Director: Oskar Fischinger
Production Date:
 1930-1931
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Studie Nr. 7 © Oskar FischingerIn Fischinger’s study No. 7 , made in 1930-1931, the shapes of study no. 6 move to the 5th Hungarian dance by Johannes Brahms.

Like Study No. 6 Fischinger made this film with charcoal on paper. In this short the synchronization of music and movement is even better than in Study No. 6. Fischinger uses less diverse shapes than in No. 6, making the film more consistent. Some of them look like fluttering and folding pieces of paper.

According to William Moritz this particular film prompted four film makers into animation: Norman McLaren, Alexandre Alexeieff, Claire Parker and Len Lye. These four all became major players in avant-garde animation. This fact makes Study No. 7 one of the most important animation films in history.

Watch ‘Studie nr. 7’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Studie nr. 7′ is available on the DVD ‘Oskar Fischinger: Ten Films’

Director: Oskar Fischinger
Production Date:
 1930
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Studie Nr. 6 © Oskar FischingerIn this short study we watch white shapes moving on a black canvas to upbeat dance music (‘Los Verderones’ by Jacinto Guerrero).

Made with charcoal on paper, the result looks like a filmed sketch by Wassily Kandinsky. The only recognizable shape is an eye, which reoccurs a few times.

The twirling shapes are elegantly drawn, their movements match the jolly music perfectly, and there’s a feeling of gaiety that transcends the film’s abstraction.

In 1931 Oskar Fischinger’s friend Paul Hindemith and some of his students made new scores for this film, but unfortunately they were all lost in World War II.

Watch ‘Studie nr. 6’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.tudou.com/listplay/R8qsaMltb9Y.html

‘Studie nr. 6′ is available on the DVD ‘Oskar Fischinger: Ten Films’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 January 21, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Duck Hunt © Walt DisneyIn ‘The Duck Hunt’ Mickey and Pluto are hunting ducks.

Their attempts are quite circumstantial and fail due to the inferior quality of Mickey’s gun. When the ducks discover that the female duck is only Pluto in disguise, they take revenge by taking Pluto by the ears and drag him and Mickey, who has gripped Pluto’s tail, into the air.

‘The Duck Hunt’ is a gag cartoon similar to ‘The Moose Hunt‘. Unfortunately it isn’t very funny. A lot of screen time is devoted to Mickey and Pluto marching to civil war tunes, and Pluto’s and Mickey’s flight through the air fails to become the intended great finale, because of a lack of great gags, although I liked the gag of Pluto’s flees leaving his fall by parachuting from his behind.

‘The Duck Hunt’ shows that not every Disney cartoon was a winner, despite the studio’s obvious efforts.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 37
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Orphans
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Grocery Boy

‘Blue Rhythm’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 August 7, 1931
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Pluto?
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Blue Rhythm © Walt Disney‘Blue Rhythm’ is a genuine concert cartoon, in the vain of ‘The Opry House‘ (1929), ‘The Jazz Fool‘ (1929), ‘Just Mickey‘ (1930) and ‘The Barnyard Concert‘ (1930).

Something has happened however, for now Mickey and the gang are not performing for their own fun or at the barnyard, but they are giving a concert in a large theater. It thus predates similar concert cartoons like ‘The Band Concert (1935), Bugs Bunny’s ‘Rhapsody Rabbit‘ (1946), and Tom & Jerry’s ‘The Cat Concerto‘ (1947), introducing several piano and conductor gags.

This is one of those rare Disney cartoons in which the music performed can be unmistakably identified as jazz (in the earlier ‘The Jazz Fool’ this is not the case, despite the cartoon’s name). In fact, the cartoon is one great rendering of the St. Louis Blues (and not ‘Blue Rhythm’, a composition also popular in 1931, and recorded by Fletcher Henderson and Mills Blue Rhythm Band).

