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The amazing output of the National Film Board of Canada has seen a number of great laserdisc and DVD releases, usually groupings of short films without any particular reason beyond the tagline, 'Animation Festival.' This string of nine films, all Academy Award Winners or Nominees, are presented under an 'Especially for Kids!' umbrella that appears to have been chosen to assure buyers that adult material isn't going to sneak in.
The nine titles are introduced by chapter selections, or can be played straight through. They're unaccompanied by text or commentaries that relate them to a tradition or evolution of Canadian short filmmaking. Not all are animated, exactly; only a few can be called traditional animation at all. None is concerned with being a 'standard cartoon', and all can be called a boon to the imagination.
The Cat Came Back
This is probably the best-known of the bunch, and the closest to a standard cartoon, being the musical adventures of Mr. Johnson's attempts to deep-six a cute but destructive cat. The highlight is a cannonballing race down a disused rail line, with a victim tied to the tracks every 50 feet or so. One of the best cartoons ever made.
Sound effects foley and vocal artistes provide the soundtrack for an hilarious and somewhat touching statement of 'every child's' right to a loving home. Almost perfect. The best sendup of 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg' on film. The best dog who vacuums and does dishes, and throws a temper tantrum.
One of the earlier films, this seems to relate natural evolution to anthropomorphosed human foibles. From one-celled animals to eventual saucer-riding spaceman, this is a hip parable (with a surprise in the tail) that recalls 'Porky in Wackyland' with its kooky chain of eccentric hybrids, all little more than hungry, procreating squiggles. Not only are smaller fish eaten by bigger fish, but aberrations in the evolution chain meet constantly surprising fates. Sometimes the ugly duckling turns out to be a swan, unless its parents squash it first.
André Leduc, Bernard Longpré AA Nominee 1975
A boggling (and lengthy) exercise in pixellation (stop-motion applied to living objects) where a clown-like fiddle player undergoes endless physical transformations and permutations with his instrument and other bric-a-brac. The fast fiddle soundtrack backgrounds the dizzying parade; like several other films, this short prompts a lot of thinking of how it was all accomplished.
Jeff Hale, Norman McLaren, Grant Munro, Gerald Potterton, AA Nom. 1964
A trio of charming Christmas- themed mini-shorts, introduced by a Pointu-like pixilated mime. Two abstracted tots dance to a Christmas song; a collection of antique tin toys comes to life; and a decorator looks to the heavens for a star to top his Christmas tree.
The Sand Castle
Co Hoedeman, AA Winner 1977
A score of strange sand creatures emerge from the dunes to sculpt a home in the sand itself. Graced by one weird design after another, this short impresses with its animation, which appears to all be done in sand. Anyone who's seen King Kong's fur ripple knows how difficult this must have been.
The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin
Janet Perlman, AA Nominee 1981 A deadpan, droll version of the Cinderella story populated solely with tubby, bottle-shaped penguins, even the magical horses who pull Cindy Penguin's pumpkin carriage. Never becomes a knee-slapper, but produces a number of smiles along the way. And the latin music at the Ball is a hoot.
The Owl Who Married a Goose
Caroline Leaf, ?
The surprise of the bunch, this is the only short in the set whose year and award status is not identified on the packaging. If it won no award, Savant is glad it sneaked into the stack anyway. Speaking only in (untranslated) Inuit, birds of different feathers raise a family, all shown in a feathery, evanescent technique that might be more sand manipulation. Whatever it is, it's magical to see. The birds are almost reminsicent of the 'dream images' in Wim Wender's Until the End of the World; they are so expressive. From an Inuit Legend.
Christopher Hinton, AA Nominee 1991
An illustrated 1949 folksong whose composer helped build a dam in Northern Ontario, this madcap animation is another delight. Blackflies, single, in pairs, and by the horde, distract, harry, and bedevil the poor antagonist from one end of this short to the other. Following the rhythm of the song, this derives much of its humor from its fast pace. The inevitability of blackflies seems to belong up there with death and taxes. Obviously created as a scam to keep Northern Ontario unspoilt by tourists.
Image's DVD of these nine short subjects is clean and trim, and when you're laughing and singing along to 'The Cat Came Back,' you aren't thinking about commentaries or context. Savant IS ready to leap at future Film Board of Canada DVD compilations ... the next out, I believe, has a Romance theme. Unlike a lot of 'kid's fare', this omnibus has some real imagination-stretchers, and some very discussable films too. Highly recommended.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Best of the Best, Especially for Kids! rates:
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson