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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 4, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Cab Calloway
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Old Man of the Mountain © Max Fleischer‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ was the last of three Fleischer cartoons featuring Cab Calloway.

The cartoon is unique in that it uses Calloway’s swing music throughout the picture. The short uses two of Cab Calloway’s hits: the title song, which the Cab had recorded in June 1932; and during the chase scene ‘The Scat Song’, first recorded February 29, 1932.

The complete cartoon perfectly fits the jazzy score, and it’s musically the most perfect of the three Cab Calloway shorts. Unfortunately, this also means it’s devoid of any story, and relatively low on gags. Nevertheless, the sex-inclined atmosphere and the sizzling hot jazz easily make up for it.

The short starts with some live footage of Calloway and his orchestra. Then we cut to a lion warning everybody of the old man of the mountain. Soon, everybody’s fleeing from the old man of the mountain, except Betty. She goes up the mountain to meet him. The old man of the mountain chases her into a cave (somehow, all three Cab Calloway cartoons feature a cave). There the two sing a duet together, the only duet between a jazz singer and a cartoon star I know of. During this scene the old man’s moves are Calloway’s in rotoscope. Then the old man chases her down, until some animals capture the old guy and tie his limbs into a knot. At one point the old man captures Betty’s dress, leaving her in her underwear.

‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ is such a great cartoon one is extra sorry the Fleischers did not make any other cartoon featuring the Cab. One month later they would release ‘I Heard‘ featuring Don Redman, but that was the very last of the Fleischer’s great jazz cartoons. Even worse, by August 1933 Betty Boop’s own heydays were almost over. In 1934 she was bowdlerized by the Hays code, never to perform with hot jazz stars again.

Watch ‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 4, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Betty Boop for President © Max Fleischer‘Betty Boop for President’ is one of those rare pre-war cartoons using current events as its subject.

The short was released just four days before the 1932 elections. In it Betty Boop runs for president, imitating the then current president and candidate Herbert Hoover and his Democratic challenger Al Smith. Unfortunately for the Fleischers, it was not Al Smith, but Franklin D. Roosevelt who was chosen as the candidate for the Democrats during the Democrat National Convention (June 27-July 2). Apparently, this scene already had been completed before this convention.

Betty’s opponent is one ‘Mr. Nobody’ (a stick wearing a bowler hat). His song demonstrates that nobody cares for the average man. Betty clearly has the upper hand, however, and the next scenes show some of her rather nonsensical suggestions to improve the country. These at least involve loads of knots of ribbons. The cartoon ends with a picture of a glass of beer, indicating that the 18th amendment was a major issue of the elections. Indeed, from March 22 1933 on, low alcohol beer and wine were legalized, and in December of that year, the 18th amendment was repealed by the 21st amendment. The prohibition years were over.

Watch ‘Betty Boop for President’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Betty Boop for President’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Joe Grant?
Release Date:
 November 18, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Wallace Beery, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, Helen Hayes, Fredric March, Marie Dressler
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Parade of the Award Nominees © Walt Disney‘Parade of the Award Nominees’ was especially made for the fifth Academy Awards gala night of November 18, 1932 to introduce the nominees for best actors and actresses.

The short is based on the opening parade of ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ (1931), and reuses quite some animation from the original Silly Symphony, but this time it features Mickey, Minnie and Pluto, all in their color debut, predating their official color debuts in ‘The Band Concert‘, ‘On Ice‘ and ‘Mickey’s Garden‘ respectively by three years. Thus, their color designs are a bit different: Mickey wears green shorts instead of red ones, and Pluto is a sort of grey-ish, instead of orange-brown.

Following Mickey, Minnie and some characters from the original ‘Mother Goose Melodies’ we watch the following Hollywood stars parade: Wallace Beery as ‘The Champ’, Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt (both starring ‘The Guardsman’), Helen Hayes (‘The Sin of Madelon Claudet’), Fredric March (‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’), transforming while walking, and finally Marie Dressler (‘Emma’).

The caricatures were based on designs by Joe Grant, who, at that time, was still working as a newspaper caricutarist. Grant was only hired later, for ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘, which premiered eight months later, and which features many more caricatures of Hollywood stars. Incidentally, Fredric March, Wallace Beery and Helen Hayes won the Oscars.

