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

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’

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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 Calkers.

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’

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:

This Popeye film No. 64
To the previous Popeye film: Bulldozing the Bull
To the next Popeye film: Goonland

‘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:

This Popeye film No. 58
To the previous Popeye film: Learn Polikeness
To the next Popeye film: Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh

‘The House Builder Upper’ is available on the 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:

This Popeye film No. 56
To the previous Popeye film: Fowl Play
To the next Popeye film: Learn Polikeness

‘Let’s Celebrake’ is available on the 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:

This Popeye film No. 2
To the previous Popeye film: I Yam What I Yam
To the next Popeye film: I Eats My Spinach

‘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’

 

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