Category Archives: Animation

#170 – Golden Padlock, The

(1931, Ger, 61 min, b/w) Dir Hans Thomas Mann.

Hans Thomas Mann (not to be confused with regular old Thomas Mann, sans Hans) was an early pioneer in German cinema. In the early days he ran a one man operation, producing his own ‘lantern shows’ (rudimentary animation, mostly) with which he would then tour the country to show with his daughter Pini as assistant. In his autobiography, The Picture Man, he revealed that his tours took him up mountains, down valleys and across half of Europe to bring cinema to the country folk who would not have witnessed such a thing otherwise. This golden era for Mann ended, rather inevitably, when the First World War broke out. Like many during those long hard years he lost much, not least his beloved daughter. The interwar period found Mann struggling for work but he found himself a patron in Lupu Speyer, star director of Zwei Brüste (and, more famously, 1927’s megabudget flop Götz von Berlichingen) who had first been introduced to cinema as a boy by Mann’s travelling show. Speyer, having clout in spades at this time, wrangled Mann the budget for his debut film with an actual budget and what would turn out to be his final film – The Golden Padlock. The fairy tale story of a young girl lost in a vast forest primeval and the titular object that keeps shut the door leading to her home in the subterranean land of fairy. It’s totally animated in a style similar to Lotte Reiniger (whose career was taking off about the same time) with the padlock hand painted in a fashion that shimmers off the screen. A soundtrack silent save for the sound of a distant flute only adds to the etherial strangeness. A labour of love obviously made in honour of his lost daughter the process as a whole took almost ten years, during which time Speyer’s career had peaked and nosedived back into obscurity and Mann had emigrated to England where the film was finished. It’s been seen very few times since then but the BFI have a fantastically well preserved copy in their vaults which they wheel out on occasion – if you get the opportunity run, don’t walk, to see it.

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#98 – Grandfather Clock

(1976, US, 73 min) Dir Dean Wold.

An altogether more down to earth follow-up from Dean Wold after his unintentionally trippy Walking on a Moonbeam and intentionally so: “I never approved of the attention I received from the so-called hippy community,” said Wold in his last pre-seclusion interview in 1978, “They couldn’t conceive of the process of producing an animated film or how difficult it would be to make on mind altering substances – of which I have never tried, I hasten to add. The fact that Moonbeam was quite obviously indebted to Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo was completely lost on them too.” In addition to this Moonbeam, despite its popularity, didn’t make Wold a whole lot of money and this seems to have been a conscious attempt at a more mainstream kind of film, as unsuccessful and misguided as that attempt turned out to be. Based on the Danish folk tale ‘The Knowledgeable Birch’, Grandfather Clock finds young Harris and Daisy mourning the death of their Grandfather Pip only to hit on the idea that his spirit has taken residence in the titular timepiece that their parents have just bought. The two children, behind the backs of their parents, start reading the clock stories, leaving food in it and even take it out in their sled – basically behaving as though it were another family member. Of course this can’t go unnoticed from their parents for long… A fantastically evocative soundtrack from renowned flautist Avlar Biskint complements the deliberate pace and earthy, melancholy palette of this sweet and sad little film which broke the heart of a whole generation while on heavy public television rotation in the eighties.

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#97 – Walking on a Moonbeam

(1968, US/Fr, 80 min) Dir Dean Wold.

After a proposed Little Nemo feature fell through Dean Wold had to span the Atlantic for his first feature, the funds for an idiosyncratic non-Disney animation such as this not immediately forthcoming in his home country. Whether this contributed to his decision for the film to be entirely dialogue free is open to debate – the man himself has given contradictory accounts in his rare interviews. Either way the decision works and no doubt contributed, along with the stream of consciousness plotting, to the film being embraced by the counter-culture on its release. Not that this isn’t a children’s film because it most certainly is. A unnamed boy is woken in the night by a beam of moonlight under his bedroom window’s blind. He pulls up the blind to investigate further and sees, to his surprise, a cat outside the window frolicking on the beam as though it were a solid road leading to the moon. He lifts the sash window and tentatively steps out to follow the scampering kitten and ends up travelling all the way to the moon where it appears all manner of creatures live – men made of melting cheese, hot air balloon heads floating through the skies and, in a fit of virtuoso animation, a ball room made of shimmering glass populated by similarly glistening glass dancers. As this description might suggest the influence of Nemo is writ large here. These adventures end with the boy back in his bed, tucked in for his parents to find him in the morning, both of them baffled by the appearance of a new pet cat in his room. A charming and inventively made film that brought the unknown Wold to the world’s attention.

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#96 – Why We Hibernate!

