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Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: July 27, 1940
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

A Wild Hare © Warner Bros.‘A Wild Hare’ marks the birth of one of the biggest cartoon stars of all time, Bugs Bunny.

The short had been preceded by four other Warner Bros. cartoons about hunting and rabbits, ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938), ‘Prest-O Chang-O‘ (1939). ‘Hare-Um Scare-Um‘ (1939) and ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera‘ (1940), which all contributed to the formation of the character.

Yet, it’s the character, design and voice the rabbit got in ‘A Wild Hare’ that made the rodent into the Bugs Bunny we all know now, even though he still looks a little different. Nevertheless, the difference between Tex Avery’s Bugs and his predecessors is less marked than sometimes advertised: Jones’s rabbit in ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera’ already was a calm character, and both the rabbits in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ and in ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera’ had performed fake death scenes. Moreover, even in the first half of ‘A Wild Hare’ the rabbit still seems a bit loony, like his predecessors.

Still, the rabbit has become a lot cooler: in his first appearance (which surprisingly only occurs after two and a half minutes!) he calmly addresses his hunter with the first occurrence of that famous line ‘What’s up, doc?‘. And in the second half he kisses Elmer Fudd a few times (another Bugs Bunny trademark) and deliberately invites Elmer to shoot him, only to act out a superb death scene, animated to perfection by Robert McKimson.

Likewise, Elmer Fudd gets his definite design in this cartoon, and it’s here he utters his trademark opening words ‘Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits‘ for the first time. He still has the red nose he had inherited from his predecessor Egghead, but that would soon go, too.

Priceless is the ‘guess who’ scene, in which Elmer guesses several beautiful Hollywood actresses as likely candidates (“Hedy Lamarr? Carole Lombard? Rosemary Lane? Olivia de Havilland?“), before deciding upon ‘that screwy rabbit’. The complete cartoon forms the template for many Bugs Bunny cartoons to come, up to such a late short like ‘What’s Opera, Doc?‘ (1957).

The cartoon itself at least was a success, and nominated for an Academy Award (which it lost to MGM’s ‘The Milky Way‘), and it prompted other cartoon directors to use the character, too. Five months later, Chuck Jones was the first, with ‘Elmer’s Pet Rabbit’. Thus this rabbit had to get a name. And in an era in which virtually all cartoon stars had alliterated names, he was christened Bugs Bunny. In fact, this name that already appeared on a model sheet for ‘Hare-Um Scare-um’ as ‘Bugs’ Bunny’, after director Bugs Hardaway, who had directed that particular cartoon. ‘Elmer’s Pet Rabbit’ has a separate title card to introduce this rabbit and his red-hot name.

With ‘A Wild Hare’ the Leon Schlesinger studio turned a new page. Together with MGM’s ‘Puss Gets The Boot’, Tom & Jerry’s debut film, which had been released five months earlier, the short somehow heralds the wilder and more mature days of the 1940s. And although Elmer and Bugs don’t chase each other in ‘A Wild Hare’, the cartoon helped to shape the format of the chase cartoon, with the comedy played out well with just the two characters, in a clear antagonistic relationship. Now the fun could really begin…

Watch ‘A Wild Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 1
To the last proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Elmer’s Candid Camera
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Elmer’s Pet Rabbit

‘A Wild Hare’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and on the DVD ‘Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Award-Nominated Animation: Cinema Favorites’

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Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: May 11, 1940
Stars: Sniffles
Rating:
Review:

Takes a Trip © Warner Bros.In ‘Sniffles Takes a Trip’ Sniffles goes on a holiday to the country meadows for some peace and quietness.

The short opens with Sniffles walking the rails and singing a tune in his all too childish voice. When he arrives at the meadows, he tries to get some rest in his hammock, but is hindered by a woodpecker. In his next attempt, he hangs his hammock between the legs of a crane, who quickly walks into a pond. Sniffles’s last trial is at night, when he gets so scared, he rushes back to the city.

‘Sniffles Takes a Trip’ is the Sniffles’s fourth film, and in this cartoon the little mouse is even cuter than before. The cartoon is genuinely Disney-like in character: it’s beautifully animated, its backgrounds are lush and artful, and the humor is mild and devoid of conflict.

Unfortunately, the short is also utterly boring, being even much less entertaining than Sniffles’s earlier films. The woodpecker scene mimics a similar one in the Donald Duck cartoon ‘Self Control‘ (1938), another example of the huge Disney influence on Chuck Jones’s earliest efforts as a director.

Watch ‘Sniffles Takes a Trip’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sniffles Takes a Trip’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’ and the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: December 2, 1939
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Sniffles and the Bookworm © Warner Bros.‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ opens with Sniffles taking refuge in a bookshop to escape the winter cold.

Inside Sniffles encounters the bookworm, who’s scared of the little mouse, and asks two book characters, the pied piper and a viking, for help. This first act is acted out completely silently, and is very, very Silly Symphony-like. Its uninteresting comedy is greatly helped by Carl Stalling’s score, who makes excellent use of music from Franz Schubert’s Moment musical no. 3.

When Sniffles turns out to be small, the pied piper suddenly starts playing the clarinet, with Sniffles joining in. Thus starts the second part, in which Sniffles, the bookworm and several nursery rhyme characters play and sing some peppy swing tune. Unfortunately, a particularly angular version of Frankenstein’s monster awakes, too, and soon spoils the fun. This second act is hardly more interesting than the first, but the swing music is nice.

With ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’, the third cartoon starring Sniffles, Chuck Jones gives his own twist on his precursor Frank Tashlin’s books-come-to-life series (e.g. ‘Have You Got any Castles?‘ and ‘You’re an Education‘ from 1938). Despite the paper-thin story about Sniffles and the bookworm itself it’s all there: book characters coming to life at night, characters performing some jazz music, and a threat which ends the fun – this all done with the highest production values possible at Leon Schlesinger’s studio at the time.

It’s hard to call the bookworm a classic character (after all, Sniffles himself isn’t really interesting). Yet, the bookworm would return in two other Sniffles cartoons: ‘The Egg Collector’ (1940) and ‘Toy Trouble’ (1941).

Watch ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: September 2, 1939
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Little Brother Rat © Warner Bros.‘Little Brother Rat’ is the second cartoon featuring that cute little mouse Sniffles.

In this short Sniffles has to perform tasks at a party. The cartoon opens with Sniffles plucking a whisker from a cat. His second task is stealing an owl’s egg. The egg soon hatches into a little, far from life-like baby owl. The owl appears to be a precursor of the Minah-Bird, Jones’s famous dimension-defying bird, or even Droopy in ‘Northwest Hounded Police‘, as it is as capable of being in unexpected places.

‘Little Brother Rat’ is far from funny, but the night scenes are very beautiful, and Carl Stalling’s score is excellent.

Watch ‘Little Brother Rat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Little Brother Rat’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: May 20, 1939
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Naughty But Mice © Warner Bros.‘Naughty But Mice’ introduces Chuck Jones’s very first regular cartoon star, the infamous mouse Sniffles.

Sniffles’ first appearance immediately explains his name, for he has a cold, and visits a drug store for medicine. He finds one with a lot of alcohol, and is drunk almost immediately. Then follows a rather curious scene in which Sniffles talks and even sings with a humanized electric razor, in an all too slow scene. After this strange scene the second act starts, in which Sniffles is threatened by a cat, and rescued by the razor.

Like many of Jones’s earliest cartoons, ‘Naughty But Mice’ is a clear attempt to emulate Walt Disney. Sniffles even vaguely resembles the country mouse from ‘The Country Cousin‘ (1936), which also gets drunk. The result is a slow and cute cartoon. The short is saved, however, by gorgeous art deco-inspired background paintings and by Carl Stalling’s beautiful score.

Sniffles is far from an interesting character, and out of league with Daffy or even Porky. Nevertheless, the little mouse would star ten more cartoons, lasting even until 1946.

Watch ‘Naughty But Mice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Naughty But Mice’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: July 15, 1939
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Dangerous Dan McFoo © Warner Bros.This Tex Avery cartoon is a rather zany retelling of the poem ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’ by Robert Service.

Dangerous Dan McFoo appears to be a small, timid dog with the meek Elmer Fudd voice of Arthur Q. Bryan. His love interest, Sue, talks like Katharine Hepburn, but the villain, an early version of Avery’s wolf, images her as Bette Davis.

In this cartoon Tex Avery’s zany style is in full operation: in the opening shot of the Malibu Saloon, which stands in cold Alaska, we watch it advertise with ‘A 90 degrees cooler inside’. There are no less than two embryonic door gags, which would be expanded upon in ‘Señor Droopy‘ and ‘Little Rural Riding Hood’ (both 1949), and a first draft of the horse-in-the-glove gag, reused with gusto in ‘Lonesome Lenny’ (1946). There’s also an old reuse of the gag featuring a chorus stopping in mid-verse to make some weird faces, earlier used in ‘Penguin Parade’ (1938). And then there’s someone in the audience interrupting and dropping the two fighters two guns. The best gag, however, must be the streetcar coming out of nowhere to signal the rounds of the fights between the hero and the villain.

‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ is delightful nonsense, but it still suffers from mediocre designs and sloppy timing. Its end too, is anything but fitting. Avery knew he could do better and he would return to the same material six years later with ‘The Shooting of Dan McGoo‘ (1945), starring Droopy as the hero.

Watch ‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ is available on the French DVD box set ‘Tex Avery’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: July 1, 1939
Stars: Porky Pig, Uncle Sam
Rating: ★★
Review:

Old Glory © Warner Bros.‘Old Glory’ starts with Old Glory itself, i.e. the American Flag. Below it we watch Porky Pig trying to memorize the pledge of alliance to no avail.

In frustration, Porky throws away his history book, and falls asleep. In his dream Uncle Sam materializes from Porky’s history book and he tells Porky what the pledge of alliance is all about, with images of the declaration of independence, Paul revere’s midnight ride, the war of independence, the signing of the constitution, the trek to the West, and finally the statue of Abraham Lincoln, while we listen to an excerpt of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. After this Porky awakes and salutes the flag with enthusiasm.

‘Old Glory’ was Chuck Jones’s first cartoon starring Porky Pig. It’s also the character’s first full color cartoon (after his debut in the two-color cartoon ‘I Haven’t Got A Hat’ Porky had remained a black and white character). Chuck Jones makes him genuinely juvenile, and perfect fodder for patronizing material, just like Frank Tashlin’s ‘Wholly Smoke‘ (1938) had been, which also stars a child version of Porky.

All of Chuck Jones’s early cartoons have a high quality look, matching the production values of Walt Disney and Harman-Ising’s cartoons for MGM. None more so than ‘Old Glory, a commission by Warner Bros. in a series of patriotic shorts about American history (all the others were live action shorts). Unlike any other Leon Schlesinger film, ‘Old Glory’ relies heavily on rotoscope, and features a multitude of realistic people. Moreover, there’s some careful and very convincing shading on the characters, and Uncle Sam, in particular, is animated with great care, even if his eyes become spooky at times.

‘Old Glory’ thus is a well made cartoon, with high production values. But let’s face it, the short also is a sickeningly patriotic and nationalistic cartoon, which has very little to offer to all those outside the U.S. In a way it looks forward to some of the propaganda from World War II, for example the finale of ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face‘ (1943). Unlike the latter cartoon, however, ‘Old Glory’ is completely devoid of humor. Luckily, it remained highly atypical for the Warner Bros. studio’s output.

Watch ‘Old Glory’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 59
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Scalp Trouble
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Picnic

‘Old Glory’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Ben Hardaway & Cal Dalton
Release Date: August 12, 1939
Stars: proto-Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Hare-Um Scare-Um © Warner BrosIn 1939 Ben Hardaway revisited the rabbit he had introduced in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938).

The rabbit was completely redesigned, and received the colors that would make Bugs Bunny. However, the rabbit retained his loony character and Woody Woodpecker laugh, and is a far cry from the cool guy Bugs Bunny would become. But as he was Ben “Bugs” Hardaway’s bunny, it was this character that gave Tex Avery’s later star his name.

‘Hare-Um Scare-Um’ stars an anonymous red-nosed man who goes hunting when meat prices soar. In the forest he encounters the loony rabbit, who at one point even sings a song about how crazy he is.

There’s remarkably little to enjoy in ‘Hare-um Scare-um’, as neither hunter nor rabbit are sympathetic, and one doesn’t care for either. However, the short introduces cross-dressing, when the rabbit disguises himself as a female dog to attract the hunter’s pooch. This cross-dressing would become a popular feature of the later Bugs Bunny.

Watch ‘Hare-Um Scare-Um’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hare-Um Scare-Um’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’

This is the third of four cartoons featuring a Bugs Bunny forerunner
To the first proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Prest-O Change-O
To the next proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Elmer’s Candid Camera

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: March 25, 1939
Stars: Two Curious Dogs, proto-Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Chuck Jones uses the silly rabbit from Ben Hardaway’s ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938) and makes it a magician’s rabbit in a cartoon featuring his earliest stars, the “Two Curious Dogs”, which had made their debut in January in ‘Dog Gone Modern’.

In ‘Prest-O Change-O” the two dogs flee from a dog catcher into a magician’s house, where the tall dog meets the rabbit, while the small dog struggles with a “hindu rope”.

Jones’s handling of the material is very Disney-like, slow in action and with much attention for situation comedy. Unfortunately, his two dog characters are anything but funny, and the complete film fails to impress. The rabbit, a forerunner of Bugs Bunny, is as unsympathetic as he was in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ and rightfully gets punched in the end. He doesn’t talk, however, but shows the weird laugh he got in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’.

‘Prest-O Change-O’ doesn’t add anything, however, and the rabbit remains unappealing. So, after this film this particular rabbit was transformed into another design, making its debut in ‘Hare-um Scare-um’ of five months later.

Watch ‘Prest-O Change-O’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Prest-O Change-O’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’

This is the second of four cartoons featuring a Bugs Bunny forerunner
To the first proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Porky’s Hare Hunt
To the next proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hare-um Scare-um

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: March 29, 1941
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Goofy Groceries © Warner Bros.‘Goofy Groceries’ was the first Merrie Melodie directed by Bob Clampett, and thus his first color film.

In this film Clampett made a follow up to Frank Tashlin’s cartoons, ‘Have You Got any Castles?‘ and ‘You’re and Education‘ (both 1938), in which things come alive at night, featuring Hollywood caricatures. Moreover, he maintains Tashlin’s high production standards and original cinematography. Thus, ‘Goofy Groceries’ is a beautiful and well-made picture, even though it makes little sense.

As the title implies, now things come to life in a grocery store, including caricatures of Ned Sparks, Jack Benny and Leopold Stokowski. The best parts are a Busby Berkeley ballet of some feminine sardines, and Tomato cans dancing a can-can. The musical number is interrupted by a King Kong-like gorilla, which prompts the stock battle scene, until he’s called home by his mother.

‘Goofy Groceries’ is far from a classic, but it shows that the Leon Schlesinger studio was capable to incorporate the innovations by one director, in this case Frank Tashlin, into other directors’ films, making the studio improve with a remarkably speed.

Watch ‘Goofy Groceries’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Goofy Groceries’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: May 6, 1939
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Thugs with Dirty Mugs © Warner Bros.The title ‘Thugs with Dirty Mugs’ is a parody of the 1938 Warner Bros. gangster picture ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’, and the short is indeed a gangster picture itself.

Starring ‘Edward G. Robesome’ as Killer Diller, the cartoon tells the story of a notorious bank robber, mostly by newspaper headlines.

However, much more than a story, ‘Thugs with Dirty Mugs’ is a genuine gag cartoon. Its arguably the first Tex Avery film to show his mature style from start to end. It’s simply packed with the director’s unique gag style: cars can contract like harmonicas, a safe can become a caravan or a radio, and a bank can turn into a slot machine. Meanwhile the police can cross a split screen, and cigars and guns can hang in mid-air only to be picked up again. And finally, the crooks are betrayed by a man in the audience, who has seen the picture twice. With this film Tex Avery definitely proved to be a unique voice in the cartoon world, and his influence can hardly be overstated.

