Gijs Grob with his book Mickey's MoviesMy own copies of my book ‘Mickey’s Movies – The Theatrical Films of Mickey Mouse‘, recently published by Theme Park Press, have arrived this week! I’m very happy to be see the book in reality.

Meanwhile esteemed Disney historian Didier Ghez has written the first review on my book on his Disney History Blog. Ghez writes:

“I just received my personal copy of Mickey’s Movies by Gijs Grob. I absolutely love this book. Gijs discusses all of Mickey’s shorts and his insights are absolutely fascinating.

To be read in small installments. A “must have” for Mickey enthusiasts.”

You can buy the book on Amazon. There is both a paperback and a Kindle edition. I hope you’ll enjoy it! And if you’ve already grabbed a copy: 1) thanks! and 2) I’d love it if you could review the book on Amazon.

 

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Director: Dick Huemer
Release Date: March 17, 1939
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Goofy and Wilbur © Walt DisneyOf Mickey’s co-stars, Goofy was the last to get his own series, a fact that in a way is true to his slow character.

Goofy had appeared outside the Mickey Mouse series for the first time in ‘Polar Trappers‘ (1938), co-starring with Donald Duck, but only in 1939 he would star a cartoon on his own, in ‘Goofy and Wilbur’. This short is only the second of two cartoons directed by Dick Huemer (the other one being ‘The Whalers’ from 1938). In Don Peri’s book ‘Working with Walt’ Huemer states he wished he had stayed on shorts, but Disney put him to work on ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Fantasia’ and he never returned to the short medium.

In ‘Goofy and Wilbur’ Huemer mainly emphasizes the gentle side of Goofy’s character. Goofy goes fishing in a no fishing area, using a live grasshopper called Wilbur as a bait. Wilbur, whose design is halfway that of the grasshopper in ‘The Grasshopper and the Ants‘ (1934) and that of Jiminy Cricket in ‘Pinocchio‘ (1940), is clearly Goofy’s friend, and the two cooperate in a clever scheme in which Wilbur lures several surprisingly colorful fish to Goofy’s net.

The consequence of this story idea is that most of the screen time goes to the little grasshopper instead of Goofy. Only when, after six minutes, Wilbur gets swallowed by a frog we switch to Goofy, and only then his unique physique can be seen in a great chase scene. However, the cartoon’s highlight is the priceless shot in which Goofy tries to comfort himself after the loss of his friend: “I gotta cheer up! There’s lots of grasshoppers in the weeds!”, only to fall back into the saddest face possible immediately after uttering these words.

The production values of ‘Goofy and Wilbur’ are fantastic, but Huemer’s gentle humor doesn’t make the most of the character. This was left to his successor, Jack Kinney, who steered the lovable goof into a whole new direction…

Watch ‘Goofy and Wilbur’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Goofy and Wilbur’ is available on the DVD set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy’

Director: Wan Gu-chan
Release Date: January 1, 1941
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Princess Iron Fan © Wan BrothChina owes its animation industry to the Wan brothers, four brothers (including a pair of twins) from Shanghai who started animating in 1923.

The Wans made their first film, ‘Uproar in an Art Studio’ in 1926, which mixed animation with live action, like Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell series. They also could boast making the first Chinese sound cartoon, ‘The Camel’s Dance’ (1935). But when the Japanese invaded Shanghai in August 1937 their studio was destroyed, and they temporarily went to Wuhan to work on patriotic war films, until that city fell, too, in 1938.

Luckily, in 1939 the twins Wan Lai-ming and Wan Gu-chan were invited by the Xinhua United Film Company to work once again in Shanghai. There the brothers saw Walt Disney’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937) and decided to make a feature film of their own. The Xinhua company was seated in the concession of Vichy France, which allowed for some freedom, which the Wans clearly used in their film.

Made by 237 artists in the course of sixteen months, the result was ‘Princess Iron Fan’ (or ‘The Princess with the Iron Fan’, 1941), China’s very first feature film. This film takes its inspiration from the very popular 16th century novel ‘Journey to the West’, and tells about the 7th century monk Xuanzang (or Tang Seng as he’s transcribed in the DVD), who really existed, and who was famous for travelling all the way to India to learn about Buddhism, and take important scriptures back to China with him. In the novel Xuanzang has become a legendary figure, travelling with his disciples, the monkey king Sun Wukong, a pig monk called Zhu Bajie, and a man called Sha Wujiing, who’s portrayed as having a stutter in the movie.

