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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 4, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Cab Calloway
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Old Man of the Mountain © Max Fleischer‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ was the last of three Fleischer cartoons featuring Cab Calloway.

The cartoon is unique in that it uses Calloway’s swing music throughout the picture. The short uses two of Cab Calloway’s hits: the title song, which the Cab had recorded in June 1932; and during the chase scene ‘The Scat Song’, first recorded February 29, 1932.

The complete cartoon perfectly fits the jazzy score, and it’s musically the most perfect of the three Cab Calloway shorts. Unfortunately, this also means it’s devoid of any story, and relatively low on gags. Nevertheless, the sex-inclined atmosphere and the sizzling hot jazz easily make up for it.

The short starts with some live footage of Calloway and his orchestra. Then we cut to a lion warning everybody of the old man of the mountain. Soon, everybody’s fleeing from the old man of the mountain, except Betty. She goes up the mountain to meet him. The old man of the mountain chases her into a cave (somehow, all three Cab Calloway cartoons feature a cave). There the two sing a duet together, the only duet between a jazz singer and a cartoon star I know of. During this scene the old man’s moves are Calloway’s in rotoscope. Then the old man chases her down, until some animals capture the old guy and tie his limbs into a knot. At one point the old man captures Betty’s dress, leaving her in her underwear.

‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ is such a great cartoon one is extra sorry the Fleischers did not make any other cartoon featuring the Cab. One month later they would release ‘I Heard‘ featuring Don Redman, but that was the very last of the Fleischer’s great jazz cartoons. Even worse, by August 1933 Betty Boop’s own heydays were almost over. In 1934 she was bowdlerized by the Hays code, never to perform with hot jazz stars again.

Watch ‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 31, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★★★♕
Review:

Snow-White © Max FleischerOf all Fleischer cartoons ‘Snow-White’ is probably the most famous. And rightly so, because it brings the Fleischer’s unique brand of surrealism to the max, being simply stuffed with mesmerizing images, unexpected metamorphosis and stream-of-consciousness-like story flows.

The short is also the second of three cartoons featuring the unique voice of Cab Calloway, the others being ‘Minnie the Moocher‘ (1932) and ‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ from five months later. According to Leslie Cabarga (‘The Fleischer Story’, p.64) the film was animated by one man, Doc Crandall. Indeed he’s the only animator credited on the title card. This may be the cause of the short’s remarkable inner consistency. For the images may make no sense, they do flow into each other in a seamless way, with Betty Boop’s ride into an ice coffin as a particular highlight of absurd logic.

The Fleischer’s ‘Snow-White’ has a winter setting. It starts classical enough with the queen consulting her magic mirror. But then Betty Boop enters the scene, making the knights fall apart and the queen’s head turn into a frying pan, symbolizing her angry jealousy. The queen orders ‘off with her head’, demonstrating the action with her own fingers, and soon Koko and Bimbo (as two knights) prepare for the execution. However, in a very strange string of events they disappear into the hole they’ve dug themselves, while the tree to which Betty is tied sets her free himself.

In another weird string of events Betty Boop ends in an ice coffin at the dwarfs’ door. They drag her into the ‘mystery cave’, followed by the queen, who, using her magic mirror, has turned herself into a witch. Koko and Bimbo also enter the cave. Koko starts singing the St. James Infirmary Blues, one of Calloway’s classic hits, with Cab Calloway’s voice and movements. But when the queen turns him into a ghost, Koko suddenly becomes able to morph into a gold chain and into a bottle, illustrating the lyrics of the song. Later the mirror turns the witch into a dragon, which chases the trio, until Bimbo turns it inside out.

There’s a lot going on in this mind-blowing cartoon, which is over before you know it. Being very, very unlike Disney’s later feature film, ‘Snow-White’ is an undisputed highlight of cartoon surrealism, matched by very few other cartoons (the other one which comes to mind is ‘Porky in Wackyland’ from 1938). With this short the Fleischers reached the pinnacle of their pre-code cartoon style, before a combination of the Hays code and a tendency to imitate Walt Disney more toned down their unique vision.

Watch ‘Snow-White’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Snow-White’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: unknown
Release Date:
 January 1, 1933
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Coo Coo the Magician © Ub IwerksWhile ‘The Goal Rush‘ anticipated Disney’s ‘Touchdown Mickey‘, ‘Coo Coo the Magician’ clearly follows ‘Mickey in Arabia‘ from six months earlier. The setting and the story are too similar to ignore, making ‘Coo Coo the Magician’ quite a rip-off of Mickey’s wonderful cartoon.

Like Mickey, Flip visits some vague Arabian country with his sweetheart. There they meet the magician. When Flip challenges him, the magician makes his sweetheart disappear. While Flip gets lost in an Egyptian tomb, his girl comes in the clutches of a sultan. Flip comes to the rescue, battling several stereotyped black servants, which the cartoon unfortunately also inherited from Mickey’s cartoon. In the end the couple manages to escape on a magic carpet. There’s a short erotic scene of Flip falling into a harem.

Maybe just because it is a copy of ‘Mickey in Arabia’, ‘Coo Coo the Magician’ is an enjoyable cartoon. The exotic setting clearly inspired the makers to make other gags than usual, making this short standing above the average Flip the Frog cartoon.

Watch ‘Coo Coo the Magician’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Coo Coo the Magician’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date:
 January 13, 1933
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Silvery Moon © Van Beuren‘Silvery Moon’ starts with the song ‘Moonlight bay’ and the two young cats from ‘The Wild Goose Chase‘ (1932) in a canoe on a moonlit lake. Suddenly, the moon invites them over, producing a giant staircase. Once the two have arrived on the moon, a fairy opens a gate, revealing a dreamlike candy land.

The dreamlike atmosphere is enhanced by scenes that change while the two kittens stay in place. In Candyland the two frolic around, and eat all what’s around until they’re sick. Then they’re hunted by a bottle of castor oil and a spoon, until they fall off the moon, next to their own canoe.

‘Silvery Moon’ was one of the last Aesop’s Fables, and one of the best. Sure, the designs and animation are still poor (some of the animation is reused from ‘Toy Time‘), and the film’s subject may be a little childish, it’s a surprisingly inspired cartoon, showing wonderful events with a natural charm. It’s a pity that ‘Silvery Moon’ is in black-and-white, for its dreamlike atmosphere would make perfect subject for color, which in 1933 still was brand new, anyhow (Disney’s first technicolor cartoon, ‘Flowers and Trees‘ had only been released half a year earlier).

Indeed, the cartoon’s content and atmosphere look forward to several color cartoons of the Hayes code era, most notably the Fleischer cartoon ‘Somewhere in Dreamland‘ (1936), which also features two children visiting a candy world. This makes ‘Silvery Moon’ probably the most forward-looking cartoon the Van Beuren studio ever produced, and it certainly has aged much better than most of the cartoons the studio produced in the early 1930’s.

Watch ‘Silvery Moon’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Silvery Moon’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 2, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's Big Boss © Max Fleischer‘Betty Boop’s Big Boss’ opens with a pig putting up a sign saying “Girl wanted, female preferred”.

Betty Boop applies to the job, among hundreds of other candidates. However, Betty sings a sexy version of Irving Berlin’s 1919 hit song “You’d be surprised”, and she’s hired on the spot, while the boss quickly disposes of the competition.

Betty starts typewriting right away. Meanwhile her boss clearly fancies her, even though she’s not dressed as sexy as in her earlier films. He tries to steal a kiss, but then Betty cries for help, and about everybody comes to the rescue (the police, the army, the navy and the air force). This gag anticipates a remarkably similar gag in the Marx Brothers film ‘Duck Soup’, released later that year.

‘Betty Boop’s Big Boss’ is a cartoon full of sex and violence, and a clear example of a pre-code Betty Boop. Only a half a year later this short would have been impossible to make…

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Big Boss’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Oskar Fischinger
Release Date:
 December 1933
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Kreise © Oskar Fischinger‘Kreise’ is most probably the first full color film made in Europe.

Made with ‘Gaspar Color’ it certainly makes clever use of color’s new possibilities. ‘Gaspar Color’ required too much exposure time for live action, but for Fischinger’s animations it was perfect.

Color certainly added a great deal to Fischinger’s films. ‘Kreise’, for example, literally explodes with color. As its title implies, the film is composed of circles, only, which move and grow in various ways on an instrumental excerpt from Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

The film ends with a slogan: “Alle Kreise erfasst Tolirag” (Tolirag reaches all circles [of society]), revealing that this totally abstract film is actually a commercial for an advertising agency. This was Fischinger’s trick to get the film past the Nazi censors, who in 1933 had come to power, and who were strongly opposed to abstract art.

