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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’

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Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: June 28, 1940
Stars: Pluto, Butch
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Bone Trouble © Walt DisneyPluto’s solo career had a slow start: after his first own cartoon, ‘Pluto’s Quin-puplets’ our favorite mutt had to wait three more years for a second cartoon.

Compared to this first, cute cartoon, ‘Bone Trouble’ is an altogether different short: it’s a real exponent of the chase cartoon era: when Pluto steals a bone from vicious neighbor dog Butch, a chase soon follows into a surprisingly empty carnival. Most of the gags originate in Pluto’s adventures in a hall of mirrors. This is a wonderful place, having mirrors that are able to reflect Pluto as an alligator, a camel, an ape, a kangaroo and a seal.

Unlike many of the later Pluto shorts, ‘Bone Trouble’ is a genuine gag cartoon, greatly helped by the carnival atmosphere, and an excellent musical score. The short introduces Butch the bulldog. Butch was not the first vicious bulldog on the animated screen (for example, there’s one in the Betty Boop cartoon ‘You’re Not Built That Way’ from 1936), but he is the prototype of all subsequent animated bulldogs, most notably Spike, who made his debut in the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘Dog Trouble’ (1942). Why in cartoons Bulldogs were always portrayed as bullies, we’ll never know, as real bulldogs look hardly like their cartoon counterparts.

‘Bone Trouble’ is also noteworthy for being the cartoon in which Jack Kinney’s makes his direction debut. Kinney became the studio’s best gag director, which he showed in the Goofy series, which in 1940 became his own. Kinney directed only one other Pluto cartoon: ‘Cold Storage‘ from 1951, which is even better than ‘Bone Trouble’.

Butch, meanwhile, would return in five other Pluto cartoons, ‘T-Bone for Two‘ (1942), ‘Canine Casanova’ (1945), ‘Pluto’s Kid Brother‘ (1946), ‘Pluto’s Purchase’ (1948) and ‘Pluto’s Heart Throb‘ (1950).

Watch ‘Bone trouble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Pluto cartoon No. 2
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Pluto’s Quin-Puplets
To the next Pluto cartoon: Pantry Pirate

‘Bone Trouble’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Complete Pluto Volume One’

Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: December 26, 1941
Stars: Goofy
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Art of Self Defense © Walt DisneyThe first five Goofy shorts all progressed the Goofy character, and none was like the previous one.

Goofy and Wilbur’ had made Goofy a solo star, ‘Goofy’s Glider’ introduced the pompous narrator John McLeish, ‘Baggage Buster’ rendered Goofy voiceless, and ‘How to Ride a Horse’ and ‘The Art of Skiing‘ put this all together into the archetypical sports cartoon.

Now, in ‘The Art of Self Defense’ another step was made: the duplication of Goofs. In the main body of the cartoon we still watch only one Goofy, but this is preceded by a historical overview of fighting, featuring several different goofs, even in caveman and hieroglyph form. Now Goofy could be anybody, and indeed, already in his next cartoon, ‘How to Play Baseball’ (1942) numerous Goofs flock the screen.

‘The Art of Self Defense’ is about boxing, and features Goofy being clobbered by his own shadow, and training endlessly, only to be knocked out in the ring within seconds. The very silly historical opening is the highlight of the cartoon, however, featuring great sound effects, and various depictions of time marching on. Also interesting is the boxing scene from the turn of the century, which figures very graphical quasi-etched background art.

Watch ‘The Art of Self Defense’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Goofy cartoon No. 5
To the previous Goofy cartoon: The Art of Skiing
To the next Goofy cartoon: How to Play Baseball

‘The Art of Self Defense’ is available on the DVD set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy’

Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: November 14,1941
Stars: Goofy
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Art of Skiing © Walt DisneyJack Kinney revolutionized the Goofy cartoon with the ‘How to Ride a Horse’ sequence in ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ from June 1941. The contrast between John McLeish’s all too sincere instructions, and Goofy’s original ways of acting them out, proved to be a highly successful one, and resulted in great comedy.

This concept was immediately put into action in the Goofy shorts, with ‘The Art of Skiing’ being the first example. This is Goofy’s first real sports cartoon, and it shows several aspects of skiing, like the slalom and the ski jump, all in Goofy’s own original fashion. The Alpine setting is enriched by yodels by Austrian alpine ski racer and professional yodeler Hannes Schroll (1909-1985), who’s also responsible for the very first Goofy yell, which is in fact a variation on his other yodels in the same short. The Goofy holler, as it came to be known, was an instant hit, and reappeared in several other Goofy cartoons, every time our beloved character made a great fall.

