Best Animated Short - Winners and My Choices
61 7.3 7.71. Flowers and Trees (1932)
WINNER: Flowers and Trees
Mickey's Orphans -
It's Got Me Again!
MY CHOICE: 'Flowers and Trees'.
'Flowers and Trees' is definitely the best choice here, a lush pioneer of the three-strip Technicolor process. The other Disney nomination, 'Mickey's Orphans', is a really lackluster effort. Warner Bros. 'It's Got Me Again' is an enjoyable, atmospheric effort but nowhere near the standard of Disney at this early stage.
102 7.3 7.62. Three Little Pigs (1933)
WINNER: Three Little Pigs
Building a Building
The Merry Old Soul
MY CHOICE: 'Three Little Pigs'.
Definitely. A groundbreaking short of enormous popularity. It struck such a chord with Depression era audiences that ran it for months after its debut, sometime giving it top billing over the feature it accompanied. It also gave us the song 'Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf', which immediately became a little piece of film history.
Disney's other nomination this year, 'Building a Building' is a great cartoon too. It stars Mickey Mouse as a construction worker on a building site, fighting against his boss Pegleg Pete. Wonderfully entertaining though it is, however, it does not come close to 'Three Little Pigs'. Walter Lantz's 'The Merry Old Soul' does not come anywhere close to providing any competition. It's a weird combination of an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit vehicle, a Mother Goose cartoon, a celebrity caricatures cartoon and an extended dream sequence.
62 7.1 7.43. The Tortoise and the Hare (1935)
WINNER: The Tortoise and the Hare
Jolly Little Elves
MY CHOICE: 'The Tortoise and the Hare'.
I'm actually not that fond of 'The Tortoise and the Hare' though. I always thought it looked oddly ugly for a Disney film. But I prefer it to Walter Lantz's cutesy 'Jolly Little Elves', a fairly standard retelling of the Shoemaker and the Elves story. I've yet to see 'Holiday Land'.
39 7.4 7.24. Three Orphan Kittens (1935)
WINNER: Three Orphan Kittens
The Calico Dragon
Who Killed Cock Robin?
MY CHOICE: 'Who Killed Cock Robin?'.
The Disney film that won, Silly Symphony 'Three Orphan Kittens', is typically attractive in terms of artwork but is virtually plotless, simply spending seven minutes prodding us to go "Awww" at the overly cutesy antics of the kittens.
Disney's other nomination that year, the brilliant 'Who Killed Cock Robin?', is a surprisingly subversive satire on the legal system with a far more anarchic approach than the average Silly Symphony. It also features a brilliant Mae West caricature whose suggestive dialogue makes the whole thing even edgier. That year's other nominee, MGM's colourful 'Calico Dragon', does not begin to compare.
26 5.8 75. The Country Cousin (1936)
WINNER: The Country Cousin
Old Mill Pond
Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor
MY CHOICE: 'Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor'.
This was the first year when all three nominations were really strong pieces of work. The winner, Disney's 'Country Cousin', a retelling of Aesop's Fable 'The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse', is actually my least favourite of the three.
MGM's 'Old Mill Pond' is a great tribute to the African American performers of the day, with frogs and fish standing in for the likes of Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Some of the caricatures would be unacceptable by today's standards but this is quite clearly a tribute to these performers rather than any kind of attack. It is a lush and lively cartoon, filled with great, toe-tapping music.
By far the best of the bunch, however, is Fleischer Studios' 'Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor'. The first of three full colour Popeye specials, which ran at three times the length of an average cartoon and received top billing in several cinemas, 'Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor' is exceptional stuff, with its vivid use of colour and its 3D background, not to mention its excellent story and Fleischer's usual attention to detail.
70 7.6 86. The Old Mill (1937)
WINNER: The Old Mill
The Little Match Girl
MY CHOICE: 'The Old Mill'.
There really was no contest this year. Disney's 'The Old Mill' is a masterpiece of atmospheric animation, the studio at its very best and a sign of the genius that was to come.
Fleischer Studio's 'Educated Fish', a cautionary tale about not listening to your teacher, is an average effort (although it does feature a fantastic joke featuring a sneezing swordfish) while Screen Gems 'The Little Match Girl' is a remarkably grim take on the Hans Christian Andersen story but ultimately proves a little too doe-eyed and drawn out for its own good.
40 7.2 7.37. Ferdinand the Bull (1938)
WINNER: Ferdinand the Bull
Brave Little Tailor
Mother Goose Goes Hollywood
Hunky and Spunky
MY CHOICE: 'Brave Little Tailor'.
What an amazing year for Disney, with four nominations. Fleischers Studios rubbish 'Hunky and Spunky' really didn't stand a chance, although it spawned a short series of cartoons also starring the dismal donkeys.
Of the four Disney nominees, only the so-so Donald Duck cartoon 'Good Scouts' is less than brilliant. The winner, 'Ferdinand the Bull' is a gorgeous, leisurely paced fable with a message of peace and the tremendous artwork that the previous year's 'Old Mill' had promised.
As both a huge fan of animation and classic Hollywood films, 'Mother Goose Goes Hollywood' is a real treat. A wonderful celebrity caricatures cartoon which recasts the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn as Nursery Rhyme characters. There are many of these Hollywood caricature cartoons out there but few have the same infectious energy as 'Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, which whips quickly through its various segments, building to a wild climax.
But the best choice for this year was 'Brave Little Tailor', a classic Mickey Mouse cartoon based on the Grimm Fairy Tale, in which Mickey is pitted against a giant. The set up, in which Mickey's achievement of killing seven flies with one blow is completely misinterpreted by the desperate townsfolk, is superb and the battle with the giant is inspired. This is Disney at its best, concisely packing lots of plot into seven minutes without sacrificing any of the studios trademark touches.
54 7.9 7.98. The Ugly Duckling (1939)
WINNER: The Ugly Duckling
Other nominees: Detouring America
Peace on Earth
MY CHOICE: 'Peace on Earth'.
After playing a blinder at the previous years Oscars, Disney were again nominated for two quite good shorts. 'The Ugly Duckling', a solid Silly Symphony, won the award. 'The Pointer' was also a good Mickey Mouse and Pluto cartoon, one of the first to feature the redesigned Mickey. But neither film had anything to really mark them out as exceptional. Neither did Warner Bros'largely unfunny blackout gag short 'Detouring America'.
The clear choice this year should have been MGM's 'Peace on Earth', a stark anti-war film that sneaks the story of the destruction of the entire human race into what initially seems to be a cutesy Christmas cartoon. It gets a bit preachy when they can't resist bringing in the Bible but, apart from that, 'Peace on Earth' is a very powerful piece of work and tends to remain with any viewer lucky enough to catch it. It's mandatory Christmas viewing for animation fans.
16 6.4 6.79. The Milky Way (1940)
WINNER: The Milky Way
Other nominees: Puss Gets the Boot
A Wild Hare
MY CHOICE: 'A Wild Hare'.
After winning all of the first eight Oscars for Animated Short, the ninth year finally saw Disney falling short with not even a nomination. Instead, the Oscar went to the most Disney-esque short, MGM's 'The Milky Way'. Although it's occasionally annoying cutesy, 'The Milky Way' has some ingenious sequences of kittens gorging themselves on a planet with abundant milk supplies and is gorgeously drawn. It was nice to see MGM get the award after the very deserving 'Peace on Earth' lost out the previous year.
That said, 'The Milky Way' also beat out two monumentally important moments in cartoon history. 'Puss Gets the Boot' and 'A Wild Hare', the cartoon debuts of Tom & Jerry and Bugs Bunny respectively. Either one would have been a better choice than 'The Milky Way' but my personal choice would certainly be 'A Wild Hare'. While 'Puss Gets the Boot' is a very good cartoon full of promise for the subsequent Tom and Jerry series, 'A Wild Hare' remains the quintessential Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd cartoon. Famous catchphrases and well-loved routines get their first airings, Bugs and Elmer are both edging close to their final designs and director Tex Avery keeps things moving at a phenomenal pace. While Tom & Jerry went on to become deserving Oscar darlings for several years, all for superior cartoons to 'Puss Gets the Boot', Bugs only ever won one Oscar for the far weaker 'Knighty Knight Bugs'. 'A Wild Hare' is one of the most important cartoons in history and it should have got the Oscar to prove it. Instead it went to some gluttonous kittens.
29 6.9 710. Lend a Paw (1941)
WINNER: Lend a Paw
Other nominees: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B
Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt
How War Came
The Night Before Christmas
Rhapsody in Rivets
The Rookie Bear
Rhythm in the Ranks
Truant Officer Donald
MY CHOICE: 'Superman'.
Lots of nominees this year and lots of great quality too. After a one year break, Disney were back on the winners podium with the Mickey and Pluto cartoon 'Lend a Paw', a good little anti-animal-cruelty cartoon. Pluto looks amazing in this one, going through a range of beautifully rendered emotions as he fights against his inner demons when he becomes jealous of a kitten he has rescued from drowning.
Good though it is, 'Lend a Paw' had stiff competition and there were several more deserving nominees. Disney's other nomination, 'Truant Officer Donald', was a great improvement on the previous Donald Duck nomination 'Good Scouts' and I like it a little better than 'Lend a Paw.
War cartoons were coming into vogue at this time, for obvious reasons. I have yet to see two of the military themed nominees, 'How War Came' and 'Rhythm in the Ranks'. MGM's 'The Rookie Bear' is a typically silly entry in the Barney Bear series and is not especially interesting. Much better is Walter Lantz's 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B'. While it exclusively stars black stereotypes, it is a relatively respectful film and has an infectious energy. It uses its hit title song brilliantly.
