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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’

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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 important debut cartoons of 1940 (the other ones being ‘A Wild Hare‘ from July and ‘Knock Nock’ 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 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’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 7, 1941
Stars: Popeye, Poopdeck Pappy
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Quiet! Pleeze © Max Fleischer‘Quiet! Pleeze’ opens with Poopdeck Pappy lying with a hangover in bed.

When his son comes in to wake him, Poopdeck Pappy pretends to be ill, and Popeye goes at lengths to give his poor old dad peace and quiet, e.g. giving a crying baby across the street a bottle, and stopping workmen from blowing up a huge hill. This part is very fast, and reuses footage from various Popeye shorts, but now in a very different light. Of course, all Popeye’s actions are to no avail, as in the end he finds his dad being the life of a party.

Like ‘Problem Pappy‘, ‘Quiet! Pleeze’ is a fast and gag-rich cartoon, which belongs to Popeye’s best. It’s clear that the character of Poopdeck Pappy brought some new life into the series, giving the otherwise goody-goody Popeye something to work with.

However, it seems that with this cartoon the new formula had reached its limits, for Poopdeck Pappy’s next two cartoons, ‘Child Psykolojiky‘ and ‘Pest Pilot‘ aren’t half as good.

Watch ‘Quiet! Pleeze’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 92
To the previous Popeye film: Problem Pappy
To the next Popeye film: Olive’s Sweepstake Ticket

‘Quiet! Pleeze’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 10, 1941
Stars: Popeye, Poopdeck Pappy
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Problem Pappy © Max FleischerIn ‘Problem Pappy’ story man Ted Pierce (of later Warner Bros. fame) reuses part of the story idea from ‘With Poopdeck Pappy‘: Popeye wants to wake his dad, only to find the bed empty.

When Popeye starts looking for his father, he finds his mischievous old dad juggling on a pole on top of a tall building. Popeye’s attempts to retrieve his pop account for some delightful comedy on dizzying heights. T

he film is simply stuffed with great gags and original images, like Popeye using lightning bolts as Tarzan would use lianas. The staging in this cartoon is absolutely wonderful, and the animators make great use of a shot of the staircase of the tall building. In all, ‘Problem Pappy’ is one of the all time best Popeye cartoons, and completely in tune with the faster comedy style of the chase cartoon era.

Watch ‘Problem Pappy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 91
To the previous Popeye film: Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep
To the next Popeye film: Quiet! Pleeze

‘Problem Pappy’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: November 14,1941
Stars: Goofy
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Art of Skiing © Walt DisneyJack Kinney revolutionized the Goofy cartoon with the ‘How to Ride a Horse’ sequence in ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ from June 1941. The contrast between John McLeish’s all too sincere instructions, and Goofy’s original ways of acting them out, proved to be a highly successful one, and resulted in great comedy.

This concept was immediately put into action in the Goofy shorts, with ‘The Art of Skiing’ being the first example. This is Goofy’s first real sports cartoon, and it shows several aspects of skiing, like the slalom and the ski jump, all in Goofy’s own original fashion. The Alpine setting is enriched by yodels by Austrian alpine ski racer and professional yodeler Hannes Schroll (1909-1985), who’s also responsible for the very first Goofy yell, which is in fact a variation on his other yodels in the same short. The Goofy holler, as it came to be known, was an instant hit, and reappeared in several other Goofy cartoons, every time our beloved character made a great fall.

The Goofy holler even appeared outside the Goofy series, and can be heard in e.g. the Pluto shorts ‘Legend of Coyote Rock’ (1946) and ‘Food for Feudin’ (1950), and in the feature ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’.

‘The Art of Skiing’ also marks the first instance in which McLeish recites a poem. This story idea would be used to a great effect in ‘The Olympic Champ’ (1942). The best gags, however, involve Goofy trying to put on his trousers with his skis already attached, and Goofy trying to turn around with his skis. The endless string of predicaments story man Jack Cutting and the animators put the character in is both inventive and very funny.

Watch ‘The Art of Skiing’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Goofy cartoon No. 4
To the previous Goofy cartoon: Baggage Buster
To the next Goofy cartoon: The Art of Self Defense

‘The Art of Skiing’ is available on the DVD set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy’

Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: November 22, 1940
Stars: Goofy
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Goofy's Glider © Walt DisneyIn ‘Goofy’s Glider’ our likable goof tries to reach the sky in a self-made glider plane.

