Director: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Release Date: August 25, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★
Review:

Cubby's World Flight © Van BeurenIn 1933 the Harman and Ising studio had lost their deal with Leon Schlesinger to produce cartoons for Warner Bros. They had not yet got their later deal with MGM, and were in sort of a limbo, doing odds and pieces for several bidders.

One of the most surprising contracts they got was to produce two Cubby the Bear films for the New York-based Van Beuren in 1934. Van Beuren had his own studio making Cubby the Bear films, so what made him contracting Harman and Ising remains a puzzle. What’s clear, however, is that Harman & Ising’s Cubby was a far cry from Van Beuren’s own output.

Harman & Ising’s Cubby was in fact, Bosko but in a different design. His movements and spirit were indistinguishable from Harman & Ising’s former star. Like their cartoons for Warner Bros., Harman & Ising’s two Cubby the Bear films are animated by the same crew who had made the Bosko cartoons (e.g. Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson, before Schlesinger hired them away), resulting in cartoons that are at least well animated.

In the first of the two films, ‘Cubby’s World Flight’, Cubby follows Oswald (‘The Ocean Hop‘, 1927) and Mickey (‘Plane Crazy‘, 1928) in a Charles Lindbergh-inspired aviation film. Cubby starts flying alarmingly low, which leads to gags that go all the way back to ‘Plane Crazy’, he then crosses the United States, only to dive through the earth to reach China at the other side. Undaunted and with seemingly limitless supplies of fuel, Cubby flies over Russia to France, but above the Atlantic his plane is destroyed by a thunderstorm. Luckily our hero lands safely on the statue of liberty.

‘World Flight’ is practically indistinguishable from the early Warner Bros. films, and has little to do with Cubby as conceived by the Van Beuren studio itself. However, it’s a rather uninspired film, low on gags, and with an all too episodic story. In the best Warner Bros. tradition it features caricatures of the four Marx Brothers and of Maurice Chevalier.

Watch ‘Cubby’s World Flight’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cubby’s World Flight’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’

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Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: August 11, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Nut Factory © Van BeurenIn ‘The Nut Factory’ Cubby Bear is a Sherlock Holmes-like detective, with the little cat from ‘Fresh Ham‘ as his Watson.

Our hero soon gets a call to solve a mystery of stolen false teeth. After a completely unnecessary diversion in a ghost house, Cubby discovers the false teeth in a hollow tree, in which squirrels use them to crack nuts. The ghost house sequence feels almost obligatory, placing the cartoon in a long series of pre-code horror cartoons.

‘The Nut Factory’ is a terribly animated and erratic cartoon, and Cubby is as lifeless and bland as ever, but the cartoon shows two gags that foreshadow Tex Avery: when an old lady phones Cubby, she crosses the split screen, and later Cubby opens multiple doors in one door post, a gag that first appeared in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Mad Doctor‘ from earlier that year.

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

‘The Nut Factory’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’

Director: unknown
Release Date: July 12, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Fresh Ham © Van BeurenIn ‘Fresh Ham’ Cubby sets up a talent agency, looking for a vaudeville act.

Cubby is immediately visited by candidates, although talent is hard to find among them. There’s a lady who mimics a great voice with help of a phonograph, a mother with a baby brat who refuses to perform, and four Chinese duck acrobats. They are all topped, however, by a remarkably persistent duck who cites Shakespeare throughout the picture. This duck is a wonderful character, easily outshining Cubby and his anonymous little cat friend. The duck forms a running gag, elevating this Cubby cartoon to arguably the best short of Cubby’s short-lived career.

Watch ‘Fresh Ham’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A.M. to P.M.’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’

 

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1933
Stars: Fétiche
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Mascot © Wladyslaw Starewicz‘The Mascot’ shows that by 1933 Starewicz was the undisputed master of stop motion.

