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Mid Century Modern Animation, Volume 2

Thunderbean // Unrated // August 15, 2014
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted September 14, 2014 | E-mail the Author
The Shorts:

Thunderbean has released another great disc of 50's animated shorts with Mid-Century Modern Animation, Volume 2. Those who have the first volume (reviewed here) are sure to run out and pick this one up too. It's chocked full of more stylized animation that is really a lot of fun to watch.



Though you may not be familiar with the term "modern-design" (also known as mid-century modern), you've certainly seen examples of this art style. It was fairly ubiquitous in the 50's featured in everything from architecture (the Main Terminal at Dulles Airport in Washington DC) and furniture (the Eames Lounge Chair) to advertising and even cereal boxes. It was also popular in animation. Following the time when Walt Disney's realistic animated feature films dominated the animation world in the 40's and before the dreaded limited animation took over to fill TV air time in the sixties, there was a time when a lot of studios were creating cartoons that were stylized yet not exclusive. The general public could embrace these odd-looking cartoons because, well, they were cartoons. Modern-design was a sort of animated minimalism, where backgrounds were a single color and lines were often straight with sharp angles (think of Mars as depicted in the Warner Brothers Marvin the Martian cartoons. It's a very interesting style visually, and it is well suited to both madcap comedy and the business of selling a product.



This collection has some wonderful examples of the style. One of the best is The Rhapsody of Steel, a big-budget industrial cartoon created by one-time Disney employee John Sutherland. The film was so impressive that it was released theatrically, something that is generally unheard of. Watching this film today, it's easy to see why it earned the honor: the short is magnificent. Travelling back to the earliest days of man, the movie tells the story of iron and steel, and how they've been used through the ages. Filled with color and a simple yet very appealing visual style, the movie is much better than its industrial origins would indicate. (The promotional aspects of the film are very understated too: limited to a single "US Steel" card at the end.)



Another standout film in this set is A is for Atom, a short made for General Electric by John Sutherland. Made in the 50's, the main thrust is that nuclear energy is not only used for weapons of mass destruction. After a short introduction to the atom and its constituent components (including a brief mention of the strong force!), the show explains in simple terms what isotopes are and why they are important before talking about radioactive decay and nuclear fission. It's surprisingly accurate (though they don't get everything quite right, they're very close) and done in a very understandable manner. It then goes on to discuss other uses of radiation and isotopes including the generation of power and medical uses.



Those who have a love of the ironic have to check out this collection to see Tune In Tomorrow.  This is a cartoon commissioned by CBS Radio back in 1954 to drum up advertising sales.  At the time TV was becoming to predominant force in mass advertising, and so CBS used a very visual form to convince advertisers that audio-only ads were the most effective.  In addition to this logical disconnect, the short is just fantastic.  Using an amusement park and a setting, the film is filled with some great images and wonderfully odd character designs.



Modern Design wasn't only limited to one and two reel cartoons, it was widely used in advertising too. I really love these wonderful creative and artistic commercials and would line up to buy a disc filled with them. This disc includes a good number of spots, several of which were made by UPA, advertising such diverse things as bank loans, crackers, Tang breakfast drink, and even life insurance. It's a nice addition to the set.

The films included in this collection are:

Shorts:

The Brotherhood of Man (1946)
Man Alive (1953)
The Rhapsody of Steel (1959)
Man on the Land (1956)
Look Who's Driving (1953)
A is for Atom (1957)
Tune In Tomorrow (1954)
It's Everybody's Business (1956)

Commercials:

A Smattering of Spots (50s)
UPA New York Commercials (50's)

 The DVD:



 Audio/ Video:

These shorts vary in age and condition, and there is quite a range. Some of the films look very good and are clean and crisp (such as The Rhapsody of Steel). On the other end of the spectrum are films taken from more worn prints and these tend to be faded and scratchy. The Brotherhood of Man has some scratch marks in the corner through most of the run time. In general the shorts look fine with a bit of fading and some print damage here and there, but nothing that ruins the presentation.

Extras:

The set comes with two commentaries that were very educational. The first is on It's Everybody's Business where Mike Kazaleih and Jerry Beck discuss the film. They talk about the artists who crafted in and why so many prominent animators worked on it, as well as the art style and use of color. There are a lot of gaps in the commentary, which is too bad, but the information that is shared is very interesting. The second commentary comes from Amid Amidi the author of Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in 1950's Animation (a book I've put on my must-buy list) and he talks about Tune In Tomorrow . His love of the style comes through in this well done track.

There are also a couple of booklets that have been reproduced on the disc, a Races of Mankind pamphlet and the children's book In Henry's Backyard, which tells the story from Races of Mankind with stills from the film. The pages have been scanned in and viewers can chapter skip through them one at a time.

 Final Thoughts:

Mid-Century Modern Animation, Volume 2 is another wonderful collection of rare and interesting cartoons, commercials, and industrial shorts. A great companion to the first volume, it comes highly recommended.
Buy from Amazon.com

C O N T E N T

V I D E O

A U D I O

E X T R A S

R E P L A Y

A D V I C E
Highly Recommended

E - M A I L
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