The Goofy holler even appeared outside the Goofy series, and can be heard in e.g. the Pluto shorts ‘Legend of Coyote Rock’ (1946) and ‘Food for Feudin’ (1950), and in the feature ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’.

‘The Art of Skiing’ also marks the first instance in which McLeish recites a poem. This story idea would be used to a great effect in ‘The Olympic Champ’ (1942). The best gags, however, involve Goofy trying to put on his trousers with his skis already attached, and Goofy trying to turn around with his skis. The endless string of predicaments story man Jack Cutting and the animators put the character in is both inventive and very funny.

Watch ‘The Art of Skiing’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Goofy cartoon No. 4
To the previous Goofy cartoon: Baggage Buster
To the next Goofy cartoon: The Art of Self Defense

‘The Art of Skiing’ is available on the DVD set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy’

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 Kinney
Release Date: November 22, 1940
Stars: Goofy
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Goofy's Glider © Walt DisneyIn ‘Goofy’s Glider’ our likable goof tries to reach the sky in a self-made glider plane.

We watch several attempts, highlights of which are a failed shot with a catapult, in which Goofy manages to launch himself without his plane, and the scene in which he takes the sky upside down.

The looks of ‘Goofy’s Glider’ are less gorgeous than that of Goofy’s first cartoon, ‘Goofy and Wilbur‘ (1939). Goofy’s design has become more streamlined, and the overall art is leaner, and less Silly Symphony-like. Yet, ‘Goofy’s Glider’ is a more mature cartoon than Goofy’s debut film. It’s humor is more assured, sillier, better timed, and thus funnier.

Moreover, this cartoon forms an important step in the evolution of Goofy: first, it’s the first Goofy short directed by Jack Kinney, who had made his directing debut with the Pluto short ‘Bone Trouble‘ earlier that year, and who would direct almost every Goofy cartoon until the very end of the series in 1953. Second, it introduces the ‘how to’ formula, in which Goofy tries to achieve a goal, helped by an off-screen narrator, in a series of blackout gags. And third, it introduces story man John McLeish as the off screen narrator, helping Goofy through his series of attempts, with his particularly pompous voice, which contrasted perfectly with Goofy’s antics on the screen.

The cartoon’s rather revolutionary blackout gag formula was most probably based on Tex Avery’s spot gag cartoons of the late 1930s (e.g. ‘Detouring America’ of 1939 and ‘Cross Country Detours’ of 1940). But where Avery stuck to rather unrelated gags, Kinney applied the formula to several attempts by one character to achieve one goal. Even if this idea owes something to the Donald Duck short ‘Donald’s Nephews‘ (1938), which also features a book to bridge the gags, it was a revolutionary step forward, fit for the chase cartoon era. In this respect, ‘Goofy’s Glider’ is the ancestor to the format of most chase cartoons, and that of the Tweety and Sylvester and Roadrunner series in particular. As such, it even predates Frank Tashlin’s Fox and Crow series, which is often cited as most influential in this respect. This formula, at least, was used in most of Goofy’s coming sports cartoons.

It remains a little unclear who’s Goofy’s voice in this cartoon. Pinto Colvig had left for the Fleischer studio in Miami, and the dialogue in this cartoon feels detached from the images, as if it had been recorded after the animation. In several scenes lip synch is poor, and in the first scene it’s even completely absent. Plus, several vocalizations occur when Goofy’s face cannot be seen. On the other hand, there’s clearly some new dialogue and even some singing. Some internet sources state that one George Johnson is Goofy’s voice in this cartoon, and even in ‘Goofy and Wilbur’. I find this hard to believe. If so, why did Goofy become a silent character? If Johnson did the voices in these two cartoons, he obviously did an excellent job, and would have proven to be a worthy successor of Colvig. Yet, with Goofy’s next cartoon, ‘Baggage Buster’ the character would be completely silent.

