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

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: January 18, 1958
Stars: Speedy Gonzales
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Tortilla Flaps © Warner Bros.‘Tortilla Flaps’ is a Speedy Gonzales cartoon featuring a vulture as Speedy’s adversary.

The cartoon takes place during Cinco de Mayo. The mice are having their own little festival, where Speedy plays tennis with himself as an attraction at the fair. When the vulture threatens the festival, Speedy Gonzales takes care of him. Soon the vulture surrenders and he ends as an attraction at the fair himself.

‘Tortilla Flaps’ is one of the weaker Speedy Gonzales cartoons: the vulture is a poor substitution for Sylvester, and none of the chase gags are very funny. The best gag arguably is when Speedy makes the bird stop for a passing train, but the bird doesn’t make it in time…

Watch ‘Tortilla Flaps’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Tortilla Flaps’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’

Director: Max Fleischer
Production Date: 1959
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Imagine That © Max Fleischer‘Imagine That!’ is one of the last products by animation pioneer Max Fleischer.

On January 14, 1958 Fleischer founded a new animation studio, called ‘Out of the Inkwell Films, Inc’, with which he clearly returned to his roots. ‘Imagine That!’ is a product of that studio, scripted and drawn by Fleischer himself. The short is a pilot film for a proposed new nature series for television. In this short Fleischer returns to his earliest films, starting with an inkwell. Soon, a narrator asks the spectator what bird he would like to be if he could be one. In the end he settles on the swift, for sheer looks. What follows are some facts about the swift’s nature and behavior.

Unfortunately, there’s practically no animation, and even that is limited. Even worse, the still images have an extremely old-fashioned look, and the complete film looks like a product of the 1910s, not the late 1950s. One wonders how Fleischer ever thought this miscalculated product would ever work. In any case no one was interested in this product by the old man.

Fleischer had a better chance with a revival of Koko the Clown in a new ‘Out of the Inkwell’ series. This, too, suffered from low budgets and very limited animation, but the series at least reached television in the 1960s. Nevertheless, this new series was far from successful, and ‘Out of the Inkwell Films, Inc’ was finally dissolved at the end of 1964.

‘Imagine That!’ is released on the DVD ‘Before Walt’

Directors: Jerzy Zitman & Lechosław Marszałek
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Bulandra i diabel © Studio Filmów Rysunkowych‘Bulandra i diabel’ retells a story by Polish writer Gustaw Morcinek (1891-1963).

Unfortunately, the story is very hard to follow, not to say incomprehensible. It doesn’t help that there’s no dialogue (when the protagonists talk, you hear some sped up tape sounds). At least the narrative features a miner, a goat, a king and a devil.

Zitman and Marszałek have designed their film like a picture book, and all action takes place in absolute flat space. Neither the background art nor the cut-out figures get any feeling of depth. The background art is neatly designed, combining a naive folk-like quality with a stark cartoon modern design. The cut-out figures however, are animated rather poorly, and hardly display any sense of emotion. The result is rather disappointing.

In fact, ‘Bulandra i diabel’ is most interesting for featuring music by avant-garde composer Krzysztof Penderecki. During this time Penderecki was already experimenting with stochastic techniques and new timbres, but none of that in this film. Here he sticks to a way more accessible rather gritty Béla Bartók-like mid-century modernism.

Watch ‘Bulandra i diabel’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bulandra i diabel’ is available on the DVD set ‘Anthology of Polish Children’s Animation’

Director: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: October 30, 1959
Stars: Herman & Katnip
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Katnip's Big Day © Paramount‘Katnip’s Big Day’ was the last of the Herman and Katnip cartoons. Fittingly, it’s a cheater, a compilation cartoon with Katnip looking back on his not too illustrious career in a ‘This is your life’-like television program.

Katnip sits on a throne and is visited by his old ‘pals’ Spike, Herman’s cousins (whose names are revealed to be Rubin, Dubin and Louie), Buzzy and Herman himself. They all reminisce how they tricked the poor cat in earlier cartoons, which lead to excerpts from ‘A Bicep Built for Two’ (Spike, 1955), ‘Cat-Choo’ (Buzzy, 1951), ‘Drinks on the Mouse’ (Rubin, Dubin & Louie, 1953) and ‘Mousetro Herman’ (1956).