Warner Bros' 'Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt' is a fairly dull Bugs Bunny cartoon but the other Warner's nominee, 'Rhapsody in Rivets', is a major contender for my favourite nominee of 1941, a brilliantly clever musical cartoon in which the construction of a building is set to the ubiquitous 'Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2' by Liszt. Also excellent is MGM's 'Night Before Christmas', a Christmas themed Tom and Jerry cartoon which is visually beautiful but which suffers from a little seasonal sentamentality at the finale.
But my vote for the year's best animated short goes to 'Superman', the first in a series of Superman cartoons by Fleischer Studios. Cramming a concise sci-fi action adventure into a ten minute time frame, 'Superman' is a hugely important precursor to any number of Saturday morning cartoon series that we all grew up loving. Massively influential, 'Superman' is also still extremely impressive and entertaining. Not to mention the fact it introduced both the "Faster than a speeding bullet..." and "It's a bird... It's a plane" introductions into the culture.
135 7.3 7.711. Der Fuehrer's Face (1942)
WINNER: Der Fuehrer's Face
Other nominees: All Out for 'V'
Pigs in a Polka
Tulips Shall Grow
MY CHOICE: 'Der Fuehrer's Face'.
This years nominations were all either war themed or musical. The latter was taken care of by Walter Lantz's lacklustre 'Jukebox Jamboree', in which a sleepy mouse eventually gives in and joins a bunch of late night revellers, and 'Pigs in a Polka', a brilliant Warner Bros. parody of both 'Three Little Pigs' and 'Fantasia', in which the three pigs' story is set beautifully to Brahms' 'Hungarian Dances'.
'Pigs in a Polka' wasn't the only 'Three Little Pigs' parody of 1942. MGM's 'Blitz Wolf' retold the tale with a wartime twist. A hilarious, irreverent cartoon, 'Blitz Wolf' was the first cartoon Tex Avery directed for MGM. He went on to direct one of the funniest runs of cartoons ever for the studio, many of which deserved and were overlooked for Oscars (much like most of Warner Bros. best output). 'Blitz Wolf' suffers a bit by retrospective comparison but is still a fine MGM debut for Avery.
The other war-themed nominees were Terrytoons 'All Out for 'V'', which I've not seen (although the Terrytoons name does not fill me with confidence) but is apparently about woodland animals joining the war effort, and George Pal's Puppetoon 'Tulips Shall Grow', a fairly inventive anti-war piece about a Dutch couple terrorised by an army of robots.
But it was Disney who put out the finest war-themed cartoon of the year, something that the Academy recognised. 'Der Fuehrer's Face' casts Donald Duck as a Nazi(!), albeit a reluctant one, bullied by his Hitler worshipping superiors into constantly manning a production line churning out gun-shells. Oliver Wallace's raspberry-blowing theme tune plays a major part in the short, uniting the two styles of cartoon that made up all the nominees and clearly marking this remarkable short out as the best of the year.
20 7.1 7.612. The Yankee Doodle Mouse (1943)
WINNER: The Yankee Doodle Mouse
Other nominees: The Dizzy Acrobat
Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins
Reason and Emotion
MY CHOICE: 'The Yankee Doodle Mouse'.
I have only seen 4 of the 6 nominees for 1943. I've yet to see (or even learn anything about) Screen Gems' 'Imagination' or George Pal's Dr, Seuss adaptation 'Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins'.
The cartoons I have seen from this year are a mixed bag. Warner Bros' 'Greetings, Bait' is a lovely little cartoon about a worm (based on largely forgotten comedian Jerry Colonna, who was often imitated by Warner Bros. characters) who willingly helps a man catch fish by luring them under a lidded platter. There's an amazing moment where we get to see a crab's eye view while the crab looks in two different directions with his stalk-eyes. It was probably this wonderful moment (brilliantly directed by the legendary Friz Freleng) that got 'Greetings, Bait' nominated.
The other nominees are rather disappointing. Walter Lantz's 'The Dizzy Acrobat' stars Woody Woodpecker in a circus setting. I always found this character annoying and have never been fond of circus set cartoons so this was never going to be a favourite and I can't for the life of me work out why this insipid effort was considered.
Disney's offering this year had an interesting concept but loses something in execution. 'Reason and Emotion' looks inside the heads of various characters at the personified Reason and Emotion that controls their thought processes. Although it looks very promising to begin with, the cartoon quickly loses its way with a sexist look inside a woman's head (apparently women's main concerns are whether to eat lots of decadent desserts or retain their waistlines!) and then an awkward segue into a patriotic ending as we look inside Hitler's head and see his reason completely overwhelmed by emotion. It doesn't work at all
Luckily, there were a couple of fast rising stars to ensure that this lacklustre year had a strong winner. MGM's 'The Yankee Doodle Mouse' was the third Tom & Jerry cartoon to be nominated for the Oscar and the first to win. The first of many, as the cat and mouse duo would dominate the awards for the next decade. 'The Yankee Doodle Mouse' is another war themed cartoon in which Tom and Jerry stage their own microcosm of war in a basement. It's beautifully conceived and executed and was a clear sign of how quickly the hugely popular series was developing in quality. Six further Oscar wins would confirm this.
21 7.2 7.813. Mouse Trouble (1944)
WINNER: Mouse Trouble
Other nominees: And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street
Dog, Cat and Canary
How to Play Football
My Boy Johnny
MY CHOICE: 'Mouse Trouble'.
Again, there are a few nominees from this yeat I haven't seen: another George Pal Dr. Seuss adaptation, 'And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street', Terrytoons' war-themed 'My Boy, Johnny' and Screen Gems unimaginatively title 'Dog, Cat and Canary'.
Of the nominees I have seen, it's another mixed bag. Disney were back on form with the amusing spot-gag cartoon 'How to Play Football', one of several How-To shorts Disney made starring Goofy (or hundreds of Goofys). It never quite reaches the level of greatness that warrants and Oscar but compared to the other nominees its amazing. I'm thinking mainly of Walter Lantz's dismal 'Fish Fry'. Starring the characterless Andy Panda (who gets less screen time than his supposed supporting cast), 'Fish Fry' is an ugly, boring battle between a hungry cat and a goldfish. I'm completely at a loss as to why this short was nominated.
With Disney back on form, it was Warner Bros. turn to drop the ball with 'The Swooner Crooner'. A lot of people consider this one a classic but I've never understood why. Turning the likes of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby into chicken caricatures, 'The Swooner Crooner' is based around grotesque egg-laying gags which have always turned me off (particularly the final one, where Porky Pig finds himself sexually stimulated enough to lay a whole pile of eggs! Really!).
In a pretty stinky year for nominations, the winner is actually one of the greatest cartoons ever to win the Oscar. 'Mouse Trouble' is my favourite one the many, many masterful Tom & Jerry cartoons. It has an incredibly simple premise in which Tom buys a book to get advice on how to catch Jerry. The results, however, are stunningly funny and unbelievably violent. To me, this is the quintessential Tom & Jerry cartoon and I'm sure that, even in a good year for nominations, 'Mouse Trouble' would still have been my pick.
24 6.5 7.614. Quiet Please! (1945)
WINNER: Quiet Please!
Other nominees: Donald's Crime
Jasper and the Beanstalk
Life with Feathers
Mighty Mouse in Gypsy Life
The Poet and the Peasant
MY CHOICE: 'Quiet Please!'
Another year, another Screen Gems and George Pal Puppetoon I haven't seen ('Rippling Romance' and 'Jasper and the Beanstalk' respectively).
Again, this year's films that I have seen are a mixed bag. Terrytoons' 'Mighty Mouse in Gypsy Life' is a typically dull, shoddy piece from the lacklustre studio. It's perfectly watchable but there are many lapses into ugly design and awkward animation and the attempt to lift the quality with a musical theme fails miserably. The presence of a musical theme also seems to be the only reason Walter Lantz's 'The Poet and the Peasant' was nominated. An Andy Panda cartoon which casts him as the conductor of a barnyard orchestra, the short seems to aspire to match Disney's classic 'The Band Concert' but suffers from average gags and weak characterization.
Warner Bros.' 'Life with Feathers' is an OK cartoon, notable mostly for being the debut appearance of Sylvester (who arrives pretty much fully formed). It subverts the usual cat and bird chase by having the bird be suicidal and actually wanting the cat to eat him, which makes the cat reluctant to do so. Beyond this clever premise, however, 'Life with Feathers' is a fairly standard chase picture with too few laughs.
Again it was Disney and MGM who came up with the best offerings. Disney's 'Donald's Crime' is a great glimpse into the psyche of a guilt-consumed Donald Duck after he robs his nephews' piggy bank. The Film Noir-ish struggle between Donald and his conscience is a wonderful sequence which really makes the cartoon. But it can't quite compete with MGM's Tom & Jerry short 'Quiet Please'. By now, William Hannah and Joseph Babera were so confident in their creations that nearly every Tom & Jerry was a work of art. 'Quiet Please' sees Tom threatened by a sleepy Spike the dog that if he makes one more noise, it's curtains. Jerry, of course, turns this to his advantage. 'Quiet Please' plays on the contrast between silence and very loud noises to maximum comedy effect. It continued the deserved run of Oscar glory for this seemingly unstoppable series.
