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Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Release Date: July 15, 1995
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Surprisingly, ‘Whisper of the Heart’ opens with a rendition of John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’ by Olivia Newton-John, implying one of those Ghibli films with a longing for the old country side. Not so. Country Roads remains the theme song throughout the picture, but the story entirely takes place inside the city of Tokyo, and completely lacks the nostalgia of ‘My Neighbor Totoro‘ (1988), ‘Only Yesterday’ (1991) or ‘Pom Poko’ (1994).

‘Whisper of the Heart’ is one of the lesser known of the classic Ghibli films. Perhaps because it isn’t directed by either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, but instead by the much lesser known Yoshifumi Kondō, being the first theatrical Ghibli film not directed by either founder (although it must be emphasized that Miyazaki both wrote the screenplay and storyboarded the film). Or it’s perhaps because the feature’s story is surprisingly mundane when compared to contemporary Ghibli films like ‘Pom Poko’ or ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997). In fact, like the earlier TV-Feature ‘Ocean Waves’ the story of ‘Whisper of the Heart’ never really departs from reality, and has little need for animation. Only the scenes of Shizuku’s story, and perhaps the old clock and the journeys of the fat cat Muta may require the medium of animation.

The film is based on a manga by Aoi Hiiragi and tells about ca. fourteen year old girl Shizuku, who is very fond of reading, but who, during one hot summer, is obliged to leave her fantasy world and enter a more mature one of love and responsibility. ‘Whisper of the Heart’ thus is a coming of age story, and we remain with Shizuku and her inner development all the time.

There are times in the film that we, Western viewers, being used to certain tropes, are misled on what’s coming. For example, at one point, the imagery certainly invokes death, but not so. Also, in a Western film we would expect to watch Shizuku and her friends performing the song they’re talking about during the whole film. Or we would expect a loyalty conflict between Shizuku and her best friend Yuko. Again, nothing of the sort. Nor do Shizuku’s parents thwart Shizuku’s ambitions.

In fact, there’s absolutely no conflict, at all during the entire movie: Shizuku can boast to have loving friends, understanding parents, and a supportive older sister. Moreover, all the strangers she meets are absolutely kind. All the conflict Shizuku faces, takes place entirely in her own head. Yet, the Ghibli studio manages to craft a surprisingly engaging and deep story out of such little material, focusing not only on the love theme, but also on how to find your own talents and what it takes and what it means to be an artist. Thus the geode allegory forms the central message of the film, a message directed to us all.

Another aspect of the film is the extraordinary attention to detail of every day life, so typical of the Ghibli studio. Thus we get glimpses of Shizuku’s family living, studying and working in their tiny apartment. We watch dogs bark from a garden as Shizuku walks by, we watch shadows of trees moving on the pavements, the sun breaking through the clouds, etc. etc. All these little details enhance the realism of the film, which only departs into the whimsical when going inside Shizuku’s story. The animation, too, is of a high realism, as exemplified by e.g. Seiji’s effort to climb a steep hill on his bicycle. Only at a few takes the animation turns comical, for example when Shizuku’s class mates spy on her and Seiji.

‘Whisper of the Heart’ may lack the extraordinary fantasy of ‘Pom Poko’ or ‘Spirited Away’, and it’s certainly not as epic as ‘Princess Mononoke’, but it’s a moving film with a lot of heart, and certainly belongs to Studio Ghibli’s best feature films. Tragically, in 1998, Yoshifumi Kondō, who was thought of as the successor to the aging Miyazaki and Takahata, died prematurely at the age of 47, and ‘Whisper of the Heart’ remains the only film he directed. In 2002 Ghibli released a spin-off film called ‘The Cat Returns’, which incidentally became only the second Ghibli film not to be directed by either Miyazaki or Takahata.

Watch the trailer for ‘Whisper of the Heart’ yourself and tell me what you think:


‘Whisper of the Heart’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Erica Russell
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Six years after ‘Feet of Song‘ Erica Russell returned with another extraordinarily beautiful dance film, this time using three dancers in a triangular relationship.

