Saturday, December 29, 2012

The New Ground Rules



Last April, I decided to experiment with some week-long series that looked for essay possibilities within either a single year or set of years.  I selected the time periods via a random year generator (kinda fun to do!). From April through November, I did some cursory explorations of 1811-1815, 1856-60, 1930, 1955, 1963, 1965, and 2006.

Since I thoroughly enjoyed this time-focused approach, I’ve decided to expand upon the strategy in 2013.  Knowing that I work best when confined by arbitrary and numbered ground rules, here are my new guidelines for the coming year:

  1. 21 Essays will cover six time-periods in 2013.  The January focus will be 1913, allowing me to explore some highlights of the world, 100 years ago.  The other five time periods will be chosen through the random year generator.
  1. Essay series will naturally emerge.  When I have five or more essays on a single subject, I’ll group them into an informal essay series.  Originally, I hoped to be able to keep up a pace of publishing 21-essays-in-21-days on this blog, but I’ve learned this is an unrealistic goal for me.  With this new approach, I’ll post in-depth on topics that I find most inspiring but without any firm promises to crank out a full 12, 15, or 21 essays.
  1. After a month of heavy concentration on a single time period, I’ll relax things in the second month.  If I feel like it, I can continue working on the time period, or I can revisit earlier essay series (like King Kong, Duck Dodgers, In the Bleak MidwinterDer Golem, or Blackmail), or I can take some well-deserved time off.
  1. Most importantly, I reserve the right to relax, change, or abandon the rules whenever I like.

Here’s the big benefit of the changes…

I run two blogs, 21 Essays and Tour America’s Treasures.  Previously, they had no real connection, aside from sharing the same writer/publisher.  But now I can think of my blogs as a complementary pair.  Tour America’s Treasures is a cultural history blog with a focus on place21 Essays is a cultural history blog with a focus on time.

Place and time:  I think it sounds like a good way to do history.

© 2012 Lee Price

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Story of Civilization


Midway through this past year, I wrote a new lead sentence for my official blog description:  21 Essays is my cultural history blog.

It took some trial and error on my part to realize that my initial blog concept was too open-ended.  I thought I wanted complete freedom to write about anything that struck my fancy.  But looking back now, I clearly see that there was a very real connecting link between my favorite pieces.  They all shared a love of cultural history.

When I was young, I read half of Will and Ariel Durant’s 11-volume The Story of Civilization.  By that, I don’t mean that I read midway through volume 6 (which would have left me stranded in the Reformation).  I mean that I read the parts that interested me: the sections that covered the history of literature, art, science, philosophy, and religion, as well as the descriptions of the history of domestic life.  I skipped over the royal intrigues and the endless wars.

Forty years later, I’m still relatively uninterested in the history of power.  As far as I can see, it’s still the same story ever repeating—only the weapons change.  But I love culture more than ever.  The ideas that shape our world are constantly in flux.  Whether in novels, poetry, film, music, or painting, every artist expresses a new interpretation of the world.  There’s a thrilling wildness in the variety and beauty of creation.

So starting in January 2013, 21 Essays will officially be my cultural history blog.  Of course, I won’t be attempting to repeat the Durants’ mad 11-volume achievement and try to cover everything.  I’ll continue to write about the artifacts and artworks that I personally find most exciting, examining them closely and from multiple perspectives in order to (in the words of William Blake) “… see a world in a grain of sand/And a heaven in a wild flower.”

© 2012 Lee Price

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Wrong Turn


With 16 essays out of the promised 21 completed, I’m quitting the animation series.  My heart isn’t in it.  It’s not what I want to be doing at this blog.

So I’ve been taking a little time off as I consider where I want to take 21 Essays in 2013.  I think I have some good ideas.

From the start, I’ve pictured 21 Essays as a place where I could write in-depth on very focused topics—specific movies, books, poems, paintings, and music that mean a lot to me.  Unfortunately, the format that I adopted for the animation series never allowed for that approach.  I found myself writing a paragraph apiece on three animated shorts, when what I really wanted was to write a full essay series for each of them.  That’s what this blog was supposed to be about.

Nevertheless, I think this has been a very good first year for 21 Essays.  I loved creating the 15 essays on King Kong, the 12 essays on “In the Bleak Midwinter,” the 15 essays on Duck Dodgers, and the 6 essays on Blackmail.  That’s the kind of work that I want to be doing.

So I’m going to be making some changes on this site, doing a little tinkering.  I think I’ve got a blog that has promise…  and I’m hoping that it will more consistently deliver on that promise in the coming year.

© 2012 Lee Price

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Animating with Live Action Footage


Cartoon-blogging, essay 16 of 21 blog entries on
250 great animated short films

Dream Work (2003), directed by Peter Tscherkassky.

The 16th essay, “Animating With Live Action Footage,” is published in full at Press Play at IndieWire.  It deals with several extremely challenging films that fall along the borderline between live action and animation.  As the highlighted films by Peter Tscherkassky, Virgil Widrich, and Norman McLaren are experimental, I struggled to find an accessible way to describe what I see in them.  My experience with a Beatles song suggested a way in…

First, a memory which has been seared into my brain:  It’s 1973 and my cousin and I are alone in the house, obsessively playing and replaying the last minute of the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” backwards on a cheap plastic portable turntable. And I’m getting seriously creeped out.

                                                                                Continue reading here…

This series of 21 essays is inspired by a list of 250 great animated short films, composed in August 2012 by Scott Bussey, Jorge Didaco, Waldemar Hepstein, Bill Kamberger, Robert Reynolds, Sulo Vatanen, and Lee Price, with additional assistance from participants on the IMDb Classic Film message board.

© 2012 Lee Price

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Animating Horror


Cartoon-blogging, essay 15 of 21 blog entries on
250 great animated short films

The Sandman (1993), directed by Paul Berry.

The fifteenth essay, “Animating Horror,” is published in full at Press Play at IndieWire.  A special Halloween essay, it focuses on three films from our list:  The Tell-Tale Heart (Ted Parmelee, 1953), Harpya (1979, Raoul Servais), and The Sandman (1993, Paul Berry).

It’s the witching hour…

The Sandman (1993), directed by Paul Berry.

The Tell-Tale Heart (1953), directed by Ted Parmelee.

Harpya (1979), directed by Raoul Servais.
The moon is out...

The Tell-Tale Heart (1953), directed by Ted Parmelee.

The Sandman (1993), directed by Paul Berry.
A lonely house at night...