The pin gag was reused by Bob Clampett in ‘The Great Piggy Bank Robbery’ (1946).

Watch ‘Thugs with Dirty Mugs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Thugs with Dirty Mugs’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: December 12, 1938
Stars: Daffy Duck
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Daffy Duck in Hollywood © Warner Bros.In ‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood’ Daffy visits ‘Wonder Pictures’ only to sabotage the shooting of a film by a pig director with an irritating accent.

Halfway Daffy edits a film of his own, which is eventually shown to the studio’s boss, and which consists of unrelated spot gags on live action news reels, with the visuals totally out of tune with the soundtrack.

‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood’ is disappointingly unfunny. Avery’s timing is remarkably sloppy and Daffy Duck is, if anything, utterly annoying. The short’s best gags do not involve the duck, and are the opening shot of Wonder Pictures, with its slogan ‘If it’s a good picture, it’s a wonder‘ and the studio boss’s reaction to Daffy’s film. Indeed, after this film Avery never worked with the duck again, and it was left to other directors to transform the annoying duck into a likable character.

Watch ‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Daffy Duck cartoon no. 5
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: The Daffy Doc
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur

‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: November 19, 1938
Rating: ★★½
Review:

In ‘A Night Watchman’ a young kitten has to replace his sick father to be the night watchman in a kitchen.

The kitten soon encounters some large tough mice led by a real gangster type, and they bully him, until the kitten’s conscience gets the better of him, and makes him fighting back. Soon he clobbers all the mice one by one, and back into their hole.

‘The Night Watchman’ was the very first cartoon directed by Chuck Jones, who took over Frank Tashlin’s unit when Tashlin left Schlesinger. In his first short Jones clearly continues the rather Disneyesque style of Frank Tashlin’s Merrie Melodies. The short even contains a clear Tashlin-like montage scene.

Despite the detectable Disney-influence, ‘The Night Watchman’ is a clear Warner Bros. product, thanks to Stallings’ peppy music, Treg Brown’s idiosyncratic sound effects, and a fast gag scene in which we watch the mice eating in ridiculous ways.

Nevertheless, in true mid-1930s fashion, the kitten is cute, not funny, and the action is hold up by a catchy jazz number on the 1905 hit song ‘In the Shade of the Apple Tree’, including a vocal trio and a big band take. This number shows the Merrie Melodies’ raison d’être: to showcase songs from the Warner Bros. publicity catalog.

Jones’s earliest output is often regarded as slow and rather boring. Indeed, it’s hard to call ‘The Night Watchman’ a classic, and nowhere Jones’s signature can be detected. Moreover, when compared to contemporary cartoons by Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, the short seems to belong to another world. Yet, the cartoon is nicely animated, and in fact much more enjoyable than other Disney imitations of the time, e.g. Fleischer’s Color Classics.

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

‘The Captain’s Christmas’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: December 16, 1938
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Cracked Ice © Warner Bros.‘Cracked Ice’ looks like Frank Tashlin’s answer to Walt Disney’s ‘On Ice‘ (1935).

However, the familiar scene of animals skating is enhanced by the presence of a pig, who is an excellent caricature of W.C. Fields, both in voice and design. When he discovers the liquor storage of a phlegmatic St. Bernard, the pig goes at lengths to retrieve the alcohol. His best scene is in which he tries to get the drinks by talking to the dog, in real W.C. Fields style. In another great scene the pig goes into discussion with someone in the audience. The cartoon ends with an elaborate magnet gag, but it’s the man in the audience, who has the last laugh.