During most of the dance two women compete for a man, and the film features several dances between the man and either one of the women, the two women together, and, in the end, all three together.

The fluency of the movement combined with the elegance of Russell’s paintwork make the film a delight to watch. During most of the film the three dancers remain recognizable as human forms, but at times they change into almost abstract forms, with a strong Bauhaus influence.

Despite the high level of abstraction ‘Triangle’ is a very sensual film, and one never loses the idea that the film is about three characters with solid bodies, no matter how sketchily drawn. Charlie Hart’s score fits the images very well with its quasi-African touch to it.

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

‘Triangle’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of British Animation Awards 1’

Director: Jonathan Hodgson
Release Date: 1994
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

This hilarious little film features the most outlandish bedtime story ever put to screen.

A father starts to tell this story when his disobedient son starts hitting him with a mallet. Unusually for an animation film, the spoken tale is by far the main attraction of the film, as it winds in unpredictable directions, far from the realms of the ordinary fairy tale. But Jonathan Hodgson keeps the images interesting, as they illustrate the story, sometimes vaguely, sometimes very directly. Thus we watch the father and his son wandering on Mars, driving, in a forest and on a stage.

The film’s atmosphere is wonderfully surreal, greatly enhanced by dreamlike lighting and great timing on the otherwise rather simple, but definitely effective puppet animation. ‘Hilary’ may not have gained the fame of a ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ or ‘The Wrong Trousers‘, it still is one of the most enjoyable stop-motion films of the nineties.

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

‘Hilary’ is available on the DVD ‘The Best of British Animation Awards 1’ and on The Animation Show of Shows Box Set I

Director: Jeff McGrath
Airing Date: May 8, 1995
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Season Two of Duckman lasted only nine episodes, much shorter than the other three (13, 20 and 28 episodes respectively).

The season ends with a “cheater”, a cartoon consisting substantially of existing material. But this is done in a surprisingly sophisticated way, resulting in one of the most “meta” of all Duckman episodes. In fact, even the first scene is a cheater, showing the same footage no less than three times, as Duckman, tied to a hospital bed, tries to remember what happened.

It turns out he’s kidnapped by one Harry Medfly, “currently unemployed TV-critic”, who reveals to Duckman that he’s in fact star of a TV-show, which Medfly finds repulsive. Medfly proves his point by showing short clips from previous episodes, showing Duckman at his most sexist, at his most politically incorrect, at his most inapt as a detective, as most cruel to his employees Cornfed, Fluffy and Uranus, and at his most insensitive to his family. These five series of snippets are very entertaining in themselves, but the framing story is interesting, as well.

Highlight, however, is Medfly’s attempt to kill Duckman by signalling a huge mass of television history through his head. At this stage Duckman changes into several very different television personalities in a very rapid succession of metamorphoses. This is by all means great television animation, topped only by the self-aware dialogue at the finale.

Watch ‘Clip Job’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 22
To the previous Duckman episode: Research and Destroy
To the next Duckman episode: Noir Gang

‘Clip Job’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Michaela Pavlátová
Release Date: 1991
Rating: ★★★★★

‘Words Words Words’ is set in a cafe, and explores different types of dialogue, like gossip, seduction, quarrel, pep talk, and talk of love.

The different ways of talking are depicted by colorful balloons that, contrary to the familiar text balloons in comic strips, are devoid of text. This leads to humorous and inventive images in the best surrealist tradition. The best sequence involves a couple falling in love, but then falling into discord. Luckily, the humble waiter saves the day. Running gag of the film is a little yellow dog, who secretly drinks from the visitors’ cups and glasses.

‘Words Words Words’ is a highly entertaining film, and was rightly nominated for an Academy Award.

