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

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’

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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. 54
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’

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

I Eats My Spinach © Max Fleischer‘I Eats My Spinach’ is the first cartoon in which an instrumental version of Popeye’s theme music accompanies the opening titles.

The short opens with the very walking cycle with which Popeye appeared for the first time on the screen in ‘Popeye the Sailor‘. He walks towards Olive’s house, and together they go to a rodeo to watch the “Great Bluto” perform. Immediately, Popeye challenges and outperforms the bearded brute. He wrestles a badly drawn bull, and fights another one. The cartoon ends with Popeye knocking a bull into a meat market in a rather shocking metamorphosis gag.

The designs in this short are more primitive than in other Popeye cartoons, making it look rather old-fashioned, even when compared with contemporary Popeye cartoons like ‘Blow Me Down!‘ or ‘Season’s Greetinks!‘. Surprisingly, this cartoon marks a return to the animal world of Betty Boop’s earliest cartoons, being the last short to do so.

Popeye would fight a bull again in ‘Bulldozing the Bull’ (1938), but now most unwillingly and without harming the animal. By then Popeye had become on example to youngsters, both in comics and on film, and his aggression was toned down, luckily without losing its spunk.

Watch ‘I Eats My Spinach’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘I Eats My Spinach’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 29, 1933
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

I Yam What I Yam © Max Fleischer‘I Yam What I Yam’ was the second cartoon starring Popeye, and the very first in his own series, taking its title from one of Popeye’s most famous lines in E.C. Segar’s comic strip.

The short opens with an original opening tune that would only last two cartoons: ‘Strike up the band for Popeye the sailor’. After ‘Blow Me Down!‘ this peppy leader was replaced by Popeye’s own song, which he also sings in the opening scene, with Olive Oyl rowing a bark to an unknown island. When they’ve washed ashore, Popeye punches a bunch of trees into a log cabin.

This film introduces his famous sidekick from the comic strip, the gluttonous freeloader Wellington Wimpy. In his first dialogue, Wimpy quotes a classic line from Segar’s strip “Come on in for a duck dinner. You bring the ducks”. So, Popeye goes forth in search of ducks. However, within seconds Olive and Wimpy are threatened by Indians. Luckily Popeye comes to the rescue. In a spectacular finale Popeye knocks down every Indian in sight, even their gigantic chief, whom Popeye punches into Mahatma Gandhi…

Interestingly, before Popeye arrives, Olive appears very much in control, knocking down Indians by the minute, while crying for help. It’s nice to watch a female cartoon character being portrayed so strong and independent, far from the cliched damsel in distress, as portrayed by e.g. Minnie Mouse.

Popeye’s and Olive’s designs are still rather unstable in this short, but Olive’s voice sounds much more familiar than in ‘Popeye the Sailor’. The cartoon makes little sense, but is very enjoyable, nonetheless. Its joy is enhanced by an excellent musical score.

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

‘I Yam What I Yam’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: July 31, 1933
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Confidence © Walter LantzThis cartoon opens with a jolly dance scene at a farm, which appears to be Oswald’s.

Then suddenly, the ghost of depression appears, haunting the world. This scene is a nice mix of the animated ghost and a live action globe. The ghost of depression also affects Oswald’s farm. What follows, are scenes of sheer panic, with Oswald running from psychedelic circles, and snapshots of people, bankers and stock markets panicking – depicting the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression in a nutshell. Meanwhile, Oswald runs to a doctor for help.

The doctor tells Oswald “There’s your doctor”, pointing to a portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had taken office in March. So, Oswald flies on a bizarre contraption to the White House, where he meets the president himself. F.D.R. starts singing the title song “Confidence, and lick the old depression”, and gives Oswald a pump sprayer full of confidence. Oswald returns to his farm on another strange flying machine, and revives his farm with his pump sprayer full of confidence.

‘Confidence’ is probably the most famous of all Oswald cartoons by Walter Lantz, and it’s clear to see why. It’s highly entertaining, and surprisingly gag rich, despite the propaganda. Even the propaganda message itself is surprisingly joyful. I mean, how often do you see a president singing a jolly tune? In any case, the short is a prime example of how Roosevelt’s new deal was marketed to the audience. As the depression seemed to hit an all time low in 1932-1933, Roosevelt’s message must have been a very welcome one.