What the cartoon manages to demonstrate is that Herman and Katnip never were really funny, but that only three years before they at least were well animated. Compared to the archive footage the animation of the actual cartoon looks terribly stiff, lifeless and cheap.

Watch ‘Katnip’s Big Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Katnip’s Big Day’ is released on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

Director: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: January 2, 1959
Stars: Herman & Katnip
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Owly to Bed © ParamountThis cartoon centers on a small owl who starts sleepwalking during daytime. To save him from certain death Herman takes the little fellow home and christens him ‘Hootie’.

Unfortunately, Hootie immediately starts walking out of Herman’s lair to make a nest on Katnip’s back. When Katnip discovers the bird, he tries to catch it and eat it. What follows is a chase cartoons that gets complicated by the fact that Hootie may be blind and helpless during daytime, he sure can see when it’s dark en then he suddenly changes into a violent foe to Katnip.

‘Owly to Bed’ contains one of the most violent takes on Katnip: during one scene we watch him being split in two by Hootie’s axe, and trying to put himself back together again. More interesting than either the violence or the chase, however, is the music that accompanies Hootie’s sleepwalking.

Watch ‘Owly to Bed’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Owly to Bed’ is released on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

Director: James Algar
Release Date: December 17, 1958
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Grand Canyon © Walt Disney‘Grand Canyon’ is not an animation film. I include it in my blog though, because of its obvious ties to ‘Fantasia’ (1940).

In fact, ‘Grand Canyon’ feels like an extra ‘live-action segment to Fantasia (like ‘Fantasia’ the film starts with the sounds of the orchestra preparing to play). Fantasia-veteran James Algar directed this extraordinary Cinemascope short, which was photographed and produced by Ernst A. Heiniger and set to Ferde Grofé’s ‘Grand Canyon Suite’ (1931). It’s a genuine mood piece, a visual interpretation of Ferde Grofé’s impressionistic music. Thus ‘Grand Canyon’ is not really a documentary, nor does it tell a story. It’s a combination of the music and images of the vast landscape only.

Grofé’s suite is in five parts, which all are played. Part one, ‘Sunrise’, is accompanied by panorama shots, made from a plane. In Part two, ‘Painted Desert’, we dive into the canyon, with images of a rather turbulent Colorado river. Part three,’On the trail’ is devoted to animals, with shots of a lynx, a spider, a roadrunner, a snake, a Gila monster, a Western spotted skunk, and a puma with some cubs. Part four, ‘Cloudbust’ shows us images of clouds, a thunderstorm and snow, and finally, part five, shows us miscellaneous images of a landscape in the now, an owl, a hare, and an eagle who takes us back to the plane shots, while the sun sets.

The complete film lasts almost half an hour. The result is a strange and only moderately entertaining mixture between Fantasia and the True Life Series.

Watch ‘Grand Canyon’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Grand Canyon’ is available as an extra on the ‘Sleeping Beauty Platinum Edition’ DVD-set

Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: November 3, 1958
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Dooley
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Jittery Jester © Walter Lantz‘Jittery Jester’ takes place in a medieval castle where Dooley is court jester to a bored king.

Then the King hears Woody Woodpecker singing his own variation on ‘The Woodchuck Song’ from 1904. The king finds our hero infinitely more funny than Dooley, and he orders Dooley to catch the bird. During the obligate chase scene the king is too often the unwilling victim of Dooley’s attempts to catch Woody. In the end Woody is the new jester, using Dooley in his pranks.

Like many other Woody Woodpecker cartoons from 1958 ‘Jittery Jester’ is a rather run-of-the-mill chase cartoon, which features some anachronisms like a speedboat and dynamite. The draw bridge scene is the most inspired, even if it’s as predictable as the other gags in the cartoon.

This is Woody Woodpecker cartoon No. 88
To the previous Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Tree’s a Crowd
To the next Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Tom Cat Combat

‘Jittery Jester’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: September 8, 1958
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Tree's a Crowd © Walter LantzWoody rides a bus through Colonel Fleabush’s 60,000 acre estate full of trees.

Woodpeckers are not welcome there, and when the colonel discovers Woody, he orders his big yellow cat Filbur to catch the bird. What follows is a typical chase cartoon in which all the trees are destroyed.