W.C. Handy’s classic song is first performed by Mickey on the piano, borrowing some tricks from Chico Marx. Then it is sung by Minnie, followed by some scatting by the both of them. Then Mickey and Minnie leave the stage, the curtain opens to reveal a big band, to which Mickey returns to conduct. And finally the blues is performed by Mickey on the clarinet, imitating bandleader Ted Lewis, complete with the entertainer’s typical top hat.

Minnie’s blues singing resembles contemporary female vaudeville blues singers (e.g. Gertrude Lawrence, Ethel Levey and Victoria Spivey) and the pig trumpeter performs in the growling jungle style of Bubber Miley, who was a trumpeter in Duke Ellington’s band. Mickey shows to be an all round entertainer, performing as a stride pianist, a scat singer, a conductor and a clarinetist. Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow, on the other hand, are clearly a percussionist and flutist, respectively, roles they would also have in ‘The Band Concert‘ (1935), the greatest of Mickey’s concert cartoons. Also featured in Mickey’s band is a dog who may or may not be Pluto, and who plays the trombone, disturbing Mickey while doing so.

Blue Rhythm is a great cartoon, from the opening scene, in which Mickey casts a huge shadow on the curtains to the grand finale in which the excited performance makes the stage collapse. This cartoon may have few gags, it is a delightful ode to music, and to jazz in particular.

Watch ‘Blue Rhythm’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 31
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey Steps Out
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Fishin’ Around

‘Blue Rhythm’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date: October 17, 1931
Stars: Bosko
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Bosko the Doughboy © Warner Bros.In ‘Bosko the Doughboy’ Bosko is a soldier during World War one.

The cartoon opens spectacularly with several war scenes, including an enemy soldier firing his automatic gun at the audience. The cartoon is completely plotless, and Bosko actually only does three things:

  1. trying to cook a meal and kissing the picture of his sweetheart, before both are bombed (echoing the Oswald cartoon ‘Great Guns‘ from 1927 on which Hugh Harman had worked as an animator);
  2. helping an officer to get rid of his flees;
  3. saving a hippo, who has swallowed a bomb, by zipping its body open.

The cartoon is remarkably violent, and there’s a lot of killing going on. For example, we watch literally a dog being shot to pieces. Because all the animals involved still have mechanical bodies (a legacy of Harman and Ising’s work on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit), pain is never suggested, and the violence remains cartoony. For example, the dog, after being shot, just walks away much shorter, while a bird with a hole in his body only collapses because he’s supposed to, not because he’s in pain.

Nevertheless, there’s little to enjoy in Bosko’s World War I cartoon, and even when fought out by practically invulnerable animals, it remains a disturbing event.

Watch ‘Bosko the Doughboy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bosko the Doughboy’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 September 5, 1931
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★
Review:

Polar Pals © Van BeurenIn the opening scene of ‘Polar Pals’, Tom & Jerry’s second cartoon, the duo is apparently shipwrecked at sea.

Fortunately they land at a Pole (which one never becomes clear), where they encounter a walrus and a penguin. Then four creatures order Tom to play some music on a piano, which he does in jazzy fashion, making all animals dance.

But somehow they provoke the animals’ anger, and in the end we watch them fleeing on a polar bear’s belly. This final scene sets the tone for several Tom & Jerry cartoons to come: Jungle Jam’ and ‘A Swiss Trick’ end with them fleeing, too.

Apart from the jazz-scene ‘Polar Pals’ is far from interesting. It’s less elaborate than ‘Wot a Night‘, its designs are poor and the animation often terrible. Van Beuren clearly hadn’t hit its stride, yet…

Watch ‘Polar Pals’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Polar Pals’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: John Foster & George Stallings
Release Date:
 August 1, 1931
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Wot A Night © Van BeurenIn 1931 the Van Beuren studio was strengthened by two new staff members, both veterans of the New York animation scene: George Stallings (1891-1963) and George Rufle (1901-1974).

