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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 2, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Red Hot Mamma © Max FleischerIt’s a cold winter night, and to get warm Betty lights a fire.

Soon, however, it gets too hot, and the fire roasts her two chickens. Betty herself soon dreams she’s in hell, dressed only in her nightgown. In a short scene the fires of hell reveal her legs through her nightgown. Later, when the devils watch her perform a sexy dance to a jazzy score, they get hot. But Betty gives them the cold shoulder (literally), which causes them and all hell to freeze completely over.

‘Red Hot Mamma’ is one of the last Betty Boop cartoons to glorify her sexuality, and to have a jazzy score. However, the humor is already much less compelling than from the 1931-1933 cartoons, lacking the weird surrealism of that period. As a result ‘Red Hot Mamma’ is amusing, but far less funny than it might have been, were it produced only a few months earlier…

Watch ‘Red Hot Mamma’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 25
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: She Wronged Him Right
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Ha! Ha! Ha!

‘Betty Boop’s May Party’ is available on the Blu-Ray Betty Boop: The Essential Collection Vol. 2 and on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

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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: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: October 1, 1934
Rating: 
Review:

Jolly Little Elves © Walter Lantz‘Jolly Little Elves’ is the first of six Cartune Classics, Walter Lantz’s answer to Disney’s Silly Symphonies. These six cartoons were made in two color technicolor, using red and blue, and all are possible even more cloying than contemporary Silly Symphonies themselves.

‘Jolly Little Elves’, for example, is a practically humorless fairy-tale in song about a poor shoemaker and his wife who help a little elf and get all their shoes repaired by hundreds of elves in return.

The cartoon is corny, overlong and features an irritating song about dunking donuts in coffee. Also featured are two severely caricatured Jewish elves. It’s a wonder that was one of the three Academy Award nominations for 1934. Luckily it lost to Disney’s by all means superior cartoon ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’.

Sixteen years later, Tex Avery, who was an animator at Lantz at the time, would remake and make fun of ‘Jolly Little Elves’ in ‘The Peachy Cobbler’ (1950).

Watch ‘Jolly Little Elves’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 29, 1934
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating:
Review:

Mickey Plays Papa © Walt DisneyMickey Plays Papa’ reuses the concept of Mickey receiving orphans from ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ from 1931. But this time he has to deal with only one orphan mouse, called Elmer.

The film is particularly noteworthy for its scary opening: while Mickey’s reading a scary novel titled “the cry in the night” in bed, someone’s laying the orphan on his doorstep, whose cries startle Mickey and Pluto. When Mickey and Pluto discover that these cries are caused by a cute little baby, they both try to comfort him. These attempts include a nice Charlie Chaplin imitation by Mickey. This cartoon also contains a gag in which Mickey’s being attacked by numerous kitchen tools, which was copied in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?‘ (1988).

But most importantly, the cartoon contains long character-based solo sequences, like Mickey’s trouble with a rubber nipple and Pluto’s antics with a toy bunny and a fishbowl. This type of elongated solo scenes, alternating between the two characters, appear for the first time in this cartoon, but unfortunately they’re not very funny here. Nevertheless, they would become a dominant style element of the Mickey Mouse cartoons of the rest of the 1930s, especially in the Mickey, Donald and Goofy trio outings, luckily often with way more hilarious results.

‘Mickey Plays Papa’ ends when Mickey’s released from the rubber nipple and he finally succeeds in making the baby laugh, by doing a Jimmy Durante imitation with his elongated nose. It would be the last cartoon directed by Burt Gillett before he left Disney in March 1934 for the Van Beuren Studios, only to return in 1937 to direct two other cartoons, the excellent ‘Lonesome Ghosts’ (1937) and ‘The Moth and the Flame’ (1938).

Watch ‘Mickey Plays Papa’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 69
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Orphan’s Benefit
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Dognapper

Director: David Hand
Release Date: June 16, 1934
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, the orphan mice
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Mickey's Steamroller © Walt DisneyTwo of the orphan mice used in ‘Giantland‘ (1933) and ‘Gulliver Mickey’ (1934) appear in this cartoon.

It’s unclear whether these two brats are Mickey’s nephews Morty and Ferdy, who were created by Floyd Gottfredson in the Mickey Mouse comic in 1932, as they’re not named in this short. If they are, this film marks their only screen appearance, for, unlike Donald’s nephews, they don’t appear in any other film. Anyway, as in the comic strip, these two brats are full of mischief.

