This Stop-Motion Short From 1952 Was One of History's Most Hated Films
When filmmaker Norman McLaren created Neighbors in 1952, he did not expect it would generate quite the criticism it did when it came out. The stop-motion film has anti-war themes, and the plot did not sit well with film critics at the time.
The stop-motion short begins with two men reading newspapers with opposing headlines: Peace Certain if No War, and War Certain if No Peace. Behind them are their respective houses. The two men smoke pipes and share a match to light them. Everything proceeds peacefully, until a flower sprouts in the middle of the lawn between their houses.
The two men fall in love with the flower and fight over who owns it. They eventually kill each other, and the film ends with both of them buried in two graves next to each other. The flower, which they had been fighting over, sprouts a new flower, and the two flowers walk over their graves and settle there.
Although Neighbours won an Academy Award in 1953 ("Best Documentary, Short Subjects," even though it wasn’t a documentary), it was not before film critics insisted on diluting its message. The version that won the Oscars in 1953 is the one you see in the video above. But McLaren’s original was much more brutal. Some people saw it as anti-patriotic because of the Korean War happening at the time.
In order to please the film board, McLaren had to cut substantial parts of the film that showed how the two men murdered each other’s wife and children. This censorship was imposed to make Neighbours palatable to American and European audiences.
Today, Neighbours is recognized as one of the most important films in history. In 2009, it was added to UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme, which lists some of the most significant heritage collections in the world.
The movie's message is very simple: Love thy neighbor. But for a short film with such a simple message, it's a wonder how it goes above the heads of the most respected film critics at the time.