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Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 4, 1939
Stars: Lil’ Eightball
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

A Haunting We Will Go © Walter LantzAfter the closing down of the Van Beuren studio, and a short return to the Walt Disney studios we find Burt Gillett directing at the Walter Lantz studios. In 1939-1940 Gillett directed seven cartoons for Lantz, of which ‘A Haunting We Will Go’ is the fourth.

‘A Haunting We Will Go’ was Lantz’ first cartoon in full Technicolor, and it excels in high production values, making it a kind of strange mix between a Silly Symphony (Gillett’s specialty) and Warner Bros.-like nonsense.

The short stars a black boy called Lil’ Eightball, whom Gillett had introduced in July in ‘Stubborn Mule’, but who would disappear from the screen after this cartoon, after starring only three cartoons. This is not a pity, as Lil’ Eightball is a clear black stereotype. Despite being a boy, he has a deep Southern voice, provided by Mel Blanc (when he stutters in the end, his voice is practically that of Porky Pig), and part of the humor stems from the boy using extraordinarily difficult words, while remaining the stereotyped ignorant and fearful negro figure.

Lil’ Eightball is visited by a baby ghost, but he doesn’t believe in ghosts. So the baby ghost drags him to his poppa in a haunted house, where several ghosts give Lil’ Eightball “the works”. Gillett had also directed the Mickey Mouse short ‘Lonesome Ghosts’ (1937), and the ghosts in ‘A Haunting We Will Go’ are exact copies from those in the Disney cartoon, with their red noses and bowler hats. The haunting scene is the highlight of the cartoon, featuring great surreal gags, and some extraordinarily flexible animation, unmatched at the time. The best scene arguably is the one in which a room shrinks to Lil’ Eightball’s size.

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

‘A Haunting We Will Go’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 30, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

It's the Natural Thing to Do © Max Fleischer‘It’s the Natural Thing to Do’ is the last of four 1939 Popeye cartoons that has alternate opening titles.

In the short’s opening scene we watch Popeye and Bluto clobbering each other in the garden, while Olive does the dishes. However, then the trio receives a telegram from the Popeye fan club, asking them to “cut out the rough stuff and act more refined. Be ladies and gentlemen. That’s the natural thing to do.”.

After reading, Olive immediately sends the boys off to return as gentlemen, and indeed, they come back in top hat and tails. Olive, too, has become more refined, and the scene in which the trio move to the living room as refined as possible is a highlight of ridiculous animation. However, our heroes cannot cope with the numerous cakes and coffee being served without a table, and are at loss in polite conversation. Soon, they laugh at their own situation, and start clobbering each other again with gusto, as for them that’s “the natural thing to do”.

‘It’s the Natural Thing to Do’ is a very enjoyable cartoon, and a great take on the trio’s familiar relationship. However, it’s clearly made by lesser animators, for Popeye’s and Bluto’s designs look very awkward most of the time, at times evoking the looks of a 1934 Buddy cartoon. The animation certainly is sub-par when compared to the 1938 output, even though it’s done with clear fun. The drain of Fleischer’s top animators to their first feature ‘Gulliver’ only shows too well.

Watch ‘It’s the Natural Thing to Do’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘It’s the Natural Thing to Do’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 14, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Wimpy, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Hello, How Am I © Max FleischerIn ‘Hello, How Am I’ Popeye and Wimpy somehow have become room mates.

The short opens with them sleeping in the same room, while the phone rings. It appears to be Olive who invites Popeye over for a hamburger dinner. This, of course, attracts Wimpy’s attention.

Popeye soon is on his way, but around the corner he meets a doppelgänger, claiming to be Popeye, too. This puzzles the poor sailor, who immediately falls into an identity crisis. However, when he challenges the impostor with the help of spinach, it’s quickly revealed he’s actually Wimpy, something we viewers knew all the way long, as Wimpy’s mask keeps falling off during the picture.

‘Hello, How Am I’ is a rather slow and at times poorly timed cartoon, but Popeye’s existential crisis is marvelously done, and the cartoon is certainly one of the most original Popeye shorts of the late 1930s. It’s also the third of four 1939 Popeye cartoons that feature alternate opening titles.