The two transformed Waffles and Don into two new characters that became Van Beuren’s first real stars: Tom & Jerry (not to be confused with the later, much more famous cat and mouse duo). Unfortunately, Tom & Jerry are as bland as their models, sharing with the cat and dog their only character traits: in ‘Wot a Night’ Tom clearly has inherited Waffles’s fear, while Jerry remains calm. However, already after ‘Wot a Night’ these basic character traits evaporated. Yet, with their cheerful looks, the duo was more sympathetic than Waffles and Don ever were.

Tom & Jerry lasted until 1933, starring 27 cartoons, but ‘Wot a Night’ remains their finest film. It borrows a good dose of surrealism from the neighboring Max Fleischer studio, and it’s much better animated than any Van Beuren cartoon before the coming of Burt Gillett. Already in the opening scene there’s a lot of flexible animation when we watch a train coming in at a station. Moreover, there’s a great deal of rain and water effect animation not seen before at Van Beuren.

At the station Tom & Jerry are taxi drivers, picking up a couple of strange bearded men, whom they drop at a castle. Because the bearded men didn’t pay the ride, Tom & Jerry follow them inside the castle. Inside the two have a typical horror cartoon experience, similar to  ‘The Haunted House‘ (Mickey Mouse, 1929) and ‘The Haunted Ship‘ (Waffles and Don, 1930).  The story is not any more consistent than other Van Beuren cartoon, but there’s much to marvel at, like a cloud playing organ on the battlements of the castle, a skeleton taking a bath, while whistling, and another skeleton painting piano keys, on which it starts to play. There’s also a shot of four black skeletons singing a gospel song. The ending is extraordinary, when Tom and Jerry discover they’re nothing but skeletons under their clothes, themselves…

‘Wot a Night’ is a marvelous cartoon, one of the best of the surreal movement of the early 1930s. Unfortunately, only a few of Tom & Jerry’s lived up to the premise of their debut cartoon (‘Pencil Mania’ from 1932 arguably is the best contender). Their future cartoons were quaint at best, to downright poorly animated. It is as if ‘Wot a Night’ was given some extra effort that was not put into the subsequent cartoons.

Stallings stayed at Van Beuren until 1935, when he joined Walt Disney to work on the stories of the studio’s animated features. Rufle’s career is more unclear: he seemed to have left Van Beuren in 1933, but only pops up at Famous Studios in 1948. He animated until his death, working on several television series in the 1960’s and 1970’s. But what did he do between 1933 and 1948? I haven’t got a clue…

Watch ‘Wot A Night’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Wot A Night’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Director: Neil McGuire
Release Date:
 December 1930
Rating:
Review:

Cryin' for the Carolines © Warner Bros.‘Cryin’ for the Carolines’ was the first of the so-called Spooney Melodies, a short-lived series, produced by Leon Schlesinger, using semi-abstract images set to organ music.

Only five are known, and only this one has survived. The short features Milton Charles, ‘the singing organist’, singing and playing the sugary tune. Neil McGuire provides the classy, but static art deco art, e.g. of a sailing ship and a city skyline.

There’s practically no animation involved, although there is some movement on the screen. The images have an avant-garde quality, but as almost nothing happens, the complete film fails to satisfy. Schlesinger followed the series with the much more successful Merrie Melodies.

Watch ‘Cryin’ for the Carolines’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cryin’ for the Carolines’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’ and the Blu-Ray ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’

Directors: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Release Date: October 1930
Stars: Bosko
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Congo Jazz © Warner Bros.‘Congo Jazz’, Bosko’s second official cartoon, is Harman and Ising’s answer to Disney’s ‘Jungle Rhythm‘ (1929).

Like Disney’s cartoon, it hasn’t aged very well. The cartoon opens with Bosko wearing a pith helmet and exploring a supposedly African jungle. When confronted by a tiger (a species not endemic to Africa), Bosko immediately loses the pith helmet.

