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Director: Ward Kimball
Release Date: June 18, 1959
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Eyes in Outer Space © Walt DisneyWhile eight of the nine old men were busy with feature film animation, like ‘Sleeping Beauty‘, number 9, Ward Kimball spend his energy to quite different films, blending science with science fiction.

‘Eyes in Outer Space’ is an excellent example of Kimball’s trade. Made when satellite technology was still brand new (by the time of this short’s release ca. 13-14 satellites had been successfully launched into space, the majority by the U.S.), ‘Eyes in outer space’ tells how satellites can help mankind not only to predict, but even to control the weather. The film first shows us the new technology: rockets and satellites, then it shows the destructive and beneficial powers of the weather.

After this we cut to the animated sequence. This lasts not even five minutes, but is an absolute joy to watch: first we watch a funny sequence about how weather affects our emotions, and how we used to try to predict the weather in the past. This is a delightful little piece of cartoon modernism, but the designs get bolder and more abstract when narrator Paul Frees tells about the life-cycle of a droplet. This is a very beautiful piece of avant-garde animation, featuring bold colors and designs and greatly helped by the rhyming narration and George Bruns’s jazzy score.

Unfortunately, it’s not to last, and soon we’re back to live action footage telling how meteorologists predict the weather today and how satellites come in handy. The last eleven minutes are devoted to a particularly noteworthy piece of infotainment. Here we cut to a future in which we cannot only predict the weather (months in advance!), but control it, too. The film shows us how a global weather station alters the course of an Atlantic hurricane, with the help of e.g. robot planes and a space station. This is a nice piece of 1950s science fiction. Needless to say nothing of this has materialized, yet, and it’s highly questionable if it will ever.

Watch ‘Eyes in Outer Space’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Eyes in Outer Space’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrow Land -Disney in Space and Beyond’

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: January 28, 1959
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Sleeping Beauty © Walt Disney

Taking six years to make and costing about six million dollars ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was destined to be Walt Disney’s grandest animated feature film ever. Unfortunately, the result never reaches the heights aimed at, and at times the film feels as trying to be too smart for its own good.

It certainly didn’t help that Walt himself was hardly involved in the film’s production process, as by this time he had become more interested in live action movies and his pet project, Disneyland.

The first of the film’s problems is the extraordinarily detailed background art. Art director Eyvind Earle clearly put his stamp on the artwork, which he based on Gothic art, especially late medieval tapestries. The result is a strange mixture of stylized forms and extremely dense textures. This artwork without doubt is very beautiful, so much so that the backgrounds steal the attention in almost every scene. But unlike Mary Blair’s artwork Earle’s style is devoid of charm and warmth, and the much less detailed animated characters don’t read well against the intricate backgrounds.

The characters were designed by modernist Tom Oreb, who gave them a rather angular outlook, which diminishes their attractiveness. Especially the goons and the drunk minstrel look rather poor, and their designs look forward to the leaner designs of the 1960s and 1970s.

The film’s second problem is its story, which takes a long time to even start. Sleeping Beauty’ was Disney’s third fairy tale princess film, after ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and ‘Cinderella‘, and like the earlier films the feature starts with a fairy tale book. But after that the story moves slowly, and up to seventeen minutes it still requires a voice over for the narration. Only after 30 minutes something happens (the Sleeping Beauty meets a stranger). The film is three quarters away before conflict sets in (she is lured away by Maleficent). Moreover, the central theme of the original fairy tale is thrown out of the window: after all, in the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty sleeps for a hundred years. The studio plays that time span down to a mere day, and the sleeping doesn’t occur before two-thirds of the film.

The third issue is with the characters themselves. The Disney studio christened the Sleeping Beauty Aurora, but she doesn’t really gain a character of her own, and she remains less appealing than Cinderella had been. Worse, nowhere is she is in control of her own destiny.

Her love interest, prince Phillip, fares hardly better. There are only two scenes in which he goes his own way: first when he hears Aurora’s voice, and second when he rushes off to meet her again, despite his father’s objections. True, he is less bland than the prince in ‘Snow White’, but nonetheless he never becomes a full or engaging character, and it’s a pity that he has to guide the audience through the film’s last fifteen minutes.

