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Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 May 27, 1933
Rating:★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Three Little Pigs © Walt Disney‘Three Little Pigs’ is one of the most successful, most famous and most perfect cartoons ever made. It was hugely popular when it was released, with people associating its catchy theme song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ with an optimism with which one could fight the haunting effects of the Great Depression.

Norm Ferguson and Fred Moore were the principle animators on the film. Norm Ferguson animated the wolf in his typical broad vaudeville acting style, which comes to full bloom in this film. The wolf is a great character, with his glances at the public. He’s a real villain, but somehow too sympathetic as an actor to be really threatening. Unfortunately, his design is not very consistent. Especially his eyes are unsteady and a bit wobbly. One can clearly watch the wolf’s design improving during the film, as if it was animated chronologically. And this may very well possible.

However, it’s Fred Moore’s animation that made the deepest impression on the animation field. Because of his animation on the three pigs, ‘Three Little Pigs’ is regarded as the first animated cartoon to feature so-called character animation. The three pigs form the key to character animation: although the three are drawn the same, the sensible pig behaves differently from the other two: he’s clearly a different character, not by design, but by animation. This was a great step forward in the evolution in animation, and admired by the whole animation industry.

Apart from that the pigs’ designs, by the highly influential concept artist Albert Hurter, are highly appealing. Hurter had joined Disney in June 1931, first as an animator, but soon he switched to concept art, and he had a tremendous influence on the looks of Disney’s films in the 1930s. It must have been around this time that Disney started to think of an animated feature – a daring project which would dominate the studio during 1934-1937. For this ambitious project Moore would design no less than seven similar, yet different characters, while Hurter would indulge in elaborate sets, full of little details.

The film was a success not only within the animation industry, but with the American public, as well. The audiences took the film and its catchy song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ (sung by Mary Moder, Dorothy Compton and Pinto Colvig) as a sign of comfort and hope in the dark days of the Great Depression era. And even after more than eighty years, Frank Churchill’s song is still extremely catchy, even though it’s never heard in its entirety during the short. After a while the cartoon became no less than a sensation, lasting weeks in some theaters, and spawning a great deal of merchandise, like alarm clocks and jigsaw puzzles. In 1934 it won the Academy Award for best animated short film. In 1941 it was still famous enough to be changed into Disney’s first war propaganda film: ‘The Thrifty Pig‘.

The film undoubtedly was Walt Disney’s most famous and most successful short, and the first Silly Symphony to spawn sequels – due to the pressure by distributor United Artists. These sequels (‘The Big Bad Wolf‘ from 1934, ‘Three Little Wolves‘ from 1936, and ‘The Practical Pig‘ from 1939) were, of course, much less successful than the original, and are all but forgotten today. As Disney himself said “You can’t top pigs with pigs’.

The film also raised director Burt Gillett’s fame, and soon he was lured away by the ailing Van Beuren studios to repeat this immense success. However, at Van Beuren it soon became clear that ‘Three Little Pigs’ was not a success because of Burt Gillett’s genius, but because of the ambitious group effort of the Disney studio, and Gillett never managed to come near his most successful films at Disney again.

For ‘Three Little Pigs’ was a true collective effort, with Hurter, Churchill, Ferguson and Moore showing their best work thus far, but also through contributions by e.g. Art Babbitt, Dick Lundy and Jack King, who also animated some sequences, voice artist Pinto Colvig, the voice of the practical pig, and story man Ted Sears, who both contributed to the cartoon’s theme song, and Carl Stalling, who provided the practical pig’s piano-playing.

The film has easily stood the test of time: not only are the characters still appealing, its backgrounds are gorgeous, its music catchy, and its storytelling extraordinarily economical and effective, probably because may have been the first animated cartoon with a complete storyboard. The short’s joy is still infectious today. And although one will always remember the short’s cheerfulness, it contains some black humor, too: look for the portraits of dad and Uncle Tom in the wise pig’s house.

