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Friday Film Review: Ziggy’s Gift and A Wish for Wings that Work

Friday Film Review: Ziggy’s Gift and A Wish for Wings that...

Ziggy’s Gift (1982)

Genre: Holiday Animation

Grade: B

“Love is the answer.”

Ziggy’s Gift is a 1982 TV special about Tom Wilson’s cartoon character Ziggy and his dog Fuzz trying to do the right thing. Ziggy wakes up one morning and while getting ready for the day, first hears a TV reporter doing man-on-the-street interviews with harried shoppers and parents gripping about the pains of the Holiday followed by a Walter Cronkite-esque news anchor bemoaning the fact that crooks, in the guise of false Santas, have been conning people out of Christmas donations meaning that many poor people might not have any Christmas gifts this year.

Determined to help, Ziggy answers a newspaper ad he sees for street Santas not knowing that it’s a crook who placed the ad and who would get all the donations. During the course of the day, Ziggy runs into a policeman who suspects Ziggy of being a fake Santa and a real thief determined to rob Ziggy of all the donations he receives. Oh, and lots of live turkeys. Can Ziggy and Fuzz avoid being arrested while spreading true Christmas cheer to those in need?

Ziggy is his usual sad sack self with a heart of gold for whom things work out in the end. If you’re susceptible to sugar overloads, you might want to have something slightly cynical lined up to watch after this. In fact, keep reading and you’ll see my suggestion of what to watch next.

The TV news reports at the beginning of the film lay out exactly what the plot will be. There are no surprises or plot twists – just sweetness and light as Ziggy bumbles around and Fuzz watches out for him. In the face of malfunctioning, mechanical singing angels, plastic poinsettias, aluminum Christmas trees, vinyl holly and polyester pine cones – Ziggy remains steadfast in his desire to do good and spread Christmas cheer.

This one unashamedly yanks on every heart string with the homeless, abandoned pets and orphans all getting trotted out but – gosh darn it! – it’s so simply presented and honestly meant that I melt into “aaaawww” anyway. I’m not too sure about the live turkeys though.

The theme song – which gets repeated at times and might wear on you – says it all. “Give, give, joy, joy.” B


A Wish for Wings that Work (1991)

Genre: Holiday Animation

Grade: B-

As I said in my review of “Die Hard” a lot of you mentioned favorite Christmas specials/movies a while back in 2009 when I posted some of my favorites. Angelia Sparrow listed “A Wish for Wings that Work” which I still can’t believe I missed when it was originally released in 1991. I adored the original “Bloom County” comic strip (and own most of the compilation books), have several Opus t-shirts and even a stuffed Opus toy. Honestly, how did I miss this TV special?

Berkley Breathed apparently hates it but I found it (mainly) charming and fairly in keeping with the spirit of the comic strip. It’s from the “Outland” era so most of the Bloom County characters aren’t there. Mainly it’s Opus and Bill the Cat with a little bit of Ronald-Ann.

Opus wants wings – new non-penguin wings. Not “fancy wings, just plain-Jane, low rent, barely bent, home grown, bare-bone, off-the-shelf, two-part, KMart, no frills flappers.” Opus longs to fly but his penguin wings just aren’t made for it and his efforts, up until now, haven’t worked. Ducks mock him and he’s stuck with “best buddy wannabe” cat who he rescued from a University Science lab. A trip to Ronald-Ann’s “Earthbound Birds Anonymous” support group shows Opus he’s not alone but after listening to a Kiwi bemoan being left by his wife for an albatross – “What does she want? Quality or quantity!?” – he’s little better off.

Then he has an idea. He’ll write to Santa Claus (he actually ends up faxing his request due to the late date). Secure in the belief that Santa will come through for him (“I’ll be flying on Christmas Day!”) he falls sleep. His flying obsession leads to one hella bizarre dream sequence straight out of “Lost Horizon” with the plane going down because penguins can’t fly. Banging on his door wakes Opus up just at the plane’s impact. There’s a Christmas crisis outside and it turns out that Opus, with his special swimming skills – ice water is his shtick – is the only one who can save Santa. But will that earn him his wings? Maybe with a little help from his friends.

The message here – we all have something to offer so be true to yourself – isn’t new. Still it’s told in a way that I think both children and adults (more the usual target for Breathed’s comics – listen as Opus takes a few potshots at Congress, Network Executives and Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf) can enjoy. They even work the term “nether regions” into it and all us romance fans love that purple prose phrase. I feel Opus might be a little harsh on poor Bill (“Ack! Pbthhh.”) After all, it’s not easy being a cat with tater tot brains who smells like the garbage can he drags around on his leg. Opus does have heart and a belief in Christmas that – along with his friends – gives us a happy but not too sappy ending.