No, the real main protagonists of the film are the three fairies, who in the original fairy tale only appear at the beginning, but whom the Disney studio has made instrumental to the plot throughout the movie. The studio has made the three (called Flora, Fauna and Merryweather) into three gentle, but fussy old aunts, and especially Merryweather is very well done. In fact, she’s arguably the most interesting character of the whole movie, a striking notion, given the fact that actually the love between Princess Aurora and Prince Philip should stand central.

The villain, Maleficent, is good, too. She’s certainly the most powerful Disney villain since Chernobogh from Fantasia. Unfortunately, she’s surrounded by a highly incompetent army of ‘goons’, whose inability contrasts too much with Maleficent’s own frightening powers. The goons provide a ghoulish dancing scene, reminiscent of the Night on the Bare Mountain sequence of Fantasia, but which in fact harks all the way back to the dance of the devils in the Silly Symphony ‘The Goddess of Spring’ from 1935. Earle and his team gave Maleficent and her scenes a striking and rather eerie color mix of green, purple and black. The eerie green was influential enough to return in the depiction of Minas Morgul in Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

Maleficent also provides the film’s most moving scene, in which she sketches her release of prince Philip, then an old and frail man, to awake his love, eternally young in her sleep. Of course, nothing of that image comes true, and prince Philip defeats the evil sorceress in the film’s deservedly most famous scene: the battle with the dragon. The animation of the dragon is one of sheer power, and the towering figure is impressive even on a small screen. However, this iconic scene not even lasts ninety seconds, and in fact the dragon is slain surprisingly easily, and not by Phillip, but by Fauna – Thus even the final victory is denied to the hero…

The other characters are even more forgettable. The two kings have a rather superfluous scene together, hampered by the antics of the drunken minstrel, and Aurora’s mother is actually nothing more than a moving picture. None of the characters mentioned are funny, and the movie is painfully devoid of humor, love and empathy.

The fourth issue is the soundtrack: composer George Bruns was largely based on Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet music for the fairy tale. This accounts for a sophisticated score, but not for any memorable songs.

Certainly no issue is the animation. Done by eight of the Nine Old Men (by this time Ward Kimball was pursuing other interests), the animation is, of course, top notch. But this cannot save a film that crushes under its own pretentiousness, and that is in fact remarkably unsubstantial and boring. Indeed, the film grossed $5.3 million at the box office, which didn’t even meet the production costs. Thus, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ stands as Disney’s last lavish production, a sad and questionable end of an era.

Watch ‘Sleeping Beauty’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sleeping Beauty’ is released on DVD and Blu-Ray

Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: April 20, 1960
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Ballyhooey © Walter Lantz‘Ballyhooey’ was the last Walter Lantz cartoon directed by Alex Lovy. In 1959 Lovy left Lantz to become an associate producer for the now clearly successful Hanna-Barbera studio.

It’s perhaps ironic that the cartoon actually spoofs television. In this cartoon Woody Woodpecker trying to watch his favorite quiz show, but he has to sit through a multitude of commercials (“but first a word of our sponsor”). When the quiz arrives Woody thinks he has the right answer and rushes to the studio.

At this point the cartoon becomes less static (the first part was just a string of commercials), but also less funny. Woody’s antics at the studio feel out of place and old-fashioned when compared to the more biting satire of the first half. In this respect ‘Ballyhooey’ isn’t really a successful cartoon, but Woody Woodpecker’s annoyance during the first part, and the absurdity of the multiple commercials make the short a fun watch.

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

This is Woody Woodpecker cartoon No. 98
To the previous Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Pistol-Packin’ Woodpecker
To the next Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Heap Big Hepcat

‘Ballyhooey’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2″ as part of the ‘Woody Woodpecker Show’

Director: unknown
Production Date: 1959
Stars: Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Magic Hat © Toonder StudiosIn 1959 an unknown American distribution company asked Marten Toonder to produce some animated shorts for the American television market starring Toonder’s comic strip stars Tom Poes (Tom Puss, a white cat) and Olivier B. Bommel (Ollie Bungle, a large bear).

Nine films were conceived, but the Americans were displeased with Ollie Bungle’s voice, which was provided by a black man. Even worse, the so-called distribution company turned out to be a fraud, and these films were never shown anywhere.

The DVD accompanying Jan-Willem de Vries’s Dutch language book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’ has included eight of these films. They are a strange mix of Toonder’s elaborate cartoon style and Hanna-Barbera-like cartoon modernism. For example, Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle look more angular than ever, and both suddenly wear bow-ties, an all too obvious Hanna-Barbera influence. The animation in these shorts is very limited, and unfortunately the films rely too heavily on rather tiring dialogue, but this is countered by some effective staging.

