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Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: December 1, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

$21 a Day (Once a Month) © Walter Lantz‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ is the first of the Swing Symphonies, a wartime cartoon series of fifteen based on swing music.

‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ reflects the war era perfectly, even though it appeared five days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The cartoon celebrates the draft that had been installed in 1941. The short’s original twist, however, is that the title song (by Felix Bernard and Ray Klages) is sung by toy animals, toy dolls, toy soldiers etc.

The designs are a mixed bag, some harking back to the early 1930s. Some animals are clearly stuffed, while others look like any other cartoon animal. Unfortunately, this first Swing Symphony hardly really swings. Darrel Calker’s arrangement features a lot of close harmony, but no jazz solos. Only after five minutes some boogie-woogie piano kicks in. Woody Woodpecker has a cameo, making some marching toy soldiers walk differently.

‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ is a joyful cartoon, but there were much better Swing Symphonies to follow.

Watch ‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

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Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: February 9, 1942
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

hollywood matador © walter lantz‘Hollywood Matador’ is Woody Woodpecker’s contribution to the bullfight cartoon, a trope that comes back to the animated screen from time to time, from the early Silly Symphony ‘El Terrible Toreador‘ (1929) to the late Pink Panther short ‘Toro Pink’ (1979).

Woody Woodpecker is introduced as matador without any back story. His opponent is ‘Oxnar the Terribull’, who ends sadly as ‘fresh bull burgers’, in a gag that echoes a similar one in the Popeye short ‘I Eats My Spinach‘ (1933).

‘Hollywood Matador’ is the least inspired of the early Woody Woodpecker films, but Darrell Calker’s music is spiced with Spanish flavor, and there’s a great gag in which Woody Woodpecker directs a huge crowd with an applause sign, making it applaud and stop applauding without pause. Tex Avery reused this gag to great effects in his own, vastly superior bullfight cartoon ‘Señor Droopy‘ (1949).

Watch ‘Hollywood Matador’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hollywood Matador’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

 

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: November 24, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

what's cookin' © walter lantzThis short opens with a groundhog warning for a terrific cold wave and urging all birds to go South at once.

All birds (drawn in cute 1930s fashion) leave the forest at once to take off to Miami. Not Woody Woodpecker, who takes another swim, only to discover that his summer scene changes into harsh winter within a second. Later a whirlwind deprives him of all his food, and Woody is left hungry and miserable. At that point an equally hungry cat drops by, and both characters try to eat each other, in what must be the grimmest and most violent cartoon of the sound era thus far.

The idea of characters trying to each other was revisited later by other film makers, e.g. Chuck Jones in ‘Wackiki Wabbit‘, Tex Avery in ‘What’s Buzzin’ Buzzard’ (both 1943), and James Culhane in ‘Fair Weather Friends’ (1946), which also stars Woody Woodpecker. Woody Woodpecker’s search for food would become a recurring theme in his films, e.g. ‘Ski for Two’ (1944), ‘Chew-Chew Baby’ (1945) and ‘Banquet Busters’ (1948).

Watch ‘What’s Cookin’?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘What’s Cookin’?’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’ and on the Thunderbean DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: August 11, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Screwdriver © Walter Lantz‘The Screwdriver’ forms an important step in the evolution of Woody Woodpecker.

Woody had been a clear woodpecker in his first cartoon, ‘Knock Knock‘ (1940), and he remained a forest animal in ‘Woody Woodpecker‘. Now he had become more or less an American citizen, capable of driving a car. In fact, the cartoon opens with Woody driving his rather silly vehicle, singing his theme song from ‘Woody Woodpecker’.

The bird soon turns out to be a road maniac, but the gags really start rolling in when he’s confronted by a police man. The woodpecker gives the officer a hard time, driving him nuts, in a string of fast and funny gags, greatly helped by an inspired score by Darrell Calker.

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

‘The Screwdriver’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: July 7, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Woody Woodpecker © Walter LantzAfter his knockout debut in ‘Knock Knock‘ (1940) fledgling star Woody Woodpecker was given his own series.

The first two entries in this new series, ‘Woody Woodpecker’ and ‘The Screwdriver‘ clearly play on the character’s lunacy. In fact, in his first scene Woody sings a song about how crazy he is. The other forest animals, all cute characters straight from a 1930s cartoon, think so, too, thus Woody goes to visit a psychiatrist, who turns out to be a fox who is even loonier than Woody is. What follows is a string of random gags of nonsense. For example we watch Woody swimming in the doc’s carpet, and the doc and Woody dancing the conga out of the blue.

