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.
An increasingly difficult element to measure is the enjoyment level of a movie in the genre of tragedy. Attempting a tragedy is a bold task, it requires the viewer to become more involved with the characters than almost any other genre, not only do the viewers need to be actively involved and sympathetic, but the reason for the tragedy must be believable and not over the top. An over exaggerated tragedy quickly becomes a comedy, something that is far easier to accomplish. I did not enjoy The Plague Dogs in the sense that I had fun time watching it. Quite the contrary, within the first two minutes I realized there wouldn’t be anything remotely close to a fun watch. That being said, it was well made, engaging and incredibly sad. To date the only cartoon I have seen to match the emotional weight behind this movie was Grave of the Fireflies. The Plague Dogs takes a critical look at the highly debated issues surrounding animal testing and experimentation.
The film follows Snitter and Rowf, two dogs that have been subjected to numerous experiments that have put them on the brink of death on multiple occasions. While Rowf knows only the inside of the laboratory, Snitter knew what it was to have a master at one point, an experience that he assures Rowf awaits them once they escape. Once outside, the two find themselves in the midst of a national park where shepherds maintain their flocks of sheep. In order to survive, the two team up with a cleaver fox.Their inexperience plays a pivotal role in the story, these dogs, though subjected to torture routinely, have only known a domesticated life. While Snitter still longs to find a “master”, Rowf all but renounces any shred of domestication in order to survive and never be taken back to the “white coats”. As news leaks out that the two strays may have escaped from the laboratory in the center of the park, a hunt begins. The hunt is intensified when it is learned that the dogs may have inadvertently infected themselves with the bubonic plague during their escape.
For am movie that packs the amount of emotional weight that Plague Dogs does, it severely lacks in animation. Not to say the animation is bad, however when compared to the likes of Disney or Studio Ghibli it pales in comparison. The lower quality, however, becomes a testament to the strength of the story and the ability for the voice actors and storytellers to get us emotionally involved in a pair of dogs. A lot of heavy philosophical and ethical themes are brought up in this movie and the thematic elements and violent images (as well as the PG-13 rating) suggest that this cartoon might not be suitable for younger children.
Very few movies maintained both an element of concern and sadness for me while I watched them the way The Plague Dogs did; something that a tragic film should do. It was frustrating to see what a terrible lot these dogs were given, then to watch them continually struggle against all odds. This isn’t one of those “inspirational animal movies that makes you cry” this is the kind that punches you right in the gut, and it’s great.