‘Cracked Ice’ is an entertaining film, if not a too spectacular one. It was Frank Tashlin’s last film at Warner Bros. for the time being, and his unit was taken over by Chuck Jones. Tashlin left Warner Bros. for Walt Disney, where he worked on films like ‘Donald’s Vacation’ and ‘Mr. Mouse Takes A Trip’ (both 1940). However, the Disney studio was not his style, and he interchanged it for Columbia in 1941, working on the ‘Fox and Crow’ series. By June 1942 he was back at Warner Bros. where he would direct some superb films, like ‘Plane Daffy‘ and ‘The Stupid Cupid’ (both 1944).

Watch ‘Cracked Ice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cracked Ice’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: November 5, 1938
Rating: ★★½
Review:

You're an Education © Warner Bros.With ‘You’re an Education’ Frank Tashlin rounds up his trio of contributions to the Warner Bros. books-come-to-life-cartoons.

As with the earlier ‘Speaking of the Weather’ (1937) and ‘Have You Got Any Castles?‘ (1938) the cartoon consists of a bunch of musical routines, followed by an embryonic story of all characters trying to catch a criminal. This time the setting is a travel agency, and all gags and puns come from countries, cities and other places around the world.

‘You’re an Education’ is less lush than ‘Have You Got Any Castles?’ was, and feels like a repetition of the former film. However, the film moves at an incredible speed. The opening sequence, in particular, is rich in events, with the music changing quickly, forming a dazzling medley. The title song is sung by three fat black ladies, while the criminal is a guy from Bagdad stealing from the Transvaal Kimberly Diamond Mines. The film ends with the Bagdad criminal joining the Lone Ranger, a popular fictional radio star that had come to the movie screen in February 1938.

Watch ‘You’re an Education’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘You’re an Education’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: October 8, 1938
Rating:
Review:

Little Pancho Vanilla © Warner Bros.‘Little Pancho Vanilla’ is one of Frank Tashlin’s particularly Silly Symphony-like Merrie Melodies. Indeed, the short’s star, Little Pancho Vanilla, looks like a grumpy cousin of Disney’s Little Hiawatha (1937).

Pancho dreams of becoming a bullfighter, especially when his three sisters admire a Clark Gable-like toreador. To prove his worth Little Pancho Vanilla rushes off to the arena, trying to join a group of amateur toreadors, to no avail. However, he accidentally lands inside, crashing the bull by falling on it, twice, and thus becoming a success.

There’s little to enjoy in ‘Little Pancho Vanilla’, the main hero is far from sympathetic, and the bullfight scenes are hardly interesting. The best gag is when the bull kicks all amateurs in all corners as if they were billiard balls. The end gag, however, only depicts these Mexicans as ignorant people.

At best Warner Bros. produced Silly Symphonies-lookalikes like this cartoon were better than Fleischer’s attempts in the same field, but it was a good thing Warner Bros. soon moved away from them, and embraced their own unique cartoon style wholeheartedly.

Watch ‘Little Pancho Vanilla’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Little Pancho Vanilla’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: May 14, 1938
Rating: ★★
Review:

Now That Summer Is Gone © Warner Bros.While Tex Avery and Bob Clampett were experimenting with a cartoon style totally different from Disney, Frank Tashlin made some Merrie Melodies that were still surprisingly Silly Symphonies-like.

‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ is one of the most conspicuous of them all, opening with autumn images of numerous squirrels collecting nuts for the winter. The industrious ways in which the squirrels collect nuts hark all the way back to early Silly Symphonies like ‘Autumn‘ (1930), ‘The Busy Beavers‘ (1931) and ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ (1933). In any case these opening sequences feature complex scenes and lush production values.

This setting gives way to a story about a young squirrel who’s addicted to gambling. When his father orders him to collect nuts at the ‘First Nutional Bank’ he loses it all to a mustached stranger. In the end, it turns out to be the father himself, who gives the lying little brat a big spanking.

This humorless and cloying morality tale places ‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ deeply in the second half of the 1930s. Nevertheless, it’s still enjoyable to watch Tashlin’s experimental cinematography at play.

Watch ‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Now That Summer Is Gone’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: April 22, 1939
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur © Warner Bros.After directing four films with stars of his own, fledgling director Chuck Jones first directed a major Warner Bros. Star in ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’.

