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A Celebration of Life–And Hope: George Pal and TULIPS SHALL GROW (1942)

1 Feb

When searching for the best way to celebrate the birthday of George Pal, I could think of none better than to discuss a work of his that is itself a celebration–of triumph over adversity, of hope over despair: his 1942 Oscar-nominated Puppetoon, “Tulips Shall Grow.” May you find the cartoon as inspirational as I did.

by Rachel Newstead

Animation at its best has tremendous persuasive power:  the power to evoke laughter or, as we’ve seen as recently as Pixar’s “Up,” tears. It can make us forget our plight, or see ourselves in pen-and-ink drawings, lumps of clay or blocks of wood. At no time, however, is that power more evident than in times of war.

The animators who worked on the home front during World War II to entertain and inform the public instinctively understood this. The war years represented a creative blossoming of the medium of animation; this was the era of Tex Avery’s Blitz Wolf, of Walt Disney’s Der Fuehrer’s Face; when the animated denizens of the Walter Lantz studio moved to a swing beat. Bugs Bunny would find his comedic voice in these years, and set the pattern for other studios to follow.

Yet ironically, the man who most understood the persuasive and emotional power of animation is perhaps, today, the least talked-about. It’s that man whose birthday, whose life we celebrate today, the stop-motion animator and filmmaker George Pal.

To call Pal’s work “stop-motion animation” almost seems to disparage it somehow; it falls into a category all its own. It always fascinated me how Pal could bring his characters to life. Using interchangeable parts with varying degrees of distortion, he could simulate the “squash and stretch” of hand-drawn animation.

Not only did this enable him to avoid the jerky movement so typical of stop-motion, but it bestowed on his characters that same “illusion of life” Disney so fervently strove for. One could “believe” Pal’s characters were living, breathing creatures, and audiences cared for them as if they were. This ability proved invaluable in what is perhaps Pal’s greatest animated film, Tulips Shall Grow.

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