This time they steal Mickey’s anthropomorphized steam roller, while Mickey’s flirting with Minnie. The two kids manage to destroy a bridge, a streetcar, a complete hotel and the steamroller itself, but in the end Mickey’s not mad at them, just laughing.

‘Mickey’s Steamroller’ is a real gag-cartoon. Yet, it is not particularly funny and it has an old-fashioned feel to it, especially after such elaborate entries in the Mickey Mouse series, as ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ and ‘Giantland‘.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 67
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Gulliver Mickey
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Orphan’s Benefit

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: March 3, 1934
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Playful Pluto © Walt DisneyPlayful Pluto consists of several loose gags around Mickey and Pluto in a garden. It contains Mickey’s first encounter with a little whirlwind, which he manages better than his second one in ‘The Little Whirlwind’ from 1941.

But ‘Playful Pluto’ is most notable for the now famous flypaper sequence,  in which Pluto gets caught in flypaper. This is an important scene in animation history, because it’s the first time Pluto is seen as a thinking character. Not only that, it is arguably the first believable animation of thought processes. This illusion of thought is achieved solely by pantomime animation.

The flypaper scene elevated its animator, Norm Ferguson, to the eternal hall of animation fame and it showed how laughs could originate in character animation alone. This sequence not only raised the standards of animation of Pluto, but of character animation in general. As to celebrate its success, this scene was reshot in color for the Donald Duck short ‘Beach Picnic’ (1939).

At the same time, this cartoon shows how character-based gags could slow down the pace. This was an unfortunate side-effect, for this high pace had been painstakingly achieved in the Mickey Mouse cartoons during the previous years.

Watch ‘Playful Pluto’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 65
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Camping Out
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Gulliver Mickey

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 21, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Still from 'Betty Boop's Little Pal' featuring Betty Boop and PudgyBetty and her little dog Pudgy are picnicking.

However, Pudgy wrecks the picnic, so Betty sends him home. Unfortunately he’s immediately caught by a dog catcher. Luckily, Pudgy manages to escape together with some other dogs.

‘Betty Boop’s Little Pal’ marks the debut of Betty’s little pup Pudgy, even though he remains unnamed in this cartoon. Though more cute than funny, Pudgy was to be Betty Boop’s most entertaining and long-lasting co-star of the Hays Code era. He was a real character, and, like Pluto, he behaved like a real dog, although he’s as anatomically incorrect as Pluto is. Compared to Pluto, Pudgy is younger, cuter and naughtier. He is as much a child character as a dog character, while Pluto is more mature. Pudgy starred in 23 cartoons, only retiring in 1939. Unfortunately, none of his cartoons can be considered classics, save one: ‘Pudgy Picks a Fight‘ from 1937.

‘Betty Boop’s Little Pal’  is very typical of a trend in the Fleischer films that caught on during 1934 (after the Hays Code was in practice): the story line is very clear, which is a great improvement upon most earlier cartoons, but at the same time all nonsense, weirdness, surrealism, sex and jazz have vanished, too (there’s only one surreal gag, of a car scratching itself). Therefore, this and the other Betty Boop cartoons from 1934 and later are remarkably boring compared with the earlier entries.

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

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 32
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: There’s Something About a Soldier
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Prize Show

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 2, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:
Still from 'Ha! Ha! Ha!' featuring Koko the Clown having a tootache and Betty Boop

‘Ha! Ha! Ha! was the last cartoon to feature Koko the Clown.

It opens with supposedly Max Fleischer’s hand drawing Betty Boop on a sheet of paper. When Max leaves the studio, Koko comes out of the inkwell for the very last time, and starts eating the candy bar Max had left on the table.

Almost immediately he develops a tootache, so Betty draws a dentist room to operate him, herself acting as the (most sexy) dentist. She first tries to pull Koko’s tooth, but when that doesn’t work, she tries laughing gas.

The laughing gas soon pervades everything, causing not only Koko and herself to laugh, but even the clock, the typewriter, and outside – in the real world – the mailbox, the cars and real people. Even a bridge and some graves join in.

This enjoyable and weird cartoon mixes animation, photographed backgrounds and live action to great results, and it forms a great finale to Koko’s long career, which had lasted fifteen years. Although Koko never had any great roles near Betty, he would be missed, for without Koko and Bimbo (who had his last screen appearance in ‘I Heard‘ from September 1933), Betty became a surprisingly inoffensive and boring character, and none of her remaining 62 films evoked the same fun as ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’.

