The Films of Michael
Sporn (Two Volumes, sold separately)
Sound: B- Extras: B- Films:
The Talking Eggs B
Hunting of the Snark B-
Produced around the mid-1990s onward, animation director
Michael Sporn has created some very exceptional short films that deal with
social issues and life. The Films of
Michael Sporn are the first of what we can only hope will be a long-running
series of works and DVD releases. They
are all done in the (now?) old-fashioned way of cell art. No digital work whatsoever is used and the
results are exceptional. This gives the
animators a chance to try all kinds of coloring possibilities that harkens back
to the pioneering days of the artform.
Whitewash and Champagne are
offered on Volume One, while The Talking Eggs and Hunting of
the Snark appear on Volume Two.
Whitewash is the boldest and best of the bunch, dealing gracefully
with the disgraceful incident in which a white gang used white shoe polish on
two young African American’s faces.
This version only allows it to happen to one of the siblings, and is a
return to a real animation of intelligence that has been nightmarishly lacking
since the “toy advertisements as TV series” we have been suffering through
since the 1980s. It also is graced with
the voice talents of Linda Lavin (TV’s Alice) and Ruby Dee. This may be at least a minor classic, even
sporting Hip Hop music before that was so commonplace.
Champagne offers another painful story of
a young African American girl of the title, who has to deal with no father, a
mother in jail for defending herself and killing her attacker under ugly
circumstances, and all the awful ways she fell and nearly fell through the
cracks of our system. The real-life
young lady voiced her part and this was a deserved multiple award winner.
The Talking Eggs is narrated by Danny Glover and
involves the single mother household trying to get by when one of the two
children meets an old woman who has more than thanks to offer when the young
girl offers to help her. This is a
great fantasy piece that effectively makes the viewer think. Glover delivers well as a narrator who
happens to be a street character.
Hunting of the Snark is the most abstract and
risky of them all, trying to interpret Lewis (Alice In Wonderland)
Carroll’s send-up of Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. This is complex stuff for kids, especially
since most viewers will either have not read the original stories, or not have
read them recently enough to appreciate them.
Either way, it is a fine work that does work, but you need to bring with
you more than the contents offer. That
does not make it a failure either, like the endless parade of bad feature film
adaptations of books that make cinematically-illiterate bookworms think they
are better than everyone else. James
Earl Jones narrates a work that sometimes feels like The Beatles’ Yellow
Submarine (1968) and will be something to reexamine over and over again.
The full screen, color images on each DVD are stylistic
and not bad at all. Sometimes, the
color really jumps out. These were all
made with exceptional artistic talent and the hard work pays off. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is not bad
either, which extends to the documentaries on each DVD about the sets of films
they offer. Sporn also offers
commentary on all four shorts, which are very useful, and you get brief still
galleries of the cell and sketch work.
This author’s days as a kid are long over, but still can
claim to be up on many of the entertainment products released for that
market. This was, shockingly, the first
time I had really heard about these films.
Seeing them was like watching Schoolhouse Rock for the first
time. The Films of Michael Sporn
are easily some of the best-animated works of the last 25 years and these DVDs
will hopefully, finally, give them their due!
- Nicholas Sheffo