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

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: May 10, 1941
Rating: ★★
Review:

Farm Frolics © Warner Bros.‘Farm Frolics’ was the second Merrie Melodie directed by Bob Clampett.

In this cartoon Clampett follows Tex Avery with his own spot gag cartoon, this time on farm life, making it strangely similar to the Walter Lantz cartoon ‘Fair Today‘ from only three months earlier.

The Warner Bros.’ spot gag cartoons rarely belonged to the best of their repertoire, and ‘Farm Frolics’, too, is hardly funny. Even the running gag of this forgettable cartoon is trite, and fails to provide a welcome finale. Nevertheless, the animation is very fine. For example, there’s some surprisingly realistic animation on a horse. Thus even this weak short shows that by 1941 the Warner Bros. animators could do almost everything.

Watch ‘Farm Frolics’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Farm Frolics’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

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Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: February 24, 1941
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Fair Today © Walter Lantz‘Fair Today’ is a spot gag cartoon on a county fair.

The short uses a voice over in the tradition of Tex Avery’s Warner Bros. Spot gag cartoons, e.g. ‘Circus Today’ (1940), ‘Holiday Highlights’ (1940) and ‘Aviation Vacation’ (1941). Indeed, three months later the Warner Bros. studio itself came with a similar cartoon called ‘Farm Frolics‘. The Warner Bros. connection is further enhanced by the presence of Mel Blanc as voice artist, and a ‘story’ by Warner Bros.-alumnus Ben Hardaway.

The Warner Bros.-influx does not lead to a funny cartoon, however. Even Avery’s spot gag cartoons were more than often rather tiresome, and Lantz’s ‘Fair Today’ is more miss than hit. The gags flow in at a high speed, but let’s face it: most of them are very corny, to say the least, and they include some very bad puns. The obligate running gag is give to an old lady in search of her little boy. The best gag is when the narrator says “let’s skip over to … ‘ and the camera hops accordingly through the scene.

Watch ‘Fair Today’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fair Today’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: April 12, 1941
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★
Review:

Toy Trouble © Warner Bros.‘Toy Trouble’ marks the return of Sniffles’s friend the bookworm, from ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ (1939) and ‘The Egg Collector’ (1940).

This time the two friends snoop around in the toy collection of a department store. All goes well until the duo encounters a cat.

Like Sniffles himself, the bookworm is more cute than funny, and like most Sniffles cartoons this short suffers from a terrible slowness. The result is a rather tiresome watch. Nevertheless, it contains a nice scene in which Sniffles hides in a row of Porky Pig dolls, predating a similar scene in the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Night Before Christmas’ by eight months. There’s also a mechanical duck, which accounts for some gags that look all the way forward to the elaborate gags of Chuck Jones’s Roadrunner and Tom & Jerry cartoons.

Watch ‘Toy Trouble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Toy Trouble’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Ikuo Ōishi
Release Date: 1939
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Swim, Monkey, Swim © Ikuo Ōishi‘Swim, Monkey, Swim’ tells about monkey, who learns to swim, and immediately joins a swimming contest.

The monkey wins by cheating, riding a ‘water imp’. In the end he succeeds in “cheating the others, but not his heart”.

‘Swim Monkey Swim’ is a primitive film, with the designs and animation looking like an Aesop Fable from the 1920s. Indeed, Ōishi was a Japanese animation pioneer, already making films in the 1910s. But if this film really was made 1939, it seems he had little learned since. The designs are nice and readable, but the film’s timing is too slow, rendering endless footage of the race. With its ten minutes the film is overlong and overstays its welcome.

Watch ‘Swim, Monkey, Swim’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Swim, Monkey, Swim’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: March 28, 1941
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat © Walter Lantz‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ opens with scenes from ‘Lazy Town’, a place in the South full of lazy negroes, whose depiction is the epitome of racist stereotyping: everyone is asleep, doing things ridiculously slowly or with a minimum of effort. Oh! Those lazy Southern blacks!

Then a steamer stops, and a sexy, light-skinned woman steps out, immediately reviving the male population. She starts the title song, and all the villagers join in.