‘Woody Woodpecker’ is full of wild gags, and owes almost nothing to Lantz’s previous cartoons, except of course for the cute forest animals. In this film Woody shows both a Donald Duck-like fighting style and a Porky Pig-like stutter, when he says: “maybe I AM crazy. Maybe I’d better see a psy… a psy… I go see a doctor”. Soon Woody’s lunacy would be downplayed, as this was a little too narrow a scope to build a series on.

Watch ‘Woody Woodpecker’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Woody Woodpecker’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: March 31, 1941
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Hysterical High Spots in American History © Walter Lantz‘Hysterical High Spots in American History’ is one of the first cartoons reflecting the peace time conscription that had been initiated on September 26, 1940, when Europe and Asia already were at war, but the United States were not: the short is supposedly brought to you by draftee number 1-58. But then he’s swept away from the screen by his sergeant, who, in his turn, is looking for draftee number 1-9-2.

However, these soldiers don’t return to the screen, and the rest of the cartoon is filled with spot gags on American history, dwelling on e.g. Columbus, Thanksgiving, the war of independence, Lincoln’s Gettyburg address and the opening of the Panama canal.

The “story” of ‘Hysterical High Spots in American History’ is by Ben Hardaway, and he clearly had brought the humor of Tex Avery’s spot gag cartoons to the Walter Lantz studio (see also ‘Fair Today‘ from one month earlier). Spot gag cartoons like this were rarely very funny, but the gags are surprisingly inspired in this cartoon, with the Capistrano mission gag giving the lowdown of a complete cartoon: Robert McKimson’s ‘Swallow the Leader‘ from 1949.

‘Hysterical High Spots in American History’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: November 25, 1940
Stars: Andy Panda, Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Knock Knock © Walter Lantz1940 was a watershed year: in this year the last remnants of the cute, childish and timid style of the late 1930s gave way to the brassier, faster and funnier style of the 1940s. In no film this change can be seen as well as in ‘Knock Knock’ in which the new style in the form of Woody Woodpecker literally invades the cute, slow world of Andy Panda.

Andy Panda had been a recent start himself, and ‘Knock Knock’ is only his fourth cartoon. Unfortunately, the little Panda kid and his pa never were particularly funny characters, and they’re immediately eclipsed by the flashy red and blue woodpecker. The bird makes his presence immediately clear by knocking hard on the door, driving Andy’s pa mad. And when he’s visible for the first time, he immediately utters both his classic line “guess who?”, which would be reused in the leaders for his own films, and his classic laugh.

Strangely enough, Woody Woodpecker was not the first character to utter this instantly recognizable laugh. It was used earlier by rabbits in the Warner Bros. pictures ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938) and ‘Hare-Um Scare-Um‘ (1939). This is no coincidence. Both those rabbits and Woody Woodpecker were conceived by the same person: Bugs Hardaway, who even had been a story man on the first Daffy Duck films ‘Porky’s Duck Hunt’ (1937) and ‘Daffy Duck and Egghead‘ (1938). The latter cartoon even provided the story idea of the ending of ‘Knock Knock’. Hardaway thus had a strange love for lunatic characters. Hardaway had recently interchanged Warner Bros. for Walter Lantz, and in many ways, the woodpecker is the same character as Daffy and those loony rabbits: all these characters’ aims remain unknown, they’re just there to be loony.

In fact, Woody Woodpecker never developed much of a personality: later he clearly became less clearly a woodpecker, and less of a lunatic, but he never gained clear character traits. His appeal came from his cheerfully loony actions, not caring about laws, status or authority. Watching Woody the trickster getting the best of strong adversaries was a delight throughout the series.

In ‘Knock Knock’ the humor unfortunately is hampered by the slow reactions of Andy’s pa, Woodpecker’s primary foil. This unfunny character was soon dropped in favor of stronger and funnier adversaries, like Wally Walrus and Buzz Buzzard. Woody Woodpecker, on the other hand, was clearly here to stay. Hardaway and Woody transformed the humor of the Walter Lantz films, making the Lantz cartoons among the most hilarious of the era, after several years of sickening sweetness. Starting with the title cartoon ‘Woody Woodpecker’ the loony bird was given his own series in early 1941. The Woody Woodpecker series lasted until 1966 – longer than that of any contemporary cartoon star. In the early 1940s Woody Woodpecker certainly transformed the Walter Lantz studio, and secured the studio’s place in animation history. Now the wild days could begin.

