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Release Date: October 29, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
In ‘The Music Lesson’ Flip returns to his schoolboy days from ‘School Days‘, and this short also stars the teacher and dog from the earlier cartoon.
‘The Music lesson’ starts with Flip having to stay inside for one hour to practice his piano lessons. But his human friends signal him from the outside to come outside and swim. Flip tries to sneak out three times, and he succeeds the third time, but at the pond he’s caught by both his piano teacher and a gamekeeper, and in the last scene he’s seen practicing his piano in jail, guarded by the two authority figures.
‘The Music Lesson’ is a genuine attempt at a continuity of gags, but the short is severely hampered by erratic animation and sloppy timing. None of the gags really comes off, and the finale is anything but that. It seems that by the end of 1932 Flip’s short-lived heydays were already over.
Watch ‘The Music Lesson’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Music Lesson’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1’
Directors: John Foster & George Stallings
Release Date: October 7, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
At the cafe they encounter two female dancers, and an angry guy who orders them to take part in a bullfight. In the arena Tom and Jerry defeat a battalion of bulls with their bare hands. Then a telegraph arrives to tell them the 18th amendment has been lifted, and immediately Tom and Jerry head home again on their raft…
The 18th amendment, abolishing alcohol, was not lifted until December 5, 1933, more than one year after the release of ‘A Spanish Twist’ , making this cartoon strangely prophetic. Unfortunately, it’s hardly enjoyable otherwise. The Spanish dancers are extremely badly drawn, and the bullfight is anything from entertaining. In fact, ‘A Spanish Twist’ is arguably the worst bullfight cartoon before the equally dull Pink Panther cartoon ‘Toro Pink’ (1979).
Watch ‘A Spanish Twist’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘A Spanish Twist’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’
Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date: July 23, 1932
‘Chinese Jinks’ tells of a Western sailor, who falls in love with a Chinese girl in an extremely stereotyped China. The girl is forced to marry a rich mandarin, but the sailor rescues her and flees with her on a dragon ship.
‘Chinese Jinks’ contains some elements that seem to be borrowed from Walt Disney’s ‘The China Plate‘ (1931), but Van Beuren’s short never reaches the Silly Symphony’s elegance. The cartoon suffers from erratic animation, sloppy timing, strange interludes and throwaway scenes, like the scene of four Chinese animals ironing and singing, which is reused in its entirety from ‘Laundry Blues‘ (1930).
Watch ‘Chinese Jinks’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Chinese Jinks’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’
Directors: Yasuji Murata & Chuzo Aoji
Release Date: 1932
In this film we watch several sports events: monkeys turning, a judo match between a tiger and a lion, several polar bears and a hippo diving, a boxing match between a pig and a kangaroo, and finally, a tug-of-war between an elephant and numerous other animals.
There’s pretty little to enjoy in this lighthearted film, but it contains one nicely staged scene of a polar bear diving from a ridiculously high platform. However, the best animation is found in the tug-of-war scene, in which Murata manages to put a real sense of weight and muscle tension.
Watch ‘Sports Day at Animal Village’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Sports Day at Animal Village’ is available on the Japanese DVD Box Set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’.
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 8, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Then they go painting the words ‘Betty Boop’s dancing school’ on the window of that very school. Immediately they go inside themselves, where Betty’s teaching several animals how to dance. This leads to several shots of dancing animals.
This short contains no plot and only a few gags. Its highlight is a scene of strange birds, who dance through, above and under each other. The animators must have thought the same way, for these weird birds appear no less than three times on the screen.
Watch ‘The Dancing Fool’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Dancing Fool’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’
Release Date: February 20, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
The cartoon features an extraordinary scene of Flip delivering milk, which uses an animated background, with an original curved perspective. Unfortunately, most of the screen time is devoted to Flip trying to deal with an annoying little brat he finds in a trashcan. The brat causes Flip quite some trouble, but at the end of the cartoon Flip and the brat become friends. Indeed, one month later we watch them together in the sentimental ‘What A Life‘.
The antics of Flip and the boy anticipate similar cartoons of ca. 1934-1938, when the Hays code had hit Hollywood hard, and most studios turned out remarkably childish, goody-goody cartoons. ‘The Milkman’ is an early example, playing on sentiments instead of laughs.
Watch ‘The Milkman’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Milkman’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’
Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: September 16, 1931
This time, the traditional dance routine is performed by clocks and watches to Frank Churchill’s music. The cartoon ends with two alarm clocks fighting each other to pieces. Unfortunately, before this final scene there is no story, whatsoever, and by now the dance routine had become very tiresome, indeed.
Nevertheless, the short is beautifully made: the opening scene shows a lamplighter lighting the street lights to stunning effects. Furthermore, halfway the cartoon we watch two 18th century human figures dancing an elegant minuet. This short dance scene was the studio’s most realistic take on the human form, yet, and a spectacular sight for a 1931 cartoon.