Jones does a fairly good job in trying to capture the wacky spirit of contemporary cartoons by Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, although his animation is more Disney-like than that of his peers.

Daffy’s adversary is a grumpy caveman called Caspar, whose surprisingly elaborate design and voice anticipate Elmer Fudd a little. The dinosaur of the title is called Fido. He is the caveman’s pet, and a large brontosaur. However, the dinosaur hardly comes into action, and most of the comedy is between the duck and the caveman.

There are some nice gags, but highlight is the non-animated gag of an enormous string of billboards leading to a duck dinner. Jones is still uncertain with Daffy as a character, but let’s be fair, so was even Tex Avery himself at this point – and he invented the duck. Jones’s caveman in fact is a better opponent to Daffy than Avery’s Egghead was. However, only with his third Daffy Duck film, ‘My Favorite Duck‘ (1942), Jones directed the character to great comic effect.

Watch ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Daffy Duck cartoon No. 6
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: Daffy Duck in Hollywood
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: Scalp Trouble

‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3’

 

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: January 1, 1938
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Daffy Duck and Egghead © Warner Bros.‘Daffy Duck and Egghead’ marks Daffy Duck’s second appearance. The short is the first film carrying Daffy’s name, and his first one in color.

The cartoon uses exactly the same premise as the first one, ‘Porky’s Duck Hunt’ (1937), but now with Egghead as the hapless hunter. Egghead never was much of a character, and Avery deliberately changed him for this cartoon, giving him a Moe-Howard-like hairdo, but otherwise making him less loony than before, and more of a straight man. Daffy Duck, on the other hand, is completely wild in this cartoon, and sings about himself on the melody of ‘The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down’, an idea that was copied in the feature film ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?‘ from 1988.

Avery and story man Ben Hardaway tell some great gags here: for example, Egghead shooting down a man in the audience who won’t sit down, and a random turtle suddenly breaking in and ordering the duo to duel. This colorful short surely couldn’t be hardly be more removed from Disney for a 1938 cartoon. The Warner Bros. cartoon studio clearly was on its own course. However, Avery’s timing is still unsteady, wearing down the fun, especially in Egghead’s tiresome slow reactions to the duck’s antics.

Watch ‘Daffy Duck and Egghead’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Daffy Duck cartoon No. 2
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: Porky’s Duck Hunt
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: Porky and Daffy

‘Daffy Duck and Egghead’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: June 25, 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Have You Got Any Castles © Warner Bros.‘Have You Got any Castles?’ is the second of Frank Tashlin’s three contributions to the Warner Bros. books-come-to-life-cartoons, a type of short unique to this studio. 

The cartoon doesn’t really have any story, but is built around four songs, of which the song ‘Have You Got Any Castles’ , from the film ‘The Varsity Show’ (1937) is the last.

This entry is one of the most Silly Symphony-like of all, starting with a particular lush opening, in which a town crier casts a huge shadow on a library. There’s also some beautiful shading on this character (a caricature of radio man Alexander Walcott) himself.

The Silly Symphony-like lushness notwithstanding, the cartoon is full of gags and caricatures of a.o. Greta Garbo, Cab Calloway (while Heidi sings hi-de-hi), Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and W.C. Fields. The animation is surprisingly mature, and shows how the Warner Bros. studio had improved in only a few years. The human figures are particularly lifelike, highlight being the town crier, and some scarcely dressed black ladies dancing to the swinging score.

The film features best-sellers from the 1920’s and 1930’s like ‘Topper’ (1926) by Thorne Smith, ‘Green Pastures’ (1929) by Marc Connelly, and ‘The Good Earth’ (1932) by Pearl S. Buck, which had been made into a film in 1937. It also revisits and improves on the thin man gag from ‘Speaking of the Weather’ (1937).

When the three musketeers rescue the prisoner of Zenda, the cartoon suddenly bursts into a frantic finale, with all kinds of book characters shooting at the four characters. After this frenzy we return to the town crier, rounding off this wonderful cartoon perfectly.

Watch ‘Have You Got any Castles?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Have You Got any Castles?’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2’

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