A Year in Shorts Day 199: "Sidney's Family Tree"
Judging by the Gene Deitch shorts we’ve looked at (some of them incredibly recently!), you might be forgiven for wondering just how his short tenure with Tom and Jerry turned out so poorly. Was it just a fluke? Or maybe his shorts were all brilliant, and I’ve just been lying to you? Well fear not, loyal reader! While Gene Deitch is indeed responsible for some truly great films, he was perfectly capable of producing mediocre or subpar crap as well. Case in point- the 1958 short, Sidney’s Family Tree.
Unlike the other Gene Deitch films we've looked at, Sidney's Family Tree (which, it should be noted, was actually directed by Art Batch and supervised by Gene Deitch) is a short for kids. This is probably due in part to the fact that the short is a Terrytoon, not a Rembrandt production. It tells the story of Sidney, a lonely forty-four year old elephant looking for a mother. He finds a home with a family of monkeys who agree to adopt him. It might not be the most promising premise for a short, but it's not a terrible one. No, the problem with Sidney's Family Tree is in its execution. To put it bluntly, it's annoying. It's so, so fucking annoying.
Most of this comes down to Sidney, who is quite possibly the most obnoxious character we've seen in a short so far. And we've seen some obnoxious characters! But Sidney takes the cake with his constant whining and Lionel Wilson's irritating performance, which sounds like Ed Wynn if all the charm was sucked out of him. (In the interest of fairness, I should say that Lionel Wilson does all the voices in this short, and they're all much better than his voice for Sidney.) Admittedly, Sidney is very clearly meant to be an annoying character. But the problem with making intentionally annoying characters is sometimes you succeed a little too well. Anyone who's watched an episode of Family Matters can tell you that.
And frankly, the short surrounding Sidney doesn't compensate for his obnoxiousness. Absolutely none of the jokes land, the story is simplistic and the animation is pretty lousy. The short was released in CinemaScope, but to what end? What does the larger canvas provide us with? Nothing but a real ugly shade of yellow. Simply put, Sidney's Family Tree is a short with very little to offer anyone, aside from the fact that it's not offensive or anything, which certainly counts for something. Still, one has to wonder what exactly the Academy saw in this short to nominate it. But they were having a major off year in 1958, I suppose. That was the year Gigi won Best Picture after all.
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