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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’

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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: 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: Alex Lovy
Release Date: August 3, 1942
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Pigeon Patrol © Walter Lantz‘Pigeon Patrol’ is a typical war era cartoon. It tells about Homer Pigeon, a dopey little country pigeon, whose girl Daisy May is impressed by the USA carrier pigeons, who look like American army planes.

Rejected by Daisy May, Homer decides to volunteer, too, but he’s way too small. However when he encounters a crashed carrier, he rescues an important message from an ugly Japanese vulture, beating the enemy saying: “remember Pearl Harbor and Singapore!”. In the end we watch him being decorated and happily married to Daisy May.

‘Pigeon Patrol’ is not too funny, but very propagandistic. It seems to want to emphasize that every man can do his job for the country. The Japanese vulture belongs to the typical stereotyped caricatures of a Japanese in Hollywood cartoons, complete with a suggestion of general Tojo-like glasses.

Two years later, Warner Bros. would tell another tale about a pigeon called Homer in ‘Plane Daffy‘ (1944). Their Homer commits suicide in that film. Walter Lantz’s Homer Pigeon, however, would star one other cartoon, ‘Pigeon Holed’ from 1956.

Watch ‘Pigeon Patrol’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: April 13, 1942
Rating: ★★
Review:

Mother Goose on the Loose © Walter LantzMother Goose on the Loose’ stands in a long tradition of nursery rhyme cartoons, from the Felix the cat cartoon ‘Felix in Fairyland’ (1923) via the Silly Symphony ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ (1931) and ‘Mother Goose Land‘ starring Betty Boop (1933), to Disney’s ‘Mother Goose Goes to Hollywood’ (1938) featuring caricatures of Hollywood stars.

Unfortunately, ‘Mother Goose on the Loose’ is weaker than any of these, hampered by a slow timing, corny gags and an obnoxious voice over. Even a jazzy tune, setting in after five boring minutes, cannot rescue the cartoon. Its only attraction is its obsession with dames, which are literally all over the cartoon. This makes ‘Mother Goose on the Loose’ a typical cartoon of the World War II era.

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: September 1, 1941
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B © Walter LantzBased on the 1941 hit song by the Andrews sisters, ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”‘ tells the story of a black trumpeter who gets drafted and has to blow the reveille, which he does in a swinging style, introducing the song.

The song itself is accompanied by various gags on blacks in the army. Even the Andrews Sisters themselves make a cameo, although they do not sing. Typical of the era, the blacks are pretty stereotyped, with huge lips, grammatically incorrect speech, and allusions to gambling. Two of them even die during the cartoon: one black after playing xylophone on some shells, while the other gets eaten by an alligator. So I can understand if some people find it hard to watch this cartoon today. Even so, the cartoon is less offensive than ‘Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat‘ from six months earlier, from which the cartoon reuses some animation.

Indeed, the overall mood of the cartoon is cheerful and rather innocent, emphasizing the swinging mood. In fact, thanks to the catchy song and some flexible animation ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”‘ is one of the great jazz cartoons. It’s also one of the most enjoyable army cartoons of the era, of which it is probably the first. It’s at least one of the first American cartoon on conscription, which had come in effect in September 1940, as a reaction on the war in Europe. The cartoon thus predates cartoons like the Pluto short ‘The Army Mascot‘, ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘ featuring Donald Duck, and the Woody Woodpecker cartoon ‘Ace in the Hole’ (all from 1942).

Watch ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Tex Avery
Release date: June 6, 1955
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Sh-h-h-h-h-h © Walter LantzIn ‘Sh-h-h-h-h-h’ small, mustached Mr. Twiddle suffers from “trombonosis”.

He tries to calm down his nerves in an extraordinarily quiet hotel in the Swiss alps. But then some noisy neighbors drop in, who play the trombone and laugh all the time. In the end, they turn out to be Mr. Twiddle’s own doctor and nurse.

‘Sh-h-h-h-h-h’ was the last of only four cartoons Tex Avery directed at Walter Lantz. It is also the last theatrical cartoon he ever made. Unfortunately, it is not a great goodbye. Although excellently timed, ‘Sh-h-h-h-h-h’ is only a mildly amusing cartoon, which reuses many of Avery’s gag routines. It has some fatigued and sad feeling to it, as if Avery himself was tired of his own routines.

Having served his contract at Lantz, Avery left the studio on August 20th, 1954, only six months after he had started there. Avery founded his own company, Cascade Studios, with which he made several animated commercials for television. He kept this studio running until the late 1970s. After that he joined Hanna-Barbera, working on a few Saturday morning series until his death in August 1980.

After Avery had left Lantz, Alex Lovy took over his unit. Although the studio rarely hit Avery’s heights, Avery’s influence on the Lantz studio was strong, and kept being visible throughout the 1950s, leading to several inspired cartoons.

Watch ‘Sh-h-h-h-h-h’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Tex Avery
Release date: February 14, 1955
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Crazy Mixed-up Pup © Walter Lantz‘Crazy Mixed-up Pup’ was the second of four cartoon Tex Avery directed at the Walter Lantz studio. Unfortunately, it is not one of his best.

When a man and his dog are overrun by a car, mixed-up blood plasma results in mixing their behavior: the man starts to act dog-like, while the dog wins some human character traits. This is not a very exciting idea to start with, and Avery milks this premise to a nice finale, without ever getting really funny. Luckily, he would do much, much better with his next cartoon at Lantz, ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point‘ (1955).

The married couple, ‘Maggie and Sam’, were reused in three more cartoons in 1956-1957.

Watch ‘Crazy Mixed-up Pup’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: May 27, 1935
Stars: Oswald
Rating: 
Review:

Springtime Serenade © Walter Lantz‘Springtime Serenade’ features Oswald and his unnamed girlfriend among some cute furry animals.

They all believe spring has come, even though the old groundhog warns them for six more weeks of cold weather. After some joyous spring cleaning (what the &$#?!!), the groundhog turns out to be right after all.

This Cartune Classic is as cloying as it is unfunny. Tex Avery, who was an animator at Lantz’s at the time, would deal with cute furry animals such as these ten years later in ‘The Screwy Truant’ (1945).

Watch ‘Springtime Serenade’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: October 1, 1934
Rating: 
Review:

Jolly Little Elves © Walter Lantz‘Jolly Little Elves’ is the first of six Cartune Classics, Walter Lantz’s answer to Disney’s Silly Symphonies. These six cartoons were made in two color technicolor, using red and blue, and all are possible even more cloying than contemporary Silly Symphonies themselves.

‘Jolly Little Elves’, for example, is a practically humorless fairy-tale in song about a poor shoemaker and his wife who help a little elf and get all their shoes repaired by hundreds of elves in return.

The cartoon is corny, overlong and features an irritating song about dunking donuts in coffee. Also featured are two severely caricatured Jewish elves. It’s a wonder that was one of the three Academy Award nominations for 1934. Luckily it lost to Disney’s by all means superior cartoon ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’.

Sixteen years later, Tex Avery, who was an animator at Lantz at the time, would remake and make fun of ‘Jolly Little Elves’ in ‘The Peachy Cobbler’ (1950).

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

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