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The Swanpride Award: Top Ten

Well, those are movies still in the competition:

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) by Lotte Reiniger, Silhouette

Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Sleeping Beauty (1959), Walt Disney, Traditional

Yellow Submarine (1968), Georg Dunning, Traditional

Watership Down (1978), Martin Rosen, Traditional

The Secret of Nimh (1982), Don Bluth, Traditional

The Great Mouse Detective (1986), Disney, Traditional

Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

The Little Mermaid (1989), Disney, Tradtional

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

The Nighmare before Christmas (1993), Skellington/Disney, Stop Motion

Ghost in the Shell (1995), Mamoro Oshii, Traditional

Princess Mononoke (1997), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

The Iron Giant (1999), Warner Bros, Traditional

Time to narrow the list down to ten. Let’s start with the easy choices: I said that Yellow Submarine wouldn’t have won in any other decade and I stand to my opinion. No matter which movie I would have picked for the 1960s, it would have been fallen out of the competition at this stage for sure.

And speaking of Yellow Submarine, one of the main reasons I consider it inferior is the quality of the animation. I therefore decided to use this as my first criteria and scratch movies off the list which don’t manage to shine through animation. Those which are struggling in this regard, usually because of budget issues, are Watership Down, The Great Mouse Detective, Ghost in the Shell and The Iron Giant. Only one of those four can make it to the next round.   Now, they all have something good about their animation. In the case of Watership Down and Ghost in the Shell, it’s artistic elements, in the case of The Great Mouse Detective and The Iron Giant it’s technical achievements. Technical achievements are impressive, but artistic elements are time-less. So I have to make a decision between Watership Down and Ghost in the Shell.

Mmmm…..I go for Watership Down. Mostly because I think that the gory moments in Watership Down are actually making a point, while the gory ones in Ghost in the Shell often feel a little bit too indulgent. This leaves the following Top Ten:

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) by Lotte Reiniger, Silhouette

Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Sleeping Beauty (1959), Walt Disney, Traditional

Watership Down (1978), Martin Rosen, Traditional

The Secret of Nimh (1982), Don Bluth, Traditional

Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

The Little Mermaid (1989), Disney, Tradtional

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

The Nighmare before Christmas (1993), Skellington/Disney, Stop Motion

Princess Mononoke (1997), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

 

So, let’s take a look at the reader choice…at the moment I am writing this, Snow White, Cinderella, Aladdin and The Jungle book have the most votes and fall out of the competition.

I added a few more to the list (strangle nobody voted for the year 1995, but there was a comment vote for Toy Story, so I added it). Same deal as before: Five possible choices and you have to pick the movies you don’t want to win.

 


The Swanpride Award: Time for a Recap

Well, we have rushed through decades and have now reached the 1980s. Here is what I learned so far.

  1. This is really difficult. I thought that at least in the beginning the winners would be fairly obvious. To be fair, they would be if I had gone by year, and not by decade. But still, I somehow expected that there would be at least one obvious winner each decade. But so far that has only been true for Fantasia.
  2. I really like the movies which try something different, as well as those which have visually a lot to offer.
  3. Animation was really in the process to kick off big, not just in America. But the war really derailed the process, which resulted mostly in some propaganda productions and then mostly nothing at all. Perhaps also because a lot talents ended up either in the US or behind the Iron curtain. It is a shame.
  4. The 1950s were thoroughly Disney dominated. It is also, artistically speaking, Disney’s strongest era so far. Which wasn’t exactly news to me, but looking at the movies put the point across yet again.
  5. The 1960s were a horrible decade for animation. I am still in shock. No wonder Disney made so much money with rereleasing the old movies to theatres again and again. But it is also the decade in which the list of animated movies released every year started to get long. The quality was just not quite there yet.
  6. The 1970s is the period which finally makes it worth again to look at obscure movies. There is a good chance to find a fairly unknown gem if you take the time to look through the various titles.
  7. It is really worth it to shift through the non-American production. To elaborate, the American movies usually find an audience if they are good, so they land on the best lists sooner or later. But the foreign movies are often only known in their own countries and are therefore automatically less mainstream. And if they get translated, the quality of the dubbing vary.
  8. Surprisingly, the 1980s is the decade I need to catch up on the most. There are still a number of movies on my consideration list I need to watch, just to be sure that I don’t overlook a gem.
  9. Real live can be very inconvenient.
  10. But plans can get adjusted.

