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

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: July 27, 1940
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

A Wild Hare © Warner Bros.‘A Wild Hare’ marks the birth of one of the biggest cartoon stars of all time, Bugs Bunny.

The short had been preceded by four other Warner Bros. cartoons about hunting and rabbits, ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938), ‘Prest-O Chang-O‘ (1939). ‘Hare-Um Scare-Um‘ (1939) and ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera‘ (1940), which all contributed to the formation of the character.

Yet, it’s the character, design and voice the rabbit got in ‘A Wild Hare’ that made the rodent into the Bugs Bunny we all know now, even though he still looks a little different. Nevertheless, the difference between Tex Avery’s Bugs and his predecessors is less marked than sometimes advertised: Jones’s rabbit in ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera’ already was a calm character, and both the rabbits in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ and in ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera’ had performed fake death scenes. Moreover, even in the first half of ‘A Wild Hare’ the rabbit still seems a bit loony, like his predecessors.

Still, the rabbit has become a lot cooler: in his first appearance (which surprisingly only occurs after two and a half minutes!) he calmly addresses his hunter with the first occurrence of that famous line ‘What’s up, doc?‘. And in the second half he kisses Elmer Fudd a few times (another Bugs Bunny trademark) and deliberately invites Elmer to shoot him, only to act out a superb death scene, animated to perfection by Robert McKimson.

Likewise, Elmer Fudd gets his definite design in this cartoon, and it’s here he utters his trademark opening words ‘Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits‘ for the first time. He still has the red nose he had inherited from his predecessor Egghead, but that would soon go, too.

Priceless is the ‘guess who’ scene, in which Elmer guesses several beautiful Hollywood actresses as likely candidates (“Hedy Lamarr? Carole Lombard? Rosemary Lane? Olivia de Havilland?“), before deciding upon ‘that screwy rabbit’. The complete cartoon forms the template for many Bugs Bunny cartoons to come, up to such a late short like ‘What’s Opera, Doc?‘ (1957).

The cartoon itself at least was a success, and nominated for an Academy Award (which it lost to MGM’s ‘The Milky Way‘), and it prompted other cartoon directors to use the character, too. Five months later, Chuck Jones was the first, with ‘Elmer’s Pet Rabbit’. Thus this rabbit had to get a name. And in an era in which virtually all cartoon stars had alliterated names, he was christened Bugs Bunny. In fact, this name that already appeared on a model sheet for ‘Hare-Um Scare-um’ as ‘Bugs’ Bunny’, after director Bugs Hardaway, who had directed that particular cartoon. ‘Elmer’s Pet Rabbit’ has a separate title card to introduce this rabbit and his red-hot name.

With ‘A Wild Hare’ the Leon Schlesinger studio turned a new page. Together with MGM’s ‘Puss Gets The Boot’, Tom & Jerry’s debut film, which had been released five months earlier, the short somehow heralds the wilder and more mature days of the 1940s. And although Elmer and Bugs don’t chase each other in ‘A Wild Hare’, the cartoon helped to shape the format of the chase cartoon, with the comedy played out well with just the two characters, in a clear antagonistic relationship. Now the fun could really begin…

Watch ‘A Wild Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 1
To the last proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Elmer’s Candid Camera
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Elmer’s Pet Rabbit

‘A Wild Hare’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and on the DVD ‘Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Award-Nominated Animation: Cinema Favorites’

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Director: Riley Thomson
Release Date: July 19, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Pluto
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Put-Put Troubles © Walt DisneyIn 1940, the Donald Duck series really hit the stride, becoming a series of pure gag cartoons, with few real failures until the end.

By now, Donald had shed his childish feathers, and had become more or less a representative of the American average citizen, coping with familiar troubles, like in this case, a failing outboard motor.

In ‘Put-Put Troubles’ Donald and Pluto go for a boat trip on a lake. Pluto encounters a frog and gets stuck in a spring, while Donald has troubles with starting the outboard motor. The motor itself is excellently animated, behaving rather outrageously, and at one time even functioning as a can opener, destroying Donald’s boat within seconds.