By the way, present-day viewers see an altered version of the film. The original featured a sequence in which the wolf dressed as a stereotyped Jewish door-to-door salesman. For its video release in the early 1980s this sequence was completely redrawn, to remove all Jewish references.

Watch ‘Three Little Pigs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 36
To the previous Silly Symphony: Father Noah’s Ark
To the next Silly Symphony: Old King Cole

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 March 18, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Goofy, Pluto
Rating:★★★½
Review:

Mickey's Mellerdrammer © Walt DisneyIn ‘Mickey’s Mellerdrammer’ Mickey and the gang are performing a stage version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ (1852), a so-called ‘Tom Show’.

Surprisingly, this was not Mickey’s first take at the play, as he and his pals had performed it already in February 1932 in Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse strip ‘The Orphanage Robbery’. The comic strip undoubtedly influenced the cartoon as in both the comic strip and in the cartoon Mickey plays both Topsy and Uncle Tom, while Minnie plays Little Eva, Clarabelle Cow Eliza and Horace Horsecollar the vicious plantation owner Simon Legree. Because the comic strip predates Goofy’s birth he’s not part of the play, and in the cartoon he only helps behind the scene. Goofy remains a surprisingly bland character, doing little more than laughing stupidly, proving that his guffaw still was his only defining character trait.

First we watch Mickey and the gang dress themselves, obviously in the best minstrel tradition and featuring quite a few blackface gags, including the obligate reference to Al Jolson’s ‘Mammy’. Then we watch two scenes of the play itself. The play opens merrily enough with Little Eva and Topsy dancing to ‘Dixie’, but a little later Simon Legree is about to lash Uncle Tom.

Despite the play’s serious subject matter, the cartoon is full of nonsense, especially when Mickey unleashes fifty dogs, ridiculously dressed in dogs costume. The cartoon ends, when these dogs encounter a cat and destroy everything in chasing it. This sequence makes ‘Mickey’s Mellerdrammer’ a late addition to Mickey’s destructive-finale-cartoon-series of 1931/1932. The large number of gags makes ‘Mickey’s Mellerdrammer’ quite entertaining, but of course the numerous blackface gags date the cartoon a lot, and make it an obvious product of a more openly racist era.

In Mickey’s next cartoon ‘Ye Olden Days’ the idea of him and the gang acting was taken a step further, when they were introduced as actors in that cartoon. The idea of cartoon characters performing a melodrama was later copied by Max Fleischer in ‘She Wronged him Right‘ (1934) starring Betty Boop.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 54
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Pal Pluto
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Ye Olden Days

‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white Volume two’

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: May 18, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear, Honey
Rating: ★★
Review:

Barking Dogs © Van Beuren‘Barking Dogs’ is one of those 1930’s cartoons with a clear Great Depression theme.

The short opens with Honey worrying as she will be displaced because she didn’t pay her mortgage (a story idea anticipating Disney’s ‘Moving Day‘ by three years). Cubby comes along, and offers her to help. His help is hardly convincing, as he immediately runs off in a feeble attempt to pawn his pocket knife. Meanwhile, the evil land owner, A. Wolf, comes along to take all Honey’s furniture away, and incidentally, her house, too. Meanwhile, two metal dogs (?!) warn Cubby who returns to the scene, finding Honey crying on the doorstep. “It’s too late” she sobs, at which he replies “Nothing is too late for Cubby!”, and together they ride the two metal dogs to A. Wolf’s house. Strangely, it’s the two dogs who fight and dispose of the evil land owner, leaving Cubby as a completely idle bystander.

The complete cartoon makes little sense and is difficult to enjoy as none of the animation is interesting or any of the gags funny. But once again, Gene Rodemich’s score is delightful and on a complete different level than all other aspects of the cartoon. The two metal dogs are elegantly designed and much more appealing than Cubby and his girlfriend.

Watch ‘Barking Dogs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: April 28, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear, Honey
Rating: ★★
Review:

Bubbles and Troubles © Van BeurenCubby the Bear’s fourth cartoon, ‘Bubbles and Troubles’, has quite a bizarre story.

