Sunday, February 22, 2009

Academy Awards Live Blog

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cartoon a Day: One Froggy Evening

One Froggy Evening
Directed by Chuck Jones (as Charles M. Jones)
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 2

What better way to close out a week of "one-shot" cartoons than with the ultimate "one-shot" of all time. Often hailed as one of the greatest cartoons ever made, Chuck Jones' "One Froggy Evening." I can remember hearing about this cartoon for ages but never getting to see it. When I did finally see it God was smiling on me, for it was on the big screen where it belongs, before a late night showing of "Cinema Paradiso" of all things.

I think just about everybody knows the story...a construction worker finds a singing frog in the ruins of a building being torn down. The poor guy sees the frog as his key to money and fame, but throughout the picture the frog won't sing whenever anyone else is around. The man ends up ruined and dumps the frog in the cornerstone of a new skyscraper going up. The final scene of the film takes place 100 years later as a construction worker in a space suit discovers the frog and the cycle begins again.

We've looked at some of the work of Tex Avery in the past and talked about the extreme poses he often uses. I love that stuff, but this cartoon shows great subtlety in it's characters expressions, and it's just as hilarious.

There is no dialogue in this cartoon. The only voice we hear is that of the frog, but the expressions of the humans, subtle as they are, take us into the thought process of those characters. We know everything that's going on in their minds, especially in the case of the main character. In a way, we the audience are brought into his thought process even more because, just like him, we can hear the frog. His frustration and ultimately his desperation are shared with the audience.

The animation is brilliant, of course. I'm not sure how to describe the look of this cartoon other than to say it uses a lot of thin lines. This look was used in many of Jones' later cartoons, but this is probably the best example of it.

"One Froggy Evening" is not just a great cartoon, this is a great film. A brilliant example of comedy as well as animation. One of the greatest movie short subjects, animated or otherwise, ever made.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Rocket-bye Baby

Rocket-bye Baby
Directed by Chuck Jones
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 6

I hadn't intended for this look at "one-shot" cartoons to spend so much time in the 1950's, but that seems to be the way things have gone. "Rocket-bye Baby" is another great example of the unique designs used in some 50's cartoons, but with a definite Chuck Jones twist.

The story concerns some sort of strange event in outer space that sends two babies on their way to their respective planets in the wrong directions. An Earth baby ends up on Mars and a Martian baby ends up on Earth. It's an interesting take on the whole flying saucer fad which was going on at the time this film was made.

The expressions of some of the characters certainly point to things we would see out of Jones in the future, especially in works like "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Also on display are some of the longer drawn out expressions like Jones used in "One Froggy Evening" just a year earlier.

This short also has an interesting take on some of the background elements. In some scenes items such as furniture are little more than line drawings. You can see the background right through them, but it works great.

I didn't find this short to be as laugh-out-loud funny as some other Jones' shorts, but you can't help but love that little green baby.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cartoon a Day: The Story of Anyburg U.S.A

The Story of Anyburg U.S.A.
Directed by Clyde Geronimi
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures - Disney Rarities

Here's another "one-shot" from Disney. This one is one of their message movies, dealing with the problem of aggressive driving well before it became popular to do so. Of course the title doesn't hint to any of this. I guess the guy who came up with the titles for cartoons at Disney must've been on vacation the day they came up with this one.

The premise is a bit strange, a town puts "the automobile" on trial for all the problems it causes. Eventually the defense attorney points out that it's bad people, not bad cars, that are doing the damage. True yes, but it all comes across as pretty self-righteous.

There are some interesting design elements, though it's a bit different style than the cartoon we looked at yesterday. We don't have as many hard angles in this one, but it's still an interesting 50's style.

Probably the most interesting aspect of this cartoon is the cars brought to life, which has to have been looked at by the crew at Pixar when making their film "Cars." Lightning McQueen bears more than a passing resemblance to a sporty red number in this film.

Ultimately the film makes for interesting viewing but is a little too preachy to be funny.

Oscar Predictions

This weekend is the 81st annual Academy Awards. Just like last year I will be trying to live blog the event through So, be sure to come back here Sunday night for my live thoughts as the awards progress.

In the meantime, here is the way I'm leaning on the top 6 awards (the four acting awards, director, and best picture). Keep in mind, this isn't necessarily who I want to win, but who I think will win.

Best Actor:
-Richard Jenkins: The Visitor
-Frank Langella: Frost/Nixon
-Sean Penn: Milk
-Brad Pitt: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
-Mickey Rourke: The Wrestler

A lot of folks are starting to lean toward Sean Penn, but I think Mickey Rourke still has the edge. Many say this is one of the best performances they've ever seen, plus he's already won several awards...I'm picking Rourke.

Best Actress:
-Anne Hathaway: Rachel Getting Married
-Angelina Jolie: Changeling
-Melissa Leo: Frozen River
-Meryl Streep: Doubt
-Kate Winslet: The Reader

This I think is the one major category where I'm changing my mind from my initial thoughts on the day the nominations were announced. Back then I was picking Anne Hathaway, but momentum has been gaining for both Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet. What's odd is that Winslet won a Golden Globe for her role in "The Reader" but in their supporting actress category. I think right now Winslet has the upper hand. She is my least for now.

Best Supporting Actor:
-Josh Brolin: Milk
-Robert Downey Jr.: Tropic Thunder
-Philip Seymour Hoffman: Doubt
-Heath Ledger: The Dark Knight
-Michael Shannon: Revolutionary Road

With all due respect to the other actors in this category, this award was wrapped up on July 14th...when "The Dark Knight" slammed onto screens. A posthumous Oscar for Mr. Ledger it will be.

Best Supporting Actress:
-Amy Adams: Doubt
-Penelope Cruz: Vicky Cristina Barcelona
-Viola Davis: Doubt
-Taraji P. Henson: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
-Marisa Tomei: The Wrestler

There is no real obvious standout in this category, but we can employ some science to this. The two actresses from "Doubt" will cancel each other out and Benjamin Button just doesn't seem to have any buzz in the acting categories. So the battle is really between Cruz and Tomei. Tomei could have a few strikes against her as there is still the urban legend out there that Jack Palance read the wrong name when he announced she had won the Oscar for her performance in "My Cousin Vinny" years ago. Plus, supporting actresses in Woody Allen films (Diane Wiest, Mira Sorvino) have done well at Oscar time in the past. I'm picking Cruz, but Tomei could surprise.

Best Director & Best Picture

-David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
-Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon
-Gus Van Sant for Milk
-Stephen Daldry for The Reader
-Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire

I list these two together only because for the first time in a looooong time, the directors of all five Best Picture nominees were nominated. So the two categories match. Plus, I think the two awards will remain linked when the envelopes are opened with Danny Boyle and Slumdog Millionaire taking the prize.

I could always change my mind before Sunday night, but join me here for the live blog on Sunday night to see how I did.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan
Directed by Les Clark
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures - Disney Rarities

In keeping with the theme of so-called "one-shot" cartoons, let's look at one from Disney. "Paul Bunyan" is the studio's take on an American legend, and let's face it, nobody does faerie tales and legends like Disney. I can remember watching this film in the library at school one day, I had to be in kindergarten or first grade. It's strange to think now, but that was less than 20 years after this film was made.

This is a great example of the 50's style of design that is so much fun. Other Disney shorts such as "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom" and "Pigs is Pigs" also employed this style. It's hard describe, but there are a lot of hard angles to the characters, some minimalist techniques used for background elements, and interesting uses of color.

This style seems perfectly suited to a story like this to me. In some ways it creates the look of another world, but at the same time it's a world that is based in what is familiar to us. Which is sort of the point when it comes to legends like Paul Bunyan.

Some folks get a little down on Disney for being too cutesy. This is an example of Disney doing a cute story but with a very stylized artistic approach.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Lights Fantastic

Lights Fantastic
Directed by Friz Freleng (as I. Freleng)
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 6

I've been watching several so-called "one-shot" cartoons this week. These are cartoons that are not part of a series that focuses on a certain character. "Lights Fantastic" is another Warner Brothers cartoon that plays off of pop culture references (in this case billboards and advertisements of the day) for it's humor. This is similar to the better known series of Looney Tunes that played off of the titles of books.

