Going through some animation and avant-garde DVDs on a Saturday afternoon, looking for shorts I’ve never seen before… time well spent.


Cinq minutes de cinema pure (1926, Henri Chomette)

Silent light shines on glassy objects… spinning and cross-fading, never lingering more than a few seconds on each pattern. We go unexpectedly outside to a forest and pond with blown-out white skies in the final minute. It’s pure cinema, I suppose. Chomette was René Clair’s brother.


Dots (1940, Norman McLaren)

Hand-drawn on 35mm (including the soundtrack!), a rhythmic dance of blue dots on a red field, short and very fun.


Mail Early (1941, Norman McLaren)

Public service announcement to not wait till the last minute to send your Christmas mail, via lively hand-drawn envelopes flying across screen to a jazzy Jingle Bells.


Mail Early for Christmas (1959, Norman McLaren)

The remake is shorter and crazier, all flashing light and pattern (etched on film with “vibra-drill”), the title message coming through in single-frame flickers.


Lines Vertical (1960, Norman McLaren)

The line pongs left and right, multiplying again and again until the background color field starts to shift as the line-dance gets more complex. Various optical illusions: imagining the filmstrip flying upwards is easy with this short, and at a few points the lines’ relative thickness with their back-and-forth motion gives the impression of cylindrical columns. Music sounds like electric harp emulating wind chimes and is very soothing.

The lines definitely get un-vertical at the end:


Mosaic (1965, Norman McLaren)

Lines Horizontal is literally Lines Vertical turned on its side, so I skipped to Mosaic, whiich is the two of them superimposed and processed somehow. I was expecting a shifting line grid, but I got dots, maybe the vertices of the intersecting lines. More sputtering hand-drawn sounds (now with added reverb), the white dots flickering to color in brief spots.


Two Greedy Bear Cubs (1954, Vladimir Degtyaryov)

Early post-Stalin film from the first History of Soviet Puppet Animation DVD. Bright fairy-tale stop-motion puppetry about two sibling bears who promise to share equally, but fight over the bedding and over their breakfast, then when they find a gigantic block of cheese they can’t figure how to split it equally until a helpful fox comes to help, creating unequal sides, then biting chunks off the larger piece each time the whiny bears complain about their smaller share, until the bears are left with crumbs.


Kolobok (1956, Roman Davydov)

Love the look of this one, like the wooden incense-smoking figurines my family used to collect. Six decades before Pixar’s Bao, a childless couple bakes a gingerbread bun and it comes to life. The bun romps through the fields and woods, taunting the bear and wolf while singing a happy song about how delicious it must be, until a fox (again with the foxes) chases it to safety at home where it lives happily with its family.


How to Kiss (1988, Bill Plympton)

A classic example of Plympton finding a multitude of ways to turn something lovely into ghastly images. Our lovers end up dead or mutilated many times over – practically a horror movie.


Nosehair (1995, Bill Plympton)

Man struggles to remove a nosehair, and I thought this would end up like Wisdom Teeth, but it goes in remarkable new directions, too many to describe. The hair turns into a line, and for a while the movie becomes a riff on all things animators can create from simple lines. Can’t believe I’d never seen this, it’s one of his greats.


Aria (2001, Pjotr Sapegin)

You know it’s classy from the opera music, but it also opens with some explicit puppet sex. After a fling with a sailor, the Island Woman gives birth… and never cuts the cord, so she and her daughter fly each other like kites. That is not even nearly the craziest thing that happens, for when the sailor and his Barbie wife come to take the child away, the woman undoes herself, down to her puppet armature and beyond, some 14 years before Anomalisa.


The Dingles (1988, Les Drew)

Gentle, over-narrated kids’ cartoon about a woman and her three cats who experience a minor drama when a thunderstorm arrives.


The Magic Pear Tree (1968, Charles Swenson)

A Decameron story. Jean visits the Marquis, he makes her prove her love with difficult tasks before he’ll have sex with her. A cheap-looking silly-ass movie, so of course it’s oscar-nominated. Swenson later wrote Fievel Goes West and produced Rugrats, Jimmy Murakami produced, and the overqualified voice cast includes Agnes Moorhead (Citizen Kane) and Keenan Wynn (Dr. Strangelove).


Hell’s Bells (1929, Ub Iwerks)

You don’t expect a Disney cartoon to take place in hell. Betty Boop-lite antics as demons and bats dance and transform to the music. The Silly Symphonies tend to seem more like a bit of fun than anything of great interest… time-filler content before the feature. Carl Stalling, however – I hope he died a billionaire.