Watch ‘Hello, How Am I’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hello, How Am I’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Ben Hardaway
Release Date: April 30, 1938
Stars: Porky Pig, proto-Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Porky's Hare Hunt © Warner Bros.‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ was Ben Hardaway’s last solo cartoon before he teamed up with story artist Cal Dalton to co-direct fourteen shorts.

The film is a clear attempt to duplicate Tex Avery’s ‘Porky’s Duck Hunt’ (1937). Now Porky is hunting rabbits, and Daffy’s loony character is now transferred to a rabbit, which even jumps and whoo-hoos like Daffy does. However, the rabbit has got a unique, weird laugh, which at several occasions is clearly Woody Woodpecker-like. Although this rabbit appears three years before the woodpecker himself, this is no coincidence, as both this rabbit and Woody Woodpecker were conceived By Ben Hardaway, and voiced by Mel Blanc.

‘Porky’s Rabbit Hunt’ is an uneven and only moderately funny cartoon that contains a few typical Warner Bros. gags, like a sniffing gun and ‘hare remover’, which makes the rabbit disappear completely (in cartoons rabbits and hares are completely interchangeable).

More importantly, it is the first of three cartoons featuring rabbits that anticipate the coming of Bugs Bunny. This rabbit has little in common with the world famous hare: he’s far from sympathetic, even heckling Porky in the hospital. Moreover, he’s a clear loon, like Daffy, not the cool hero Bugs Bunny would become. However, this rabbit already does perform a fake death scene, something that would become a Bugs Bunny trademark, and he quotes Groucho Marx from ‘A Night at the Opera’ (1935), saying ‘Of course you know that this means war’, which would become a Bugs Bunny catchphrase.

Watch ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 39
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Five and Ten
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Injun Trouble

This is the first of four cartoons featuring a Bugs Bunny forerunner
To the next proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Prest-o Change-o

‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and on the DVD-set ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: March 29, 1941
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Goofy Groceries © Warner Bros.‘Goofy Groceries’ was the first Merrie Melodie directed by Bob Clampett, and thus his first color film.

In this film Clampett made a follow up to Frank Tashlin’s cartoons, ‘Have You Got any Castles?‘ and ‘You’re and Education‘ (both 1938), in which things come alive at night, featuring Hollywood caricatures. Moreover, he maintains Tashlin’s high production standards and original cinematography. Thus, ‘Goofy Groceries’ is a beautiful and well-made picture, even though it makes little sense.

As the title implies, now things come to life in a grocery store, including caricatures of Ned Sparks, Jack Benny and Leopold Stokowski. The best parts are a Busby Berkeley ballet of some feminine sardines, and Tomato cans dancing a can-can. The musical number is interrupted by a King Kong-like gorilla, which prompts the stock battle scene, until he’s called home by his mother.

‘Goofy Groceries’ is far from a classic, but it shows that the Leon Schlesinger studio was capable to incorporate the innovations by one director, in this case Frank Tashlin, into other directors’ films, making the studio improve with a remarkably speed.

Watch ‘Goofy Groceries’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Goofy Groceries’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Director: Dick Rickard
Release Date: November 25, 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Ferdinand the Bull © Walt DisneyThis gentle film is based on the children’s book ‘The Story of Ferdinand’ (1936) by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson, and tells about Ferdinand, a gentle Spanish bull, who loves to sit quietly and smell the flowers.

One day “five men with funny hats” come along, in search of suitable bull for a bullfight, and because the unfortunate Ferdinand has sat on a bee, his ferocious antics make him the one. However, once inside the arena, Ferdinand refuses to fight, much to the dismay of the matador.

Ferdinand is a really peaceful, pacifistic character, and a remarkable persona in 1938, when war already was around the corner. This character must have been an inspirational one at the time, and the film won an Academy Award. The short has a friendly atmosphere, and the only really funny part is the matador trying to persuade Ferdinand to fight by making faces, a scene animated with gusto by Ward Kimball.

Yet, there’s room for some more fun, as the banderilleros and picadors are caricatures of Disney personnel, drawn by Ward Kimball. We watch Ham Luske, Jack Campbell, Fred Moore, Art Babbitt as banderilleros,  Bill Tytla as the second of the picadores (the other two are probably caricatures, too, but I don’t know of whom), and Ward Kimball himself as the moza de espada, carrying the matador’s sword.  All humans are animated very well, proof that after ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, the animators were more confident with the human body than ever.

