Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: July 5, 1941
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★½
Review:

meet john doughboy © warner bros.On September 26 1940 the Selective Training and Service Act came into effect. This was the first peace time conscription in the history of the United States.

By 1941 the draft was in full effect, as is reflected by cartoons like ‘Hysterical Highspots in American History‘, ‘Meet John Doughboy’, ‘Rookie Revue’ and ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B‘. Of the real draftee cartoons ‘Meet John Doughboy’ is probably the first. The short stars Porky Pig, who can boast to be the first major cartoon star to join the army. In November Porky was followed by Barney Bear (‘The Rookie Bear’) and Popeye (‘The Mighty Navy’), while other stars only joined the war effort after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

Unfortunately, ‘Meet John Doughboy’ is not about Porky’s tribulations as a draftee. Instead Porky introduces a movie newsreel “chock full of military secrets, so if there are any Fifth Columnists in the audience, please leave the theater right now.”. This is immediately the best gag of the short, which is a rather trite spot gag cartoon.

‘Meet John Doughboy’ is mostly of historical interest. The film features some stark images of weaponry, in beautiful black and white contrasts. The cartoon even depicts a possible invasion by air, luckily easily dispelled by the Statue of Liberty with some use of inspect spray. Otherwise, it remains a rather uninteresting spot gag cartoon. Three months later, Friz Freleng made a color cartoon covering similar grounds in the even less funnier ‘Rookie Revue’.

Watch ‘Meet John Doughboy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 88
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Prize Pony
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: We, the Animals, Squeak

‘Meet John Doughboy’ is available on the DVD-sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

Advertisements

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: January 18, 1941
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Fighting 69 1-2th © Warner Bros.‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ opens with peaceful scenes of a picnic in a forest. Soon a red ant and a black ant argue about an olive. When the red ant smothers the black ant with it, he exclaims, Groucho Marx style: ‘Of course you know this means war!’.

Soon the picnic cloth is encircled by trenches, with several ants trying to obtain the food on it, until a lady comes to clear it all away. When only a cake is left behind, the generals try to make peace, which is thwarted by a discussion on how to cut the cake.

‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ is a rather somber war film, in the tradition of e.g. ‘Bosko the Doughboy’ (1931), ‘There’s Something about a Soldier’ (1934), ‘What Price Porky’ (1938), and ‘Ants in the Plants‘ (1940) and arguably the last to show war as it looked like in World War I. Eleven months later war would come to the US itself, changing the looks of war cartoons forever.

‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ is not really funny, but it boasts beautiful oil backgrounds, Silly Symphony-like production values like careful shading, and Freleng’s trademark musical timing. There’s even a ‘hold the onions’ gag, when several ants build a hamburger.

Watch ‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: December 5, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★
Review:

Chef Donald © Walt Disney‘Chef Donald’ opens with Donald gluing some recipes in a book.

This sets the stage for the single premise in this cartoon: when following a recipe for waffles on the radio Donald accidentally puts in some rubber cement (glue) into his mix instead of baking powder. This leads to remarkably stubborn dough, and the rest of the cartoon is filled with Donald trying to deal with it.

‘Chef Donald’ is full of surprising gags, like an iron ironing Donald’s chef hat by accident, and a large crack splitting his complete house. The most bizarre gag is when the dough takes the air like a helicopter. The animation on Donald himself is wonderful and absolutely inspired, but because the short milks the glue-gag until the end the end result is less than satisfying.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 29
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Camera
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: The Village Smithy

‘Chef Donald’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Dick Lundy
Release Date: October 24, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★
Review:

Donald's Camera © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Camera’ opens with Donald reading a sign saying ‘Shoot nature with a camera instead of a gun’.

Donald immediately becomes anti-hunting, eschewing the sight of a gun and deploring the fate of some stuffed animals in a hunting shop’s window. In the next scene Donald is on his way in the forest, trying to photograph some wild animals. He fails to take a picture of a chipmunk, and is laughed at by a whole bunch of cute animals, who seem to have entered the cartoon straight from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937).

After three-and-a-half minutes Donald meets the main adversary of the cartoon, the obnoxious woodpecker from ‘Self Control‘ (1938). The angry bird doesn’t want to get photographed and gives Donald a hard time. Thus in the end, we watch Donald wandering the forest, carrying two guns and dragging a miniature canon with him in search of the pesky little bird.

