Friday, September 16, 2011

A Note on Lists; and Three 1930's Animated Shorts

I like to keep lists. While the big list I'm keeping at the moment is the movies, TV show episodes, and books that I've seen or read, I also keep lists of ones that I want to see/read in the future. One of these is the Academy Award nominee list.

To be honest, I don't put full blind faith in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to always pick the right winner or to even nominate the top choices. But I also don't think that calling a film "THE BEST" can ever be definitive, and that many times it takes away from the value of the other films in contention. BUT...I think that the list of nominees from each year serves as a decent time capsule of the relatively good movies of the year, and it can serve as a starting point for viewing movies.

So, I use the AMPAS list as a guide (not a Bible) to help me choose which movies that I will eventually need to see. I have other movie lists, too (BAFTA, Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Sundance, and too many to name), and I will even watch movies that aren't on any list.

This segues into the main topic of this post: Three 1930's Animated Shorts. In my quest to watch all Oscar contenders (at this time, I have 3,411 left to see), I turned to one category (Animated Shorts) for one specific ceremony (1931/32) and decided to watch all of the nominees. This happened to be the first year that the Academy had an animated shorts category, so it's a very interesting look at how cartoons used to be. You may be familiar with Flowers and Trees, but the three shorts aren't shown very often. All three are currently playing on YouTube.

dir. Burt Gillett
Walt Disney Productions

To begin with , Flowers and Trees was the first animated short to use the three-strip Technicolor process. Before this point, Technicolor had used a two-color process which involved filming in black and white, but using red and green filters to make color. From what I've seen, the two-color process gave films a very muted and almost pastel look, making them look live they had almost been colored after the fact. As you can see above, the three-color strip process allows a more vibrant use of colors.

Flowers and Trees does make use of these amazing colors, and its innovation was what undoubtedly won it the Oscar in the animated shorts category. If it were in black and white, many of the effects (the fire and use of color to highlight the different characters) would have not gotten through as much.

But, Disney never used innovation as a replacement for good storytelling, and the other qualities of this short are also remarkable. The cartoon is basically about two trees who fall in love and who are almost thwarted by a jealous tree stump that tries to set them on fire. With the help of flowers, the trees prevail in the end.

While watching the short, I couldn't help but think of children's cartoons today. Throughout it, there is constant movement, not only in the foreground, but also in the background. The anthropomorphic characters do very imaginative things that make you forget that this is a cartoon about two trees in love. Thinking about today's cartoons, I'm not sure that that premise would be able to be made, let alone sold to a studio.

dir. Rudolph Ising
Leon Schlesinger Studios

This short was decent enough, but I was not as enamored with it. To be honest, it's probably just the fact that I'm living today and not in 1932, mixed with me watching the other two cartoons. Like I said above, rating films can cause collateral damage to ones that are good, but not rated "best." This one was still of high quality, and (again) had more in it than one of the flash cartoons on TV today.

It's Got Me Again!'s premise is pretty simple: mice want to play, cat wants to eat mice, mice get revenge, hilarity ensues. The amount of imagination is again very different from what kids see today. With all three of these shorts, I would highly recommend them if you have kids and want them to start watching something better than SpongeBob.

dir. Burt Gillett
Walt Disney Productions

This final short is a holiday must-see. In it, Mickey and Minnie are decorating the tree and a sack of orphan kittens is left on the doorstep. In order to keep the holiday spirit alive in these orphans, Mickey dresses up as Santa (with Pluto as a reindeer), and the kittens proceed to wreck havoc on Mickey & Minnie's house.

Overall, this is a solid cartoon. One thing I noticed was the similarity between the kittens running around in this short and the mice running around in It's Got Me Again. I don't think that the latter was copying Disney, but I do think that it's indicative of the style of animation of the day: having many of the same-looking characters run around in one scene. As with the other two cartoons, I highly recommend this one for children who are inundated with today's media.

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