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More gags, less Lambkin, please., 1 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a Max Fleischer Color Classic short produced by the Fleischer studio. There will be spoilers ahead:

As is typical for a Fleischer cartoon, this is a nice looking short, with some very good visual bits and some very funny gags. The principal problem with this is that you have far too much of the title character inflicted upon you as a price for enjoying the rest of the cartoon.

Lambkin is a child-the type of little terror who makes one dream with fond hope of retroactive birth control. He's snowed his mom into thinking he still can't walk properly, yet he can move around quite well when getting into trouble. His best scenes are with a squirrel and raccoon, which take the edge off the little punk. The watermelon scenes are well done. The future inmate handles an ax smoothly.

Mom comes to retrieve her little punishment from heaven, telling him they're going to be moving, whereupon the little creep begins a massive tantrum, continuing through his arrival at the new place, where, having lost his patience, dad lays down the law.

But the future felon is undeterred, going into the kitchen and messing with the appliances, setting up the best part of the cartoon, where various automated gadgets go haywire because their plugs have been switched. Too bad they didn't trim Lambkins down to the bare minimum and give us another 30-60 seconds of the house going insane.

This short is available on DVD and is well worth getting. You may have a higher tolerance for the little "dear" than I did.

Mickey, Donald and Goofy versus a boat. Any guess as to what happens?, 28 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a Mickey Mouse color short featuring Donald and Goofy. There will be spoilers ahead:

As with virtually every Disney produced short, the animation here is generally excellent. The premise is basic and the results are predictable. What makes these cartoons work is the gags and the animation. You know at the outset that things won't end well for our heroes. It's just exactly what's going to go wrong that you wait for.

The three decide to build a boat from a kit. All they need to do is assemble the parts. Much easier said than done. From the first step (unpacking the keel and ribs) the three are clearly in way over their heads.

The chief problem is clearly a failure to communicate, as the three seem to be working in complete and blissful ignorance of what the other two are doing. This results in two of the funniest sequences, where Mickey plays havoc with Donald as he tests out the wheel while Donald is trying to paint the rudder and then later, when Goofy uncrates the mermaid which serves as decoration and Mickey carries her off and Goofy thinks the mermaid is flirtatiously playing a game with him. The results are less than pretty.

The end is very funny even when you know what's going to happen. So don't book your space on their boat just yet, as they have a few kinks to work out at this point.

This short is on the Disney Treasures Mickey Mouse In Living Color DVD release and is well worth seeking out. Recommended.

Feast (2014/I)
Probably the best animated short Disney's done in years, 27 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This short won the Academy Award for Animated Short. There will be spoilers ahead:

This is a short produced by Walt Disney Animation Studio. It was released theatrically as an accompaniment to Big Hero 6, playing before the feature. As with pretty much everything Disney has done for a very long time, the animation is great. Here, the story is equal to the animation.

Though a dog named Winston is technically the focus of the short, it's really about relationships, relationships specifically tied to food. Winston is found as a stray by a guy named James, who lures him over with a french fry. Throughout the short, in very sharply done transitions, you see Winston at various points in time and the moments are intertwined with food. First dog food, then human food mixed with dog food and eventually just human food. James feeds him whatever he's eating.

Then James gets involved with a girl, a waitress at his favorite place to eat and the food starts getting healthy (read, vegetables) which Winston dislikes intensely. The couple breaks up and the junk diet comes back. But Winston's a very perceptive dog and realizes that James is incredibly sad because he's no longer involved with the girl. He fixes things between them and the role of food in his and their lives changes slightly, but still acts as the focus of Winston in the short, which creatively moves the story along. Watch the short through to the end of the credits, as the director and animators of the short use still drawings to continue the story as the credits roll.

This short has been included as an extra on the Big Hero 6 Blu Ray/DVD releases and is well worth seeing. Most highly recommended.

Remarkable short film with a notable cast, 27 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This short won the Academy Award for Live Action Short. There will be mild spoilers ahead:

This short, in some ways, is a bit predictable, but it's so well made, it doesn't matter that you can figure out what will happen (for the most part, as there are one or two surprises) ahead of time.

