film Reap the Wild Win won Best Special Effects (in a field of ten). The writing categories had only five nominees each, and they went to Mrs. Miniver for Best Screenplay, 49th Parallel for Best Original Story, and the Hepburn/Tracy comedy Woman of the Year for Best Original Screenplay.

As the first film to receive a nomination in all four acting categories, Mrs. Miniver sure had a lot riding on them. Things didn't start well when Best Supporting Actor went to Van Heflin for the noir film Johnny Eager. But then the young and lovely Teresa Wright made well by winning Best Supporting Actress. She was also nominated for Best Actress for her spirited role as the loyal Eleanor Gehrig, who supported her husband Henry Louis every step of the way even as his body may or may not have been wracked by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but in the end the Oscar went to Greer Garson for playing the titular role in Mrs. Miniver. Garson then proceeded to bore everybody to tears with a record setting speech that lasted between five and a half to seven minutes depending on who you ask. It's doubly impressive when you consider that some famously long speeches such as Shirley MacLaine's rambling speech for Terms of Endearment, Gwyneth Paltrow's tearful speech for Shakespeare in Love, and Halle Berry's emotional speech for Monster's Ball lasted for no more than four and a half minutes. I'm sure nobody really cared by the time James Cagney finally won an Oscar for Yankee Doodle Dandy for Best Actor.

At the end of the night, Mrs. Miniver led with four wins followed by Yankee Doodle Dandy with three. Since both were in competition for the final two awards it could have gone either way, but seriously was Mrs. Miniver going to lose? William Wyler won for Best Director and then cruised to an easy win for Best Picture, the sixth win of the night.

And yet, as long as Greer Garson's speech was, it wasn't quite as long as any of the films nominated for Best Animated Short.

All Out for 'V'
America is at war! And the patriotic Americans are doing all they can to help the soldiers fighting overseas, but humans are not the only animals helping out. The news of war break out in an idyllic forest, and all of the forest animals are scrambling to help out under the direction of the War Production Office. No matter how small the animals are, or if they are predator or prey, they all must work together to step up production by Uncle Sam's instruction so that we can get a V for Victory. The increase in war-themed films is not just limited to live action films. Even animation studios were doing their part to bring the spirit of the war to help increase morale on the home front, whether it's in the form of animated propaganda documentaries or just cartoons of characters involved in wars. Even Terrytoons joined in on the action with their film All Out for 'V'. American citizens have been asked to make plenty of sacrifices to help the war efforts, and I'm sure Paul Terry and his staff felt that the citizens would be more accepting of it if they get to see cute and furry little animals do the same thing. Because this film is pretty much features animals using what they have available in the forest to make war supplies. For example, a flock of sheep take off their wool like a jacket so that they can be used to make uniforms. It's all very cute, and the sights of common enemies, such as a cat and mice, working together is pretty inspiring as well. It's like they're saying, see even these animals are doing all they can to help the war efforts. That is, except for the Japanese beetles. They get attacked because, you know, enemies. Terrytoons has gotten a bad rap for their low budget work, but the animation is pretty solid for Terrytoons. Yeah, they don't quite get to the level of Disney, but they do capture the spirit of collaboration, and the animals are very cute. The songs that play throughout are well made and quite catchy, although the dialogue could use more work. After an explosion early in the film that gets the attention of the animals, they say "What was that?" "Did you hear something?" three times. Despite this, All Out for 'V' is a solid propaganda film and one of Terrytoon's best.
Where Can I Watch It?
So it seems like somebody put this online. I bet it'll get taken off sometime soon but here it is for now.

