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Director: Unknown
Release Date: April 30, 1928
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Peg Leg Pete
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Ozzie of the Mounted © Walt DisneyOswald is a mounted police officer in charge of catching Peg Leg Pete, who, in spite of his name, has two legs here.

Oswald follows Pete on a mechanical horse, but in the end they’re both chased by a bear. Oswald, however, manages to get both Pete and the bear into prison.

‘Ozzie of the Mounted’ feels rather routine, and is less remarkable than say ‘Rival Romeos‘ or ‘Oh, What a Knight’. The chase scene fills a large part of the cartoon, but contains few clever gags. Nevertheless, the animation of Oswald swinging around on his mechanical horse’s loose spring is still fascinating to watch. It’s also interesting to point out that Oswald’s mechanical horse looks far more mechanical than his mechanical cow in ‘The Mechanical Cow‘ from seven months earlier. This shows the subtle but steady progress the Walt Disney studio was making in animation, even before it became famous for that.

Watch ‘Ozzie of the Mounted’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Unknown
Release Date: March 19, 1928
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Bright Lights © Walt DisneyAlthough broke, Oswald tries to enter a vaudeville theater where Mademoiselle Zulu performs her shimmy dancing.

After we watch some cat chorus girls dancing the can-can, Mll. Zulu, a female cat character, is shown doing her erotic shimmy dance, probably inspired by Josephine Baker. Oswald manages to enter the theater by hiding beneath a man’s shadow(!), but he is discovered. He tries to hide in a cage, which contains a fierce leopard. When the leopard breaks loose, and later a couple of lions, the whole theater is emptied.

This rather plotless, yet entertaining short contains many surreal gags and a very flexible use of body parts. Oswald’s body is deformed even more than normal, and in one scene we watch him without his pants on.

The best scene is when Oswald pantomimes his love for Mlle. Zulu. This scene is acted out very well, and this embryonic character animation is far more sophisticated than the animation surrounding it.

Watch ‘Bright Lights’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Unknown
Release Date: March 5, 1928
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Honey, Pete
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Rival Romeos © Walt DisneyIn this gag-packed cartoon Oswald and Pete compete over Honey, a female cat character, who was Oswald’s girlfriend in 1928.

Pete and Oswald both ride in their cars to her house in a scene looking forward to the early Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Barn Dance‘ from later that year. Oswald serenades her until a goat eats all his sheet music and even his banjo. Then he turns the animal into a hurdy gurdy, like Mickey would do later that year in ‘Steamboat Willie‘. When Pete arrives, he and Oswald fight over Honey, almost taking her apart. Honey gives them the cold shoulder and leaves with a third guy into the distance. Then our rivals kick each other in remorse, like Donald Duck and Peter Pig would do six years later in ‘Wise Little Hen‘ (1934).

As you may notice, ‘Rival Romeos’ contains quite a lot of embryonic gags, which Walt Disney later reused in other cartoons. Because of these prophetical gags ‘Rival Romeos’ is a highlight among Disney’s Oswald cartoons.

Watch ‘Rival Romeos’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Unknown
Release Date: November 14, 1927
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Peg Leg Pete
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Ocean Hop © Walt DisneyOswald joins a plane race from New York to Paris (inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s flight on May 20-21 that year).

Oswald is introduced as the dark horse and enters the race disguised as a pantomime horse. One of his competitors is an early version of Peg Leg Pete. Pete is the obvious villain, gluing Oswald’s plane to the ground with chewing gum. Luckily, Oswald manages to make a new, rather improbable plane out of a dachshund and two balloons.

Meanwhile, Pete misleads all the other competitors by turning an absurdly high direction indicator. Somehow, Oswald isn’t misled and he and Pete compete to be the first. Pete shoots Oswald out of the air, but it’s Oswald who wins the day. What became of the falling dachshund, however, we’ll never know… [UPDATE: Thanks to David Gerstein we do know: see his comment for the cartoon’s lost end gag]

‘The Ocean Hop’ is a clear forerunner of ‘Plane Crazy‘ (1928), Mickey Mouse’s debut cartoon. Both were inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s historical transatlantic flight. Oswald’s cartoon is not as consistent as Mickey’s, however, and features less spectacular scenes. In one way the differences between the two cartoons show that Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks were constantly improving themselves even at this early stage of their careers.

