Elmer Fudd: Oh Bwunhiwda/You’re so wuvwy.
Bugs Bunny: Yes I know it/I can’t help it. - ”What’s Opera, Doc?”
Given that I prefer short stories to novels and have stated categorically that I feel quality is much more important than quantity, you probably could’ve guessed that I also like short films. For purposes of this column I decided to define “short” as anything under half an hour, and as usual I established a few rules to narrow the field; the most important of those limits was that individual TV series episodes were excluded, because to allow them would produce far too wide a field to even consider. Furthermore, since the short film genre is essentially dominated by two formats (the music video and the one-reel cinematic cartoon), I bit the bullet and limited myself to one specimen (and one honorable mention) of each. Even so, there’s more repetition than I would like in two descriptor fields: three of these (and one HM) were directed by the late, great Chuck Jones, and three were produced by grants from the National Film Board of Canada. But it had to be; had I limited myself to one Jones selection and one NFBC selection the column would never have been done. Because the time-scale here is so tight (most of these were made between 1966 and 1976) I’ve decided to list them in alphabetical order.
1) Blackfly (1991) This wickedly funny animated video for an infectious song (don’t say you weren’t warned) was, like so many amazing animated shorts, produced by a grant from the NFBC; I first saw it on the Cartoon Network’s anthology series O Canada in the late ‘90s.
2) Don’t Come Around Here No More (1985) Of all the hundreds of music videos I saw in the mid-‘80s, this one sticks in my mind more than any other; it was rare for a video to achieve this perfect a synthesis of music and visuals, and the fact that I really like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and love Alice in Wonderland didn’t hurt either.
Honorable Mention: Under Pressure (1981) A striking video for a great song; it was directed by David Mallet (who was responsible for many memorable videos) and often shows up on “best video” lists.
3) Feed the Kitty (1951) Part of the genius of Chuck Jones lay in his realization that short cartoons were primarily a visual medium, and the greater the fraction of the story that could be told purely in images, the better. The only words in this masterpiece are those spoken by the housewife, Violet; Marc Anthony and Pussyfoot make only animal noises, and Marc Anthony’s facial expressions are among the most evocative ever portrayed in ink and paint.
Honorable Mention: What’s Opera, Doc? (1957), also directed by Jones, was the first cartoon ever selected for the National Film Registry, and is widely considered among animators, directors and critics to be the single greatest animated short ever made. It is nothing short of amazing, and only my love for “Feed the Kitty” kept it off of the main list.
4) Horton Hears a Who! (1970) is the first of two TV specials on this list directed by Chuck Jones; this one was his second with Dr. Seuss. Even as a child I recognized that the moral and philosophical implications of the story were far beyond those in most kiddie fare, and the spectacular Maurice Noble design is a feast for the eyes.
5) Icarus (1974) I first saw this odd, haunting claymation film as a filler short between shows on our local public television station in the late 1970s, and I never forgot it (though until the advent of the internet I despaired of ever seeing it again). Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get a good copy of it despite the fact that it was included in Fantastic Animation Festival (1977).
6) Lady Fishbourne’s Complete Guide to Better Table Manners (1976) is one of the funniest things I have ever seen, and it rewards repeated watching with little details that one might not catch the first time around. Be prepared for “A thousand pardons, I was most revolting” to become a permanent part of your vocabulary. I apologize for the huge, ugly logo some moronic Philistine encumbered this YouTube copy with.
7) Number Three Ball (1970) This short film was produced for Sesame Street by Jim Henson and directed by Frank Oz. Though it’s extremely short, Oz had to build the complicated props by hand, a process that took months; the result is well worth it, because this is probably the most memorable of the many clever and often beautiful shorts which appeared on the show during the early 1970s.
Honorable Mention: E-magination (1969) Here’s another outstanding Sesame Street short, a lovely and surreal pastel animation with a unique, wistful score.
Honorable Mention: This Lollipop is Following Me (1971) Sesame Street’s sister show, The Electric Company, also had some incredible animated shorts, of which my favorite was this inexplicable nightmare in miniature. I still occasionally find myself singing this song out loud.
8) Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (1975) Chuck Jones adapted a number of stories from Kipling’s Jungle Book as TV specials, but this was in my opinion the best. The first time I saw it I disliked the way Jones depicted the mongoose’s motion, and also a few silly bits of “business” near the beginning, because I felt they detracted from the serious tone of the story (Orson Welles is the narrator; ‘nuff said). But eventually the rest of it won me over, and it’s now one of my favorite films of any length.
9) What On Earth! (1966) This clever satire from the NFBC was obviously not directed by Jones, but I owe my discovery of it to him because it was featured on his groundbreaking kids’ show Curiosity Shop, which I am still waiting for on DVD. No YouTube video of it is available, but you can watch it on the NFBC website by clicking on the title.
10) Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968) This is IMHO the funniest and most entertaining of the Walt Disney Pooh adaptations; every time I watch it I get the giggles for days over “Well I say now. Someone has pasted Piglet on my window.” Unfortunately, Disney being its usual greedy corporate self, the film isn’t available online, but at least I can show you the heffalump song:
Honorable Mention: The Wizard of Speed and Time (1979) Since “Blustery Day” wasn’t available I figured I would give you one more for the road (so to speak). Keep in mind this was all done with stop-motion animation, without any help from computers whatsoever.
Please feel free to include your own favorites in the comments!