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

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’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 5, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Rudy Vallee
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Rudy Vallee Melodies © Max Fleischer‘Rudy Vallee Melodies’ is a Screen Song with Rudy Vallee singing no less than three different songs: the sentimental ballads ‘Deep Night’ and ‘A Little Kiss Each Morning’, and the lively college song ‘Stein Song’.

This Screen Song is interesting for its particularly long cartoon introduction: there’s a party at Betty Boop’s large mansion, where she serves punch to her guests. There’s a bunny who plays the piano by ear (literally). He plays ‘Silver Threads Among the Gold’ on the piano, but when Betty proposes to accompany someone on the piano, none of her guests dares to sing. Not even Perceval, a clear homosexual stereotype, who says ‘count me out’, before being knocked down and counted out, literally.

Luckily for Betty Boop, Rudy Vallee helps her out from the sheet music. He performs his three songs, with images of a river, loving couples and a football match, respectively. After these songs, Betty and the gang thank him, and all the guests leave. The cartoon ends with Vallee singing ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ to Betty in her bedroom.

Because of its long intro, ‘Rudy Vallee Melodies’ almost feels like a Betty Boop cartoon, and indeed it was later colored and released as such, without the Rudy Vallee parts.

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

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 29, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★½
Review:

A Hunting We Will Go © Max Fleischer‘A Hunting We Will Go’ is one of the lesser inspired Talkartoons.

In fact, the short’s greatest gag is in its opening scene, when the sun inhales smokes from a log cabin, which makes it sneeze.

We then cut to the inside of the log cabin, where we watch Betty Boop singing the 1925 hit song ‘Then I’ll Be Happy’. As she sings she’ll be happy with a fur coat, Koko and Bimbo immediately set off to go hunting animals. Koko first encounters the worst drawn deer to be found on the animated screen. Unfortunately, the deer shoots back. Then Koko helps a leopard (not quite indigenous to North America) to its spots.

Bimbo, meanwhile, meets a pack of ferocious lions (sure, why not?) and a huge bear. Despite their mishaps, they both return with many furs, but Betty returns them to the former owners, who are staying in line outside, shivering with cold…

When compared to contemporary Talkartoons ‘Chess Nuts‘ and ‘Minnie the Moocher‘ ‘A Hunting We Will Go’ is a disappointing entry. It’s rather low on gags, and its surreal aspects are sparse. It’s not as weak as ‘The Robot‘ or ‘Admission Free‘, but still far from a classic.

Watch ‘A Hunting We Will Go’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 38
To the previous Talkartoon: Chess Nuts
To the next Talkartoon: Hide and Seek

‘A Hunting We Will Go’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 25, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Crazy Town © Max FleischerIn ‘Crazy Town’ Betty Boop and Bimbo take a streetcar to Crazy Town, where everything is the other way round.

Unfortunately, this great idea doesn’t really lead to a funny cartoon. We’re watching e.g. fish in the sky and birds in the water, an elephant with a real trunk and a fish fishing for a person. In a lengthy sequence Bimbo is a barber adding hair to his customers. None of these scenes even raise a chuckle. In fact, the cartoon’s only interesting part is it’s opening, because the story unfolds like a real book.

It’s weird to realize that as soon as the Fleischers deliberately tried to show a surreal world, they failed, while their ‘normal’ shorts were full of mesmerizing surrealism (e.g. the earlier ‘Mask-a-raid‘ and ‘Chess Nuts‘ or ‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle‘ from later that year). The theme song of this cartoon is the 1931 hit ‘Foolish Facts’.

Watch ‘Crazy Town’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 35
To the previous Talkartoon: S.O.S.
To the next Talkartoon: The Dancing Fool

‘Crazy Town’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Directors: John Foster & George Stallings
Release Date:
 February 27, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Rabid Hunters © Van BeurenIn ‘Rabid Hunters’ Tom and Jerry are hunters, who try to catch a rabbit with their semi-anthropomorphized dog and horse.