This 26 minute long film starts with live action, and is a typical melodramatic product of its time: we watch a poor mother making a dog doll, while her ill child lies in the back of the small room with fever. When she sheds a tear on the puppy doll, it comes alive. The puppy doll makes friends with the little girl, but the next day he’s about to be sold by a poor mother together with several other dolls she made.

On the way, however, a thief doll cuts a hole through the cardboard box they’re in, and all dolls leave the box, except for the little dog, who’s sold and hung in a car. Finally the dog makes his way home and rescues the little ill girl from a certain death by fetching her an orange.

The plot is more complicated than this main narrative, however, and features countless puppets. Besides the dog’s story, there’s a menage à trois featuring a ballet dancer, a Pierrot and the thief doll, and there are also a monkey doll and a cat doll involved.

Highlight of the film is a night scene, in which everything comes alive, from pieces of paper to skeletons of fish and birds. No less than the devil himself invites all creatures inside his cavern, where an grand ball is taking place. This sequence has a nightmarish character comparable to Alexeïeff’s ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ from the same year.

The whole film has a unique, gritty atmosphere, however. Throughout, the animation ranges from primitive to astounding. Starewicz especially excels in facial expressions, which really make some of the characters come alive. The dog, for example, clearly is a timid, reluctant character.

Unfortunately, the film is completely silent, despite a sparsity of dialogue and sound effects, and sometimes Starewicz’s dolls fall prone to overacting to overcome the lack of sound. Edouard Flament’s angular soundtrack doesn’t help either. Moreover, the all too complex plot hampers the film, making it meander too much. The melodrama, too, is a little too much for present day audiences.

Nevertheless, ‘The Mascot’ is a tour de force of stop motion animation. At least it provided Starewicz with a contract for eleven more films about the cute little dog, which was baptized Fétiche and finally starred five more films.

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

https://archive.org/details/The_Mascot_Complete

‘The Mascot’ is available on the DVD ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge & other Fantastic Tales’

Director: Bernard Brown
Release Date: January 27, 1934
Rating: ★★
Review:

Pettin' in the Park © Warner Bros.Mid-1933 Harman and Ising had quit with Leon Schlesinger after a dispute over money, leaving Schlesinger without a studio.

So Schlesinger quickly set up one at Sunset Boulevard, initially with help from sound engineer Bernard Brown and his friends. Brown even himself directed two cartoons during the studio’s chaotic starting months, of which ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ is the first.

Brown was no animator himself, and judging from this cartoon he was not much of a director, either: ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ just makes no sense. The first half is just an illustration of the song from the Warner Bros. musical ‘Gold Diggers from 1933’, featuring the familiar theme of a cop courting a babysitter (see also Fleischer’s ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart‘ and Van Beuren’s ‘In the Park‘ (1933). The second half suddenly reports a diving contest and a swimming race between birds. Bridging the action is a cheeky little penguin – what he does in a park no-one will ever know.

There’s a surprising lack of continuity and consistency rarely seen outside the Van Beuren studio output, and the cartoon is of an appalling low quality, especially when compared to the earlier Harman and Ising output. Even worse, few of the gags come off, and none is anything near funny.

Nevertheless, even a terrible film like ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ shows that the typical Warner Bros. animation style, developed at Harman & Ising, had not been lost. It certainly helped that Schlesinger had managed to hire away some crew from his former associates. Bob Clampett, for example, who gets his first billing as an animator here. Clampett and Jack King (hired away from Disney) are clearly trying to put some pepper into the hopeless scenes. Thus despite its story atrocities, even ‘Pettin’in the Park’ displays Warner Bros. own distinct animation style, which, in 1933 was second to Disney only in quality.

Watch ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Pettin’ in the Park’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Busby Berkeley Collection’

Director: Yasuji Murata
Release Date: January 31, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Larks' Moving Day © Yokohama Cinema ShokaiIn ‘The Larks’ Moving Day’ we follow a family of anthropomorphized larks who live in a cornfield.

