I think I’ll Cry Myself To Sleep Now: The Little Match Girl

The Little Match Girl

I recently acquired the Blu-Ray version of The Little Mermaid for my Birthday. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, it is one of my absolute favorite animated films, so naturally I watched a bunch of special features. These features included a number of documentaries, but also an animated short that I had all but forgotten about. The Little Match Girl was included on the DVD release of The Little Mermaid and was found after going through a number of sub menus. Hans Christian Andersen is known for having a number of fairy tales that have less than chipper endings (including the original Little Mermaid story) and this was no exception. The animated version differs from Andersen’s original, but still manages to retain most of the poignancy.

The story is both simple and sad. Using no dialogue, we’re introduced to a young girl in late 1800s Russia. The weather is cold and snowy, it’s she attempts to sell matches to anyone that would buy them. As she tries various methods, she ends her day with just as many matches as she started. As night begins to fall the temperature gets colder and she hesitates to use her matches to keep her warm. She hesitatingly does so and with the warmth stemming from her matches also comes visions of family and food. As she strikes the matches a world of hope erupts before her very eyes.

Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2 in D Major manages to be the only sound needed to emotionally drive the story forward. It’s beautifully sad and simultaneously hopeful. The animation looks very similar to Mulan and manages to carry the heavy tone of the movie. Nominated for the 2006 Best animated short; The Little Match Girl is a beautiful short that was originally intended for another Fantasia movie that never was. If you have either the DVD or Blu-Ray for The Little Mermaid it is absolutely worth your time to click through a few menus to find.

A Small Review for a Short Film: The Snowman


I’ve had a tremendous tendency to focus on animated films from America or Japan. While that could be credited simply to the sheer volume both countries produce, I can’t help but feel like I’m slighting the rest of the world by ignoring their offerings to the world of film. I was recently reminded of the value in watching a verity of films from a verity of geographical locations by watching The Snowman, a 1982 animated short film that was nominated for an academy award. The 26 minute short is based on the wordless picture book by Ramon Briggs.

The story centers on a small boy who, after a tremendous amount of snow has fallen, spends his day building a snowman. As the boy admires his work throughout the day, and even into the evening, glancing out the window every chance he gets, he can’t help but be amazed by the wonder filled snow land that suddenly surrounds his house. At night, the snowman comes to life, and the boy introduces him to the human world, giving him a thorough tour of his home and yard. In return, the snowman takes the young boy on a magical journey to the North Pole where he meets other snowmen and even Santa Claus himself.

The Snowman is nothing short of beautiful. The animation used makes the entire thing look vividly like the picture book it is based on, but the real triumph comes from the sound. The movie is, with the exception of a particularly powerful musical number, entirely wordless. Not only is it wordless, but the sound effects in the movie are generated only from the orchestra whose score resounds throughout the duration of the short. We’re not subjected to background music haphazardly thrown into the mix to loosely convey emotion, the background music IS the emotion. When the Snowman sneezes or starts up a motorcycle, we rely entirely on the talent of the score to convey the sounds and emotional weight of the actions involved.

Short, sweet and somber. The Snowman blends childrens book animation with a near perfect musical score to present a story that is ripe with analogies ranging from the bliss of childhood to the loss of those closest to us. It’s a visually rich and emotionally valuable little title that taps into basic human emotions, without having to use an exclusive language.

The Land Before Time



When it comes to animation, there are few American names that can even attempt to stand up to Walt Disney in comparison to quality and recognizably. The animation game, especially as of late, has always been a battle between cheaply crafted cartoons and quality pieces of art. On one hand there are those willing to painstakingly portray masterful stories not just with well written scripts, but with beautiful animated images, sweeping scores to carry the watcher into the heart of the emotion being portrayed by expert voice actors. On the other hand is the opportunity to make a quick buck by producing something cheaply for the purpose of making a film that children will be eager to see. Don Bluth, maintained a level of animation excellence that remains unparalleled. His stories, unlike the majority of films produced by Disney at the time (whom he was once employed by) dealt seriously with issues of death and emotional trauma. In The Land Before Time we’re introduced to a world filled, not only with vivid color and cute characters, but with danger, death and heartache.


