The Man Who Planted Trees--A Tribute to the Extraordinary Animator Frederic Back


Rating: n/r

Plot: Eight animated shorts by German-Canadian animator Frederic Back.

"The Man Who Planted Trees," as the title might indicate, is the real showcase here. Like about half of these pieces, it's haunting, almost impressionistic animated artistry with muted colors and an emphasis on movement, sometimes abstract movement. Swirling animal morphing. And as with most of Back's work, this has environmental themes. It's a good story, but I probably could have done without Christopher Plummer's narration even though there's really not anything wrong with it. I just think the visuals were good enough to tell the story.

"All Nothing" was nominated for an Oscar, but unlike "The Man Who Planted Trees,' it didn't win. It's a creation story but one where Adam and Eve transform into fish people at one point. It's also got an environmental theme, this time about man's destructive relationship with nature. In a way, this stuff reminds me of Fantasia with the movement perfectly complimenting the music or vice versa.

"Crac," violent industrialization as seen from the perspective of a rocking chair, won an animated short Oscar. The animation here is a little more crude than the last two, but it's effective in telling this beautifully nostalgic and ironically very human story in this short rocking chair biopic.

"The Mighty River," the last film chronologically in this collection, bored me. Like "Crac," it's a biography of a non-human, this time the St. Lawrence River. The animation is beautiful--lots of swimming colors and dancing shapes--but the narration made this like something you'd see at Epcot Center while waiting to do something else that's more fun.

"Inon" and "The Creation of Birds" both have Canadian-Indian motifs and characters and both, as you could probably expect by now, deal with environmental themes. Neither absolutely thrilled me although both were different visually or stylistically than the other stuff in the collection. "Inon" is a really bad day described with abstract imagery, and "Birds," I think, used cut-outs.

"Illusion" was a great story, a tale of a magician/one-man band frolicking into a childlike paradise and transforming all the beauty into modern artificiliaties. Birds and flowers were turned to wind-up toys. Buildings and billboards eventually dominated the landscape. Again, Back's animating that conflict between nature and modernizing man. And like the last short, "Taratata," it also deals with the differences in the minds of children and adults. "Taratata" is a compare-contrast of two parades, the first filled with bombast and giant mechanical floats, one featuring animatronic lumberjacks chopping down endless trees. The second parade is the imagined parade of a group of children, and of course, is more pure and innocent.

Back's animation is great, but I wanted to mention how impressed I was with the music, too. I believe the same guy, Normand Roger, did the music for all but one of these. The versatility alone is impressive as the music goes from orchestral stuff to throat singing accompanied by Jew's harps and everything in between. And more often than not, the music is helping the animated figures move.

Recommended for fans of animation, especially if you're not the type who'll be annoyed by all the hippie environmental stuff.


cory said...

I am amazed that you reviewed this, and it will be very helpful for me. I saw the first episode a few months ago (with the man who plants trees) and was very touched. I liked the minimulist(?) impressionistic animation, and I was very moved by the story of how one man can make a huge difference. It was almost soothing to watch and stuck with me. It gets an 18, and I will check out a few others that you liked.

Shane said...

Ah, cool. I figured it was unlikely that any of my blog readers had seen any of the last three movies I've written about. This one less so than the one about Harlow Hickenlooper of course...

I think 'Trees' is the best one, but 'Crac' isn't too far behind.