Moreover, in his memoirs Jack Kinney doesn’t mention Johnson, stating that Colvig’s leave was the cause of the silencing of the character:

“Voice-over was the only choice, because, as we saw it, the Goof couldn’t talk much, if at all. The reason for this was that Pinto Colvig, the old circus hand who had done Goofy’s patter for years, had left the studio. Consequently, all the Goof’s manic mutterings had to be lifted from the studio library of sound tracks.”

(Cited from: ‘Walt Disney and Assorted Other Characters – An unauthorized Account of the Early Years at Disney’s’ – page 123).

I therefore suspect that in both Goofy’s earliest cartoons Colvig is still responsible for the vocalizations, and somehow his parts for ‘Goofy’s Glider’ were rushed. But I must admit that I’ve no proof for this hypothesis, and I would be happy to be corrected.

Watch ‘Goofy’s Glider’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Goofy cartoon No. 2
To the previous Goofy cartoon: Goofy and Wilbur
To the next Goofy cartoon: Baggage Buster

‘Goofy’s Glider’ is available on the DVD set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy’

 

Director: Dick Huemer
Release Date: March 17, 1939
Stars: Goofy
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Goofy and Wilbur © Walt DisneyOf Mickey’s co-stars, Goofy was the last to get his own series, a fact that in a way is true to his slow character.

Goofy had appeared outside the Mickey Mouse series for the first time in ‘Polar Trappers‘ (1938), co-starring with Donald Duck, but only in 1939 he would star a cartoon on his own, in ‘Goofy and Wilbur’. This short is only the second of two cartoons directed by Dick Huemer (the other one being ‘The Whalers’ from 1938). In Don Peri’s book ‘Working with Walt’ Huemer states he wished he had stayed on shorts, but Disney put him to work on ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Fantasia’ and he never returned to the short medium.

In ‘Goofy and Wilbur’ Huemer mainly emphasizes the gentle side of Goofy’s character. Goofy goes fishing in a no fishing area, using a live grasshopper called Wilbur as a bait. Wilbur, whose design is halfway that of the grasshopper in ‘The Grasshopper and the Ants‘ (1934) and that of Jiminy Cricket in ‘Pinocchio‘ (1940), is clearly Goofy’s friend, and the two cooperate in a clever scheme in which Wilbur lures several surprisingly colorful fish to Goofy’s net.

The consequence of this story idea is that most of the screen time goes to the little grasshopper instead of Goofy. Only when, after six minutes, Wilbur gets swallowed by a frog we switch to Goofy, and only then his unique physique can be seen in a great chase scene. However, the cartoon’s highlight is the priceless shot in which Goofy tries to comfort himself after the loss of his friend: “I gotta cheer up! There’s lots of grasshoppers in the weeds!”, only to fall back into the saddest face possible immediately after uttering these words.

The production values of ‘Goofy and Wilbur’ are fantastic, but Huemer’s gentle humor doesn’t make the most of the character. This was left to his successor, Jack Kinney, who steered the lovable goof into a whole new direction…

Watch ‘Goofy and Wilbur’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

This is the first Goofy cartoon
To the previous Goofy appearance within the Mickey Mouse series: The Whalers
To the next Goofy cartoon: Goofy’s Glider

‘Goofy and Wilbur’ is available on the DVD set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: March 7, 1941
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Golden Eggs © Walt Disney‘Golden Eggs’ opens with Donald Duck reading in the newspapers that prices of eggs are skyrocketing.

He immediately turns to his own chicken farm to collect eggs. Strangely enough, however, he’s hindered by a rooster who’s taller than himself. Thus Donald tries deceit, and dresses as a particularly feminine chicken, seducing the rooster.

However, things go hardly as planned, and instead of collecting eggs, Donald finds himself dancing with the amorous rooster. The music is particularly inspired in these scenes, mounting to an intoxicating Cuban rhythm. In the end Donald manages to collect the eggs, but destroys them immediately…

‘Golden Eggs’ knows its moments, but is essentially a one-joke cartoon. Nevertheless, Donald’s cross-dressing method of deceit would be followed by Tom in a similar ‘Flirty Birdy’ (1945), and Bugs Bunny in many cartoons to come, starting with ‘Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips’ (1944).

Watch ‘Golden Eggs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 23
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Timber
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: A Good Time for a Dime

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

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: Riley Thomson
Release Date: 1940
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

The Volunteer Worker © Walt Disney‘The Volunteer Worker’ is a short commercial in which Donald tries to collect for charity, to no avail.