To get to the point, my original plan was to cover the early 1980s next. The 1980s is the time during which what I once called the “Multi-Age” starts, meaning that there are suddenly enough high quality movies from various companies that you could put together a proper list of nominees is some years. But not in all of them. I therefore planned to take 1985 as the starting point and then go forward in two year steps. But there are still a number of movies from the 1980s I need to watch (or watch again) in order to write properly about it. And I simply don’t have the time to do so currently. I thought I would be able to do all of it, but first the list ended up longer than I expected and then real life got in the way.

So I’ll do the following. For now I jump forward to the 1990s, because I am further along with those articles. I’ll try to keep up the daily schedule, but I might miss out a day or two. And when I have covered the 1990s, I’ll hopefully have managed to catch up enough to discuss the 1980s.

Sorry that I can’t do this in the way I originally planned, but I promise, I’ll cover the whole century this month.

 


By the Book: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Last time I discussed the first part of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, so let’s discuss the second part this time around. It is after all the fitting topic for Halloween.

1. The Setting

One of the things which always puzzled me about the short was that especially Katrina’s clothing reminded me of tradition Dutch attire. Reading the story it makes much more sense, since it is explicitly set in a Dutch Valley near New York. This knowledge made me see the dynamic in the story and the Disney version with other eyes, because in this setting, Ichabod Crane is pretty much the outsider – and apparently not of Dutch origin. This might sound like a minor point nowadays, but it certainly had a meaning when the story was written.

2. The Animation

What is always noticeable about those package movies is how much the animation can change from segment between segment. Most of the complains I have for the Wind in the Willow segment are no issue here, with the exception of the shaky stills. The style is still somewhat basic, but it deserves a lot of credit for the sequence when the headless horseman attacks, even though the trick used is very simple: Whenever the horseman comes close, the background is tinted red, signalling danger.

3. The Characters

To be frank: Ichabod Crane is an a-hole, in the Disney version even more than in the story, though in both it is pretty clear that he is mainly interested in Katrina because she happens to be a beautiful heiress. But in the Disney version, he even goes so far to dream in great detail about Katrina’s father dying and him taking his place. That is cold. Very cold. He is also portrayed as the kind of character who would help a woman and then turn around in order to steal one of her pies. Though a certain sneakiness is also present in the original story.

Brom van Brunt (better known as Brom Bones according to the story) on the other hand is portrayed as a rough character with a good heart. In the Disney version he often seems to be a bully. But I am honestly not sure how much of the impression is based on values dissonance, and how much is intentional. After all, having mussels and being generous towards everyone is not really a bad thing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he originally was supposed to be more a lovable rogue. And what is the worst Brom actually does in the Disney version? Being jealous and telling a story. Those are only bad things if you see them as the act of someone who thinks he already “owns” the most sought after woman in the valley. But in neither version his motivations are explicitly stated. It is entirely possible that he is honestly in love with Katrina and just wants to protect her from Ichabod Crane. The short story is not really clear about this point, either.

And then there is Katrina van Tassel, whose thoughts are everyone’s guess. Is she really impressed by Ichabod? Or is she playing a little game in order to make Brom jealous? Or does she just feel sorry for Ichabod? It is impossible to tell, especially in the short story. There it is entirely possible that Ichabod was too optimistic all along. But in a way, it doesn’t really matter, she is just the McGuffin of the story.

4. The Plot

This might be the closest adaptation Disney ever did. The narration even contains direct quotes from the source text. And the story is told very faithfully, with the exception of two mayor points. One is the fact that Katrina already refused Ichabod before he leaves the party and meets the headless horseman. The other is the fact that in the short story it is heavily suggested that Ichabod’s cruel fate is an old wife tale (it is practically called that way), and that the true culprit was Brom. In the Disney version, Ichabod looks directly into the costume of the rider and reacts terrified, so it looks like this headless horseman is real after all. Both versions are interesting in their own right. The short story plays with the legend aspect and is practically a commentary on how this kind of stories start in the first place. The Disney segment on the other hand plays perfectly on the horror aspect. The first scenes, when the characters are introduced, are pretty harmless. Then Brom tells the story of the horseman (in a very catchy song) and the mood becomes more sinister. And finally the scene in the forest plays on the fears such a places causes. Even though the chase has some comedic elements, it never stops to keep the viewer on the edge.

