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Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: February 29, 1938
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Jungle Jitters © Warner Bros.‘Jungle Jitters’ is a cartoon about cannibals.

We watch them drumming, dancing and trying to cook a Goofy-like travelling salesman. Their white, bird-like queen sees a Clark Gable or Robert Taylor in him and wants to marry the salesman, but he prefers the cooking pot.

‘Jungle Jitters’ is an unsure mix of musical gags, spot gags and a rudimentary gag story. The voices of both the salesman and the queen are weak, and the weird mix of human cannibals and these two animal-like characters is very unconvincing. And let’s not get started on the racist aspect of the movie. Besides, the scenes with the salesman are irritatingly slow, and the gags mostly trite. The best gag is when some cannibals dancing around a hut suddenly change into a merry-go-round.

On the positive site, Carl Stalling’s music is superb throughout, and enhances the action, even if it’s not much to look at.

Watch ‘Jungle Jitters’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Jungle Jitters’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 25, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh © Max FleischerThe title character of this cartoon is a stereotype Indian chief who longs for a squaw, as he immediately tells us in his opening song.

Enter Popeye and Olive on a stubborn donkey. At one point the donkey kicks Olive inside the Indian camp, and she seems to fall for the chief’s advances. The Indians, meanwhile, order Popeye to perform some difficult tasks, and with spinach he does them much better than his Indian rivals.

‘Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh’ is an uneven cartoon, and suffers from inadequate storytelling, and severe stereotyping. The cartoon is saved by Jack Mercer’s constant mumbling, which is particularly inspired.

Watch ‘Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 18, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The House Builder Upper © Max Fleischer‘The House Builder Upper’ opens with Olive crying on her doorstep.

It’s soon revealed why: as the camera zooms out, it’s revealed her complete house has burnt down. Firemen Popeye and Wimpy arrive way too late, but they offer to help her build a new house. Enter a series of building gags, which elaborate on the Laurel and Hardy two-reeler ‘The Finishing Touch’ (1928). Like Laurel & Hardy, Popeye and Wimpy are lousy construction workers, with Wimpy excelling in silly acts, accompanied by a particularly goofy tune. So it’s no wonder, the complete house falls apart upon finishing.

Enter that mysterious ingredient, spinach. After swallowing the contents of the can, Popeye builds a new house in a second. But even spinach isn’t sacred: even this house falls apart! So, the cartoon ends with Popeye promising to try again.

‘The House Builder Upper’ is one of those pleasant Popeye cartoons in which the Bluto-Popeye-Olive love triangle has no part at all. It’s a great gag-orientated cartoon, and the gags come in plenty, with the bizarre finale as a highlight within the complete series.

Watch ‘The House Builder Upper’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The House Builder Upper’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 18, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Learn Polikeness © Max FleischerOlive takes Popeye to Prof. Bluteau’s school of etiquette.

The opening scene shows Prof.’s Bluteau’s large office, with help of Fleischer’s 3d tabletop background. Bluteau of course is Bluto and in this scene he’s already established as a fraud. Indeed, he hardly behaves gentleman-like when Olive and Popeye enter. True, he does know more manners than Popeye, but he clearly fancies Olive, and when trying to kiss her, he almost strangles her.

So, Popeye doesn’t have to win Olive back, he really has to rescue her from the brute. Interestingly, this time the spinach gives Popeye some manners besides strength, and there’s some great animation on Popeye clobbering Bluto in deft poses, on the tune of ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’.

Bluto’s design is somewhat off in this cartoon – the studio clearly experimented with new eyes on the character, which are not really steady yet. Maybe the studio grew a little tired of the character, for Bluto wasn’t seen again in the rest of 1938, only to return in ‘Customers Wanted’ (1939). Indeed, in the mean time the studio proved it could come up with wonderful cartoons without him.

Watch ‘Learn Polikeness’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Learn Polikeness’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 21, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, Wimpy
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Let's Celebrake © Max FleischerIt’s New Year’s Eve, and Popeye and Bluto ride a sleigh to Olive’s house to take her to a New Year’s party at the Happy Hour Club.

However, Popeye hates to see Olive’s granny sitting alone at Olive’s home at New Year’s Eve, and takes her with them. At the club Bluto dances with Olive, while Popeye dances with grandma. When Wimpy, dressed like Santa, announces a dancing contest, Popeye has to enter with the deaf old lady. But with the help of some spinach, the duo clears the floor, literally, in a very long and enjoyable dance scene on some nice swing music, which features an excerpt from ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’.