67 7.5 8.115. The Cat Concerto (1947)
WINNER: The Cat Concerto
Other nominees: Musical Moments from Chopin
John Henry and Inky-Poo
Walky Talky Hawky
MY CHOICE: 'The Cat Concerto'
1946 was the year of the piano cartoon. No less than three of the nominees this year were based around piano concerts. The main two contenders, MGM's 'The Cat Concerto' and Warner Bros.' 'Rhapsody Rabbit' were also virtually identical cartoons. The former saw Tom trying to give a piano performance while Jerry, inside the piano, tried to ruin it. 'Rhapsody Rabbit', meanwhile, featured Bugs Bunny trying to give a piano concert while a mouse, inside the piano, tried to ruin it. The cartoons bore a striking resemblance to each other, right down to shared jokes and the same piece of music used, Liszt's 'Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2' (a cartoon favourite).
Both studios accused the other of plagiarism. But whoever came up with the idea first, 'The Cat Concerto' undoubtedly executes it better. It is a beautiful cartoon, one of the finest Tom & Jerry shorts ever made. By comparison, 'Rhapsody Rabbit' is still good but Tom & Jerry fit into the roles much better than Bugs (in one of his few turns as the loser) and a never before-or-since-seen mouse and 'The Cat Concerto' is a much more lavish, less forced production.
Worthy of special mention is Walter Lantz's 'Musical Moments from Chopin', the third piano-based short of the year. Lantz casts his two biggest stars, Woody Woodpecker and Andy Panda, as pianists in a barnyard concert but rather than focus on the musical performers, Lantz lets his stars provide the soundtrack to a series of balletic vignettes featuring the restless audience. It's a great cartoon and the first Lantz nomination to make a real impact on me.
Warner Bros. second nomination this year went to the excellent 'Walky Talky Hawky', the debut cartoon of Foghorn Leghorn. When Henerey Hawk comes to the farm looking for a chicken to eat, Foggy convinces him that the dog is a chicken, thereby exposing him to the little hawk's persistent kidnapping attempts. It's a funny set-up and makes for a very good cartoon, although a couple of cartoons down the line, director Robert McKimson flipped the premise and had Foggy trying to convince Henerey that he WAS a chicken. That cartoon, 'The Foghorn Leghorn', was a classic and it also christened the character. In comparison, 'Walky Talky Hawky' still holds up well though.
Disney's effort in 1946 didn't quite live up to expectations. 'Squatter's Rights' is the second Chip an' Dale cartoon. It pits them against Mickey Mouse and Pluto, who are trying to start a fire in a stove that just happens to be the chipmunks' home. The result is a pretty standard cartoon, although it does have an alarmingly sadistic climax.
Finally for this year, George Pal's Puppetoon 'John Henry and the Inky-Poo' tells the traditional Black folklore story of a man who took on a machine that threatened to take the jobs of many men. Deeply respectful of black culture (after Pal had spent many years making the less racially sensitive Jasper shorts), 'John Henry and the Inky-Poo' is a powerful work which I've somehow just never found that entertaining.
14 5.6 7.116. Tweetie Pie (1947)
WINNER: Tweetie Pie
Other nominees: Chip an' Dale
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse
Pluto's Blue Note
Tubby the Tuba
MY CHOICE: 'Tubby the Tuba'.
The brilliant Warner Bros. cartoons finally got some recognition with the studios first win for animation. The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series were always my favourite cartoons and remain so to this day. However, most of the greatest ones were never even nominated for Oscars and much below par material was given the nod. 'Tweetie Pie' is historically significant for being the first cartoon to team up Sylvester and Tweety but I also feel it was the moment both characters' careers were tarnished. The series proved so popular that the pair were teamed up time and time again but, unlike the endlessly inventive Tom & Jerry series, these chase films merely repeated the same gags in different settings and quickly got repetitive. I always prefered Sylvester cartoons without Tweety and, before this cartoon, Tweety was an awesome, anarchic and incredibly violent character under the guidance of legendary director Bob Clampett. Under Friz Freleng's direction, Tweety became a doe-eyed, cutesy innocent and stuck that way. 'Tweetie Pie' is a fairly unremarkable cartoon whose formula was, nevertheless, repeated over and over.
MGM's Tom & Jerry nomination for this year didn't deserve the Oscar either. Falling way short of the high standards set, 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse' is a good but lesser entry into the series which takes too long setting up its premise to really capitalise on it. The potentially spectacular scenes that play with the use of shadow seem uncharacteristically rushed.
Disney had two nominations of varying quality this year. 'Chip an' Dale' marked the second time the eponymous chipmunks were Oscar nominated (this short also christened them and moved them closer to their final designs). If anything, it is a step-down from the decent 'Squatter's Rights' of the previous year. This time, Donald Duck is terrorised by the chipmunks when he unwittingly tries to use their home for firewood. The subsequent battle is completely uninspired and the short emerges as totally unmemorable. By contrast, 'Pluto's Blue Note' is a very fine film indeed. A gentle, slow-paced picture, 'Pluto's Blue Note' follows Pluto in his attempts to join in with the singing of various animals and machines, always thwarted by his terrible singing voice.
But my vote for best film of the year goes to George Pal's final Puppetoon, 'Tubby the Tuba'. I've always admired Pal's work more than I have enjoyed it but 'Tubby the Tuba' is the exception. A gorgeous and highly inventive puppet animation in which a tuba wishes he could play a melody instead of just going "Oom-Pah", 'Tubby the Tuba' marked the last time George Pal was nominated for the Animated Short Oscar and it ought to have seen him go out in glory. The character designs and the way Pal brings to life a whole orchestra is phenomonal to witness and the short has a rousing message and atmosphere.
31 7 7.817. The Little Orphan (1948)
WINNER: The Little Orphan
Other nominees: Mickey and the Seal
Tea for Two Hundred
MY CHOICE: 'The Little Orphan'.
After a slight lapse the previous year, Tom & Jerry were back on the winners podium with the wonderful 'The Little Orphan', a luscious battle on a Thanksgiving table which stands head and shoulders above the other nominees that year.
Disney had two rather pedestrian cartoons nominated. 'Mickey and the Seal' is a limp tale of a seal that follows Mickey Mouse home and gets involved in some unfunny bathtub antics. 'Tea for Two Hundred' is a better effort, a Donald Duck cartoon in which Donald's picnic is invaded by ants who easily outwit the Duck. It's decent enough but nothing makes it stand out as worthy of an Oscar nod.
Warner Bros.' effort this year was 'Mouse Wreckers' a good entry into the Hubie and Bertie series. Usually based around a dark subject such as death, mental illness or suicide, the Hubie and Bertie cartoons at their best are some of my favourites of all time. Unfortunately, 'Mouse Wreckers' isn't one of the stronger. It's still an excellent cartoon, in which the two mice convince Claude Cat that he is going crazy, but it doesn't compare to the future likes of 'Cheese Chasers' and 'The Hypo-chondri-cat', neither of which got Oscar recognition.
The other nominee that year was the first for the emerging UPA studio who went on to make some extremely influential and brilliant cartoons with a very stylised appearance which many studios went on to adopt. Also evident right from the early days was the cerebral, witty writing. 'Robin Hoodlum', featuring the already established Fox and Crow characters, trades in slapstick silliness for brilliantly worked out comedy routines based mostly on verbal interchanges. Were it not for the triumphant return of Tom & Jerry, 'Robin Hoodlum would undoubtedly have been my choice for the year.
30 6.5 7.318. For Scent-imental Reasons (1949)
WINNER: For Scentimental Reasons
Other nominees: Hatch Up Your Troubles
MY CHOICE: 'For Scent-imental Reasons'.
All the nominees for this year were of a high quality. MGM's Tom & Jerry short 'Hatch Up Your Troubles', in which Jerry reluctantly adopts a baby woodpecker, is a sweet and funny cartoon which, again, suffers only from not living up to the amazing standard set by the previous Tom & Jerry Oscar winners. If the subsequent 'Heavenly Puss' had been nominated instead, as it should have been, it may well have been my choice for the year.
UPA's Fox and Crow short 'The Magic Fluke' is a most original piece. Not only is the concept (a conductor's baton gets switched with a magic wand) strong but the execution is unusual, in that the Crow character, ditched by the Fox for solo stardom, does not set about sabotaging his new act but rather strives to help him out of devotion. The result is a pleasing cartoon, although Tex Avery pinched the central baton/wand theme a few years later and the result was one of the greatest cartoons of all time, 'Magical Maestro', which retrospectively puts 'The Magic Fluke' in the shade.
Finally, Disney's effort for the year, 'Toy Tinkers', was the third Chip an' Dale cartoon to receive an Oscar nomination. Unlike its insipid predecessors, however, 'Toy Tinkers' is a brilliant short. In it, the chipmunks invade Donald's home at Christmas and a war begins involving ingenious use of many different toys.
But Warner Bros. second Oscar win was well deserved. 'For Scent-imental Reasons' is perhaps the best of all the Pepe Le Pew cartoons and was the first to use the idea of a cat getting a white stripe painted down her back, which went on to become a staple of the series. Set in and around a perfume store, 'For Scent-imental Reasons' has many of my favourite Pepe moments, including my all time favourite, the oft-cut suicide attempt scene.
33 6.8 7.219. Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950)
WINNER: Gerald McBoing-Boing
Other nominees: Jerry's Cousin
MY CHOICE: 'Gerald McBoing-Boing'
Only three nominations this year and two of them were UPA shorts. The third, the obligatory Tom & Jerry cartoon, is the weakest nominee for the duo. 'Jerry's Cousin' just doesn't have the story or anything impressive to mark it out as worthy, particularly in a series that had set the bar so high.
