By Daniel Reif
It’s January! I know, we are upon a scary future. A future which formally starts on the 20th, but has already unveiled dark intention in recent days. The exclamation point on my opening sentence is not in any reaction to that danger. It is to welcome you to a positive future for this year’s Poop Culture Blog.
I am happy to announce the new blog series, A Year for Animation! Coming off a shallow 2016 of Sausage Part-ies and Sing-ing animals, I need a reason to discover a long-lost love for the imagination of drawn color. So for once a month this year (12 posts, 36 films in total), I will do just that! I hope you will join me, as we pour over a 120 years of a style of filmmaking as old as filmmaking itself. The originals and contemporaries; conventions and radicals; blockbusters and undergrounds; foreign and domestic; eras, styles, studios, and industries. Join me as we binge it all! (and- no promises- make 2017 a tad more bearable)
Without further adieu, its January. In the first, exciting entry of A Year for Animation, I look at three wildly inventive movies in a decade where animation became for adults.
FANTASTIC PLANET (‘La Planete sauvage’, 1973)
In Rene LaLoux’s 1973 film, European animation bellows its importance as an equal feature in the radical canon of the French New Wave. Psychedelic weirdness warps the conventional, Dr. Seuss coloring of the era into a hypnotic science-fiction fable.
Stop-motion (by Jiri Trnka Studios) visualizes a dimension where the “animal” of human beings is reduced to the power of a bug. “Draagens”, a blue humanoid species, preside over an exotic land as the predominant intelligent and physical life form. In their strange, gorgeously sketched realm of diamond bushes, congressional stadiums, and weird inductions of drugs, humans (beetle-sized and known as “Oms”) are at best, childhood pets; worst, wild pests slaughtered at will. When the adolescent, “Tiwa”, steals a baby Om from a horrified mother, the young Om grows to inspire a revolution.
Fantastic Planet (winner of the special jury prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival) is the reason we have animation. In a short 70 minutes, the film is able to completely immerse you in an imaginative experience full of marvelous structures, deep philosophies, and extensive, but non-exploitative nudity. Laloux’s work is only achievable in this medium, and only existent in an era where its medium emphatically embraced adult audiences, local and afar.
Directed by Rene Laloux, Screenplay by Laloux and Roland Topor – 1973 – France/Czechoslovakia (French) – Argos/ New World Pictures (Roger Corman) – 1hr 11m
The film is currently streaming on the subscription service, mubi, for a limited time.
EVERYBODY RIDES THE CAROUSEL (1975)
“8 rides for 8 ages!”
Though Everybody Rides The Carousel is the tamest entry on this adulterated list, its no less intelligent and harrowing. Created with the assistance of Yale film students and voices by his own family (over a concept/script developed and co-produced by his wife, Faith), John Hubley’s film has the feel of a homegrown, class project, but its effervescent anthology on the process of modern human life, provides this work great depth.
The paths are toddlerhood to teenager, taught adult, tired retirement, time for death. Interest to identity, ideology, intelligence, inner reflection. Love for your protectors to love for your parents, your soulmate, your children, your life. Creeds of our characters vary, but in 8 stages, Hubley’s film entrances us with the story of us. Accept his visual collection of (heightened) schoolyard drawings, because the crayon aesthestic will inevitably find a chance to draw your story.
Directed by John Hubley, Written John Hubley and Faith Hubley – 1975 – Hubley Studios – 1hr 12m
Note: Still a senior at Yale at the time, Meryl Streep sported a voice role! A fair note for someone just awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes (and subsequently wowed millions with a career speech for the ages).
If anyone is to claim usher for the ingenious adult turn of 70’s animation, it’s Ralph Bakshi. The controversial craftsman simply reimagined the limits of acceptable animation with his politically off-color and culturally poignant, early-decade films. The evocative likes of Fritz The Cat and Heavy Traffic brought a new, American auteur to our attention, and led way to his ambitious, fantasy-genre work of the late decade.
Before the raw filmmaker took on J.R.R. Tolkien’s defining text (Lord of the Rings (1978)), he drew from its mythology to create an original, post-apocalyptic war epic about a future Cain and Able of magic.
Two million years after Earth erupts into a hell fire of nuclear disaster, the remaining, radiation-affected life has transformed into a bright day of elf and fairy communities… but devious mutants have evolved and lurk as well. Two powerful, brother-bound wizards rule over battling moral arenas. The good, “Avatar” (voiced by Bob Holt), is a muse to his fairy-princess mother and a renowned, healing leader to his magical, forested nation. The evil, “Blackwolf” (voiced by Steve Gravers), never recognizes his mother, spends a childhood torturing animals, and becomes the violent dictator of “Skortch”- a grimy and immoral, mountainous enclave for the wild, ghoulish kind. The mother passes after a long life and kingdom oversight forces the aged good-doer to finally confront his estranged, terroristic familia; all upon a bloody, fantastical journey.
Wizards presents a heroic epic worthy of all viewership; a compliment you may not give to the filmmaker’s racier works. Still, as goes with those works, his voice wins the vision. Bakshi hones his evocateur label with (real) Nazi propaganda footage and imagery to drape the technologically-advanced, imperialist regime of Blackwolf. Sexism and racism set center stage in a world with prostitution and persecution. Potty-mouths and provocative dresses mix into his no-holds-barred signature, and the gritty luminosity feasts upon your gander in a striking look borrowed from graphic novels.
Written and Directed by Ralph Bakshi – 1977 – 20th Century Fox – 1hr 20m
These movies aren’t easy. Not because they choose a mature audience, because they choose it under their medium. Over the course of this series, we’ll find how animation became industrialized for the common family. Masterpieces by legendary studios will no-less highlight the enormous contributions by that industry in its many evolutions, but we must give filmmakers such as Bakshi and Laloux their rightful preservation, because like the best message any storytellers can give (and in a time perfect for their voice), they told us to refuse expectations and defy boundaries.
Join me again in February! (Hint for Volume 2: we’ll be deep in Oscar season!)
January 14th, 2017
Tell Daniel what animated flicks you hope to see in the series. Social media links in Team section.