He appeases the tiger with music, and then kicks it over a cliff. Then he has to sooth a large ape, which he does by giving it some chewing gum. Together they play some plucking string music with their gums, while a few monkeys dance. Soon, other animals join in, e.g. a kangaroo, another rather un-African animal. Bosko directs all the animals into an upbeat tune.

The cartoon is low on gags and feels endless, especially during the musical part. The most extraordinary scene is that of a palm tree shimmying to Bosko’s music as if it were a woman. The animation of Bosko is still very rooted in the Oswald-era: Bosko’s body is very flexible, and almost mechanical.

Watch ‘Congo Jazz’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Congo Jazz’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 16, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Koko, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Boop-Oop-a-Doop © Max FleischerIn ‘Boop-Oop-a-Doop’ Betty Boop works at the circus as a lion-tamer and as a rope-dancer.

We watch her in a sexy performance on the slack-rope. During this performance we can see the circus-master growing with lust, and back in her dressing room he tries to harass her. Luckily, Koko saves here, so he “couldn’t take her boop-oop-a-doop away“.

Koko returns to the animated screen in this cartoon, probably because of the circus setting. Interestingly, it’s Koko who is Betty’s lover in this cartoon, not Bimbo. Bimbo’s role is reduced to being a peanut seller in a running gag. Koko’s career in the sound era was short-lived, however, and was to end already two years later with ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!‘ (1934).

‘Boop-oop-a-doop’ is an entertaining short, full of catchy music. For example, on the slack-rope Betty sings ‘Do Something’, a song associated by the singer who inspired her character, Helen Kane, who had recorded it in 1929. The two versions are indeed surprisingly similar, and it is not hard to see why Kane, whose own career had been in a steady decline, sued the Fleischer company on May 4, 1932.

It may very well be that this cartoon alone triggered that event. It at least should have been quite some evidence for Fleischer’s piracy, but after a case of two years, judge McGoldrick saw it otherwise. It’s rather difficult to understand now how the Fleischers could have won. Not only does Betty Boop sound like Kane, her looks are also strikingly similar. Indeed, according to her animator and creator Gram Natwick she was modeled after Helen Kane when conceived for ‘Dizzy Dishes‘ (1930). However, Betty’s grotesque, and rather ugly appearance in her earliest cartoons must hardly have given that fact away. Moreover, in her following films both Betty’s voice and looks were both subject to change. Only by the time of ‘Boop-Oop-a-Doop’ Betty really started to look like her source of inspiration…

Anyway, for a detailed account of the trial, see Trafalz’s excellent blog post on the subject.

Watch ‘Boop-Oop-a-Doop’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Boop-Oop-a-Doop’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 November 14, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mask-A-Raid © Max FleischerIn ‘Mask-A-Raid’ a very sexy Betty is queen of a masked ball.

The king, a dirty old man, fancies her, but she prefers Bimbo. Nevertheless, she makes Bimbo and the old guy fighting each other. Suddenly knights pop up from nowhere and everybody is fighting.

In ‘Mask-a-raid’ some of random surrealism of ‘Barnacle Bill‘ and ‘Mysterious Mose‘ (both 1930) returns to the screen. The cartoon is full of weird images and odd gags, and at times should be seen to be believed. It ends with some great scatting by Bimbo himself.

This is Betty’s first cartoon as a human being (apart from the Screen Song ‘Kitty from Kansas City‘ from only one week before), with her dog ears having changed into large earrings. It’s also the first to give her starring credits. It introduces the new story idea of old men fancying Betty, and harassing her against her will. This story element would also be featured in e.g. ‘Boop-oop-a-Doop‘ (1932) and ‘Betty Boop’s Big Boss’ (1933).

Watch ‘Mask-A-Raid’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mask-A-Raid’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 November 7, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Rudy Vallee
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Kitty from Kansas City © Max Fleischer‘Kitty from Kansas City’ is a Screen Song in which Rudy Valley sings his famous hit from 1930 about his dumb girlfriend Kitty.

