Often called the “Walt Disney of Norway” (though his puppet and stop-motion techniques are probably more akin to Ray Harryhausen’s fairy-tales or the Rankin/Bass specials of the 1950s and 60s), Ivo Caprino’s work is celebrated in a lavish multi-disc DVD box set. The films – including Caprino’s international success Pinchcliffe Grand Prix – have all been extensively restored by the Caprino Family over the past two years, with all the films available now in vastly improved picture and sound quality.
Released in Norway on 23rd November 2005, the Caprino’s World Of Adventure Anniversary Collectors’ Edition features 13 films, ranging from shorts based on Norwegian folk lore to the comical adventure feature film Pinchcliffe Grand Prix. All the films have been issued with English language tracks and the discs themselves are region free, though at this time the set is only playable for those viewers with PAL format playback capabilities as used by televisions in European countries.
Housed in a sturdy, leather-styled box, the eight-disc set (comprising four two-disc sets in slimline keepcases with outer slipcases for added quality effect) contains a wealth of content, including a wide variety of archive and recently created bonuses. The only drawback here is that while the movies themselves are optionally viewable with English dubs or subtitles, the extras are in Norwegian only, without subtitles to aid those who do not speak the language. However, there is still lots to wade through here, and the odd interesting visual often pops up to sustain some interest in these bonuses.
Disc 1: The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix and supplements
Kicking off in reverse chronology, the set begins with Ivo’s final and most well known film, the feature length Pinchcliffe Grand Prix (1975, 84 min). Although I had only seen short segments of the film over the years, I was still amazed at the scope of the project, which is very large in its number of characters and sets, yet minutely detailed. The plot tells of an inventor who enters the race of the century to win against an old apprentice who had stolen his plans for the ultimate car. The film spends a lot of time setting up the characters and the lead up to the race, but when things get underway, the final half-hour action is speedy and never lets up! Also, UK viewers may get a big kick out of what sounds like veteran grand prix commentator Murray Walker – or a very good soundalike – providing the joke comments on the race here.
The animation is fluid, and this new edition restores the image to make it look better than ever. True, and as noted below, the image has been manipulated to fit widescreen displays, but the scene extensions to make some shots wider (the first time, it is believed, that this has been done), and the digital camera moves that scan the frame to keep in the important information are transparently done and in keeping with the original camera style. These are more clearly visible on the disc’s extras which show the differences between the original 1.33:1 pre-restored image, the original DVD/theatrical masked framing, and this new DVD edition, though the level of attention each shot has been given is apparent even if purists may well bemoan the fact that this is essentially the 16×9 equivalent of pan and scanning. Personally, I’d have like to have seen both versions included, not only to see the full frame, but also because overall the original ratio is more suited to fitting the classic and archival nature of the material.
Disc 2: Pinchcliffe extras; Additional supplements
The first disc also houses some neat background information on Ivo and the Caprino Studios, the history of the film, and the “before and after” restorations, as well as a generic (subtitled) trailer covering the entire collection’s contents. Disc two proper takes things further, with a number of interesting archival programs. Though these are all in Norwegian and without the benefit of English subtitles (the set’s one true major shortcoming), it’s well worth the animation aficionado skimming through these for the odd bit of interest, such as the talk show that illustrates just how large these “miniature” models were, and those with a rudimentary knowledge of animation will grasp what’s going on.
The extras here cover everything from promoting the film on Norwegian broadcast television in 1971 (15 min), to the original 1975 release (33 min), a full profile of Ivo and his work (1990, 61 min) and offspring Remo Caprino on Good Morning Norway in 2003 (11 min), while TV excerpts on a life-size drivable version of the winning car “Il Tempo Gigante” yields another 10 minutes or so. There’s a push for the recent video game version of the movie, and an exceptional looking transfer to CG it has to be said, plus a ton of DVD-ROM material including the film’s script, storyboards, and extensive articles on the film – all in Norwegian of course, and understandably so in these cases. Finally a couple of Easter Eggs reveal a fun three-dimensional point-of-view of being in the actual race, and though 3D specs are not included, if you have some this is one feature even non-Norwegians can enjoy. Too bad there are no translations for all the rest – they look very interesting!
Disc 3: Karius And Baktus; A Dog’s Life; Tim And Teddy; Little Frick And The Fiddle
Again housed in a slimline case and outer deluxe slipcover, this disc includes four Caprino animated films, with English language dub again accessible by selecting the Union Jack option (displaying the disc’s contents in English as well). Each film here, pulled from very early in Caprino’s career, also feature restoration examples, histories and credits for the original film and these new DVD incarnations. The 15 minute Karius And Baktus (1955) tells the tale of two tooth trolls who take great delight in unwittingly ruining the teeth of their “homeowner” Joe, and became Ivo’s most famous short outside of Norway, causing a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival when the two central character puppets were stolen and again when Danny Kaye featured them on his television show.
