Brothers Quay (1979)

A dreamer is seduced by the mystery of the city at night. He leaves his room and goes into the street, where a tram-car carries him away. “As with much of their later work, it’s impossible to provide a coherent synopsis of the earliest surviving film by the Quay Brothers, as NOCTURNA ARTIFICIALIA defies attempts at verbal encapsulation at every turn. The Quays themselves acknowledged this when they said “as for what is called the scenario, at most we have only a limited musical sense of its trajectory, and we tend to be permanently open to vast uncertainties, mistakes, disorientations, as though lying in wait to trap the slightest fugitive ‘encounter’. ”Shot on 16mm and funded by the British Film Institute’s Production Board, NOCTURNA ARTIFICIALIA is a remarkably confident piece of work, the Quays surmounting obvious technical and budgetary limitations to create a private universe entirely out of their own recurring obsessions. Their later films may be more assured, but their roots are clearly visible here.”

– Michael Brooke

Quay Brothers

“Masters above all of an unusually entrancing form of stop motion animation… Fraught with unresolved dreamlike narratives and psychosexual tensions, these works draw on the Surreal, the Gothic and the Victorian and also reflect the Quays’ deep attachment to the literature, graphic arts, animation and music of Eastern Europe, which they have cultivated since their art school days” 

– Roberta Smith, The New York Times.

The extraordinary Quay Brothers are two of the world’s most original filmmakers. Identical twins who were born in Pennsylvania in 1947, Stephen and Timothy Quay studied illustration in Philadelphia before going on to the Royal College of Art in London, where they started to make animated shorts in the 1970s. They have lived in London ever since, making their unique and innovative films under the aegis of Koninck Studios. 

Influenced by a tradition of Eastern European animation, the Quays display a passion for detail, a breathtaking command of color and texture, and an uncanny use of focus and camera movement that make their films unique and instantly recognizable. Best known for their classic 1986 film Street of Crocodiles, which filmmaker Terry Gilliam selected as one of the ten best animated films of all time, they are masters of miniaturization and on their tiny sets have created an unforgettable world, suggestive of a landscape of long-repressed childhood dreams. In 1994, with Institue Benjamenta, they made their first foray into live-action feature-length filmmaking. 

The Quays have also directed pop promos for His Name is Alive, Michael Penn, Sparklehorse, 16 Horsepower, and Peter Gabriel (contributing to his celebrated “Sledgehammer” video), and have also directed ground-breaking commercials for, among others, MTV, Nikon, Murphy’s beer and Slurpee. 

The Quays’ work also includes set design for theatre and opera. In 1998 their Tony-nominated set designs for Ionesco’s The Chairs won great acclaim on Broadway. 

In 2000 they made In Absentia, an award-winning collaboration with Karlheinz Stockhausen, as well as two dance films, Duet and The Sandman. In 2002 they contributed an animated dream sequence to Julie Taymor’s film Frida. 

In 2003 the Quays made four short films in collaboration with composer Steve Martland for a live event at the Tate Modern in London and in 2005 premiered their second feature film, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, at the Locarno Film Festival.

In 2012 the Quay Brothers were honored with a career retrospective gallery exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Keep an eye out for the Brothers Quay newest short film, A Doll’s Breath, coming 2018.

“To enter the impossible, haunted night of a Quay Brothers film is to become complicit in one of the most perverse and obsessive acts of cinema.” 

– Michael Atkinson, Film Comment. 

“The twins work almost entirely by themselves: one positions the puppets, the other holds the camera. It would seem monkish if the results weren’t so often charming, sexy and just deeply odd.” 

– Jesse Doris, Time.

“These astonishing artists, working in an unlikely form, awaken our senses. They combine a demiurgic, Caligari-like mastery over their creations with the gentle dream archeology of Joseph Cornell: their puppets look less like things invented than like things discovered.” 

– Terrence Rafferty, The New Yorker.