‘Donald’s Camera’ is a genuine gag cartoon, and contains some very fast animation, but the short is hampered by Lundy’s gentle approach to directing. The silliest gag is when Donald puts the woodpecker into two ridiculous poses.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 28
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Old MacDonald Duck
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Chef Donald

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

Director: Jack King
Release Date: September 12, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★
Review:

Old MacDonald Duck © Walt Disney‘Old MacDonald Duck’ was the cartoon announced three months earlier in ‘The Reluctant Dragon‘. As Donald Duck explains himself in that feature in this cartoon he’s a farmer.

The short opens with a musical routine on ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’ (naturally). This almost Silly Symphony-like sequence lasts ninety seconds. Then the main body of the cartoon starts, in which Donald milks his cow Clementine, hindered by a fly. This leads to a battle between Donald and the fly, with Donald using milk squeezed from Clementine’s udders to bomb the little insect, in a rather early war analogy (predating the attack on Pearl Harbor by two months). Of course, it’s the fly who has the last laugh.

Clementine, whose theme music is, of course, ‘Oh My Darling’, is wonderfully animated. The fly is the second of a line of insects Donald had to deal with, after the bee in ‘Window Cleaners‘ (1940). The battle between duck and fly is well done, but never becomes hilarious. There’s a little too much emphasis on the fly being a small, innocent creature unnecessarily bullied by Donald. Apparently to give the otherwise obnoxious animal some sympathy, something that’s typical for all the Donald vs. insect cartoons. I guess, however, that the humor would have worked better, if the audience’s sympathy had remained with Donald himself, with the fly playing the same role as the inanimate objects did in contemporary, much better cartoons like ‘Donald’s Vacation‘ (1940) or ‘Early to Bed‘ (1941).

Watch ‘Old MacDonald Duck’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 27
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Truant Officer Donald
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Camera

‘Old MacDonald Duck’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: August 1, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Truant Officer Donald © Walt Disney‘Truant Officer Donald’ opens with Huey, Dewey and Louie having fun at the lake.

Unfortunately, they’re soon caught by Donald, the truant officer, who uses quite some fisherman’s gear to catch the brats. Nevertheless, the hooky playing trio succeeds in escaping from Donald’s car, and flee into their ‘pirates’ den’. What follows is a great chase routine with Donald trying to enter the hut, and the nephews defending it in ingenious ways.

The film’s highlight is the scene in which Donald tries to smoke out his nephews. Huey, Dewey and Louie use some roast chickens to pretend that Donald has killed them. They even take the gag further by letting one of them go down dressed as an angel to punish their uncle. Donald nevertheless has the last laugh, only to discover that the school is closed for summer holidays.

‘Truant Officer Donald’ is a great gag cartoon and one of Huey, Dewey and Louie’s finest. Carl Barks, who had worked on the story for this film, would revisit the idea of Donald being a truant officer and battling his nephews, in his Donald Duck comic WDC 100 (1949), with equally funny results.

Watch ‘Truant Officer Donald’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 26
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Early to Bed
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Old MacDonald Duck

‘Truant Officer Donald’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: July 11, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Early to Bed © Walt DisneyDonald Duck always was at his best when having to battle everyday inanimate objects, and ‘Early to Bed’ is one of his all-time best cartoons in that genre.

In this short Donald’s sole mission is going to sleep, but impending doom becomes immediately clear when Donald repeatedly mutters how tired he is and how early he has to rise. No sooner has he laid himself to sleep, or his attempt is thwarted by his cushion, an obnoxious alarm clock, and finally, by his foldable bed.

The story men (e.g. Carl Barks and Jack Hannah) succeed wonderfully in making everyday problems like a noisy alarm clock into something larger than life, blowing up Donald’s problems to unbearable proportions. For example, Donald even swallows his alarm clock at one point, and later all the antics make Donald’s bed look like a disco light.

The animation of the duck is excellent. Even his bursts of rage are wide-ranging and never become cliche. Donald easily carries the complete cartoon. Six years later, Woody Woodpecker would go to a similar ordeal in ‘Coo-Coo Bird‘, while Donald himself had to stand another sleepless night in ‘Drip Dippy Donald’ (1948).