However, unlike the similar Little King cartoon ‘Marching Along‘ from three months later, there’s no mention of the National Recovery Administration (or N.R.A.), effected on June 16. So the cartoon makes it seem that confidence alone will revive the American economy… a little too naive, perhaps, but the sheer joy with this message is brought makes ‘Confidence’ well worth watching.

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

‘Confidence’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’.

 

 

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 23, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Mother Goose Land © ParamountThis short opens with Betty Boop reading a Mother Goose book in bed.

As soon as she wishes she were in Mother Goose land, the Mother Goose from the cover grows full-size and takes Betty to ‘Mother Goose Land’ on her broom. Here we meet many nursery rhymes, while Betty is threatened by a giant spider. When she’s kidnapped by the spider, an army of crows come to the rescue. They carry the spider on its own web, in a remarkable birds-eye scene, in which the spider’s shadow is visible on the ground.

‘Mother Goose Land’ seems to herald a new era in The Fleischer Studios: the animation appears to be more ambitious and more complex than before, showing a slight Disney influence, at least from the Silly Symphony ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ (1931).

Typical for Fleischer, however, Betty Boop is still sexy, and kidnapped by a spider whose intentions are clearly sexual. At same time, Betty is now featured in more infantile material, highlighted by the sugary close harmony music, something that would become worse in 1934, when the Hays code toned down her character.

Nevertheless, the growing infantility can be seen in all studios, and this transgression from the adult world of sex and violence to an innocent children’s world is typical for the 1933/1934, with ‘Mother Goose Land’ being just an example.

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

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 17
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Big Boss
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Popeye the Sailor

‘Mother Goose Land’ is available on the DVD ‘Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Vol. 1’, and on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 19, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Betty Boop Bizzy Bee © Max FleischerIn ‘Betty Boop Bizzy Bee’ Betty works in a mobile canteen, where the complete menu consists of wheat cakes.

After some rather trite gags, a song starts with the recurring line ‘pass me the sugar’. When a fat customer appears with an enormous appetite, the cartoon goes haywire. In the end everything has a belly ache, even the stove, the lunch wagon and the moon.

‘Betty Boop Bizzy Bee’ is one of those Fleischer cartoons in which everything is alive. We watch wheat cakes flipping themselves over in a square dance and plates washing and drying themselves. The ‘story’ makes little sense, it’s just a string of gags in a rather stream-of-consciousness-like fashion. ‘Betty Boop Bizzy Bee’ is very similar to Van Beuren’s ‘Pots and Pans‘ from three months earlier, and may have been inspired by it.

Watch ‘Betty Boop Bizzy Bee’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 2
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Stopping the Show
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop, M.D.

‘Betty Boop Bizzy Bee’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: unknown
Release Date:
 December 24, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Funny Face © Ub IwerksBy the end of 1932 the Flip the Frog cartoons had turned in genuine gag cartoons, full of action.

‘Funny Face’ starts with a new title card, with an updated Flip the Frog design, showing his more boyish persona he had received the last cartoons, but retaining the bass voice of his earlier incarnation.

In ‘Funny Face’ Flip is typically boyish. He has a date with a girl, but she prefers someone else. So he visits Dr. Skinnum to get a new face. When Flip enters the place, ‘Funny Face’ follows Disney’s ‘King Neptune‘ in the new operetta format, with several masks hanging on a wall singing to him. While Flip gets a new face, his girl is kidnapped by a bully. With his new (human) face, Flip attracts seven girls, who start following him, so he hides in the very house the bully has captured his sweetheart. He rescues her, loses his new face, but gains her love, after all. What becomes of the other seven girls, we’ll never know.

‘Funny Face’ is a strange mix of a gag cartoon and pure melodrama. Its story is erratic, and Flip being a frog among humans becomes more and more problematical, and watching him with a human face is pretty weird to say the least. Notice the strange, rounded backgrounds, however, which are unique to the Iwerks cartoons.

