You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘★★½’ category.

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 14, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Sally Swing © Max FleischerThis short opens with Betty Boop is looking for a singer to lead a swing band at the university ball.

Unfortunately, no one in the audition room qualifies. Luckily she discovers that the cleaning lady is a natural talent in swinging, ans she hires her on the spot.

In a smooth overlaying cut we are immediately transferred to the ball night. We watch Sally Swing performing her own theme music to intoxicating swing music for the remainder half of the film. Exit story, although during this swing part there’s some rudimentary story of an old professor who somehow doesn’t approve, but who’s caught by the swing music anyway.

The second half is joyous and captures the swing craze that had taken over America. But this section is hampered by lame gags, and ugly and old-fashioned animation, a problem the complete cartoon suffers from. It seems that Betty Boop had become the victim of the Fleischers’ move to Florida and the start of animation on their feature project, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. While for this project Fleischer attracted top animators, the lesser talents apparently had to work on Betty Boop cartoons. Even the animation on contemporary Popeye cartoons is much more flexible and inspired.

Even worse, Sally Swing is anything but an appealing character. In fact, she hasn’t got any character traits, at all. If the Fleischers had planned to make her their next star, this plan was doomed to fail, as stars devoid of character had become obsolete since ca. 1936. In any case, after this cartoon Sally Swing was never seen again.

For this short Betty Boop has been re-designed to look more human. Unfortunately, the restyling isn’t a success: she also looks a little more angular, less appealing, and if possible, less sexy than she already had become by the late 1930s. Nevertheless, Betty’s quite boring new design would stay up to her last cartoon.

Watch ‘Sally Swing’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 76
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy the Watchman

To the next Betty Boop cartoon: On with the New

‘Sally Swing’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

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Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: December 17, 1938
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Captain's Christmas © MGM‘The Captain’s Christmas’ is the first of only two ‘Captain and the Kids’ cartoons in color.

Color definitely adds some charm to the series, as does the presence of the foe Long John Silver and his three helpers, and the result is one of the better ‘Captain and the Kids’ cartoons.

Watching the captain playing Santa, Long John Silver decides to steal the captain’s act, and, dressed as Santa, descends down the chimney. He plays his part jollily alright, but also very violently, destroying all the kids’ toys. In an all too typical 1930s morale, the villain is reprimanded by his own younger self.

So, Long John Silver thinks up a plan, and with his men goes singing Christmas Carols in a village inexplicably inhabited with Santa Clauses. Silver and his men do their best, but soon the Santas are disgusted by their act, and start throwing toys at the bunch. Thus, the four scoundrels can flood the Captain’s house with toys.

‘The Captain’s Christmas’ is joyous, if nowhere near classic, and full of the Christmas spirit. Unfortunately, its story is rather weird than engaging, and the carol singing sequence just makes no sense. Moreover, none of the songs are really memorable, and one has the feeling that a lot of money and animation talent is wasted on this cartoon, which, after all, remains mediocre.

Watch ‘The Captain’s Christmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Captain’s Christmas’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: November 5, 1938
Rating: ★★½
Review:

You're an Education © Warner Bros.With ‘You’re an Education’ Frank Tashlin rounds up his trio of contributions to the Warner Bros. books-come-to-life-cartoons.

As with the earlier ‘Speaking of the Weather’ (1937) and ‘Have You Got Any Castles?‘ (1938) the cartoon consists of a bunch of musical routines, followed by an embryonic story of all characters trying to catch a criminal. This time the setting is a travel agency, and all gags and puns come from countries, cities and other places around the world.

‘You’re an Education’ is less lush than ‘Have You Got Any Castles?’ was, and feels like a repetition of the former film. However, the film moves at an incredible speed. The opening sequence, in particular, is rich in events, with the music changing quickly, forming a dazzling medley. The title song is sung by three fat black ladies, while the criminal is a guy from Bagdad stealing from the Transvaal Kimberly Diamond Mines. The film ends with the Bagdad criminal joining the Lone Ranger, a popular fictional radio star that had come to the movie screen in February 1938.

Watch ‘You’re an Education’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘You’re an Education’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 19, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Bulldozing the Bull © Max FleischerIn ‘Bulldozing the Bull’ we suddenly find Popeye in either Mexico or Spain, fancying a latin version of Olive Oyl.

Popeye follows the Spanish Olive into the arena, but is suddenly forced to fight the bull himself, something he already had done in his third cartoon ‘I Eats My Spinach‘ (1933).

