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Savant Short Review:

Best of the Best
Best of the Best

Best of the Best Romantic Tales
Image Entertainment
1952 - 1991 / Color / 1:37 / Dolby Digital Stereo
Short Subjects from The Film Board of Canada


Best of the Best Strange Tales
Image Entertainment
1952 - 1996 / Color / 1:37 / Dolby Digital Stereo
Short Subjects from The Film Board of Canada

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This is the way to collect animation short subjects.  As with their previous 'Just for Kids' collection, these curious and sometimes hilarious shorts are all either Oscar nominated or winners.  A few are famous classics (Pas de Deux, Neighbours) and some have very bizarre animation styles; none of them are your average cartoonie-show pablum.  There's so many, let me just give a short comment on each title.

Romantic Tales

A Chairy Tale
Nominated 1957 Directed by Norman McLaren and Claude Jutra, animated by Evelyn Lambert

This elaborate pixillation (the frame by frame animation of inanimate real objects and people) movie builds a simple premise into a mini-epic of conflicting wills: a man wants to sit in a chair, which doesn't want to cooperate.

George and Rosemary
Nominated 1987 Directed by David Fine and Alison Snowden

Here's a semi romantic one, with clever animation, about a bachelor with weird habits enamored of the woman across the street, but too shy to as much as talk to her.  Besides being fairly droll, it's actually a nice character study.

Nominated 1991 Directed by Wendy Tilby

Here's a film with a very distinctive animation style that looks like it's done with colored sand or something ... it's hard to figure out exactly what.  Another couple get together, this time between apartments above and below.  This one has a strange mood, and is never really very funny, but certainly holds the attention..

Bob's Birthday
Winner 1994 Directed by David Fine and Alison Snowden

Probably the funniest one on the disc, this short plays almost like some kind of bizarre sitcom.  Bob the Dentist befouls his wife's every attempt to set up a pleasant surprise birthday party.  With two scene-stealing dogs, and full-frontal male cartoon nudity, which is plenty bizarre, by golly.  Got an Oscar too.

The Street
Nominated 1976 Directed by Caroline Leaf, based on a story by Mordecai Richler

This adaptation of a short story looks like an animated charcoal drawing, but is probably something much more simple that Savant just didn't think of.  The tale of a Jewish city family dealing with the imminent death of granma is both poignant and brutal ... no laughs here, just unusual drama.

Nominated 1969 Directed by Ryan Larkin

Here we are in simple art-study land.  Various street scenes in watercolors (?) are enlivened by some stylish characters in walk cycles.  Just the kind of thing we loved in film school, with some classy artwork, but not all that compelling to the non graphics-oriented.

Pas de Deux
Nominated 1968 Directed by Norman McLaren

Here's the classiest gimmick film.  Innovator McLaren uses multiple trace exposures of two dancers to create an unusually beautiful record of a dance performance.  Each silhouetted dancer leaves a trace echo of several exposures behind them, making a record of the dance in time.  It's hard to describe in words, which is one of the reasons it's so mesmerizing.  Every time you think McLaren's used up the gag, a new variation of optical printer manipulation shows up that makes you go, "Ah!"  Recommended to all.

The Romance of Transportation in Canada
Nominated 1952 Directed by Colin Low

Kind of a UPA-inflected cartoon, this ode to the industrialization of Canada through the years is a lightweight, minimally animated effort that's way out of style but shows where avant-garde animation started out, at least for the Canadians.  Unfortunately, it looks like something they'd show us in the 6th grade that seemed to have no point whatsoever.

The Drag
Nominated 1965 Directed by Carlos Marchiori

This one's actually from the Canadian Department of Health and Welfare, and uses a 'rocking' music score and more minimal animation to make a non-smoking statement.  Not bad, but on the instructional side.  It rather looks like it might have had a reverse effect and promote smoking, like many 'warning' educational films.

The Family that Dwelt Apart
Nominated 1974 Directed by Yvon Mallette, based on a story by E.B. White

Great story, nice music track, but this tale of homesteaders living apart from the mainland whose fate is sealed by those trying to help them, has some pretty unimpressive animation.  It starts to resemble a Zap Comick for awhile, but never makes the style pay off.  But as a story it's pretty funny.