'Trouble Indemnity' was the first of several Oscar nods for Mr. Magoo, the near-sighted old codger whose terrible eyesight got him into many deadly situations to which he was invariably oblivious. Although you couldn't get away with this sort of humour now, the Magoo shorts are lovingly made and do not come across as mean spirited. This very early entry into the series is a great one, in which Magoo takes out a life insurance policy and then wanders onto a building site. It continues to confirm the dry wit of the UPA cartoons and features one of the best happening-in-the-background jokes I've seen in any medium.
But the obvious choice for this year was 'Gerald McBoing-Boing', a classic cartoon based on a Dr. Seuss story and told in verse. The title character is a little boy who speaks in noises instead of word. With its blank beige backdrops and storybook-style character designs, 'Gerald McBoing-Boing' saw UPA proudly flaunting their purposefully reductive approach and it proves that, far from diminishing effect, the UPA house style can work wonders. Just watch the atmospheric scene where Gerald tries to board a train.
26 7.1 7.620. The Two Mouseketeers (1951)
WINNER: The Two Mouseketeers
Other nominees: Lambert the Sheepish Lion
Rooty Toot Toot
MY CHOICE: 'Lambert the Sheepish Lion'.
Wow, what a year! Just three nominations again but all of them classics of the medium. For the first time, I disagree with the choice of Tom & Jerry as the winner. 'The Two Mouseketeers' is, undoubtedly, a classic and a film I have loved since I was a child. However, it also plays a little bit like a rerun of 'The Little Orphan', again pitting Jerry and Tuffy against Tom on a luscious banquet table. There's more than enough original touches to make it a classic in its own right but it loses points for originality while no-one could accuse the other two nominees of this year of retreading any ground.
UPA's 'Rooty Toot Toot' was their most stylised cartoon yet, with crude character designs set against dull coloured backgrounds and it all works beautifully. Based on the ballad 'Frankie and Johnny', 'Rooty Toot Toot' is a courtroom drama in verse. The script is good but the animation is the clincher, filling the scenario with a unique energy that could only come from UPA.
My choice for best short of this year couldn't be further removed from 'Rooty Toot Toot'. Disney's 'Lambert the Sheepish Lion' is a typically lush production and plays like a little movie. Disney's more recent nominess had largely been fairly dull affairs and the studio was conspicuous by its absence in 1950, only the second time this had happened since the Academy Awards inception. 'Lambert the Sheepish Lion' is a glorious return to form. The story of a lion cub accidentally delivered to a sheep, it features everything Disney has come to be known for. Sweetness, warmth, great storytelling, a few big laughs and an infectious theme tune.
14 7.1 7.621. Johann Mouse (1952)
WINNER: Johann Mouse
Other nominees: Little Johnny Jet
Pink and Blue Blues
The Romance of Transportation in Canada
MY CHOICE: 'Johann Mouse'.
As far as I'm concerned, there's no arguing with the Tom & Jerry win for this year. Although some Tom & Jerry fans dislike it for its slower pacing and different approach, 'Johann Mouse' is an absolutely wonderful cartoon. Transplanting the duo to Vienna, the cartoon is based on the music of Johann Strauss and is told in a storybook style, complete with a narrator. It trades in the usual wham-bam slapstick antics for a slow, considered musical story which is pitch perfect. The scene in which Tom learns to play the piano is a classic belly laugh.
By this stage, the influence of UPA's style on other studios was clear. 'Johann Mouse' displays a debt to the studio in its stylised approach and The National Film Board of Canada's 'The Romance of Transportation in Canada' is blatantly influenced by UPA. Unfortunately, the wit and pacing of the UPA classics fails to seep through and 'The Romance of Transportation...' is a bit of a slog, it's tongue in cheek history of transportation in Canada seeming to drag on longer than its ten minutes. The National Film Board of Canada would go on to produce many, many wonderful shorts and would often be Oscar nominated in future. This first nominee, however, does not betray that promise.
UPA itself had two nominations this year but neither were up to scratch. 'Pink and Blue Blues' is a fairly standard Mr. Magoo episode in which Magoo has to look after a baby and accidentally foils a burglar, while 'Madeline' is an adaptation of the children's book by Ludwig Bemelmans which, despite some imaginative animation, just cannot overcome the weakness of its twee storyline.
Finally, Tex Avery got his second MGM nomination for 'Little Johnny Jet'. After churning out tons of amazingly funny, brillantly animated cartoons that were all overlooked, the Academy somehow thought this, one of Avery's lesser pictures, was worthy of consideration. 'Little Johnny Jet' is essentially a remake of the Avery's own 'One Cab's Family', which itself was a rip-off of Warner Bros.' 'Streamlined Greta Green'. It's an OK short but, like the other nominees this year, it offers no competition for the brilliant 'Johann Mouse'.
23 6.3 7.322. Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom (1953)
WINNER: Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom
Other nominees: Christopher Crumpet
From A to Z-Z-Z-Z
The Tell-Tale Heart
MY CHOICE: 'The Tell-Tale Heart'.
This was an astonishing year for the animated short. For the first time in a year with five nominations, any one of these cartoons would have been a deserving winner. Disney's 'Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom' emerged the actual victor, an extended, educational film about music. By this time, the UPA style had even influenced Disney and it is prominently used in this short, in which an owl teaches a classroom full of young birds about the history of music.
While 'Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom' is a great piece of work, it is probably my least favourite of the year's nominees. Though it is not as ambitious, Disney's other offering, 'Rugged Bear', is an absolutely hilarious cartoon. One of a handful of shorts that starred Humphrey the Bear (with the top-billed Donald Duck in a supporting role), 'Rugged Bear' finds Humphrey surviving hunting season by posing as Donald's bearskin rug, a ruse that proves as dangerous as braving the guns!
Warner Bros.' 'From A to Z-Z-Z-Z' is an absolute delight. It stars the short lived character Ralph Phillips, a schoolboy who spends his days daydreaming. Director Chuck Jones packs a huge number of wildly inventive daydream scenarios into just seven minutes. 'From A to Z-Z-Z-Z' is positively bulging with creativity.
UPA had two nominations this year. The first, 'Christopher Crumpet', is a typically original tale of a young boy who drives his parents to distraction by turning into a chicken every time he fails to get his own way. The story is narrated by a cartoonist, whose sketches on the blank white background of his paper make up the body of the cartoon. Again, it's a triumph of imagination over financial considerations. But UPA's other nominee for the year is an even more remarkable example of this. An adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's classic short story, 'The Tell-Tale Heart' was the first X-rated cartoon. It captures the subtly horrific atmosphere of Poe's narrative with a characteristically dramatic narration from James Mason but it is the innovative, minimal animation that really makes 'The Tell-Tale Heart' an unforgettable classic and my choice for 1953.
7 6.3 6.723. When Magoo Flew (1954)
WINNER: When Magoo Flew
Other nominees: Crazy Mixed-Up Pup
Pigs is Pigs
Touche, Pussy Cat
MY CHOICE: 'Crazy Mixed-Up Pup'.
This year's nominations were not a patch on the previous year. Warner Bros.' 'Sandy Claws' is a very run-of-the-mill Sylvester and Tweety cartoon set on the beach. MGM's 'Touche, Pussy Cat' (the last Oscar nomination for Tom & Jerry) is a lesser retread of 'The Two Mouseketeers', in which Tuffy's role has been significantly extended. The funny bits of French dialogue he spoke in the original cartoon is overused here, making it overly-cute and annoying.
Disney's highly unusual 'Pigs is Pigs' is another UPA influenced oddity in which an Irish station master gets lumbered with a pair of guinea pigs that won't stop breeding. It has a pleasing satirical edge but is a bit overlong and repetitive. It at least shows some imagination, unlike Warner and MGM's efforts.
UPA won their second Oscar for the very funny 'When Magoo Flew' in which Mr. Magoo takes a potentially lethal trip on a plane believing it to be a movie theatre. Like most UPA shorts, it's witty and occasionally laugh out loud funny but UPA were out UPA'd this year by old staple Walter Lantz studios, returning after 8 years without an Oscar nod courtesy of Tex Avery's hysterically funny 'Crazy Mixed-Up Pup'. One of only four short Avery made for Lantz, 'Crazy Mixed-Up Pup' is not much to look at but the plot, in which a botched blood transfusion causes a man to take on the characteristics of a dog and vice versa, is hilarious and handled with Avery's famous flair for timing. The talking dog is worth the price of admission alone!
24 6.1 7.424. Speedy Gonzales (1955)
WINNER: Speedy Gonzales
Other nominees: Good Will to Men
The Legend of Rockabye Point
MY CHOICE: 'The Legend of Rockabye Point'.
This is one year where I have absolutely no doubt about my choice. The winning short, Warner Bros.' 'Speedy Gonzales', is an insipid little effort and also the second cartoon in a long-running series starring one of my least favourite cartoon stars of all time. Speedy would be the last of the Warner Bros. megastars and also the least deserving. Being fast and having a Meixcan accent does not a character make. This short, in which he was pitted against Sylvester (who became his first regular adversary. He would later been paired with Daffy Duck for some of the worst shorts the studio ever made), sets up the series as just another excuse to rehash boring old gags again and again.
MGM's 'Good Will to Men' is an inferior remake of their classic Oscar nominee 'Peace on Earth'. While the original cartoon was a classic, 'Good Will to Men' is just exactly the same thing done worse. Why it was also Oscar nominated is a mystery.