Watch ‘The Ocean Hop’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Unknown
Release Date: October 31, 1927
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

All Wet © Walt DisneyIn his fifth film Oswald is a hot dog vendor at the beach.

At one point his girlfriend drops by, only to give him the cold shoulder, so Oswald pretends to be a lifeguard. The girl in turn pretends to drown, but then she really get suck into the ocean by a giant fish. Oswald comes to the rescue and earns a passionate kiss.

Although this film still contains some stiff animation and designs from the early twenties (for example the dog customer), most of the animation is very flexible and lively, especially that of Oswald and the sea. Many of the hot dog gags were reused in the Mickey short ‘The Carnival Kid’ (1929).

Watch ‘All Wet’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Unknown
Release Date: October 17, 1927
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Great Guns © Walt DisneyWar has broken out. This leads to a surprisingly cheerful crowd of people happily volunteering to be a soldier. As if The Great War had never happened.

Oswald volunteers too, after a long goodbye to his girlfriend. In the trenches, he’s still kissing her portrait, until it is bombed by a mouse. This leads to an air battle between Oswald and the little rodent, which ends with Oswald beating up the mice, until he’s confronted by an angry officer. Oswald and the officer get into a bombing duel, in which Oswald uses an elephant, which explodes. In the end even Oswald himself is literally blown to pieces, but he’s revived by his girlfriend who’s a red cross nurse.

The depiction of war in this cartoon is surprisingly positive, and there are a lot of gags. Real danger is never felt, but the cartoon does feature some startling images of huge cannons swooping into the camera.

Watch ‘Great Guns’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Unknown
Release Date: October 3, 1927
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Mechanical Cow © Walt DisneyIn his fifth film Oswald has a mechanical cow to deliver milk with.

When his girlfriend gets kidnapped by a mob of gangsters, the cow helps him to rescue her. The gangsters come to a surprisingly cruel end, when they fall off a cliff and are eaten by sharks.

The cow behaves anything but mechanical. On the contrary, it is very rubbery, and even lazy and sleepy in the first scene, and its animation is not different from that of any of the other characters.

Watch ‘The Mechanical Cow’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1922
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Frogs Who Wanted a King © Ladislav StarewiczAfter the October revolution, Władysław Starewicz fled to France, where he continued to make stop motion films until his death in 1965. ‘The Frogs Who Wanted a King’ is the fourth film he made in France, and probably his most political.

The film is based on one of Aesop’s fables. Some frogs ask Jupiter for a king. Jupiter sends them one, but the king looks like a tree and does nothing at all. The frogs don’t like him, so Jupiter sends them a stork, who, naturally, eats the unfortunate amphibians.

The message may be that it’s better to have a dull government than one that kills you, a message Starewicz could certainly relate to, being forced to exile by the oppressing communist regime in Russia.

Once again, Starewicz’ animation is top notch. The film has a particularly fable-like character, taking place in its own, very convincing universe.

Watch ‘The Frogs Who Wanted a King’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1913
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Insects' Christmas © Ladislav Starewicz‘The Insects’ Christmas’ is Starewicz’s next film after his masterpiece ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge‘.

Although it uses insects again, it’s a whole different film, turning to the sweet subject of Christmas. It’s probably the first animated film about Christmas ever made.

Its plot is surprisingly simple: Father Christmas climbs down a Christmas tree, awakes some insects and a frog, who are hibernating underground, and he invites them to a Christmas party. He gives them presents and they all go skating.

This film’s story cannot be compared to the adult plot of ‘The Cameraman’s revenge‘. It’s more like a child’s dream of Christmas. However, the film reuses puppets from ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ and others with stunning virtuosity, making it still a delight to watch.

Watch ‘The Insects’ Christmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1912
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Cameraman's Revenge © Ladislaw Starewicz‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is one of the earliest animation films ever made, and a very early masterpiece (it predates ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ by two years). Surprisingly, it’s a film about adultery involving insects.