The owner of the cornfield plans to harvest, but first asks his neighbors, then his relatives to help him. Father lark isn’t impressed: as long as the farmer keeps asking others, he will not harvest, and thus their home will not be in peril. Only when the farmer exclaims ‘we’ll do it ourselves’, the lark family moves from the field to a safer area. Thus father lark’s moral to the audience is ‘You can’t do a job, until you stop relying on others and do it yourself’.

This silent film is one of Murata’s more enjoyable films, as his elegant drawing style is on full display. The animation, too, is superb, even if it’s limited. The short shows once again that Murata was the undisputed leader in the field.

Watch ‘The Larks’ Moving Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Larks’ Moving Day’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Yasuji Murata
Stars: Norakuro
Release Date: June 14, 1933
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Private 2nd Class Norakuro © Yasuji MurataNorakuro is a black dog who has joined an army of white dogs.

But like Donald Duck in his later World War II army films, Norakuro is far from a good soldier. When he has to clean an officer’s office, he starts wearing the officer’s sabre, and smoking his cigarettes. Later, Norakuro follows marching orders without thinking, and walks blindly into a stable, where he’s kicked out. In the second episode Norakuro manages to capture a tank, only to find out that it’s manned by his own supervising colonel…

‘Private 2nd Class Norakuro: The Drill’ is a silent film with a strong 1920s design. Norakuro had been a manga star first, making his debut in 1931. Norakuro is drawn sympatherically, and is a relative of silent stars Bonzo and Felix the Cat. In this film, Norakuro’s first, his antics are pure for fun, lacking any moral or military subtext, even though it’s a film about the army during the militaristic Shōwa period. Norakuro would star four more films (1934-1938), which would become increasingly propagandistic. The comic strip lasted until 1941.Unfortunately, Murata’s drawing style is less impressive than in other films, and the film a little too long and mildly amusing at best.

Watch ‘Private 2nd Class Norakuro: The Drill’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Private 2nd Class Norakuro: The Drill’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Teizô Katô
Release Date: October 22, 1932
Rating:
Review:

The Plane Cabby's Lucky Day © Kyoryoku Eigasha-Marvel GraphSurprisingly, the story of ‘The Plane Cabby’s Lucky Day’ takes place in the far future of 1980. By then the animals have inherited the earth, as people have taken the skies. Thus the film first takes place in an urban landscape of endless skyscrapers.

Unfortunately, the aimless story of a young flying cab driver soon hits more traditional settings, when the cab driver crashes on an island with talking animals etc. Moreover, Cabby’s behavior is shown to be very traditional, as he takes good care of his mother and helps a wounded bird. The story’s moral is that charity is a good investment.

Director-animator Teizo Kato was a newcomer in Japanese animation and it shows. His animation is incredibly primitive, and akin to American studio films from the 1910s. His animation lacks all hints of weight or personality, and is tiresome to watch. The long and boring story doesn’t help either, resulting in one of the worst products of early Japanese animated cinema.

Watch ‘The Plane Cabby’s Lucky Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://cy.cyworld.com/home/22635133/post/4C403230C5957824B7388401

‘The Plane Cabby’s Lucky Day’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: ?
Release Date: November 11, 1933
Stars: Willie Whopper
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Stratos Fear © Ub IwerksNot satisfied with Flip the Frog, MGM demanded a new cartoon star from Ub Iwerks. So, the studio conceived Willie Whopper, a fat little boy telling tall tales.

Unfortunately, Willie Whopper wasn’t much of a success either, and the series was stopped after only twelve entries. Most famous among the Willie Whopper cartoons probably is ‘Stratos Fear’ in which our hero visits the dentist. When Willie gets too much laughing gas, he inflates and goes up into the air, soon leaving earth, the moon, passing Saturn and into space. When he passes an alien planet, he’s caught by some strange alien scientists.

The alien planet is by all means an odd world, and it anticipates the sheer zaniness of ‘Porky in Wackyland’ (1938). At one point one of the evil scientists even dresses as a beautiful woman in a scene looking forward all the way to Tim Burton’s feature ‘Mars Attacks!’ (1996). Luckily in the end, it all appears to have been a dream.

‘Stratos Fear’ is an interesting cartoon, because of its early surrealism, but Willie Whopper is not much of a character, being just a bland boy, only reacting on his surroundings, without any internal motivation. The gags, too, are only mildly amusing, as things are just happening on the screen, in a pretty steady flow. Also, despite a certain horror atmosphere, and the erotic beauty, it’s one of those 1933 cartoons already moving towards the infantile world of the second half of the 1930s. The result is noteworthy cartoon, but hardly anything more than that.

Watch ‘Stratos Fear’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Stratos Fear’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

[this is my 1000th post]

Director: ?
Release Date: August 12, 1933
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Soda Squirt © Ub IwerksBy 1933 the Flip the Frog cartoons had become as good as they would ever be, with clear stories and many gags.

However, MGM was not impressed, and the series was discontinued, making way for Iwerks’s new star, more fit to the goody-goody-era of 1934-1937, Willie Whopper.

‘Soda Squirt’ was Flip’s very last cartoon, and it looks like Iwerks answer to Disney’s ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ from one month earlier. But where Mickey was the star of a gala evening, Flip is only a soda joint owner. Nevertheless, on the grand opening of his new eatery, many Hollywood stars drop by, including Laurel and Hardy, Jimmy Durante, Buster Keaton, Lionel Barrymore (as Rasputin from ‘Rasputin and the Empress’, 1932), the Marx Brothers, Mae West, and Joe E. Brown.

Unfortunately, the voices are terrible, hampering the caricatures. Especially those of the Marx Brothers are way off the mark. Moreover, halfway the cartoon goes haywire when a gay stereotype turns into a monster, wrecking the whole place. It’s a pity that Iwerks couldn’t do anything more interesting with the Hollywood stars, and so ‘Soda Squirt’, despite a few nice ideas and a jazzy score, isn’t quite the classic ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ definitely is.

Watch ‘Soda Squirt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 38th and last Flip the Frog cartoon
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Pale-Face

‘Soda Squirt’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: ?
Release Date: June 24, 1933
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Techno-Cracked © Ub IwerksIn ‘Techno-Cracked’ the elder lady from ‘School Days‘ and ‘The Music Lesson‘ orders Flip to mow the lawn. What her relation is to Flip that she can do that, remains utterly unclear. It seems she was a sort of staple authority figure the Iwerks studio could use anytime.

Anyway, inspired by an article on robots, Flip builds his own one, being the last cartoon star to follow the robot trend of 1932/1933, after Fleischer’s ‘The Robot‘ (1932), Lantz’s ‘Mechanical Man‘ (1932), Disney’s ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ (1933) and Columbia’s ‘Technoracket‘ (1933).

Of all these animated robots, Flip’s is the most improbable one. Indeed, Flip’s creation is more like a cousin of Frankenstein than a mechanical man: first, it comes to life by electric charge. Second, it has a pumpkin head, defying its mechanical character. Third, it hardly moves like a robot at all, and more like an ordinary rubber hose animated character, and fourth, it eats, it laughs and it uses a toilet.

However, the cartoon is a great showcase of what can go wrong with robots. When Flip orders the robot to mow the lawn, it does so with zeal, mowing everything in sight. In the end, the robot turns evil, and Flip has to destroy it.

‘Techno-Cracked’ is a fast-paced, gag-packed cartoon and among Flip the Frog’s best. The action is greatly enhanced by Carl Stalling’s inspired score, which uses The Song of the Volga Boat Men as a leitmotif, but in a major key.

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

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 34
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Flip’s Lunch Room
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Bulloney

‘Techno-Cracked’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: ?
Release Date: April 3, 1933
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Chinaman's Chance © Ub IwerksIn ‘Chinaman’s Chance’ Flip the Frog is a policeman, ordered to arrest Chow Mein, an escaped Chinese convict, whom he tracks down into Chinatown.