Watch ‘Funny Face’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 31
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Nurse Maid
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Coo Coo the Magician

‘Funny Face’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 November 11, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★½
Review

The Piano Tooners © Van Beuren‘Piano Tooners’ opens with Tom and Jerry performing the 1920 hit song ‘Margie’ in their piano shop, which is simply filled with mice. We also watch them tuning pianos, with the best gag being Jerry flushing a bad note through the toilet.

Suddenly we cut to a concert hall, where one Mlle. Pflop will perform. She appears to be a fat woman, and some of the lesser refined humor in this cartoon stems from watching her getting dressed, in rather risque scenes. At the concert Mll. Pflop sings and plays the piano at the same time, until she hits a flat note. Piano tuners Tom and Jerry come to the rescue, pulling the bad key from the piano as if it were a sore tooth. Tom immediately starts playing ‘Doin’ The New Low-Down’, a song Don Redman would turn into a hit (featuring  Cab Calloway  and the Mills Brothers) more than a month after the release of ‘Piano Tooners’. Also featured is a maid, who is most probably a caricature, but of whom? She joins in, singing along, but it’s Mlle. Pflop who has the last note.

Like the other Tom and Jerry cartoons, ‘Piano Tooners’ is hopelessly primitive, featuring erratic designs and bad animation. However, the piano tuning gags are entertaining, and it’s hard not to enjoy the short’s weird atmosphere.

Watch ‘Piano Tooners’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 17
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: A Spanish Twist
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Pencil Mania

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 16, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Betty Boop's Museum © Max FleischerKoko takes Betty on a sightseeing trip to a museum that displays both art and fossils, and where Bimbo is a guard.

Soon Betty is busy feeding a statue called Hunger, and she’s left behind after closing time. Suddenly the statues and fossils come alive, and a horned fossil demands her to sing for them. Betty Boop starts ‘Was That The Human Thing To Do’, a hit from that year, to which the fossils dance. Then the horned (or rather horny) fossil haunts Betty, until the museum suddenly collapses.

‘Betty Boop’s Museum’ is one of the more bizarre Betty Boop shorts of 1932/1933, even though it’s not as good as ‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle‘ or ‘Snow-White‘. The short starts with a spectacular zoom out from Koko’s mouth. There’s also a very short, but nicely animated scene of Koko’s car on roller skates.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Museum’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 8
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo

Betty Boop’s Museum’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 14, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Betty Boop's Ups and Downs © Max Fleischer‘Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs’ is one of the most stream-of-consciousness-like cartoons the Fleischer Brothers ever made.

The short starts with Betty Boop moving and putting her old house for sale. As soon as she leaves, the house falls apart, which drops the price immediately, even though the chimney desperately tries to keep the building together. This is a rather weird scene itself, but soon we zoom out to reveal the whole area being on sale, the whole of the United States, and even the complete earth. Suddenly we watch the moon auctioning the earth to the neighboring planets. The earth is sold to a Jewish looking Saturn, who draws gravity from the earth. Suddenly everything starts floating upwards. Imagine, this cartoon started with Betty moving to a new home!

Unfortunately, the studio has difficulties inventing good gags about the world without gravity, and the premise never gets proper treatment. For example, their best gag seems to be Betty Boop’s skirt flying upwards, revealing her panties, which is shown twice. It seems as when their imagination could roam completely freely, the studio got stuck, as the same happened in ‘Crazy Town‘ from earlier that year. When the earth pulls its own magnet back into place, everything falls down again to a jazzy score, and it’s Betty who has the last word in a reprise of her opening song.

Even though it’s not really successful, ‘Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs’ is one of the strangest cartoons ever made, and worth while watching.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 5
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop for President

‘Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 2, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Any Rags © Max Fleischer‘In ‘Any Rags’ Bimbo is a garbage collector collecting old clothes and things, which he later sells at an improvised auction on the street.