‘Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat’ is rather tiresome to watch. The boogie-woogie song itself never really comes off, and is less swinging as it could be. But more importantly, the images accompanying the song are hardly funny, as most of the ‘humor’ comes from those ha-ha silly blacks doing things on the musical beat. As none of these gags work today, the short becomes surprisingly empty.

In fact, together with the Van Beuren cartoon ‘Plane Dumb‘ (1932) ‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ is a likely candidate of being the most offensive racist cartoon around. Only the singing girl is given some dignity, but her race remains unclear, and she could as well be white.

Some of the animation on this girl was reused on the Andrews Sisters in the equally racist, yet less offensive, and much more entertaining ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B‘ from six months later.

‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ was one of the first cartoons to evoke serious issues because of its racism, as upon its re-release in 1948, it was heavily criticized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With help from the more powerful Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), the NAACP managed to make Universal withdraw the cartoon in February 1949. After this incident black stereotypes virtually vanished from the animated screen, except for the occasional cannibal here and there.

Watch ‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: April 5, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Pluto
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Donald's Dog Laundry © Walt DisneyIn ‘Donald’s Dog Laundry’ Donald Duck has built a rather Rube Goldberg-like dog washing machine.

Donald decides that the unwilling Pluto is to be his first customer in bath, and tries to get him in bath, first with the use of a whistling rubber bone, and then with an all too lifelike cat hand-puppet. Of course, it’s the duck himself who takes the plunge, yet the cartoon ends with Donald cheering because his apparatus works.

‘Donald’s Dog Laundry’ is full of the mild and long character animation routines so typical of the Mickey Mouse cartoons of the second half of the 1930s. Where in later Warner Bros. or MGM cartoons the rubber bone and hand-puppet would have been only two of several attempts, in this short the two devices are milked at length. Especially, Pluto, probably animated by Norm Ferguson, gets ample screen-time, to a rather tiring effect.

Watch ‘Donald’s Dog Laundry’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 16
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Riveter
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Mr. Duck Steps Out

‘Donald’s Dog Laundry’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 15, 1940
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Ants in the Plants © Max Fleischer‘With ‘Ants in the Plants’ the Fleischers more or less made their own version of Disney’s ‘Bugs in Love‘ (1932), now featuring ants.

After a rather spectacular forest intro we watch ant society, with a school, a restaurant etc. Then the queen ant sings a song telling her soldiers that their main enemy is the ant eater. The villain then immediately enters the scene, and despite his rather funny appearance, he proves to be a considerable foe.

Like ‘Bugs in Love’ (and several other Silly Symphonies) war breaks out to stop the intruder. ‘Ants in the Pants’ may be no classic, the short still belongs to the more enjoyable Color Classics. The cloying morale of contemporary Color Classics is lacking, and the classic war story, if far from original, works once again. During this scene there are some clever sight gags, with the ants combining a corncob and a magnifying glass to use those as a machine gun as a particular highlight.

Watch ‘Ants in the Plants’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ants in the Plants’ is available on the DVD set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: July 1, 1939
Stars: Porky Pig, Uncle Sam
Rating: ★★
Review:

Old Glory © Warner Bros.‘Old Glory’ starts with Old Glory itself, i.e. the American Flag. Below it we watch Porky Pig trying to memorize the pledge of alliance to no avail.

In frustration, Porky throws away his history book, and falls asleep. In his dream Uncle Sam materializes from Porky’s history book and he tells Porky what the pledge of alliance is all about, with images of the declaration of independence, Paul revere’s midnight ride, the war of independence, the signing of the constitution, the trek to the West, and finally the statue of Abraham Lincoln, while we listen to an excerpt of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. After this Porky awakes and salutes the flag with enthusiasm.

‘Old Glory’ was Chuck Jones’s first cartoon starring Porky Pig. It’s also the character’s first full color cartoon (after his debut in the two-color cartoon ‘I Haven’t Got A Hat’ Porky had remained a black and white character). Chuck Jones makes him genuinely juvenile, and perfect fodder for patronizing material, just like Frank Tashlin’s ‘Wholly Smoke‘ (1938) had been, which also stars a child version of Porky.

