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Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: December 26, 1941
Stars: Goofy
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Art of Self Defense © Walt DisneyThe first five Goofy shorts all progressed the Goofy character, and none was like the previous one.

Goofy and Wilbur’ had made Goofy a solo star, ‘Goofy’s Glider’ introduced the pompous narrator John McLeish, ‘Baggage Buster’ rendered Goofy voiceless, and ‘How to Ride a Horse’ and ‘The Art of Skiing‘ put this all together into the archetypical sports cartoon.

Now, in ‘The Art of Self Defense’ another step was made: the duplication of Goofs. In the main body of the cartoon we still watch only one Goofy, but this is preceded by a historical overview of fighting, featuring several different goofs, even in caveman and hieroglyph form. Now Goofy could be anybody, and indeed, already in his next cartoon, ‘How to Play Baseball’ (1942) numerous Goofs flock the screen.

‘The Art of Self Defense’ is about boxing, and features Goofy being clobbered by his own shadow, and training endlessly, only to be knocked out in the ring within seconds. The very silly historical opening is the highlight of the cartoon, however, featuring great sound effects, and various depictions of time marching on. Also interesting is the boxing scene from the turn of the century, which figures very graphical quasi-etched background art.

Watch ‘The Art of Self Defense’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Goofy cartoon No. 5
To the previous Goofy cartoon: The Art of Skiing
To the next Goofy cartoon: How to Play Baseball

‘The Art of Self Defense’ is available on the DVD set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy’

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Director: Dick Huemer
Release Date: March 17, 1939
Stars: Goofy
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Goofy and Wilbur © Walt DisneyOf Mickey’s co-stars, Goofy was the last to get his own series, a fact that in a way is true to his slow character.

Goofy had appeared outside the Mickey Mouse series for the first time in ‘Polar Trappers‘ (1938), co-starring with Donald Duck, but only in 1939 he would star a cartoon on his own, in ‘Goofy and Wilbur’. This short is only the second of two cartoons directed by Dick Huemer (the other one being ‘The Whalers’ from 1938). In Don Peri’s book ‘Working with Walt’ Huemer states he wished he had stayed on shorts, but Disney put him to work on ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Fantasia’ and he never returned to the short medium.

In ‘Goofy and Wilbur’ Huemer mainly emphasizes the gentle side of Goofy’s character. Goofy goes fishing in a no fishing area, using a live grasshopper called Wilbur as a bait. Wilbur, whose design is halfway that of the grasshopper in ‘The Grasshopper and the Ants‘ (1934) and that of Jiminy Cricket in ‘Pinocchio‘ (1940), is clearly Goofy’s friend, and the two cooperate in a clever scheme in which Wilbur lures several surprisingly colorful fish to Goofy’s net.

The consequence of this story idea is that most of the screen time goes to the little grasshopper instead of Goofy. Only when, after six minutes, Wilbur gets swallowed by a frog we switch to Goofy, and only then his unique physique can be seen in a great chase scene. However, the cartoon’s highlight is the priceless shot in which Goofy tries to comfort himself after the loss of his friend: “I gotta cheer up! There’s lots of grasshoppers in the weeds!”, only to fall back into the saddest face possible immediately after uttering these words.

The production values of ‘Goofy and Wilbur’ are fantastic, but Huemer’s gentle humor doesn’t make the most of the character. This was left to his successor, Jack Kinney, who steered the lovable goof into a whole new direction…

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

 

This is the first Goofy cartoon
To the previous Goofy appearance within the Mickey Mouse series: The Whalers
To the next Goofy cartoon: Goofy’s Glider

‘Goofy and Wilbur’ is available on the DVD set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy’

Director: Wan Gu-chan
Release Date: January 1, 1941
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Princess Iron Fan © Wan BrothChina owes its animation industry to the Wan brothers, four brothers (including a pair of twins) from Shanghai who started animating in 1923.

The Wans made their first film, ‘Uproar in an Art Studio’ in 1926, which mixed animation with live action, like Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell series. They also could boast making the first Chinese sound cartoon, ‘The Camel’s Dance’ (1935). But when the Japanese invaded Shanghai in August 1937 their studio was destroyed, and they temporarily went to Wuhan to work on patriotic war films, until that city fell, too, in 1938.