This is arguably the first cartoon in which Donald has to battle with a well-known inanimate object. Donald was at its best when having to deal with common household objects, and this cartoon is a prime example. True, Donald had to deal with inanimate objects before, e.g. strange machines in ‘Modern Inventions‘ (1937) and a giant spring in ‘Clock Cleaners’ (1938), but these were hardly familiar things to the average viewer, while Donald’s struggle with the outboard motor is recognizable to many, adding to its comedy. Even better examples were to come (e.g. the folding chair from ‘Donald’s Vacation‘ (1940), the folding bed from ‘Early to Bed’ (1941) and the leaking tap in ‘Drip Dippy Donald’ from 1948).

In contrast, Pluto’s antics with the spring are less inspired, and the cartoon’s exciting finale comes all too suddenly to an end.

‘Put-Put Troubles’ was the first Disney short directed by the unsung hero Riley Thomson, who would only direct seven shorts between 1940 and 1942, all of them hilarious. Thomson had started animating for Warner Bros. in 1935, but already in 1936 he exchanged Warner Bros. for Walt Disney. After his direction career, Thomson became a story man for the Goofy series, then moved on to comics. He spent the final days of his career at Walter Lantz, as a layout artist for the Woody Woodpecker show.

Watch ‘Put-Put Troubles’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 18
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Mr. Duck Steps Out
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Vacation

‘Put-Put Troubles’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: June 7, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Mr. Duck Steps Out © Walt Disney‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ opens with Donald Duck preparing to visit his love interest, Daisy Duck.

To Donald’s dismay, his nephews want to go too, and the kid trio seriously hampers his courting efforts. Even sending them off to get some ice cream doesn’t help. Nevertheless, when Huey, Dewey and Louie make Donald swallow a popping corn, Donald’s dance moves become so hot, he quickly wins Daisy over. Thus, in the end, the exhausted duck is smothered in kisses.

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is a clear cartoon of the swing era, and we watch all ducks trucking and doing the lindy hop to the swinging music. The Disney composers weren’t capable of making real jazz, however, and the music remains rather tame when compared to the big bands of the era. It’s a pity, because the animation on Donald and Daisy dancing, and on the nephews are playing the music is marvelous, and certainly hotter than the music accompanying it.

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is noteworthy for marking the debut of Donald’s long lasting girlfriend, Daisy Duck, Donald’s second love interest after Donna Duck had disappeared into the distance on her unicycle in ‘Don Donald‘ (1937). On the screen, Daisy remained a minor character, only appearing in ten more Donald Duck cartoons. However, she would become a regular in Al Taliaferro’s daily strip, making her debut on 4 November 1940, first as Donald’s new neighbor. Later, Carl Barks, too, made regular use of this character. In both comic strips Daisy’s appearance remained largely the same as in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 17
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Dog Laundry
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Put-Put Troubles

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 3, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Swee’Pea
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Never Sock a Baby © Max FleischerThis cartoon opens with Popeye softly spanking Swee’Pea, and sending him to bed without supper.

While Popeye struggles with his conscience (which materializes into his angelic and devilish side), Lil’ Swee’Pea leaves home, and almost immediately enters a hazardous, mountainous terrain. When Popeye’s angelic side has won, Popeye enters Swee’Pea’s room, only to find him gone. It’s now up to our hero to rescue Swee’Pea from grave dangers…

‘Never Sock a Baby’ is a morality tale, all too typical for the late 1930s, in which Popeye teaches us that it’s not right to spank a child. However, what a delightful morality cartoon this is! Despite the trite dream ending, the cartoon is full of wild and zany animation, plenty of gags and suiting music. Priceless is the scene in which Popeye reaches for his spinach only to find the can empty. The music score follows with a hilariously deflated version of the spinach theme. ‘Never Sock a Baby’ shows that by the end of the decade the goody-goody cartoon style of the mid-1930’s was at its end.

