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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: November 23, 1940
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Bedtime for Sniffles © Warner Bros.This Christmas cartoon opens with a stunning scene in which the camera zooms over a winter village scene. ‘Bedtime for Sniffles’ may not be a ‘Pinocchio’, this is still a very atmospheric opening intro to the Christmas spirited cartoon.

Cut to Sniffles, who wants to stay awake until Santa comes. Unfortunately the radio plays a lullaby, drowsing our cute little hero.

Because this is a cartoon about the familiar problem of trying to stay awake despite a desire to sleep, this is a more entertaining short than most other Sniffles cartoons, and a great antecedent to the classic Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘Sleepy Time Tom’ (1951), which covers similar grounds. The animation of Sniffles’s eyes when he tries to stay awake, is priceless, and is an early showcase of Jones’s upcoming mastery of facial expressions. Sniffles’s reluctant walk into bed, too, points forward to Jones’s mature style.

Apart from this, ‘Bedtime for Sniffles’ excels in great background art, and lovely lay-outs, with delightful details, like a walnut functioning as a waste basket, and cigarette paper substituting for a towel.

Watch ‘Bedtime for Sniffles’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: July 20, 1940
Stars: Sniffles
Rating:
Review:

The Egg Collector © Warner Bros.In the 1930s Frank Tashlin had made the most beautiful cartoons at Warner Bros. When Chuck Jones inherited his unit at the end of 1938, he too made the most beautiful shorts of all.

‘The Egg Collector’ is a prime example, with stunning background art, original camera angles (a clear Tashlin influence), great shading and excellent animation. However, unlike Tashlin’s cartoons, Jones’s were extremely slow. ‘The Egg Collector’, for example , moves at such a sluggish speed, one almost falls asleep while watching it.

The short stars the little mouse Sniffles, Jones’s very first returning character, and his friend, the bookworm from ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ (1939). They read in a book about egg collecting, and wish to collect an owl’s egg, not realizing that the fact that eats small rodents means it can possibly eat them. Thus they are on their way to a church nearby, where they soon discover the real nature of the barn owl. There’s little humor in this cute and boring cartoon, although the little owl’s hoots are very charming. The design of the little owl is exactly the same as the one in ‘Little Brother Rat‘.

Carl Stalling accompanies the church scenes with particularly solemn music, based on Felix Mendelssohn’s stage music for A Midsummernight’s Dream. His score rarely sounded so German as it does in this particular short.

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

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 22, 1941
Stars: Hunky & Spunky
Rating:  ★
Review:

Vitamin Hay © Max Fleischer‘Vitamin Hay’ was the very last of the Color Classics, a series that arguably already had run out of steam by 1938.

‘Vitamin Hay’ seems to have appeared almost as an afterthought, being released almost a year after the second to last Color Classic, ‘You Can’t Shoe a Horsefly‘. Like the previous three Color Classic cartoons it starred the boring burro duo of Hunky and Spunky.

This time Spunky refuses to eat his ‘vitamin hay’, and joins a goat in eating car parts. When he swallows a car horn he gets into trouble with some angry geese, and Hunky, once again, has to come to the rescue.

Hunky and Spunky never were remotely interesting to watch, and certainly not fit for the more adult war era, so I doubt whether anyone missed them when they were shelved. ‘Vitamin Hay’, is a fitting farewell to the donkeys, being as tiresome and as devoid of humor as the worst of their previous cartoons. Luckily, the Fleischer had a new, more daring star with ‘Superman‘. Yet he, like Popeye, had not been conceived by themselves, leaving Koko the Clown and Betty Boop the Fleischer’s only two successful creations during the long existence of their studio.

In hindsight the Fleischers’ Color Classics were a disappointing series that never fulfilled their promise. They never approached the quality of their original, Disney’s Silly Symphonies’, and most entries were ill-fated attempts at emulating the Disney style, resulting in sugary, childish and terribly unfunny cartoons. It was clear that in this series the Fleischers tried to be something they were not. This was a pity, for the contemporary Popeye series proved that they needn’t to. In the Popeye cartoons the Fleischers could stay true to themselves, producing some of the best shorts of the 1930s, including several classics, where in my opinion the Color Classics produced none, bar the very first one, the Betty Boop vehicle ‘Poor Cinderella‘ (1934).