Every citizen shows him the door. When he sits down at the dumps, a construction worker helps him out, giving him a first donation and delivering the film’s message that charity helps.

This construction worker is an elaborate human character, and very well animated. The complete film excels in high production values, possessing a great montage, showing Donald’s though time, and beautiful lighting.

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

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

Director: Jack King
Release Date: December 13, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey & Louie
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Fire Chief © Walt DisneyAfter co-starring in ‘Mickey’s Fire Brigade’ (1935), Donald now is a fire chief himself, helped by his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie.

There’s no heroism involved in this cartoon, however, as the four ducks only try to extinguish a fire that Donald accidentally has put to his very own fire station.

Penned by e.g. Carl Barks, this is a genuine gag cartoon, with the gags coming in fast and plenty, and building to a ridiculous finale, in which Donald destroys the fire station, his car and his hat within seconds. The animation, too, is extraordinarily flexible, especially when Donald blows his horn. The cartoon is a delight from start to end, and must be counted among Donald’s all time best.

Barks would later return to the theme in the equally classic comic ‘Fireman Donald’ (1947), in which Donald is as inadequate as a fireman as he is in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Fire Chief’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 21
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Window Cleaners
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Timber

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

Director: Jack King
Release Date: September 20, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Pluto
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Window Cleaners © Walt DisneyWindow Cleaners is the fifth of six cartoons co-starring Donald Duck and Pluto. Unlike the other films starring the duo, this is pretty much Donald’s film, with Pluto sleeping most of the time.

Donald has a job cleaning windows on a ridiculously high building and using the lazy mutt as his helper. This accounts for some spectacular background art emphasizing the dizzying heights Donald is working on.

The film is less gag rich than its contemporaries, however, being split into two long and distinct routines: in the first Donald tries to wake Pluto, to no avail. Highlight of this part is his attempt to yell into the drainpipe. This scene accounts for some spectacular body deformations on our beloved duck.

In the second routine Donald bullies a bee, which takes revenge immediately. This bee is the direct ancestor of the bee Jack Hannah introduced in ‘Inferior Decorator’ (1948) and one can say that all Hannah’s bee films follow the routine from this particular cartoon.

Watch ‘Window Cleaners’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 20
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Vacation
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Fire Chief

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

Director: Jack King
Release Date: August 9, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Donald's Vacation © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Vacation’ is a delightful entry in the Donald Duck series. The cartoon opens idyllically enough, with Donald humming and strumming his ukelele, while canoeing through a beautiful landscape – the bacground artwork in this scene is absolutely stunning.

When a waterfall accidentally lands him on the perfect spot, his canoe turns out to be an inventive marvel, outdoing Mickey’s trailer in the cartoon of the same name (1938): not only can the canoe change into a tent instantly, it’s also capable of storing endless supplies.

But before Donald can relax, he first has to battle a collapsible vacation chair. Like the outboard motor in the previous cartoon ‘Put-put Troubles‘, the chair provides excellent comedy, showing that Donald was at his best when struggling with everyday objects.

When he finally comes to rest, a multitude of chipmunks, antecedents of Chip ‘n Dale, steal all his food. This leads to an encounter with a bear, which elaborates on the comedy of the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Pointer’ (1939), adding countless new and original gags, like the bear stripping a tree from its bark, and Donald cutting holes into some waterfalls.

‘Donald’s Vacation’ is a gag cartoon throughout, but in this finale the gags come fast and plenty, and lead to an excellent closing, in which Donald flees into the distance, only a couple of minutes after his unfortunate camping adventure had started.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 19
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Put-Put Troubles
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Window Cleaners

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

Director: Riley Thomson
Release Date: July 19, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Pluto
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Put-Put Troubles © Walt DisneyIn 1940, the Donald Duck series really hit the stride, becoming a series of pure gag cartoons, with few real failures until the end.

By now, Donald had shed his childish feathers, and had become more or less a representative of the American average citizen, coping with familiar troubles, like in this case, a failing outboard motor.

In ‘Put-Put Troubles’ Donald and Pluto go for a boat trip on a lake. Pluto encounters a frog and gets stuck in a spring, while Donald has troubles with starting the outboard motor. The motor itself is excellently animated, behaving rather outrageously, and at one time even functioning as a can opener, destroying Donald’s boat within seconds.