In that cartoon Popeye beat the bull into a meat market, but five years later he refuses to fight the bull, because it’s inhuman to do so. Indeed, the cartoon clearly turns anti-bullfighting, and in the end Popeye sings ‘Don’t be a bullfighter, because kindness is righter’ to his own tune.

This is all a clear result of the role model Popeye had become over the years. Indeed, already in Segar’s Sunday Pages, Popeye had been promoting kindness to animals and other gentle behavior. It’s this original mix of kindness and violence that made Popeye such a wonderful comic character, and in this film the Fleischers play that combination to an excellent effect.

Watch ‘Bulldozing the Bull’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bulldozing the Bull’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Directors: Ben Hardaway & Cal Dalton
Release Date: July 9, 1938
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Love and Curses © Warner BrosLove and Curses’ is set during the gay nineties and is a spoof of the classic melodrama, complete with mustached villain, a train track and a sawmill.

Unfortunately, the cartoon is hampered by the stiff melodramatic dialogue and the slow timing. Most of the ‘humor’ comes from the invincible hero Harold reciting proverbs all the time, but his appearances are tiresome, not funny. There are also a couple of throwaway gags, but these are mildly amusing at best.

This is one of those rather rare cartoons (not counting Popeye) featuring adult human designs, and the results are pretty unsteady. The animation of the girl singing at the nightclub is the most elaborate, but none of the animation is convincing.

Chuck Jones would visit the same kind of material four years later with ‘The Dover Boys‘, which seems light-years ahead of this cartoon.

Watch ‘Love and Curses’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Love and Curses’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Busby Berkeley Collection’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: December 10, 1937
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Donald's Ostrich © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Ostrich’ is the first entry in Donald Duck’s very own series.

True, Donald had already gone solo in ‘Don Donald‘ and ‘Modern Inventions‘ from earlier that year, but those two cartoons had been released within the Mickey Mouse series. With ‘Donald’s Ostrich’ Donald Duck would really be on his own, only two weeks after Pluto had made the same jump with ‘Pluto’s Quin-Puplets’. Now he was ready to become Disney’s most popular star.

Unfortunately, this first entry is not really a success. In this short Donald Duck works at a remote train station, where he encounters an ostrich in a package. The ostrich has male plumage, but is clearly female, and called Hortense. Most of the gags are about Hortense, who, as an accompanying note says, eats everything, including a harmonica, an alarm clock, a few balloons, and Donald’s radio.

The radio, especially, takes much screen time, making the ostrich behave like e.g. a boxer and a race car. This string of gags is rather tiresome, and suffers from King’s slow timing, and it’s a pity Donald gets so little screen time himself.

Donald’s next two cartoons wouldn’t be better, but with ‘Donald’s Nephews‘, the studio would hit the jackpot. Hortense meanwhile would enter Donald’s life, too, in Al Taliaferro’s daily Donald Duck comic strip in May 9, 1938, causing a string of gags until May 24, and occasionally appearing afterwards.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 1
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Self Control

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

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: February 29, 1938
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Jungle Jitters © Warner Bros.‘Jungle Jitters’ is a cartoon about cannibals.

We watch them drumming, dancing and trying to cook a Goofy-like travelling salesman. Their white, bird-like queen sees a Clark Gable or Robert Taylor in him and wants to marry the salesman, but he prefers the cooking pot.

‘Jungle Jitters’ is an unsure mix of musical gags, spot gags and a rudimentary gag story. The voices of both the salesman and the queen are weak [see Yowp’s comment below for their origin], and the weird mix of human cannibals and these two animal-like characters is very unconvincing. And let’s not get started on the racist aspect of the movie. Besides, the scenes with the salesman are irritatingly slow, and the gags mostly trite. The best gag is when some cannibals dancing around a hut suddenly change into a merry-go-round.

On the positive side, Carl Stalling’s music is superb throughout, and enhances the action, even if it’s not much to look at.

Watch ‘Jungle Jitters’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Jungle Jitters’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 17, 1937
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Fowl Play © Max FleischerIn ‘Fowl Play’ Popeye brings Olive a parrot to remember him by when he’s at sea.

The parrot, which too smokes a pipe, sings a love song for Olive, and she immediately grows attached to the bird. But then Bluto appears. He lets the bird free, and then tries to kill it with an ax, so Popeye has to save the day.