The short starts when Cubby starts blowing bubbles with Honey’s soap water. He accidentally blows himself up, and takes the air immediately. He’s shot out of the air by a bunch of pirates, and he falls to the ground. While he’s unconsciousness, the mean pirates kidnap Honey and take her to their ship. The absurdity of the Van Beuren studio’s story-telling style is perfectly illustrated by a scene in which the captain grabs some money, saying ‘money’, than grabbing some more, saying ‘more money!’. When Buddy awakes, he places himself inside a bubble and takes flight to the pirate ship, where he disposes of all the pirates all too easily.

In ‘Bubbles and Troubles’ Cubby approaches Mickey’s character as much as apparently possible, and the short could have been a great adventure cartoon if it were better told and less loony. It’s highly recommended nevertheless, not so much to watch, but to listen to, for Gene Rodemich’s score is no less than wonderful.

Watch ‘Bubbles and Troubles’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: March 24, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear, Honey
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Last Mail © Van BeurenThe Last Mail’ is the first Cubby the Bear cartoon to place him in a Mickey Mouse-like hero role.

It’s interesting to compare this cartoon to Mickey’s ‘The Mail Pilot‘, which was released two months later. It immediately becomes clear why Mickey has remained famous, while Cubby fell into oblivion. In all aspects Cubby’s cartoon is the lesser product: in design, in animation, and in storytelling. Nevertheless, it is one of Cubby’s most entertaining cartoons, as it features a straight-forward story, which is surprisingly consistent for the Van Beuren studio.

In ‘The Last Mail’ Cubby is a mailman riding a squirrel-led sleigh through a wintery landscape. In the village where he delivers the mail he dances with Honey to a jig. When he leaves again, Honey comes along, sneaking into Cubby’s mail bag. The two are held up by an evil raccoon, who kidnaps Honey. But Cubby saves her with help from an American Eagle.

Composer Gene Rodemich is in good shape here, weaving ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ into the dancing scene (see also Mickey’s ‘The Shindig‘ from 1930) , and using ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ in the eagle scenes. ‘The Last Mail’ is the first Cubby the Bear cartoon in which director Mannie Davis is credited on the opening titles.

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

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

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: March 10, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear, Honey
Rating:
Review:

Love's Labor Won © Van Beuren‘Love’s Labor Won’, Cubby the Bear’s second cartoon, is the most musical short featuring Van Beuren’s poor man’s Mickey Mouse.

The cartoon starts with Cubby riding a dachshund to his girlfriend’s house. This anonymous girl, only called Honey by Cubby, is yet another variation on Oswald’s Honey, Flip’s Honey, or Mickey’s Minnie and fails to be distinct in any sense. The two make music together. At one point Cubby takes his gloves off to play the piano four hands with them, incidentally revealing to have nails. Cubby’s and Honey’s duet causes a lot of singing and dancing by forest animals. It’s startling to watch the Van Beuren studio embracing the song-and-dance-routine so passionately in 1933, when other studios were already abandoning them. But then suddenly some kind of story resolves when the routine is disturbed by a mean old wolf. Cubby fights him, and the cartoon ends with his triumph.

Despite the joyful setting, there’s little to enjoy in ‘Love’s Labor Won’. The animation is sloppy, and Cubby is frustratingly bland, not even emulating Mickey’s persistent optimism. In this cartoon he has a ridiculous crooner voice, which would not return in subsequent cartoons.

Watch ‘Love’s Labor Won’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Love’s Labor Won’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: February 10, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Opening Night © Van BeurenIn 1933 the Van Beuren studio was struggling. Their Tom & Jerry series failed to match the successes of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse or the Fleischers’ ‘Betty Boop’, which is not really surprising, as the duo was as bland as possible, and their cartoons highly inconsistent. So, Van Beuren invited about eight of his animators to dinner and told them to come up with some new ideas. Mannie Davis sketched a new character called Cubby the Bear, and this character was to be the studio’s new star.