Watch ‘Never Sock a Baby’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Never Sock a Baby’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: September 1, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Mickey Rooney, Sonja Heni, The Ritz Brothers, Shirley Temple
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

The Autograph Hound © Walt Disney‘The Autograph Hound’ is an update of the idea of the Flip the Frog cartoon ‘Movie Mad‘ (1931): Donald Duck tries to enter a Hollywood studio, to meet some stars, but is hindered by a guard.

The caricature of Hollywood stars of course form the highlight of the cartoon, and like the ones in ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ (1933), they were all done by Joe Grant. Donald especially has to deal with an obnoxious Mickey Rooney, the rather bland Sonja Henie (whom Donald had imitated in ‘The Hockey Champ‘), the forgotten Ritz Brothers and a lovely Shirley Temple.

During the final scene we also see Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Charlie, Stepin Fetchit, Joe E. Brown, Martha Raye, Hugh Herbert, Katharine Hepburn, Groucho Marx and several others, all wanting to have Donald’s autograph.

Donald’s extraordinary fame in this cartoon seems to be a case of wishful thinking by the Disney Studio, but chances are that by 1939 Donald Duck had become the biggest animated star around. Mickey Mouse, the greatest cartoon star of the 1930s, was seen less and less on the screen, while Pluto and Goofy only came into their own during the 1940s. Fleischer’s Betty Boop had retired in July 1939, and even Popeye’s popularity may have waned after Segar’s death and the Fleischer’s move to Florida. Warner Bros.’ Porky Pig never became a huge star, and Daffy had still to reach his peak, while other potential rivals, like Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry or Woody Woodpecker only entered the scene in 1940.

Donald wears his blue cap for the first time in this cartoon, replacing his original white one. The blue cap was to stay till the present day.

Watch ‘The Autograph Hound’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 13
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Penguin
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Officer Duck

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

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: July 15, 1939
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Dangerous Dan McFoo © Warner Bros.This Tex Avery cartoon is a rather zany retelling of the poem ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’ by Robert Service.

Dangerous Dan McFoo appears to be a small, timid dog with the meek Elmer Fudd voice of Arthur Q. Bryan. His love interest, Sue, talks like Katharine Hepburn, but the villain, an early version of Avery’s wolf, images her as Bette Davis.

In this cartoon Tex Avery’s zany style is in full operation: in the opening shot of the Malibu Saloon, which stands in cold Alaska, we watch it advertise with ‘A 90 degrees cooler inside’. There are no less than two embryonic door gags, which would be expanded upon in ‘Señor Droopy‘ and ‘Little Rural Riding Hood’ (both 1949), and a first draft of the horse-in-the-glove gag, reused with gusto in ‘Lonesome Lenny’ (1946). There’s also an old reuse of the gag featuring a chorus stopping in mid-verse to make some weird faces, earlier used in ‘Penguin Parade’ (1938). And then there’s someone in the audience interrupting and dropping the two fighters two guns. The best gag, however, must be the streetcar coming out of nowhere to signal the rounds of the fights between the hero and the villain.

‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ is delightful nonsense, but it still suffers from mediocre designs and sloppy timing. Its end too, is anything but fitting. Avery knew he could do better and he would return to the same material six years later with ‘The Shooting of Dan McGoo‘ (1945), starring Droopy as the hero.

Watch ‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ is available on the French DVD box set ‘Tex Avery’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: April 28, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Hockey Champ © Walt Disney‘The Hockey Champ’ easily is one of the best Donald Duck cartoons of the 1930s.

Unlike ‘Good Scouts‘ or ‘Donald’s Golf Game‘, this short is fast paced, full of gags, speed lines and chase scenes, looking forward to the 1940s, the age of chase cartoons. The cartoon opens wonderfully with Donald Duck performing some impressive figure skating, and imitating Norwegian world champion and movie star Sonja Henie.