Watch ‘Early to Bed’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 25
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: A Good Time for a Dime
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Truant Officer Donald

‘Early to Bed’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Dick Lundy
Release Date: May 9, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★½
Review:

A Good Time for a Dime © Walt DisneyIn ‘A Good Time for a Dime’ Donald Duck enters a penny arcade.

Here he watches an erotic film called ‘the dance of the seven veils’ on a mutoscope, then he tries to retrieve items from a crane game machine (only to sneeze them all back into the machine), and he rides a toy airplane, which goes haywire, rendering him sick.

‘A Good Time for a Dime’ is Dick Lundy’s third Donald Duck cartoon as a director. The short is hampered by his poor timing and emphasis on prolonged situation gags, so typical of the mid-1930s. The scenes at the crane game machine and in the plane feel endless, with the plane scene losing all connections to reality, thus rendering it less funny. After all, Donald was at his best when experiencing every day annoyances.

The best gag of the short is that of Donald’s pupils falling down his eyes like marbles. There’s also a wonderful scene in which we watch the plane dive and soar from Donald’s own perspective, but these scenes cannot rescue this rather mediocre entry in the Donald Duck canon.

Watch ‘A Good Time for a Dime’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 24
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Golden Eggs
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Early to Bed

‘A Good Time for a Dime’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: August 2, 1941
Rating: 
Review:

Aviation Vacation © Warner Bros.Tex Avery’s spot gag cartoons always were rather loose-jointed affairs, but ‘Avation Vacation’ tops them all in randomness.

The main frame involves a plane trip around the world, but we also watch ostriches hiding and butterflies emerging. None of the gags is remotely interesting, least of all the plane gags themselves. This results in arguably the weakest of all Avery’s spot gag cartoons.

The short is noteworthy, however, for featuring the first occurrence of the ‘hair-in-the-projector-gag, a 4th wall breaking gag that Avery would perfect in ‘The Magical Maestro’ (1952). In this first version the hair pops up, while a highly realistic Irishman sings a ballad in operetta style. The hair is less convincing than the one in ‘The Magical Maestro’, but the gag works nonetheless, and it’s the undisputed highlight of the otherwise ultimately boring cartoon.

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

‘Aviation Vacation’ is available on the French ‘Tex Avery’ DVD Box Set

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: August 11, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Screwdriver © Walter Lantz‘The Screwdriver’ forms an important step in the evolution of Woody Woodpecker.

Woody had been a clear woodpecker in his first cartoon, ‘Knock Knock‘ (1940), and he remained a forest animal in ‘Woody Woodpecker‘. Now he had become more or less an American citizen, capable of driving a car. In fact, the cartoon opens with Woody driving his rather silly vehicle, singing his theme song from ‘Woody Woodpecker’.

The bird soon turns out to be a road maniac, but the gags really start rolling in when he’s confronted by a police man. The woodpecker gives the officer a hard time, driving him nuts, in a string of fast and funny gags, greatly helped by an inspired score by Darrell Calkers.

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

‘The Screwdriver’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: July 7, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Woody Woodpecker © Walter LantzAfter his knockout debut in ‘Knock Knock‘ (1940) fledgling star Woody Woodpecker was given his own series.

The first two entries in this new series, ‘Woody Woodpecker’ and ‘The Screwdriver‘ clearly play on the character’s lunacy. In fact, in his first scene Woody sings a song about how crazy he is. The other forest animals, all cute characters straight from a 1930s cartoon, think so, too, thus Woody goes to visit a psychiatrist, who turns out to be a fox who is even loonier than Woody is. What follows is a string of random gags of nonsense. For example we watch Woody swimming in the doc’s carpet, and the doc and Woody dancing the conga out of the blue.

‘Woody Woodpecker’ is full of wild gags, and owes almost nothing to Lantz’s previous cartoons, except of course for the cute forest animals. In this film Woody shows both a Donald Duck-like fighting style and a Porky Pig-like stutter, when he says: “maybe I AM crazy. Maybe I’d better see a psy… a psy… I go see a doctor”. Soon Woody’s lunacy would be downplayed, as this was a little too narrow a scope to build a series on.

Watch ‘Woody Woodpecker’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Woody Woodpecker’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: March 31, 1941
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Hysterical High Spots in American History © Walter Lantz‘Hysterical High Spots in American History’ is one of the first cartoons reflecting the peace time conscription that had been initiated on September 26, 1940, when Europe and Asia already were at war, but the United States were not: the short is supposedly brought to you by draftee number 1-58. But then he’s swept away from the screen by his sergeant, who, in his turn, is looking for draftee number 1-9-2.