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

‘Knock Knock’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: August 28, 1939
Stars: Lil’ Eightball
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Silly Superstition © Walter Lantz‘Silly Superstition’ is the second of three cartoon starring Lil’ Eightball, a heavy caricatured black boy with a deep southern voice (by Mel Blanc).

In ‘Silly Superstition’ Lil’ Eightball’s mama warns him that it’s Friday the 13th, and that he shouldn’t walk under a ladder or let a black cat cross his path. Lil’ Eightball dismisses these warnings as superstition, doing deliberately these things. The ladder walk rather unlikely makes a complete building collapse, while the black cat immediately introduces an escaped lion. Luckily, Lil’ Eightball’s puppy dog saves the day, chasing the lion back to the zoo.

‘Silly Superstition’ is pretty hard to watch today. The animation in this short is very uneven, being sometimes strikingly modern, yet at other times disappointingly old-fashioned. But more importantly, Lil’ Eightball is too severe a stereotype to enjoy. The boy looks particularly goofy in this cartoon, having a balloon head, a ridiculously small body and over-sized, rather clownish shoes, emphasizing his stupidity. Most of the ‘humor’ of the cartoon stems from the fact that despite his uneducated background, Lil’ Eightball manages to use big words.

As Christopher P. Lehman notices in ‘The Colored Cartoon’ it’s a sad fact that Lil’ Eightbal starts atypically self-assured and brave, but ends up as a stereotypical fearful negro boy. This ‘morale’ is dubious to say the least. Luckily, contemporary reviewers weren’t impressed either, and Lil’ Eightball vanished from the screen after only three cartoons.

Watch a colorized version of ‘Silly Superstition’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Silly Superstition’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: April 22, 1940
Stars: Andy Panda
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

100 Pygmies and Andy Panda © WaIn Andy Panda’s third film the little brat receives a package from a turtle postman, which is a clear caricature of a black man.

The package contains a magic wand, and Andy immediately uses it on the delivery boy and on his dad. Meanwhile, the pygmy witch doctor consults his magic mask, as if he were Snow White’s stepmother. The mask tells him Andy Panda now has more magic than he has. The witch doctor battles with Andy, but he loses. Then he summons countless pygmies, and soon Andy ‘s overwhelmed. Unfortunately, the witch doctor uses the wrong magic wand, and he and his pygmies are immediately transferred to some busy American town: we watch the pygmies fleeing in terror from cars and such in black-and-white live action footage. This last gag is the single entertaining one in an otherwise very tiresome film that hasn’t aged well, and not only because of the racial stereotypes it exploits.

Watch ‘100 Pygmies and Andy Panda’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘100 Pygmies and Andy Panda’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: November 20, 1939
Stars: Peterkin
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Scrambled Eggs © Walter Lantz‘Scrambled Eggs’ stars a misschievous young satyr, called Peterkin.

After Lil’ Eightball (see ‘A Haunting We Will Go‘) and Andy Panda (‘Life Begins for Andy Panda‘) Peterkin was the third character Walter Lantz introduced with a color cartoon during the fall of 1939. Peterkin, however, only lasted this one cartoon.

Peterkin was conceived by Elaine Pogány, wife of the great Hungarian illustrator Willy Pogány, who did the backgrounds for this cartoon. These backgrounds are the short’s most striking feat, for they are ludicrously detailed, and while beautiful, way out of tune with Lantz’s cartoony characters, who don’t read well against the intricate background drawings.

Made at the very end of the 1930s, ‘Scrambled Eggs’ is a strange mix between the childish cute style of the mid-1930s and the more adult, urban style of the 1940s. Peterkin himself is drawn all too cute, with a matching voice and story. He changes several birds’ eggs for fun, but on hatching the dazzled parents abandon their strange children: the men go spend their time at the club, while the women go to their mothers, leaving Peterkin solely in charge of the hungry chicks. When he confesses his crime to the parents, the birds make him do all the laundry, which cost him work well into the night. This moralistic story contrasts wildly with some of the voices and animation of the birds, which are definitely contemporary and urban, aiming at adult audiences. This strange mix doesn’t work well, and as Peterkin is far from an engaging character, the cartoon is unfortunately a failure, despite some splendid animation, and of course, the elaborate background paintings.

