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I think the greatest challenge animators face and have faced since the early 19th century is not a lack of money or viewers. There will never be a time when people will not demand entertainment. No, I think that most animators and their films aren’t taken seriously. This is a fact I can’t emphasize too strongly. Perhaps it is because since their creation cartoons and films have been admired and loved mostly by children. Because most audiences view animated films as children’s entertainment, they automatically believe it is beneath them. Why do people have this mentality? Regardless of what people say, there is something about animation that attracts us and enlightens us. Anything can happen.

The dreams, visions and nightmares trapped in our minds are brought to life through movies like Coraline (2009), Up (2012) , and Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989). Books deemed unfilmable, leave the confines of the imagination and are given life through unforgettable classics like Pinocchio (1941) and Peter Pan (1953). In short, animation holds the key to representing mankind’s dreams and our fascination with life and the unknowable. It captures the sense of wonder carried throughout childhood that most lock away after they have grown older. Thus, anything once beautiful and desirable is replaced and what was once magic is reduced to childish dreams.

“O, to be sure, we laugh less and play less and wear uncomfortable disguises like adults, but beneath the costume is the child we always are, whose needs are simple, whose daily life is still best described by fairy tales.”
Leo Rosten

Though this is true for most, there are still those who carry on living “childish” dreams writing stories, painting and creating movies. I want to write a few posts , continuing from my previous Memorable Moments in Animation series, to show that animation is something truly extraordinary. It would be too difficult to do it in chronological order, so I will merely touch on moments from films I find extraordinary. For this first list, I will mostly be talking about scenes that come from relatively average and forgettable films.

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Hen Wen’s Capture, and The Cauldron Born, The Black Cauldron 1985

The Black Cauldron, directed by Richard Rich, stands as one of Disney’s weakest and least remembered films. Dark in nature, it centers on the life of Taran, who wants to become a knight and become one of Prydain’s greatest heroes. After his oracle pig Hen Wen is captured, he comes face to face with the Horned King who is searching for the Black Cauldron to bring to life his dead army. Though the plot is average and the characterizations clique and hardly like the original books, the animation in some instances was fascinating. The chase scene between Hen Wen and the Horned King’s winged creatures was fast and featured a shot from the monsters point of view as it swooped down to capture the helpless pig. Both terrifying and exhilarating, this scene became a benchmark in animation. Such a scene, with its speed and pacing, had not been achieved in that kind of definition before. It was also the first Disney film to use the new  APT process, which used cel animation and colored definition on its characters, and small CGI effects. Animators showed this most effectively through the birth of the cauldron born, an eerie scene but brilliant nonetheless. All in all, this film will always be best remembered as a small stepping stone towards more advanced animation.

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Bear Fight, Fox and the Hound 1981

The Fox and the Hound revolved around the friendship of a fox and hound raised by different owners: one a sweet old woman and the other a gnarled old hunter. Eventually Tod is hunted mercilessly and cornered in the forest by Tod and his owner. Before they can enact their revenge however, they are attacked by an angry black bear. In an otherwise average film, the fight scene between Copper, Tod and a monstrous black bear was absolutely captivating. Animation historian Jerry Beck praised the dedication given to the short yet memorable scene. The animator in charge of this portion of the film was none other than Glen Keane, who is in my opinion one of the animated world’s greatest character designers. ( I think that I should just do research on him and write about so I can get it off my chest) Watching it, I am always struck by the bear’s detail and ferocity. Unlike the other characters, his presence was real and immediately drew the audience’s attention. Again, this is a scene from an otherwise average film, yet, it is mind grabbing all the same. Though Don Bluth and eleven other animators eventually left the project to form a competing animation studio, there were still those like Glen Keane who despite the circumstances created something unforgettable.

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The Woods and the Headless Horseman – The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) {I looked for this scene but I couldn’t find it in good definition. This is the best I could do . Go to 4:00 in this clip —–> HERE}

I doubt that many besides hardcore Disney enthusiasts have seen this film. Disney throughout the 40’s had animators working on “package” films which featured two or more stories. Other package films like Fun and Fancy Free, Make Mine Music, and Melody Time and then this film were created so short films could be released widely. Ichabod was the second of the two stories featured in the 1949 completed film and starts normally enough with Ichabod and the tough man Brom competing for the hand of Katrina van Tassel. It isn’t until after Brom tells the tale of the Headless Horseman and Ichabod wanders into the woods that the story becomes very interesting. Suspenseful and terrifying the Headless Horsemen, like the Black Bear, immediately grasps your attention and is showcased with dark purple and blue colors. The image of the horseman charging after the terrified Mr. Ichabod doesn’t particularly encourage fear but rather brings to mind the horrors conceived throughout our childhood. Is he real? Not beyond the screen. He is the embodiment of the superstitious stories people tell for fun that haunt only in the imagination.

