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Case Number 14054: Small Claims Court

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The Marzipan Pig / Jazztime Tale

First Run Features // 1990 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // July 14th, 2008

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker found himself in animation heaven watching this disc.

The Charge

"Memory is a strange and wonderful thing. After 70 years, I can still recall the days of my childhood as if they'd just taken place."
—"Old" Lucinda (Ruby Dee) in Jazztime Tale

The Case

A pair of short animated films from Producer/Director Michael Sporn that originally aired on television:

The Marzipan Pig
When a marzipan pig falls behind the couch, no one notices that it is gone. The candy porker cannot cry out for help, and it becomes sad and lonely, craving love. When a mouse eats the delicious marzipan pig, she starts to feel what the pig felt. Other creatures become affected by the pig's feelings as well, and they reach out in some unexpected ways.

Jazztime Tale
In New York City in 1919, Lucinda, a little girl from Harlem, meets Rose, a little girl from downtown. They end up at Harlem's legendary Lincoln Theater, where another youngster, and friend and neighbor of Lucinda's, is playing piano and organ—a pre-teen Thomas "Fats" Waller, who's already bringing his jazz stylings to the public.

The Marzipan Pig is based on a book by Russell Hoban, who also wrote the classic "Frances" series. The film is basically a read aloud, with an excellent and expressive Tim Curry providing the narration against a background of oil painted scenery. Hoban's book—which is the only text used—contains words, phrases, and concepts not readily accessible to a 4-to-8-year-old, and young children might need some assistance following this existential tale of creatures searching to love and be loved. But this is also why the film works so well. Sporn doesn't "talk down" to his young audience, and there seems to be the expectation that this family feature will, in fact, be viewed and enjoyed by children and adults.

Jazztime Tale is a more straightforward story. Ruby Dee narrates as Lucinda, looking back decades to the magical night that she met Rose, and they saw the boy who would become "Fats" Waller play jazz at a local theater. Unlike The Marzipan Pig, Jazztime Tale was not based on a book; it's an original script by Maxine Fisher. Composer David Evans has come up with a great original jazz score that sounds like it could have come from Waller. Jazztime Tale is wonderfully engaging and rendered in simple colors and sepias. It offers all kinds of lessons about friendship and commonality without ever lecturing or making obvious statements.

Both films are absolutely charming and feature beautiful hand-drawn animation and evocative scores. They are art films that truly are "all-ages entertainment," literate and though provoking. These are not electronic babysitter pieces, but sophisticated and challenging works that lend themselves to discussion and repeat viewings.

First Run Features has given us a good package. The films look and sound fine, and we get a nice little slate of extras, including an interview with Sporn that gives us a lot of background on both films. Budding artists will especially like the look at storyboards and cell animation for The Marzipan Pig.

It's refreshing to see a children's video that doesn't rely on souped-up graphics and frenetic action, that tells a meaningful story without preaching, and that trusts its audience—young and old—to think critically.

Highly recommended. Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 95

Perp Profile

Studio: First Run Features
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• All Ages
• Animation
• Family

Distinguishing Marks

• "Making of" interview with Michael Sporn
• "The Marzipan Pig" Animatic
• "The Marzipan Pig" Storyboard
• Cell Art

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