Did you know May 16 is National Classic Movie Day?
To celebrate, we’ve joined Classic Film and TV Café in highlighting five films from the 1950s. Our choices today are shorts from the final years of the Golden Age of Animation.
Although animation appears early in film history (one famous example is Gertie the Dinosaur from 1914), animation’s golden age began in the 1920s with the introduction of sound and popular characters like Mickey Mouse. The era ended in the late 1950s when animated shorts began to migrate from movie theatres to television.
According to the Library of Congress, about nine percent of American households owned televisions in 1950; that number jumped to ninety percent by 1960. During this time, animated shorts (or cartoons) saw a shift in audiences, so animators began appealing more to children than adults.
Today, we’ve chosen a (very) random sampling of 1950s animated shorts, presented here in no particular order. Of course, these films aren’t a comprehensive overview of the decade; these are just a few we like.
Gerald is a boy who speaks only in sound effects, much to the chagrin of his parents and the annoyance of his classmates at school. But when a radio executive discovers Gerald’s talents, he makes the lad a Star.
This Oscar-winning* film is based on the book by Dr. Seuss, and it was selected for preservation in 1995 by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Animator Lotte Reiniger became the most prominent pioneer in silhouette animation when, in 1919, she began making animated films. Wikipedia describes her cut-out animation (a form of stop motion) as “figures cut out of paperboard, sometimes reinforced with thin metal sheets, and tied together at their joints with thread or wire which are then moved frame-by-frame on an animation stand and filmed top-down”.
Her work is exquisitely beautiful, as evidenced in The Sleeping Beauty (1954).
The Tell Tale Heart (1953) is another animated short selected for preservation by the Library of Congress. It’s a psychological horror film, narrated by the fab James Mason, and based on the 1843 story by Edgar Allen Poe.
Rumour has it this film was intended to be shown in 3-D, but it wasn’t released as such. It was, however, given an “X” rating in Britain, which meant it could only be shown to adults.
The animation here is unique, and Mason’s narration is riveting.
Ah yes, Gumby, that weird, green-clay boy.
Gumby was a creature specifically made for TV; the first 12 stop-motion Gumby shorts aired on the children’s program, Howdy Doody. These were so popular they became their own television series, The Gumby Show, beginning in 1957. According to Gumby Wiki, Gumby shows and specials were produced – either regularly or sporadically – until 2002.
We’ve included Moon Trip (1956) on our list because (a) it’s strange, yet (b) it has an odd charm.
The Warner Bros. animated short, Duck Amuck (1953), features Daffy Duck in a ridiculous predicament: He and his environment are constantly erased and re-drawn by his animator, which causes him no end of frustration.
It’s a delightful bit of deconstruction. According to Wikipedia, “[Chuck] Jones (the director) is speaking to the audience directly, asking ‘Who is Daffy Duck anyway? Would you recognize him if I did this to him?…What if he had no voice? No face? What if he wasn’t even a duck anymore?’ In all cases, Daffy is still Daffy; not all cartoon characters can claim such distinctive personality.”
Happy National Classic Movie Day!