Cheerful Claymation Creations

Still from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

Waking up in America was a fever dream. Walking off the plane and getting into my car that I hadn’t driven in four months had me feeling lethargic. I had just left from China earlier that day(s) and had experienced one of the biggest moments of my life thus far. I wouldn’t wake up from that dream until I was in another…

March 2020 was the start of that second dream, well actually nightmare, in the form of covid-19. We’ve all been going through it and have had our ups and mostly downs, and I certainly don’t want to talk it to death. But somewhere in this nightmare, I discovered a little gem of happiness to occupy those moments of horror. This was through the wonderful world of stop-motion animation. I find myself asking, how did that start?

Enter Karel Zeman, the wonderous Czech filmmaker that would colour my world with such delight, it was like being a kid all over again. I had recently bought the incredible set from Criterion showcasing three of his ‘fantastic journeys,’ and was instantaneously blown away. The first film in the set Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955), threw me back 65 million years to my childhood when I watched the US-release version from 1960! Obviously, I watched a taped version in the 90’s growing up in my dinosaur phase, but I remembered those four boys going through a cave into a world of prehistoric proportions. Adventure awaited!

Karel Zeman’s Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955)

Afterwards, I jumped straight into the other two films, Invention for Destruction (1958) and The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962) and devoured them in the visual feast that it provided. Taking inspiration for Jules Verne’s classic stories, Zeman crafted such gorgeous worlds in which only certain geniuses could imagine, let alone put on film. The painstaking process of making such works just BLOWS my mind! And one could not help but mention the extra features on this set, from Zeman’s early short films and the beautifully designed 3D pop-up features for each film. It’s absolutely as fabulous as the Baron himself! But my journey wouldn’t stop there…

Jumping to late summer, my journey into stop-motion and clay animation (claymation) was once again re-awakened with the introduction into the wonderful worlds of Ray Harryhausen. At the time, I had just jumped further into another boutique blu-ray label from the UK called Indicator (Powerhouse Films) and had just picked up a few adventure films you may have heard about? Those films being the classic Sinbad films of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), all with special visual effects created by Harryhausen.

Once again, I was thrust into a world of pure imagination and wonder. From the opening sequence of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), came the shocking cyclops that was wonderfully placed within the film alongside our ‘live’ characters. Every movement from the creature suggested life beyond the special effect. I knew then that I had something special again, even if the films didn’t have any threads of connection to the other. Each film all had different characters playing Sinbad, from Kerwin Mathews to John Phillip Law to Patrick Wayne, but the magic of Harryhausen was present in each. Hell, you even had different directors for each from Nathan Juran to Gordon Hessler to Sam Wanamaker! I knew I was hooked once again.

The cyclops from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

It’s now December and time again to get enraptured by claymation! This time in a form most of us revisit each year from Rankin-Bass, in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970). Both films have stupendous stop-motion work that always brought a smile to my face, bringing happiness not only to the characters in the films themselves, but also to almost everyone who watches these stories. How could you not narrate along with Fred Astaire or sing “Silver and Gold” at the top of your lungs? It’s almost IMPOSSIBLE, not to feel the joy emanating from such delights.

This year has been rough for all of us, but I am finding that magic of being whisked away to another world as much-needed therapy. The year is not over yet, and our daily fight to make sure that our loved ones and ourselves can make it to the next, is at the forefront of my mind. This week, I have jumped back into the works of Ray Harryhausen with It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) and even enjoyed my second viewing of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970) within a few weeks of the other, and have been enjoying every second of it.

It still feels like I’m living in a fever dream. Hell, it often feels like a nightmare. But knowing the magic of these cheerful claymation creations, has brought out some much needed joy that a lot of us need right now. I don’t know about you, but I want to start 2021 with that spirit of imagination found within us all.

What has got you through 2020? Have you discovered or re-discovered something that has brought you happiness?

Thanks for reading, I’m not Jonesing around 😉

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