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Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
Ranking:
Sale Price: $34.98 Last Price: $ Buy now! 3rd Party 34.98 In Stock
Release Date: December 26th, 2023 Movie Release Year: 1971

Benny's Bathtub

Overview -

Benny's Bathtub is a quirky, psychedelic work of animation that is a beloved classic in its native Denmark. Directors Jannik Hastrup and Flemming Quist Møller present the adventures of a rambunctious boy who discovers a whole undersea world when he dives into his bathtub with a magical tadpole. The splattery visual style resembles a child's painting come to life. Deaf Crocodile grows its eclectic library of undersung animation (at least, in the States) with this charming release that also features three episodes of Hastrup's TV work. Highly Recommended.

How can you not love a psychedelic animated kids’ film in which a young boy, bored with the dreary and gray Adult World, follows an enchanted tadpole through the drain in his bathtub – where he discovers a surreal and musical undersea world?? Populated by singing (and barely dressed) Mermaids, a funky hepcat Octopus and whiskey-drinking Skeleton Pirates, the underwater kingdom is the grooviest scene this side of YELLOW SUBMARINE, with helpings of Dr. Seuss, Sid & Marty Krofft and Harry Nilsson’s THE POINT thrown in. (Kids’ entertainment in the early 1970s was truly outtasite!) In addition to the candy-colored, kaleidoscopic visuals, the film is famed for its incredibly addictive soundtrack featuring Jazz heavyweights of Copenhagen circa 1970, with vocals sung by the cream of Danish 60s Pop and Rock including Peter Belli, Otto Brandenburg, Poul Dissing and Trille on tracks like “Octopussong/ Blækspruttesangen" and "seahorsesong/ Søhestesangen". Considered something of a national treasure in Denmark (where it was selected for the country’s Cultural Canon alongside works by Carl Th. Dreyer, Isak Dinesen and Hans Christian Andersen), BENNY’S BATHTUB has been beautifully restored from the original camera negative and sound elements by Fiasco Film for its first-ever U.S. release by Deaf Crocodile. In Danish with English subtitles. [Parental Note: BENNY’S BATHTUB features scenes of animated semi-nude mermaids.]

directed by: Jannik Hastrup and Flemming Quist Møller
starring: Bo Jakobsen, Jesper Klein, Peter Belli, Jytte Abildstrøm, Otto Brandenburg, Jytte Hauch-Fausbøll, Rolf Krogh
1971 / 41 min / 1.37:1 / Danish 2.0

 

  • Region A Blu-ray
  • Three newly restored episodes of the beloved Danish children’s TV series “Circleen” (Danish: “Cirkeline”) which ran from 1967–1971, animated & produced by Jannik Hastrup and based on characters created by Hanne Hastrup – including the 1st-ever Blu-ray release of the wildly controversial, banned “Escape From America” episode! (Episodes in Danish with English subtitles)
  • “Circleen - The Snow Mouse” (1968, 10 min.) – the adorable miniature elf Circleen (who lives in a matchbox) and her mouse pals Freddy, Jack and Sammy decide to build a snow mouse instead of a snowman, and run afoul of their nemesis, the cat. Features Jannik Hastrup’s lovely, minimalist artwork and cut-out style of animation.
  • “Circleen - Sammy Goes Flying” (1968, 12 min.) – Circleen and her friends fly a kite and encounter gophers and singing tadpoles in this precursor to BENNY’S BATHTUB, with music co-written by BENNY’S composer Hans-Henrik Ley.
  • “Circleen – Escape From America” (1970, 13 min.) – arguably the single wildest, most incendiary and subversive episode of animated children’s TV ever produced. This starts out in familiar territory, with Circleen and friends going on a round-the-world adventure – until they get to the U.S., which is depicted as an early 1970s urban hellscape. They look for Mickey Mouse but discover he’s just a hollow statue. Instead, toy soldiers are terrifying the population, the police have swine faces, and they meet a mouse in hiding who’s a member of the Blank Panther Party. Imagine R. Crumb or Ralph Bakshi circa FRITZ THE CAT doing an episode of “Sesame Street” and you have some idea of the jawdropping “Escape From America,” which was banned from broadcast by Danish public TV.
  • New hour-long video interview with legendary Danish animator, author and BENNY’S BATHTUB co-director Jannik Hastrup, moderated by Dennis Bartok of Deaf Crocodile
  • Two separate audio commentary tracks by author, programmer and podcast host Millie De Chirico (“I Saw What You Did” podcast, TCM UNDERGROUND: 50 Must-See Films from the World of Classic Cult and Late-Night Cinema) and film journalist and podcast host Mike White (Cashiers du Cinemart, “The Projection Booth” podcast)
  • New essay by film historian and documentary producer Steve Ryfle (Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, From Godzilla To Kurosawa)
  • Blu-ray authoring by David Mackenzie of Fidelity In Motion
  • English SDH subtitles

OVERALL:
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
This special limited edition spot gloss slipcover (designed by Alessa Kreger) is limited to 2,000 units
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Length:
41
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.37:1
Audio Formats:
Danish 2.0
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Release Date:
December 26th, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Alright, first off, let's address the boobs...

Benny's Bathtub (1970) is a family classic in Denmark -- it was even added to the Danish Culture Canon by the country's culture ministry in the 2000s -- but it's not necessarily what American viewers would think of as kiddie animation. Early on, our young protagonist asks a birdwatcher using binoculars in the park if he's a "pedo." The awkward ornithologist stammers out his alibi and ruffles the kid's hair -- kind of complicating how to read him, actually -- and the film moves on. It's an early indicator, maybe, as to whether this is a flick that modern watchers want to share with the wee ones or just appreciate on their own.

