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Director: Dick Rickard
Release Date: November 25, 1938
Rating: ★★★½

Ferdinand the Bull © Walt DisneyThis gentle film is based on the children’s book ‘The Story of Ferdinand’ (1936) by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson, and tells about Ferdinand, a gentle Spanish bull, who loves to sit quietly and smell the flowers.

One day “five men with funny hats” come along, in search of suitable bull for a bullfight, and because the unfortunate Ferdinand has sat on a bee, his ferocious antics make him the one. However, once inside the arena, Ferdinand refuses to fight, much to the dismay of the matador.

Ferdinand is a really peaceful, pacifistic character, and a remarkable persona in 1938, when war already was around the corner. This character must have been an inspirational one at the time, and the film won an Academy Award. The short has a friendly atmosphere, and the only really funny part is the matador trying to persuade Ferdinand to fight by making faces, a scene animated with gusto by Ward Kimball.

Yet, there’s room for some more fun, as the banderilleros and picadors are caricatures of Disney personnel, drawn by Ward Kimball. We watch Ham Luske, Jack Campbell, Fred Moore, Art Babbitt as banderilleros,  Bill Tytla as the second of the picadores (the other two are probably caricatures, too, but I don’t know of whom), and Ward Kimball himself as the moza de espada, carrying the matador’s sword.  All humans are animated very well, proof that after ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, the animators were more confident with the human body than ever.

Nevertheless, the human designs range from from very cartoony, like the Matador, to quite realistic, like the Spanish ladies, who all look like copies of Snow White. No wonder, as they were animated by Jack Campbell, who had been a key assistant to both the two units that animated the title heroine.

‘Ferdinand the Bull’ was the first Disney cartoon not to be part of any series. It could have been a Silly Symphony, as in 1938 that series had not ended, yet, but apparently, the studio chose the film to be no part of that. Perhaps, because in ‘Ferdinand the Bull’, music doesn’t play an important part, belying the series’ origin. Instead, the film uses a voice over to tell the tale, being the first Disney short to do so. The voice over technique is a rather lazy narrative device, but the Disney studio adopted it whole-heartedly. And so, unfortunately, voice overs would be deployed in many non-star Disney shorts and parts of package features of the 1940s and 1950s.

‘Ferdinand the Bull’ is the first of only two Disney shorts directed by Dick Rickard, the other one being ‘The Practical Pig‘ (1939). Rickard had been a story artist, working on a few Silly Symphonies and ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ between 1936 and 1939. Otherwise he remains an enigmatic figure, as I cannot find any other information about him…

In December 2017 Blue Sky released their feature length adaptation of ‘Ferdinand the Bull’. I haven’t seen this film, yet, and therefore cannot compare the two films. Can you?

Watch ‘Ferdinand the Bull’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ferdinand the Bull’ is available on the DVD set ‘Disney Rarities – Celebrated Shorts 1920s-1960s’


Director: Tim Burton
Release Date: October 1, 1982
Rating: ★★★★

Vincent © Walt Disney‘Vincent’ a is short film, which director Tim Burton made while still working at Disney.

The short is as typical for Tim Burton as it is atypical for Disney. First, it’s a stop-motion film, something the studio was not famous for, at all. The only other stop-motion film ever released by the studio was ‘Noah’s Ark’ from 1959. Second, the film is in black and white, and third, it has a genuine horror theme, miles away from the child friendly worlds of contemporary Disney films, like ‘The Fox and the Hound‘ (1981) or ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol‘ (1983).

The film uses the deep voice of classic horror star Vincent Price to tell the story of Vincent in rather Dr. Seuss-like rhyme. Vincent is a little seven year old boy, who wants to be like, well… Vincent Price. Because his mind has become twisted by reading stories by Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent imagines himself a madman haunted by his deceased wife, and locked in by a cursed house. In the end his imagination runs haywire, taking hold of him.

Burton does an excellent job mixing horror with silliness. The result is a rather twisted version of ‘Gerald McBoingBoing’ – equally weird, equally expressionistic, but much darker. In ‘Vincent’ you find much of the Tim Burton to come. It’s not hard to see the link between this wonderful short and ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’ (1993),  ‘Corpse Bride‘ (2005) or with his live action films like ‘Beetlejuice’ (1988) or ‘Sleepy Hollow’ (1999).