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

‘Words Words Words’ is available on the DVD ‘Desire & Sexuality – Animating the Unconscious Vol.2’

Director: Raymie Muzquiz
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: June 4, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★

‘About Face’ is one of the deepest of the Duckman episodes, and together with ‘Psyche‘ and ‘American Dicks’ forms the highlight of the first season.

Despite the usual dose of absurd humor and fast verbal wisecracking, the episode is actually moving, and knows an unexpectedly touching and somber ending, a very rare feat in both animated series and television comedy, indeed.

In this episode Mambo accidentally swallows a model of the titanic, which prompts Duckman to call 911. He immediately falls in love with the sweet voice on the other side of the line, and when she calls back, he immediately sets out to date her. Her name turns out to be Angela, and she is the sole person with whom Duckman not only feels like a good person, but also behaves like one.

Problem is, she’s “facially challenged” as Cornfed puts it, not to say hideously ugly (this trait is played out grotesquely, with people becoming terrified, fainting and fleeing when she walks by, echoing the skunk gags in Tex Avery’s ‘Little ‘Tinker’ from 1948). But then she decides to change all this…

This is one of the Duckman episodes deepening the character of the series’ protagonist, and actually make the audience feel for him. Notwithstanding, the episode contains plenty of comedy, with as highlights the scene in which Duckman is holding a telephone conversation with his beloved while his house burns down, and the scene in which Cornfed and his own date are mime dancing to no music.

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

This is Duckman episode no. 12
To the previous Duckman episode: American Dicks
To the next Duckman episode: Joking the Chicken

‘About Face’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: John Eng
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: May 28, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★

In what is arguably one of the most inspired Duckman episodes of all, Duckman is the unlikely star of a reality television show called ‘American Dicks’, a spoof on the television series Cops, which first appeared on television in 1989, and still runs.

In this episode Duckman suppossedly is followed by a cameraman with a hand-held camera, which leads to scenes with odd staging, distorted body parts, as Duckman and the others repeatedly talk into the camera, and even animated backgrounds, a rare feat since the early 1930s.

Moreover, the images are more often than not in constant motion, suggesting camera movements and even walking. This is done with such skill that the ‘documentary camera style’ is evoked very convincingly, despite the looney images within them.

This episode is one of the very few episodes in which Duckman veritably is a private detective, even if he turns out to be the worst and most oblivious one around, leaving it to Cornfed to solve the case.

What doesn’t help is that Aunt Bernice interferes with the program when she learns that the audience is predominantly male between the age of 20 and 55. Promptly, she advertises herself as wedding material. During the finale there are even severe closeups of her breasts and buttocks.

Even the kids get their moments in this episode, which is full of great gags, both in visually as in the soundtrack. A true classic.

Watch ‘American Dicks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 11
To the previous Duckman episode: Cellar Beware
To the next Duckman episode: About Face

‘American Dicks’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

This episode is all about Duckman’s sexual fantasies.

Director: Paul Demeyer
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: March 26, 1994
Rating: ★★★★★

After the death of his wife Beatrice, one and a half year ago, Duckman’s sexual live has come to a standstill, while Cornfed even admits he’s still a virgin.

Matters get worse when Duckman and Cornfed are visited by a blonde twin, who look like the epitome of male fantasies, with their huge boobs and seductive voices. But Duckman is so insecure he goes through plastic surgery, enlarging his bill, to dare to confront the twin.

Yet he really gets cured by a weird dominatrix-psychiatrist. This part contains a great journey inside Duckman’s inner soul, and we learn how his former wife Beatrice died.

This highly entertaining episode knows some great reuse of Avery’s classic wolf takes, and features excerpts from two Frank Zappa songs.

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

This is Duckman episode no. 4
To the previous Duckman episode: Gripes of Wrath
To the next Duckman episode: Gland of Opportinity

‘Psyche’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Mark Baker
Release Date: May 1993
Rating: ★★★★★

The Village © Mark BakerAfter ‘The Hill Farm‘ (1989) Mark Baker returns with another strong parable on the human condition. If ‘The Hill Farm’ explored man’s relation to nature, ‘The Village’ is concerned with man’s internal relationships.