‘Fowl Play’ is one of the more routine Popeye cartoons. Bluto is nothing but a big bully here, while the parrot adds little to the classic love triangle. The complete cartoon is rather slow and predictable. Its best gag is when Popeye repeatedly has to leave the fighting cloud to save Olive from falling while fainting. This scene contains some wild takes on Olive, while an earlier scene features a very wild double-take on Popeye.

Watch ‘Fowl Play’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fowl Play’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 17, 1933
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Seasin's Greetinks! © Max Fleischer‘Seasin’s Greetinks!’ is Popeye’s first Christmas cartoon. It must be one of the least typical Christmas cartoons around: we watch Bluto and Popeye clobbering each other, while wishing each other ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘A Happy New Year’, respectively.

Most of the time we watch the trio skating. When Olive gives him the cold shoulder, Bluto cuts off the ice on which she sits, and she immediately drifts towards a waterfall. Luckily, Popeye saves her in a rather bizarre way. The cartoon ends with Olive and Popeye watching a Christmas tree, decorated by the stars from the blow Popeye gave Bluto.

‘Seasin’s Greetinks’ is the first mediocre Popeye cartoon. Compared to earlier entries this cartoon is rather low on gags, and the love triangle already becomes predictable. Luckily, the Fleischers came up with enough variations to keep the series fresh, even if not in all its entries.

‘Seasin’s Greetinks!’ is noteworthy for introducing the skating-near-a-waterfall plot, which Disney would copy in ‘On Ice‘ (1935) and the ‘Once upon a Wintertime’ sequence of ‘Melody Time’ (1948).

Watch ‘Seasin’s Greetinks!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Seasin’s Greetinks!’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date: September 18, 1933
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Bosko's Picture Show © Warner Bros.‘Bosko’s Picture Show’ was one of the last Bosko cartoons Harman & Ising made for Leon Schlesinger.

The short nicely parodies a typical cinema evening of the time. Bosko himself plays the organ in a cinema, inviting the audience to join him in singing ‘We’re in the Money’ from the Warner Bros. musical ‘Gold Diggers of 1933’ . Then we watch some nonsensical news items.

The most disturbing of these is about Jimmy Durante being on holiday in Germany: we watch a scene of Adolf Hitler chasing the comedian with an ax, supposedly because the actor’s big nose makes him look Jewish. This gag wasn’t really innocent in 1933, but nowadays is appallingly shocking. It does show, however, that already in 1933 the fierce antisemitism of the freshly installed dictator was widely known. In any case, it might very well be the earliest caricature of Hitler in animated cinema.

Then we watch a Laurel and Hardy short (sort of) called ‘In Spite of Everything’. Somehow Laurel and Hardy are dressed as little boys, trying to steal a pie, but the caricatures are neither convincing, nor really funny.

Then we can watch the main picture ‘He Done Her Dirt (And How!)’, an obvious take on the Mae West vehicle ‘He Done Her Wrong’ from earlier that year. The feature stars Honey, who’s dressed like West in that picture, but that’s it. No other reference to the great comedienne is shown. Instead we’re treated on pure melodrama, with Bosko making a rather unconvincing end to it.

‘Bosko’s Picture Show’ somehow painfully shows the lack of appeal Bosko actually has. Unlike Harman & Ising’s last Merrie Melodies, which show a Disney-like quality, the Bosko cartoons were disappointingly devoid of ambition. Bosko just ‘does’ things. He lacks either motivation or purpose, and belongs to an era that by the end of 1933 had pretty much ended.

However, Schlesinger’s answer to Bosko, Buddy, would become anything but an improvement. Luckily, in 1936 Warner Bros. finally found its own style, and so, in 1937 could cover similar grounds in ‘She was an Acrobat’s Daughter‘ (1937) with much funnier results.

Watch ‘Bosko’s Picture Show’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bosko’s Picture Show’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 3, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Betty Boop's Hallowe'en Party © ParamountBetty Boop invites a cold scarecrow to her Halloween party.

The scarecrow helps Betty with the preparations, decorating the walls with “witch paint” and “cat paint”. The party itself is very merry until a bullying gorilla arrives. When Betty pulls out the lights, however, suddenly some scary ghosts appear, and together with the painted witches they beat the gorilla out of the house.