Luckily, in 1939 the twins Wan Lai-ming and Wan Gu-chan were invited by the Xinhua United Film Company to work once again in Shanghai. There the brothers saw Walt Disney’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937) and decided to make a feature film of their own. The Xinhua company was seated in the concession of Vichy France, which allowed for some freedom, which the Wans clearly used in their film.

Made by 237 artists in the course of sixteen months, the result was ‘Princess Iron Fan’ (or ‘The Princess with the Iron Fan’, 1941), China’s very first feature film. This film takes its inspiration from the very popular 16th century novel ‘Journey to the West’, and tells about the 7th century monk Xuanzang (or Tang Seng as he’s transcribed in the DVD), who really existed, and who was famous for travelling all the way to India to learn about Buddhism, and take important scriptures back to China with him. In the novel Xuanzang has become a legendary figure, travelling with his disciples, the monkey king Sun Wukong, a pig monk called Zhu Bajie, and a man called Sha Wujiing, who’s portrayed as having a stutter in the movie.

The movie tells about an episode in which Xuanzang is confronted by a flaming mountain, which he cannot cross. The local villagers then tell him about a princess who has an iron fan, which can make the fire go disappear. Xuanzang then sends his disciples to the princess to borrow the fan, which turns out to be no easy feat.

The film’s story is a delight: it’s full of surprising plot twists, strange magic, and unexpected metamorphoses. If it’s anything faithful to the novel, it becomes clear why it has become so popular. The film’s moral is that only together one can beat defeat. Indeed, the Wan brothers have given the film a long motto in the beginning of the movie:

This film was made for the purpose of training the hearts and minds of children. The story is pure, untainted fantasy. Fiery mountain blocking the path of Tang Seng’s company is a metaphor for the difficulties in life. In order to overcome them, one must keep faith. Everybody must work together in order to obtain the palm leaf fan and put out the flames.“.

This must have rung very true in war-plagued China, which suffered heavily from the brutal Japanese invasion.

Despite the difficulties of war, the film can also boost a rich orchestral soundtrack, beautiful, poetic background art, and some spectacular effect animation of smoke and flames. The body of the animation, however, is not that good. Although prompted by the Disney feature, there’s practically no Disney influence visible. Instead, the Wan brothers made a heavy use of rotoscope, which accounts for fluid, but all too often excessive movement and weird camera movements. The rotoscope is juxtaposed to disappointingly primitive animation, sometimes no better than say the work of the Van Beuren studio ca. 1930-1932. Most of the animation looks very stiff and mechanical, and designs are often very unstable, varying from one scene to the next. Moreover, there’s dialogue, but absolutely no lip-synch, and the staging at times is very odd, making the action sometimes hard to read.

Strangely, the film features two songs, which are accompanied by a bouncing ball, inviting the audience to sing along. I assume that these songs were already familiar to the audiences, otherwise these interludes are quite incomprehensible additions.

Nevertheless, the story is well told, and builds up to a spectacular finale, in which the disciples and the villagers fight a giant bull. The most bizarre scenes, however, are the pig monk rolling up a dragon as if it were a carpet, and the monkey king walking through the princess’s intestines, in the shape of a beetle. It’s images like these that make the film a worthwhile watch, and if ‘Princess Iron Fan’ may not be an all-time classic (it’s too primitive for that), the movie is an admirable effort, coming from a war-beaten country.

Moreover, the film was a huge influence on Soviet animation, and even on the Japanese animation industry, which made its very own first animated feature in 1945. Yet, Wan Lai-ming would top himself with another feature film based on ‘Journey to the West’ called ‘Havoc in Heaven’ (1964), which without doubt still is a timeless classic.

Watch ‘Princess Iron Fan’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Princess Iron Fan’ is available on a Cinema Epoch DVD

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: March 7, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Golden Eggs © Walt Disney‘Golden Eggs’ opens with Donald Duck reading in the newspapers that prices of eggs are skyrocketing.