Watch ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 26
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Red Hot Mama
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty in Blunderland

‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 3, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Poor Cinderella © Paramount‘Poor Cinderella’ is the first of Fleischer’s Color Classics series, a series meant to compete with Walt Disney’s ‘Silly Symphonies’.

It features Fleischer’s proven star Betty Boop in her only appearance in color, and it’s undoubtedly her most elaborate cartoon.

Although filmed in the two-color technique of Cinecolor, which only uses reds and blues, its designs are lush and colorful. Nevertheless, ‘Poor Cinderella’ remained the only Color Classic in Cinecolor. The seven subsequent entries were filmed in 2-color Technicolor, using reds and greens, until Disney’s monopoly of 3-color Technicolor expired in 1936. The first full color Color Classic was ‘Somewhere in Dreamland‘ from January that year.

Apart from color, ‘Poor Cinderella’ boasts some stunning backgrounds, using Fleischer’s unique 3D-technique for the first time. In this technique 3D sets are used as a background to the animated cells to mesmerizing effects. Until the invention of the multiplane camera, which made his debut in ‘The Old Mill‘ in 1937, Fleischer’s 3D technique remained unchallenged in its wonderful creation of depth.

The story is quite faithful to the original fairy tale, albeit with some typical Fleischer touches. For instance, when the Fairy Godmother gets Betty into a wonderful outfit, the latter is seen in her underwear, something that would never happen to Disney’s Cinderella.

Oddly, Betty is red-haired and blue-eyed in this cartoon; probably to make her fit in better with the designs of those same colors. The changes between the scenes are creative and original. The Fairy Godmother is closer to human design than anything in previous Fleischer cartoons. The horses are drawn very realistically, as well, surpassing comparable designs at the Disney studio, although they do not move correctly.

‘Poor Cinderella’ was clearly made with the intention to compete with Disney, and remarkably, it does challenge that studio. Nevertheless, the Fleischer studio had difficulties to be on par with the ever advancing Disney studio, which pushed the limits of animation in almost every Silly Symphony it released, leaving the promise of ‘Poor Cinderella’ unfulfilled.

Watch ‘Poor Cinderella’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Poor Cinderella’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 18, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop, Max Fleischer
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Betty Boop's Rise to Fame © Paramount‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame” is a compilation cartoon, but it’s easily one of the best in its kind.

It features Betty Boop and her creator, Max Fleischer in a nice mix of animation and live action. Fleischer asks Betty, who is depicted as a tiny cartoon character, to perform for a reporter. She does three of her finest moments, using footage from ‘Stopping the Show‘ (1932), ‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle‘ (1932) and ‘The Old Man from the Mountain’ (1933).

In between, there’s some lovely interplay between Betty and “uncle Max”. Even these new scenes are sexy, when Betty changes clothes behind an ink pot and some books. This delightful cartoon can be regarded as an ode to Betty’s glorious past. From now on sex and eroticism would be banished from her cartoons due to the censorship of the Hays code.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 28
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty in Blunderland
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Trial

‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 5, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop, Fearless Freddie
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:
She Wronged Him Right © ParamountBetty is the star in a melodrama with an evil landlord and a classic hero.

Arguably the first Betty Boop cartoon with a clear plot, ‘She Wronged Him Right’ marks the debut of Fearless Freddie, who seems to be designed as Betty’s new suitor (Bimbo, being an animal, was no longer accepted in a Hollywood dominated by the puritan Hays Code). His stay would be short, however, because very soon Betty would lose interest in men altogether, taking the Code even further.

Only nine months later the formula of this cartoon was repeated with less successful results in ‘Betty Boop’s Prize Show’. ‘She Wronged Him Right’ still contains some wonderful metamorphosis gags and some inanimate objects speaking or suddenly growing hands, preserving some of Fleischer’s famous surrealism.

The very idea of Betty performing in a melodrama may have been borrowed from Disney, who had released the comparable ‘Mickey’s Mellerdrammer‘ in 1933.

Watch ‘She Wronged Him Right’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 24
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Parade of the Wooden Soldiers
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Red Hot Mama

‘She Wronged Him Right’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 6, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'Betty in Blunderland' featuring Betty Boop and several characters from 'Alice in Wonderland'Late at night, Betty Boop is making a jigsaw puzzle with a picture of Alice in Wonderland on it.