Apart from this film, Disney was very present at this gala night: he was nominated for Best Sound Recording, he won the Oscar for the new category ‘Best Animated Short Film’ with his full-color debut ‘Flowers and Trees‘, and he got an honorary award for the creation of Mickey Mouse, with which Hollywood acknowledged the little mouse’s extraordinary fame. This was Disney’s first triumphant presence at the Academy Awards, but many successes would follow, as Walt Disney would receive no less than 26 Academy Awards during his career…

Watch ‘Parade of the Award Nominees’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Parade of the Award Nominees’ is available on the DVD ‘Mickey Mouse in Living Color’

Director: unknown
Release Date:
 January 1, 1933
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Coo Coo the Magician © Ub IwerksWhile ‘The Goal Rush‘ anticipated Disney’s ‘Touchdown Mickey‘, ‘Coo Coo the Magician’ clearly follows ‘Mickey in Arabia‘ from six months earlier. The setting and the story are too similar to ignore, making ‘Coo Coo the Magician’ quite a rip-off of Mickey’s wonderful cartoon.

Like Mickey, Flip visits some vague Arabian country with his sweetheart. There they meet the magician. When Flip challenges him, the magician makes his sweetheart disappear. While Flip gets lost in an Egyptian tomb, his girl comes in the clutches of a sultan. Flip comes to the rescue, battling several stereotyped black servants, which the cartoon unfortunately also inherited from Mickey’s cartoon. In the end the couple manages to escape on a magic carpet. There’s a short erotic scene of Flip falling into a harem.

Maybe just because it is a copy of ‘Mickey in Arabia’, ‘Coo Coo the Magician’ is an enjoyable cartoon. The exotic setting clearly inspired the makers to make other gags than usual, making this short standing above the average Flip the Frog cartoon.

Watch ‘Coo Coo the Magician’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Coo Coo the Magician’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 2, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Betty Boop, M.D. © Max Fleischer‘Betty Boop, M.D.’ opens with Betty driving a tilt car into a town to sell  a potion called Jippo, which is advertised as”flattens feet, makes young men old, removes teeth – grows tonsils, and stops breathing”.

Betty gets assistance from Koko and Bimbo to sell the product. First Koko performs some surreal acrobatic stunts, to no avail. Then Betty herself appears to sing a song, and the selling starts. The potion as some wondrous effects on the audience, e.g. a very thin man grows fat in an instant, and an old man turns into a large baby, while a baby turns into a tiny old man.

When Bimbo drinks Jippo himself, he starts the song ‘Nobody’s Sweetheart’, which contains a lot of scatting by members of the audience. To this jazzy sequence the imagery simply explodes with mind-blowing, surreal scenes. This fantastic string of events ends when a baby drinks Jippo, turning into a faithful caricature of Fredric March as Mr. Hyde from the 1931 horror film ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’.

As is often the case with the Fleischer films from the early 1930s, ‘Betty Boop, M.D.’ has a very weak and rather improvised story line, but this drawback is luckily compensated by original imagery, peppy music, and simply a lot of fun.

Watch ‘Betty Boop, M.D.’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Betty Boop, M.D.’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Sleepy Time Down South © Max FleischerDirector: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 11, 1932
Stars: The Boswell Sisters
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

‘Sleepy Time Down South’ is a Screen Song featuring the Boswell Sisters, the most famous close harmony trio of its time, but later eclipsed by the similar Andrews Sisters.

The animated part of the short tells about a cat, who’s in the fire brigade, and who with his fellow firemen rushes to a burning house. This part contains nice cartoon versions of the three sisters singing help. When they get rescued they throw down the piano first, which falls apart, but which the three sisters reassemble in an instant. Cut to the live action Boswell Sisters, with lead singer Connee Boswell starting the title song ‘When It’s Sleepy Time Down South’, which had been a hit for Louis Armstrong in 1931. In the end the animation returns, and the three sisters lend their voices to three flames following the cat.

Because of the sisters’ subtle harmonies the song is very hard to sing along, so one wonders whether the cartoon was a success in the theaters. Yet, the combination of the Fleischer’s imaginative images and the Boswell Sisters’ intoxicating performance makes ‘Sleepy Time South’ a joy to watch.

