Bob Stenhouse worked largely alone to visualise this luminously-animated ode to the "nation of drunkards" (as New Zealand was tagged in the House of Lords in 1838). A shepherd tricks a Mackenzie barman out of a bottle of ‘Hokonui Lightning', but too much pioneer spirit sees him haunted by the devil's daughter. In 1986 Frog was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short; later an animation festival in Annecy, France judged it one of the best animated films made that century. A short 'making of' clip at the end offers hints of the hard work behind the film's distinctive look.
In this episode of her TV3 series for pre-schoolers, Suzy Cato creates a farm in her garden and uses songs, stories and animations to introduce a variety of animals. Chickens cluck, a mother pig and her three piglets bathe in mud, frogs catch flies with their tongues — and one of the chickens strays into the family of frogs and has to be returned home. Meanwhile, a baby bird hatches but can't immediately find its mother, the sock puppet family is seen in all of its extended glory and Suzy keeps proceedings moving with her ebullient friendliness.
This 1982 film, made for the New Zealand Council for Recreation and Sport, is an impressionistic exploration of play. Child narrators talk about what play means to them, while the images capture young people engaged in recreation. The focus is on informal play: kids and teenagers at playgrounds, hunting for frogs, reading, skylarking in the snow, doing cartwheels on the beach, fixing motorbikes, skipping, stargazing and playing Space Attack. Seagulls inspire dreams of flight for a young girl, and a fancy dress ball for adults shows the enduring spirit of play.
This morbidly funny short, made by students of Auckland's Media Design School, depicts the demise of 26 alphabetical and animated animals at the hands of nature’s greatest enemy — the human. Framed as a father possum (Phil Greeves) reading his children their favourite bedtime story, the alliterative animal deaths are undercut with cheerful giggling from the two young possums. The film won acclaim at festivals worldwide —screening at South by Southwest in 2016, and taking out Best Animated film in the Comic-Con Film Festival later that year.
This animated short follows a film editor being driven around the bend by the domino effect of various intrusions, which prevent him from getting on with his work. Animator Bob Stenhouse (later Oscar-nominated for The Frog, The Dog and The Devil) dramatises the challenge of maintaining creative focus while facing Kafkaesque bureaucracy, noisy interruptions and form-filling. Aside from exploring the psychology of creativity, the short is also a primer for how productions were edited in the pre-digital age: showing film physically cut and pasted together with a splicer.
One morning, as kids are stealing apples from an old man’s orchard high above a seaside town, an earthquake hits. No one is hurt, and the townsfolk are non-plussed, but the old man is agitated: he alone is aware of the imminent tsunami and tries to warn the village. Based on a classic Japanese fable, The Orchard was made by one-man band Bob Stenhouse, who had been nominated for an Academy Award the previous decade for pioneer tale The Frog, The Dog and The Devil. Fans of the animator will recognise the lush, luminous hand-drawn style.
Created by animator Cameron Chittock, with help from Kiwi animation legend Euan Frizzell, this part claymation series follows a boy named Oscar as he goes off on adventures with two imaginary friends: daring Doris and the sometimes cowardly Bugsy. In these 26 five-minute episodes, Oscar meets pirates, oversized bugs, a frog princess, jumps on a flying carpet and travels through time and space. The series screened in New Zealand from 1995 to 1999. Overseas screenings included on ITV in the UK, where it became the 10th highest rating children's show on the network.
This short animated comedy offers up a pre-Wellywood tale of Hollywood coming down under. In the fictional West Coast town of Whatawhopa, a horror movie film crew has arrived to take advantage of the town's persistent rain. When the forecast fails, the town’s lazy fire fighters — “burning and yearning for a fire”— are finally sparked into action. The National Film Unit production was directed by Bob Stenhouse (Oscar-nominated for The Frog, the Dog and the Devil) who is clearly relishing the chance to go to town on scenes of rain, lightning, fire and monsters with droopy eyes.
Director Peter Jackson's second feature Meet the Feebles offers even more bad taste than his debut. The irreverent, outlandish, part-musical satire is populated almost entirely by puppets, but it is by no means cute. The motley creatures are all members of a variety show that’s working up to a major performance. They include Bletch the two-timing pornographer walrus, an obese hippo femme fatale, a drug-dealing rat, and a heroin-addicted frog — in other words, something to offend everyone. Richard King writes about the creation of New Zealand's first puppet movie here.
This fondly-remembered Pictorial Parade plunges down the famously steep grade of the Denniston Incline. The cable railway was the key means of transporting ‘black gold’ from the isolated Denniston Plateau to Westport. The engineering marvel fell 518 metres over just 1670 metres. It brought down 13 million tonnes of coal and many hardy families, despite notorious brake failures. This film was made just before the mine and railway ceased operating, as “old king coal” was supplanted by oil. Director Hugh Macdonald writes about making it, and a companion film, here.