Disney's 'No Hunting' is an interesting Donald Duck short which gets back to a more traditional Disney look and has a pleasing atmosphere, even if a lot of the jokes fall curiously flat. So with such little competition, Tex Avery's 'The Legend of Rockabye Point' was obviously going to be my winner. Another of the cartoons Avery directed for Walter Lantz, 'The Legend of Rockabye Point' shows his skill with a running gag, as a polar bear tries to steal fish from a sleeping guard dog, forced to sing him back to sleep each time he wakes up. It's billed as a Chilly Willy cartoon but the little penguin plays second fiddle to the bear and dog. The strangely sad ending is also a bit special.
6 5.5 625. Magoo's Puddle Jumper (1956)
WINNER: Mister Magoo's Puddle Jumper
Other nominees: Gerald McBoing-Boing on Planet Moo
MY CHOICE: 'Mister Magoo's Puddle Jumper'.
What a disappointing year! With only three nominations and all of them for UPA, the variety of different styles and studios in competition was totally missing. Worse still, none of the nominations went to particularly deserving shorts. While I would agree with 'Mister Magoo's Puddle Jumper' as the winner from this bad bunch, it is still only a good cartoon. It follows Mr. Magoo as he buys a new car and unwittingly drives it into the ocean. There's some good laughs but by now the Magoo formula was getting a bit old.
'Gerald McBoing-Boing on Planet Moo' (the fourth McBoing-Boing short) is a completely unworthy follow up to the classic original. It moves away from the verse style and simply presents a completely unoriginal plot in which Gerald is captured by aliens. It aims for satire but is ultimately just a bit silly and pedestrian.
Finally, 'The Jaywalker' is a slow-paced cartoon with bone-dry wit about a man who has become addicted to jaywalking. A lovely premise is wasted on a repetitive, dull and visually uninspired cartoon.
The triple UPA nomination is even more mystifying when you consider that Chuck Jones's 'One Froggy Evening', one of the great masterpieces of the medium, was eligible for consideration this year. Its exclusion is one of the biggest blunders by the Academy in this category.
24 6.9 7.826. Birds Anonymous (1957)
WINNER: Birds Anonymous
Other nominees: One Droopy Night
Trees and Jamaica Daddy
The Truth About Mother Goose
MY CHOICE: 'The Truth About Mother Goose'.
Warner Bros. 'Bird's Anonymous' was a very deserving winner for this year. A far cry from the tiresome, samey chase films that dominate the Sylvester and Tweety series, 'Birds Anonymous' is a real classic of invention and technique which spoofs the then fairly new institution, Alcoholics Anonymous. Another series of Warner cartoons I dislike, the Speedy Gonzales films, actually turned up a decent short this year too, with 'Tabsco Road', in which Speedy must help two of his drunken pals get home.
Tex Avery directed the hell out of a ton of great Droopy cartoons but it was 'One Droopy Knight', directed by Michael Lah, which won the hound an Oscar nod. It's a decent enough cartoon in which a medieval Droopy fights a nonchalant dragon but, compared to the Avery shorts, its flat and Droopy is a pathetic drip rather than the cool character he was under Tex.
UPA's nomination for this year (and their final nomination) was the first in a short lived series of experimental Ham and Hattie cartoons which featured two seperate cartoons of about 3.5 minutes each on one reel. I have only managed to see on half of this film, the weak musical piece 'Trees', but I can safely say the 'Jamaica Daddy' segment would have to be life-changing to make up for it.
But my choice for this year is the lavish, beautiful 'The Truth About Mother Goose'. After experimenting with a more stripped down style inspired by UPA in recent year, Disney were back to what they did best with this fifteen minute featurette which delves into the history of three nursery rhymes. Particularly impressive is the closing section, which focuses on 'London Bridge is Falling Down'.
22 6.8 7.627. Knighty Knight Bugs (1958)
WINNER: Knighty Knight Bugs
Other nominees: Paul Bunyan
Sidney's Family Tree
MY CHOICE: 'Knighty Knight Bugs'.
I've never known why 'Knighty Knight Bugs' was nominated for an Oscar when so many amazing Bugs Bunny cartoons were ignored by the Academy (including, unbelievably, 'What's Opera, Doc'). But given what it was up against, I can understand why it won. Disney's 'Paul Bunyan' is a bloated, unremarkable featurette which traipses through the legend with an uncharacteristic lack of flair or energy. Terrytoons' 'Sidney's Family Tree', meanwhile, is a reasonably amusing short starring the largely forgotten Sidney the Elephant but it suffers from the sloppy animation and ugly designs that became synonymous with Terrytoons.
With these weak shorts as the competition, I must concur that 'Knighty Knight Bugs' was the best of the three. This was the last of the classic era cinematic, seven minute cartoons to win the Oscar so, regardless of its pedestrian nature, its sort of fitting that it was Bugs Bunny who got to put a full stop on the era.
13 4.8 5.728. Moonbird (1959)
Other nominees: Mexicali Shmoes
MY CHOICE: 'Moonbird'.
The Golden Age of cinema animation was drawing to a close and the 1959 Oscars reflected this. The odd Looney Tune or traditional Disney short would pop up amongst the nominees for the next few years but they quickly began to look distinctly out of place (as is the case with the so-so Speedy Gonzales cartoon for this year, 'Mexacali Shmoes'). While my heart truly belongs to the classic animations of the Golden Age, the shift away from them made the Oscar for Best Animated Short even more interesting. Gone were the days when you could expect cartoons of a certain style and the same studios to be nominated again and again.
The unpredictable, wildly inventive new era of animated shorts was ushered into the public consciousness by the victory of 'Moonbird', husband and wife animation team Faith and John Hubley's record of their two young children's adventure in the back garden. Using a tape recording of their children's conversations, the Hubley's created an atmospheric, stylised animation to go with the soundtrack. It's a giant step away from all the previous winners, even the UPA shorts, and it announced the arrival of the Hubley's as an animation team to be reckoned with.
Disney, meanwhile, were still experimenting and this year came up with a stop-motion animated version of 'Noah's Ark' in which all the characters were made from household objects. It's one of the most atypical things the studio ever made and, while it is inventive, it also becomes quickly tiresome and is not especially inspiring to look at. Ernest Pintoff's 'The Violinist', meanwhile, is an amusing enough little tale of an amateur musician learning to suffer for his art but it has very little to set it apart as worthy of a nomination.
11 7.1 7.429. Munro (1961)
Other nominees: Goliath II
Mouse and Garden
A Place in the Sun
MY CHOICE: 'The High Note'.
The cinematic cartoons were still clinging on but as the 60s began, different styles of short began to claim victory. This years winner was the brilliant 'Munro', the story of a four year old boy who is accidentally drafted into the army. Animator Gene Dietch was just about to begin making his famously terrible series of Tom & Jerry shorts, some of the most hauntingly awful cartoons ever made. This was down to a clash of styles, as the triumphant success 'Munro' confirms.
But 'Munro' just falls short of best film of this year for me. My choice would be Warner Bros.' 'The High Note'. Director and animation god Chuck Jones kept innovating to the last. While most of the Warner Bros. directors were, by this time, sinking into predictable, lower quality work (the other Warner nominee this year, 'Mouse and Garden', is a quite good but unremarkable Friz Freleng Sylvester cartoon), Jones's unit were still turning out really creative, unusual shorts. 'The High Note' follows a group of musical notes as they set up their stave and take their places for a performance of 'The Blue Danube'. But one wayward note has gone off to get drunk. The subsequent attempts to get the inebriated note back in his place features incredible transformations of recognisable musical symbols into various props and characters. It's a wonderful piece of work.
Disney also offered up a great featurette this year, the 15 minute 'Goliath II', the story of a tiny elephant who wins the respect of the herd by fighting a mouse. There's nothing particularly new about it bit 'Goliath II' is a reliably attractive and entertaining short in the gorgeous Disney style. The most interesting thing about 'Goliath II', however, is spotting how many past and future productions for the studio it evokes. There's elements of 'The Jungle Book', 'The Sword in the Stone', 'Peter Pan' and 'Dumbo' in it, which speaks of both its influential power but also its reliance on recycling.
The final nominee for this year, 'A Place in the Sun', is a short I have found it almost impossible to track down information on. Even it's IMDB page features only a wrongly placed review of the George Stevens live-action film of the same name. All I've found out is that this short stars two creatures vying for a place in the sun, where there is actually plenty of room for everyone.
19 6 7.130. The Substitute (1961)
WINNER: The Substitute
Other nominees: Aquamania
The Pied Piper of Guadalupe
MY CHOICE: 'The Substitute'.
1961 was something of a last gasp for the cinematic cartoon as four of the five nominees were of that type and all four were below par efforts. Even the two by Chuck Jones (who seemed to almost singlehandedly be keeping imagination alive at Warner Bros.) were not that good. Warner Bros. had three nominations for this year. The two Jones shorts were a run-of-the-mill Road Runner cartoon, 'Beep Prepared', and a more interesting satire on celebrity scandals, 'Nelly's Folly'. The latter featured a singing giraffe who becomes a sensation but loses popularity when she has an affair with a married giraffe. Despite the controversial, unsual subject matter, the short can't quite tackle its subject properly in the alloted seven minutes and falls flat with an easy happy ending.
Speedy Gonzales continued to rack up his inexplicable nominations with Friz Freleng's 'The Pied Piper of Guadalupe', a slightly-better-than-usual Speedy cartoon thanks to the extended appearance of the amusing Slow Poke Rodriguez, who had appeared briefly in the Oscar nominated 'Mexicali Shmoes'. Despite this, it still wasn't worthy of a nomination. Disney's 'Aquamania', meanwhile, was an ill-fated attempt to recapture the success of the old Goofy shorts. Coming 8 years after the last one, 'Aquamania' is an awkward piece and suffers from the thick-lined style that worked so well on 'One Hundred and One Dalmations' but seems ill-suited here.
