Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: September 24, 1938
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Porky in Wackyland © Warner BrosIn ‘darkest Africa’ lies Wackyland, a wacky land indeed, defying all logic and laws of nature.

The importance of ‘Porky in Wackyland’ can hardly be overstated. This classic cartoon reintroduced complete nonsense back into the cartoon world, after a virtual absence of about five years – and with a vengeance. Interestingly, in ‘Porky in Wackyland’ seems to build on some promising ideas of some Van Beuren cartoons that never really matured in that studio, most notably ‘Jungle Jazz‘ (1930), with its surreal African creatures, and ‘Pencil Mania‘ (1932), with its characters drawing things in mid air, like the Do-Do does in Clampett’s cartoon.

However, ‘Porky in Wackyland’ mostly is the product of an evolution at the Warner Bros. studio itself, which started in 1935, when Tex Avery arrived. Since then Avery, Frank Tashlin and Bob Clampett had already experienced with natural law-defying and dimension-breaking cartoon scenes, but in ‘Porky in Wackyland’ these are unleashed full throttle. Anti-realism starts immediately, when the newspaper boy enters the title card, but it goes totally bezerk in Wackyland.  Indeed, a sign says (with voice over): “It CAN happen here!”. What follows is a string of totally surreal and loony scenes, like a rabbit swinging on his own ears, which somehow hang in empty air, or a dog-cat-hybrid attacking itself.

The scenes with the Do-Do are even more outlandish. The Do-Do is a.o. able to pull a giant brick wall out of nothing, to sit behind a window, which floats in empty space, and he even appears on the WB logo, which suddenly appears from the horizon with the sole reason to make the Do-Do knock out Porky. The list is endless, and most of the action has to be seen to be believed.

All this weirdness is greatly enhanced by Stalling’s intoxicating score, a multitude of strange sounds and voices, and outlandish background paintings, which are sometimes reminiscent of the work of George Herriman and Cliff Sterrett (there are three simultaneous moons in one scene), and sometimes completely abstract, like the one in the scene in which Porky meets the Do-Do. All this makes ‘Porky in Wackyland’ the most surreal cartoon since Max Fleischer’s ‘Snow-White‘ (1933). In fact, Porky in Wackyland is more surreal even than most cartoons following it, and stands in a league of its own. Even if Bob Clampett would not have made any other cartoon, he would have been glorified just for this masterpiece of genuine silliness and imagination.

‘Porky in Wackyland’ was remade in 1949 in color as ‘Dough for the Do-Do‘, but now with totally different backgrounds, connecting its surreal aspects to fine art surrealism, most obviously Salvador Dalí.

Watch ‘Porky in Wackyland’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 46
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Wholly Smoke
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Naughty Nephew

‘Porky’s Double Trouble’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’, and on the DVD-sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume One’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 14, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Sally Swing © Max FleischerThis short opens with Betty Boop is looking for a singer to lead a swing band at the university ball.

Unfortunately, no one in the audition room qualifies. Luckily she discovers that the cleaning lady is a natural talent in swinging, ans she hires her on the spot.

In a smooth overlaying cut we are immediately transferred to the ball night. We watch Sally Swing performing her own theme music to intoxicating swing music for the remainder half of the film. Exit story, although during this swing part there’s some rudimentary story of an old professor who somehow doesn’t approve, but who’s caught by the swing music anyway.

The second half is joyous and captures the swing craze that had taken over America. But this section is hampered by lame gags, and ugly and old-fashioned animation, a problem the complete cartoon suffers from. It seems that Betty Boop had become the victim of the Fleischers’ move to Florida and the start of animation on their feature project, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. While for this project Fleischer attracted top animators, the lesser talents apparently had to work on Betty Boop cartoons. Even the animation on contemporary Popeye cartoons is much more flexible and inspired.

Even worse, Sally Swing is anything but an appealing character. In fact, she hasn’t got any character traits, at all. If the Fleischers had planned to make her their next star, this plan was doomed to fail, as stars devoid of character had become obsolete since ca. 1936. In any case, after this cartoon Sally Swing was never seen again.

For this short Betty Boop has been re-designed to look more human. Unfortunately, the restyling isn’t a success: she also looks a little more angular, less appealing, and if possible, less sexy than she already had become by the late 1930s. Nevertheless, Betty’s quite boring new design would stay up to her last cartoon.