Filbur is distinguished by a typical laugh (provided by Daws Butler), and sounds a little like Muttley from the later Hanna-Barbera television series ‘Wacky Races’ (1968-1969). The chase sequence is very formulaic and has little to offer, especially as Smith’s timing is a little too relaxed to make the gags work. The short also features three puns on trees, while the Latin tree names the colonel utters are all nonsensical.

Watch ‘Tree’s a Crowd’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Woody Woodpecker cartoon No. 87
To the previous Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Everglade Raid
To the next Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Jittery Jester

‘Tree’s a Crowd’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: August 11, 1958
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Gabby Gator
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Everglade Raid © Walter Lantz‘Everglade Raid’ opens with Woody Woodpecker reading a newspaper add telling tourists to come to the Everglades to make a fortune on alligator bags.

So Woody goes to Florida, where he encounters a hungry alligator, voiced by Daws Butler as a variation on the Southern wolf from the Droopy cartoon ‘The Three Little Pups‘ (1953). What follows is a chase cartoon with blackout gags, in which the alligator tries to catch Woody, and vice versa. In the end the alligator succeeds, yet it is Woody who has the last laugh.

‘Everglade Raid’ suffers from slow timing and a surplus of dialogue, but some of the animation is very fine, especially the alligator’s walk cycle. Later, the alligator was christened Gabby Gator, and he would return in ‘Southern Fried Hospitality’ (1960). The character lasted until 1963.

Watch ‘Everglade Raid’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Everglade Raid

This is Woody Woodpecker cartoon No. 86
To Woody Woodpecker’s debut film: His Better Elf
To the next Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Tree’s a Crowd

‘Everglade Raid’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Lew Keller
Release Date: October, 1958
Stars: Ham and Hattie
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Spring and Saganaki © UPA

‘Spring and Saganaki’ is the third cartoon within the short ‘Ham and Hattie’ series.

‘Spring’ is another gentle children’s song by Mel Leven, sung by him accompanied by his ukelele. This part is notable for its very beautiful background art. For the second song Ham changes into Japanese farmer Saganaki, who wants to join an army of Samurai. This part is in fact a story told in rhyme. Unfortunately, the episode is hampered by singer Hal Peary’s mock-Japanese and the more trite song by Mel Leven and Jim Murakami, which is reminiscent of similar pseudo-ethnic swing songs from the 1930s. The result is the weakest of the four Ham and Hattie cartoons. Yet, as the designs are still top notch, ‘Spring and Nagasaki’ remains a delight to watch, if not to listen to.

Watch ‘Spring and Saganaki’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Spring and Saganaki’ is available on the DVD box set ‘UPA – The Jolly Frolics Collection’

Directors: Walerian Borowczyk & Jan Lenica
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Dom (The House) © Walerian Borowcyk & Jan Lenica‘Dom’ is an avant-garde film with strong surrealistic images. The film consists of six unrelated ‘scenes’ connected by the image of a woman looking into the camera.

It’s as if Borowczyk and Lenica explored the possibilities of experimental cinema, trying out several techniques in a row. Thus we watch cut-out images of a strange contraption, a pixillated scene of two men fighting, an octopus-like wig destroying a still life setting, a man repeatedly hanging his hat on a coat rack, a sequence of old family pictures and postcards, and a live action scene in which a woman caresses a plaster male head.The film’s weird atmosphere is greatly enhanced by Włodzimierz Kotoński’s modern music, which uses electronics and percussion only.

It’s hard to make sense of it all, but it’s clear that with this film Borowczyk and Lenica proved to be strong new voices in avant-garde cinema.

Watch ‘Dom’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Dom’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Anthology of Polish Animated Film’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: August 1, 1958
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Tot Watchers © MGM

‘Tot Watchers’ was the very last Tom & Jerry cartoon directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

The short was released in August 1958, but it had already been made in 1956, before MGM closed its animation studio in April 1957. Surprisingly this short was penned by Homer Brightman, instead of Hanna & Barbera themselves.

The cartoon stars a teen-age babysitter who, instead of watching the baby, is hanging on the telephone all the time. It’s up to Tom & Jerry to rescue the baby time and time again, especially when the baby wanders off to a building site. The building site sequence harks back to similar cartoons taking place there, like the Popeye cartoon ‘A Dream Walking’ (1934), the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘Clock Cleaners’ (1937) and the Bugs Bunny cartoon ‘Homeless Hare‘ (1950).

