Animation History
October 16, 2017 posted by Jerry Beck

Cartoons Considered For An Academy Award 1971

Crunch Bird director, Ted Petok

The early 1970s was the era of the independent filmmaker. The major studios had given way to the younger generation – long-haired, film-schooled – new voices that broke the rules of the Hollywood studio establishment the Academy had long upheld. This was true for both feature films and shorts – and especially reflective in the animation category.

Despite entries from veterans George Pal (by way of Chuck Jones) and Gerry Chiniquy (by way of Depatie-Freleng), the Shorts Branch preferred to look outward, away from California, nominating two from Canada and one from the midwest – from Detroit. Beginning this year, the Academy voters seem to pick their winner based on either “big laughs” or “heart”. This unspoken policy seems to still be in effect today – and I trace it back to this 1971 awards year. How else to explain a win for The Crunch Bird? It’s a hilarious little cartoon – but that’s all it is. It’s literally ‘one joke’ and unpretentious – and in 1971, I guess that’s all you needed to be.

This week: 1971

The actual nominees were:

EVOLUTION Michael Mills (National Film Board of Canada) [View]

THE SELFISH GIANT Gerald Potterton [View]

And the Oscar went to:

THE CRUNCH BIRD (Ted Petok Productions) Ted Petok, director. [View]

On April 10th, 1972 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, presenters Cloris Leachman and Richard Roundtree handed the Oscar to producer Ted Petok. Here’s the video, below:


And so we continue our ongoing research into what other cartoons were submitted to the Academy for Oscar consideration but failed to make the cut. In 1971, there were 11 entries. Submitted, screened, but NOT nominated were:

Academy_Award_trophy175FREEDOM RIVER Sam Weiss (Stephen Bosustow Production)
DONOVAN’S OLD FASHIONED PICTURE BOOK Tony Benedict
SYNCHROMY Norman McLaren (NFB)
KEEP COOL Barrie Nelson
DIG John Hubley
THE PINK FLEA Gerry Chinquy (DePatie Freleng)
VENUS AND THE CAT Zlatko Bourek (Zagreb)
THE TOOL BOX Gene Warren (Chuck Jones/George Pal)

Here’s the documentation:

With these posts we ask that you put yourself in their place – which films would you have nominated? Which cartoon should have won? For your edification and viewing pleasure, here are the cartoons the Academy screened which didn’t make the cut. Enjoy the show!


FREEDOM RIVER Sam Weiss (Stephen Bosustow Production)

Freedom River is a Stephen Bosustow production. Bosustow was riding high with his independent studio in the late 1960s and early 1970s – his Oscar win last year only fueled his momentum for more message pictures like this.

The film is a parable about the United States, the greatness of America and about how having too much pride, too much patriotism, could destroy it. It was a timely message then – and even moreso today (someone needs to screen this in the White House – a.s.a.p.). There is even an anti-pollution message in here, as an extra-added bonus.

Orson Welles returns a narrator, but even he couldn’t put this one over. I think Bernie Gruver’s designs are a little too soft for the message they are trying to deliver. The American Eagle looks a little too much like Schulz’ “Woodstock” from the Peanuts strip. Nice try… but no nomination this year.


DONOVAN’S OLD FASHIONED PICTURE BOOK Tony Benedict

Here’s an oddity. A promotional short tied to Donovan’s self-produced children’s album HMS Donovan. Produced in the US – co-directed by Tony Benedict with animation credited to Bob Bransford, Tony Pabian and Tony Love – “with the patronage of Warner Brothers”. I’ll have to ask Tony about this one – it’s not even listed on his filmography.


SYNCHROMY Norman McLaren (NFB)

An NFB experimental visual music film by Norman McLaren utilizing “graphical sound”. To produce the film’s musical soundtrack, McLaren photographed rectangular cards with lines on them. According to the NFB’s website:

“This animated short features synchronization of image and sound in the truest sense of the word. To make this film, McLaren employed novel optical techniques to compose the piano rhythms of the sound track, which he then moved, in multicolor, onto the picture area of the screen so that, in effect, you see what you hear.”


KEEP COOL – Barrie Nelson

An animated “video” (long before there were such things) for Oscar Brown Jr’s track “But I Was Cool”, from his 1961 debut album Sin & Soul. Brown was a well known singer, songwriter, playwright, poet, civil rights activist, and actor.

