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Category Archives: Animation

Little King in Cartoonland

1930s comics star The Little King befriends two hobos in Christmas Night (1933). We recently saw this via Netflix stream as part of the Cartoons That Time Forgot: Van Beuren Studios collection. It’s strange and not too terribly holiday-esque, but cute all the same:

How about some more animated Little King? Here he is three years later with a much more fondly remembered cartoon star, in Betty Boop and the Little King. Onscreen, he’s a bit vague; cartoonist Otto Soglow bestowed the character and his strip with an Art Deco panache that was more appropriate for the newspaper comics page than the cinema. Can’t blame ’em for trying, however.

Related: The Little King at Wikipedia.

Weekly Mishmash: December 5-11

Hollywood Hotel (1937). Another splashy musical from the Busby Berkeley volume 2 DVD set. Berkeley directed this frothy Hollywood sendup with Dick Powell as a toothy singer who crosses paths with a temperamental movie star (Lola Lane) and the unknown (Rosemary Lane) who is employed as her double when the lady refuses to attend the premiere of her own film. The film opens with a bang with the supremely odd Johnnie “Scat” Davis performing “Hooray for Hollywood” as Benny Goodman and band ride in on a cavalcade of motorcars. It doesn’t bode well when the most memorable moment is in the first five minutes, however, and what follows is a grab-bag of funny moments interspersed with lots of filler numbers and even needless supporting characters (why the “goofy” supporting roles played by Hugh Herbert and Mabel Todd were included is anyone’s guess). The many self-aware digs at Hollywood are quite a kick (in a proto-Singin’ in the Rain twist, Powell even winds up dubbing the singing voice of a fatuous movie star), but the film’s only nod towards anything outside the Warner studio gates is stiff Louella Parsons playing herself — who was certainly no rival to Hedda Hopper in the acting department. Oh, there’s also legendary makeup man Perc Westmore in a fascinating bit in which he turns Rosemary Lane into a glamour puss. Berkeley directs smoothly, but the film has little of his usual panache and a dearth of memorable tunes. Lola and Rosemary Lane are both disappointingly bland, but I can’t think of anyone else who could have played a vain actress and her pretty lookalike at the time (maybe Ginger Rogers and the third Lane sister, Priscilla?). Anyway, I think I’m being too harsh for what is essentially a fun, undemanding flick. Let’s check out some more of the indescribable Johnnie Davis:

Rome Adventure (1962). Rented this lushly filmed Troy Donahue/Suzanne Pleshette romancer hoping for something soapy and escapist a la The Best Of Everything. Pleshette plays a rebellious teacher (named Prudence!) who is expelled from her workplace for distributing the same dirty book this film is based on (how meta can you get?). She takes off for the relaxed mores of Italy and becomes the object of affection for both native Rossano Brazzi and dreamy American Donahue. The film is pretty much half romantic drama, half travelogue. The romantic parts are nothing but trite dialogue (“I’m hungry.”) and predictable plottage, but I enjoyed the miles of footage showing Pleshette wandering about a strangely clean and deserted Rome. Had they ditched all the mush, it might have been a halfway decent film. Pleshette is beguiling in her movie debut, but Donahue always struck me as a shallow, brooding James Dean wannabe and here he’s no different. Angie Dickinson is around for about five minutes playing Donahue’s former flame.
Synecdoche, New York (2008). Knowing this is the directorial debut for screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation), I knew to expect something at the very least quirky and interesting. Synecdoche was all that, but the film is too ambitious and spottily done to be a complete success. The story opens with theatrical director Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), 40, depressed, and with a crumbling body, as he deals with his prickly artist wife (Catherine Keener) and an infatuation with the perky ticket taker (Samantha Morton) where he works. After his wife leaves him and totes their daughter to Europe, he becomes the recipient of a grant which allows him to stage a huge autobiographical play inside a warehouse containing a life sized replica of New York City and hundreds of extras who seemingly have nothing better to do. The never-completed production goes on for decades, as Hoffman’s life and art become intertwined. Such a cool concept for a movie (wondering what legacy we leave behind), having a profoundness that is rarely done anywhere. Too bad the film itself is overlong, overly pretentious, and filled with obtuse flourishes (Morton’s burning dwelling, random shifts in time) that have no rhyme or reason. Hoffman was very good, and there are several clever/funny bits (such as when an extra asks the harried Hoffman for coaching on how to walk properly), but it became a draggy, depressing mess in the second half. It does score points for sheer originality, but Björk and director Michel Gondry did a strikingly similar thing in 1998 for her “Bachelorette” video. Check out that one instead.
Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). One of my favorite films of 2005, a DVD of which will be proudly gifted to my 8 year-old nephew this Christmas. Upon this second watching, I hadn’t realized some of the more subversive, adult-oriented gags in the script. When the character of Lady Tottington (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) bemoans that her boyfriend “hasn’t noticed my melons” whilst hoisting two huge fruits to her chest, that raised an eyebrow. Another funny moment occurred when the nude (don’t ask) Wallace hoisted a box over his midsection with a “Might Contain Nuts” sticker. Those Brits, so cheeky!

Island of Misfit Animated TV Specials

Came across this lesser-known Ralph Bakshi project while viewing and researching his Mighty Mouse, the New Adventures series. During the second Mighty Mouse season, he directed an hour-long special called Christmas In Tattertown. Apparently it was supposed to serve as the introduction for a Tattertown series, but only the special (which was repeated on Nickelodeon in the early ’90s) was completed. In the intro below, I like the various homages to 1930s Fleischer cartoons; perhaps it was too visually sophisticated?

Dig, Dig, Dig, Remix, Remix, Remix

“Wishery” is another Disney video mashup from (I think) the same person who did similar treatments for Alice In Wonderland and Mary Poppins. Snow White’s trilling voice sounds weird enough on its own, mixed up like this it is truly mesmerizing.

Fun with Capitalism

Here’s something that might be a fond childhood memory for board members at AIG or Goldman Sachs — Going Places is a primer on good ‘ol American economics produced by John Sutherland Productions in 1948. The animation and music is appealing throughout, enough to make me want to check out more Sutherland cartoons from back then (p.s. appropos of nothing, I found this on YouTube while looking for the Heather Locklear sitcom of the same name). Cute ‘n perky!

The Lovely Bones

Let’s take a look at one of the TV series that was a by-product of the early years of The Simpsons, shall we? Family Dog originated as an episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. CBS commissioned a full-fledged series based on the success of that episode, but after sitting in the can for two years the network wound up airing only a few episodes in the summer of 1993. As seen in the “Show Dog” opening below, the project bears the charming creative imprint of Brad Bird (The Incredibles). Having only seen the Amazing Stories segment, I’m really curious as to what this entire series was like.