Being vaguely Mickey Mouse-like Cubby was a hero character, saving his girlfriend in many melodramatic situations. Unfortunately, Cubby was as bland as Tom & Jerry had been, and he did not even last two years. Many people would attribute Cubby’s misfortune to a lack of character, but this cannot be true: the character of the much more successful Betty Boop didn’t go beyond ‘sexy girl’, and even top star Mickey’s character could be summarized as ‘optimistic’. Other stars of the time, like Bosko and Flip the Frog, were as generic as possible. In fact, the first real characters to hit the animated screen were Popeye (later in 1933) and Donald Duck (1934).

No, Cubby’s main problem was that he was so terribly animated. Whereas we could easily follow the emotions of say Oswald, Bimbo, Flip or Mickey, Cubby is almost expressionless in this cartoon, his wide eyes staring into nothingness most of the time, as if he weren’t alive at all. Moreover, the animators often forgot to give him a motivation. This becomes clear when one compares the opening scene of Cubby’s debut film ‘Opening Night’ to a similar one in the much older, yet much better animated Oswald cartoon ‘Bright Lights‘ (1928). In the Oswald cartoon we clearly watch Oswald being in love with Mlle. Zulu, who performs at the theater. So when we watch Oswald trying to get in, we immediately understand why. Moreover, we can watch his emotions while doing so. Not so in ‘Opening Night’: in a very similar scene Cubby is given no motivation whatsoever. Even worse, we watch him from the back, which shuts us from his emotions. Mistakes like these are all over the Cubby the Bear cartoons, and that’s the main reason why he is forgotten, while his contemporaries Mickey, Betty and to an extent even Bosko and Flip have lived on.

‘Opening Night’ was made for the occasion of the opening of the RKO Roxy theater, which opened on December 29, 1932. Like subsequent Cubby the Bear cartoons, ‘Opening Night’ is still part of the Aesop Fables series, but Cubby is introduced immediately on the title card. The cartoon starts with Santa Claus spraying some dust which forms the letters ROXY. Then we get the scene in which Cubby tries to get into the theater. When he finally manages to do so, he ends up at the conductor stand, where he conducts the orchestra in an opera scene.

There’s quite some strangeness going on in this cartoon, especially in a couple of bizarre gags featuring audience seats.  Later, during a fighting scene the Romeo-like opera character beheads(!) his opponent. Composer Gene Rodemich, as often, is Van Beuren’s only inspired employee, making a great score out of Italian opera snippets.

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

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

Director: Dave Hand
Release Date:
 May 13, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Mail Pilot © Walt DisneyIn his fifth year Mickey Mouse was at the top of his game: practically every Mickey Mouse cartoon from 1933 is a winner (the sole exception arguably being ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘). Moreover, Mickey was still the top star himself, although with ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto‘ he would give screen time to Pluto, the beginning of a trend that would take severe turns in the rest of the 1930s, when Pluto, Donald and Goofy would all but eclipse Mickey’s career.

None of that in 1933! In that year Mickey is still in prime form, with ‘The Mail Pilot’ as a perfect example. It’s astonishing to watch the ease with which its strong story is told, and how many events the animators could squeeze into the seven minute cartoon.

In ‘The Mail Pilot’ Mickey is a mail pilot who has to carry a chest with money across the mountains. On his way he has to deal with a thunderstorm and a blizzard before he sees the sun again. The design of the anthropomorphized sun is the same as in the Silly Symphony ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ from one month earlier. Unfortunately, at the other end of the mountains he’s confronted by evil mail robber Pete, who has both his legs in this cartoon. Pete shoots Mickey’s wings and propeller to pieces, but Mickey manages to fly nonetheless, capturing the bandit on the way.

‘The Mail Pilot’ belongs to Disney’s operetta period (see also ‘The Mad Doctor‘ and ‘Ye Olden Days‘ from the same year), and all dialogue is sung. Its opening song. ‘The Mail Must Go Through’, forms the main musical theme, which composer Bert Lewis develops in classical fashion in the rest of the score to glorious effects.

