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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 14, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
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 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:
‘Mask-A-Raid’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’
Director: Svend Noldan
Release Date: 1930
‘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?
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
While 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:
‘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
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:
Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: June 2, 1930
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit, Peg Leg Pete
In 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
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:
Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: July 31, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
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 typically 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:
Release Date: July 9, 1928
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
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
Director: Priit Pärn
Release Date: 1984
It shows the filmmaker’s idiosyncratic style and unique surrealism, without the dark side, often present in his other films. The film is filled with child-like wonder, and a happy atmosphere, enhanced by the joyful reggae music by composer Olav Ehala.
The film opens with a room in which a very stressed out cat lives. The cat is in a constant need to check his alarm clock, which is on a shelf too high for him. When he finally reaches the clock, he discovers he can’t read it without his glasses, so he has to find them first, etc. Pärn shows this pointless ritual in several variations over and over again, following the cat running around in his room.
At one point, however, the alarm clock breaks, and time stands still. At this point of the film the cat finds himself in a fantastic world where everything can happen. This part is extremely rich in visual tricks, which go all the way back to Émile Cohl’s ‘Fantasmagorie’ (1908). Nothing is what it seems, and metamorphosis runs freely. Unfortunately, in the end, time is restored, and the cat has to face his former stressful life once again.
‘Time Out’ certainly shows Priit Pärn’s mastery, and excellent timing. His fantasy is extraordinary, and the film shows the power of animation like few other films do. It’s also a reminder that we should snap out of the daily routine, and let our mind wander, and be really creative. When one takes time, everything may be possible!
Watch ‘Time Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1989
In it we watch a woman who’s tied down to a hospital bed. She apparently consists partly of vegetables, which are quickly rotting away, as if life is leaving her by the seconds. There’s a relieving glass of water nearby, but out of her reach. This is a puzzling and rather unsettling image, which knows no release.
Flora was the Roman goddess of flowers, and her features resemble that of a Giuseppe Arcimboldo-character, another homage by Švankmajer to the Renaissance-master, after ‘Dimensions of Dialogue‘ (1982). But how did the goddess come into this setting of utter distress? Watching her decaying alive is painful, even within this short time-frame.
Watch ‘Flora’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Flora’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’
Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: September 1988
Švankmajer treats Hugh Cornwell’s charming if rather forgettable song in his own typical way: the setting is one windowless room, he films the ex-Stranglers singer’s mouth a lot in close-up, there are objects with tongues (in this case singing shoes) and there’s a beautiful clay woman, who shares features with the woman in ‘Dimensions of Dialogue‘ (1982), apparently because the same template has been used.
Highlights form the deformations of the singer’s head, whose features have been reproduced very well in the clay model, and the clip’s finale, in which the woman emerges from the wall to embrace the singer, and drawing him into the wall, leaving the room empty.
Watch ‘Another Kind of Love’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Another Kind of Love’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’
Director: Tim Burton
Release Date: October 1, 1982
The short is as typical for Tim Burton as it is atypical for Disney. First, it’s a stop-motion film, something the studio was not famous for, at all. The only other stop-motion film ever released by the studio was ‘Noah’s Ark’ from 1959. Second, the film is in black and white, and third, it has a genuine horror theme, miles away from the child friendly worlds of contemporary Disney films, like ‘The Fox and the Hound‘ (1981) or ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol‘ (1983).
The film uses the deep voice of classic horror star Vincent Price to tell the story of Vincent in rather Dr. Seuss-like rhyme. Vincent is a little seven year old boy, who wants to be like, well… Vincent Price. Because his mind has become twisted by reading stories by Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent imagines himself a madman haunted by his deceased wife, and locked in by a cursed house. In the end his imagination runs haywire, taking hold of him.
Burton does an excellent job mixing horror with silliness. The result is a rather twisted version of ‘Gerald McBoingBoing’ – equally weird, equally expressionistic, but much darker. In ‘Vincent’ you find much of the Tim Burton to come. It’s not hard to see the link between this wonderful short and ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’ (1993), ‘Corpse Bride‘ (2005) or with his live action films like ‘Beetlejuice’ (1988) or ‘Sleepy Hollow’ (1999).