Interestingly, in the same year, Vincent Price would also lend his voice to the Michael Jackson song ‘Thriller’.

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

Director: Bill Justice
Release date: July 18, 1956
Rating: ★★★★

Jack and Old Mac © Walt DisneyDirector Bill Justice had co-directed two educational shorts in 1943: ‘The Grain That Built a Hemisphere‘ and ‘The Winged Scourge‘, but ‘Jack and Old Mac’ marks his solo direction debut.

Taking the cartoon modern-style to the max, ‘Jack and Old Mac’ brings jazzy versions of two familiar addition songs: ‘The House That Jack Built’ and ‘Old MacDonald Had A Farm’.

This simple and unpretentious idea leads to one of Disney’s most daring cartoons. The first song only uses characters made out of words and throughout the picture startlingly modern backgrounds are used, which constantly change and which are totally abstract, giving no sense of space whatsoever. The animation, too, is mostly very limited, although some animation is reused from the ‘All the Cats Join In’-sequence from ‘Make Mine Music’ (1946).

George Bruns’s score is strikingly modern for a Disney cartoon, using genuine bebop jazz. In comparison, Louis Prima’s dixieland jazz in ‘Jungle Book’ from eleven years later is much more old-fashioned.

In all, ‘Jack and Old Mac’ is a neglected little masterpiece, and Disney’s modest, but most daring contribution to the cartoon avant-garde.

Justice would direct four more specials: ‘A Cowboy Needs a Horse’ (1956), ‘The Truth about Mother Goose’ (1957), ‘Noah’s Ark’ (1959) and ‘A Symposium on Popular Songs’ (1962), all strikingly modern in design.

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

‘Jack and Old Mac’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Jack Hannah
Release date: April 27, 1956
Stars: Humphrey Bear
Rating: ★★

Hooked Bear © Walt DisneyIn 1956 Jack Hannah directed two Cinemascope cartoons starring Humphrey the bear and the park ranger, without Donald Duck.

‘Hooked Bear’ is the first one. In this short the park is visited by fishermen. Humphrey, of course, wants to join in, trying to catch some fish, but he is entirely unsuccessful.

Even though Humphrey is a well developed and likable character, ‘Hooked Bear’ does not rank among Hannah’s most inspired cartoons. The short marks only Humphrey’s fifth appearance, but some routine already has sneaked in, and none of the gags ever seem to pay off satisfactorily.

Watch ‘Hooked Bear’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hooked Bear’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Jack Kinney
Release date: October 15, 1954
Rating: ★★

Social Lion © Walt DisneyIn this narrated short a lion deliberately gets himself caught to scare the people in New York. Unfortunately, he’s all but unnoticed there.

‘Social Lion’ was the last of three ‘special cartoons’ Jack Kinney directed in 1954, after his own Goofy series had stopped. It is, unfortunately, not a very successful cartoon. Its narration is trite, its timing poor and its animation, by veteran Norm Ferguson, heterogeneous: the full animation of the lion is awkwardly out of contact with the highly stylized animation of the humans.

Unfortunately, ‘Social Lion’ would be the great animator’s last statement. the Disney studio fired Ferguson in July 1953. He died four years later of a heart-attack, at the premature age of 45.

The cartoon reuses the weird safari song from Kinney’s earlier, way more successful short ‘African Diary’ (1945).

Watch ‘Social Lion’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Social Lion’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Jack Kinney
Release date: May 21, 1954
Rating: ★★★★

Pigs Is Pigs © Walt DisneyAfter his own Goofy series had stopped in 1953, Jack Kinney directed six other shorts at the Walt Disney Studio.

‘Pigs is Pigs’ is probably the best of the lot. It’s a story in rhyme and song about a railway station employee who does everything by the rules. At one day he has a dispute with a Scotchman about whether guinea pigs are pigs or not. The guinea pigs remain at the station until the bureaucrats of his company have found out the answer. Unfortunately, the animals multiply by the hour, soon filling the complete station.

The designs and animation of this short are highly stylized, making ‘Pigs is Pigs’ a prime example of ‘cartoon modern’, despite its 1905 setting. The scenes at the railway company are the best, ruthlessly parodying the aimless ways of bureaucracy.

