Vintage clothes are always in fashion it seems and just like vintage threads, old animation is always welcome.
Uproar in Heaven is pretty old and rare — produced through the years 1961 and 1964. A lot has progressed in the world of animation since then, the most notable of which is the use of the computer in animation but it’s also good to see many principles of animations hasn’t changed.
Animated by the Shanghai Animation Studio, this program is actually made up of Uproar in Heaven, about the adventures of the Monkey King and two other shorts, Snow Fox and Monkeys Fish for the Moon. It’s to the festival directors’ [Paul and Juanita] credit for obtaining these little animated gems.
The first one of the block was Snow Fox, a visually beautiful if sad tale about a band of snow foxes in the wild. The snow landscapes are painted in the style of Chinese brush painting. Gorgeous eye candy despite the muted colours and the appearance of the three playful foxes contrasts nicely.
Monkeys Fish For The Moon is actually my favourite out of this program. Without any context time and place, it had an unfettered innocence to it with a message, reminiscent of an Aesop fable. With eye popping colours [like a Shag print!] and great accompanying music this hilarious story about a band of mischievous monkeys trying to get a piece of the moon just hooked me from beginning till end. Chinese animators are known to employ many different techniques and it seems the monkeys here, are cut-outs, complete with fur like quality which just shows the attention to detail that went into the animation.
The last instalment is Uproar in Heaven, which starts with a bang, or more accurately a clash of Chinese cymbals and a bellow of the trumpet. Very traditional in its music, motifs and colours, the animation is intonated to the [at times unrelenting] traditional music but nevertheless the adventures of the cheeky and irrepressible Sun Wu Kong or Monkey King, is engrossing stuff. If you were expecting Tripitaka, Pigsy and company though, you will be disappointed as this details Monkey’s adventures before he meets his band of brothers [and er… sister?].
The influence of Western animation style is prevalent in all three but Chinese animators included local culture in all of them, from the music to the colours they use, to paper cut-outs employed in Monkeys Fish for the Moon. These pioneering works also influenced many others. Uproar‘s director, Wan Lai Ming, who made China’s first animated feature Princess Iron Fan, left an indelible impression on the young Tezuka which kickstarted his interest in animation. Tezuka in turn gave us Astro Boy and many other classics. The cycle of influence continues.
(At the SAPFF screening, the print was unsubtitled, but the festival arranged for a translation which was then projected via computer — a rare chance to enjoy this classic. Alas, there is no known DVD release or subtitled print, although apparently it was screened in European TV in the 1980s. We get a lot of emails asking us about this film, but sorry, we can’t help — I’m lucky to have seen it at all!)