Strange Tales

The Big Snit
Nominated 1985 Directed by Richard Condie

Delightful.  This is more romantic than anything in the Romantic collection.  An indescribable bickering couple play scrabble and get into a fight, just as nuclear war is breaking out.  This is the one where the husband taunts his wife with the immortal line, "Shaking your eyes over here! Shaking your eyes over there! Why don't you join some stupid, shaking Rock 'n Roll Band?!"  Also the source of the great tv show-within-a-show, Sawing for Teens.  If they played this after every performance of On the Beach, we'd all go home smiling.

This is the House that Jack Built
Nominated 1968 Directed by Ron Tunis

Another Kerouac inspired howl against consumerism and the loss of identity in the modern world.  Pretty effective and interestingly animated, with a sinister edge that gets a little scary after a while, even when it mixes itself up with the Jack and the Beanstalk story and goes totally nuts.

Special Delivery
Winner 1978 Directed by John Weldon and Eunace Macauley

A pretty bizarre Oscar-winner, this is like Fargo crossed with The Postman Also Rings Twice, just as funny as the first and as cold-blooded as the second.  Beware, more full frontal animated male nudity, which on the evidence of these two discs seems to be the way to guarantee an Oscar win.  A slacker finds a dead mailman on his doorstep and falls into a self-spun web of deception and guilt, all done in the wonderfully plastic animation style of To Be.

My Financial Career
Nominated 1963 Directed by Gerald Potterton, based on a Stephen Leacock story.

A droll and inconsequential story that again has some less than terrific animation but holds you with its great soundtrack narrative.  It does capture perfectly the kind of intimidation you can let yourself receive at a bank, when you think you somehow don't belong there.  It doesn't really transcend its short story source.

Winner 1952 Directed by Norman McLaren

This groundbreaking pixillation film was written up in every film text Savant ever read in the late '60s, so it must have been influential.  Two neighbors arranged symmetrically on a green lawn squabble over a flower growing on their property line, then skirmish, then explode into all-out pixillated war.  Film books loved it because of its creativity and its message - did they really expect us to go out and imitate McLaren's gimmick?  We did.

Nominated 1984 Directed by Ishu Patel

A very successful, very deep parable about a plain bird that will do anything to have the glamour and beauty of the other birds he sees, even if it means being a prisoner or destroying himself.  All done in a very arresting, colorful animation style.  Some scenes in an oriental palace are dazzling, and the nature of ambition is questioned when the bird recklessly ruins the lives of other birds in frustration over his own lack of beauty.

Nominated 1974 Directed by Peter Foldes

An early computer animation, this is another parable about consumerism that gets grisly, with a greedy First-world man sprouting multiple heads and mouths to eat more, faster.  Eventually he's surrounded by starving Third-worlders, who begin to sprout jagged, hungry teeth.  The animation surely looked amazing when real, but now could be done in a few hours on any morphing program.  That's technology for ya: Jurassic Park today, Gumby tomorrow.

The Bead Game
Nominated 1977 Directed by Ishu Patel

J.P Ghosh provides the mesmerizing Indian soundtrack to this minimalist animation of nothing but zillions of tiny beads.  The whole of evolution is charted, and then the story moves into wilder territory, ending unfortunately with the nuclear-war cliché.  Very ambitious though, and it must have taken months to do, always a factor of wonder in animation.

La Salla
Nominated 1996 Directed by Richard Condie

Opera and computer animation collide in this trifle that refuses to make sense on any level but produces some chuckles and a couple of big laughs.  It looks something like an audition to get into the Pixar studio, made by a talented guy who knows he'll never get the opportunity to be this off-the-wall again. In this case it's Richard Condie of the completely different The Big Snit, stretching his talent in a new direction.  This guy can really put together a brilliant soundtrack.  What's with that devil on the door, anyway?

What on Earth!
Nominated 1967 Directed by Les Drew and Kaj Pindal

Yet another critique of consumerism and value-warped modern life, but funny and clever.  The animation isn't much, but the concept is fantastic: Martians studying Earth come to some pretty ironic conclusions about the dominant form of life on our planet.  Clever now, inspired for 1967.

Since all the titles on both collections were a little bit strange, and romantic ones showed up on Strange as well, the names of these discs shouldn't be taken very literally.  Savant favored Strange over Romantic, but differing tastes are sure to find more than a few exceptional titles on each collection.  All are beautifully mastered, and only a couple of the very oldest show any sign of wear whatsoever.  Someone should collect award winning student films and American animated short subjects for DVD output as well ... this bunch is just charming.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Best of the Best Romantic Tales / Strange Tales rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: None, just the shorts themselves
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: March 18, 2001

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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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