Blitz Wolf
Three little pigs set out on their own into the world. One little pig builds his house out of straw, and another builds his out of sticks. The third pig, however, is building a brick fort complete with cannons. The other two pigs laugh at him for his army getup, but the third pig implores his brothers to support the war efforts and be alert for the Big Bad Wolf. The other pigs aren't too worried, since they signed a non-aggression pact with the wolf, but they didn't realize that Adolf Wolf is a pretty colossal stinker. Now they must team together to fight the wolf. Tex Avery made a name for himself with the Termite Terrace studio in Warner Bros., but he got into an argument with Warner Bros. head Leon Schlesinger over the ending of one of his films and he left the studio, going to Paramount before finally ending up at MGM. His first film with his new studio was a was a retelling of the classic Three Little Pigs story with a war theme. The first half is like a prelude to war, making fun of the non-aggression pacts that Hitler made with most of Europe and later broke because he is a colossal stinker. The second half is actual war with Adolf Wolf, and that allows Avery to do what he does best, which is to fill the film with slapstick. However, the entire film is full of the sort of madcap Tex Avery comedy. It's got not just slapstick but visual humor, verbal humor, cultural references, and jokes that I don't even know how to describe. He even gave a giant screw you to the censors by having the pigs singing the "You're in the Army now" song and placing a pause in sound and animation after the "You're digging a ditch" line, knowing that the audiences would be waiting for a similar rhyming word that would come next. He also got Pinto Colvig to come in and provide the voice of Practical Pig, the role he played in Disney's legendary Three Little Pigs. Bill Thompson does a great job as Adolf Wolf. The film also makes a reference to the Ink Spots' "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire," which if you remember is the song from the closing credits to the Oscar winning Logorama, but the soundtrack features mostly George M. Cohan's "Over There" instead. Blitz Wolf was a great film that established Tex Avery as the premiere comedic director at MGM, not that it really mattered to the Academy.
Where Can I Watch It?

Der Fuehrer's Face
In the glorious land of Nutziland, deep in the heart of Europe, an oompah band goes around singing the praises of Der Fuehrer, whom they go around heil! heil!ing. Their singing interrupts the slumber of their only common citizen, a hapless duck named Donald. Donald goes through his morning enjoying such luxuries as a single coffee bean and the aroma of bacon and eggs, but that is the highlight of his day as he is led to his work making shells for Der Fuehrer. Meanwhile he has to heil to every picture of Der Fuehrer that appears. Can he survive the strain of this stressful life? Disney really got into the propaganda business in 1942, partially because it's the patriotic thing to do, and partially because they were commissioned by the US government. We'll be discussing some of their documentaries in a later post, but they made plenty of propaganda films featuring their biggest star, Donald Duck. He goes through several zany scenarios, including getting drafted and wanting to fly. However, the most powerful and most bizarre propaganda film starring Donald Duck would have to be Der Fuehrer's Face. Disney created this film to drum up support for the war by painting a picture of a Nazi-centric world that had terrible standards of living. The portrayal of Nutziland was over the top. Swastikas adorn every possible surface, and an oompah band made up of caricatures of Axis leaders like Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, Hirohito, and Mussolini goes around singing about Der Fuehrer. Even the rooster heils Hitler while crowing in the morning. The exaggerated design of the world is good for some laughs, but it only gets better through Donald's living condition. His daily bread, hard as a rock, gets interrupted by orders to read Mein Kampf. And his job becomes downright hilarious with his frequent need to stop and heil pictures of Hitler in between screwing heads on missiles. Of course Disney doesn't stop there and adds frequent visual and situational humor. And the film climaxes in a surreal breakdown that ranks up there with Pink Elephants on Parade in terms of sheer freakiness. To see it happen to a familiar character like poor Donald makes it that much more powerful. The original song written by Oliver Wallace and popularized by bandleader Spike Jones is hilarious and adds to the farcical nature of the film. Of course it's hard to think of Nazis as being something to laugh at, but this was 1942 and the horrors of the Nazi Final Solution was still largely unknown in the West. The Nazis were an enemy and by portraying them as buffoonish can audiences feel better about fighting the war. I suppose that gets at the heart of propaganda, and that's what makes Der Fuehrer's Face such a great film.
Where Can I Watch It?
As you might have heard, after the war ended and the horrors of what the Nazis did with their Final Solution came out during the Nuremberg Trials, Disney quickly snatched up the prints of the film and left it stashed in their vault. And there it stayed for close to 70 years until it was finally given a wide release on the Walt Disney Treasures - On the Front Lines DVD. And since it's out on DVD, there are ways to get it online, not that there weren't ways to get it before. >.>