Later the film also advertised other companies, like the Dutch Van Houten chocolate company. The film clearly shows that Walt Disney was not the only one who knew how to deal with color, but one wonders whether Tolirag (or Van Houten for that matter) did get a lot of new customers out of it.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Kreise’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Kreise’ is available on the DVD ‘Oskar Fischinger: Ten Films’

Director: Alexandre Alexeieff
Release Date: 1933
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Une nuit sur le mont chauve © Alexandre AlexeieffPredating Disney’s film to the same classical piece by seven years, this ‘video clip’ to the music of ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ by Modest Mussorgsky is an impressive mood piece.

The Russian-French artist Alexeieff animated ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ on a so-called pinscreen, a device he invented himself , and which consists of a screen with numerous pins, which can be pushed further in or out, to produce a shadowy image together. This technique is highly original, and the images produced are totally unique.The film’s imagery has more in common with surreal paintings from the era than with any other animation film from the 1930s. ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ was Alexeieff’s first film on the pinscreen. Together with his wife Claire Parker he would animate five more, of which ‘The Nose’ (1963) is arguably the best.

The film does not tell a story, but shows us a string of expressionistic images of animal and human forms, floating through air, and morphing into disturbing creatures. The animation is sometimes excellent (with a human figure circling through the air as a particular standout), but at times primitive, too, and the film suffers a little from the crude montage. Both shortcomings are a direct result of the limitations of the pinscreen. However, Alexeieff’s vision overcomes the film’s drawbacks, and ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ is rightly considered an animation classic.

Watch ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ is available on the DVD ‘Alexeïeff – le cinéma épinglé’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 30, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'The Steeple Chase' featuring Mickey, his horse and the colonel in a wheelchairMickey is a jockey in a horse race.

Unfortunately, his horse Thunderbolt gets drunk just before the race starts. So he rides a pantomime horse, with his two black stable boys in it, instead. Remarkably, they win, due to a colony of angry and determined wasps, who chase the two poor black boys to the finish and into the distance, while Mickey receives all the glory.

‘The Steeple Chase’ is one of those ‘adventure type stories’ Mickey began having in 1932, and which were undoubtedly inspired by Floyd Gottfredson’s comic strip. ‘The Steeple Chase’ is a prime example: it shows clear similarities to ‘Mickey Mouse and his horse Tanglefoot‘, which ran about the same time (from June to October 1933). The colonel from ‘The Steeple Chase’ returns in that comic strip as a grumpy judge.

The early scenes firmly state why Mickey should win the race, e.g. when Minnie tells him “you gotta win, Mickey, or you’ll break the colonel’s heart”. Thus we are more involved in the horse race then in Mickey’s boxing game in ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ from earlier that year. Nevertheless, it remains a fact that Mickey’s actually cheating in both these cartoons, and misusing the two black stable boys while doing so. This makes it rather difficult to sympathize with Mickey. Moreover, the race is hardly as exciting as the one in ‘Barnyard Olympics‘ (1932), and the cartoon is by all means inferior to Gottfredson’s classic comic strip. The best gags come from the numerous ways in which the wasps attack Mickey and his fake horse.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 60
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Puppy Love
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Pet Store

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: June 17, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating:
Review:

Still from 'Mickey's Mechanical Man' featuring a gorilla boxing a robotMickey has build a robot to fight a gorilla in a boxing match, which is called “the battle of the century: machine vs. beast”.

Mickey’s robot has one disadvantage: he runs wild when he hears Minnie’s car horn. Luckily, this fact helps him in the end: when he’s clobbered by the gorilla (on the tune of Franz Liszt’s second Hungarian rhapsody), he seems almost lost. But then Minnie fetches her car horn, revitalizing the robot. From that point he actually cheats, using multiple boxing gloves, a hammer and hits below the belt.

Despite its clear story and high quality animation, ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man’ is a very weak short, and a low point in the otherwise outstanding Mickey Mouse year of 1933. The cartoon is surprisingly low on gags and it’s difficult to sympathize with the robot character, as it’s mechanical after all, while the gorilla is a living being. Moreover, Mickey’s motives remain unclear and we’re not invited to care about the match.

The cartoon most interesting feat. are the robot’s jerky movements, which are clearly mechanical and based on wind-up toys, but which become rather frantic and ridiculously elaborate when the robot goes wild. Nevertheless, there are some traces of Stan Laurel’s boxing moves from ‘Any Old Port’ (1932).

‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man’ is reminiscent of the Fleischer Studio’s equally weak ‘The Robot‘ (1932). Both films were inspired by rather hysterical stories about robots taking over jobs, which circulated in the early 1930s, and which struck a chord in an era of vast unemployment.

Watch ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 57
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Mail Pilot
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Gala Premier

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: February 28, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'Mickey's Pal Pluto' featuring Pluto and his little devilish self‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto’ shows how important Pluto had become by 1933.

It’s the first cartoon having the sympathetic mutt in its title, and it’s he, not Mickey or Minnie, who’s the real star of this short, arguably making ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto’ Pluto’s first own cartoon.

In ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto’ Pluto saves a few little kittens from drowning. Mickey and Minnie take them home, but there Pluto grows jealous of the intruders, exemplified by a conflict between his devilish and angelic sides, who materialize outside him, and who speak in rhyme. Unfortunately, when Pluto listens to his little devil, this leads to Mickey putting him outside. Nevertheless, when the kittens fall into a well, Pluto rescues the kittens from drowning again, almost drowning himself in the act. In the end he’s rewarded for this unselfish behavior with a roast chicken.

The moral clearly is that being good will be rewarded, as Pluto’s angel character clearly states in the end. So some of the childish sentimentality that had entered the Silly Symphonies in 1933 sneaks in to the Mickey Mouse series, as well.

‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto’ marks the first appearance of Pluto’s imaginary little devil and angel, symbolizing his inner conflict. This cartoon was more or less remade in color in 1941, titled ‘Lend a Paw’. Pluto’s little devil would reappear in ‘Mickey’s Elephant‘ (1936).

Watch ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 53
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Mad Doctor
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Mellerdrammer

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: September 16, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Still from 'The Pied Piper' featuring the pied piper and some rats

‘The Pied Piper’ is a vivid re-telling of the original fairy tale in operetta fashion.

Thus ‘The Pied Pier’, together with ‘King Neptune‘ (1932) and ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ (1933), belongs to the operetta- like Silly Symphonies. In its score, composed by Leigh Harline, practically all dialogue is sung, making ‘The Pied Piper’ an animated mini-opera.

Its human designs are way more detailed and anatomically correct than in ‘King Neptune’ or ‘Father Noah’s Ark’, making these two films looking old-fashioned, already. Disney was advancing towards the later realism of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937) with a lightning speed…

Unfortunately, at the same time, a sugary approach is unleashed, as well. For example, the rats are not drown, but caught in an imaginary cheese. Likewise, the children, who are depicted as virtual slaves in Hamelin, do not just disappear, but they’re lured into ‘Joyland’, where even the crippled get cured. So, in the end, practically no harm is done to anyone.

And so, like the contemporary ‘Lullaby Land‘, ‘The Pied Piper’ is a strange mixture of ever advancing animation and rather infantile material. A great deal of the remaining Silly Symphonies would share this mixture, and even Disney’s first features, like ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and ‘Bambi‘ (1942) are not immune to it.

The children designs used here would pop up in numerous sugary cartoons from the 1930s, including those from other studios. And, unfortunately, there would be a lot of them…

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 39
To the previous Silly Symphony: Lullaby Land
To the next Silly Symphony: The Night before Christmas

Director: David Hand
Release Date: July 29, 1933
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'Old King Cole' featuring a castle in a book

Old King Cole throws an annual party at his castle, which ends at midnight.

One can regard ‘Old King Cole’ as a remake of ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ from 1931. Both cartoons feature nursery rhyme characters singing and dancing. Although King Cole himself still has the same design he had in the earlier cartoon, the complete short shows an enormous progress in animation, which is elaborate and fluent throughout.

In ‘Old King Cole’ the long song-and-dance routine is executed much more complexly than in the earlier short. Indeed, at times it is even reminiscent of the musicals of the era. It belongs to the operetta-Silly Symphonies of the mid-1930s, with all characters singing their lines. It features several original arrangements of classic nursery rhymes, with the sequence of the nine little Indians leading to a stunning finale, with all characters dancing to an Ellingtonian jungle rhythm.

But then Hickory, Dickory and Dock spoil the fun, telling the audience it’s midnight, and all nursery rhyme characters flee back to their books. King Cole himself has the last shot, singing goodnight to the audience.