Flip follows the criminal into a Chinese laundry, which turns out to be a place of horrors, with a pool containing a snake and an alligator. Later we watch Flip smoking opium, which leads to a marvelous scene in which the whole scenery goes wobbly in a special effect never before seen on the animated screen. The opium even makes Flip imagining Chow Mein as a beautiful Chinese lady.

Unfortunately, the rest of the short is not nearly as interesting. The cartoon ends with Chow Mein back in prison, and Flip receiving a medal. Carl Stalling’s score on the other hand remains wonderful throughout, and is full of mock-Chinese music.

Watch ‘Chinaman’s Chance’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 36
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Bulloney
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Pale-Face

‘Chinaman’s Chance’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date: August 26, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

We're in the Money © Warner Bros.‘We’re in the Money’ is entirely built around the catchy opening tune of the Warner Bros. musical ‘Gold Diggers of 1933’.

The joyous song, with its anti-Great Depression theme is entertaining enough to carry the whole cartoon. It is played and sung by toys and dolls in an apartment store at night. Even coins from a cashier join in, singing ‘we are the money’. There’s also a doll doing a Mae West imitation.

Composer Frank Marsales is on the loose here, and plays endless variations on the title song. There’s absolutely no story, whatsoever, but the cheerful mood is captivating, and despite the lack of real action, the cartoon will leave you with a smile.

Watch ‘We’re in the Money’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘We’re in the Money’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’ and the DVD-set ‘The Busby Berkeley Collection’

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date: Jul 8, 1933
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Shuffle off to Buffalo © Warner BroEven though Harman and Ising would never surpass Walt Disney, partly because of a lack of vision, partly because of lack of budget, there’s no denying that by 1933 their films had become the best looking cartoons of the era after Disney’s.

‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’ is a prime example. Based on the hit song from the Warner Bros. musical ’42nd Street’ from three months earlier, the short shows how babies are distributed all over the world. It includes a long assembly line sequence with gnomes washing, drying, powdering and feeding babies. This scene resembles a similar one in Disney’s ‘Santa’s Workshop‘ (1932) and can compete with it in its inventiveness and rhythmic action.

The title song is sung by the babies themselves, including a Maurice Chevalier one, and a Joe E. Brown one. Later an Eddie Cantor gnome recaptures the song, and also does an Ed Wynn impersonation. There’s absolutely no story, but there’s constant action, the animation is top notch throughout, and the joyous atmosphere is undeniably catchy.

‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’ is a cartoon of great quality, and shows that the Disney style of animation could be copied quite successfully.

Watch ‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’ and the DVD-set ‘The Busby Berkeley Collection’

Directors:Ivan Ivanov-Vano & Leonid Amalrik
Release Date: 1933
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Black and White © SoyuzmultfilmOf all animated Soviet propaganda films, ‘Black & White’ certainly is one of the most powerful. The film is essentially silent, but it’s accompanied by the beautiful negro spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” sung in a deep mournful voice. 

The film is based on a poem of the same name from 1925 by Vladimir Mayakovsky, who wrote the poem during a trip to Cuba. Like the poem, the film shows American racism and the exploitation of black people. We watch them being oppressed by the white, as if they were still slaves, and kept quiet by religion. The images are strong and very stylized. Each image of the film is staged wonderfully to the best effect. A most impressive image is that of numerous blacks in prison, but the bleakest of them all is the final shot of a car passing a lawn with a black man hanging on each tree.

The overall mood of the film is absolutely depressing, especially when one realizes that for once the Soviet propagandists were not too far from the truth. Nevertheless, the Soviet solution, “Lenin”, may be a little too short-sighted, and I doubt whether this film has ever been watched by its intended audience, and if it struck any international chord at all. Who knows? At least, Cuba has been the only country in the Americas to experience a Marxist regime…

Anyhow, despite its abrupt and inapt Lenin-ending, ‘Black & White’ is one of the darkest and strongest of all animated films of the 1930s, and certainly the most interesting animation film to come from the Soviet Union in that decade.

