Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: November 19, 1938
Rating: ★★½
Review:

In ‘A Night Watchman’ a young kitten has to replace his sick father to be the night watchman in a kitchen.

The kitten soon encounters some large tough mice led by a real gangster type, and they bully him, until the kitten’s conscience gets the better of him, and makes him fighting back. Soon he clobbers all the mice one by one, and back into their hole.

‘The Night Watchman’ was the very first cartoon directed by Chuck Jones, who took over Frank Tashlin’s unit when Tashlin left Schlesinger. In his first short Jones clearly continues the rather Disneyesque style of Frank Tashlin’s Merrie Melodies. The short even contains a clear Tashlin-like montage scene.

Despite the detectable Disney-influence, ‘The Night Watchman’ is a clear Warner Bros. product, thanks to Stallings’ peppy music, Treg Brown’s idiosyncratic sound effects, and a fast gag scene in which we watch the mice eating in ridiculous ways.

Nevertheless, in true mid-1930s fashion, the kitten is cute, not funny, and the action is hold up by a catchy jazz number on the 1905 hit song ‘In the Shade of the Apple Tree’, including a vocal trio and a big band take. This number shows the Merrie Melodies’ raison d’être: to showcase songs from the Warner Bros. publicity catalog.

Jones’s earliest output is often regarded as slow and rather boring. Indeed, it’s hard to call ‘The Night Watchman’ a classic, and nowhere Jones’s signature can be detected. Moreover, when compared to contemporary cartoons by Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, the short seems to belong to another world. Yet, the cartoon is nicely animated, and in fact much more enjoyable than other Disney imitations of the time, e.g. Fleischer’s Color Classics.

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

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

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Director: Jack King
Release Date: April 28, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Hockey Champ © Walt Disney‘The Hockey Champ’ easily is one of the best Donald Duck cartoons of the 1930s.

Unlike ‘Good Scouts’ or ‘Donald’s Golf Game’, this short is fast paced, full of gags, speed lines and chase scenes, looking forward to the 1940s, the age of chase cartoons. The cartoon opens wonderfully with Donald Duck performing some impressive figure skating, and imitating Norwegian world champion and movie star Sonja Henie.

His performance is interrupted by Huey, Dewey and Louie playing ice hockey, and Donald Duck challenges the trio to a game. He indeed shows some impressive ice hockey skills, playing all by himself, in a scene recalling Max Hare playing tennis with himself in ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ (1935). This is a speedy scene for a 1939 cartoon, but when the Huey, Dewey and Louie take revenge, this speed is retained. There’s a wonderfully silly chase scene underneath the snow, with the hockey sticks acting as periscopes, and, needless to say, the haughty Donald is finally defeated by his nephews.

‘The Hockey Champ’ is an important step towards the faster cartoon style of the 1940s, and still a delight to watch, in contrast to contemporary Donald Duck cartoons, which are as beautifully made, but unfortunately less funny.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 8
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Lucky Day
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Cousin Gus

‘The Hockey Champ’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: January 13, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Donald's Lucky Day © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Lucky Day’ starts with the shadows of two gangsters making a time bomb to be delivered by a messenger boy.

The messenger boy in question is Donald Duck. Unfortunately, it’s Friday the 13th, and superstitious Donald desperately tries to avoid a ladder, a mirror and a black cat. In the end the black cat saves him by accident, hence the title.

Donald Duck is the sole star of this cartoon, but apart from his antics with the cat in the harbor, there’s little to enjoy. And because of Jack King’s slow timing, one has ample time to admire the beautiful, realistic background paintings, successfully evoking the atmosphere of a misty harbor quarter by night.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 7
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Golf Game
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Hockey Champ

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

Director: Jack King
Release Date: November 4, 1938
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★
Review:

Donald's Golf Game © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Golf Game’ is the third film featuring Donald and the nephews.