This short starts with Kitty (whom we can recognize as Betty Boop) waiting for the train, until she’s picked up by a mail hook. Enter Rudy Vallee in bowler hat and with old-fashioned mustache, singing the title tune, accompanied by the bouncing ball. The cartoon ends with a particular fat Kitty involved in random events.

‘Kitty from Kansas City’ is important for two reasons: it’s the first cartoon in which Betty Boop is completely human, and second, it introduces a new story element, which was to be used frequently in the years to come: that of an old man fancying her. This time it’s an old station master.

Watch ‘Kitty from Kansas City’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Kitty from Kansas City’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

 

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 October 10, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Minding the Baby © Max FleischerBetty Boop, who lives in an apartment across the street, invites Bimbo over, but he can’t come, because he has to attend his little baby brother Aloysius.

Nevertheless, he does abandon the mischievous little brat and goes to Betty’s house to skip rope. However, Aloysius sucks them back into his own house, using a particularly powerful vacuum cleaner.

Aloysius is seen smoking a cigar and reading the paper, not unlike Baby Herman in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?‘ (1987). The cartoon establishes Bimbo and Betty as lovers, but it doesn’t make much sense, and its gags feel random and misguided.

‘Minding the Baby’ was the last cartoon featuring Betty with dog ears. in her next cartoon ‘Mask-A-Raid‘ she became fully human.

Watch ‘Minding the Baby’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Minding the Baby’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 August 22, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★
Review:

Bimbo's Express © Max FleischerIn this Talkartoon Bimbo is a moving man, moving Betty Boop’s household together with a horse, a cat and a hippo.

The short features ca. no story and consists of a string of unrelated throwaway gags. The animation, too, is at times completely random. For example, there’s some totally unnecessary and incomprehensible flexible animation on Bimbo’s van in the opening scene. This total lack of direction hampers ‘Bimbo’s Express’, and it fails to fulfil any promise.

The cartoon’s most stunning scene is that of Betty Boop cutting her toenails. But even more striking is Sammy Timberg’s music, which is loosely jointed from numerous familiar tunes, and which anticipates Carl Stalling’s techniques by several years.

This cartoon is billed ‘Bimbo & Betty’, indicating Betty’s rising star. In the next cartoon, ‘Minding the Baby‘, it would be ‘Betty Boop and Bimbo’, and in ‘Mask-A-Raid‘, it’s already “Betty Boop in ‘Mask-A-Raid’ with Bimbo’…

Watch ‘Bimbo’s Express’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bimbo’s Express’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Chuzo Aoji
Release Date:
 1931
Stars: Momotaro
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Momotaro's Sky Adventure © Chuzo AojiIn ‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure’ (also known as ‘Aerial Momotaro’) Japanese animation pioneers Aoji and Yasuji Murata tell a tale about that great and friendly warrior from Japanese folklore, Momotaro, who had been brought to the animated screen by Takamasa Eigasha in ‘Momotaro the Undefeated’ (1928).

Surprisingly, Aoji and Murata move our hero into the present. Momotaro is visited by a couple of Antarctic island birds who call for help against an evil (American?) eagle. Together with his loyal friends, monkey, dog and pheasant, he flies to the remote island in a propeller plane, being fueled twice by birds on the way. When the quartet arrives, they battle the eagle in the air in an overlong fighting sequence, which at times is strangely reminiscent of a modern computer game. Momotaro finally decides to capture the fiend alive, and he’s celebrated as a hero by the grateful birds.

‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure’ is Japan’s very first propaganda cartoon. It shows an early form of nationalism and anti-Americanism. Momotaro would grow very popular during World War II, representing Japan in many wartime films, and starring Japan’s very first animated feature, ‘Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors’ (1945), commissioned by the Japanese navy. This transformation of the folk hero into a nationalistic figure begins with this cartoon from 1931. Indeed, ultra-nationalism and militarism overtook Japan in the early 1930s, which e.g. resulted in the annexation of Manchuria in the summer of 1931.