His performance is interrupted by Huey, Dewey and Louie playing ice hockey, and Donald Duck challenges the trio to a game. He indeed shows some impressive ice hockey skills, playing all by himself, in a scene recalling Max Hare playing tennis with himself in ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ (1935). This is a speedy scene for a 1939 cartoon, but when the Huey, Dewey and Louie take revenge, this speed is retained. There’s a wonderfully silly chase scene underneath the snow, with the hockey sticks acting as periscopes, and, needless to say, the haughty Donald is finally defeated by his nephews.

‘The Hockey Champ’ is an important step towards the faster cartoon style of the 1940s, and still a delight to watch, in contrast to contemporary Donald Duck cartoons, which are as beautifully made, but unfortunately less funny.

Watch ‘The Hockey Champ’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 8
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Lucky Day
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Cousin Gus

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

Director: Jack King
Release Date: July 8, 1938
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Good Scouts © Walt Disney‘Good Scouts’ immediately follows ‘Donald’s Nephews‘, and is the second Donald Duck cartoon featuring Huey, Dewey and Louie. This short shows that the nephews certainly were good gag material.

In ‘Good Scouts’ the four ducks are scouts camping out in Yellowstone Park. When Donald tries to make a tent out of a bent tree, this causes a string of events, which finally leads to him ending on top of a rock on a geyser, followed by a large bear.

‘Good Scouts’ clearly establishes Donald as an unlikely and misguided authority figure. There’s no real antagonism between him and the nephews, however, and when Donald is stuck on top of the geyser the trio seriously tries to save him, only to make matters worse. ‘Good Scouts’ is a great gag cartoon, but like more Donald Duck cartoons from this period it suffers a little from Jack King’s rather relaxed timing. Nevertheless, it provided Donald Duck with his first of no less than eight Academy Award Nominations.

This film’s theme was reused in Al Taliaferro’s daily Donald Duck strip during July 18-30, 1938, shortly after the film’s release. The scout theme was, of course, revisited with gusto by Carl Barks when he made Donald’s nephews into Junior Woodchucks.

Watch ‘Good Scouts’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 5
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Nephews
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Golf Game

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 23, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Mutiny Ain't Nice © Max Fleischer‘Mutiny Ain’t Nice’ is one of the rarer Popeye cartoons in which we watch our amiable sailor actually sailing.

The cartoon starts with Popeye preparing ship and saying goodbye to Olive, who, as a woman, cannot board ship because she will bring bad luck. Olive, however, lands on Popeye’s ship by accident, and as soon as she’s discovered by the crew, a mutiny starts. With help of spinach, Popeye rounds up his crew single-handed, chains them in one go and throws them into the hold.

Never mind the straight-forward story: ‘Mutiny Ain’t Nice’ is a fast and very enjoyable cartoon, greatly helped by Jack Mercer’s inspired ad-libbing and by beautiful background art.

Watch ‘Mutiny Ain’t Nice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mutiny Ain’t Nice’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: April 15, 1938
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Donald's Nephews © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Nephews’ marks the screen debut of Donald’s famous nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

Al Taliaferro had introduced them in the Donald Duck Sunday Page of October 17, 1937, and by April 1938 they had become regular stars of the Donald Duck comic strip. Their screen debut is explosive, however. Once inside the “angel nephews” initiate a game of polo on their tricycles, wrecking Donald’s house within seconds.

Luckily Donald Duck discovers a book on ‘Modern Child Training’, which gives him ideas to treat the three kids. First, Donald tries to sooth the brats by playing Pop Goes the Weasel on the piano, to no avail. Then he tries to calm them down with a nice turkey supper, still without success. In the end of the cartoon the three nephews rush off back to Aunt Dumbella, supposedly their mother, but they would return three months later, in ‘Good Scouts‘. In fact, Uncle Donald clearly became their surrogate father, as Aunt Dumbella was never seen in either comic strip or animated film.