‘Any Rags’ is pretty plotless, but it’s loads of fun to watch. Betty Boop has only a small role, but her sexiness is played out well, when her dress falls off twice, revealing her bra. Koko even has a smaller role in this cartoon as a customer in the crowd around Bimbo’s auction.

The film’s main attraction lies in its jazzy score, which successfully blends the title tune, a hit song from 1903, with Luis Russel’s much more modern ‘The Call of the Freaks’ from 1929. The cartoon suddenly ends when Betty appears from one of Bimbo’s bags and their chart turns over to transform immediately into a house.

Watch ‘Any Rags’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 30
To the previous Talkartoon: Dizzy Red Riding Hood
To the next Talkartoon: Boop-Oop-a-Doop

‘Any Rags’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: February 15, 1932
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit
Rating: ★★
Review:

Mechanical Man © Walter LantzIn 1932 Oswald was redesigned to give him a more boy-like appearance. ‘Mechanical Man’ features this new design and opens with Oswald an his girlfriend playing the piano together.

Meanwhile Peg Leg Pete has built a robot, which needs a human heart. Pete kidnaps Oswald’s girlfriend and takes it to his hideout, followed by Oswald. After a long pursuit Oswald manages to get rid of Pete, and rescuing his sweetheart. But it’s a goat who rescues the two from the robot.

When you read this, the cartoon seems to make some sense, but the real thing is rather different: there’s a lot happening on the screen, and nonsensical gags fill every scene. For example, during the chase scene, various skeletons appear at random, giving the cartoon its typical horror atmosphere, but adding nothing otherwise. This gives the cartoon a rather stream-of-consciousness-like character, and at every point one expects Oswald to wake up from this random nightmare.

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

‘Mechanical Man’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

 

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 12, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Stopping the Show © Max Fleischer‘Stopping the Show’ is Betty Boop’s first cartoon under her own name, starting a series that would only end, after 88 entries, in 1939.

In ‘Stopping the Show’, she’s the highlight of a show that is half cinema half theater. The show starts off with a “noose reel”, followed by a screening of a short cartoon (!) starring Bimbo and Koko. Then Betty enters the stage. She starts with singing ‘That’s My Weakness Now’, which in 1928 had been a hit song for her source of inspiration, Helen Kane. Then she does imitations of Fanny Brice and Maurice Chevalier.

By now, Betty is so well animated, that she feels like a real character, who easily steals the hearts of the audience. She’s a real cartoon star, second only to Mickey Mouse. Her performance makes ‘Stopping the Show’ a delightful watch, even though it lacks the surrealism of earlier outings.

Watch ‘Stopping the Show’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 1
To Betty Boop’s last Talkartoon: The Betty Boop Limited
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop Bizzy Bee

‘Stopping the Show’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 October 13, 1931
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Spider and the Fly © Walt DisneyAfter ‘The Cat’s out‘ of three months earlier ‘The Spider and the Fly’ is the second silly symphony focusing on a story instead of a musical routine.

In this short a mean spider lures two flies into his web by playing harp on it, recalling a similar scene in Max Fleischer’s ‘Wise Flies‘ from 1930. The female fly is captured, but the male fly summons all the other flies to help him rescue her, which they do in a long battle scene on the music of Franz von Suppé’s overture ‘Die leichte Kavalerie’ and Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig. Here we watch flies riding horseflies and using dragonflies as bombers and shoes on caterpillars as tanks. There’s also a spectacular scene in which the flies set fire to the spider’s web, with the poor female fly still in it. Ironically, the spider’s finally captured with flypaper.

‘The Spider and the Fly’ is more melodramatic than funny, but there’s a lot going on, and one doesn’t get the time to get bored. The basic story line of this cartoon would be followed in two other Silly Symphonies: ‘Bugs in Love‘ (1932) and ‘The Moth and the Flame’ (1938), also featuring insects.

Watch ‘The Spider and the Fly’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 23
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Clock Store
To the next Silly Symphony: The Fox Hunt

‘The Spider and the Fly’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Directors: John Foster & Harry Bailey
Release Date:
 January 27, 1932
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Toy Time © Van Beuren‘Toy Time’ is another typical Silly Symphony-like short by Van Beuren, trying to beat Disney at his own game.

