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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’

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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. 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:

‘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’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: November 1, 1941
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Porky's Pooch © Warner Bros.In ‘Porky’s Pooch’ a dog tells his Scottish terrier friend how he managed to get a master.

This dog is a clear forerunner of Chuck Jones’s Charlie Dog, who would make his debut six years later in ‘Little Orphan Airedale’ (1947). Like Charlie Dog, this dog, called Rover, is an orphan, forcefully trying to make Porky Pig his master. Rover speaks in a similar way as Charlie, and even introduces the Charlie Dog lines “You ain’t got a dog, and I ain’t got a master’ and ‘and I’m affectionate, too’.

The dog also does a Carmen Miranda impression, most probably the first in an animated film, as the Brazilian actress had become famous only one year earlier, with ‘Down Argentine Way’ (1940). The short is also noteworthy for the use of real photographs as backgrounds, against which the characters read surprisingly well.

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

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 93
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Robinson Crusoe, jr.
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Midnight Matinee

‘Porky’s Pooch’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: April 18,1941
Stars: Goofy
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Baggage Buster © Walt DisneyThe start of Goofy’s solo career was eventful, and all his five earliest solo cartoons can be regarded as key shorts in the evolution of the character.

‘Baggage Buster’ is a particularly transitional cartoon. The short was made after Pinto Colvig’s departure to the Max Fleischer studio in Miami, leaving Goofy voiceless. The result is that in ‘Baggage Buster’ Goofy has become a completely silent character, while by 1941 silent characters already had become a rare feat.

Of course, director Jack Kinney and his team would use this fact to their advantage in the great ‘how to’ cartoons, starting with ‘How to Ride a Horse’ sequence in ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ of two months later, but in ‘Baggage Buster’ Goofy still is his 1930s self. After ‘Baggage Buster’ Kinney never reverted to this version of the character, and he was only revived in a few Mickey Mouse shorts, and in the Goofy cartoons ‘Foul Hunting’ (1947, by Jack Hannah) and ‘The Big Wash’ (1948, by Clyde Geronimi). In these two cartoons, however, Goofy speaks again, leaving ‘Baggage Buster’ being the sole cartoon in which our character remains a strange mix of the 1930s Goof and the 1940s silent character.

Like Donald had been in his first solo cartoon, ‘Donald’s Ostrich’ (1937), Goofy is a station master at some remote train station. And where Donald had to deal with an all too hungry ostrich, Goofy struggles with a magician’s trunk. The trunk knows quite some tricks, and even defies gravity, giving Goofy a hard time. The most bizarre scene is when Goofy’s body largely disappears inside the magician’s hat, leaving him walking on his arms.

The cartoon ends with the trunk producing an endless stream of animals, and soon Goofy’s little station is flocked by e.g. a lion, an armadillo, a shark, a flying squirrel, a giraffe, a crocodile, a stork (carrying a baby), a seal, an elephant, an ant eater, and even a sperm whale and a dinosaur…

As is often the case with cartoons dealing with magic, however, the humor never reaches great heights, as the magic permits an ‘anything can happen’ mantra, which spoils the fun. It’s so much funnier when cartoon magic is applied without the ‘it’s magic’ excuse.

Goofy’s looks once again are more streamlined than before, but only with ‘How to Ride a Horse’ he would reach his new appearance, which would last until he was redesigned once again, for ‘Tennis Racquet’ in 1949.

Watch ‘Baggage Buster’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Goofy cartoon No. 3
To the previous Goofy cartoon: Goofy’s Glider
To the next Goofy cartoon: The Art of Skiing

‘Baggage Buster’ is available on the DVD set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy’

 

Director: Jack King
Release Date: January 10, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Timber © Walt DisneyAlmost a year after ‘The Riveter’ Pete returns as Donald Duck’s adversary. This time he’s called Pierre and speaks with a pseudo-french accent.

When hobo Donald steals his food, Pete forces the feeble duck to work at his logging site. Donald easily is the worst lumberjack ever, and what follows are several antics with axes and saws, to the expense of Pete himself.

However, the film only gains momentum when Pete follows a fleeing Donald on a reckless lorry race. This is a stunning finale, with the gags coming in fast and plenty. In the end Donald disposes of Pete/Pierre with help of a railroad switch, and the end we watch him walking the rails again into the sunset.

This cartoon doubtless inspired Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comic ‘Mystery at Hidden River’, which run from October 6, 1941 to January 17, 1942. In this story Pete is also a lumberjack called Pierre, but Mickey surely knows better. Incidentally, this is the first time Mickey is confronted with Pete sans peg leg in the comic strip, even though on the animated screen Pete had lost his peg leg already in ‘Moving Day‘ from 1936.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 22
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Fire Chief
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Golden Eggs

‘Fire Chief’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 19, 1940
Stars: Hunky & Spunky
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Snubbed by a Snob © Max FleischerIn ‘Snubbed by a Snob’ Hunky & Spunky encounter a snobby race horse and his/her son.

Spunky wants to play with the young horse, who tries to get rid of the eager burro. At one point the foal eats too much apples and drinks too much water, and Spunky rescues him from an angry bull. So, in the end all’s well between race horse and burros.

‘Snubbed by a Snob’ is as boring as other Hunky & Spunky cartoons, but it’s rescued a little by the Cousin Louie gag, and the rather silly singing bull.

Watch ‘Snubbed by a Snob’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Snubbed by a Snob’ is available on the DVD set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Unknown
Release Date: 1938
Stars: Mabō
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Mabō as Tokichiro Kinoshita © Satō Film Production Works‘Mabō as Tokichiro Kinoshita’ is the sixth of twelve Mabō films, produced by Satō Film Production Works.

Mabō is a young boy, and in this film he plays Kinoshita Tōkichirō, the legendary pseudonym of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a 16th century Samurai warrior. The film reenacts some scenes from Hideyoshi’s life, most probably instantly recognizable for Japanese viewers, but, alas, not for us Westerners. Some of the reenactments involve modern warfare like machine guns and tanks, a clear sign of the ever growing militarization of Japanese society at the time, even invading children’s films like this.

The animation is a strange mix of 1920s animation and more modern techniques, and some of the battle scenes are most impressive. The designs even look forward to postwar anime. But none of the animation matches the dialogue, and lip synch is nowhere to be seen.

Watch ‘Mabō as Tokichiro Kinoshita’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mabō as Tokichiro Kinoshita’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 30, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Puttin on the Act © Max Fleischer‘Puttin on the Act’ reveals that Popeye and Olive had been a vaudeville duo once.

The short opens with Olive running to Popeye, full of joy, because she has read in the newspaper that vaudeville is coming back. This would be a surprise, as already during the 1920s vaudeville had gone into a steady decline, due to radio, film, and jazz.

But Olive and Popeye immediately revive their old routines in their own home. Most fun is Popeye doing impersonations, imitating Jimmy Durante, Stan Laurel and Groucho Marx (using some of Marx’s best quotes). Their routine ends with ‘The Adagio’, an acrobatic act that is very similar to the one by Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow and Goofy in ‘Orphan’s Benefit‘ (1935), proving this was a staple act in vaudeville. At the end of the cartoon, unfortunately, it’s revealed that Olive’s newspaper had been from 1898…

‘Puttin on the Act’ is nice piece of nostalgia. Most of the animators and story artists of the time had grown up in the vaudeville era, and this cartoon is a homage to a form of entertainment long lost since.

Watch ‘Puttin on the Act’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 86
To the previous Popeye film: Wimmin Hadn’t Oughta Drive
To the next Popeye film: Popeye Meets William Tell

‘Puttin on the Act’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

 

 

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date: June 22, 1940
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

The Milky Way © MGM1940 is arguably a turning year in the history of animation. This year marked the end of Disney’s domination, as the studio’s innovative Silly Symphonies series had stopped, while Disney’s ambitious, but expensive feature productions ‘Pinocchio‘ and ‘Fantasia’ had lost the studio dear money. These features plunged Disney brothers into huge debts, and forced them to go to the stock markets.

As to emphasize Disney’s loss, 1940 was also the first year in which a non-Disney cartoon won an Academy Award. In fact, in this year not a single Disney cartoon was even nominated. Moreover, among the nominations were two shorts that marked the strong debuts of characters that heralded a new era: Tom & Jerry in ‘Puss and Boots’ and Bugs Bunny in ‘A Wild Hare‘. These characters would dominate the 1940s, over Disney’s Mickey, Donald, Pluto and Goofy.

Yet, it was MGM’s ‘The Milky Way’, which won the Academy Award. To be frank, ‘The Milky Way’ is still firmly rooted in Disney-like 1930’s animation: it’s a Silly Symphony but in name, it features a saccharine song, and it borrows heavily from Disney’s ‘Wynken, Blynken, and Nod‘ (1939). Both cartoons feature three babies exploring the night sky. Such copycat behavior was all too typical for the Harman & Ising studio.

In ‘The Milky Way’ the main protagonists are the three kittens from the nursery rhyme. As they’ve lost their mittens, they aren’t denied pie, but a meal of milk, and sent off to bed without supper. With the help of balloons, the trio sails to the Milky Way, which turns out to be a Cockaigne of milk, with e.g. milk geysers and milk gas stations. However, the geyser milk gives one of the kittens a tremor belly, and soon the trio fall down back to earth.

‘The Milky Way’ is cute, lush and excels in high production values, even though it can’t compete with the stunning ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’. The short is also sugary and rather boring. The best part is the depiction of the fantasy world of the Milky Way. But the attention easily goes to the beautiful background art and to Scott Bradley’s excellent score. The designs of the kittens look forward to those of kittens in the Tom & Jerry series.

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

‘The Milky Way’ is available on the DVD ‘Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection: 15 Winners’

Director: Dick Lundy
Release Date: March 15, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

The Riveter © Walt Disney‘The Riveter’ starts with Pete firing a pig from the building site and setting up a sign with ‘Riveter wanted’.

At that point Donald Duck walks by, and he immediately volunteers. Unfortunately, he is hardly suited for the job, having to work on the top of a tall skyscraper, and he’s soon a nervous wreck, only bothering Pete.

Pete had been introduced as Donald Duck’s adversary in ‘Officer Duck‘ from 1939, but he was still a criminal then. In ‘The Riveter’ Pete was cast as an authority figure, able to command Donald, a trend which had already started as far back as ‘Moving Day‘ (1936), in which Pete played the sheriff. The two characters suited each other well, and Pete’s authority was maintained in all subsequent Donald Duck-Pete-cartoons, save the last one, ‘Trombone Trouble’ from 1944.

In the Donald Duck series Pete appeared to be a softer, more ‘human’ character than in the former Mickey Mouse films. Even though he was Donald’s bully, he hardly was the villain he used to be. For example. in ‘The Riveter’ he gives Donald a job, even if he has clear doubts about Donald’s abilities. Moreover, it takes some time before Pete loses his temper, and at that time one can hardly blame him. Unfortunately, Pete was more or less sacked after’Trombone Trouble’, and he only had a short come-back in two shorts in 1953.

‘The Riveter’ is an inspired cartoon, with wonderful and inventive gags, with as a highlight Donald Duck drilling a dopey painter from tall to flat, without the character even blinking. Donald also revives Goofy’s dizzy walk from ‘Clock Cleaners’ (1937), and his ride up the elevator is a wonderful exaggeration of Mickey’s similar ride in ‘Building a Building‘ (1933), stretching Donald’s body to the max. The short ends with a long chase scene, typical of the new era, which ends with Donald covering Pete with quick-drying plaster, turning the hapless foreman into a Greek fountain.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 15
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Officer Duck
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Dog Laundry

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 22, 1939
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Gulliver's Travels © Max Fleischer

Following the huge success of Walt Disney’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ other Hollywood animation studios considered the making of an animated feature themselves. In the end, only the Fleischer studio really attempted it, persuaded by their distributor, Paramount.

In fact, the Fleischers’ plans for a feature film dated back to as early as 1934, and the three Popeye two-reelers (‘Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor’, ‘Popeye the Sailor meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves’ and ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp‘) can be regarded as exercises in the longer format. Nevertheless, it was the enormous success of Disney’s first feature that prompted Paramount to demand a Christmas feature from the Fleischer animation studio.

To achieve this, the Fleischers moved to a completely new studio in Miami, Florida, and hired a lot of new personnel, including Snow White veterans like animators Grim Natwick, Al Eugster and Shamus Culhane. This huge undertaking resulted in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, becoming America’s second animated feature, beating Disney’s second feature, ‘Pinocchio‘, by more than a month.

As often, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ only depicts the first part from Swift’s famous book: Gulliver’s visit to the island of Lilliput. Indeed, the film seems to take considerable inspiration from the Soviet adaptation ‘The New Gulliver’ (1934), which looks surprisingly similar. Nevertheless, the story deviates mostly from Swift’s book, focusing on two kings who quarrel over a song to be played at their children’s wedding, instead. This quarrel and the discovery of Gulliver by a night watchman called Gabby completely take up the first part of the film. In fact, Gulliver only awakes halfway the feature!