5. The Soundtrack

I already discussed the main song of the short when I talked about narrative songs. There are two others of this kind in the segment, both designed to introduce characters. First Ichabod Crane:

Who’s that comin’ down the street
Are they shovels or are they feet
Lean and lanky skin and bone
With clothes a scarecrow would hate to own

You don’t even need to see the animation to immediately have a funny picture in your mind. In addition it emphasises that Ichabod’s look is also in-universe very peculiar.

Yet he has a certain air
Debonair and devil-may-care
It’s the new schoolmaster
What’s his name
Ichabod
Ichabod Crane

Well, at least the perception of the men. The woman apparently see more.

Ichabod, what a name
Kind of odd but nice just the same
Funny pan
Funny frame
Ichabod
Ichabod Crane

Ichabod may be quaint
May be odd and maybe he ain’t
Anyway there’s no complaint
From Ichabod
Ichabod Crane

I especially like the last verse. Ichabod Crane might look odd, but he doesn’t care that he does. And most likely because he doesn’t, and approaches women with confidence, he is considered attractive despite not following the common idea of good looking. This stands in stark contrast to Katrina.

Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah
Once you have met that little coquette Katrina
You won’t forget Katrina
But nobody yet has ever upset Katrina
That cute coquette Katrina
You can do more with Margaret or Helena
Or Ann or Angelina
But Katrina will kiss and run
To her a romance is fun
With always another one to start
And then when you’ve met that little coquette Katrina
You’ve lost your heart

To put it in blunt words, Katrina likes to flirt, but she won’t promise anything. And yet everyone falls in love with her, because she is beautiful. But it is notable how much those line infantilize Katrina, by calling her “little” and “cute”.

6. The Conclusion

When I reviewed the other segment of “Ichabod and Mr. Toad” I bemoaned that it wasn’t a full length feature. This segment on the other hand is perfect the way it is. There is no reason to put more into the story, because there is no more to the story in the first place. Disney did a perfect adaptation of the source text. And now is the perfect time of the year to watch it. But not shortly before you have to take a ride through the woods.

11 Headless Horseman


Advent

In Germany (and I guess a lot of other countries), today is the First Advent – meaning the first of the for Sundays before Christmas. Advent is the time we spend in preparation for Christmas , lighting one candle every Sunday.

The sixth of December is a very special day, Nicholas day. The prior evening, everyone in the house is cleaning their largest pair of shoes and putting it in front of the fireplace (or another special place). The next morning, the shoes are filled with sweets – if the children have been good. Supposedly Sankt Nicholas comes during the night to leave his gifts. He is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, who punishes bad children with his stick and leaves a piece of coal instead of sweets (some parents like to skip over this part of the legend nowadays).

The poem I decided to translate for you is set at this very special night. I did my best to keep the tone and the rhyme scheme. It is certainly not perfect, but I hope you like it nevertheless:

The night is blue, the stars gleam clear
snowflakes float quietly through the air.
High on the tops of the green pines
a slowly growing cover shines .
And from a window oh so bright
through the woodland flickers light.
The forester’s wife behind the frames
kneels calmly by the candle’s flames
On this peaceful nightly hill
the forester became her kill.

He was while cleaning her domain
for a long time just a pain.
So she chose to find relief
and do the deed on Nicholas Eve.

And when the deer went to rest,
the hare laid silent in his nest,
her husband had to feel the brunt
when she shot him from the front.
The hare awakened from his doze
moves three, four times his little nose
and goes back dreaming in the dark,
under the stars familiar spark.

And behind the wooden door
the forester’s blood still stains the floor.
Now in hurry his wife starts
to cut him into handy parts.
She quickly slices through the bones,
with the skill a hunter owns.
Carefully sorts limb on limb
(which was never done by him) –
the tenderloin she deems ideal
for her own holiday meal.
Finally, it’s nearly two,
she gift-wraps the residue.

Silver bells sound from afar,
village dogs bark where they are.
Who might it be, who late at night
still travels through the snow by sleigh?
Knecht Ruprecht with his golden gear
is coming closer on his deer.
“Milady, will you do your deed
and give some joy to those in need?”
Although the snow still falls thickly,
the holy man is greeted quickly:
“Those packages over there,
are everything I have to spare.”

To the bells clear chiming sound,
Knecht Ruprecht now goes on his round.
Through the house floats candle scent,
a star twinkles, it is Advent.

Okay, I guess you have noticed by now that this (fairly well-known) poem is not entirely serious. It was written by Germany’s most famous and best Comedian, “Loriot”. I hope you had fun with it, and that you will manage to enjoy advent instead of being stressed all the time.