The village of the title is a circular isolated village with all houses facing the same square. The neighbors seem godly souls, but they are all hypocrites spying on each other. Everything has to be done in secret: a cleaning lady secretly steals apples, the vicar secretly sips wine, and a stingy, bearded guy secretly plays with his money.

In this narrow-minded and stifling community a married woman falls in love with a bachelor with glasses, but they have to flee into the surrounding woods to escape the eternal gaze of their neighbors. Meanwhile the woman’s husband kills the miser, and steals his money, but it’s the bespectacled lover who gets the blame.

The village gladly builds a gallows out of the unjustly accused’s very own trees, but the lover manages to escape, accidentally killing the vile husband in the process. In the morning the omnipresent ants, which form a rather morbid running gag during the whole film, have eaten the corpse dry, and the villagers think it’s the body of the escaped convict. They break down the gallows in deep disappointment, while the two lovers flee from the village into the world.

‘The Village’ is told without words, only using unintelligible dialogue. Baker’s simple and quasi-naive style is used to a great effect, and adds to the story’s timeless value. Moreover, Baker’s timing is excellent, mixing the painful with comedy, especially when using the ants, injecting some black humor into the disturbing tale.

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

‘The Village’ is available on the The Animation Show of Shows DVD Box Set 7

Director: Władysław Nehrebecki
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Myszka i kotek © Studio Filmów Rysunkowych‘Myszka i kotek’ is a very beautiful example of the cartoon modern style of the 1950s.

The film is a very playful tale of a real mouse chased by a line drawing kitten, which has jumped from a postcard. During the chase the cat repeatedly dissolves into a line only, and the animators play with the fact that the animal is outline only.

Both cat and mouse are pleasantly designed and very well animated, but it’s the gorgeous background art that draws the main attention. Every single panel is a beauty, depicting a nightly room in bold designs, verging on the abstract. The main background color is black, and the light blue outline of the kitten reads very well against the background art.

In short, ‘Myszka i kotek’ is a Polish little gem that deserves to be better known.

Watch ‘Myszka i kotek’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Myszka i kotek’ is available on the DVD set ‘Anthology of Polish Children’s Animation’

Director: Gil Alkabetz
Release Date: October 1992
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Swamp © Gil AlkabetzWith ‘Swamp’ Gil Alkabetz showed to be a strong new voice in the animation world.

Made at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart in Germany, Alkabetz uses a deceptively simple setting of only two dimensions, with no background whatsoever. In this world two armies of knights on horses, armed with giant balloons and giant scissors are fighting a senseless war over a swamp.

The film is a strong allegory on the folly of war. The film’s power is greatly enhanced by its simple yet very clear designs (all knights are drawn in black ink, the balloons in bright ecoline reds and blues) and by its great sound design. But most of all, the short shows Alkabetz’s strong sense of comic timing. ‘Swamp’ is one of the best student films of all time, and deserves to be shown over and over again.

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

 

‘Swamp’ is available on the DVD box set ‘The Animation Show of Shows Box Set 2’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  1912
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

es métamorphoses comiques © Émile CohlMany of Émile Cohl’s films contain metamorphosis, but this is Cohl’s only film with the word ‘metamorphosis’ in its title.

‘Les métamorphoses comiques’ is arguably Cohl’s most avant-garde film. the short features live action images changing into animation and back again. Metamorphosis indeed runs galore, with Cohl’s typical stream-of-consciousness-like flow. Many of the images are pretty abstract, anticipating the work of Norman McLaren. Nevertheless, despite all the avant-garde frenzy, the most disturbing picture is a live action shot of a young boy smoking…

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

 

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

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

Le placier est tenace © Émile Cohl‘Le placier est tenace’ is arguably Cohl’s best venture into comedy.

