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10 August 2003 (Switzerland)  »

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The Life of A Punctuation Mark
19 June 2017 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

This tale of how a small asterisk grows up to become the father of his own punctuation mark was one of the cartoons that John and Faith Hubley did after they parted ways with UPA. It was financed by the Guggenheim Museum, and it's clear why: it's a minimalist cartoon on an abstract background. It was offered for consideration for its year's Bet Short Cartoon Oscar, but didn't even get a nomination -- but then, neither did WHAT'S OPERA, DOC?

What I find remarkable about this cartoon is its score. Nominally it is by Benny Carter and a small jazz group, but one of the musicians is Lionel Hampton on the vibraphone. When Hampton is doing one of his joyous solos, it seems not as if the action is timed to the score -- Carl Stalling had figured out how to do that for Disney back in their Kansas City days. Instead, it seems as if Hampton's music is driving the action. It's something that was done only a few times. There are some sequences in the early Silly Symphonies, before Stalling left Disney, that offer the same impression; and a couple of Freleng's cartoons offer the same feeling -- SKYSCRAPER SYMPHONY and THE THREE LITTLE BOPS.

That the Hubleys managed to do this with a full sense of character with a purely abstract figure is a major achievement. I'm not saying I would have voted for awarding it the Oscar -- there's no way I would not prefer Chuck Jones' cartoon -- but it deserved the nomination.


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