Taken into consideration:
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), Walt Disney, Traditional
Heaven and Earth Magic (1962), Harry Everett Smith, Cut-out
The Sword in the Stone (1963), Walt Disney Traditional
The Jungle Book (1967), Walt Disney, Traditional
Yellow Submarine (1968), Georg Dunning, Traditional
Yes, that actually is it. Honestly, I was shocked when I went through the list of movies released during this decade. Just…wow, what a pile of crap. To be fair, I might have overlooked a good one. The list of animated features from this time isn’t exactly short, not even if you remove all the TV and under one hour productions. Some stuff is easy dismissible (I am a big fan of Asterix the Gaul, but most of the movies based on the comics would fall out of the list based on shoddy animation alone, and the same is true for most other movie properties which are based on a pre-existing series), but I actually went through quite a number of the movies listed, looking for a hidden gem. But between all the limited animation, Toei productions and some really, really obscure pieces which are frankly impossible to find nowadays, my search only yielded meagre results. And I even went so far to take a peak at some Italian productions in their original language. So let’s examine what is left.
With only five movies up for consideration, I decided to forgo my usual way of discussing the movies and instead narrow the field down. My first step is to kick “The Sword in the Stone” from the list. I actually like the movie, but it is mostly a cute little distraction for children and certainly not on par with what Disney usually has to offer. It is easily the weakest of the three Disney movies made during this decade.
I also lean towards disregarding Heaven and Earth Magic. I am sorry, I don’t care if it is considered an example of the Experimental Avantgarde, it is still a chore to watch. I am not even particularly bothered that it is the surrealistic tale about the loss of a valuable watermelon. The lack of coherent plot isn’t a mark against a movie if it is intentional. But there is nothing about this which remotely holds my interest. The repetitive and ugly animation becomes boring very, very fast, the so called music gives me a headache, the only thing which is kind of impressive about this, is the labour which went into it.
It’s hard to make a decision between The Jungle Book and One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which both got a nomination from one of my readers. The former one was Walt Disney’s last project, the latter one was a technical achievement. But both are also kind of safe. There is nothing challenging about either of them, none of them have animation which comes even close to what Disney achieved in the decades beforehand, and the stories are perhaps a little bit too simple, nice distractions but really nothing which makes them truly stand out. Jungle Book is maybe a little bit stronger because it has the more memorable characters and a more catchy soundtrack.
With those two still in the running, time to consider Yellow Submarine. This movie – puzzles me. It is easy to suspect that it was a movie hastily thrown together as a Beatles vehicle, but I actually get the impression that it was the other way around, that someone really wanted to make a surrealist movie and roped the Beatles in to ensure that the mainstream audience would watch it. So what is left if you ignore the presence of the Beatles? A deliberately nonsensical story mixed with music and a lot of odd imaginary. Which kind of works. Now, I admit, I have a hard time to watch the whole movie in one seating, I always need a break. But unlike Heaven and Earth Magic, there are a couple of scenes which are fascinating to watch. The animation style is very psychedelic in the typical late 1960s/early 1970s style. It’s easily the high point of the whole piece even though it is mostly badly concealed limited animation. Mostly. There are some moments it becomes downright artful (I especially like the dancing pair in the “Lucy in a Skye with diamonds” sequence).
The dialogue is often difficult to decipher not just because it doesn’t really make any sense, but also because the voice actors try to imitate the Beatles while mumbling through their lines.
All this sounds like reasons to give the award to Disney for delivering two more polished movies. But I admit, I have a certain respect for Yellow Submarine. It is a movie which stands out. As strange as it is, it is also very memorable. And while I like all of the Disney movies, including “Sword in the Stone”, better on a personal level, it is hard to deny that this might be the more impressive achievement, just for being that weird and still somewhat approachable for the mainstream audience (unlike the way more pretentious “Heaven and Earth Magic”).
I think it has become obvious by now that I have a soft spot for movies which are different. Usually just being different wouldn’t be enough though, I expect a little bit more. I would have never given the movie the award in any other decade, but looking at Disney’s more okay offerings and the lack of any other true challengers, I think it does deserve the award for being the best animated movie of the 1960s.
Tomorrow there won’t be an article here, instead you can head over to Honoring the Heroine for the first article I have written for fairy tale month. But I’ll be back on Sunday which a somewhat better era for animation.