The Chemical Brothers’ last album, Born In Echoes, came out in 2015. The last new music we heard from them was the standalone single C-h-e-m-i-c-a-l a year later. But a few months ago, the UK dance music greats began teasing the 12th installment of their long-running Electronic Battle Weapon singles series. And last month, they began teasing another new song called Free Yourself.
The Chems have been playing both new songs live on the European festival circuit this summer, and today, they premiered the latter as the “Hottest Record In The World” on Annie Mac’s BBC Radio show. “Free Yourself” showcases their particular brand of big-tent dance-music euphoria laced with spoken-word vocals about, well, freeing yourself: “Free yourself/ Free me/ Dance.” Have a look and a listen, and enjoy the animation found within.

This animated film about the pesky blackfly is based on the song of the same title, written and sung by Canadian folk singer Wade Hemsworth, with back-up vocals by the McGarrigle sisters. It recounts Hemsworth’s battles with this quintessential “critter” during a summer of surveying in Northern Ontario.

Rejected is an animated short comedy film by Don Hertzfeldt that was released in 2000. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film the following year at the 73rd Academy Awards, and received 27 awards from film festivals around the world.

Rejected is now considered a cult classic and one of the most influential animated films ever made, especially after it found its way onto the internet in the early 2000s and became a viral sensation. In 2009, it was the only short film named as one of the “Films of the Decade” by Salon. In 2010, it was noted as one of the five “most innovative animated films of the past ten years” by The Huffington Post. Indiewire film critic Eric Kohn named Rejected one of the “10 best films of the 21st century” on his list for the BBC Culture poll in 2016.

Tex Avery (1943)

Droopy is an animated character from the Golden Age of American Animation: an anthropomorphic dog with a droopy face, hence the name Droopy. He was created in 1943 by Tex Avery for theatrical cartoon shorts produced by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio. Essentially the polar opposite of Avery’s other famous MGM character, the loud and wacky Screwy Squirrel, Droopy moves slowly and lethargically, speaks in a jowly monotone voice, and—though hardly an imposing character—is shrewd enough to outwit his enemies. When finally roused to anger, often by a bad guy laughing heartily at him, Droopy is capable of beating adversaries many times his size with a comical thrashing (“You know what? That makes me mad!”).

The character first appeared, nameless, in Avery’s 1943 cartoon Dumb-Hounded. Though he would not be called “Droopy” onscreen until his fifth cartoon, Señor Droopy (1949), the character was officially first labeled Happy Hound, a name used in the character’s appearances in Our Gang Comics (the character was already christened the name “Droopy” in model sheets for his first cartoon). The Droopy series ended in 1958 as a result of MGM closing its cartoon department, but the character has been revived several times for new productions, often movies and television shows also featuring MGM’s other famous cartoon stars, Tom and Jerry.

In the cartoon Northwest Hounded Police, Droopy’s last name was given as “McPoodle”. In The Chump Champ, it was given as “Poodle”. Nevertheless, Droopy is generally understood to be a basset hound.

Walt Disney (1943)

Disney was now fully committed to the war and contributed by producing propaganda shorts and a feature film entitled Victory Through Air PowerVictory Through Air Power did poor box office and the studio lost around $500,000 as a result. The required propaganda cartoon shorts were also not as popular as Disney’s regular shorts, and by the time the Army ended its stay at Disney Studios when the war ended in 1945, Disney struggled to restart his studio, and had a low amount of cash on hand.

Victory Through Air Power is a 1943 American Technicolor animated documentary feature film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by United Artists on July 17, 1943. It is based on the 1942 book Victory Through Air Power by Alexander P. de Seversky. De Seversky appeared in the film, an unusual departure from the Disney animated feature films of the time.

Edward H. Plumb, Paul J. Smith and Oliver Wallace were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Popular filmmaker Walt Disney read Victory through Air Power and felt that its message was so important that he personally financed the animated production of the book. The film was primarily created to express Seversky’s theories to government officials and the public. Movie critic Richard Schickel says that Disney “pushed the film out in a hurry, even setting aside his distrust of limited animation under the impulses of urgency.” (The only obvious use of limited animation, however, is in diagrammatic illustrations of Seversky’s talking points. These illustrations featured continuous flowing streams of iconic aircraft, forming bridges or shields, and munitions flowing along assembly lines.) It was not until 1945 Disney was able to pay off his $1.2 million war film deficit. After Disney’s main distributor at the time RKO Radio Pictures refused to release the film in theaters, Walt decided to have United Artists (the distributor of many of his shorts between 1932 and 1937) release it instead, making it the first and only Disney animated feature to be released by a different movie studio.

