Halas & Batchelor were responsible for over 40 years of ground breaking animated films. If you are interested in the history of British animation then the Halas & Batchelor short film collection is well worth watching. Not only does it contain 18 complete H&B short films it also has a Clapperboard interview with John Halas plus 3 other documentaries with numerous clips from the studios prolific output.
Clapperboard was a weekly show produced by Granada television and headed by Chris Kelley. In 1980 Clapperboard devoted three half-hour shows to the H&B studio to mark their 40 years in the animation business. All three programmes are in this collection.
During the Clapperboard interview John Halas talks about how the studio got started with information films made for the British government in 1940, how it progressed with advertising shorts, an example being one for cornflakes, and the production of their feature length film Animal Farm. The program includes clips of the films being discussed. We learn that in Animal Farm, Winston Churchill was the inspiration for the character of the old major pig in his swan song speach. We are also told that H&Bs satirical cartoon History of the Cinema irritated the film industry to such an extent that the then head, wanted to ban the showing of the film.
Another of the documentaries is Ode to Joy. Joy Batchelor was the the other half of the H&B animation team. The commentary tells us that in spite being one of animations most important figures, today she is one of its unsung heroines. Examples of Joy’s work show she was a brilliant graphic artist, not only as an animator but also as an illustrator for newspapers and magazines when animation work was scarce. We are told that her illustrations set the house style for the studio. Her roll was to translate a clients brief into an engaging story, in order to persuade, sell or entertain. She also excelled in managing the work of others with the unfortunate result that she is uncredited on many of the later shorts. However, on Animal Farm she is credited with script writing, direction, production and design.
A 67 minute documentary An Animated Utopia, written and directed by Paul Wells, gives an in depth look at the character of John Halas as a humanitarian. We are informed that Animal Farm was covertly funded by the CIA as part of its strategy during the cold war. For Halas it was a labour of love enabling him to make a serious feature using animal characters. A politically charged film addressing everything from animal rights to conflicting ideologies. Another type of H&B production was demonstrated with an amusing clip from the ‘Tales from Hoffnung’ short film Birds, Bees and Storks with Peter Sellers as the voice of an old duffer explaining the facts of life.
As well as the film clips in the documentaries there are 18 complete Halas & Batchelor’s short films ranging from the whimsical The Magic Canvas to the profetic Automania 2000. They include popular titles such as The Owl and the Pussycat, Hamilton the Musical Elephant, Tales of Hoffnung: The Symphony Orchestra, Foo Foo: The Stowaway, Butterfly Ball, The Figurehead, The History of the Cinema and Autobahn.
The Halas & Batchelor Short Film Collection is released on DVD (RRP £12.99), and Blu-ray (RRP £14.99), from 29 June 2015.