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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 18, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Learn Polikeness © Max FleischerOlive takes Popeye to Prof. Bluteau’s school of etiquette.

The opening scene shows Prof.’s Bluteau’s large office, with help of Fleischer’s 3d tabletop background. Bluteau of course is Bluto and in this scene he’s already established as a fraud. Indeed, he hardly behaves gentleman-like when Olive and Popeye enter. True, he does know more manners than Popeye, but he clearly fancies Olive, and when trying to kiss her, he almost strangles her.

So, Popeye doesn’t have to win Olive back, he really has to rescue her from the brute. Interestingly, this time the spinach gives Popeye some manners besides strength, and there’s some great animation on Popeye clobbering Bluto in deft poses, on the tune of ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’.

Bluto’s design is somewhat off in this cartoon – the studio clearly experimented with new eyes on the character, which are not really steady yet. Maybe the studio grew a little tired of the character, for Bluto wasn’t seen again in the rest of 1938, only to return in ‘Customers Wanted’ (1939) [see Bobb Edwards’s comment below ‘Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh’ for a more plausible reason]. Indeed, in the mean time the studio proved it could come up with wonderful cartoons without him.

Watch ‘Learn Polikeness’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Learn Polikeness’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

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Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: June 25, 1938
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Porky's Party © Warner Bros.By 1938, the Warner Bros. Studio really started to hit its stride. ‘Porky’s Party’ is a good example of the studio’s new, confident and unique style, which owed virtually nothing to the Disney convention.

In ‘Porky’s Party’, Porky celebrates his own birthday. His party is hindered by a silk worm he gets as a present from uncle Phineas Pig. When one exclaims ‘sew’, the worm immediately starts sewing clothes out of nowhere, including a bra. It may be clear that once Porky says ‘So!’, the worm does the same thing. Another problem is Porky’s dog, who gets drunk on his hair tonic, and who’s mistaken of being mad. Porky’s guests aren’t helping either: one is a penguin who eats all his food, the other a particularly loony duck.

‘Porky’s Party’ is rather disjointed, but its atmosphere is strikingly silly, and the gags come in fast and plenty. Only the gag in which the penguin swallows a worm-produced silk hat, is milked too long. But mostly, ‘Porky’s Party’ is an early testimony of Warner Bros.’ unique, wacky style, which would dominate the war years.

Watch ‘Porky’s Party’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 42
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky the Fireman
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Spring Planting

‘Porky’s Party’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 2, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Red Hot Mamma © Max FleischerIt’s a cold winter night, and to get warm Betty lights a fire.

Soon, however, it gets too hot, and the fire roasts her two chickens. Betty herself soon dreams she’s in hell, dressed only in her nightgown. In a short scene the fires of hell reveal her legs through her nightgown. Later, when the devils watch her perform a sexy dance to a jazzy score, they get hot. But Betty gives them the cold shoulder (literally), which causes them and all hell to freeze completely over.

‘Red Hot Mamma’ is one of the last Betty Boop cartoons to glorify her sexuality, and to have a jazzy score. However, the humor is already much less compelling than from the 1931-1933 cartoons, lacking the weird surrealism of that period. As a result ‘Red Hot Mamma’ is amusing, but far less funny than it might have been, were it produced only a few months earlier…

Watch ‘Red Hot Mamma’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 25
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: She Wronged Him Right
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Ha! Ha! Ha!

‘Betty Boop’s May Party’ is available on the Blu-Ray Betty Boop: The Essential Collection Vol. 2 and on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1933
Stars: Fétiche
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Mascot © Wladyslaw Starewicz‘The Mascot’ shows that by 1933 Starewicz was the undisputed master of stop motion.

This 26 minute long film starts with live action, and is a typical melodramatic product of its time: we watch a poor mother making a dog doll, while her ill child lies in the back of the small room with fever. When she sheds a tear on the puppy doll, it comes alive. The puppy doll makes friends with the little girl, but the next day he’s about to be sold by a poor mother together with several other dolls she made.

On the way, however, a thief doll cuts a hole through the cardboard box they’re in, and all dolls leave the box, except for the little dog, who’s sold and hung in a car. Finally the dog makes his way home and rescues the little ill girl from a certain death by fetching her an orange.

