Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Best Animated Short - 1934


Well, now we're really getting somewhere. It's been almost a month since the finalists were announced, and it's about a month before the Oscar nominees will be announced. According to some insider info the committee won't even be watching the finalists and voting on them until later this week. So for now it's just waiting and more reviews. Of course I've noted that since I've slowed these reviews down to just once every two weeks that my traffic had dried up. I was afraid that would happen, but I just haven't had much time to work on these reviews, what with work and also my desire to play some more Tokimeki Memorial. Oh well.

We're now in 1934. It is the year of the Gashouse Gang, when the St. Louis Cardinals so thoroughly trounced the Detroit Tigers in Game 7 that Joe Medwick had to be told to leave the game because the fans in Detroit were throwing food at him. There has to be a lot of hate when people were willing to part with food in the middle of the Great Depression.

The most famous film from this year was Frank Capra's It Happened One Night. The screwball romantic comedy about a reporter and a runaway heiress was a massive hit and also led to a massive drop in the sale of undershirts once star Clark Gable was seen without one in the film. However, it was far from being the tox office draw in the box office, and while it was nominated for Best Picture, its five nominations were merely tied with Cleopatra and The Gay Divorcee and one behind the top nominee One Night of Love, which was also awarded a technical achievement award. The other of the 12 Best Picture nominees were The Thin Man and Viva Villa! (four nominations), Imitation of Life (three nominations), The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Flirtation Walk and The White Parade (two nominations), while Here Come the Navy and The House of Rothschild received only one nomination. There were only three Best Director nominations that year, and they went to Frank Capra (for It Happened One Night), Victor Schertzinger (for One Night of Love) and W.S. Van Dyke (for The Thin Man). Meanwhile Claudette Colbert starred in three of the Best Picture nominees: Cleopatra, Imitation of Life, and It Happened One Night. She was nominated for est Actress in the latter role.

Most of the categories had only three nominations. There were two exceptions in Best Picture (with 12) and Best Sound (with eight). That category went to One Night of Love, who was hoping to ride its nomination lead to victory. It also won the Oscar for Best Music Score. It was not nominated in the brand new category for Best Original Song. The first award went to the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film The Gay Divorcee for "The Continental." In the visual technical categories, Cleopatra won Best Cinematography, the musical comedy The Merry Widow won Best Art Direction, and Best Editing went to the Arctic drama Eskimo. It Happened One Night didn't have any nominations in the technical category, but it scored a big win by securing Best Writing, Adaptation. Meanwhile, Best Writing, Original Story went to Manhattan Melodrama, the dramatic film starring Myrna Loy and William Powell, who also starred together in The Thin Man. Viva Villa! won Best Assistant Director for John Waters, who is not the same John Waters that did Pink Flamingos.

The acting categories were quite contentious, especially in the Best Actress category. Bette Davis was a young actress who won praises in her role as a manipulative shrew in the adaptation of F. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. However, to the surprise of all she was left off the nomination list for Best Actress in favor of Colbert, Grace Moore for One Night of Love, and Norma Shearer for The Barretts of Wimpole Street. There was a massive campaign to get Davis the win through write-in votes, so much so that none of the official nominees decided to attend the actual ceremony. In the end to the surprise of all, Claudette Colbert was announced as the winner for It Happened One Night. She was sprinted to the ceremony where she could accept her Oscar. When polling results were announced, Davis wasn't even in the top three, although the Academy later revealed that actually she finished third, ahead of Moore. After that snafu Pricewaterhouse Cooper was hired to tabulate the vote, an association that has continued for almost 80 years. There was no such controversy in Best Actor, as Clark Gable won for It Happened One Night.

Meanwhile, the night was coming down to a close. It Happened One Night had won three Oscars to become the top winner of the night, but it was looking beyond that. Its three wins made it tied with Cimarron from 1931 and Cavalcade from 1933 for the winningest film, in the award's (admittedly short) history. Plus, Frank Capra had an embarrassing incident at the Oscars the year before. Presenter Will Rogers said "Come up and get it, Frank" when making the announcement, not realizing that there were two Franks that were nominated. Frank Capra made it to the stage when he realized he was the losing Frank. He was able to make up for it in 1934, winning the award for It Happened One Night. And naturally, It Happened One Night also captured Best Picture to put its final winnings at five. Along the way it made plenty of history. Not only did it set a record with five wins, one that stood until Gone With the Wind won eight five years later, but it was also the first film to capture both of the lead acting Oscars. Not only that, but it was the first film to combine those acting wins with wins for writing, directing, and Best Picture. It would be another 41 years before One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest joined in the feat. The Silence of the Lambs would do the same in 1991.

