The Puppet Films of Jiri Trnka (with The Emperor's Nightingale)

1951 Czech animation that none of my 4 1/2 readers will care about

Rating: n/r

Plot: Contains five short films and one feature-length film based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.

The Emperor's Nightingale, narrated by none other than Boris Karloff, was boring. I watched it last, and maybe by that time, I had had enough of the puppet films of Jiri Trnka, a guy who needs to buy a vowel. The shorts though? Well, it's Czech animation, so it's up one of my favorite alleys. The first, "Bass Cello," is from the same Chekhov story that John Cleese used in Romance with a Double Bass, a cute little skinny-dipping tale. The puppets, like in most of these movies, are simple in a charming way, but Trnka still manages to make the characters expressive. I also like his backgrounds, how he simulates cloud movement and water reflection. With the wizardry of Henry Selick and other modern animators, there's not much in this that's going to drop your jaw, but Trnka's work does show off a technical genius. The wild west romance adventure parody called "Song of the Prairie" used sparse backdrops and more of those expressive but simple puppets for some funny moments. Nice touch with a playing card at the end during the villain's death. "Merry Circus" was more cut-outs than puppet stop-motion, little paper talented seals, mischievous clowns, a monkey, trapeze mayhem, a performing bear, a one-man band, a woman on a horse. Cirque So-Bear! Abbey watched this one with me and really seemed to enjoy it. These are less experimental/surreal than Svankmajer/Barta (although "The Hand" was sort of an existential nightmare), more in the vein of Mr. Roger's puppet friends than copulating animated meat. The weirdest one might have been "A Drop Too Much," a short about drunk-drivin' Bill that was like a creepy public service announcement. Worth watching if you're into this sort of business, but trust me--you don't really need to watch The Emperor's Nightingale no matter how much you like puppets or Boris Karloff. Maybe it needed a puppet Boris Karloff?

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