           Continue reading here…

This series of 21 essays is inspired by a list of 250 great animated short films, composed in August 2012 by Scott Bussey, Jorge Didaco, Waldemar Hepstein, Bill Kamberger, Robert Reynolds, Sulo Vatanen, and Lee Price, with additional assistance from participants on the IMDb Classic Film message board.

© 2012 Lee Price

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Animating Without a Narrative


Cartoon-blogging, essay 14 of 21 blog entries on
250 great animated short films

Pixillation (1970), directed by Lillian Schwartz.

The fourteenth essay, “Animating Without a Narrative,” is published in full at Press Play at IndieWire.  Written by guest blogger Scott Bussey, this is an unusually personal essay on the abstract animated short films of Adam Beckett and Lillian Schwartz.

Adam Beckett was an animator and visual effects artist who attended the California Institute of the Arts during the 1970s, where he learned from and studied alongside important members of the LA experimental animation scene. Lillian Schwartz is a pioneer in the field of computer art who worked out of Bell Labs during the 1970s, then going on to develop tools for computer-aided analysis of art, particularly finding inspiration in the work of Leonardo Da Vinci. Each of these relatively unknown animators is represented by one work on the “250 Great Animated Short Films” list: Heavy-Light (1973) for Beckett and Pixillation (1970) for Schwartz.

           Continue reading here…

This series of 21 essays is inspired by a list of 250 great animated short films, composed in August 2012 by Scott Bussey, Jorge Didaco, Waldemar Hepstein, Bill Kamberger, Robert Reynolds, Sulo Vatanen, and Lee Price, with additional assistance from participants on the IMDb Classic Film message board.

© 2012 Lee Price

Friday, October 19, 2012

Animating Real Life


Cartoon-blogging, essay 13 of 21 blog entries on
250 great animated short films

Ryan (2004), directed by Chris Landreth.

The 13th essay, “Animating Real Life,” is published in full at Press Play at IndieWire.  The essay begins with perhaps the first animated documentary, Winsor McCay’s The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), and then moves on to some very challenging examples of modern psychological realism:  Frank Film (1973), Ryan (2004), and Orgesticulanismus (2008).

“… but I’m getting off the subject here, I’m afraid. This story is about Ryan.”

The subject of Ryan (2004) is real: animator Ryan Larkin (1943-2007). The story is drawn from real life, as pieced together from recorded interviews. The visual approach is . . . director Chris Landreth’s interpretation of real life.

           Continue reading here…

This series of 21 essays is inspired by a list of 250 great animated short films, composed in August 2012 by Scott Bussey, Jorge Didaco, Waldemar Hepstein, Bill Kamberger, Robert Reynolds, Sulo Vatanen, and Lee Price, with additional assistance from participants on the IMDb Classic Film message board.

© 2012 Lee Price

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Animating the Directors


Cartoon-blogging, essay 12 of 21 blog entries on
Animating the Directors:  100 Masters of Short Animation


The twelfth essay, “Animating the Directors: 100 Masters of Animated Short Film,” is published in full at Fandor Keyframe.  The short written essay leads into a witty and joyous video celebration of the great animation directors by Kevin B. Lee.  Enjoy!

One of Keyframe’s most popular articles from last year was its illustrated guide to 100 masters of the animated short film. Film animation has thrived for over a century, but has never seen quite the level of recognition afforded to live-action feature filmmakers. And while there are plenty of outstanding animated features to celebrate, a list of those films wouldn’t boast nearly as much eye-popping diversity as those represented by this list.

And here’s the video as a stand-alone essay on YouTube:


I’ve seen 100 out of 100!  How’d you do?

This series of 21 essays is inspired by a list of 250 great animated short films, composed in August 2012 by Scott Bussey, Jorge Didaco, Waldemar Hepstein, Bill Kamberger, Robert Reynolds, Sulo Vatanen, and Lee Price, with additional assistance from participants on the IMDb Classic Film message board.


© 2012 Lee Price

Friday, October 12, 2012

Animating the Folktale


Cartoon-blogging, essay 11 of 21 blog entries on
250 great animated short films

The Ash-Lad and the Good Helpers (1961), directed by Ivo Caprino.

The eleventh essay, “Animating the Folktale: The Puppet Animation of Ivo Caprino,” is published in full at Press Play at IndieWire.  Written by guest blogger Waldemar Hepstein, this essay focuses on the storytelling of Ivo Caprino, particularly the two Caprino shorts that made our list:  The Ash-Lad and the Good Helpers (1961) and The Seventh Father of the House (1966).

The classical fairy tales and fables have served as fodder for many film animators, from the pioneer days of Lotte Reiniger and Walt Disney onward. One filmmaker almost exclusively associated with this type of material is Ivo Caprino (1920-2001), Norway’s most famous practitioner of the art of animation.
                      Continue reading here…

This series of 21 essays is inspired by a list of 250 great animated short films, composed in August 2012 by Scott Bussey, Jorge Didaco, Waldemar Hepstein, Bill Kamberger, Robert Reynolds, Sulo Vatanen, and Lee Price, with additional assistance from participants on the IMDb Classic Film message board.

© 2012 Lee Price

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Animating Childhood


Cartoon-blogging, essay 10 of 21 blog entries on
250 great animated short films

The Mitten (1967), directed by Roman Kachanov.
This is the tenth of 21 essays inspired by a list of 250 great animated short films, composed in August 2012 by Scott Bussey, Jorge Didaco, Waldemar Hepstein, Bill Kamberger, Robert Reynolds, Sulo Vatanen, and Lee Price, with additional assistance from participants on the IMDb Classic Film message board.

Artists often mine their childhood for inspiration.  Charles Dickens and Mark Twain recreated their childhood world in classic books;  Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes and Charles Schulz’s Peanuts explored life through the eyes of children in classic comic strips.  I’m friends with a minister who often wears Snoopy and Charlie Brown ties to church, acknowledging their spiritual depth.  Schulz used the world of childhood to grapple with his own adult questions and struggles.  He tapped into deep wells by immersing himself in childhood.

When drawing together our list of 250 great animated short films, our panelists found a small yet rich selection of movies where artists recreate and creatively explore the world of childhood.  Animation is particularly effective at tapping into the recesses of the brain where our deepest memories reside.  An animated image can instantly summon up strong emotions tied to our past.