Watch ‘Vitamin Hay’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Vitamin Hay’ is available on the DVD set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 23, 1940
Stars: Hunky & Spunky
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

You Can't Shoe a Horsefly © Max Fleischer‘You Can’t Shoe a Horsefly’ opens with a tired Hunky & Spunky laying themselves down to sleep.

Unfortunately, Spunky is soon troubled by a horsefly, who looks like a miniature winged horse and who sings the title song. The antagonism between Spunky and the horsefly, which even lead to a chase scene makes ‘You Can’t Shoe a Horsefly’ the most modern of the Hunky & Spunky cartoons, and the only one fitting the then emerging chase cartoon era. However, it’s still Hunky who has to come to the rescue, killing the horsefly and all his friends in one stroke.

Composer Sammy Timberg nicely intertwines the lullaby ‘Go to Sleep My Baby’ (which I know best as sung by Oliver Hardy in ‘Brats’ from 1930), into the soundtrack when the two donkeys are trying to sleep.

Watch ‘You Can’t Shoe a Horsefly’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘You Can’t Shoe a Horsefly’ is available on the DVD set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 19, 1940
Stars: Hunky & Spunky
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Snubbed by a Snob © Max FleischerIn ‘Snubbed by a Snob’ Hunky & Spunky encounter a snobby race horse and his/her son.

Spunky wants to play with the young horse, who tries to get rid of the eager burro. At one point the foal eats too much apples and drinks too much water, and Spunky rescues him from an angry bull. So, in the end all’s well between race horse and burros.

‘Snubbed by a Snob’ is as boring as other Hunky & Spunky cartoons, but it’s rescued a little by the Cousin Louie gag, and the rather silly singing bull.

Watch ‘Snubbed by a Snob’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Snubbed by a Snob’ is available on the DVD set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 17, 1940
Stars: Hunky & Spunky
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

A Kick in Time © Max FleischerThe last stage of the Fleischers’ Color Classics series was solely devoted to Hunky & Spunky, the donkey duo introduced in the eponymous cartoon from 1938.

When Betty Boop retired in 1939, the Fleischers were left without a star of their own (their biggest star Popeye was owned by King Features). Thus Hunky & Spunky, were promoted to be their top stars, together with Gabby from ‘Gulliver’s Travels‘ (1939) and the Stone Age characters, both introduced in 1940. None of these stars had any appeal, and they hardly stood a chance against contemporaries like Disney’s Donald Duck and Goofy, or Warner Bros.’ Porky Pig and Daffy. Nevertheless, Hunky and Spunky survived until 1941, starring seven cartoons in total.

In their fourth cartoon, ‘A Kick in Time’, Spunky is kidnapped and sold to an Italian rag collector, who irons the little burro. Spunky’s antics with the bit and irons are very reminiscent of Donald Duck’s problems with inanimate objects. However, as the bit and irons are clearly introduced as tools of torture, Spunky’s antics are painful to watch, not funny. Meanwhile Hunky seeks his/her son in the large city, and she saves his/her child in the nick of time from being crushed by an approaching streetcar.

There’s little to enjoy in ‘A Kick in Time’, but the cartoon is well animated by top animators Shamus Culhane and Al Eugster, and features quite elaborate human designs and realistic close ups of human hands. Moreover, the urban setting gives the cartoon a distinct character, absent in the other Hunky & Spunky cartoons.

Watch ‘A Kick in Time’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Kick in Time’ is available on the DVD set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Sanae Yamamoto
Release Date: 1942
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

The Animal Village in Trouble © Sanae Yamamoto‘The Animal Village in Trouble’ tells the tale of three families: the monkeys, the bears and the raccoon dogs.

The monkeys’ family is very large, and hard to feed. But when a storm breaks out, it’s the only family that manages to protect its home. Moreover, the monkeys save the other two families from drowning. Is this a message to the audience to produce more offspring in times of war?

This film is essentially silent, with a voice over. The designs are quite elegant, and more clearly Japanese than usual in pre-war/wartime anime. The animation is mostly fair, with the storm scene in particular being quite spectacular. Also interesting is the occurrence of metamorphosis, a rarity in prewar/wartime Japanese animation: one raccoon dog transforms itself into an alarm clock, while another changes into a bridge at one point.

Sanae Yamamoto (1898-1981) came into prominence as an animator in the 1920s. In the 1950s he would join the Tōei animation studio, where he became supervising animator until his retirement in 1967.

