Animated Short of the Week – Neighbours
Dir. Norman McLaren
Norman McLaren was one of the pioneers of animation, as his work dates back to 1933, and continued on until his death in 1987. However, one cannot be faulted for not having heard his name before. He was a subtle kind of guy, making mostly experimental shorts in his homeland Canada, and working for the National Film Board of Canada. His work, however, is rather revelatory, in part from his early experiments with drawn-on-film animation, but in my opinion, mostly from his experiments with stop-motion animation and experiments in live-action movement. I could pick any number of his films, from the earlier stand-out Blinkity Blank, or his hypnotic dance piece Narcissus. However, I will go ahead and choose what is likely McLaren’s most well-known film, Neighbours, one that even won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject in 1953.
Neighbours is a fun little stop-motion film that begins as a Looney Tunes-esque slapstick farce about picture-perfect suburbia and an innocent tussle between two neighbors fighting over a flower that has sprouted between their yards. However, and not to read too much into this film as some sort of an criticism of post-war society, this film does have an unsettling little undercurrent that boils beneath the escalating tomfoolery. The film becomes almost uneasily intense after a point, but not to an extreme like, say, a David Lynch film. This is Chuck Jones level slapstick here, and a damn clever and funny one at that, but evolves to something just a shade past simple gags. Enjoy.
And of course, for good measure, here’s another great stop-motion piece staring McLaren himself, as a piece he did to open the first Montreal International Film Festival.