Watch ‘Pigs is Pigs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Pig is Pigs’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Les Clark
Release Date: August 1, 1958
Rating: ★★

Paul Bunyan © Walt Disney‘Paul Bunyan’ belongs to a group of Disney specials that retell tall tales from the West, following ‘The Legend of Johnny Appleseed‘ and ‘Pecos Bill‘ from ‘Melody Time‘ (1948).

The short is told by three “eye witnesses”, who tell us about the great deeds of the mighty lumberjack Paul Bunyan, who was “63 axe handles high”. The best part describes how Bunyan and his equally gigantic ox Babe have reshaped the American landscape, by building sites like Pike’s peak, the Missouri river and Yellowstone Falls.

The designs in this cartoon are very bold and angular, which are pleasant to watch. Unfortunately, the short is hampered by a remarkable slowness and a terrible lack of good gags, which make it at 17 minutes too long to entertain.

‘Paul Bunyan’ was the only non-educational short directed by Disney veteran Les Clark, who had been with Disney since the birth of his own studio in 1928.

Watch ‘Paul Bunyan’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Paul Bunyan’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: December 17, 1943
Rating:  ★★★★★

Chicken Little © Walt DisneyThis Disney short is an original take on the classic fable. It has a clear war message, even though there’s no direct visible link to World War II.

The villain, Foxy Loxy, uses a psychology book, from which he quotes, to lure the inhabitants of a poultry farm into his cave. The inhabitants of the poultry farm are clear representations of contemporary American society, including the upper class (turkeys), female middle class (chicken), male working class (ducks) and the youth (chickens and roosters, whom we see dancing to hot jazz in a short scene).

Foxy Loxy chooses a simpleton called Chicken Little as his main object, making him believe the sky is falling and encouraging him to spread the rumor. Originally, Foxy Loxy was to read from Adolf Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf’. It is not likely that the quotes are really from ‘Mein Kampf’, but they do contain surprisingly true lessons in how to manipulate the masses and how to undermine the present authority.

The film’s clear war message is not to fall for rumors and not to join mass hysteria. The film’s ending is as grim as there ever was one in a classic cartoon. In fact, the vision of a graveyard full of chicken bones is only topped by the similar ending in ‘Education for Death’ from the same year.

‘Chicken Little’ remains a little known Disney film, but its message is surprisingly fresh, and is probably even more valid today in an era in which propaganda and false rumors roam the internet and social media than it was during World War II.

‘Chicken Little’ was to be the last short directed by Clyde Geronimi before his dull comeback in ‘The big wash’ (1948). The Disney studio revisited the fable in 2005 in the feature film ‘Chicken Little’, which has ca. nothing in common with this far more interesting and disturbing short.

Watch ‘Chicken Little’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Hamilton Luske
Release Date: January 7, 1944
Rating: ★★★½

The Pelican and the Snipe © Walt DisneyMonte (a pelican) and Video (or Viddy, a snipe) live on top of a lighthouse in Montevideo, Uruguay (hence their names).

Viddy tries to prevent Monte, who’s crazy about the practicing war planes nearby, from ‘sleep-flying’. Unfortunately to no avail…

‘The Pelican and the Snipe’ probably is the cutest cartoon relating to World War II. Told by Sterling Holloway, its story is simple and short, and about friendship instead of sex or violence. Typical in its South American setting, it was originally intended for ‘The Three Caballeros‘,released later that year.

‘ The Pelican and the Snipe’ marks Sterling Holloway’s debut as a voice over artist in a Disney short, after appearing in ‘Dumbo’ (Mr. Stork, 1941) and ‘Bambi‘ (adult Flower, 1942). Holloway would become Disney’s most  favorite voice actor, providing voices and voice overs for Disney cartoons up to the late 1970s. In fact, he will be most remembered as the voice of Winnie the Pooh (1966-1974).

Watch ‘The Pelican and the Snipe’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Pelican and the Snipe’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Bill Roberts
Release Date: August 27, 1943
Rating: ★★★★★

Reason and Emotion © Walt Disney‘Reason and Emotion’ is a rather odd propaganda short, telling us about Reason and Emotion, who are depicted as two little characters living inside our heads.

The short ‘demonstrates’ where uncontrolled emotion can lead to: a man gets slapped in the face by a woman, while the woman eats too much. This makes ‘Reason and Emotion’ one of the first cartoons about weight and diets.

Then the short shows how reason is destroyed by Adolf Hitler (in an extraordinarily vicious, but wonderfully animated caricature), who uses fear, sympathy, pride and hate to indoctrinate the Nazi mind. This is one of the propaganda shorts, which treat the Germans as victims of their Nazi leaders (see also ‘Education for Death‘ from the same year). This contrary to the Japanese, who, in WWII animated propaganda films, were all treated as despicable, mean and low. The film also warns against panic and falling for false rumors.

Emotion is depicted as a rough, dumb, but fun-loving caveman, while Reason is a bespectacled thin and rather boring character. One cannot resist to love the Emotion-type, especially in its female form, as depicted in the woman’s head. This female character is animated with gusto by Ollie Johnston.

Watch ‘Reason and Emotion’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 8, 1952
Rating: ★★★½

The Little House © Walt DisneyHalf a year after ‘Lambert the Sheepish Lion‘, voice actor Sterling Holloway returns as a narrator for a Disney cartoon.

Here he tells the story of a little house on a hill in the country side who is soon surrounded by the city and forgotten. The house’s first neighbors are arrogant and aristocratic wooden houses, which soon burn down. The second neighbors are sloppy brick houses, which are pulled down in the end. Her third neighbors are enormous skyscrapers. When the little house thinks she’s finished, she’s moved to start anew on the countryside.

This sweet little story is based on a children’s book from 1942 by Virginia Lee Burton and uses a slightly different design to remain faithful to her original illustrations. Like ‘Lambert the Sheepish Lion’, the story is very sweet, not funny. Its main attraction are the humanized houses, excavators and such.

However, the story is well-told, thanks to story man Bill Peet. It contains heart and has a strong sense of nostalgia. In fact, conservative nostalgia has rarely been put more convincingly to the screen. The film is strongly anti-urban and anti-progress, and full of longing to the peace and quiet of a bygone era. Its message is expressed at the end of the cartoon, when Holloway tells us that “the best place to find peace and happiness is in a little house on a little hill way up in the country”.

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

‘The Little House’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: February 8, 1952
Rating: ★★½

Lambert, the Sheepish Lion © Walt DisneyDisney’s  favorite voice, Sterling Holloway, returns for the first time since ‘Peter and the Wolf’ (‘Make Mine Music’, 1946), to lend his voice to a child-delivering stork like he did in ‘Dombo’ (1942).

Holloway tells the story of Lambert, a lion cub who’s accidentally delivered to a mother sheep. Because he’s different, he’s bullied by the other lambs, and he grows into a cowardly lion, until he rescues his mother from the clutches of an evil wolf.

Like the similar ‘Morris, the Midget Moose‘ from two years earlier, the story of ‘Lambert, the Sheepish Lion’ is slow, sickeningly sweet and terribly unfunny. What Lambert eats during his stay among the sheep remains a puzzling mystery. The cartoon’s only delight are the facial expressions on the adult Lambert.

Watch ‘Lambert, the Sheepish Lion’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Lambert, the Sheepish Lion’ is available on the DVDs ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’ and ‘Melody Time’

Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: November 24, 1950
Stars: Bootle Beetle
Rating: ★★

Morris, the Midget Moose © Walt Disney‘Morris, the Midget Moose’ starts with an eldery bootle beetle who tells two young bootle beetles the short’s story.

The beetle tells us about Morris, a very small moose with normal antlers who befriends Balsam, a moose with small antlers. They’re both outcasts, but together they defeat the reigning moose, the invincible Thunderclap.

This moralistic story is very sweet, but also slow and boring. It reuses a gag from ‘Moose Hunters’ (1937) of moose throwing each other on the ground, affecting the complete landscape, but the gag is executed less elaborately, and with less funny results.

‘Morris, the Midget Moose’ was the only cartoon featuring Bootle Beetle outside Jack Hannah’s Donald Duck series. It was also the little insect’s last appearance on the movie screen.

Watch ‘Morris, the Midget Moose’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Morris, the Midget Moose’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: March 3, 1950
Rating: ★★

The Brave Engineer © Walt DisneyAfter the Walt Disney studios quit its package features, it started to release ‘specials’ again, one-shot cartoons featuring no recurring character.

