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Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: May 20, 1939
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Naughty But Mice © Warner Bros.‘Naughty But Mice’ introduces Chuck Jones’s very first regular cartoon star, the infamous mouse Sniffles.

Sniffles’ first appearance immediately explains his name, for he has a cold, and visits a drug store for medicine. He finds one with a lot of alcohol, and is drunk almost immediately. Then follows a rather curious scene in which Sniffles talks and even sings with a humanized electric razor, in an all too slow scene. After this strange scene the second act starts, in which Sniffles is threatened by a cat, and rescued by the razor.

Like many of Jones’s earliest cartoons, ‘Naughty But Mice’ is a clear attempt to emulate Walt Disney. Sniffles even vaguely resembles the country mouse from ‘The Country Cousin‘ (1936), which also gets drunk. The result is a slow and cute cartoon. The short is saved, however, by gorgeous art deco-inspired background paintings and by Carl Stalling’s beautiful score.

Sniffles is far from an interesting character, and out of league with Daffy or even Porky. Nevertheless, the little mouse would star ten more cartoons, lasting even until 1946.

Watch ‘Naughty But Mice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Naughty But Mice’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

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Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: June 9, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Pluto
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Beach Picnic © Walt Disney‘Beach Picnic’ was the first short directed by Clyde Geronimi.

Geronimi was born in Italy in 1901, and worked for Hearst, Bray and Walter Lantz before joining Walt Disney in 1931. He was promoted to director in 1938, and he directed 21 shorts, featuring Donald, Goofy, Mickey and Pluto before moving on to feature films in 1943.

Geronimi had a gentle directing style, more fit for charm than for comedy, and best suited for Mickey and Pluto. ‘Beach Picnic’ is a typical example. It opens with Donald Duck singing the 1914 hit song ‘By the Beautiful Sea’, and in fact he looks like a bather from that era.

But most of the screen time goes to Pluto, not Donald, and our favorite cartoon dog stars in two long situation comedy sequences. First with Donald’s inflatable horse (which Donald calls Seabiscuit after the champion race horse of the era), then with flypaper. This latter sequence is for a great deal a straight copy of Norm Ferguson’s flypaper scene in ‘Playful Pluto‘ (1934). The animation is exactly the same, only redrawn in color.

Another gag features Pluto becoming inflated and flying through the air. This gag is undoubtedly the best of the entire film, and it was repeated by Hanna and Barbera in the Tom & Jerry short ‘Salt Water Tabby‘ (1947). Donald meanwhile has to deal with Indian-like ants, something he would have to do again in ‘Tea for Two Hundred’ (1948).

‘Beach Picnic’ is a slow, and only moderately funny cartoon, and it shows that Donald needed some stronger adversaries to make the comedy work than the gentle Pluto.

‘Beach Picnic’ is part of a transitional phase for Pluto. Even though Pluto’s own series had been launched in 1937, with ‘Pluto’s Quin-Puplets’, the series only really took of in 1940. In the meantime Pluto co-starred with Donald in four films, of which ‘Beach Picnic’ is the first (although the two had already shared screen time in ‘Donald and Pluto‘ from 1936).

Watch ‘Beach Picnic’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 10
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Cousin Gus
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Sea Scouts

‘Beach Picnic’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: May 19, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Cousin Gus
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Donald's Cousin Gus © Walt DisneyIn the rare occasion that Donald’s relatives visited our hero, this quickly turned into disaster: in ‘Donald’s Nephews‘ (1938) the nephews managed to wreck Donald’s house within seconds, in ‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ Gus makes Donald’s food disappear almost instantly.

Cousin Gus had first appeared in Al Taliaferro’s daily comic strip, from May 9 to 24, 1938, and from November 7 to 19, and the May comics clearly inspired this cartoon. He was less obnoxious during the November run, letting Donald Duck visit him at the farm. Both in the comic strip as in the film Cousin Gus is a silent character- in the short the only sound he makes is a honk when he squeezes his own behind.

Gus is introduced as being rather dumb, but his ways of eating are ingenious, eating corn-on-the-cob like a typewriter, knitting a sock out of spaghetti, eating a ridiculously large sandwich like a pack of cards, and peas by playing an Indian tune while sucking them in one by one. Soon Donald is left without any food and no wonder he tries to get rid of his gluttonous relative. He does so with a ‘barking hot dog’, a bizarre gadget that must only exist in the cartoon world.

‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ is a genuine gag cartoon, almost fit for more modern times, if it were quicker paced. The cartoon is entertaining, but never reaches classic status. More cartoons with cousin Gus were conceived, but they never materialized, and this cartoon remained Gus’s only screen appearance. However, he would embark on a comic career as Grandma Duck’s lazy farmhand.

Watch ‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 9
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Hockey Champ
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Beach Picnic

‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

 

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 19, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Wotta Nitemare © Max Fleischer‘Wotta Nitemare’ features new titles, abandoning the boat titles the series featured from its very start in 1933.

However, these new titles only lasted four cartoons, apart from ‘Wotta Nightmare’, ‘Ghosks is the Bunk‘, ‘Hello How Am I‘ and ‘It’s the Natural Thing To Do‘. With ‘Never Sock A Baby’ the boat was back again.

‘Wotta Nightmare’ essentially stars Popeye only, as we watch him dreaming, having a nightmare in which a devil-like Bluto courts an angel-like Olive Oyl. Popeye is having a hard time in his own dream, while we watch him tossing and turning in his bed, and even sleepwalking across the room. In the end spinach comes to the rescue, but then Popeye awakes before he can take his revenge, so he rushes out of his house to clobber a bewildered Bluto in real life.

‘Wotta Nitemare’ is the first Popeye cartoon to show the familiar love triangle of Popeye, Bluto and Olive Oyl since ‘Learn Polikeness’ (1938), being absent for more than a year. More striking is the welcome return to Fleischer’s surreal world of the early 1930s during dream sequence , with its metamorphosis gags, floating faces, and extreme body deformations when the dream-Bluto clobbers Popeye.

Watch ‘Wotta Nitemare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Wotta Nitemare’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: November 26, 1938
Stars: Daffy Duck, Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Daffy Doc © Warner Bros.Bob Clampett had animated Daffy Duck in his first appearance in’Porky’s Duck Hunt’ (1937), most notably the duck’s absolutely zany exit scene. Indeed, in Clampett’s view the duck was a real loon, and nowhere such a dangerous one as in ‘The Daffy Doc’.

In his first scene, Daffy is depicted as an absolute nut, comparable with other Clampett lunatics, like the loony goose in ‘Porky’s Party‘. In ‘Porky and Daffy’, Clampett had been the first director to take Daffy out of his natural habitat, and in ‘The Daffy Doc’ Clampett places him in a medical center.

Here Daffy is an assistant to Dr. Quack, but he’s thrown out when he shows some really insane behavior. Because of Dr. Quack’s kick Daffy’s head gets stuck in an iron lung, which leads to a nonsensical gag, in which different body parts inflate in succession. Undaunted, Daffy seeks out to find his own patient, and knocks down Porky Pig in order to ‘treat’ him. When Daffy wants to operate Porky with a saw and without any anesthetics, Porky naturally flees. The chase scene is short, however, and the cartoon ends with the same iron lung gag.

In ‘The Daffy Doc’ Daffy is more strange than really funny, and he suffers from the all too loony design and occasionally primitive animation. For example, there’s no lip synchronization to his dialogue. Worse, the best gag goes to Dr. Quack, whose operation turns out to be the repair of a football, which immediately prompts the operation audience into a game watching one.

Porky would have to stand a loony doctor once again in ‘Patient Porky’ (1940).

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

 

This is Daffy Duck cartoon no. 4
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: Porky and Daffy
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: Daffy Duck in Hollywood

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 49
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky in Egypt
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky the Gob

‘The Daffy Doc’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Five’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: February 11, 1939
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Mama's New Hat © MGM‘Mama’s New Hat’ was the last entry of MGM’s ill-conceived ‘Captain and the Kids’ series, which ended prematurely after only fifteen cartoons, lasting only one year.

Surprisingly, it’s the series’ best entry, as for once the studio has tried to make a genuine gag cartoon.

The short opens with the two brats buying a new hat for their mother for mother’s day. Unfortunately they ruin it immediately by falling into the mud. So they exchange their muddy hat for one of a neighboring horse. The horse is not pleased, however, and tries to steal the hat back from Ma Katzenjammer. This leads to a long chase scene, making ‘Mama’s New Hat’ one of the earliest entries in a genre that would become standard in the 1940s and 1950s.

The short suffers from inner logic, but it builds up nicely to a grand finale, and it’s surprisingly full of inventive gags, the one in which the horse turns into a plane as a highlight. This is imaginative storytelling at its best.

‘Mama’s New Hat’ still is no masterpiece, but it’s better than all the other ‘Captain and the Kids’ cartoons, and the only one looking forward. It shows that the young studio’s team was capable of more. Friz Freleng, of course, would further prove his worth back at Warner Bros., the others only came into their own with the arrival of MGM stars ‘Tom and Jerry’, who made their debut two years later.

‘Mama’s New Hat’ contains a scene in which we watch a supposed pursuit in a large house from the outside (using a moving pan with a lot of sound effects). This gag was reused much later in the Tom & Jerry short ‘The Flying Cat‘ (1952).

Watch ‘Mama’s New Hat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mama’s New Hat’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: December 16, 1938
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Cracked Ice © Warner Bros.‘Cracked Ice’ looks like Frank Tashlin’s answer to Walt Disney’s ‘On Ice‘ (1935).

However, the familiar scene of animals skating is enhanced by the presence of a pig, who is an excellent caricature of W.C. Fields, both in voice and design. When he discovers the liquor storage of a phlegmatic St. Bernard, the pig goes at lengths to retrieve the alcohol. His best scene is in which he tries to get the drinks by talking to the dog, in real W.C. Fields style. In another great scene the pig goes into discussion with someone in the audience. The cartoon ends with an elaborate magnet gag, but it’s the man in the audience, who has the last laugh.

‘Cracked Ice’ is an entertaining film, if not a too spectacular one. It was Frank Tashlin’s last film at Warner Bros. for the time being, and his unit was taken over by Chuck Jones. Tashlin left Warner Bros. for Walt Disney, where he worked on films like ‘Donald’s Vacation’ and ‘Mr. Mouse Takes A Trip’ (both 1940). However, the Disney studio was not his style, and he interchanged it for Columbia in 1941, working on the ‘Fox and Crow’ series. By June 1942 he was back at Warner Bros. where he would direct some superb films, like ‘Plane Daffy‘ and ‘The Stupid Cupid’ (both 1944).

Watch ‘Cracked Ice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cracked Ice’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: April 22, 1939
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur © Warner Bros.After directing four films with stars of his own, fledgling director Chuck Jones first directed a major Warner Bros. Star in ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’.

Jones does a fairly good job in trying to capture the wacky spirit of contemporary cartoons by Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, although his animation is more Disney-like than that of his peers.

Daffy’s adversary is a grumpy caveman called Caspar, whose surprisingly elaborate design and voice anticipate Elmer Fudd a little. The dinosaur of the title is called Fido. He is the caveman’s pet, and a large brontosaur. However, the dinosaur hardly comes into action, and most of the comedy is between the duck and the caveman.

There are some nice gags, but highlight is the non-animated gag of an enormous string of billboards leading to a duck dinner. Jones is still uncertain with Daffy as a character, but let’s be fair, so was even Tex Avery himself at this point – and he invented the duck. Jones’s caveman in fact is a better opponent to Daffy than Avery’s Egghead was. However, only with his third Daffy Duck film, ‘My Favorite Duck‘ (1942), Jones directed the character to great comic effect.

Watch ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Daffy Duck cartoon No. 6
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: Daffy Duck in Hollywood
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: Scalp Trouble

‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3’

 

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: January 1, 1938
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Daffy Duck and Egghead © Warner Bros.‘Daffy Duck and Egghead’ marks Daffy Duck’s second appearance. The short is the first film carrying Daffy’s name, and his first one in color.

The cartoon uses exactly the same premise as the first one, ‘Porky’s Duck Hunt’ (1937), but now with Egghead as the hapless hunter. Egghead never was much of a character, and Avery deliberately changed him for this cartoon, giving him a Moe-Howard-like hairdo, but otherwise making him less loony than before, and more of a straight man. Daffy Duck, on the other hand, is completely wild in this cartoon, and sings about himself on the melody of ‘The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down’, an idea that was copied in the feature film ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?‘ from 1988.

Avery and story man Ben Hardaway tell some great gags here: for example, Egghead shooting down a man in the audience who won’t sit down, and a random turtle suddenly breaking in and ordering the duo to duel. This colorful short surely couldn’t be hardly be more removed from Disney for a 1938 cartoon. The Warner Bros. cartoon studio clearly was on its own course. However, Avery’s timing is still unsteady, wearing down the fun, especially in Egghead’s tiresome slow reactions to the duck’s antics.

Watch ‘Daffy Duck and Egghead’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Daffy Duck cartoon No. 2
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: Porky’s Duck Hunt
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: Porky and Daffy

‘Daffy Duck and Egghead’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: March 11, 1938
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Donald's Better Self © Walt DisneyWhen ‘Donald’s Better Self’ was released, it was not yet firmly established whether Donald Duck was a boy or an adult.

This would be settled in the next cartoon, ‘Donald’s Nephews‘, with Donald clearly playing a rather unlikely role of authority figure. But in ‘Donald’s Better Self’ he’s young enough to go to an elementary school.

Throughout the cartoon, Donald is advised by both is angelic and his devilish self. The devilish self makes him skipping school and smoking a pipe, which renders Donald sick. Luckily, his angelic side comes to the rescue, mimicking a war plane, and clobbering the devilish side straight into hell.

‘Donald’s Better Self’ is animated wonderfully throughout, but as often, Jack King’s timing is terrible, wearing down the action. Worse, the tale is overtly moralistic (typical for the mid-1930s), and low on gags. The result is another mediocre entry in Donald’s fledgling series. Luckily, with the next Donald Duck cartoon, ‘Donald’s Nephews’, the studio would hit the jackpot.

Together with material from ‘Self Control‘, animation from ‘Donald’s Better Self’ was reused in the film ‘Donald’s Decision‘ (1941), a war propaganda film for the Canadian government.

Watch ‘Donald’s Better Self’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 3
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Self Control
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Nephews

‘Donald’s Better Self’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 25, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh © Max FleischerThe title character of this cartoon is a stereotype Indian chief who longs for a squaw, as he immediately tells us in his opening song.

Enter Popeye and Olive on a stubborn donkey. At one point the donkey kicks Olive inside the Indian camp, and she seems to fall for the chief’s advances. The Indians, meanwhile, order Popeye to perform some difficult tasks, and with spinach he does them much better than his Indian rivals.

‘Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh’ is an uneven cartoon, and suffers from inadequate storytelling, and severe stereotyping. The cartoon is saved by Jack Mercer’s constant mumbling, which is particularly inspired.

Watch ‘Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: April 17, 1937
Stars: Porky Pig, Petunia Pig
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Porky's Romance © Warner Bros.

In ‘Porky’s Romance’ Porky tries to court Petunia Pig, but she remains indifferent.

Porky then attempts to commit suicide by hanging himself on a tree. The attempt fails, but it knocks him unconscious, and leads him into a dream sequence which shows what would become of a possible marriage with Petunia. This turns out to be a bachelor’s nightmare: Porky has to do all the housework and is bullied by an enormously fat Petunia. When he’s awake, Petunia is at his sight, now ready for marriage, but Porky rushes off into the distance, only to return to kick Petunia’s obnoxious dog.

‘Porky’s Romance’ is still from a transitional period for the Warner Bros. studio. It’s most probably inspired by the Mickey Mouse cartoons ‘Puppy Love’ (1933) and ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ from 1932. ‘Puppy Love’ uses the same setting, including a Pekingese dog, while ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ shares a dream sequence that quickly becomes bachelor’s nightmare. In this way the cartoon still looks back. Moreover, both Porky’s design and voice are still rather unappealing, and the design of Petunia’s pesky Pekingese is primitive and awkward.

On the other hand, this cartoon features remarkably modern backgrounds, which show very streamlined and rather futuristic architecture. And as Leonard Maltin shows in ‘Of Mice and Magic’, Frank Tashlin experiments with remarkably rapid cutting, speeding up storytelling at Warner Bros., and in cartoons in general.

However, the film’s most striking feature is it opening sequence in which Petunia Pig is pompously introduced as the new Warner Bros. star. We then watch her nervously trying to give say to the radio audience that she hopes that they’ll like her picture. When an off-screen voice whispers to her not to get excite, she explodes and yells into the camera: “Who’s excited!!!”. Only then the opening titles appear!

More than anything this kind of self-conscious gags would become a hallmark of Warner Bros.’ own brand of humor.

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

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 21
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Picador Porky
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Duck Hunt

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

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: January 30, 1937
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Pigs is Pigs © Warner Bros.In ‘Pigs is Pigs’ a fat little pig thinks of food all the time.

At night the pig dreams he’s being fed by a machine of an evil scientist with a hic-cough. He eats so much, he explodes. He awakes in a fright, but when his mother invites him to breakfast, it’s clear he hasn’t learned anything.

With its quasi-moralistic tale, its family-setting, its child star, and its Silly Symphony-like backgrounds, ‘Pigs is Pigs’ is still firmly rooted in the goody-goody world of the mid-1930s. However, an early ‘Hold the onions’-gag (the first of a long series), the fast machine-scenes, and the surprisingly non-moralistic finale look forward to a more individual Warner Bros. style.

‘Pigs is Pigs’ is far from a classic, but it’s surprisingly well animated, and shows that by 1937 the Schlesinger studio could use the Disney influence for their own ends.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Pigs is Pigs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Pigs is Pigs’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 14, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Popeye the Sailor © Max Fleischer1933/1934 marked a watershed for American animated cartoons: not only had the sex and horror rich cartoons of 1933 have to make way for the much more prudish content  of the Hays code era – during the same period many studios traded their old stars in for new ones.

In this period Iwerks dropped Flip the Frog in favor of Willy Whopper, Warner Bros. saw the departure of Bosko, and introduced Buddy, Van Beuren said farewell to Tom & Jerry and welcomed Cubby the Bear and The Little King. Even at the Walt Disney studio Mickey Mouse, the biggest star of all, would steadily lose popularity to the 1934 newcomer Donald Duck. The relay race was most visible at the Fleischer studio. In their 1933 cartoon ‘Popeye the Sailor’ Betty Boop literally gave way to Popeye.

True, like Mickey, Betty would keep on starring cartoons after 1933, but due to the Hays code, her sexuality, her biggest feat, was toned down, and by 1934 her heydays were clearly over. Popeye, on the other hand, would grow into arguably the most successful cartoon star of all, starring more than 200 cartoons, and lasting well into the 1950s, before embarking on a career in television.

Of course, Popeye already had been a star before he was introduced to the animated screen, having quickly grown into the leading character of Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theater comics since his introduction in 1929. But when the Fleischers started their films, he quickly became one of the most familiar cartoon stars of all time, still recognizable to present day audiences, where Buddy, Willy Whopper and Cubby Bear rapidly fell into oblivion.

In their pilot Popeye cartoon, officially part of the Betty Boop series, the Fleischers appear very well aware of the potentials of their new hero. It opens with a newspaper announcing that Popeye now is a movie star. The accompanying illustration immediately comes to life, and then we watch an iconic scene: Popeye singing his own new theme song, while socking things into tiny little things, in a string of metamorphosis gags. Popeye’s theme song is irresistably catchy, but who would have thought at the time that it would be still a familiar tune in the 21st century?

During the main section of the film it’s shore leave, and Popeye, Bluto and Olive visit a carnival. Because it’s de facto a Betty Boop cartoon, the human trio is oddly staged in Betty’s animal world, which she, too, would abandon within a few months. Betty’s role is minimized to that of a sexy hula dancer, in reused footage from ‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle‘ (1932). Popeye joins in, sharing Betty’s rotoscoped movements.

The cartoon introduces the basic story arc that would be varied upon in many years to come: Popeye and Olive are sweethearts, but Bluto craves for Olive, too, creating friction between the two strong men. There’s a lot of clobbering, and at one point Popeye grabs for a can of spinach to give him extra strength. This premise is very different from Segar’s Comic Strip, with its melodramatic stories which could easily last for month.

Both Bluto and spinach were taken from Segar’s strip, but there they had played minor roles. Bluto, in fact, only appeared a couple of weeks in September/October 1932, never to return to Segar’s comic strip. In the Fleischer cartoons, however, he was promoted to one of the three starring roles, easily eclipsing Wimpy. During his first cartoon, Bluto’s theme music is ‘Barnacle Bill’, extensively used in the cartoon of the same name from 1930. Unlike Popeye’s tune, this theme music would not return in later Popeye cartoons. The love triangle, of course, was far from new, and had been employed in e.g. several Oswald and Mickey Mouse cartoons. But the Fleischers managed to keep this premise surprisingly fresh, delivering several of the funniest cartoons of the 1930s.

The importance of Popeye’s move to the movie screen for cartoon history cannot be overestimated: for the first time in the sound era a comic strip star was successfully put to the screen, for the first time a strong idiosyncratic character appeared on the animated screen, for the first time cartoon violence was not incidental, but a vital part of the series. Strong characters and cartoon violence would recur more often and often when the 1930s progressed, and would become essential to cartooning during the 1940s. Indeed, other characters, most notably Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, contributed to the evolution of a brassier style, but it was Popeye who had shown the way.

Watch ‘Popeye the Sailor’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 18
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Mother Goose Land
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: The Old Man of the Mountain

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

Director: Tom Palmer
Release Date: September 23, 1933
Rating: ★★★
Review:

I've Got to Sing a Torch Song © Warner Bros.‘I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song’ was the first Merrie Melodie of Leon Schlesinger’s erratic fledgling studio after Harman & Ising quit making cartoons for him.

The short is the second of only two cartoons directed by Tom Palmer, the other being ‘Buddy’s Day Out‘. Like in ‘Buddy’s Day Out’ Palmer is completely at loss as a director, delivering a completely aimless and meandering cartoon. So, soon Schlesinger fired him. Palmer went to Van Beuren where he (co-)directed eighteen more cartoons.

‘Ive Got to Sing a Torch Song’ is a blackout gag cartoon on radio. It features numerous caricatures of radio and movie stars, like Bing Crosby, Ed Wynn, Joan Blondell, James Cagney, and even of Benedetto Mussolini and George Bernard Shaw. The title song only kicks in after five minutes, introduced by the Boswell sisters, and sung by Greta Garbo, Zasu Pitts and Mae West. Garbo even says ‘That’s All Folks!’ at the very end of the cartoon. This last gag undoubtedly is the funniest of the complete short, despite the presence of some typical Warner Bros. gags, like a conductor conducting a phonograph. The complete film makes no sense, but at least it’s well animated, thanks to Jack King, whom Schlesinger had hired away from Walt Disney.

Watch ‘I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Five’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: November 27, 1933
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

The Merry Old Soul © Walter LantzThis short opens with Oswald sitting in a dentist’s chair. The dentist knocks Oswald out to be able to pull his sore tooth.

Then the radio announces that Old King Cole has the blues. Oswald immediately runs off to warn all Hollywood entertainers, a.o. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Joe E. Brown, Laurel & Hardy, Ed Wynn, but also Wallace Beery and Greta Garbo. They all hurry to the depressed king. Old King Cole looks quite similar to the same character in the Silly Symphony ‘Old King Cole‘ from four months earlier, proof of how close the rival studios followed the Disney output.

Paul Whiteman plays a tune for him, and Oswald sings a song about Mother Goose, assisted by a.o. Joe E. Brown, W.C. Fields, Al Jolson, Mae West, and a stuttering person I don’t recognize [this is Roscoe Ates – thank you Don M. Yowp  for the info]. This immediately cheers up the old king. Then Laurel & Hardy enter with a pile of pies, which soon results in a large pie throwing battle, featuring a.o. Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Durante, Harold Lloyd, and the Marx Brothers. Meanwhile, Old King Cole’s old jester grows jealous of Oswald’s success. The jester kidnaps Oswald and takes him into a dark cellar. Soon Oswald awakes, revealing it all has been a dream…

Despite the trite dream ending, ‘The Merry Old Soul’ is a quite entertaining cartoon. The short follows a trend that really caught on in 1933 of simply stuffing cartoons with Hollywood stars. Earlier examples are the great Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘, and ‘Soda Squirt‘ featuring Flip the Frog. Five years later, Disney would also mix Mother Goose and Hollywood stars in ‘Mother Goose goes Hollywood’ (1938), which owes nothing to this Oswald short.

Watch ‘The Merry Old Soul’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Merry Old Soul’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’.

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: September 4, 1933
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

King Klunk © Walter Lantz‘King Klunk’ is a surprisingly faithful, if silly retelling of the 1933 hit movie ‘King Kong‘.

The short stars Pooch the Pup as a film maker, who enters the jungle to film the monster King Klunk, accompanied by his girlfriend. In the jungle they soon meet a savage tribe offering a young girl to King Klunk. Of course, the giant ape takes much more interest in Pooch’s girlfriend, and abducts her instead.

Imitating Tarzan (made famous by Johnny Weissmuller in ‘Tarzan the Ape Man’ from 1932), Pooch rescues his girlfriend and together they floor the giant ape with a giant rotten egg. Like in the live action film, the duo takes the monster home to New York to display. And in the final scene, King Klunk, too, falls from the skyscraper, but in the cartoon he immediately catches fire and burns to a skeleton…

It’s weird to watch such a tight parody of a movie as this one, and the cartoon’s close satire is without precedent. However, this also means that the film is lower on gags than it could be, and Pooch the Pup is as bland as ever, never becoming near star potential. In the opening scene we hear him whistling ‘Kingdome Coming’, familiar to many as the wolf’s whistling tune in Tex Avery’s ‘Three Little Pups‘ (1953). Tex Avery worked at Lantz during the production of ‘King Klunk’, so it may very well be he remembered the tune from this cartoon when he used it twenty years later. In any case, ‘King Klunk’ features a dinosaur having a double-take that is surprisingly Tex Averyan. This is probably the first classic double-take to enter the animated scene.

Watch ‘King Klunk’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘King Klunk’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’.

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 1, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Parade of the Wooden Soldiers © ParamountBy the end of 1933 Betty Boop’s heydays were pretty much at their end.

Bimbo had left the screen in September, and Koko would soon follow in March 1934. Moreover, it had become clear that Betty Boop was in fact a sort of one-trick pony: apart from singing and being sexy, she couldn’t do little else, and in this period she’s kidnapped in almost every cartoon (apart from ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’, also in ‘Betty Boop’s Big Boss‘, ‘Mother Goose Land‘, and ‘Betty in Blunderland‘. Worse, the hot jazz of August’s ‘The Old Man of the Mountain‘ was replaced by the harmless sweet orchestra music of Rubinoff and his orchestra in ‘Morning, Noon and Night‘ and ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’.

In this cartoon Rubinoff plays the title song, a novelty hit from the early 1920s, accompanying a tale about a factory-made Betty Boop doll landing in a toy store. There the Betty-doll gets a warm and grand welcome, she sings ‘I’m Glad I’m here’ and is crowned queen. Like in ‘Betty’s Hallowe’en Party’ the festivities are disturbed by a brutal (toy) gorilla. He destroys many toys and like many before him he kidnaps Betty. Interestingly enough, however, the gorilla’s intentions are not sexual, heralding the new sexless era. Instead, he wants to decapitate Betty as he needs a head for another broken doll. Luckily, the wooden army comes to the rescue, and the parade continues with the captured gorilla and many damaged toys. In the final shot we can see Betty’s panties from behind.

‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ is one of those Fleischer cartoons of 1933/1934 that clearly began to show a Disney influence, in this case from the Silly Symphony ‘Santa’s Workshop‘ (1932), which also features a toy parade. It’s most clear that the Fleischer’s animation had become more ambitious: the mechanical toys behave surprisingly toy-like, and even the Betty Boop doll is clearly mechanical in some scenes.

The Fleischers add some spectacular stagings, and the prologue to the theme song is no less than stunning, with the camera swooping from scene to scene, and zooming out to reveal the complete toy shop. Nevertheless, the funniest shot is typical Fleischer: in the opening scene we watch a giant factory deflating while producing the single package that will contain the Betty Boop doll.

Watch ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 23
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: She Wronged Him Right

‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 7, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Koko the Clown, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's Crazy Inventions © ParamountIn this short Betty Boop organizes an invention show in a circus tent, assisted by Koko and Bimbo.

The trio demonstrates different machines, which leads to unrelated spot gags featuring the silly elaborate inventions: a spot remover, a cigarette snuffer, an egg producing machine, a soup silencer and a sweet corn regulator. Then Betty sings ‘Keep a Little Song Handy’ into a recording machine, which turns out to contain two animals.

The gags are mild, and none of the machines is really hilarious. Highlight is the runaway sewing machine, which sows everything together, including the complete tent and even rivers. Unfortunately, this great idea is hardly worked out and when a stork takes the complete tent into the sky, the cartoon ends abruptly.

The film is noteworthy, however, for some original stagings, and for the opening shot of Betty playing the organ, a surprisingly complex and convincing piece of animation, rarely seen at the Fleischer studio. ‘Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions’ looks forward to the early Donald Duck film ‘Modern Inventions‘ of four years later, which is by all means the better product.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 10
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Is My Palm Read

‘Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Yasuji Murata
Stars: Norakuro
Release Date: June 14, 1933
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Private 2nd Class Norakuro © Yasuji MurataNorakuro is a black dog who has joined an army of white dogs.

But like Donald Duck in his later World War II army films, Norakuro is far from a good soldier. When he has to clean an officer’s office, he starts wearing the officer’s sabre, and smoking his cigarettes. Later, Norakuro follows marching orders without thinking, and walks blindly into a stable, where he’s kicked out. In the second episode Norakuro manages to capture a tank, only to find out that it’s manned by his own supervising colonel…

‘Private 2nd Class Norakuro: The Drill’ is a silent film with a strong 1920s design. Norakuro had been a manga star first, making his debut in 1931. Norakuro is drawn sympatherically, and is a relative of silent stars Bonzo and Felix the Cat. In this film, Norakuro’s first, his antics are pure for fun, lacking any moral or military subtext, even though it’s a film about the army during the militaristic Shōwa period. Norakuro would star four more films (1934-1938), which would become increasingly propagandistic. The comic strip lasted until 1941.Unfortunately, Murata’s drawing style is less impressive than in other films, and the film a little too long and mildly amusing at best.

Watch ‘Private 2nd Class Norakuro: The Drill’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Private 2nd Class Norakuro: The Drill’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

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