Posted by jdg | Tuesday, June 12, 2007 |

John Hubley was an animator for Disney during the days of Snow White, Pinocchio, and Bambi. After he was blacklisted for refusing to name names before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, he went on to create uncredited television commercials, and eventually shifted his focus to independent short films after moving to New York and marrying Faith Elliot, who became his partner and collaborator at Storyboard Films.

The Hubleys' Storyboard animation would be familiar to anyone who has seen classic Electric Company and Sesame Street from the early 1970s---it had a distinct style that was low-key, a bit jittery, and often surreal. As I've been trying to update my list of YouTube offerings that I use to entertain Juniper instead of television, I realized that a lot of my favorite old Electric Company and Sesame Street animations were created by the Hubleys; I recently looked into their story and some of the others films they created, and stumbled across this:

"Georgie," the younger girl whose tantrum erupts into a green feline beastie at 5:00, grew up to become Georgia Hubley of Hoboken (the drummer for Yo La Tengo). The older girl, Emily, followed in her parents' footsteps (she did the animation in John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and the Angry Inch). Beyond that trivia, I am struck by this cartoon's simple genius: the girls seem to be mic'd up and playing without any interference from their parents, and the use of animation here is so perfect, from the way it effectively conveys the imaginative play of preschoolers to how it captures the true ferocity of a sudden tantrum like no video camera ever could. But beyond that, and even beyond the unscripted reality of the subject, what I see in this animation is the love of the parents for their children, such a patient, tender understanding and appreciation of these two kids for who they are right in those moments and the amazing world they inhabit together. I sit watching it as enraptured as Juniper. She is doing a lot of this kind of imaginative babbling and quiet play herself these days, and this makes me want to give her a sibling.

Along the same lines is the Hubleys' earlier short film Moonbird, an Academy Award winner from 1959, that uses gorgeous mid-century-feeling animation and a similarly-recorded dialogue between their older sons as they hunt for an imaginary creature in the middle of the night:

I was struck by how revolutionary these decades-old cartoons felt when I was first saw them. I think it's because the voices are not supplied by actors, the stories not plotted by a team of writers. The voices are those of real children, and the action is supplied organically by one of the most powerful creative forces around: the imagination of preschoolers. But as I watched each of those videos for the first time, I had a hard time imagining two preschoolers raised in the current culture of pervasive branding sustaining a conversation for eight or ten minutes without talking about Dora or Spongebob or Thomas or Bob the Builder or whatever other preschool icon has hijacked their imagination.

Then I shook my cane at the kids these days and told them to get off my lawn.