The movie tells about an episode in which Xuanzang is confronted by a flaming mountain, which he cannot cross. The local villagers then tell him about a princess who has an iron fan, which can make the fire go disappear. Xuanzang then sends his disciples to the princess to borrow the fan, which turns out to be no easy feat.

The film’s story is a delight: it’s full of surprising plot twists, strange magic, and unexpected metamorphoses. If it’s anything faithful to the novel, it becomes clear why it has become so popular. The film’s moral is that only together one can beat defeat. Indeed, the Wan brothers have given the film a long motto in the beginning of the movie:

This film was made for the purpose of training the hearts and minds of children. The story is pure, untainted fantasy. Fiery mountain blocking the path of Tang Seng’s company is a metaphor for the difficulties in life. In order to overcome them, one must keep faith. Everybody must work together in order to obtain the palm leaf fan and put out the flames.“.

This must have rung very true in war-plagued China, which suffered heavily from the brutal Japanese invasion.

Despite the difficulties of war, the film can also boost a rich orchestral soundtrack, beautiful, poetic background art, and some spectacular effect animation of smoke and flames. The body of the animation, however, is not that good. Although prompted by the Disney feature, there’s practically no Disney influence visible. Instead, the Wan brothers made a heavy use of rotoscope, which accounts for fluid, but all too often excessive movement and weird camera movements. The rotoscope is juxtaposed to disappointingly primitive animation, sometimes no better than say the work of the Van Beuren studio ca. 1930-1932. Most of the animation looks very stiff and mechanical, and designs are often very unstable, varying from one scene to the next. Moreover, there’s dialogue, but absolutely no lip-synch, and the staging at times is very odd, making the action sometimes hard to read.

Strangely, the film features two songs, which are accompanied by a bouncing ball, inviting the audience to sing along. I assume that these songs were already familiar to the audiences, otherwise these interludes are quite incomprehensible additions.

Nevertheless, the story is well told, and builds up to a spectacular finale, in which the disciples and the villagers fight a giant bull. The most bizarre scenes, however, are the pig monk rolling up a dragon as if it were a carpet, and the monkey king walking through the princess’s intestines, in the shape of a beetle. It’s images like these that make the film a worthwhile watch, and if ‘Princess Iron Fan’ may not be an all-time classic (it’s too primitive for that), the movie is an admirable effort, coming from a war-beaten country.

Moreover, the film was a huge influence on Soviet animation, and even on the Japanese animation industry, which made its very own first animated feature in 1945. Yet, Wan Lai-ming would top himself with another feature film based on ‘Journey to the West’ called ‘Havoc in Heaven’ (1964), which without doubt still is a timeless classic.

Watch ‘Princess Iron Fan’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Princess Iron Fan’ is available on a Cinema Epoch DVD

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: July 18, 1942
Rating:
Review:

Foney Fables © Warner Bros.‘Foney Fables’ is a spot gag cartoon on fairy tales, very much in the vain of ‘A Gander at Mother Goose’ (1940), sharing the realistic hand skipping pages of a storybook with the former cartoon.

‘A Gander at Mother Goose’ already was anything but classic, but ‘Foney Fables’ is even worse. Neither writer Michael Maltese nor director Friz Freleng seem inspired, and the often beautiful animation is wasted on all the lame spot gags. Even the running gag is trite and predictable.

The most interesting aspects of the cartoon are the war references: the grasshopper will survive winter, because he has bought war bonds, the wolf in sheep’s clothing is called ‘the fifth columnist of his day’, the goose that lays golden eggs lays normal eggs for national defense, and old mother Hubbard is being accused of hoarding food. These gags cannot rescue the cartoon, however, which remains uninteresting and forgettable.

Watch ‘Foney Fables’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Foney Fables’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 26, 1941
Rating:★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Trial of Mr. Wolf © Warner Bros.‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ stands in a great tradition of fairy tale spoofs, which go all the way back to 1931, with cartoons like Van Beuren’s ‘Red Riding Hood‘ and Max Fleischer’s ‘Dizzy Red Riding Hood‘.

More recent inspirations must have been Disney’s ‘The Big Bad Wolf‘ (1934), and especially Tex Avery’s ‘Cinderella Meets Fella‘ (1938) and ‘The Bear’s Tale’ (1940).

‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ tops all these cartoons, however, and can be regarded as Warner Bros.’ first mature film: the short fuses Tex Avery’s silliness with Michael Maltese’s inspired story writing, and above all, Friz Freleng’s excellent timing, which at this stage was much better than Avery’s. The result is an outrageously funny cartoon, unlike everything seen before (yes, I’m including ‘A Wild Hare‘ in this!).

The short opens with a court scene, in which the wolf tells his side of the story about Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf portrays himself as an innocent boy from Sunday school, being a hapless victim of a double-crossing Red Riding Hood, and her extremely homicidal grandma, who is only after the wolf’s fur.

Red Riding Hood is a fantastic caricature of Katherine Hepburn, and never has the fairy tale character been so portrayed so vile on the animated screen. But all the characters have an assured, modern, and rubbery design – there’s no trace of the primitivism left that haunted much of Warner Bros.’ earlier output. But moreover, the gags come in fast and plenty, like they never did before. Highlight is the scene in which the wolf opens several doors, only to find grandma behind it, heavier armed every time (by the last door she has mounted a tank). This type of scene would recur in several other cartoons.

The door scene is done very fast, as are all other gags in the cartoon, with the ending being a particular standout: the wolf exclaims that if what he has told weren’t the truth, then he hopes to get run over by a streetcar. And immediately, the vehicle kicks in, taking just a few frames. Such quick timing tops everything Avery had done before, and would be hugely influential, arguably even to Avery himself.

Nevertheless, ‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ owes a lot to Avery, with its numerous throwaway gags, like the skunk jury member, and puns, like Red Riding Hood literally having guilt written all over her face. No doubt this cartoon was a great inspiration to the other directors at Warner Bros., who all sped their cartoons up during 1941 and 1942, even Chuck Jones, who had made the slowest cartoons of the lot thus far. The Schlesinger studio could now enter its classic era.

Watch ‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: June 8, 1940
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Tom Thumb in Trouble © Warner Bros.Many of Chuck Jones’s early cartoons of 1938-1941 have a Disney-like character, but ‘Tom Thumb in Trouble’ arguably tops them all in Disney overtones.

The short stars a particularly small Tom Thumb, being indeed the size of his father’s thumb. When the father goes to work and leaves Tom alone to do the dishes, Tom Thumb almost drowns, but he is rescued by a little yellow bird. Unfortunately, his father blames the bird, and Tom Thumb walks away into the woods because of that. In the end all are reunited.

There’s absolutely nothing funny about this sentimental and cloying tale, and one wonders what Jones was thinking. This cartoon would have fit the years 1934-1936, not 1940. The animation, however, is stunning, with the very realistic father being an animation highlight within Warner Bros.’ 1940 output, topping even the realistic humans in ‘Old Glory‘, as he appears to have been animated with more confidence and ease. The staging, too, is nothing but impressive, with its strikingly original and dramatic angles, often turning the father into a towering figure.

But the short owes nothing to the output of Jones’s colleagues, and the only aspect that makes it typically Warner Bros. is Carl Stalling’s music, which makes clever use of classical music, with Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries during Tom Thumb’s flight into the winter woods as a particular highlight.

Watch ‘Tom Thumb in Trouble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Tom Thumb in Trouble’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: May 25, 1940
Rating: ★★½
Review:

A Gander at Mother Goose © Warner Bros.‘A Gander at Mother Goose’ is one of Tex Avery’s numerous spot gag cartoons. This time he sets his teeth in nursery rhymes, providing trite gags on e.g. Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill, and Little Miss Muffet.

Unfortunately, Avery’s spot gag cartoons rarely belong to his best work, and ‘A Gander at Mother Goose’ is no exception. Most surprising are his takes on two tales that have been made famous by Walt Disney: The Three Little Pigs (1933) and Little Hiawatha (1938). Not that his gags are funny, however. Best may be the first gag in which Miss Mary does a Katherine Hepburn imitation.

Friz Freleng directed an all too similar cartoon two years later called ‘Foney Fables’ (1942), which is even less funny.