Watch ‘Sally Swing’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 76
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy the Watchman

To the next Betty Boop cartoon: On with the New

‘Sally Swing’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: February 11, 1939
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Mama's New Hat © MGM‘Mama’s New Hat’ was the last entry of MGM’s ill-conceived ‘Captain and the Kids’ series, which ended prematurely after only fifteen cartoons, lasting only one year.

Surprisingly, it’s the series’ best entry, as for once the studio has tried to make a genuine gag cartoon.

The short opens with the two brats buying a new hat for their mother for mother’s day. Unfortunately they ruin it immediately by falling into the mud. So they exchange their muddy hat for one of a neighboring horse. The horse is not pleased, however, and tries to steal the hat back from Ma Katzenjammer. This leads to a long chase scene, making ‘Mama’s New Hat’ one of the earliest entries in a genre that would become standard in the 1940s and 1950s.

The short suffers from inner logic, but it builds up nicely to a grand finale, and it’s surprisingly full of inventive gags, the one in which the horse turns into a plane as a highlight. This is imaginative storytelling at its best.

‘Mama’s New Hat’ still is no masterpiece, but it’s better than all the other ‘Captain and the Kids’ cartoons, and the only one looking forward. It shows that the young studio’s team was capable of more. Friz Freleng, of course, would further prove his worth back at Warner Bros., the others only came into their own with the arrival of MGM stars ‘Tom and Jerry’, who made their debut two years later.

‘Mama’s New Hat’ contains a scene in which we watch a supposed pursuit in a large house from the outside (using a moving pan with a lot of sound effects). This gag was reused much later in the Tom & Jerry short ‘The Flying Cat‘ (1952).

Watch ‘Mama’s New Hat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mama’s New Hat’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: January 28, 1939
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating:
Review:

Seal Skinners © MGMIn ‘Seal Skinners’ a million dollar seal has escaped and a ten thousand dollar reward has been promised to anyone who can bring him back.

Somehow, both the captain and the kids, his arch rival Long John Silver and an unknown Eskimo are at the North Pole, waiting for the escaped animal. At one point Long John Silver dresses as a seal himself. When the captain and the kids discover the scam, they roll him into a barrel and shake him like a cocktail. This is arguably the best gag in an otherwise remarkably unfunny cartoon, which ends with no conclusion.

‘Seal Skinners’ features some excellent animation, and Scott Bradley’s score is pretty inspired, but these aspects cannot save the cartoon, which suffers from lack of inner logic, and an absence of appealing characters.

Watch ‘Seal Skinners’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Seal Skinners’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: December 17, 1938
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Captain's Christmas © MGM‘The Captain’s Christmas’ is the first of only two ‘Captain and the Kids’ cartoons in color.

Color definitely adds some charm to the series, as does the presence of the foe Long John Silver and his three helpers, and the result is one of the better ‘Captain and the Kids’ cartoons.

Watching the captain playing Santa, Long John Silver decides to steal the captain’s act, and, dressed as Santa, descends down the chimney. He plays his part jollily alright, but also very violently, destroying all the kids’ toys. In an all too typical 1930s morale, the villain is reprimanded by his own younger self.

So, Long John Silver thinks up a plan, and with his men goes singing Christmas Carols in a village inexplicably inhabited with Santa Clauses. Silver and his men do their best, but soon the Santas are disgusted by their act, and start throwing toys at the bunch. Thus, the four scoundrels can flood the Captain’s house with toys.

‘The Captain’s Christmas’ is joyous, if nowhere near classic, and full of the Christmas spirit. Unfortunately, its story is rather weird than engaging, and the carol singing sequence just makes no sense. Moreover, none of the songs are really memorable, and one has the feeling that a lot of money and animation talent is wasted on this cartoon, which, after all, remains mediocre.

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

‘The Captain’s Christmas’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: June 25, 1938
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating:
Review:

A Day at the Beach © MGM‘A Day at the Beach’ features the complete Katzenjammer family frolicking at the beach.

The film lacks any story, and consists of an unrelated string of repetitive gags whose only reason of existence seems to demonstrate that one can milk a gag to nausea. For example, there’s almost endless footage of the captain battling with a jumpy sun for some shade, and there’s a running ‘gag’ of the ocean destroying grandpa’s der inspector’s sand castle.

Only when Ma almost drowns, the cartoon gains something of a momentum. The film’s best feature, however, is it depiction of drunken sea creatures, a very small highlight in an otherwise endlessly boring film.

