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Archive for the ‘Animated Animals’ Category

by Joel Bocko

“Fixing a Hole” is a series whose purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on Wonders in the Dark. The theme for November is “Animated Animals.”

The Story: One spring, a little fawn is born into a world of sunshine and flowers – but as the seasons pass, and the young deer comes of age, neither he nor the world around him will remain so innocent.

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“You’d be forgiven for picturing cute, wide-eyed little critters wandering through daisy fields and singing happy songs,” I wrote when introducing this month’s theme, adding pointedly, “Not so.” And I meant it – yet here we are! Well, let this prove that clichés obscure more than they illuminate. The cute, wide-eyed little critters of Bambi inhabit a violence- and sex-filled world of tragedy, stoicism, and carnage. Despite frequent light and happy moments, this is ultimately a very dark forest indeed. Why? To unearth Bambi‘s roots, I dug up the book that gave it birth.

Felix Salten’s Bambi was published in 1923, and it shares the qualities of much classic children’s literature: quiet, thoughtful, with a delicate playfulness, yet fundamentally somber, elementally instructional and subtly allegorical – simple yet deep. Walt Disney more scrupulously balances the dark and light, yet much of the book’s mood and atmosphere is effectively conveyed. Those majestic moments when Bambi and his mother cautiously approach a meadow, or tiptoe through the snow to hunt for food, admirably capture Salten’s spirit. Even those prototypical Disney elements – anthropomorphized chattering forest critters, resembling gossipy housewives or restless schoolkids – have their source in Salten, who devotes many pages to the silly conversations of little birds.

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November 20, 2011

Toontown City Council, c/o Cloverfield Development Co.
Acme Avenue & Avery Alley
Toontown, CA 90@#!

Dear Toons,

Well, gang, I just watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit again, this time for an online series called “Fixing a Hole.” (You know, holes, those convenient black discs you carry around in your pockets, portable escape hatches when you’re in a pickle – incidentally, how much those go for nowadays?) Anyway, the movie was a delight as always; though the climax is a bit drawn-out, the appearance of a one-dimensional Judge Doom, crushed and cackling like some maniacal cross between Johnny Paper and Johnny Rotten, is well worth the wait.

I dug that, and I laughed along with Roger, cringed for Baby Herman (somebody tell that middle-aged infant about Viagra, or better yet, don’t), and marveled at Bob Hoskins’ ability to play it straight even as he was acting against thin ai-  er, I mean, against real, live Toons who must have been rather intimidating “in the flesh.” And Jessica Rabbit. Oh Jessica Rabbit. With her in their extended family, it’s no wonder the fluffy-tailed little mammals are so eager to breed.

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by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

“Fixing a Hole” is a series whose sole purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on Wonders in the Dark. The theme for November is “Animated Animals.”

While Joel has selected all the titles, certain films have been assigned to guest writers. This week Checking on My Sausages‘ Stephen, who conducted the Animation Countdown on Wonders in the Dark, takes a look at the pros and cons of Disney’s 1941 cartoon.

Dumbo (1941/United States/directed by Samuel Armstrong, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Ben Sharpsteen)

stars the voices of Edward Brophy, Sterling Holloway, Cliff Edwards, Herman Bing

written by Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, Otto Englander, Bill Peet, Aurelius Battaglia, Joe Rinaldi, Vernon Stallings, Webb Smith from the book by Helen Aberson, Harold Pearl • music by Frank Churchill, Oliver Wallace • animation department: Art Babbitt, James Bodrero, Ward Kimbell, John Lounesbury, John P. Miller, Maurice Noble, Elmer Plummer, Martin Provenson, Woolie Reitherman, Vladimir Tytla, John Walbridge, Frank Thomas, and others • produced by Walt Disney

The Story: Dumbo, an elephant with big ears, is born to a circus animal. Shunned by the rest of the herd (“his disgrace is our own shame”), he is mocked and ridiculed by man and beast alike. Mrs. Jumbo, his mother, is whipped and caged for trying to protect her child. Separated from her, a sad Dumbo tries, with the help of a mouse and a band of crows, to get by in the circus business and find a way to be reunited with his mother.

Maybe those ears, those very things that held him down, will carry him up and up…

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The character of Dumbo, the elephant who can (spoilers ahead) fly, is said to have been inspired by a comic strip on the back of a cereal box. Dumbo the story is itself a brief and simple sketch, but one hour long. The style is simple too, recalling the animations of pioneer Winsor McCay (Gertie the Dinosaur) in both line and movement. After the flamboyant excesses, and financial losses, of Fantasia, Dumbo is Disney pared down and relatively unassuming.

The opening scene in which the animals board a (anthropomorphised) train, is as colourful as a nursery and has a curiosity and energy that is quite different from the sickly nannying charm offensive that afflicts many Disney films. It is during this journey a stork delivers a child to Mrs.Jumbo. The train choo choos through the landscape and as it grinds to a halt at its destination, the music too slows down to a stop. It’s fun.

Once the characters are properly introduced and the story gets going, this energy becomes trying when applied to every situation and almost every animal and person. It’s all big. There are quite a lot of children’s films that think that, to be enjoyed by children, everybody in them has to act like a child or a fool. It is like the adult who leans into the pram and goes “coochy-coo!”.

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by Joel Bocko

“Fixing a Hole” is a new series on Wonders in the Dark whose sole purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on that site. The theme for Novembered is “Animated Animals.” Some spoilers are discussed below.

The Story of the Fox (1937/France/directed by Wladyslaw and Irene Starewicz)

stars the voices of Claude Dauphin, Romain Bouquet, Sylvain Itkine, Marcel Raine

written by Jean Nohain, Antoinette Nordmann, Roger Richebe, Irene Starewicz, Wladyslaw Starewicz from Johann Wolfgang Goethe • photographed by Wladyslaw Starewicz • designed by Wladyslaw Starewicz • music by Vincent Scotto • animated by Wladyslaw and Irene Starewicz

The Story: The royal lion seeks to punish Monsieur Renard (Mr. Fox) for eating his fellow creatures, yet the crafty animal tricks, manipulates, and fights his way out of every scrape.

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 “Animated Animals”: you’d be forgiven for picturing cute, wide-eyed little critters wandering through daisy fields and singing happy songs. Not so: this month there’s one cuddly creature (albeit too mute to sing), an amiable buffoon, a murderous yet still sympathetic monster, and then there’s Monsieur Renard (French for “fox”), the eponymous antihero of the brilliant stop-motion feature The Story of the Fox. Crafty, nasty, and carnivorous, Renard may have the least redeeming qualities of all the November beasts; unsurprisingly, he may also be the most human.

Watching as he assaults and semi-cannibalizes his fellow creatures, regarding us every now and then with an ambiguously conspiratorial twinkle in his eye, we titter nervously.  We recognize we aren’t really compatriots in crime but rather spectators in a show enacted only for the fox’s own benefit. Renard has the gifted performer’s contempt for the audience – and we’d probably be his next victim were we onscreen ourselves. Not only the fox but his master are winking at us with raw, mischievous relish.

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