The rabbit appears to be an early forerunner of Bugs Bunny, outwitting all four characters to a jazzy upbeat score. This soundtrack, by Gene Rodemich, is the absolute highlight of this otherwise erratic, boring and terribly poorly animated short. Also noteworthy is a hallucinatory scene at a tree branch that has to be seen to be believed. Like the Silly Symphony ‘The Fox Hunt‘ from a year earlier, the cartoon ends with a skunk.

Watch ‘Rabid Hunters’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rabid Hunters’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 January 30, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Rocketeers © Van BeurenWhile Van Beuren’s Aesop’s Fables gained some quality, the Tom and Jerry series remained downright poor in terms of storytelling, staging and animation.

For example, the opening scenes of ‘Rocketeers’ are so deeply drenched in the 1920’s comic tradition that the scene’s silent acting feels terribly old-fashioned. In it, Tom and Jerry are members of the Royal Experimental Society, firing themselves to the moon in an over-sized sky-rocket. Then the cartoon takes quite an unexpected turn: instead of flying to the moon, the rocket plummets immediately and falls into the ocean, reaching the sea floor, where Tom and Jerry encounter some sea monsters and some skeletons (looking back to the Waffles and Don cartoon ‘The Haunted Ship‘ from 1930). But just when one starts to prepare for yet another horror-inspired cartoon, the duo hits on some sexy mermaids. Tom & Jerry perform a song, while the mermaids dance.

The designs of the mermaids are halfway those of Fleischer’s ‘Barnacle Bill‘ (1930) and Disney’s later ‘King Neptune‘ from September 1932. Their stylized, pretty human designs contrast greatly with Tom & Jerry’s own primitive features, and are without doubt the highlight of the cartoon.

Tom and Jerry would fly a rocket again in their last cartoon ‘The Phantom Rocket’, which also plummets into the sea (1934).

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

‘Rocketeers’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 January 21, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Duck Hunt © Walt DisneyIn ‘The Duck Hunt’ Mickey and Pluto are hunting ducks.

Their attempts are quite circumstantial and fail due to the inferior quality of Mickey’s gun. When the ducks discover that the female duck is only Pluto in disguise, they take revenge by taking Pluto by the ears and drag him and Mickey, who has gripped Pluto’s tail, into the air.

‘The Duck Hunt’ is a gag cartoon similar to ‘The Moose Hunt‘. Unfortunately it isn’t very funny. A lot of screen time is devoted to Mickey and Pluto marching to civil war tunes, and Pluto’s and Mickey’s flight through the air fails to become the intended great finale, because of a lack of great gags, although I liked the gag of Pluto’s flees leaving his fall by parachuting from his behind.

‘The Duck Hunt’ shows that not every Disney cartoon was a winner, despite the studio’s obvious efforts.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 37
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Orphans
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Grocery Boy

‘Blue Rhythm’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Directors: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Release Date: October 1930
Stars: Bosko
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Congo Jazz © Warner Bros.‘Congo Jazz’, Bosko’s second official cartoon, is Harman and Ising’s answer to Disney’s ‘Jungle Rhythm‘ (1929).

Like Disney’s cartoon, it hasn’t aged very well. The cartoon opens with Bosko wearing a pith helmet and exploring a supposedly African jungle. When confronted by a tiger (a species not endemic to Africa), Bosko immediately loses the pith helmet.

He appeases the tiger with music, and then kicks it over a cliff. Then he has to sooth a large ape, which he does by giving it some chewing gum. Together they play some plucking string music with their gums, while a few monkeys dance. Soon, other animals join in, e.g. a kangaroo, another rather un-African animal. Bosko directs all the animals into an upbeat tune.

The cartoon is low on gags and feels endless, especially during the musical part. The most extraordinary scene is that of a palm tree shimmying to Bosko’s music as if it were a woman. The animation of Bosko is still very rooted in the Oswald-era: Bosko’s body is very flexible, and almost mechanical.

Watch ‘Congo Jazz’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Congo Jazz’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 October 10, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Minding the Baby © Max FleischerBetty Boop, who lives in an apartment across the street, invites Bimbo over, but he can’t come, because he has to attend his little baby brother Aloysius.

