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Animation Express
Savant Blu-ray Review

Animation Express
Image Entertainment
2009 / Color / 1:78 widescreen / 221 min. / Street Date June 8, 2010 / 29.98
From the National Film Board of Canada

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Getting good short animation where audiences can see it is tough these days. Even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has to arrange special screenings for its members, to enable enough of them to make a rational choice when it comes time to vote. Savant was thrilled a number of years ago when The National Film Board of Canada, a treasure trove of great animation of all kinds, put out a limited series of DVD collections of their short subjects. It ended too soon; I only wish they had gotten to my old favorites To Be and Get a Job.

About a year ago the NFBoC brought out another DVD collection, with 26 newer favorites. This show is back with gorgeous Hi Def mastering, and more bonus short subjects that up the total number to 39. With nearly four hours of fantastic, HD-quality animation, the new Blu-ray Animation Express is a real bargain.

The collection spreads a wide net over various techniques and animation styles. Computer generated work is here but often used in conjunction with more traditional processes. More often than not, the latest technology is used to composite layers of graphics in ways that before were impossible. The artists combine drawn images with computerized coloring, or mix live-action and stop-motion animation for unique effects.

The wide selection includes violent montages and lyrical pieces with elegant watercolor art. All are in the widescreen format. The disc's menuing system allows one to pick out a single title or select by categories: "For All", "Humor", "Visual Delight" and "Social Issues". You can also sort by Film Title or by Filmmaker. Here's a rundown of the set:

At Home with Mrs. Hen   Tali
A hardworking mother has difficulty pleasing her picky offspring. Amusing, with several big laughs. (image included here)

Come Again in Spring   Belinda Oxford
Death plays a game of memory with an old man who refuses to go quietly. Beautiful watercolor images; some art reminiscent of Les Goldman's The Hangman. (image included here)

Cot Dot   Pierre Sylvestre
A nice B&W hi-con look. A bored cowboy teaches a cow to talk like a chicken. Short and sweet.

Drux Flux   Theodore Ushev
Rather overpowering multidimensional montage of oppressive industrialization. Great soundtrack, very intense.

Engine 371   Kevin Langdale
A parable about a man whose model train layout gets out of control and develops into an all-devouring progress machine. Clever, unusual animation style.

Flutter   Howie Shia
A 'variations on a style' piece. A high school runner takes off 'cross country, inspires the girl back home to a bit of rebel creativity.

Forming Game   Malcolm Sutherland
A mysterious board game disgorges strange doodles that develop into something miraculous ... all to a great music track by Luigi Allemano and Ravi Shankar.

HA'Aki   Iriz Pääbo
Pictures half-rotoscoped, half made of things called "animbits" present an abstract hockey game - light show. Makes you think your retinas are breaking down.

Here and There   Obom
Amusing autobiographical story about a girl's childhood. Not a year passes without a change of address between Montreal & Paris, as her parents divorce and the family constantly re-forms. Charmingly told.

How People Got Fire   Daniel Janke
Style looks like selective rotoscoping simplified into basic colors; Inuit girls learn about their heritage from an old lady in their village ... the stories she tells are seen in a different B&W ink style.

Hungu   Nicolaus Brault
Minimalist B&W hi-con look imitates a hinge-puppet style. Drought and tragedy shape the life of an African boy, who inherits a stringed instrument from his mother.

Invasion of the Space Lobsters   Janet Perlman
Cartoonish lobster aliens arrive in saucer that looks like a fried egg. Spoof on monster movies only mildly amusing.

Land of the Heads   Claude Barras, Cédric Louis
Intricate Tim Burton-ish stop-motion. A ghoulish husband collects little-girl heads to replace his wife's wrinkled one. Cute & macabre.

Madame Tutli-Putli   Chris Levis & Maciek Szczerbowski
Oscar nominee received a lot of attention. A melancholy woman takes a sinister train ride. Weird effect places live-action human eyes into stylized puppet faces, creating instant Eyes without a Face effect. Very creepy. (image included here)

Nightmare at School   Catherine Arcord
Standard school nightmares made worse by strange Escher-like horror school setting: his backpack becomes too heavy, he shrinks and grows, loses his clothes, etc. All universal dream experiences!

Paradise   Jesse Rosensweet
Clever computer (or stop-motion) animation creates characters out of archaic tin toys. A husband strives to make good at work, ruins his home life. Strong 50s vibe here.

Peggy Baker Four Phrases   Howie Shia
Study of famous dancer enhances her movements through animation. With her narration, becomes interesting dance analysis.

Pimp My Boat   Marc Daigle
Simple computer animation relies on clever dialogue script. Cable TV clowns do a makeover on an ordinary guy's fishing boat, against his will. Funny, oddball French Rap talk; use your subtitles.

