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Director: Jack King
Release Date: December 10, 1937
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Donald's Ostrich © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Ostrich’ is the first entry in Donald Duck’s very own series.

True, Donald had already gone solo in ‘Don Donald‘ and ‘Modern Inventions‘ from earlier that year, but those two cartoons had been released within the Mickey Mouse series. With ‘Donald’s Ostrich’ Donald Duck would really be on his own, only two weeks after Pluto had made the same jump with ‘Pluto’s Quin-Puplets’. Now he was ready to become Disney’s most popular star.

Unfortunately, this first entry is not really a success. In this short Donald Duck works at a remote train station, where he encounters an ostrich in a package. The ostrich has male plumage, but is clearly female, and called Hortense. Most of the gags are about Hortense, who, as an accompanying note says, eats everything, including a harmonica, an alarm clock, a few balloons, and Donald’s radio.

The radio, especially, takes much screen time, making the ostrich behave like e.g. a boxer and a race car. This string of gags is rather tiresome, and suffers from King’s slow timing, and it’s a pity Donald gets so little screen time himself.

Donald’s next two cartoons wouldn’t be better, but with ‘Donald’s Nephews‘, the studio would hit the jackpot. Hortense meanwhile would enter Donald’s life, too, in Al Taliaferro’s daily Donald Duck comic strip in May 9, 1938, causing a string of gags until May 24, and occasionally appearing afterwards.

Watch ‘Donald’s Ostrich’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 1
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Self Control

‘Donald’s Ostrich’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 17, 1937
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Fowl Play © Max FleischerIn ‘Fowl Play’ Popeye brings Olive a parrot to remember him by when he’s at sea.

The parrot, which too smokes a pipe, sings a love song for Olive, and she immediately grows attached to the bird. But then Bluto appears. He lets the bird free, and then tries to kill it with an ax, so Popeye has to save the day.

‘Fowl Play’ is one of the more routine Popeye cartoons. Bluto is nothing but a big bully here, while the parrot adds little to the classic love triangle. The complete cartoon is rather slow and predictable. Its best gag is when Popeye repeatedly has to leave the fighting cloud to save Olive from falling while fainting. This scene contains some wild takes on Olive, while an earlier scene features a very wild double-take on Popeye.

Watch ‘Fowl Play’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fowl Play’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: April 17, 1937
Stars: Porky Pig, Petunia Pig
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Porky's Romance © Warner Bros.In ‘Porky’s Romance’ Porky tries to court Petunia Pig, but she remains indifferent.

Porky then attempts to commit suicide by hanging himself on a tree. The attempt fails, but it knocks him unconscious, and leads him into a dream sequence which shows what would become of a possible marriage with Petunia. This turns out to be a bachelor’s nightmare: Porky has to do all the housework and is bullied by an enormously fat Petunia. When he’s awake, Petunia is at his sight, now ready for marriage, but Porky rushes off into the distance, only to return to kick Petunia’s obnoxious dog.

‘Porky’s Romance’ is still from a transitional period for the Warner Bros. studio. It’s most probably inspired by the Mickey Mouse cartoons ‘Puppy Love’ (1933) and ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ from 1932. ‘Puppy Love’ uses the same setting, including a Pekingese dog, while ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ shares a dream sequence that quickly becomes bachelor’s nightmare. In this way the cartoon still looks back. Moreover, both Porky’s design and voice are still rather unappealing, and the design of Petunia’s pesky Pekingese is primitive and awkward.

On the other hand, this cartoon features remarkably modern backgrounds, which show very streamlined and rather futuristic architecture. And as Leonard Maltin shows in ‘Of Mice and Magic’, Frank Tashlin experiments with remarkably rapidly cutting, speeding up storytelling at Warner Bros., and in cartoons in general.

However, the film’s most striking feature is it opening sequence in which Petunia Pig is pompously introduced as the new Warner Bros. star. We then watch her nervously trying to give say to the radio audience that she hopes that they’ll like her picture. When an off-screen voice whispers to her not to get excite, she explodes and yells into the camera: “Who’s excited!!!”. Only then the opening titles appear!

More than anything this kind of self-conscious gags would become a hallmark of Warner Bros.’ own brand of humor.

Watch ‘Porky’s Romance’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 21
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Picador Porky
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Duck Hunt

‘Porky’s Romance’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: January 30, 1937
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Pigs is Pigs © Warner Bros.In ‘Pigs is Pigs’ a fat little pig thinks of food all the time.

At night the pig dreams he’s being fed by a machine of an evil scientist with a hic-cough. He eats so much, he explodes. He awakes in a fright, but when his mother invites him to breakfast, it’s clear he hasn’t learned anything.