‘The Mail Pilot’ has an exciting adventure plot, and it’s not surprising that it spawned a comic book story, which arguably was Mickey’s most exciting adventure thus far. The story (now also labeled ‘The Mail Pilot’ ran from February 27 (months before the release of the cartoon ) until June 10. Floyd Gottfredson greatly expanded on the cartoon’s story, substituting the mail pilot for a much more exciting pirate dirigible with a magnetic web to ensnare the mail planes. Later, some scenes of the cartoon were combined with elements from ‘Shanghaied’ (1934) in Floyd Gottfredson’s classic comic strip ‘Mickey and the Pirates’ (or ‘The Captive Castaways’, 1934).

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 56
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Ye Olden Days
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Mechanical Man

‘The Mail Pilot’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 21, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's Birthday Party © Max FleischerBetty’s working alone at home, singing the song ‘Hummin’ to Myself’, but then her bell rings.

She finds a package at her doorstep, which appears to be a birthday cake. It appears that her friends have organized a surprise party for her. Koko gives her a dachshund, Bimbo gives her three fish in a bowl, and Fleischer’s unnamed stock baby gives her a piano.

In the third scene we watch Betty and her visitors eating at a long table in the garden. All goes well, until two visitors start arguing about a fish, and the complete party ends in a fight. This part includes a remarkably scene of Bimbo changing himself into a machine gun, shooting peas. While the party gets totally out of hand, Betty sails off with a statue of George Washington (don’t try to understand this).

‘Betty Boop’s Birthday Party’ is an enjoyable cartoon, if not among Betty’s best. The flapper girl has her finest moment during the opening scenes,  and the best gag may the unpacking of the piano.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Birthday Party’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 14
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Snow-White
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s May Party

‘Betty Boop’s Birthday Party’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 7, 1933
Stars: Arthur Jarrett, Betty Boop
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Popular Melodies © Max Fleischer‘Popular Melodies’ is a Screen Song devoted to singer Arthur Jarrett, a crooner who is all but forgotten today. Surprisingly enough, the so-called popular tunes he sings aren’t well-known either, except for Betty’s theme song with which the cartoon ends.

The animation part of this cartoon features a painter who tries to paint with a number of noisy children playing around. When his painting is ruined by one of the brats, he decides to drive to the countryside, but the children join them. There he paints a walking tree and a moving rock, which transforms into singer Arthur Jarrett. Jarrett sings a three songs. During the second song he draws a picture of Betty, who joins him in her own theme song.

Then we cut back to the painter and the children. Oddly, the song is not continued, only its instrumental music. This scene is remarkably because of its animation of figures in white on black, unseen since Emile Cohl’s films. These figures soon flee the painter’s canvas, resulting in a rather scary finale, with the spooky shapes walking and dancing through the countryside. Stange enough, the cartoon ends with a devil wishing the children “pleasant dreams, and good night”. Because of this finale ‘Popular Melodies’ is one of the most interesting of all Screen Songs, even if its star and his first two songs are utterly forgettable. It was also the last of six Screen Songs to feature Betty Boop.

Watch ‘Popular Melodies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Popular Melodies’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 10, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's Penthouse © Max FleischerIn ‘Betty Boop’s Penthouse’ Bimbo and Koko have a chemical laboratory.

Across the street, on a roof terrace, Betty is having a shower, stealing their attention. This part contains a particularly sexy scene of a towel drying Betty by itself. Meanwhile, their cat starts an experiment on its own, resulting in a Frankenstein-like monster, who starts threatening Betty, walking some wires to cross the street. This scene is the highlight of this cartoon, as the movements of the monster, Koko, and Bimbo are perfectly timed to the hot big band jazz accompanying the action. In the end, Betty transforms the monster into a giant flower, dancing on the rooftop with clearly rotoscoped movements.