Little Frick And The Fiddle (1952, 18 min) continues the selection, a film that was supposed to cement Caprino’s international reputation but was blundered by Norway’s failure to submit it for the Cannes Film Festival. The first of Ivo’s films to be based on Norwegian folklore, about a good-hearted young boy who has to venture out into the world to help pay his way, this was later rewarded with first prize at the Venice Children’s Film Festival, though it may feel a little episodic and overlong today. A Dog’s Life (1958, 15 min) was one of Ivo Caprino’s early commissioned films (the first to feature an animal cast), here for the Norway Savings Bank and as such includes a sensible-with-money theme. The bigger budget allowed for a larger scope, and more meticulous animation, resulting in a story that imparts its message without preaching among the cute songs and clever, Dr Seuss-esque rhyming dialogue. Lastly, we finish the disc with Ivo’s first film, Tim And Teddy from 1949 (9 min), a home-made short that uses Caprino’s patented puppet-animation technique to tell the story of another pair of heroes, this time two musicians on the trail of a lost mandolin. While viewing this archival black and white material in widescreen might seem a bit disconcerting, at least the short has not been artificially colorized and looks fairly fresh for its age.
Disc 4: Karius And Baktus supplements
The main piece here, again presented in original Norwegian with no subtitle information for foreign viewers, is a 53 minute documentary from 1964 that seems to be an early Caprino profile. If you can’t understand what they’re saying, at least the sight of the four very cool guys in dark sunglasses hosting the show is pretty amusing to watch, as well as some crazy footage of a girl by a boat rocking around to a fun mop-topped puppet ensemble who crank along to The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”. On top of this there are Caprino clips (including an early commercial), some pretty cool concept and storyboard art, and an extensive look in to what goes in to making the puppets, sets and animation for a Caprino film. Think of it as a crazy “Tricks Of The Trade” in black and white. And Norwegian.
Four other television excerpts from Norway continue the exploration of Caprino’s work, including two from 1964 (running 9 and 10 minutes respectively) that have their hosts “interviewing” and singing with Ivo’s real time puppets. A 4 minute piece from 1982 has Ivo himself phoning up one of his stars for a daytime TV chat, while a 9 minute clip from 2002 has a character making the transition (and fairly convincingly too!) to CGI and having a chat with Remo Caprino in what looks to be some kind of pilot to show off the new technique. Finally, an Easter Egg reveals a 10 minute clip from 1965 that has the character and interviewer from one of the earlier excerpts revisit that interview, adding new material at the same time. DVD-ROM material comes in the form of additional print articles, book excerpts, biographies and even a copy of Ivo’s original animated puppet patent.
Disc 5: The Ashlad And His Good Helpers; The Fox’s Widow; The Seventh Master Of The House; Music In The Attic – A Dolls’ Dream
Four more films, starting off with the 1961 Ashlad (15 min), the first of a number of shorts that would have made up a feature, “Once Upon A Time”, that was never completed in Ivo’s original vision. The film follows a young lad and a ragtag band of eccentrics who group aboard a magical ship that can float in the air just as well as it can in the sea, leading to an atmospheric voyage and one of the most enjoyable shorts in the collection, with wonderfully crafted and detailed sets. The Fox’s Widow (1962, 15 min), the second in the “Once Upon A Time” series, is a moralistic tale, based as with the others on Norwegian folklore, that tells of a kindly fox who breaks his wiley stereotyped perception and instead helps an old woman out when her plight has been ignored by a wolf and a bear. The film, bookended in the same way as Ashlad with live-action sequences, ends as with most of Caprino’s fairy-tales, with the good fox rewarded by way of a furry new coat and marriage to the well admired fox’s widow. Although popular with audiences, Caprino’s films were not always financially viable (something that led Disney into creating feature length films), and the Caprino Studio had to turn their attention to commercial work to stay afloat.