‘The Magic Hat’ is clearly based on the Tom Poes story ‘De kniphoed’ (1955), and apart of Tom Puss and Ollie Bungle, features Bungle’s butler, Joost, magician Hocus Pas and a rather unrecognizable chief constable Bulle Bas (all unnamed in the cartoon). As the 65 page comic strip has been squeezed into a five minute film, the story has been greatly simplified. The result is no masterpiece, but still makes a pleasant watch, and the film is a good example of the huge influence the Hanna-Barbera studio had on the rest of the world.

‘The Magic Hat’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: Lew Keller
Release Date: January 16, 1959
Stars: Ham and Hattie
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Picnics are Fun and Dino's Serenade © UPA

‘Picnics are Fun and Dino’s Serenade’ is the last of only four Ham and Hattie cartoons, and one of UPA’s last theatrical cartoons, overall (it was followed by only four Mr. Magoo cartoons).

‘Picnics are Fun’ is a particular highlight within the series. In this charming children’s song Mel Leven, with his ukelele, sings about the delight of picnicking. His song clearly is about picnic in the countryside, and features a pool, a waterfall, and wild flowers. But Lew Keller places Hattie on the roof top of a tall building, juxtaposing the song’s rural lyrics with surprisingly urban images. Especially when Leven sings about “the clean country air” the brown images become poignant indeed. At the same time this little film is an ode to children’s fantasy, which can change a roof top into a forest worth picnicking in.

‘Dino’s Serenade’ is less successful. The song is sung by Hal Peary, who had used mock-Japanese in ‘Saganaki’ and who uses mock-Italian in this song. ‘Dino’s Serenade’ is a song about love, and Lew Keller’s images are most original, as Dino provides the complete setting for the song himself: not only his violin, but also the Italian restaurant, and the girl, who long looks like a lifeless doll. Unfortunately, a rival uses Dino’s serenade to woo the girl, leaving Dino empty-handed, yet the song ends on an upbeat note: “It’s a good day to make love”.

Like all ‘Ham and Hattie’ cartoon, ‘Picnics are Fun and Dino’s Serenade’ is a delight to watch: the designs are beautiful, and the characters are appealing, even in their extremely limited animation. It’s a pity no more were made.

Watch ‘Picnics are Fun and Dino’s Serenade’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Picnics are Fun and Dino’s Serenade’ is available on the DVD box set ‘UPA – The Jolly Frolics Collection’

Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Release Date: 1958
Stars: Borisław Stefanik
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Szkola (The School) © Walerian Borowcyk‘The School’ is a pixillation film starring Borisław Stefanik as a soldier in training.

We watch the private practicing, being tantalized by a fly, trying to hoot, and going to sleep, where he dreams he’s a general commanding marching women’s legs. Apart from the dream scene, the film is shot in sepia tones, giving it a timeless feel. The story never gets too serious, and the absurd atmosphere is enhanced by Andrzej Makowski’s overtly enthusiastic military music, completed with whistles and duck calls.

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

 

‘Szkoła’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Anthology of Polish Animated Film’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: March 7, 1958
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Nibbles
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Royal Cat Nap © MGM‘Royal Cat Nap’ was the last of four cartoons in which Tom & Jerry are musketeers in 17th century France.

In this cartoon the king is taking a nap, and Tom has to keep the king’s sleep undisturbed, otherwise he will be beheaded. Jerry and Little Nibbles, who, like earlier entries, speaks French in this cartoon, take advantage of the situation.

With this story the cartoon harks all the way back to Tom & Jerry’s debut ‘Puss Gets the Boot‘ (1940), and to ‘Quiet Please’ (1945) in particular, in which Spike poses Tom for the same problem. Two of the gags, however, are borrowed from Tex Avery’s Droopy cartoon ‘Deputy Droopy’ (1955), with Tom running to a far away hill to make the noise he can’t make in the king’s bed room.

Tom really gets into trouble when he has to scream, after he has locked all the doors himself, and swallowed the key. Luckily little Nibbles rescues Tom from certain death by lulling the king back to sleep, but outside the king’s bed room the fight continues.

