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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’

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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: 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’

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