Volgens de Vogels/According to the Birds

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-2-46-19-pmThis is a truly beautiful hand-drawn (pencil on paper) animation by Dutch artist, illustrator, and animator Linde Faas. There’s no storyline, but it portrays nature – birds flying, leaves falling, dandelion seeds blowing – in such a life-like and compelling way that I simultaneously want to go camping, want to do some drawing, and want to spend the afternoon at an art museum. The beautifully-recorded soundtrack is simply birds singing, leaves rustling, wings flapping, and other natural sounds. (I’m always so glad to find a filmmaker who doesn’t unnecessarily superimpose music when it isn’t needed.)  M. (4) and L. (16 months) were entranced too. I’m really looking forward to exploring what other films Faas has done.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 10
Adult rating: 10
Running time: 5 1/2 minutes
Available: free here and elsewhere

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My Mum is an Airplane

BR My Mum is an AirplaneThis is a fantastic, beautifully illustrated story by the Russian animator Yulya Aronova. There’s a little bit of narration (in Russian with English subtitles) at the beginning, but it’s not too much to read out loud, or can be understood perfectly without the words. It starts out describing an enjoyable diversity of kinds of mums (musicians, carpenters, circus performers, etc.), before getting to the airplane mum (and her little child), and the rest of the film is the airplane mum’s adventures delivering mail. There’s one potentially scary airplane in here, and a storm, but any tension is short-lived, and everything turns out ok. We all love this!

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 7 minutes
Available for free on Vimeo

The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends

BR World of Peter RabbitThis is a series of nine beautifully animated versions of stories by Beatrix Potter, first shown on the BBC in the 90s. Each begins with a short live action vignette of Beatrix Potter at her home, followed by the story itself. Each episode sticks closely to the original, both in illustrations and in wording, though some episodes intertwine two books. Anytime I’ve noticed a detail that is not in the published version of books, it turns out to be something from an earlier, unpublished version. The music is well-composed (by Colin Towns) and well-performed.

So far M. has watched three of the episodes, many times each. We have not grown tired of any of them, and we’ve enjoyed watching the creative play that has grown out of M.’s engagement with the characters. I’ve included The Tailor of Gloucester episode as a separate entry on this blog, since it’s great as a Christmas movie.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 26 minutes per episode

The Tailor of Gloucester (from The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends)

BR Tailor of GloucesterThis is one episode from a series of nine beautifully animated versions of stories by Beatrix Potter, first shown on the BBC in the 90s. The whole series is reviewed here, but I’ve included this one as a separate entry because it takes place at Christmas time, and makes a great Christmas or winter movie. There are a few parts of this that are not in the published version of the book, but it turns out they were in an earlier unpublished version. I love all the meticulous research into the folksongs sung at the various animals’ Christmas parties (all mentioned in the unpublished version).

M. has watched this about 50 times in the past 3 months, and has developed a fascination with yellow taffeta and red silk twist thread, and is spending all his time drawing “waistcoats for mice!” We still enjoy it too.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 26 minutes
Available free on Youtube

Katie Morag

BR Katie MoragMost of our favourite TV shows are from the 70s but here, finally, is a current show that I can wholeheartedly recommend! If you are Scottish, you probably already know Katie Morag from the series of books of the same name by Scottish author Mairi Hedderwick. For those of you who are not yet familiar with Katie Morag, I’d say she falls into the same general category of kind-hearted, adventure-loving, small-town-dwelling, red-headed heroine as Anne of Green Gables, though the stories are geared towards a slightly younger audience. Katie lives on the fictional island of Struay (based in part on the real life island of Coll, and filmed on the Isle of Lewis) with her baby sister Flora Ann, toddler brother Liam, and parents. Her two grannies, Grannie Island and Grannie Mainland, with their differing values and areas of knowledge, also figure prominently in the stories.

The stories are sweet, gentle and humorous, and the acting is good. The enjoyable soundtrack is by Scottish traditional musician Donald Shaw (a founding member of the band Capercaillie). And there are a number of small details that pleased me – making presents by hand, scenes which include the baby breastfeeding, music-making etc. This series is probably intended for children more in the 5 to 8 year old range, but so far everything we have seen has been fine for a 3 year old too, and M. has really enjoyed it.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 14 minutes per episode
Some episodes available free on the CBeebies website

Le Merle (The Blackbird)

BR Le MerleThis short film by Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart (National Film Board of Canada) is based on a French-Canadian folk song about a blackbird who keeps losing body parts and having them return three-fold. The animation is semi-abstract, with simple white lines and circles representing the bird on a slowly shifting sky-like background. The song is sung by Trio Lyrique, with instrumental accompaniment, arranged by Maurice Blackburn. We all enjoyed this, and M. laughed aloud a number of times.

Age: 1+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 4 minutes 30 seconds
Available free on the National Film Board of Canada website

Mr Benn

BR Mr BennWe enjoyed our first two episodes of Mr Benn last night, Mr Benn Zookeeper and Mr Benn Cook. There are several episodes we’ll have to postpone (Red Knight, Gladiator, Hunter, etc.) because we’re trying to keep M. from knowledge of swords and guns for as long as possible!

The character of Mr Benn was created by the English author David McKee (also of Elmer the Patchwork Elephant fame), and first appeared in four books. The books were turned into TV episodes (by McKee) in the early 1970s, and then more TV episodes were created which were later turned into books. The visuals are book-illustration style, with pleasingly minimalist cut-out animation, and the music is cheerful and well-composed.

Each episode takes a similar format, in which Mr Benn goes to a costume shop, tries on a costume, and has an adventure as whatever he is dressed as. The two episodes we saw were an interesting mix of subversive and maintaining the status quo. In Mr Benn Zookeeper, he gets the people to build larger cages for the animals (but doesn’t, for example, let all the animals go). In Mr Benn Cook, he gets the royal family to host a feast for poor children once a week (but doesn’t, for example, overthrow the monarchy!) I’ll be curious to see if there is a similar subversive/status quo balance in all of the episodes.

There are a few product-of-its-time-and-place elements: there’s an “Indian” costume in the costume shop, and so far it seems like most of the characters who do anything are men. This could be an interesting starting point for discussion for slightly older kids.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 15-minute episodes
Available free on Youtube

My Neighbour Totoro

This is the first feature film we watched with M. (aside from Babies, which put him to sleep), and he loved it. I was worried that the scene where the little sister is lost would be scary for him, but I think he was caught up in the moment to moment action, and not worried about her. My one criticism is that the kids are a bit shouty with each other.

Age: 2 1/2+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 86 minutes

Tchou-Tchou

Tchou-Tchou is another lovely Co Hoedemans/Normand Roger film from the National Film Board of Canada. This one features animated building blocks, and a dragon that gets turned into a train. It’s a bit faster paced than the Sand Castle.

Age: 2 1/2+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 14 minutes
Available free on the NFB website

The Sand Castle

This was one of my favourite films when I was a kid, and I’m delighted that it’s one of M.’s favourite films too. It’s a National Film Board of Canada film, by Co Hoedemans, and features beautiful and imaginative stop-motion animated sand creatures. There are no words, and the soundtrack is a well-composed neo-renaissance-ish score by Normand Roger.

Age: 1+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 14 minutes
Available free on the NFB website