Donald’s in for a game of golf, and it’s clear he only uses his nephews to be caddies, without granting them anything. Naturally, the nephews take matters in their own hand, with ‘Goofy Golf Clubs’: one changes into a net, another into an umbrella, and a third one into a boomerang. Soon Donald is stuck in a rubber band, while the three brats are playing the field.

‘Donald’s Golf Game’ is a genuine gag cartoon, but once again Jack King’s timing is ridiculously slow, spoiling otherwise fine gags. In the family’s fourth outing, ‘The Hockey Champ’ (1939), this problem was finally over. Al Taliaferro would set the stage before the film, letting Donald Duck play golf in his daily comic strip from October 24 to November 5.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 6
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Good Scouts
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Lucky Day

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

Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: July 29, 1938
Stars: Donald Duck, Goofy, cameos by Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Fox Hunt (1938) © Walt Disney‘The Fox Hunt’ is the second entry in the Donald & Goofy mini-series. In fact, Mickey, Minnie, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabella Cluck are also present, but only shortly, and first only as shadows.

Donald gets most of the screen time, devoted to his antics with five unruly bloodhounds and a sly fox. Goofy gets only one scene, in which his horse refuses to jump. This part shows a novelty: when we watch Goofy and his horse being under water, we’re watching a new technique involving distortion glasses to make the water more convincing. This technique would become very important in the elaborate ocean scenes in Disney’s second feature film ‘Pinocchio’ (1940), for which these few seconds are only the try-out.

‘The Fox Hunt’ clearly borrows from the early Silly Symhony of the same name. The Donald and Goofy version copies the shot with the hunters being shadows in the distance, and the end gag with the skunk. The Donald and Goofy cartoons were not among Disney’s best, and ‘The Fox Hunt’, too, is only average.

‘The Fox Hunt’ was the last short directed by Ben Sharpsteen, and like Jack King, he favors an all too relaxed timing in this short, hampering the comedy. Sharpsteen had already been a sequence director for ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937), and for ‘Pinocchio’ he was promoted to supervising director. From now on he would work on feature films, solely, until the early 1950s, when he moved on to True-Life adventures.

Carl Barks, who was a story man at the time this short was made, revisited the fox hunting theme in his 1948 comic ‘Foxy Relations’, which is much funnier than this film.

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

‘The Fox Hunt’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: July 8, 1938
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Good Scouts © Walt Disney‘Good Scouts’ immediately follows ‘Donald’s Nephews‘, and is the second Donald Duck cartoon featuring Huey, Dewey and Louie. This short shows that the nephews certainly were good gag material.

In ‘Good Scouts’ the four ducks are scouts camping out in Yellowstone Park. When Donald tries to make a tent out of a bent tree, this causes a string of events, which finally leads to him ending on top of a rock on a geyser, followed by a large bear.

‘Good Scouts’ clearly establishes Donald as an unlikely and misguided authority figure. There’s no real antagonism between him and the nephews, however, and when Donald is stuck on top of the geyser the trio seriously tries to save him, only to make matters worse. ‘Good Scouts’ is a great gag cartoon, but like more Donald Duck cartoons from this period it suffers a little from Jack King’s rather relaxed timing. Nevertheless, it provided Donald Duck with his first of no less than eight Academy Award Nominations.

This film’s theme was reused in Al Taliaferro’s daily Donald Duck strip during July 18-30, 1938, shortly after the film’s release. The scout theme was, of course, revisited with gusto by Carl Barks when he made Donald’s nephews into Junior Woodchucks.

Watch ‘Good Scouts’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 5
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Nephews
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Golf Game

‘Good Scouts’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

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

Cops Is Always Right © Max FleischerIn ‘Cops Is Always Right’ Popeye gets fined several times: for riding against a policeman, for blowing a horn, for parking near a fire hydrant, for parking in front of a fire station.