Watch ‘The Clock Store’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Clock Store’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’
Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: January 18, 1932
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit
Soon Oswald falls asleep himself and he dreams that he’s inside the fairy tale himself. Apart from Oswald’s presence, the cartoon quite faithfully follows the fairy tale until the wolf kidnaps Little Red Riding Hood, and out of nowhere produces a magic wand, which changes the complete scenery several times. In the end, Oswald uses the magic wand to change the wolf into a roast.
‘Grandma’s Pet’ is one of the Lantz films in which Tex Avery is billed as an animator. It may have inspired his own mix-up fairy tale films, like ‘Little Red Walking Hood’ (1937) and ‘The Bear’s Tale’ (1940). It pales when compared to those latter cartoons, however, suffering from erratic animation and sloppy timing.
Watch ‘Grandma’s Pet’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Grandma’s Pet’ is available on the DVD ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’
Directors: John Foster & Mannie Davis
Release Date: March 26, 1932
The cat goes to a doctor, to no avail, he then joins a quartet of alley cats serenading a kitten. He joins in chirping. But when he gets hit with a cage, the bird escapes. The bird takes revenge on the cat with help from some fellow birds, including a pelican.
After watching such ambitious films by Van Beuren as ‘The Family Shoe‘, ‘Toy Time‘ and ‘Fly Frolic‘, the Aesop Fable ‘The Cat’s Canary’ feels pretty backward. The designs of the cat are highly inconsistent and primitive, looking back to the Waffles and Don films from 1930. The complete short lacks the Silly Symphony-like quality of the preceding Aesop Fables. Moreover, it’s storytelling is weak and inconsistent: there’s a complete throwaway scene, in which the cat is visited by sympathizing birds, and although the cat is the main protagonist throughout the whole film, he suddenly changes into a villain in the end.
Watch ‘The Cat’s Canary’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Cat’s Canary’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’
Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date: September 5, 1931
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Fortunately they land at a Pole (which one never becomes clear), where they encounter a walrus and a penguin. Then four creatures order Tom to play some music on a piano, which he does in jazzy fashion, making all animals dance.
But somehow they provoke the animals’ anger, and in the end we watch them fleeing on a polar bear’s belly. This final scene sets the tone for several Tom & Jerry cartoons to come: Jungle Jam’ and ‘A Swiss Trick’ end with them fleeing, too.
Apart from the jazz-scene ‘Polar Pals’ is far from interesting. It’s less elaborate than ‘Wot a Night‘, its designs are poor and the animation often terrible. Van Beuren clearly hadn’t hit its stride, yet…
Watch ‘Polar Pals’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Polar Pals’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 22, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
The short features ca. no story and consists of a string of unrelated throwaway gags. The animation, too, is at times completely random. For example, there’s some totally unnecessary and incomprehensible flexible animation on Bimbo’s van in the opening scene. This total lack of direction hampers ‘Bimbo’s Express’, and it fails to fulfil any promise.
The cartoon’s most stunning scene is that of Betty Boop cutting her toenails. But even more striking is Sammy Timberg’s music, which is loosely jointed from numerous familiar tunes, and which anticipates Carl Stalling’s techniques by several years.
This cartoon is billed ‘Bimbo & Betty’, indicating Betty’s rising star. In the next cartoon, ‘Minding the Baby‘, it would be ‘Betty Boop and Bimbo’, and in ‘Mask-A-Raid‘, it’s already “Betty Boop in ‘Mask-A-Raid’ with Bimbo’…
Watch ‘Bimbo’s Express’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Bimbo’s Express’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’
Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 2, 1930
The Silly Symphonies were to be a series of great innovation, but in 1930 this was not so clear, yet, as the entries of that year were mostly preoccupied with dance routines.
The ‘innovation’ of ‘Monkey Melodies’, for example, is the embryonic story of its second half. But only with ‘Playful Pan‘ from the end of the year, some real experimentation was to kick in.
‘Monkey Melodies’ opens with monkeys, apes and parrots frolicking in the jungle in a long dance routine. After several minutes we follow two monkeys in love, who frolic to the tune of Rudy Wiedoeft’s Narcissus. The two go on a boat ride on a log, and manage to escape a crocodile, a hippo, a snake and a leopard.
‘Monkey Melodies’ is a very standard Silly Symphony, typical of 1930, the ‘story’ of the second half notwithstanding, and to be frank, the short is rather dull. Its highlight may be the effect animation of a crocodile swimming under water.