‘Donald’s Nephews’ is a wonderful cartoon: the gags come in fast and plenty, and there’s a real battles of wits going on between Donald and his nephews. There’s nothing of the slowness of Donald’s earlier cartoons. Instead, there’s a lot of speed, and some remarkable exaggeration, like Donald Duck’s hand swelling up three times its original size, and the sound effect of horses galloping when the three nephews rush to the dinner table. Highlight of ‘Donald’s Nephews’ may be the saying grace scene, which is anything but devout. Donald’s attempts to pacify his nephews come from a book, a story idea later copied in e.g. ‘Goofy’s Glider’ (1940), and the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘Mouse Trouble’ (1944).

Speed, exaggeration, weird sound effects, the book idea – all these elements look forward to the zanier cartoon style of the 1940s, of which ‘Donald’s Nephews’ can be regarded as an early example.

‘Donald’s Nephews’ is an important cartoon: it clearly establishes Donald Duck as old enough to be an authority figure to the three kids. His school-going days of ‘Donald’s Better Self’ were now over. Moreover, the wrecking trio are a worthy adversary to the duck, really testing his temper. This would lead to many great cartoons, e.g. ‘Good Scouts‘, ‘The Hockey Champ‘ (both 1938), ‘Sea Scouts‘ (1939) and ‘Mr. Duck Steps Out‘ (1940). Huey, Dewey, and Louie starred 23 cartoons in total, lasting until Donald Duck’s very last theatrical cartoon, ‘The Litterbug’ (1961).

Watch ‘Donald’s Nephews’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 4
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Better Self
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Good Scouts

‘Donald’s Better Self’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 18, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The House Builder Upper © Max Fleischer‘The House Builder Upper’ opens with Olive crying on her doorstep.

It’s soon revealed why: as the camera zooms out, it’s revealed her complete house has burnt down. Firemen Popeye and Wimpy arrive way too late, but they offer to help her build a new house. Enter a series of building gags, which elaborate on the Laurel and Hardy two-reeler ‘The Finishing Touch’ (1928). Like Laurel & Hardy, Popeye and Wimpy are lousy construction workers, with Wimpy excelling in silly acts, accompanied by a particularly goofy tune. So it’s no wonder, the complete house falls apart upon finishing.

Enter that mysterious ingredient, spinach. After swallowing the contents of the can, Popeye builds a new house in a second. But even spinach isn’t sacred: even this house falls apart! So, the cartoon ends with Popeye promising to try again.

‘The House Builder Upper’ is one of those pleasant Popeye cartoons in which the Bluto-Popeye-Olive love triangle has no part at all. It’s a great gag-orientated cartoon, and the gags come in plenty, with the bizarre finale as a highlight within the complete series.

Watch ‘The House Builder Upper’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The House Builder Upper’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 21, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, Wimpy
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Let's Celebrake © Max FleischerIt’s New Year’s Eve, and Popeye and Bluto ride a sleigh to Olive’s house to take her to a New Year’s party at the Happy Hour Club.

However, Popeye hates to see Olive’s granny sitting alone at Olive’s home at New Year’s Eve, and takes her with them. At the club Bluto dances with Olive, while Popeye dances with grandma. When Wimpy, dressed like Santa, announces a dancing contest, Popeye has to enter with the deaf old lady. But with the help of some spinach, the duo clears the floor, literally, in a very long and enjoyable dance scene on some nice swing music, which features an excerpt from ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’.

‘Let’s Celebrake’ is very joyous cartoon, in tune with the New Year’s spirit, and it’s one of those rarer Popeye cartoons in which there’s no conflict between Bluto and Popeye, at all. Even more interesting, Popeye doesn’t eat the spinach himself here, leaving that to grandma.

Watch ‘Let’s Celebrake’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Let’s Celebrake’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 12, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's May Party © Max Fleischer‘Betty Boop’s May Party’ is one the Fleischer studio’s most surreal cartoons, and one of the last ones containing this type of weird humor, so typical for the studio in the early 1930s.