As with the previous two years, the winner for 1961 was a more unusual piece. 'The Substitute' (aka 'Ersatz' or 'Surogat') is a Yugoslavian film featuring a little triangular man who lives in a world where everything he needs is inflatable, from sunbeds and food to human beings and scenery. It's a very odd but captivatingly absurd cartoon with a strong UPA influence but with added slapstick. It's not one of my absolute favourite shorts but it was the clear choice for best film of this year's bunch and continued to fly the flag for innovation.
11 6.1 6.631. The Hole (1962)
WINNER: The Hole
Other nominees: Icarus Montgolfier Wright
Now Hear This
Self Defense... for Cowards
Symposium on Popular Songs
MY CHOICE: 'A Symposium on Popular Songs'.
By this stage almost all traces of the old style cinematic cartoon were gone. There were still nominations for Warner Bros. and Disney but they were for highly unusual pieces of work. No humdrum Speedy Gonzales or Goofy cartoons this time.
The winner for 1962 was again John and Faith Hubley. Like their previous winner 'Moonbird', 'The Hole' takes the recording of an unscripted conversation as its soundtrack. This time it was an improvised discussion between Dizzy Gillespie and George Mathews in the roles of two construction workers. Their trivial chatter about dancing and washing-up soon turns to the subject of nuclear weapons. 'The Hole' employs the same minimal, transparent-character animation as 'Moonbird'. It was likely its subject matter that won it the award. It's a fine piece of work but perhaps a little overlong. The Hubley's would go on to make better shorts in this style. The Ray Bradbury adaptation 'Icarus Montgolfier Wright', a short about man's quest for flight, also puts much emphasis on the voiceover narration. The images on screen contain very little actual animation and its effect is achieved through camera angles and movements. It's an intriguing work which wears very thin across the course of its 18 minutes.
Warner Bros.' 'Now Hear This' saw Chuck Jones continuing to experiment. Here, he bases an entire cartoon around sound effects, as an old man finds an abandoned ear-trumpet (actually one of the devil's horns) which sends him spiralling into an aural hell. Influenced by UPA, this is a fantastic, visually minimal
short which makes incredible use of the genius sound effects of Treg Brown.
Gene Dietch was back this year with the fantastic 'Self Defense... for Cowards'. Were it not for the Disney nominee, this would undoubtedly have been my winner. A hysterically funny, mock slide-show presentation about various ludicrous ways to defend yourself against bullies, 'Self Defense... for Cowards' has a wonderfully dry voice over narration and Dietch's simple visual style makes the most of every laugh available.
Perhaps rather conservatively then, I have selected the closest thing to a classic-style cartoon as my winner. Disney's 'A Symposium on Popular Songs' is a 20 minute talk by Ludwig Von Drake (a marvellous character) in which he takes us through a series of styles of popular music of the 20th century, all of which he claims to have invented. Ludwig's sections are the parts that resemble classic Disney but they are broken up by stop-motion and cut-out animated music videos for each song he introduces. Unlike previous Disney winner 'Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom', there is no educational element to 'A Symposium on Popular Songs'. Instead, it's simply about having fun with the various song styles and lots of different animation styles. It culminates in a hilarious parody of rock 'n' roll in which Ludwig actually humps his guitar!!!
19 6.8 7.232. The Critic (1963)
WINNER: The Critic
Other nominees: Automania 2000
My Financial Career
MY CHOICE: 'The Critic'.
With experimental, abstract or limited animation now dominating, Ernest Pintoff's 'The Critic' couldn't have come at a better time. Written and performed by Mel Brooks, 'The Critic' is an abstract display of random moving shapes, the sort of arty cartoon that was appearing before many films of the day. However, we also get a voiceover from Brooks as a baffled 71 year old man who cannot make head nor tail of what's happening or why he has to sit through this to get to the main feature. His rantings are hilarious but the true genius of this 4 minute piece is how it manages to please everyone. Fans of the new animation style could laugh at Brooks' satire of those who didn't get it while those who detested the new style could agree whole-heartedly with the old man's complaints. 'The Critic' still works today since most people are familiar with this sort of arty cartoon, which means it hasn't dated and is still funny. In its historical context, however, 'The Critic' is absolute dynamite.
By contrast, Carmen D'Avino's 'Pianissimo' is exactly the sort of abstract piece that would have Brooks' pensioner ranting. A player piano belts out a tune as brightly coloured paint creeps over its keys, body and then begins to daub itself on nearby pieces of art. It's impressive, if slightly overlong but the fact that it was nominated next to 'The Critic' is perfect!
Dušan Vukotic's 'The Game' (aka 'Igra') is an inventive combination of live action and animation in which two children, a boy and a girl, turn an innocent drawing session into all out war when they begin to create pictures whose only purpose is to destroy the other's drawings. It's fun and has a superbly dark ending but it's too padded out with images of the devious poppets mugging for the camera when more focus should be placed on Vukotic's amusingly primitive animations.
'Automania' is an impressive little satire by Hungarian animator John Halas. In probably the most famous short of this year's batch, Halas pictures a future crammed full to overflowing with cars, yet still there is demand for more. This consumerist nightmare is both funny and chilling, particularly its final image.
The strongest challenger to 'The Critic' in my opinion is the National Film Board of Canada's 'My Financial Career' by Gerald Potterton. The simple story of a man who is so intimidated by banks that he manages to make a complete mess out of the simple matter of opening an account, this limited animation piece is carried by its tremendously witty, dry script and neurotic narration. It's a film that tends to divide viewers. I know some people hate it and find it slow and unremarkable but I think it's a great example of a less-is-more approach.
46 7.5 7.733. The Pink Phink (1964)
WINNER: The Pink Phink
Other nominees: Christmas Cracker
How to Avoid Friendship
Nudnik No. 2
MY CHOICE: 'The Pink Phink'
Two of this year's nominees were directed by Gene Deitch and I haven't seen either of them. I'm keener to see 'How to Avoid Friendship' than I am to see 'Nudnik No. 2'. I've seen some of the Nudnik shorts and their OK, pantomime style tales of an unlucky little chap with a trademark sigh. I imagine this one, also known as 'Here's Nudnik', is of much the same quality. 'How to Avoid Friendship', however, is part of the short Self Help series that also spawned 'Self Defense... For Cowards', which I loved.
Having not seen the Deitch cartoons, however, my choice for this year would have to be 'The Pink Phink'. The first Pink Panther cartoon and the one we always wanted to come on on TV, 'The Pink Phink' pits Pink Panther against the Little White Man, who is trying to paint a house blue while the panther wants to paint it pink. His stealthful endeavours to turn everything pink are expertly directed by the old master Friz Freleng.
The other nominee for this year, National Film Board of Canada's 'Christmas Cracker' is one of my least favourite nominees of the decade. Directed by four different people, including the usually great Norman McLaren, 'Christmas Cracker' is divided into three sections: a cut-out animation of children dancing to jingle bells, scenes of a load of toys clattering about and a cartoon of a man trying to decorate his Christmas tree with a real star. Only the final segment has any charm and the whole thing is framed by a jerkily animated real person dressed as a jester who acts as host. It looks like bad children's TV.
30 6.9 7.734. The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mat... (1965)
WINNER: The Dot and the Line
Other nominees: Clay or the Origin of the Species
The Thieving Magpie
MY CHOICE: 'The Dot and the Line'.
Just three nominees this year and my clear favourite is MGM's 'The Dot and the Line' (subtitled 'A Romance in Lower Mathematics'). Directed by the ever reliable Chuck Jones, 'The Dot and the Line' was based on a book by Norton Juster, who wrote the novel that most influenced me as a child, the wonderful 'Phantom Tollbooth' (Jones also made a feature length cartoon based on that book).
If you removed the narration from 'The Dot and the Line' it would look like one of those abstract floating shape cartoons that Mel Brooks spoofed in 'The Critic' a couple of years previously. But, with Juster's storyline wonderfully narrated by Robert Morley, it becomes a deeply human story of love and self discovery. By comparison, Emanuele Luzzati's 'The Thieving Magpie', an adaptation of Rossini's opera of the same name, is interesting but ultimately not really my cup of tea while Eliot Noyes Jr.'s 'Clay or the Origin of the Species' is a rather dull claymation which is ahead of its time in technique but too much of which consists of lumps of clay wriggling around, occasionally forming into recognisable shapes.
7 6 6.535. A Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Double Fea... (1966)
WINNER: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Double Feature
Other nominees: The Drag
The Pink Blueprint
MY CHOICE: 'Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Double Feature'.
The National Film Board of Canada's 'The Drag', a piece about tobacco addiction, is a rather silly, weak and heavy-handed offering. It has flashes of amusement but is no match for the energy of John and Faith Hubley's 'Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Double Feature'. Two very famous Herb Alpert numbers, 'Spanish Flea' and 'Tijuana Taxi' (you might not think you know them but you will!), are set to some very loose, amusing animated sequences. Like Disney's 'Symposium on Popular Songs', it's an early form of music video and it's inventive vitality blows the other two nominees out of the water. The other nominee, Pink Panther cartoon 'The Pink Blueprint', is basically a retread of the Oscar winning 'The Pink Phink' but with construction work replacing painting. It's not as good as the cartoon it imitates.
6 6 6.236. The Box (1967)
WINNER: The Box
Other nominees: Hypothese Beta
What on Earth!