The plot is more complicated than this main narrative, however, and features countless puppets. Besides the dog’s story, there’s a menage à trois featuring a ballet dancer, a Pierrot and the thief doll, and there are also a monkey doll and a cat doll involved.

Highlight of the film is a night scene, in which everything comes alive, from pieces of paper to skeletons of fish and birds. No less than the devil himself invites all creatures inside his cavern, where an grand ball is taking place. This sequence has a nightmarish character comparable to Alexeïeff’s ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ from the same year.

The whole film has a unique, gritty atmosphere, however. Throughout, the animation ranges from primitive to astounding. Starewicz especially excels in facial expressions, which really make some of the characters come alive. The dog, for example, clearly is a timid, reluctant character.

Unfortunately, the film is completely silent, despite a sparsity of dialogue and sound effects, and sometimes Starewicz’s dolls fall prone to overacting to overcome the lack of sound. Edouard Flament’s angular soundtrack doesn’t help either. Moreover, the all too complex plot hampers the film, making it meander too much. The melodrama, too, is a little too much for present day audiences.

Nevertheless, ‘The Mascot’ is a tour de force of stop motion animation. At least it provided Starewicz with a contract for eleven more films about the cute little dog, which was baptized Fétiche and finally starred five more films.

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

https://archive.org/details/The_Mascot_Complete

‘The Mascot’ is available on the DVD ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge & other Fantastic Tales’

Director: Yasuji Murata
Release Date: January 31, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Larks' Moving Day © Yokohama Cinema ShokaiIn ‘The Larks’ Moving Day’ we follow a family of anthropomorphized larks who live in a cornfield.

The owner of the cornfield plans to harvest, but first asks his neighbors, then his relatives to help him. Father lark isn’t impressed: as long as the farmer keeps asking others, he will not harvest, and thus their home will not be in peril. Only when the farmer exclaims ‘we’ll do it ourselves’, the lark family moves from the field to a safer area. Thus father lark’s moral to the audience is ‘You can’t do a job, until you stop relying on others and do it yourself’.

This silent film is one of Murata’s more enjoyable films, as his elegant drawing style is on full display. The animation, too, is superb, even if it’s limited. The short shows once again that Murata was the undisputed leader in the field.

Watch ‘The Larks’ Moving Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Larks’ Moving Day’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: ?
Release Date: November 11, 1933
Stars: Willie Whopper
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Stratos Fear © Ub IwerksNot satisfied with Flip the Frog, MGM demanded a new cartoon star from Ub Iwerks. So, the studio conceived Willie Whopper, a fat little boy telling tall tales.

Unfortunately, Willie Whopper wasn’t much of a success either, and the series was stopped after only twelve entries. Most famous among the Willie Whopper cartoons probably is ‘Stratos Fear’ in which our hero visits the dentist. When Willie gets too much laughing gas, he inflates and goes up into the air, soon leaving earth, the moon, passing Saturn and into space. When he passes an alien planet, he’s caught by some strange alien scientists.

The alien planet is by all means an odd world, and it anticipates the sheer zaniness of ‘Porky in Wackyland’ (1938). At one point one of the evil scientists even dresses as a beautiful woman in a scene looking forward all the way to Tim Burton’s feature ‘Mars Attacks!’ (1996). Luckily in the end, it all appears to have been a dream.

‘Stratos Fear’ is an interesting cartoon, because of its early surrealism, but Willie Whopper is not much of a character, being just a bland boy, only reacting on his surroundings, without any internal motivation. The gags, too, are only mildly amusing, as things are just happening on the screen, in a pretty steady flow. Also, despite a certain horror atmosphere, and the erotic beauty, it’s one of those 1933 cartoons already moving towards the infantile world of the second half of the 1930s. The result is noteworthy cartoon, but hardly anything more than that.

Watch ‘Stratos Fear’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Stratos Fear’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date: August 26, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

We're in the Money © Warner Bros.‘We’re in the Money’ is entirely built around the catchy opening tune of the Warner Bros. musical ‘Gold Diggers of 1933’.

