Icarus Montgolfier Wright (1962)

I am a big fan of Ray Bradbury.

Although I will admit that at times he does get a bit too poetic for my tastes.

Yes, I love the wondrous flood of words he produces in some of his best stories, but the sheer rush of verbiage seemed to end up outweighing everything else as he got older.

And I am aware that Icarus Montgolfier Wright borders on being poetry even if it was written as prose.

It also has another quality you find in so many of his stories, as it is almost entirely about a character’s dreams and visions, his imaginings and daydreams, his rush of feelings about the extraordinary thing he is about to do.

That plays a large part in so many of Ray’s stories, but there isn’t much more to Icarus Montgolfier Wright than that.

The story — read with great authority by James Whitmore — tells of a man, Jedediah Prentiss, getting ready to take the first rocket to the moon in 1970.

Only it isn’t so much about the mission to the moon or the hazards his hero has to overcome on his way.  Instead, as he lies there in bed the night before he goes off into space, comparing himself to the legendary Greek hero Icarus flying too close to the sun, to the Montgolfier brothers launching their first hot air balloon in the Eighteenth century, and the Wright brothers on a South Carolina beach in 1903.

And that’s about it.

But for some reason, this was one of Ray’s more successful efforts, and six years after it first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Format Fims turned it into a twenty-minute animated short film.

A film, I’ll note, which earned an Academy Award.

Now you need to remember that “animated” is a bit of a misnomer.  Yes, there is a bit of animation in the mix, but most of the film is a series of still images, with a lot of clever cuts, camera moves, and movement of the separate images within the frame.  Animator and illustrator, Joe Mugnaini, best remembered for the illustrations he did for many of Ray’s stories, created the drawings, and they have a very distinctive style, and an interesting color palette which is heavy on the reddish browns and tans.  He was one of the main players in Format Films, the company which created this film (and also produced the Alvin and the Chipmunks show, and subcontracted those terrible Sixties Road Runner cartoons for Warner Brothers).

Still, it looks great, and provides an incredible backdrop for the story.  Which is really all that is asked of it.

Prentiss’ voice might also sound somewhat familiar as he is played by Ross Martin, best remembered as Artemus Gordon on The Wild, Wild West.

It’s an impressive effort, created with incredible skill and talent.  It is clearly one of the stories which Ray truly believed in, which he would later release as a standalone book (despite being quite short).

And yet, I’m just not moved by its dam-bursting surge of words, by its visions and the emotional quest of our hero preparing for his real quest.

Yes, I feel a bit like the Grinch here.

But I suspect many of you out there will agree with me.

The film, however, is only twenty minutes long.  It’s not at all painful, and, yes, the images are staggering.  It is worth a look for that reason alone, and it has been made with a lot of care and skill.

So give it a try.  You never know, maybe you will think it more satisfying than I do…

(Original story available here)



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