With these cartoons it's always a mixed bag. Some of the jokes are still as funny today as they were when the short was made, while others fall flat now because the pop culture references are not familiar to modern audiences. In general the opportunities for humor seem to be not as plentiful here, I mean there's only so much you can do with a neon sign.

The gag featuring a sign advertising typewriters was funny (what's a typewriter?), as was an elaborate sign that ends up just saying "eat at Joe's." But in general, I think most of these gags would've worked better in the context of a short with a story, as a side gag of sorts.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Goo Goo Goliath

Goo Goo Goliath
Directed by Friz Freleng (as I. Freleng)
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 6

I'm a bit behind on my blogging, I actually watched this cartoon last night. We'll see if I get to blogging about the one I just watched tonight or not.

This is an odd cartoon that doesn't feature any of the Looney Tunes stars. The fact that one of it's main characters is the most inebriated stork you've ever seen probably keeps this one off of Cartoon Network as well. The premise is that this drunken stork accidentally delivers a giant baby to an average suburban household rather than to the giant family at the top of the beanstalk.

The gags are mildly amusing. The bit where the baby uses dad's new tires as teething rings was a good gag. But where this short is really interesting to watch is in it's very stylized look. This is the same kind of look that the makers of the "The Incredibles" paid tribute too in the set and character designs of that film.

The semi-documentary format of this short doesn't really fit though. Having a narrator setting up many of the gags is somewhat annoying. But visually, this short is a treat.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

New Main Titles for The Simpsons

After 19 years "The Simpsons" has a new opening title sequence. The opening to the long-running show has only changed slightly since the show first debuted (I was just out of high school then). If memory serves me correctly, the titles were slightly different in the first season, but from the second season on they have pretty much remained the same. The titles even continued to feature Bart ridding his skateboard past Bleeding Gums Murphy, who died in the show's sixth season.

So, in honor of the show going to HD, the new title sequence has been introduced. It's pretty much a new version of the classic titles, but with some fun changes. I especially like the little homages to past episodes you can spot...the box of Mr. Sparkle that Marge is buying at the grocery store is my favorite. However, I do find it a bit depressing that the Simpsons now have a flat panel HDTV and I don't.

Cartoon a Day: Don Donald

Don Donald
Directed by Ben Sharpensteen
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures - The Chronological Donald Vol. 1

It's never enough to have just Superman, there needs to be a Supergirl. Batman had help defending Gotham from Batgirl. Minnie Mouse joined Mickey Mouse on screen from the beginning. So, of course, Donald Duck got matched up with Daisy, a version of whom made her first appearance in "Don Donald."

In this short Donald is south of the border and he comes a courtin' ridding on a burro. The burro ends up causing all sorts of trouble so Donald trades him in for a car, which Daisy goes nuts for. Now, some Disney fanatics would probably have a problem with me calling her "Daisy" in this short. Some folks refer to this version of the character as "Donna" and see her as a completely different character. This version is more of female version of Donald than Daisy would become. This character has a temper to match Donald's, though the later Daisy had a temper too, she was a bit more controlled with it.

The animation of Daisy (or Donna or whatever) is very well done. The animators seem to capture a bit more femininity than they had even achieved with Minnie Mouse previously. I also really enjoyed the interesting backgrounds, southwestern in style but also very unique when compared to other cartoons with a similar setting. A brief sequence with some cacti come to life is also a highlight.

Cartoon a Day: Dizzy Dishes

Dizzy Dishes
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Available on: YouTube

"Dizzy Dishes" probably wouldn't have become a notable cartoon except for one little thing, the first appearance of a character who would become the one and only Betty Boop. You should know by now that Miss Boop's cartoons are in the public domain and thus legally available on enjoy "Dizzy Dishes"

The short focuses on a waiter at a club of some sort. There are a few good gags and it is certainly in the style of the Fleischer studio, but nothing spectacular happens. Until...midway though the main character, and the audience for that matter, becomes completely enthralled with the boop-boop-ee-dooing singer. She's not quite herself yet, besides the fact that the animation is pretty crude she's also sort of a dog like creature (with those strange floppy ears). Still, notice how her sequence just stands out from the rest of the film. It's also interesting to see some other gags in this sequence that would pop up in cartoons for ages to come...specifically the waiter's heart jumping out of his chest as he watches Betty. It's the Betty sequence that makes this short enjoyable and it's easy to see why the Fleischers realized they had a new star on their hands.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Dumb-Hounded