(1963, US, 24 min) Dir Dean Wold

A nice little educational film made by the now famous but then not Dean Wold about the mechanics of a world in which people, along with animals, hibernate during the winter. Young Donny is excited about the upcoming Hibernation Day and goes with his Mom to the supermarket during the Hibernation Sales so that they can stock up for the big meal before sleeping and get Donnie his very first nesting bed. “You’re too big to be hibernating with your parents now Donnie!” says his Mom as she and the salesman fit him out for the bed (which is kind of like if an overstuffed sleeping bag and a dinghy had a child). Back home Dad is getting his and Mom’s nesting beds out of the attic. They all sit down for their last big meal and then Mom sends Donnie to his nest with a snack pack in case he wakes up hungry during the winter. Along the way various facts about hibernation are doled out as Donnie learns all about it – the biological reasons for it (such as they were understood), the different animals that do it and so on. The film ends with the reveal that this is just a day-dream by the real Donnie, sitting in his classroom with the bare trees and snowy ground outside the window. A bit rough around the edges but with enough of that playful, colourful Dean Wold touch.

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#87 – Chat Magique, Le (Magic Cat, The)

(1974, Fr, 62 min) Dir Alexander Illienko. Cast Gaspard Tif, Martine Blanc, Oscar Blanc.

The last film, produced for television, from the tragically ‘lost’ Ukrainian director prior to his death in Paris in 1977, based on what has to be the greatest success of his career – the children’s book Le Chat Magique which he himself wrote and illustrated. As per the book the film takes place in L’Hôtel Vert Bouteille (based on Illienko’s residence in his later years, L’Hôtel Vert Billard) where the young Gaspard lives. Hearing noises from the laundry chute one night Gaspard goes to investigate and finds Miu, a purple magic cat that lives in the hotel unbeknownst to it’s owners. They become friends and the mischievous Miu comes to stay with Gaspard in his room but keeping hidden a magic purple cat that spins through the air and has a rainbow that comes out of it’s head when it’s happy is tricky business and soon enough questions are asked. As per his previous films the result here is a perfect melding of live action for the family and animation for Miu the cat and the performance from Gaspard Tif is as much a revelation as those from the child stars of Baba Yaga and Le Petit Ombré. A fitting end for Illienko’s career with the director achieving three masterpieces with all three of his films.

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#38 – Velvet Paw, The

(1990, US, 81 min) Dir Art Stevens, Ron Clements.  Cast Kathleen Turner, Burt Reynolds, Freddie Jones.

Originally intended for cinema release in 1984, The Velvet Paw was shelved by Disney for unknown reasons and then, following the disappointing box office of The Black Cauldron, it remained on the shelf, not being released until 1990 and then going straight to video. With all of this The Velvet Paw has been perhaps unjustly forgotten – it’s certainly stands up better than some of it’s pre-Disney Renaissance contemporaries. The titular Velvet Paw is a jewel thief in a 1920’s Paris populated by anthropomorphic animals who is being hunted by the inept Detective Copper (a bloodhound of course, voiced by Jones) and is, in reality, sophisticated high society rag doll Lady Fluffington (the appropriately husky Turner, recorded prior to Jessica Rabbit). Into her life comes streetwise con artist Max (Reynolds) to sweep her off her feet. Will she give away her secret to Max? Is he only in it for the money? The time and the place are well evoked (down to a bear Hemingway and a fox Scott Fitzgerald) with a couple of choice ragtime numbers in the place of the usual treacley Disney tunes. Throw in a couple of exciting jewel heists and a moonlit rooftop chase and you have enough to distract from the muddled pacing of the rest of the film.

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#13 – Baba Yaga

(1957, Ukr, 70 min) Dir Alexander Illienko.

Fantastic mix of colourful live action and stop motion. Young Fadar (a live action boy) is left in the woods by his mother and when he wakes in the night is approached by the stop motion Baba Yaga, first seen by him emerging from the dark of the woods and stepping into the moonlight like a raw ingot of silver. It is one of the great introductions in cinema and that it is of a wood carved old woman makes it all the more impressive. The remainder of the film sees the young boy having adventures with the witch Yaga, taking to the sky by pestle and mortar to spread good or ill-will as the fancy takes her. Everything is perfect – the cinematography, the tone of the script, the eerie soundtrack. Illienko seemed from this, his first feature, to be a considerable future talent both in animation and live action but following his defection to the West three years following Baba Yaga’s release he made only two more films before his death in 1977, both produced in straightened circumstances. At least there is this, his incandescent Baba Yaga, to treasure.

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Twitter: @MadeUpFilms