‘Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party’ is an uneven, all too loosely composed and a little boring cartoon. It is noteworthy, however, for its most inspired score, which makes a clever use of Betty Boop’s theme song. When Betty’s answering door, one can see her panties from behind.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 22
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Morning Noon and Night
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Parade of the Wooden Soldiers

‘Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party’ is available on the DVD ‘Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Vol. 1’, and on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Release Date: August 25, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★
Review:

Cubby's World Flight © Van BeurenIn 1933 the Harman and Ising studio had lost their deal with Leon Schlesinger to produce cartoons for Warner Bros. They had not yet got their later deal with MGM, and were in sort of a limbo, doing odds and pieces for several bidders.

One of the most surprising contracts they got was to produce two Cubby the Bear films for the New York-based Van Beuren in 1934. Van Beuren had his own studio making Cubby the Bear films, so what made him contracting Harman and Ising remains a puzzle. What’s clear, however, is that Harman & Ising’s Cubby was a far cry from Van Beuren’s own output.

Harman & Ising’s Cubby was in fact, Bosko but in a different design. His movements and spirit were indistinguishable from Harman & Ising’s former star. Like their cartoons for Warner Bros., Harman & Ising’s two Cubby the Bear films are animated by the same crew who had made the Bosko cartoons (e.g. Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson, before Schlesinger hired them away), resulting in cartoons that are at least well animated.

In the first of the two films, ‘Cubby’s World Flight’, Cubby follows Oswald (‘The Ocean Hop‘, 1927) and Mickey (‘Plane Crazy‘, 1928) in a Charles Lindbergh-inspired aviation film. Cubby starts flying alarmingly low, which leads to gags that go all the way back to ‘Plane Crazy’, he then crosses the United States, only to dive through the earth to reach China at the other side. Undaunted and with seemingly limitless supplies of fuel, Cubby flies over Russia to France, but above the Atlantic his plane is destroyed by a thunderstorm. Luckily our hero lands safely on the statue of liberty.

‘World Flight’ is practically indistinguishable from the early Warner Bros. films, and has little to do with Cubby as conceived by the Van Beuren studio itself. However, it’s a rather uninspired film, low on gags, and with an all too episodic story. In the best Warner Bros. tradition it features caricatures of the four Marx Brothers and of Maurice Chevalier.

Watch ‘Cubby’s World Flight’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cubby’s World Flight’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’

Director: unknown
Release Date: September 29, 1933
Stars: The Little King
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Fatal Note © Van BeurenAfter two films featuring Sentinel Louey, the Van Beuren studio turned to Otto Soglow’s greatest creation: The Little King.

It was clearly the studio’s intention to cash in on this charming character. But unlike the two Sentinel Louey cartoons, which copied Soglow’s silent comedy style very well, ‘The Fatal Note’ is much less faithful to the source material. For example, it starts with an elaborate song, not unlike Walt Disney’s ‘Father Noah’s Ark’ from earlier that year.

Apart from the Little King it also stars a cloaked terrorist, whose design has nothing to do with Soglow’s style, but which is the Van Beuren studio’s most ambitious attempt at human design, yet – another example of the studio’s attempts to keep up with Disney in human design. The terrorist introduces himself in song, but the rest of the cartoon is done in silent comedy.

The villain tries to kill the Little King, e.g. with a bomb inside a piano, a gag that gives the film its title. Eightteen years later Friz Freleng would use the same gag for the Bugs Bunny film ‘Ballot Box Bunny’ (1951), but with much, much funnier results. In ‘The Fatal Note’ the gag is just one of the terrorist’s numerous attempts to kill the king, which involves numerous bombs, anyway. The chase partly takes place on a spectacularly animated spiral staircase, which must have been the animators’ pride scene, as it is used no less than three times in the cartoon.

Because it lacks the charm of the source material, it is difficult to call ‘The Fatal Note’ a success, but it’s a great testimony of the studio’s ambitions even before Disney-alumnus Burt Gillett came along.

Watch ‘The Fatal Note’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Fatal Note’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Otto Soglow’s The Little King’

Director: Bill Nolan
Release Date: October 10, 1932
Stars: Oswald, Honey, Peg Leg Pete
Rating: ★★
Review:

Carnival Capers © Walter Lantz‘Carnival Capers’ takes place at the beach and at a carnival.

We watch Oswald and Honey trying to enjoy themselves, but being bullied by Peg Leg Pete. Oswald finally disposes of Pete, with help of a fence, a lobster, a cat, a dog and a goat.

‘Carnival Capers’ looks pretty old-fashioned by 1932 standards. It recalls the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Karnival Kid‘ (1929) in its setting, and the silent Oswald cartoons with its love triangle. At one point Pete is cut into two – a familiar gag in the 1920s, but by 1932 a rare one, as by then cartoon characters had gained more consistency. Overall, the animation and the vocalizations are rather erratic.