Watch ‘The Animal Village in Trouble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://www.senscritique.com/film/Doubutsu_Mura_no_Daisodou/21070972

‘The Animal Village in Trouble’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Yoshitaro Kataoka
Release Date: 1942
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Sankichi the Monkey The Air Combat © Yoshitaro KataokaWith ‘Sankichi the Monkey: The Air Combat’ we’re clearly in propaganda area. The film’s motto says it all: “Protect our sky! The best defense is offense!”.

In the film the monkeys (Japan) are attacked by an air squadron of bears (Soviet Union). The monkeys shoot the bears out of the sky by the dozen, and win the day. But the film warns the audience: ‘There still are other enemies. We must protect our sky!”.

The film’s message, as if Japan were threatened by other nations and had to be aggressive out of defense, is sickening. When the film was released, in 1942, Japan was already the cruel occupier of most of South East Asia, an aggressor on a scale only matched by Nazi Germany.

‘Sankichi the Monkey: The Air Combat’ is a silent film, and the animation is poor and old-fashioned. In fact, the film looks like as if it had been made in 1929, not 1942. At least the short sheds a light on how the military government sold its actions to the Japanese public: with lies and seeds of fear. And while in 1945 the Soviet Union did declare war on Japan (on August 9, after the U.S. had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Japan was on the brink of collapse), the Soviet air attack never materialized.

Watch ‘Sankichi the Monkey: The Air Combat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sankichi the Monkey: The Air Combat’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: unknown
Release Date: 1940
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Baby Kangaroo's Birthday Surprise‘Baby Kangaroo’s Birthday Surprise’ tells about the birthday of Kan-Chan, the youngest kangaroo in a family of five.

All goes well, until a hungry wolf arrives. The wolf eats all the food, and kidnaps Kan-Chan to eat him as well. The family comes to the rescue, aided by a troupe of moles, who dig a bunch of holes into the wolf’s hut. They taunt and finally bind him, so the family of kangaroos can reunite.

‘Baby Kangaroo’s Birthday Surprise’ is a silent film, but the animation is more advanced than in contemporary Japanese films, incorporating various lessons from Disney animation (squash and stretch, follow-through etc.). The wolf is clearly modeled on Disney’s wolf from ‘Three Little Pigs‘, and he’s animated best, probably because of the more sophisticated source material.

Watch ‘Baby Kangaroo’s Birthday Surprise’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Baby Kangaroo’s Birthday Surprise’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Ikuo Ōishi
Release Date: 1939
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Swim, Monkey, Swim © Ikuo Ōishi‘Swim, Monkey, Swim’ tells about monkey, who learns to swim, and immediately joins a swimming contest.

The monkey wins by cheating, riding a ‘water imp’. In the end he succeeds in “cheating the others, but not his heart”.

‘Swim Monkey Swim’ is a primitive film, with the designs and animation looking like an Aesop Fable from the 1920s. Indeed, Ōishi was a Japanese animation pioneer, already making films in the 1910s. But if this film really was made 1939, it seems he had little learned since. The designs are nice and readable, but the film’s timing is too slow, rendering endless footage of the race. With its ten minutes the film is overlong and overstays its welcome.

Watch ‘Swim, Monkey, Swim’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Swim, Monkey, Swim’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Unknown
Release Date: 1938
Stars: Mabō
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Mabō as Tokichiro Kinoshita © Satō Film Production Works‘Mabō as Tokichiro Kinoshita’ is the sixth of twelve Mabō films, produced by Satō Film Production Works.

Mabō is a young boy, and in this film he plays Kinoshita Tōkichirō, the legendary pseudonym of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a 16th century Samurai warrior. The film reenacts some scenes from Hideyoshi’s life, most probably instantly recognizable for Japanese viewers, but, alas, not for us Westerners. Some of the reenactments involve modern warfare like machine guns and tanks, a clear sign of the ever growing militarization of Japanese society at the time, even invading children’s films like this.

The animation is a strange mix of 1920s animation and more modern techniques, and some of the battle scenes are most impressive. The designs even look forward to postwar anime. But none of the animation matches the dialogue, and lip synch is nowhere to be seen.

Watch ‘Mabō as Tokichiro Kinoshita’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mabō as Tokichiro Kinoshita’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

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