After a break of four years, the third of the “Once Upon A Time” films appeared. The Seventh Master Of The House (1966, 15 min) is a satire on bureaucracy, as noted by the disc notes on the film, but otherwise plays along the same lines as the other films in the unofficial series, in that the protagonist must again speak rather episodically to various people before finally being rewarded, this time with a bed for the night. The fun here is in seeing how far up the ladder of power the young man must climb in order to get a simple answer, and Caprino takes delight in making each next character more ridiculous than the last! The final selection here takes us right back to 1950, when Ivo’s second film (and Norway’s first in color) Music In The Attic was deemed too long to be a short and divided into two parts, the second of which was called A Dolls’ Dream. For this edition the full 19 minute film has been reconstructed and the complete and very entertaining tale of two young girls who dream that their father’s attic full of musical instruments come alive can be enjoyed as originally intended for the first time. The disc also includes the customary “before and after” examples of the restoration work gone into the films and the widescreen remastering, and the difference between the clips does show what work has been put into this achievement.
Disc 6: Ashlad And His Helpers supplements
Demonstrating the wealth of bonus material on offer in the set (and the frustration for English language viewers not to be able to understand a word of it!), this disc contains another group of lengthy and in-depth extras. A 38 minute documentary from 2001 celebrates the life of Ivo Caprino, presumably soon after he died in February of the same year. It runs through Ivo’s early achievements, features many archival film clips and interviews, follows Ivo through new-found fame with Pinchcliffe, and ends with his innovative five-camera/wraparound screen system and move into computer graphics with the Pinchcliffe video game. The disc also includes a further retrospective interview with Caprino himself (2000, 10 min) and a look at what appears to be some kind of life-size theme park/walkthrough exhibition of Caprino’s animated characters (1995, 14 min).
This extras disc also contains a comprehensive and varied amount of further Caprino material, adding up to around 36 minutes or so. This ranges from additional early black and white commissioned work from the 1940s and 50s, through the color advertisements of the 60s, to the full 5 minute look at the Pinchcliffe video game and CGI commercial from 2005 – all of it meticulously animated and restored to the level of the shorts, and presented in original full-frame aspect ratio. As usual, several very interesting-looking print articles can be found in the disc’s DVD-ROM section (including a 1959 piece that paints Caprino as “Norway’s Walt Disney”), as well as an Easter Egg, which this time was pretty hard to find but reveals a half-minute extended musical version of the Caprino Studios animated cameraman logo sans text.
Disc 7: The Ashlad And The Hungry Troll; The Paper Kite; Scampermouse In A Jam; The Steadfast Tin Soldier
Again by selecting the Union Jack symbol, the disc and its contents are presented in English language. With the first Ashlad short being such an entertaining piece, it comes as no surprise that the lad’s adventures would continue in a sequel, Ashlad And The Hungry Troll (1967, 16 min), also marking the last of the four “Once Upon A Time” shorts. Starting off with easily the most accomplished of the live-action bookends, this tale tells of Ashlad’s eating contest against the troll who won’t let him chop the trees down for firewood in “his” forest. Their personal one on one playoff means it’s a smaller and more intimate piece than before, but the sets and animation are as proficient as ever, even if the print quality here seems a little softer than the others in the series. As with all the fairytale shorts, Philip Wilde’s sturdy English delivery adds a touch of Patrick Stewart-styled class, and he seems perfect as the role of storyteller – a good choice.
Next up, The Steadfast Tin Soldier from 1955 covers Hans Andersen’s tale in just 13 minutes but is another very enjoyable short. Perhaps as I know this tale, it was one I was specifically looking forward to seeing, especially in how Caprino dealt with the story as opposed to Disney Feature Animation’s way of tackling it 45 years later in Fantasia/2000. Made to celebrate Andersen’s 150th birthday, the film as such sticks close to the original story without any great embellishments and was hailed at the time over Danny Kaye’s live-action feature version of Andersen’s life. Due to its popularity it was issued in many languages, the benefit here being that we get a remaster of the original English dub as opposed to a new recording. Perhaps again because I was familiar with the tale, but I found The Steadfast Tin Soldier to be possibly my favorite short in the set, extremely faithful to the original (yes, with the intended ending intact), and expertly combining live-action and animation, where Caprino’s exceptional puppet designs really fit the story of toys come to life and a brave soldier’s battle to protect a ballerina figurine from an evil jack-in-the-box goblin.
The Paper Kite (1963, 20 min) is, as the disc notes mention, a film of its age, being the story of a young boy who is able to fly from country to country on his magic kite. Commissioned by UNICEF, and since shown around the world (meaning this version once more utilises its original English dub), the print here again seemed a little soft but by no means marred the film’s enjoyment value, being big in budget and vast in scope. Told mostly in music and mime, the film shows how the boy and the friends he makes along the way are able to help each place they visit in a rose tinted way, though the switch to a rather preachy ending felt rather sudden, especially with the clipped British narrator’s female tones. Lastly, it’s back to 1955 for the fun Scampermouse In A Jam (13 min), the first of Caprino’s films made at his purpose built studio and another commission from the Norway Savings Bank. Again featuring Ivo’s patented animated puppet technique, the animal cast relate the story of a group of mice who learn the benefits of putting aside their nuts instead of frittering them away. As with all the discs, representations of “before and after” restoration clips are included, as well as English language background text on the films’ history and credits.