Watch ‘Sleepy Time Down South’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.criticalcommons.org/Members/sammondn/clips/when-its-sleepy-time-down-south-1932

‘Sleepy Time Down South’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 May 12, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Pluto, Goofy
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Revue © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Revue’ is famous for introducing Goofy, whose guffaw we had heard off-stage in the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon, ‘Barnyard Olympics‘.

In this cartoon he’s an elderly person, bearded and wearing glasses. We don’t hear him speak, only his guffaw can be heard, and together with Pluto he forms the running gag of the cartoon. Although Goofy literally has the last laugh, nothing points to the direction of a star career beyond the laugh itself, and indeed, in ‘Trader Mickey‘ his guffaw was used by a cannibal king, indicating it was not an exclusive trait, yet.

Nevertheless, Goofy would return in ‘The Whoopee Party‘, redesigned, christened Dippy Dawg, and here to stay. In fact, Goofy arguably is the first cartoon character, whose voice predates the screen persona, which is completely built around the stupid laugh, and ditto voice.

Apart from Goofy’s debut, there’s enough to enjoy in ‘Mickey’s Revue’, even though it revisits two themes explored earlier in the Mickey Mouse cartoons: that of Mickey and the gang giving a performance and that of animals causing havoc. Here, the source of havoc are the small kittens from ‘The Barnyard Broadcast‘ and ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (both 1931). It was their last screen performance, for they would soon be replaced by little mice, first introduced in ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932).

‘Mickey’s Revue’ follows the same lines as ‘The Barnyard Broadcast’, but is much better executed, cleverly intertwining the subplots of Goofy’s annoying laugh, Pluto trying to enter the stage, and the kittens interfering with Mickey’s performance. One of the gags involve a kitten caught in the hammers of Minnie’s piano, a gag looking forward to a similar one in the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Cat Concerto‘ (1947). Despite it’s great comedy, ‘Mickey’s Revue’ was the last cartoon exploiting the ruin finale, as used in 1931/1932 cartoons like ‘Mickey Cuts Up‘ and ‘The Grocery Boy‘.

‘Mickey’s Revue’ is a typical ensemble cartoon, also starring Minnie, Horace Horsecollar and no less than three Clarabelle Cows. By now Horace Horsecollar had caught up with his comic personality, and had grown in personality beyond that of a stereotyped horse. Unfortunately, Horace was not developed further on the movie screen – it was left to Floyd Gottfredson  to explore Horace’s character further in his comic strip.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 41
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Barnyard Olympics
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Musical Farmer

‘Mickey’s Revue’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 2, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's Big Boss © Max Fleischer‘Betty Boop’s Big Boss’ opens with a pig putting up a sign saying “Girl wanted, female preferred”.

Betty Boop applies to the job, among hundreds of other candidates. However, Betty sings a sexy version of Irving Berlin’s 1919 hit song “You’d be surprised”, and she’s hired on the spot, while the boss quickly disposes of the competition.

Betty starts typewriting right away. Meanwhile her boss clearly fancies her, even though she’s not dressed as sexy as in her earlier films. He tries to steal a kiss, but then Betty cries for help, and about everybody comes to the rescue (the police, the army, the navy and the air force). This gag anticipates a remarkably similar gag in the Marx Brothers film ‘Duck Soup’, released later that year.

‘Betty Boop’s Big Boss’ is a cartoon full of sex and violence, and a clear example of a pre-code Betty Boop. Only a half a year later this short would have been impossible to make…

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Big Boss’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: unknown
Release Date:
 August 22, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Stormy Seas © Flip the FrogIn ‘Stormy Seas’ Flip the Frog is a sailor, playing and dancing merrily with his fellow sailors, until their ship is caught in a thunderstorm. Soon Flip receives the S.O.S. of another boat in need, and he runs off to rescue a Honey-like female kitten in a long rescue scene.

