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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’

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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: 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: 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: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 7, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Wimmen is a Myskery © Max Fleischer‘Wimmen is a Myskery’ opens with Popeye proposing to Olive.

Olive tells our favorite sailor that she’ll answer him next morning. That night Olive dreams of her married life. Popeye is nowhere to be seen, but she sure has a hard time with their childeren: Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye, who after taking spinach give her a good spanking.

‘Wimmen is a Myskery’ is one of those cartoons in which cartoon characters dream of marriage, with unfavorable results. In this respect, Olive follows Mickey Mouse in ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932), and Porky Pig in ‘Porky’s Romance‘ (1937). Like Mickey Olive’s main fear is numerous disobedient children, and indeed, Popeye’s offspring have none of his gentle character. No wonder Olive turns Popeye down in the morning….

Nevertheless, Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye would materialize in the real world as Popeye’s nephews in ‘Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye an’ Peep-eye’ (1942), just like the little mice from ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ had done in ‘Giantland‘ (1933). Obviously, Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye have more in common with Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, introduced in ‘Donald’s Nephews‘ (1938), and no doubt are inspired by them.

Watch ‘Wimmen is a Myskery’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Wimmen is a Myskery’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

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

Me Feelins Is Hurt © Max FleischerThis short opens with Popeye reading a letter in which Olive tells him she leaves him for real men in the West.

Undaunted, Popeye sails right into the prairie town, where he challenges the ‘real man’, cowboy Bluto. Bluto makes Popeye taming a wild mustang, in a delightful sequence.

When Popeye succeeds, however, he soon gets strangled by a rattlesnake. Time for spinach! Popeye clobbers the snake into purses, hand bags and a rattle, and soon knocks Bluto and all of his men unconscious, restoring Olive’s love for him.

‘Me Feelins Is Hurt’ is a nice, if rather average Popeye cartoon. Popeye’s sailing to the prairie town, a rather Tex Averyan sequence, is the highlight of the cartoon.

Watch ‘Me Feelins Is Hurt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Me Feelins Is Hurt’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 22, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Stealin' Ain't Honest © Max Fleischer‘Stealin’ Ain’t Honest’ opens with Popeye and Olive sailing to Olive’s ‘secret gold mine’ on a small island. Bluto is after the gold, too, and soon a fight develops inside the mine.

‘Stealin’ Ain’t Honest’ is a cartoon of delightful nonsense. For example, Olive’s secret gold mine is advertised with arrows on the sea surface, and by a giant neon billboard. The fight itself produces all kinds of gold products from the mine, including coins, and a golden boxing glove. Bluto is a genuine villain in this cartoon and not a mere rival. Unfortunately, his design is very inconsistent, unlike that of Popeye and Olive.

Watch ‘Stealin’ Ain’t Honest’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Stealin’ Ain’t Honest’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 8, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Females is Fickle © Max FleischerIn ‘Females is Fickle’ we watch Popeye being actually on a ship, doing some chores in his own, unusual way.

Then Olive comes along to show him her trained pet goldfish. Unfortunately, the goldfish falls into the sea, and Popeye has to dive after it to rescue Olive’s precious pet. This leads to a long chase scene under water, which also features a very strange amorphous animal, which has Goofy’s guffaw (so likely voiced by Pinto Colvig, who was at Fleischer at the time). This ghost-like creature apparently is supposed to be a jellyfish.

‘Females is Fickle’ is a pure gag cartoon and great fun. Popeye’s and Olive’s designs are more extreme than usual, and the animation on them is wilder than before. There are some extreme perspectives and takes on both characters, which give these characters a more modern look. Yet, these new designs would not become a new standard.

Watch ‘Females Is Fickle’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Females Is Fickle’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 3, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Swee’Pea
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Never Sock a Baby © Max FleischerThis cartoon opens with Popeye softly spanking Swee’Pea, and sending him to bed without supper.

While Popeye struggles with his conscience (which materializes into his angelic and devilish side), Lil’ Swee’Pea leaves home, and almost immediately enters a hazardous, mountainous terrain. When Popeye’s angelic side has won, Popeye enters Swee’Pea’s room, only to find him gone. It’s now up to our hero to rescue Swee’Pea from grave dangers…

‘Never Sock a Baby’ is a morality tale, all too typical for the late 1930s, in which Popeye teaches us that it’s not right to spank a child. However, what a delightful morality cartoon this is! Despite the trite dream ending, the cartoon is full of wild and zany animation, plenty of gags and suiting music. Priceless is the scene in which Popeye reaches for his spinach only to find the can empty. The music score follows with a hilariously deflated version of the spinach theme. ‘Never Sock a Baby’ shows that by the end of the decade the goody-goody cartoon style of the mid-1930’s was at its end.

Watch ‘Never Sock a Baby’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Never Sock a Baby’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 22, 1939
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Gulliver's Travels © Max Fleischer

Following the huge success of Walt Disney’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ other Hollywood animation studios considered the making of an animated feature themselves. In the end, only the Fleischer studio really attempted it, persuaded by their distributor, Paramount.

In fact, the Fleischers’ plans for a feature film dated back to as early as 1934, and the three Popeye two-reelers (‘Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor’, ‘Popeye the Sailor meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves’ and ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp‘) can be regarded as exercises in the longer format. Nevertheless, it was the enormous success of Disney’s first feature that prompted Paramount to demand a Christmas feature from the Fleischer animation studio.

To achieve this, the Fleischers moved to a completely new studio in Miami, Florida, and hired a lot of new personnel, including Snow White veterans like animators Grim Natwick, Al Eugster and Shamus Culhane. This huge undertaking resulted in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, becoming America’s second animated feature, beating Disney’s second feature, ‘Pinocchio‘, by more than a month.