Nevertheless, the human designs range from from very cartoony, like the Matador, to quite realistic, like the Spanish ladies, who all look like copies of Snow White. No wonder, as they were animated by Jack Campbell, who had been a key assistant to both the two units that animated the title heroine.

‘Ferdinand the Bull’ was the first Disney cartoon not to be part of any series. It could have been a Silly Symphony, as in 1938 that series had not ended, yet, but apparently, the studio chose the film to be no part of that. Perhaps, because in ‘Ferdinand the Bull’, music doesn’t play an important part, belying the series’ origin. Instead, the film uses a voice over to tell the tale, being the first Disney short to do so. The voice over technique is a rather lazy narrative device, but the Disney studio adopted it whole-heartedly. And so, unfortunately, voice overs would be deployed in many non-star Disney shorts and parts of package features of the 1940s and 1950s.

‘Ferdinand the Bull’ is the first of only two Disney shorts directed by Dick Rickard, the other one being ‘The Practical Pig‘ (1939). Rickard had been a story artist, working on a few Silly Symphonies and ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ between 1936 and 1939. Otherwise he remains an enigmatic figure, as I cannot find any other information about him…

In December 2017 Blue Sky released their feature length adaptation of ‘Ferdinand the Bull’. I haven’t seen this film, yet, and therefore cannot compare the two films. Can you?

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

‘Ferdinand the Bull’ is available on the DVD set ‘Disney Rarities – Celebrated Shorts 1920s-1960s’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 29, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Cops Is Always Right © Max FleischerIn ‘Cops Is Always Right’ Popeye gets fined several times: for riding against a policeman, for blowing a horn, for parking near a fire hydrant, for parking in front of a fire station.

Actually, he’s trying to help Olive with her spring cleaning, but he’s constantly hindered by the same police officer. The comedy of this cartoon is flawless. It’s well-timed and makes clever use of a string of running gags, beautifully intertwined into one logical story.

Unfortunately, the short’s finale is disappointing. When Popeye accidentally hits the cop with a flower pot he locks himself in, as he always respects the law. This unfunny and cloying, law-abiding end hampers the cartoon, which otherwise would have been one of Popeye’s best.

‘Cops Is Always Right’ is noteworthy for lacking spinach, and for its unique type of comedy, which in many ways has more in common with Laurel and Hardy than with other Popeye cartoons. The short also shows how goody-goody Popeye had become. Although the cop pictured is far from sympathetic, Popeye remains über-calm, and never even thinks of knocking him down. His superhuman strength is strictly reserved for the cleaning of Olive’s house.

‘Cops Is Always Right’ is the last Popeye cartoon to be staged in the distinct New York environment. In 1938 the Fleischer studio had moved to Miami Florida, opening their new studio in October. From now on, Popeye’s surroundings would be generally spacier and sunnier than ever before.

Watch ‘Cops Is Always Right’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cops Is Always Right’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

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

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: Bob Clampett
Release Date: November 5, 1938
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Porky in Egypt © Warner Bros.This cartoon starts with the call for morning prayer in a dream Egypt, which has more in common with 1001 Arabian nights than with the real state during the 1930’s.

We watch three Arabs rolling dice, a sexy veiled woman, who turns out to be hideously ugly, and the antics a fakir. Then we cut to some tourists taking a tour on a multi-bumped camel into a desert.

Porky Pig is a little too late to join them, and follows the group on his own camel, called Humpty Dumpty. Unfortunately, once they’re in the desert, the burning sun hits the camel with desert madness. In a wonderful scene, the camel loses grip and starts to hallucinate. The hallucinating effect is greatly added by twirling background images. In this scene the acting of the camel is no less than superb. The sheer manic power of this acting is unprecedented in any animated cartoon, and a subtle milestone of animation.

Unfortunately, the complete cartoon is more strange than funny. Notice the multi-door gag, which is halfway between the ones in ‘The Mad Doctor‘ (1932) and ‘The Northwest Hounded Police‘ (1946).