‘Old King Cole’ contains no story whatsoever, but the film’s sheer joy, its complex designs and its bright colors make this cartoon yet another highlight within the Silly Symphony series.

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


This is Silly Symphony No. 37
To the previous Silly Symphony: Three Little Pigs
To the next Silly Symphony: Lullaby Land

Director: David Hand
Release Date: March 11, 1933
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'Birds in the Spring' featuring a bird listening to its eggs

‘Birds in the Spring’ is a Silly Symphony about a mischievous little bird who encounters a.o. a rattlesnake and some angry bees.

This short can be regarded a study in realism, using birds. The realistic birds portrayed here are a far cry from the primitive and cartoony designs of ‘Birds of a Feather‘ from 1931. They fit perfectly in the equally realistic and elaborate backgrounds. The difference between the two shorts shows the enormous and unbelievable growth the Disney studio had made in a mere two years. The snake and the bugs in this cartoon, on the other hand, are not half as good, and fail to evoke any feeling of realism. A cousin of the badly designed snake would appear, however, in ‘Mickey’s Garden‘ (1935).

‘Birds in the Spring’ may have inspired ‘Morning Noon and Night‘ (released October 1933), the first of several Silly Symphony-like cartoons produced by the rival Fleischer studio.

Watch ‘Birds in the Spring’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 34
To the previous Silly Symphony: Santa’s Workshop
To the next Silly Symphony: Father Noah’s Ark

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 6, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Still from 'Morning Noon and Night' featuring Betty Boop unwillingly dancing with some catsRubinoff and his orchestra play the score for this cartoon about a bunch of cats (‘the tom kat social club’) who threaten Betty Boop’s yard full of birds. This orchestra, led by the Russian violinist David Rubinoff, played sweet pseudo-classical music, and this sets the tone for the short.

Based on Franz von Suppé’s overture ‘Ein Morgen, ein Mittag und ein Abend in Wien’ (1844), ‘Morning Noon and Night’ is a very sweet cartoon. It opens with some typical Fleischer gags, like a sun with a hangover, but the overall mood is rather corny and lacking humor. The short is very Silly Symphony-like, and particularly reminiscent of Walt Disney’s ‘Birds in Spring‘ from earlier that year. Both feature a fledgling running away, and encountering a threat.

The cartoon’s finale is a battle scene in which all birds come to the rescue, most notably a boxing rooster. Battle scenes like this could be seen in e.g. the 1932 Silly Symphonies ‘Bugs in Love‘, ‘King Neptune‘, and ‘Babes in the Woods’. Although ‘Morning, Noon and Night’ doesn’t come near any of these Disney cartoons in quality, it shows that the Disney style was invading the Fleischer studio, and that the brothers were getting more ambitious. This ambition would lead to the launch of the Color Classics in 1934.

Betty is more cute than sexy in this cartoon. The difference in mood between this cartoon and that of ‘I Heard‘ is enormous, although that cartoon was released only one month earlier. The reinforced Hays code would only be installed in the summer of 1934, but ‘Morning, Noon and Night’ shows that already by 1933 its morals had become more and more present in the American film industry’s output.

Watch ‘Morning Noon and Night’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Morning Noon and Night’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 1, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko The Clown
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Still from 'I Heard' featuring Betty in underwear and Bimbo © ParamountBetty Boop works in a tavern near a coal mine, where Koko The Clown and Bimbo are working. The latter discovers some ghosts in the mine.

This short contains an excellent swinging jazz score by Don Redman and his orchestra, who are introduced in the beginning of the picture, playing in a zany cartoon decor. The music includes adapted versions of Don Redman’s hit songs ‘How am I doing?’ (1932) and ‘I Heard’ (1931).

‘I Heard’ was the last Fleischer cartoon to feature a great jazz score. Don Redman, and his predecessors Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong, where soon replaced by Rubinoff and his orchestra playing light classical music in ‘Morning Noon and Night‘  and ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ (both late 1933). Even worse, the cartoon marked Bimbo’s last screen appearance. Being an animal he was no longer accepted as being Betty’s suitor in a Hays Code dominated Hollywood which shunned all eroticism and ‘unnatural sexual behavior’, including human-animal relationships.

After Bimbo, Betty would shortly date a human character named Fearless Freddie, but from 1935 on she remained a bachelor apparently with no interest in men whatsoever. In this cartoon, though, she’s still sexy, and she can briefly be seen in her underwear, after the elevator she and Bimbo had taken has crashed.