The joyous song, with its anti-Great Depression theme is entertaining enough to carry the whole cartoon. It is played and sung by toys and dolls in an apartment store at night. Even coins from a cashier join in, singing ‘we are the money’. There’s also a doll doing a Mae West imitation.

Composer Frank Marsales is on the loose here, and plays endless variations on the title song. There’s absolutely no story, whatsoever, but the cheerful mood is captivating, and despite the lack of real action, the cartoon will leave you with a smile.

Watch ‘We’re in the Money’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘We’re in the Money’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’ and the DVD-set ‘The Busby Berkeley Collection’

Director: Harry Bailey
Release Date: May 5, 1933
Stars: Sentinel Louey
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

A Dizzy Day © Van Beuren‘A Dizzy Day’ was the second of only two animated cartoons featuring Otto Soglow’s lesser known character Sentinel Louey.

Like ‘A.M. to P.M.’ it’s only a string of newspaper comics gags transferred to the movie screen, with an absurd rescue plot being the longest gag of all. Surprisingly, Sentinel Louey is less than sympathetic in this film, knocking down a woman , and later trying to drown a cat.

Like Soglow’s comic strip, there’s only visual comedy. Soglow’s graphic style is copied beautifully, although there’s one bird that looks more like a traditional Van Beuren character than like a Soglow creation.

Like ‘A.M. to P.M.’ ‘A Dizzy Day’ is only mildly funny, but charming. Its real treat, however, lies in its gorgeous score, although it’s very unlikely this score is original. It’s certainly not by Van Beuren’s house composer Gene Rodemich, and very likely it’s not by any American composer, at all. On the contrary, the score sounds genuinely European, and from a later era (ca. late 1940s, early 1950s), cartoonier, but otherwise similar to scores by Matyas Seiber for ‘Magic Canvas’ (1948) and George Auric’s score for ‘Kermesse fantastique’ (1951). So, this lovely score must be of a later date, and has likely been produced for a British post-war release of the film.

Watch ‘A Dizzy Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Dizzy Day’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Otto Soglow’s The Little King’

Director: Harry Bailey
Release Date: January 20, 1933
Stars: Sentinel Louey
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

A.M. to P.M. © Van BeurenIn search of new characters The Van Beuren studios signed a contract with Otto Soglow to produce twelve animated cartoons based on his characters.

Ten feature his most famous creation The Little King, but the series starts with two featuring Soglow’s lesser known character Sentinel Louey, a British guard, complete with large bearskin hat. Unlike the Little King films, these first two cartoons are very faithful to the source material. Not only do they contain a string of gags that are undoubtedly directly transferred from the comic strip, they also capture Sloglow’s idiosyncratic graphic style remarkably well. This style is much more appealing and original than anything the studio did before, making both ‘A. M. to P. M.’ and ‘A Dizzy Day’ visually among the most beautiful animated films of the entire 1930s.

Unfortunately, because ‘A.M. to P.M.’ is a compilation of newspaper comics gags, there’s no story whatsoever. Moreover, Soglow’s humor is one of charm and wonder, not one for loud laughs, and as a result ‘A.M. to P.M.’ moves past at a leisurely speed without leaving much impression besides the extraordinarily beautiful images.

Watch ‘A.M. to P.M.’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A.M. to P.M.’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Otto Soglow’s The Little King’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: October 9, 1933
Stars: Pooch the Pup, Dopey Dick
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

She Done Him Right © Walter Lantz‘She Done Him Right’ was the last of thirteen cartoons starring Pooch the Pup, a Walter Lantz character that was virtually Oswald the lucky Rabbit, but with different ears.

The cartoon is an obvious spoof of the Paramount Mae West vehicle ‘She Done Him Wrong’ from earlier that year. Like the feature, the cartoon is set in the 1890’s, and it features a nightclub singer called Poodles, who’s dressed and talks like West. Inside Joe’s Beer Garden a man sings the 1908 music hall song ‘Has Anybody Here Seen Nelly?’, but Poodles has a much more modern song to offer: Cab Calloway’s 1932 hit song ‘Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day’. Then a villain kidnaps Poodles, and Pooch the Pup comes to the rescue.

