Why this cartoon The Man Who Planted Trees is important to animation history
“The Man Who Planted Trees” is an animated short film that was produced by Radio-Canada in 1987, and this long cartoon recounts a fascinating story of a shepherd that re-forests a valley in France.
Written by Jean Giono, this cartoon is entitled “L’homme qui plantait des arbres” and was actually written in French originally, but first published in English in 1953; thus, it is an an allegorical tale that takes 30 minutes to tell with the aid of some excellent moving animation.
Telling the tale of one shepherd’s long and successful (single handed) effort to reforest a desolate valley, in the foothills of the Alps in Provence, throughout the first half of the twentieth-century, this wonderful story actually begins in the year 1910.
When this young man is undertaking a lone hiking trip through the Provence region of France (into the Alps) he enjoys the relatively unspoiled wilderness, but runs out of water in a treeless, desolate valley where only wild lavender grows.
There are no traces of civilization except for old, empty, crumbling buildings and this is told by using fascinating animation.
Finding only a dried up well, the young man is saved by a middle-aged shepherd, who takes him to a spring he knows of.
Curious about this man and why he has chosen such a lonely life, we stay with him for a short time. The shepherd, after being widowed, has decided to restore the ruined landscape of the isolated and largely abandoned valley, by single-handedly cultivating a forest, tree by tree.
The shepherd (Elzéard Bouffier) makes holes in the ground with his curling pole and drops acorns in that he has been collecting from many miles away; the narrator of the story then leaves the shepherd and returns home, and later fights in the First World War.
In 1920, shell-shocked and depressed after the war, the man returns.
He is wonderfully surprised to see young saplings of all forms taking root in the valley, and new streams running through where the shepherd has made dams higher up in the mountain.
After making a full recovery thanks to the peace and beauty of the regrowing valley, he continues to visit Bouffier every year; Bouffier however, is no longer a shepherd, because he is worried about the sheep affecting his young trees, and has become a bee keeper instead.
Over four decades, Bouffier continues to plant trees, and the valley is turned into a kind of Garden of Eden.
By the end of the story, the valley is vibrant with life and is peacefully settled.
The valley receives official protection after the First World War, but the authorities are unaware of Bouffier’s selfless deeds, thus, more than 10,000 people move there; all of these people unknowingly owe their happiness to Bouffier.
The narrator tells one of his friends in the government the truth about the natural forest, and the friend also helps protect the forest before visiting the now very old Bouffier one last time.
It is now 1945 and in a hospice in Banon. In 1947 the man himself who planted the trees, peacefully passes away!
The story itself is so touching that many readers have believed the whole thing to be true and that Elzéard Bouffier was a genuine historical figure when actually the goal was to make trees likeable, or more specifically, make planting trees likeable.
In summary, this wonderful cartoon The Man Who Planted Trees won an Oscar in 1988, and has been voted in the top 50 of all cartoons ever made, by professionals in the field of animation.
Tex Avery directed “Bad Luck Blackie” for MGM in 1949. This animated short film parodies the American radio show Boston Blackie that was so popular during World War II.
Marking the very first appearance of Avery’s version of Spike (the infamous bulldog with his studded neck collar), this cartoon, “Bad Luck Blackie,” is noted because it actually launched good old Spike’s career – we then began to see him in the ever-so-popular Droopy cartoons!
As the story unfolds, we see this big bully of a bulldog mercilessly tormenting a small white kitten that only just manages to escape. Kitty goes to hide behind a trash can having been battered and beaten in all kinds of ways by this rotten animal.
Behind the trash can, she sees a bigger black cat who is wearing a bowler hat and chomps on a huge cigar; this black cat discretely offers to protect the kitten, but unfortunately guarantees ‘Bad Luck’ if you look carefully at his business cards. This is a good thing, because as we see, the first thing that happens is for the black cat to cross the path of the bulldog, causing a flowerpot to fall down and smash on his head, knocking him out cold. Thus, the so called ‘Bad Luck’ part of the cartoon has begun and this is hugely entertaining for audiences that are superstitious.
Part of what makes this cartoon so popular is the lively soundtrack, and we hear “Comin’ Through the Rye” being played in the background, which is a traditional children’s song that originated from a Robert Burns poem in Scotland. This benchmarks the cartoon as being great fun for kids!
Clearly, a high point in this cartoon is when the tables turn. The beastly-looking black cat gives the small kitten a whistle for emergency purposes, and it is only then that kitty starts to get even with the dog; when little kitty blows the whistle, and the black cat suddenly appears in the bulldog’s path, the bulldog seems to suffer horrendous bad luck almost instantaneously, and by golly, he is not happy. Strange things fall out of the sky: a cash register, a piano, and horseshoes for instance, to name but a few.
Eventually, the bulldog – Spike – paints the black cat a white colour, to rob him of all the bad luck power he possessed. It works. The cat keeps crossing his path and nothing happens; hence, the dog begins to get his own back as the score changes from side to side. Then the small white kitten jumps in a pot of black paint and acquires the amazing powers himself. Thus, when it crosses the path of the bulldog, an iron girder falls from the sky and knocks him unconscious, which forces him to swallow the whistle.
Spike starts to hiccup, he sets off the whistle and this causes everything – including the kitchen sink – to fall from the sky, and this is too much for the bulldog; he flees in terror and the cartoon ends with the two cats shaking hands.
In summary, the idea of falling objects in “Bad Luck Blackie” has been emulated many times since – perhaps most famously with a Tom and Jerry short – and it is not the first time one of Tex Avery’s cartoons, has been voted into the exclusive list of the best 50 of all-time, by senior members in the field of animation in Hollywood.