Actually, he’s trying to help Olive with her spring cleaning, but he’s constantly hindered by the same police officer. The comedy of this cartoon is flawless. It’s well-timed and makes clever use of a string of running gags, beautifully intertwined into one logical story.

Unfortunately, the short’s finale is disappointing. When Popeye accidentally hits the cop with a flower pot he locks himself in, as he always respects the law. This unfunny and cloying, law-abiding end hampers the cartoon, which otherwise would have been one of Popeye’s best.

‘Cops Is Always Right’ is noteworthy for lacking spinach, and for its unique type of comedy, which in many ways has more in common with Laurel and Hardy than with other Popeye cartoons. The short also shows how goody-goody Popeye had become. Although the cop pictured is far from sympathetic, Popeye remains über-calm, and never even thinks of knocking him down. His superhuman strength is strictly reserved for the cleaning of Olive’s house.

‘Cops Is Always Right’ is the last Popeye cartoon to be staged in the distinct New York environment. In 1938 the Fleischer studio had moved to Miami Florida, opening their new studio in October. From now on, Popeye’s surroundings would be generally spacier and sunnier than ever before.

Watch ‘Cops Is Always Right’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cops Is Always Right’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 18, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

A Date to Skate © Max FleischerPopeye invites Olive into a roller skating hall.

The unwilling Olive is no roller skate talent, however, and after some antics inside the hall, she accidentally skates outside and into the streets. It’s up to Popeye to rescue her. Unfortunately, he has forgotten his spinach, but luckily somebody in the audience can give him a can. This particular gag is rare but undeniable influence of the new Warner Bros. cartoon style on the Fleischer cartoons. The rest of the cartoon retains Fleischer’s unique and charming style.

‘A Date to Skate’ is in no way a classic, but it’s enjoyable from start to end, and gains particular speed when Olive is lost on the streets. There’s a great scene in which she manages to skate inside a department store, and another one in which she and Popeye make a long descend – a scene that seems to make use of a ridiculously long background painting, even though some parts are clearly reused.

Watch ‘A Date to Skate’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Date to Skate’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 21, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Poopdeck Pappy
Rating:  ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Goonland © Max Fleischer‘Goonland’ is a pivotal Popeye cartoon, which introduces two characters from E.C. Segar’s famous comic strip to the movie screen: the goons and Poopdeck Pappy.

The short opens with Popeye sailing an unknown sea in search for his father. He lands on a volcanic island, which is clearly doomed, as witnessed by the number of shipwrecks around it. The island turns out to be Goonland, inhabited by ‘Goons’, large, hairy humanoid creatures with superhuman strength. Indeed, even though Popeye doesn’t show any fear, he remains as long in hiding as possible, and only dares to confront the goons when disguised as one.

Goonland indeed turns out to be the home of  Popeye’s dad, Poopdeck Pappy, locked in a prison and playing checkers with himself. But Poopdeck Pappy doesn’t want to be rescued, and only comes into action, when Popeye is captured by the goons. In this short Popeye fails to reach his spinach, but his dad succeeds, rescuing his son before a bunch of goons jump at the duo. At this point the film breaks, making all the goons falling off into oblivion. Two hands stitch the film back together, and in the end we watch Poopdeck Pappy carrying his son from the island, the two singing Popeye’s signature song together.

‘Goonland’ is easily one of the all time best Popeye cartoons. Its settings, its characters, its story, Jack Mercer’s improvisation – everything is really great in this cartoon. Goonland is conceived wonderfully, and this part excels in beautiful background images. Jack Mercer is in top form. For example when Popeye disguises himself as a goon, he says ‘here today, goon tomorrow’. Later, when tiny rocks fall on him he mumbles ‘Guess somebody’s trying to rock me to sleep’.

Poopdeck Pappy, who’s also voiced by Mercer, is a strong character and an easy match to Popeye himself. Moreover, the story is truly exciting, as the goons are clearly no small fry for our hero. Indeed, the inventive film break gag, probably the first of its kind, is actually a deus ex machina , appearing when father and son are in undeniable dire straits.