In this film a man tries to escape from a stubborn seller of medicine. The man’s attempts to flee the seller involve taking a cab (the seller turns out to be the cab driver), taking the train (the seller turns out to be the ticket vendor) and taking a balloon (the seller is in the same basket).

The most extraordinary flight is when the man is eaten by an Indian and finds some peace an quiet in the belly of the native American, until the seller volunteers to get eaten by the same man…

‘Le placier est tenace’ is a live action film, even if the scenes in the belly of the Indian are animated with cut-outs. Yet, the film is most important for cartoon lovers, who will immediately recognize the film’s story as an ancestor of some of Tex Avery’s greatest films, most notably ‘Dumb-Hounded‘ (1943) and ‘Northwest Hounded Police‘ (1946). In the latter film the wolf flees into the belly of a lion, only to meet Droopy in the lion’s stomach. Even this bizarre idea clearly stems from Cohl’s film. It’s astounding to see that such absurd comedy was already done before World War I, and one wonders if Avery has ever seen Cohl’s film…

Watch ‘Le placier est tenace’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le placier est tenace’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: September 1, 1909
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Les générations comiques © Émile Cohl‘Les générations comiques’ is Cohl’s best animation film of 1909, and his best film since ‘Fantasmagorie‘ (1908).

The short uses a unique combination of pen animation, cut outs and live action to paint some sharp portraits of stereotypes, like the fisherman, the miser and the policeman. The portraits are a series of free associations, with metamorphosis running wild, and finally resulting in a live action version of the stereotype.

Like in ‘Fantasmagorie’ Cohl’s imagination knows no boundaries, and the film shows more images than one can possibly register in the short time frame. This makes watching ‘Les générations comiques’ a mindblowing experience. The film may lack ‘Fantasmagorie’s playfullness, it’s much more sure in its style, and shows that Cohl could draw very well.

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

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: November 23, 1908
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Le cerceau magique © Émile Cohl‘Le cerceau magique’ starts with a live action sequence taking place in a park.

There a girl brings her broken hoop to her uncle, who conjures a new one, a bigger one, and an even bigger one. The last hoop is a magical hoop, able to change the man’s and girl’s outfits into 16th century costumes.

Happily the girl runs off with the hoop, which leads to a short string of images showing life in 1908 Paris. But at one point she hangs the hoop on a wall, and here the real film starts, because inside the hoop all kinds of images form and move, like origami animals, some dice forming a word, a paper man with a wheelbarrow circling the hoop from the inside, a compass drawing a flowery figure, a moon-face, a clown balancing on his nose, etc. The film ends when the girl takes the hoop from the wall again and bows to the audience, implying that she was the conjurer of these images.

‘Le cerceau magique’ is a unique film because it features both stop-motion and drawn animation. Rarely are these techniques used together. Cohl even adds live action to the mix, leading to a quite enjoyable film, if a rather directionless one. Unfortunately, the surviving print is very bad, and quite a bit of the middle section is indistinguishable through the wearing of the film.

Watch ‘Le cerceau magique’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le cerceau magique’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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Director: Gil Alkabetz
Release Date: April 29, 2007
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Ein sonniger Tag (A Sunny Day) © Gil Alkabetz

‘Ein sonniger Tag’ is a charming little film with no less than the sun itself as its star.

In Alkabetz’s short the sun tries to impress the people, and one little girl in particular. Unfortunately, he only manages to make them feel hot, and they all try to get away from him. Only when he gives up, and sinks back into the sea, he gets the attention and appreciation he had longed for all day long.

Alkabetz’s style is loose and cartoony, and his film is full of clever sight gags, like the sun using clouds as shaving cream, or the sun blushing red when being photographed at sunset. The result is a film that’s not only charming and funny, but also impresses in how it manages to follow its inner logic from start to end, with surprising results.

Even if ‘Ein sonniger Tag’ is far from an ambitious short, it shows the skill of a true master. The short is a great example of the endless possibilities of animation, in which there’s no limit to the imagination.