When the clock says it’s time for bed, the rabbit jumps out of the puzzle, and through the mirror. Betty follows him, and the mirror changes her more or less into a sexy Alice, with long curly hair, which becomes her very well.

In Wonderland, the Mad Hatter’s hat pulls out several characters from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’, a.o. Humpty Dumpty, the Duchess, the Mad Hatter, the Walrus and the Carpenter, the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle. Betty sings “How Do You Do” to them, before being kidnapped by the evil Jabberwock. Of course, the creatures come to her rescue, accompanied by Franz Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody, but when she falls off a cliff, she awakes.

‘Betty in Blunderland’ is a sweet, albeit a bit uninspired cartoon that fails to deliver its promises. It features wonderful designs of the Wonderland characters, many of which are clearly based on the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel. However, the Fleischers don’t do anything interesting with them. We watch Tweedledee and Tweedledum fighting, the duchess doing a boring dance, and the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle shooting craps. None of these scenes is remotely interesting. Moreover, one grows tired of creatures kidnapping Betty, something that happens in several cartoons from the era, e.g. ‘Mother Goose Land‘ and ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers‘ (both 1933).

Two years later Betty was followed by Mickey who, too, dreamed stepping through the mirror into Wonderland, in ‘Thru the Mirror’ from 1936, which is by all means a much more memorable cartoon.

Watch ‘Betty in Blunderland’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 27
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Ha! Ha! Ha!
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame

‘Betty in Blunderland’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: September 1, 1934
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Peculiar Penguins © Walt Disney‘Peculiar Penguins’ can be summarized as ‘love story in the Antarctic’: a penguin falls in love with a girl, blows it, but saves the day by rescuing her from a terrible shark.

Being one of the weaker entries in the Silly Symphonies, ‘Peculiar Penguins’ nevertheless contains some fine animation, especially in the under water chase, which is literally packed with special effects. Like in ‘Funny Little Bunnies‘, the setting is introduced by a sugary song, accompanying a complex opening shot, with lots of penguins moving and seagulls flying in it.

Ten years later Disney would return to the Antarctic to tell about a particularly peculiar penguin called Pablo in ‘The Three Caballeros‘ (1944).

Watch ‘Peculiar Penguins’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 47
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Flying Mouse
To the next Silly Symphony: The Goddess of Spring

Director: David Hand
Release Date:
July 14, 1934
Rating:
★★½
Review:

The Flying Mouse © Walt Disney‘The Flying Mouse’ is a musical short about a little mouse who wants to fly like the birds.

A blue fairy grants him that wish, giving him bat-like wings, but he soon discovers that these don’t bring him any luck: he is not allowed to join the xenophobic birds, not recognized by his relatives and called ‘a nothing’ by a group of crooked bats. Luckily, the same fairy releases him from his wings and in the end we see our little hero running to his mother in the sunset light.

This cartoon is one of many silly symphonies that seem to aim directly at kids and that are rather moralistic. This seems to be a strong trend in 1934 and it gradually led Disney away from carefree humor towards sugary sanctimony.

This cartoon is quite humorless, yet beautifully drawn. The blue fairy is a good try at the human figure (if not near the humans in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937), let alone the blue fairy in ‘Pinocchio’, 1940), and the mice, designed by Albert Hurter, are drawn much more realistically than Mickey. Moreover, ‘The Flying Mouse’ is another stunning example of character animation: our main hero acts out his feelings mostly in pantomime. Nevertheless, we can feel his joy, his embarrassment, his fear and his grief. It’s this combination of ambitious designs and great character animation that makes Silly Symphonies like these stand out among the cartoons of the thirties.

Indeed, it was this particular cartoon that prompted Frank Thomas to try to become an animator at Disney’s. Thomas joined Disney on September 24, 1934, only a few months after this cartoon. He would stay with the studio until 1978, becoming one of Walt’s ‘Nine Old Men’. He is especially famous for his emotional animation, e.g. the dwarfs’ grief in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, Pinocchio trapped in the birdcage in ‘Pinocchio’,  the romantic diner in ‘Lady and the Tramp‘ (1956), and Baloo trying to tell Mowgli he cannot stay in the jungle in ‘Jungle Book’ (1967).