However, these soldiers don’t return to the screen, and the rest of the cartoon is filled with spot gags on American history, dwelling on e.g. Columbus, Thanksgiving, the war of independence, Lincoln’s Gettyburg address and the opening of the Panama canal.

The “story” of ‘Hysterical High Spots in American History’ is by Ben Hardaway, and he clearly had brought the humor of Tex Avery’s spot gag cartoons to the Walter Lantz studio (see also ‘Fair Today‘ from one month earlier). Spot gag cartoons like this were rarely very funny, but the gags are surprisingly inspired in this cartoon, with the Capistrano mission gag giving the lowdown of a complete cartoon: Robert McKimson’s ‘Swallow the Leader‘ from 1949.

‘Hysterical High Spots in American History’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: November 25, 1940
Stars: Andy Panda, Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Knock Knock © Walter Lantz1940 was a watershed year: in this year the last remnants of the cute, childish and timid style of the late 1930s gave way to the brassier, faster and funnier style of the 1940s. In no film this change can be seen as well as in ‘Knock Knock’ in which the new style in the form of Woody Woodpecker literally invades the cute, slow world of Andy Panda.

Andy Panda had been a recent start himself, and ‘Knock Knock’ is only his fourth cartoon. Unfortunately, the little Panda kid and his pa never were particularly funny characters, and they’re immediately eclipsed by the flashy red and blue woodpecker. The bird makes his presence immediately clear by knocking hard on the door, driving Andy’s pa mad. And when he’s visible for the first time, he immediately utters both his classic line “guess who?”, which would be reused in the leaders for his own films, and his classic laugh.

Strangely enough, Woody Woodpecker was not the first character to utter this instantly recognizable laugh. It was used earlier by rabbits in the Warner Bros. pictures ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938) and ‘Hare-Um Scare-Um‘ (1939). This is no coincidence. Both those rabbits and Woody Woodpecker were conceived by the same person: Bugs Hardaway, who even had been a story man on the first Daffy Duck films ‘Porky’s Duck Hunt’ (1937) and ‘Daffy Duck and Egghead‘ (1938). The latter cartoon even provided the story idea of the ending of ‘Knock Knock’. Hardaway thus had a strange love for lunatic characters. Hardaway had recently interchanged Warner Bros. for Walter Lantz, and in many ways, the woodpecker is the same character as Daffy and those loony rabbits: all these characters’ aims remain unknown, they’re just there to be loony.

In fact, Woody Woodpecker never developed much of a personality: later he clearly became less clearly a woodpecker, and less of a lunatic, but he never gained clear character traits. His appeal came from his cheerfully loony actions, not caring about laws, status or authority. Watching Woody the trickster getting the best of strong adversaries was a delight throughout the series.

In ‘Knock Knock’ the humor unfortunately is hampered by the slow reactions of Andy’s pa, Woodpecker’s primary foil. This unfunny character was soon dropped in favor of stronger and funnier adversaries, like Wally Walrus and Buzz Buzzard. Woody Woodpecker, on the other hand, was clearly here to stay. Hardaway and Woody transformed the humor of the Walter Lantz films, making the Lantz cartoons among the most hilarious of the era, after several years of sickening sweetness. Starting with the title cartoon ‘Woody Woodpecker’ the loony bird was given his own series in early 1941. The Woody Woodpecker series lasted until 1966 – longer than that of any contemporary cartoon star. In the early 1940s Woody Woodpecker certainly transformed the Walter Lantz studio, and secured the studio’s place in animation history. Now the wild days could begin.

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

‘Knock Knock’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: December 20, 1941
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Wabbit Twouble © Warner Bros.When Tex Avery left Warner Bros. in 1941, Bob Clampett inherited his unit.

This is best visible in ‘Wabbit Twouble’, which features the same rich oil background art as Avery’s earlier cartoons. The short is Clampett’s only third Merrie Melody (and thus color cartoon), and his first take on Bugs Bunny, who still was only one-and-a-half year and seven cartoons old. Clampett’s take on the rabbit is quite different from his contemporaries. In a way he goes all the way back to Bugs Bunny’s forerunner in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938), with Bugs Bunny taunting Elmer just for fun.

