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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 24, 1938
Stars: Hunky and Spunky

unky and Spunky © Max FleischerHunky and Spunky are two donkeys. Hunky, the large black one, teaches her child Spunky, a little brown one, to open cacti by kicking them apart.

A little later Hunky goes to sleep, while Spunky plays with a little rabbit. Unfortunately, he’s caught by an evil red-nosed man who uses the little ass to carry his heavy load. Luckily, Hunky comes to the rescue to Hunky’s cries for help. She kicks both the man and his house to another hill, and all is fine.

Absolutely nothing is remotely interesting in this cartoon, let alone funny. The two characters form arguably the most forgettable cartoon duo of all time. Even Fleischer’s tabletop is not present. The result is a sweet, but utterly boring cartoon, which starts and ends with a gentle country song.

The Fleischer studio had outstayed the Van Beuren studio and Ub Iwerks’s studio, but with films like these one almost can feel them losing the game, not only to the leading Disney studio, but also to the much peppier Warner Bros. studio. Nevertheless, ‘Hunky and Spunky’ got an Academy Award nomination (which it luckily lost to Disney’s ‘Ferdinand the Bull‘), and so this ill-conceived pair would star no less than six other cartoons, and lasted until 1941.

Watch ‘Hunky and Spunky’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hunky and Spunky’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 29, 1938
Rating: ★★★½

Hold It © Max FleischerIn ‘Hold It’ a bunch of cats sing a song with many stops in it, a rather lame variation on the 1937 hit song ‘Posin”.

At the stops everybody freezes, including the singing cat himself, who’s able to hang still in mid-air. Later, the cats’ song manages to stop apples from falling and water from flowing.

These rather original and silly gags save the cartoon, which otherwise is anything but interesting, The cats’ song is too trite to become a real classic, and apart from the threat of a dog, nothing really happens in the cartoon. And yet, ‘Hold It’ marks a welcome diversion from the childish morality tales that most Color Classics are. As is often the case with the Color Classics, the opening scene is the most memorable, with its beautiful 3D shots of a village going to sleep. This scene takes a full minute off the cartoon, while the song only enters after the third minute.

Watch ‘Hold It’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 31, 1937

Little Lamby © Max Fleischer‘Little Lamby’ is one of the most sickeningly sugary entries within Max Fleischer’s Color Classics series.

In this short we watch an evil fox entering peaceful ‘Animalville’. In order to catch some fresh meat, he organizes a baby contest with himself as the judge. He chooses an innocent little lamb as the winner. As the fox states it : “He’s the winner, and my dinner”, before he rushes off on a motorcycle to his hideout. Of course, the townspeople follow him, and during the film’s climax they try to enter the fox’s tree house, while the fox prepares the totally unaware lamb for dinner…

‘Little Lamby’ is totally devoid of humor, and the short is hampered by tiresome vocalizations, especially of the fox, whose wordless grunts get on the nerves. Moreover, the animation is erratic, with the quality often not exceeding that of cartoons from four/five years earlier. No, the only interesting thing about ‘Little Lamby’ is its opening shot, in which we watch the fox wandering through a beautiful 3D tabletop landscape.

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

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 29, 1937
Rating: ★★

Educated Fish © Max FleischerIn many Color Classics the opening sequence is the most interesting part, mostly because of the spectacular 3D effects of Fleischer’s tabletop backgrounds.

‘Educated Fish’ doesn’t employ the tabletop, but even in this short the opening scene is the most interesting part of the cartoon, with its convincing animation of rolling waves. The rest is a childish and tiresome cartoon about a small fish called Tommy who plays hooky and gets caught by a fisherman. In the end he clearly has learned his lesson.

True, there are a handful of nice gags, like the teacher eating the worm in the apple instead of the apple itself. And the sexy worm, with her Mae West-like voice, is nice to watch, but these factors cannot rescue a cartoon that almost collapses under its self-importance and lack of humor. Nevertheless, this cartoon was nominated for an Academy Award (which it understandably lost to Disney’s tour de force ‘The Old Mill‘), and thus, Tommy would return in ‘Small Fry’ (1939), which is even worse.

Watch ‘Educated Fish’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 3, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

Poor Cinderella © Paramount‘Poor Cinderella’ is the first of Fleischer’s Color Classics series, a series meant to compete with Walt Disney’s ‘Silly Symphonies’.

It features Fleischer’s proven star Betty Boop in her only appearance in color, and it’s undoubtedly her most elaborate cartoon.

Although filmed in the two-color technique of Cinecolor, which only uses reds and blues, its designs are lush and colorful. Nevertheless, ‘Poor Cinderella’ remained the only Color Classic in Cinecolor. The seven subsequent entries were filmed in 2-color Technicolor, using reds and greens, until Disney’s monopoly of 3-color Technicolor expired in 1936. The first full color Color Classic was ‘Somewhere in Dreamland‘ from January that year.

Apart from color, ‘Poor Cinderella’ boasts some stunning backgrounds, using Fleischer’s unique 3D-technique for the first time. In this technique 3D sets are used as a background to the animated cells to mesmerizing effects. Until the invention of the multiplane camera, which made his debut in ‘The Old Mill‘ in 1937, Fleischer’s 3D technique remained unchallenged in its wonderful creation of depth.

The story is quite faithful to the original fairy tale, albeit with some typical Fleischer touches. For instance, when the Fairy Godmother gets Betty into a wonderful outfit, the latter is seen in her underwear, something that would never happen to Disney’s Cinderella.

Oddly, Betty is red-haired and blue-eyed in this cartoon; probably to make her fit in better with the designs of those same colors. The changes between the scenes are creative and original. The Fairy Godmother is closer to human design than anything in previous Fleischer cartoons. The horses are drawn very realistically, as well, surpassing comparable designs at the Disney studio, although they do not move correctly.

‘Poor Cinderella’ was clearly made with the intention to compete with Disney, and remarkably, it does challenge that studio. Nevertheless, the Fleischer studio had difficulties to be on par with the ever advancing Disney studio, which pushed the limits of animation in almost every Silly Symphony it released, leaving the promise of ‘Poor Cinderella’ unfulfilled.

Watch ‘Poor Cinderella’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Poor Cinderella’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 17, 1936


Somewhere in Dreamland © Max FleischerMax Fleischer’s first full color cartoon is in the same vein as Disney’s ‘Lullaby Land‘ (1933) and Walter Lantz’s ‘Candy Land’ (1934), depicting little children’s wonderful dreams.

‘Somewhere in Dreamland’ deals with two very poor children who dream that they are in dreamland which is full of candy and toys. Fleischer’s 3D-technique is used with stunning results, and the cartoon must have struck a chord with the audience during the Great Depression era, in which poverty was an all too familiar thing. Indeed, as children the Fleischer Brothers themselves had known hunger like depicted in the film, when their father ran out of business. Unfortunately, the cartoon is remarkably unfunny and sickeningly sweet, following similar sugary outings in Disney’s Silly Symphonies series, like ‘Funny Little Bunnies‘ (1934) and ‘The Robber Kitten‘ (1935).

Unlike those films, however, ‘Somewhere in Dreamland’ suffers from primitive designs. The children’s mother looks like a relative of Olive Oyl, while the little children are drawn in typical thirties kids style resembling Hänsel and Gretel from Disney’s ‘Babes in the Woods‘ from four years earlier. The result is that none of the characters seem to fit within the elaborate 3D-sets.

Watch ‘Somewhere in Dreamland’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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