And it was ‘The Flying Mouse’, which showed him the way…

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


This is Silly Symphony No. 46
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Wise Little Hen
To the next Silly Symphony: Peculiar Penguins

Director: David Hand
Release Date: November 17, 1934
Stars: Donald Duck, Fifi, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Mickey and Donald (in his third appearance) are policemen hunting Pete who has ‘dognapped’ Minnie’s dog Fifi. The chase, which includes a lot of gunfight, ends in a sawmill where all three have to cope with a runaway circular saw.

The cartoon is outstanding for its fast pace and high content of gags. Mickey and Donald are staged as a duo, but, like in ‘Orphan’s Benefit’, Donald Duck is given the last shot. ‘The Dognapper’ would remain Mickey’s and Donald’s only genuine duo cartoon, but it set the stage for the famous trio outings of the late thirties in which Mickey, Donald and Goofy would fight the odds together. Goofy, the only missing element, would join Mickey and Donald a few months later, in ‘Mickey’s Service Station’ (1935).

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 70
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey Plays Papa
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Two-Gun Mickey

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: August 11
, 1934
Stars:
Clara Cluck, Clarabelle Cow, Donald Duck, Goofy, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, the Orphan Mice
Rating:
★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Orphan's Benefit © Walt DisneyIn ‘Orphan’s Benefit’ Mickey and the gang are giving a theatrical performance for the orphan mice we know from ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ (1932) and other cartoons.

We watch Donald Duck reciting ‘Little Boy Blue’, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow and Goofy as acrobats and Mickey and Clara Cluck giving a recital.

‘Orphan’s Benefit’ marks Donald Duck’s second appearance, after his debut in ‘The Wise Little Hen‘ from two months earlier, and his looks are still a bit awkward: he has black feet (because of his transition from color to black and white), an elongated bill and he is very small compared to the rest of the gang. Nevertheless, ‘Orphan’s Benefit’ marks the real birth of Donald Duck: he’s cast outside the Silly Symphonies along Mickey and his co-stars, and he’s really stealing the show. Moreover, for the first time he’s showing his temper and his typical ‘dance of anger’ (created and animated by Dick Lundy).

Besides Donald Duck this cartoon also introduces Clara Cluck, the opera-singing hen. Her career was way less successful than Donald’s: in total she would star in only seven cartoons, and she retired in 1942. Mickey’s role is reduced to a scarcely visible and embarrassingly unfunny straight man. Therefore Orphan’s Benefit marks as much the start of Donald’s career as the beginning of Mickey’s demise.

‘Orphan’s Benefit’ was the only Disney cartoon to be remade. In 1941 it appeared again, now in color and with new designs (especially of Donald Duck).

Watch ‘Orphan’s Benefit’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 68
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Steamroller
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey Plays Papa

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
June 9, 1934
Stars:
Donald Duck
Rating:
★★★★
Review:

The Wise Little Hen © Walt Disney‘The Wise Little Hen’ is a simple and quite moralistic Silly Symphony carried by a mediocre, yet all too memorable song. I guess it might have fallen into oblivion, were it not for Donald Duck.

In his first appearance Donald Duck is a real sailor, living on a boat and dancing the hornpipe. He’s a strong voice character from the start. When he joyfully shouts ‘oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!’ we all know it’s him, even though his looks are different.

Indeed, like Goofy’s voice, Donald Duck’s voice anticipated the character. When Walt Disney heard Clarence Nash use this particular voice, he really wanted something to do with it. According to animator Bill Cottrell, cited in ‘They Drew As They Pleased’, concept artist Albert Hurter was responsible for the duck’s looks. He gave Donald his trademark sailor suit, which he maintained to the present day.

Besides his typical voice and suit, Donald Duck displays two of his typical character traits: egotism and his tendency to trick others. However, he does not yet display his short temper: when ultimately foiled by the hen he’s not breaking down in anger, but joins Peter Pig in remorseful self-chastisement (a gag reused from an early Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon called ‘Rival Romeos‘, 1928). But Donald would show his temper, in his next cartoon: ‘Orphan’s Benefit‘.

Besides Donald Duck this cartoon is interesting for an appetizing and startlingly realistic animation shot of butter melting on hot corn.

Watch ‘The Wise Little Hen’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 45
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Big Bad Wolf
To the next Silly Symphony: The Flying Mouse

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
April 14, 1934
Stars:
the three little pigs, the big bad wolf
Rating:
★★★½
Review:

The Big Bad Wolf © Walt Disney‘The Big Bad Wolf’ was Disney’s very first sequel.