There’s practically no dull moment in ‘Stormy Seas’, but the cartoon also demonstrates that Iwerks was looking back for inspiration, instead of forward. The scene in which Flip swims right through the waves is borrowed straight from the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘Wild Waves‘ (1929), and the rescue scene borrows the lifeline gag from the Mickey short ‘The Fire Fighters‘ (1930). This type of gag borrowing would become worse in Flip’s next cartoon, ‘Circus’. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that it had also occurred occasionally in the early Mickeys themselves, as they reused several gags from Mickey’s predecessor Oswald.

There’s a great deal of anthropomorphism of lifeless objects in this cartoon: the cloud, the radio and even Flip’s chewing tobacco become humanized. However, the cartoon is most noteworthy for its very inspired music. It’s undoubtedly by MGM composer Scott Bradley, for it displays his unique style of intertwining several melodies in a classical way, mixing the hornpipe and ‘My Bonnie’ with Richard Wagner’s ‘The Flying Dutchman’ to great effect during the storm scene. This is the first testimony of Bradley’s mature style known to me, and it anticipates his celebrated work of the 1940s.

Watch ‘Stormy Seas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: unknown
Release Date:
 June 18, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Bully © Ub Iwerks‘The Bully’ is a Flip the Frog featuring Flip’s little human child friend from ‘The Milkman‘ and ‘What a Life‘. However, unlike those two cartoons it’s not sentimental, but a gag-packed cartoon.

When a bully destroys the child’s balloon with his cigar, Flip and him start a fight. A passer-by suggests they continue their fight in the ring, which leads to a long boxing match scene that belongs to the most entertaining of the era, outplaying the similar ‘The Robot‘ (Fleischer, 1932) and ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ (1933), not in the least because Flip has to face the bully himself instead of letting a robot doing the work for him. The boxing scene is even more interesting than the one in the Laurel & Hardy short ‘Any Old Port’ from three months earlier, which is a more valid comparison.

The highlight of the fight is the knockout in which the bully hits Flip into orbit around the earth only to get floored by Flip falling on his head. The boxing match features some interesting and very vivid backgrounds of constantly moving spectators. It also features strong stereotypes of Afro-Americans and a homosexual.

At this point in Iwerks’s career his studio could produce cartoons with strong stories consisting of a continuous string of gags. In 1932 only Disney could tell more consistent stories. Unfortunately, the studio’s cartoons were hampered by silent era visual language, erratic animation, inconsistent designs and sloppy timing. In other words, Iwerks’s style was as modern as it was old-fashioned.

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

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 May 14, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Pots and Pans © Van BeurenIn ‘Pots and Pans’ Tom & Jerry own a mobile canteen.

The cartoon is completely plotless, but very spirited and gag rich, making it one of the best of the Van Beuren Tom & Jerries. It uses a jazzy score, around a close harmony quartet of soup eating customers. Everything joins in, even many objects like kettles and sausages – for this is one of those early 1930’s cartoons in which everything can grow hands and feet. At the end, the wagon suddenly takes off, ends on the rails and clashes with a train.

The cartoon is reminiscent of contemporary Fleischer cartoons, and anticipates their ‘Betty Boop Bizzy Bee‘ from three months later, which covers similar grounds.

Watch ‘Pots and Pans’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 November 14, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mask-A-Raid © Max FleischerIn ‘Mask-A-Raid’ a very sexy Betty is queen of a masked ball.

The king, a dirty old man, fancies her, but she prefers Bimbo. Nevertheless, she makes Bimbo and the old guy fighting each other. Suddenly knights pop up from nowhere and everybody is fighting.

In ‘Mask-a-raid’ some of the random surrealism of ‘Barnacle Bill‘ and ‘Mysterious Mose‘ (both 1930) returns to the screen. The cartoon is full of weird images and odd gags, and at times should be seen to be believed. It ends with some great scatting by Bimbo himself.

This is Betty’s first cartoon as a human being (apart from the Screen Song ‘Kitty from Kansas City‘ from only one week before), with her dog ears having changed into large earrings. It’s also the first to give her starring credits. It introduces the new story idea of old men fancying Betty, and harassing her against her will. This story element would also be featured in e.g. ‘Boop-oop-a-Doop‘ (1932) and ‘Betty Boop’s Big Boss‘ (1933).