Elmer comes to ‘Jellostone park’ for rest and relaxation. But as soon as he has installed himself, Bugs starts nagging him. Bugs Bunny’s best trick is giving Elmer glasses which he paints black, making Elmer think it has become night already. Also involved in the routine is a bear, who even replaces Bugs as Elmer’s main problem. This leads to a chase scene, which is very remarkable as it almost consists of poses only, with little to no movement in between. Chuck Jones would expand on this animation on poses in ‘The Dover Boys‘, and this animation technique would become more dominant in the postwar era.

‘Wabbit Twouble’ features very unusual opening credits. First Bugs Bunny’s name is photographed using real carrots. Second, the credits are written on a moving landscape, a device that would be used extensively by Chuck Jones in the late 1950s and 1960s, and third, the names of all contributors are written in ‘Elmerfuddese’: thus ‘Wobert Cwampett’, ‘Sid Suthewand’ and ‘Cawl W. Stawwing’. This sequence alone shows how important Arthur Q. Bryan’s voice had become for the Elmer Fudd character, after only six cartoons.

Even more interesting, ‘Wabbit Twouble’ suddenly shows a fatter design of Elmer, which was modeled on Arthur Q. Bryan’s looks, so the animators could also use the actor’s funny movements. Unfortunately, Elmer lost a lot of his appeal with this fatty design, and it was only used in three more cartoons (‘The Wabbit Who Came to Supper‘, ‘The Wacky Wabbit’ and ‘Fresh Hare’, all from 1942). With Friz Freleng’s ‘The Hare-Brained Hypnotist‘ Elmer luckily was his normal self again.

Watch ‘Wabbit Twouble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 7
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: All This and Rabbit Stew
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: The Wabbit Who Came to Supper

‘Wabbit Twouble’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume One’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: May 24, 1941
Stars: a.o. Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Johnny Weismuller, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Harpo Marx, Bing Crosby, Leopold Stokowski, James Stewart, Sonja Henie, Boris Karloff, the Three Stooges, Oliver Hardy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Peter Lorre, Henry Fonda, Buster Keaton, Jerry Colonna, Clark Gable, Groucho Marx
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Hollywood Steps Out © Warner Bros.Caricatures of Hollywood stars have been featured in many animated cartoons since ‘Felix goes Hollywood’ (1923).

With cartoons like ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ (1933), ‘Soda Squirt‘ (1933), ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936). ‘The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos’ (1937) and ‘Mother Goes to Hollywood’ (1938) the caricatures even became the main attraction of the cartoon. This trend reached its climax in Tex Avery’s ‘Hollywood Steps Out’, as this is a spot gag cartoon on nothing but Hollywood stars. After this short Hollywood stars kept popping up in cartoons, but not in such abundance as in this short.

In ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ we watch the stars of the silver screen going out at the Ciro’s nightclub, which had opened in 1940. The gags are actually rather lame, but it’s a sheer joy to see all these caricatures of late 1930s Hollywood stars, some still famous, others forgotten. Among the more familiar names are Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Johnny Weismuller (as Tarzan), James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Harpo Marx, Bing Crosby, Leopold Stokowski, James Stewart, Sonja Henie, Boris Karloff (as Frankenstein), the Three Stooges, Oliver Hardy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Peter Lorre, Henry Fonda, Buster Keaton and Jerry Colonna.

Also featured are Henry Binder and Leon Schlesinger, the animators’ bosses. The cartoon contains some rotoscoped dance movements, including a rather sexy bubble dance, and a running gag about Clark Gable following a girl who turns out to be Groucho Marx.

The caricatures in ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ were based on drawings by Ben Shankman, whose work was first used by Friz Freleng in ‘Malibu Beach Party’ (1940), and who clearly is a worthy successor of Joe Grant (e.g. ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’) and T. Hee (e.g. ‘Mother Goes to Hollywood’). All Shankman’s caricatures in ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ are pretty good to excellent. Moreover, most of them are well-animated, with the animation of James Stewart as a particular highlight. Like the otherwise very different ‘Old Glory‘ (1939) this short shows that by the turn of the decade the Warner Bros. animators could handle the human figure very well.