Watch ‘Monkey Melodies’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Silly Symphony No. 13
‘Monkey Melodies’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’
Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: July 28, 1930
1930 saw a string of Silly Symphonies featuring animals performing endless dance routines. In ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’, however, the dancing is being done by toys and dolls. Not that it makes a difference…
‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’ introduces the small spider, who would also be the hero of ‘Egyptian Melodies‘. To escape the freezing cold the spider enters a toy shop. First he’s afraid of everything, but when he’s playing the piano, the dolls and toys come to life, dancing to his tunes. This results in a very, very long dance routine, rendering ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’ a rather dull short. However, in the first scene the spider leads the viewer into the scenery, and we as an audience, explore the toy shop with him. This story idea would be perfected in the intro of ‘Pinocchio’ (1940), of which the intro of ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’ is an embryonic version.
‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’ contains a strange mixture of primitive and more advanced designs and animation. It starts with some stunning effect animation of snow, and ends when a candle lights some fireworks, making the spider flee the shop.
Watch ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’
Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: August 16, 1930
Stars: Flip the Frog
Iwerks was to set up his own studio, with animators quickly hired with help of a newspaper ad. ‘Fiddlesticks’ was his pilot film, launching Iwerks’s own new star, Flip the Frog. According to David Gerstein in ‘Animation Art’ the origin of Flip can be found in the Silly Symphony, ‘Night’, which features a dancing frog. Apparently, Iwerks wanted to make a star out of this frog, but this idea was vetoed by Walt Disney. Now, with his own studio, he could launch Flip the Frog as his sole new star, which the likable if bland amphibian remained until 1933.
Surprisingly enough, ‘Fiddlesticks’, was made in Technicolor, making it the first sound cartoon in color, predating Walt Disney’s first color cartoon, ‘Flowers and Trees‘, by two years. A milestone, one would say, if Walter Lantz had not already made a Technicolor cartoon sequence for the feature ‘The King of Jazz’, released in April. Moreover, in 1930 Technicolor was still a two-color system, only showing greens and reds, and Iwerks fails to do anything with the colors, which are less impressive than the later full color technicolor, anyway. Indeed, the following Flip the Frog cartoons were all in black-and-white.
Not only does ‘Fiddlesticks’ fail as a color cartoon, it is also disappointingly boring. The animation is good, and there’s a lot of rhythmical movement, perfectly synchronized to the soundtrack, but the cartoon is devoid of any story, and low on gags. The main body of the cartoon features a concert performance with Flip dancing and playing the piano, while a rather Mickey Mouse-like mouse plays the violin. The duet reuses some gags from earlier Mickey Mouse cartoons, like ‘The Jazz Fool‘ (1929) and ‘Just Mickey‘ (1930).
Unfortunately, ‘Fiddlesticks’ shows the problems of many Flip the Frog cartoons to follow: the animation is fine and the atmosphere is joyful, but the cartoons are surprisingly low on gags and the stories never really come off, mainly due to sloppy timing and the absence of a build-up.
Watch ‘Fiddlesticks’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Fiddlesticks’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1’
Director: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Release Date: April 19, 1930
Stars: Bosko, Honey
Harman & Ising’s pilot ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid‘ lead to a succesful contract with Leon Schlesinger, and in April 1930, the young studio could release their first film for Warner Bros.: ‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’.
‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’ is the very first of the Looney Tunes, Harman and Ising’s first of three series which name was an all too obvious variation on Walt Disney’s successful Silly Symphonies. In 1931 they would launch the Merrie Melodies, and in 1934, when at MGM, the Happy Harmonies.
Schlesinger had sold the series to Warner Bros. with the prospect of selling their sheet music, and music would be an important part of both the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies until the end of the 1930s. Apart from the title song, one can hear ‘Forever Blowing Bubbles’ when Honey turns her bath tub into Bosko’s saxophone, making him blowing bubbles with his instrument.
Animated by Friz Freleng, ‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’ features Bosko, the star of ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’, and Warner Bros.’ sole star from 1930 to 1933. Bosko invites his girlfriend Honey for a ride in his anthropomorphized car (which he finds on the toilet(!)). On their journey they experience problems with a cow and a steep hill. The ride ends in a pool.
The cartoon is well-animated and cheerful, but surprisingly boring at the same time, even though it lacks the endless song-and-dance-routines of contemporary Mickey Mouse cartoons. Bosko and his girl behave like Oswald and his girlfriend, and are only different in design, being clearly black stereotypes. They are totally devoid of any personality. In fact, Bosko would never develop one, and eventually it became even unclear what Bosko actually was, as exemplified by the following anecdote from Jack Zander, quoted by Leonard Maltin in ‘Of Mice and Magic’ (page 225):
One Day a porter at the studio said to young animator Jack Zander, “I want to ask you something about that character you’ve got. I know Mickey Mouse, and Krazy Kat, and Oswald the Rabbit… but Bosko the what?”