Watch ‘Mask-A-Raid’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 27
To the previous Talkartoon: In the Shade of the Old Apple Sauce
To the next Talkartoon: Jack and the Beanstalk

‘Mask-A-Raid’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Svend Noldan
Release Date:
 1930
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Hein Priembacke in Afrika © Svend NoldanHein Priembacke was a cartoon character conceived and animated by Svend Noldan. Noldan had his origins in the German dadaist avant-garde scene, something that is not visible in this cartoon.

‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ is a silent film and uses German title cards in rhyme. Hein Priembacke is a sailor who’s washed ashore an African desert. Being hungry he first tries to retrieve a coconut, which turns out to be a wallaby. Later he goes to a settlement (which was visible in the background all the time), where he pulls two turnips, which turn out to be Negroes (forgive me the word – it’s used as such in the film itself). The angered cannibals soon chase our hero (“Jetzt wird’s bedenklich, lieber Christ. Der Neger ist kein Pazifist” reads the title card, which translates as “Now it becomes questionable, dear Christ, for the negro is no pacifist“), but he manages to escape to his homeland, hanging on the legs of a stork.

The animation is surprisingly well done, although the action is at times ridiculously slow. The film’s highlight are the animation of the waves and of the landscape on Priembacke’s flight back home. Done with cut outs, the landscape moves stunningly realistically under our hero, creating a great sense of depth, predating Disney’s multi-plane camera by seven years.

Indeed, special effects turned out to be Noldan’s expertise. His star rose when the National Socialists came to power in 1933, and many film makers left Germany. He later provided special effects for German propaganda films, like Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘Triumf des Willens’ (1935), and ‘Der ewige Jude’ (1939). During World War II he worked for the German war industry. Although his role in Nazi Germany is dubious to say the least, he survived the war unscathed, and returned to making films, which he kept on doing until the end of the 1960s.

Watch ‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: January 18, 1931
Stars: Rita Mouse?
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Red Riding Hood © Van Beuren‘Red Riding Hood’ is one of those early 1930s cartoons that have to be seen to be believed.

In this spoof of Red Riding Hood, the ill grandma is visited by a doctor. The doctor’s “jazz tonic’ makes grandma young and handsome, and the wolf starts to fancy her. He plays for her on the harmonium, while ‘grandma’ dances. However, when Red Riding Hood (a Minnie Mouse-copy, see also ‘Circus Capers‘ and ‘The Office Boy‘) enters, the wolf and grandma both flee in the wolf’s car to get married.

Red Riding Hood, meanwhile, warns the wolf’s wife and kids, who hurry to the wedding chapel. They tear the wolf away, leaving grandma crying.

There’s some nice animation on the wolf’s car, but otherwise the animation on this cartoon is wildly inconsistent. However, its story is so weird, it becomes enjoyable.

Watch ‘Red Riding Hood’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Red Riding Hood’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date:
 April 5, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Barnyard Concert © Walt DisneyWhile other studios, like Walter Lantz and the Max Fleischer drew inspiration from jazz, and while Warner Bros. could draw from an extensive music catalog, in the early sound days Walt Disney turned to (copyright-free) folk songs and classical music.

After ‘The Opry House‘ (1929) and ‘Just Mickey‘, Mickey’s concert career reaches new heights in ‘The Barnyard concert’. In this highly enjoyable cartoon Mickey conducts a barnyard orchestra in Franz von Suppé’s overture to ‘Dichter und Bauer’. There’s one throwaway gag looking all the way back to his breakthrough cartoon ‘Steamboat Willie‘ (1928),in which Mickey torments some pigs, but most of the cartoon is forward looking.

Indeed ‘The Barnyard Concert’ looks like a blueprint for ‘The Band Concert‘ (1935), in which many of the gags introduced here are improved to perfection. The cartoon features no dialogue, whatsoever, but is full of clever sight gags.

Unfortunately, at this stage the animators still had problems with Mickey’s eyes: in one close-up in particular they are placed awkwardly in Mickey’s face.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 17
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Just Mickey
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Cactus Kid

‘The Barnyard Concert’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 18, 1930
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Wise Flies © Max Fleischer

The Fleischer studio had already experimented with synchronized sound in 1924, four years before ‘Steamboat Willie‘, so of all cartoon studios they made the transition to sound the most easily.

