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Director: Jiří Trnka
Release Date: 1949
The film uses all the cliches of the genre: a stagecoach, masked bandits, a damsel in distress, a hero with a white hat, a villain fancying the girl, and a climax on a cliff.
Trnka’s animation has much improved since ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale‘: the cinematography is excellent, and particularly the illusion of speed is astonishing. The film is wonderfully tongue-in-cheek and full of brilliant silent comedy, showing Trnka’s then unsurpassed mastery in stop-motion. ‘The Song of the Prairie’ is one of Trnka’s most enjoyable films, and deserves a more classic status.
Watch ‘The Song of the Prairie’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: July 25, 1953
Stars: Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Marvin Martian
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
‘Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century’ is a spoof of the popular pulp magazine science fiction series Buck Rogers, which was made into a television series in 1950-1951. This makes this short one of the earliest theatrical cartoons parodying a television series.
Daffy “Duck Dodgers” and his sidekick “the eager young space cadet” Porky have to claim planet X for planet Earth. Unfortunately, Marvin Martian wants to claim the same planet for Mars. This starts a feud, which ends in both blowing up the entire planet.
Although the story of the cartoon is rather similar to the Bugs Bunny cartoon ‘Haredevil Hare‘ (1948), Daffy’s unique performance gives it an entirely different feel, leading to new and great gags. More than being a typical science fiction cartoon, this short can be regarded the second cartoon in a series which pairs Daffy as a misguided hero to Porky as a more sensible straight man (the first being ‘Drip-along Daffy’ from 1951). ‘Duck Dodgers’ must be the highlight of the series, as well as a peak in both Daffy’s as Chuck Jones’s career.
Unhampered by conventions, Jones, his layout-man Maurice Noble and background painter Phil DeGuard went totally berzerk with the science-fiction theme, creating wild and lushly colored backgrounds, which make ‘Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century’ one of the most beautiful cartoons ever made at Warner Brothers.
Indeed, so great is its fame, it spawned sequels in 1980, 1996 and 2003. From 2003 to 2005 Cartoon Network even broadcasted a Duck Dodgers series.
Watch ‘Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: March 4, 1950
Stars: Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Henery Hawk, Mama Bear, Porky Pig, Sylvester
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
He proposes to one of the Warner Brothers (who remains off-screen) to make an Errol Flynn-like film based on ‘The Scarlet Pumpernickel by Daffy Dumas Duck’, with, of course, himself in the starring role. This leads to an all-star cartoon with roles for Porky Pig, Sylvester, Elmer Fudd (with Mel Blanc’s voice), Henery Hawk and Mama Bear.
The film is both an excellent parody on and a faithful homage to the Errol Flynn adventure films. But more importantly, this short is important in the evolution of Daffy Duck, for it marks the birth of Daffy’s final incarnation. In this film Daffy is more of a frustrated and misguided character than downright loony. This new role is still a bit out of Daffy’s element: at times his eyes and behavior are similar to that of Charlie Dog, especially in the opening scene. Nevertheless, in the following years the frustrated Daffy would completely replace the loony one.
‘The Scarlet Pumpernickel’ is also the first of Jones’s Daffy cartoons in which Daffy serves as a misguided hero, starting a great series of shorts, with highlights as ‘Drip-along Daffy’ (1951) and ‘Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½ Century‘ (1953).
Watch ‘The Scarlet Pumpernickel’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: July 30, 1943
Stars: Goofy, Pluto (cameo)
‘Victory Vehicles’ is the only entirely war-themed Goofy short (although the end of ‘How to be a Sailor’ (1944) refers to the war, too). It’s no army cartoon, however. Instead, the cartoon parodies propagandistic shorts of the time, using a patriotic voice over and dealing with the (real) problem of rubber shortage.
‘Victory Vehicles’ introduces various silly inventions that should replace the car as a form of transportation. The solution finally settles on the pogo-stick: “the answer to a nation’s needs”.
‘Victory Vehicles’ is a very enjoyable cartoon in its silly satire. It’s also a nice window to the shortage problems of World War II America. The film contains a very catchy theme song ‘hop on your pogo-stick’, and a short cameo by Pluto.
‘Victory Vehicles’ is an important landmark in the Goofy series, because it marks Goofy’s graduation from single character to the prototypical everyman. In this short various types of Goofies can be seen, including women and children. They are provided with different voice overs, emphasizing that every Goofy we see is a different one.
Of all evolutions of a cartoon star, this is the most remarkable one. The thirties Goof, with his all too recognizable character traits has been transformed into an everyman who could be anybody, and, at the same time, still be Goofy.
Other directors would return to the original Goofy in cartoons like ‘Foul Hunting‘ (Jack Hannah, 1947) and ‘The Big Wash‘ (Clyde Geronimi, 1948), but Jack Kinney would stick to the everyman Goofy, making the most hilarious cartoons with this character.
Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: September 19, 1942
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
It introduces his trademark of extreme poses, which in this cartoon are combined with ‘smear animation’, devised by Bob Clampett, to unique results.
The extreme posing leads to highly stylized animation, which in itself is hilarious in its unnatural depiction of movement. In ‘The Dover Boys’ we watch both movement through poses, especially in the animation on Dan Backslide, as well as non-movement, with Dora descending the stairs as a prime example. Both techniques are important steps away from the classic squash-and-stretch animation, and from ‘believability through full animation’. Indeed, the animation style of ‘The Dover Boys’ looks forward all the way to the fifties, the era in which stylization of design and animation would flourish and dominate the animation industry. Indeed, the short’s prime animator, Bobe Cannon, would play an important role at UPA, the most influential animation film studio of the fifties.
The subject of ‘The Dover Boys’ is a sophisticated parody on melodrama, consisting of an archetypical story of a villain (called Dan Backslide) kidnapping a damsel in distress (dear Dora), taking her to his cottage in the mountains, where she is rescued by the heroes, in this case, the three Dover Boys, Tom, Dick and Larry.
Or is she? In the final scene they knock each other out, and Dora runs off into a distance with an odd bearded character in a bathing suit, who, as a running gag, hops along rather randomly throughout the picture to the music of ‘The Good Old Summertime’. This character is a relative of the equally mysterious Minah Bird from Chuck Jones’ earlier cartoon ‘Inki and the Lion’ (1941).
‘The Dover Boys’ is both innovative and funny. Its humor is as sophisticated as it is silly. In any case, the gags come fast and plenty, with hilarious nonsense as a result. An all time classic.
Watch ‘The Dover Boys’ yourself and tell me what you think: