- Features The Emperor's Nightingale (1951, 67 min.), based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale and narrated by Boris Karloff
- Also Includes Short Subjects: Story of the Bass Cello (13 min.), The Song of the Prairie (21 min.), The Merry Circus (11 min.), A Drop Too Much (14 min.), The Hand (18 min.), Jiri Trnka: Puppet Animation Master (Documentary, 12 min.)
The Puppet Films of Jiri Trnka
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(Mar 28, 2000)
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The Czech stop-motion puppet animation master Jiri Trnka directed some of the most acclaimed animated films ever made. In 1966, four years before his death, Newsday lauded him as "second to Chaplin as a film artist because his work inaugurated a new stage in a medium long dominated by Disney." Trnka continues to astound audiences to this day, particularly those discovering this amazing animation for the first time. This collection includes five of the master's shorts and his feature-length classic "The Emperor's Nightingale" based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale and narrated by Boris Karloff. Includes: The Emperor's Nightingale (1951, 67 min.), The Hand (18 min.), The Story of the Bass Cello (13 min.), A Merry Circus (11 min.), A Drop Too Much (14 min.), The Song of the Prairie (21 min.), Jiri Trnka: Puppet Animation Master documentary (12 min.).
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This DVD splits almost evenly into a feature length piece and six shorts. The former, "The Emperor's Nightingale," is a wonderful adaptation of a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It touches on many things, including the monotony of mechanical perfection compared to the unpredictable beauty of the organic world. Trnka objected to the Soviet regime that controlled the Czech people during most of his adult life. That was the hand that fed him, though, as well as the hand that could crush him. If there's a subtext of rebellion by a living society against a rigid, mechanical system of control, it's written in very small print.
The shorts varied widely in holding my attention. The cartoon adaptation of Chekov's "The Bass Cello" is warm and funny, with a delightful chill in it for anyone who's had a no-pants dream filled with frustration and embarassment. "A Drop Too Much" could possibly have been a public service feature, about a 15 minute sermon on the evils of drinking and driving. It comes across with the complexity and moral tone of one of those "Davey and Goliath" cartoons I never much liked as a kid. "The Merry Circus" is interesting for an innovative animation technique, one with many strengths and weakness relative to normal model making, and "The Song of the Prarie" is a silly satire of the 1950s Western movies - already pretty silly in themselves.
Only "The Hand" really stands out in that set. It's a modern fairy tale about artistic and personal freedom in the face of massive, controlling social power. Small wonder that this piece won awards abroad and suppression in his home country.
The style is a bit dated, and scripting tends towards a meditative pace. There's not a lot here for the ADHD generation, unless they're truly dedicated fans of animation. For us in the middle ground, there's a lot to enjoy, but the world has other things to enjoy in it, too.
In viewing Trnka again after so many years it has dated in technique but is still as fresh in content.We have become so used to the marvels of computer animation that the labourious process of stop photography with its shortcomings sadly seems somewhat lacking. However Trnka, the master, can still show a trick or two as far as content is concerned.
This film is a sentimental journey for many of us, but is well worth watching as a stage of filmic development.