As one may have noticed, ‘Betty Boop’s Penthouse’ makes little sense, and its absurdity is greatly enhanced by the many throwaway gags fired at the audience. It makes this cartoon one of the last highlights of the Fleischers’ idiosyncratic pre-code animation style.

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

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 12
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Is My Palm Read
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Snow-White

‘Betty Boop’s Penthouse’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 17, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Is My Palm Read © Max FleischerIn ‘Is My Palm Read’ Bimbo is a fortune-teller, assisted by Koko the Clown.

Betty drops by to see her future told. Bimbo first sees in his crystal ball Betty as a naked baby, and second as being shipwrecked and washed ashore an island. There she sings ‘All by myself’, only to attract a bunch of evil ghosts. Luckily, he Bimbo himself is there to rescue her, but as soon as he has revealed himself, the ghosts appear out of the crystal ball to chase the duo once again (Koko is completely forgotten at this stage).

‘Is My Palm Read’ is one of the Betty Boop cartoons strongly exploiting her erotic character. For example, when Betty enters the room, Bimbo and Koko use special lighting to see her legs right through her elegant dress. On the island we see Betty undressing and catch her briefly in her underwear, although she remains scantily clothed in a sexy tropical costume throughout the island scenes. The result is an erotic and surrealistic cartoon, which doesn’t make much sense, but which is over before you know it.

Watch ‘Is My Palm Read’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 11
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Penthouse

‘Is My Palm Read’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

 

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 16, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Betty Boop's Ker-Choo © Max FleischerBetty, Bimbo and Koko are joining a car race. Betty Boop is late, because she has a cold, and when she arrives she sings a song about it. In the end she wins the car race by sneezing.

Although ‘Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo’ belongs to Betty Boop’s golden era, it’s unfortunately one of Betty’s more boring cartoons. In fact, the best gags are the silly ones with which the cartoon starts. Because she wears a driver’s costume, Betty is also less sexy than usual, and somehow it seems this cartoon that points to the design used one year later, when Betty Boop fell victim of the stricter Hays code.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 9
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Museum
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions

‘Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

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

Puzzled Pals © Van Beuren‘Puzzled Pals’ opens with a stork trying to deliver his baby, but finding every home hostile to him.

The bird finally manages to drop the baby at Tom & Jerry’s doorstep. They take the baby in, but he turns out to be a tough brat, kicking everybody’s face in, and being a complete nuisance, while Tom and Jerry try to solve a jig-saw puzzle. At one point the brat gets hold of a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking almost everything in the house, including the clothes on Jerry’s tattoo, until Tom saves the day. In the end the stork incomprehensibly returns and takes the baby away.

Vacuum cleaners were still a luxury in the 1930’s, and this cartoon may contain the first animated gags on this domestic device.

Watch ‘Puzzled Pals’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 March 31, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★
Review:

Happy Hoboes © Van BeurenTom and Jerry are bums living in a slum. When they have to leave, they ride a train as hoboes, with their home and all.

When it starts snowing (in a scene which has to be seen to be believed) the train gets lost and ends in a wood, where a lumberjack is fed on roast chicken by a stereotyped Chinese cook with rather original cooking methods.

Apart from Gene Rodemich’s excellent musical score, there’s little to enjoy in ‘Happy Hoboes’, with its silent era animation, stream-of-consciousness-like string of events, and lack of gags. However, the snowing scene, in which two clouds transform into two winged women having a cushion fight, is so curious and so original, it’s definitely worth watching, even if the rest of the cartoon is not.

Watch ‘Happy Hoboes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 January 6, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★
Review:

Tight Rope Tricks © Van BeurenTight Rope Tricks’ is a pretty plotless film in which Tom and Jerry visit a circus. They even perform themselves, dressed as acrobats.