The voices, too, are very well done. In ‘The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons’ Keith Scott reveals they were all done by one Kent Rogers, who was not yet 18 when ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ was released. Rogers also voiced e.g. Willoughby, Beaky Buzzard, and ‘Henery Hawk’. Unfortunately, he died in World War II in 1944, cutting short a career that might have become as illustrious as Mae Questel’s or Mel Blanc’s. In a way ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ stands out as his greatest work.

Apart from a celebration of Hollywood stars, ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ is also a testimony of the conga craze that took over the United States in the early forties: the irresistible conga beat sounds in the opening sequence and during the dance scene. Other examples of cartoons prominently featuring conga music are ‘Mickey’s Birthday Party’ (1942), ‘Juke Box Jamboree‘ (1942) and ‘Springtime for Pluto‘ (1944).

Watch ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hollywood Steps Out’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Two’

 

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 8, 1941
Stars: Popeye, Poopdeck Pappy
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Pest Pilot © Max FleischerIn ‘Pest Pilot’ Popeye suddenly has exchanged sailing for flying.

Apparently, Popeye owns an “air-conditioned airport”, where he works on some planes. Poopdeck Pappy drops by, begging Popeye to let him fly, which Popeye keeps refusing. When put outside, Pappy finds an idle plane, and the old man takes off immediately, flying recklessly all over the world, and crashing into Popeye’s airport again.

Surprisingly little happens in this ‘Pest Pilot’: we practically only see Pappy begging and flying. Poopdeck Pappy’s flight is mildly amusing, and in fact the short’s best gag is Popeye’s original way of making a propeller.

‘Pest Pilot’ was the last Fleischer cartoon featuring Poopdeck Pappy. Popeye’s old man would turn up in ‘Seein’ Red White ‘n Blue’ (1943), but was revived by Paramount in only eight cartoons. Poopdeck Pappy’s last three Fleischer cartoons were rather weak, but earlier ones had shown that the character certainly had comic potential, so why he was eventually shelved, we’ll never know.

Watch ‘Pest Pilot’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 98
To the previous Popeye film: Child Psykolojiky
To the next Popeye film: I’ll Never Crow Again

‘Pest Pilot’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 11, 1941
Stars: Popeye, Poopdeck Pappy, Swee’Pea
Rating:  ★
Review:

Child Psykolojiky © Max FleischerThis short opens with Popeye and Poopdeck Pappy playing cards (and the old man cheating a lot).

Unfortunately father and son are disturbed by a weeping Swee’Pea, and both try to nurture the baby. The two men’s methods of nurture are quite different, however, Popeye’s soft approach contrasting heavily with Poopdeck Pappy’s more outlandish methods. As soon as Popeye leaves the room, his father tests Swee’Pea’s nerves by swinging him outside the window, like a Michael Jackson avant la lettre. Next he teaches the infant how to shoot.

Despite the rather risque gags (at least to the modern viewer), ‘Child Psykolojiky’ never becomes very funny. The cartoon is hampered by its large amount of dialogue (it certainly is one of the most talkative cartoons of the era), and its moral, which throws the short back into the 1930s.

Watch ‘Child Psykolojiky’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 97
To the previous Popeye film: Olive’s Boithday Presink
To the next Popeye film: Pest Pilot

‘Child Psykolojiky’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 13, 1941
Stars: Popeye
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Olive_s Boithday Presink © Max FleischerA Russian fur seller called G. Geezil draws Popeye inside his shop, but when Popeye discovers that all his bearskins are in fact, rabbit, the man proposes Popeye shoots a bear himself.

Popeye immediately sets out to do so, and corners a bear on a cliff. But when the bear calls for his family to say goodbye, Popeye breaks his gun. Suddenly the bear takes his revenge, and Popeye is only saved by his spinach, robbing the bear of his skin in a matter of seconds, only to discover it’s a G. Geezil coat, too…

The story idea of ‘Olive’s Boithday Presink’ harks all the way back to the Talkartoon ‘A Hunting We Will Go‘ (1932), and it’s just as weak. The bear’s goodbye scene is the highlight, in its perfect silent melodramatic comedy. However, there’s little else to enjoy: the shop scene feels like it was made years before, and the final battle is over before you know it.

