A Year in Shorts Day 137: "The House That Jack Built"
Of all the arthouse filmmakers working today, few are as controversial as Danish director Lars von Trier. I have seen absolutely none of his films and have absolutely nothing interesting to say about him, except for the odd bit of Oscar trivia that is the fact that his only Academy Award nomination is for Dancer in the Dark; he was nominated for Best Original Song. Now you may be wondering what Lars von Trier has to do with today’s short. The answer is- absolutely nothing. However, I felt it was important to clarify that the version of The House That Jack Built which we are discussing today is NOT the artsy exploitation film starring Matt Dillon (also a strange Oscar nominee, receiving a Best Supporting actor nod for his objectively terrible performance in Crash), but a cute animated short released in 1967 by our friends at the National Film Board of Canada. That is NOT a mistake you want to make.
Forgive me for my oh-so-original tangent. In the past I've tried to avoid doing "Isn't it strange how these two very different movies have the same title" bits, but I couldn't resist here. Maybe it's just because the film doesn't give me a whole lot to work with. Which isn't to say it's a bad short. It's perfectly pleasant, with cute animation, decent voice work and a sly sense of satirical humor. But really you can say that about a lot of 1960s shorts we've covered. So what sets this film apart from the rest? Well, not much, but you can check it out for yourself here.
Ron Tunis' The House That Jack Built is a parody of both the titular nursery rhyme and the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, and is a satire of the dull and repetitive nature of the corporate lifestyle. It's not a particularly hilarious or original short, but it's certainly amusing in parts. The film has a pretty distinctive visual style which I don't particularly like, but it certainly gives the film an identity. "Poor Man's Charlie Brown Special" might not be much of an identity, but it's an identity all the same. And in spite of how cheap it often looks, the short does some unique stuff with perspective and color that makes it fairly interesting. It's not exactly a good-looking short (the limited animation of the 50s was a lot better-looking than the limited animation of the 60s, it seems), but it's not ugly either.
But that really sums up The House That Jack Built (or La maison de Jean-Jacques for all you francophones out there) perfectly. It's not too much of one thing, or another. It's not particularly funny, but its sense of humor isn't too annoying either. It's not overlong, but it's not well-paced. It's not bad, but it's not good. It's as average as animated shorts can be. Which is fine, I guess. But as we've seen, we can expect a whole lot more than fine from our Year in Shorts. So it is a little disappointing.
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