Projekt (1981, Jirí Barta)

Apartment building is drafted in stop-motion, then furnishings and residents are added, each with their own art style and soundtrack, until all the soundtracks are playing at once, then the architect runs a roller over the building until everything is colorlessly conformist again. Pretty great.


Ballad of the Green Wood (1983, Jirí Barta)

Now beyond paper and ink, he’s animating light, wood and water, mud, worms and plants. An anthropomorphic piece of split wood is eaten by a crow, who becomes part wood, transforming into a wood-demon crow-bat harbinger of winter, until a wooden soldier arrives and slays him to bring back the spring. I think from the art style that it might represent Christians burning pagans? It brought to mind Hannah Gadsby‘s “am I made of box?” and also was amazing in every way – I’ve seen Jirí Barta’s name around before, and now I must see everything.


When the Leaves Have Fallen from the Oak (1991, Vlasta Pospisilova)

A long one, almost a half hour. Superb puppet animation, very talky and unsubtitled, but I usually knew what’s going on. Devil arrives in a whirlwind to a drunken failure of a farmer, will give him magic contraptions to make the farm thrive if he only signs a contract surrendering his firstborn. The farmer attempts suicide when collection time is near and… an old man hears his story then rolls around in honey and feathers? Anyway the farmer ends up in hell himself, running a daily routine of freezing / boiling / hard labor / drinking, until he breaks the cycle by refusing to drink anymore. Another devil contract to bring the farm back to life, this time he fools the devil by promising something when the leaves of an evergreen begin to fall… surprised it’s so easy to fool the devil, but it’s nice to see things work out for once. Vlasta also did animation for directors such as Kihachiro Kawamoto and Jan Svankmajer.


Is The Earth Round? (1977, Priit Pärn)

A boy reads that you can prove the earth is round by walking in one direction until you end up where you started – so he does, but arrives home as an old man. Appreciate the seventies freakout rock & roll, and when his empty pockets become wings and fly him out of the city.


Hotell E (1992, Priit Pärn)

I did not even nearly follow the metaphors here. After a couple of prologues, the movie splits between two worlds: a clock-driven monochrome fly-infested hellscape, and a music-video new-age dreamscape, each mirroring one of the prologues. There’s a door, and they begin to intersect. Movie goes on for ages, always repeating actions but always in new variations. It seems angry.

Lemonade for children… all the Beyoncé glam you could ever desire, plus “black is beautiful” lyrics and Lion King dialogue. That said… those visuals, and costumes, and dances, all 100% all the time. So this is probably the best extended music-video of a tie-in album to a movie remake that could possibly be made.

Filmed in at least six countries, with a few special guests we recognized and plenty we did not. Segment directors include The Burial of Kojo guy, and someone who recently collaborated with Terence Nance… the cinematographers worked with Spike Lee and Solange (and John Mulaney), the production designers did Black Panther, Moonlight, and Room. Anyway, the youth of today is gonna grow up with images from this and Black Panther in their heads when they hear the word “Africa,” which is certainly a change from the “starving children on TV ads” impression I grew up with.

The Night Before Christmas (1933, Wilfred Jackson)

Classic color Disney short. Santa does his thing at a poor family’s house, repairs their torn stockings, dresses their tree with the help of many pre-Toy Story living toys, laughs a LOT, then wakes them up with all the noise and runs. We saw the uncensored version where the youngest boy gets sooty and blackfacey. Jackson directed about fifty Disney shorts while still in his 20’s.


Peace on Earth (1939, Hugh Harman)

Meanwhile, they’re having a post-apocalyptic Christmas at MGM, with talking woodland creatures who started wearing pants after an encounter with a bible. I remembered this short well enough to recall the “good will to men” line kicks off the backstory, when a kid asks his squirrel grandma what men are, but did not recall that they sing that line a hundred times in the first two minutes. Inspired by WWI battles the animators lived through, this is a hell of a movie, rightly acclaimed.

Before Pants:

After Pants:


Santa’s Workshop (1932, Wilfred Jackson)

And tonal whiplash, as we return to the predecessor to the other Jackson/Disney movie, Santa pre-delivery-day building all the toys for tots. Some of the assembly line stuff was cute, anyway.


Bedtime for Sniffles (1940, Chuck Jones)

This was rough going – Katy was already tired, and it’s eight minutes of a mouse struggling to stay awake. A few puns (Haxwell Mouse coffee) and mouse-in-human-world gags (eyedroppers for water faucets) can’t compete with the movie’s desire to make us sleepy. Still better than the Disneys, at least. Katy asked why rival studios would make a mouse their lead character – we didn’t realize there were about ten more Sniffles shorts.