He immediately turns to his own chicken farm to collect eggs. Strangely enough, however, he’s hindered by a rooster who’s taller than himself. Thus Donald tries deceit, and dresses as a particularly feminine chicken, seducing the rooster.

However, things go hardly as planned, and instead of collecting eggs, Donald finds himself dancing with the amorous rooster. The music is particularly inspired in these scenes, mounting to an intoxicating Cuban rhythm. In the end Donald manages to collect the eggs, but destroys them immediately…

‘Golden Eggs’ knows its moments, but is essentially a one-joke cartoon. Nevertheless, Donald’s cross-dressing method of deceit would be followed by Tom in a similar ‘Flirty Birdy’ (1945), and Bugs Bunny in many cartoons to come, starting with ‘Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips’ (1944).

Watch ‘Golden Eggs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 23
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Timber
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: A Good Time for a Dime

‘Golden Eggs’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Riley Thomson
Release Date: 1940
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

The Volunteer Worker © Walt Disney‘The Volunteer Worker’ is a short commercial in which Donald tries to collect for charity, to no avail.

Every citizen shows him the door. When he sits down at the dumps, a construction worker helps him out, giving him a first donation and delivering the film’s message that charity helps.

This construction worker is an elaborate human character, and very well animated. The complete film excels in high production values, possessing a great montage, showing Donald’s though time, and beautiful lighting.

Watch ‘The Volunteer Worker’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Volunteer Worker’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 13, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Eugene the Jeep
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Popeye Presents Eugene, the JeepAfter reviving Poopdeck Popeye in ‘My Pop, My Pop‘ and ‘With Poopdeck Pappy‘, the Fleischers reintroduced the Jeep in ‘Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep’, despite the creature having appeared already in ‘The Jeep’ (1938).

‘Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep’ opens with a package deliverer delivering a package to Popeye. This package deliverer is clearly voiced by Pinto Colvig, and sounds exactly like Goofy.

The package contains the Jeep, which Olive has sent to Popeye, with a strange instruction to keep it outdoors to sleep. This premise leads to a great chase cartoon: for despite all Popeye’s efforts, the Jeep refuses to remain outside, and time and time again ends up in Popeye’s bed.

Now in E.C. Segar’s comic strip the Jeep had magical powers, being able to cross the 4th dimension, but the Fleischers don’t use this premise in this film. In some scenes it’s clear how the Jeep enters the house, in others they keep it wisely unknown.

With this mysterious ability to be at any given place at will the Jeep anticipates Tex Avery’s characters Cecil Turtle in …. and Droopy in …. The comedy of this cartoon certainly is of a new era, and the fun is greatly helped by the inspired score, which, like the one in ‘With Poopdeck Pappy’ makes great use of the lullaby ‘Go to Sleep, My Baby’.

Watch ‘Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 90
To the previous Popeye film: With Poopdeck Pappy
To the next Popeye film: Problem Pappy

‘Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: February 1, 1941
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Sniffles Bells the Cat © Warner Bros.In the seventh of twelve Sniffles cartoons Sniffles suddenly has a number of lookalikes, who are as annoying as the title character himself.

In the opening scene we watch them all fleeing from a cat. When Sniffles wishes out loud that the cat should have a bell, the others immediately put him on the job.

Like other Sniffles cartoons, ‘Sniffles Bells the Cat’ is slow and pretty unfunny. Yet the chase scenes show some beautiful background art, emphasizing the vastness of the house for a little mouse like Sniffles. Moreover, Carl Stalling’s music is extraordinarily beautiful in this cartoon.

However, the cartoon is most important in the development of Jones’s mature style. Like in ‘Bedtime for Sniffles’ Jones excels in giving the cute little character a surprisingly broad range of emotions, especially when Sniffles realizes he has to tie the bell to the cat himself. This scene is the undisputed highlight of the cartoon and shows that even at this early stage Jones knew hardly an equal in handling facial expressions. The cat, too, is animated delightfully when he performs the old shell game with considerable deftness. These two scenes contain the seeds of more to come, and make the cartoon one of Sniffles’s best, despite its slugged pace.

Watch ‘Sniffles Bells the Cat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sniffles Bells the Cat’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: November 23, 1940
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Bedtime for Sniffles © Warner Bros.This Christmas cartoon opens with a stunning scene in which the camera zooms over a winter village scene. ‘Bedtime for Sniffles’ may not be a ‘Pinocchio’, this is still a very atmospheric opening intro to the Christmas spirited cartoon.

Cut to Sniffles, who wants to stay awake until Santa comes. Unfortunately the radio plays a lullaby, drowsing our cute little hero.

Because this is a cartoon about the familiar problem of trying to stay awake despite a desire to sleep, this is a more entertaining short than most other Sniffles cartoons, and a great antecedent to the classic Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘Sleepy Time Tom’ (1951), which covers similar grounds. The animation of Sniffles’s eyes when he tries to stay awake, is priceless, and is an early showcase of Jones’s upcoming mastery of facial expressions. Sniffles’s reluctant walk into bed, too, points forward to Jones’s mature style.

Apart from this, ‘Bedtime for Sniffles’ excels in great background art, and lovely lay-outs, with delightful details, like a walnut functioning as a waste basket, and cigarette paper substituting for a towel.

Watch ‘Bedtime for Sniffles’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bedtime for Sniffles’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: unknown
Release Date: 1940
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Baby Kangaroo's Birthday Surprise‘Baby Kangaroo’s Birthday Surprise’ tells about the birthday of Kan-Chan, the youngest kangaroo in a family of five.

All goes well, until a hungry wolf arrives. The wolf eats all the food, and kidnaps Kan-Chan to eat him as well. The family comes to the rescue, aided by a troupe of moles, who dig a bunch of holes into the wolf’s hut. They taunt and finally bind him, so the family of kangaroos can reunite.

‘Baby Kangaroo’s Birthday Surprise’ is a silent film, but the animation is more advanced than in contemporary Japanese films, incorporating various lessons from Disney animation (squash and stretch, follow-through etc.). The wolf is clearly modeled on Disney’s wolf from ‘Three Little Pigs‘, and he’s animated best, probably because of the more sophisticated source material.

Watch ‘Baby Kangaroo’s Birthday Surprise’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Baby Kangaroo’s Birthday Surprise’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 2, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Swee’Pea
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Doing Impossikible Stunts © Max Fleischer‘Doing Impossikible Stunts’ is a cheater, a.k.a. a compilation cartoon. Yet within this genre, this short is a nicely told one.

In this cartoon Popeye heads for ‘Mystery Pictures, Inc.’ , to apply as a stunt man. He has brought with him some footage of his stunt work. Little Swee’Pea follows him, and at one time swaps Popeye’s footage for his own, gaining the job.

Popeye’s films are excerpts from ‘I never Changes My Altitude’ (1937), ‘I Wanna be a Lifeguard’ (1936) and ‘Bridge Ahoy’ (1936), and Swee’Pea’s is from ‘Lost and Foundry’ (1937).

The film company’s slogan, ‘If it’s a good picture, it’s a mystery’ echoes a similar gag involving Wonder pictures, in ‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood‘ (1938).

Watch ‘Doing Impossikible Stunts’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 84
To the previous Popeye film: Fightin Pals
To the next Popeye film: Wimmin Hadn’t Oughta Drive

‘Doing Impossikible Stunts’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 20, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl, Little Swee’Pea
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Nurse-Mates © Max Fleischer‘Nurse-Mates’ opens with Bluto and Popeye both visiting Olive to invite her to the movies.

Olive agrees, but first has to go to the beauty parlor, leaving the two rivals to take care of little Swee’Pea. This leads to several gags showing the two men’s original ways to bathe, feed, and dress the baby, while competing each other.

In this cartoon Bluto is no villain, only Popeye’s rival, and he gets ample screen time to show his parental instincts. Moreover, there’s no spinach involved, and Bluto’s and Popeye’s rivalry is almost playful, when compared to other entries. This more harmonious relationship between the two would be explored further in the next Popeye cartoon, ‘Fightin’ Pals’.

Watch ‘Nurse-Mates’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 82
To the previous Popeye film: Wimmen Is a Myskery
To the next Popeye film: Fightin Pals

‘Nurse-Mates’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: May 17, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Goofy
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Billposters © Walt Disney‘Billposters’ is the third of six cartoons co-starring Donald Duck and Goofy, and arguably the best in the series.