Juke Box Jamboree
It is nighttime in the Zowie Cafe, which was closed for the night. Even so, the jukebox continues to play a slow salsa tune, which was too much for the mouse that lives in the cafe. He pounds on the wall, which stops the jukebox, but it is only getting ready to play another song. The mouse finds it impossible to sleep and goes inside the jukebox to stop it, but he winds up in a cup of zowie and finds the alcoholic drink to be delicious and drinks it up, but that only puts him in a hallucinogenic state where other spirits come and send him on a musical adventure he'll never forget. Not all the cartoons made by the cartoons were propaganda films. The studios were all making regular cartoons in addition to the war themed ones. For example, Walter Lantz Studios made several cartoons about air raids and production during the war, but the one film that got a nomination for them this year was part of their Swing Symphony series, cartoons centered around a musical theme that don't feature their mascot characters. Juke Box Jamboree in particular is set inside a Mexican restaurant. I don't really know enough about music to know exactly how some of their tunes are classified, but they are quite catchy. Of course a film with great music but no visuals would be useless, but Juke Box Jamboree is also full of slapstick, visual humor, and some neat imagery to go along with the great music. You've got spirits making musical instruments out of common cafe items, a singing and dancing lobsters with her matchstick backup singers. It's a pretty trippy experience, but one that is quite enjoyable.
Where Can I Watch It?
Yes, the only versions online are the annoying European releases that chose to dub everything, including English words that appear on the screen, but it's kind of acceptable in this one because there is no dialogue, just annoying disembodied voices that read translations of certain words.

Pigs in a Polka
Tonight the wolf is here to introduce tonight's story of the Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs. Once upon a time there were three little pigs that went out on their own and decided to build their own houses. One little pig built her house out of straw. Another decided to build his house out of matchsticks. The final pig is smart and built his house out of bricks. The other two pig decided to frolic around while the third pig is hard at work, but then the Big Bad Wolf arrives, and he is hungry. Can he get his hands on those three little pigs? The fable of the Three Little Pigs is one of the most famous, especially in the world of cartoons, although that could be due to Disney's popular and influential Three Little Pigs from 1933. Well, nine years later and studios are still using the story as a plot device. Earlier in this review you've seen how MGM did it with Blitz Wolf, but now Warner Bros. has a Three Little Pigs remake of their own that couldn't be more different from Blitz Wolf. Whereas the MGM film was a comedic short that parodied the war as a form of propaganda, Pigs in a Polka was part of Warner Bros.'s series of films that set classical music to animation very much like what Disney did in Fantasia a few years later and what Walter Lantz would do with his "Musical Miniatures" a few years later. This time the tale of the Three Little Pigs is set to the tune of four of Johannes Brahms's Hungarian Dances, including Dance No. 5 that is quite familiar to me for some reason. The tunes were rearranged by Termite Terrace composer Carl W. Stallings in a way that is quite pleasing to the ears and manages to flow from different dances quite seamlessly. Other than a rather useless introduction from the Big Bad Wolf*, the film actually follows the story of the Three Little Pigs quite well, but done with very little dialogue and set to music. Of course to keep things exciting they added plenty of slapstick and visual humor, but much less than what you may expect from a normal Warner Bros. film. The animation is quite good, with great expressions such as the third pig's exasperated expression while watching his stupid siblings dance. Pigs in a Polka may not challenge as much socially as some of the other propaganda films, but it is still a great work of art.

*At least compared to Elmer Fudd's witty opening in A Corny Concerto.

Where Can I Watch It?

