The Mind’s Eye (1990)

I have previously written about all the other instalments in the classic four-part series about computer animation from the 1990s, The Mind’s Eye. The time has now come to the first part, the one which gave the series its name, The Mind’s Eye.

CGI computer animation from the segment Mobay Chemical in The Mind's Eye (1990)

Much happened in the world of computer animation during the seven or eight years during which the Mind’s Eye series was designed and directed, Thus, The Mind’s Eye often seems pretty primitive, even when compared with the later films in the series. For that reason, I would not recommend beginning with the first film if you are looking for an introduction to the series. Perhaps the most artisitically interesting instalment is the second, Beyond the Mind’s Eye (1992), though the following parts The Gate to the Mind’s Eye (1994) and Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye (1996) are also interesting, each in its own way.

The series was intended to continue after the fourth part, but no further films surfaced under that banner. There were, however, a number of spin-offs. At least one, Virtual Nature (1993), is available for download.

Like Virtual Nature, the version of The Mind’s Eye available at the Internet Archive is unfortunately a VHS rip. Thus, neither image nor sound are as good as they could have been, although still good enough to be enjoyable.

This film is best enjoyed for its historical significance. While the weakest part in the series in terms of editing and animation (also to some extent with regard to soundtrack), it gives a tremendous insight into just how much CGI animation developed during just a few short years. It is also worth remembering, that just a few years previous, it would have been impossible to make a film like this at all. (If you are interested in even older animation, a State of the Art of Computer Animation from 1988 can be downloaded.) Put into perspective, The Mind’s Eye is still an impressive piece of artistic and technological achievement.

CGI computer animation from the segment Prime Corporate Video in The Mind's Eye (1990)

Beyond the Mind’s Eye
Download link
Year: 1990
Running time: 38 min
Director: Jack Nickman
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (704×468)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Cinepack (456 M)

The Gate to the Mind’s Eye (1994)

I have previously written about two of the films in The Mind’s Eye series of CGI animation episode films, namely Beyond the Mind’s Eye (1992) and Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye (1996). Now the time has come for the film that was chronologically released between those two, namely The Gate to the Mind’s Eye. If you know nothing about this series, it may be better to follow the link to one of the other films before diving into this one.

The Great Wall of China from The Gate to the Mind's Eye (1994)

Music is always central in any Mind’s Eye film, and this one is no exception. The music was produced and performed by Thomas Dolby, and features a mix of vocal and instrumental tracks. I like it a lot, but I prefer the instrumental tracks, since I find that the vocals detract some of my attention from the images.

As with all the other films in the series, this one has good parts and rather less good parts. The sci-fi animations in the first half for the most part lack originality, even though they look nice at times, but several animations in the middle part, such as “Legacy” and “El idioma espaƱol”, are both beautiful and fascinating. Towards the end, we even see some pretty nifty social commentary in sections such as “Zapping”.

This film is best enjoyed by fans of the series, or if you like Thomas Dolby. If you have not seen anything from The Mind’s Eye before, I would suggest that you start with Beyond the Mind’s Eye.

The Gate to the Mind's Eye (1994)

The Gate to the Mind’s Eye
Download link
Year: 1994
Running time: 55 min
Director: Michael Boydstun
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: CD/DVD image (2.3 G) or h.264 (330 M)

Santa and the Three Bears (1970)

When Santa and the Three Bears was first offered as a Christmas special to various American TV networks, they declined, saying that it did not include an antagonist. This goes to show just how stuck people often are in the preconceived Hollywood notions of how a story is supposed to be told.

Santa Claus and the Three Bears (1970)

So there is no evil nemesis in Santa and the Three Bears. Just an old and kindly park ranger and a bear mother with her two cubs. The cubs learn about Christmas and want the ranger to tell them more about it. So they decide to wait up for Santa Claus, instead of going into hibernation. Sounds boring? It is not. Not unless you are absolutely allergic to a bit of sentimentality which, admittedly, this film has its share of.

The film is also filled with music. Original music, yet it fits perfectly with the Christmas theme. If you love Christmas music, then you are going to love the music for this film.