Only after Gulliver’s rise the film gains some momentum, being otherwise surprisingly slow. For example, the scene in which the civilians find Gulliver and tie him up lasts no less than a quarter of an hour, one-fifth of the complete film. Luckily, in the second half there’s some suspense, when three spies conspire to kill Gulliver with his own gun, and Gulliver tries to reconcile the two estranged kingdoms.

Unfortunately, Gulliver and the wedding couple, Princess Glory and Prince David, never become real characters. Glory and David are clearly based on Snow White and Prince Charming, and they are even blander than the originals. Their semi-realistic designs are devoid of character, and only after 70 minutes they utter a little dialogue. One just doesn’t care about them. Gulliver, on the other hand, looks good – especially the coloring and shading on him is very well done, with the night banquet scene as a particular highlight. Yet, his realistic design and hi slow, rotoscoped movements don’t blend well with the cartoony inhabitants of Lilliput. And he, too, is surprisingly devoid of character.

In fact, only three protagonists have clear characters: king Little, king Bombo, and the omnipresent Gabby, who must be regarded as the film’s star, even though he fails as a comic relief, and lacks a story of his own. Indeed, the film’s best comical scene doesn’t feature Gabby, but goes to the three spies trying to think of a plan to kill Gulliver. This is great silent comedy, unmatched by the rest of the film.

Together with ‘Pinocchio’ ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ can be regarded as the epitome of 1930s aesthetics. The feature is very well made, with beautiful background art, very much influenced by that of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, beautiful coloring and shading, and spectacular effect animation, especially in the storm scene with which the film opens. The animation belongs to the best ever produced at the Fleischer studio, and certainly is the most Disney-like. Yet, at the same time the animation fails to reach the heights of the Walt Disney studio, and at times is over-excessive, for example in the scene in which King Bombo remembers his friendship with King Little. The songs, too, are pleasant, but nothing more than that. Most catchy is ‘It’s a Hap-Hap-Happy Day’, a clear attempt to give the film its own ‘Whistle While You Work’. More impressive than the songs, however, is the lush score by Victor Young.

In all, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is a beautiful film, but a slow one, and with a story that fails to catch the audience. Indeed, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ doesn’t stand the comparison to its model, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, and it was only a small success upon release. What certainly didn’t help was that World War II had broken out in Europe, depleting the film of a huge foreign market. These problems of course also troubled Disney’s own ‘Pinocchio’, released in February 1940.

Despite the film’s modest profits, the Fleischers decided to make another feature to keep their enormous organisation at work (resulting in the 1941 release ‘Mr. Bug goes to Town‘). This economically unhealthy path would eventually lead to their downfall.

Watch ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is available on the Thunderbean Blu-Ray/DVD set ‘Fleischer Classics featuring Gulliver’s Travels’. All other copies are considerably inferior to this one and should be avoided.

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: December 2, 1939
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Sniffles and the Bookworm © Warner Bros.‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ opens with Sniffles taking refuge in a bookshop to escape the winter cold.

Inside Sniffles encounters the bookworm, who’s scared of the little mouse, and asks two book characters, the pied piper and a viking, for help. This first act is acted out completely silently, and is very, very Silly Symphony-like. Its uninteresting comedy is greatly helped by Carl Stalling’s score, who makes excellent use of music from Franz Schubert’s Moment musical no. 3.

When Sniffles turns out to be small, the pied piper suddenly starts playing the clarinet, with Sniffles joining in. Thus starts the second part, in which Sniffles, the bookworm and several nursery rhyme characters play and sing some peppy swing tune. Unfortunately, a particularly angular version of Frankenstein’s monster awakes, too, and soon spoils the fun. This second act is hardly more interesting than the first, but the swing music is nice.

With ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’, the third cartoon starring Sniffles, Chuck Jones gives his own twist on his precursor Frank Tashlin’s books-come-to-life series (e.g. ‘Have You Got any Castles?‘ and ‘You’re an Education‘ from 1938). Despite the paper-thin story about Sniffles and the bookworm itself it’s all there: book characters coming to life at night, characters performing some jazz music, and a threat which ends the fun – this all done with the highest production values possible at Leon Schlesinger’s studio at the time.

It’s hard to call the bookworm a classic character (after all, Sniffles himself isn’t really interesting). Yet, the bookworm would return in two other Sniffles cartoons: ‘The Egg Collector‘ (1940) and ‘Toy Trouble‘ (1941).

Watch ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

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’

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’

 

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