Watch ‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’ and on the Blu-Ray ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’
Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: November 23, 1930
Stars: Milton Mouse, Rita Mouse
This time Milton is an office boy, where Rita is a secretary. The story involves Milton getting jealous of Rita when the boss flirts with her. So Milton invites the boss’s wife to catch her husband red-handed. In the end we watch Milton and Rita jumping into a painting on a train to sing their end duet.
The designs and animation of Milton and Rita are terrible, but too close for comfort, and some of Mickey’s mannerisms have clearly been copied. As was the case in ‘Circus Capers‘, Milton and Rita are more vulgar than their Disney counterparts, despite the similar looks, and most of the fun of the cartoon lies in the rude behavior of these pseudo-Mickey and Minnie. The cartoon’s best gag, however, is when Rita starts typing frantically even when her boss hasn’t really dictated anything.
But Milton’s and Rita’s days were numbered. In 1931 Disney sued the Van Beuren company, and on April 30, 1931 the federal court prohibited the Van Beuren studio to display any of his Mickey Mouse-lookalikes. The Walt Disney company never asked for money, however. They simply wanted the plagiarism to stop.
Watch ‘The Office Boy’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Office Boy’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’
Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date: November 9, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
‘Gypped in Egypt’ is a cartoon set in Egypt. It predates Disney’s ‘Egyptian Melodies‘, which covers similar grounds, by nine months.
This cartoon was the last of four to feature Waffles and Don. The duo had finally reached distinct personalities in this short: Waffles, the tall cat, is constantly afraid, while Don, the small dog, keeps calm and unimpressed.
In the opening shot we watch the duo traveling through the desert on a camel. When the camel dies, a nightmarish scene starts, featuring a sphinx, pyramids and more camels. This brings our heroes inside an Egyptian tomb, where they encounter dancing skeletons and hieroglyphs. Suddenly, there are skeletons everywhere, and Don plays the piano with one of them. The cartoon ends abruptly with Waffles and Don running from a giant hypnotizing sphinx face.
‘Gypped in Egypt’ features several elements that were reused in Disney’s ‘Egyptian Melodies’: dancing hieroglyphs, nightmarish scenes, and even a corridor scene. However, Van Beuren’s cartoon is much cruder and more disjointed than Disney’s latter cartoon. Its greatest feature is it hallucinating character. Unfortunately, it is not retained throughout the picture, and the whole cartoon suffers from all too sloppy storytelling and ditto timing.
Watch ‘Gypped in Egypt’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Gypped in Egypt’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’
Director: Frank Moser
Release Date: 1930
‘Family Album’ is a commercial by Charles W. Barrell for the Western Electric Company, glorifying the telephone, and its ‘offspring’: other inventions that are derived from telephone technology, including the microphone and the speaker.
The film reuses the character Talkie from Fleischer’s earlier film ‘Finding his voice‘ (1929), but its star is an anthropomorphized telephone, talking about his family. Although quite educational, the film is less interesting than Fleischer’s film. The animation, by veterans Paul Terry and Frank Moser, is rather poor and limited. There’s no rubbery animation whatsoever, and the designs are still in 1920s style.
‘Family Album’ is available on the DVD ‘Cultoons! Rare, Lost and Strange Cartoons! Volume 2: Animated Education’
Director: Jan Švankmajer
Release Date: 1980
The images, some of which are animated, are sometimes quite disturbing, and are at points even able to evoke the horror of the story. However, most of the time they seem totally unrelated to the narration, and their visual power in fact often distracts from the voice over, making the story very hard to follow, indeed.
‘The House of Usher’ is a daring experiment in cinematographic storytelling, but not really a successful one, and Švankmajer would not repeat it. Nevertheless, three years later, the Czech film maker would return to Edgar Allen Poe, in ‘The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope‘, with much better results.
Watch ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is available on the DVD ‘Jan Svankmajer – The Complete Short Films’
Director: Henk Kabos
Release Date: 1943
It’s a strange little tale of a man who ‘improves’ an old car into a musical instrument. He tours around the countryside, until his car crashes against a tree.
The soundtrack of this film has been lost, so we don’t know how the musical car sounds, but the film feels uninspired: the story lacks any logic, and the animation is primitive and raw. It contains some elements both 1930s Fleischer and Disney, without reaching either peaks.
In his autobiography Marten Toonder states that the idea of this cartoon had its origins in the German UFA studio, who wanted a story on a tumble toy. Toonder soon gave the tumble toy arms and legs, but he and his studio only halfheartedly worked on this ill-conceived idea, and it shows. Nevertheless, some of the designs are quite charming: the backgrounds have an unmistakable Toonder-touch, and the animals in the cartoon do look good.
‘Das musikalische Auto’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’