Watch ‘A Gander at Mother Goose’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Gander at Mother Goose’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

 

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: April 13, 1940
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Bear's Tale © Warner Bros.‘The Bear’s Tale’ opens in Snow White-like fashion, but already the title card gets us ready for some nonsense, as we read that Papa is played by Papa Bear, Mama by Mama Bear, Baby by Baby Bear, and Goldilocks by herself…

‘The Bear’s Tale’ nonetheless seems to retell the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, alright, until suddenly Goldilocks enters grandma’s house from ‘Red Riding Hood’…

‘The Bear’s Tale’ is Tex Avery’s third fairy tale cartoon, after ‘Little Red Walking Hood’ (1937) and ‘Cinderella Meets Fella’ (1938). It’s arguably the best of the three, elaborating on the fairy tale mix up of Walt Disney’s ‘The Big Bad Wolf‘ (1934), which also starred Little Red Riding Hood.

Particularly funny is the silly combination of narration, images and Carl Stalling’s music. Stalling responds to every part of the narration with a specific leitmotiv. This is most clear when the narrator talks about the ‘beautiful forest’, which is invariably accompanied by a forest scene with birds flying through it, and Stalling’s leitmotiv of Felix Mendelssohn’s Spring Song in the background. But all characters have their own leitmotiv, with Little Red Riding Hood’s one being a particularly saucy one, as if she were a woman of the world.

Both Red and Goldilocks are pictured as child characters, yet behave in a surprisingly adult way. For example, when the wolf rejects Goldilocks, because he had been waiting for Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks exclaims “what’s Red Riding Hood got what I haven’t got?”. There’s also a great split screen gag, which is an elaboration on the one in ‘Cross Country Detours’ of only one month earlier.

The fairy tale setting is greatly helped by great production values: the backgrounds are very evocative, and Avery’s characters now have a solidity that they never had before. Papa Bear especially is a round character of a caliber rarely seen outside Disney. It’s clear that by 1940 the Warner Bros. had fully mastered character animation. This combination of great character animation and deliberate nonsense would make their cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s so irresistible.

In ‘The Bear’s Tale’ Avery’s timing is still rather slow, and not all the gags are winners (the gag in which Papa Bear’s imitating a siren is completely superfluous, for example), but this is a very funny cartoon, nonetheless, and an early Warner Bros. classic.

Watch ‘The Bear’s Tale’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Bear’s Tale’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: December 7, 1940
Stars: Willoughby
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Of Fox and Hounds © Warner Bros.‘Of Fox and Hounds’ introduces Willoughby, that dumb dog that was the first of many cartoon parodies on Lon Chaney jr.’s portrayal of Lennie Small in the movie ‘Of Mice and Men’ (1939).

In this cartoon he’s a rather fat hunting dog too dumb to recognize a fox when he sees one. Worse, the fox makes him fall for the same gag twice, in an extraordinarily long gag, which Avery plays out full. The fox is a clear variation on the wise guy type Avery introduced with Bugs Bunny in ‘A Wild Hare‘ four months earlier, without adding anything new, and he was never seen again. Willoughby, on the other hand, would encounter the hare himself in his next cartoon, ‘The Heckling Hare’, and another variation on this character type in ‘The Crackpot Quail’ (both 1941). In all, he would star in seven cartoons, the last one being Friz Freleng’s ‘Hare Force’ (1944).

In his next cartoon Willoughby would become less fat, but not smarter. Luckily not, for his all too late insights, which he shares with the audience, absolutely form the character’s main attraction. At MGM Avery would more or less return to the character in ‘Lonesome Lenny’ (1946). Willoughby’s “Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?” would become a catch phrase, and was also used by Lenny in that latter cartoon.

‘Of Fox and Hounds’ features high production values. It opens with a very realistic image of a hunter, followed by a beautiful shot of horses and hounds silhouetted against the morning sun. The cartoon also features remarkable oil paintings that provide great realistic backgrounds in the best academic tradition, which make all the nonsense staged in front of it more believable.

Unfortunately, the cartoon is a little too slow to be an all time winner. Avery clearly was still experimenting with timing, and in this cartoon in particular he juxtaposes slow scenes to lightning fast action, especially in the parts featuring the bear. ‘Of Fox and Hounds’ may be no classic, it’s an important entry in the evolution of Tex Avery’s films, the Warner Bros. style, and the chase cartoon in general.

Watch ‘Of Fox and Hounds’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Of Fox and Hounds’ is available on the French DVD set ‘Tex Avery’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: March 7, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Golden Eggs © Walt Disney‘Golden Eggs’ opens with Donald Duck reading in the newspapers that prices of eggs are skyrocketing.