Watch ‘Porky in Egypt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 48
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Naughty Nephew
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: The Daffy Doc

‘Porky in Egypt’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’, and on the DVD-sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Elmer Perkins
Release Date: October 5, 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

‘Hollywood Bowl’ merges two genres that had become quite popular by the late 1930s: the concert cartoon and the Hollywood caricature cartoon. The result is pretty uneven, but nonetheless, ‘Hollywood Bowl’ is one of the most original cartoons to sprout from the Walter Lantz studio.

The short opens with a gala night at the Hollywood Bowl, with several famous stars in the crowd, e.g. Edward G. Robinson, Hugh Herbert, Greta Garbo, Groucho Marx, Clark Cable, Charles Laughton, Ned Sparks, Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields, and Charlie.

Leopold Stokowski is the conductor, conducting Franz Schubert’s unfinished symphony with the help of a few gloves. This leads to a great and very imaginative scene, in which we watch ghostly images of the gloves playing instruments on a black screen, and Stokowski casting a huge shadow on the bowl, which changes into a greyhound, which changes into a swallow. At that point this poetic part cuts back to the Hollywood caricatures.

As Schubert has left the symphony unfinished (quite literally), it’s up to the stars to finish it, Hollywood style, which means that radio star Ben Bernie starts conducting a swinging tune, with help of Fats Waller, Rudy Vallee, Benny Goodman, Fred Astaire, Jack Benny and Cab Calloway. This part reuses a lot of animation, and is a not too convincing end to the cartoon.

‘Hollywood Bowl’ is a very interesting entry in Walter Lantz’s oeuvre, but it’s harmed by a lack of story, rather bad voice imitations and at times sloppy animation. Nevertheless, the Schubert sequence is no less than marvelous, and the cartoon’s opening is greatly helped by Frank Churchill’s inspired score, which is simply packed with countless classical tunes. Notice that some of the backgrounds use photographic material, a very rare feat in classic cartoons.

Watch ‘Hollywood Bowl’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hollywood Bowl’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Mony a Pickle © Norman McLaren‘Mony a Pickle’ is a compilation film for the British ‘General Post Office’, made by several directors. In his contribution Norman McLaren turns to his homeland Scotland to tell a story about a poor young couple, still living with their family, but dreaming of a place of their own.

The dream sequence transforms the poor and crowded living room into a new stylish one, and uses a lot of stop motion of furniture. There’s a humorous sequence in which the two lovers argue about the legs of a table, which change back and forth for our very eyes. Unfortunately, in the end a little brother scatters all their dreams and puts them back into reality again.

‘Mony a Pickle’ is a nice blend of live action and stop-motion. The stop motion sequences in a long tradition of furniture animation, which started with Stuart J. Blackton’s ‘The Haunted Hotel’ (1908). McLaren’s animation is not too remarkable, but effective, and completely in service of the story.

‘Mony a Pickle’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 29, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

I Yam Love Sick © Max Fleischer‘I Yam Love Sick’ opens with Olive Oyl reading a romance.

Popeye drops by, but Olive ignores him completely. Later she explains she has a new boyfriend now, Bluto. To win her back, Popeye feigns to fall very ill. This leads to a bizarre, and rather surreal series of hospital scenes, in which weird bearded doctors try to examine Popeye. In the end Popeye reveals he was only fooling, only to get clobbered by Olive.

‘I Yam Love Sick’ is full of delightful nonsense. The best gag is when Olive steps out of the panel to address the audience with an ‘is there a doctor in the house?’.

Watch ‘I Yam Love Sick’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘I Yam Love Sick’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

 

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: June 25, 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Have You Got Any Castles © Warner Bros.‘Have You Got any Castles?’ is the second of Frank Tashlin’s three contributions to the Warner Bros. books-come-to-life-cartoons, a type of short unique to this studio. 

The cartoon doesn’t really have any story, but is built around four songs, of which the song ‘Have You Got Any Castles’ , from the film ‘The Varsity Show’ (1937) is the last.

This entry is one of the most Silly Symphony-like of all, starting with a particular lush opening, in which a town crier casts a huge shadow on a library. There’s also some beautiful shading on this character (a caricature of radio man Alexander Walcott) himself.

The Silly Symphony-like lushness notwithstanding, the cartoon is full of gags and caricatures of a.o. Greta Garbo, Cab Calloway (while Heidi sings hi-de-hi), Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and W.C. Fields. The animation is surprisingly mature, and shows how the Warner Bros. studio had improved in only a few years. The human figures are particularly lifelike, highlight being the town crier, and some scarcely dressed black ladies dancing to the swinging score.