The short starts with Betty Boop on a boat trip to her own amusement park. There we watch her perform ‘Here We Are’, a hit song made famous by Annette Hanshaw in 1929. The rest with the cartoon is filled with pictures of animals frolicking in the amusement park. Little of the cartoon makes any sense, but there are surreal gags all over the place, like a boat climbing down a ladder while descending a waterfall, a jetty walking towards the arriving boat, and somebody on a swing changing passing elephants into camels.

However, the cartoon runs totally berserk, when an elephant accidentally hits a rubber tree. The sprouting rubber turns everything in sight rubbery, including the moon and the whole scenery, with weird and wild consequences. For example, Bimbo and Koko perform a bizarre dancing scene, and when Betty joins in the trio completely twist the background around. Meanwhile we can hear the intoxicating jazz of Duke Ellington’s ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing’ in the background. Most of the cartoon is fun to watch, but this finale is on a league of its own, and turns ‘Betty Boop’s May Party’ into a near-classic.

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

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 15
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Birthday Party
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Big Boss

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 27, 1933
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Blow Me Down! © Max FleischerLike the previous two cartoons, ‘Blow Me Down!’ (another of Popeye’s oneliners from E.C. Segar’s comic strip) opens with Popeye singing his own theme song, now while riding a shark to Mexico.

In Mexico Popeye visits a canteen, where Olive is a dancer, performing a dance, that’s taken straight from Segar’s strip from March 1932, including the gag in which she lands with her feet into two spittoons. Then Bluto enters, shooting everything in sight, and within seconds, Popeye is the only other person in the canteen. The two engage into a strange duel, then Bluto tries to harass Olive, but like in ‘I Yam What I Yam’ she appears pretty much in control when Popeye comes to rescue her. In a spectacular finale, Popeye knocks Bluto around the world.

‘Blow Me Down’ covers no new story grounds, its premise harking all the way back to ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘ (1928). Yet, it’s by all means a delightful cartoon, and it’s over before you know it. It contains a very original bird-eye shot of Popeye ascending the stairs. Olive’s voice is by Bonnie Poe, and very different from Mae Questel’s later version.

Watch ‘Blow Me Down!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Blow Me Down!’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

 

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date: September 24, 1933
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon‘The Dish ran Away with the Spoon’ was the last Merrie Melody Harman & Ising made for Leon Schlesinger, before they quit over a dispute on money.

Like other later Merrie Melodies it shows how Harman and Ising could imitate Disney, compete with Disney, but at the same time produce films that Disney somehow would never make. It opens with a very Disneyesque rain scene, which brings us through a window into a kitchen. There we watch kitchen tools frolicking and dancing.

In tune to earlier Silly Symphonies like ‘The Bird Store‘ and ‘Bugs in Love‘ (both 1932) halfway a ‘story’ develops, when a dough monster kidnaps a female dish, but is destroyed by a hero spoon and the rest of the kitchen tools.

The designs in this cartoon are elaborate and elegant, of a high quality and unmistakeably Warner Bros. Of special notice is the convincing animation on the dough villain.

After Harman & Ising’s quit, it would take Schlesinger’s own fledgling studio quite some time to match Harman & Ising’s quality, and only with help from some of their former animators, like Bob Clampett, Robert McKimson and Friz Freleng.

Watch ‘The Dish ran Away with the Spoon’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Dish ran Away with the Spoon’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: unknown
Release Date: July 12, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Fresh Ham © Van BeurenIn ‘Fresh Ham’ Cubby sets up a talent agency, looking for a vaudeville act.

Cubby is immediately visited by candidates, although talent is hard to find among them. There’s a lady who mimics a great voice with help of a phonograph, a mother with a baby brat who refuses to perform, and four Chinese duck acrobats. They are all topped, however, by a remarkably persistent duck who cites Shakespeare throughout the picture. This duck is a wonderful character, easily outshining Cubby and his anonymous little cat friend. The duck forms a running gag, elevating this Cubby cartoon to arguably the best short of Cubby’s short-lived career.