Of course, many people erroneously believe that animation is nothing more than a medium for entertaining children, probably because children are naturally drawn to the world of the cartoon.  In the early days of television, advertising and marketing salesmen quickly capitalized on the new captive audience.  Short bursts of 30-second animation can be very effective at lodging sales messages into the brains of children, creating an urgent need for the hot new toy or the sweetest breakfast cereal.  All film is manipulative, but there seems to be something especially crass about manipulating children through animation, whispering in their ears as they relax on a Saturday morning.

Fortunately, my topic isn’t “Animating for Maximum Manipulation” but the much more agreeable “Animating Childhood,” where the intent is to express an idea or vision.  Each of today’s selections opens into universality.  The Dr. Seuss-penned Gerald McBoing Boing widens to express ideas about creativity, Tulips Shall Grow begins and ends with children yet is dominated by war and loss in its middle passage, Boy and Girl explores gender and relationships, and Mikhail Aldashin’s Rozhedstvo (Christmas) brings a childlike innocence to the Jesus nativity story.  Very big themes can be explored through the eyes of childhood.

Little Tadpoles Search for Mama / Xiao ke dou zhao ma ma (1960):  Director Te Wei (1915-2010) made Little Tadpoles Search for Mama (also known as Where is Mama?) for very young children but its technique transcends its content.  Published in the same year (1960), P.D. Eastman’s classic American picture book Are You My Mother? has the same plot yet it remains rooted in its child audience.  Te Wei’s short film offers a deeper experience with nearly identical material, thanks to the miraculous beauty of its imagery.  The simple narrative of tadpoles in search of their mother becomes an exercise in brush painting in motion.

Te Wei made this groundbreaking film with important assistance from Tang Cheng and animators Duan Ziaoxuan and A Da (who directed Three Monks on our list).  Produced at the Shanghai Animation Film Studio, Little Tadpoles Search for Mama was the first film to employ brush painting animation and it received much acclaim for its effects.  The school of tadpoles moves through the water with a delightful random feel as certain adventurous tadpoles venture out while others shyly hold back.  The exquisite brush work conveys the pond environment through carefully chosen details.  The other denizens of the pond each receive charming personalities, from birds on the shore to a catfish, shrimp, and a crab in the depths.  The fifteen minutes pass like an enchanted dream — childhood evoked in a delicate flow of museum-quality images.


Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! Little Tadpoles Search for Mama is available for purchase on Chinese Classic Animation – Te Wei Collection.

The Mitten / Varezhka (1967):  A puppet animation by Soviet director Roman Kachanov (1921-1993), The Mitten carefully and wordlessly establishes its plot in the opening minutes (a girl desperately wishes she could have a dog of her own) before discreetly shifting into the girl’s imagination.  From her point of view, we see a mitten transform into an adorable knitted dog and share in her joy at his doggy behavior.  There’s charm in abundance in Kachanov’s comic treatment of the wide variety of dogs in the neighborhood.  And I especially appreciate the sweet end of the film, as it wisely refrains from indulging in the extreme sentimentality of the scene that would naturally follow.



Tchou-Tchou (1972):  Director Co Hoedeman can animate anything.  He’s animated sand (The Sand Castle — it’s on our list), wire, sealskin figures, and teddy bears.  In Tchou-Tchou, Hoedeman animates blocks — for 13 vivid minutes, a simple children’s block set is in constant inventive motion.  The boy and girl at the center of the action are basic figures, each composed of three painted wooden cubes.  But watch as Hoedeman ingeniously finds countless ways to endow his building blocks with personality.  He’s a playful wizard behind the scenes, animating with childlike glee — making a difficult art look like child’s play.


Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! Tchou-Tchou is available for purchase at the NFB website.

Here’s a sampling of a few other films about childhood from our list of 250 great animated short films.  While these films offer a child’s eye view of the world, they are not childish.  As William Wordsworth wrote when he recollected scenes from his early childhood, “the meanest flower that blows can give/Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”

Little Nemo / Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics (Winsor McCay, USA, 1911) 
Tulips Shall Grow (George Pal, USA, 1942) 
Gerald McBoing Boing (Robert Cannon, USA, 1951) 
Boy and Girl / Malchik i devochka (Rozaliya Zelma, USSR, 1978) 
Who Will Comfort Toffle? / Vem skall trösta knyttet? (Johan Hagelbäck, Sweden, 1980) 
The Snowman (Dianne Jackson, UK, 1982) 
Christmas / Rozhdestvo (Mikhail Aldashin, Russia, 1997) 
My Childhood Mystery Tree (Natalia Mirzoyan, Russia, 2008) 

© 2012 Lee Price

Monday, October 1, 2012

Animating Character and Personality


Cartoon-blogging, essay 9 of 21 blog entries on
250 great animated short films


Donald's Tire Trouble (1943), directed by Dick Lundy.

This is the ninth of 21 essays inspired by a list of 250 great animated short films, composed in August 2012 by Scott Bussey, Jorge Didaco, Waldemar Hepstein, Bill Kamberger, Robert Reynolds, Sulo Vatanen, and Lee Price, with additional assistance from participants on the IMDb Classic Film message board.

My fellow panelist Waldemar Hepstein sent me two short pieces: one on a classic Donald Duck short, Donald’s Tire Trouble (1943), and one on a Porky Pig favorite, Kitty Kornered (1946). They seem to go together nicely and so I decided to round them out with a short piece on one of my favorites, Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) to comprise an entry on the art of animating character and personality.

Donald’s Tire Trouble (1943):  Disney was known for respecting and emulating the old live-action comedy greats in his cartoons, and he encouraged his animators to do likewise. This film is a kind of animated cousin to Chaplin’s One A.M. (1916) in that both are essentially one man shows — rather unusual in either animation or live action. (The Goofy ”How to” series is another kettle of fish.) Of course, both the Tramp and the Duck must have their adversaries for comical conflict, but here their antagonists are inanimate objects.

Donald’s Tire Trouble was one of a mere handful of shorts that Dick Lundy directed for Disney following a ten-year period as animator. In fact, Lundy is sometimes credited as being the creator of Donald Duck, which might seem something of an overstatement as there were several pivotal talents at hand in developing the Duck’s personality (Jack Hannah and Carl Barks are other names that come to mind, and we shouldn’t forget the original voice, Clarence Nash).

There’s no doubt, however, that Lundy was one of the most important Duck developers, being in on the screen legend’s image from the very beginning. For this reason, as well as the quality of Lundy’s work both as animator and director, his relative obscurity even among cartoon buffs is both sad and mysterious. In a letter to an animation historian, Lundy described his modus operandi:

When I was animating at Disney’s I was considered a personality animator. I always tried to give the personality a comedy twist, with a gesture, a body action or a twist of the mouth or head. When I animated dances I tried to put in the same thing. Now with a funny personality leading up to a physical gag which was funny (usually the way a character reacted) you usually ended up with something twice as funny.