All of Chuck Jones’s early cartoons have a high quality look, matching the production values of Walt Disney and Harman-Ising’s cartoons for MGM. None more so than ‘Old Glory, a commission by Warner Bros. in a series of patriotic shorts about American history (all the others were live action shorts). Unlike any other Leon Schlesinger film, ‘Old Glory’ relies heavily on rotoscope, and features a multitude of realistic people. Moreover, there’s some careful and very convincing shading on the characters, and Uncle Sam, in particular, is animated with great care, even if his eyes become spooky at times.

‘Old Glory’ thus is a well made cartoon, with high production values. But let’s face it, the short also is a sickeningly patriotic and nationalistic cartoon, which has very little to offer to all those outside the U.S. In a way it looks forward to some of the propaganda from World War II, for example the finale of ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face‘ (1943). Unlike the latter cartoon, however, ‘Old Glory’ is completely devoid of humor. Luckily, it remained highly atypical for the Warner Bros. studio’s output.

Watch ‘Old Glory’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 59
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Scalp Trouble
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Picnic

‘Old Glory’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 14, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Ghosks is the Bunk © Max Fleischer‘Ghosks is the Bunk’ is the second of four 1939 Popeye cartoon with alternate titles.

The cartoon starts with Olive reading a ghost story to Bluto and Popeye. When a storm wind makes Popeye hide beneath the couch, Bluto fakes tiredness, only to rush out to an abandoned hotel to play some ghost tricks on the sailor. However, he’s discovered all too soon, and with the help of invisible paint Popeye returns the trick on him.

‘Ghosks is the Bunk’ is the first cartoon to show the major weakness of invisibility gags: when invisible one becomes practically invincible, and the viewer’s sympathy soon goes to the poor ex-bully who gets clobbered. This problem would return in the invisibility cartoons ‘The Vanishing Private‘ (1942) featuring Donald Duck, and ‘The Invisible Mouse‘ (1947) starring Tom & Jerry.

Watch ‘Ghosks is the Bunk’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 72
To the previous Popeye film: Wotta Nitemare
To the next Popeye film: Hello, How Am I

‘Ghosks is the Bunk’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 7, 1939
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★
Review:

Rhythm on the Reservation © Max Fleischer

In ‘Rhythm on the Reservation’ Betty Boop visits and Indian reservation, trying to buy a tom-tom drum.

Meanwhile, her car full of musical instruments, is emptied by the native Americans, who are too dumb to use them properly, and use them for various purposes. But when Betty starts a swinging tune, they join in, sort of.

These scenes make ‘Rhythm on the Reservation’ a late variation on ‘Trader Mickey‘ (1932), which had featured cannibals. Of course, such scenes make the short an offensive and hopelessly dated cartoon. Unfortunately, it was to be Betty Boop’s last. It’s a sad ending for a once so promising career. But Betty Boop had lost most of her charm already in 1934, and by 1939 she felt like a leftover from another era. With her series, and that of the Silly Symphonies ending (the latter series ended in April 1939), one can say more or less goodbye to the 1930s.

Nevertheless, Betty was surely missed, as the Fleischers never came with another successful star of their own to replace her: Gabby (1940-1941) or the donkey duo of Hunky and Spunky (1938-1941) hardly count, and Popeye and Superman were owned by King Features and DC Comics, respectively. Meanwhile at Warner Bros. people were defining a new cartoon style that would dominate the 1940s…

Watch ‘Rhythm on the Reservation’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop’s 83rd and last cartoon
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: The Scared Crows

‘Rhythm on the Reservation’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 12, 1939
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Musical Mountaineers © Max FleischerIn the opening scene of ‘Musical Mountaineers’ Betty Boop’s car stops in the middle of nowhere, and she gets stranded in ‘feud county’.

Betty seeks for help in a poor barn, where she encounters a fully armed hillbilly family. The hostile hillbillies make Betty Boop dance by shooting at her feet, but Betty’s inspired dancing brings out their musical element, and soon we watch them all singing and dancing together.