This is arguably the first cartoon in which Donald has to battle with a well-known inanimate object. Donald was at its best when having to deal with common household objects, and this cartoon is a prime example. True, Donald had to deal with inanimate objects before, e.g. strange machines in ‘Modern Inventions‘ (1937) and a giant spring in ‘Clock Cleaners’ (1938), but these were hardly familiar things to the average viewer, while Donald’s struggle with the outboard motor is recognizable to many, adding to its comedy. Even better examples were to come (e.g. the folding chair from ‘Donald’s Vacation‘ (1940), the folding bed from ‘Early to Bed’ (1941) and the leaking tap in ‘Drip Dippy Donald’ from 1948).

In contrast, Pluto’s antics with the spring are less inspired, and the cartoon’s exciting finale comes all too suddenly to an end.

‘Put-Put Troubles’ was the first Disney short directed by the unsung hero Riley Thomson, who would only direct seven shorts between 1940 and 1942, all of them hilarious. Thomson had started animating for Warner Bros. in 1935, but already in 1936 he exchanged Warner Bros. for Walt Disney. After his direction career, Thomson became a story man for the Goofy series, then moved on to comics. He spent the final days of his career at Walter Lantz, as a layout artist for the Woody Woodpecker show.

Watch ‘Put-Put Troubles’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 18
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Mr. Duck Steps Out
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Vacation

‘Put-Put Troubles’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: June 7, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Mr. Duck Steps Out © Walt Disney‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ opens with Donald Duck preparing to visit his love interest, Daisy Duck.

To Donald’s dismay, his nephews want to go too, and the kid trio seriously hampers his courting efforts. Even sending them off to get some ice cream doesn’t help. Nevertheless, when Huey, Dewey and Louie make Donald swallow a popping corn, Donald’s dance moves become so hot, he quickly wins Daisy over. Thus, in the end, the exhausted duck is smothered in kisses.

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is a clear cartoon of the swing era, and we watch all ducks trucking and doing the lindy hop to the swinging music. The Disney composers weren’t capable of making real jazz, however, and the music remains rather tame when compared to the big bands of the era. It’s a pity, because the animation on Donald and Daisy dancing, and on the nephews are playing the music is marvelous, and certainly hotter than the music accompanying it.

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is noteworthy for marking the debut of Donald’s long lasting girlfriend, Daisy Duck, Donald’s second love interest after Donna Duck had disappeared into the distance on her unicycle in ‘Don Donald‘ (1937). On the screen, Daisy remained a minor character, only appearing in ten more Donald Duck cartoons. However, she would become a regular in Al Taliaferro’s daily strip, making her debut on 4 November 1940, first as Donald’s new neighbor. Later, Carl Barks, too, made regular use of this character. In both comic strips Daisy’s appearance remained largely the same as in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 17
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Dog Laundry
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Put-Put Troubles

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: May 17, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Goofy
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Billposters © Walt Disney‘Billposters’ is the third of six cartoons co-starring Donald Duck and Goofy, and arguably the best in the series.

In this short Donald and Goofy are fanatical billposters, literally smothering the countryside with advertisements for canned soup. In the introduction we watch them reaching a barn, while whistling and humming ‘Whistle While You Work’ from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937).

What follows are only two routines: Goofy’s problems with a windmill, and Donald’s problems with a hungry billy goat. These separate routines are a continuation of the trio cartoon formula, now only minus Mickey. The string of gags is impressive, as one gag flows naturally into another, building to the strong finale, in which the two separate story lines combine. Especially Goofy’s antics belong to the best in his career. Nevertheless, Geronimi’s all too relaxed timing hampers the picture, and make the gags less funny than they could have been, making ‘Billposters’ fall short of becoming a real classic.

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

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

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: 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’

Directors: Hamilton Luske & Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: February 7, 1940
Rating:  ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Pinocchio © Walt Disney‘Pinocchio’ was Walt Disney’s long awaited successor to his hugely successfully first animated feature ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. Its release was beaten by Max Fleischer’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, making ‘Pinocchio’ the third animated feature made in the United States.

In many ways ‘Pinocchio’ is a much darker affair than both earlier films. In fact, in many ways the feature is Disney’s darkest film, not only due to its deep oil canvases, but also because none of its villains are punished.

