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.

 

Advertisements

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’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: November 2, 1940
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

The Sour Puss © Warner Bros.When Porky reads in the paper that fishing season will open the day after, he goes out fishing with his cat next day.

At the pond they encounter a flying fish (actually a marine species), which soon turns out to be as loony as Daffy Duck. The fish has the last laugh, imitating comedian Lew Lehr, saying “pussycats is the craziest people”.

‘The Sour Puss’ is a pretty run of the mill cartoon, and over before you know it. Porky has a modest role in a cartoon that’s actually devoted to his cat. Most interesting is the convincing animation of Porky in his rocking chair: one can see his body shift to move the chair. Also noteworthy are a bizarre shot in which Porky imitates a fish, a mussel with Popeye-like arms, and the cat’s over-joyous reaction to Porky’s promise of a fish dinner: he even kisses a mouse, which prompts a canary on committing suicide, saying ‘Now I’ve seen everything’. This last gag was repeated by a Pete Lorre-like fish in ‘Horton Hatches the Egg‘ (1942), while the Lew Lehr line reappeared in ‘Scaredy Cat‘ (1948).

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

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 79
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Prehistoric Porky
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Hired Hand

‘The Sour Puss’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’.

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: April 27, 1940
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Porky's Poor Fish © Warner Bros.Bob Clampett is one of the greatest ‘authors’ of the classic cartoon era, but not every cartoon he made was a winner. For example, ‘Porky’s Poor Fish’ is less than impressive.

‘Porky’s Poor Fish’ revisits a story idea that goes all the way back to the Silly Symphony ‘The Bird Store‘ (1932): a cat enters a pet store and when he catches one specimen, the other animals come to the rescue in a war-like reaction.

In Clampett’s film the bird store has changed in to a fish store, and the war scene involves a squadron of flying fish, a very silly hammerhead shark, and electric eels. There’s nothing special to the story, and the film’s charm and laughs lie exclusively in the abundance of puns, e.g. on holey mackerel and sole.

Watch ‘Porky’s Poor Fish’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 72
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Slap Happy Pappy
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: You Ought to Be in Pictures

‘Porky’s Poor Fish’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’.

Director: Paul Fennell?
Release Date: 1940
Stars: Gran’ Pop Monkey
Rating:  ★
Review:

Baby Checkers © Ub Iwerks‘Baby Checkers’ is the last of three surviving Gran’ Pop Monkey cartoons, a cut series made in the last days of the Ub Iwerks studio.

The cartoon copies the story of the first, ‘Beauty Shoppe‘, in that Gran’ Pop Monkey and his two grandsons try a new business. This time they try their luck with a baby nursery. The first day is highly successful, with countless mothers bringing in their babies. Unfortunately, Gran’ Pop Monkey’s system to remember which baby is whose, soon runs haywire, and causes much discomfort among the mothers at the end of the cartoon. In between all kinds of things go wrong, like feeding and bathing the baby animals.

Nowhere ‘Baby Checkers’ gets near being funny, even if the short makes more sense than ‘A Busy Day‘. The action remains tiresome, the story is disjointed, and the grand finale anything but that. The terrible voice acting and erratic designs don’t help either, and like in the other two Gran’ Pop Monkey cartoons, only the musical score is of a high quality. This, of course, wasn’t enough, and although the reasons are unknown, the series was justly abandoned.

‘Baby Checkers’ has only survived in a black and white copy, which is available on the DVD ‘Cultoons! Rare, Lost and Strange Cartoons! Volume 3: Monkeys, Monsters & More!’

Director: Paul Fennell?
Release Date: 1940
Stars: Gran’ Pop Monkey
Rating:  ★
Review:

A Busy Day © Ub Iwerks‘A Busy Day’ is the second of three surviving Gran’ Pop Monkey cartoons, and arguably the worst of the trio.

The short starts excellently enough, with a rhythmical start of the day, with sound effects, music and images being in perfect harmony to evoke a bright and promising morning. However, this sequence is discarded all too soon, when we cut to Gran’ Pop Monkey, who’s still in bed. His two grandsons awake him, and we watch the trio on a working day in their office on a high tree in the jungle.

