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Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: January 27, 1958
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Dooley
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Misguided Missile © Walter Lantz‘Misguided Missile’ starts with a familiar Woody Woodpecker trope of Woody being hungry and looking for food.

In the first scene we watch him picking with a bunch of pigeons, until he says ‘this is for the birds’, and tries to steal a man’s lunch box. When this fails, Woody immediately turns his attention to the ‘Jobs wanted’ page in the newspaper the man is reading, looking for a “Job for Goldbrickers”, as a super salesman selling insurance. Woody even dresses like a skunk to get the job, in a sequence that is reminiscent of a similar scene in Carl Barks’s comic ‘Land of the Totem Poles’ (1950).

In his new profession as a travelling salesman he tries to sell Dooley an insurance policy. This sequence forms the highlight of the cartoon, as Woody reads to Dooley which calamities the insurance covers, which promptly make these happen to the bearded fellow. In a matter of seconds Dooley gets hit by a safe, hit by a streetcar, falls into a printing press, is hit into the ground by a pile-driver, etc.

This remarkable selling strategy succeeds, and Dooley signs. But Dooley double-crosses Woody, thinking he now is insured against everything. He is, except for guided missiles. So Woody launches the slowest guided missile thinkable on Dooley. The rest of the cartoon consists of the guided missile slowly following an agonized Dooley. This is by all means a remarkable sequence, greatly enhanced by the tick-tock sound effects and Clarence Wheeler’s inspired music accompanying the missile.

Curiously, eleven days later, the slow missile would return in the earlier produced Droopy cartoon ‘Sheep Wrecked‘. Indeed, both cartoons were penned by the same writer: Homer Brightman.

Watch ‘Misguided Missile’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Misguided Missile’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  June 21, 1910
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Les douze travaux d'Hercule © Émile Cohl‘Les douze travaux d’Hercule’ is a funny re-telling of the twelve labors of Hercules.

In Émile Cohl’s cut-out film Hercules is a rather fat man with quite a stupid look on his face, and the way in which he does the twelve labors is devoid of all realism. For example, every scene ends with hercules leaving the scene flying. Because of its comic character and silly animation, the film is quite entertaining.

The short even contains a novelty: in ‘la ceinture d’Hyppolyte’ Cohl suggests a fight between Hercules and the Amazones by showing 37 frames of pure abstract shapes, which are held for only 1 to 2 frames, giving the viewer an impression of a series of explosions. This comic device of abstract images suggesting a fight most probably had never been used on the animated screen before. But of course would be repeated in many cartoons after. The cut-out shapes are similar to those of artist Jean Arp, whose much more famous work is of a later date.

Watch ‘Les douze travaux d’Hercule ‘ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les douze travaux d’Hercule ‘ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1910
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Le peintre néo-impressioniste © Émile Cohl‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’ is a pure comedy film by cinema pioneer Émile Cohl.

This short is about a painter who cannot even draw a live model (his painting is that of a stick man). When a client arrives the talentless painter tries to sell his monochrome paintings to a client, exclaiming that they are all figurative. For example, the red painting involves a cardinal eating lobster at the red sea, and the green one shows a green devil playing billiards in the grass, while drinking absint.

The imaginary pictures are all shown in cut-out animation, and the colors are beautifully rendered by hand coloring. In the end the client buys them all, leaving the painter and his model laughing.

Watch ‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Le peintre néo-impressioniste’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1909
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Les transfigurations © Émile Cohl‘Les transfigurations’ starts with some live action footage of some street artist inviting passers-by to take a peak inside his fortune-telling machine on a street corner.

The machine shows one man his future wife, another his career, and another his rise and fall. The three customers all leave the machine in anger, much to the street artist’s delight. Only the fourth, who gets a vision of his mother-in-law leaves the stage laughing and hopping with the man from the machine.

The images of the machine are rendered in a great mix of pen animation, cut-out and stop-motion, and know a great deal of metamorphosis, Cohl’s strong point. For example, the future wife changes into an old hag, into a weather-vane and into a doll, while the mother-in-law changes into another hag, and into a crocodile. The best animation is that for the third man. The message of his transformations are rather unclear, but they are mesmerizing nonetheless, as we watch the man change e.g. into a devil and into a monkey.