The Snowman (1982, Dianne Jackson)

Storybook-looking animation of a non-Frosty snowman who comes alive at midnight, gets invited into the house by his creator, becomes the boy’s friend and goes on a flying adventure, meets Santa Claus, then melts in the sun the next day. It’s all perfectly nice, but I think more for six year olds (or grown-ups who first watched it as six year olds). Oscar-nominated against a Will Vinton claymation short and winner Tango. The same producer made a sequel thirty years later, and he and Snowman codirector Jimmy Murakami made a feature based on the same author’s story of nuclear devastation.


Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952, Jack Hannah)

We put on a 2000’s Disney special which was just unbearable, throwing every character from every movie into a room with nonstop dialogue and incident, so we skipped ahead to the classic shorts contained within. This featured Chip & Dale vs. Pluto, with Mickey intervening to protect the chipmunks at the end. A huge improvement over the Santa shorts and the House of Mouse framing story, so we’re happy.


Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983, Burny Mattinson)

Maybe the only version of A Christmas Carol named after the “actor” who plays Bob Cratchit. Mickey Mouse had inexplicably been sitting in Disney’s Vault for thirty years, and Scrooge McDuck, named after the Dickens story, had been a Disney comics feature for decades, when some corporate genius realized they could use the two characters to profit off some public domain literature. Goofy plays Marley, Jiminy Cricket is Christmas Past, the rest are characters from Robin Hood, Mickey & The Beanstalk, and Wind in the Willows (not Great Mouse Detective, which was my guess for the charity collectors below). In 26 minutes it’s all a bit rushed, and no match for the Muppet version. Burny worked on everything from Lady and the Tramp to Big Hero 6. Codirector Richy Rich followed up with The Black Cauldron before forming his own studio to make an animated Book of Mormon.

Ralph goes online and gets distracted by pop-up ads while Vanellope gets so obsessed with a Grand Theft Auto racing universe (led by Gal Gadot) that she decides not to come back. King Candy is dead, so Alan Tudyk returns as Ask Jeeves, while back at the arcade Felix and Calhoun raise a house full of adopted Sugar Rush racers. Maybe it suffered from high expectations because the first movie was great, and this one is just… cute. Corporate synergy both bad (any Fandango references) and good (room full of Disney princesses).

War Machine (2017, David Michôd)

Oh no, Brad Pitt looks sad. I’m guessing all the fun light comedy from the first half turned sour when people started dying in whatever war this is. Then Rolling Stone writes a mean article about their squad, and smartass Topher Grace argues with another guy. Pitt, using a toned-down version of his Basterds accent, says goodbye to his men and flies off to be fired by the President over the article, according to a cheese voiceover, everything moving just as slow as it can. Nice closing-credits Blues Explosion song, tho. Netflix is now making their own prestige pics with major movie stars from the director of The Rover, but I still read reviews instead of just watching whatever they place in front of me, and the reviews said nah. Speaking of which…


Beasts of No Nation (2015, Cary Fukunaga)

UN blue-helmets disarm a large troop of child soldiers to slow doom-music. The rescued kids have trouble adjusting to the peaceful community, are tormented. These prestige pics, nothing really happens in the last ten minutes, it’s all boring epilogue. Time to switch to something more disreputable.


Clinical (2017, Alistair Legrand)

Another “netflix original,” this one a mystery/horror by Michel Legrand’s legrand-nephew. I don’t like to speculate on the first 90 minutes of these movies, but from the screens flying by as I fast-forwarded, it appears that 75% of this movie is conversations inside a house, then in the last quarter there’s some home invasion action. When I hit play, there’s a conversation in a house in the dark. Jane is being tormented by a disfigured, possibly incestuous torturer backstory-expositionist. Our lead kidnapped psychiatrist is Vinessa Shaw (lead prostitute of Eyes Wide Shut), who escapes and beats hell out of her captor (Kevin Rahm of the Lethal Weapon remake) then rips his face off. Between the psychiatry angle and the face removal, it looks like someone has been watching Silence of the Lambs.


