In the beginning of the 1960’s, a new age of animation came to life and was set afire. This was the age of modern television and animated TV shows like The Flinstones, Scooby Doo Where Are You?, and The Pink Panther Show. By the end of the 1960’s, the popularity of animated shorts diminished because, to be frank, Americans had moved on to more easily accessed forms of entertainment. Though not many memorable shorts were made during this time, I did find some hidden gems. Interestingly these shorts have a different, disconnected feeling about them. Most were produced by more independent companies and some were animated after famous children’s books. A lot of these shorts are about love, and most of them would appeal to children or were purposefully made for them.
(Again if there are any shorts you think I have missed let me know. If I like what you send me I will feature it in a later post.)
The Invention of Love, Andrey Shushcov 2010 (Special Mention)
I don’t know much about the production of this short, aside from it being the final graduation product for its creator. I accidentally came across it on YouTube and was enchanted by its heart aching beauty. Also a love story, it begins with a man sitting among destroyed machinery holding a single wilted flower. From there, it flashes back to the beautiful romance he had with a young girl who lived in the countryside. Once they married, she left her home to be with him in the city. However, the harsh polluted air and environment was too much for her and after she found the final living thing she had depended on thrown away (the small flower given to her by her husband) she died. The man, torn by grief destroyed all of his creations and gave in to despair. In the end he creates a mechanical copy of his wife and sits forlornly on his chair looking at the encased flower of his love.
This short is multidimensional, showing the contrast between city life and country living and also the value of living things over the artificial. What has more value? The message is clearly that love can’t be fabricated or replaced by artificial means. I loved the animation because it was a lot like the works of Lotte Reiniger, who was the founder of stop motion, silhouette animation. This story actually reminded me of an excerpt from one of my favorite books The Orphans Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne Valente where a man remakes his wife slowly out of wood as he succumbs to his gluttonous appetite and slowly eats her. Though not as morbid, this short has that same sadness and I always wonder what could have happened if each of the men had chosen differently.
The Three Robbers, Gene Deitch(Weston Wood Studios) 1970
I include this short, which was originally a children’s story written by Tomi Ungerer, as one of the better examples of the many children’s books adapted into animated shorts in the 70’s and 80’s. Though not many probably remember these, I used to watch The Children’s Circle movies (which had collected these shorts) that came out in the 90’s on VHS videos our family rented from the library in St Johns, AZ. To this day we still laugh remembering them. The story is exactly the same as the book and it also has the same dark color style. Three robbers, carrying pepper spray, a blunderbuss and a HUGE red ax, successful at robbing oncoming carriages one day find a little girl named Tiffany on her way to live with her wicked aunt. They decide to take her home with them and surprised the little girl wakes up surrounded by chests full of the treasures collected by them over the years. Upon her advice they decide to use their wealth to open an orphanage and care for discarded children. The narrator, who remains anonymous, playfully does the dialogue and also provides memorable music and sounds for the other props. I love how the magic of this simple children’s story was given life and color through this short and I hope that somehow I will be able to show it to my own children someday.
The Snowman, Dianne Jackson 1976
Nominated for the Academy Award for animated short in 1982, this short is another adaption of a children’s book, but is mostly remembered for the song “Walking in the Air” written by Howard Blake and performed by Peter Auty. The story revolves around a young boy whose snowman comes to life that night and takes him on a wonderful journey to see the northern lights and meet Father Christmas. After going through the boy’s house they leave on a motorbike and later go flying hand in hand through sky until they reach a snow covered forest where they attend the snowman’s party. After he meets Father Christmas and receives a scarf he is taken back by the snowman to his home who sadly waves goodbye to the young boy before resuming his stance in his yard. After the boy wakes up he goes outside and realizes that his friend had melted.
This short is joyful, gentle, and beautifully animated. Again, there is no dialogue but that is what accentuates its style and artistry. I haven’t seen it for many years but I remember it and the grief, similar to my own in childhood, felt from the loss of a childhood friend born from the imagination. The animation is very interesting to watch because it seems as if you have stepped into a watercolor painting where dimension and colors are softened in a way that relaxes and comforts you.
Vincent, Tim Burton 1982
This is a stop-motion short written and directed by Tim Burton almost ten years before the release of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and the basis for his other two films titled Frakenweenie (1984/2012). It takes place in a normal neighborhood where a young boy named Vincent aspires to be like his idol Vincent Price. He has wild, twisted delusions about dipping his aunt in wax and experimenting on his dog Abercrombie and obsessively reads the works of Edgar Allen Poe. In time he completely breaks from reality, mbelieving that he is in fact the tortured artist depicted in the poem “The Raven”. Despite his mother’s best intentions to get him to play outside and stop his unhealthy attachment to morbidity, he becomes terrified in the end of his wild fantasies and falls to the floor, thinking he is dead, quoting “The Raven”.
This short is charming in its own way. Though I don’t particularly like its morbid subject or the unhealthy delusions the boy creates it reminded me of how little boys tend to go through these types of fantasies, kind of like how Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes imagines destroying towns as Godzilla or makes demented, tortured snowmen. I loved how the narrator Vincent Price ironically as the hero of both the director and the boy took part in this short as the iconic master of horror that people remember him to be. Also, I loved the German Expressionist style he uses in this short.
