Tag Archives: Animation

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE TUNE (1992)

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DIRECTED BY: Bill Plympton

FEATURING: Voices of Daniel Neiden, , Marty Nelson, Emily Bindiger, Chris Hoffman

PLOT: A tunesmith on a tight deadline races to make a meeting with an impatient music producer, but gets lost in the wacky town of Flooby Nooby en route.

Still from The Tune (1992)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: In Flooby Nooby you can enjoy love-struck food pairings, consult with a macrocephalic metamorphing wise man (named “Gus”), check into a heartsick hotel staffed by a bell-boy-cum-suicide-assistant, ride with a cabbie suffering the “No Nose Blues,” and learn a jig or two from eternally dancing surfers. Is that enough?

COMMENTS: From nothing, comes the great hand of the Creator. It rises through the beigeful void and crashes toward us, blackening the screen. And then,

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*THUNK*. We are grounded by a discordant slam of notes, and who do you think we see? Whose mighty hand have we witnessed? Why, it’s none other than Del, a love-smitten schlub trying to noodle out the final line of his number-one hit tune. So begins the eccentric, caricaturist charm of The Tune, as Bill Plympton bangs out an oddball voyage for his oh-so-mild-mannered protagonist.

What little narrative there is in The Tune exists to permit Plympton to dig deeply into his bag of tricks. After Del travels the crazy nested loops of highway on his way to his boss, the few nods to mundane reality are cast aside in favor of eccentric characters, daffy tunes, and the awe-inspiring power of an animator’s pencil.

Del’s surreal encounters never let up upon arrival in the unlikely town of Flooby Nooby, where he is greeted by the mayor with a zingy song expounding the virtues of this small town (accompanied by some horrible whistling, no less). Del meets a wary dog—doesn’t trust out of town folk, you see, with their heartless ways—who eventually morphs into a crooning Elvis canine belting out a stomping rock number about his improbably tall hairdo. Perspective comes and goes as trees shrink along a path, or as Del climbs a set of stairs and encounters a gentleman traveling downwards, walking along the steps’ rise. Heads (so many heads) morph to the point of breaking, but seamlessly pop back into form. “Gus” the Wise One suffers more than most—trains travel in and around it, burgers fly forth from his mouth, a fish is drawn from a forehead drawer, and so on—when his idiotic truisms go a step too far: “Just as a slice into a loaf of bread makes two pieces, you must multiply your wisdom.”

The ramble toward the climax is appropriately relaxed, and at one point Del inquires to the camera, “Why am I watching this?” The context is an extended (and gloriously masturbatory) sequence between two randos who obliterate each other’s faces through increasingly elaborate methods. Plympton more than hints at the pointlessness, but the pointlessness is the point. This is a cheery cartoon, stuffed to the gills with cheery airs, and its unceasing frivolousness underscores the sophistication of the craft. It’s a film where the line “Mr Mayor! How could you eat that adorable—and talented—hamburger?” is a sensible question. It’s got surf rock pathos and soulful noselessness. It has a Fat, Falling Pig hotel death suite and a Bad Joke Tango. The Tune is a Kantian ding an sich, hatching from nothingness and forging a wiggly world of absurdist tomfoolery.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Plympton’s first feature is a surreal surety, chock full of brilliant gags, decent tunes, and lots of unobtrusive heart: it’s 78 minutes of unrelenting fun.”–Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE PIED PIPER (1986)

Krysař [AKA Ratcatcher]

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Oldřich Kaiser, , Michal Pavlíček, Vilém Čok

PLOT: A retelling of ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’: a town is overrun by rats, a piper is hired to get rid of them, and when the town leaders renege on their agreement… it’s not good.

Still from The Pied Piper (1985)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA : It’s a visually striking adaptation, and the uncompromising mood and tone is equally striking. It’s not your average children’s Christmas special—and it still remains a relevant and timely tale.

COMMENTS: Genuine folktales are not known for being warm, snuggly, and uplifting; ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’ is definitely not so. It’s centered on rat genocide, with financial deal-breaking and child kidnapping as mere side dishes. Adapting it to family-friendly entertainment programming can be an especially tricky business, ending up soft-pedalling some elements of the tale, usually by adding songs and turning it into a musical.1

Intended as a children’s Christmas special for Czech television, Barta’s adaptation could have gone that route. Two previous directors had been fired for not taking a light enough approach to the material. But Barta, going back to source (mainly a 1915 novella by Viktor Dyk, as well as the original tale) instead leaned even further into the dark elements. In this iteration, the term “rat” doesn’t just apply to the usual rodents. In mammals, there’s little difference between rats and men; well, maybe the 4-legged kind aren’t as overtly cruel as the 2-legged.