We watch several attempts, highlights of which are a failed shot with a catapult, in which Goofy manages to launch himself without his plane, and the scene in which he takes the sky upside down.

The looks of ‘Goofy’s Glider’ are less gorgeous than that of Goofy’s first cartoon, ‘Goofy and Wilbur‘ (1939). Goofy’s design has become more streamlined, and the overall art is leaner, and less Silly Symphony-like. Yet, ‘Goofy’s Glider’ is a more mature cartoon than Goofy’s debut film. It’s humor is more assured, sillier, better timed, and thus funnier.

Moreover, this cartoon forms an important step in the evolution of Goofy: first, it’s the first Goofy short directed by Jack Kinney, who had made his directing debut with the Pluto short ‘Bone Trouble‘ earlier that year, and who would direct almost every Goofy cartoon until the very end of the series in 1953. Second, it introduces the ‘how to’ formula, in which Goofy tries to achieve a goal, helped by an off-screen narrator, in a series of blackout gags. And third, it introduces story man John McLeish as the off screen narrator, helping Goofy through his series of attempts, with his particularly pompous voice, which contrasted perfectly with Goofy’s antics on the screen.

The cartoon’s rather revolutionary blackout gag formula was most probably based on Tex Avery’s spot gag cartoons of the late 1930s (e.g. ‘Detouring America’ of 1939 and ‘Cross Country Detours’ of 1940). But where Avery stuck to rather unrelated gags, Kinney applied the formula to several attempts by one character to achieve one goal. Even if this idea owes something to the Donald Duck short ‘Donald’s Nephews‘ (1938), which also features a book to bridge the gags, it was a revolutionary step forward, fit for the chase cartoon era. In this respect, ‘Goofy’s Glider’ is the ancestor to the format of most chase cartoons, and that of the Tweety and Sylvester and Roadrunner series in particular. As such, it even predates Frank Tashlin’s Fox and Crow series, which is often cited as most influential in this respect. This formula, at least, was used in most of Goofy’s coming sports cartoons.

It remains a little unclear who’s Goofy’s voice in this cartoon. Pinto Colvig had left for the Fleischer studio in Miami, and the dialogue in this cartoon feels detached from the images, as if it had been recorded after the animation. In several scenes lip synch is poor, and in the first scene it’s even completely absent. Plus, several vocalizations occur when Goofy’s face cannot be seen. On the other hand, there’s clearly some new dialogue and even some singing. Some internet sources state that one George Johnson is Goofy’s voice in this cartoon, and even in ‘Goofy and Wilbur’. I find this hard to believe. If so, why did Goofy become a silent character? If Johnson did the voices in these two cartoons, he obviously did an excellent job, and would have proven to be a worthy successor of Colvig. Yet, with Goofy’s next cartoon, ‘Baggage Buster’ the character would be completely silent.

Moreover, in his memoirs Jack Kinney doesn’t mention Johnson, stating that Colvig’s leave was the cause of the silencing of the character:

“Voice-over was the only choice, because, as we saw it, the Goof couldn’t talk much, if at all. The reason for this was that Pinto Colvig, the old circus hand who had done Goofy’s patter for years, had left the studio. Consequently, all the Goof’s manic mutterings had to be lifted from the studio library of sound tracks.”

(Cited from: ‘Walt Disney and Assorted Other Characters – An unauthorized Account of the Early Years at Disney’s’ – page 123).

I therefore suspect that in both Goofy’s earliest cartoons Colvig is still responsible for the vocalizations, and somehow his parts for ‘Goofy’s Glider’ were rushed. But I must admit that I’ve no proof for this hypothesis, and I would be happy to be corrected.