Santa and the Three Bears is certainly not the most polished piece of animation. It looks mostly like some low-budget Hanna Barbera cartoon. But that is easy to forget and forgive when the beauty of the story starts to kick in.

This film is best enjoyed while getting into the mood for the Christmas season, especially if you fancy the American variety of Christmas.

Santa Claus and the Three Bears (1970)

Santa and the Three Bears
Download link
Year: 1970
Running time: 46 min
Directors: Tony Benedict, Barry Mahon
Stars: Robert Hal Smith
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (700 M)

Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye (1996)

Today, advanced computer graphics is something that you come to expect in most new movies, at least in the action genre. Many times, these graphics are so advanced that the human eye cannot tell them apart from what has been filmed in “reality” (whatever that means in the world of motion pictures).

In the 1990s, this new technology was only starting to become a tool for film-makers, and films like the Mind’s Eye series, which was basically only a platform for showcasing the latest and best animations, were really cool and spectacular. Today, they seem a bit quaint, but they do have innate artistic values in addition to the nostalgia factor.

I have previously written about the series in my review of Beyond the Mind’s Eye. Now, the turn has come to the fourth and final part, Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye.

"Flying Start" by Doug Foster from Odyssey into the Mind's Eye (1996)

The differences between the four parts in the series are fairly subtle. They all reflect the visual and musical preferences of the early to mid 1990s. My feeling is that Odyssey is more thematically coherent than the other parts, but it has less originality, less metaphors, and less artistic integrity.

There are lots of things we have seen before, such as underwater scenery, futuristic cities, alien plant life and psychedelic patterns. The only part that feels really timeless, perhaps even groundbreaking, is the far too short segment titled “Martell – The Art of Cognac”. But I would still recommend Odyssey, especially if you enjoyed some of the earlier parts. At its best, it is soothing, dreamlike and almost meditative. True, the music is not as coherent as in the other parts, but it is still very good if you happen to like the 1990s.

The Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye copy to be found at the Internet Archive is a VHS rip, and therefore quality is less than perfect. It is a good VHS rip, however, and it is definitely enjoyable, unless you strive for optimal quality.

This film is best enjoyed after you have already seen some of the other parts in the series and want more of same.

"Aspen Moon" by Kurt McKeever in Odyssey into the Mind's Eye (1996)

Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye
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Year: 1996
Running time: 1 h 6 min
Director: Steven Churchill, Edward Feuer
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (635 M)

Beyond the Mind’s Eye (1992)

The early 1990s. The World Wide Web had come into being and would soon take the world by storm. Whitney Houston topped the charts with “I Will Always Love You”. Terminator 2 was the coolest thing ever seen on the silver screen. Windows 3.0 made the PC into a user-friendly alternative. Spawn became the most popular comic book overnight. And Doom changed the computer game market forever.

Such was the world into which The Mind’s Eye series of four films was released. The second of these, Beyond the Mind’s Eye, appears to have been the most popular and influential.

Looking into the Future segment from Beyond the Mind's Eye (1992)

The concept of The Mind’s Eye was to stitch together a series of computer animations, the most advanced that the day could offer, and smack on an electronic score (by Jan Hammer). No trace of a common plot. Not even any recurring themes, beyond what the spirit of the times suggested.

Sounds boring? Not for a minute! Sure, a few segments give you the feeling of “look what we can do with our cool new toys,” but even then the part of me that is still twenty-two years old will come out and say: “You know, that actually was pretty awesome in 1992.”

So I wish I had seen this back when it was first released. But even today, there is much in it beyond retro nostalgia. It is not altogether far-fetched to describe it as a sort of Fantasia of its time.

This film is best enjoyed in its entirety. Even though the separate parts are not interconnected, the 1990s feel and the music still make it feel as a whole.

Dreams segment from Beyond the Mind's Eye (1992)

Beyond the Mind’s Eye
Download link
Year: 1992
Running time: 50 min
Director: Michael Boydstun
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: CD/DVD image (1.5 G) or h.264 (296 M)

Sita Sings the Blues (2008)

Most Interet Archive films have found their way there because someone was careless about renewing copyright at some point. Or because they are very, very old.

