DirectorArnold Leibovit/George Pal
Release Date(s)1987 (November 5, 2013)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A+
George Pal, for those who don’t know, is not only the man who directed the original version of The Time Machine and was the producer of the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds, but he was also an animator of many great stop-motion films that he affectionately called Puppetoons throughout the 1940’s.
Released in 1987 and directed by Arnold Leibovit, The Puppetoon Movie is an entertaining stop-motion extravaganza. It collected many of George Pal’s famous shorts together for the first time with some new wraparound segments featuring many familiar faces from the stop-motion world. It was all put together as a tribute to a man who had entertained audiences the world over in a variety of different ways.
By today’s standards, many of George Pal’s animated efforts yield some very non-PC imagery. Thankfully, none of them have been censored or changed for this release. On a different label (that is, a label that cared more about their appearance than their integrity), they might have been excised, or the film just may not have been released at all. Personally, I don’t think anybody would be offended all that much by them, except for those who wish to stir up the pot and make unnecessary waves. We as a culture are all for nostalgia, but when it comes to our less than savory moments, we tend to try and sweep them under the rug, and it’s a shame. Just because certain things, especially films, aren’t up to date, it doesn’t make them useless. Films like The Puppetoon Movie are enormously beneficial. You can’t help but admire the craftsmanship that went into the making of these shorts; and in many ways, they’re likely to inspire and entertain more than offend.
I realize that I’m making this film sound more offensive than it actually is, because it isn’t really. It’s a fascinating and wondrous step into whimsy, a kind of which is often lost to us (and lost ON us, for that matter). Thankfully, now we have it in a complete form with a top-notch presentation and an enormous amount of supplemental material to go along with it.
Speaking of which, let’s get into the video quality of the film. While the shorts contained within the film show their age, the wraparound segments look pretty fantastic. The film overall, as a whole, contains a very honest grain structure while not being completely even because of the separate elements used to create it. The color palette pops quite well and there’s an enormous amount of image detail. Blacks are very deep and both contrast and brightness are very good. The presentation contains a lot of film imperfections, but the integrity of the work is left intact. There’s been nothing to enhance or change it to look any better than it already does. The same goes for the film’s soundtrack, which sounds dated, but works enormously well with the overall presentation. You get two options here, both in English: a 4.0 DTS-HD track and a 2.0 LPCM track. Both dialogue and song lyrics are very clear and understandable, while the music also comes through quite well. Sound effects sound nice too, despite being dated. There isn’t much in the bass department, but I didn’t really expect there to be either. It’s not exactly flat, but it’s not kicking out major decibels either. It’s a well-balanced mono soundtrack overall. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles (on either disc).
There’s also an amazing amount of extras to sort through, starting on disc one. There’s an audio commentary with animation historian Jerry Beck and director Arnold Leibovit; a set of high definition bonus Puppetoons (Rhythm in the Ranks, The Sky Princess, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, Jasper and the Beanstalk, Date with Duke, and Rhapsody in Wood) and a set of standard definition bonus Puppetoons (What Ho She Bumps, Mr. Strauss Takes a Walk, Olio For Jasper, Philips Cavalcade, Jasper’s Derby, Hoola Boola, Ether Symphony, Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, The Magic Atlas, Jasper and the Haunted House, The Philips Broadcast of 1938, and The Ship of the Ether); The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal documentary; trailers for The Puppetoon Movie and The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal; a production still gallery; and the Reminiscing with Puppetoon animator Bob Baker featurette. Disc two contains the film The Great Jasper, a live-action film that features some stop-motion animation pieces (and also looks great as well); a set of Previously Unreleased Interviews (Wah Chang, Roy Disney, Duke Goldstone, Ray Harryhausen, Gene Roddenberry, Ray Bradbury, and Russ Tamblyn); the trailer for Destination Moon; The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal trailer (again); The Puppetoon Movie trailer (also again); Disney animator Ward Kimball Discusses His Relationship with George Pal and Walt Disney (featurette); the KTLA “City at Night” On the Set of Destination Moon segment; The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm Premiere Opening at the Indian Mills Cinerama Theater in Omaha, Nebraska (1962) segment; George Pal Discusses his film The Power; The Pal Family in Las Cruces - Baja, California (June 15, 1952); George Pal Outside of His Studio in Eindhoven, Holland (1933); a production photo and art gallery; a Wah Chang Hand Puppet segment; and last, but not least, a fold-out insert with an essay by animation historian Jerry Beck and a personal note from director Arnold Leibovit. This is an impressive and wealthy set of extras, to say the least.
The Puppetoon Movie is likely a film that many have never heard of, but for animation fans, this is a release that should be impossible to pass up. It feels like you’re watching a lost film that has been newly-discovered and cleaned up for the first time, and in a way, it is. B2MP’s release of the film is pretty amazing, and you owe it to yourself to pick it up. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons