The Puppetoon Movie (1987)
The Puppetoon Movie (1987)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 19 min.

Release Date: June 12th, 1987 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Arnold Leibovit Actors: Paul Frees, Dallas McKennon, Art Clokey, Dick Beals

 


 

A

s Gumby directs Barbara the Deer and Arnie the Dinosaur in an attack scene in the forest, he realizes that Arnie just isn’t ferocious enough for the part. Having worked as a stand-in for one of George Pal’s cartoons, Arnie learned that even a villain can have a good side (also prompting him to be a vegetarian). Pokey steps in to help educate Gumby on the legendary Pal, whose Puppetoon short films had a significant influence on the future of animation. The collecting of several of Pal’s Oscar-nominated shorts creates an admirable introduction to the influential artist, though watching all of his undertakings in their standalone formats is likely preferable, especially to scholars.

Originating with animating three-dimensional characters in Holland, where he became a merchant of fantasy to Europeans (like Walt Disney was for America), Pal eventually went to the United States to set up the first puppet-based animation studio. “The Puppetoon Movie” begins with “The Little Broadcast” (1943), smartly demonstrating the skill of pairing music with exaggerated movement, dancing, reflections, and more. It segues into a clip of “Philips Broadcast of 1938” (with additional sequences from “Hoola Boola” and “South Sea Sweethearts”) before showing “The Sleeping Beauty” (1935), an energetic retelling of the classic fairy tale.

“Together in the Weather” (1946) tells the story of Punchy and Judy, both living under very peculiar circumstances – as neighbors who never see each other as they’re employed in opposing jobs of proclaiming alternately fair and poor weather. So Judy sets about trying to seduce him with revealing outfits and damsel-in-distress tactics. “John Henry and the Inky-Poo” (1946) chronicles the tale of the muscular Henry, who famously works on the railroad tracks at Big Bend and competes against a machine that lays steel faster and more efficiently than his fellow workers. It is man versus machine – or rather mind over matter. And it’s also heavily inundated with historically tolerated stereotypes.

“Philips Cavalcade” (1934) features ballroom waltzing and Phillipa Ray’s vocals. “Jasper in a Jam” (1946), the only short not directed by George Pal, involves recurring character Jasper playing a clarinet, along with musical instruments that come to life each night in a pawnshop. And the final sequence, “Tubby the Tuba” (1947), shows orchestra instruments warming up while naughty Tubby bemoans the lack of pretty melodies for tubas, though he’s eventually inspired by a bullfrog.

Some segments are initiated by a title card, while others seamlessly begin where previous toons leave off. A peaceful farm is demolished by the Screwball army and its tanks (in “Tulips Shall Grow” from 1942), returning character Jim Dandy conducts an orchestra and chases elusive ladies, and hordes of angry natives have kidnapped a skinny-dipping island woman. Historical and inspirational, the technical achievements are astounding, with the visual manner in which characters move and change shape resembling the exploits of traditional animation. Here, it looks to require far more work in a 3D environment than if appendages and costumes remained of consistent proportions. But the end result is striking. Mr. Peanut, the Pillsbury Doughboy, King Kong, a Gremlin, and more have cameos to exhibit the far-reaching influence of George Pal’s artistry. Ultimately, however, “The Puppetoon Movie” is a basic assemblage of many of Pal’s best creations, and should hopefully encourage audiences to seek out all of his projects in their complete and unedited forms.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10