On December 8, 1941, Disney studios were essentially converted into a propaganda machine for the United States government. While most World War II films were created for training purposes, films such as Victory Through Air Power were created to catch the attention of government officials and to build public morale among the U.S. and Allied powers. Among the notables who decided after seeing the film that Seversky and Disney knew what they were talking about were Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Disney studio sent a print for them to view when they were attending the Quebec Conference. According to Leonard Maltin, “it changed FDR’s way of thinking—he agreed that Seversky was right.” Maltin also adds that “it was only after Roosevelt saw ‘Victory Through Air Power’ that our country made the commitment to long-range bombing.” (These quotes by Mr. Maltin may be inaccurate or merely intended as hyperbole suitable to an introduction to a re-release of a film as the decision regarding long-range bombing had previously been taken and the Allied Combined Bomber Offensive had already begun on June 10, 1943, two months before Roosevelt saw the movie.) Roosevelt recognized that film was an effective way to teach and Disney could provide Washington with high quality information. The American people were becoming united and Disney was able to inform them of the situation without presenting excessive chaos, as cartoons often do. The animation was popular among soldiers and was superior to other documentary films and written instructions at the time.

The film played a significant role for the Disney Corporation because it was the true beginning of educational films. The educational films would be, and still are, continually produced and used for the military, schools, and factory instruction. The company learned how to effectively communicate their ideas and efficiently produce the films while introducing the Disney characters to millions of people worldwide. Throughout the rest of the war, Disney characters effectively acted as ambassadors to the world. In addition to Victory Through Air Power, Disney produced Donald Gets DraftedEducation for DeathDer Fuehrer’s Face, and various training films for the military, reusing animation from Victory Through Air Power in some of them.

One scene showed a fictional rocket bomb destroying a fortified German submarine pen. According to anecdote, this directly inspired the British to develop a real rocket bomb to attack targets that were heavily protected with thick concrete. Due to its origin, the weapon became known as the Disney bomb, and saw limited use before the war ended. In retrospect, some of Seversky’s proposals were derided as impractical such as operating a major long range air bombardment campaign from the Aleutians, a series of islands reaching westward from Alaska which is a remote area with a climate that makes for dangerous flying conditions.

Donald Duck Gets Drafted

Education for Death

Der Fuehrer’s Face

Max Fleischer (1941)

The Fleischer Superman cartoons are a series of seventeen animated short films released in Technicolor by Paramount Pictures and based upon the comic book character Superman, making them his first animated appearance.

They were originally produced by Fleischer Studios, who completed the initial short and eight further cartoons in 1941 and 1942. Production was assumed in May 1942 by Famous Studios, a successor company to Fleischer, who produced eight more cartoons in 1942 and 1943. Superman was the final animated series intitiated by Fleischer Studios, before Famous Studios officially took over production.

Although all entries are in the public domain, ancillary rights such as merchandising contract rights, as well as the original 35mm master elements, are owned today by Warner Bros. Entertainment. Warner has owned Superman publisher DC Comics since 1969.

Meanwhile, as Disney struggled to produce feature length animated films and maintain employee morale, Warner Bros., however, continued to focus on and perfect the gag related cartoon short.

“The Dover Boys at Pimento University” or “The Rivals of Roquefort Hall” (also known as simply The Dover Boys) is a 1942 Merrie Melodies cartoon produced by Leon Schlesinger Productions and directed by Chuck Jones. It was released by Warner Bros. on September 19, 1942. The cartoon is a parody of The Rover Boys, a popular juvenile fiction book series of the early 20th century. In 1994, the cartoon was voted #49 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.

Bambi is a 1942 American animated film directed by David Hand (supervising a team of sequence directors), produced by Walt Disney and based on the book Bambi, a Life in the Woods by Austrian author Felix Salten. The film was released by RKO Radio Pictures on August 13, 1942, and is the fifth Disney animated feature film.