Pooch the Pup himself is utterly forgettable, but this cartoon is packed with wonderful and weird gags, and features great jazz music. ‘Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day’ is sung with a great voice, which makes one wonder who the particular voice artist is. The cartoon also marks the first appearance of a fat character called Dopey Dick, who is remarkably similar to Wellington Wimpy, who only hit the screen ten days before ‘She Done Him Right’.

Watch ‘She Done Him Right’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘She Done Him Right’ is available on the DVD ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: ?
Release Date: May 20, 1933
Stars: Scrappy, Oopy
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Technoracket © ColumbiaPenned by Sid Marcus and animated by Art Davis, ‘Technoracket’ is one of those cartoons inspired by rumors of robots taking over, like Fleischer’s ‘The Robot‘ from 1932, and ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ from one month later.

Unlike those boxing-themed cartoons ‘Technoracket’ is surprisingly prophetical. In this cartoon Scrappy has a farm, in which Oopy does all the work, with help of the farm animals. But when Scrappy reads about the new age of technocracy he fires all animals, switching to robots, instead. Because it’s a cartoon, even the cows and chickens become robots, with the cows producing bottles of milk instantly. There’s also a scene in which a robots plants bolts to grow plants of canned tomatoes.

At one stage, however, Oopy sneaks into Scrappy’s house and destroys his controls, making the robots go wild. This leads to some nightmarish scenes. There’s for example a robot which devours a pig to spit out hams, another robot brutalizes a mechanical chicken forcing it to produce numerous eggs. Soon the robots create havoc in Scrappy’s home, and he himself removes the controls, which explode in the backyard, destroying all robots.

‘Technoracket’ illustrates the 1930’s fear of work replacement by robots very well. Nevertheless, its predictions have somewhat become true, albeit in a less cartoony fashion, as farms are all but mechanized factories, today…

Director: Ted Esbaugh
Release Date: 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Wizard of Oz © Ted EsbaughTed Esbaugh was one of the very few American animators operating independently during the 1930s.

With ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Esbaugh could make use of Technicolor’s three-way process, if only outside the U.S., as Walt Disney had the exclusive rights to its use in the States themselves.

With this film Esbaugh was the first to bring Frank L. Baum’s famous fantasy to the film screen in full color. Like the latter, much more familiar live action version from 1939, Esbaugh paints the Kansas opening in sepia tones, and unleashes full color only in the land of Oz.

Lasting only eight minutes, the film’s plot is simple, and only superficially taken from the book: when Dorothy plays with Toto, a tornado takes her to Oz, where she lands on the scarecrow. Together they walk through the forest, where they encounter the tin man. The quartet (the lion is nowhere to be found) walk into the emerald city, where they’re taken to the wizard of Oz.

In Esbaugh’s version, the wizard of Oz is a real wizard, and he performs some tricks for our heroes, e.g. eight dolls dancing in a Busby Berkeley ballet-like fashion, and an egg growing into gigantic proportions, threatening our heroes, until it explodes, revealing a tiny chicken.

‘The Wizard of Oz’ boasts music by Carl Stalling, who’s in top form here, while the colorful images splash from the scene, and the animation can compete with contemporary cartoons by Warner Bros. and Disney in quality. However, the short’s story is hardly gripping, and although enjoyable, more forgettable than one would expect.

Because of Disney’s deal with Technicolor, Esbaugh’s film was never seen in the United States, and only shown in Canada and the UK, and it never received the fame it could have had otherwise.

Watch ‘The Wizard of Oz’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Wizard of Oz’ is available on the Blu-Ray/DVD-set ‘Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares’

Directors: John Foster & George Stallings
Release Date: February 7, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Magic Mummy © Van Beuren‘The Magic Mummy’ is one of those typical nightmarish cartoons of the early 1930s.

It opens happily enough, when Tom and Jerry, as policemen, listen to the police radio, which broadcasts two rather gay officers singing and playing the piano. The merry song is soon interrupted, however, when a mummy has been stolen from the museum. Tom and Jerry soon discover the thief and follow him into the graveyard and into a grave. There the thief, a magician, unwinds the mummy, revealing it to be a woman whom he orders to sing and to perform for a skeleton audience. She does so with a Betty Boop-like voice, which starts a jazzy score. In the end Jerry runs off with the mummy’s coffin, only to discover it contains Tom inside.