Directed by Tex Avery
Available on: Tex Avery's Droopy - The Complete Theatrical Collection

During his time at MGM, Tex Avery's most famous creation was a miserable looking little hound dog named Droopy. "Dumb-Hounded" marks his first appearance. The character became a bit more upbeat over the course of his 24 film career, but in this short he lives up to his name.

In this short a killer (the Wolf) has escaped from prison so the authorities send out the hounds, with Droopy bringing up the rear. The Wolf runs from Droopy but every time he turns around the little hound is right there waiting for him. Pretty much the same premise was used in another Droopy short, "Northwest Hounded Police," a little bit later.

This, like many Avery shorts, can best be described as innovative. The gags were original, though many of them have since been used by many other cartoon makers. The reactions of the Wolf each time he spots Droopy are completely unique each time, though they aren't quite as extreme as Avery would make them in some later shorts.

The characters realizing that they are in a movie was also an different twist. Droopy addresses the audience at the beginning of the film and tells them he's the hero and the Wolf runs completely off of the film in one of the film's best gags.

I don't think there's a Droopy cartoon that I don't like, with a wild short like this one the series got off to great start.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Haredevil Hare

Haredevil Hare
Directed by Chuck Jones (as Charles M. Jones)
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 1

"Haredevil Hare" marks the first appearance of that little guy from the red planet, Marvin the Martian. Like the Tasmanian Devil, Marvin is another character who only appeared in a handful of theatrical shorts (just five in this case) but he has become immensely popular and developed quite a following over the years.

In this short, Bugs Bunny is the unwilling passenger for a test flight to the moon, that is until he notices the rocket is loaded with carrots. Shortly after his arrival on the lunar surface another ship lands. This one is carrying the yet-unnamed martian who is, of course, out to destroy the Earth.

This short features some very funny animation. A standout sequence is Bugs' arrival on the moon where he jerks between several unusual poses as reacts to the crash landing. Check out a few examples...

Many of the shorts featuring Marvin are known for the wonderful design elements. The look of the moon, the spaceships, and even the desert where the rocket is launched from have a simple yet unique look. I wonder if some of that may be driven by the look of Marvin himself.

Look at him, he's a basketball on a skinny body with legs. His look is simple, but also somewhat extreme. He comes across more dorky than evil in this first short. He would become much nastier in later appearances, but he makes a great nemesis for Bugs never the less.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cartoon a Day: The Wise Little Hen

The Wise Little Hen
Directed by Wilfred Jackson
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures - The Chronological Donald Vol. 1

If we're going to look at famous first appearances then we can't neglect "The Wise Little Hen," Donald Duck's first cartoon and one of his best.

This cartoon was part of the Silly Symphonies series and told the classic tale of a hen who tries to get her friends to help plant and harvest her corn. In this version the friends are Peter Pig and (ta-da) Donald Duck. They both fake belly aches to get out of the work, but are eager when she asks them to help eat the corn. But in the end, she presents them with a bottle of castor oil instead of corn on the cop, muffins and corn bread.

This short is significant not only because of the first appearance of Donald, but it's also a great animation milestone. It does have some moments where the animation is repetitive, as many early cartoons are, but other moments display some great artistry. The animation of Peter Pig and Donald Duck both show great attention to detail. The choreography of the animation to the music is also expertly done.

The short is more cute than funny but I never tire of this one. 74 years old and still a classic!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Hare Trigger

Hare Trigger
Directed by Friz Freleng (as I. Freleng)
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 6

Yesterday we took a look at the first of the Superman series of cartoons, so I decided to continue on that course this week and look at other first appearances of famous characters. Let's start with one of my favorite Looney Tunes characters, Yosemite Sam in his first appearance, "Hare Trigger."

In this short, Sam is a train robber who chooses to rob a train that happens to have Bugs Bunny hanging out in the mail car. Of course, that turns out to be the worst choice he could've made.