This setting itself strains the believability of the cartoon, but worse, from that point on, things just start happening on the screen. Somehow, they involve some sneezing by Gran’ Pop Monkey, but otherwise nothing makes sense. In the end of the cartoon an exhausted Gran’ Pop Monkey ends up in bed again, and we, as an audience, are glad that this endless cartoon is over, even if it’s only seven minutes long.

Watch ‘A Busy Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Busy Day’ is available on the DVD ‘Cultoons! Rare, Lost and Strange Cartoons! Volume 3: Monkeys, Monsters & More!’

Director: Paul Fennell?
Release Date: 1940
Stars: Gran’ Pop Monkey
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Beauty Shoppe © Ub IwerksThe Gran’ Pop Monkey cartoon were made during the aftermath of the Ub Iwerks studio (then called Cartoon Films, LTD), just before Iwerks sold the studio and went back to Disney himself.

The character Gran’ Pop Monkey was based on illustrations by British artist Lawson Wood (1878-1957), and in 1939 the studio announced it would make 24 cartoons with the character. However, only three are known today, which were all three released in 1940. In fact, as Yowp notices in his comment to Steve Stanchfield’s informative blog post on this cartoon, these three had already been finished by the end of 1938, so perhaps these were the only ones ever made. In any case, it remains unclear why the series was discontinued, but one thing is certain: they are far from classics.

All three Gran’ Pop Monkey cartoons were shot in Cinecolor, a 2-color system, lacking the vibrant color range of Technicolor, and although the animation is fair, the stories, the designs, voices and gags are not, and the three films make a tiresome watch. In fact, the most enjoyable part of these three cartoons is their excellent musical score.

The first, ‘Beauty Shoppe’ is arguably the best of the surviving trio. In this short Gran’ Pop Monkey is a barber, helped by his two grandsons (who look like macaques, while Gran’ Pop Monkey clearly is a chimpanzee). Business isn’t going well, however, in contrast to that of the beauty salon across the street (the film takes place in a jungle, but anyway). So, one of the grandson suggests to copy the salon’s formula. Soon, female animals rush into Gran’ Pop Monkey’s cabin-turned-beauty salon (including a colorful company of a badger, a penguin, a seal, a pig and a kangaroo). When a gangster-like gorilla demands they make his wife, a hippo, beautiful, things turn very bad for the trio, indeed. Curiously, ‘Beauty Shoppe’ starts with some dialogue in rhyme, which is discarded halfway.

Watch ‘Beauty Shoppe’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Beauty Shoppe’ is available on the DVD ‘Cultoons! Rare, Lost and Strange Cartoons! Volume 3: Monkeys, Monsters & More!’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 30, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Puttin on the Act © Max Fleischer‘Puttin on the Act’ reveals that Popeye and Olive had been a vaudeville duo once.

The short opens with Olive running to Popeye, full of joy, because she has read in the newspaper that vaudeville is coming back. This would be a surprise, as already during the 1920s vaudeville had gone into a steady decline, due to radio, film, and jazz.

But Olive and Popeye immediately revive their old routines in their own home. Most fun is Popeye doing impersonations, imitating Jimmy Durante, Stan Laurel and Groucho Marx (using some of Marx’s best quotes). Their routine ends with ‘The Adagio’, an acrobatic act that is very similar to the one by Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow and Goofy in ‘Orphan’s Benefit‘ (1935), proving this was a staple act in vaudeville. At the end of the cartoon, unfortunately, it’s revealed that Olive’s newspaper had been from 1898…

‘Puttin on the Act’ is nice piece of nostalgia. Most of the animators and story artists of the time had grown up in the vaudeville era, and this cartoon is a homage to a form of entertainment long lost since.

Watch ‘Puttin on the Act’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Puttin on the Act’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

 

 

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 2, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Swee’Pea
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Doing Impossikible Stunts © Max Fleischer‘Doing impossikible Stunts’ is a cheater, a.k.a. a compilation cartoon. Yet within this genre, this short is a nicely told one.

In this cartoon Popeye heads for ‘Mystery Pictures, Inc.’ , to apply as a stunt man. He has brought with him some footage of his stunt work. Little Swee’Pea follows him, and at one time swaps Popeye’s footage for his own, gaining the job.

Popeye’s films are excerpts from ‘I never Changes My Altitude’ (1937), ‘I Wanna be a Lifeguard’ (1936) and ‘Bridge Ahoy’ (1936), and Swee’Pea’s is from ‘Lost and Foundry’ (1937).