The film features best-sellers from the 1920’s and 1930’s like ‘Topper’ (1926) by Thorne Smith, ‘Green Pastures’ (1929) by Marc Connelly, and ‘The Good Earth’ (1932) by Pearl S. Buck, which had been made into a film in 1937. It also revisits and improves on the thin man gag from ‘Speaking of the Weather’ (1937).

When the three musketeers rescue the prisoner of Zenda, the cartoon suddenly bursts into a frantic finale, with all kinds of book characters shooting at the four characters. After this frenzy we return to the town crier, rounding off this wonderful cartoon perfectly.

Watch ‘Have You Got any Castles?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Have You Got any Castles?’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: February 5, 1938
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Porky at the Crocadero © Warner Bros.‘Porky at the Crocadero’ starts with Porky showing his swing diploma and dreaming of becoming a famous conductor, like Leopold Stokowski, Rudy Vallee and Benny Goodman. Porky illustrates this by imitating these three bandleaders.

In order to reach his goal, Porky starts as a dishwasher at the Crocadero nightclub (an obvious take on the famous Trocadero in Hollywood). Unfortunately, Porky is fired quickly.

However, when none of the bandleaders show up, the walrus owner gives Porky a chance. Porky does an imitation of Paul Whiteman, of Guy Lombardo and of Cab Calloway, giving a particularly intoxicating performance by imitating the latter.

The complete cartoon is full of nice swing music and Tashlin’s lightning speed cutting. But there’s also room for a running gag featuring a penguin waiter, whose beers are stolen by a trombone player. In another particularly silly gag the walrus freezes only to tell the audience ‘schnell means quick’. The best scene, however, involves a very silly telegram delivery man.

Watch ‘Porky at the Crocadero’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 35
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Poppa
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: What Price Porky

‘Porky’s Double Trouble’ is available on the DVD-sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Five’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

 

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: November 13, 1937
Stars: Porky Pig, Petunia Pig
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Porky's Double Trouble © Warner Bros.‘Porky’s Double Trouble’ is a comical crime cartoon, in which Tashlin plays the classic doppelgänger motif with gusto.

The short starts immediately with a shadow creeping behind the titles, followed by a great cinematic opening, setting the premise of the story: a dangerous killer has escaped Alcarazz prison. When the killer reads the newspaper, he discovers he looks just like the new bank teller of the Worst National Bank: Porky Pig.

The killer kidnaps Porky, and kisses Porky’s colleague, Petunia. She rings the alarm, and the police soon finds both Porky and the convict, who both claim to be Porky. However, Petunia identifies the right one immediately, and yet she runs off with the killer, exclaiming: ‘Boy, can he kiss!’.

‘Porky’s Double Trouble’ plays nicely with the immature Porky and his doomed relationship with Petunia Pig. However, the short’s opening scenes are the most impressive aspect of the cartoon. In these Tashlin unleashes many cinematic devices to create an exciting atmosphere.

Watch ‘Porky’s Double Trouble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 32
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: The Case of the Stuttering Pig
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Hero Agency

‘Porky’s Double Trouble’ is available on the DVD-sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Five’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

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

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: Tex Avery
Release Date: July 23, 1938
Stars: Egghead
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Cinderella Meets Fella © Warner Bros.‘Cinderella meets Fella’ is Tex Avery’s second take at a classic fairy tale after ‘Little Red Walking Hood’ (1937).

The cartoon’s opening scenes are one string of nonsensical gags, from the invitation card with which it starts to Cinderella’s arrival at the ball. For example, to get warm, Cinderella just adjusts her candle to get more flames. And when the fairy godmother is late, Cinderella calls the police to look for her. To get mice for the couch, the fairy godmother plays a slot machine, which incomprehensibly is built in the wall. Gags like these were completely unique at the time and could only be found in Warner Bros. films, and in Avery’s films in particular.

Prince Charming turns out to be Egghead, Tex Avery’s second cartoon star, after Daffy Duck. Egghead unfortunately is just too odd and too unsympathetic to carry the rest of the cartoon. So the short deflates a little after his entrance.