Sally Hawkins plays Heather, a crisis hot-line operator. She's shown reading at the start of the short, as she waits to go to work and then seen arriving at work, greeting a co-worker already on a line. The meat of the short begins when she takes a call.

On the line is "John" (actually Stan) who is voiced by Jim Broadbent. Broadbent never appears on camera, being a disembodied voice. His performance is quite good and very convincing. He's a despondent and suicidal man. Heather, of course, tries to get information out of him while trying to get him to change his mind. The bulk of the short consists of Heather talking to "John" and realizing that he's seriously intending on dying and there's nothing she can do about this to prevent it.

During the course of their conversation, the two discover some commonalities and "John" tells her his name is Stan. He finds out she's single and alone, which surprises him and he encourages her to go out more. The two more or less bond in a surprisingly short time.

The ending is very nicely done and a bit surprising. One of the most remarkable things about this short is its cast, given that Broadbent has won an Oscar and Hawkins has been nominated. Their performances are marvelous and the other two performers are quite good as well in smaller roles. The elements are all well done and the short deservedly won the Oscar a few days ago in a good year for shorts.

This short is available for purchase online and is well worth checking out. Most highly recommended.

Very good short from Famous Studios, 26 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a one shot cartoon from Famous Studios: There will be spoilers ahead:

Famous Studios had a very uneven body of work. A lot of their output was formulaic, particularly in the late 1950s. But their 1940s shorts were quite often pretty decent and some of them were quite good. This is one of the more successful ones.

Two children named Billy and Isabelle are fishing and catch a talking fish named Red Lantern, who offers to take them to the Land of the Lost, where everything which is lost goes. The trio swim down and enter the Land of the Lost, where Red Lantern takes them to see Billy's jackknife, who is putting his case for joining the Knives of the Square Table. He's rejected, even after Princess Butterknife pleads for him to be accepted.

Enter the villain, Dirty Dirk, who kidnaps the princess. The knives and their king chase after Dirk, with Jack following after. A short chase ensues, with Dirk temporarily stopping all the knives but Jack, who reaches his hideout first. Jack is shoved aside by the other knives, which blunt themselves on the hideout's lock. Jack uses one of his extra tools to take off the lock, get in, beat Dirk and save Princess Butterknife.

Jack is admitted to the company of the Square Table, knighted by the king and gets the girl. Red Lantern returns Billy and Isabelle to the surface and their boat and all ends happily.

This short is available on DVD and is worth getting. Recommended.

Cute and enjoyable, though a tad predictable, 25 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a one shot cartoon from MGM. There will be spoilers ahead:

This short follows a hapless donkey just trying to boost his contribution to the scrap rubber drive and running into all sorts of problems. It becomes clear early on that things won't go well for him when he has problems with a shovel he literally runs into. After getting hit by the shovel a time or three, he discovers that the reason for the trouble is also the "solution" to his anemic rubber pile-a buried inner-tube.

The donkey not being the shiniest pebble in the pond, he fails to think through his plans to consider the possible physics of his ideas. There are nice bits involving a sprinkler system and the undercarriage of a car up on blocks (the payoff to this latter one is probably the best laugh in the short).

The most novel idea in the short is to make the inner-tube out to be smarter than the donkey and to appear as though it's laughing at him and taunting him. The majority of the gags are both familiar and predictable, but it's a nice little cartoon, even if it doesn't exactly pull off anything novel or special.

This can be found here and there and is worth watching.

Excellent stand-up performance by a very funny man, 24 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a taped stand-up performance by the late comedian John Pinette. There will be mild spoilers ahead:

This is a comedy stand-up performance by John Pinette, taped in Montreal. Pinette had just completed two years in the musical "Hairspray" and was just getting back into doing stand-up when he did this.

In this show, he does bits on his time on Broadway in "Hairspray", trying to get into shape with a personal trainer, his family, traveling in France, driving to Italy to get Italian food, the amusement his friends and family have in putting him in potentially amusing situations which are also dangerous, like water slides, people in line at buffets or fast food places who hold up the line, among other things (I can't go to either a buffet or a fast food place anymore without thinking of Pinette and various routines).