These specials were essentially the successors of the Silly Symphonies, and a few were made during World War II. However, most of them were made in the fifties, if not necessarily to advance animation, then certainly to keep animators busy between feature films. Unfortunately, almost none of these shorts match the inventiveness of the Silly Symphonies or were really successful (the Academy Award winning ‘Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom’ (1953) is the prime exception).

For example, ‘The Brave engineer’, the first special from the fifties, looks like it has been a left-over from the compilation feature ‘Melody Time‘ (1948). Like this feature’s sequences ‘The Legend of Johnny Appleseed‘ and ‘Pecos Bill‘, it’s a half sung and half narrated tall-tale based on a poem about a legendary American hero from the 19th century.

This time comedian Jerry Colonna sings and tells the story of Casey Jones, a train engineer, a character who really existed. In the cartoon Casey desperately tries to deliver the western mail on time. On the way he encounters all the cliches featured in westerns involving trains: a damsel on the rails, train robbers and a villain who blows up a bridge. The ride ends in a clash with another train. Unlike the real Casey Jones, who died in the crash, the cartoon Casey survives and delivers the mail on time, almost…

Despite the relatively fast pace and many corny gags, the story never really takes off. The viewer somehow never gets involved in the story and remains uninterested to the end.

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

‘The Brave Engineer’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: 
January 15, 1943
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

Education for Death © Walt DisneyBoth propaganda shorts Disney released in January 1943, ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face‘ and ‘Education for Death’, were the most powerful propaganda the studio ever released. However, the two couldn’t be more different: while ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ is an outrageously funny satire, ‘Education for Death’ is, some funny scenes notwithstanding, the most unsettling short the studio ever released. Its general tone is black, grim and its purpose is to shock, not to entertain.

Based on a book by Gregor Ziemer, ‘Education for Death’ tells us how Hans, a typical German boy, is indoctrinated by the rulers of the Third Reich. The short is conceived in a quasi-documentary style. The narrator makes us believe that the scenes we’re watching, are happening right before our eyes, and unlike any other cartoon of the period, the Germans speak real German, which is translated by the narrator.

Moreover, most of the human designs are quite realistic, with Hans’s mother, animated by Milt Kahl, being the acme in human naturalism by the studio thus far. On the other hand, all scenes are heavily dramatized, using colors like red and black, vast shadows, and extreme camera angles, which depict every Nazi as a towering and threatening figure.

In the beginning we are still allowed to laugh at a ridiculous version of Sleeping Beauty, in which Hitler, dressed like a ‘handsome knight’ rescues a fat, Valkyrie-like Germany from an evil witch (said to be democracy). But after the school scene, the short turns decidedly black, with images of book burning, a bible being replaced by ‘Mein Kampf’ and Jesus by a Nazi sword. In the final scene, Hans has grown into a grim soldier, who, wearing chains, blinders and a muzzle, marches to his own death. No matter how blatant this propaganda short is, this is one of the most disturbing endings of an animated film ever put on screen.

Watch ‘Education for Death’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Charles Nichols
Release Date: March 16, 1961
Rating: ★★★

The Saga of Windwagon Smith © Walt Disney‘The Saga of Windwagon Smith’ was Disney’s last tall tale cartoon after entries like ‘Pecos Bill‘ (from ‘Melody Time‘, 1948) and ‘Paul Bunyan‘ (1958).

Unlike the former, which were rooted in American folklore, this story seems to be an original, although it retains a traditional feel. The story, which is sung in rhyme, tells about Windwagon Smith, a sailor who arrives at a small town in Kansas on a wagon with a sail. He convinces the villagers to make even a larger one to sail the prairies to Santa Fe with. But when it’s ready the villagers get scared and abandon the ‘ship’, except for Molly, the mayor’s daughter, who’s in love with Smith. Together they vanish into a storm.

‘The Saga of Windwagon Smith’ was the last cartoon to be directed by Charles Nichols. It’s also the last of only six shorts directed by him not to feature Pluto. It’s moderately stylized except for Molly, who’s conceived and animated in a charmingly stylized way. Nichols left Disney in 1962 for Hanna-Barbera, where he worked on countless television series. In the late 1980s he returned to Disney, where he worked onto his death in 1992, 81 years old.

Watch ‘The Saga of Windwagon Smith’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Saga of Windwagon Smith’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

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