Pal, George

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PAL, George

Animator, Special Effects Designer, and Producer. Nationality: American. Born: Cegled, Hungary, 1 February 1908; became citizen of the United States. Education: Educated in architecture, Budapest Academy of Arts. Family: Married Zsoka Grandjean, 1930. Career: Before 1930—titler at Hunnia Films, Budapest; 1930–32—head of UFA cartoon department; 1932—opened own studio; 1933—opened Prague studio; opened Paris studio, 1934, and one in Holland, 1935; 1939—joined Paramount, U.S.A.; 1949—began producing feature films. Awards: Special Academy Award for the development of novel methods and techniques in the production of short subjects known as Puppetoons, 1943; Special Effects Academy Award for Destination Moon, 1950; When Worlds Collide, 1951; War of the Worlds, 1953; Tom Thumb, 1958; The Time Machine, 1960. Died: 2 May 1980.

Films as Director of Puppetoons at Paramount:


Western Daze; Dipsy Gypsy; Hoola Boola; The Gay Knighties; Rhythm in the Ranks


Jasper and the Watermelons; The Sky Princess; Mr. Strauss Takes a Waltz; Tulips Shall Grow; The Little Broadcast; Jasper's Haunted House


Jasper and the Choo-Choo; Bravo, Mr. Strauss; The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins; Jasper's Music Lesson; The Truck That Flew; Jasper Goes Fishing; Good Night, Rusty


A Package for Jasper; Say Ah Jasper; And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street; Jasper Goes Hunting; Jasper's Paradise; 2 Gun Rusty


Hotlips Jasper; Jasper Tell; Hatful of Dreams; Jasper's Minstrels; Jasper's Booby Traps; Jasper's Close Shave; Jasper and the Beanstalk; My Man Jasper


Olio for Jasper; Together in the Weather; Jasper's Derby; John Henry and the Inky Poo; Jasper in a Jam; Shoe Shine Jasper


Wilbur the Lion; Tubby the Tuba; A Date with Duke; Rhapsody in Wood

Films as Producer and Special Effects Designer (Features):


The Great Rupert (Pichel)


Destination Moon (Pichel)


When Worlds Collide (Maté)


War of the Worlds (Haskin); Houdini (Marshall)


The Naked Jungle (Haskin)


The Conquest of Space (Haskin)

Films as Producer, Director, and Special Effects Designer:


Tom Thumb


The Time Machine


Atlantis, the Lost Continent


The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (co-d)


The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao

Films as Producer:


The Power (Haskin)


Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze (Anderson)


By PAL: articles—

Castle of Frankenstein (New York), June 1975.

Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), no. 2, 1976.

SPFX (El Paso, Texas), January 1977.

Millimeter (New York), February 1978.

On PAL: book—

Hickman, G.M., The Films of George Pal, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1977.

On PAL: articles—

Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1936.

Hollywood Quarterly, July 1946.

Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), Fall 1971.

Starlog (New York), December 1977.

Starlog (New York), May 1978.

Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), Summer 1979.

RBCC (San Diego), September 1979.

Fantastic Films (Chicago), October 1979.

Starlog (New York), September 1980.

Films in Review (New York), November 1980.

Cinefex (Riverside, California), no. 25, February 1986.

Literature-Film Quarterly (Salisbury), July 1989.

Scarlet Street, no. 6, Spring 1992.

Nosferatu (San Sebastian), February 1994.

Film Dope (Nottingham), April 1994.

Minor, M., "Through Time and Space with George Pal," in Monsterscene(Lombard), no. 5, Summer/Fall 1995.

* * *

George Pal's motion picture career can be divided into two different phases. He first achieved worldwide recognition as the creator of the Puppetoons. Pal was originally an illustrator and animator, but he felt that the two-dimensional cel cartoons were too flat. He preferred the three-dimensional look of puppets, which he brought to life in his studio through the process of stop-motion animation. The "actors" in the Puppetoons were quite complex characters, being sculpted in wood and constructed with wire limbs that enabled them to be easily posed. In addition, these puppets were designed to use replacement parts, particularly the heads. By replacing heads with different expressions, the puppets could talk and indicate emotions. Central characters in the Puppetoons could have as many as 100–200 different replacement heads.

The 42 Puppetoons which Pal made for Paramount (Pal estimated that he created over 200 such short films in Europe) are not your typical "cat-chase-mouse" cartoons. Even within these short eight-minute films, Pal tried to construct a meaningful story and, perhaps, a lesson. For example, he created at least two anti-Nazi propaganda films: Tulips Shall Grow and Bravo, Mr. Strauss. Both films emphasized man's struggle for individual freedom against the oppression of a mindless army. The theme of John Henry and the Inky Poo was the conflict between man and machine, proving man's will to dominate, rather than be dominated by machines. The Puppetoons remained extremely popular with the public through the 1940s, and in 1943 George Pal was awarded an Academy Award for the further "development of animation techniques." In 1948 the Puppetoons finally succumbed to skyrocketing production costs and Pal's studio at Paramount was closed. However, the end of the Puppetoons was also the beginning of George Pal's feature film career.

As a feature film producer Pal carried with him an immense enthusiasm for fantasy plus a wide knowledge of special effects techniques. (In fact, five of his features won Academy Awards for special effects.) This combination paved the way for some of the classics of the science-fiction genre, such as Destination Moon, War of the Worlds, and The Time Machine. Although these and other films can be categorized as science-fiction, Pal's films mainly emphasize the human quality of the story. Whereas most science-fiction films are dark, pessimistic visions of the future, Pal's films hold forth hope for mankind. For example, the time traveler of The Time Machine is searching for a world without war; Dr. Lao in The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao shows us that there is good in everybody; and the theme of When Worlds Collide is self-sacrifice amidst a struggle for survival.

Although Pal was never given the opportunity to work with a large budget (most of his films were produced for between $500,000 and $1,000,000), his enthusiasm for his work produced the best possible product for the money, and the majority of his films were great financial successes. Today many of George Pal's feature films and Puppetoons continue to be revived in both theaters and on television. However, some of his Puppetoons, particularly those featuring a little black boy named Jasper, have met with criticism for being racist. Such criticism both surprised and saddened Pal who, in his innocence, was not aware of such possible interpretations when he made the films. In fact, it is this "innocent" quality in Pal's films that gives them much of the charm that other producer/directors find difficult to express in their work.

—Linda Obalil