Category Archives: Childrens

#240 – Dr Chew

(1988, US, 105min) Dir Hank Hogart. Cast Ernest Borgnine, Rudy Shipman, Alison Price.

An ignominious end for the hard-bitten Hank Hogart, whose career spanned the tail end of the silent era to the dark heart of the family friendly eighties, ending here in the bargain basement of kid’s flicks with Dr Chew, a film about a dog who is also, somehow, a doctor. The film is dreck by the way – just in case my brief synopsis gave the impression that it was anything other than a filmic abomination. At this stage of his career Hogart’s declining health became a serious impediment to his continued employment being blind in one eye (following an accident with an exploding steamroller on the set of The Invalidator) and partially sighted in the other on top of losing his speech following a stroke the year before. According to Borgnine, a long-time friend of the director, the production was understandably prolonged and difficult as a result, with Hogart spending the entire production in his director’s chair (having refused a wheelchair on principal), puffing his way through a seemingly endless supply of black Bolivian cigars and scrawling his instructions onto a flip chart with a felt pen where they would be interpreted by Mitzi Feb, his sixth wife, and passed on to the crew. According to Borgnine, “He couldn’t talk but he could still swear” and as a result he was deemed unfit to direct the child actors who were kept no less than ten feet from him at all times. Hogart and Feb divorced the following year and Hobart died the year after that, three days following his marriage to nineteen year old exotic dancer Alison Flippers.

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#207 – Hedge

(1976, GB, 103 min) Dir Adrian Fisher. Cast Kevin Thirs, Emma Russell, Pete Postlethwaite.

As Kes is for kestrel, Hedge is for hedgehog and the director, the working class magic realist Adrian Fisher, wouldn’t deny it. “The producer of my second film, Tony Goldfinch,” he said in a 1986 interview, “Was a man without imagination but in possession of a very fat wallet. The only way to sell him a film was to show him one that had already made money and then say to him ‘That’s what I’m going to make.’ After that he was very hands off.” Naturally Fisher used this freedom to his own ends. Initially Kes is imitated quite faithfully in the broad strokes – brother and sister Michael and Alice are growing up on a council estate in an unnamed Northern town. It’s the summer and their parents, it seems, are fighting all the time. In their back garden one morning they find a pair of wounded hedgehog and bond while nursing them back to health in the shed. Where Fisher detours is when the hedgehogs get better and swap personalities with Michael and Alice. The film then follows the Michael and Alice hedgehogs for a wordless half hour through the back gardens and green patches of the world around before returning home to find that their parents have reunited and all is well with the world. Returning to their natural form the hedgehog snuffle off into the night once more. Fisher, despite being proud of his new film, was concerned about Goldfinch’s response to his liberal interpretation of the Kes style film. “I needn’t have worried,” he revealed, “As the lights came up at the end his cheeks were shining with tears.”

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#167 – Man From D.I.E.T., The

(1982, GB, 47 min) Dir Barry Endwater. Cast Michael Banks, Eleanor Metz, Harvey Bealey.

One of those dire educational films that was put on when the teacher couldn’t muster the energy for a lesson plan, it seems that everyone I’ve talked to about this has seen it – both in the UK and, amazingly, the US. It’s gained a new lease of life recently thanks to the wonders of the internet. Yes, we really did have to watch stuff like this in school. The most novel thing about this is the presence of Michael Banks in the lead – Banks was a perpetual rising star in the late Sixties/early Seventies, mostly in forgettable actioners. He was even, if you believe the man, in consideration for Bond when Connery hung up his PPK. He gets to live out his fantasy here in a way as Bond-alike Hamilton Greens, up against a nefarious plot by devious disseminators of junk food like Glutenous Bap and the E Numbers crew. Cardboard sets, nonsense plot and sledgehammer messages – those were the days, eh? To his credit Banks doesn’t seem to be going for the easy cheque, he’s really going for it here. A quick perusal of his credits on IMDB suggests that this was a rare bit of work for him at the time so fair enough.

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#111 – Christmas Ghost, The

(1995, US, 92 min) Dir Andy Farmer. Cast Christopher Lloyd, Lizzie Phillips, Dan Aykroyd, Eric Idle.

Big budget screen version of the 1960’s short lived animated TV show with Christopher Lloyd as the voice of the Christmas Ghost. It’s December the 24th and young Patty and her father (Phillips and Aykroyd) are moving into their new house, Gotspold Manor. On the first night the Christmas Ghost appears, initially frightening Patty but she gets to know him and vows to solve the mystery of his death before he disappears for another year on Boxing Day. There are the obligatory moments of wacky slapstick but for the most part the tone, bizarrely, is one of melancholy. It seems that mediocre director for hire Farmer was experiencing some personal difficulties at the time of the making of this film which seems to have permeated the entirety of the film from the script to the performances to the music, which is a kind of treacly minor key dirge. Fans of the original show (of which it seems there are a surprising amount) were so vocal in their displeasure at the film that Farmer put an apology in the Hollywood Reporter. Besides all of that the film, seemingly by virtue of it’s title alone, can be seen filling up an hour and a half in the schedules on some channel each Christmas. A mo-cap update is in the pipe for next Christmas with Johnny Depp playing everyone so I guess we have that to look forward to.

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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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#88 – Milo e la Marmotta (Milo and the Marmot)

(1975, It, 83 min) Dir Paolo Andreotti. Cast Toni Forte, Luca Ferrari, Franco Fantasia.

Much like notorious gross-master Lucio Fulci following Don’t Torture a Duckling with a production of White Fang, fellow horror director Andreotti produced this adaptation of the popular Italian children’s book Milo e la Marmotta the same year as his Exorcist rip-off The Night the Devil Came for Sandy. High in the Dolomites is the village of Tyluno where young Milo lives. One day he’s out in the alpine meadows when he happens upon a Marmot who has become caught in a trapper’s snare. Milo frees it and takes it home to nurse back to health. This marmot can talk by the way but nobody seems to react to this revelation with any surprise so one can only presume that talking rodents are just a part of life in the Italian Alps. Once back to full health Milo and the Marmot plot to get revenge on the trapper who had been laying his snares illegally. It doesn’t go typically Andreotti at that point though, there’s no dismemberment or anything, and on the whole Milo e la Marmotta displays a more peace and animal loving side to the man that would be completely unknown to his English-language fans. While I’m a fan of Vendetta di Zombie and Coffin Orbit and all that, it would have been interesting to see more of this Paolo Andreotti. A pleasant film, only let down by an unconvincing mix of real marmot and puppet.

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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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#68 – Octember

(1992, Can, 90 min) Dir Ben Roy. Cast Bobby Rusk, E. Emmett Benn, Alison Shaker.

Young Alex finds himself trapped in the missing month of Octember, a twilight month that slipped between October and November many years ago and was never found again. Octember manifests itself as an empty world – the rest of its residents having gone straight to November – though he’s not the only one there. A host of lost souls are adrift with him in this phantom month, some there so long that they have become unhinged. His initial wanderings around his depopulated neighbourhood after waking in his empty house are eerie in the extreme with whole streets rendered very Marie Celeste, the evidence of people littering yards and kitchens and driveways but nobody is there. The perfect kind of kids movie – by virtue of its small-scale made for TV production it occupies the kinds of spaces familiar to children like the house and the street and so on which is perhaps why it’s left such an impression on those, like myself, who saw it at an impressionable age.

Twitter: @MadeUpFilms