The short consists mostly of unrelated gags, but the finale gives the short a nice twist, reusing a lion and an elephant from earlier gags. Also featured is a girl singing with a very Betty Boop-like voice on the tightrope. According to Tralfaz this voice was done by Margie Hines, who had previously voiced Betty Boop. In the end we watch Tom and Jerry flooding the lions, and escaping on the elephant, with the girl on their side.

As always in Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry films, the animation is terrible: part is still a relic from the silent era (it doesn’t help that some animation is recycled from cartoons from 1930), and all animation is completely devoid of weight. The designs, too, are unappealing and inconsistent. Especially the animal designs are downright poor. Tom and Jerry were anything but on a winning streak.

Watch ‘Tight Rope Tricks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Tight Rope Tricks’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack
Release Date:
 March 2, 1933
Stars: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, King Kong
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

King Kong © Universal‘King Kong’ is, of course, a live action movie, but I follow Andrew Osmond in including the film in the animation canon, as it is the first live action movie to feature an animated star – indeed Kong gets star billing in the opening credits, after the live action actors. The feature is also arguably the first live action movie in which animation is used not incidentally, but extensively, to the point of dominating several scenes.

‘King Kong’ is the father of all monster movies, and much of animator Willis O’Brien’s animation can be regarded as spectacular special effects, but in his portrayal of Kong himself O’Brien has put a surprisingly amount of character. Especially Kong’s death scene is astonishing. There’s real tragedy and sadness in Kong’s eyes and in his last caresses of Ann Darrow (Fay Wray, the first of all scream queens). This is no mere feat, as character animation was still unheard of at the time – even Walt Disney was not that far – and it would take stop motion artists several years to reach a similar sense of emotional depth.

Most of the film, however, is not as much about emotion as well as thrills. The film’s main focus is to thrill the audience, and as soon as Ann Darrow is kidnapped by the natives of Skull Island, it does so relentlessly. The complete island is one big threat to the hapless crew that tries to regain Ann from the giant ape. But also to Ann and Kong themselves, for Kong has to rescue his human love interest no less than three times: from a large Tyrannosaurus rex, from a Plesiosaurus, which moves remarkably comfortably on land like a snake, and from a Pteranodon. This results in three fights, in which O’Brien can show off his skills. Especially the first fight is magnificent. It’s surprisingly lengthy, and it has a real sense of effort, with both forceful animals fighting for their lives. O’Brien also animates a surprisingly lifelike Stegosaurus, and a sauropod that strangely enough has gone carnivorous. And, of course, the girl, some other people, and the planes, at times, when in interaction with Kong.

Obviously not all the 1933 special effects have stood the test of time, but the trick photography is surprisingly good, and at times live action and animation blend into each other seamlessly. Some scenes are no less than astounding in this respect, even after all these years: a good example is a scene depicting Kong handling a tree trunk on which several crew members are clung. One really does believe the animated figure handles the tree trunk, which is filmed in live action. O’Brien has managed to bring a great sense of weight into Kong’s actions.

Another wonderful example of great blending of animation and live action is Kong peeling off Ann Darrow’s dress. This scene is a little erotic, and deepens Kong’s simple and playful character. Of course, O’Brien was not solely responsible for Kong’s portrayal. At times we see close-ups of Kong’s face, which is a giant non-animated model, and some scenes feature a large, mechanical hand. Nevertheless, most of Kong’s appeal is due to O’Brien’s animation. And the big ape has appeal! Indeed, the film is so iconic that Kong is still pretty famous today.

Unfortunately, not all aspects of the movie have aged well. For example, the natives, all portrayed by black people, are pretty backward, and even worse is Charlie, the Chinese cook, who is as cliche as possible, and who even cannot talk right. But the film succeeds in being a real thrill ride, and Fay Wray manages to squeeze more feelings in her one-dimensional role than one would expect. The other actors are less interesting, and pale when compared to O’Brien’s classic creation.