Importantly, ‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure’ shows Japan’s national hero as the military strong friend of its weaker neighbors. This portrait of Japan as a benevolent big brother to all other Asian nations was played out throughout Japan’s militaristic period, and this propaganda story indeed managed to delude people like for example those Malay who, when Japan invaded their country in 1941, at first welcomed the Japanese as liberators from colonial Britain, only to find them far worse oppressors than the British had ever been…

‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure’ is available on the Japanese DVD Box Set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’.

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 July 24, 1931
Stars: Bimbo, Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Bimbo's Initiation © Max Fleischer‘Bimbo’s Initiation’ is probably the most famous Betty Boop cartoon, apart from ‘Snow White’ (1933).

Nevertheless, Betty only plays a small part in the cartoon, which is really about Bimbo. This is the first cartoon to feature his name in the title, and for the first time he has a fixed design. This redesigned Bimbo has some character in his rather original looks, but he’s still far from a character, remaining only a foil for the things happening around him.

In no cartoon this is so clear as in ‘Bimbo’s Initiation’. In the first scene we watch him walking on the street, when he suddenly falls into a well and is being caught in a scary underworld beneath the street. There bearded guys repeatedly ask him whether he wants to be a member of their secret order. Bimbo keeps saying no, and he tries to flee, but he cannot escape the nightmarish world, in which every deadly room leads to another one. These scenes are accompanied by a hot jazz version of ‘Tiger Rag’. Luckily, the last room features Betty, and when she asks him whether he wants to be a member, Bimbo gives in. Then all the bearded figures appear to be duplicates of her!

Betty Boop is completely blank in this cartoon and she still has dog ears here. But the nightmarish world is absolutely inspired. It’s both claustrophobic and funny, and we feel with Bimbo, who’s now victim of a world, in which no law, whether human or natural, applies. No other cartoon was so far removed from the happy world of Walt Disney, and arguably no other cartoon before Tex Avery’s ‘Northwest Hounded Police‘ (1946) and Chuck Jones’s ‘Duck Amuck‘ (1953) would be so compelling in portraying the anguish of a trapped cartoon character. Despite its primitive looks, the cartoon hasn’t aged at all, and it’s an undisputed classic within the complete cartoon canon.

‘Bimbo’s initiation’ undoubtedly has been the inspiration of the scary cartoon sequence in which a girl is caught in Joe Dante’s episode in the theatrical version of ‘The Twilight zone’ (1983).

Watch ‘Bimbo’s initiation’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bimbo’s initiation’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’ and on Betty Boop: Essential Collection 2′

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 April 16, 1931
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Any Little Girl That's A Nice Little Girl © Max Fleischer‘Any Little Girl That’s A Nice Little Girl’ is a Screen Song about a cat who’s dating several girls at the same time.

First we watch him dating his girls through the telephone, then he goes through a bunch of photographs and chooses to visits hot Lulu Belle. When he tries to sneak out, Lulu Belle hits him with the couch. Enter the Screen Song, which is accompanied with images of e.g. a naked woman in a bath(!) and a picture of Betty Boop, who otherwise does not appear in this cartoon.

Only the first scene features lip-synch, and the scene with Lulu Belle also features an excerpt from the 1929 hit song ‘What Wouldn’t I Do for That Man’, popularized by Annette Hanshaw and Ruth Etting. This excerpt is much more interesting than the 1910 vaudeville title song. The last chorus features some nice interplay between the words and the animated characters, typical for the Screen Songs of this era.

Watch ‘Any Little Girl That’s A Nice Little Girl’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Any Little Girl That’s A Nice Little Girl’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 January 23, 1931
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Birds of a Feather © Walt DisneyFollowing Van Beuren’s ‘A Romeo Robin‘ (1930) Disney devoted a whole Silly Symphony on birds.

