"The safety rules they knew so well, but all of them figured what the hell…"—"Three Blind Mice"
When I was a kid and used to watch a lot of PBS, I remember those strange cartoon shorts that used to run in between the programs. The animation looked nothing like the Saturday morning silliness Hanna Barbara used to crank out by the truckload. It was often curiously delicate, with jittery lines or soft watercolors, entirely unlike the bold lines and squashy movement of Disney's films. There was little or no dialogue, and if anybody did talk, it usually came out as babble—or even more puzzling, as French. Before each short, a title warned, this was a product of the National Film Board of Canada.
Who were these Canadians, and why did they make such strange cartoons? When I visited Canada, I saw no signs that they were any different from me. And yet, there must have been something. After all, here was a government that paid people to make cartoons. Very weird cartoons.
Cut-Up collects the best work of one of those government-employed weirdoes. Grant Munro grew up a precocious and artistic child from a small town near Winnipeg and went to work for the National Film Board under the "considerate and gentle" Norman McLaren, a sweet man with a boundlessly curious and creative streak. Together, they spent nearly half a century experimenting with film and inspiring animators around the world. Milestone Films (led by Dennis Doros, a longtime friend of Munro and McLaren) has created a two-disc set of Munro's work to accompany a similar package focusing specifically on McLaren. On a baker's dozen short films, Munro proves himself an accomplished animator and actor.
• "Three Blind Mice": A lesson in workplace safety,
told in jazz and twisted cut-out animation.
In addition to these short films, Milestone includes two commentary tracks. On the first disc, Munro tells his life story, prompted by Dennis Doros and animation historian (and artist in his own right) John Canemaker. On the second disc, Canemaker and Doros lead Munro through a screen-specific commentary on the 13 shorts. Some of these commentaries run less than the length of their respective films, and in a couple of cases ("Neighbours" and "Toys") the commentaries run much longer, during which stills from the shorts run on screen. A stills gallery, some animation tests for "The Animal Movie," and an extensive press kit (in PDF format for your DVD-ROM) round out the extras.
Animation fans still locked in the traditional cel animation styles of Disney and other American commercial studios will want to check out Cut-Up and broaden their horizons. If you know anyone who dreams of becoming an animator, this DVD is a must in order to learn what the field has to offer. Grant Munro shows repeatedly that animation art has no limits, that imagination and creativity can overcome the limitations of budget and technology, and that joy in one's craft can produce magic. If only American animation studios would watch the work of Munro and McLaren all over again and rediscover what they seem to have lost in recent years. Maybe those strange Canadians can teach us something after all.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Milestone Films
• Two Commentary Tracks by Grant Munro, Dennis Doros, and John Canemaker
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