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100 Greatest Animated Shorts / Crac! / Frédéric Back

100 Greatest Animated Shorts, Featured

Canada / 1981

Telling the story of the life of a rocking chair through the years from its construction in 1850, the Oscar winning Crac! uses humour, imaginary sequences and traditional music to show life and change in Quebec, Canada. The film is an early example of the pastel- shaded look that became popular in animation in the 1980s in films such as The Snowman (1982) and is possibly one of the greatest furniture films ever made.

A loose impressionistic style can often be an excuse for sketchy undisciplined animation but here the characters, simplified and stylised but strongly drawn, are animated with beautiful fluidity, including a terrific dance sequence and some of the best tree chopping animation Ive seen (an obscure category admittedly).

The name Crac refers to the sound of the wood being felled, the chair creaking and rocking and eventually breaking, in a story that manages to be epic as it stretches over decades but also retains a warm intimate touch, with many little gags and human moments. In many of of these the rocking chair becomes like another character in the family, to an extent where it creates Toy Story type trauma in the audience when it is finally discarded.

The design is also simple but well balanced and the colour palettes of the big set pieces are often lovely, including several fantasy sequences (recommended for any animated story of course) including the ever reliable device of visualizing a child’s imagination at play.

The traditional music sounds to me like the Canadian version of Cajun folk songs, which kind of makes sense, as I seem to remember the Cajun communities of rural USA are descended from French speaking Canadians.

As the story reaches the inevitable conclusion of all furniture based stories, i.e. it breaks, our mood is allowed to lift again as our rocking hero is rescued for nostalgic use in the world of contemporary Canada, lighting up the sterile modern environment with its story, charm and heritage. Which is a bit like how I see myself these days.

Frédéric Back won a second Academy Award in 1987 for his film L’homme qui plantait des arbres (The Man Who Planted Trees). Based on the Jean Gino’s story of the same name, this beautiful pencil shaded follow up tells of a man who lives in a barren area and tries to restore it to life by planting one tree at a time.

Although a German by birth, many of Back’s films are examinations of the culture of Canada, his adopted homeland, where he had a long career creating titles for with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s French language station Radio-Canada. As a child his family had moved to Paris at the start of World War 2, where he studied art and became fluent in French, before moving to Canada in 1948 at the bequest of his pen pal Ghylaine Paquin, who would become his wife the next year. He began his short film career with Abracadabra in 1970 and shot to international fame with his sixth short Crac! a decade later. As a director he was nominated for Academy Awards four times, also including Tout Rien (1980), and Le Fleuve Aux Grande Eaux (1984).

In a sad update to his entries in my book, since its publication Frédéric Back has died, on Christmas Eve 2013 at the age of 89, leaving behind him undoubtedly one of the finest bodies of work of any director of animated shorts.

Note: The 100 greatest animated shorts is a list of opinions and not an order of value from best to worst. Click here to see all of the picks of the list so far. All suggestions, comments and outrage are welcome!

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