Which is a perfect description of Donald’s Tire Trouble.

Waldemar Hepstein



Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! Donald’s Tire Trouble is available for purchase on Walt Disney Treasures – The Chronological Donald, Vol 2.

Kitty Kornered (1946):  Made in the year that director Bob Clampett ended his long tenure at Warner Bros., Kitty Kornered, while being as wild and Looney as any Tune, has an easy-going feel to it. It’s almost as if Clampett felt he didn’t have anything to prove anymore and could just have a ball with his inspired brand of Loonacy. In the process, he introduced a new character, Sylvester the Cat, later to become the special property of Friz Freleng and the team mate of Tweety.

The plot, such as it is, consists of a very familiar standby of the classic Hollywood cartoons: The hero has his home invaded by pesky animals and must do battle with them — in this case, it’s Porky Pig against some nasty cats who just won’t take no for an answer. Throughout the film, speed and silliness are the main watchwords.

At the finish, when the film has about a minute and a half left of its running time, Clampett pulls a couple of nice tricks out of his sleeve. The cats fake a Wellesian “Martian invasion” broadcast in a failed attempt to scare Porky out of his house. As he turns in for the night, at first he takes no notice that there are three Martians in bed with him, even after they fondly kiss him good night. (Somebody somewhere must surely have written a doctoral dissertation on all the kissing that goes on in the Looney Tunes!) It’s Porky’s delayed reaction that provides the standout moment, a frenzied split-second head-turning and eye-bulging — on a par with, though quite different from, the famous reaction shots from Clampett’s colleague Tex Avery.

Apparently, in modern TV screenings of this cartoon, not only have scenes of the cats smoking and drinking been censored out, but so have the establishing shots of the cats being kicked out of various homes.

Waldemar Hepstein




Gertie the Dinosaur (1914):  While the medium of film was still primitive in 1914, the artistry of Winsor McCay was anything but primitive.  A newspaper cartoonist of peerless skill, McCay threw himself into the new medium of film animation with tireless energy. A handful of animators had tackled the new craft before him, but McCay was the first to create animated characters who appeared to take up real space, breathe on screen, and display coherent and individualized personalities.

In addition to being a nationally famous cartoonist, McCay established himself as a vaudeville star in the early 1900s. He drew rapid sketches for adoring vaudeville audiences, amazing the crowds with his lightning-fast skills.  Gertie the Dinosaur is a vaudeville performer, too.  She bashfully enters the frame as if onto a stage, coquettishly playing to the audience.  Her self-confident walk as she strides to the foreground (the equivalent of the stage edge) practically flirts with the audience.  From outside the frame, McCay issues commands and Gertie either chooses to obey or follows her own whims.  When McCay reprimands her, she cries.  She’s part-toddler, part-puppy, and fully dinosaur.

McCay conceived of Gertie the Dinosaur as a film to accompany his vaudeville act, with McCay interacting with the dinosaur on the screen.  For these first vaudeville showings, there would have been no intertitles — McCay would have issued his commands from the stage.  When the film went into wider release, a live-action prologue and epilogue were added, along with the intertitles to the cartoon portion.

Maybe Gertie could have moved on to cartoon fame on the order of crowd-pleasing personalities like Felix, Mickey, and Bugs.  McCay planned a sequel called Gertie on Tour in 1921 and filmed some of it, but there’s no record of any formal release.  A tantalizing fragment remains.  McCay gave up filmmaking that same year.  He was a solo artist working in a medium that was quickly moving in the direction of factory production.  Over time, artists would learn how to work effectively within this new production system, but it wasn’t for McCay.  He was strictly a “one-man, one film” auteur.  Consequently, his films are one-of-a-kind achievements — masterpieces in a primitive medium.


Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! Gertie the Dinosaur is available for purchase on Winsor McCay – The Master Edition.

© 2012 Lee Price

Friday, September 28, 2012

Animating the Classics


Cartoon-blogging, essay 8 of 21 blog entries on
250 great animated short films

The Unicorn in the Garden (1953), directed by William T. Hurtz.

The eighth essay, “Animating the Classics,” is published in full at Press Play at IndieWire.  The primary focus of the essay is on The Unicorn in the Garden (William T. Hurtz, 1953) which was adapted from the classic James Thurber short story and Achilles (Barry Purves, 1995) which was adapted from Greek legends and Homer’s The Iliad.

The inimitable American humorist James Thurber once proposed that Walt Disney should animate Homer’s Odyssey.  “(Disney’s) Odyssey can be, I am sure, a far, far greater thing than even his epic of the three little pigs,” Thurber wrote in 1934.
               Continue reading here…

This series of 21 essays is inspired by a list of 250 great animated short films, composed in August 2012 by Scott Bussey, Jorge Didaco, Waldemar Hepstein, Bill Kamberger, Robert Reynolds, Sulo Vatanen, and Lee Price, with additional assistance from participants on the IMDb Classic Film message board.

© 2012 Lee Price

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Animating the Quest


Cartoon-blogging, essay 7 of 21 blog entries on
250 great animated short films


Hedgehog in the Fog (1975), directed by Yuriy Norshteyn.

A deliberate movement from Point A to Point B.  That’s the quest in a nutshell.  Point B is the goal — the purpose of the movement is ostensibly to achieve the goal.  And did I mention there may be monsters between Points A and B?  In fact, there’s a very good chance of it.

In the immortal quest-promising words of Carl Denham in King Kong (1933), “It’s money and adventure and fame.  It’s the thrill of a lifetime and a long sea voyage that starts at six o’clock tomorrow morning.” 

One more thing about Point B…  The object achieved at Point B may not be the real point of the quest.  Even though the hero or heroine may remain unaware of this, the real goal is personal transformation.  If the hero completes the journey by returning to Point A, the hero returns a changed person.

The quest goes way back in time.  Composed nearly 3,000 years ago, Homer’s Odyssey is a classic quest.  Way before that, there’s even a chance that long-forgotten quest stories lurk behind the beautiful cave paintings left by our prehistoric ancestors.  The quest is in our blood — it’s part of our DNA.  So naturally, as the age of movies dawned, the first generation of filmmakers turned to the quest for inspiration.

