________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 18 . . . . April 27, 2007


Puppet Palooza.

Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2006.
53 min., 6 sec., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153E 9906 114.

Subject Headings:
Animated films.
Clay animated films.

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Valerie Nielsen.

*½ /4

Puppet Palooza is a collection of three short animated films ending with a "Karaoke" selection featuring the voice and guitar of Felix Leclerc in a rendition of the French folk song Cadet Rousselle.

     The first film, "Ruzz & Ben," focuses on two urban kids who, in pursuit of a lost kite, find themselves in weird landscape full of raucous birds, odd sculptures, and whirligigs, presided over by an immensely tall wooden puppet-like creature. With nothing but pre-symbolic speech at their disposal, the children drift about in this strange nightmare-ish world finding and losing their kite  Each time they encounter the huge wooden proprietor, they misjudge his kindly intent and flee, terrified by his size and ugly demeanor. The viewer must put in 24 minutes and 6 seconds watching nothing much happen while Ruzz and Ben blunder through the puppet's peculiar demesne before the requisite "Beauty and the Beast" ending takes place. Children younger than five years of age are likely to be frightened by the eerie quality of the setting. Scenes involving one of the characters spray-painting what appear to be public structures and using fire to protect herself and Ben seem rather inappropriate for the age of the intended audience.

     The second film, “La Cyclope de la Mer,” is a rather dark tale featuring a lighthouse keeper with one large eye who rescues a fish from some hungry birds one day. He becomes obsessed with the fish, spending most of his time gathering and making things to put in the aquarium he has set up for it. He is so busy with the fish that he neglects to ready his home for a huge storm which blows up unexpectedly. Immense waves surge and crash against the lighthouse windows. Too late to warn ships in the regular way, the Cyclopse shines the light into his own eye causing its reflection to send out the danger signal. In the wake of the storm, there is destruction of property and personal tragedy - a rather unsettling and unsuitable sort of ending suitable for young viewers.

     “Juke Bar,” by Martin Barry, is a truly wacky little animated film involving a novel way to rid a restaurant of cockroaches. The restaurant owner moves an old juke box into his cockroach-infested establishment. The little critters are definitely creepy and ugly, but, with the addition of hats and hair and teeth and mustaches (there is even one cockroach with a Winston Churchill face and cigar), they have a sort endearing cuteness about them. Once inside the juke box, the bugs manage to get it going and have themselves a fine time dancing to a Big Band beat. Naturally, when the men who come to take away the juke box congratulate themselves on the success of their extermination project, they fail to see the cockroach couple who are left behind.  The swing music and scuttly pace of this little film goes a little way to offset the distaste that most viewers have for these unpleasantly ubiquitous creatures. Again, the setting and characters are not likely to find many fans in the five- to eight-year-old bunch.

     Felix Leclerc's mellifluous tenor voice and lively guitar rendition of the folk song "Cadet Rousselle" is the best selection on this DVD. The song is performed in French only, with the extravagantly colourful and comic illustrations of Jean Dallaire. The second time around, the viewers are invited to sing along with Leclerc, an easy and enjoyable task as the words for each of the six verses appear on the screen (although they are in cursive, rather than printed letters).

     It is not clear that this collection of films is suitable for a very young audience, nor that it would have much appeal for older children. Parents and school librarians could easily give it a miss.

Not recommended.

A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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