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

‘Scrambled Eggs’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: September 9, 1939
Stars: Andy Panda
Rating:  ★
Review:

Life Begins for Andy Panda © Walter LantzAs Lil’ Eightball failed to become Walter Lantz’s next star, Lantz came up with a new one for his second full color cartoon. It was an animal never used before: a panda.

‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ literally starts with his birth, in a scene remarkably anticipating a very similar one in ‘Bambi‘ (1942). Soon we skip six months and watch Andy as a young brat, ignoring his father’s lessons, and leaving the forest, where his father is captured by a tribe of stereotype pygmies. The forest animals come to help, but it’s the skunk who scares the natives all away.

‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ is a very bad start for Andy Panda’s career: the film just makes no sense. To start, Lovy seems to be at loss at what this film actually is: a 1930s morality tale, or a 1940s gag short. Moreover, his timing is terribly slow, the designs are often mediocre (especially Andy’s parents are badly designed), and the animation is erratic and over-excessive. Finally, this cartoon world, in which pygmies, kangaroos and pandas are all living together next to a Utah-like landscape, defies believability. The cartoon’s best feature is a short swing track during the chase scene.

Despite its shortcomings, ‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ apparently was a hit, and Andy Panda would continue to outwit his dad for years to come.

Watch ‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 4, 1939
Stars: Lil’ Eightball
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

A Haunting We Will Go © Walter LantzAfter the closing down of the Van Beuren studio, and a short return to the Walt Disney studios we find Burt Gillett directing at the Walter Lantz studios. In 1939-1940 Gillett directed seven cartoons for Lantz, of which ‘A Haunting We Will Go’ is the fourth.

‘A Haunting We Will Go’ was Lantz’ first cartoon in full Technicolor, and it excels in high production values, making it a kind of strange mix between a Silly Symphony (Gillett’s specialty) and Warner Bros.-like nonsense.

The short stars a black boy called Lil’ Eightball, whom Gillett had introduced in July in ‘Stubborn Mule’, but who would disappear from the screen after this cartoon, after starring only three cartoons. This is not a pity, as Lil’ Eightball is a clear black stereotype. Despite being a boy, he has a deep Southern voice, provided by Mel Blanc (when he stutters in the end, his voice is practically that of Porky Pig), and part of the humor stems from the boy using extraordinarily difficult words, while remaining the stereotyped ignorant and fearful negro figure.

Lil’ Eightball is visited by a baby ghost, but he doesn’t believe in ghosts. So the baby ghost drags him to his poppa in a haunted house, where several ghosts give Lil’ Eightball “the works”. Gillett had also directed the Mickey Mouse short ‘Lonesome Ghosts’ (1937), and the ghosts in ‘A Haunting We Will Go’ are exact copies from those in the Disney cartoon, with their red noses and bowler hats. The haunting scene is the highlight of the cartoon, featuring great surreal gags, and some extraordinarily flexible animation, unmatched at the time. The best scene arguably is the one in which a room shrinks to Lil’ Eightball’s size.

Watch ‘A Haunting We Will Go’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Haunting We Will Go’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Elmer Perkins
Release Date: October 5, 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

‘Hollywood Bowl’ merges two genres that had become quite popular by the late 1930s: the concert cartoon and the Hollywood caricature cartoon. The result is pretty uneven, but nonetheless, ‘Hollywood Bowl’ is one of the most original cartoons to sprout from the Walter Lantz studio.

The short opens with a gala night at the Hollywood Bowl, with several famous stars in the crowd, e.g. Edward G. Robinson, Hugh Herbert, Greta Garbo, Groucho Marx, Clark Cable, Charles Laughton, Ned Sparks, Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields, and Charlie.

Leopold Stokowski is the conductor, conducting Franz Schubert’s unfinished symphony with the help of a few gloves. This leads to a great and very imaginative scene, in which we watch ghostly images of the gloves playing instruments on a black screen, and Stokowski casting a huge shadow on the bowl, which changes into a greyhound, which changes into a swallow. At that point this poetic part cuts back to the Hollywood caricatures.