The cartoon features two mice, Oscar and his girlfriend, who resemble Mickey and Minnie less than Van Beuren’s ill-fated stars Milton and Rita had done (see e.g. ‘Circus Capers‘ and ‘The Office Boy‘).

In fact, the two are portrayed as real mice, having fun in the toy shop at night. This premise comes directly from the Silly Symphony ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop‘, but the Van Beuren studio adds some drama, when a cat appears, and the two mice battle him with help of several toys. Strangely enough the cartoon doesn’t end at that point, but also features a scene in which Oscar serenades his girlfriend on the piano. Only then he earns his sweetheart’s kiss.

Like ‘The Family Shoe‘ (1931), ‘Toy Time’ is highly ambitious. For example, it features a splendid score by Gene Rodemich, and elaborate and quite beautifully painted backgrounds. Unfortunately, the animation is still pretty awkward, and the designs of the two mice primitive and bland. Nevertheless, it shows that the Van Beuren Studio was trying very hard.

Four months later, Warner Bros. would cover similar grounds in ‘It’s Got Me Again!‘, but with much more satisfying results.

Watch ‘Toy Time’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Toy Time’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date: October 3, 1931
Stars: Foxy
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

One More Time © Warner Bros.‘One More Time’ is an aptly titled short, as it marks the third and last cartoon to star Foxy, Warner Bros.’ fox-like Mickey Mouse rip-off.

In this cartoon he’s a police officer, fining a hippo lady for driving too fast, and rescuing his Minnie Mouse-like girlfriend from some thugs. He does so riding a mechanical horse, a relic from the Oswald the Lucky rabbit cartoons (e.g. ‘Ozzie of the Mounted‘, 1927), on which Harman and Ising had worked previously. Strangely enough, Foxy is machine-gunned by one of the gangsters in the end. Perhaps this is why he never returned to the animated screen…

The short has a strong urban setting, uncommon in the Hollywood cartoons of the time, and it features some dazzling perspective animation, but otherwise it’s just another mediocre entry in the early Merrie Melodies canon.

Watch ‘One More Time’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘One More Time’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Chuzo Aoji
Release Date:
 1931
Stars: Momotaro
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Momotaro's Sky Adventure © Chuzo AojiIn ‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure’ (also known as ‘Aerial Momotaro’) Japanese animation pioneers Aoji and Yasuji Murata tell a tale about that great and friendly warrior from Japanese folklore, Momotaro, who had been brought to the animated screen by Takamasa Eigasha in ‘Momotaro the Undefeated’ (1928).

Surprisingly, Aoji and Murata move our hero into the present. Momotaro is visited by a couple of Antarctic island birds who call for help against an evil (American?) eagle. Together with his loyal friends, monkey, dog and pheasant, he flies to the remote island in a propeller plane, being fueled twice by birds on the way. When the quartet arrives, they battle the eagle in the air in an overlong fighting sequence, which at times is strangely reminiscent of a modern computer game. Momotaro finally decides to capture the fiend alive, and he’s celebrated as a hero by the grateful birds.

‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure’ is Japan’s very first propaganda cartoon. It shows an early form of nationalism and anti-Americanism. Momotaro would grow very popular during World War II, representing Japan in many wartime films, and starring Japan’s very first animated feature, ‘Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors’ (1945), commissioned by the Japanese navy. This transformation of the folk hero into a nationalistic figure begins with this cartoon from 1931. Indeed, ultra-nationalism and militarism overtook Japan in the early 1930s, which e.g. resulted in the annexation of Manchuria in the summer of 1931.

Importantly, ‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure’ shows Japan’s national hero as the military strong friend of its weaker neighbors. This portrait of Japan as a benevolent big brother to all other Asian nations was played out throughout Japan’s militaristic period, and this propaganda story indeed managed to delude people like for example those Malay who, when Japan invaded their country in 1941, at first welcomed the Japanese as liberators from colonial Britain, only to find them far worse oppressors than the British had ever been…

‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure’ is available on the Japanese DVD Box Set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’.

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