Nevertheless, he does abandon the mischievous little brat and goes to Betty’s house to skip rope. However, Aloysius sucks them back into his own house, using a particularly powerful vacuum cleaner.

Aloysius is seen smoking a cigar and reading the paper, not unlike Baby Herman in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?‘ (1987). The cartoon establishes Bimbo and Betty as lovers, but it doesn’t make much sense, and its gags feel random and misguided.

‘Minding the Baby’ was the last cartoon featuring Betty with dog ears. in her next cartoon ‘Mask-A-Raid‘ she became fully human.

Watch ‘Minding the Baby’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 25
To the previous Talkartoon: Bimbo’s Express
To the next Talkartoon: In the Shade of the Old Apple Sauce

‘Minding the Baby’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 January 23, 1931
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Birds of a Feather © Walt DisneyFollowing Van Beuren’s ‘A Romeo Robin‘ (1930) Disney devoted a whole Silly Symphony on birds.

The short follows the half-story formula introduced in ‘Playful Pan‘ with the first part consisting of more rhythmical movement to music than real dancing. The film starts with quite uninspired and tiresome gags about several birds moving randomly to music (opening with swans and a peacock moving to Jacques Offenbach’s barcarolle), but after 5’10 these give way to a small story about a baby chick who is taken away by an eagle but saved by a group of small birds.

The birds are drawn cartoony and not at all naturalistic. But such naturalism eventually would occur in Disney’s films, within only a couple of years, with ‘Birds in the Spring‘ being the prime example. It’s interesting to compare these two cartoons, which are only two years apart. The comparison makes ‘Birds of a Feather’ look primitive and dated, but even this cartoon knows one complex scene, in which the flock of small birds attacks the eagle. In this scene the movement of the circling birds  is animated beautifully and quite convincingly, as well.

Watch ‘Birds of a Feather’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 16
To the previous Silly Symphony: Playful Pan
To the next Silly Symphony: Mother Goose Melodies

‘Mother Goose Melodies’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 April 11, 1931
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Mother Goose Melodies © Walt Disney‘Mother Goose Melodies’ is one of those Silly Symphonies showing the enormous strides the Walt Disney studio was taking to advance animation forward.

The cartoon easily outdoes all its contemporaries. The cartoon is extremely rich for its time, introducing us to countless characters, with only a few being stock models (the spider, some mice and some pigs). Some of the scenes are quite elaborate, like the finale, in which the book collapses and we watch all nursery rhyme figures dancing to the joyous music.

But the opening scene, which takes its time to introduce Old king Cole, is the most remarkable: it’s one long parade scene, looping the background, but otherwise remaining fresh by introducing new nursery rhyme characters all the time. Indeed, Walt Disney reused this device (and a lot of its animation) in the color cartoon ‘Parade of the Award Nominees‘ (1932), a special short for the fifth Academy Award ceremony, and in ‘The Standard Parade’ (1939), a commercial for Standard Oil.

Moreover, for the first time since ‘El Terrible Toreador‘ (1929) the studio takes its chances at the human form again. And although King Cole and his nursery rhyme friends are no ‘Snow White’, they’re a great deal more convincing than the humans in the earlier cartoon. The designs are more elaborate, and there’s much more sense of weight.

‘Mother Goose Melodies’ is also the very first Silly Symphony to feature singing characters, anticipating the operetta cartoons of 1932-1935. The short simply bursts with ideas, and is a cartoon of sheer joy. On the other hand, it’s just that: by taking the ‘song-and-dance routine’-concept to the max, this cartoon offers singing and dancing only. There is no story, there are no gags, and the short features a lot of repetitive animation. This makes ‘Mother Goose Melodies’ strangely awesome and a little boring at the same time. Nevertheless, the cartoon was so successful, Disney would revisit its theme two times, in the Silly Symphonies ‘Old King Cole‘ (1933) and ‘Mother Goose goes Hollywood’ (1938).