He immediately turns to his own chicken farm to collect eggs. Strangely enough, however, he’s hindered by a rooster who’s taller than himself. Thus Donald tries deceit, and dresses as a particularly feminine chicken, seducing the rooster.

However, things go hardly as planned, and instead of collecting eggs, Donald finds himself dancing with the amorous rooster. The music is particularly inspired in these scenes, mounting to an intoxicating Cuban rhythm. In the end Donald manages to collect the eggs, but destroys them immediately…

‘Golden Eggs’ knows its moments, but is essentially a one-joke cartoon. Nevertheless, Donald’s cross-dressing method of deceit would be followed by Tom in a similar ‘Flirty Birdy’ (1945), and Bugs Bunny in many cartoons to come, starting with ‘Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips’ (1944).

Watch ‘Golden Eggs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 23
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Timber
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: A Good Time for a Dime

‘Golden Eggs’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: January 10, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Timber © Walt DisneyAlmost a year after ‘The Riveter’ Pete returns as Donald Duck’s adversary. This time he’s called Pierre and speaks with a pseudo-french accent.

When hobo Donald steals his food, Pete forces the feeble duck to work at his logging site. Donald easily is the worst lumberjack ever, and what follows are several antics with axes and saws, to the expense of Pete himself.

However, the film only gains momentum when Pete follows a fleeing Donald on a reckless lorry race. This is a stunning finale, with the gags coming in fast and plenty. In the end Donald disposes of Pete/Pierre with help of a railroad switch, and the end we watch him walking the rails again into the sunset.

This cartoon doubtless inspired Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comic ‘Mystery at Hidden River’, which run from October 6, 1941 to January 17, 1942. In this story Pete is also a lumberjack called Pierre, but Mickey surely knows better. Incidentally, this is the first time Mickey is confronted with Pete sans peg leg in the comic strip, even though on the animated screen Pete had lost his peg leg already in ‘Moving Day‘ from 1936.

Watch ‘Timber’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 22
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Fire Chief
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Golden Eggs

‘Fire Chief’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Riley Thomson
Release Date: 1940
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

The Volunteer Worker © Walt Disney‘The Volunteer Worker’ is a short commercial in which Donald tries to collect for charity, to no avail.

Every citizen shows him the door. When he sits down at the dumps, a construction worker helps him out, giving him a first donation and delivering the film’s message that charity helps.

This construction worker is an elaborate human character, and very well animated. The complete film excels in high production values, possessing a great montage, showing Donald’s though time, and beautiful lighting.

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

‘The Volunteer Worker’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: December 13, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey & Louie
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Fire Chief © Walt DisneyAfter co-starring in ‘Mickey’s Fire Brigade’ (1935), Donald now is a fire chief himself, helped by his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie.

There’s no heroism involved in this cartoon, however, as the four ducks only try to extinguish a fire that Donald accidentally has put to his very own fire station.

Penned by e.g. Carl Barks, this is a genuine gag cartoon, with the gags coming in fast and plenty, and building to a ridiculous finale, in which Donald destroys the fire station, his car and his hat within seconds. The animation, too, is extraordinarily flexible, especially when Donald blows his horn. The cartoon is a delight from start to end, and must be counted among Donald’s all time best.

Barks would later return to the theme in the equally classic comic ‘Fireman Donald’ (1947), in which Donald is as inadequate as a fireman as he is in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Fire Chief’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 21
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Window Cleaners
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Timber

‘Fire Chief’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: September 20, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Pluto
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Window Cleaners © Walt DisneyWindow Cleaners is the fifth of six cartoons co-starring Donald Duck and Pluto. Unlike the other films starring the duo, this is pretty much Donald’s film, with Pluto sleeping most of the time.

Donald has a job cleaning windows on a ridiculously high building and using the lazy mutt as his helper. This accounts for some spectacular background art emphasizing the dizzying heights Donald is working on.

The film is less gag rich than its contemporaries, however, being split into two long and distinct routines: in the first Donald tries to wake Pluto, to no avail. Highlight of this part is his attempt to yell into the drainpipe. This scene accounts for some spectacular body deformations on our beloved duck.

In the second routine Donald bullies a bee, which takes revenge immediately. This bee is the direct ancestor of the bee Jack Hannah introduced in ‘Inferior Decorator’ (1948) and one can say that all Hannah’s bee films follow the routine from this particular cartoon.

