Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Random 90's Animation - "Gumby the Movie" (1995)

Something fortuitous that happened during this Strange Animated Films from the 1990's Made By Random Studios Marathon: Three significant and -to say the least- diverse animated features from the 1990's turned out to be available for instant viewing on Netflix.  They are not on my list (if anyone was following along), and I wound up watching two of them out of order, but I felt it'd be silly to ignore them if they're that easily accessible.  Today, we'll be watching the first such film and man, leave it to the only G-rated one in the trio to be the most brain-melting.

Art Clokey's original and very optimistic title for "Gumby the Movie" was "Gumby 1".  Weirdly, this title remains in the opening credits for the film.  It's just the cherry on top of the big weird sundae that is "Gumby the Movie".

But just so we're clear, I should emphasize the fact that nothing in the only feature-length "Gumby" film (if you don't count "The Puppetoon Movie", since he's just hosting it) suggests that it was made on drugs.  Look, I grew up with the old "Gumby" shorts from the 50's and 60's and with the more recent (and arguably stranger) "Gumby" television series.  "The Gumby Show", an anthology of Art Clokey's earliest Gumby cartoons, is available on Netflix Instant and is a handy reminder of the weird dream logic -or, perhaps more accurately, weird story told by a very young child logic- that Gumby runs on.  Here, random events plots, bizarre characters, trippy electronic music, shapes casually changing, and storylines wandering off and ending up very far away from where they started is Tuesday.  So again, to clarify: so far in this project the "Gumby" movie feels less like a likely candidate for an animated film made under the influence of powerful hallucinogenics than the "An American Tail" sequel.

But wait, this is a 90's movie marathon, right?  What's Gumby doing here?  Well, seems Art Clokey was determined to make a feature-length "Gumby" movie and that it apparently took him many, many years to do this.  Clokey had good Sticktoitivity, to borrow a phrase, and finally saw his dream project finished.  Just in time to premier in the immediate wake of another strange animated film in an unusual medium that had a long road to theaters... and thereafter turned out to be utterly game-changing: "Toy Story".

In comparison to "Toy Story", "Gumby the Movie" was, to say the least, quaint.  You win no points for guessing which of these two films ate the other alive at the box office.

But with that unfortunate timing far in the past, and with "Gumby the Movie" having since become a cult favorite on home video, how does it play today?  Well, it's still... quaint.  But it's quaint in a good way.  The impetus for the story is a Farm Aid style benefit concert for crying out loud!  The low-tech analogue animation is kind of refreshing to see, and I wish more modern stop-motion films were willing to let the "seams" show just a little bit.  That said, the animation is quite lovely for what it is; many of the animators also worked on "The Nightmare Before Christmas" after all and their attention to detail shows here.  I should note, however, that while the "Gumby" characters look cute and appealing as always, the more "normal" characters don't, and are often weird and scary.  Looking back, though, that's an old problem with the "Gumby" series.

If you're familiar with Gumby, than this is basically everything you might imagine a giant-sized "Gumby" episode would be.  It starts out with a typical TV show plot, and then gets progressively stranger and stranger.  There are a lot of references to classic science fiction films for some reason, but basically if Art Clokey was interested in something at all, it found it's way in here somehow.  (If you aren't familiar with Gumby, I can't really say that this would be a good introduction to the characters.)  It's on Netflix instant, and it's worth a look if you're ready for something very odd.

Next up: Yes, Virginia, Mike Judge did have a theatrical hit feature film.

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8.20.12 - Maine Wildlife Park studies

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