But there are also films that are there because the copyright holders made a deliberate choice to distribute them that way, being more interested in giving the film as wide a distribution as possible than in making money from it, or because they make money in ways other than traditional distribution channels.

These films are sometimes made by amateurs (that holds true especially for many short films, often of mediocre quality, but occasionally a diamond in the rough), but a number are completely professionally produced. One of these is the animated feature Sita Sings the Blues.

Sita and Rama in Ramayana section of Sita Sings the Blues (2008)

Sita Sings the Blues tells the autobiographical story of how the animator Nina lost her boyfriend, home and cat, all at once, and parallels that storyline with the old Indian mythological Ramayana epic about the goddess Sita and her husband Rama.

This film is not only very good, it is also innovative on several levels. Most immediately noticeable is the mixing of at least five distinctly different animation styles, each setting the mood for a certain part or aspect of the story. Underlying the animation is also the interesting fact that it is largely animated in Adobe Flash.

In some ways, the storytelling of Sita Sings the Blues is very similar to that of Three Ages, which I wrote about last week. But where the latter movie has three parallell storylines, Sita Sings the Blues has only two traditional ones, with a third layer consisting of three shadow puppets commenting upon the events and characters in the Sita segments. This last layer is perhaps the weakest in terms of maintaining the tension of the plot, yet it is also very powerful in its own way.

One final thing which must be mentioned is the music, performed by the 1920s jazz singer Annette Hanshaw. Combining these old songs with the ancient story and the modernistic animation is a stroke of genius. The banality of the words amplifies the depth of the double plot.

This film is best enjoyed together with someone you like.

Nina Paley in Sita Sings the Blues (2008)

Sita Sings the Blues
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Year: 2008
Running time: 1 h 21 min
Director: Nina Paley
Stars: Annette Hanshaw, Reena Shah, Nina Paley
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (1920×1080)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: MPEG4 (4.1 G)

Royal Wedding (1951)

There is something rather ridiculous about a royal wedding, such as Swedish Princess Madeleine’s last Saturday. Oh, not the wedding itself. I definitely endorse wedding as an institution and a tradition, and I also acknowledge anyone’s right to do it in pomp and style when the situation so requires. And I guess all the circus and media coverage around it is sort-of necessary as well.

The problem, rather, is that the occasion seems to be the signal for every single person in Sweden to have an opinion, whether warranted or not. The royalists, of course, tell us what is right and wrong, just as the anti-royalists tell us why it is all wrong. The newspaper editorials are full of opinions. The stand-up comedians cannot pass up on a chance for below-the-belt punches. And the Swedish tabloids are having a field day.

The film Royal Wedding, with Fred Astaire as the dancer Tom Bowen, has a lot less to do with royalty than the title may suggest. The film is set in 1947, with the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) as a backdrop to the story.

Fred Astaire dancing with a hatstand in Royal Wedding (1953)

A tragic piece of trivia connected with this movie is that it marked the end of Judy Garland’s career at MGM. Due to mental illness and drug problems, Garland was often absent from rehearsals. As a consequence she was fired from MGM and made a half-hearted suicide attempt. She was replaced by Jane Powell in the role of Tom’s sister and dance partner Ellen.

Royal Wedding has been criticized for a stupid plot and bad dialogue. Well, that may be true, but is not of very much consequence. Quite frankly, I cannot think of a single musical that I would want to watch again because of the story. The point here is the music and the dancing. And with Astaire the dancing can only be top quality. The music is not bad either.

So, forget about the story and all the world’s royal weddings. Sit back, relax, and enjoy one of the all-time greatest artists of musical cinema. If you are unfamiliar with Astaire, you can do much worse than this for a first acquaintance.

This film is best enjoyed as a lesson in dancing creativity.

Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling in Royal Wedding (1953)

Royal Wedding
Download link
Year: 1951
Running time: 1 h 32 min
Directors: Stanley Donen
Stars: Fred Astaire, Jane Powell
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (2.9 G)