Neighbours (Voisins)
Release poster
Directed byNorman McLaren
Written byNorman McLaren
Produced byNorman McLaren
StarringGrant Munro
Jean-Paul Ladouceur
Music byNorman McLaren
Distributed byNational Film Board of Canada
Release date
  • January 1, 1952 (January 1, 1952)
Running time
8 minutes

Neighbours (French title: Voisins) is a 1952 anti-war film by Scottish Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren. Produced at the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal, the film uses pixilation, an animation technique using live actors as stop motion objects. McLaren created the soundtrack of the film by scratching the edge of the film, creating various blobs, lines, and triangles which the projector read as sound.


Two men, Jean-Paul Ladouceur and Grant Munro (representing French Canada and English Canada respectively), live peacefully in adjacent cardboard houses. When a single, small flower (possibly a psychoactive flower) blooms between their houses, they fight each other to the death over ownership of that flower.

The moral of the film is, simply, Love your neighbour. The moral is also shown in other languages, including (in order of appearance):



Neighbours has been described as "one of the most controversial films the NFB ever made".[1] The eight-minute film was politically motivated:

"I was inspired to make Neighbours by a stay of almost a year in the People's Republic of China. Although I only saw the beginnings of Mao's revolution, my faith in human nature was reinvigorated by it. Then I came back to Quebec and the Korean War began. (...) I decided to make a really strong film about anti-militarism and against war." — Norman McLaren [2]

The version of Neighbours that ultimately won an Oscar was not the version McLaren had originally created. In order to make the film palatable for American and European audiences, McLaren was required to remove a scene in which the two men, fighting over the flower, murdered the other's wife and children.[3]

During the Vietnam War, public opinion changed, and McLaren was asked to reinstate the sequence. The original negative of that scene had been destroyed, so the scene was salvaged from a positive print of lower quality.[4]

NFB founder John Grierson, who had invited McLaren to the NFB to form its first animation unit, would ultimately disparage Neighbours and McLaren's attempt at political cinema:

"I wouldn't trust Norman around the corner as a political thinker. I wouldn't trust Norman around the corner as a philosophic thinker. That's not what Norman is for. Norman is for Hen Hop. Hen Hop. That's wonderful. And so many other things. That's his basic gift. He's got joy in his movement. He's got loveliness in his movement. He's got fancy in his changes. That's enough."[5]


The term 'pixilation' was created by Grant Munro to describe stop-motion animation of humans in his work with McLaren on Two Bagatelles, a pair of short pixilation films made prior to Neighbours. During one brief sequence, the two actors appear to levitate, an effect achieved by having the actors repeatedly jump upward and photographing them at the top of their trajectories.

McLaren followed Neighbours with two other films using a similar combination of pixilation, live action, variable speed photography and string puppets. The first, A Chairy Tale (1957) was a collaboration with Claude Jutra and Ravi Shankar. The second, Opening Speech by Norman McLaren (1960) was made for the International Film Festival of Montreal, and starred McLaren himself.

Wolf Koenig served as cameraman on the film.[6]

Awards and honours

Neighbours is the winner of both a Canadian Film Award and an Oscar. For the latter, it was nominated twice in the 25th Academy Awards, for Short Subject (One-reel) and for Best Documentary (Short Subject). It was in the Documentary category that this short, stylized drama (with some comedic elements) won its Oscar. A 2005 press release issued by AMPAS states that Neighbours is "among a group of films that not only competed, but won Academy Awards in what were clearly inappropriate categories".[7]

This film was designated as a "masterwork" by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada, a charitable non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the preservation of Canada's audio-visual heritage.[8]

In 2009, Neighbours was added to UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme, listing the most significant documentary heritage collections in the world.[9]

See also


  1. ^ McLaughlin, Dan (2001). "A rather incomplete but still fascinating history of animation". Archived from the original on 2006-08-12. Retrieved 2006-08-30.
  2. ^ "Norman McLaren". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  3. ^ Cartagena, Rene (2003). "Neighbours". Retrieved 2006-08-30.
  4. ^ Curtis, David. Norman McLaren. Edinburgh: Scottish Arts Council Catalogue, 1977.
  5. ^ Kristmanson, Mark (2002). Plateaus of Freedom: Nationality, Culture, and State Security in Canada, 1920–1960. Oxford University Press. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-19-541803-3.
  6. ^ Martin, Sandra (24 August 2014). "For Wolf Koenig, it was about framing that decisive moment". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  7. ^ "Oscar's Docs Resumes with Nature Documentaries". 2005-10-31. Retrieved 2014-08-27.
  8. ^ AV Trust | Preserving Canada's Visual and Audio Treasures Archived 2011-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Neighbours, animated, directed and produced by Norman McLaren in 1952". Memory of the World. UNESCO. Archived from the original on 5 August 2009. Retrieved 16 October 2010.