The main characters are Bambi, a mule deer; his parents (the Great Prince of the forest and his unnamed mother); his friends Thumper (a pink-nosed rabbit); and Flower (a skunk); and his childhood friend and future mate, Faline. For the movie, Disney took the liberty of changing Bambi’s species into a mule deer from his original species of roe deer, since roe deer are not native to North America, and the mule deer is more widespread in the United States. The film received three Academy Award nominations: Best Sound (Sam Slyfield), Best Song (for “Love Is a Song” sung by Donald Novis) and Original Music Score.

In June 2008, the American Film Institute presented a list of its “10 Top 10″—the best ten films in each of ten classic American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Bambi placed third in animation. In December 2011, the film was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

Walt Disney (1941)

In 1941, in order to compensate for the relative poor box office of Pinocchio and Fantasia, Disney produced a low-budget feature film, Dumbo. Dumbo was a major hit and today is one of the most critically acclaimed animated movies ever made. Just a few days after rough animation was complete on Dumbo, the Disney animators’ strike broke out. This was caused by the Screen Cartoonists’ Guild, who severed many ties between Walt Disney and his staff, while encouraging many members of the Disney studio to leave and seek greener pastures. Later that year, Dumbo became a big success, the first time since Snow White. The critically acclaimed film brought in much-needed revenue and kept the studio afloat.

Dumbo is a 1941 American animated film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by RKO Radio Pictures. The fourth Disney animated feature film, it is based upon the storyline written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl illustrated by Helen Durney for the prototype of a novelty toy. The main character is Jumbo Jr., a semi-anthropomorphic elephant who is cruelly nicknamed “Dumbo”, as in “dumb”. He is ridiculed for his big ears, but in fact he is capable of flying by using his ears as wings. Throughout most of the film, his only true friend, aside from his mother, is the mouse, Timothy – a relationship parodying the stereotypical animosity between mice and elephants.

Dumbo was released on October 23, 1941; made to recoup the financial losses of Fantasia, it was a deliberate pursuit of simplicity and economy for the Disney studio. At 64 minutes, it is one of Disney’s shortest animated features. Sound was recorded conventionally using the RCA System. One voice was synthesized using the Sonovox system, but it, too, was recorded using the RCA System.

In 2017, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

A live-action adaptation of the film directed by Tim Burton is scheduled to be released on March 29, 2019.

The Making of Dumbo

Tim Burton’s Dumbo – trailer

Fantasia is a 1940 American animated film produced by Walt Disney and released by Walt Disney Productions. With story direction by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer, and production supervision by Ben Sharpsteen, it is the third Disney animated feature film. The film consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski, seven of which are performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Music critic and composer Deems Taylor acts as the film’s Master of Ceremonies, providing a live-action introduction to each animated segment.

Disney settled on the film’s concept as work neared completion on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, an elaborate Silly Symphonies short designed as a comeback role for Mickey Mouse, who had declined in popularity. As production costs grew higher than what it could earn, Disney decided to include the short in a feature-length film with other segments set to classical pieces. The soundtrack was recorded using multiple audio channels and reproduced with Fantasound, a pioneering sound reproduction system that made Fantasia the first commercial film shown in stereophonic sound.

Fantasia was first released in theatrical roadshow engagements held in thirteen U.S. cities from November 13, 1940. While acclaimed by critics, it was unable to make a profit due to World War II cutting off distribution to the European market, the film’s high production costs, and the expense of leasing theatres and installing the Fantasound equipment for the roadshow presentations. The film was subsequently reissued multiple times with its original footage and audio being deleted, modified, or restored in each version. As of 2012, Fantasia has grossed $76.4 million in domestic revenue and is the 22nd highest-grossing film of all time in the U.S. when adjusted for inflation. Fantasia, as a franchise, has grown to include video games, Disneyland attractions, a live concert, and a theatrically released sequel (Fantasia 2000) co-produced by Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney in 1999. Fantasia has grown in reputation over the years and is now widely acclaimed; in 1998 the American Film Institute ranked it as the 58th greatest American film in their 100 Years…100 Movies and the fifth greatest animated film in their 10 Top 10 list.