The short also features some beautiful animation, most notably that of Poopdeck Popeye breaking his prison walls. In this scene we can really feel the sheer power of his action. Despite being such a wonderful character, the studio would wait two years before bringing Poopdeck Pappy back to the screen in ‘My Pop, My Pop’ (1940). Poopdeck Pappy would star some of Popeye’s best cartoons, like ‘With Poopdeck Pappy’ (1940) and ‘Problem Pappy’ (1941).

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

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 23, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Mutiny Ain't Nice © Max Fleischer‘Mutiny Ain’t Nice’ is one of the rarer Popeye cartoons in which we watch our amiable sailor actually sailing.

The cartoon starts with Popeye preparing ship and saying goodbye to Olive, who, as a woman, cannot board ship because she will bring bad luck. Olive, however, lands on Popeye’s ship by accident, and as soon as she’s discovered by the crew, a mutiny starts. With help of spinach, Popeye rounds up his crew single-handed, chains them in one go and throws them into the hold.

Never mind the straight-forward story: ‘Mutiny Ain’t Nice’ is a fast and very enjoyable cartoon, greatly helped by Jack Mercer’s inspired ad-libbing and beautiful background art.

Watch ‘Mutiny Ain’t Nice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mutiny Ain’t Nice’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 26, 1939
Stars: Hunky and Spunky
Rating:  ★
Review:

Always Kickin' © Max Fleischer‘Always Kickin” sees the return of that infamous duo of burrows, Hunky and Spunky.

In the opening scene we watch Hunky teaching Spunky how to kick backwards. Next we watch Spunky trying to be like the birds. He fails at attempts to sing, to build a nest and to fly, and all the bird mock the little donkey. Then an evil vulture or eagle (it’s not very clear) arrives, and kidnaps one of the young birds, much to the distress of the other birds. Spunky comes to the rescue, using the newly learned kicking technique to kick the hell out of the evil bird. In the end we watch all the birds admiring Spunky’s kicking practice.

It’s difficult to say anything positive about this cartoon. Its story is so utterly cloying, its protagonists so terribly boring, and its timing so remarkably slow, it’s a real pain to sit it out. When one does so, the short’s seven-and-half minutes feel much, much longer… One can only guess what the Fleischers ever saw in their donkey duo, as they made yet another five cartoons with them.

Watch ‘Always Kickin” yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Always Kickin” is available on the DVD-set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 29, 1938
Rating:  ★★
Review:

The Fresh Vegetable Mystery © Max FleischerAlright, that’s something we had never seen before: anthropomorphized vegetables…

It’s night in a kitchen, and all vegetables are sound asleep, when an evil cloaked figure arrives and kidnaps mother carrot and her kids. The entire potato police force comes into action, but like in the Silly Symphony ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?‘ (1935) the police force only manages to arrest a bunch of innocents from a bar.

Most of the ‘humor’ origins in the typical tortures the police men apply to their victims to make them talk: a cob is made into popcorn, an orange squeezed out, a ‘hard-boiled’ egg fried. In fact, it’s rather painful to watch these scenes. In the end the villain turns out to be four mice, who are caught in a mouse trap, and immediately to start a fight among themselves.

‘The Fresh Vegetable Mystery’ makes little sense, and can hardly be called funny, but the cartoon is alleviated by its original setting (which anticipates ‘Sausage Party’ from 2016), making it stand out among more generic Color Classics.

Watch ‘The Fresh Vegetable Mystery’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Fresh Vegetable Mystery’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 28, 1938
Rating:  ★
Review:

The Playful Polar Bears © Max Fleischer‘The Playful Polar Bears’ starts with just that: playful Polar Bears.