Watch ‘Olive’s Boithday Presink’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 96
To the previous Popeye film: Popeye Meets Rip van Winkle
To the next Popeye film: Child Psykolojiky

‘Olive’s Boithday Presink’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 9, 1941
Stars: Popeye
Rating:  ★
Review:

opeye Meetss Rip van Winkle © Max Fleischer‘Popeye Meets Rip van Winkle’ opens with Popeye passing Rip van Winkle’s home, which is emptied by some movers (one being a caricature of Chico Marx), because Van Winkle didn’t pay the rent.

Soon, Van Winkle is put outside himself, still sleeping. Popeye takes the old man home. But when he leaves the bearded fellow alone for a while, Van Winkle immediately starts sleepwalking. Incomprehensibly, the somnambulist ends with some fairy tale dwarfs bowling in the countryside. Popeye has to fight them all before he can take the old man back with him.

‘Popeye Meets Rip van Winkle’ makes very little sense, and certainly is one of the weakest Popeye cartoons ever made. The best part is when the dwarfs beat Popeye to their own size. Nevertheless, the short features some beautiful effect animation on Popeye, when he’s lit by lighting.

Watch ‘Popeye Meets Rip van Winkle’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 95
To the previous Popeye film: Flies Ain’t Human
To the next Popeye film: Olive’s Boithday Presink

‘Popeye Meets Rip van Winkle’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

Director: Alfred L. Werker
Release Date: June 20, 1941
Stars: Robert Benchley, Clarence Nash, Florence Gill, Ward Kimball, Fred Moore, Norm Ferguson, Donald Duck, Goofy
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Reluctant Dragon © Walt DisneyAfter three stunning feature films, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, ‘Pinocchio‘ and ‘Fantasia’, ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ was a much, much more modest affair.

The movie must have come as a letdown to contemporary audiences, and many considered it a cheater, as little more than half the film is animated. Indeed, it’s not even included in Disney’s official list of theatrical features, and has only been released on DVD in the limited edition ‘Walt Disney Treasures’ series.

This is a pity, for despite its modest ambitions, ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ remains an entertaining feature, especially its animated sequences. The film was made in a not so prosperous time for the Walt Disney studio: both ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Fantasia’ had lost money, mainly due to World War II, which had broken off the complete European market, and its necessary revenues. As a consequence, the number of theatrical shorts was reduced, ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ was shelved, and two smaller features were planned: ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ and ‘Dumbo’.

Especially, ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ was conceived as a low-budget production in order to get a quick return on investment. Trying to capitalize on Disney’s popularity, the film is a virtual tour through the Burbank studio, to which the company had moved in the end of 1939. Apart from the orchestra sequences in ‘Fantasia’ this was Walt Disney’s first foray into live action since the silent Alice comedies, and he hired a live action director, Alfred L. Werker to shoot the live action scenes. As Leonard Maltin points out in his introduction to the film, the film had been storyboarded like any other animated film, thus Werker can be regarded as the first live action director to have worked with storyboards. Filming in live action was far cheaper than shooting animation, and thus greatly reduced the costs of the feature. Unfortunately, ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ didn’t earn the studio enough money to cover the film’s costs. Nevertheless, the film pointed Walt Disney to the future, in which the company ventured more and more into live action film making.

Apart from Werker, several actors were hired to play various studio employees, and the film tour is more fiction than fact. The tour thus is hardly documentary, even though it does show the real studio lot. This became painfully clear when the film was released on June 20, 1941. At the time the studio experienced a severe strike, revealing that the company was not such a happy place, after all…

The film starts with Robert Benchley’s wife (Nana Bryant) suggesting to the popular humorist that he should suggest to Walt Disney to make a picture out of Kenneth Grahame’s children’s book ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ (1898). Benchley reluctantly agrees, and is more or less forced to drive to the Disney studio, where his wife leaves him on his own, taking the car to go shopping.

Benchley soon starts to wander through the studio on his own, visiting an art class (hoping to see a nude model), and the sound studio, where he witnesses Clarence Nash (the voice of Donald Duck) and Florence Gill (Clara Cluck) performing a duet from Friedrich von Flotow’s opera ‘Martha’ (1847).

Benchley continues his wanderings through the sound effect department, and the camera department. At this point the film suddenly changes into color, even to Benchley’s own surprise, who immediately starts checking the colors of his own suit, as if he had really been black and white all before.

