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Western Animation / Great (1975)

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Great is a 28-minute animated film released in 1975, directed by Bob Godfrey.

It tells a humorous version of the life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), a famous British engineer. Using a lot of puns and silly animation, the film recounts Brunel's eventful career, including the construction of a tunnel under the River Thames, a bridge over the Avon, the Great Western Railway, and large ships such as the SS Great Western.

Great was produced by Grantstern Films and distributed by British Lion. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 48th Academy Awards in March 1976 (the first British animated short to be so honoured), and also won the BAFTA for Best Animated Film the same year. Keep Circulating the Tapes, as this film has never been released on home video.


  • Captured by Cannibals: A bit about Britain's growing empire in the 19th century shows two white missionaries in Africa, being cooked in the standard iron pot by the natives.
  • Clip-Art Animation: Much of the film is done with rather Terry Gilliam-esque clip-art animation. Queen Victoria's ascent to the throne is illustrated by a picture of the Queen rising out of a toilet.
  • Deranged Animation: The film recounts the life and works of the 19th century British civil engineer and architect Isambard Kingdom Brunel in a way that is affectionate while often tongue-in-cheek. The narrator, voiced by Harry Fowler, explains the triumphs and setbacks of Brunel's career, comparing him to Archimedes, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. Richard Briers provides the voice of Brunel. There are numerous songs in the film, including "Get a big top hat if you want to get ahead". Great is primarily an animated film, although it is mixed media, combining some live-action sequences with the animation.
  • Dimension Lord: An animated film about the British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who spearheaded numerous engineering marvels of the early 19th century - including the Thames Tunnel, the Great Western Railway, and the Great Eastern steamship (for 40 years the world's largest steamship). Various styles of animation are used to depict events in his colorful life.
  • Follow the Bouncing Ball: Seen in a musical segment where a song that might be called "Get a Big Top Hat" praises Brunel's choice in headgear.
  • Huddle Shot: Of bystanders looking down on Brunel after he has a heart attack.
  • Impairment Shot: Brunel's vision is blurred when he comes to after apparently having a heart attack at the launching of his ship, the SS Great Eastern. It's followed immediately by a Huddle Shot of concerned bystanders.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Some zoom-outs of stills showing the SS Great Eastern under construction in a shipyard.
  • Medium Blending: There's clip-art animation, hand-drawn animation, and bits of live action, such as Stock Footage of a celebrating crowd and a fireworks show.
  • Mustache Twirling Villain: The guy from the House of Lords twirls his mustache before opposing Brunel's railway as too expensive and impractical.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Brunel's giant ship, the Great Eastern, sailing away.
  • One-Word Title: Great
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: The live-action railway footage used as the basis for one segment was used a few years later in unmodified form for a television ad in the United States.
  • Rotoscoping: Done with live-action footage of a train and railway for the scene where Brunel constructs a railway from London to Bristol.
  • Stuka Scream: A "Stuka scream", of all things, is used as audio accompaniment of a ridiculous 19th century airship crashing into the ocean.
  • Visual Innuendo: The line about his wife being delighted about Bunuel's big, um, top hat, is suggestive enough. But it's accompanied by a shot of a steam engine piston, thrusting back and forth.
  • Visual Pun: Queen Victoria's ascent to the throne is shown with a shot of the Queen rising out of a toilet—a "throne".