Would such history be made in the Best Animated Short category? (Besides the fact that for the first time ever Disney had only one nominee in the category.)

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Holiday Land
It is the morning, but Scrappy is a sleepyhead and the last thing he wants to do is get up and get ready for school. He sadly wishes that every day was a holiday and then goes back to bed. The next thing he knows a bunch of holiday characters come invading his room and tells him that his wish has come true and takes him to Holiday Land, a world where all of the holidays are located conveniently in one room. Scrappy has a grand old time not stay in bed, but is Holiday Land too good to be true? As we mentioned in some earlier reviews, Columbia had a pretty sad reputation in the theatrical cartoon industry before the arrival of UPA. Yet it's true that while Charles Mintz's studios hadn't been the most prolific, it wasn't a complete wash. They introduced the characters of Fox and Crow, who remained popular even into the 1960s, although the last few years on the comic book pages. They created the terrific The Little Matchgirl film from 1937. And they had a relatively popular mascot character in the 1930s by the name of Scrappy. He was a typical little boy who is mischievous and adventurous and can get away with a lot of things being a cartoon character. He achieved a reasonable amount of popularity, enough for the studio to pick him in debuting their Color Rhapsodies line of cartoons, and Holiday Land was the film to bring the Columbia cartoons into the wonderful world of two-strip Technicolor (because Disney had the exclusive rights to the three-strip process.) The story itself is nothing fantastic. Scrappy is just being a sleepyhead, one that just wants to stay in bed. It's something that most of us can relate to, but he spends most of the time awake anyways going to the different holidays in Holiday Land. The holidays are mostly a few pieces of visual humor representing each holiday. It's not much to write home about, but it's pretty fun to watch. The holiday portion only takes up half of the film, as the other half is more musical with an intro song about being a sleepyhead particularly interesting. Still, Holiday Land seems like most of the other Columbia nominated films in the Mintz era. They're not bad films, but not particularly memorable.
Where Can I Watch It?
Like many other old Color Rhapsodies, Holiday Land has gotten quite hard to find. It's not available online, and I had to get it from Jerry Beck's Cartoon Research garage sale to find a copy.

Jolly Little Elves
It is a cold winter night, and an old shoemaker is struggling to make ends meet while making on his shoe. He and his wife are very poor, and the only thing they had to eat was one rock-hard donut. That night a hungry little elf came knocking on the window looking for food. Despite their poor financial situation, the shoemaker was willing to split their last donut with the elf. He appreciates the gesture and teaches the couple of donuts. But would that be the only gift they'd leave for the kind couple? Walter Lantz Studios is best known for their work on their popular mascot characters including Woody Woodpecker and Chilly Willy, but they were active even into the 1930s. They had a popular mascot character in Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who they inherited from Mintz after he was removed shortly after getting control from Disney (more on that later.) But when Lantz was preparing to dive into the world of color cartoons he chose not to go to his mascot character and instead went to an adaptation of the Brother Grimm's Shoemaker and the Elves story. The end result was a cute little film. The first few minutes was a largely musical scene of the shoemaker and his wife showing kindness to the little elf before going into the heart of the film, which is scenes of the elves making the shoes. This was a chance for the filmmakers to show off some fun visual humor and slapstick involved how little elves no higher than a foot would make the shoes, and some of the gags are actually kind of funny. The animation is quite fluid even if the two-strip Technicolor looks bland by today's standards. The music is fairly nice but with one exception: the dunking song. When the elf eats his donut he dunks it in the cup of coffee and sings the most ridiculous song about dunking donuts. The tune is completely different from the peaceful music sandwiching the song, and the song's lyrics is ridiculous, especially the first few lines. "Dunk! Dunk! Dunk! Oh how I love to dunk donuts! Dunk! Dunk! Dunk! If I can't dunk I will go nuts!" It's the craziest song, but it sticks with you by how downright silly the song is, considering the fact it's the thing that I still remember most about the film*. That may or may not be a good thing depending on how you like the song. It's too bad because the rest of the film is decent.

*I also remember that in the end there is a scene of the shoemaker lighting his cigar with a $100 bill. I know it's supposed to reflect how he had money to burn, but you'd think that somebody that had experienced complete poverty would be more careful with money. 

Where Can I Watch It? 
This one was also hard to find. I eventually found it on the Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2 DVD, but somebody's ripped it and put it online. I have no idea how long it'll stay but here it is for now. Watch it eventually get taken off like so many other of the films I've been embedding.


