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Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: May 27, 1931
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Bandmaster © Walter LantzIn ‘The Bandmaster’ Oswald is the leader of a three-piece brass band.

This idea is dropped after three minutes, however, and after that there’s some kind of story with Oswald trying to comfort a crying hippo baby with music. This part features dancing flowers, rag dolls, and musical notes. The latter dance to the song ‘Happy Feet’, a huge hit for Paul Whiteman in 1930. The cartoon ends with the mother hippo hitting Oswald hard, and the baby hippo laughing.

Several animators worked on ‘The bandmaster’ who would later become famous in the field, like Clyde Geronimi, Tex Avery and Pinto Colvig. Could it be possible that the baby hippo’s laugh was provided by Tex Avery himself?

The cartoon contains some lovely flexible animation in a style also fashioned at Walt Disney and Warner Bros. The cartoon doesn’t make any sense, however, and the gags pop in almost randomly. Thus the Walter Lantz cartoon falls short in matching the quality of those other studios.

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

‘The Bandmaster’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares’ and the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

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Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: July 14, 1930
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit, Kitty
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Spooks © Walter Lantz‘Spooks’ is a nice early Oswald cartoon from the Walter Lantz studio.

It takes place in a theater where Oswald performs. It features a mysterious phantom who helps Oswald’s girlfriend Kitty to become a great singer by putting a record player in her dress. This leads to an absurd performance. The phantom fancies Kitty, but she prefers Oswald, who has to rescue her from the phantom’s clutches. This part of the film has horror overtones, commonplace in the early 1930s. The film ends with a rather lame gag.

‘Spooks’ features some very Mickey Mouse-like mice. Its animation, by Bill Nolan, Clyde Geronimi and Pinto Colvig is fair, and the story enjoyable, even if it’s rather inconsistent.

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

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: June 2, 1930
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit, Peg Leg Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Hell's Heels © Walter LantzIn the spring of 1929 Universal announced that it had set up an animation studio to make sound cartoons of its own. Head of the studio was Walter Lantz. This was the beginning of the Walter Lantz studio, which lasted well into the 1970s, outliving all other contemporary cartoon studios.

With this contract Walter Lantz inherited Oswald the rabbit, a character originally conceived by Walt Disney in 1927, but whose copyright was owned by Universal. Universal demanded no less than 26 Oswald cartoons each year, and the results were consequently of variable quality.

‘Hell’s Heels’, Lantz’s 23th Oswald cartoon, is one of the better ones. It opens with Oswald, Peg Leg Pete and an anonymous grey dog being a gang of bandits wandering and singing through the desert. The three decide to rob a bank and Pete and the Dog send Oswald inside with dynamite. Oswald blows up the bank, killing Pete and the dog(!). Later, Oswald befriends the Sheriff’s little boy, which leads to some song-and-dance scenes, which surprisingly features a number of skeletons.

It’s strange to watch Oswald and Pete being buddies in this film, and the story is rather inconsistent, but the cartoon is fast and funny, and full of gags. Its lively jazzy score by James Dietrich is highly enjoyable, and the animation by Bill Nolan and Clyde Geronimi is joyful and of a fair quality. ‘Hell’s Heels’ shows that in 1930 other animation studios still could match the Walt Disney studio.

Watch ‘Hell’s Heels’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: July 27, 1942
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Juke Box Jamboree © Walter LantzIn the deserted ‘Zowie cafe’ a mouse is disturbed a jukebox playing latin music.

In his attempts to stop the machine, the mouse ends in a cocktail and gets drunk. He visions ‘spirits’ coming from the bottles who start a conga beat. A lobster does a Carmen Miranda act, blending Cuban and Brazilian styles, and singing in some kind of mock-Spanish. The mouse happily joins in, until he returns to his home to sleep.

The whole cartoon has a delirious atmosphere, and can be called ‘intoxicating’ without necessarily being really entertaining. The ghosts’ designs, with their red noses and bowler hats, are copied straight from the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘Lonesome Ghosts’ (1938).

Watch ‘Juke Box Jamboree’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: March 4, 1942
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Hams That Couldn't Be Cured © Walter LantzThis short has probably grimmest opening shot of all Hollywood cartoons: that of someone about to be hanged.

It turns out to be the wolf, who will be hanged for harassing the three little pigs. The wolf pleads innocent, however, and tells us “what really happened”. In his own story the wolf is a classical music teacher, loving peace and quiet (the most ridiculous illustration of this is the image of the wolf crocheting a bath tube out of a sheep). He’s visited by the three little pigs who play hot jazz, bullying the wolf, wrecking his instruments, and finally his house.

It’s a bit odd to associate such intoxicating jazz with random violence à la Clockwork Orange, but the result is an entertaining cartoon, although it is clearly tributary to the 1941 Warner Bros. cartoon ‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’, which features a very similar story idea. Interestingly enough the director of that cartoon, Friz Freleng, would later also direct a cartoon about a wolf and three little pigs playing hot jazz, in ‘The Three Little Bops‘ (1957).

Watch ‘The Hams That Couldn’t Be Cured’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://vk.com/video-20905395_162788911

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: Walter Lantz
Release Date: October 29, 1951
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Wally Walrus
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Woody Woodpecker Polka © Walter Lantz‘The Woody Woodpecker Polka’ is one of several cartoons in which Woody Woodpecker tries to get some food.

In this cartoon Woody Woodpecker tries to enter a barn dance, but only for the food that is served there. The usher, Wally Walrus, doesn’t let him in however, for Woody can’t pay the one dollar entrance fee. Luckily, ladies are free of admission, so Woody dresses like one and makes Wally accompany him to the dance floor. What follows is a dancing scene in which Woody tries to eat as much food as he can, a story idea the studio borrowed from Walt Disney’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow‘ (1949).

The dancing scene is enhanced by the intoxicating title song, sung by the Starlighters, and for a change Clarence Wheeler’s music is inspired during this sequence.

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

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: October 10, 1951
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Redwood Sap © Walter Lantz‘Redwood Sap’ is the fable of the grasshopper and the ants disguised as a Woody Woodpecker cartoon.

Woody Woodpecker plays the role of the grasshopper, being extremely lazy, and stealing food from his neighbors: two beavers, a squirrel and a nest of ants. In the opening shot we watch him reading a book called “work and how to avoid it” by Hans Doolittle, and later we learn that Woody’s motto is “Why worry about tomorrow, I’m gone the day after”.

Then winter arrives, and Woody even refuses to join the birds flying South. However, confronted with an empty stomach and an empty cupboard Woody is forced to beg his neighbors for food. They however punish him for their maltreatment. So, when spring arrives they find him trapped inside an ice cube. However, when the animals take pity on Woody and revive him, they soon experience the woodpecker hasn’t learned a bit…

‘Redwood Sap’ is not a gag cartoon like contemporary Woody Woodpecker shorts. With its fable-like story it looks back to cartoons of the 1930s. However, in its speed, its animation and in its dubious moral, it’s clearly a product of its own time. ‘Redwood Sap’ shows the inventiveness of the Walter Lantz studio, who could turn out original cartoons even on a small budget.

Watch ‘Redwood Sap’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: July 23, 1951
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Buzz Buzzard, Wally Walrus
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Sling Shot © Walter Lantz

In ‘Sling Shot’ Woody Woodpecker enters a shooting contest in a Western town.

Woody wins time after time using his slingshot. His main rival is Buzz Buzzard, who ‘plays’ an evil, but extraordinarily dumb Indian who fails to understand the slingshot’s mechanism. When Buzz steals the prize money, Woody destroys the villain with an H-bomb, a nuclear weapon that would be tested the following year.

Despite the animation being surprisingly good at times, ‘Sling Shot’ is a rather mediocre cartoon, but it is noteworthy for being the first Woody Woodpecker short to feature both Buzz Buzzard and Wally Walrus, who appears as a sheriff.

Watch ‘Sling Shot’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.toon.is/woody-woodpecker-37-slingshot-6-78-video_c9e6198ee.html

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: May 28, 1951
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Wicket Wacky © Walter Lantz‘Wicket Wacky’ opens with Woody Woodpecker playing croquet, disturbing a gopher by doing so.

‘Wicket Wacky’ features the first original story since Lantz’s reopening of his studio in 1950, and it’s way less successful than the leftovers from the 1940s: ‘Puny Express‘ and ‘Sleep Happy’.

The comedy doesn’t work, because it remains unclear whose side we should be on: both Woody and the gopher behave rather unsympathetically. Moreover, Woody remains a totally blank character in this cartoon, showing practically no emotions whatsoever.

‘Wicket Wacky’ only seems to show that gophers are poor comedy material, something we knew from other weak cartoons like the Donald Duck short ‘Donald’s Garden‘ (1942) and the Pluto shorts ‘Bone Bandit‘ (1948) and ‘Pluto and the Gopher‘ (1950).

Watch ‘Wicket Wacky’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.toon.is/woody-woodpecker-36-wicket-wacky-video_7ffa37880.html

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: January 22, 1951
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Buzz Buzzard
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Puny Express © Walter LantzAfter a squabble with his distributor Universal, and a short fling with United Artists, Walter Lantz was forced to close down his studio in 1948.

Only when Lantz and Universal came to terms again in 1950 Lantz could restart again, with a strongly reduced staff. For example, there was no story department, so the first new cartoon in two years, ‘Puny Express’, was based on storyboards Bugs Hardaway and Heck Allen had left behind in 1948. Worse, Woody Woodpecker was left voiceless.

Lantz himself picked up directing, something he hadn’t done in nine years. The studio owner directed eleven cartoons before Don Patterson took over in 1952. All these cartoons feature Woody Woodpecker; Andy Panda was not revived. Woody himself was redesigned, his looks made simplier and more appealing. It’s this new cute design which remains the best known to viewers today.

Woody’s voicelessness turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In contrast to the dialogue-driven cartoons of rival studios the 1951/1952 Woody Woodpecker shorts feature excellent silent comedy and situation gags, competing with the best of the Pink Panther, who would enter the scene only in 1964.

‘Puny Express’ is a western in which Woody volunteers to deliver the mail, despite the fact that Buzz Buzzard has killed no less than 125 mailmen. What follows is a gag-rich wild chase, full of fast and flexible animation. The humor is overtly Tex Averyan: at one point Woody’s little horse gets a flat hoof, and the cartoon cites the empty road gag from Tex Avery’s own western ‘Wild and Woolfy‘ from 1945.

The cartoon’s only weakness is its music by Clarence Wheeler, which is surprisingly out of tune with the short’s zany character, evoking a mellower 1930s feel.

Watch ‘Puny Express’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.funny-city.com/videos/3499-woody-woodpecker-puny-express-1951

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: April 11, 1955
Stars: Chilly Willy
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Legend of Rockabye Point © Walter LantzIn ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point’ a polar bear tries to steal blue finned tuna from a ship which is guarded by a vicious bulldog.

However, he’s hindered by Chilly Willy, who does anything to awaken the bulldog. The polar bear repeatedly tries to save his skin by singing the bulldog back to sleep. In the end, it has become a habit, and we watch the old-aged polar bear singing his old friend to sleep in his arms.

Penned by Michael Maltese, this cartoon shares some ideas with ‘Deputy Droopy’ (which was made earlier, but only released six months later), but the result is fresh and original. ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point’ was the third of four cartoons Tex Avery made at Walter Lantz’s studio, and without doubt it is the best of the lot. Avery’s timing is, as always, excellent, and the gags come fast and funny. In fact, the cartoon is one of Tex Avery’s all time best, and it stands as Avery’s last masterpiece.

Watch ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point’ 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: Tex Avery
Release date: December 20, 1954
Stars: Chilly Willy
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

I'm Cold © Walter LantzIn 1954 Tex Avery left MGM to return to his first employer in the animation field, Walter Lantz, at whose studio he had been an animator in the early 1930s.

I’m Cold’ was the first of a mere four cartoons Tex Avery made at Walter Lantz’s studio. In this cartoon he sets his teeth on a character introduced in 1953 called Chilly Willy, a cute little penguin.

Like Pablo the cold-blooded penguin from ‘Three Caballeros‘ (1944), Chilly Willy finds it too cold in Antarctica. Avery, however, uses this premise with much funnier results. In an attempt to get warm, Chilly Willy sneaks into a fur coat store, guarded by a phlegmatic dog who shares a Daws Butler voice with the laid-back wolf from Tex Avery’s ‘Three Little Pups‘ from 1953. This phlegmatic dog was reused in at least four more Chilly Willy cartoons.

Avery is in excellent form here, delivering a perfectly timed cartoon. ‘I’m Cold’ demonstrates how genius can overcome small budgets and limited (animation) talent. Even Clarence Wheeler’s music sounds more inspired and certainly funnier than normal. Of course, the product was much cruder than Avery’s films at MGM had been, but at the same time it was much better than any earlier Lantz film from the 1950s. And, Avery’s second film featuring Chilly Willy, ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point‘ (1955) would even be better…

Watch ‘I’m Cold’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Don Patterson
Release Date: November 20, 1954
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating:
Review:

Convict Concerto © Walter LantzIn ‘Convict Concerto’ Woody Woodpecker is a piano tuner, who’s ordered by a gangster to play the piano continuously, while he hides inside the piano.

Consequently, during the rest of the cartoon we hear Woody play the Hungarian Rhapsody by Franz Liszt. This is the only interesting aspect of this cartoon…

‘Convict Concerto’ was the last of fifteen cartoons Don Patterson directed for Walter Lantz during 1952-1954. None of his cartoons were interesting enough to become classics, with ‘Convict Concerto’ being particularly bad. So he is all but forgotten now. He was replaced by Tex Avery, who, in contrast, was already an animation classic at the time.

Watch ‘Convict Concerto’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.funniermoments.com/watch.php?vid=dc6c702b1

Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: February 15, 1954
Stars: Sugarfoot
Rating: ★
Review:

A Horse's Tail © Walter LantzIn their search for new characters the Lantz Studio introduced yet another character after launching Maw and Paw in 1953. Their new star, Sugarfoot the horse, was even less successful than the barnyard couple.

In his debut cartoon Sugarfoot is expelled from his farm for wrecking his replacement, a tractor. He soon finds a job at the movies as a double for a star horse, earning enough money for his boss to buy a new tractor.

Sugarfoot was an interesting character for the 1950s, because he did not speak. Nevertheless, he was so remarkably unfunny, he lasted only two cartoons, the other one being ‘Hay Rube’ from the same year. It remains an almost unbelievable fact that this terribly unfunny cartoon was penned by the great Michael Maltese.

Watch ‘A Horse’s Tale’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.trilulilu.ro/video-animatie/sugarfoot-a-horses-tale

Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: August 10, 1953
Stars: Maw and Paw
Rating: ★
Review:

Maw and Paw © Walter LantzIn the early 1950s Lantz seemed to be in search of new characters for his cartoons.

This cartoon introduces Maw and Paw, two poor, phlegmatic farmers with hundreds of kids and one pig, who’s introduced as being the most intelligent of the lot. In an almost plotless story the pig wins a sports car. This leads to a lot of gags, without getting any funny. The cartoon even seem to look back all the way to the early 1930s with its barnyard setting and its abundance of repetitive animation.

Maw and Paw were no strong characters, and their series stopped two years later after only four films.

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