It's always a little strange to see the debut of a famous character because they are never quite the characters we've come to know and love when they first appear. It takes times for characters to develop. One of the things that is so great about Yosemite Sam is that he is a character of pure rage, but he's not quite there yet in this cartoon.

There are plenty of great moments in this short, the scene where Bugs fills in for Sam's hat is one great scene in particular, but Sam's reactions just aren't quite what we think they should be yet. This is a great cartoon and a wonderful introduction for Sam, but I love it when Sam is just so angry that his little body shakes so much he levitates, I love how he gets so steamed that he creates his own vocabulary...the animators and writers hadn't quite hit on those things yet in "Hare Trigger."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Superman

Directed by Dave Fleischer
Available on: The Complete Superman Collection

I really wiped out on sticking with my "Cartoon a Day" last week. The craziness of being at a conference all week, combined with being without internet service conspired against me. I tell ya, the Town and Country resort in San Diego is a nice place for a convention, but a rotten hotel. $10 a day for internet, they are out of their minds. Not to mention the fact that the rooms are tiny and the decor is stuck in 1978. I have seriously stayed in nicer Super 8's. Anyway, back to the cartoons. Let's take a look at the first Fleischer Superman short, simply called "Superman" though sometimes referred to as "The Mad Scientist."

This is a great introduction to the series. It gives a brief back story on the blue boy's Kryptonian origins before going into a story about a mad scientist terrorizing Metropolis with a huge laser. The great angles and layout design that can be seen throughout the other Superman shorts is here in all it's glory. Just check out that great shot above, which is our first introduction to the villain.

Superman's final destruction of the weapon is pretty spectacular. He twists the barrel of the laser gun into a knot causing the weapon to bubble, melt and explode. It's not just a simple explosion. That's one of the things that is great about this series, there are often so many levels to the animation of explosions, crashes, and the like.

The only part of the cartoon that is a bit out of place is the mad scientist's bird companion. At first he looks like he's going to be creepy, which would've been great. Instead, he ends up being comic relief, that is if he were funny, smirking and gawking at various events. He's more like a character you would expect to see in one of Fleischer's Popeye shorts, but he's all wrong for this short. Still, this is a great kickoff to this short-lived cartoon series.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Cartoon a Day: The Hunter Trilogy

I really fell behind on my cartoons this weekend. Missed Friday and Saturday, but I was determined to catch up with three cartoons today. What better way to do that than to take in Chuck Jones' "Hunter Trilogy."

Directed by Chuck Jones (as Charles M. Jones)

Directed by Chuck Jones (as Charles M. Jones)
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 1

Directed by Chuck Jones (as Charles M. Jones)

Some might say that all three of these cartoons are pretty much the same. They do pretty much has the same basic plot...Daffy tries to get Elmer to believe it's rabbit season (when it's really duck season), Bugs does everything he can to turn it around on Daffy, and Elmer blows Daffy away in various ways. But each of these cartoons has their own special moments.

"Rabbit Fire" pretty much establishes the relationship of the three characters that will continue throughout the other films. It begins the running gag of figuring out how many different ways we can blow Daffy's beak off and also features the obligatory Bugs in drag moment.

"Rabbit Seasoning," which is my favorite of the three (middle chapters are the best folks, look at "The Empire Strikes Back") features much more creative, and gruesome, mangled beaks for Daffy and features the classic "pronoun trouble."

There's also another sequence with Bugs as a girl which not only improves on the previous film but also has Daffy pretty much admitting that the bit has been used before by screaming, "you're not going to fall for that old bit!"

"Duck! Rabbit, Duck!" takes things to a winter setting. It continues the tradition of blowing Daffy's beak off but also adds a highly original sequence in which Daffy gets called different animal names (such as "Dirty Skunk") and then Bugs produces a sign announcing that it's the appropriate season ("Dirty Skunk Season"). Elmer then, of course, shoots.

All three shorts feature incredible animation, especially on Daffy. Likewise, Mel Blanc's vocal performances, especially as Daffy, are some of his best. To sum it all up, probably the best movie trilogy ever that didn't have George Lucas' name attached.