The Tortoise and the Hare
It is a big day in the forest, the day of the big race between the foolish Toby the Tortoise and the unstoppable Max Hare. Toby had the gall to challenge reigning champion Max to a race, and now all of the forest is ready to see the slow but steady Toby get trounced, none more so than Max himself. However, Max is as proud as he is fast, and he is more interested in impressing his legions of fans than actually paying attention to the race. Would that come back to bite him? "The Tortoise and the Hare" is one of the most popular of Aesop's fables. The tale that teaches youngsters that slow and steady wins the race over and pride comes before a fall has been adapted numerous times from Warner Bros. to the late, great Ray Harryhausen. Yet the most famous of the adaptations may very well be this early Silly Symphony from Disney. While the film is ostensibly about the race that made up Aesop's fable, most of the film seems focused on what each racer was doing, which is sensible given the sheer difference in the raw speed. The film is structured in a sort of an episodic way. For example, the film shows Max Hare taking the lead right off the bat, and then stopping to pretend to take a nap. Then Toby catches up and passes him and then the film spends time watching Toby run. It serves to add excitement to what should be a rather boring race as there is a lot of visual gags to enjoy, especially in the opening shot, which is on a loop but it's fascinating to see the amount of detail that is present. Much of the film is spent watching Max charm a couple of schoolgirls with his speed by playing sports with himself: getting himself out in baseball by playing pitcher, hitter and fielder as well as playing tennis with himself in a Geri's Game like manner. This sequence features some pretty nifty camera work, including one with the ball heading straight for the camera. Characterization is an important part of the film. Toby the Tortoise is a decent but slow-witted gent while his opponent is as cocky as anything. The character animation goes along with their personalities, with Toby's dropped eyelids and easy slouch contrasted against Max's puffed up chest. It's also worth noting how much energy Max wastes with excess movement, doing pirouettes before hitting the ball and the like and some of the worst running form. Still, Max Hare is often cited as being an influence on Bugs Bunny. It's hard to see that in the character development. While Bugs is self confident for sure, he's got nothing on Max's titanic ego. The influence may be more on a design element, as one of the Bugs Bunny precursor rabbits in Hare-um Scare-um bears somewhat of a resemblance to Max. This may be due to the fact that Charlie Thorson did the design for both Max Hare and the Bugs precursor. No matter how much of an influence Max really did have on Bugs, his legacy is still firm as The Tortoise and the Hare ranks as a memorable entry into Disney's Silly Symphonies*.

*Plus not to mention his return humiliation in the sequel Toby Tortoise Returns, which also features Jenny Wren from Who Killed Cock Robin? and characters from several other Silly Symphony cartoons.
Where Can I Watch It?


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Well, there are the three nominees. After two straight years where they held two of the nominees, this marked the first time that Disney only had one nomination. It was reported that Disney was worried that one of the competitors might actually win this year, but they really didn't have much to worry about. While the other two nominees marked their respective studios' entry into color films, they didn't have the strong animation or streamlined presentation of The Tortoise and the Hare. The Academy probably recognized this and awarded Disney with their third straight Oscar in this category in three years.

My rankings (by quality)
The Tortoise and the Hare > Jolly Little Elves > Holiday Land

My rankings (by preference)
The Tortoise and the Hare > Holiday Land > Jolly Little Elves

1 comment:

  1. "When the elf eats his donut he dunks it in the cup of coffee and sings the most ridiculous song about dunking donuts. The tune is completely different from the peaceful music sandwiching the song, and the song's lyrics is ridiculous, especially the first few lines. "Dunk! Dunk! Dunk! Oh how I love to dunk donuts! Dunk! Dunk! Dunk! If I can't dunk I will go nuts!" It's the craziest song, but it sticks with you by how downright silly the song is, considering the fact it's the thing that I still remember most about the film*. That may or may not be a good thing depending on how you like the song. It's too bad because the rest of the film is decent."

    Sounds like the deleted "Music in Your Soup" sequence from Disney's Snow White just now. It was a funny moment but in the end, not necessary, still I liked that it closes the bit with Dopey having swallowed a bar of soap earlier.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7Ugp11E544

    *I also remember that in the end there is a scene of the shoemaker lighting his cigar with a $100 bill. I know it's supposed to reflect how he had money to burn, but you'd think that somebody that had experienced complete poverty would be more careful with money."

    Well, someone still liked jokes about rich people.

    "It was reported that Disney was worried that one of the competitors might actually win this year, but they really didn't have much to worry about. While the other two nominees marked their respective studios' entry into color films, they didn't have the strong animation or streamlined presentation of The Tortoise and the Hare. The Academy probably recognized this and awarded Disney with their third straight Oscar in this category in three years."

    The studio certainly was slightly ahead of the curve at this time in terms of how it started to bring personality into it's characters in the Silly Symphony shorts, you'll see this as well in 1933's "Three Little Pigs" as that is often looked on as a first in that regard.

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