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The Substitute (1961)

Surogat (original title)
Simple story about the man who comes to the beach and uses inflatable objects for all of his needs.

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Won 1 Oscar. See more awards »

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Simple story about the man who comes to the beach and uses inflatable objects for all of his needs.

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3 December 2010 (Greece)  »

Also Known As:

Der Ersatz  »

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Featured in Animated Century (2003) See more »

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Classic animated short, far too little known
29 August 2001 | by (Tulsa, Oklahoma) – See all my reviews

"Surogat" (mostly known in English-speaking countries as "Ersatz") was the first film produced outside the USA to win an Oscar for "best cartoon". While there were many great "foreign" cartoons in previous years, "Surogat"'s Oscar was auspicious in that it marked the point at which the mainstream of American animation took notice of such work. In view of the course American animation eventually took, it's easy to see why.

"Surogat" itself shows evidence of American influence, specifically from the UPA studios. UPA's animators developed a style (really a range of styles) taking cues from modern art and graphic design. Figures were rendered iconically; what they stood for was more important than their exact resemblance to what they depicted. UPA used this style to tell fables for a presumed adult audience, and avoided cuteness and slapstick.

"Surogat" is an adult fable as well, but obviously director Dusan Vukotic and writer Rudolf Sremec didn't feel bound by UPA's anti-slapstick rule. Otherwise, their film could easily pass as UPA product, though it outdoes all but UPA's very best work. The figures consist of simple geometric shapes, and most of their movements are either parallel to one of their edges or else curvilinear in the manner of "rubber-hose" animation; in other cases, they simply "pop" from one pose to another. (An acquaintance of mine called it "a bunch of triangles and shapes hopping around." "The Simpsons" effectively parodied the style by taking advantage of attitudes like that.) Despite this minimalism, the characters are identifiable as characters, and within the boundaries of fable the story works just fine.

UPA's main influence on American animation lay not in its "artistry" so much as the way its style was easy to copy, and to transfer over to "limited" animation for television, a growth industry at the time. TV animators also watched cartoons like "Surogat" for potential shortcuts they could use in their work. (I believe one immediately influential aspect of "Surogat" was its music, a sort of advanced semi-jazzy big-band/orchestral piece that wouldn't be out of place in, say, a "Jetsons" episode.)

However, when a new-generation of animators went to work for Hanna-Barbera and attempted to take their work "back to basics", they took artistic cues from UPA and other "artistic"/"iconic" work of the 1950's which influenced H-B. Hence, the influence of "Surogat" shows up in such recent work as "Two Stupid Dogs", "Dexter's Laboratory", "The Powerpuff Girls", and (the most self-consciously "artistic" of this group) "Samurai Jack".

Unfortunately, "Surogat"/"Ersatz" is very hard (at least for Americans) to find on video. Janus put it on a collection of short films, but this would appear to be out of print; however, it may be found in some libraries, especially those with older or larger video collections.


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