‘The Magic Mummy’ is one of the more enjoyable of the Tom and Jerry cartoons in its delightful lack of pretense, its rather surreal images, and joyful atmosphere.

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

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 20
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Tight Rope Tricks

To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Happy Hoboes

‘The Magic Mummy’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’ and the Blu-Ray/DVD-set ‘Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares’

Director: Dave Hand
Release Date:
 May 13, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Mail Pilot © Walt DisneyIn his fifth year Mickey Mouse was at the top of his game: practically every Mickey Mouse cartoon from 1933 is a winner (the sole exception arguably being ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘). Moreover, Mickey was still the top star himself, although with ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto‘ he would give screen time to Pluto, the beginning of a trend that would take severe turns in the rest of the 1930s, when Pluto, Donald and Goofy would all but eclipse Mickey’s career.

None of that in 1933! In that year Mickey is still in prime form, with ‘The Mail Pilot’ as a perfect example. It’s astonishing to watch the ease with which its strong story is told, and how many events the animators could squeeze into the seven minute cartoon.

In ‘The Mail Pilot’ Mickey is a mail pilot who has to carry a chest with money across the mountains. On his way he has to deal with a thunderstorm and a blizzard before he sees the sun again. The design of the anthropomorphized sun is the same as in the Silly Symphony ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ from one month earlier. Unfortunately, at the other end of the mountains he’s confronted by evil mail robber Pete, who has both his legs in this cartoon. Pete shoots Mickey’s wings and propeller to pieces, but Mickey manages to fly nonetheless, capturing the bandit on the way.

‘The Mail Pilot’ belongs to Disney’s operetta period (see also ‘The Mad Doctor‘ and ‘Ye Olden Days‘ from the same year), and all dialogue is sung. Its opening song. ‘The Mail Must Go Through’, forms the main musical theme, which composer Bert Lewis develops in classical fashion in the rest of the score to glorious effects.

‘The Mail Pilot’ has an exciting adventure plot, and it’s not surprising that it spawned a comic book story, which arguably was Mickey’s most exciting adventure thus far. The story (now also labeled ‘The Mail Pilot’ ran from February 27 (months before the release of the cartoon ) until June 10. Floyd Gottfredson greatly expanded on the cartoon’s story, substituting the mail pilot for a much more exciting pirate dirigible with a magnetic web to ensnare the mail planes. Later, some scenes of the cartoon were combined with elements from ‘Shanghaied’ (1934) in Floyd Gottfredson’s classic comic strip ‘Mickey and the Pirates’ (or ‘The Captive Castaways’, 1934).

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 56
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Ye Olden Days
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Mechanical Man

‘The Mail Pilot’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 21, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's Birthday Party © Max FleischerBetty’s working alone at home, singing the song ‘Hummin’ to Myself’, but then her bell rings.

She finds a package at her doorstep, which appears to be a birthday cake. It appears that her friends have organized a surprise party for her. Koko gives her a dachshund, Bimbo gives her three fish in a bowl, and Fleischer’s unnamed stock baby gives her a piano.

In the third scene we watch Betty and her visitors eating at a long table in the garden. All goes well, until two visitors start arguing about a fish, and the complete party ends in a fight. This part includes a remarkably scene of Bimbo changing himself into a machine gun, shooting peas. While the party gets totally out of hand, Betty sails off with a statue of George Washington (don’t try to understand this).

‘Betty Boop’s Birthday Party’ is an enjoyable cartoon, if not among Betty’s best. The flapper girl has her finest moment during the opening scenes,  and the best gag may the unpacking of the piano.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Birthday Party’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 14
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Snow-White
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s May Party

‘Betty Boop’s Birthday Party’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 17, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Is My Palm Read © Max FleischerIn ‘Is My Palm Read’ Bimbo is a fortune-teller, assisted by Koko the Clown.