Animator Barrie Nelson (George of The Jungle, various Hubley shorts, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Heavy Metal, etc.) created this film – and it has since fallen into complete obscurity. Only this clip exists online.


DIG – John Hubley

Dig is a children’s educational film by John and Faith Hubley, partially funded by the NEA, which primarily distributed it to public schools – after a broadcast debut as a Saturday morning TV Special (4/18/72 on CBS – at 12 noon, preempting a rerun of The Monkees).

It’s a musical trip through the layers of the earth. Adam and his dog, Bones, take a bike ride under the earth’s crust and meet several characters who are made of rock layers. Actor Jack Warden is the voice of “Rocko”, our underground tour guide, explaining terms such as Igneous, Metamorphic and Sedimentary to the audience. Quincy Jones wrote the music.


THE PINK FLEA

The Panther picks up a flea and uses various methods at trying to get rid of him – he goes through a car wash, goes underwater, covers himself in ice cream, in hot tobasco sauce and eventually shaves off all his pink fur. Spoiler alert: none of this works. There’s one particular good piece of animation, of the Panther itching himself, but as you’d expect at this point – it’s used twice.

I’m not sure why this short was selected over the other Panther cartoons produced this year – not to mention over the other Ant and Aardvark, Tijuana Toads and Roland and Ratfink releases that year. Perhaps this cartoon was actually produced in 1971 – and the other releases were held over from the previous production cycle in 1970. Or maybe Freleng himself got a bigger chuckle over this one. At least it wasn’t a recycled plot from an earlier Merrie Melodies cartoon, as so many DePatie Freleng shorts were now becoming.


VENUS AND THE CAT (Zagreb) Zlatko Bourek

They say “if you remember the 60s, you weren’t there”. I was there – and THIS is how I remember it.

A psychedelic Fillmore Auditorium poster come-to-life. This acid-trippy/hippie experience from Zagreb is really cool on a visual level – the soundtrack and “story” leave much to be desired – but man, this grabbed me at the beginning and I couldn’t stop watching. Tune in, Turn on and… Click below.


THE TOOL BOX Gene Warren

Technically, this is the last George Pal “Puppetoon”. Executive Producer Chuck Jones (yes, THAT Chuck Jones) approached Pal about making a puppet film for his new Saturday morning omnibus, The Curiosity Shop. Jones was running ABC Saturday morning at this point. Pal came up with the scenario and produced, farming out production to Gene Warren’s Excelsior! studio in Hollywood. According to The Films of George Pal by Gail Morgan Hickman, the realistic tools were actually created out of balsa wood. There is a wee bit of replacement animation (occasionally with the ‘tack’ character), but its essentially a standard stop motion exercise.


The earlier posts in this series: 1948, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969 and 1970.

(Thanks, Chris Sobieniak)

16 Comments

  • I am looking forward to the seventies which, contrary to popular belief, was not dominated exclusively by Saturday morning fodder like THE SECRET LIVES OF WALDO KITTY. This was the last great golden era of the 16mm instructional for schools and businesses before VHS took over in the ’80s, so there was still that last distribution market available for high quality short films of importance.

    This era would see the National Film Board of Canada enjoy its renaissance period, computer animation plant the seeds for the cgi revolution two decades later (and educational firms like Encyclopædia Britannica Films were backing ambitious experiments like Thomas G. Smith’s THE SOLAR SYSTEM), Will Vinton’s claymation offered another alternative to Disney and Hanna-Barbara with his little Portland studio that could and…

    I am really hoping that SESAME STREET released some of their animation material to theaters so that SOMETHING aired there gets included in these lists, because… by golly!… only in this decade would we be blessed with Eliot Noyes “Sand Alphabet”.

  • Evolution was one of those quirky yet fun animated films that should of won the Oscar for best animated short of 1971. At least it was nominated. Both Freedom River (the classic animated parable that should be reshown today) and The Pink Flea should have been nominated as well.

    • I still think The Selfish Giant had a bigger chance in the end, if only for it’s story and approach, if not the religious overtones that may not be everyone’s liking.

