Animation of the 1980s: Selected Shorts

This post will examine various animated works produced in the 1980s; before I get into individual works, I’ll provide a bit of historical context. The 1970s and 1980s were a difficult time for Disney – Ron Miller wanted to pursue more adult fare, and the company narrowly avoided Saul Steinberg’s takeover attempt by taking back his stock (Steinberg held an 11.1 interest in the company, according to a June 11, 1984 article by UPI). Eisner became CEO of Disney in 1984, serving as CEO until 2005. Disney’s Renaissance era began in 1989 with the release of The Little Mermaid – this era in Disney’s history lasted for ten years. The 1980s saw the debut of the characters Wallace and Gromit, in the 1989 short A Grand Day Out; the company that released the short, Aardman Animations Limited, had been active since the 1970s. Computer animation existed in the 1980s, with experimental work such as Particle Dreams and High Fidelity debuting in the decade; a handful of computer-animated shorts will be mentioned in this article. The 1980s wound up being the final decade of the Soviet Union; the country dissolved on December 26, 1991, a day after Mikhail Gorbachev’s resignation.

In 1980, Oscar Grillo’s Seaside Woman was released; this happens to be a music video for “Seaside Woman,” performed by Wings (going by the name Suzy and the Red Stripes). Linda McCartney wrote the song – around the time she composed “Seaside Woman,” Paul McCartney faced a lawsuit filed by his publishers over his claim of working alongside his wife to produce “Another Day”. The short’s creator, Oscar Grillo, was born in Argentina; he received a BAFTA for Seaside Woman. Also from 1980 is Akairo, directed by Aida Zyablikova; based on a Japanese folktale, the story relates the tale of a old man who helps cure a boy’s sickness through the production of several origami toys. Born in the USSR in 1940, Aida Zyablikova directed not only this short, but also various other animated works, including the Taming of the Shrew episode of the TV series Shakespeare: The Animated Tales. The 1981 short Disc Jockey, directed by Jiří Barta, shows a day in a disc jockey’s life; various noises can be heard throughout the short as the unknown figure goes about their day, and numerous circles (such as records, a hat and a sink) appear.

Also from 1981, Piotr Dumała’s Lykantropia depicts a quartet of wolves chasing down and devouring a man; one of them reveals themselves to be human, and the other three attack them. Another reveals themselves to be human, as well, and is killed; one of the two remaining wolves attacks the other. The remaining wolf removes their head – a sphere rises from the empty space where the wolf’s head once rested. Dumała would go on to direct Ściany, released in 1988 – this short depicts a man seemingly trapped in a bare room. The man’s eyes escape him at one point, converging to form the moon; at another point in the short, a second figure appears, depositing a coin into the box the aforementioned figure resides in. Břetislav Pojar produced the 1981 National Film Board of Canada short E; in the short, a dictatorial figure forces others to interpret an E as a B through police brutality. Volodymyr Dakhno directed Family Marathon, released in 1981, a short about a man participating in a marathon; the man’s wife is capable of keeping pace with him. Dakhno directed several animated shorts – perhaps his most notable work is a collection of shorts (released between 1967 and 1995) featuring cossacks. The earliest of the cossack shorts, How the Cossacks Cooked Kulish, was released in 1967 – it depicts the titular characters preparing a pottage dish (as well as fighting enemy forces).

Eva Szasz’s short The Trout that Stole the Rainbow, released in 1982, concerns a fish who absconds with a rainbow; his theft of the rainbow results in color being drained from the world. Szasz directed several shorts for the National Film Board, Trout included; another NFB short directed by her, 1985’s Halloween According to Old Weird Harold, is about the eponymous man (treated as a bogeyman by others), who relates to children what Halloween was like when he was a kid. Contrary to his reputation as a bogeyman, Harold is a friendly man – he simply wanted to give kids candy. Paul Driessen released Oh What a Knight in 1982 – this short depicts a knight saving a woman; the woman seems more interested in the man’s armor than the man, however. Driessen also directed The Killing of an Egg, a 1977 short – this work shows a man breaking an egg, an then seeing his house broken the same way. One of the more unusual animated works from the 1980s is the 1983 production Dimensions of Dialogue, directed by Jan Švankmajer; this short consists of three segments, each rather bizarre. The first depicts three faces constantly destroying each other – each face is made up of various objects. The second segment shows a man and woman (both made from clay) engaged in lovemaking; the lovemaking soon gives way to violence, however. The final segment shows two clay head engaged in four actions (putting toothpaste on a toothbrush, buttering bread, sharpening a pencil and putting lace on a shoe); the two attempt those actions again, but mess up.

One notable anime production from the 1980s is the opening animation made for DAICON IV, a convention held in 1983; the animators who worked on this production would later form Gainax. During the recap of DAICON III, one can make out Godzilla, the eponymous ship from Space Battleship Yamato and an RX-78-2 Gundam; Darth Vader, a xenomorph and Batman (among other pop culture icons) can also bee seen in the short. This short also contains the songs “Prologue” and “Twilight,” both by Electric Light Orchestra – the songs are from ELO’s album Time. The 1984 CGI short High Fidelity features two people made out of various shapes engaged in antics; it doesn’t really have a story. Another CGI short from 1984, Snoot and Muttly, is an Ohio State production – it features two ostrich-like birds cavorting in a jungle. John Sanborn and Dean Winkler’s 1984 short Renaissance (produced for the Computer Museum) is a rather abstract work – a city appears throughout, and numerous shapes move about in space.

The 1984 short Lone Breaker was produced on an Apple II – the work depicts the breakdancer Hot Feet, and includes music produced on a Yamaha DX7. Released in 1985, Paul Driessen’s Spiegel eiland (also known as Sunny Side Up) features a lone figure on a small island; he jumps in an ocean, believing a ship has arrived, but the ship disappears once the man enters the water. Also from 1985 is Botco – this CGI short is a commercial for the titular fictional industry. The studio that created Botco, Pacific Data Images, folded in 2015 – it worked on the first three Shrek films, as well as the Madagascar series. 1988’s Feet of Song, directed by Erica Russell, features numerous abstract dancers; it is a lively work, with music produced by Charlie Hart.

The shorts mentioned above are examples of animation released in the 1980s; numerous others exist, and I might explore more 1980s animation in a future post. As mentioned, computer animation existed during the decade – Pixar released five animated shorts during the 1980s, including Luxo Jr., which features the iconic lamp that serves as the company’s mascot. Among the decade’s more famous works include G. I. Joe, Danger Mouse and Transformers; Transformers is the combination of two separate Japanese toy lines, and the show’s story focuses on the heroic Autobots (led by Optimus Prime), who fight against the villainous Deceptions.


Eat, Drink, Animate: An Animator’s Cookbook (Sito, Tom; CRC Press, 2019)

Exploring Disney’s Fascinating Dark Phase of the 70s and 80s (Ryan Lambie, writing for Den of Geek, June 26, 2019)

Walt Disney Productions ended financier Saul Steinberg’s takeover attempt (UPI, June 11, 1984)

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