‘Les transfigurations’ is comparable to ‘Les générations comiques‘ and ‘Les lunettes feériques‘ from the same year, and certainly one of Cohl’s best satirical movies.

Watch ‘Les transfigurations’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les transfigurations’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: July 10, 1909
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Les joyeux microbes © Émile Cohl‘Les joyeux microbes’ is one of Cohl’s most inventive and most creative films.

The short starts with a live action scene of a man visiting a scientist, who claims the man is full of microbes. To prove his point he shows the man his microbes through the microscope. We watch what the man sees: this is where the animation starts, as the microbes under the microscope start moving and morphing, and change into caricatures of politicians, of a car driver, a man drinking, etc.

Cohl’s inspired metamorphosis and readable drawing style come together in this film to entertaining effects. In the end the man exclaims ‘Dieu! Je suis malade!‘ (My God, I’m ill!), and throws a painting over the laughing scientist, before rushing out.

Watch ‘Les joyeux microbes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les joyeux microbes’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: October 8, 1908
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

L'Hôtel du silence © Émile Cohl‘L’hôtel du silence’ is Émile Cohl’s answer to J. Stuart Blackton’s influential ‘The Haunted Hotel’ from 1907. Unlike Blackton, Cohl doesn’t employ stop motion in his film, however, making ‘L’hôtel du silence’ an addition to the trick film tradition, not an entry in the animation canon.

The film features a man visiting a hotel without any personnel. The man’s stay at the hotel is far from pleasant, however: his dinner disappears into the floor, his bed throws him on the floor when the alarm clock rings, and a shower soaks him completely. In the end, he’s confronted by an enormous bill. The man tries to sneak away without paying, but he is held inside the lobby by the desk. Even the door refuses to let him go out before he has paid some tips. This last gag is arguably the best of the whole film.

The unknown actor who plays the hapless visitor clearly is a professional clown: he acts out his emotions to the audience with broad gestures, and he’s clearly used to slapstick comedy, making him a forerunner of the American slapstick tradition. The camera remains static, with all the actions taking place in two tableaux: the lobby and the bedroom. Cohl uses a lot of contraptions and quite some trick photography, but no animation to tell his story, which is quite static, but pretty amusing for a film of the 1900s.

Watch ‘L’hôtel du silence’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘L’hôtel du silence’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: November 12, 1908
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Un drame chez les fantoches © Émile CohlAfter two drawn animation films of mind-blowing surrealism, Émile Cohl turned down his wild fantasy to tell a much more consistent tale.

‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ tells of a man, who, after being rejected by a woman, enters her house, chases her away and rips off her dress. The woman is rescued by a policeman, who gets awarded for this deed. The evil man gets arrested, but he escapes from jail to beat up another man. In the end the woman declares her love for the policeman, and all four protagonists take a bow to the audience.

‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ is told in the same simple stick man style as ‘Fantasmagorie‘ and ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche‘, but metamorphosis now is used as a story device to go from one scene to another. At that point the scene devolves into abstract shapes, which then rearrange into another setting. This is a novel and totally unique way of cutting, and it’s a pity it has not been used more often. The cartoon’s clear plot makes ‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ the first drawn film ever to tell a story.

Watch ‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Un drame chez les fantoches’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: October 16, 1908
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Le cauchemar de Fantoche © Émile Cohl‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’ can be seen as the sequel to ‘Fantasmagorie‘.

Like Cohl’s groundbreaking film, the short consists of a stream-of-consciousness-like series of images, in which metamorphosis and free association run wild. The little clown from ‘Fantasmagorie’ is nowhere to be found, and the hero of this film, despite being called Fantoche as well, is a rather bland stick man, who has to endure quite some body deformations, for example changing into a pumpkin and into an umbrella. At one point he’s even hanged.

Nothing is certain in Cohl’s fantasy world, and ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’ is every bit as interesting as ‘Fantasmagorie’, and the only reason it is much, much less known, is because it suffers the fate of simply not being the first.

Watch ‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le cauchemar de Fantoche’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Directors: Paul Driessen & Kaj Driessen
Release Date: 2008
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The 7 Brothers © Paul DriessenWith ‘The 7 Brothers’ Dutch director Paul Driessen elaborates on the fairy tale ideas he had explored in ‘3 Misses’ (1988).

