Sunday, December 21, 2008

Back to Basics

Cartoon Brew pointed to this cartoon by Hans Fischerkoesen, made in Germany in 1943. I think that I became familiar with his three wartime shorts almost 20 years ago, and this is my favourite by far.

There is much about this film that is clunky. The character designs and animation are behind the times; they resemble American cartoons from the mid-1930s. There are other throwbacks, such as imitating Max Fleischer's 3D process, where cels were photographed in front of a model on a turntable.

While it's possible to criticize the drawings and animation in this cartoon (and the version above is slightly truncated at the start and end; if I remember correctly, the film ends with the rabbit wistfully eating the carrot), there are things about this cartoon that exceed what's being done today. There is a high level of invention; the section after the snowman falls through the ice and attempts to hold himself together while melting is wonderful imagery.

What really makes this film for me is the section that takes place in the spring. The cartoon reaches a lyrical height that few animated films aspire to. The shots of the snowman lying among the flowers in the meadow and the finale, where he sings and dances with joy as he dies are heartbreaking and beautiful. The end of this cartoon puts me in mind of the lines from Dylan Thomas's poem Fern Hill: "Time held me green and dying though I sang in my chains like the sea."

There are many films more polished than this, but few of them are as touching. As Keith Lango points out, we shouldn't confuse the core of what we do with the way that we do it. As we enter a year that will probably force us to make do with less, it's a good thing to keep in mind.

Season's greetings everyone and best wishes for 2009.

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