The film company’s slogan, ‘If it’s a good picture, it’s a mystery’ echoes a similar gag involving Wonder pictures, in ‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood‘ (1938).

Watch ‘Doing impossikible Stunts’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Doing impossikible Stunts’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 12, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Bluto
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Fightin Pals © Max Fleischer‘Fightin Pals’ is a cartoon devoted to the love-hate relationship between Popeye and Bluto. 

The short opens with Dr. Bluto boarding a ship for an African Expedition. Popeye and Bluto show their own tough way of saying goodbye, but as soon as Bluto has left, Popeye starts pining for his rival. Thus, when he hears on the radio Bluto has been lost, he himself sails straight into dark Africa to look for his lost pal. Soon, Popeye is in a bad state himself, and when he finally discovers Bluto, who is pampered by some beautiful natives, it’s Bluto who has to revive him by giving the poor sailor spinach. As soon as Popeye is on his feet, the two immediately resume their happy quarrel again.

‘Fightin Pals’ is a beautiful cartoon on friendship. Jack Mercer’s mumbling is particularly inspired in this cartoon. The short also shows a brief World War II reference: when Popeye sails passes Europe he encounters some violent fighting there.

After ‘Fightin Pals’ it looks as if Bluto stayed in Africa, for he was not seen in any Popeye cartoon for almost two years. He returned to the screen in ‘Olive Oyl and Water Don’t Mix’ (1942), this time to stay.

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

‘Fightin Pals’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 20, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl, Little Swee’Pea
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Nurse-Mates © Max Fleischer‘Nurse-Mates’ opens with Bluto and Popeye both visiting Olive to invite her to the movies.

Olive agrees, but first has to go to the beauty parlor, leaving the two rivals to take care of little Swee’Pea. This leads to several gags showing the two men’s original ways to bathe, feed, and dress the baby, while competing each other.

In this cartoon Bluto is no villain, only Popeye’s rival, and he gets ample screen time to show his parental instincts. Moreover, there’s no spinach involved, and Bluto’s and Popeye’s rivalry is almost playful, when compared to other entries. This more harmonious relationship between the two would be explored further in the next Popeye cartoon, ‘Fightin’ Pals’.

Watch ‘Nurse-Mates’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date: June 22, 1940
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

The Milky Way © MGM1940 is arguably a turning year in the history of animation. This year marked the end of Disney’s domination, as the studio’s innovative Silly Symphonies series had stopped, while Disney’s ambitious, but expensive feature productions ‘Pinocchio‘ and ‘Fantasia’ had lost the studio dear money. These features plunged Disney brothers into huge debts, and forced them to go to the stock markets.

As to emphasize Disney’s loss, 1940 was also the first year in which a non-Disney cartoon won an Academy Award. In fact, in this year not a single Disney cartoon was even nominated. Moreover, among the nominations were two shorts that marked the strong debuts of characters that heralded a new era: Tom & Jerry in ‘Puss and Boots’ and Bugs Bunny in ‘A Wild Hare‘. These characters would dominate the 1940s, over Disney’s Mickey, Donald, Pluto and Goofy.

Yet, it was MGM’s ‘The Milky Way’, which won the Academy Award. To be frank, ‘The Milky Way’ is still firmly rooted in Disney-like 1930’s animation: it’s a Silly Symphony but in name, it features a saccharine song, and it borrows heavily from Disney’s ‘Wynken, Blynken, and Nod‘ (1939). Both cartoons feature three babies exploring the night sky. Such copycat behavior was all too typical for the Harman & Ising studio.

In ‘The Milky Way’ the main protagonists are the three kittens from the nursery rhyme. As they’ve lost their mittens, they aren’t denied pie, but a meal of milk, and sent off to bed without supper. With the help of balloons, the trio sails to the Milky Way, which turns out to be a Cockaigne of milk, with e.g. milk geysers and milk gas stations. However, the geyser milk gives one of the kittens a tremor belly, and soon the trio fall down back to earth.

‘The Milky Way’ is cute, lush and excels in high production values, even though it can’t compete with the stunning ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’. The short is also sugary and rather boring. The best part is the depiction of the fantasy world of the Milky Way. But the attention easily goes to the beautiful background art and to Scott Bradley’s excellent score. The designs of the kittens look forward to those of kittens in the Tom & Jerry series.