The epic nature of quests may fit better with the feature film than the short.  Many animated features are quest stories.  Lotte Reiniger’s amazing animated feature film The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1927) is centered on the quest for a magic lamp.  Disney’s Pinocchio (1940) follows the title character as he searches for transformation.  Pinocchio is on a rite-of-passage quest — the wooden puppet equivalent of the Native American vision quest that transforms a boy into a man.  The oeuvres of Disney, Pixar, and Studio Ghibli are filled with similar quests.

But short animated films aren’t entirely out of the picture.  There’s a lot that a skilled animator can achieve with a quest theme in a very short period of time.

Captain Grogg’s Wonderful Journey / Kapten Groggs underbara resa (1916):  Technically, Captain Grogg’s Wonderful Journey is more of a parody of a quest than a quest proper.  The hard-drinking and cantankerous Captain Grogg sets off on a picaresque adventure where anything can happen.  He flirts with a mermaid at sea, has his ship marooned by a whale, gets chased by a lion, joins up with the island natives, and romances a native princess on the island shore by the light of the full moon.

Victor Bergdahl’s animation is extraordinarily fluid and detailed for 1916.  This was the first of 13 popular Captain Grogg shorts that he made between 1916 and 1922.  This first one sets the tone for the rest.  The adventures are all in fun and nothing is really at stake, even when Grogg finds himself devoured by a lion.  The visual treatment of the natives is exaggerated in a racist manner, but the film has no qualms with a fairy-tale happy ending uniting the Swedish Grogg and the black island native.  It’s a quest in the footsteps of the real-life quest of impressionist artist Paul Gauguin, whose Point B turned out to be Tahiti.  Fade out on Gauguin under a full moon with a Polynesian beauty.



Hedgehog in the Fog / Yozhik v tumane (1975):  Yuriy Norshteyn’s Hedgehog in the Fog is a miniature (hedgehog-sized) masterpiece.  The imagery is haunting and the animation is dazzling.  The story is a quest, reduced to its most basic ingredients.  Following a vision of a white horse, our hedgehog hero descends into the fog.  A series of adventurous encounters ultimately leads him home, but with a transformed view of himself and the world.  The hedgehog has returned from a vision quest.

While Hedgehog in the Fog closely follows the structure of a classic quest narrative, the adventures themselves remain wonderfully elusive.  We never learn what the creature is that carries the hedgehog on its back through the water.  Animals like elephants, dogs, and bats mysteriously appear and then sink back into the fog.  The white horse functions as a symbol — and it is an inspired quest goal — but the meaning of the horse remains unexplained.  The hedgehog’s search for understanding takes place in a fog.

The ending is surpassingly beautiful.  The hedgehog returns home for a joyful reunion with his bear cub friend, yet the film closes with the hedgehog alone with his thoughts, forever changed by his quest.  Although small in scope and muted in tone, Hedgehog in the Fog is one of the most authentic portrayals of the quest ever captured on film.


Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! Hedgehog in the Fog is available for purchase on The Complete Works of Yuri Norstein.


Death and the Mother (1988):  Ruth Lingford’s Death and the Mother is a classic quest tale adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Story of a Mother.”  After a personified Death takes a sick child from its home, the mother sets off on a quest to retrieve her child.  Along the way, the mother undergoes a series of terrible and wound-inflicting adventures.  A thorn bush tears her skin and her eyes fall into the water as she cries by the side of a river, leaving her sightless.  Reduced to a ragged blind beggar by the time she catches up with Death, she courageously makes her demand.  The end of her quest turns out to be a sad wisdom.

Lingford’s treatment of the story is based on traditional woodcuts.  Everything is conveyed visually, with no dialogue to break the mood — we do not hear the mother’s cries and sobs.  Partly because of this approach, the film avoids falling into the extreme sentimentality that would be natural to the story.  Instead, we get to marvel at the artistry of this primal world and appreciate the classic elements of the quest, as they fall into place one by one.


Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! Death and the Mother is available for purchase on The Best of British Animation Awards, Vol. 2.


Here’s a sampling of a few other films with quest elements from our list of 250 great animated short films.  These are some of the greatest tales of adventure on our list, but the quest narrative always suggests there is deeper meaning behind the chases, battles, and rescues.  Ultimately, wisdom must emerge from the experience.  From the safety of the campfire, the hedgehog will peer into the darkness beyond, haunted by his vision of the white horse.  “How is she, there… in the fog?”

What’s Opera, Doc? (Chuck Jones, USA, 1957) 
Little Tadpoles Search for Mama / Xiao ke dou zhao ma ma (Wei Te, China, 1960) 
The Ash-Lad and the Good Helpers / Askeladden og de gode hjelperne (Ivo Caprino, Norway, 1961) 
Dojoji Temple (Kihachiro Kawamoto, Japan, 1976) 
There Once Was a Dog / Zhil-byl pyos (Eduard Nazarov, USSR, 1982) 
The Monk and the Fish / Le moine et le poisson (Michael Dudok de Wit, France, 1994) 
The Old Man and the Sea (Aleksandr Petrov, Russia, 1999) 
Brothers Bearhearts / Vennad Karusüdamed (Riho Unt, Estonia, 2005) 
The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (Anthony Lucas, Australia, 2005) 
The Danish Poet (Torill Kove, Norway/Canada, 2006) 
The Legend of Shangri-La (Chen Ming, China, 2006) 
Peter & the Wolf (Suzie Templeton, UK, 2006) 
The Tale of How (The Blackheart Gang: Ree Treweek, Jannes Hendrikz & Markus Wormstorm, South Africa, 2006) 
My Childhood Mystery Tree (Natalia Mirzoyan, Russia, 2008) 

© 2012 Lee Price

Friday, September 21, 2012

Animating Work and Labor


Cartoon-blogging, essay 6 of 21 blog entries on
250 great animated short films


Clock Cleaners (1938), directed by Ben Sharpsteen.

This is the sixth of 21 essays inspired by a list of 250 great animated short films, composed in August 2012 by Scott Bussey, Jorge Didaco, Waldemar Hepstein, Bill Kamberger, Robert Reynolds, Sulo Vatanen, and Lee Price, with additional assistance from participants on the IMDb Classic Film message board.

In both short films and long, the lead characters are usually attractive, healthy, and relatively free of the demands of work.  If they do work, they’re likely to be soldiers, policemen, criminals, or prostitutes.  Rounding out this cinematic snapshot of society, there are the lawyers, doctors, and performers.  The bit roles go to the nurses, waiters, cab drivers, librarians, accountants, etc. who come from the ranks of the remaining 90% of the population, performing jobs that apparently aren’t sufficiently glamorous for the big screen.