Rains   David Coquard-Dassault
Beautiful charcoal and pencil drawing mood piece. A rain in the city forces a brief halt of activity.

Retouches   Georges Schwizgebel
Unusual effect-based piece with broad-stroke artwork. Waves on beach morph into windshield wipers and forward from there ... fascinating transitions.

Robes of War   Michéle Cournoyer
Angry B&W piece shows black-clad Arab women suffering from personal losses, converting that emotion into hatred and violent action. Strong imagery.

Roots   Alison Reiko Loader
Pixar-like computer animation about a shopping cart of talking fruit and vegetables, that discus the issue of ... wait for it ... adoption rights.

Rosa Rosa   Félix Dufourre-Laperrière
Unusual overlay montage effect charts a romance and ordinary lives lived under threat of invasion.

Runaway   Cordell Barker
Maker of The Cat Came Back concocts a wild comedy about a runaway train ... that becomes a rather cruel parable of how society works in a crisis. Very funny.

Ryan   Chris Landreth
Landreth uses live action & computer effects to create bizarre characters that take on the outward attributes of their psychological states -- The "author" visits Ryan Larkin, an ex-animator now a literal "shell of his former self" and committed for alcoholism. Very disturbing.

Sainte Barbe   Claude Barras, Cédric Louis
Second stop-motion attraction from Barras and Louis is about a boy and his ailing grandfather, who has a magic beard.

Sleeping Betty   Claude Cloutier
This fractured fairy tale won a pile of international awards. Slapstick and celebrity likenesses add to spoof of famous story. This one knows how to build a joke, until the silliest gag becomes hilarious.

Spare Change   Laurie Gordon, Ryan Larkin
The last film from the animator referenced in Ryan, finished after his passing. A burned out artist bums coins on the street. When he's challenged to "do something" for his money the film erupts into kaleidosopic rock 'n' roll animation.

Stationery   Monica Rho
James Joyce- like story concerns a lonely office worker frustrated in her attempts to get ahead by following the rules.

Subservience   Patrick Bouchard
Stop-Motion. The wealthy keep up appearances in a desolate landscape, allowing their servants to perish and refusing to acknowledge that they're helpless without them. Reminds a little bit of Roman Polanski's student film The Fat and the Lean.

Terra   Alan Pakernyk
Abstract, violent collage of nature ... a free association montage.

The Danish Poet   Torill Kove
2007 Oscar Winner. Utterly charming tale of coincidences and accidents that resulted in director's mother and father getting together. Brings in the story of Kristin Lavrandsdatter. Great show.

The Man Who Slept   Inés Sedan
Moody piece about woman suffocating in a relationship where her husband always sleeps. The darkness is relieved by her fantasy life.

The Necktie   Jean-Francois Lévesque
Another allegory about jobs and life. A dreary salaryman discovers that after years of service, his job has been utterly pointless. Manages a positive ending!

The Real Place   Cam Christiansen
A film to honor playwright John Murell, illustrating his words with complex, flowing animation.

The Spine   Chris Landreth
Another Landreth film in which characters' external appearances reflect their inner torments. A "spineless" man is dominated by a relentlessly abusive wife, but the nature of their relationship is more complex than it seems. Very moving. (image included here)

The True Story of Sawney Beane   Elizabeth Hobbs
In long-ago Scotland a mother goes in search of her long-lost son, who may have become a cannibalistic serial killer. This has a historical basis, and supposedly inspired the movie The Hills Have Eyes. Done in an unusual "drawing and erasing" style. Narrated by Sheila McDonald.

Uncle Bob's Hospital Visit   Jo Dee Samuelson
Pleasant old-age story that avoids expected grim ending. Man forced to check into hospital begins to lose the desire to live.

Vive la Rose   Bruce Alcock
A folk ballad is brought to life. Music and pictures tell the tale of a fisherman in love with a woman who marries another. Partly done in a pixillated animation style.

Image Entertainment's Blu-ray of Animation Express is a beautiful bargain, as I said above. The HD transfers are flawless; I only saw one film which had blacks that didn't transition a smooth gradient from darker to lighter. The varied audio tracks contain a lot of interesting, beautifully recorded music. I found ten short subjects that I want to show my family at the first opportunity. After they see The Danish Poet, maybe I can talk them into watching Liv Ullmann's marvelous Kristin Lavrandsdatter.

Full tracks are here in English and French, and subtitles are provided in English and French. Trailers for a couple of earlier short subject collections are included, but we get no text extra to delineate details of the animations beyond their titles. To find out when they were made or who made them, one has to click through the disc menus. Otherwise, a remarkably user-friendly disc.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Animation Express Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent English & French Dolby 5.1 stereo
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 25, 2010

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2010 Glenn Erickson

See more exclusive reviews on the Savant Main Page.
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Also, don't forget the 2010 Savant Wish List.
T'was Ever Thus.

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