Disc 8: Ashlad And The Troll supplements
Presented, as with all the bonus material, in originally broadcast full-frame, the slimmer volume of material here reveals that we’re coming to the end of the exhaustive archival footage collected on the Caprinos. But that’s not to say there isn’t anything of interest, as a 41 minute black and white documentary from 1961 makes clear, and it’s worth non-Norwegian speakers skipping through this for a tour of the then newly built Caprino Filmcenter. The making of Ivo’s early characters and films are explored and there are film clips aplenty from both films featured in the set and additional Caprino material. Again what strikes is the intricate detail put into the puppets and the sheer scale of some of the necessary larger models.
A 25 minute interview piece that centers more on the technology Ivo had invented and used over the years (including his puppets’ mechanical armatures, the five-camera/screen system, and not to mention his culinary skills!) comes from 1998 and also includes a spin in “Il Tempo Gigante”, the full size Pinchcliffe-winning car. “Da Capo!” (1993, 13 min) feature’s Caprino’s visit to a popular studio-based TV show for a fairly serious discussion, while two short black and white clips (running combined at just over 2 minutes) has musical fun with a trio of comically intoxicated mice intent on drinking a bottle of wine dry. Finally, an Easter Egg shows a minute-long clip of Ashlad And The Troll recreated for internal experimental purposes in CGI video game form, complete with a new computer animated Caprino logo. What marks this out as different in the Caprino cannon is the fact that it’s set up like a Pixar outtake, with the Troll knocking over the scenery and the camera pulling back to reveal the “set” and characters in a “studio”. For added effect, the scene is replayed from an aerial view to show how a CGI allows multiple camera set-ups using the same animation sequence. As before, the disc rounds itself out with a vast collection of Norwegian print articles and Caprino biographies accessible from DVD-ROM drives.
Sound, Image and Packaging:
As mentioned above, the Caprinos have done much to make the set appealing to international buyers as well as their native Norwegian fan base, with English-language tracks available on all the films. The tracks themselves sound great – Pinchcliffe’s climatic race was apparently the inspiration for the pod sequence in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and considering this is a 30 year old film the track here almost matches up to that in terms of sonic power. For the purists, the original Norwegian is obviously included in mono sound, which actually often give the most fidelity. The 5.1 remix sounds a little “softer” (likely the foreign mono dubs have been utilised as a base from which to layer the tracks), but the other films have been given brand new tracks that may sound a little “modern” but do feature spacious sound design that bring the films up to date while retaining their original intentions.
The same cannot be said for the image, which while light years ahead of what anyone would have seen before, has been remastered in the 16×9 widescreen format. It’s arguable that this is how the films would have been seen in some theatrical runs, but the original framing was full-frame 1.33:1, so some digital trickery has been employed to bring the films “up to date”. Whether this tinkering is beneficial is open to debate, but there is no denying the results of the extensive restoration that the Caprinos have invested in their family’s legacy of films and as compared to the faded and damaged negatives they do look stable and full of vibrant color. Perhaps next time we could have the original ratios as an option too?
The packaging of the set is exclusively in Norwegian too, and the option of dual language, reverse packaging is a no-show. Perhaps the only thing I might have expected was an English-language track on the set’s all-encompassing trailer, which does exist as it’s an option on the Caprino website. To be fair in the case of the enclosed booklets, which contain what looks to be a very informative history to the Caprinos and the Studios’ films, much of this information seems to have been carried over to the discs in their background text pages (in English) and what is really important is that we can enjoy the actual films themselves, something extensively catered for in the easily accessible English dubs (or the option for English subtitling that allows on-screen translation while listening to the original Norwegian soundtracks). For the record, soundtrack dubs in additional European languages Swedish, Danish and Finnish have also been included.
With over seven hours of supplemental feature material to explore in addition to 13 complete films – including one full length feature – the Caprino Studios Anniversary Collectors Edition is the perfect way to revisit a puppet/stop-motion master’s work, or discover these unique films for the first time.
– Animated News & Views coverage by Ben Simon. See the Caprino DVD trailer in English, or buy the collection here.