The short follows the half-story formula introduced in ‘Playful Pan‘ with the first part consisting of more rhythmical movement to music than real dancing. The film starts with quite uninspired and tiresome gags about several birds moving randomly to music (opening with swans and a peacock moving to Jacques Offenbach’s barcarolle), but after 5’10 these give way to a small story about a baby chick who is taken away by an eagle but saved by a group of small birds.

The birds are drawn cartoony and not at all naturalistic. But such naturalism eventually would occur in Disney’s films, within only a couple of years, with ‘Birds in the Spring‘ being the prime example. It’s interesting to compare these two cartoons, which are only two years apart. The comparison makes ‘Birds of a Feather’ look primitive and dated, but even this cartoon knows one complex scene, in which the flock of small birds attacks the eagle. In this scene the movement of the circling birds  is animated beautifully and quite convincingly, as well.

Watch ‘Birds of a Feather’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 16
To the previous Silly Symphony: Playful Pan
To the next Silly Symphony: Mother Goose Melodies

‘Mother Goose Melodies’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 August 29, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Movie Mad © Ub Iwerks‘Movie Mad’ starts with Flip the Frog reading a book titled ‘How to be a Movie Actor’ and imitating Charlie Chaplin.

With his newfound talent he tries to enter a film studio, but he’s thrown out again and again by the guard. Flip even reuses an Oswald trick from ‘Bright Lights‘ (1928), trying to sneak in under a man’s shadow. When he finally’s inside, the cartoon actually fails to deliver its premise. Flip gets caught in a Western, in some 1001 Arabian Nights setting, and in a Russian drama, but that’s pretty much it. The Russian drama scene is undoubtedly inspired by the 1915 Charlie Chaplin comedy ‘His New Job’.

Although the cartoon fails to make full use of its Hollywood setting, it contains a great corridor scene. This scene expands on the one in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Gorilla Mystery‘ (1930), adding more zaniness to it. It is a direct ancestor to the marvelous corridor scene in Tex Avery’s ‘Lonesome Lenny’ (1946). Besides this there are some great caricatures of Laurel and Hardy, depicted as dogs. These may very well be the first animated caricatures of Laurel and Hardy ever put on screen. They would return in the very last Flip the Frog cartoon, ‘Soda Squirt’ (1933), along with several other Hollywood caricatures.

‘Movie Mad’ may turn out to be rather disappointing, it does feature great music by Carl Stalling, and it lays out the story plan for both the Donald Duck cartoon ‘The Autograph Hound’ (1939) and the Looney Tune ‘You Ought To Be in Pictures‘ (1940).

Watch ‘Movie Mad’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Movie Mad’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 May 2, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog, Honey
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Ragtime Romeo © Ub Iwerks‘Ragtime Romeo’ initially seems to revisit a theme that Ub Iwerks had explored before with Walt Disney in the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit film ‘Rival Romeos‘ and the Mickey Mouse short ‘The Barn Dance‘ (both 1928), when we watch both Flip and a Pete-like character ride their anthropomorphized cars to Honey’s house.

But when Flip starts to serenade Honey, events take a different turn. Flip serenades her on a guitar, while yodeling and whistling, and on a piano, waking up all the neighbors. Surprisingly, they all respond enthusiastically, urging Flip to play more, except for one, who desperately tries to block out the noise. In the end she calls the police, which arrests the still performing Flip and Honey.

This short contains a piquant scene, in which Flip’s portrait watches Honey undressing. Later, the real Flip watches her naked silhouette through the window curtains. Iwerks’s studio would add more of these risque moments in future shorts, like ‘What a Life’,  ‘The Office Boy’ and most notably ‘Room Runners’ (all from 1932).

Watch ‘Ragtime Romeo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ragtime Romeo’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

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