Watch ‘Fresh Ham’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A.M. to P.M.’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’

 

Director: ?
Release Date: June 24, 1933
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Techno-Cracked © Ub IwerksIn ‘Techno-Cracked’ the elder lady from ‘School Days‘ and ‘The Music Lesson‘ orders Flip to mow the lawn. What her relation is to Flip that she can do that, remains utterly unclear. It seems she was a sort of staple authority figure the Iwerks studio could use anytime.

Anyway, inspired by an article on robots, Flip builds his own one, being the last cartoon star to follow the robot trend of 1932/1933, after Fleischer’s ‘The Robot‘ (1932), Lantz’s ‘Mechanical Man‘ (1932), Disney’s ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ (1933) and Columbia’s ‘Technoracket‘ (1933).

Of all these animated robots, Flip’s is the most improbable one. Indeed, Flip’s creation is more like a cousin of Frankenstein than a mechanical man: first, it comes to life by electric charge. Second, it has a pumpkin head, defying its mechanical character. Third, it hardly moves like a robot at all, and more like an ordinary rubber hose animated character, and fourth, it eats, it laughs and it uses a toilet.

However, the cartoon is a great showcase of what can go wrong with robots. When Flip orders the robot to mow the lawn, it does so with zeal, mowing everything in sight. In the end, the robot turns evil, and Flip has to destroy it.

‘Techno-Cracked’ is a fast-paced, gag-packed cartoon and among Flip the Frog’s best. The action is greatly enhanced by Carl Stalling’s inspired score, which uses The Song of the Volga Boat Men as a leitmotif, but in a major key.

Watch ‘Techno-Cracked’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 34
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Flip’s Lunch Room
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Bulloney

‘Techno-Cracked’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 December 17, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Good Deed © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is the second of four Mickey Mouse Christmas cartoons (‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ from 1931 was the first, the third would only appear at the end of Mickey’s career in 1952: ‘Pluto’s Christmas Tree‘ and the fourth would herald Mickey’s return to the screen in ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol‘ from 1983).

‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is a typical cartoon of the Great Depression era, which, if we look at the Hollywood output, seemed to find its lowest point in 1931-1933. Surprisingly many films from these years show people in great poverty, struggling at the bottom of society. Other examples are the Laurel and Hardy short ‘One Good Turn’ (1931), the Flip the Frog cartoon ‘What A Life’ (1932), the Cubby the Bear cartoon ‘Barking Dogs’, and the Warner Bros. musical ‘ Gold Diggers of 1933’ (1933).

In the opening scene of ‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ we watch Mickey being down at the dumps: he is a poor street musician, playing ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ on a double bass in the snow. He’s obviously homeless and his pants are ragged. When all the change he got turns out to be just bolts and nuts his hopes of a decent meal in a fancy restaurant are shattered.

Meanwhile a rich and spoiled brat discovers Pluto and wants him for a present. So his father sends out his servant to buy Pluto from Mickey. Mickey first refuses, stating that Pluto is his pal. But then his double bass is destroyed by a sleigh and Mickey discovers a very poor and desperate mother of numerous kittens.

In other to help the latter, he finally sells Pluto to buy numerous toys for the little kittens, which he gives them, dressed like Santa, while they’re sleeping. Meanwhile, the spoiled brat is giving Pluto, his own father and the servant a hard time. In the end, the father spanks his son and throws Pluto out of the house. The cartoon ends when Mickey and Pluto are rejoined again, sharing a roasted chicken Pluto accidentally had brought along.

‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is one of Mickey’s most melodramatic cartoons, and relatively low on gags, the most of which involving the spoiled brat and his antics. It plays a familiar theme contrasting the spoiled rich, who think they can get anything with money, with the unfortunate poor, who are willing to help each other out. It’s strange to see Mickey so poor, however, as he is in this cartoon. It’s as if he had lost Minnie and his friends, as well. The most poignant scene is that of a homeless Mickey roasting a sausage on a fire with a mock Pluto made out of snow.