Watch ‘Ein sonniger Tag’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ein sonniger Tag’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Kleine helden & rare kwasten – 14 animatiefilms voor kinderen’

Director: UrumaDelvi
Release Date: 2005
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio © UrumaDelvi‘(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio’ does not have much of a story: Mr. Calpaccio goes to work, even flies to another place to work there, and returns home to do some shopping and outdoor eating with his family. That’s about it.

But boy, the looks of this cartoon! ‘(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio’ boasts a completely unique style, with circus-like designs with stark black and white contrasts, and no shading whatsoever. There’s a very strange mix of expressionism and genuine silliness. The cartoon simply bubbles with weird images and original animation cycles, to a psychedelic effect. The bubbly images are accompanied by a fitting circus-like musical score by Yoshiyuki Usui.

The world of Mr. Calpaccio, its dull subject notwithstanding, is a magical place, a place of wonder. And this little gem by UrumaDelvi (a rather mysterious Japanese couple) by all means deserves to be seen. It’s a pity the film cannot be found online.

‘(A Long Day for) Mr. Calpaccio’ is available on the Belgian DVD ‘Kleine helden & rare kwasten – 14 animatiefilms voor kinderen’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 14, 1941
Stars: Popeye
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

the mighty navy © max fleischerIn ‘The Mighty Navy’ Popeye follows Porky Pig (‘Meet John Doughboy‘) and Barney Bear (‘The Rookie Bear’) and joins the army.

As a sailor, he naturally chooses the navy. Thus, at the start of the cartoon, we find him on a training ship. However, being a navy sailor turns out to be quite different, and most of the humor comes from Popeye’s inapt ways of being a navy sailor. “Do I wants to be a sailor? I AM a sailor! I’m Popeye the sailor! I was born a sailor“, Popeye exclaims at one point. But despite his lifelong experience, Popeye’s ways of hoisting an anchor, aiming the guns and flying a dive bomber in no way convince his superior, so he’s sent to the kitchen to peel onions. Yet, when the training ship is under attack, Popeye saves the day.

‘The Mighty Navy’ was released only thirteen days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and thus the enemy is neither named nor seen in this cartoon. The enemy’s fleet flag bears ‘The Enemy (Name Your Own)’, and when Popeye disposes of its fleet, no victim can be seen. This in sharp contrast to the post-Pearl Harbor Popeye cartoons by the Famous studios: now the Japanese were clearly identified, and racial stereotypes roamed wildly. None of that in this cartoon, making it much more fun to watch.

‘The Mighty Navy’ seems to be a tribute cartoon to the navy. Apart from Popeye, all sailors look like Superman, and the navy itself isn’t ridiculed at all. Instead, the cartoon looks like a celebration of the navy’s choice to make Popeye the official insignia for its own bomber squad. In the insignia, which is presented to the character himself at the end of the cartoon, Popeye looks like his older self, but in ‘The Mighty Navy’ Popeye’s clothes have changed into navy white. I don’t think that this was meant to be a permanent change of dress. Indeed, in Popeye’s next cartoon, ‘Nix on Hypnotricks’ Popeye wears his old clothes again. Yet, in most of his following cartoons, he would be dressed in navy white, and it’s in this dress he would be seen the rest of his theatrical career.

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

This Popeye film No. 100
To the previous Popeye film: I’ll Never Crow Again
To the next Popeye film: Nix on Hypnotricks

‘The Mighty Navy’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: February 10, 1940
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Mammy Two-Shoes
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Puss gets the Boot © MGM

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ marks the first of three game-changing debut cartoons of 1940 (the other ones being ‘A Wild Hare‘ from July and ‘Knock Knock‘ from November), making the year a turning point in American studio animation. From now on cartoons were to be brassier, more energetic and more violent.

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ introduces that illustrious cat and mouse duo, Tom & Jerry. The cartoon was made by William Hanna and Joe Barbera under Rudolf Ising’s flag, and like ‘A Wild Hare’ only meant as a one-off cartoon. Indeed, Tom is called Jasper in this short, and Jerry remains unnamed.

Moreover, the two look quite different from their later incarnations. Not only is Tom drawn with outrageous detail, he also has a white nose and very modest eyebrows. Jerry’s physique is rather unstable, as if he were made of a sort of rather amorphous jelly.

Yet, the characters are well established, and the friendly antagonism between the two is set from the start, as is the prize-winning combination of silent comedy and high production values. Also present is the combination of cuteness and gag-rich cartoon violence that made the Tom & Jerry series unique.

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ also marks the debut of Mammy Two-Shoes, a black maid character whose face we were never to see (except for a few frames in ‘Saturday Evening Puss‘ from 1950). Mammy was borrowed from Disney, who had introduced exactly such a character in ‘Three Orphan Kittens‘ (1935). For present American audiences this character is problematical, as she clearly is a stereotype of a black maid. But I, as a European kid, always thought of her as the owner of the house, never realizing the discrepancy of the enormous mansion and the maid’s modest looks. In any case Mammy lasted until 1952, starring 18 Tom & Jerry cartoons in total.

In this very first Tom & Jerry short Mammy tells Jasper (Tom) that if he breaks one more thing, he goes out. So the still unnamed Jerry takes advantage of the situation, in a series of gags that culminate in a scene in which Tom tries to hold a ridiculously high pile of plates. The short features several gags that were pretty modern at the time, like Tom drawing a fake mouse hole entrance, and Jerry poking Tom’s eyes. Indeed, the idea was strong enough to be more or less revisited in ‘Mouse Cleaning‘ (1948), with even better results.

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ is a very well made cartoon. The silent comedy of the two characters is acted out perfectly and the action is timed very well. It’s still very funny, and it’s no wonder that the audiences asked for more cartoons from this cat and mouse duo. The short even was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost it to another MGM cartoon, the equally feline, yet much more saccharine ‘The Milky Way‘.

However, Tom and Jerry would quickly become MGM’s superstars, and they would win no less than seven Academy Awards, more than any other cartoon star. Indeed, Tom and Jerry arguably were the most successful cartoon stars of the 1940s and 1950s, starring 114 cartoons, and lasting until 1958, when MGM shut its animation department down. However, even that wouldn’t be the end of the cat and mouse duo, and even in the 21st century still films are made featuring these great characters.

Watch ‘Puss Gets the Boot’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 1
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Midnight Snack

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ is available on the European DVD set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 4, 1941
Stars: Popeye
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Flies Ain't Human © Max FleischerIn ‘Flies Ain’t Human’ Popeye tries to take a nap, but he’s bothered by some flies.

Popeye manages to blow the flies out of the window, but then one has stayed behind, giving the sailor a hard time, especially after the little insect has eaten spinach.

Like most 1941 Popeye cartoons, ‘Flies Ain’t Human’ is fast and gag rich. The turning around of the classic spinach story device is a great invention, and provides some excellent comedy, as Popeye becomes helpless against the surprisingly mighty little fly. In his final attempt to kill the tiny foe Popeye blows his own house to pieces, only to find multitudes of flies on his head in the end. The most delightful gag is when Popeye’s head gets stuck in a painting of a snowy landscape, and the fly takes some time to ski jump from his face into the painted snow.

The idea for the fly may have come from the bee troubling Donald Duck in ‘Window Cleaners‘ (1940). The cartoon itself at least looks forward to the cartoon ‘The Pink Tail Fly‘ (1965), in which a mosquito keeps the Pink Panther out of his sleep.

Watch ‘Flies Ain’t Human’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 94
To the previous Popeye film: Olive’s Sweepstake Ticket
To the next Popeye film: Popeye Meets Rip van Winkle

‘Flies Ain’t Human’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

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