    The Land Before Time was co-produced by Don Bluth, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Ultimately, Bluth had the reigns as the director of the film. The story follows Littlefoot, a small “long neck” dinosaur who lives during a time when the earth is changing and becoming less hospitable to his kind. The herbivore dinosaurs speak of a legend called “The Great Valley”. In essence it is a utopia where food and water is plentiful. Littlefoot’s mother teaches him to memorize the way to the great valley. As he soon finds himself quite alone, finding this legend becomes the premise of the whole movie. While Littlefoot’s mother is loving, she did manage to instill some serious prejudices in him. The majority of the young dinosaurs have been taught to stick to their own kind. When Littlefoot finds that he is alone, he realizes his best chance for survival is to team up with a group of other young dinosaurs that have also been separated from their family. Not only are they in search of The Great Valley, but they must fend off a number of dangers, including the dreaded “Sharptooth”. Pride, anger and devastating loss fuel the heavy themes laden throughout this animated feature.


     The Land Before Time name has unfortunately become synonymous with the cheap animated film. With at least 12 sequels, the franchise quickly became a cash cow. Needless to say, Bluth was not involved with the lesser sequels. What has become a common rabble of animation initially started as a rare gem. Bluth took the time to craft a deeply moving film for children about real issues that any number of the audience could have been dealing with, and he did it in an engaging way that upheld his artistic integrity to both story and the visual medium. The fact that Bluth managed to give Disney a run for their money is testament enough to his skill as an animator and a story teller, but he continued with his creations, constantly coming out with weighty cartoons that had dark character in dark worlds searching for that glimmer of hope, much like what life actually is. Given the resources and the manpower, one can’t help but wonder what other works Bluth would have created in his career. The Land Before Time has, in my house, stood the test of time, it’s sitting on my shelf on VHS, one of the few reasons that I keep my VCR.

The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant (1999)
Had the there been a category for best animated picture at the 1999 Academy Awards, there is little doubt in my mind that The Iron Giant would have been among the contenders. Released the same year as Disney’s Tarzan and Pixar’s Toy Story 2, The Iron Giant gained little hype before reaching theaters, though other movies certainly weren’t to take all the blame for this. Warner Brothers Studios, who distributed the movie, is largely blamed for it’s poor handling of it’s marketing campaign, believing that “smarter family films” just didn’t sell. They amped up the marketing machine for the video release, giving it the recognition it still has today.
Brad Bird, who later went on to direct The Incredibles, taps into the nastolgia associated with an era gone by. The warm faded colors bring to life the 1950s era that the story takes place, Hogarth (the young boy who leads the plot along with the titular character) loves classic comic books from the, he watches B rated horror movies on television and lives oblivious to the fear associated with the cold war.
The film follows Hogarth, the lonely child whose father died, and whose mother works hard to support them. He finds a friend in the form of a giant robot that fell from the sky. The robot, who knows nothing about his creation or his origins due to a bump on his head, is like Hogarth. They’re both naive and impressionable. The iron giant may have been given directives, for all anyone knows he may have been instructed to attack any and all living things on American soil, but he’s forgotten. While most other live action variations of this type of movie would focus on the fear of the unknown threat and the horror that could ensue, this movie looks at the wonder and the pure elation of the situation. While most adults in the movie are horrified of the mysterious occurrences caused by the 40 foot robot, Hogarth, after getting over the initial shock of the situation, thinks what any little boy would think: This is so cool.
The closest iteration of this story I can think of outside of this film is Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extraterrestrial. Both movies tell stories of innocent beings who are unfamiliar with earth (or the US, it’s not entirely clear where the iron giant comes from) that befriend and learn from young boys. The innocence that comes with childhood causes a change in the iron giant. Whatever he was created for initially begins to struggle with who he has become. The giant has to choose if he is like Atomo, the evil robot from Hogarth’s comics or Superman, defender of the earth.
The atmosphere of the movie is enhanced by a musical score that highlights the suspenseful moments, while at the same time showcasing the “cool factor” of having a giant robot as your best friend. The whole movie feels less like a cartoon than a live action feature due to the elements that surround the story. Though it isa cartoon, you can almost feel the restraint it must have taken to not allow people and scenes to play out like one. On rare occasions are laws of physics completely ignored, and all the characters move and act like real people with vastly different personalities and mannerisms. Brad Bird has a way of handling films that causes him to be blind to the mediums of film. The Incredibles was just as much an action film as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was a cartoon. The line is blurred the same way in The Iron Giant, which is a testament to his talent, and a talent that is all too often overlooked when dealing with animated features and film making as a whole.