Watch ‘Window Cleaners’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 20
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Vacation
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Fire Chief

‘Window Cleaners’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: August 9, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Donald's Vacation © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Vacation’ is a delightful entry in the Donald Duck series. The cartoon opens idyllically enough, with Donald humming and strumming his ukelele, while canoeing through a beautiful landscape – the bacground artwork in this scene is absolutely stunning.

When a waterfall accidentally lands him on the perfect spot, his canoe turns out to be an inventive marvel, outdoing Mickey’s trailer in the cartoon of the same name (1938): not only can the canoe change into a tent instantly, it’s also capable of storing endless supplies.

But before Donald can relax, he first has to battle a collapsible vacation chair. Like the outboard motor in the previous cartoon ‘Put-put Troubles‘, the chair provides excellent comedy, showing that Donald was at his best when struggling with everyday objects.

When he finally comes to rest, a multitude of chipmunks, antecedents of Chip ‘n Dale, steal all his food. This leads to an encounter with a bear, which elaborates on the comedy of the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Pointer’ (1939), adding countless new and original gags, like the bear stripping a tree from its bark, and Donald cutting holes into some waterfalls.

‘Donald’s Vacation’ is a gag cartoon throughout, but in this finale the gags come fast and plenty, and lead to an excellent closing, in which Donald flees into the distance, only a couple of minutes after his unfortunate camping adventure had started.

Watch ‘Donald’s Vacation’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 19
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Put-Put Troubles
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Window Cleaners

‘Donald’s Vacation’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 13, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Eugene the Jeep
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Popeye Presents Eugene, the JeepAfter reviving Poopdeck Popeye in ‘My Pop, My Pop‘ and ‘With Poopdeck Pappy‘, the Fleischers reintroduced the Jeep in ‘Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep’, despite the creature having appeared already in ‘The Jeep’ (1938).

‘Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep’ opens with a package deliverer delivering a package to Popeye. This package deliverer is clearly voiced by Pinto Colvig, and sounds exactly like Goofy.

The package contains the Jeep, which Olive has sent to Popeye, with a strange instruction to keep it outdoors to sleep. This premise leads to a great chase cartoon: for despite all Popeye’s efforts, the Jeep refuses to remain outside, and time and time again ends up in Popeye’s bed.

Now in E.C. Segar’s comic strip the Jeep had magical powers, being able to cross the 4th dimension, but the Fleischers don’t use this premise in this film. In some scenes it’s clear how the Jeep enters the house, in others they keep it wisely unknown.

With this mysterious ability to be at any given place at will the Jeep anticipates Tex Avery’s characters Cecil Turtle in …. and Droopy in …. The comedy of this cartoon certainly is of a new era, and the fun is greatly helped by the inspired score, which, like the one in ‘With Poopdeck Pappy’ makes great use of the lullaby ‘Go to Sleep, My Baby’.

Watch ‘Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 15, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Poopdeck Pappy
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

With Poopdeck Pappy © Max FleischerAfter his reintroduction in ‘My Pop, My Pop‘ Poopdeck Pappy immediately returns in ‘With Poopdeck Pappy’.

In this cartoon Poopdeck Pappy behaves as Popeye’s disobedient child: Popeye repeatedly tries to put him to sleep, but he sneaks out time and time again to have some fun in a nightclub downtown.

The antagonism between father and son is wonderful, and leads to lots of silly gags. With this cartoon Popeye certainly entered the chase cartoon era, as also exemplified with his next cartoon, ‘Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep‘. Like the Jeep, Poopdeck Pappy has almost magical powers to escape Popeye’s bedroom. More importantly, Poopdeck Pappy defies Popeye’s 1930s morality: in the end, it’s he who wins, leaving Popeye roped in his very own bed.

Throughout the picture, the comedy is well-timed and greatly enhanced by the inspired score, which makes excellent use of ‘Go To Sleep, My Baby’ during the bed scenes – apparently a new favorite song of composer Sammy Timberg, as it also appears in the Hunky & Spunky cartoon ‘Vitamin Hay‘ from three months earlier, and in the next Popeye cartoon, ‘Popeye presents Eugene, the Jeep’.

With this cartoon Poopdeck Pappy proved to be a worthy addition to the Popeye cartoon cast. So he would be full of mischief again in his next cartoons ‘Problem Pappy’, ‘Quiet! Pleeze’, ‘Child Psykolojiky’ and ‘Pest Pilot’ (all from 1941).

