The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: History of Stop-Motion Feature Films: Part 2
In the former East Germany, a couple of stop-motion features (and many more shorts) were produced in the 1980s by a studio named DEFA, with direction by Gunter Ratz. A feature called Die Fliegende Windmühle (The Flying Windmill), based on a book by Guenther Feustel, was released in 1982. This colorful film is about a little girl named Olli who receives a bad grade in school and runs away from home, ending up going on an adventure in a flying windmill with a dog, a horse, and a mad scientist. The film was interpreted by some as socialist propaganda disguised as a children’s film. Whether this is valid or not, the film has a cult following among those who remembered it from childhood. Ratz directed another feature to East German theaters called Die Spur Führt Zum Silbersee (The Trace Leads to the Silver Lake). It was essentially in the style of an American western and based on a book by Karl May, who was famous for western stories written in the 1890s. This animated version was closer to the original book than a live-action version that had been produced in the 1960s. Like typical Hollywood western films, the historical elements of the stop-motion Silbersee feature were not completely accurate, given that May had never visited the U.S., and East Germany did not receive exposure to these westerns for several decades. Following a limited East German theatrical run in 1989, the film was aired on public television to all of Germany following the Berlin Wall collapse in 1990. It was first aired as five episodes over the Christmas season, and would be shown a year later in one piece. The poor box office for its initial release scrapped Ratz’s plans for another feature called The Ghost of Llano Estacado.
Czechoslovakia brought one of its most notorious feature films to the screen in 1988, directed by another one of the country’s most famous directors, Jan Svankmajer. It was a stop-motion/live-action adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, simply titled Alice. While still based on the classic Lewis Carroll story, it is decidedly more surreal even than Lou Bunin’s version and the polar opposite of Disney’s. Svankmajer’s vision was to adapt the tale with nightmarish imagery, including puppets made of socks, living animal skulls, taxidermy specimens, and animated meat. One of the most disturbing and iconic images from the film is the introduction of the White Rabbit, made from a real stuffed rabbit, who pulls his pocketwatch out of his chest cavity and leaks sawdust. Alice became a cult classic and inspired a whole genre of surrealist stop-motion with dark themes and found object animation.