Thursday, May 7, 2009

Animation: Moonbird (1959, John Hubley)

Moonbird (1959)
USA, 10 min
Directed by: John Hubley
Starring: Mark Hubley (voice), Ray Hubley (as Hampy Hubley) (voice)

The animated short films of John and Faith Hubley (here credited as Faith Elliott) have an air of improvisation about them. While some, like The Hole (1962) and Voyage to Next (1974), were nonetheless structured around a central theme, the husband-and-wife pair were not averse to simply recording the conversations of their own children and animating whatever flights of fantasy happened to transpire. Of this type of film, Windy Day (1968), in which the Hubleys' daughters make surprisingly profound observations on the nature of love and death, is the most impressive I've seen. Moonbird (1959) won John Hubley the first of his three Oscars (also the first of seven nominations), a victory that signalled the wider acceptance of a more experimental, minimalist style of animated film, as opposed to the vibrant cartoons of Walt Disney and Warner Brothers. With Moonbird, the Hubleys animate the improvised late-night adventure of their two sons, Mark and Ray, in which the pair exchange ideas for capturing a giant "moonbird" in their backyard.

The film has a rough, somewhat scrappy, animation style that isn't necessarily aesthetically attractive, but nonetheless complements the nature of the story – which is that of a hastily-scrawled flight of imagination, a spontaneous improvisation of fantasy. The two main characters appear transparent, as though having been artificially transplanted into their dreamworld. This idea sits at the film's heart. Above all else, Moonbird stands as a tribute to the power of imagination, which is most extraordinarily powerful in one's younger, impressionable years; when Santa Claus was an annual visitor, and one's toys each had a distinct personality. The film does perhaps run a few minutes overlong. The Hubley sons say less of interest than their female siblings a decade later, and, rather than wondering aloud about their emotions and ambitions, instead engage in a charming kind of power-play in which the older son issues orders to his rebellious younger brother. All in all, this is a delightful animated short, and a good introduction to the work of the Hubleys.

1 comment:

  1. I came across Moonbird on a CD full of old cartoons for a buck at a dollar store. I absolutely love it! The world is richer because of shorts like these.


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