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

‘The Milky Way’ is available on the DVD ‘Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection: 15 Winners’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: March 28, 1941
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat © Walter Lantz‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ opens with scenes from ‘Lazy Town’, a place in the South full of lazy negroes, whose depiction is the epitome of racist stereotyping: everyone is asleep, doing things ridiculously slowly or with a minimum of effort. Oh! Those lazy Southern blacks!

Then a steamer stops, and a sexy, light-skinned woman steps out, immediately reviving the male population. She starts the title song, and all the villagers join in.

‘Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat’ is rather tiresome to watch. The boogie-woogie song itself never really comes off, and is less swinging as it could be. But more importantly, the images accompanying the song are hardly funny, as most of the ‘humor’ comes from those ha-ha silly blacks doing things on the musical beat. As none of these gags work today, the short becomes surprisingly empty.

In fact, together with the Van Beuren cartoon ‘Plane Dumb‘ (1932) ‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ is a likely candidate of being the most offensive racist cartoon around. Only the singing girl is given some dignity, but her race remains unclear, and she could as well be white.

Some of the animation on this girl was reused on the Andrews Sisters in the equally racist, yet less offensive, and much more entertaining ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B‘ from six months later.

‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ was one of the first cartoons to evoke serious issues because of its racism, as upon its re-release in 1948, it was heavily criticized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With help from the more powerful Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), the NAACP managed to make Universal withdraw the cartoon in February 1949. After this incident black stereotypes virtually vanished from the animated screen, except for the occasional cannibal here and there.

Watch ‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: August 28, 1939
Stars: Lil’ Eightball
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Silly Superstition © Walter Lantz‘Silly Superstition’ is the second of three cartoon starring Lil’ Eightball, a heavy caricatured black boy with a deep southern voice (by Mel Blanc).

In ‘Silly Superstition’ Lil’ Eightball’s mama warns him that it’s Friday the 13th, and that he shouldn’t walk under a ladder or let a black cat cross his path. Lil’ Eightball dismisses these warnings as superstition, doing deliberately these things. The ladder walk rather unlikely makes a complete building collapse, while the black cat immediately introduces an escaped lion. Luckily, Lil’ Eightball’s puppy dog saves the day, chasing the lion back to the zoo.

‘Silly Superstition’ is pretty hard to watch today. The animation in this short is very uneven, being sometimes strikingly modern, yet at other times disappointingly old-fashioned. But more importantly, Lil’ Eightball is too severe a stereotype to enjoy. The boy looks particularly goofy in this cartoon, having a balloon head, a ridiculously small body and over-sized, rather clownish shoes, emphasizing his stupidity. Most of the ‘humor’ of the cartoon stems from the fact that despite his uneducated background, Lil’ Eightball manages to use big words.

As Christopher P. Lehman notices in ‘The Colored Cartoon’ it’s a sad fact that Lil’ Eightbal starts atypically self-assured and brave, but ends up as a stereotypical fearful negro boy. This ‘morale’ is dubious to say the least. Luckily, contemporary reviewers weren’t impressed either, and Lil’ Eightball vanished from the screen after only three cartoons.

Watch a colorized version of ‘Silly Superstition’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Silly Superstition’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: July 27, 1940
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

A Wild Hare © Warner Bros.‘A Wild Hare’ marks the birth of one of the biggest cartoon stars of all time, Bugs Bunny.

The short had been preceded by four other Warner Bros. cartoons about hunting and rabbits, ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938), ‘Prest-O Chang-O‘ (1939). ‘Hare-Um Scare-Um‘ (1939) and ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera‘ (1940), which all contributed to the formation of the character.

Yet, it’s the character, design and voice the rabbit got in ‘A Wild Hare’ that made the rodent into the Bugs Bunny we all know now, even though he still looks a little different. Nevertheless, the difference between Tex Avery’s Bugs and his predecessors is less marked than sometimes advertised: Jones’s rabbit in ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera’ already was a calm character, and both the rabbits in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ and in ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera’ had performed fake death scenes. Moreover, even in the first half of ‘A Wild Hare’ the rabbit still seems a bit loony, like his predecessors.

Still, the rabbit has become a lot cooler: in his first appearance (which surprisingly only occurs after two and a half minutes!) he calmly addresses his hunter with the first occurrence of that famous line ‘What’s up, doc?‘. And in the second half he kisses Elmer Fudd a few times (another Bugs Bunny trademark) and deliberately invites Elmer to shoot him, only to act out a superb death scene, animated to perfection by Robert McKimson.