As Schubert has left the symphony unfinished (quite literally), it’s up to the stars to finish it, Hollywood style, which means that radio star Ben Bernie starts conducting a swinging tune, with help of Fats Waller, Rudy Vallee, Benny Goodman, Fred Astaire, Jack Benny and Cab Calloway. This part reuses a lot of animation, and is a not too convincing end to the cartoon.

‘Hollywood Bowl’ is a very interesting entry in Walter Lantz’s oeuvre, but it’s harmed by a lack of story, rather bad voice imitations and at times sloppy animation. Nevertheless, the Schubert sequence is no less than marvelous, and the cartoon’s opening is greatly helped by Frank Churchill’s inspired score, which is simply packed with countless classical tunes. Notice that some of the backgrounds use photographic material, a very rare feat in classic cartoons.

Watch ‘Hollywood Bowl’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hollywood Bowl’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: November 27, 1933
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

The Merry Old Soul © Walter LantzThis short opens with Oswald sitting in a dentist’s chair. The dentist knocks Oswald out to be able to pull his sore tooth.

Then the radio announces that Old King Cole has the blues. Oswald immediately runs off to warn all Hollywood entertainers, a.o. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Joe E. Brown, Laurel & Hardy, Ed Wynn, but also Wallace Beery and Greta Garbo. They all hurry to the depressed king. Old King Cole looks quite similar to the same character in the Silly Symphony ‘Old King Cole‘ from four months earlier, proof of how close the rival studios followed the Disney output.

Paul Whiteman plays a tune for him, and Oswald sings a song about Mother Goose, assisted by a.o. Joe E. Brown, W.C. Fields, Al Jolson, Mae West, and a stuttering person I don’t recognize [this is Roscoe Ates – thank you Don M. Yowp  for the info]. This immediately cheers up the old king. Then Laurel & Hardy enter with a pile of pies, which soon results in a large pie throwing battle, featuring a.o. Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Durante, Harold Lloyd, and the Marx Brothers. Meanwhile, Old King Cole’s old jester grows jealous of Oswald’s success. The jester kidnaps Oswald and takes him into a dark cellar. Soon Oswald awakes, revealing it all has been a dream…

Despite the trite dream ending, ‘The Merry Old Soul’ is a quite entertaining cartoon. The short follows a trend that really caught on in 1933 of simply stuffing cartoons with Hollywood stars. Earlier examples are the great Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘, and ‘Soda Squirt‘ featuring Flip the Frog. Five years later, Disney would also mix Mother Goose and Hollywood stars in ‘Mother Goose goes Hollywood’ (1938), which owes nothing to this Oswald short.

Watch ‘The Merry Old Soul’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Merry Old Soul’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’.

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: September 4, 1933
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

King Klunk © Walter Lantz‘King Klunk’ is a surprisingly faithful, if silly retelling of the 1933 hit movie ‘King Kong‘.

The short stars Pooch the Pup as a film maker, who enters the jungle to film the monster King Klunk, accompanied by his girlfriend. In the jungle they soon meet a savage tribe offering a young girl to King Klunk. Of course, the giant ape takes much more interest in Pooch’s girlfriend, and abducts her instead.

Imitating Tarzan (made famous by Johnny Weissmuller in ‘Tarzan the Ape Man’ from 1932), Pooch rescues his girlfriend and together they floor the giant ape with a giant rotten egg. Like in the live action film, the duo takes the monster home to New York to display. And in the final scene, King Klunk, too, falls from the skyscraper, but in the cartoon he immediately catches fire and burns to a skeleton…

It’s weird to watch such a tight parody of a movie as this one, and the cartoon’s close satire is without precedent. However, this also means that the film is lower on gags than it could be, and Pooch the Pup is as bland as ever, never becoming near star potential. In the opening scene we hear him whistling ‘Kingdome Coming’, familiar to many as the wolf’s whistling tune in Tex Avery’s ‘Three Little Pups‘ (1953). Tex Avery worked at Lantz during the production of ‘King Klunk’, so it may very well be he remembered the tune from this cartoon when he used it twenty years later. In any case, ‘King Klunk’ features a dinosaur having a double-take that is surprisingly Tex Averyan. This is probably the first classic double-take to enter the animated scene.

Watch ‘King Klunk’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘King Klunk’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’.

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: July 31, 1933
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Confidence © Walter LantzThis cartoon opens with a jolly dance scene at a farm, which appears to be Oswald’s.

Then suddenly, the ghost of depression appears, haunting the world. This scene is a nice mix of the animated ghost and a live action globe. The ghost of depression also affects Oswald’s farm. What follows, are scenes of sheer panic, with Oswald running from psychedelic circles, and snapshots of people, bankers and stock markets panicking – depicting the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression in a nutshell. Meanwhile, Oswald runs to a doctor for help.

The doctor tells Oswald “There’s your doctor”, pointing to a portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had taken office in March. So, Oswald flies on a bizarre contraption to the White House, where he meets the president himself. F.D.R. starts singing the title song “Confidence, and lick the old depression”, and gives Oswald a pump sprayer full of confidence. Oswald returns to his farm on another strange flying machine, and revives his farm with his pump sprayer full of confidence.

‘Confidence’ is probably the most famous of all Oswald cartoons by Walter Lantz, and it’s clear to see why. It’s highly entertaining, and surprisingly gag rich, despite the propaganda. Even the propaganda message itself is surprisingly joyful. I mean, how often do you see a president singing a jolly tune? In any case, the short is a prime example of how Roosevelt’s new deal was marketed to the audience. As the depression seemed to hit an all time low in 1932-1933, Roosevelt’s message must have been a very welcome one.

However, unlike the similar Little King cartoon ‘Marching Along‘ from three months later, there’s no mention of the National Recovery Administration (or N.R.A.), effected on June 16. So the cartoon makes it seem that confidence alone will revive the American economy… a little too naive, perhaps, but the sheer joy with this message is brought makes ‘Confidence’ well worth watching.

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

‘Confidence’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’.

 

 

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: October 9, 1933
Stars: Pooch the Pup, Dopey Dick
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

She Done Him Right © Walter Lantz‘She Done Him Right’ was the last of thirteen cartoons starring Pooch the Pup, a Walter Lantz character that was virtually Oswald the lucky Rabbit, but with different ears.

The cartoon is an obvious spoof of the Paramount Mae West vehicle ‘She Done Him Wrong’ from earlier that year. Like the feature, the cartoon is set in the 1890’s, and it features a nightclub singer called Poodles, who’s dressed and talks like West. Inside Joe’s Beer Garden a man sings the 1908 music hall song ‘Has Anybody Here Seen Nelly?’, but Poodles has a much more modern song to offer: Cab Calloway’s 1932 hit song ‘Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day’. Then a villain kidnaps Poodles, and Pooch the Pup comes to the rescue.

Pooch the Pup himself is utterly forgettable, but this cartoon is packed with wonderful and weird gags, and features great jazz music. ‘Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day’ is sung with a great voice, which makes one wonder who the particular voice artist is. The cartoon also marks the first appearance of a fat character called Dopey Dick, who is remarkably similar to Wellington Wimpy, who only hit the screen ten days before ‘She Done Him Right’.

Watch ‘She Done Him Right’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘She Done Him Right’ is available on the DVD ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Bill Nolan
Release Date: September 18, 1933
Stars: Oswald, Honey
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Five and Dime © Walter Lantz‘Five and Dime’ is a cartoon devoted to the 1931 hit song ‘ I Found A Million Dollar Baby’.

The short opens with Oswald being caught in a rainstorm (featuring the storm music from Gioachino Rossini’s overture William Tell). He rushes into a warehouse, where he sings ‘I Found A Million Dollar Baby’ for Honey, one of the employees.

‘Five and Dime’ is one of the most Merry Melodies-like Lantz cartoons: not only is it made around one hit song, it also features caricatures of Hollywood stars as dolls. Thus we watch caricatures of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and Jimmy Durante. The latter is a jack-in-the-box, just like he was in ‘Mickey’s Good Deed‘ from 1932. During the song there are numerous random gags, including one in which a goldfish swallows a complete cat. I suspect this particular gag was one by Tex Avery, who worked on this cartoon.

The finale of ‘Five and Dime’ is particularly noteworthy, as we watch Oswald and Honey march into and out of several stores to get dressed for their wedding, then in and out of a church to get married, and finally into their new home, on top of which the stork is already waiting… This sequence has great rhythm, enhanced by the joyful song, and is one of the best finales of any Walter Lantz cartoon.

Watch ‘Five and Dime’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Five and Dime’ is available on the DVD ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

 

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