It’s hard to enjoy ‘Musical Mountaineers’, as the short features cliche caricatures of mountain people, even if the Appalachians are treated better than in the extremely backward ‘Be Up To Date’ from one year earlier. Nevertheless, the musical routine feels trite, and seems to belong to the early 1930’s, when song-and-dance routines were all too common. The best gag is Margie Hines’s, who, as Betty Boop’s voice, adlibs “it looks like the people who moved out, don’t live here anymore”.

Watch ‘Musical Mountaineers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 81
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: So Does an Automobile
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: The Scared Crows

‘Musical Mountaineers’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 2, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating:  ★★
Review:

On with the New © Max FleischerIn the opening scene of ‘On with the New’ we watch Betty Boop working at the ‘Ye olde quainte coffee house’.

Betty has to work hard: she must cook and wash the dishes at the same time. She clearly hates her job, but luckily she gets a job as a nurse in ‘Bundle from Heaven Nursery’. At the nursery we watch the babies being cleaned at an assembly line. However, as soon as Betty has them in their beds and said goodnight to them, the babies cause havoc. The uncontrollable babies behave so badly that Betty quits her job on the spot and rushes back to her old job, which she does with renewed enthusiasm.

There’s little to enjoy in ‘On With The New’, although the assembly line sequence is rather nice. The uncontrollable baby material go all the way back to ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (1931) and ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932), and by 1939 such antics, with its multitude of animation cycles, had become old fashioned and trite. The assembly line sequence, on the other hand, looks forward to a similar sequence in the Warner Bros. classic ‘Baby Bottleneck’ (1946).

Watch ‘On with the New’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 77
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Sally Swing
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy in Thrills and Chills

‘On with the New’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 27, 1939
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating:  ★★
Review:

My Friend the Monkey © Max FleischerBelow Betty Boop’s window there’s an Italian organ grinder with a monkey.

Betty invites the monkey inside to play with Pudgy. But the mischievous little animal immediately aims for her food, and Pudgy has a hard time trying to chase the intruder out of the house. When Pudgy finally succeeds, the monkey returns in Betty’s arms, as she has just bought him from the organ grinder.

‘My Friend The Monkey’ is the closest the Betty Boop series ever came near becoming a chase cartoon, a new genre that was emerging at the time. However, the cartoon is far from a gag rich chase cartoon, being more tiresome than funny. Even the pay off scene is anything but a surprise, as we could watch Betty negotiating with the organ grinder throughout the picture.

The animation of the monkey dancing was reused from Pudgy swinging in ‘The Swing School‘, even using the same music, but now in barrel organ form.

Watch ‘My Friend the Monkey’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 79
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy in Thrills and Chills
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: So Does an Automobile

‘Pudgy in Thrills and Chills’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 23, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Pudgy in Thrills and Chills © Max FleischerIn ‘Pudgy in Thrills and Chills’ Betty and Pudgy board on a mountain train for winter sport.

Betty wears a rather sexy winter outfit and goes skating on the frozen lake, in a rotoscoped action to the music of a nice waltz version of ‘Jingle Bells’. Meanwhile a dumb skier wants to kiss her.

However, in the cartoon world, skating often takes place near a waterfall (see also the Popeye cartoon ‘Seasin’s Greetinks!‘ (1933) and the Mickey Mouse short ‘On Ice‘ from 1935), and ‘Pudgy in Thrills and Chills’ is no exception. Thus soon Pudgy and Betty fall off the waterfall, only to be saved by the dumb skier. He returns both Betty and Pudgy into safety, and finally earns the desired kiss… from Pudgy.

There are actually remarkably few thrills and chills in this slow cartoon, as most screen time goes to Betty Boop skating, the antics of the dumb skier, and some boring actions by Pudgy. Most remarkable is the very convincing scene of Betty Boop and Pudgy playing tic-tac-toe on a steamy train window.