The film opens on morning in Hamelin. The grinding of gears in the town clock chime to start the day as the townspeople scurry to do business: toiling laborers and craftsmen, coin minters, haggling merchants and customers, and merchants cheating customers. There are also cruelties: a rat killed for stealing pastry, the jeweler who barbs a necklace to cut the skin of the woman who will try it on, and the gluttony of the leaders of Hamelin as they indulge their appetites to obscene excess.

Business continues; people scurry to and fro, trying to get whatever coin they can, which goes into hidden stashes, while the rats grab whatever leftovers they can… behavior blackly reinforced in the overnight actions of the subterranean rat community.

The town is wealthy, corrupt, and debased—overrun by rats. And in this iteration, it gets what it deserves: the Exterminator. (It’s worth noting that the translation of the original title is “The Ratcatcher,” which is much more fitting to the mood and tone.)

Not your average children’s television special, certainly. But it was successful, both in Czechoslovakia and worldwide. Much of that success is rooted in the onscreen artistry: the design of the production is incredible, intricately textured with puppets carved from walnut and characters rendered in Cubist style—the angularity emphasizing their grotesque natures. The Piper himself resembles a gaunt specter of Death.

No one is innocent in this take, aside from a fisherman, an infant, and a female who comes to an unfortunate end. The Piper has come to cleanse the town of all of its rats. A glimmer of hope and happiness comes to fruition at the end—but only after the cleansing.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Barta doesn’t radically divert from the legend, but there are surreal touches to ‘The Pied Piper’ to keep it interesting and dark, examining the brutality of rats and men, with the helmer going expressionistic and pitiless as he mounts his take on the central betrayal.”–Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com (Blu-ray)

HOME VIDEO INFO: In 2023, Deaf Crocodile issued a Region A Blu-ray featuring a new restoration of the film with a commentary by Czech film expert Irena Kovarova and film historian Peter Hames. Also included is a restored Barta short, “The Vanished World of Gloves”; “Chronicle of the Pied Piper”, a behind-the-scenes featurette on the production; a new interview with Barta; and a booklet essay by Kovarova.

  1. The exception to this may be the 1972 musical adaptation directed by Jacques Demy, featuring Donovan, Donald Pleasance, and John Hurt, with music by Donovan. This writer has not seen it but from the description, it seems to be a fitting candidate for us to feature in the future. ↩︎

46*. BUBBLE BATH (1980)

Habfürdö, AKA Foam Bath

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“While it wasn’t a successful release, [Bubble Bath] now has all the qualities of a cult classic—riveting, unique, misunderstood, equal parts bizarre and brilliant, ahead of its time. It also fits into the category of surreal and psychedelic masterpieces from that era…”–Jennifer Lynde Barker, “Bubble Bath and the Animation of György Kovásznai,” in the booklet accompanying the Blu-ray release

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DIRECTED BY: György Kovásznai

FEATURING: Voices of Kornél Gelley, Vera Venczel, Katalin Dobos; Albert Antalffy, Anna Papp, Katalin Bontovits (singers)

PLOT: In a panic, Zsolt drives to Anna’s apartment, begging her to call Klári, his fiancée and Anna’s co-worker, to call off his wedding, which is scheduled for later this afternoon. Anna reluctantly agrees to help, as the two find themselves becoming attracted to one another. When Klári suddenly arrives, in the company of a drunken boxer,  to whisk Anna to the wedding, things take a turn for the screwball when Zsolt hides by dressing up as a frogman.

Still from Bubble Bath (1980)

BACKGROUND:

  • György Kovásznai was primarily a painter, but he made several surreal short films beginning in the 1960s. Habfürdö was his only completed feature. He died of leukemia in 1983 at the age of 49.
  • Habfürdö was only the third animated feature ever made in Hungary, and the first one not made for children and not based on an existing literary work. It flopped in its local release but was influential among animators, and later became acknowledged as a cult film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Things move too fast to pin down a single frame, but, although they’re depicted in multiple styles, what sticks in the mind most are the character designs: Zsolt with his wavy hair and bushy, wandering mustache, and (especially) Anna, with her black bra straps and round glasses that frequently glow with freaky patterns.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Psychedelic disco apartment; frogman down the drain

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although the story—a loose romantic comedy about a man having cold feet on his wedding day—is standard issue, this animated musical is thoroughly lysergic in its visuals, with the characters and scenery constantly morphing in stroboscopic wonderment. The entire film probably needs an epilepsy warning.

Restoration trailer for Bubble Bath

COMMENTS: Despite its relatively small size, Hungary’s contribution to the world of animation is tremendous. At its height, the national Pannónia Film Stúdió was considered one of the top five studios in the world, ranking only behind the Soviets, America’s Continue reading 46*. BUBBLE BATH (1980)