Watch ‘A Day at the Beach’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Day at the Beach’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 16, 1938
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating: ★★
Review:

Poultry Pirates © MGMIn 1937 MGM decided to start its very own studio, after having distributed cartoons by Ub Iwerks (1930-1934) and Harman-Ising. They put Fred Quimby, a producer famous for having neither animation experience nor any sense of humor, in charge.

Quimby hired virtually Harman & Ising’s complete staff away. He also hired some talent from other studios, most notably Jack Zander and Joe Barbera, who would later work on Tom & Jerry, and Friz Freleng. Quimby lured Freleng away from Leon Schlesinger by flattery and by offering him a much larger salary. Freleng stayed less than a year at MGM before happily returning to Warner Bros.

Freleng’s talents were wasted on ‘The Captain and the Kids’, a series based on the classic comic strip of the same name by Rudolph Dirks. MGM had bought the rights to this comic strip, and insisted to make a series out of them. The strip had been around since 1897 (first as ‘The Katzenjammer Kids’), and really felt as coming from another era. Amidst the days of Donald Duck, Daffy Duck and Popeye, these characters were hopelessly old-fashioned, and Freleng struggled to create any fun with them. Consequently, none of the Captain and the Kids cartoons have become classics.

Nevertheless, Freleng’s films were still better than that of other people directing the ill-conceived series, which was, in the end, a failure. In total, Freleng directed six Captain and the Kids cartoons, and one stand-alone cartoon called ‘The Bookworm’, before returning to the greener pastures of the Leon Schlesinger studio.

Of Freleng’s Captain and the Kids cartoons, ‘Poultry Pirates’ is the first. It stars the captain, only, who tries to keep a bunch of chickens and ducks out of his vegetable garden, to no avail. At one point he has to fight a six feet tall rooster, but that happens to be part of a dream.

There’s very little to enjoy in ‘Poultry Pirates’. The animators do no attempts to lip synch, neither the captain nor the chicks gain and sympathy, the story drags on, and the result is frustratingly unfunny.

Watch ‘Poultry Pirates’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Poultry Pirates’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Elmer Perkins
Release Date: October 5, 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

‘Hollywood Bowl’ merges two genres that had become quite popular by the late 1930s: the concert cartoon and the Hollywood caricature cartoon. The result is pretty uneven, but nonetheless, ‘Hollywood Bowl’ is one of the most original cartoons to sprout from the Walter Lantz studio.

The short opens with a gala night at the Hollywood Bowl, with several famous stars in the crowd, e.g. Edward G. Robinson, Hugh Herbert, Greta Garbo, Groucho Marx, Clark Cable, Charles Laughton, Ned Sparks, Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields, and Charlie.

Leopold Stokowski is the conductor, conducting Franz Schubert’s unfinished symphony with the help of a few gloves. This leads to a great and very imaginative scene, in which we watch ghostly images of the gloves playing instruments on a black screen, and Stokowski casting a huge shadow on the bowl, which changes into a greyhound, which changes into a swallow. At that point this poetic part cuts back to the Hollywood caricatures.

As Schubert has left the symphony unfinished (quite literally), it’s up to the stars to finish it, Hollywood style, which means that radio star Ben Bernie starts conducting a swinging tune, with help of Fats Waller, Rudy Vallee, Benny Goodman, Fred Astaire, Jack Benny and Cab Calloway. This part reuses a lot of animation, and is a not too convincing end to the cartoon.

‘Hollywood Bowl’ is a very interesting entry in Walter Lantz’s oeuvre, but it’s harmed by a lack of story, rather bad voice imitations and at times sloppy animation. Nevertheless, the Schubert sequence is no less than marvelous, and the cartoon’s opening is greatly helped by Frank Churchill’s inspired score, which is simply packed with countless classical tunes. Notice that some of the backgrounds use photographic material, a very rare feat in classic cartoons.

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

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

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: December 16, 1938
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Cracked Ice © Warner Bros.‘Cracked Ice’ looks like Frank Tashlin’s answer to Walt Disney’s ‘On Ice‘ (1935).

However, the familiar scene of animals skating is enhanced by the presence of a pig, who is an excellent caricature of W.C. Fields, both in voice and design. When he discovers the liquor storage of a phlegmatic St. Bernard, the pig goes at lengths to retrieve the alcohol. His best scene is in which he tries to get the drinks by talking to the dog, in real W.C. Fields style. In another great scene the pig goes into discussion with someone in the audience. The cartoon ends with an elaborate magnet gag, but it’s the man in the audience, who has the last laugh.