‘The 7 Brothers’ tells the tale of no less than seven old writers, and their stories, all Driessen’s own idiosyncratic variations on classic fairy tales, featuring a mixture of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats, Snow White, Puss in Boots and Hansel and Gretel. There are seven short gags, all rather cruel takes on the familiar tales.

The film is unique within Driessen’s oeuvre, for its use of live action: the seven gag segments are bridged by shots of the old men wandering on a cobbled street at night. These surreal live action images were directed by his son, Kaj Driessen. The result is a beautiful and funny, if rather unassuming film.

Watch ‘The 7 Brothers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The 7 Brothers’ is available on the DVD ‘Animazing! – Mindblowing Animation Films Supportes by the Netherlands Film Fund 1998-2008’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 19, 1941
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Nix on hypnotricks © max fleischer‘Nix on Hypnotricks’ starts with some Eastern hypnotist called Prof. I. Stare, who needs a human victim.

He chooses one randomly, with the use of a phone book. This random victim happens to be Olive Oyl, who he manages to hypnotize through the phone, ordering her to come to him. This turns her into a mindless zombie walking to his office. This passage leads to more or less a remake of ‘A Dream Walking’ (1934), with Olive Oyl walking on great heights, and Popeye going at great lengths in saving her. This sequence is no less than hilarious, with gags rolling in plenty. At one point we even watch the both walking absentmindedly on top of a building in construction. Spinach turns Popeye into a Superman, with S-logo and cape, in a tribute to his new fellow cartoon star (at the time of the film’s release, the Fleischers had released two Superman cartoons). However, to save Olive from the spell, Popeye has to slap her. Unfortunately, Olive immediately punishes him for doing so…

‘Nix on Hypnotricks’ is a genuine gag cartoon and shows the Fleischer studio in top form. Who would have thought the two brothers would be out of business within half a year?

Watch ‘Nix on Hypnotricks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 101
To the previous Popeye film: The Mighty Navy
To the next Popeye film: Kickin’ the Conga ‘Round

‘Nix on Hypnotricks’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: November 24, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

what's cookin' © walter lantzThis short opens with a groundhog warning for a terrific cold wave and urging all birds to go South at once.

All birds (drawn in cute 1930s fashion) leave the forest at once to take off to Miami. Not Woody Woodpecker, who takes another swim, only to discover that his summer scene changes into harsh winter within a second. Later a whirlwind deprives him of all his food, and Woody is left hungry and miserable. At that point an equally hungry cat drops by, and both characters try to eat each other, in what must be the grimmest and most violent cartoon of the sound era thus far.

The idea of characters trying to each other was revisited later by other film makers, e.g. Chuck Jones in ‘Wackiki Wabbit‘, Tex Avery in ‘What’s Buzzin’ Buzzard’ (both 1943), and James Culhane in ‘Fair Weather Friends’ (1946), which also stars Woody Woodpecker. Woody Woodpecker’s search for food would become a recurring theme in his films, e.g. ‘Ski for Two’ (1944), ‘Chew-Chew Baby’ (1945) and ‘Banquet Busters’ (1948).

Watch ‘What’s Cookin’?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘What’s Cookin’?’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’ and on the Thunderbean DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: August 1, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Truant Officer Donald © Walt Disney‘Truant Officer Donald’ opens with Huey, Dewey and Louie having fun at the lake.

Unfortunately, they’re soon caught by Donald, the truant officer, who uses quite some fisherman’s gear to catch the brats. Nevertheless, the hooky playing trio succeeds in escaping from Donald’s car, and flee into their ‘pirates’ den’. What follows is a great chase routine with Donald trying to enter the hut, and the nephews defending it in ingenious ways.

The film’s highlight is the scene in which Donald tries to smoke out his nephews. Huey, Dewey and Louie use some roast chickens to pretend that Donald has killed them. They even take the gag further by letting one of them go down dressed as an angel to punish their uncle. Donald nevertheless has the last laugh, only to discover that the school is closed for summer holidays.