How to watch these? Both are out on DVD though Ziggy’s Gift is OOP and could be a challenge to find BUT both of these have also been loaded at youtube. Each is less than 25 minutes in length and just right for a work/lunch break treat.


Friday Film Review: The Triplets of Belleville

Friday Film Review: The Triplets of Belleville

The Triplets of Belleville -Les triplettes de Belleville (2003)

Genre: Animation dramedy

Grade: B

If you haven’t seen this film or any stills from it, prepare yourself for a surrealistic animation style radically different from Disney or Pixar. Not better, not worse but very different. Things are heightened, elongated, exaggerated and unforgettable. My personal feeling is that this isn’t a film for children due to the dark tone and early 20th century references. It also has very little dialog and what is there is hard to understand or in French. But once the animation and story sucked me in, I didn’t want it to end.

The story opens with famous performers of the 20s and 30s doing their thing. Josephine Baker dances in her banana skirt, Fred Astaire’s dancing shoes almost get away with him and the Triplets of Belleville sing and dance before packed houses of adoring fans in Paris. Time flies and we move forward to the house of a young orphaned boy living with his grandmother, Madame Souza. The two are watching a TV show of the now decades old Triplets during their heyday. Grand-mere tries to find something to entertain and interest her grandson. Music? Non. A puppy? Better but still not quite there. Finally from things in her grandson’s scrapbook, grand-mere hits on cycling. Win! Starting from a tricycle to the Tour de France, we see the two training over the years even as the outskirts of Paris spread to overtake their idyllic country house. Grand-mere is as devoted to training her grandson – does she ever take that whistle out of her mouth? – as Bruno, the now overweight and aging dog, is to barking at passing trains. Grand-mere’s methods of muscle de-cramping and massage might be unorthodox but they work. I have to say the training table fare looks like glop but everyone seems happy.

Then the race begins. During the strenuous mountain section, unknown square shoulder villains appear and a sinister plan is set in motion. But, what is it? Three cyclists, including the grandson, appear to be kidnapped but for what purpose? We don’t know, however grand-mere and Bruno are hot on their trail. Taken on a boat, the kidnappees and their kidnappers set sail and end up in Belleville. Does having to cross an ocean stop grand-mere and Bruno? Of course not. But once they arrive, the trail goes cold and they find themselves, friendless and penniless, sitting in the city dump. A chance encounter with the now aging Triplets gives grand-mere and Bruno a place to stay and something to eat when the Triplets invite them to their decrepit apartment. Going along with the Triplets to their job at a swanky restaurant, grand-mere and Bruno get their first clue as to the fate of the grandson. Following up, they make their plans and set the rescue in motion. But can three elderly sisters, a club footed grand-mere and an overweight dog hope to thwart the dastardly plans of the mafia?

I think “Les triplettes de Belleville” benefits from multiple viewings. This is actually quite a dark little tale. The first time through, I sat in semi-stunned wonder at it. What the heck is going on here? And look at the size of the thighs on those cyclists. How is the grandmother going to manage to follow the ocean going boat – which is exaggerated to the point where it shouldn’t possibly stay upright – and why have the three cyclists been taken anyway? It all – sort of – becomes clear as the film goes along and in the end I found that simply sitting back and taking it all in is the way to go. The color palette varies depending on the era and mood of the scenes. The song sung by the Triplets will turn into an ear worm. The grandeur of the ocean waves will be heightened by the excerpt from Mozart’s Mass in C minor. Belleville is a beautifully rendered mix of Paris, New York City and Montreal. There are also French cultural references that I’m sure I missed – though the trivia section of IMDB cleared a few things up for me. As I said, there is little dialog but the meaning of scenes is understandable without any knowledge of French at all.

The obviously strong bond, the unconditional love, between Madame Souza and her grandson is at the heart of the film. This is one dedicated grandmother who is willing to travel to the ends of the earth to get him back. But there are other characters who are fun to watch as well including my favorites – the elastic and obsequious Maitre D’ of the swanky restaurant, the (literally) square shouldered mafia villains, the mouse-like mechanic, and the grenade stunned frogs the Triplets catch to eat. In the end the escape makes as much sense as the betting scheme being run by the mafia but it’s more fun to just watch the film while enjoying the look and feel of it. I certainly couldn’t get the image of the frogsicles out of my mind for a while. It’s a simple story but told in a complex way allowing us to know exactly what these characters are thinking and feeling. Love, exhaustion, determination, joy – it’s all here waiting for you. B