The plot of this stop motion film is as follows: Mr. Beetle commits adultery with a dragonfly, who is a dancer at a nightclub. Unbeknownst to him his secret behavior is filmed by a rival grasshopper who happens to be a cameraman. Meanwhile, Mrs. Beetle also commits adultery, with a beetle who is also a painter. But they’re discovered by Mr. Beetle who chases the painter out of his house. Nevertheless he forgives his wife and takes her to the cinema. However, the film that is shown reveals his infidelity, which creates a riot and the married couple ends in jail for destroying the movie box.

‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is an extraordinary film, and without doubt one of the first masterpieces of animation. The animation of the very lifelike insects is stunning and very convincing. Moreover, its storytelling is mature and its subject highly original for an animation film, even today. It’s almost unbelievable that such a modern film was made in Czarist Russia.

Watch ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: unknown
Release Date:
May 27, 1925
Stars:
Dawn O’Day (Alice), Julius
Rating:
★★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Alice's Egg Plant' featuring the chickens on strikeIn ‘Alice’s Egg Plant’ Alice and Julius have a chicken farm, but a Russian spy chicken named ‘Little red Henski’ makes their chicken strike. Clever Alice then organizes a cock fight with a one egg admission fee.

‘Alice’s Egg Plant’ marks Dawn O’Day’s only appearance as Alice. She was supposed to be the second Alice after Virginia Davis, but Disney’s salary proved to be to low for her, as well. The Alice would be Margie Gay, who would serve as Alice during 1925 and 1926

In ‘Alice’s Egg Plant’ one can already see the transition from emphasis on live action to animation. The shots of Alice are minimized in this cartoon and there are no close ups. The animation on the other hand begins to look more flexible and lifelike. Add the clever and entertaining story with its many gags, and here’s an Alice Comedy that still is entertaining today. It would also be prophetic, because Disney himself would face a frustrating strike in 1941, also led by an agitator from outside the company, Herbert K. Sorrell…

Watch ‘Alice’s Egg Plant’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date:
July 25, 1927
Stars:
Lois Hardwick (Alice)
Rating:
★★★
Review:

Still from 'Alice the Whaler' featuring Alice and some animals dancing on a ship‘Alice the Whaler’ was one of the last of the Alice Comedies. It was only followed by two other titles, before Alice was replaced by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. It features Lois Hardwick as Alice, who had replaced Margie Gay at the end of 1926.

‘Alice the Whaler’ is a cartoon that consists of rather unrelated gags. This time Alice and the gang are on a ship, looking for whales. In this cartoon both Disney’s character designs as the flexible animation have matured. Gone are the goggly eyes, and even one character (a cat cook) is wearing Mickey Mouse-type gloves. Also starring is a small mouse that peels potatoes just the way Mickey would do a year later in ‘Steamboat Willie‘.

Alice has almost disappeared from the screen, by now: she’s visible in four shots only, two total shots of the ships and two close ups that contain no animation whatsoever. Indeed, in his next series, Walt Disney would abandon live action altogether, relying on animation only, which by now already was the best in the business.

Watch ‘Alice the Whaler’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: unknown
Release Date: February 15, 1926
Stars: Margie Gay (Alice), Julius
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Alice's Mysterious Mystery' featuring a dog priest salving an imprisoned dogTwo dog catchers, a bear and a mouse, catch a whole school of dogs.

They also lure some dogs using a girl dog on a balcony. They all end in a prison-like sausage factory, which contains a death chamber. We see a dog actually walk in there (after having been salvaged by a dog priest). He comes out as a string of sausages…

Luckily, detectives Alice (Margie Gay) and Julius free all remaining dogs. This cartoon contains quite some flexible animation, especially of the bear emptying the school.

Watch ‘Alice’s Mysterious Mystery’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: unknown
Release Date: December 15, 1925
Stars: Virginia Davis (Alice), Julius
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Still from 'Alice in the Jungle' featuring four ferocious lionsAlice (Virginia Davis) and her friend Julius the cat are on a safari in the jungle.

The cartoon consists of several unrelated gags: Julius encounters some crocodiles, two elephants go bathing, Julius makes a barber sign post out of a tiger’s tail, and both Alice and Julius are chased by lions (a scene similar to the finale of Alice’s pilot cartoon).