The baby looks like a Chuck Jones character. Like Jones’ Minah Bird the infant is almost a force of nature, devoid of personality, but with a drive of its own. Unfortunately there’s no conflict between Tom & Jerry themselves in this cartoon (apart from the very beginning), thus ‘Tot Watchers’ lacks the duo’s traditional comedy. Moreover, the short is hampered by the babysitter’s extensive dialogue. In all, this makes ‘Tot Watchers’ a rather disappointing ending to the series.

The short marks Spike’s last screen appearance, who has a very short scene in this cartoon, and only as a cliche bulldog. Tom and Jerry, however, would return to the silver screen, in 1961, with an ill-conceived new series, produced by Gene Deitch’s animation studio in Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile Hanna and Barbera would start a television adventure, founding their now legendary Hanna-Barbera production company in July 1957, and producing television series starring such beloved characters as Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, and the Flintstones, to name just a few.

Watch ‘Tot Watchers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 113
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Robin Hoodwinked
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Switchin’ Kitten

‘Tot Watchers’ is available on the European DVD Box set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: May 2, 1958
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Little Quacker
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Vanishing Duck © MGM‘The Vanishing Duck’ marks Little Quacker’s eight and last cartoon appearance.

He enters Tom & Jerry’s house as a gift from George to his wife Joan. This couple apparently are Tom’s owners. As soon as the two are off for an anniversary dinner, Tom enters the house, and within seconds eats Little Quacker, who reenters life by opening Tom’s left eye like a roller blind.

Little Quacker seeks refuge at Jerry’s, but soon discovers ‘vanishing cream’, rendering the two critters invisible, and driving Tom mad. But, for once, Tom gets wise, and applies the vanishing cream to himself, and in the end, it’s Tom who can bully mouse and duck unseen.

‘The Vanishing Duck’ borrows heavily from ‘The Invisible Mouse‘ (1947), in which Jerry becomes invisible. Like other invisibility cartoons the humor suffers because the invisible characters become invincible, and the sympathy shifts to the hapless victim, in this case Tom. In that respect it’s only fitting Tom gets his revenge in the end. Apart from the eye gag the cartoon isn’t very inspired. For example, there’s a nice gag in which Jerry and Little Quacker make Tom think his tail has gone off, but this gag is hardly developed, and dropped all too soon.

Watch ‘The Vanishing Duck’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 112
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Royal Cat Nap
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Robin Hoodwinked

‘The Vanishing Duck’ is available on the European DVD Box set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: March 24, 1958
Stars: Windy & Breezy
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Salmon Yeggs © Walter Lantz‘Salmon Yeggs’ marks the first solo cartoon of Windy and Breezy, the two bears from the Woody Woodpecker cartoon ‘Fodder and Son‘ from 1957.

The short starts as a spot gag travelogue telling about salmon, throwing some puns in the mix. Then we cut to Windy and Breezy. The father bear (who’s Breezy and who’s Windy is quite unclear) doesn’t want to catch salmon the traditional way, and heads for a salmon canning factory, which is unfortunately guarded by a little, very Droopy-like mustached watchman, who fights the father bear with a deadpan expression.

‘Salmon Yeggs’ is one of the most Tex Averyan cartoons to come out of the Walter Lantz studio. The comedy between bear and watchman is very similar to that of Wolf and Droopy in ‘The Three Little Pups‘ or between polar bear and Chilly Willy in ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point‘ (1955). Like in ‘Fodder and Son’ the son does little more than addressing the audience with ‘that’s my pop’, with all the comedy going to the watchman and his father.

In 1961 the watchman would return as ‘Ranger Willoughby’ in ‘Hunger Strife’ (1960) and as ‘Inspector Willoughby in ‘Rough and Tumbleweed‘, starring several cartoons until 1965.

‘Salmon Yeggs’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Isadore Sparber
Release Date: March 14, 1958
Stars: Herman and Katnip
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Frighty Cat © Paramount‘Frighty Cat’ revisits the premise of ‘From Mad to Worse‘ (1957) and mixes it with the idea of the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘Fraidy Cat‘ (1942).

Nobody knows why (it’s completely irrelevant to the story), but the setting is the Illside sanatorium, where Herman and his cousins play pool. Then Katnip arrives and manages to trap the four mice in a mouse hole. He decides to ‘wait them out’, while reading a ghost story aloud. This, of course, prompts Herman and his kin to play tricks on the cat, making him believe the house is haunted. In the end Katnip flees into the distance, haunted by his own ghostly image in a mirror.