But the cartoon is revived by the extraordinary end gag: Egghead finds out that Cinderella got tired of waiting and has gone to a Warner Bros. show. Egghead is heartbroken, until he’s called by his love from the audience. We watch a silhouette standing up, and within seconds she’s back on the screen.

It’s great gags like these that made Tex Avery the undisputed innovator of cartoon comedy. ‘Cinderella meets Fella’ is undoubtedly one of the funnier cartoons of 1938, but when Avery would revisit this particular fairy tale seven years later, with ‘Swing Shift Cinderella’, the results would even be much, much better.

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

‘Cinderella Meets Fella’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Busby Berkeley Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 22, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Out of the Inkwell © Max Fleischer‘Out of the Inkwell’ starts with live action footage of a black cleaner reading a book on hypnosis.

Hypnosis as conceived by the Fleischers is more like a magic spell, and has the power of making things come alive. The cleaner hypnotizes a pen that then draws an old-style Betty. He hypnotizes this miniature Betty, too, but she turns the tables on him, hypnotizing the broom and the fan, and finally, the man himself, making him clean the room rapidly.

‘Out of the Inkwell’ returns to the origins of Max Fleischer’s career, blending animation and live action using a character born out of ink. The result surely is one of the more original latter day Betty Boop cartoons, and a delightful mix of live action, stop motion and traditional animation.

The cartoon delivers less than it promises, however, and is particularly hampered by the black man’s extremely stereotyped lazy voice, which sounds like it has been dubbed. Highlight is the hypnotized Betty, who dives and swims in mid air, and who is animated extraordinarily rubbery.

Watch ‘Out of the Inkwell’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 73
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Be Up To Date
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: The Swing School

‘Out of the Inkwell’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: June 17, 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Polar Trappers © Walt Disney‘Polar Trappers’ is the first of six cartoons co-starring Donald Duck and Goofy.

This mini-series, which lasted until 1947, is much less well-known than the trio-cartoons of the 1930s, and rightly so, for these cartoons are okay at best, and never reach the classic heights of a ‘Clock Cleaners’ (1937) or ‘Mickey’s Trailer’ (1938).

One of the problems of these shorts is that the studio never really succeeded in making comedy out of interaction between these two characters. Without the bridging Mickey, it was in fact, rather unclear why the two very different characters were actually together.

In ‘Polar Trappers’ Donald Duck and Goofy don’t share any screen time until the very end. This cartoon incongruously places them on some unknown expedition in the Antarctic. Apparently they want to catch walruses, but even Goofy has no clue why, as he sings in his opening scene.

Meanwhile Donald Duck is tired of cooking beans. He’d rather eat penguin meat, so he dresses like a penguin and tries to lure a population of penguins, much like the pied piper. This march of the penguins accounts for some beautiful shots, most notably one in which the penguins cast large shadows across the screen. The penguins’ design come straight from the Silly Symphony ‘Peculiar Penguins‘ (1934).

Donald’s evil plan is stopped by one tear of a little penguin he had sent away. This tear grows into a huge snowball, destroying the duo’s camp.

Shortly after this film’s release (August 15-27, 1938) Al Taliaferro’s Donald Duck comic strip drew inspiration from the same material, but now without Goofy.

Watch ‘Polar Trappers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Polar Trappers’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

 

Directors: Ben Hardaway & Cal Dalton
Release Date: May 1, 1939
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Porky and Tea Biscuit © Warner Bros.In ‘Porky and Teabiscuit’ Porky is the son of a farmer.

Porky’s father sends him away to the race track to sell hay. By accident Porky buys a sick horse, called ‘Tea Biscuit’, a salute to Seabiscuit, the most famous race horse of its time. Despite the horse’s illness, Porky enters a steeple chase with it, end even wins the race.

‘Porky and Teabiscuit’ pays tribute to Floyd Gottfredson’s classic Mickey Mouse comic ‘Mickey Mouse and Tanglefoot’ (1933). Where Tanglefoot won by his fear of wasps, Tea Biscuit wins by being startled by blows. Unfortunately, Hardaway & Dalton add nothing to this premise, and the result is a rather mediocre cartoon, albeit a quite entertaining one.

Watch ‘Porky and Teabiscuit’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 55
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon:  Chicken Jitters
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Kristopher Kolumbus, jr.

‘Porky and Teabiscuit’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

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