The list of “work and labor” animated shorts at the conclusion of this entry is a desperate attempt to identify a few outliers that genuinely depict characters working for a living.  For the most part, I discounted the films with the stock characters mentioned above, but that left slim pickings.  The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B” (1941) snuck in because it shows soldiers engaged in everyday work, The Tender Game (1958) slipped in despite the hero immediately abandoning his job when romance beckons, and Ballerina on the Boat (1969) made the list not for the ballerina (there’s no indication that she dances for a paycheck) but for the working men on the ship.  With its portrait of the clerk Bob Cratchit, A Christmas Carol (1971) actually stands out as one of the best depictions of the working class on our list!  Pretty sad…

And that’s why I want to share a word of praise for Mickey Mouse, the hardest-working cartoon character in the movies.  Mickey started out piloting a steamboat and went on to pump gas, wash windows, sell hot dogs at a carnival, drive a train, fight fires, deliver groceries, operate a steam shovel, and many more respectable yet common occupations.  As the Disney animators found themselves emphasizing Mickey’s superb work ethic, their star mouse unfortunately dropped into the category of “responsible adult” when other cartoon characters were present.  As a result, sidekicks Goofy and Donald became the fun characters, stealing much of Mickey’s initial popularity.  When Disney got around to filming Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), our ever-dependable mouse naturally took the role of Bob Cratchit, the quintessential guy who does all the work and never gets the credit.

So happy belated Labor Day!  I’ll give this handful of movies all the more credit for acknowledging that most of us have to get up and go to work every day.

Clock Cleaners (1938):  This is working-class Mickey at his peak.  A classic Disney cartoon, Clock Cleaners is set in the everyday urban work world, with Mickey, Goofy, and Donald Duck reporting to duty on a clock face perched dizzyingly high above the city.  Naturally, this is a setup designed to generate thrills in the tradition of those famous building-climbing stunts of Harold Lloyd in silents like Safety Last (1923).  And it has another forerunner in the wonderful Popeye cartoon A Dream Walking (1934) which shifted the Lloyd gags from the real world to the cartoon world, with Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto mixing thrills with comedy at skyscraper heights.

If it weren’t for the cartoons, slapstick comedy of this kind would have been largely abandoned in Hollywood’s transition to sound.  Producers looked to Broadway dialogue writers for verbal wit, largely abandoning the art of slapstick comedy.  But Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and other masters continued to inspire short cartoons like Clock Cleaners, where timing and pantomime counted for everything.  Fortunately, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy (and their fabulously talented animators—Disney still had some of its finest working on shorts at that time) had skill and charisma to rival their silent forebears.



Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! Clock Cleaners is available for purchase on Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color.

Three Monks / San ge heshang (1982):  Three Monks would be an ideal choice for a video to show at a staff meeting focused on team building.  These monks may not have particularly demanding jobs, but their work environment is very familiar office terrain.  Our three prayerful protagonists hold grudges and resentments, jealously guard their turf, sneakily enjoy the discomfort of their co-workers, and even sabotage each other’s work.  Thanks to the skill of director Xu Jingda (A Da), all of this is communicated swiftly and charmingly.  We find the three monks endearing even as they behave poorly.

The lesson for that staff meeting comes at the end when creative teamwork wins the day.  Even monks can be friends.  And if harmony can even be established at a monastery, there’s hope for work places everywhere.



Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! Three Monks is available for purchase.

This Way Up (2008):  Now here’s a cinematically under-represented profession:  funeral director!  And no one could represent the undertaking profession more ably than the two determined casket bearers in Adam Foulke’s and Alan Smith’s This Way Up.  Like a modern-day Tex Avery cartoon (see King-Size Canary and Bad Luck Blackie for reference), the gags become increasingly wild and outlandish as the short progresses.  The stoicism and practicality of our two heroes offer a perfect counterpoint to the black comedy.

While the gags are creepier than you’d ever get in a classic Disney cartoon, This Way Up sets up a similar type of situation to those that were handled with aplomb by Mickey, Goofy, and Donald back in the 1930s.  Can’t you picture Mickey and Goofy carrying the coffin, circa 1936, in a short called something like Mickey’s Funeral Service?  Yet even though different times deserve different heroes, it’s nice to see that unflagging professionalism and good old-fashioned depression-era work ethic are still with us today.



Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! This Way Up is available for purchase on the Best of Animation 4 DVD.

Here’s a list of some other films from our list that touch upon themes of work and labor.  I wish this list was longer, but these were the best I could find!

Steamboat Willie (Walt Disney, USA, 1928) 
The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B” (Walter Lantz, USA, 1941) 
One Froggy Evening (Chuck Jones, USA, 1955) 
The Tender Game (John Hubley, USA, 1958) 
The Hand / Ruka (Jirí Trnka, Czechoslovakia, 1966) 
Ballerina on the Boat / Balerina na korable (Lev Atamanov, USSR, 1969) 
A Christmas Carol (Richard Williams, USA, 1971) 
Crane Feathers / Zhuravlinye per'ya (Ideya Garanina, USSR, 1977) 
Fisheye / Riblje oko (Josko Marusic, Yugoslavia, 1980) 
The Cow / Korova (Aleksandr Petrov, USSR, 1989) 
More (Mark Osborne, USA, 1998)
The Old Man and the Sea (Aleksandr Petrov, Russia, 1999) 
Black Soul / Âme noire (Martine Chartrand, Canada, 2001) 
Harvie Krumpet (Adam Elliot, Australia, 2003) 
The Danish Poet (Torill Kove, Norway/Canada, 2006) 
Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor / Kafuka: Inaka isha (Koji Yamamura, Japan, 2007)

© 2012 Lee Price

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Animating War and Violence


Cartoon-blogging, essay 5 of 21 blog entries on
250 great animated short films


Tulips Shall Grow (1942), directed by George Pal.

This is the fifth of 21 essays inspired by a list of 250 great animated short films, composed in August 2012 by Scott Bussey, Jorge Didaco, Waldemar Hepstein, Bill Kamberger, Robert Reynolds, Sulo Vatanen, and Lee Price, with additional assistance from participants on the IMDb Classic Film message board.

Ferdinand the Bull is in.  Tom and Jerry are out. 