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The Moving Bottle, Someone’s Waiting For You– The Rescuers (1977)

Rescuers is not Disney’s greatest film, but it was an important step to the upcoming Disney Renaissance. Up until the Disney Renaissance, a new generation of animators slowly gained momentum until their ruff talent rounded and peaked. The Nine Old men took under their wings many young artists aspiring to become animators and slowly passed on the mantle. Unlike Disney’s original animators, these new artists didn’t have the privilege of working in the age of cartoons. Day time television was the new thing and movies all around (animated or live-action) lost that sparkle from previous years. That aside, I think it is important to note what the new and old animators accomplished in this movie. I include scenes from the original Rescuers, not because this is a remarkable film, but because there were incredible beautiful moments. The opening song was especially eye-catching, with its still painting depicting the young girl Penny’s bottle traveling in search of help. Also, the song “Someone’s Waiting For You” carried incredible emotionalism through small, simple glances at Penny and her surroundings. The film is average put there are great moments hidden throughout.

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Dreams to Dream, Fievel Goes West (1991)

It is hard to believe that this sequel came out the same year Beauty and the Beast hit theaters. Beauty is a masterpiece and the first (and only) animated film to receive Best Picture at the Golden Globes and be nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, whereas Fievel is for the most part a forgettable film. Its predecessor An American Tale (1986), directed by Don Bluth, was also ,at most, average. However, despite its lackluster plot and animation the scene “Dreams to Dream” has stayed with me from childhood. The lighting was especially eye catching as she sang this title song under falling chiaroscuro (sharp contrast between light and dark). Personally, this song was better than “Somewhere Out There” (theme song from An American Tale), especially in its animation. Would I recommend the film? Well, not exactly. I still enjoy it but that is because it is a colorful childhood memory.

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You Will Be My Wings, Thumbelina (1996)

Another Don Bluth film, Thumbelina is yet another average film released during the Disney Renaissance. I believe I mentioned it in my Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) review as an idiotic counterpart to a brilliant animated masterpiece. The animation was sloppy in many parts of the film and lacked details in shadowing and movement. Its story is rather silly, everyone who is male for some odd reason wants to marry a tiny teenager (there is a frog, the prince, a beetle and a mole) and the music was. . . interesting to say the least. Does that mean I don’t enjoy it? If anything, I watch this film to have a good laugh with my family. In fact, I love watching it. But… it is not the greatest. There is one scene however that is impressive. During the title song and flight “You Will be My Wings” the animation is quite lovely. It plays almost like a choreographed dance from a broadway show (which makes sense because Barry Manilow wrote the music). They remembered for the most part to include shadowing and their flight was well paced. Other than this scene, there really isn’t anything else that is remarkable.

land before timeFight With the Sharp Tooth, And others The Land Before Time 1988

Unlike the last two mentioned films, Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time was actually a well done film for its time. Animators heavily researched dinosaur anatomy and their world’s construction through museums and from Paleontologists in order to capture, the closest way they could, the ancient romanticized world of the dinosaurs in the Cretaceous Period. The story is unoriginal, (for example the herbivores must flee from the sharptooths and other meat eaters, to a green safe haven the “Great Valley”,) but its animation was splendid. Of all its scenes, the fight between Little foot’s mother and a voracious sharp tooth is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. Excellent in its attention to detail, the scene not only shows the immense ferocity of the dinosaurs, but gave audiences a glimpse into the kind of world they lived in. With the earth reforming and breaking apart, it symbolized how the dinosaurs, despite their immense size and strength, were no match for the power of the earth and fate. Though it still somewhat terrifies me, I still can’t deny how awe inspiring it is. If I was too choose between the dinosaur fight from Fantasia and the one from this film though, I would choose Fantasia. (Fantasia is accompanied by Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring. Need I say more?)

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I’m Still Here, Escaping From Treasure Planet, Treasure Planet 2002

Made two years after Disney’s last Renaissance masterpiece Tarzan, this remake of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island was one of Disney’s last attempts to save hand-drawn animation. It used the same Deep Canvas style as Tarzan and featured many talented animators like Glen Keane and Kevin Melton. Though its budget was huge, the overall product was average and its story unimpressive. I loved it when it came out as a child because of its emotionalism and beautiful animation. I mentioned two scenes because they both share similar qualities that make them stand out. Pushed splendidly by the music and colorful animation, both exhumed great energy and drive. Also, they both show Jim as he changes his destiny. “I’m Still Here” remarkably shifted from his present developing friendship with Silver and Jim’s past broken relationship with his father. Should it have been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated film? Nope. Spirited Away is a superior film in every way, manner, shape and form. Does that mean it isn’t enjoyable? Again, no. I think everyone should give the film a try just to see the animation.

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Attack of Darkness, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989)

As with most of the above mentioned films, this film is a strange memory from my childhood. Before I watched it again about a year ago, I only remembered slight glimpses from it, specifically the attack of Darkness, or the King of Nightmares. Remarkably, it is based off the comics made by Winsor McCay, one of the fathers of animation. (I mentioned his Gertie the Dinosaur in my post on shorts from the 10’s, 20’s and 30’s —–> HERE) This film is actually Japanese and was directed by Masami Hata. The movie is . . . strange and oddly paced. The beginning is enjoyable but the ending is rushed and incoherent. The animation though has a magical quality about it, which matches the dreamlike feel of Slumberland Nemo visits. The highlight of the film however is King Morpheus’s capture by the Nightmare King. Almost like moving tar, Nightmare erased all light and happiness and replaced it with fear and shadows. If you want something unique and off the radar, I would recommend this film. The English dubbed film is laughable and annoying, but the Japanese version is worth a try.

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