Watch ‘Black & White’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Black & White’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: James Tyer
Release Date: October 27, 1933
Stars: The Little King
Rating: ★★
Review:

Marching Along © Van BeurenOf all animation films dealing with the Great Depression, the Oswald cartoon ‘Confidence‘ and the Little King short ‘Marching Along’ are the most obvious ones.

‘Marching Along’ opens with the kingdom of the Little King in dire straits. The song describes its miserable state, which we can watch with our own eyes: everybody’s broke, roads and buildings are broken and even the Little King himself is robbed of his furniture and clothes, because he can’t pay his debts.

Then the queen announces the N.R.A., lifting everybody’s spirit. Soon everything works again (composer Gene Rodemich quotes Jack Hylton’s optimistic 1930 hit song ‘Happy Days are here Again’ during this section), and the cartoon closes with the Little King bombarding an angry mob with food.

The N.R.A. stands for National Recovery Act, an important part of fresh president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. It was raised to stop a competitive race to the bottom, and negotiated with the industry to have minimum prizes, minimum wages and maximum weekly working hours. Unfortunately it also endorsed monopolies and cartels, and it was poorly administrated.

The National Recovery Act lasted until 1935, when it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. By 1935 it had achieved little of its promises, and it’s generally viewed as a failure, making its high praise in ‘Marching Along’ extra sour in hindsight.

‘Marching Along’ is even more removed from Otto Soglow’s source material than its predecessor ‘The Fatal Note‘ was. The designs are a mixed bag, sometimes copying Soglow’s style, at other times being genuinely Van Beuren. The Little King himself has only a small part in the story, which is slow and tiring, and in fact only interesting because of its historical value.

Watch ‘Marching Along’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Marching Along’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Otto Soglow’s The Little King’

Director: unknown
Release Date: September 29, 1933
Stars: The Little King
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Fatal Note © Van BeurenAfter two films featuring Sentinel Louey, the Van Beuren studio turned to Otto Soglow’s greatest creation: The Little King.

It was clearly the studio’s intention to cash in on this charming character. But unlike the two Sentinel Louey cartoons, which copied Soglow’s silent comedy style very well, ‘The Fatal Note’ is much less faithful to the source material. For example, it starts with an elaborate song, not unlike Walt Disney’s ‘Father Noah’s Ark’ from earlier that year.

Apart from the Little King it also stars a cloaked terrorist, whose design has nothing to do with Soglow’s style, but which is the Van Beuren studio’s most ambitious attempt at human design, yet – another example of the studio’s attempts to keep up with Disney in human design. The terrorist introduces himself in song, but the rest of the cartoon is done in silent comedy.

The villain tries to kill the Little King, e.g. with a bomb inside a piano, a gag that gives the film its title. Eightteen years later Friz Freleng would use the same gag for the Bugs Bunny film ‘Ballot Box Bunny’ (1951), but with much, much funnier results. In ‘The Fatal Note’ the gag is just one of the terrorist’s numerous attempts to kill the king, which involves numerous bombs, anyway. The chase partly takes place on a spectacularly animated spiral staircase, which must have been the animators’ pride scene, as it is used no less than three times in the cartoon.

Because it lacks the charm of the source material, it is difficult to call ‘The Fatal Note’ a success, but it’s a great testimony of the studio’s ambitions even before Disney-alumnus Burt Gillett came along.

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

‘The Fatal Note’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Otto Soglow’s The Little King’

Director: Harry Bailey
Release Date: May 5, 1933
Stars: Sentinel Louey
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

A Dizzy Day © Van Beuren‘A Dizzy Day’ was the second of only two animated cartoons featuring Otto Soglow’s lesser known character Sentinel Louey.

Like ‘A.M. to P.M.’ it’s only a string of newspaper comics gags transferred to the movie screen, with an absurd rescue plot being the longest gag of all. Surprisingly, Sentinel Louey is less than sympathetic in this film, knocking down a woman , and later trying to drown a cat.