With its quasi-moralistic tale, its family-setting, its child star, and its Silly Symphony-like backgrounds, ‘Pigs is Pigs’ is still firmly rooted in the goody-goody world of the mid-1930s. However, an early ‘Hold the onions’-gag (the first of a long series), the fast machine-scenes, and the surprisingly non-moralistic finale look forward to a more individual Warner Bros. style.

‘Pigs is Pigs’ is far from a classic, but it’s surprisingly well animated, and shows that by 1937 the Schlesinger studio could use the Disney influence for their own ends.

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

‘Pigs is Pigs’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Directors: Pinto Colvig, Walt Pfeiffer & Ed Penner
Release Date: April 17, 1937
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Clarabella Cow, Clara Cluck, Goofy
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Mickey's Amateurs © Walt DisneyMickey is only the straight man while hosting an amateur night at the theater.

We watch Donald trying to recite ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ while forgetting the words, Clarabella Cow and Clara Cluck performing an operatic song, and Goofy with an automatic one man band that goes haywire.

Donald surprises not only his but also the modern audience by drawing a tommy gun to shoot at the audience(!). However, it’s Goofy’s silly musical machine which draws the biggest laughs in a hilarious sequence, with particularly silly animation.

‘Mickey’s Amateurs’ ends with Donald getting caught in the closing end circle. Self-awareness gags like this were rare at Disney’s (another example is the burning title card in ‘Mickey’s Fire Brigade‘ from 1935), but would become standard repertoire at Warner Bros. and in Tex Avery’s cartoons at MGM.

Watch ‘Modern Inventions’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 94
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Moose Hunters
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Modern Inventions

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: October 30, 1937
Stars: Porky Pig, Petunia Pig
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Case of the Stuttering Pig © Warner BrothersIn this cartoon Porky suddenly has three elder brothers (Peter, Portus, and Percy), while Petunia appears to be his sister.

The siblings inherit their estate from their late uncle Solomon (who’s a caricature of Oliver Hardy). Unfortunately, the evil lawyer Goodwill is after them, changing himself into a Dr. Hyde-like character. Strangely enough he insults somebody in the audience, the “guy in the third row”. This to his own regret, for it’s this guy who saves Porky and his siblings in the end! This type of dimension-defying humor was a novelty at the time and would become a Warner Bros. trademark in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Watch ‘The Case of the Stuttering Pig’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 31
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Rover’s Rival
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Double Trouble

Director: Jack King
Release Date: May 29, 1937
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Modern_Inventions © Walt DisneyAfter a short stint at Warner Brothers, veteran animator Jack King makes his debut as a director at the Disney studio.

King would remain a director of Donald Duck films until his retirement in 1948, directing only three cartoons without the duck (‘Farmyard Symphony‘ from 1938, and the propaganda shorts ‘Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line‘ and ‘Defense against Invasion‘, from 1942 and 1943, respectively).

‘Modern Inventions’ is Donald’s first real solo outing, sharing screen time only with mechanical objects. He visits a ‘museum of modern marvels’ , where he has to deal with a mechanical robot butler (the running gag of the film), a package wrapper, a ‘robot nurse maid’ and an automatic barber chair. Like in ‘The Band Concert‘ Donald shows an ability to produce numerous objects out of nothing, this time hats. He even manages to change his army cap into a baby cap.

‘Modern Inventions’ was the last of three Donald Duck shorts under the Mickey Mouse flag. With his next cartoon, ‘Donald’s Ostrich‘ he would have a series of his own…

Watch ‘Modern Inventions’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 95
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Amateurs
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Hawaiian Holiday

Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: January 9, 1937
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Don Donald © Walt DisneyAfter co-starring with Pluto in ‘Donald and Pluto‘ (1936), Donald really comes to his own in ‘Don Donald’. In this cartoon he only shares screen time with a new character, Donna Duck, a predecessor of Daisy with a temper that matches Donald’s own. 

In this film, we watch Donald in a Mexican setting featuring a surprisingly Krazy Kat-like palm in the background. He wears a large sombrero and tries to woo Donna, but his donkey spoils his efforts. Donald trades his donkey for a car (the small red car we would become so familiar with). The car makes a deep impression on Donna, and both go for a ride.

The animation of the car ride is a great showcase of animation of speed, while the hilarious sequence in which Donald tries to restart the motor again is a wonderful example of rubbery animation. The film ends marvelously, when Donna produces a unicycle out of her handbag and rides off into the distance. But the whole film is one of sheer delight and one of the classics of the 1930s.

Despite Mickey’s absence, ‘Don Donald’ is still part of the Mickey Mouse series. Only with ‘Donald’s Ostrich‘ from December 1937 Donald would get his own series.

Watch ‘Don Donald’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 91
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Worm Turns
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Magician Mickey

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 10, 1937
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'She Was An Acrobat's Daughter' featuring the annoying little duck and his father in the cinema‘She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter’ is a cartoon about an evening at the cinema.