Watch ‘Goofy’s Glider’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Goofy cartoon No. 2
To the previous Goofy cartoon: Goofy and Wilbur
To the next Goofy cartoon: Baggage Buster

‘Goofy’s Glider’ is available on the DVD set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy’

 

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: April 13, 1940
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Bear's Tale © Warner Bros.‘The Bear’s Tale’ opens in Snow White-like fashion, but already the title card gets us ready for some nonsense, as we read that Papa is played by Papa Bear, Mama by Mama Bear, Baby by Baby Bear, and Goldilocks by herself…

‘The Bear’s Tale’ nonetheless seems to retell the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, alright, until suddenly Goldilocks enters grandma’s house from ‘Red Riding Hood’…

‘The Bear’s Tale’ is Tex Avery’s third fairy tale cartoon, after ‘Little Red Walking Hood’ (1937) and ‘Cinderella Meets Fella’ (1938). It’s arguably the best of the three, elaborating on the fairy tale mix up of Walt Disney’s ‘The Big Bad Wolf‘ (1934), which also starred Little Red Riding Hood.

Particularly funny is the silly combination of narration, images and Carl Stalling’s music. Stalling responds to every part of the narration with a specific leitmotiv. This is most clear when the narrator talks about the ‘beautiful forest’, which is invariably accompanied by a forest scene with birds flying through it, and Stalling’s leitmotiv of Felix Mendelssohn’s Spring Song in the background. But all characters have their own leitmotiv, with Little Red Riding Hood’s one being a particularly saucy one, as if she were a woman of the world.

Both Red and Goldilocks are pictured as child characters, yet behave in a surprisingly adult way. For example, when the wolf rejects Goldilocks, because he had been waiting for Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks exclaims “what’s Red Riding Hood got what I haven’t got?”. There’s also a great split screen gag, which is an elaboration on the one in ‘Cross Country Detours’ of only one month earlier.

The fairy tale setting is greatly helped by great production values: the backgrounds are very evocative, and Avery’s characters now have a solidity that they never had before. Papa Bear especially is a round character of a caliber rarely seen outside Disney. It’s clear that by 1940 the Warner Bros. had fully mastered character animation. This combination of great character animation and deliberate nonsense would make their cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s so irresistible.

In ‘The Bear’s Tale’ Avery’s timing is still rather slow, and not all the gags are winners (the gag in which Papa Bear’s imitating a siren is completely superfluous, for example), but this is a very funny cartoon, nonetheless, and an early Warner Bros. classic.

Watch ‘The Bear’s Tale’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Bear’s Tale’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: December 13, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey & Louie
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Fire Chief © Walt DisneyAfter co-starring in ‘Mickey’s Fire Brigade’ (1935), Donald now is a fire chief himself, helped by his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie.

There’s no heroism involved in this cartoon, however, as the four ducks only try to extinguish a fire that Donald accidentally has put to his very own fire station.

Penned by e.g. Carl Barks, this is a genuine gag cartoon, with the gags coming in fast and plenty, and building to a ridiculous finale, in which Donald destroys the fire station, his car and his hat within seconds. The animation, too, is extraordinarily flexible, especially when Donald blows his horn. The cartoon is a delight from start to end, and must be counted among Donald’s all time best.

Barks would later return to the theme in the equally classic comic ‘Fireman Donald’ (1947), in which Donald is as inadequate as a fireman as he is in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Fire Chief’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 21
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Window Cleaners
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Timber

‘Fire Chief’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Norman McLaren
Production Date: 1938
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Love on the Wing © Norman McLarenIn the late 1930s Scottish film maker Norman McLaren made several films for the British Post, like the promotional live action films ‘Book Bargain’ (1937) about how telephone books were made, and ‘News for the Navy’ about how letters were delivered worldwide.

Much more interesting than these films, however, is the small advertisement film McLaren made for Empire Air Mail, ‘Love on the Wing’. The film is clearly strongly influenced by the surreal movement. It uses, for example, music from Jacques Ibert’s quirky ‘Divertissement’, which was by that time only eight years old, and the film’s opening images are reminiscent of works by Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí.

In ‘Love on the Wing’ McLaren’s exploits his trademark technique of drawing direct on film, and he combines these images with beautiful painted and highly surreal backgrounds, reminiscent of the otherworldly landscape paintings by Giorgio De Chirico and Yves Tanguy.

The film tells a little love story, but is wildly associative, with metamorphosis and symbolism simply exploding from the screen. The three protagonists change into letters and back again, as well in numerous other symbols of love. So much is happening in the mere four minutes, it leaves the viewer breathless.