Even though ‘Frighty Cat’ is one of the more entertaining of the latter day Herman and Katnip cartoons, it’s difficult to praise the cartoon, as it completely fails to live up to its peers (apart from ‘Fraidy Cat’ ‘Mouse Wreckers‘ from 1949). The animation is often subpar, and Herman looks quite misshapen at times. At least some of the background art is nice.

Watch ‘Frighty Cat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Frighty Cat’ is available on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

Director: Faith Hubley
Release Date: 1991
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Upside Down © Faith HubleyAccording to the titles this film is inspired by ‘upside down poetry’ by 15th century Indian poet Kabir.

The film shows several ‘upside down’ situations, all introduced by a voice over, like ‘a sheep eats a wolf’, ‘a corpse eats death’, and ‘a fish jumps out of the ocean’. Most interesting is ‘an elephant is tied to an ant’s leg’, which features remarkably classic animation on the elephant, a standout between the circular and flat animation that dominates Hubley’s films.

As always, ‘Upside down’ features Hubley’s gorgeous Miró-like ritualistic designs, but the film is hampered by the trite voice over titles, and Don Christensen’s rather disjointed score. Moreover, the stream-of-consciousness-like scenes are little more than illustrations of the poet’s ideas, and there’s no story whatsoever.

‘Upside Down’ is available on the DVD ‘The Hubley Collection Volume 1’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1911
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Les exploits de Feu Follet © Émile Cohl‘Les exploits de Feu Follet’ is the first of only two surviving films Émile Cohl made for French film company Eclipse, the other being ‘Les métamorphoses comiques’.

With this film Cohl returned to the looks of his first films ‘Fantasmagorie‘ (1908) and ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche‘ (1908): the film is shot in white on black and features a stickman. This stickman flies with a balloon to the moon and falls down into the ocean, where he is swallowed by a whale. Curiously, the whale, moon, and an eagle are drawn much more classically than the stickman, making ‘Les exploits de Feu Follet’ less consistent in its looks than either ‘Fantasmagorie’ or ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’.

Cohl’s timing is very sloppy in this film, and unfortunately there’s is little metamorphosis, with Cohl relying much on cut-out shortcuts. There’s practically no story, only a string of events. So, this film is not among Cohl’s best.

Watch ‘Les exploits de Feu Follet’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Les exploits de Feu Follet’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1910
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Les beaux-arts mystérieux © Émile CohlIn this film several objects make paintings on an empty canvas, which all turn into photos and films.

Cohl suggests the act of painting by several means, for example by taking away layers op paper snippers or taking away sand to reveal a picture beneath. There’s no story, and in a way this pure animation film is still in the tradition of the trick film, in which the viewer is more concerned with how the trick is done than the actual images themselves. Thus, the film is most interesting because of the nice footage of Paris anno 1910.

Watch ‘Les beaux-arts mystérieux’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Les beaux-arts mystérieux’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: May 21, 1910
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Le songe du garçon du café © Émile CohlIn this film the waiter of a cafe falls asleep during work, and dreams of glasses, bottles, wine, beer and absint all haunting him.

As may be expected in an Émile Cohl film the dream sequence is done in animation, in a quite remarkable blend of cut-out and pen animation. Cohl uses his trademark metamorphosis technique and imagination to make all kinds of associations with alcohol, in a rather directionless sequence. But as this is supposed to be a dream, this stream-of-consciousness-like approach works pretty well.

In the end, the waiter is awoken by four card-playing guests, who spray spray water on the hapless victim.

Watch ‘Le songe du garçon de café’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le songe du garçon de café’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1909
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Affaires de coeur © Émile Cohl‘Affaires de coeur’ is a film about love using hearts as a common thread.

Even the frame in which all action takes place is heart-shaped. In this film Cohl uses every animation technique known at the time to tell a rather abstract story of love. We watch hearts filling cards, cards playing badminton, and a male heart courting and eventually marrying a female heart, and even dueling a rival heart with a mustache.

Despite the clear theme, the film is one of Cohl’s less successful efforts. There’s an aimlessness in this film, which only halfway forms some sort of story. Moreover, none of the animation is particularly noteworthy, even though the hearts in love have some charm.

Watch ‘Affaires de coeur’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Affaires de coeur’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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