As often, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ only depicts the first part from Swift’s famous book: Gulliver’s visit to the island of Lilliput. Indeed, the film seems to take considerable inspiration from the Soviet adaptation ‘The New Gulliver’ (1934), which looks surprisingly similar. Nevertheless, the story deviates mostly from Swift’s book, focusing on two kings who quarrel over a song to be played at their children’s wedding, instead. This quarrel and the discovery of Gulliver by a night watchman called Gabby completely take up the first part of the film. In fact, Gulliver only awakes halfway the feature!

Only after Gulliver’s rise the film gains some momentum, being otherwise surprisingly slow. For example, the scene in which the civilians find Gulliver and tie him up lasts no less than a quarter of an hour, one-fifth of the complete film. Luckily, in the second half there’s some suspense, when three spies conspire to kill Gulliver with his own gun, and Gulliver tries to reconcile the two estranged kingdoms.

Unfortunately, Gulliver and the wedding couple, Princess Glory and Prince David, never become real characters. Glory and David are clearly based on Snow White and Prince Charming, and they are even blander than the originals. Their semi-realistic designs are devoid of character, and only after 70 minutes they utter a little dialogue. One just doesn’t care about them. Gulliver, on the other hand, looks good – especially the coloring and shading on him is very well done, with the night banquet scene as a particular highlight. Yet, his realistic design and hi slow, rotoscoped movements don’t blend well with the cartoony inhabitants of Lilliput. And he, too, is surprisingly devoid of character.

In fact, only three protagonists have clear characters: king Little, king Bombo, and the omnipresent Gabby, who must be regarded as the film’s star, even though he fails as a comic relief, and lacks a story of his own. Indeed, the film’s best comical scene doesn’t feature Gabby, but goes to the three spies trying to think of a plan to kill Gulliver. This is great silent comedy, unmatched by the rest of the film.

Together with ‘Pinocchio’ ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ can be regarded as the epitome of 1930s aesthetics. The feature is very well made, with beautiful background art, very much influenced by that of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, beautiful coloring and shading, and spectacular effect animation, especially in the storm scene with which the film opens. The animation belongs to the best ever produced at the Fleischer studio, and certainly is the most Disney-like. Yet, at the same time the animation fails to reach the heights of the Walt Disney studio, and at times is over-excessive, for example in the scene in which King Bombo remembers his friendship with King Little. The songs, too, are pleasant, but nothing more than that. Most catchy is ‘It’s a Hap-Hap-Happy Day’, a clear attempt to give the film its own ‘Whistle While You Work’. More impressive than the songs, however, is the lush score by Victor Young.

In all, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is a beautiful film, but a slow one, and with a story that fails to catch the audience. Indeed, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ doesn’t stand the comparison to its model, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, and it was only a small success upon release. What certainly didn’t help was that World War II had broken out in Europe, depleting the film of a huge foreign market. These problems of course also troubled Disney’s own ‘Pinocchio’, released in February 1940.

Despite the film’s modest profits, the Fleischers decided to make another feature to keep their enormous organisation at work (resulting in the 1941 release ‘Mr. Bug goes to Town’). This economically unhealthy path would eventually lead to their downfall.

Watch ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is available on the Thunderbean Blu-Ray/DVD set ‘Fleischer Classics featuring Gulliver’s Travels’. All other copies are considerably inferior to this one and should be avoided.

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 15, 1940
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Ants in the Plants © Max Fleischer‘With ‘Ants in the Plants’ the Fleischers more or less made their own version of Disney’s ‘Bugs in Love‘ (1932), now featuring ants.

After a rather spectacular forest intro we watch ant society, with a school, a restaurant etc. Then the queen ant sings a song telling her soldiers that their main enemy is the ant eater. The villain then immediately enters the scene, and despite his rather funny appearance, he proves to be a considerable foe.

Like ‘Bugs in Love’ (and several other Silly Symphonies) war breaks out to stop the intruder. ‘Ants in the Pants’ may be no classic, the short still belongs to the more enjoyable Color Classics. The cloying morale of contemporary Color Classics is lacking, and the classic war story, if far from original, works once again. During this scene there are some clever sight gags, with the ants combining a corncob and a magnifying glass to use those as a machine gun as a particular highlight.

Watch ‘Ants in the Plants’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 2, 1940
Rating:  ★
Review:

Little Lambkins © Max FleischerIn 1939 the Fleischers seemed obsessed with spoiled children. ‘Small Fry‘ saw a disobedient little fish, in ‘Barnyard Brat‘ the little donkey Spunky showed his worst side, and in ‘Little Lambkins’ a red-haired baby tortures his parents.

The film opens with his mother putting Little Lambkins down in a garden to play. Soon, the baby calls out to his friends, a squirrel and a raccoon, and together they steal and eat a complete melon. But then it turns out to be moving day, and the unwilling baby is taken to a modern flat in the city, with more than modern equipment. The baby immediately starts sabotaging this high technology, so the fridge sets fire, the stove produces water fountains, etc. Convinced the house has gone crazy, his parents then immediately move back to their old house, where the brat can rejoin his forest friends again.

Considering how much Max Fleischer loved technology, this ridiculously conservative cartoon is completely out of tune. The fear of technology going haywire is the opposite of the joyful Grampy cartoons (1935-1937), in which technology formed the solution to all problems.

There’s very little to enjoy in ‘Little Lambkins’, although the kitchen scene is played out well, with strange images following each other in fast succession. Unfortunately, the makers forgot to make the short funny, and in the end ‘Little Lambkins’ is but another annoying entry in the ill-conceived ‘Color Classics’ series.

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

 

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

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