Interestingly, in the same year, Vincent Price would also lend his voice to the Michael Jackson song ‘Thriller’.
Watch ‘Vincent’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Fyodor Khitruk
Release Date: 1983
‘Lion and Ox’ is one of Fyodor Khitruk’s most serious films. It’s a very beautiful short about an ox who befriends a lion. Unfortunately, a devious little fox sets the two against each other, with fatal results.
This simple fable is told without words. They’re not necessary, for the animation is stunning. Apart from the fox, the animals are animated very reallistically, but they still retain a strong sense of emotion, telling the tale in expressions. The designs are very graphic, with beautiful ink lines. The backgrounds, too, are gorgeous, and reminiscent of Chinese paintings in their suggestions of the savanna by using a few powerful paintbrushes.
Watch ‘Lion and Ox’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: December 5, 1942
Stars: Daffy Duck, Porky Pig
‘My Favorite Duck’ is Chuck Jones’s third try on Daffy Duck (after ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’ from 1939 and ‘Conrad the Sailor‘ from 1942), and his first cartoon starring both Daffy and Porky Pig.
In this cartoon he finally manages to get grip of Daffy’s wacky character: Daffy’s antics are not only annoying, they’re also funny, and well-timed, and Porky is much more sympathetic victim to his antics than Caspar Caveman and Conrad ever were.
When Porky goes camping, the duck nags him, protected by the law which forbids Porky to harm any duck. Nonetheless, in the end, the tables are turned and Porky has his revenge. However, at that point the film breaks, and Daffy tells us ‘what happened’, or does he?
The film break gag first appeared in Max Fleischer’s Popeye cartoon ‘Goonland’. Six years later Jones reused this wonderful film break gag in ‘Rabbit Punch‘ (1948).
Like in other Chuck Jones cartoons from this era, the beautifully stylized backgrounds are a highlight on their own.
Watch ‘My Favorite Duck’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 97
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Cafe
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Confusions of a Nutzy Spy
Director: Joop Geesink
Production Date: September 1942
The collaboration results in a charming little advertising film about a Mexican who tries to serenade his love, to no avail. He tries several instruments, without success. But then he magically produces a Philips Radio, and finally his love is impressed.
The puppet animation in this short is very reminiscent of that of George Pal, the Hungarian animator, who had an important puppet film studio in Eindhoven in the late 1930s, and who had made several films for Dutch electronics company Philips himself. Pal, however, had exchanged The Netherlands for the United Kingdom, and finally emigrated to the United States in December 1939, leaving The Netherlands without any animation studio of importance. Now, Toonder and Geesink tried to fill this gap. Perhaps, Philips would be interested to commission films from them.
However, the inexperience of both animators shows: the animation still looks primitive, with a lot of excessive movement. The short’s story, however, is funny and still entertaining today. Indeed, Philips saw potential, and would become an important commissioner to both film makers.
Toonder would soon abandon stop motion, but Geesink would continue in the field, creating one of the most successful stop motion animation studios of the post-war era.
Watch ‘Serenata nocturna’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Serenata nocturna’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’
Directors: Bill Roberts, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske & Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 24, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Goofy, Joe Carioca
This trip was financed by the Coordinator of Inter-American affairs, and ‘Saludos Amigos’ feels like an advertisement for South America. It’s the first of several ‘package films’ Disney made in the 1940s, and like its followers, it is uneven. There is not much of a story, just a live action travelogue across Bolivia, Chile, Argentine, and Brazil. In between there are four cartoon sequences: Donald Duck as a tourist at Lake Titicaca, the story of Pedro the airplane, Goofy as a Gaucho and a samba sequence featuring Donald and a new character, Joe Carioca.