The Fleischers’ first sound series were the Screen Songs, the first of which was released in February 5, 1929. Eight months later they were followed by the aptly titled Talkartoons. These Talkartoons didn’t have a single star, but like Disney’s Silly Symphonies explored a wide range of subjects.

These Talkartoons show the Fleischers’ disregard of lip synchronization. This feat was reserved for special scenes, like song sequences. Unlike Disney, the Fleischers recorded all dialogue after animation, inviting the voice actors to ad-lib at will. Thus the Fleischer cartoons were the most talkative of all 1930s shorts. This technique reached its peak when Jack Mercer became Popeye’s voice in 1935, but already peppers their earliest output.

The improvised dialogue suits the studio’s free spirited, and equally improvised animation style perfectly. Add a multitude of zany gags, strikingly jazzy soundtracks and remarkably adult subject material, and it’s clear why the Max Fleischer cartoons from 1930-1933 are among the most delightful of all studio cartoons from the golden age.

‘Wise Flies’, the seventh Talkartoon, is a perfect example. It uses the theme of ‘the spider and the fly’, a theme Walt Disney would also use one year later in ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931). However, the Disney version lacks the sexual overtones present in this Fleischer’s version. In it a six-legged spider spots some flies on a hobo’s head. He tries to catch one, but returns home to his wife empty-handed.

However, later he seduces a female fly, playing ‘Some of These Days’ on his web (a delightfully fast piece of guitar jazz). He then starts singing this tune, popularized by Sophie Tucker in 1926, and a hit for Louis Armstrong in 1929. His song leads to a dance sequence much akin to Disney’s Silly Symphonies from the same era. The film ends when the spider’s wife gets jealous, and interrupts the spider’s courting.

The animation by Willard Bowsky and Ted Sears is crude and simple, but the swinging soundtrack is delightful. The end result is an enjoyable piece of rubberhose animation.

Watch ‘Wise Flies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 7
To the previous Talkartoon: Fire Bugs
To the next Talkartoon: Dizzy Dishes

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: June 2, 1930
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit, Peg Leg Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Hell's Heels © Walter LantzIn the spring of 1929 Universal announced that it had set up an animation studio to make sound cartoons of its own. Head of the studio was Walter Lantz. This was the beginning of the Walter Lantz studio, which lasted well into the 1970s, outliving all other contemporary cartoon studios.

With this contract Walter Lantz inherited Oswald the rabbit, a character originally conceived by Walt Disney in 1927, but whose copyright was owned by Universal. Universal demanded no less than 26 Oswald cartoons each year, and the results were consequently of variable quality.

‘Hell’s Heels’, Lantz’s 23th Oswald cartoon, is one of the better ones. It opens with Oswald, Peg Leg Pete and an anonymous grey dog being a gang of bandits wandering and singing through the desert. The three decide to rob a bank and Pete and the Dog send Oswald inside with dynamite. Oswald blows up the bank, killing Pete and the dog(!). Later, Oswald befriends the Sheriff’s little boy, which leads to some song-and-dance scenes, which surprisingly features a number of skeletons.

It’s strange to watch Oswald and Pete being buddies in this film, and the story is rather inconsistent, but the cartoon is fast and funny, and full of gags. Its lively jazzy score by James Dietrich is highly enjoyable, and the animation by Bill Nolan and Clyde Geronimi is joyful and of a fair quality. ‘Hell’s Heels’ shows that in 1930 other animation studios still could match the Walt Disney studio.

Watch ‘Hell’s Heels’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date:
 October 15, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Horse Horsecollar
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Jazz Fool © Walt Disney‘The Jazz Fool’ opens with Mickey playing the organ on a tilt car, which says ‘Mickey’s Big Road Show’, followed by a crowd of animals.

When settled down, Mickey produces a piano out of nowhere, and performs a mildly jazzy stride tune on it. We also watch Horace Horsecollar without his usual yoke performing some drumming to Mickey’s organ tune.