A young Tex Avery worked on this cartoon, and perhaps he came up with the gag of a phlegmatic dog making milkshakes with help of a shimmy dancer, which is arguably the best gag in the whole cartoon.

Watch ‘Carnival Capers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Carnival Capers’ is available on the DVD ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: February 10, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Opening Night © Van BeurenIn 1933 the Van Beuren studio was struggling. Their Tom & Jerry series failed to match the successes of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse or the Fleischers’ ‘Betty Boop’, which is not really surprising, as the duo was as bland as possible, and their cartoons highly inconsistent. So, Van Beuren invited about eight of his animators to dinner and told them to come up with some new ideas. Mannie Davis sketched a new character called Cubby the Bear, and this character was to be the studio’s new star.

Being vaguely Mickey Mouse-like Cubby was a hero character, saving his girlfriend in many melodramatic situations. Unfortunately, Cubby was as bland as Tom & Jerry had been, and he did not even last two years. Many people would attribute Cubby’s misfortune to a lack of character, but this cannot be true: the character of the much more successful Betty Boop didn’t go beyond ‘sexy girl’, and even top star Mickey’s character could be summarized as ‘optimistic’. Other stars of the time, like Bosko and Flip the Frog, were as generic as possible. In fact, the first real characters to hit the animated screen were Popeye (later in 1933) and Donald Duck (1934).

No, Cubby’s main problem was that he was so terribly animated. Whereas we could easily follow the emotions of say Oswald, Bimbo, Flip or Mickey, Cubby is almost expressionless in this cartoon, his wide eyes staring into nothingness most of the time, as if he weren’t alive at all. Moreover, the animators often forgot to give him a motivation. This becomes clear when one compares the opening scene of Cubby’s debut film ‘Opening Night’ to a similar one in the much older, yet much better animated Oswald cartoon ‘Bright Lights‘ (1928). In the Oswald cartoon we clearly watch Oswald being in love with Mlle. Zulu, who performs at the theater. So when we watch Oswald trying to get in, we immediately understand why. Moreover, we can watch his emotions while doing so. Not so in ‘Opening Night’: in a very similar scene Cubby is given no motivation whatsoever. Even worse, we watch him from the back, which shuts us from his emotions. Mistakes like these are all over the Cubby the Bear cartoons, and that’s the main reason why he is forgotten, while his contemporaries Mickey, Betty and to an extent even Bosko and Flip have lived on.

‘Opening Night’ was made for the occasion of the opening of the RKO Roxy theater, which opened on December 29, 1932. Like subsequent Cubby the Bear cartoons, ‘Opening Night’ is still part of the Aesop Fables series, but Cubby is introduced immediately on the title card. The cartoon starts with Santa Claus spraying some dust which forms the letters ROXY. Then we get the scene in which Cubby tries to get into the theater. When he finally manages to do so, he ends up at the conductor stand, where he conducts the orchestra in an opera scene.

There’s quite some strangeness going on in this cartoon, especially in a couple of bizarre gags featuring audience seats.  Later, during a fighting scene the Romeo-like opera character beheads(!) his opponent. Composer Gene Rodemich, as often, is Van Beuren’s only inspired employee, making a great score out of Italian opera snippets.

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

‘Opening Night’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 7, 1933
Stars: Arthur Jarrett, Betty Boop
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Popular Melodies © Max Fleischer‘Popular Melodies’ is a Screen Song devoted to singer Arthur Jarrett, a crooner who is all but forgotten today. Surprisingly enough, the so-called popular tunes he sings aren’t well-known either, except for Betty’s theme song with which the cartoon ends.

The animation part of this cartoon features a painter who tries to paint with a number of noisy children playing around. When his painting is ruined by one of the brats, he decides to drive to the countryside, but the children join them. There he paints a walking tree and a moving rock, which transforms into singer Arthur Jarrett. Jarrett sings a three songs. During the second song he draws a picture of Betty, who joins him in her own theme song.

Then we cut back to the painter and the children. Oddly, the song is not continued, only its instrumental music. This scene is remarkably because of its animation of figures in white on black, unseen since Emile Cohl’s films. These figures soon flee the painter’s canvas, resulting in a rather scary finale, with the spooky shapes walking and dancing through the countryside. Stange enough, the cartoon ends with a devil wishing the children “pleasant dreams, and good night”. Because of this finale ‘Popular Melodies’ is one of the most interesting of all Screen Songs, even if its star and his first two songs are utterly forgettable. It was also the last of six Screen Songs to feature Betty Boop.