To be more specific… The very sweet Disney short Ferdinand the Bull (1938) made it on this entry’s sample list of animated short films that deal with themes of war and violence.  But the two Tom and Jerry cartoons that made our big list (The Night Before Christmas and The Cat Concerto) aren’t here.  Much as I enjoy the orgies of destruction in Tom and Jerry cartoons, I watch them knowing the shenanigans are ultimately all in fun and no one gets hurt.  The violence isn’t real.  In Ferdinand the Bull, the threatened violence is very real and must be addressed.  Therefore, the bull gets in.

Our list of 250 great animated films has a respectable selection of World War II propaganda cartoons, anti-war message films, and meditations on the roots of violence.  While cartoons have certainly been made that present war as an exciting adventure, none of them made our list.  Even our propaganda selections, like Blitz Wolf and Der Fuehrer’s Face, express profound discomfort with violence.  Hitler is the violent one;  in this context, Donald Duck is the voice of reason and peace.

For me, the scenes that linger in the memory are the haunting ones that show the aftermath of the violence.  In the marvelous Story of a Certain Street Corner (1962), the viewer’s eye searches the ruins of a bombed-out city hoping for signs that our principal characters have survived.  We see immense loss, as well as glimmers of hope for the future.  Yuriy Norshteyn’s brilliant Tale of Tales (1979) is even sadder.  The women dance with their men who fade off the screen.  Notifications of their deaths fly like birds to their waiting loved ones.  A powerful anti-war message is delivered without ever showing soldiers in conflict.

Tulips Shall Grow (1942):  The Holland setting looks enchanting in the opening, brought to storybook life with neat rows of flowers, picturesque windmills, and young lovers.  Then the Screwballs attack and things quickly get real ugly.

For all its childlike simplicity, Tulips Shall Grow had to be a personal statement for its director, George Pal.  He had just completed working six years in the Netherlands, mastering the art of puppet animation.  America beckoned and Pal accepted an offer from Paramount Studios, leaving the Netherlands with his wife and son just months before the Nazis invaded in May 1940.  The Screwballs in Tulips Shall Grow are Nazis.  Their monstrous presence befouls the formerly beautiful countryside.

Adding an additional layer of interest for me, one of my heroes—Ray Harryhausen—worked as a model animator on this film.  Harryhausen, who went on to become the animator and special effects wizard behind movies like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963), was just 18 when he began his Hollywood career in the new George Pal Puppetoon studio at Paramount.  He made ten shorts with Pal before enlisting in the U.S. Army, where he eventually wound up working in Frank Capra’s Special Service Division film unit.  While the wood puppets of the George Pal films frustrated the artist in Harryhausen (who really wanted to do King Kong-style animation), he concedes that the experience was very valuable for him and the films were “elegant in their own way.”


Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! Tulips Shall Grow is available for purchase on The Puppetoon Movie DVD.

King-Size Canary (1947):  One of classic Hollywood’s wildest directors, Tex Avery is represented by two films on our war and violence list.  Avery’s Blitz Wolf mercilessly satirizes Hitler and King-Size Canary is a very funny—and frighteningly prescient—stand-in for the impending US-Soviet arms race and its "mutually assured destruction" philosophy.  Avery was at his best with such extreme material, fashioning endless sight gags that threaten to escalate into complete madness.  In fact, the end of King-Size Canary escalates the situation just about as far as you can take it.

Avery was the least sentimental of the great Hollywood cartoon directors.  Everything was forward motion with him; everything was over-the-top and exaggerated to the max.  You didn’t go to Avery for a romantic love story.  But if you were in the mood for a hot-blooded take-no-prisoners gag-packed cartoon, he was your man.  We’ve got four Avery classics on our list—Blitz Wolf, Red Hot Riding Hood, King-Size Canary, and Bad Luck Blackie.  That’s more than anyone else except for Chuck Jones (who somehow netted five).


Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! King-Size Canary is available for purchase on the Command Decision (1949) DVD.

Balance (1989):  With Balance, twin brothers Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein hit on an inspired metaphor to examine human nature and the roots of violence and warfare.  Five strange, faceless individuals co-exist on a floating platform.  Even though they know they must keep the platform balanced, the curiosity and greed of the figures inevitably unleash cold-blooded havoc.

Despite the bleakness of the setting and the pessimism of the story, Balance is strangely exhilarating.  The choreography of the characters’ movements within the limited space is brilliantly timed—at times, it’s almost like watching a Gene Kelly dance routine.  And even though the nature of these characters remains mysterious, their gestures of threat and fear make it clear that these creatures are all-too-human.


Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! Balance is available for purchase on The World’s Greatest Animation DVD.

Here’s a list of some other films from our list that touch upon themes of war and violence.  It’s not a fun group of films this time (Education for Death has to be the most depressing of all Disney shorts) but these are movies loaded with genuine insight into human nature.

Ferdinand the Bull (Dick Rickard, USA, 1938) 
Peace on Earth (Hugh Harman, USA, 1939) 
The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B” (Walter Lantz, USA, 1941) 
Blitz Wolf (Tex Avery, USA, 1942)
Der Fuehrer’s Face (Jack Kinney, USA, 1942) 
Education For Death (Clyde Geronimi, USA, 1943) 
Neighbours (Norman McLaren, Canada, 1952)
Story of a Certain Street Corner / Aru machikado no monogatari (Eiichi Yamamoto & Yusaku Sakamoto, Japan, 1962)
The Thieving Magpie / La gazza ladra (Emanuele Luzzati and Giulio Gianini, Italy, 1964) 
The Roll-Call / Apel (Ryszard Czekala, Poland, 1971) 
Tale of Tales / Skazka skazok (Yuriy Norshteyn, USSR, 1979) 
Tyll the Giant / Suur Tõll (Rein Raamat, USSR, 1980) 
Memories of War (Pierre Hébert, Canada, 1983) 
Grasshoppers / Cavallette (Bruno Bozzetto, Italy, 1990) 
The Restaurant of Many Orders / Chumon no ooi ryori-ten (Tadanari Okamoto, Japan, 1993) 
Felix in Exile (William Kentridge, South Africa, 1994) 
Achilles (Barry Purves, UK, 1995) 
Rocks / Das Rad (Chris Stenner, Arvid Uibel & Heidi Wittlinger, Germany, 2003) 
Voices of a Distant Star / Hoshi no koe (Makoto Shinkai, Japan, 2003)

© 2012 Lee Price

Monday, September 17, 2012

Animating Love and Courtship

Cartoon-blogging, essay 4 of 21 blog entries on
250 great animated short films

The Little Soldier (1947), directed by Paul Grimault.

