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A Fantasy on London Life (1950)

 -  Animation | Short  -  1950 (UK)
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Animation | Short

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1950 (UK)  »

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Oranges and Lemons
(uncredited)
Traditional
Arranged by Arthur Wilkinson
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Unusual cartoon essay on London
1 February 2009 | by (Bronx, NY) – See all my reviews

"A Fantasy on London Life" (1950) is an English-made cartoon short that was part of the "Musical Paintbox" series designed to offer "stylized 'fantasies' of regional Britain." It was included in a package of cartoons entitled "David Hand's Animaland," released on VHS by Streamline Pictures in the U.S. in 1992. The Animaland cartoons focused on the comic antics of cartoon squirrel Ginger Nutt, while "Fantasy on London" presents a series of vignettes done in varying styles of art to create a whimsical portrait of London in 1950. It was clearly an odd choice for such a package since it's so unlike traditional cartoons, but it does make for a pleasant surprise.

The cartoon opens with aerial shots of London accompanied by a choral song on the soundtrack and then takes random trips on little tangents, including a bit where a line of cats invades the fish market at Billingsgate, coming out seconds later with full stomachs. The longest section of the seven-minute-&-39-second cartoon is devoted to the portrayal of waves of white-collar workers commuting by train to London and then heading back to "Suburbia" at the end of the day. (A subway map comes to animated life at one point.) The workers all look alike, with identical heads of balding hair, mustaches, bowler hats, glasses, dark coats and ties and umbrellas. They move in lines like robots and we are then treated to a sidewalk vendor selling dozens of wind-up toys in the image of these workers. When Big Ben tolls 5PM, the workers all hurry back to their attached homes in Suburbia where they all listen to the same radio station and hear a female singer perform portions of the famous song, "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," in a jazzy American style. One poor enraptured soul closes his eyes to fantasize being surrounded by attractive women in bathing suits only to suffer a rude awakening.

At some point, in the course of another tangent, we see a series of sidewalk drawings done in colored chalk telling the story of a long-married couple in pictures, from their earliest meeting as teens to their 50th wedding anniversary. The title for these panels is "My Old Dutch" and the drawings are accompanied by a song about an old married couple that's apparently called "My Old Dutch."

The animation is fairly stiff throughout, but compensates with detailed painterly artwork and muted colors that are quite a contrast to the bright saturated colors seen in Hollywood cartoons of the time. Abstract effects and stylization are used to great effect in a way that might be seen as a foreshadowing of the effects that maverick American cartoon studio UPA strove for in its cartoons of the 1950s. It's an interesting experiment, although a bit disjointed in its final result, never quite sure whether it's a freewheeling visual essay or a satire on postwar suburbs. Still, it's quite a fascinating discovery to make when searching through one's collection of old cartoons on VHS.


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