Benchley’s tour continues through the color department, the story room, the animation department, and finally, the screening room where he finally meets Walt, and joins in the screening, only to find out that it’s the screening of ‘The Reluctant Dragon’, the very story he had wanted to sell…

The color department sequence is set to an instrumental version of ‘Hi-Ho’ and looks like a ballet of paint colors, and not at all as anything real. When Benchley continues to the story room he passes several statues of Disney characters, including Captain Hook, Tinkerbell and Wendy from ‘Peter Pan’, a film that would only go into production ten years later! One can also notice both a little statue and a drawing of two Siamese cats who would not be seen on the animated screen until ‘Lady and the Tramp‘ (1956).

At the animation department Benchley meets real animators Ward Kimball, Fred Moore and Norm Ferguson (we can watch the latter one panting like his creation Pluto). There Benchley admires some ‘paintings’ of Donald Duck in the style of old masters. The paintings were actually drawings in crayon, done by animators John Dunn, Phil Klein, and Ray Patin.

In one way we could consider the whole tour as a long introduction to the twelve minute animated version of the tale, and as such the film harks all the way back to Winsor McCay’s ‘Little Nemo‘ (1912) and ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ (1914), which also featured long live action footage showing how the film was made, before showing the end result.

However, none of the animation on ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ itself is shown before the last part: instead we watch unique animation on the train Casey Jones jr. from ‘Dumbo’, Donald Duck from the upcoming short ‘Old MacDonald Duck‘, and unique animation of Bambi (this film also being in production) being scared of Benchley.

The film only features three completely animated sequences: ‘Baby Weems’, the Goofy short ‘How to Ride a Horse’ and ‘The Reluctant Dragon’. All three are excellent and forward-looking, and make the film a must watch for every animation lover:

Baby Weems © Walt DisneyBaby Weems
‘Baby Weems’ is no less than a milestone of animation: the segment is told in story boards only, with little movement and added special effects. Conceived by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer, the short features drawings by John Miller, whose more angular style looks forward to the more stylized cartoons of the 1950s and 1960s. Moreover, one can say that the concept of Animatics is born here. The story in itself is a delight: Baby Weems is an exceptional prodigy, whose fame goes all over the world. Unfortunately, his parents don’t get to see him. However, the film shows the black side of fame, and as soon as Weems loses his extraordinary abilities, he’s soon forgotten by everyone, except his happy parents, who can finally start to raise him…

How to Ride a Horse © Walt DisneyHow to Ride a Horse
The Goofy short ‘How to Ride a Horse’ strangely enough only exists within this film, yet it’s presented as a regular short. The segment plays an important part in the evolution of Goofy: it’s the first of all ‘how to’ cartoons, it’s Goofy’s first venture into sports, and it’s the first to use blueprint-like schematic drawings and the ridiculous use of the “slow motion camera”. Most probably the series had been inspired by Robert Benchley himself, as he had done a ‘How to…’ series of short films, too, from 1935 to 1939. The short uses surprisingly spare monochrome backgrounds, with only few details in pastel. These graphic backgrounds are absolutely forward-looking.

The Reluctant Dragon from the movie of the same name © Walt DisneyThe Reluctant Dragon
‘The Reluctant Dragon’ itself, too, looks forward to the 1950s: the character designs are more streamlined than before, and the backgrounds are simplified and rounded, never trying to evoke any sense of realism. Sir Giles is the most convincingly animated human character thus far. He certainly is cartoony, but he’s also a real human, with visible joints, muscles, and five fingers instead of the normal four. The dragon itself is animated elegantly, moving with a deftness that defies its size and weight. Voiced by Barnett Parker (and not Ed Wynn, as I thought) – the dragon sounds pretty gay, perhaps to make it the opposite of the masculine fighting machine it is supposed to be. The dragon even shows a Tex Averyan double take, suddenly producing five separate heads when he hears that his invite Sir Giles is a dragon killer.

‘The Reluctant Dragon’ can be regarded as the first of the package features, which would dominate the Disney output the rest of the 1940s, and like all its successors it suffers from its disjointed and scrambled character. The film certainly is not a perfect film: the live action parts remain a strange mix of education and self-promotion, and in many respects the film is rescued by its animated sequences, which are all three excellent. Yet, the picture is certainly worth a watch, and deserves to be more seen than it is now.

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

 

‘The Reluctant Dragon’ is available on the Walt Disney Treasures DVD set ‘Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio’

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 903 other followers

Bookmark and Share

Follow TheGrob on Twitter

Categories

Advertisements