It was undoubtedly made to satisfy the masses who, after the huge success of ‘Three Little Pigs‘ (1933), demanded for ‘more pigs’. As one can expect, it’s not as great as ‘Three Little Pigs’, but it’s fun to watch.

The title card shows the main characters as if they were playing their parts. The cartoon, however, is named after the wolf, and deservedly so, because not only is he drawn better than in the original cartoon, he’s also the star of this sequel. Clearly being the greatest actor,  he not only impersonates grandma, but also “Goldilocks the fairy queen” in a ridiculous and aimless costume, and even Jimmy Durante! Furthermore, he alone shows to be aware of the audience: he often looks into the camera, and even addresses the audience with a Mae West-like “how’m I doing?”.

After this cartoon, the demand for pigs apparently still wasn’t satisfied, for it was followed by even two more sequels: ‘Three Little Wolves‘ in 1936 and ‘The Practical Pig‘ in 1939.

‘The Big Bad Wolf’ might be the first “fairy-tales mixed up” cartoon. It may very well have inspired Tex Avery to make similar, yet more hilarious cartoons like ‘The Bear’s Tale’ (1940) and ‘Swing Shift Cinderella’ (1945), both starring Little Red Riding Hood.

Watch ‘The Big Bad Wolf’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 44
To the previous Silly Symphony: Funny Little Bunnies
To the next Silly Symphony: The Wise Little Hen

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: February 10
, 1934
Rating:
★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Grasshopper and the Ants © Walt Disney‘The Grasshopper and the Ants’ is easily one of the best Silly Symphonies: it has a catchy song, great use of color and beautiful effect animation. Notice, for instance, the realism of the leaves blowing away during the autumn scene. One can even recognize which trees they’re from!

The grasshopper, too, is a wonderfully designed character, based on concept art by the great Albert Hurter. In contrast, the design of the ants looks a little primitive, still belonging to the black and white era. But, by now, the Disney staff has fully mastered the idea of character animation. This is best shown in the final dance scene: even in a crowd of lookalikes one easily recognizes the joyful ant the Grasshopper had tempted earlier.

Note that morality notwithstanding, the grasshopper is allowed to do what he does best: singing and playing. An encouragement to view art as an important contribution to society. Even so, the way the queen finally invites him is a real cliff-hanger.

This cartoon’s theme song, ‘the world owes me a living’ was composed by Leigh Harline, who would also compose the catchy songs of ‘Pinocchio’. the grasshopper’s catchy song would become Goofy’s theme song. No wonder, for he and the Grasshopper share the same voice, by Pinto Colvig.

Watch ‘The Grasshopper and the Ants’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 42
To the previous Silly Symphony: The China Shop
To the next Silly Symphony: Funny Little Bunnies

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: March 24, 1934
Rating: ★★
Review:

Funny Little Bunnies © Walt Disney‘Cute Little Bunnies’ would have been a better title for this easter short, for the bunnies are very cute, not funny.

In fact, “Funny Little Bunnies’ is so cute it can only have been meant for children. It makes one wonder what movies it was supposed to support in the theaters (surely no grim gangster thriller!).

Because everybody copied Disney at that time, other studios were copying this ‘new cuteness’ as well. Especially 1934 saw an explosion of Silly Symphonies imitating series, combining the appeal of color with sugary tales. Former Disney associate Ub Iwerks was the first, releasing his first Comicolor cartoon on December 23, 1933. He was followed by Max Fleischer (Color Classics, August 1934), MGM (Happy Harmonies, September), Van Beuren (Rainbow Parade, September), Columbia (Color Rhapsodies, November), and Walter Lantz (Cartune Classics, December). This resulted in a spread of cute (and severely unfunny) cartoons in the mid-thirties.

One is therefore particularly thankful that in the late thirties Tex Avery (at Warner Brothers, which were the only studio, together with Terrytoons, not to jump the Silly Symphony bandwagon) restored nonsense, wackiness and absurdism in the animated cartoon. These qualities Disney sometimes seemed to have forgotten during his pursuit for greater naturalism and beauty.

Notice how, for example, ‘Funny Little Bunnies’ uses animation to tell a story that cannot be told in live action, but how it tries to tell this story in the most conventional, ‘live action-like’ way. Especially the opening shot of this short is stunning, with two bunnies hopping realistically and lots of birds and butterflies flying around.

Watch ‘Funny Little Bunnies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 43
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Grasshopper and the Ants
To the next Silly Symphony: The Big Bad Wolf

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