Thus, in many ways, one can regard ‘I Heard’ as the last of the classic Betty Boop cartoons. After this cartoon, the intoxicating mix of sex and surrealism was only seen once, in the compilation cartoon ‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame‘ (1934), a last tribute to Betty’s glory days.

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

‘I Heard’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: November 25, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, The Orphan Mice
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Giantland © Walt DisneyMickey tells the story of Jack and the Beanstalk to his numerous nephews with him in the starring role.

These nephews come out of nowhere, even though they had appeared in ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932), where they were, indeed, part of a nightmare. In ‘Giantland’ they’re real alright, and they would star in five other Mickey Mouse cartoons of the 1930s.

In his story Mickey meets the first giant of his career. This giant is very well drawn, with great use of perspective and realistic details, especially in the hands. This must have been the closest the studio could come to the human form in 1933. The cartoon also contains many shadows. Both features are a testimony of Disney’s urge to master more naturalism in his cartoons.

Nevertheless, one can see that the animators were still struggling with such elaborate designs. The giant is not drawn very consistently, and some sequences are more convincing than others. The best and most beautiful scene is when Mickey ends up inside the Giant’s mouth. This is an original scene by all means, and one that could almost only be done in animation.

Notably, the cartoon emphasizes that the story is a fantasy, with Mickey only telling it. Mickey was slowly becoming more settled, and while he’s still the hero of this cartoon, as the years progressed his quieter nature meant that he lost more and more screen time to less timid characters, like Pluto, Donald Duck and Goofy.

Mickey would deal with giants again in ‘Brave Little Tailor’ (1938) and in ‘Fun and Fancy Free’ (1947), a re-telling of the same fairy tale. ‘Gulliver Mickey’ from six months later follows the same story line as ‘Giantland’, but now in reverse, with Mickey himself being the giant, while Floyd Gottfredson retold the story of ‘Giantland’ in his Sunday Mickey Mouse comics from March 11 to April 29, 1934.

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


This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 62
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Pet Store
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Shanghaied

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: October 28, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Pet Store © Walt DisneyMickey applies for a job at Tony’s pet store. Then Minnie drops by and together they perform their usual song-and-dance-routine.

‘The Pet Store’ was Mickey’s last cartoon to feature the half song-and-dance routine half story formula, a story structure that by 1933 had become old-fashioned.

This time Minnie’s quite tiresome lalala’s are interrupted by ‘Beppo, the movie monk’, an ape who has read about King Kong (that movie was released the same year) and who wants to imitate him, after he had imitated Stan Laurel. This leads to a nice spoof of King Kong, in which the ape climbs a pile of boxes with Minnie under his arm while being attacked by birds, mimicking the planes in the original feature. In the end Mickey and Minnie are fleeing the pet shop, just before the owner returns, leaving it in complete ruin.

Unfortunately, by 1933 such battle scenes had become as jaded as the song-and-dance routines, and the one in ‘The Pet Store’ is not really different from the ones in ‘The Bird Store‘, ‘King Neptune‘, or ‘Babes in the Woods’ (all 1932). Nevertheless, the take on ‘King Kong’ is marvelous, and more original than Walter Lantz’s much more literal spoof ‘King Klunk’ from one month earlier.

Tony is the first elaborate human to enter Mickey’s world, being on par with the human characters in the Silly Symphony ‘The Pied Piper‘ from one month earlier. He would be topped, however, by the giant in Mickey’s next cartoon, ‘Giantland‘. Part of the fun in this cartoon is provided by Tony’s pseudo-Italian labels (like “birda seed” and “biga da sale”), a type of pun that was later borrowed extensively by Chuck Jones in his Pepe le Pew-cartoons.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 61
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Steeple Chase
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Giantland

Director: David Hand
Release Date: January 21, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Mad Doctor © Walt Disney‘The Mad Doctor’ is Mickey’s third horror cartoon and easily his best (the other two are ‘The Haunted House’ from 1929 and ‘The Gorilla Mystery’ from 1930).

The plot is simple: it’s night, the weather is foul and Pluto is kidnapped by an evil scientist called Dr. XXX, who takes him into his laboratory, which is reminiscent of that of Frankenstein in James Whales’ film of the same name, 1931. Mickey follows Pluto’s tracks into a creepy castle, entering it in a scene which reuses some footage of ‘Egyptian Melodies‘ from 1931. Inside the castle he has to deal with several skeletons, including a ridiculous hybrid of a skeleton and a spider. Soon, he’s captured, too, and about to be killed by a chainsaw. Fortunately, it turns out to be all just a dream…

Besides the horror, this cartoon also features elaborate designs and loads of special effects. Especially beautiful is its shadowing on the characters. It also has a strong musical element, as the mad scientist sings all his lines. Some of the gags are quite surreal and reminiscent of the Fleischer style, like a lock locking itself or the scientist cutting off Pluto’s shadow. The cartoon also features a gag with many doors in one doorpost. This gag would be reused and improved by Tex Avery in ‘The Northwest Hounded Police’ from 1946.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 52
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Building a Building
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Pal Pluto

Director: David Hand
Release Date: January 7, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete ,Pluto
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Building a Building © Walt Disney‘Building a building’ has a grand opening with its close-up of the anthropomorphized excavator.

This fast and gag-rich cartoon can be summarized as ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘ at a building site: Mickey is employed as an excavator machinist. When Minnie drops by selling box lunches, Mickey is so struck by love that he ruins the blueprints of foreman Peg Leg Pete three times. Pete is charmed by Minnie, too, and he tries to force her to a kiss. Of course, Mickey comes to the rescue, fleeing with Minnie and leaving Pete behind with the building in complete shambles. Pete just manages to fire Mickey, but Minnie immediately adds him to her business.

‘Building a Building’ reuses several story ideas from the early Oswald cartoon ‘Sky Scrappers‘ (1928). Both feature the hero being an excavator machinist, his love interest bringing box lunches, and Pete trying to abduct the girl. Even the excavator opening shot is a copy of the opening shot of ‘Sky Scrappers’. However, in five years both animation, timing and characterization have much improved. If ‘Sky Scrappers’ was a remarkable achievement for 1928, it was at times still crude. ‘Building a Building’ on the other hand has a refined quality that characterized the Mickey Mouse cartoons of 1933 and beyond.

There’s for example some remarkably flexible animation on Mickey when he rides the elevator. The animators have really put a sense of weight in his body, and exaggerated the effects of the sudden start and stop of the lift on it, with a lovely comic result. The musical score, too, is a delight from beginning to end, becoming particularly silly when Pete’s trousers change into a watering can. Indeed, with ‘Building A Building’ Mickey got his second Academy Award nomination, after ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (1931)

‘Building a Building’ is the first of a few 1933 Mickey Mouse cartoons that are introduced and partly played out in Song, following the Silly Symphonies ‘King Neptune‘ and ‘Santa’s Workshop from 1932. Other examples from 1933 are ‘The Mad Doctor‘,  ‘Ye Olden Days‘ and ‘The Mail Pilot’.

Watch ‘Building a Building’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 51
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Good Deed
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Mad Doctor

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: April 8, 1933
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Father Noah's Ark © Walt DisneyThe biblical story of Noah has been quite popular with the Disney Studio: it has retold the story three times on film .

‘Father Noah’s Ark’ is its first version, the others are a stop motion film from 1959 (‘Noah’s Ark’) and a sequence from ‘Fantasia 2000’ featuring Donald Duck.

This cartoon belongs to Disney’s operetta phase (see also ‘King Neptune‘) and tells the age old story as a musical, including some gospel singing. The story is quite straightforward and the short contains only a few mild gags, the best of which are in the building sequence, e.g. the wives using an assembly line of porcupines and some monkeys using a rhinoceros to make planks out of a log.

The designs seem to be halfhearted: Father Noah’s sons look ridiculously cartoony, wearing Mickey Mouse type gloves, for instance. His sons’ wives, on the other hand, are designed in art deco fashion.

The animals, too, are in different stages of naturalism, but the cows portrayed are much more realistic than the ones featured in the Mickey Mouse shorts of the same time. Moreover, when the animals flee into the ark, we see some unprecedentedly realistic giraffes, sealions and lions.

The most stunning naturalism is found in the animation of the sea when the ark is at the mercy of the waves. This is a spectacular scene by any standards. The storm part also features a complex scene of several animals rolling from side to side. There’s a good sense of weight in this sequence, with the elephant moving last.

Watch ‘Father Noah’s Ark’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 35
To the previous Silly Symphony: Birds in the Spring
To the next Silly Symphony: Three Little Pigs

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