Like Soglow’s comic strip, there’s only visual comedy. Soglow’s graphic style is copied beautifully, although there’s one bird that looks more like a traditional Van Beuren character than like a Soglow creation.

Like ‘A.M. to P.M.’ ‘A Dizzy Day’ is only mildly funny, but charming. Its real treat, however, lies in its gorgeous score, although it’s very unlikely this score is original. It’s certainly not by Van Beuren’s house composer Gene Rodemich, and very likely it’s not by any American composer, at all. On the contrary, the score sounds genuinely European, and from a later era (ca. late 1940s, early 1950s), cartoonier, but otherwise similar to scores by Matyas Seiber for ‘Magic Canvas’ (1948) and George Auric’s score for ‘Kermesse fantastique’ (1951). So, this lovely score must be of a later date, and has likely been produced for a British post-war release of the film.

Watch ‘A Dizzy Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Dizzy Day’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Otto Soglow’s The Little King’

Director: Harry Bailey
Release Date: January 20, 1933
Stars: Sentinel Louey
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

A.M. to P.M. © Van BeurenIn search of new characters The Van Beuren studios signed a contract with Otto Soglow to produce twelve animated cartoons based on his characters.

Ten feature his most famous creation The Little King, but the series starts with two featuring Soglow’s lesser known character Sentinel Louey, a British guard, complete with large bearskin hat. Unlike the Little King films, these first two cartoons are very faithful to the source material. Not only do they contain a string of gags that are undoubtedly directly transferred from the comic strip, they also capture Sloglow’s idiosyncratic graphic style remarkably well. This style is much more appealing and original than anything the studio did before, making both ‘A. M. to P. M.’ and ‘A Dizzy Day’ visually among the most beautiful animated films of the entire 1930s.

Unfortunately, because ‘A.M. to P.M.’ is a compilation of newspaper comics gags, there’s no story whatsoever. Moreover, Soglow’s humor is one of charm and wonder, not one for loud laughs, and as a result ‘A.M. to P.M.’ moves past at a leisurely speed without leaving much impression besides the extraordinarily beautiful images.

Watch ‘A.M. to P.M.’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A.M. to P.M.’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Otto Soglow’s The Little King’

Directors: Frank Sherman & George Rufle
Release Date: July 31, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Phantom Rocket © Van Beuren‘The Phantom Rocket’ starts with a stereotype homosexual announcer announcing that Tom and Jerry will man a dangerous flight on a new rocket.

Unfortunately, an escaped convict climbs along. While the convict holds up Tom and Jerry inside the machine, the rocket goes haywire, creating havoc in the whole neighborhood, before diving into the sea. It finally crashes on top of a prison, and the cartoon ends with Tom and Jerry earning the reward.

With ‘The Phantom Rocket’ the Van Beuren studio joined the Walt Disney studio in its operetta phase. Following the Silly Symphony ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ and the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Mail Pilot‘ in particular, the short opens with several people singing an introduction song, including engineers, scientists, photographers and Tom and Jerry themselves. Gene Rodemich’s score is very lively throughout, and the gags come in fast and plenty.

Nevertheless ‘The Phantom Rocket’ was the merry duo’s very last cartoon. Since then they’ve gone into oblivion, and it’s true that only a few of their 26 cartoons are enjoyable enough to justify resurrection (to me ‘Wot a Night‘, ‘Pots and Pans‘, ‘Jolly Fish’ and ‘Pencil Mania‘ are the best candidates). The Van Beuren studio replaced Tom and Jerry with new, but equally unsuccessful stars like Cubby the Bear and The Little King.

Although the rocket itself is nicely animated, Tom and Jerry’s last stand suffers the same problems as their earlier outings: sloppy designs, erratic animation and a total lack of character. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to compare ‘The Phantom Rocket’ to the earlier ‘Rocketeers‘ (1932), which covers similar grounds. It shows that even this sloppy studio had grown with the years.

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

This is the 26th and last Tom & Jerry cartoon
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Doughnuts

‘The Phantom Rocket’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

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