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 17
To the previous Silly Symphony: Birds of a Feather
To the next Silly Symphony: The China Plate

‘Mother Goose Melodies’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 April 3, 1931
Stars: Bimbo, Betty Boop
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Bum Bandit © Max FleischerBimbo is a train robber who holds up a train. Unfortunately for him, his stout wife, Betty Boop (called Nan McGrew in this cartoon), is also on this train.

She confronts him and in the end Bimbo unwillingly reunites with his wife, fleeing with her into the distance on the locomotive.

‘The Bum Bandit’ lacks the wild surrealism of earlier Talkartoons, like ‘Barnacle Bill‘ and ‘Mysterious Mose‘ (both 1930), and is thus less interesting to watch. The best scene is when Bimbo practices shooting, e.g. shooting a cow from the sky. There is also some nice and flexible animation on the riding train. Betty Boop has a distinctly different voice here, which was not repeated after this cartoon.

Watch ‘The Bum Bandit’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 18
To the previous Talkartoon: The Cow’s Husband
To the next Talkartoon: The Male Man

‘The Bum Bandit’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 December, 1930
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Puddle Pranks © Ub IwerksAlthough released after four other cartoons, ‘Puddle Pranks’ is Flip the Frog’s second cartoon. It was made before Pat Powers had sold the series, and it’s the last in which he’s portrayed as a real frog, small in size and acting in nature. Powers was dissatisfied with this version of Flip, and in the subsequent films he would, like Mickey Mouse, be boy-sized and living in towns.

‘Puddle Pranks’ starts with a very Mickey Mouse-like scene, in which Flip drops by his girlfriend’s house to take her for a ride in a grasshopper-chariot. Soon they’re followed by a pelican, which eats the grasshopper(!), and threatens to eat the two frogs. Flip disposes of the pelican, and the two go for a swim. But suddenly, the pelican is back, and they are only rescued because the pelican is eaten by a large fish.

‘Like ‘Fiddlesticks‘, Flip’s first cartoon, ‘Puddle Pranks’ is well animated and joyful, but low on gags and rather boring. The short is almost evenly paced, which makes it rather tiresome to watch.

Watch ‘Puddle Pranks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Puddle Pranks’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 November 20, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Pioneer Days © Walt DisneyIn ‘Pioneer Days’ Mickey and Minnie are pioneers travelling in a caravan through the Midwest.

After an all too long sing-and-dance-routine they are attacked by vicious wolf-like Indians. These bring in some spectacular animation: a dance with long shadows around a bonfire, a complex attack scene, and an impressive shot taken from one of the horses circling the encampment, showing a moving background of wagons in perfect perspective.

Most spectacular is the fight between Mickey and a horrible Indian, who has kidnapped Minnie. The fight is shown in close-up, and contains quite some complex movements between the two. It’s scenes like these that show that Disney kept taking the lead in the animation field, ever pressing forward.

Of course, our hero saves the day: when he and Minnie pretend to be the cavalry all the Indians flee.

‘Pioneer Days’ is Mickey’s first of only a few films clearly set in another time period, and thus the precursor of ‘Ye Olden Days‘ and ‘The Nifty Nineties’. The film recycles some footage from ‘The Fire Fighters‘ of two dogs holding a bed to catch falling people.

Watch ‘Pioneer Days’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 24
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Picnic
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Birthday Party

‘Pioneer Days’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: ‘Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 August 18, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Peg Leg Pete, (Pluto)
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Chain Gang © Walt DisneyIn ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘ Mickey had been depicted as a bandit, but it still comes as a surprise to see him being a prisoner in ‘The Chain Gang’. We’re sure some injustice has been done, and that Mickey is in fact innocent…

Mickey is imprisoned in a mixed prison (one of the inmates is a cow), where Peg Leg Pete is one of the guards. When Pete goes to sleep Mickey brings out his harmonica, like he did in ‘The Shindig‘ one month earlier, and starts playing Vernon Dalhart’s 1924 hit ‘The Prisoner’s Song’.