‘Cracked Ice’ is an entertaining film, if not a too spectacular one. It was Frank Tashlin’s last film at Warner Bros. for the time being, and his unit was taken over by Chuck Jones. Tashlin left Warner Bros. for Walt Disney, where he worked on films like ‘Donald’s Vacation’ and ‘Mr. Mouse Takes A Trip’ (both 1940). However, the Disney studio was not his style, and he interchanged it for Columbia in 1941, working on the ‘Fox and Crow’ series. By June 1942 he was back at Warner Bros. where he would direct some superb films, like ‘Plane Daffy‘ and ‘The Stupid Cupid’ (both 1944).

Watch ‘Cracked Ice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cracked Ice’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: November 5, 1938
Rating: ★★½
Review:

You're an Education © Warner Bros.With ‘You’re an Education’ Frank Tashlin rounds up his trio of contributions to the Warner Bros. books-come-to-life-cartoons.

As with the earlier ‘Speaking of the Weather’ (1937) and ‘Have You Got Any Castles?‘ (1938) the cartoon consists of a bunch of musical routines, followed by an embryonic story of all characters trying to catch a criminal. This time the setting is a travel agency, and all gags and puns come from countries, cities and other places around the world.

‘You’re an Education’ is less lush than ‘Have You Got Any Castles?’ was, and feels like a repetition of the former film. However, the film moves at an incredible speed. The opening sequence, in particular, is rich in events, with the music changing quickly, forming a dazzling medley. The title song is sung by three fat black ladies, while the criminal is a guy from Bagdad stealing from the Transvaal Kimberly Diamond Mines. The film ends with the Bagdad criminal joining the Lone Ranger, a popular fictional radio star that had come to the movie screen in February 1938.

Watch ‘You’re an Education’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘You’re an Education’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: October 8, 1938
Rating:
Review:

Little Pancho Vanilla © Warner Bros.‘Little Pancho Vanilla’ is one of Frank Tashlin’s particularly Silly Symphony-like Merrie Melodies. Indeed, the short’s star, Little Pancho Vanilla, looks like a grumpy cousin of Disney’s Little Hiawatha (1937).

Pancho dreams of becoming a bullfighter, especially when his three sisters admire a Clark Gable-like toreador. To prove his worth Little Pancho Vanilla rushes off to the arena, trying to join a group of amateur toreadors, to no avail. However, he accidentally lands inside, crashing the bull by falling on it, twice, and thus becoming a success.

There’s little to enjoy in ‘Little Pancho Vanilla’, the main hero is far from sympathetic, and the bullfight scenes are hardly interesting. The best gag is when the bull kicks all amateurs in all corners as if they were billiard balls. The end gag, however, only depicts these Mexicans as ignorant people.

At best Warner Bros. produced Silly Symphonies-lookalikes like this cartoon were better than Fleischer’s attempts in the same field, but it was a good thing Warner Bros. soon moved away from them, and embraced their own unique cartoon style wholeheartedly.

Watch ‘Little Pancho Vanilla’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Little Pancho Vanilla’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: June 4, 1938
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Porky the Fireman © Warner Bros.‘Porky the Fireman’ is a delightful entry in the fire fighting canon, able to compete with great entries like Disney’s ‘The Fire Fighters‘ (1930) and ‘Mickey’s Fire Brigade‘ (1935).

The short wastes no time, and immediately plunges into action when the fire brigade rushes to the burning building, in a great perspective shot featuring animated backgrounds. These animated backgrounds are an example of some remarkably Fleischer-like gags typical for this cartoon.

Porky does his best, but the best laughs go to an extraordinarily phlegmatic dog who, when Porky yells to him to open the fire hydrant walks a great distance on a leisurely speed only to ask our hero ‘what’d you say?’.

The cartoon ends in a typical Tashlin-montage, placing several earlier scenes on top of each other to create an effect of chaos. Despite Porky’s attempts, the complete building burns down, and one flame has the last laugh.

Watch ‘Porky the Fireman’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 41
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Injun Trouble
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Party

‘Porky the Fireman’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: May 14, 1938
Rating: ★★
Review:

Now That Summer Is Gone © Warner Bros.While Tex Avery and Bob Clampett were experimenting with a cartoon style totally different from Disney, Frank Tashlin made some Merrie Melodies that were still surprisingly Silly Symphonies-like.

‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ is one of the most conspicuous of them all, opening with autumn images of numerous squirrels collecting nuts for the winter. The industrious ways in which the squirrels collect nuts hark all the way back to early Silly Symphonies like ‘Autumn‘ (1930), ‘The Busy Beavers‘ (1931) and ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ (1933). In any case these opening sequences feature complex scenes and lush production values.

This setting gives way to a story about a young squirrel who’s addicted to gambling. When his father orders him to collect nuts at the ‘First Nutional Bank’ he loses it all to a mustached stranger. In the end, it turns out to be the father himself, who gives the lying little brat a big spanking.

This humorless and cloying morality tale places ‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ deeply in the second half of the 1930s. Nevertheless, it’s still enjoyable to watch Tashlin’s experimental cinematography at play.

Watch ‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: April 22, 1939
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur © Warner Bros.After directing four films with stars of his own, fledgling director Chuck Jones first directed a major Warner Bros. Star in ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’.

Jones does a fairly good job in trying to capture the wacky spirit of contemporary cartoons by Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, although his animation is more Disney-like than that of his peers.

Daffy’s adversary is a grumpy caveman called Caspar, whose surprisingly elaborate design and voice anticipate Elmer Fudd a little. The dinosaur of the title is called Fido. He is the caveman’s pet, and a large brontosaur. However, the dinosaur hardly comes into action, and most of the comedy is between the duck and the caveman.

There are some nice gags, but highlight is the non-animated gag of an enormous string of billboards leading to a duck dinner. Jones is still uncertain with Daffy as a character, but let’s be fair, so was even Tex Avery himself at this point – and he invented the duck. Jones’s caveman in fact is a better opponent to Daffy than Avery’s Egghead was. However, only with his third Daffy Duck film, ‘My Favorite Duck‘ (1942), Jones directed the character to great comic effect.

Watch ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Daffy Duck cartoon No. 6
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: Daffy Duck in Hollywood
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: Scalp Trouble

‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3’

 

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: January 1, 1938
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Daffy Duck and Egghead © Warner Bros.‘Daffy Duck and Egghead’ marks Daffy Duck’s second appearance. The short is the first film carrying Daffy’s name, and his first one in color.

The cartoon uses exactly the same premise as the first one, ‘Porky’s Duck Hunt’ (1937), but now with Egghead as the hapless hunter. Egghead never was much of a character, and Avery deliberately changed him for this cartoon, giving him a Moe-Howard-like hairdo, but otherwise making him less loony than before, and more of a straight man. Daffy Duck, on the other hand, is completely wild in this cartoon, and sings about himself on the melody of ‘The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down’, an idea that was copied in the feature film ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?‘ from 1988.

Avery and story man Ben Hardaway tell some great gags here: for example, Egghead shooting down a man in the audience who won’t sit down, and a random turtle suddenly breaking in and ordering the duo to duel. This colorful short surely couldn’t be hardly be more removed from Disney for a 1938 cartoon. The Warner Bros. cartoon studio clearly was on its own course. However, Avery’s timing is still unsteady, wearing down the fun, especially in Egghead’s tiresome slow reactions to the duck’s antics.

Watch ‘Daffy Duck and Egghead’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Daffy Duck cartoon No. 2
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: Porky’s Duck Hunt
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: Porky and Daffy

‘Daffy Duck and Egghead’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3’

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Mony a Pickle © Norman McLaren‘Mony a Pickle’ is a compilation film for the British ‘General Post Office’, made by several directors. In his contribution Norman McLaren turns to his homeland Scotland to tell a story about a poor young couple, still living with their family, but dreaming of a place of their own.

The dream sequence transforms the poor and crowded living room into a new stylish one, and uses a lot of stop motion of furniture. There’s a humorous sequence in which the two lovers argue about the legs of a table, which change back and forth for our very eyes. Unfortunately, in the end a little brother scatters all their dreams and puts them back into reality again.

‘Mony a Pickle’ is a nice blend of live action and stop-motion. The stop motion sequences in a long tradition of furniture animation, which started with Stuart J. Blackton’s ‘The Haunted Hotel’ (1908). McLaren’s animation is not too remarkable, but effective, and completely in service of the story.

‘Mony a Pickle’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1938
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Love on the Wing © Norman McLarenIn the late 1930s Scottish film maker Norman McLaren made several films for the British Post, like the promotional live action films ‘Book Bargain’ (1937) about how telephone books were made, and ‘News for the Navy’ about how letters were delivered worldwide.