‘Truant Officer Donald’ is a great gag cartoon and one of Huey, Dewey and Louie’s finest. Carl Barks, who had worked on the story for this film, would revisit the idea of Donald being a truant officer and battling his nephews, in his Donald Duck comic WDC 100 (1949), with equally funny results.

Watch ‘Truant Officer Donald’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 26
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Early to Bed
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Old MacDonald Duck

‘Truant Officer Donald’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: July 11, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Early to Bed © Walt DisneyDonald Duck always was at his best when having to battle everyday inanimate objects, and ‘Early to Bed’ is one of his all-time best cartoons in that genre.

In this short Donald’s sole mission is going to sleep, but impending doom becomes immediately clear when Donald repeatedly mutters how tired he is and how early he has to rise. No sooner has he laid himself to sleep, or his attempt is thwarted by his cushion, an obnoxious alarm clock, and finally, by his foldable bed.

The story men (e.g. Carl Barks and Jack Hannah) succeed wonderfully in making everyday problems like a noisy alarm clock into something larger than life, blowing up Donald’s problems to unbearable proportions. For example, Donald even swallows his alarm clock at one point, and later all the antics make Donald’s bed look like a disco light.

The animation of the duck is excellent. Even his bursts of rage are wide-ranging and never become cliche. Donald easily carries the complete cartoon. Six years later, Woody Woodpecker would go to a similar ordeal in ‘Coo-Coo Bird‘, while Donald himself had to stand another sleepless night in ‘Drip Dippy Donald’ (1948).

Watch ‘Early to Bed’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 25
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: A Good Time for a Dime
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Truant Officer Donald

‘Early to Bed’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: August 11, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Screwdriver © Walter Lantz‘The Screwdriver’ forms an important step in the evolution of Woody Woodpecker.

Woody had been a clear woodpecker in his first cartoon, ‘Knock Knock‘ (1940), and he remained a forest animal in ‘Woody Woodpecker‘. Now he had become more or less an American citizen, capable of driving a car. In fact, the cartoon opens with Woody driving his rather silly vehicle, singing his theme song from ‘Woody Woodpecker’.

The bird soon turns out to be a road maniac, but the gags really start rolling in when he’s confronted by a police man. The woodpecker gives the officer a hard time, driving him nuts, in a string of fast and funny gags, greatly helped by an inspired score by Darrell Calker.

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

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

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: December 6, 1941
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Night Before Christmas © MGMAlready in their third cartoon Tom & Jerry were given their own Christmas special.

The short starts with the narrator reciting the first two lines from the early 19th century poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’: “‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse“.

Upon the last word we cut to Jerry who appears from his hole and goes exploring the Christmas setting. When Jerry mistakes Tom for a stuffed animal, a cartoon chase emerges, which is the more fun due to the Christmas setting. For example, we watch Tom inspecting a troop of wooden soldiers, and Jerry inviting Tom for a kiss under the mistletoe.

The chase ends when Jerry accidentally falls through the letter box outside in the snow. Relieved, Tom settles himself at the warm fire site, only to be plagued by remorse. Anxiously Tom rushes outside to retrieve a frozen Jerry from the snow. The cartoon ends with the broadest smile on Jerry possible.

‘The Night Before Christmas’ was only the duo’s third cartoon, but already Hanna and Barbera were able to play with the relationship between the cat and the mouse. Now they’re not only antagonists, they’re also friends, or at least ‘friendly enemies’, and their chase retains a playful attitude.

Jerry is animated outstandingly in this cartoon, and pulls several priceless faces, the last smile being a highlight among highlights. Tom’s finest moment is when he’s invited by Jerry for a kiss. The cat’s obstinate refusal turning into goodwill, followed by an embarrassed shyness is animation at its best.

Composer Scott Bradley provides a fantastically integrated score, weaving the Tom and Jerry themes with Jingle Bells to a great effect. In fact, one can listen to the score in its own right. The result is a cartoon of sheer delight, and ‘The Night Before Christmas’ easily is one of the best Christmas cartoons of all time.

Watch ‘The Night Before Christmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 3
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Midnight Snack
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Fraidy Cat

‘The Night Before Christmas’ is available on the European DVD set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

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’

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:

This Popeye film No. 75
To the previous Popeye film: It’s the Natural Thing to Do
To the next Popeye film: Shakespearian Spinach

‘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’

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