Likewise, Elmer Fudd gets his definite design in this cartoon, and it’s here he utters his trademark opening words ‘Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits‘ for the first time. He still has the red nose he had inherited from his predecessor Egghead, but that would soon go, too.

Priceless is the ‘guess who’ scene, in which Elmer guesses several beautiful Hollywood actresses as likely candidates (“Hedy Lamarr? Carole Lombard? Rosemary Lane? Olivia de Havilland?“), before deciding upon ‘that screwy rabbit’. The complete cartoon forms the template for many Bugs Bunny cartoons to come, up to such a late short like ‘What’s Opera, Doc?‘ (1957).

The cartoon itself at least was a success, and nominated for an Academy Award (which it lost to MGM’s ‘The Milky Way‘), and it prompted other cartoon directors to use the character, too. Five months later, Chuck Jones was the first, with ‘Elmer’s Pet Rabbit’. Thus this rabbit had to get a name. And in an era in which virtually all cartoon stars had alliterated names, he was christened Bugs Bunny. In fact, this name that already appeared on a model sheet for ‘Hare-Um Scare-um’ as ‘Bugs’ Bunny’, after director Bugs Hardaway, who had directed that particular cartoon. ‘Elmer’s Pet Rabbit’ has a separate title card to introduce this rabbit and his red-hot name.

With ‘A Wild Hare’ the Leon Schlesinger studio turned a new page. Together with MGM’s ‘Puss Gets The Boot’, Tom & Jerry’s debut film, which had been released five months earlier, the short somehow heralds the wilder and more mature days of the 1940s. And although Elmer and Bugs don’t chase each other in ‘A Wild Hare’, the cartoon helped to shape the format of the chase cartoon, with the comedy played out well with just the two characters, in a clear antagonistic relationship. Now the fun could really begin…

Watch ‘A Wild Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 1
To the last proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Elmer’s Candid Camera
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Elmer’s Pet Rabbit

‘A Wild Hare’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and on the DVD ‘Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Award-Nominated Animation: Cinema Favorites’

Director: Riley Thomson
Release Date: July 19, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Pluto
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Put-Put Troubles © Walt DisneyIn 1940, the Donald Duck series really hit the stride, becoming a series of pure gag cartoons, with few real failures until the end.

By now, Donald had shed his childish feathers, and had become more or less a representative of the American average citizen, coping with familiar troubles, like in this case, a failing outboard motor.

In ‘Put-Put Troubles’ Donald and Pluto go for a boat trip on a lake. Pluto encounters a frog and gets stuck in a spring, while Donald has troubles with starting the outboard motor. The motor itself is excellently animated, behaving rather outrageously, and at one time even functioning as a can opener, destroying Donald’s boat within seconds.

This is arguably the first cartoon in which Donald has to battle with a well-known inanimate object. Donald was at its best when having to deal with common household objects, and this cartoon is a prime example. True, Donald had to deal with inanimate objects before, e.g. strange machines in ‘Modern Inventions‘ (1937) and a giant spring in ‘Clock Cleaners’ (1938), but these were hardly familiar things to the average viewer, while Donald’s struggle with the outboard motor is recognizable to many, adding to its comedy. Even better examples were to come (e.g. the folding chair from ‘Donald’s Vacation’ (1940), the folding bed from ‘Early to Bed’ (1941) and the leaking tap in ‘Drip Dippy Donald’ from 1948).

In contrast, Pluto’s antics with the spring are less inspired, and the cartoon’s exciting finale comes all too suddenly to an end.

‘Put-Put Troubles’ was the first Disney short directed by the unsung hero Riley Thomson, who would only direct seven shorts between 1940 and 1942, all of them hilarious. Thomson had started animating for Warner Bros. in 1935, but already in 1936 he exchanged Warner Bros. for Walt Disney. After his direction career, Thomson became a story man for the Goofy series, then moved on to comics. He spent the final days of his career at Walter Lantz, as a layout artist for the Woody Woodpecker show.

Watch ‘Put-Put Troubles’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 18
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Mr. Duck Steps Out
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Vacation

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

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

Join 876 other followers

Bookmark and Share

Follow TheGrob on Twitter

Categories

Advertisements