Watch ‘Pudgy in Thrills and Chills’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 78
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: On with the New
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: My Friend the Monkey

‘Pudgy in Thrills and Chills’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: November 4, 1938
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★
Review:

Donald's Golf Game © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Golf Game’ is the third film featuring Donald and the nephews.

Donald’s in for a game of golf, and it’s clear he only uses his nephews to be caddies, without granting them anything. Naturally, the nephews take matters in their own hand, with ‘Goofy Golf Clubs’: one changes into a net, another into an umbrella, and a third one into a boomerang. Soon Donald is stuck in a rubber band, while the three brats are playing the field.

‘Donald’s Golf Game’ is a genuine gag cartoon, but once again Jack King’s timing is ridiculously slow, spoiling otherwise fine gags. In the family’s fourth outing, ‘The Hockey Champ‘ (1939), this problem was finally over. Al Taliaferro would set the stage before the film, letting Donald Duck play golf in his daily comic strip from October 24 to November 5.

Watch ‘Donald’s Golf Game’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 6
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Good Scouts
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Lucky Day

‘Donald’s Golf Game’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: July 29, 1938
Stars: Donald Duck, Goofy, cameos by Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Fox Hunt (1938) © Walt Disney‘The Fox Hunt’ is the second entry in the Donald & Goofy mini-series. In fact, Mickey, Minnie, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabella Cluck are also present, but only shortly, and first only as shadows.

Donald gets most of the screen time, devoted to his antics with five unruly bloodhounds and a sly fox. Goofy gets only one scene, in which his horse refuses to jump. This part shows a novelty: when we watch Goofy and his horse being under water, we’re watching a new technique involving distortion glasses to make the water more convincing. This technique would become very important in the elaborate ocean scenes in Disney’s second feature film ‘Pinocchio‘ (1940), for which these few seconds are only the try-out.

‘The Fox Hunt’ clearly borrows from the early Silly Symhony of the same name. The Donald and Goofy version copies the shot with the hunters being shadows in the distance, and the end gag with the skunk. The Donald and Goofy cartoons were not among Disney’s best, and ‘The Fox Hunt’, too, is only average.

‘The Fox Hunt’ was the last short directed by Ben Sharpsteen, and like Jack King, he favors an all too relaxed timing in this short, hampering the comedy. Sharpsteen had already been a sequence director for ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937), and for ‘Pinocchio’ he was promoted to supervising director. From now on he would work on feature films, solely, until the early 1950s, when he moved on to True-Life adventures.

Carl Barks, who was a story man at the time this short was made, revisited the fox hunting theme in his 1948 comic ‘Foxy Relations’, which is much funnier than this film.

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

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 29, 1938
Rating:  ★★
Review:

The Fresh Vegetable Mystery © Max FleischerAlright, that’s something we had never seen before: anthropomorphized vegetables…

It’s night in a kitchen, and all vegetables are sound asleep, when an evil cloaked figure arrives and kidnaps mother carrot and her kids. The entire potato police force comes into action, but like in the Silly Symphony ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?‘ (1935) the police force only manages to arrest a bunch of innocents from a bar.

Most of the ‘humor’ origins in the typical tortures the police men apply to their victims to make them talk: a cob is made into popcorn, an orange squeezed out, a ‘hard-boiled’ egg fried. In fact, it’s rather painful to watch these scenes. In the end the villain turns out to be four mice, who are caught in a mouse trap, and immediately to start a fight among themselves.

‘The Fresh Vegetable Mystery’ makes little sense, and can hardly be called funny, but the cartoon is alleviated by its original setting (which anticipates ‘Sausage Party’ from 2016), making it stand out among more generic Color Classics.

Watch ‘The Fresh Vegetable Mystery’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Fresh Vegetable Mystery’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 16, 1938
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating: ★★
Review:

Poultry Pirates © MGMIn 1937 MGM decided to start its very own studio, after having distributed cartoons by Ub Iwerks (1930-1934) and Harman-Ising. They put Fred Quimby, a producer famous for having neither animation experience nor any sense of humor, in charge.