Tulips Shall Grow
In serene Holland, where the Blyleven family would give birth to a son named Rik Aalbert in nine years, a polka playing young man named Jan goes marching to the house of his beloved Janette. Janette watches from her windmill house and together they express their love, with Jan giving Janette a flower and Janette providing a cake. They enjoy a dance together, but while everything seems to be going all peachy keen, dark clouds are arriving on the horizon. The Screwball Army is on the loose, and they are out to take over the Netherlands. Can anybody save the lives of two young lovers? George Pal was born in Hungary. He began his career in Germany and Czechoslovakia. Those countries all eventually fell to the Nazi Party. However, Pal was distinctly not Nazi, and left Germany as the Nazis came to power. Almost a decade later he saw the effects that the Nazi-led war was having on the idyllic Europe he remembered, and made Tulips Shall Grow. It was a powerful film that led to it being elected to the National Film Registry in 1997, the same year as my favorite film at the time West Side Story. I eventually watched this film as part of trying to watch every Oscar nominated short, knowing about its status. However, I was a bit disappointed as the first two minutes were some of the sappiest thing I've ever seen in animation. Surely it wasn't going to be like this the entire way through. Thankfully, George Pal didn't disappoint me, because the Screwballs arrived onto the scene, and they mean business. The war scene in the middle two minutes were surprisingly violent, with Screwball planes and tanks dropping bombs on unsuspecting buildings. And they even ran over the cake. But the final two minutes presented a message of hope. In spite of the great odds against such a formidable foe, victory was still possible. This sort of message would have very inspiring to the audiences of 1942. Heck, it's pretty inspiring even today 71 years later. So it's no wonder why Tulips Shall Grow remains such a powerful film, and almost certainly the best film in George Pal's illustrious career.
Where Can I Watch It?

Well, here are the six nominees and wouldn't you know that more than half of them had something to do with the war that broke out. And all six are all very good. Juke Box Jamboree may have been the worst of the bunch, but it was still a colorful film with a bold design and terrific music that is still great today. Terrytoons and Puppetoons came out with perhaps their best films of the year. And while the two Three Little Pig adaptations may not have been blowing away the rest of their studio's fares, but they still are still classics in their different ways. But the top of this excellent lineup of films may be Der Fuehrer's Face. Disney was willing to make a film that is both challenging and hilarious, one that addressed current events in such a way that they shy away from nowadays, and one that paints a strong picture of history. And the Academy recognized the genius of the film and awarded Disney with their tenth win in this category, a record that is still unmatched for a studio, especially since they are still out winning Oscars with films like Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and Paperman while the other competing studios shut down. So naturally Disney took their classic and stashed it away for close to 70 years, making it almost as hard to find as Lorenzo and Redux Riding Hood. Almost.

My rankings (by quality)
Der Fuehrer's Face > Tulips Shall Grow > Blitz Wolf > Pigs in a Polka > All Out for 'V' > Juke Box Jamboree

My rankings (by preference)
Der Fuehrer's Face > Tulips Shall Grow > Blitz Wolf > All Out for 'V' > Juke Box Jamboree > Pigs in a Polka

We've got a Saturday post coming, then since we just finished ten reviews since the last ranking post, next week we'll have the ranking post for nominees from 1942-1951. And then comes the epic 1941 year with 10 nominees! Yeah...I hope I'll have a chance to get the thing done by the regular scheduled time. If not, then we may see ourselves getting into another hiatus.


  1. "but 1942 is significant for being the first full year of involvement by the United States of America, and that's when stuff got real. Because America!"

    Isn't it always!

    "Yes, the only versions online are the annoying European releases that chose to dub everything, including English words that appear on the screen, but it's kind of acceptable in this one because there is no dialogue, just annoying disembodied voices that read translations of certain words."

    I've learned to accept it anyway, knowing you can't fight some issues when it comes to whether someone understood the title or not (and what with English not really being as widely-used as we may think).

  2. For anyone who wants to see "All Out For V".