This leads to an unremarkable sing-and-dance-routine, which abruptly ends in a massive jailbreak. Mickey escapes, but is followed by two bloodhounds, possibly the most elaborately designed dogs hitherto. Animated by Norm Ferguson, these bloodhounds would become the prototype of Pluto later on. Indeed, the animation of the blood hound approaching and sniffing into the camera was reused for Pluto as late as 1939 for ‘The Pointer’. The real Pluto would appear on the screen two months later in ‘The Picnic‘, and even then he still was called ‘Rover’.

The ‘birth’ of Pluto is the single most important feature of this cartoon, although it’s also noteworthy for the presence of gags involving recurring characters (something pretty new at the time), and for the chase scenes, which contain some nice perspective effects.

Watch ‘The Chain Gang’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 21
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Shindig
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Gorilla Mystery

‘The Chain Gang’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: ‘Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: John Foster
Release Date:
 January 4, 1930
Stars: Farmer Al Falfa
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Iron Man © Van Beuren‘The Iron Man’ was one of the last of Van Beuren’s Aesop’s Fables to feature Farmer Al Falfa, before Paul Terry claimed this character to be his own.

It takes some time for we watch the title’s iron man itself. First we watch a cat with a hurdy-gurdy, then two fighting roosters with ridiculously large feet, and then some remarkable animation of a large tree falling down. This part is essentially silent, with music seemingly added.

Then Farmer Al Falfa receives a package with the iron man in it. Together they perform a bizarre slow dance, to psychedelic effects. It’s clear the Van Beuren studio was still struggling with rhythmical movement, for in this sequence both Al Falfa and the robot seem to float in air. There’s no weight or gravity involved, at all.

Then, when Farmer Al Falfa kicks the robot, it grows millions of miles tall, towering over the earth, before it explodes. This is a mindblowing piece of animated weirdness. However, the pieces fall together to form the robot again, which chases our hero into the distance. Iris out.

‘The Iron Man’ is in no sense a classic film, but it shows the difficulties of the sound age for the silent era studios. The second part also shows some embryonic weirdness that would become staple for the Van Beuren studio films of the early 1930s. Finally, ‘The Iron Man’ is one of the very first cartoons to feature a human-like robot. Other studios would follow years later, like Walter Lantz’s ‘Mechanical Man’ (1932), Max Fleischer’s ‘The Robot‘ (1932) and Walt Disney’s ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ (1933).

Watch ‘The Iron Man’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Iron Man’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date:
 December 1, 1929
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Merry Dwarfs © Walt DisneyAmong the earliest 24 Silly Symphonies there’s a remarkable lot of dancing, as the novelty of movement to synchronized sound formed the basis of the series’ initial existence.

‘The Merry Dwarfs’ is characteristic of these earliest Silly Symphonies. It opens with dwarfs working to the music of Giuseppe Verdi’s anvil chorus from ‘Il trovatore’. Soon we watch them drinking beer (quite remarkable for a cartoon made in the age of abolition) before the long dance sequence kicks in.

This tiresome dance sequence first involves four dwarfs, then two. True, the gags follow each other remarkably naturally, but the dance remains rather dull anyhow until the very end. The cartoon’s sole highlight is in the end, when the two dwarfs fall into a barrel of beer, and their drunkenness makes everything, including the background, wobbly.

There is very little to enjoy in ‘The Merry Dwarfs’, but as it involves dwarfs, it is nice to watch it together with ‘Babes in the Woods’ (1932) and ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937), and gasp at the enormous strides the Disney studio had taken in a mere eight years.

Watch ‘The Merry Dwarfs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 5
To the previous Silly Symphony: Hell’s Bells
To the next Silly Symphony: Summer

‘The Merry Dwarfs’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 28, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Mickey's Follies © Walt Disney

‘Mickey’s Follies’ is the first Mickey Mouse film with his own name in the title – a clear indication that the mouse himself now was star enough to sell his own cartoons by name only.