The cartoon contains many surreal gags, a lot of them unashamedly Felix the Cat-like, especially when Julius uses his comic expressions and balloons as tools. Alice’s role, however, is extremely limited here. This is no surprise, for ‘Alice in the Jungle’  is made around leftover footage of Virginia Davis, who, after some salary problems, had been replaced by Margie Gay in early 1925.

Watch ‘Alice in the Jungle’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: unknown
Release Date: November 1, 1924
Stars: Virginia Davis (Alice)
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'Alice Gets in Dutch' featuring the teacher, three books and a canonAlice is at school singing out of tune and blowing a balloon that contains ink. When it explodes in the teacher’s face, Alice is cornered. There she falls asleep.

Alice dreams she’s making music with a cat, a dog and a donkey, until they are being attacked by a evil horned teacher and three anthropomorphized schoolbooks called ‘reading’, ‘writing’ and ‘arithmetic’. The cat invents a canon to shoot pepper with. The first shot is successful, but the second one explodes in their faces, so Alice and the gang are sneezing their heads off. At that point Alice awakes.

‘Alice Gets in Dutch’ is a rather unremarkable entry in the Alice Comedies series. None of the animation in this short is particularly noteworthy, although the animation of the cat thinking up an invention looks quite good. This cat character would eventually evolve into Alice’s main sidekick, the very Felix the Cat-like Julius. The technique of combining live action and drawings suffers in this short; at some scenes Alice is rendered so light, she’s almost invisible.

Watch ‘Alice Gets In Dutch’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: May 1, 1924
Stars: Virginia Davis (Alice)
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Still from 'Alice's wild west show' featuring Virginia Davis blowing smoke ringsAlice organizes a wild west show for the kids in the neighborhood.

All goes well until the bully Tubby O’Brien and his gang show up. Her fellow actors chicken out, so Alice has to improvise some stories about her experiences in the ‘wild and woolly west’. Enter the cartoon sequence.

In her first story she defeats some Indians. In the second one she’s a sheriff in a saloon, smoking a cigar and attending a bad performance of ‘Sweet Adeline’. Meanwhile, the villain, “Wild Bill Hiccup” tries to steal the safe. He and Alice end up in a gunfight in which every other person in the saloon gets killed. She chases the villain by car, returning the safe in the end.

The gang of bullies is not impressed and they pelt her with vegetables. But Alice chases them all out of her humble theater, beating up Tubby O’Brien herself. The cartoon ends with her triumphant smile.

The live action footage, with the instantly lovable Virginia Davis as Alice, is highly entertaining. None of the animation, by Ham Hamilton and Walt Disney himself, is particularly interesting, however. Indeed, two months later, Disney would quit animating himself, leaving that to his more skilled employees, like Ub Iwerks.

Watch ‘Alice’s Wild West Show’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Walt Disney
Production Date: 1923
Stars: Virginia Davis (Alice), Walt Disney, Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, Ub Iwerks, Carman Maxwell
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'Alice's Wonderland' featuring Alice being chased by three lions‘Alice’s Wonderland’ is the pilot film for the Alice cartoons, which Disney made in Kansas city, before trying his luck in Hollywood.

The title card of this pilot reads: “Scenario and direction by Walt Disney. Photography by Ubbe Iwerks and Rudolf Ising. Technical direction by Hugh Harman and Carman Maxwell.”

Alice (the four year old Virginia Davis) drops by the studio and tells Walt Disney she likes to watch him drawing some funnies. Walt Disney lacks his familiar mustache in this sequence, but he is already the kind entertainer of children here, and he takes her to a sheet of paper on where a cat chases a dog out of a dog house. The rest of the studio is also populated by animators (Iwerks, Harman, Ising and Maxwell all appear in this cartoon) and toons alike. The whole crew ‘s watching a boxing match between a dog and a cat, for example.

That night Alice dreams she arrives in cartoonland by train. She’s welcomed by animals and she performs a little dance for them. Unfortunately four lions break out of Cartoonland Zoo and they chase her into a tree, into a cave, into a rabbit hole and finally, to a cliff. She falls off the cliff, and then she awakes.

