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Saturday Morning Cartoons: Allegro non Troppo

The Italian film Allegro non Troppo (1977) is probably as far from traditional Saturday morning fare of the Disney variety as you can get. That was actually the point; directed by Bruno Bozzetto (also known for his shorter animated work and the feature VIP My Brother Superman), Allegro is a parody and commentary on Disney’s Fantasia.

As with the film that inspired it, Allegro alternates and blends live action and animation, setting the animated sequences to classical music such as Vivaldi’s “Concerto in C Minor”, Ravel’s “Boléro”, and Stravinsky’s “Firebird” (which, incidentally, Disney used years later in Fantasia 2000).

The live portions of the film largely feature the animator, director, and orchestra in slapstick situations as they produce the movie in real time. The animator (Maurizio Nichetti) is forced to create the animations, literally chained to his desk while the story progresses, and his moods and thoughts are often reflected in his work. The animations themselves vary widely in tone and style, from humorous to philosophical, and lewd to tragic. Each is a masterpiece in its own right, and the film as a whole stands as a remarkable work of art.

In the following sequence, set to Sibelius’ Valse Triste, a mournful cat wanders the ruins of a building, remembering its family and imagining a happy life, only for reality to intrude in a surprising and depressing resolution. It is one of the most striking and moving animations I’ve ever seen.

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More

I first encountered Mark Osborne’s short film More via Exposure, a SciFi Channel anthology series of short speculative films that ran from 2000-2002. Like most people, I was immediately blown away by the six-minute stop-motion animated film, which concerns an inventor who works a soul-killing day job while developing a device that will spread happiness, by tapping into his childhood memories.

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Geek Flashback: ALF for President

In case you live in a cave, or simply have good taste in television: ALF was a sitcom on NBC from 1986 to 1990. It starred “ALF,” an Alien Life Form who hails from the planet Melmac. One day he crash lands in the Tanner family’s garage, and they take him in out of pity or sheer stupidity.

in the second season episode, “Hail to the Chief,” ALF struggles to understand the American political system after watching a Presidential debate on television. We’ve all been there, ALF. It’s interesting to see the show’s simplistic portrayal of world issues of the 1980s. Anyone remember the Soviet Union? Through a series of dream sequences, wife and mother Kate Tanner imagines what it would be like to run for President of the United States; surely managing an unruly extraterrestrial while raising a family is as much a qualification as governing Alaska, eh? In each sequence, ALF alternates among the roles of moderator, debater, image consultant, and finally President elect–where he solves all of America’s problems by building more houses.

So check out this slice of American life, as it was on December 7, 1987. And while you watch, see if you don’t consider that things actually might not be worse if ALF were President. Too bad there’s that pesky Constitutional stipulation against aliens running for office.

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Saturday Morning Cartoon: Mighty Max

Mighty Max aired on UPN from 1992-1993. Though it only ran for two seasons, there are many gems in its forty episodes. The premise casts Max (voiced by Rob Paulsen, familiar to many as Yakko Warner on The Animaniacs) as the standard Chosen One, or in the words of Virgil, a talking chicken (fowl, actually) from Lemuria, “the Mighty One”–thus making him “Mighty Max.” Max possesses a magical baseball cap that allows him to open portals scattered all over the world, a convenient way of hopping from one exotic location to another in the course of their adventures; he’s often referred to as “the Capbearer,” which is perhaps a less impressive title.

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Blog For A Beer: Steampunk

I’ve had steampunk on the brain lately for many reasons. Last week I saw a steampunk play, last month I read an awesome steampunk novel, and next week we have a bunch of steampunk lists to entertain you. We here at Fantasy are generally very pro steampunk, but I have some… let’s call them misgivings about the trend.

I think my main annoyance is that steampunk started out in literature — something I highly approve of — then moved into fashion, aesthetics, and fad-ness — something I definitely disapprove of. Call me a snob, but I feel like any cultural trend that is mostly divorced from its roots in literature is banal and the province of hipsters. But I know that’s not strictly true for steampunk. Plus, I enjoy a lot of the gadgetry, tech mods, and fashion alongside the books and stories.