In ‘Mickey’s Follies’ Mickey and his friends are giving a concert on the barnyard. First we see five dancing ducks, then a rather tough ‘French Apache dance’ between a rooster and a hen, followed by a pig singing in an ugly operatic voice. This pig is probably the first character in animation history to be funny because of a typical voice.

Highlight, of course, is Mickey himself performing his own theme song, titled ‘Minnie’s Yoo Hoo!’. This theme song clearly is the raison d’être of the cartoon, and it is even announced as such. No doubt this song was introduced as part of Mickey’s merchandising – and meant to be sold as sheet music, being the first Disney song to do so. An instrumental version of ‘Minnie’s Yoo Hoo!’ would indeed become Mickey’s theme song and accompany the intro’s of many Mickey Mouse cartoons to follow. ‘Minnie’s Yoo Hoo!’ was Disney’s first hit song, and the start of a long tradition, which hasn’t ended yet, as manifested by the huge hit ‘Let It Go’ from ‘Frozen’ (2013). Disney’s attention for merchandizing made him a lot of money, and allowed him to invest more money in his cartoons than his competitors, enabling him to maintain the lead in the animation film world throughout the 1930’s.

Unfortunately, the cartoon’s focus on Mickey’s song makes it rather one-dimensional and dull. It’s an early example of a Disney song-and-dance routine cartoon, one of the first of seemingly countless such cartoons the studio produced between 1929 and 1931.

‘Mickey’s Follies’ is Disney’s second serious attempt at lip synch, after ‘The Karnival Kid’. Mickey sings much more than in the former cartoon, and the all too literal mouth movements give him many awkward facial expressions. Later the animators would learn to tone down the mouth movements, keeping Mickey’s face more consistent without losing the illusion of speech.

‘Mickey’s Follies’ marks the director’s debut of Wilfred Jackson, who had joined the Disney Studio as an assistant animator in April 1928. He was the first to replace Walt himself as a director. Jackson would have a long career at Disney’s studio: he directed his last film, ‘Lady and the Tramp’ in 1955, 26 years later. He retired in October 1961.

Watch ‘Mickey’s Follies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 10
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Karnival Kid
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Choo-Choo

Director: René Laloux
Release Date: January 28, 1988
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Gandahar © René Laloux‘Gandahar’ was to be René Laloux’s last feature, and like his former two feature films, ‘La planète sauvage‘ (1973) and ‘Les maîtres du temps‘ (1982), it’s a science fiction film set on a strange planet.

The film is especially related to ‘Les maîtres du temps’. Not only in visual style, but also with its story line involving mindless oppressors and time travelling. This time we’re on the paradise-like planet Gandahar, which is suddenly attacked by a powerful, yet unknown force. Soldier Sylvain is send away to find out who these enemies are…

‘Gandahar’ is the least successful of Laloux’s features. Its story, based on a 1969 novel by Jean-Pierre Andrevon, is entertaining enough, but the film’s narrative style is terrible. Practically everything that’s happening is explained by the main characters to us, even when we as viewers had come to our own conclusions. This is most preposterous in an early scene in which Sylvain finds his love interest Airelle, who immediately exclaims she’s falling in love with our hero. This must be one of the worst love scenes ever put to the animated screen.

The film’s ultimate villain is rather surprising, as is his downfall, even though he’s killed off ridiculously easily. Strangely enough the creature is given a long death scene, before the film abruptly ends. We don’t even watch Sylvain reunite with his love interest! Not that we did care, anyway, for the film’s main protagonists are as characterless as possible.

It’s a pity, for the film’s aesthetics are quite okay for a 1980s film. The animation, by a North-Korean studio, is fair, if not remarkable, and the designs by French comic book artist Philippe Caza are adequately otherwordly. Sure, he’s no Moebius, let alone a Roland Topor, and he never reaches the strangeness of the latter’s fantastic planet from 1973. In fact the film rarely succeeds in escaping the particularly profane visual style of the 1980s (e.g. ‘Heavy Metal’). Most interesting are the backgrounds, and Gabriel Yared’s musical score, which is inspired and which elevates the film to a higher level.

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

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