In Ray's deft hands, small, articulate puppets came to life on the silver screen, with genuine performances that almost invariably outshone (and upstaged) the thespic efforts of the human casts. Unlike virtually any special effects artist before or after, Harryhausen was able to infuse his own innate acting talents into a few ounces of sculpted foam rubber over small, intricate metal armatures. Be it skeletons, cyclopses, harpies, scorpions or dinosaurs, what might otherwise have been simple cinema creatures became characters. More, they became movie stars.
Even today, with millions of dollars and entire armies of animators working in shifts 24 hours a day, no other movie monster possesses the sheer personality of Harryhausen's Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth, or the skin-crawling reptilian menace of his Medusa. His creatures, laboriously animated one frame at a time by hand, have a undeniable "alive-ness" about them that contemporary CGI critters just don't possess.
The films that showcased his animated performers are among some of the finest cinematic fantasies ever made, and unlike many of today's Hollywood efforts - slick and fast-paced as they may be - movies like The Golden Voyage of Sinbad or Jason & the Argonauts, or even the original Clash of the Titans, are just loaded with enthusiasm and earnest charm. Even the weakest "Harryhausen film" (and how many other movies are ever thought of as the effect artist's films?) is elevated above clunky scripts and uninspired acting by his exemplary effects work.
Ray Harryhausen turns 90 years-old today. I'm glad that he's lived long enough to see how his talents inspired and encouraged so many creative artists in a multitude of fields, from filmmakers and authors, to cartoonists and musicians, to... well, me.
"Some people say Casablanca or Citizen Kane... I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film ever made!" -- Tom Hanks