Still, I firmly feel that some things, no matter how cool, should stay in literature and not go scampering off and getting cultural STDs. I’m not even sure why steampunk got let off the leash and not, say, the New Weird, or pirates, or the zombie trend. The latter two have found a lot of expression in movies, but I haven’t seen anyone dressed up in zombie chic lately.

What would New Weird clothes look like, I wonder?

Am I just being grumpy and anti-fad? Doesn’t anyone else share my misgivings? Tell me I’m not alone here.

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Satan’s a Tool

If you’ve spent any time at all on YouTube in the last few years, follow Red vs. Blue, or seen the very special episode of South Park “Make Love, Not Warcraft”, you’re probably already aware of machinima as a way of using existing video game environments and characters to “film” movies with virtual sets and actors–kind of like the latest Star Wars films but with better dialogue and a measure of actual creativity.

The applications of these tools are limited only by the imagination, as most of these quality productions can be created with little more than a personal computer. More and more, true innovation is happening in the virtual space, flooding the Internet with new kinds of digital entertainment. One interesting application has been mashups, which combine and modify one or more media sources into a single derivative piece, such as creating a music video using a popular song set to video generated via machinima.

One of the most successful and enjoyable examples of this new art form is a video in which YouTube user jerzwyqt4evah (aka “Kate”) has set musical comedian Stephen Lynch’s song “Beelz” to video of Satan dancing and singing, using character mods from The Sims 2. The combination of these two forms of popular entertainment is naturally greater than the sum of its parts. While watching this, you may wonder why Satan has breasts. I wish I could tell you.

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Dance, Magic, Dance

Labyrinth is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ll admit that even though Genevieve mentions in her column today–I’m not as cynical about it as she is. I love that movie and always will, but I have to admit that 10-year-old me was slightly horrified by David Bowie’s tights. Or rather, what was IN his tights.

This scene and it’s song will go down in history. …As what, I don’t know. To this day I can sing it by heart even though I still don’t know what the hell it means. Perhaps the offending bulge could explain it to us all one day.

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Don’t Blink: Tales From the Far Side

Almost everyone has seen a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon in a newspaper or on a T-shirt, mug, calendar, or greeting card. But if you weren’t watching CBS on the night of October 26, 1994, you missed Tales From the Far Side, an award-winning animated short film that you’ve probably never heard of. Yes, that’s right: the Far Side was animated. Twice. And it’s brilliant.

The first short film premiered as a Halloween special in 1994, where couch potatoes and animation buffs like me saw it and were never able to forget it. The program was never broadcast on television again, but it did make the rounds at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, where it took the Grand Prix. Three years later, a sequel (aptly titled Tales From the Far Side II) never even made it to television.

Both short films are comprised of a series of vignettes in the visual style of the print comics, with a haunting musical accompaniment by jazz guitarist Bill Frisell (who has featured some of the scores from the soundtrack on his disc Quartet). The tone ranges from the slapstick to the macabre, humorous to depressing, and even has some live action cow action thrown in there.

The only way to purchase the show is through a website in the U.S. at http://www.thefarside.com/ For a long time the shows were only available separately as overpriced VHS tapes, but now they finally have both on one overpriced DVD–and it’s worth every penny. The version of Tales From the Far Side on this commercial disc is actually a “director’s cut” which features some alternate dialogue, extended and additional vignettes, and an alternate ending. Unfortunately, the untooled broadcast version is superior both in pacing and execution, particularly in the final punchline. Check it out at Fantasy.

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Okra, Sorghum, Yam

“The Okra, Sorghum, Yam,” by Bruce Holland Rogers, read by Rachel Swirsky, and brought to you by Podcastle. Published in Realms of Fantasy, October 2003. So the following summer when the second princess came to Old Kwaku’s hut, he said, “What do you want?” “My father said that I must learn wisdom from you.” “And […]

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“Data, why are you laughing?”

At a Star Trek convention in New Jersey this past March, Spiner imitated a fanboy all too well and asked his old Captain, Patrick Stewart, some challenging questions about his recent lead role in Macbeth.