Contemporary Tall Tales

I used to like reading classic tall tale stories.  Paul Bunyan, Mose the Fireman, Pecos Bill, John Henry, and Stormalong, to name a few.  Baron Munchausen was a real person who returned from his travels and told outrageous stories of his adventures.   A tall tale sails past simple exaggeration into unashamed lying, and is an expression of fantastic imagination.  Words are used to conjure up images of impossible things happening.

Picture postcards have used the same idea in a visual form.


In animation, we had Popeye, who with one punch, could turn a bull into a fully stocked butcher stand, or steel girder into a cannon.

What brings this up is the contemporary version of the tall tale.  The two most popular would be Chuck Norris and The Dos Equis Man, “The Most Interesting Man in the World.”  In the age of twitter, the one liner rules this style of tall tale.

One of the hallmarks of tall tales is going out of the way to claim the truth is being told.  Thus, Chuck Norris “facts”.

Chuck Norris doesn’t churn butter. He roundhouse kicks the cows and the butter comes straight out.

Chuck Norris wears a cup not to protect himself, but to protect the players on the other team.

Chuck Norris can do a wheelie on a unicycle.

Chuck Norris s tears cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried.

Advertising has given us the Dos Equis Man, “The Most Interesting Man in the World”  Some examples:

He is so macho it wasn’t until his annual doctor exam that He learned He had been shot five times 6 months earlier.

His snowglobe gets 24 inches of fresh powder annually.

The phrase”cat nap” was coined after he got into a nasty fight with a leopard that ended when he placed the feline in a sleeper hold.

After his birth he cut the umbilical cord from his stomach & used it to choke the doctor for inappropriately touching his mother.

He has found Waldo several times, but has released him because he enjoys the hunt.

He once lapped his opponent in a drag race.

When life gives him lemons… he makes champagne.

He was born in a log cabin he built with his own two hands.

Stay thirsty my friends.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Updated

I am looking forward to seeing the new Scorsese film “Hugo”.  When I read the book,  “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” to my son, years ago, I quickly recognized the role played by George Melies in the story. If you are in animation, and you don’t know who George Melies was, you need to. He was the original special effects filmmaker. You probably know this image.

UPDATE: I had some free time, so I re-watched my dvd of “Melies The Magician” (which is apparently out of print).  I learned how the “automata” element, the windup robotic figure,  found it’s way into the Hugo story.  George Melies, during his stage magic years, had purchased the Robert Houdin Theater.  Robert Houdin, was the first stage magician to create shows purely for entertainment purposes, rather than insisting supernatural forces were truly at work.  (The later, and more famous, magician Houdini took his name from Robert Houdin)  Houdin had skills as a clockmaker, and part of the theater included complex automata, animated figures that would act out simple motions.   Some automata were similar to what you might see in a department store window, but some where extraordinarily complex and could actually write and draw.  Here is a video with examples.

There are a bunch of educational links available at the Hugo Cabret website.

More links about Melies are available here and here and here.

For those who just want an easy introduction, here is a short video:

Puss in Boots: The Animated Picaro

I just got around to seeing Dreamworks new animated feature, “Puss in Boots”. Even though I loved “Rango” for all it’s quirkiness, I have to say “Puss ‘N Boots” is the best animated feature of the year. They combine classic animated fairy tale elements with romantic action adventure, with spaghetti western style. I was never bored, and often laughing. Every aspect of the film, from story to layout to animation was excellent. I was glad I made it to a 3-D screening, because it was the best use of stereo I have seen in a film.

Puss in Boots is also a perfect example of a true picaresque hero. Here is the definition from wikipedia:

The picaresque novel (Spanish: “picaresca,” from “pícaro,” for “rogue” or “rascal”) is a popular sub-genre of prose fiction which is usually satirical and depicts, in realistic and often humorous detail, the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society. This style of novel originated in sixteenth century Spain and flourished throughout Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It continues to influence modern literature.

I have to think that the involvement of Guillermo Del Toro in this movie may something to do with it turning out the way it did. The Dreamworks of 10 years ago may have taken it more in the classical direction of the original French character by Charles Perrault.

Picaros are adventurers by nature, and make for intriguing characters. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn can be considered a picaresque novel. Huck Finn is a wanderer, who lets the Mississippi River determine his path. Such characters roll against the grain of most film stories, where a character needs to have a goal, a dream, they must struggle to achieve. Picaros are often mostly concerned with simple survival. Also, the Picaro character shows little or no development, they aren’t changed by their experience, which is something often expected of good storytelling. As the definition says, these characters live in corrupt societies, and their actions have as much to do with how they affect the world as how the world affects them. They are true heroes.

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