Spectral (2016, Nic Mathieu)

Ah good, an action movie with a dingy blue-brown color palette for a change. Guns with thick cables attached making a whiny powering-up sound, it seems we are in sci-fi action territory… ah yup there are spectral aliens in clone-pods. This looks like a Starship Troopers sequel with ghosts. Pretty cool effects – a good guy set off a superbomb that accidentally freed all the spectres, then another guy pulled their power cord leaving them all suspended and slo-mo evaporating. “They’re not alive… they’re not dead.” Science-hating dude who I’m going to assume is Jimmy Dale of World War Z discovers some brain/nerve experiments controlling the spectres and murders them all. Writer George Nolfi directed The Adjustment Bureau and wrote Oceans Twelve.


Doctor Strange (2016, Scott Derrickson)

Everyone in the city is frozen except Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Cumberbatch. BC flies into space, protecting himself from a galaxy-god in a time-loop with a magic shield – speaking of which, how come everyone on the internet is so conflicted about Patty Jenkins directing this week’s superhero movie when they gave this thing to the director of Hellraiser: Inferno? “Pain’s an old friend,” says a frankly unconvincing BC, trying to channel Hellraiser. He tricks the god into sparing Earth, then some underlit Infinity Stone sequel-setup mumbo, and I skipped to the awkward cutscene with Thor.


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: Sword of Destiny (2016, Yuen Woo-Ping)

Hero-style, it looks like a soldier did something great in order to get close enough to slay the king. Outside, all hell breaks loose, Michelle Yeoh and her team versus an army, with some really nice wall-stepping, float-jumping, sword-thwacking action. “Now you will join your beloved, Li Mu Bai” – this looks like a killer movie, but this rebels-vs-kingdom stuff seems out of charaacter with the romantic original. Also, like an idiot I changed the language to Chinese then changed it back when I realized the movie was shot in English. Anyway Donnie Yen defeats Lord Whoever, and our heroes return to the mountain Zhang Ziyi jumps from in the original.


Hyena Road (2015, Paul Gross)

How can I pass up the Canadian war movie that was the subject of Guy Maddin’s Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton? Looks like some shit is going down, and the Taliban is fighting back hard. Whoa, a soldier got his legs blown off then crawled away. Music and camerawork all seem like the usual mediocrity. Then the lead guy authorizes his men to blow him up in order to take out the bad guys, after some military types shout numbers and codes at each other very emotionally (“three! niner alpha!!”). In the end we see that the Canadians died for a noble cause, that the good guys are good indeed, and war is necessary. I failed to spot Maddin playing a dead body. Writer/director Gross was a lead actor in Slings & Arrows.


Special Correspondents (2016, Ricky Gervais)

Forgot about this until it showed up on a favorite critic’s “worst of the century” list. So it’s a fake-kidnapping-turned-real-kidnapping comedy-turned-drama, with Gervais and that Hulk guy Eric Bana. I think Gervais is on drugs, singlehandedly shoots his way out of Ecuador to Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”. Hey, it’s America Ferrera and Kevin Pollak, then the movie peters out. “This is like the end of a movie.” “A low-budget movie, maybe.” Remake of a French film with Omar Sy, which is hard to picture.


Zootopia (2016, Disney)

We watched the first 15 of this once and it was insufferable so we quit, then it won an oscar. So let’s check out the last 15 – maybe that’s where all the better-than-Kubo stuff is hiding. Good bootleg-Disney-movies joke… then we’re in a meth lab on a train, odd. “Doug is the opposite of friendly… he’s UNfriendly.” Uh oh, the sheep mayor is the bad guy, with a speech about teaming up to defeat the predators, which doesn’t sound so bad really, then she turns our fox hero evil with drugs, sort of, then a final speech about how we have to understand each other and improve the world. I forget that award voters translate “best animated film” into “cutest message-movie for kids”.

Owen is graduating soon, getting his own place, in a relationship, finding employment. He’s also got autism, and didn’t speak for years as a kid until his parents figured out that he’d memorized all the Disney movies they had on video, and learned to speak to him in character with Disney dialogue. So the movie follows Owen now, and through photos and home videos from the past, drawings and cartoons by French effects company Mac Guff, and editing of Disney emotions into real events. Owen and his dad do decent character voices, and someone on letterboxd writes “This is the happiest you’ll ever be to see Gilbert Gottfried.”