The Man Who Planted Trees, Frédéric Back 1987
Winning the Academy Award for best animated short in 1988, The Man Who Planted Trees is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Almost like a moving Renoir painting, the story takes place a short time before World War I when a young man sets out on a journey to see the world. There, after encountering the terrible cruelty and sadness of those who lived in a barren waste land, selling coal and trapping whatever game they could find, he runs out of water and unexpectedly meets an old man living alone with his sheep and dog. Quiet, clean, and self reliant, the old man intrigued the young traveler, who decisdes to stay with him another day in order to watch him. Curiously, he watched how carefully the old man planted hundreds of seeds, a task that seemed meaningless in such a place but had enormous consequences. At the end of both World Wars the land which had once been barren and had brought out the worst in man became beautiful and tamed by the acts of one simple man.
I don’t want to ruin this short. It is best you watch it for yourself and see its magnificent artistry. The old man reminded me of the ascetics I have learned about in my Eastern Philosophy class, except his purpose was more than a simple withdrawal from society. As Krishna had talked about in the Bhagavad Gita, the path of selfless action if traveled on without attachment to one’s actions brings ultimate peace and unearths the incredible divinity and potential of man. The only way I could adequately describe this old man is to say that he was a true servant of God.
The Cat Came Back, Cordell Barker, 1988
Created by Canadian director Cordell Barker, this short brought back a lot of memories of the old car trips I took with my family. Based on the famous song by Harry S. Miller written in 1893 (hard to believe right?) it depicts the hilarious attempts of an old man to be rid of a small yellow cat with extraordinary destructive abilities. As the original song entails, the cat just kept coming back even after he left it deep in the woods, tried to drown it in the ocean, attempted to get rid of it in a hot air balloon, and threw it down a mine shaft. Finally, he blew up his home, dying in the process, and unfortunately was fated to be haunted forever by the cat’s nine lives.
The brilliance of this short is the fate of the old man and the twisted consequences of his actions as he bent over backwards to be rid of the cat. The harder he tried the more he suffered, and the cat served as a sort of an unstoppable force of nature. Don’t they say that the harder you fight against the inevitable the more you will suffer? In this case, I wonder what would have happened if the old man had accepted the cat and not treated it so cruelly. But that would be easier said then done wouldn’t it?
Geri’s Game, A Bug’s Life 1998
Of all the Pixar shorts that have been made in the last decade, this is undoubtedly my favorite. Appearing initially in A Bug’s Life in 1998, this short won the Academy Award for short films that same year. The story revolves around an old man Geri who begins to play a game of chess by himself, subsequently switching roles (and personalities) after each turn. At first we watch as over and over again he takes his glasses on and off for each new turn, but then after awhile we are allowed the illusion of there really being two Geri’s, one being crushed by the other in the game. In the end the old man cheats on himself and sits laughing after he defeats his foe.
When I think of A Bug’s Life, this simple story always appears first in my mind. To this day I still remember how confused I was while watching this entertaining old man’s game, thinking “What on earth is he doing?”, “Does he have a twin?”, “So did he win or lose?”. Regardless, I love this simple story and how splendidly Pixar captured a simple man and his quirky behavior. It isn’t very flashy, but it has a charm and quality to it that will help it endure the test of time.
Destino, Walt Disney and Salvador Dali 2003
(How to describe this . . .) Work on this short began in 1945, when Walt Disney and Salvador Dali collaborated and decided to make a surreal, animated sequence about the ill-fated love story between Chronos, the personification of time in per-Socratic philosophy, and a mortal woman. In 2003, this short was finally finished, became critically acclaimed, and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2003, but within only a year or so it was forgotten by most. Featuring many of the famous paintings of Salvador Dali, it follows a young woman on her quest to find love.
This short, because of its surreal settings and themes, is very hard to understand unless one takes the time to sit and think about its deeper meanings. Though I am not an expert on Salvador Dali, or his paintings, to me this story didn’t seem all that sad or unfortunate. In the end, she did find her love and she lived on in his heart. I wish that more people knew about it, or that somehow they could have featured it in Fantasia 2000. Since discovering it a few weeks ago, I have fallen in love with it and have seen it many times. Do I understand it completely? No. However, there is something about it that makes me want to believe that somehow deep within it there was a way that they could live with one another forever.
Paperman, Wreck It Ralph 2012
Making its debut in the 3D animated movie Wreck it Ralph in 2012, this was the first short made by Walt Disney Studios to win an Academy Award since 1970. When I saw it in theaters, I liked it more then the movie I had come there for and it stuck with me in a similar way that the love scene in Up had. Like many of the other shorts I have mentioned, there is no dialogue but that is what appeals to me in this story. The story is about a young man on his way to work and the chance meeting he has with a beautiful woman with red lipstick (which smears onto one of his papers after it hits her face). Their parting came even faster then their introduction but the young man couldn’t forget her and by chance he sees her from his office window. Trying over and over again to get her attention with hundreds of paper airplanes all seems lost, especially after he threw his last airplane, which had her lipstick and she walks away. Luckily for him, the airplanes take off and help the young man and woman meet again.
When I see this short, I think of those first encounters we have with random people on the street or in a bus. Sometimes it feels like we have seen them before, other times we become scared or bewildered by them. There are those rare moments though when we meet someone and we think to ourselves “Was I meant to meet this person?”. This short shows the beginning of a relationship and also hints at the beautiful love story that was about to unfold. I loved the old black and white style of this short and the refreshing music. It is simple, classic and I love it wholeheartedly.
Other Great Shorts: Where the Wild Things Are, Weston Woods Studios 1973, Teeny Tiny and the Witch, Weston Woods Studios 1980, Dr. Desoto Weston Wood Studios 1984