MY CHOICE: 'The Box'.
This year's one I haven't seen is Jean-Charles Meunier's 'Hypothese Beta', a short I know absolutely nothing about. Of the remaining two, I'll agree with the Academy and choose Fred Wolf's 'The Box', although neither of these nominees is a great film. 'The Box', about a small man who enters a bar with a mysterious box under his arm, is a very intriguing first watch but doesn't stand up to subsequent viewings and the ultimate payoff seems clever at first and then less satisfying as you think about it more. The National Film Board of Canada's 'What on Earth!' also has a clever premise in which aliens from Mars assume the human race are actually cars, but it's a very one-joke affair and, despite some colourful animation, can't sustain its 9 minutes. All in all, not a great year for the Animated Short category.
68 7.7 7.837. Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968)
WINNER: Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day
Other nominees: The House That Jack Built
The Magic Pear Tree
MY CHOICE: 'Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day'.
After a few disappointing years, 1968 proved to be a strong year for the animated short. While I have yet to see Charles Swenson's 'The Magic Pear Tree', the other three nominees are very strong pieces of work. I'll give a very honourable third place position to the National Film Board of Canada's 'The House That Jack Built', an amusing fable about being carefuly what you wish for, based on both the titular rhyme and 'Jack and the Beanstalk'. It sometimes feels a bit jumbled and obvious but is, nevertheless, an enjoyable and witty short.
But the wind-based nominees were the ones to watch this year! I'd love to give the award to John and Faith Hubley's wonderful 'Windy Day'. Like their previous winner 'Moonbird', it takes as its soundtrack the tape-recorded conversations of the Hubley's children, this time their daughters, as they play in the garden. 'Windy Day' is the most successful of these style shorts the Hubley's had yet made. The girl's conversation is adorable and never threatens to become boring, the recording is clearer than in 'Moonbird' and the animation is even more attractive and inventive. It's an absolutely disarming short that, if you'll pardon the pun, blew me away.
But, after years of limited animation nominees, it was the return of Disney at its best that deservedly bagged the year's Oscar. 'Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day' is a gorgeous featurette that, these days, is most often seen combined with the other two Winnie the Pooh shorts of the era. '...Blustery Day' is easily the best of the three. A.A. Milne's characters are beautifully brought to life against an ingenious storybook background. The 25 minute running time is packed with event and invention, including a surreal dream sequence that recalls the famous Pink Elephants sequence from 'Dumbo'. With all the other big animation studios of the golden age having run out of steam and/or folded up, Disney proved with 'Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day' why they would continue to be a dominant animation force.
8 6.5 738. It's Tough to Be a Bird (1969)
WINNER: It's Tough to Be a Bird
Other nominees: Of Men and Demons
MY CHOICE: 'Walking'.
After its triumphant return to Oscar glory with the lush 'Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day' the previous year, Disney once again grabbed the Oscar with 'It's Tough to Be a Bird', a 20 minute educational featurette about birds and their contributions to human history and culture. Returning to limited animation, 'It's Tough to Be a Bird' is a fairly bland affair, interspersing its animated sequences with lengthy, dull live action sequences.
Either of the other two nominees would have made a more deserving winner. John and Faith Hubley's 'Of Men and Demons' is a beautifully original piece of animation depicting the battle between a happy farmer and three elemental demons who want to ruin his life, but my choice for 1969 would be legendary cult animator Ryan Larkin's 'Walking'. Unlike the ambitious but unsuccessful Disney nominee, 'Walking' takes the simplest of premises: 5 minutes of people walking. The result is phenomenal. Larkin has really captured the subtle differences in how people walk and created a beautiful montage of human figures sweeping, plodding and striding across the screen to a peaceful musical score. For those who demand a plot, 'Walking' will be a bore but for fans of animation techniques and the beauty of the visual image, 'Walking' is a little masterpiece.
9 6 6.739. Is It Always Right to Be Right? (1970)
WINNER: Is It Always Right to Be Right?
Other nominees: The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam: Part Two
MY CHOICE: 'The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam: Part Two'.
This year I have yet to see Cameron Guess's 'The Shepherd. In my opinion however, the winning short, 'Is It Always Right to Be Right?' is a dreadful animation! In terms of having a strong message, it certainly can't be argued with. But that is ALL there is. I've never had a problem with limited animation and, indeed, am a fan of the medium but 'Is It Always Right to Be Right?' is barely animated at all. It's like a picture book that occasionally twitches. Certainly it is the message that won it its award (and Orson Welles' presence as narrator probably helped its chances) and it's a message I am passionately in support of but, as a man who is also passionate about animation I cannot recommend it.
My choice for this year is 'The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam: Part Two'. Although it is a significantly dated animation, it is also a fascinating time capsule of early 70s animation, being firmly rooted in the 60s underground comics scene and owing more than a little to 'Yellow Submarine'. Mixing patriotism with a keen awareness of the state of the country at the time, 'The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam: Part Two' casts the titular American icon as a sort of ineffectual superhero, aided by his far more heroic American eagle sidekick. Together they must rescue the Statue of Liberty herself from those American villains who would keep her in chains. It's a nifty little piece, making up for its technical shortcomings with a high level of charm which makes it infinitely rewatchable.
9 5.9 5.640. The Crunch Bird (1971)
WINNER: The Crunch Bird
Other nominees: Evolution
The Selfish Giant
MY CHOICE: 'Evolution'.
This year's Oscar went to 'The Crunch Bird', a cartoon that gained legendary status for its dirty punchline (tame by today's standards) but has since become better known for being one of the least deserving Oscar winners in the history of the Animated Short category. Ted Petok slapped together 'The Crunch Bird' over a weekend and it shows. It's a good joke, I must admit, but the execution of it here is certainly not great and the award was surely the result of people responding to the joke itself rather than the animation.
Peter Sander's adaptation of Oscar Wilde's story 'The Selfish Giant' has obviously had a lot of work put into it but is somehow lifeless and I find it a struggle to get through. Nevertheless, it is certainly a more deserving winner than 'The Crunch Bird'. But my vote for this year goes to the National Film Board of Canada's 'Evolution', which condenses the story of evolution into 10 very funny minutes. The character designs are appealingly cartoony and Michale Mills' animation is full of energy.
16 7.6 7.641. A Christmas Carol (1971)
WINNER: A Christmas Carol
Other nominees: Kama Sutra Rides Again
MY CHOICE: 'A Christmas Carol'.
This year is a no-brainer for me. Not only is 'A Christmas Carol' one of my favourite stories of all time but Richard Williams' stunning animated adaptation is my favourite version, even beating out the great Alistair Sim live-action version. Sim, always the definitive Scrooge, reprises his role here in voice-over but he is upstaged (possibly for the only time in his glorious career) by the eye-popping animation style. This is a move away from the limited animation style if ever there was one. A stunning mix of pans and zooms with artwork based on 19th century engraved illustrations, 'A Christmas Carol' is a true masterwork and perhaps my favourite of all the Animated Short Oscar winners.
By comparison the other two shorts are little more than elongated dirty jokes. Bob Godfrey's 'Kama Sutra Rides Again', in which a very boring man gives a lecture on sexual positions, is amusing for about two minutes but severely outstays its welcome, running its joke into the ground in the process. Nedeljko Dragić's 'Tup Tup', meanwhile, is a lively, energetic and surreal tale of a man who will stop at nothing to get some sleep. It has moments of real beauty in its anarchic, hand-drawn sequences of descent into madness but it's also marred by the frequent pointless appearances of naked women, the sort of non-sequitur titilation that was popular in the 70s cartoons but rarely added anything and mostly made them seem cheap. Neither of these shorts come anywhere near the magnificence of this year's winner.
9 5 6.742. Frank Film (1973)
WINNER: Frank Film
Other nominees: The Legend of John Henry
MY CHOICE: 'Frank Film'.
When I first saw Frank Mouris's 'Frank Film' I thought it was an absolute headache of a short but it began to work its magic on the second viewing. This is a film that certainly demands many, many viewings to really take in. A series of cut-out animations of various images Mouris has collected throughout his lifetime, 'Frank Film' has two soundtracks played simultaneously. In one, Mouris relates a simple autobiography while in the other he recites words beginning with 'F'. The story, the words and the pictures all influence each other. It's a really incredible, challenging experience and one that must be seen again and again.
My not-seen-it film this year is Nick Bosustow's 'The Legend of John Henry', the second version of that legend to be Oscar nominated after George Pal's Puppetoon version. The other nominee for this year, Emanuele Luzzati's 'Pulcinella', is another Rossini adaptation, similar to but much better than his 1965 nomination 'The Thieving Magpie'.
15 5.8 6.943. Closed Mondays (1974)
WINNER: Closed Mondays
Other nominees: The Family That Dwelt Apart
Voyage to Next
Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!
MY CHOICE: 'Hunger'.
My least favourite of this year is 'Voyage to Next', an anti-war animation by Faith and John Hubley. The Hubley's are animators I admire but 'Voyage to Next' seems too heavy handed and has a very of-its-time feel. It's not that attractive to look at or interesting to listen to, unlike their gorgeous 'Windy Day' from a few years back.
The rest of the nominees for this year are all strong pieces. Disney's third Winnie the Pooh featurette, 'Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!', is another fine work but it fails to improve on the Oscar-winning '...Blustery Day' and doesn't innovate any further. Besides which, it overuses the character of Tigger, a creation best used sparingly.