  • Your crazy ex-business partner wrote an article on Cartoon Brew a while back about the worst moments of the Best Animated Short Oscars, and Crunch Bird was one of them. It seemed surprising to me that it won, considering how much more artistry and imagination went into the other nominees. Perhaps with all the strife in the world at the time, the Academy was in the mood for a dirty joke. (Notice how Petok references the punchline in his acceptance speech, which must have put the network censors on edge.)
    In my opinion, Synchromy should have been a nominee. Even at its most abstract, McLaren’s work still manages to be accesible to the ordinary viewer.

  • The story I’ve heard is that any Academy member could vote on the shorts, so they picked the one from America. Shortly after Crunch Bird’s win (definitely not Oscar material) the rules were changed to allow voting only for those members who attended special screenings.

    • I meant to add that the members voted without seeing all (or any sometimes) of the nominated films.

    • Steve, hasn’t the Academy recently changed its rules in the feature area, so that any member can vote to nominate any film for Best Animated Feature? I’m a bit confused about the rules change – and it scares me to think THE EMOJI MOVIE might have a shot at a nomination.

  • Steve’s account — that back in the day, all Academy members could vote in the shorts category, whether they’d seen the films or not — is very interesting; I wonder whether that can be confirmed. [It might explain why the short documentary SENTINELS OF SILENCE won Oscars for both Best Short Subject and Best Documentary Short Subject; the Academy rules were subsequently changed so that could never happen again.]

    I can’t quite account for THE CRUNCH BIRD winning the Oscar, but I would add this personal observation of how it played before audiences back in the day. I used to live in the Detroit area, and local filmmaker Ted Petok managed to get a lot of local theatrical bookings for his short cartoon. I must have seen the short six or seven times in early 1972. Whether it was the film’s brevity (it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome), sheer novelty, or ridiculous punchline… I dunno — but THE CRUNCH BIRD slayed audiences every time I saw it. This silly little cartoon killed. At the local premiere of CABARET, THE CRUNCH BIRD ran as a curtain-raiser. The response was so strong, and laughter so loud and prolonged, the projectionist waited for the audience to collect itself before beginning the Bob Fosse picture. I’ve seen vintage Avery and Clampett cartoons convulse crowds in repertory houses, but this is the only time I ever saw a new, first-run cartoon garner such a great response from packed houses.

  • I believe It used to be a select committee chose the nominees for animated feature, now anyone in the Shorts & Feature Animation branch can nominate. It’s expected that a member sees a good number of films before submitting their nominations, but I think it’s on the honor system.

  • Do episodes of “The Curiosity Shop” still exist? It was an uneven but interesting effort, featuring the Zagreb “Professor” cartoons (with mildly witty English narration by a puppet of the character) and interesting one-off originals like a Dennis the Menace piece (Hank Ketchum was the on-camera guest host) and a Mr. Mum short.

    • It’s kinda odd none of the show has resurfaced at all. I wonder if individual rights to some of those segments including Zagreb Film’s Professor Balthazar might be why ABC hasn’t tried to do anything with the program.

      I have noticed someone who posted a couple clips on YouTube who stated ABC had wiped every episode of the show they had on tape later on and only black and white kinescopes remain of the series. That might be a better reason why any hope of seeing this show again is put to rest, permanently.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWuu0ApfrVI

      ABC did however operated a 16mm film division that released a number of shorts to schools like “The Tool Box” seen above. I’ve seen a few others from this company such as an adaptation of Johnny Hart’s The Wizard of ID and an animated take on the song “The Tennessee Bird Walk”, both animated by Format Films. It wouldn’t surprise me if plenty of shorts produced for Curiosity Shop exist only in this form.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aIBWM24ZCQ

  • THE PINK FLEA is a fun cartoon, but an even funnier Panther cartoon also from 1971 is GONG WITH THE PINK (the one set in a Chinese restaurant), with a script by Irv Spector -than one should have been submitted instead!
    And I do agree that FREEDOM RIVER has a timeless message which is in our times more valid than ever.

    • I agree about “Gong With the Pink”. It was also the final panther short directed by Hawley Pratt who helped designed the character.

  • RE: Jerry’s comments on The Pink Flea: “There’s one particular good piece of animation, of the Panther itching himself, but as you’d expect at this point – it’s used twice.”

    That animation is also DVNR’ed to death in that upload from the official Pink Panther YouTube channel. Please, please, PLEASE don’t let there be DVNR on the upcoming Blu-ray edition of the Pink Panther cartoons…

    • That would suck.

  • 1971. – There is still time, Beary Family!

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