This is Mickey’s second piano concerto cartoon (after ‘The Opry House‘ from seven months earlier), and thus contains some new gags involving piano playing. Mickey severely mistreats the instrument, even spanking it, so, unsurprisingly, the piano takes revenge in the end. The music can hardly be called jazz, however, even though it contains some nice stride piano. It would take two years before Mickey would turn to real jazz, in ‘Blue Rhythm‘ (1931).

As one may have noticed ‘The Jazz Fool’ is one of those early plotless Mickey Mouse shorts. However, there’s plenty of action, and Mickey’s piano performance is still entertaining today. Nevertheless, Mickey would turn to the violin in his next concert cartoon ‘Just Mickey‘ (1930).

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 12
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Choo-Choo
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Jungle Rhythm

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: July 31, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Karnival Kid © Walt Disney‘The Karnival Kid’ forms an important step in the use of sound in an animated cartoon.

We had already watched and heard Minnie singing “lalala” in ‘The Plow Boy’, and in ‘The Barnyard Battle’ a sergeant spoke a few words. But in ‘The Karnival Kid’ there’s suddenly a lot of singing: Pete sings, Mickey sings, and the complete second half of the cartoon is devoted to song.

‘The Karnival Kid’ shows that lip synchronization was far more difficult to master than synchronized sound itself. The animation of the mouth to form syllables was a totally new feat, and initially it was done all too literally. This leads to awkward facial expressions at times, with especially Mickey’s face distorting into a multitude of mouth gestures. This would be even worse in Mickey’s next cartoon, ‘Mickey’s Follies’.

At the same time, a lot of the characters’ action remains typical silent pantomime. For example, when Mickey offers Minnie a hot dog for free, this is acted out in complete silence.

‘The Karnival Kid’ is a wonderfully witty film. Mickey works as a hot dog seller at the fair, where Minnie is a shimmy dancer. The film is split in two parts: in the first Mickey sells living(!) hot dogs and gives one to Minnie. When the unlucky weenie is not very cooperative, Mickey spanks him! These hot dog gags are reused from the Oswald short ‘All Wet‘ (1927), but they still feel fresh, due to the added sound. Now we can hear the hot dogs barking and yelping. And so, after ‘The Karnival Kid’ these hot dog gags were reused a second time by Ub Iwerks in the Flip the Frog cartoon ‘Circus’ (1932).

The second part is introduced by a title card ‘later that night’, which melts before the scene starts. Here Mickey offers Minnie a serenade with the help of two cats who sing ‘Sweet Adeline’. The cartoon ends when Mickey is hit by a bed(!) which Pete has thrown at him.

As you may have noticed, ‘The Karnival Kid’ has very little story. It’s enjoyable because of the carnival atmosphere, the large number of gags, and the intoxicating singing.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 9
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Barnyard Battle

To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Follies

Director: Unknown
Release Date: July 9, 1928
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Tall Timber © Walt DisneyBefore the rediscovery of ‘Sleigh Bells’ in 2015 ‘Tall Timber’ was the last surviving Oswald cartoon made by Walt Disney.

It features Oswald canoeing in the wild, shooting ducks and encountering wild animals, like a moose and a family of bears.

The cartoon’s story is sloppy (although it doesn’t help that some sequences are missing), but the short shows that Disney had advanced animation already before the advent of Mickey. For example, the cartoon features some spectacular waterfall animation, and a convincing falling rock sequence.

The falling rock eventually renders Oswald flat, and in a sequence animated by Hugh Harman we watch him wandering about a little as a flat character. In an attempt to get normal again, he becomes bulbous, which accounts for some surreal, almost trippy close ups of his inflated face, animated by Ham Hamilton.

‘Tall Timber’ was released in June 1928. By that time Disney had already started anew, trying to sell the very first Mickey Mouse cartoon, ‘Plane Crazy‘, to distributors.

‘Tall Timber’ was followed by two more Oswald cartoons by Disney (the recently rediscovered ‘Sleigh Bells’ and the lost ‘Hot Dog’), then by nine by Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, before the series was given to Walter Lantz’s studio. Lantz by far produced the most Oswald cartoons, releasing 142 in total. The character lasted until 1938. But by then Oswald looked quite different from the version in ‘Tall Timber’…

Watch ‘Tall Timber’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon No. 23
To the previous Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: The Fox Chase
To the next Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: Sleigh Bells

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