The film starts merrily enough, though, and the first 26 minutes take place in the cozy home of gentle woodcarver Geppetto, where his countless original cuckoo clocks, based on drawings by Albert Hurter, provide a lovely background. But as soon as Pinocchio leaves his house troubles start, and his predicaments go from bad to worse. And perhaps Geppetto might have known. I’ve always thought it strange to let the boy go to school on his own on his very first day of existence…

The dark atmosphere the film of course shares with the original book by Carlo Collodi from 1882, with which it also shares its episodic character. But Disney made the character entirely his own. Pinocchio’s design is cute and childlike, not the gaunt wooden puppet of many earlier illustrations of the book. This child-like design was developed by Milt Kahl, and surpassed an earlier, less appealing design by Fred Moore. This incidentally marked the start of the latter animator’s demise. Where Collodi’s Pinocchio was an obnoxious rascal, made out of some stubborn wood, Disney’s Pinocchio is a tabula rasa, an innocent child not yet corrupted by society. Indeed, the fairy’s task, to let his conscience be his guide, is seriously tested once Pinocchio enters the real world.

Pinocchio’s conscience is personified by Jiminy Cricket, a Disney invention based on a minor character from the book, which in the original all too soon is smacked against the wall. Jiminy Cricket is spared that fate, however, and in many ways is even made the main protagonist of the film. This little insect, developed and predominantly animated by Ward Kimball, is far less recognizable as an insect than the grasshopper had been in ‘The Grasshopper and the Ants’ (1934). Jiminy looks more like a tiny man, with his antenna looking more like two hairs. This design would resurface in that of Bootle Beetle, introduced in 1947.

It’s Jiminy Cricket who sings the famous opening tune, ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’, which leads us to the little cricket himself, who introduces us to the story, as he opens the book for us, and we literally hop with him to Geppetto’s toy shop. He’s voiced by Cliff Edwards, who in the 1920s enjoyed a famous career as ‘Ukelele Ike’, but whose career since then had been in a steady decline. ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ alone ensured him eternal fame, and the lovely tune would become Walt Disney’s signature tune from then on. Edwards gave the little insect cheerful lines, and rather modern remarks that makes us connect to the otherwise otherworldly story. Jiminy Cricket also shows a rather mundane interest in dames. He’s not only clearly impressed by the blue fairy, who indeed looks like a glamorous Hollywood girl, but also in the French can can dancing puppets who share the stage with Pinocchio in Stromboli’s theater. Jiminy Cricket surely is a lovable character, and it’s hardly surprising that he was reused again in ‘Fun and Fancy Free’ to bridge that film’s two stories, even though he seems quite out of place there.

Apart from Jiminy, the film is stuffed with great characters, most notably the cute kitten Figaro and his female goldfish companion, Cleo, also two Disney originals. Cleo is the direct ancestor of the sexy fish in the Arabian Dance of the Nutcracker Suite-sequence in ‘Fantasia’ (1940). They, too, would return to the screen in a short called ‘Figaro and Cleo’ (1943), after which Figaro was coupled to Pluto to star three more cartoons. ‘Pinocchio’ remained unique in this spawning of shorts, with ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ (1988) being the first Disney feature to do the same.

The villains, too, are delightful. The first rogues Pinocchio encounters are the petty criminals Honest John the fox and Gideon the cat. Norm Ferguson and John Lounsberry animate the duo with gusto, and the interplay between fox and cat is full of delightful classic vaudeville routines. More evil than those is the explosive puppeteer Stromboli, whose temper matches his name, taken after the Italian volcano. Stromboli is animated by Bill Tytla, and in a way he’s a variation on Grumpy in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. Like Art Babbit’s Geppetto, he’s halfway cartoon and realism, showing the animator’s grown confidence with the human form, and like Ferguson’s Fox and Cat, his moves are broad and theatrical, and they have a charming quality despite the menace.

Not so with the fourth criminal, the sinister coachman. His menace is downplayed, except from one frightening outburst, making him all the scarier. The coachman takes Pinocchio to pleasure island, where things turn very dark indeed. In many ways the pleasure island episode forms the abyss of an already pretty dark film. On the ride to the isle Pinocchio immediately befriends Lampwick, delightfully animated by Fred Moore, who may be naughty, but who remains sympathetic throughout. His metamorphosis into a donkey is therefore a moment of genuine horror, and like the one metamorphosis scene in Snow White absolutely the scariest moment in the entire movie.