‘Royal Cat Nap’ is no classic, but it shows that even in their last year at MGM Hanna & Barbera still had maintained their talent for comedy and timing. The heydays of Tom & Jerry were clearly over, but compared to most contemporary theatrical cartoons ‘Royal Cat Nap’ is surprisingly inspired and well-timed. The animation, too, is still of high value. This is partly because the 1957/1958 cartoons were made much earlier, in 1955 and 1956. Already in the Spring of 1957 MGM had closed his cartoon animation studio. By July Hanna & Barbera had founded their own production company, and by December 1957 they had launched their first television series, The Ruff and Reddy Show.

Watch ‘Royal Cat Nap’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 111
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Happy Go Ducky
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Vanishing Duck

‘Royal Cat Nap’ is available on the European DVD Box set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Director: Michael Lah
Release Date: December 6, 1957
Stars: Droopy, Butch (Spike)
Rating: ★★★
Review:

One Droopy Knight © MGMIn this Cinemascope cartoon ‘sir Butchalot’ (Butch a.k.a. Spike) and ‘sir Droopalot’ (Droopy) combat a dragon over a beautiful princess.

Despite its medieval setting ‘One Droopy Knight’ feels like a remake of ‘Señor Droopy‘ from 1949, as it reuses no less than three gags from the earlier film, including the last one. Unlike the wolf in ‘Señor Droopy’, however, Spike is as unsuccessful as Droopy in combating the dragon, until the very end. The dragon appears quite invincible, indeed, as is demonstrated by Droopy’s feeble attempts to pinch it with his rubbery sword. He’s a well-conceived character on his own, and less a ferocious bully than the bull was in ‘Señor Droopy’. One has the genuine feel he rightly defends himself against those pesky, puny knights.

As in his other cartoons, Michael Lah’s timing is a little too relaxed to make the gags work right. Moreover, the short is hampered by a large amount of dialogue, and even Scott Bradley’s music sounds more canned than before. Several scenes are stolen by the beautiful, highly stylized backgrounds, laid out by Ed Benedict and painted by F. MonteAlegre, with their bright colors and elementary designs.

Watch ‘One Droopy Knight’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘One Droopy Knight’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Tex Avery’s Droopy – The Complete Theatrical Collection’

Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: April 21, 1958
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Dooley
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Half Empty Saddles © Walter Lantz‘Half Empty Saddles’ opens with Woody Woodpecker looking for an old treasure in a Western ghost town.

Strangely Dooley already is there, hiding in a barrel, and he soon tries to steal Woody’s treasure (which is something (we don’t know what) hidden in a wooden box).

The complete cartoon is filled with Dooley’s attempts in a blackout gag cartoon. The one-dimensional story is saved by two excellent strings of gags, one in which Dooley’s foot gets hurt repeatedly, and another which he rides a wooden horse. Composer Clarence Wheeler accompanies the wooden horse with a particularly silly sounding version of Franz von Suppés ‘Light Cavalry’ overture. The cartoon ends with Dooley exploding in the distance, forming a mushroom cloud (!) in a rare cartoon reference to the atomic bomb.

Watch ‘Half Empty Saddles’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Woody Woodpecker cartoon No. 84
To Woody Woodpecker’s debut film: Watch the Birdie
To the next Woody Woodpecker cartoon: His Better Elf

‘Half Empty Saddles’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Directors: Stephen & Timothy Quay
Release Date: 1992
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Stille Nacht III Tales from Vienna Woods © Brothers Quay‘Stille Nacht III: Tales from Vienna Woods’ is the third of the Quay Brothers’ ‘Stille Nacht’ films, and somehow the most incomprehensible of them all.

Star of this film is a loose flying hand, which is saved from a bullet by a hanging table, which produces a long spoon to catch the bullet. The gun shot is the only sound besides the odd Czech soundtrack, featuring some orchestra and a voice reciting over it. The film is very beautifully made, and some forest feeling is created using numerous pine cones, but it’s hard to make head or tale of this highly surreal film.

Watch ‘Stille Nacht III: Tales from Vienna Woods’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Stille Nacht III: Tales from Vienna Woods’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Brothers Quay – The Short Films 1979-2003’

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

La musicomanie © Émile Cohl‘La musicomanie’ opens with a live action sequence in which a man and a woman make music in a small room with instruments that appear and disappear.

Nothing of their antics is remotely interesting, but when the man goes to sleep he dreams of instruments and music notes. The man’s dream is an elegant animated sequence in which Cohl uses his trademark metamorphosis technique, now using instruments as a theme.