Donald’s antics at Lake Titicaca are only mildly funny, until its finale, the suspension bridge scene, which evokes a genuine sense of heights. Pedro the airplane is a children’s story using a narrator. It’s probably the first animation film starring a humanized vehicle, and very succesful at that. Pedro is well-designed, being both a plane and a likable little boy. His story reaches an exciting climax when Pedro gets caught in a storm near Aconcagua. ‘Goofy as a gaucho’ is a nice follow-up to ‘How to ride a horse’ from ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ (1941), with Goofy acting as an Argentine gaucho. This sequence is based on the art of Argentine painter Florencio Molina Campos (1891-1959), without being as gritty. The result is both educational and funny.
However, the real highlight of the film is its finale, in which Donald meets the Brazilian parrot Joe Carioca. Both dance to a samba, following a background which is created ‘on the spot’ by a brush. This sequence is alive with creativity, seemingly introducing a new era of more stylized images and brighter colors, which would dominate the 1940s and 1950s.
Joe Carioca was such an intoxicating character, he was returned to the screen, where he would reunite with Donald in ‘The Three Caballeros‘ (1944) and ‘Melody Time‘ (1948), in still more stylized and colorful scenes.
Watch an excerpt from ‘Saludos Amigos’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: March 4, 1942
It turns out to be the wolf, who will be hanged for harassing the three little pigs. The wolf pleads unguilty, however, and tells us “what really happened”. In his own story the wolf is a classical music teacher, loving peace and quiet (the most ridiculous illustration of this is the image of the wolf crocheting a bath tube out of a sheep). He’s visited by the three little pigs who play hot jazz, bullying the wolf, wrecking his instruments, and finally his house.
It’s a bit odd to associate such intoxicating jazz with random violence à la Clockwork Orange, but the result is an entertaining cartoon, although it is clearly tributary to the 1941 Warner Bros. cartoon ‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’, which features a very similar story idea. Interestingly enough the director of that cartoon, Friz Freleng, would later also direct a cartoon about a wolf and three little pigs playing hot jazz, in ‘The Three Little Bops‘ (1957).
Watch ‘The Hams That Couldn’t Be Cured’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 13, 1942
Popeye had joined the navy before the United States entered the war, in ‘The Mighty Navy’ (November 1941), so in ‘Blunder Below’ he’s ready to fight the enemy, the first major cartoon star to do so on the movie screen.
In the first part of this cartoon Popeye tries to be a normal sailor, among Superman-like sailors, trying to learn gunning. He is no talent, however, blundering away and almost shooting down the captain by accident.
But when a submarine approaches, Popeye shows his real worth: he beats the submarine single-handedly, saving the battle cruiser. It’s this great combination of clumsiness and superhuman powers which make Popeye such an appealing character.
The approaching submarine is accompanied by the music of Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig, indicating a German origin. However, it soon turns out to be Japanese. The submarine is anthropomorphic itself and completely dehumanized, as if it were not manned by people at all. When in August 1942 Popeye changed hands from the Fleischers to Paramount, this would radically change…
Watch ‘Blunder Below’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: September 1, 1941
Based on the 1941 hit song by the Andrews sisters, ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”‘ tells the story of a black trumpeter who gets drafted and has to blow the reveille, which he does in a swinging style, introducing the song.
The song itself is accompanied by various gags on blacks in the army. Even the Andrews Sisters themselves make a cameo, although they do not sing. Typical of the era, the blacks are pretty stereotyped, with huge lips, grammatically incorrect speech, and allusions to gambling. Two of them even die during the cartoon: one black after playing xylophone on some shells, while the other gets eaten by an alligator. So I can understand if some people find it hard to watch this cartoon today. Even so, the cartoon is less offensive than ‘Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat’ from six months earlier, from which the cartoon reuses some animation.
Indeed, the overall mood of the cartoon is cheerful and rather innocent, emphasizing the swinging mood. In fact, thanks to the catchy song and some flexible animation ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”‘ is one of the great jazz cartoons. It’s also one of the most enjoyable army cartoons of the era, of which it is probably the first. It’s at least the first American cartoon on conscription, which had come in effect in September 1940, as a reaction on the war in Europe. The cartoon thus predates cartoons like the Pluto short ‘The Army Mascot‘, ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘ featuring Donald Duck, and the Woody Woodpecker cartoon ‘Ace in the Hole’ (all from 1942).
Watch ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”’ yourself and tell me what you think: