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Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: April 7, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

Fred Flinstone Before and After © Hanna-Barbera‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ starts with a television studio in search of a ‘before man’ for their commercial for ‘Fat Off Reducing Method’.

B.J., the president of the company picks Fred from the street. An outrageously proud Fred invites all his friends to watch him on television, only to realize afterwards he was the ‘fat guy’, not the muscular after guy…

In a very unlikely follow up scene the studio offers Fred $1000 if he can reduce his weight with 25 pounds. It remains completely mysterious what the studio would gain with this bet. In any case, Fred sets out to eat less, only to discover that it’s much, much harder than he thought. So, he seeks help from ‘Food Anonymous’….

‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ suffers from a rather weak and implausible story, and rather repetitive scenes of Fred not dieting at all. For a while it seems that the $1000 reward doesn’t play any role, at all. Nevertheless, Fred’s wild looks when begging for a burger are priceless and belong to the best pieces of character animation on the whole show.  However, the episode’s highlight is in the beginning, when Fred thinks he’s on camera, and goes berzerk.

‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ rounds up the first season of The Flintstones. Five seasons would follow, lasting until 1966. In the first season the series had shown to be an original mix of sitcom, slapstick comedy, sight gags and cartoon humor. Moreover, the series proved that cartoons could be prime time material, although that lesson would only get a real follow up when The Simpsons started airing in 1989.

Watch ‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fred Flintstone: Before and After’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: March 10, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Long, Long Weekend © Hanna-BarberaThis episode starts with Fred complaining that none of his old pals ever writes him.

Promptly he gets a letter by old pal Smoothy, who runs a seaside hotel, so Fred gives old Smoothy a ring. Unfortunately, Smoothy just has had a major problem: all his staff has walked out of him, as Smoothy couldn’t pay them. So Smoothy invites Fred and his neighbors to come over and stay for free, only to make them work at his hotel with more than 200 guests coming to a convention. Of course, his plan doesn’t succeed.

‘The Long, Long Weekend’ is a rather badly scripted episode: Smoothy’s plan is laid out in advance; at no point his plan sounds feasible, and indeed it works for only a couple of minutes. A lot of screen time is wasted on Fred and Barney going swimming, fishing and skin diving – all without success. The fishing episode at least features a beautiful painting of Fred and Barney in a boat, silhouetted against an orange sky.

The episode is most important for introducing the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, the order Fred and Barney would join in the future.

Watch ‘The Long, Long Weekend’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Long, Long Weekend’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: February 17, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

Love Letters on the Rocks © Hanna-BarberaThe plot of this episode gets in motion when Wilma discovers an old love letter from Fred in a box full of memories. When Fred discovers his own poem in the drawer, he thinks it’s by somebody else, and suspects that Wilma has a secret lover.

What follows is a classic comedy of errors, also involving roller skates, a watch, and a private eye with a funny walk and the voice reminiscent of that of Tony Curtis as a millionaire in ‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959). Fred’s dramatic stances are priceless.

The episode is further uplifted by some amusing prehistory gags: a giant dinosaur from ‘Mastodon Motor Inc.’ full of cars on its back, a photo camera with a little bird drawing a picture in it, and a taxi you have to walk yourself. We also discover that Fred’s job, which already had been depicted in ‘The Snorkasaurus Hunter’, is being a “dino-operator”.

Watch ‘Love Letters on the Rocks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Love Letters on the Rocks’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: January 27, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Snorkasaurus Hunter © Hanna-BarberaThe story of this episode is set in when Fred gets angry about meat prices in a supermarket. So he decides to use his vacation to hunt the meat himself.

Thus the four neighbors are off with a trailer to the mountains where Fred and Barney try to clobber a ‘Snorkasaurus’ to death, while their wives experience all kinds of camping annoyances, like mosquitoes and ants. The Snorkasaurus turns out to be a wise-cracking, refined talking animal with a suave voice (according to Wikipedia imitating comedian Phil Sivers).

In the end the episode turns out to give us the origin of Dino, Fred and Wilma’s pet. This is a weird turn of events, as Dino has been seen before as a four-legged yelping dinosaur, behaving like a dog, not the two-legged suave and talkative animal as shown here. Indeed, this is this the only episode in which Dino talks.

‘The Snorkasaurus Hunters’ is the first episode to show Fred working as an excavator machinist at ‘Rockhead and Quarry’s Cave Construction Company’. In ‘Love Letters on the Rocks‘ Fred says he’s a ‘dino-operator’. Both his work and the supermarket lead to several prehistoric gags. The camping episode is particularly slapstick rich, and has surprisingly much in common with earlier Warner Bros. cartoons. For example, Barney chops an enormous redwood tree, which crashes on Fred’s car and trailer. Later, Barney goes fishing, but gets swallowed by a large fish himself. The best gag, however, is when the four dream what they could do with the money they save by hunting their meat themselves. Barney’s dream in particular is a delight.

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

‘The Snorkasaurus Hunter’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: January 20, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Big Bank Robbery © Hanna-BarberaThis episode starts with two bank robbers (voiced by Mel Blanc and Stan Freberg) followed by a police car.

The robbers get rid of the loot, which lands on Fred’s head. When the wives convince Fred and Barney to return the money to the police, the boys are quickly seen as the robbers themselves. Fred and Barney flee into the wild Meanwhile, Wilma thinks of a rather unhealthy way to attract the real bank robbers, posing as sleazy gals (“Shirl” and “Myrt”) with too much dough on their hands. It remains a wonder that they only attract the original bank robbers to their house, and not the complete criminal scene of Bedrock with their act.

Anyway, in the end Fred accidentally knocks out the real crooks, earning the reward. But his bragging about it makes him all too vulnerable to blackmail, and in the end it’s the other three who spend all the money, leaving Fred only with his story as a conquering hero.

This episode features a gas station using a mastodon, but the best gag may be the police sketch, which is much more inspired than the tiring and completely superfluous scene in which Barney ends up in a pterodactyl nest. Moreover, this pterodactyl looks more like a bird than the real thing.

Watch ‘The Big Bank Robbery’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Big Bank Robbery’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: January 13, 1961
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

Arthur Quarry's Dance Class © Hanna-BarberaWilma gets four free tickets for a big charity dance, but Fred and Barney refuse to go.

It turns out they can’t dance, and they are too ashamed to tell this to their wives. Thus they join ‘Joe Rockhead’s Fire Department’, a scam for husbands who want to go out each night, so they can go out and take dance lessons at ‘Arthur Quarry’s Dance School’.

Like many other Flintstones episodes ‘Arthur Quarry Dance School’ leans heavily on Fred and Barney’s rather depressing tendency to keep things secret from their wives, but this time it’s all for the good, and this is one of the rare episodes with a happy ending, even though Barney and Fred still can hardly dance in the end.

Highlight of the episode is the scene in which Fred and Barney meet their dancing partners at the school, two beautiful young ladies. The prehistoric gag department is limited to the mailman who uses a small Ceratopsian as a mail cart, and the bird as a record player, which by now has become a staple gag.

Watch ‘Arthur Quarry’s Dance Class’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Arthur Quarry’s Dance Class’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: December 16, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Sweepstakes Ticket © Hanna-BarberaBoth Fred and Barney and Betty and Wilma buy a sweepstakes ticket. They hide from each other, which leads to a small comedy of errors.

‘The Sweepstakes Ticket’ is not the most inspired of the Flintstones episodes: it relies heavily on tried and tested formulas. Most prominent is the ancient trope of devilish and angelic sides (typical examples include ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto‘ from 1933 and ‘Donald’s Better Self‘ from 1938), which this time come to visit Fred. Then there is a W.C. Fields-like beggar, and Fred’s rather atypical asides to the audience.

Moreover, the episode reuses a gag from ‘The Engagement Ring’, aired only a few weeks before. At one point the story even reverts to the comedy of Tex Avery’s ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point‘ and ‘Deputy Droopy’ (both 1955) with Fred running away to a far away place to scream out his pain, and quickly singing a lullaby to the awakening Barney.

Fred’s behavior is highly questionable in this episode, burgling his very own neighbor, and it’s amazing to see his crime being unpunished.

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

‘The Sweepstakes Ticket’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: November 4, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Monster from the Tarpits © Hanna-Barbera“Hollyrock” company ‘Miracle Pictures’ is going to shoot a low-budget one-day quicky monster movie called ‘The Monster of the Tar Pits’.

The producers randomly choose Bedrock as a location, because they cannot spend the money on a prop set. The whole town gets excited, because Hollyrock actors Gary Granite, Rock Pile and Tuesday Wednesday are in it.

Gary Granite is clearly a parody of Cary Grant, not really in looks, but certainly in voice. Wilma and Betty even go auditioning, but it’s Fred, who gets hired as Gary Granite’s stunt double. The look on Fred’s face when the director says he’d be perfect [as an actor] is priceless, and one of the best facial expressions in the entire series. Of course, Fred mainly gets hit by rocks and clubs, which are all too real, as the company cannot afford props for those, either.

The Movie Company’s slogan, “If it’s a good picture, it’s a miracle”, is a variation on similar slogans in ‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood‘ (1938), which uses the word Wonder, and the Popeye cartoon ‘Doing Impossikible Stunts‘ (1940) with the word Mystery.

The episode is only mildly funny, but contains a few stone age gags: Fred and Barney eating a huge brontosaur steak and pterodactyl drumstick, respectively, and Wilma doing the laundry using a pelican, and handling a little mastodon as a vacuum cleaner.

Watch ‘The Monster from the Tarpits’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Monster from the Tarpits’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: October 14, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Swimming Pool © Hanna-Barbera‘The Swimming Pool’ was the very first Flintstones episode made, and it shows: Barney, Fred and Wilma all look different from later episodes, and Barney sounds quite different, too. Nevertheless, the episode introduces the visual style of the series: pleasant color schemes with olive skies, thick character lines, and limited animation.

This first episode of the Flintstones also establishes the Flintstones formula: although set in the stone age, it clearly portraits modern suburban neighbors, with telephones, television sets and such. Already in this episode Fred and Barney are portrayed as quarreling, but loving neighbors and friends, and there’s also a short shot of Fred working at the excavation.

In this episode Barney digs a swimming pool in his own backyard, and Fred talks him into sharing a pool with him, spanning both backyards. Nevertheless, it’s still Barney doing all the digging. Unfortunately the shared pool tests Fred’s neighborly attitude, and he even ends up in jail.

The humor in this episode is a little bit slow, with more room for slapstick than later episodes.

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

‘The Swimming Pool’ is released on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Director: Norman McLaren
Release Date: 1959
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Serenal © Norman McLaren‘Serenal’ is a film made directly on film and set to a Caribean score by the Grand Cunucaya String Orchestra Trinidad.

The images consist mostly of purely abstract shapes flashing on a black screen. The shapes are very rough, but surely colorful (the film was hand-colored), and the end result is a nice piece of abstract expressionism, if still one of McLaren’s less engaging films.

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

‘Serenal’ is released on the DVD-box set ‘Norman McLaren – The Master’s Edition’

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: January 23, 1960
Stars: Speedy Gonzales, Sylvester
Rating: ★★★
Review:

West of the Pesos © Warner Bros.The setting of ‘West of the Pesos’ is a ‘veelage’, where several mice have been caught and put into cages inside the ‘ACME Laboratorio por experimentao’, guarded by Sylvester.

The remaining mice of the village would gladly rescue their comrades, so Speedy Gonzales is lured by the beautiful female mouse Camilla to come to the rescue. As the gags come fast and plenty, this is one of the more satisfying Speedy Gonzales cartoons, if hardly really funny. This time, Sylvester doesn’t stand a chance, and isn’t even given time to think of some counter measures.

Despite all the action, the main attractions of this cartoon are the attractive and strikingly modern backgrounds by Robert Givens and William Butler. The list of mice caught for the laboratory includes the names of animators Rudy Zamora, Manuel Perez and Gus Arriola, as well as painter Pablo Picasso.

Watch ‘West of the Pesos’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘West of the Pesos’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’

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’

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