SUMMARY: A Dutch couple’s idyllic romance is interrupted by the invasion of an army of goose-stepping robots called the Screwballs.
WHY IT’S HERE: George Pal was a much-respected animator whose favoured style was Replacement Animation, in which a series of hand-carved puppets were used for each frame, rather than one puppet being moved. This laborious technique was used throughout Pal’s celebrated Puppetoon series, of which ‘Tulips Shall Grow’ is one of the most famous. I’ve always admired most of Pal’s shorts more than I’ve actually enjoyed them but there are a handful of exceptions, this remarkable little piece being one of them. An obvious but nicely realised allegory for the rise of the Nazis, Pal begins his short as a beautiful piece of whimsy, with his central characters moving with an ingenious naturalism, such as when the girl does an excited little clog dance behind a door, unseen by her lover. The tone then shifts to a darker approach as the machines rise and, ultimately, fall but not before causing considerable destruction and heartache. In the middle of this powerful short, Pal drops in an uncharacteristically goofy comedic moment, in which the goose-stepping of the machines (and, by implication, the Nazis), is compared explicitly to the movements of a goose. This sudden lapse into farce is the equivalent of one of those ‘Screwy, Ain’t He?!’ signs from a Looney Tunes cartoon suddenly emerging in the middle of a war film. Tonally it’s a questionable move but it all adds to the rich tapestry of this unusual and strangely charming short.