Quimby hired virtually Harman & Ising’s complete staff away. He also hired some talent from other studios, most notably Jack Zander and Joe Barbera, who would later work on Tom & Jerry, and Friz Freleng. Quimby lured Freleng away from Leon Schlesinger by flattery and by offering him a much larger salary. Freleng stayed less than a year at MGM before happily returning to Warner Bros.

Freleng’s talents were wasted on ‘The Captain and the Kids’, a series based on the classic comic strip of the same name by Rudolph Dirks. MGM had bought the rights to this comic strip, and insisted to make a series out of them. The strip had been around since 1897 (first as ‘The Katzenjammer Kids’), and really felt as coming from another era. Amidst the days of Donald Duck, Daffy Duck and Popeye, these characters were hopelessly old-fashioned, and Freleng struggled to create any fun with them. Consequently, none of the Captain and the Kids cartoons have become classics.

Nevertheless, Freleng’s films were still better than that of other people directing the ill-conceived series, which was, in the end, a failure. In total, Freleng directed six Captain and the Kids cartoons, and one stand-alone cartoon called ‘The Bookworm’, before returning to the greener pastures of the Leon Schlesinger studio.

Of Freleng’s Captain and the Kids cartoons, ‘Poultry Pirates’ is the first. It stars the captain, only, who tries to keep a bunch of chickens and ducks out of his vegetable garden, to no avail. At one point he has to fight a six feet tall rooster, but that happens to be part of a dream.

There’s very little to enjoy in ‘Poultry Pirates’. The animators do no attempts to lip synch, neither the captain nor the chicks gain and sympathy, the story drags on, and the result is frustratingly unfunny.

Watch ‘Poultry Pirates’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Poultry Pirates’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: May 14, 1938
Rating: ★★
Review:

Now That Summer Is Gone © Warner Bros.While Tex Avery and Bob Clampett were experimenting with a cartoon style totally different from Disney, Frank Tashlin made some Merrie Melodies that were still surprisingly Silly Symphonies-like.

‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ is one of the most conspicuous of them all, opening with autumn images of numerous squirrels collecting nuts for the winter. The industrious ways in which the squirrels collect nuts hark all the way back to early Silly Symphonies like ‘Autumn‘ (1930), ‘The Busy Beavers‘ (1931) and ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ (1933). In any case these opening sequences feature complex scenes and lush production values.

This setting gives way to a story about a young squirrel who’s addicted to gambling. When his father orders him to collect nuts at the ‘First Nutional Bank’ he loses it all to a mustached stranger. In the end, it turns out to be the father himself, who gives the lying little brat a big spanking.

This humorless and cloying morality tale places ‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ deeply in the second half of the 1930s. Nevertheless, it’s still enjoyable to watch Tashlin’s experimental cinematography at play.

Watch ‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: August 27, 1938
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★
Review:

Wholly Smoke © Warner Bros.In ‘Wholly Smoke’ Porky Pig is still clearly a little boy.

We see his ma, and we watch him walking to Sunday school. On his way to school Porky encounters a street urchin smoking a cigar. The rascal challenges Porky to smoke like him, but, of course, Porky only gets sick, and in a state of delirium he walks into a tobacco shop.

There a ghostly figure called Nick O’Teen starts a song on the tune of ‘Mysterious Mose‘, which tells us that children shouldn’t smoke. This part of the cartoon is much in the vain of Warner Bros. typical books-come-to-life cartoons (e.g. the contemporary ‘Have You Got any Castles?‘), and features caricatures of the three Stooges, Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee and Cab Calloway. In the end of this morality tale, Porky rushes back to Sunday school.

‘Wholly Smoke’ is a clear showcase of Tashlin’s excellent direction skills, with its interesting camera angles, speedy cuts, and special effects when Porky gets sick. Nevertheless, the short’s obvious moral, its saccharine ending, and the lack of gags makes it one of the more boring Warner Bros. cartoons, even though one couldn’t agree more with the short’s message.

Watch the colorized version of ‘Wholly Smoke’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 45
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky and Daffy
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky in Wackyland

‘Wholly Smoke’ is available on the DVD-sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Five’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

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