Betty drops by to see her future told. Bimbo first sees in his crystal ball Betty as a naked baby, and second as being shipwrecked and washed ashore an island. There she sings ‘All by myself’, only to attract a bunch of evil ghosts. Luckily, he Bimbo himself is there to rescue her, but as soon as he has revealed himself, the ghosts appear out of the crystal ball to chase the duo once again (Koko is completely forgotten at this stage).

‘Is My Palm Read’ is one of the Betty Boop cartoons strongly exploiting her erotic character. For example, when Betty enters the room, Bimbo and Koko use special lighting to see her legs right through her elegant dress. On the island we see Betty undressing and catch her briefly in her underwear, although she remains scantily clothed in a sexy tropical costume throughout the island scenes. The result is an erotic and surrealistic cartoon, which doesn’t make much sense, but which is over before you know it.

Watch ‘Is My Palm Read’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 11
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Penthouse

‘Is My Palm Read’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date:
 June 10, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

I Like Mountain Music © Warner BrosIt’s midnight in the magazine shop, and the magazine come to life, starting with a few cowboys singing the title tune.

‘I Like Mountain Music’ is not the first of books-come-to-life cartoons, that was ‘Three’s a Crowd’ from 1932. But ‘I Like Mountain Music’ takes the concept a little further, stuffing the film with many caricatures of Hollywood stars, like Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, Edward G. Robinson, Jean Harlow, King Kong (Hollywood’s latest star), and even Benito Mussolini. Also featured is a remarkably realistic skater. I wonder who she is. It’s not likely Sonia Henie, who started her film career only in 1936.

The book-come-to-life concept was unique to Warner Bros. and was reused in many more, and more enjoyable cartoons like ‘Speaking of the Weather’ (1937), ‘Have You Got any Castles?’ (1938) and ‘Book Revue‘ (1946). This early short proves that the unique Warner Bros. style had a firm root in the Hugh-Harman era, even though it was to Frank Tashlin and Tex Avery to push it to its later heights.

Watch ‘I Like Mountain Music’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘I Like Mountain Music’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six’

Directors: Harry Bailey
Release Date:
 July 14, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Rough on Rats © Van Beuren‘Rough on Rats’ is one of the more extraordinary films to come out of the Van Beuren studio.

No other contemporary studio tried as hard as Van Beuren to emulate Disney’s Silly Symphonies. ‘Rough on Rats’ is rather unique in that it even anticipates a Silly Symphony: its subject of three mischievous kittens makes it the direct ancestor of Disney’s Academy Award winning ‘Three Orphan Kittens‘ (1935), and Fleischer’s ‘We Did It‘ (1936).

In this film we watch three kittens wandering through an abandoned grocery store. Then the black kitten gets kidnapped by an outrageously large mean rat. This leads to a battle sequence, reminiscent of the Silly Symphonies ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931), ‘The Bird Store‘ (1932) and ‘Bugs in Love‘ (1932). During this battle the kittens throw almost everything in sight at the vicious creature.

‘Rough on Rats’ is ripe with ambition, and pretty entertaining. Especially Gene Rodemich’s score is enjoyable throughout. Unfortunately, the animation varies between excellent to downright poor, and the designs are erratic, varying greatly between scenes. These shortcomings haunted the Van Beuren studios since its beginning, and it’s depressing to note that by 1933 the animators were still not able to tackle them. Doubtless this was influential to the studio’s lack of success. For example, the ideas in ‘Rough on Rats’ are more interesting than those in most of Warner Bros.’ or Ub Iwerks’s contemporary output, but as the execution is not on par with the ambition, the result is close to failure. And yet one cannot blame the studio trying. Anyhow, it was to Disney-alumnus Burt Gillett to teach the Van Beuren animators the Disney solutions to their problems…

‘Rough on Rats’was the last of the Aesop’s Fables (not including the Cubby the Bear cartoons, which appeared under the same flag). Apparently their outdated 1920’s title card and uninspired series name had the better of them. Nevertheless, one year later they would get a follow-up in the ‘Color Classics’, Van Beuren’s venture into color.

Watch ‘Rough on Rats’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rough on Rats’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

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:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 19
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Popeye the Sailor
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: I Heard

‘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:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 6
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You

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

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