‘Love on the Wing’ surely must be one of the most avant-garde advertisement films ever made, and the short is without doubt McLaren’s first animated masterpiece. Unfortunately, the film displeased the authorities of the post office, and they never distributed this extraordinary short.

Watch ‘Love on the Wing’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Love on the Wing’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date: Jul 8, 1933
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Shuffle off to Buffalo © Warner BroEven though Harman and Ising would never surpass Walt Disney, partly because of a lack of vision, partly because of lack of budget, there’s no denying that by 1933 their films had become the best looking cartoons of the era after Disney’s.

‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’ is a prime example. Based on the hit song from the Warner Bros. musical ’42nd Street’ from three months earlier, the short shows how babies are distributed all over the world. It includes a long assembly line sequence with gnomes washing, drying, powdering and feeding babies. This scene resembles a similar one in Disney’s ‘Santa’s Workshop‘ (1932) and can compete with it in its inventiveness and rhythmic action.

The title song is sung by the babies themselves, including a Maurice Chevalier one, and a Joe E. Brown one. Later an Eddie Cantor gnome recaptures the song, and also does an Ed Wynn impersonation. There’s absolutely no story, but there’s constant action, the animation is top notch throughout, and the joyous atmosphere is undeniably catchy.

‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’ is a cartoon of great quality, and shows that the Disney style of animation could be copied quite successfully.

Watch ‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’ and the DVD-set ‘The Busby Berkeley Collection’

Directors:Ivan Ivanov-Vano & Leonid Amalrik
Release Date: 1933
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Black and White © SoyuzmultfilmOf all animated Soviet propaganda films, ‘Black & White’ certainly is one of the most powerful. The film is essentially silent, but it’s accompanied by the beautiful negro spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” sung in a deep mournful voice. 

The film is based on a poem of the same name from 1925 by Vladimir Mayakovsky, who wrote the poem during a trip to Cuba. Like the poem, the film shows American racism and the exploitation of black people. We watch them being oppressed by the white, as if they were still slaves, and kept quiet by religion. The images are strong and very stylized. Each image of the film is staged wonderfully to the best effect. A most impressive image is that of numerous blacks in prison, but the bleakest of them all is the final shot of a car passing a lawn with a black man hanging on each tree.

The overall mood of the film is absolutely depressing, especially when one realizes that for once the Soviet propagandists were not too far from the truth. Nevertheless, the Soviet solution, “Lenin”, may be a little too short-sighted, and I doubt whether this film has ever been watched by its intended audience, and if it struck any international chord at all. Who knows? At least, Cuba has been the only country in the Americas to experience a Marxist regime…

Anyhow, despite its abrupt and inapt Lenin-ending, ‘Black & White’ is one of the darkest and strongest of all animated films of the 1930s, and certainly the most interesting animation film to come from the Soviet Union in that decade.

Watch ‘Black & White’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Black & White’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Bill Nolan
Release Date: September 18, 1933
Stars: Oswald, Honey
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Five and Dime © Walter Lantz‘Five and Dime’ is a cartoon devoted to the 1931 hit song ‘ I Found A Million Dollar Baby’.

The short opens with Oswald being caught in a rainstorm (featuring the storm music from Gioachino Rossini’s overture William Tell). He rushes into a warehouse, where he sings ‘I Found A Million Dollar Baby’ for Honey, one of the employees.

‘Five and Dime’ is one of the most Merry Melodies-like Lantz cartoons: not only is it made around one hit song, it also features caricatures of Hollywood stars as dolls. Thus we watch caricatures of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and Jimmy Durante. The latter is a jack-in-the-box, just like he was in ‘Mickey’s Good Deed‘ from 1932. During the song there are numerous random gags, including one in which a goldfish swallows a complete cat. I suspect this particular gag was one by Tex Avery, who worked on this cartoon.

The finale of ‘Five and Dime’ is particularly noteworthy, as we watch Oswald and Honey march into and out of several stores to get dressed for their wedding, then in and out of a church to get married, and finally into their new home, on top of which the stork is already waiting… This sequence has great rhythm, enhanced by the joyful song, and is one of the best finales of any Walter Lantz cartoon.

Watch ‘Five and Dime’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Five and Dime’ is available on the DVD ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

 

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