It makes very clear that in the 1930s the experience of going to the movies was way more elaborate than nowadays: we watch newsreels, the audience singing to the title song and a feature, ‘The Petrified Florist’, a satire of the Warner Brothers film ‘The Petrified Forest’ (1936), with caricatures of its stars Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. During the cartoon we’re confronted with several movie theater annoyances, like people changing seats, people passing by in the middle of a film, popcorn sellers and bad front row seats.

In this cartoon, Friz Freleng really caught up with the new spirit at Warner Brothers induced by the coming of Tex Avery and Frank Tashlin in 1936. Gone is any resemblance to cuteness or children stars. Instead, there is an annoying duckling asking questions in an irritable voice, and causing havoc in the cinema. There’s no story, just gags, and the film ends rather unexpectedly. But the whole film is a sheer delight, aimed at laughs, and succeeding in it, too. Also featured is an early caricature of Adolf Hitler.

Watch ‘She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.supercartoons.net/cartoon/757/she-was-an-acrobats-daughter.html

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 14, 1937
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Pudgy Picks A Fight' featuring Pudgy terrified by a cuckoo clockBetty has bought a fox. Pudgy, jealous of the lifeless animal, starts a fight, but after knocking his enemy down, he thinks he has killed it.

What follows is a great depiction of his feeble attempts to revive his foe, and then his genuine horror when he realizes he has killed the animal. His feeling of guilt turns his surroundings into a nightmare.

‘Pudgy picks a Fight’ is undoubtedly the most inspired of all Pudgy cartoons, the nightmare sequence being particularly imaginative. Its theme of guilt and imagination running away with it would be revisited by Disney in ‘Donald’s Crime’ (1945) with equally impressive results.

Watch ‘Pudgy Picks A Fight’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 63
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy Takes a Bow-Wow
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: The Impractical Joker

‘Pudgy Picks A Fight’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: November 5, 1937
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Old Mill © Walt Disney‘The Old Mill’ is a milestone in effect animation.

From the first scene on special effects seem to be the sole raison d’être of the film. The cartoon is literally stuffed with them: dew on a cobweb, ripples in the water, light beams, fireflies, wind, rain and a thunderstorm.

Disney’s famous multiplane camera, with which the feeling of depth could be realized, makes its debut here. Together these effects create an astonishing level of realism, necessary for the upcoming first animated feature, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. In ‘The Old Mill’ even the animal characters are more or less realistic, a rare feat in Disney cartoons until then.

All this realism leads to awe-inspiring images, based on concept art by Danish illustrator Gustaf Tenggren, who had joined the studio in 1936. Unfortunately, the images do not lead to much of a story. The film is more of a series of moods from dusk to dawn. Despite its clever pacing, reaching a climax in the thunderstorm sequence, ‘The Old Mill’ is an overly romantic depiction of nature, and less enjoyable as a cartoon than as a showcase of Disney animation.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 68
To the previous Silly Symphony: Little Hiawatha
To the next Silly Symphony: Moth and the Flame

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: March 13, 1937
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Woodland Café © Walt Disney‘Woodland Café’ returns to the origin of the Silly Symphony series: music.

This enjoyable gem depicts a Harlem-like nightclub for bugs, in which blackface grasshoppers perform hot jazz, led by a Cab Calloway-like bandleader. All bugs swing to it as soon as they enter the club.

After a remarkably erotic act played by a spider and a fly the cartoon climaxes in the jazz song ‘Truckin’, recorded by both the Mills Blue Rhythm Band and Duke Ellington in 1935, and celebrating a dance style that was fashionable around ca. 1935-1938. The main feature of trucking is the shoulders which rise and fall as the dancers move towards each other while the fore finger points up and wiggles back and forth like a windshield wiper. At this point in the short even some astonishing effect animation joins in, delivering totally convincing glitter ball effects and beautiful descending fluffy flowers.

Both charming and entertaining, the whole mood of this delightful cartoon is one of sheer joy.

Watch ‘Woodland Café’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 66
To the previous Silly Symphony: More Kittens
To the next Silly Symphony: Little Hiawatha

Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: January 2, 1937
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pete, Pluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Worm Turns © Walt DisneyIn the opening shot of ‘The Worm Turns’ we watch Mickey looking like an evil scientist, working on a potion that can give courage and power.

He tries it on a fly caught in a spiderweb, on a mouse (the two different designs of mice in this film, with one being twenty times larger, is quite confusing!) who is the victim of a cat, on the cat, who’s chased by Pluto, and on Pluto, who’s threatened by evil dog catcher Pete.

The animation of the opening sequence is quite stunning, but the whole short fails to get funny. Hanna and Barbera would revisit the same idea in the similar ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse‘ (1947) with much better results.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 90
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Elephant
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Don Donald

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