Watch ‘Popular Melodies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Popular Melodies’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 16, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Betty Boop's Ker-Choo © Max FleischerBetty, Bimbo and Koko are joining a car race. Betty Boop is late, because she has a cold, and when she arrives she sings a song about it. In the end she wins the car race by sneezing.

Although ‘Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo’ belongs to Betty Boop’s golden era, it’s unfortunately one of Betty’s more boring cartoons. In fact, the best gags are the silly ones with which the cartoon starts. Because she wears a driver’s costume, Betty is also less sexy than usual, and somehow it seems this cartoon that points to the design used one year later, when Betty Boop fell victim of the stricter Hays code.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 9
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Museum
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions

‘Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date:
 April 10, 1933
Stars: Bosko, Honey
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Bosko in Person © Warner Bros.‘Bosko in Person’ is to Bosko what ‘Just Mickey‘ (1930) was to Mickey: a cartoon devoted solely to the star performing on stage.

Where Mickey was completely alone, Bosko gets help from Honey in an extraordinary song-and-dance extravaganza, including Bosko playing the piano, Honey dancing, Bosko tap-dancing, Bosko’s glove(!) reciting ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’, Honey singing a blues and doing a Greta Garbo imitation, and Bosko imitating both Maurice Chevalier and Jimmy Durante. The cartoon ends with a celebration of the end of the prohibition, which after 13 years ended in effect when on March 22, low alcohol beer and wine were legalized again.

Unfortunately, ‘Bosko in person’ is over-the-top, trying much too hard to make Bosko an appealing personality, which he isn’t. Indeed, when turning into Maurice Chevalier and Jimmy Durante he loses himself completely. Moreover, the cartoon is stuffed with repetition as some gags appear not once, but twice. The result is tiresome and desperately unfunny. In the end, the short is only noteworthy because of the caricatures of Hollywood stars.

Watch ‘Bosko in Person’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bosko in Person’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 9, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Irène Bordoni
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Just a Gigolo © Max FleischerIn the opening scenes of this Screen Song we watch Betty Boop working at a cabaret nightclub as a tobacco seller.

Betty introduces singer Irène Bordoni who sings the title song, first in French, then in English. At the second chorus the live action audience takes over, and during the third chorus we watch a very short animated sequence about a womanizing cat. The cabaret scene has a jazzy score based on Cab Calloway’s ‘The Scat Song’ from earlier that year, after which Bordoni’s sentimental 1928 song rather pales. Thus, after the opening scenes the cartoon unfortunately plunges into dullness.

Watch ‘Just a Gigolo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Just a Gigolo’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 June 8, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Musical Farmer © Walt DisneyIn this film Mickey and Minnie are farmers, which makes the film a little like a remake of ‘The Plow Boy‘ (1929).

First we watch Mickey planting seeds with help from Pluto, and Minnie milking a cow. Then Mickey decides to scare Minnie by stepping inside the scarecrow. A string of gags leads to Mickey playing the bagpipes on three geese. This starts a musical number, which is almost Silly Symphony-like in its directionless musical fun at the barnyard. We watch cows, lamb, ducks, pigeons, turkeys and chickens moving and dancing to the tune of Turkey in the Straw.

But then we cut to several chickens laying multitudes of eggs, except for poor Fanny. At this point suddenly a story develops, with Fanny laying an enormous egg, which attracts a lot of attention from her fellow chickens, the other animals, and finally, Mickey. Mickey rushes to bring his camera to make a picture of it, but unfortunately, he uses too much flash light powder, and everything explodes. This final gag was also used by Floyd Gottfredson in the Mickey Mouse comic strip, published on March 13, 1932.

‘The Musical Farmer’ is one of the weaker Mickey Mouse films of 1932. Like e.g. ‘Mickey Cuts Up‘ and ‘The Grocery Boy‘ it’s uses the part-musical-number-part-frantic-finale-formula, but by mid-1932 shots of dancing animals had become a bit tiring and old-fashioned. Moreover, Fanny’s story feels a little out of place, and I suspect that part of this film was intentionally designed as a Silly Symphony, which apparently never really took off.

Watch ‘Musical Farmer’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 42
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Revue
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey in Arabia

‘Musical Farmer’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume Two’

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