Pinocchio manages to escape Pleasure Island, and even manages to return home, only to find it empty, and even covered by cobwebs, as if he had been gone for months. This is very incongruous, as he had only been away for two days… Anyway, in a rather deus ex machina-like scene a dove delivers our heroes a letter stating that while looking for Pinocchio Geppetto has been swallowed by a whale. This weak story device is luckily easily forgotten, for this leads to the first moment in which Pinocchio takes matters in his own hand, bravely jumping into the sea without any reluctance. The subsequent sea scenes form the second incongruity in the film: we watch Pinocchio wander with ease on the sea floor, but his sea adventures end with his drowning…

At sea, Pinocchio meets his final adversary, that tour-the-force of villainy, Monstro. In the original book the puppet got swallowed by a shark, but the Disney studio made it into a very large whale. Like the whale in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Whalers’ (1938), which by all means looks like a study for this film, Monstro is a strange combination of a sperm whale and a finback, blown up to really gargantuan proportions. This leviathan is able to devour complete ships and shoals of tuna. It’s admirable that the film manages to feature both such a tiny character as Jiminy and this giant whale. Monstro absolutely dominates every scene in which he’s in, and his moves, by Woollie Reitherman, are a stunning effort of animation of force and weight, greatly helped by a multitude of effects animation. In any case Monstro’s chase of our heroes accounts for a stunning finale, crowning the already breathtaking film.

The abundance of effect animation give ‘Pinocchio’ a stunning look anyhow. For example, all characters are airbrushed with lovely shadings, the blue fairy is strangely translucent, and there are great water effects during Pinocchio’s walk on the sea floor. All these extras give the film an extra luxuriant look, only matched by the Silly Symphony ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ (1939) and by ‘Fantasia’ (1940).

The staging, too, is often no less than stunning. Especially Pinocchio’s village are given two extraordinary bird eye’s view pan shots, based on designs by Danish illustrator Gustaf Tenggren: the first starts with doves flying from a bell tower, which leads us to an elaborate shot through the village, showing it to be full of life. The second follows Honest John and Gideon leading Pinocchio to a career in the theater, on the delightful tune of Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee. Jiminy Cricket’s small size also accounts for some very original settings, like the detailed billiard table. All these settings were painted in rich oil canvases, which replaced the lighter water color backgrounds of ‘Snow White’.

Apart from ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ and ‘Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee’, the film features two other delightful songs, all composed by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington: ‘Give A Little Whistle’, and ‘I’ve Got No Strings’. However, when events turn dark, the songs disappear from the screen.

When compared to ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘Pinocchio’ is easily the better film. Unfortunately, like ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ ‘Pinocchio’ suffered from an unfavorable comparison to ‘Snow White’ and from the cut of the European market due to World War II. Thus the film was far less successful at the box office than hoped. ‘Pinocchio’ had cost the studio 2,6 million dollars, and by the spring of 1940 the studio was no less than $4,5 million in debt. This prompted the Disney brothers to go to the stock market. This was a successful move, and allowed the Disney studio to complete and distribute ‘Fantasia’. However, it also marked the end of an era, and when ‘Fantasia’ too, proved to be a financial disappointment, it was clear that Disney’s golden days were over. In that respect, ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Fantasia’ form the crowning achievements of a stunning career that had begun so humbly with ‘Plane Crazy’ twelve years before.

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

 

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: October 10, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Officer Duck © Walt Disney‘Officer Duck’ is the first of nine cartoons co-starring Donald Duck and Pete.

Pete, who in this short is called Tiny Tom and who has a golden tooth, had been a great adversary to the courageous Mickey Mouse, and he also was a strong opponent to Donald Duck. However, he was dropped after 1944, as Donald Duck director Jack Hannah preferred smaller adversaries, making Donald Duck more of a straight man to bees, bugs and chipmunks.

In ‘Officer Duck’ Donald is a policeman ordered to arrest Tiny Tom (ergo Pete). He does so by pretending to be a baby, bringing out Pete’s previously unknown soft side. Apart from being rather unlikely, the comedy also suffers from milking this one idea – in a 1940s Warner Bros. cartoon the baby trick would have been only one of several schemes.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 14
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Autograph Hound
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: The Riveter

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

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