Before I talk about Tulips Shall Grow, I just want to say something about movies in 1942. I watched just about everything from that year that is considered classic, is considered to have a great performance, made a lot of money, was made by an admired director or producer, stars a performer I particularly like, and just plain sounded interesting. At the end of many hours of watch I have to say 1942 wasn’t much of a year. There are, as we will see, some spectacular movies, but all in all, the year was pretty mediocre, especially after the strong three or four (maybe five) years that preceded it. I can’t say why the quality of film declined in 1942, though it may have something to do with a hobbled European and Japanese film industry andHollywood’s preoccupation with churning out propaganda. Whatever the case, it was disappointing.
Any other year a short animated subject like Tulips Shall Grow wouldn’t have made my list. But I took one look at the list of movies I watched and found so few that I would elevate to the status of best of the year, that I decided it wouldn’t hurt to expand my consideration to shorts as well. Then I wondered why I had neglected them at all. They are, after all, still films and there are many that I love.
George Pal’s stop-motion animation Tulips Shall Grow is a hopeful allegory about the forces of good overcoming evil. In the opening of the film we Jan, watch a wooden-shoed boy, gaily marching through the tulip fields of what looks like Holland playing an upbeat tune on his accordion. He’s off to the windmill (because people in Holland only live in iconic windmills) of his sweetheart Janette. They spend several minutes courting each other, mostly with cake and music, before they are interrupted by an invading army, the Screwballs. Jan and Janette watch in horror as their church and neighbors are bombed. They try to outrun the tanks, but are separated. Eventually Jan prays for help in the ruined church and God answers his prayers with a convenient rainstorm that rusts all of the Screwballs’ machinery of war. If that sounds convenient, remember it’s only a cartoon and, let’s be honest, it worked for H.G. Wells in War of the Worlds.
This film isn’t about the heavy lifting of fighting fascism; kids wouldn’t understand that anyway. This is about assuring kids (and their parents) that no matter how dark things may have been in 1942, they would triumph. And if your resolve begins to waiver, if you think we might as well just cut out losses and surrender to Herr Hitler, remember Jan and Janette. They won’t be saved by a rain storm (unlike the Screwballs, the Nazis were smart enough to waterproof their machines of war), but they can be saved by us.
Sure it’s propaganda, but it’s effective and, more importantly, it’s sweet. Don’t worry, kids, Jan and Janette (as stand ins for all the occupied peoples ofEurope) will be fine. The Screwballs can’t last. What they are made up of is hate and fear and greed, which, like the water-sensitive Screwballs, can’t last. The Nazis will also wither away, leaving time for the tulips to grow again.
It isn’t often that I can post the entire film that I’ve written about, but at only seven minutes, here it is: