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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’

 

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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: 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: 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: 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: Dick Lundy
Release Date: March 25, 1949
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Buzz Buzzard
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Drooler's Delight © Walter LantzWoody wants to go and buy a ‘drooler’s delight’ (a large sorbet), but Buzz Buzzard steals his quarter.

The rest of the cartoon consists of Woody and Buzz fighting for it, with mildly amusing results.

‘Drooler’s Delight’ was to be Dick Lundy’s last cartoon at Walter Lantz. After a squabble with his distributor, Universal, and a short fling with United Artists, Walter Lantz was forced to close down his studio in 1948, and Lundy was left on the street. In May 1950 he replaced Tex Avery at MGM, who had left for a sabbatical. At MGM Lundy directed one Droopy cartoon and revived the Barney Bear series.

Lantz meanwhile was able to reopen his studio in 1950. But because he had to watch his budgets more than ever, the quality of the cartoons would rarely match that of his 1940s output.

Watch ‘Drooler’s Delight’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Dick Lundy
Release Date: August 27, 1948
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Buzz Buzzard
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Wet Blanket Policy © Walter LantzWet Blanket Policy’ uses exactly the same idea as Dick Lundy’s last Donald Duck short, ‘Flying Jalopy‘ (1943).

The cartoon even uses the same adversary in Buzz Buzzard, a swindler who makes Woody sign an insurance contract that will give Buzz a $10,000 when Woody dies (in the original Donald Duck cartoon the character was called Ben Buzzard).This leads to a fast and very murderous chase sequence full of nonsense.

Penned by Warner Bros. alumnus Ben Hardaway and Heck Allen, who had collaborated with Tex Avery at MGM, ‘Wet Blanket Policy’ is one of Woody’s wildest cartoons. Unfortunately, it’s also the first in which Woody’s proportions start to waver. At one point he’s particularly tiny. This unsteady sizing of Woody would become a particular problem of the cartoons of the 1950s. Buzz Buzzard, however, proved to be a strong adversary for Woody, and became Woody’s antagonist in many of the following Woody Woodpecker cartoons.

Watch ‘Wet Blanket Policy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Dick Lundy
Release Date: June 9, 1947
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Coo-Coo Bird © Walter LantzWoody wants to get up early, at 5:00 Am, but he’s kept awake all night, especially by an annoying cuckoo clock.

‘Coo-Coo Bird’ is the second and the better of two Woody Woodpecker cartoons from 1947 about sleeplessness, the other one being ‘Smoked Hams’. In his struggle with inanimate things, Woody resembles Donald Duck a lot in this cartoon, not too surprising as Donald Duck was well-known to director Dick Lundy, who co-created that character. Thus, ‘Coo-Coo Bird’ is very reminiscent of the Donald Duck short ‘Early to Bed‘ (1941), and itself anticipates the Donald Duck cartoon ‘Drip Dippy Donald’ (1948) in which Donald is kept awake by a dripping tap.

Watch ‘Coo-Coo Bird’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: October 22, 1956
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Niagara Fools © Walter LantzIn this cartoon Woody Woodpecker wants to ride the Niagara falls in a barrel.

However, there’s a park ranger who tries to stop him, and it’s this ranger who repeatedly ends in a barrel on the falls.

It’s amazing to discover a gem like this between the badly designed, badly animated and badly timed Walter Lantz shorts of the late 1950s. Although this cartoon, too, features ugly animation, the story and the gags (penned by Disney-veterans Dick Kinney and Milt Schaffer) are very good. The result is by all means one of the best Woody Woodpeckers of the fifties.

Watch ‘Niagara Fools’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://oldiesbutgoodiesmusic.e-bookmembers.com/woody/Woody_Woodpecker-Niagara_Fools/

Director: Shamus Culhane
Release Date: October 4, 1944
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Barber of Seville © Walter LantzWoody Woodpecker enters a barbershop to get a ‘victory’ haircut.

When the barber appears to be gone away, Woody himself steps in, maltreating a large chief and giving an Italian construction worker ‘the works’, singing the complete aria ‘Largo el factotum’ from Gioachino Rossini’s opera ‘The Barber of Seville’.

‘Barber of Seville’ is probably inspired by the barber scene from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940), which is set to a Hungarian dance by Brahms. The cartoon in its turn probably inspired Chuck Jones, who would use the opera’s overture in ‘Rabbit of Seville‘ (1950), with even better results.

‘Barber of Seville’ was the first Woody Woodpecker directed by Shamus Culhane. Culhane was an animation veteran, who had worked at Max Fleischer, Ub Iwerks, Van Beuren, Walt Disney and Warner Bros. Culhane obviously understood the character better than his predecessor Alex Lovy did: the gags in ‘Barber of Seville’ are faster and funnier, and the story is more consistent than in most of the earlier Woody Woodpecker cartoons.

Moreover, Woody Woodpecker looks better than ever before. Layout man and color stylist Art Heinemann redesigned the character to make him less grotesque, and more appealing. Unfortunately, Culhane would direct only ten Woody Woodpecker shorts, before he left the studio to set up one of his own to make animation films for television.

Watch ‘Barber of Seville’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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