This is the fourth of 21 essays inspired by a list of 250 great animated short films, composed in August 2012 by Scott Bussey, Jorge Didaco, Waldemar Hepstein, Bill Kamberger, Robert Reynolds, Sulo Vatanen, and Lee Price, with additional assistance from participants on the IMDb Classic Film message board.

“They’re kissing again.  Do we have to read the kissing parts?”
The grandson in The Princess Bride (1987)

Yes, we have to read the kissing parts.

I unashamedly love the idea of love.  When watching movies, I want my love stories to end in either of two ways:  1)  with a kiss or...  2)  with both lovers dead or tragically separated.  For me, Shakespeare got it right with his comedies—ending in wedding scenes—and with the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.  Those are the models for me.

Courtship is a slightly different matter.  Courtship is the mechanics while love is the magic.  With courtship, you get the comedy of mix-ups, bad timing, and awkwardness, as well as moments of unexpected grace.  Romantic comedies find laughs in courtship along the route to love.  Did I mention that I like romantic comedies?  Yeah, I’m confessing that I’m a guy who likes chick flicks.

Courtship is a fairly easy subject for animated short films.  Explorations of love are a little tougher.  Nevertheless, our panel of seven animation enthusiasts uncovered a nice assortment of animated short films that handle romance with a sensitivity that you’ll find in few feature films.  As just one example, the portrait of a marriage that runs through the background of Frédéric Back’s wonderful short film Crac (1981) swiftly captures a lifetime’s worth of love and loss—and it’s not even the primary subject of the film!  (Note:  The real subject is a chair.)

For the three films that I’m highlighting, two take the Shakespearean comedy approach (ending in bliss) and the third travels the Romeo and Juliet route.  I can guarantee this:  They are all extremely romantic.

The Tender Game (1958):  Three years after John and Faith (Elliott) Hubley married, they jointly made The Tender Game, one of the sweetest celebrations of courtship ever filmed.  Initially trained at Disney, John Hubley was one of a small group of animators who revolutionized American animation through his spare and stylized animation style at UPA, a new animation studio, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  His distinctive stamp was on the early Mr. Magoo shorts, Gerald McBoing-Boing, and Rooty Toot Toot.  But he lost his job at the studio in 1952, blacklisted when he refused to name names at the McCarthy hearings. 

John and Faith teamed up personally and professionally in 1955, eventually collaborating on 22 independently-produced films (and four children).  The Tender Game was their fourth film.  In it, they reduce character to the movement of a few lines and squiggles.  But simple shapes have rarely been so eloquent—these artful lovers flirt with wit and passion.  Accompanied by the Oscar Peterson Trio, singer Ella Fitzgerald establishes a wistful mood in the opening minutes before the two characters meet and fall for each other, drawing the viewer into a courtship brimming with joy.


Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! The Tender Game is available for purchase on Art and Jazz in Animation.

The Little Soldier / Le petit soldat (1947):  Hans Christian Andersen’s story of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” has been animated many times but never as romantically as in this French version.  Director Paul Grimault and his screenwriter Jacques Prévert made several changes to the original Andersen tale.  The soldier becomes an acrobat, the ballerina becomes a proactive and resourceful heroine, and a frozen-river climax is borrowed from the old D.W. Griffith silent classic Way Down East.  In the background, Grimault and Prévert place a somber French landscape in ruins, bombed out and desolate.  But the biggest change of all is that love triumphs in the final fade-out.

I’m fascinated by the participation of the great Jacques Prévert in this production.  Prévert was both a popular poet and screenwriter.  Before and during World War II, he served as the main screenwriter for Marcel Carné, a leading figure in the French film industry.  They made nine movies together, including Children of Paradise (1945), a romantic masterpiece set in the 19th century theater scene of Paris.  With The Little Soldier, Prévert found a welcome new collaborator in animator Paul Grimault.  Although The Little Soldier has no dialogue, the charm and compassion of the adaptation are hallmarks of Prévert’s work.  Prévert and Grimault continued to work together until Prévert’s death in 1977.  When Grimault attended the premiere of their last collaboration, The King and the Mockingbird, in 1980, he reserved an empty seat next to him in remembrance of Prévert. 



Voices of a Distant Star / Hoshi no koe (2003):  Voices of a Distant Star is an anime with giant robots, aliens, and spectacular explosions.  But these typical anime elements are secondary to the real event which is a love story that will tear your heart out.  I don’t cry that easily, but Voices of a Distant Star devastates me.

This short anime is the virtuoso work of a single person—director Makoto Shinkai.  I love the way he meets all genre expectations while keeping them entirely subordinate to the emotional powerhouse love story.  His central theme of communication over interstellar distance reminds me of Ray Bradbury at his most insightful and poignant.

I’ve watched Voices of a Distant Star three times now and it’s become stronger and more emotionally affecting with each viewing.  In this way, it reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.  I loved The Polar Express from the first time I read it and so decided to share it as a read-aloud with my children every Christmas Eve.  But after the first couple of times, I could no longer get through it without choking up at the end.  Well…  that’s the way I think it’s going to be with Voices of a Distant Star.  I’m not sure how many more times I’ll be able to get through it.


Support the artists and the art of the animated short film! Voices of a Distant Star is available for purchase at Amazon and other dealers.

Here’s a list of some other films from our list that touch upon themes of love and courtship.  Not all are romantic—some cast a jaundiced eye on the dating scene—but all repay close attention.

Who Killed Cock Robin? (David Hand, USA, 1935) 
The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics (Chuck Jones, USA, 1965)
My Green Crocodile / Moy zelenyy krokodil (Vadim Kurchevskiy, USSR, 1966) 
Café Bar (Alison De Vere, UK, 1974) 
Boy and Girl / Malchik i devochka (Rozaliya Zelma, USSR, 1978) 
Poor Lisa / Bednaya Liza (Ideya Garanina, USSR, 1978) 
Crac (Frédéric Back, Canada, 1981) 
George and Rosemary (David Fine & Alison Snowden, Canada, 1987) 
Knick Knack (John Lasseter, USA, 1989) 
Achilles (Barry Purves, UK, 1995) 
A Summer Night Rendez-vous / Au premier dimanche d’août (Florence Miailhe, France, 2002) 
Destino (Dominique Monfery, France/USA, 2003) 
The Danish Poet (Torill Kove, Norway/Canada, 2006) 
My Love / Moya lyubov (Aleksandr Petrov, Russia, 2006) 
Invention of Love (Andrey Shushkov, Russia, 2010) 
The Silence Beneath the Bark / Le silence sous l'écorce (Joanna Lurie, France, 2010)


© 2012 Lee Price