Soon, we follow a disobedient little bear, who wants to catch a fish without entering the ice cold water. When a bunch of hunters arrive, all bears flee into an ice cave, except for the little one. When his mother finds him, she thinks he has been shot, which leads to an overlong mourning and funeral scene. Of course, the little one is unharmed, and in the end shot we watch the polar bears being playful again.

With ‘The Playful Polar Bears’ the Fleischer brothers hark all the way back to early Silly Symphonies like ‘Arctic Antics‘ (1930) and ‘Birds in the Spring‘ (1933), without adding anything new. It’s a great example of their misguided plagiarism of Disney’s Silly Symphonies series: there’s a protagonist, but nothing to let him gain the audience’s sympathy. There’s emotion, but it’s played out in the most standardized way. Thus in no frame we’re able to feel with the mother polar bear, whose emotions remain abstract and generic. Besides, the story lacks inner logic. In the opening shots it’s clearly established that the little polar bear hates the ice cold water, but nothing is done with this information. Moreover, the hunters are finally defeated by the deus ex machina of a snow storm, which sends their ship home.

So, in ‘The Playful Polar Bears’, there’s a lot happening on the screen, but nothing that’s remotely interesting. Films like these painfully showed what Disney had and what the Fleischers lacked. Luckily, they also made Popeye cartoons, which showed that the Fleischers really could make enjoyable cartoons, because in the Popeye series they could play their own game, instead of trying to imitate somebody else’s.

Watch ‘The Playful Polar Bears’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Playful Polar Bears’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 26, 1938
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

All's Fair at the Fair © Max FleischerIn ‘All’s Fair at the Fair’ an old-fashioned couple visits a world fair. This world fair is probably inspired by the coming New York fair of 1939, but Fleischers’ version is much more modern than any existing one.

Inside the fair, the couple encounters some crazy inventions, they get a beauty treatment by a couple of robots, which greatly rejuvenates them, and they dance with some other robots on a latin beat. In the end we watch them rushing off on a car seemingly made out of chewing gum.

As had already been demonstrated by the Grampy cartoons, the Fleischers were most inspired when technique was involved, and ‘All’s Fair at the Fair’ is their homage to modern technology, which they clearly regard with much more optimism than the Disney studio. ‘All’s Fair at the Fair’ is akin to the Donald Duck short ‘Modern Inventions‘ (1937), but unlike the machines in the Donald Duck cartoon, the machines depicted here have no downside, and everything goes well.

There’s very little to laugh in ‘All’s Fair at the Fair’, but the short excels in inventive scenes, and beautiful art deco background art, which make the cartoon stand out above the complete Color Classics series in sheer looks.

Watch ‘All’s Fair at the Fair’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘All’s Fair at the Fair’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: November 5, 1938
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Porky in Egypt © Warner Bros.This cartoon starts with the call for morning prayer in a dream Egypt, which has more in common with 1001 Arabian nights than with the real state during the 1930’s.

We watch three Arabs rolling dice, a sexy veiled woman, who turns out to be hideously ugly, and the antics a fakir. Then we cut to some tourists taking a tour on a multi-bumped camel into a desert.

Porky Pig is a little too late to join them, and follows the group on his own camel, called Humpty Dumpty. Unfortunately, once they’re in the desert, the burning sun hits the camel with desert madness. In a wonderful scene, the camel loses grip and starts to hallucinate. The hallucinating effect is greatly added by twirling background images. In this scene the acting of the camel is no less than superb. The sheer manic power of this acting is unprecedented in any animated cartoon, and a subtle milestone of animation.

Unfortunately, the complete cartoon is more strange than funny. Notice the multi-door gag, which is halfway between the ones in ‘The Mad Doctor‘ (1932) and ‘The Northwest Hounded Police‘ (1946).

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

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 48
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Naughty Nephew
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky the Gob

‘Porky in Egypt’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’, and on the DVD-sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

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’

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

Sally Swing © Max FleischerThis short opens with Betty Boop 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’

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