In this short Donald and Goofy are fanatical billposters, literally smothering the countryside with advertisements for canned soup. In the introduction we watch them reaching a barn, while whistling and humming ‘Whistle While You Work’ from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937).

What follows are only two routines: Goofy’s problems with a windmill, and Donald’s problems with a hungry billy goat. These separate routines are a continuation of the trio cartoon formula, now only minus Mickey. The string of gags is impressive, as one gag flows naturally into another, building to the strong finale, in which the two separate story lines combine. Especially Goofy’s antics belong to the best in his career. Nevertheless, Geronimi’s all too relaxed timing hampers the picture, and make the gags less funny than they could have been, making ‘Billposters’ fall short of becoming a real classic.

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

‘Billposters is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 7, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Wimmen is a Myskery © Max Fleischer‘Wimmen Is a Myskery’ opens with Popeye proposing to Olive.

Olive tells our favorite sailor that she’ll answer him next morning. That night Olive dreams of her married life. Popeye is nowhere to be seen, but she sure has a hard time with their children: Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye, who after taking spinach give her a good spanking.

‘Wimmen Is a Myskery’ is one of those cartoons in which cartoon characters dream of marriage, with unfavorable results. In this respect, Olive follows Mickey Mouse in ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932), and Porky Pig in ‘Porky’s Romance‘ (1937). Like Mickey Olive’s main fear is numerous disobedient children, and indeed, Popeye’s offspring have none of his gentle character. No wonder Olive turns Popeye down in the morning….

Nevertheless, Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye would materialize in the real world as Popeye’s nephews in ‘Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye an’ Peep-eye’ (1942), just like the little mice from ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ had done in ‘Giantland‘ (1933). Obviously, Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye have more in common with Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, introduced in ‘Donald’s Nephews‘ (1938), and no doubt are inspired by them.

Watch ‘Wimmen Is a Myskery’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 81
To the previous Popeye film: Onion Pacific
To the next Popeye film: Nurse-Mates

‘Wimmen is a Myskery’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 12, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Me Feelins Is Hurt © Max FleischerThis short opens with Popeye reading a letter in which Olive tells him she leaves him for real men in the West.

Undaunted, Popeye sails right into the prairie town, where he challenges the ‘real man’, cowboy Bluto. Bluto makes Popeye taming a wild mustang, in a delightful sequence.

When Popeye succeeds, however, he soon gets strangled by a rattlesnake. Time for spinach! Popeye clobbers the snake into purses, hand bags and a rattle, and soon knocks Bluto and all of his men unconscious, restoring Olive’s love for him.

‘Me Feelins Is Hurt’ is a nice, if rather average Popeye cartoon. Popeye’s sailing to the prairie town, a rather Tex Averyan sequence, is the highlight of the cartoon.

Watch ‘Me Feelins Is Hurt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 79
To the previous Popeye film: Stealin’ Ain’t Honest
To the next Popeye film: Onion Pacific

‘Me Feelins Is Hurt’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: September 2, 1939
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Little Brother Rat © Warner Bros.‘Little Brother Rat’ is the second cartoon featuring that cute little mouse Sniffles.

In this short Sniffles has to perform tasks at a party. The cartoon opens with Sniffles plucking a whisker from a cat. His second task is stealing an owl’s egg. The egg soon hatches into a little, far from life-like baby owl. The owl appears to be a precursor of the Minah-Bird, Jones’s famous dimension-defying bird, or even Droopy in ‘Northwest Hounded Police‘, as it is as capable of being in unexpected places.

‘Little Brother Rat’ is far from funny, but the night scenes are very beautiful, and Carl Stalling’s score is excellent.

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

‘Little Brother Rat’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

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’

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:

This Popeye film No. 74
To the previous Popeye film: Hello, How Am I
To the next Popeye film: Never Sock a Baby

‘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:

This Popeye film No. 73
To the previous Popeye film: Ghosks is the Bunk
To the next Popeye film: It’s the Natural Thing to Do

‘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’

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