Much more interesting than these films, however, is the small advertisement film McLaren made for Empire Air Mail, ‘Love on the Wing’. The film is clearly strongly influenced by the surreal movement. It uses, for example, music from Jacques Ibert’s quirky ‘Divertissement’, which was by that time only eight years old, and the film’s opening images are reminiscent of works by Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí.

In ‘Love on the Wing’ McLaren’s exploits his trademark technique of drawing direct on film, and he combines these images with beautiful painted and highly surreal backgrounds, reminiscent of the otherworldly landscape paintings by Giorgio De Chirico and Yves Tanguy.

The film tells a little love story, but is wildly associative, with metamorphosis and symbolism simply exploding from the screen. The three protagonists change into letters and back again, as well in numerous other symbols of love. So much is happening in the mere four minutes, it leaves the viewer breathless.

‘Love on the Wing’ surely must be one of the most avant-garde advertisement films ever made, and the short is without doubt McLaren’s first animated masterpiece.

Watch ‘Love on the Wing’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Love on the Wing’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 19, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Bulldozing the Bull © Max FleischerIn ‘Bulldozing the Bull’ we suddenly find Popeye in either Mexico or Spain, fancying a latin version of Olive Oyl.

Popeye follows the Spanish Olive into the arena, but is suddenly forced to fight the bull himself, something he already had done in his third cartoon ‘I Eats My Spinach‘ (1933).

In that cartoon Popeye beat the bull into a meat market, but five years later he refuses to fight the bull, because it’s inhuman to do so. Indeed, the cartoon clearly turns anti-bullfighting, and in the end Popeye sings ‘Don’t be a bullfighter, because kindness is righter’ to his own tune.

This is all a clear result of the role model Popeye had become over the years. Indeed, already in Segar’s Sunday Pages, Popeye had been promoting kindness to animals and other gentle behavior. It’s this original mix of kindness and violence that made Popeye such a wonderful comic character, and in this film the Fleischers play that combination to an excellent effect.

Watch ‘Bulldozing the Bull’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bulldozing the Bull’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 29, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

I Yam Love Sick © Max Fleischer‘I Yam Love Sick’ opens with Olive Oyl reading a romance.

Popeye drops by, but Olive ignores him completely. Later she explains she has a new boyfriend now, Bluto. To win her back, Popeye feigns to fall very ill. This leads to a bizarre, and rather surreal series of hospital scenes, in which weird bearded doctors try to examine Popeye. In the end Popeye reveals he was only fooling, only to get clobbered by Olive.

‘I Yam Love Sick’ is full of delightful nonsense. The best gag is when Olive steps out of the panel to address the audience with an ‘is there a doctor in the house?’.

Watch ‘I Yam Love Sick’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘I Yam Love Sick’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

 

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: June 25, 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Have You Got Any Castles © Warner Bros.‘Have You Got any Castles?’ is the second of Frank Tashlin’s three contributions to the Warner Bros. books-come-to-life-cartoons, a type of short unique to this studio. 

The cartoon doesn’t really have any story, but is built around four songs, of which the song ‘Have You Got Any Castles’ , from the film ‘The Varsity Show’ (1937) is the last.

This entry is one of the most Silly Symphony-like of all, starting with a particular lush opening, in which a town crier casts a huge shadow on a library. There’s also some beautiful shading on this character (a caricature of radio man Alexander Walcott) himself.

The Silly Symphony-like lushness notwithstanding, the cartoon is full of gags and caricatures of a.o. Greta Garbo, Cab Calloway (while Heidi sings hi-de-hi), Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and W.C. Fields. The animation is surprisingly mature, and shows how the Warner Bros. studio had improved in only a few years. The human figures are particularly lifelike, highlight being the town crier, and some scarcely dressed black ladies dancing to the swinging score.

The film features best-sellers from the 1920’s and 1930’s like ‘Topper’ (1926) by Thorne Smith, ‘Green Pastures’ (1929) by Marc Connelly, and ‘The Good Earth’ (1932) by Pearl S. Buck, which had been made into a film in 1937. It also revisits and improves on the thin man gag from ‘Speaking of the Weather’ (1937).

When the three musketeers rescue the prisoner of Zenda, the cartoon suddenly bursts into a frantic finale, with all kinds of book characters shooting at the four characters. After this frenzy we return to the town crier, rounding off this wonderful cartoon perfectly.

Watch ‘Have You Got any Castles?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Have You Got any Castles?’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2’

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