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Saturday Matinee

Disney Cartoon #48: "Grievance of a Starmaker" (2002) - published December 3, 2011

by Albert Gutierrez


After a month of Muppets, this week's Saturday Matinee takes us back to the drawing board. This week's cartoon is a true rarity, the likes of which will likely never come again. In 2001, Japan celebrated Imagination Day. Children were prompted to write their own short story to enter into a special contest. The prize of the contest? Their short story would be animated by Walt Disney Television Animation! The winning story was "Grievance of a Starmaker" by Erika Tsunoda, and it is the subject of this week's Saturday Matinee.

It is nighttime, and a little boy named Yasu is getting ready for bed. He lies down and stares out his window. Something is wrong, he realizes. There are no stars in the sky! Yasu begins to wonder where they went, and remembers reading about the starmaker, Mr. Hoshi. He owned a small shop in the sky that made stars. Yasu decides to look for Mr. Hoshi. He comes across a ladder that reaches into the sky, which he climbs. Among the clouds, Yasu finds Mr. Hoshi's shop.

He enters the shop and finds Mr. Hoshi, hard at work on a star. Plenty of other stars are among them in the red workroom. Yasu asks Mr. Hoshi if he will open his curtains so that the people of Earth can see the stars again. However, Mr. Hoshi tells Yasu that he was disturbed at the amount of pollution in our skies; they were dirtying his stars and he thought we didn't want to see them anymore. Since nobody saw the stars anymore, they weren't buying stars, and his shop was in danger of closure.

Yasu assures Mr. Hoshi that people want to see the stars, and offers to clean the stars. Mr. Hoshi opens his curtains for Yasu and shows him all the stars that need cleaning. It would take forever to clean them all. Yasu is determined, and sets forth to clean the stars. Soon, all the stars are clean once again, even in spite of the smoke and fog from the factories of the city. It is a beautiful sight.

As Mr. Hoshi and Yasu sit among the clean stars, Mr. Hoshi asks why Yasu wanted to clean all the stars. Hasu explains how he feels happy when he sees the stars. As long as they shine, Yasu would have a bright future. Mr. Hoshi tells Yasu he initially felt people took him and his stars for granted. But after Yasu cleaned the stars for him, his hope was restored, and he promised to always keep the curtains open to ensure a bright future for him.

"Grievance of a Starmaker," is quite short: the entire thing clocks in at less than five minutes. However, the brevity of the short still manages to tell a remarkable story. We see fantasy, coming of age, and environmental responsibility blend together into a beautiful tale about the stars in the sky. In reality, many stars we see are suns and galaxies that have lived and died well before our time. But their light still reaches us and we can see that light as a true life after death. Yasu's dedication to keeping these stars clean is inspiration for us all, we should all strive to ensure that the beauty of the world is never compromised, even beyond our lifetime.

The design of the short is very simple, and its animation is not as rich or flowing as that from Disney's feature animation. However, it is a very aesthetically pleasing look, rather stylized than realistic, and with a heavy thickness on the line. Amusingly, the emphasis on a thick line makes Yasu looks like the very-distant Japanese cousin of Brendan from 2009's The Secret of Kells. The Irish-French-Belgium-animated film is not a Disney production, but was distributed by Buena Vista International, Disney's worldwide distribution arm for non-US theatrical releases. It had its own unique design, where lines were thin and precise, based on the designs found in the Book of Kells. In "Grievance of a Starmaker," we get lines that are intentionally thick to draw attention to the shape of things. Stars are naturally familiar shapes, but a thick line helps to bring emphasis to that.

Information about the short is hard to find online, even has a mere blank page for the cartoon's entry. The short presumably was only intended for viewing in Japan, where the contest and story originated. That would likely explain the US didn't see the short until four years after Disney produced it. I had never heard of the short until its inclusion in 2006's compilation DVD "It's a Small World of Fun! Volume 1," which also featured six other internationally-themed cartoons. I heartily recommend that compilation disc, as it contains other excellent shorts, such as "A Cowboy Needs a Horse" and "Mickey Down Under."

Unfortunately, the original Japanese soundtrack for "Grievance of a Starmaker" is not available on the "It's a Small World of Fun!" DVD, but you can check it out on YouTube. The short's technical director, Ben Bardens, posted the original Japanese short on his page ( Watching both the Japanese and US versions side-by-side, there is minimal change to the dialogue. In the Japanese version, Mr. Hoshi is voiced by a different actor than the narrator, while the US version has the narrator also speak Mr. Hoshi's lines.


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