This cartoon is very entertaining. The idea of a girl in a cartoon (the inverse of the idea of Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell, a series that was around for eight years by then) works wonderfully, and the cartoon is lively. It already contains lots of music and dance, and a very rubbery animated train, besides the normal stiff animation you find in most cartoons of the twenties. The animation of the train looks forward to the flexible animation style that would later make Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney famous.

Luckily, Disney was able to sell the Alice series, starting his Hollywood career. His fledgling studio released 56 Alice Comedies in the next four years, until the series was replaced by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1927. The series was quite successful, allowing Disney to expand and to improve. In that sense, ‘Alice’s Wonderland’ lay the foundation of the Disney imperium.

Watch ‘Alice’s Wonderland’  yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Frank Moser
Release Date: 1919
Stars: Bud and Susie
Rating:
Review:

Still from 'Down the Mississippi' featuring Bud, Susie and their cat on a raft pulled by an alligator‘Down the Mississippi’ is a cartoon created by Frank Moser, who would later co-found Terrytoons with Paul Terry.

Like, Ub Iwerks, Moser is known as a very fast animator. However, unlike Iwerks, Moser wasn’t either innovative or funny. It may be unfair to use such an early cartoon as ‘Down the Mississippi’ as an example, but the ‘Bud and Susie’ series was Moser’s own creation, so it could have been inspired. This is not the case.

In ‘Down the Mississippi’ Bud, Susie and their cat read ‘Huckleberry Finn’. When the sandman puts them to sleep, they dream they’re on the Mississippi. The cat catches an electric eel and Bud a crocodile. They camp at the river bank, where they’re eaten by a bear(?, the animal isn’t very distinguished). The animation is crude and the animal design typical of the twenties. Nothing is particularly outstanding in this cartoon, which isn’t funny either.

Watch ‘Down the Mississippi’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date: 1921
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'The Flying House' featuring a man behind some machinery‘The Flying House’ is the last of the three ‘Dream of a rarebit fiend’  films Winsor McCay completed in 1921.

In this short a woman dreams that her man has made a flying machine out of their house. They fly to the moon, where they’re almost swatted by a giant. Then they circle in empty space until they’re hit by a rocket.

Compared to the other two Rarebit Fiend films, ‘Bug Vaudeville‘ and ‘The Pet‘, this cartoon uses a lot of dialogue, both in balloons and in title cards. Although it does not quite delivers what it promises, it contains a few good gags, and McCay’s command of perspective is top notch, like always. The film’s most stunning sequence is when the house leaves earth to fly to the moon. In one convincingly realistic shot we see the earth rotating, the moon appearing behind it and growing larger, while the house flies towards us, orbiting the earth. This is a spectacular piece of animation, by all means. Especially because it was done 37 years before the space age.

Unfortunately, ‘The Flying House’ was to be Winsor McCay’s last completed film. His legacy is formidable, and he undoubtedly belongs to the best and most imaginative animators/animation directors of all time.

Watch ‘The Flying House’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Winsor McCay’s tenth and last film
To Winsor McCay’s ninth film: The Pet

Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date: 1921
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Still from 'The Pet' featuring a giant animal eating a building‘The Pet’ is the second of the three ‘Dream of the rarebit fiend’ films Winsor McCay released in 1921. It is arguably the best of the three, and probably the best of all Winsor McCay’s films: it combines a well-executed story with a perfect command of animation. It’s too bad it isn’t more well-known.

In ‘The Pet’ a woman dreams she adopts a small animal that grows larger and larger every day, eating the cat, everything on the table, the furniture, and later on, a tree, a car and some buildings, until it explodes. The dream is totally believable with its inner logic and its wonderful execution. The growth of the animal is shown with a very imaginative use of perspective and beautiful backgrounds. For example, when the pet grows to gigantic proportions, we see it stride behind some very high buildings, towering over our heads.

More than 25 years later Tex Avery would return to the same subject in ‘King-size Canary’ (1947).

Watch ‘The Pet’  yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.spike.com/video/dreams-of-rarebit/2917218.

This is Winsor McCay’s ninhth film
To Winsor McCay’s eight film: Bug Vaudeville
To Winsor McCay’s tenth and last film: The Flying House

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