Pinette, as usual, is hilarious. If you've seen and enjoyed Pinette before, then you'll probably love this show. He does physical impressions of things as diverse as Ewoks and babies and the description of himself on skis is priceless! It really is a good show.

This is available on DVD and is well worth getting and watching. Sadly, Pinette died in 2014. He was an extremely talented man and this and his other shows are marvelous. Most highly recommended.

Fairly good variation on the whole "belling the cat" fable starring Herman, 23 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a Herman short from Famous Studios. There will be spoilers ahead:

This is a Herman short, though the cat Herman faces isn't Katnip this time. The basic plot is that a group of mice are faced with a cat which has just eaten one of their friends and they are mourning his loss when Herman (a traveling bell salesman, complete with a "matchbox" car) comes along and says he has the solution to their cat problem, namely, bell the cat. One asks him just who will bell the cat and Herman offers his services.

Much of the rest of the cartoon is comprised of Herman attempting to bell the cat. But Herman encounters a problem. Unlike Katnip, who is dumber than the script for a Pauly Shore movie, this cat has a brain and uses it regularly. The majority of Herman's schemes fall short of ultimate success and he barely escapes being made lunch a few times, until he knocks the cat out cold and bells him and there's much rejoicing from the mice.

As Herman leaves, he has a surprise in store. The ending has a somewhat predictable though quite funny outcome. One of the better Herman shorts.

This short is available on the Noveltoons DVD release from Thunderbean and both this short and the disc in general are worth getting.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The value of friends, courage, strength and perseverance, 22 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This short has been nominated for the Academy Award for Animated Short. There will be spoilers ahead:

This nicely animated short, with the look and feel of a painting, is about a little pig with a big and thankless duty, that of the dam keeper. Inherited from his father, it's his responsibility to keep the windmill turning in order to keep the black clouds of pollution from coming into his town.

Shunned and bullied for being dirty and withdrawn, no one, adult or child seems to know (or perhaps they know but don't care) that he's carrying such a heavy load. He's a misfit, an outcast, sitting alone at the back of the rail car to and from school. Until a new kid comes to school.

He's a fox who sketches and he chooses to sit next to the pig the first day on the way to school. The fox becomes popular immediately and at recess that first day, he accidentally drops his sketch pad in the classroom on his way out to play. The pig retrieves it and looks through it laughing at the sketches.

The next morning, the fox, looking forlorn at the loss of his sketchbook, brightens up when he sees it next to the pig and the two begin to bond as friends, over this and other, less pleasant, experiences. The pig is happy for the first time.

Through an unfortunate turn of events, the pig is crushed and disheartened, causing him to forget his obligations and the windmill stops, letting in the polluted clouds. Once certain incorrect assumptions are cleared up, the pig races to set things right. The short ends rather dramatically and in a most satisfying way.

I've seen all five nominated shorts and though I have no doubt that Feast will probably win, having been seen by more people, while Feast is extremely good, I prefer The Dam Keeper and I hope it wins. All five are worth seeing and they are available for viewing. This short is most highly recommended.

The title is a play on words, a pun, which has more than one meaning, 21 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film was nominated for the Academy Award for Animated Short. There will be mild spoilers here:

It will take me longer to write this review than it took me to watch this short, which is roughly three minutes long. It's a cute, funny, clever and wicked short. It's like whipped cream on a dessert-tasty and light.

The plot is that a young woman gets a 45 with a song on it. She puts it on her record player and accidentally discovers that the grooves on the record correspond to points on her lifeline.

Unaware or unmindful of the admonition that it may be well for you to leave well enough alone when you know not the consequences of your actions (if you don't know what it does, don't mess with it) she starts playing with this, moving the needle around on the grooves and moves all up and down on the time-line of her life.

It's done very cleverly and the ending is rather apt, I suppose. I'm not surprised by the nomination and I don't really have a problem with it in general, except that it was a very strong year for short animation, with a couple of shorts I feel are stronger than this and another of the nominees. Still, I'm glad they got recognition and I wish them luck.

This short is available for download online and is well worth watching. Recommended.

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