‘Let’s Celebrake’ is very joyous cartoon, in tune with the New Year’s spirit, and it’s one of those rarer Popeye cartoons in which there’s no conflict between Bluto and Popeye, at all. Even more interesting, Popeye doesn’t eat the spinach himself here, leaving that to grandma.

Watch ‘Let’s Celebrake’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Let’s Celebrake’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: June 25, 1938
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Porky's Party © Warner Bros.By 1938, the Warner Bros. Studio really started to hit its stride. ‘Porky’s Party’ is a good example of the studio’s new, confident and unique style, which owed virtually nothing to the Disney convention.

In ‘Porky’s Party’, Porky celebrates his own birthday. His party is hindered by a silk worm he gets as a present from uncle Phineas Pig. When one exclaims ‘sew’, the worm immediately starts sewing clothes out of nowhere, including a bra. It may be clear that once Porky says ‘So!’, the worm does the same thing. Another problem is Porky’s dog, who gets drunk on his hair tonic, and who’s mistaken of being mad. Porky’s guests aren’t helping either: one is a penguin who eats all his food, the other a particularly loony duck.

‘Porky’s Party’ is rather disjointed, but its atmosphere is strikingly silly, and the gags come in fast and plenty. Only the gag in which the penguin swallows a worm-produced silk hat, is milked too long. But mostly, ‘Porky’s Party’ is an early testimony of Warner Bros.’ unique, wacky style, which would dominate the war years.

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

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 42
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky the Fireman
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Spring Planting

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

Director: Jack King
Release Date: October 14, 1938
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Farmyard Symphony © Walt Disney‘Farmyard Symphony’ is the only Silly Symphony directed by Donald Duck director Jack King.

Unfortunately, the cartoon just doesn’t deliver what it seems to offer. Literally stuffed with classical music themes (from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony to Wagner’s Tannhäuser), it’s mainly filled with animals just doing things.

One can detect two weak story lines: one about a piglet looking for food and the other about a rooster falling in love with a slender white chick. The latter story leads to the most symphony-like part of the cartoon in which all animals join the rooster and the chicken in their duet from Verdi’s La Traviata.

This remains one of the less interesting entries in the Silly Symphonies series, despite its sometimes stunning and convincingly realistic animal designs. It is very likely that these have influenced the animal designs of ‘Animal Farm‘ from 1954, which also features scenes of singing animals. Especially the pigs look very similar.

Watch ‘Farmyard Symphony’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 71
To the previous Silly Symphony: Wynken, Blynken and Nod
To the next Silly Symphony: Merbabies

Director: Graham Heid
Release Date: May 27, 1938
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Wynken, Blynken and Nod © Walt Disney‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ is one of the last, and certainly one of the most spectacular Silly Symphonies ever made.

There is hardly any story: at the start of the cartoon we hear the poem being sung by a sugary soprano, then we watch Wynken, Blynken and Nod sailing the Milky Way and fishing ‘starfish’ and being at the mercy of some clouds.

The three babies are very alike, with Nod being the ‘Dopey’ of the three, and the humor is mild. But, boy, the looks of this cartoon! Like two other Silly Symphonies obsessed with babies and their bare behinds (‘Lullaby Land’ from 1933 and ‘Water Babies’ from 1935), ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ is a showcase of Disney Animation. The cartoon features extraordinarily beautiful backgrounds, and literally bursts with effect animation, rendering astonishingly beautiful stars, comets, clouds and lightnings. The fantasy is enhanced by a wonderful score, which makes clever use of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. All this gives one the feeling of watching a mini-Fantasia.

Certainly, no animated cartoon would ever show such lushness again. As such, in a sense ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ forms the end and culmination of an era, which had started in the end of 1933, in which the Disney studio combined ever growing ambitions with childish and sugary material.

‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ was the only cartoon directed by Graham Heid. Remarkably little is known about this artist, who also contributed to ‘Pinocchio’, ‘Fantasia’ and ‘Bambi‘. In fact, I can only find a birth date (November 14, 1909). This is rather surprising, for one can have worse seven minutes of fame than this delightful short. Luckily, animation historians Jerry Beck & Michael Barrier help us out on the Cartoon Research F.A.Q. page.

One trivial remark: ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ is based on the 1889 published poem ‘Dutch Lullaby’ by Eugene Field. Indeed, the words Wynken and Blynken seem to suggest some Dutch origin, but there are no such verbs in the Dutch language, which would translate ‘to wink’ and ‘to blink’ as ‘knipogen’ and ‘knipperen’, respectively.

Watch ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 70
To the previous Silly Symphony: Moth and the Flame
To the next Silly Symphony: Farmyard Symphony

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