As always, Cohl’s stream-of-conscious-like metamorphosis animation is interesting to watch, even though this film brings nothing new. When the woman wakes the man, the film ends.

Watch ‘La musicomanie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘La musicomanie’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

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

Monsieur de Crac © Émile Cohl‘Monsieur de Crac’ is a short animated gag film in which Mr. Crac (the French name for the Baron von Münchhausen) has some strange adventures, including his half horse drinking from a fountain. Most strange is Mr. Crac’s adventure inside the Etna, where he encounters a multitude of staring faces.

‘Monsieur de Crac’ is solely done in cut-out animation. Cohl’s drawing style often was old-fashioned, but in this film his drawings have a particularly 19th century feel, especially in Cohl’s neat and detailed background art. The drawings are reminiscent of the drawings of 19th century comic masters Wilhelm Busch and Rodolphe Töpffer, and they fit Rudolf Erich Raspe’s classic 1785 story very well.

‘Monsieur de Crac’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date:  August 23, 1910
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Les quatre petits tailleurs © Émile Cohl‘Les quatre petits tailleurs’ is a fairy tale, in which four tailors all desire the heart of the same woman. The woman’s father tells them that the best tailor will win the heart of his daughter, and they are all invited to his house to show him their skills.

The first makes use of a bendable needle, the second doesn’t even need a needle – making the thread doing the work, and the third is so delicate he can even sew the wings of a fly. The fourth tailor works slowly and meticulously. Yet it’s he who completes his task, and it’s him the daughter wants.

‘Les quatre petits tailleurs’ is a live action film, with the tricks of the first three tailors done in stop motion. The film profits from some nice staging, and good comic acting. For example, it’s made clear that the fourth tailor and the woman desire each other even before the contest begins. He’s the only one giving her attention (and a rose) beforehand.

Watch ‘Les quatre petits tailleurs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Les quatre petits tailleurs’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1909
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Les chaussures matrimoniales © Émile Cohl‘Les chaussures matrimoniales’ is a gentle trick film, showcasing Émile Cohl’s narrative skills.

The film starts with a woman and a man taking adjacent rooms at a hotel. When they both put their shoes outside to let them brush, the man’s shoes start to make advances on the woman’s shoes. When the woman takes them back inside, the man’s shoes even follow them inside. As a consequence the man loses his shoes, but he finds them inside the woman’s room, where he starts making advances on the woman himself. In the end, the new couple leaves the hotel happily together.

Most of the film is done in live action, but the wandering shoes are done in pretty convincing stop motion. When the male shoes start advancing on the woman’s shoes, Cohl even manages to give the objects some character. It’s touches like this that make the film a little more interesting than the usual trick films of the era.

Watch ‘Les chaussures matrimoniales’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: December 4, 1909
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Les lunettes feériques © Émile CohlAt a party in some living room a girl wants to put some glasses on. Her uncle warns her that the glasses are magical, and reveal the character and taste of the one who puts them on.

Soon, everybody in the company puts the glasses on: the glutton, the gambler, the lover, the girl herself, and the miser. Every time one puts on the glasses we see what they see in a mixture of cut-out, pen animation and stop-motion.

Unfortunately Cohl takes his time to show meaningful images, wasting quite some time on rotating patterns. Moreover, the satire is less sharp than in his contemporary films ‘Les générations comiques‘ or ‘Les transfigurations‘. Thus, in the end everybody only has a good laugh, instead of becoming angry, like the people in ‘Les transfigurations’.

Watch ‘Les lunettes féeriques’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: April 24, 1909
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Clair de lune espagnol © Émile Cohl‘Clair de lune espagnol’ is a bizarre live action movie about a toreador who wants to commit suicide.

When he’s about to jump, the toreador gets caught by an airship and is taken to the moon, which he wounds with a rifle and an ax. The celestial creatures then punish him and throw him back to earth, where he’s reunited with his love.

The film has a strange, rather surreal atmosphere, but lacks real wit. Highlight is the scene with the man and the moon, which uses quite some animation on the moon, whose face changes repeatedly.

Watch ‘Clair de lune espagnol’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Clair de lune espagnol’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: February 9, 1909
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Soyons donc sportifs © Émile CohlThis stop-motion film consists of a series of twelve ultra-short scenes in which we watch a puppet using various ways of transport and doing some sports.