The winning short for the year, Will Vinton and Bob Gardiner's 'Closed Mondays' is a pioneering claymation in which a drunken man stumbles around an after-hours art gallery passing brash judgement on the works. The detail of the man's features is incredible and, although it shows its age, there is much to admire but, in terms of story, I've always found it rather hard to pin down. Despite it's beauty, 'Closed Mondays' has always left me curiously unsatisfied.
My two favourite shorts of this year bot hcome from the National Film Board of Canada. Yvon Mallette and Robert Verrall's 'The Family That Dwelt Apart' is a tragi-comic piece about a family who live contentedly outside of society who have their existence disrupted when the good-intentioned but foolish outside world decides to get involved. The cartoony style perfectly offsets the horrific, blackly comic subject matter.
But my choice for this year, perhaps controversially, is the grotesque and difficult to watch 'Hunger'. An early example of a short that uses computer animation, 'Hunger' is a nightmarish examination of one man's descent into gluttony and the ironic fate that results. Many of the images, particularly the ending, are completely indelible and insistently haunting.
5 6 7.744. Great
Other nominees: Kick Me
MY CHOICE: 'Great'.
1975 is my favourite year for the Oscars in general, with a ton of amazing films and performances up for awards. While it's not my favourite year for the Animated Short award, it is a very good one and one of my personal favourites won. Bob Godfrey's 'Great' is an animated biopic of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It not only introduced me to the amazing man, it also introduced me to the animation of Bob Godfrey. 6 great musical numbers set to various different types of animation which builds up into a condensced but informative biography of Brunel, 'Great' is a cracking cartoon that I've loved since the first time I saw it.
The major competition for 'Great' this year was Marcell Jankovics's masterpiece 'Sisyphus'. Quite different from 'Great's 25 minute featurette style, 'Sisyphus' only runs for a few minutes but that's all it needs to achieve its effect. Depicting the Greek myth of Sisyphus, a man condemned to roll a huge stone up a hill for all eternity, Jankovic's animation is sparing but insanely effective. You can see and feel every moment of the struggle as Sisyphus shrinks beneath the weight of the boulder. The remarkable soundtrack is all groand and grunts, depicting the magnitude of the pain Sisyphus is experiencing. The briefest of gaps occurs as the rock is finally taken to the top of the mountain, after which it all starts again. The viewer can really experience Sisyphus's horrific predicament here like never before.
By comparison, Roert Swarthe's playful 'Kick me' is no match but it is an excellent, fun short in which a pair of stick-figure legs kick a ball around which eventually morphs into various objects including hundreds of spiders. It's a lovely little piece that I like very much, unlike the other nominee for this year, the National Film Board of Canada's 'Moinseur Pointu' in which a mime/clown-like character attmepts to play a fiddle. It uses stop motion animation of a real person, recalling the hideous Jester sequences from the rubbish previous Oscar nominee 'Christmas Cracker'. It's an overlong, dull piece of work and doesn't threaten the other three brilliant effort for this year.
6 5.5 6.545. Leisure (1976)
Other nominees: Dedalo
MY CHOICE: 'The Street'.
This year I have not seen Manfredo Manfredi's 'Dedalo'. Of the other two shorts, I would certainly pick Caroline Leaf's acclaimed National Film Board of Canada short 'The Street' as the better of the two. The story of a Jewish family who are awaiting the death of the their sick grandmother, 'The Street' is beautifully painted frame by frame on glass. The resulting artwork is the main attraction here, as the story and characterisation did not really grab me. The winner for this year, however, is a short that I find an utter bore. 'Leisure' makes some fairly interesting use of various forms of animation including line drawings and cut-outs but the result is less than attractive and the dull lecture of the evolution of leisure time that accompanies the images is overlong and under-interesting.
19 6.4 7.246. The Sand Castle (1977)
WINNER: The Sand Castle
Other nominees: The Bead Game
A Doonesbury Special
Jimmy the C
MY CHOICE: 'A Doonesbury Special'.
25 years after their first nomination, the wonderful National Film Board of Canada finally won the Oscar for Animated Short. Unfortunately, it was with one of their weakest offerings. Stop-motion piece 'The Sand Castle' is a twee little offering that essentially consists of a bunch of cute little sand figures shuffling around for 13 minutes. There's a bit more to it than that but not a hell of a lot!
A better stop motion short was Jimmy Picker's 'Jimmy the C', a very short claymation in which President Jimmy Carter mimes along to Ray Charles' 'Georgia on my Mind'. It's a nicely realised if slight short. Ishu Patel's 'The Bead Game' is a visually stunning animation of many coloured beads which, in 5 short minutes, chart the evolution of life and the destructive tendencies of nature, from ever more sophisticated creatures devouring each other to soldiers killing soldiers.
Although 'The Bead Game' and 'Jimmy the C' are both nice pieces, my choice for this year is Faith and John Hubley's 'A Doonesbury Special'. Made in collaboration with the Doonesbury comic strip creator Garry Trudeau, 'A Doonesbury Special' is filled with the wit and warmth that characterises the work of everyone involved. Bringing Trudeau's popular characters to life, 'A Doonesbury Special' is an impeccably scripted look back at the civil rights movement and idealism of the 60s from a 70s perspective. Funny, intelligent, touching and wonderfully animated, 'A Doonesbury Special' was also the last short that John Hubley worked on before his death. A well deserved Academy Award would have been a fitting end to an important animators illustrious career.
11 6 7.547. Special Delivery (1978)
WINNER: Special Delivery
Other nominees: Oh My Darling
Rip Van Winkle
MY CHOICE: 'Rip Van Winkle'.
This year's winner, The National Film Board of Canada's 'Special Delivery', is a wonderfully dark little farce involving a dead postman, an adulterous wife, a wrongful arrest and lots of wrongly jumped-to conclusions, 'Special Delivery's greatest strength is its script but the simple animation style seems perfectly suited to this droll little tale. The other nominee, Borge Ring's 'Oh My Darling' is a sweet, well-made examination of a young girl's changing relationship with her parents as she grows up and finds love.
But my choice for this year is Will Vinton's 'Rip Van Winkle'. The pioneering claymation director had won several years before for his lesser short 'Closed Mondays' but here Vinton marries his gorgeous, detailed, slightly creepy style perfectly with Washington Irving's folksy tale to create a sumptuous half hour of animation. The film peaks with an extended, surreal dream-sequence which is a feast for the eyes.
16 5.8 6.748. Every Child (1979)
WINNER: Every Child
Other nominees: Dream Doll
It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House
MY CHOICE: 'Dream Doll'.
'Every Child' gave the National Film Board of Canada their third Oscar winner in a row in this category. It is also one of my least favourite Oscar winners for Best Animated Short ever. Made in collaboration with UNICEF, 'Every Child' tells the story of a baby left on a number of doorsteps and continually rejected by its potential adoptive parents. The film's obnoxious sound effects are provided by two men and they are incredibly shrill and annoying. The animation is merely OK and the story is glib and preachy (the only ones who will give the baby any love are two homeless men. *Cringe*).
Paul Fierlinger's 'It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House' is an amusing little short aimed squarely at children but with enough genuinely amusing moments to appeal to adults too. It's main flaw is its story, that just seems to meander for ten minutes before coming to a happy ending that doesn't feel earned. There's some sort of message about not judging a book by its cover but it's not very strong. It's certainly an entertaining watch but curiously unsatisfying.
My choice for this year, however, goes to Bob Godfrey and Zlatko Grgic's bizarre 'Dream Doll'. A parody of French film 'The Red Balloon', only with the titular balloon replaced by a lifesize sex doll, 'Dream Doll' is a cut-above the other leery sex films of Bob Godfrey (although there's still an evident breast fixation on display here). Where 'Dream Doll' wins is in its unlikely achievement of real pathos and emotional involvement in the story of a lonely man who attempts to start a relationship (both physical and romantic) with a sex doll that seems to have a mind of its own. The ending, including one moment of genuine sadness, is unforgettable. There's a really creepy but somehow sweet feel to 'Dream Doll' and, though it has undoubtedly dated, it's still a very impressive oddity.
61 7.5 7.749. The Fly (1981)
WINNER: The Fly
Other nominees: All Nothing
The History of the World in Three Minutes Flat
MY CHOICE: 'The Fly'.
I have yet to see Michael Mills' 'The History of the World in Three Minutes Flat' for this year. Of the other two shorts, 'All Nothing', the first of several nominations down the years for Frederick Back, is an interesting and at times beautiful examination of the creation of human and animal life which manages to combine both a creationist and evolutionary perspective. But my choice is the same as the Academy's, Ferenc Rofusz startling 'The Fly'. A visually incredible depiction of a fly's eye view, the short is wisely kept to just 3 minutes since the realistic buzzing soundtrack and often nausea-inducing swift movements would likely become unvearable after that. The attraction here is, of course, the phenomenal artwork since there is little plot. It's not exactly a pleasant watch but is an amazing achievement nonetheless.
29 7.2 7.550. Crac (1981)
Other nominees: The Creation
The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin
MY CHOICE: 'Crac'.
This year I have yet to see Will Vinton's 'The Creation'. It would have to be a damn good film to beat this year's winner though. National Film Board of Canada's 'The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin' did not really stand a chance. A colourful, silent retelling of the Cinderella story but starring penguins, 'The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin' is a one-idea short, and it's not that great an idea either.
But Frederick Back's 'Crac' is simply mesmerizing, one of the greatest shorts to win the Oscar in the history of the award. A visually sumptuous, musically captivating and narratively endearing look at the industrialisation of Montreal via the history of a rocking chair, 'Crac' is one of the most beautiful 15 minutes of animation you're ever likely to come across.
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