Moana’s island is dying because demigod Maui desecrated a statue, and the villagers are strictly forbidden from sailing beyond the island, but Moana’s grandma doesn’t care about these men and their dumb rules, urges Moana to do whatever the hell she wants, then dies. Helped out by ocean magic (which is why the water rises and twists on the poster) and accompanied by an idiot chicken, Moana appeals to Maui to retrieve his magic-wand fishhook from a greedy Jemaine-voiced crab and help her return a magic stone to the volcanic lava beast, returning harmony to the land. Good songs and beautiful water and fire effects (the characters were okay – I’ll take the chicken over Moana or Maui). Directors Clements & Musker also made lost classic The Great Mouse Detective. Of the Disney animated features I’ve watched most recently, this trounces Big Hero 6 and Frozen and Mulan, but I still prefer Wreck-It Ralph over all. Looks like The Princess and the Frog should be next to watch.

Nobody wanted to pick between the Rohmer and the Pasolini, so I brought out the dark-horse Disney flick as a sorry compromise. I heard it might actually be great, but it was… okay. Had to get used to the digital animals looking so cartoony in motion, though their speech and mouth movements were the most realistic I’ve seen since Whiskers, The Kitten Who Can Name Fruit. Admittedly this was probably better in theaters in 3D, but we watched in HD on our big screen with the volume up, so I feel like if there’s real magic, we would’ve felt it. Anyway it was fun.

Songs worked better in context of the cartoon, and were pried into this version, making it feel like it’s referencing the original – so not only a remake for new audiences, but one that wants you to have watched the original. Between that and the cartoony animals wanting so badly to be real, it’s a conflicted movie – one of Disney’s “live action” remakes without much live action (the kid was okay).

Usually I don’t notice celebrity voice casting so much, but it’s hard to miss Christopher Walken (King Louie) and Bill Murray (Baloo). Katy recognized Idris Elba (evil tiger), Scarlett Johansson (evil snake), and Ben Kingsley (fatherly panther Bagheera). Apologies to Garry Shandling and Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o, I guess, for blending in and not sounding distractingly like stunt celeb casting.

Ignatiy V.:

Its jungle is a complete simulacrum: Everything from the birds to the leaves is artificial, which means that nothing can ever stand out as unreal. The ironic exception is Sethi’s manic Mowgli, mugging on partial sets against blue screen; in a digital world realized by a dream team of effects studios, the one real thing seems fake.

Never before realized that Baloo is a sloth bear.

The Little Matchgirl (2006, Roger Allers), which I saw in theaters. Huh, it was supposed to be part of a third Fantasia feature, hence the music score with no dialogue or effects. Oscar-nominated with The Danish Poet and Pixar’s Lifted. Allers worked on The Prophet, which we missed at filmstreams this year.

Lorenzo (2004, Mike Gabriel), great one, jazzy and dancey. Blue cat in a rich house taunts the street cats outdoors, gets cursed so his puffy tail will have a mind of its own. Gabriel codirected Pocahontas and The Rescuers Down Under. This was oscar-nominated along with Ryan and Guard Dog, and I’m surprised I never saw it until now. Also part of the cancelled Fantasia 3, along with Destino and South African kite-flying short One By One.

John Henry (2000, Mark Henn), strange, unfinished-looking with squigglevision pencil marks visible around the blocky human figures. Katy recognized the voice of narrator Alfre Woodard. Part of Disney’s post-Lion King discovery of non-white people.

How to Hook Up Your Home Theater (2007, Deters & Wermers), cute, fast-paced Goofy short with lots of classic-Disney references. Has a shot-on-film look to it (it wasn’t: made with cintiqs and toon boom). Played in theaters with National Treasure 2 for some reason.

Tick Tock Tale (2010, Dean Wellins), sentimental story of novelty clock in a clock shop (where all the timepieces come to life after hours, natch) who saves the others from a burglary but is destroyed in the process. Will the clockmaker repair the heroic clock or leave it in pieces in the trash? Not telling! Wellins is a writer/animator/composer involved with The Iron Giant and The Princess and the Frog.

Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa (2010, Deters & Wermers), where two elves are on a Mission: Impossible-referencing assignment from Mrs. Claus to retrieve a trinket from Santa’s workshop so she can give him a sentimental Christmas gift. Apparently a spinoff from a half-hour special released with the 3D version of Monsters Inc. Dave Foley played one of the elves – coincidentally since we just rewatched A Bug’s Life.

The Ballad of Nessie (2011, Deters & Wermers), poem about how Nessie the sea monster was displaced from her natural habitat by mini-golf course construction, and cried herself a new lake to live in, surely displacing thousands of mammals in her selfish quest to find a new home. Narrated by Billy Connolly, the only Scotsman known to Hollywood. I liked the tartan-patterned hills.

Then we rewatched Paperman, Feast and Get a Horse, and skipped Frozen Fever and Tangled Ever After.