All actions go wrong: the puppet’s horse throws him off, his car breaks down, he falls with his bicycle, his boat capsizes etc. The film is enriched with witty intertitles. The film is extremely simple: all scenes take place at the same small table setting, without any background art. Nevertheless, the puppet has a grain of a character, as he repeatedly looks at the audience for recognition.

Watch ‘Soyons donc sportifs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Soyons donc sportifs’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Arjan Wilschut
Release Date: 2006
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Hard Boiled Chicken © il Luster‘Hard Boiled Chicken’ is a short gag short about a rooster and a chicken who try to save their egg from the farmer.

The film is shot in sepia tones, and uses simple comic designs on the chickens, while the cat and the farmer are a little more elaborate in design. The short partly evokes the atmosphere of a film noir detective, but this idea is not worked out well (for example, the short also features a totally unrelated The Matrix-inspired moment), and in the end the short falls short in its inconsistency. Yet, ‘Hard Boiled Chicken’ is a small, gentle film, and excellent for children.

Watch ‘Hard Boiled Chicken’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hard Boiled Chicken’ is available as a bonus on the DVD ‘Animazing! – Mindblowing Animation Films Supportes by the Netherlands Film Fund 1998-2008’ and on the DVD ‘Independent Animation from The Netherlands Volume 2’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: February 9, 1942
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

hollywood matador © walter lantz‘Hollywood Matador’ is Woody Woodpecker’s contribution to the bullfight cartoon, a trope that comes back to the animated screen from time to time, from the early Silly Symphony ‘El Terrible Toreador‘ (1929) to the late Pink Panther short ‘Toro Pink’ (1979).

Woody Woodpecker is introduced as matador without any back story. His opponent is ‘Oxnar the Terribull’, who ends sadly as ‘fresh bull burgers’, in a gag that echoes a similar one in the Popeye short ‘I Eats My Spinach‘ (1933).

‘Hollywood Matador’ is the least inspired of the early Woody Woodpecker films, but Darrell Calker’s music is spiced with Spanish flavor, and there’s a great gag in which Woody Woodpecker directs a huge crowd with an applause sign, making it applaud and stop applauding without pause. Tex Avery reused this gag to great effects in his own, vastly superior bullfight cartoon ‘Señor Droopy‘ (1949).

Watch ‘Hollywood Matador’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Woody Woodpecker cartoon No. 4
To the previous Woody Woodpecker cartoon: What’s Cookin’?
To the next Woody Woodpecker cartoon: Ace in the Hole

‘Hollywood Matador’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

 

Director: Norm Ferguson
Release Date: January 24, 1941
Stars: Pluto
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Pluto's Playmate © Walt Disney‘Pluto’s Playmate’ takes place at the beach.

Here Pluto meets a playful little seal, who repeatedly steals his red rubber ball. Pluto tries to get rid of the obtrusive intruder, but when the little seal rescues him from drowning, the two finally become friends.

‘Pluto’s Playmate’ introduces a story line that would be featured in no less than eight Pluto cartoons, and which lasted until 1949. In all these shorts Pluto meets a new strange animal, which he doesn’t like at first, but which he befriends in the end. An embryonic version of this trope could even been seen in Pluto’s very first solo effort, the Silly Symphony ‘Just Dogs‘ (1932). This rather limited story concept severely hampered the series, and is responsible for the rather questionable reputation of the Pluto shorts as being more cute than funny. Luckily, not even a third from the Pluto shorts from the 1940s use it, but it’s true that only when the studio abandoned this tiresome formula, Disney could make its best Pluto shorts, which it did in the last two years of the series.

‘Pluto’s Playmate’ is one of the first Disney cartoons to feature oil backgrounds. It also features some spectacular effect animation of the sea and its surf. ‘Pluto’s Playmate’ would be the only short directed by Norm Ferguson, the animator most responsible for the dog’s character and design. Pluto’s features are very flexible in this short, especially in the scenes featuring the angry little octopus.

The friendly little seal would return in ‘Rescue Dog‘ (1947) and ‘Mickey and the Seal‘ (1948), the former being very similar to ‘Pluto’s Playmate’ in story line.

Watch ‘Pluto’s Playmate’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

This is Pluto cartoon No. 4
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Pantry Pirate
To the next Pluto cartoon: Pluto Junior

‘Pluto’s Playmate’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Complete Pluto Volume One’

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