Similarly, Danish social mores surrounding nudity are clearly different from mainstream America. After all, we took the Danish fairy tale heroine The Little Mermaid and gave her a seashell bra for Disney's animated retelling. Benny's Bathtub features a trio of mermaids who are not only unashamedly topless but who tease and flirt with a would-be-lothario lobster, asking if he likes their figures. Personally, I'm a big fan of boobs and do wish they were less stigmatized in our society, but as a non-parent, I'm not gonna demand you have to show these animated mammaries to your kids.

Alright, now that that's out of the way...

Benny's Bathtub is a psychedelic, jazz-scored tribute to childish imagination. In the midst of a dreary reality, rendered in grayscale and mostly represented by black-and-white photographs, Benny finds a colorful escape into the lower depths of his bathtub. He follows a talking tadpole he caught from a nearby river who sort of acts as his guide. The black-and-white photo backdrops of the real world turn into rich canvases of vibrant watercolors.

There's an eagerness and generosity to the visual style, looking a bit like a child gleefully glopping oil paints onto construction paper. It's decidedly not slick, but the animation feels fluid and organic. It's also fun to just pause the film because every undersea frame is a colorful and tactile treat. The film is tethered by the loosest of stories about tracking down an undersea treasure, but really it's interested in showing off new underwater oddballs. There's a pair of drunken pirate skeletons who beat each other up and sing a song about why each of their mothers was the toughest lady to sail the sea. There's a mischievous octopus who considers himself a cowboy and gets the funkiest musical number with the flashiest animation. There's a police crab with intense incel energy.

Not all the vignettes are great. A moment where the octopus decides to tease and torment the lobster and the mermaids with his ink is oddly sour and scored by confusingly downbeat music. Even when it's not quite working, Benny's Bathtub is so idiosyncratic and special that it feels like a must-see. It's also under 40 minutes in length (not counting the credits), so for even the most cautious animation fan, the risk is minimal. And I would argue the reward is pretty great.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Benny's Bathtub comes in a standard-sized keepcase that includes a booklet with an essay by Steve Ryfle. A limited edition spot-gloss slipcover is still currently available on the Vinegar Syndrome website. The disc loads directly to a full-motion main menu.

Video Review

Ranking:

This 1080p AVC-encoded presentation is sourced from a new 4K restoration and it looks impeccable. There are aspects of this production that are somewhat lo-fi and unpolished, but they feel more like time-capsule aspects of the film rather than flaws. The colors are eye-grabbing and heavily saturated without bleeding. The design is intentionally flat and presentational, but the detail is good enough that brush strokes and the texture of background canvases can be parsed. The packaging says that the film is framed at 1.37:1, but the program plays at the common European aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with slight pillarboxing. I doubt that the image was cropped, so I presume that this is probably just a mix-up on the packaging.

Audio Review

Ranking:

The soundtrack is presented in a clean, well-rounded DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix. Dialogue and atmosphere are pretty naturalistic, with some broad sound effects tossed in to give it a cartoony flavor. The songs are particularly well-supported. I was duly impressed by the low end during the octopus's funky song. The dialogue is in Danish, and the disc offers one subtitle option: English SDH. I know some folks online have been mad at Deaf Crocodile for not providing a straight English subtitle track, but fortunately the audio-descriptive captions aren't as overdone as some English SDH tracks I've encountered over the years. That said, I was amused by one over-elaborate caption: "[Lobster boy cat calling the mermaids]."

Special Features

Ranking:

Deaf Crocodile offers a batch of newly minted in-house extras and some related work from director Jannik Hestrup.

  • Two audio commentaries - Millie De Chirico, of TCM Underground (RIP) and the I Saw What You Did podcast, and Mike White, of The Projection Booth podcast, offer separate appreciations of the film. Unfortunately, both are heavy on in-the-moment reactions and light on history or analysis. I actually like both of these folks normally, but found both of these tracks fairly skippable.

  • Circleen TV episodes (HD, 36:59) - Three shorts animated by Jannik Hastrup based on the Circleen (Cirkeline in Denmark) comics series, created by the director's then-spouse Hanne Hastrup. A mini elf girl with constant bedhead has adventures with a trio of young mice. The three episodes, which run 11 to 14 minutes are “Sammy Goes Flying,” “The Snow Mouse,” and “Escape from America.” The first two are pretty whimsical stories, with the youngest of the mice getting lost in the woods in the first and the friends building a snow mouse (rather than a snowman) that comes to life in the second. The final film was banned by Danish television, and it’s not hard to see why. After a whimsical opening, in which Circleen and friends pretend to take a train trip around the world, the short veers hard into political critique of American racism and police militarization. Circleen and friends enlist a band of old-timey Indians to combat the “police soldiers” who are shooting at them and the Black Panthers on the streets of New York. Millie De Chirico provides audio commentary on “Escape From America.”

  • New interview with director Jannik Hastrup (HD, 59:19) - Deaf Crocodile co-founder Dennis Bartok interviews the beloved animator over Zoom at his home in Copenhagen. He discusses becoming involved with animation, his work on the Circleen TV show – including the banned episode, “Escape From America,” before getting into his work on this film. While Hastrup is a little fuzzy on some of the details, he has fairly vivid recollections of all of this stuff that make for a pretty engrossing hour.

Final Thoughts

Deaf Crocodile continues to build a catalog of animation releases on Blu-ray unlike any other company going. Benny's Bathtub is wild, imaginative, and strange in ways that make it a must-see for any animation fan. The three Circleen shorts included on this release are little treasures themselves, with two of them quite charming and wistful, while the third is an unexpected firebomb of political fury. This disc comes Highly Recommended

Order Your Copy of Bennyh's Bathtub on Blu-ray