The film’s last 18 minutes take place in New York, and these scenes really make the film into the ancestor of all monster movies, with Kong wandering the streets, causing havoc, and crushing a subway car. However, Kong’s final scene on top of the Empire State Building changes the monster into an utterly tragic figure. Even Mark Steiner’s score, which follows the action closely, adds to the feeling, turning into sadder themes when Kong nears his end. The sole scene elevates the film above most of its successors. And it’s this particular scene, in which Kong battles the aeroplanes on top of the Empire State Building, that provides the movie’s most iconic picture.

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

 

 

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date:
 June 10, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

I Like Mountain Music © Warner BrosIt’s midnight in the magazine shop, and the magazine come to life, starting with a few cowboys singing the title tune.

‘I Like Mountain Music’ is not the first of books-come-to-life cartoons, that was ‘Three’s a Crowd’ from 1932. But ‘I Like Mountain Music’ takes the concept a little further, stuffing the film with many caricatures of Hollywood stars, like Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, Edward G. Robinson, Jean Harlow, King Kong (Hollywood’s latest star), and even Benito Mussolini. Also featured is a remarkably realistic skater. I wonder who she is. It’s not likely Sonia Henie, who started her film career only in 1936.

The book-come-to-life concept was unique to Warner Bros. and was reused in many more, and more enjoyable cartoons like ‘Speaking of the Weather’ (1937), ‘Have You Got any Castles?’ (1938) and ‘Book Revue‘ (1946). This early short proves that the unique Warner Bros. style had a firm root in the Hugh-Harman era, even though it was to Frank Tashlin and Tex Avery to push it to its later heights.

Watch ‘I Like Mountain Music’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘I Like Mountain Music’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six’

Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date:
 April 10, 1933
Stars: Bosko, Honey
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Bosko in Person © Warner Bros.‘Bosko in Person’ is to Bosko what ‘Just Mickey‘ (1930) was to Mickey: a cartoon devoted solely to the star performing on stage.

Where Mickey was completely alone, Bosko gets help from Honey in an extraordinary song-and-dance extravaganza, including Bosko playing the piano, Honey dancing, Bosko tap-dancing, Bosko’s glove(!) reciting ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’, Honey singing a blues and doing a Greta Garbo imitation, and Bosko imitating both Maurice Chevalier and Jimmy Durante. The cartoon ends with a celebration of the end of the prohibition, which after 13 years ended in effect when on March 22, low alcohol beer and wine were legalized again.

Unfortunately, ‘Bosko in person’ is over-the-top, trying much too hard to make Bosko an appealing personality, which he isn’t. Indeed, when turning into Maurice Chevalier and Jimmy Durante he loses himself completely. Moreover, the cartoon is stuffed with repetition as some gags appear not once, but twice. The result is tiresome and desperately unfunny. In the end, the short is only noteworthy because of the caricatures of Hollywood stars.

Watch ‘Bosko in Person’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bosko in Person’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six’

Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date:
 January 16, 1933
Stars: Bosko, Honey, Rudolf Ising
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Ride Him, Bosko © Warner Bros.This Looney Tune has a Western setting with Bosko starring as a singing cowboy, a new type of Hollywood star that has risen during the early 1930’s.

Bosko enters a saloon in Red Gulch, immediately starts a dance and goes on playing the piano. Meanwhile his girlfriend Honey rides a stagecoach, which is chased by three vicious bandits. This chase scene is simply stuffed with animation cycles. As Bosko is busy entertaining, it takes quite a while before Bosko rides off to rescue his sweetheart.

The complete cartoon is rich in action, but surprisingly low on gags (there’s one about a homosexual). It ends surprisingly however. Suddenly we cut back to three animators. Rudolph Ising asks “Say, how does Bosko save the girl?”, an animator replies: “I don’t know.”, and another: “Let’s go home”, leaving Bosko on his sheet of paper. This gag is pretty unconventional, but one cannot but feel a bit of laziness and disinterest in this scene, as if the animators didn’t care much for their own star themselves. Even so, Bosko would star in fourteen more Warner Brothers films, before Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising took him with them to MGM.

Watch ‘Ride Him, Bosko!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ride Him, Bosko!’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six’

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