This cartoon contains a caricature of Jimmy Durante as a jack-in-the-box, which is probably the first of many caricatures of this 1930s comedian in animated film. One and a half year later, Mickey would meet Jimmy Durante in person in the live action movie ‘Hollywood Party’.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 50
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Klondike Kid
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Building a Building

‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white Volume two’

 

Directors: John Foster & George Stallings
Release Date:
 December 9, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★★½
Review

Pencil Mania © Van Beuren‘Pencil Mania’ arguably is Tom and Jerry’s most inventive short of all.

In this short Jerry has a magic pencil with which he can draw things in mid-air, which immediately come to life. This leads to some surreal gags with a lot of metamorphosis being involved. It’s for example fascinating to watch a saxophone change into a duck.

Unfortunately, as soon as Jerry has drawn three melodrama figures, the short turns to their antics. Nevertheless, the finale is mesmerizing: a complete train disappears into nothing, and Jerry breaks through the paper to make the heroin return to his pencil before Tom can kiss her. Gags like these, breaking the 4th wall, were extremely rare in 1932, making ‘Pencil Mania’ pretty unique. At any rate it’s very enjoyable to watch, even though the train is the only well-drawn thing in the entire short. One can only guess what more able hands could have made out of a story idea like this.

Eight years later Terrytoons would use the same idea in the Gandy Goose cartoon ‘The Magic Pencil’ (1940). No doubt the Terry animators had seen ‘Pencil Mania’, because not only do the two cartoon share a melodrama sequence, the magic also starts with the same gag: that of the Jerry/Gandy Goose drawing an egg, which falls on Tom’s/Sourpuss’s head. Moreover, both Jerry and Gandy Goose turn a door into a car, and like Jerry, Gandy makes the heroin flow back into his pencil.

‘Pencil Mania’ features three songs: Rudy Wiedoeft’s Saxophobia (1919), the 1923 hit ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas’, and ‘You’ve Got Me in the Palm of Your Hand’.

Watch ‘Pencil Mania’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 18
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Piano Tooners
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Tight Rope Tricks

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

 

Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date:
 January 13, 1933
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Silvery Moon © Van Beuren‘Silvery Moon’ starts with the song ‘Moonlight bay’ and the two young cats from ‘The Wild Goose Chase‘ (1932) in a canoe on a moonlit lake. Suddenly, the moon invites them over, producing a giant staircase. Once the two have arrived on the moon, a fairy opens a gate, revealing a dreamlike candy land.

The dreamlike atmosphere is enhanced by scenes that change while the two kittens stay in place. In Candyland the two frolic around, and eat all what’s around until they’re sick. Then they’re hunted by a bottle of castor oil and a spoon, until they fall off the moon, next to their own canoe.

‘Silvery Moon’ was one of the last Aesop’s Fables, and one of the best. Sure, the designs and animation are still poor (some of the animation is reused from ‘Toy Time‘), and the film’s subject may be a little childish, it’s a surprisingly inspired cartoon, showing wonderful events with a natural charm. It’s a pity that ‘Silvery Moon’ is in black-and-white, for its dreamlike atmosphere would make perfect subject for color, which in 1933 still was brand new, anyhow (Disney’s first technicolor cartoon, ‘Flowers and Trees‘ had only been released half a year earlier).

Indeed, the cartoon’s content and atmosphere look forward to several color cartoons of the Hayes code era, most notably the Fleischer cartoon ‘Somewhere in Dreamland‘ (1936), which also features two children visiting a candy world. This makes ‘Silvery Moon’ probably the most forward-looking cartoon the Van Beuren studio ever produced, and it certainly has aged much better than most of the cartoons the studio produced in the early 1930’s.

Watch ‘Silvery Moon’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

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