Watch ‘With Poopdeck Pappy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘With Poopdeck Pappy’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 18, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Poopdeck Pappy
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

My Pop, My Pop © Max FleischerIn ‘My Pop, My Pop’ Popeye builds a boat. Poopdeck Pappy comes along and insists on helping him, but in the end, it’s Popeye who does all the work.

Although Poopdeck Pappy had already been introduced in the Fleischer Popeye series in 1938, in ‘Goonland‘, he was shelved for two years. With ‘My Pop, My Pop’ he reentered the Popeye universe: having his own theme song, a Scottish voice, and being remarkably weak and lazy. These character traits don’t match the character in E.C. Segar’s comic strip or in ‘Goonland’, and were not repeated in his next cartoon, ‘With Poopdeck Pappy‘.

Indeed, they’re not even very funny in this cartoon, with Poopdeck Pappy remaining a rather bland character. Moreover, the whole short is rather slow moving and too rich in unfunny dialogue. The best gags are Popeye’s original ways of boat building.

Luckily, Poopdeck Pappy’s most of next cartoons would be much better.

Watch ‘My Pop, My Pop’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘My Pop, My Pop’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

 

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 20, 1940
Stars: Popeye
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Popeye Meets William Tell © Max FleischerWithout any explanation Popeye walks through a medieval setting, where he meets William Tell.

When William Tell refuses to bow for the governor, Popeye volunteers to act as his son, so he can shoot an apple from his head. But Tell misses, and Popeye collapses. But when Tell is about to be beheaded, Popeye comes to the rescue, with help of spinach.

The story of ‘Popeye Meets William Tell’ is not really remarkable, but the cartoon is full of silly gags and anachronisms. None of it makes sense, and there’s a sense of anarchy present reminiscent of the Marx Brothers films.

The cartoon is a rather oddball entry within the Popeye series, with the designs of the other characters being more reminiscent of the inhabitants of Lilliput of ‘Gulliver’s Travels‘ (1939) than of the other characters in the Popeye universe. The short is definitely worth a watch, as it displays the large amount of creativity the Fleischer studio put into this series.

Watch ‘Popeye Meets William Tell’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Popeye Meets William Tell’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: April 12, 1941
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★
Review:

Toy Trouble © Warner Bros.‘Toy Trouble’ marks the return of Sniffles’s friend the bookworm, from ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ (1939) and ‘The Egg Collector’ (1940).

This time the two friends snoop around in the toy collection of a department store. All goes well until the duo encounters a cat.

Like Sniffles himself, the bookworm is more cute than funny, and like most Sniffles cartoons this short suffers from a terrible slowness. The result is a rather tiresome watch. Nevertheless, it contains a nice scene in which Sniffles hides in a row of Porky Pig dolls, predating a similar scene in the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Night Before Christmas’ by eight months. There’s also a mechanical duck, which accounts for some gags that look all the way forward to the elaborate gags of Chuck Jones’s Roadrunner and Tom & Jerry cartoons.

Watch ‘Toy Trouble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Toy Trouble’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: February 1, 1941
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Sniffles Bells the Cat © Warner Bros.In the seventh of twelve Sniffles cartoons Sniffles suddenly has a number of lookalikes, who are as annoying as the title character himself.

In the opening scene we watch them all fleeing from a cat. When Sniffles wishes out loud that the cat should have a bell, the others immediately put him on the job.

Like other Sniffles cartoons, ‘Sniffles Bells the Cat’ is slow and pretty unfunny. Yet the chase scenes show some beautiful background art, emphasizing the vastness of the house for a little mouse like Sniffles. Moreover, Carl Stalling’s music is extraordinarily beautiful in this cartoon.

However, the cartoon is most important in the development of Jones’s mature style. Like in ‘Bedtime for Sniffles’ Jones excels in giving the cute little character a surprisingly broad range of emotions, especially when Sniffles realizes he has to tie the bell to the cat himself. This scene is the undisputed highlight of the cartoon and shows that even at this early stage Jones knew hardly an equal in handling facial expressions. The cat, too, is animated delightfully when he performs the old shell game with considerable deftness. These two scenes contain the seeds of more to come, and make the cartoon one of Sniffles’s best, despite its slugged pace.

Watch ‘Sniffles Bells the Cat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sniffles Bells the Cat’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

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