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Director: Jack King
Release Date: January 13, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Donald's Lucky Day © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Lucky Day’ starts with the shadows of two gangsters making a time bomb to be delivered by a messenger boy.

The messenger boy in question is Donald Duck. Unfortunately, it’s Friday the 13th, and superstitious Donald desperately tries to avoid a ladder, a mirror and a black cat. In the end the black cat saves him by accident, hence the title.

Donald Duck is the sole star of this cartoon, but apart from his antics with the cat in the harbor, there’s little to enjoy. And because of Jack King’s slow timing, one has ample time to admire the beautiful, realistic background paintings, successfully evoking the atmosphere of a misty harbor quarter by night.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 7
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Golf Game
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Hockey Champ

‘Donald’s Golf Game’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 26, 1939
Stars: Hunky and Spunky
Rating:  ★
Review:

Always Kickin' © Max Fleischer‘Always Kickin” sees the return of that infamous duo of burrows, Hunky and Spunky.

In the opening scene we watch Hunky teaching Spunky how to kick backwards. Next we watch Spunky trying to be like the birds. He fails at attempts to sing, to build a nest and to fly, and all the bird mock the little donkey. Then an evil vulture or eagle (it’s not very clear) arrives, and kidnaps one of the young birds, much to the distress of the other birds. Spunky comes to the rescue, using the newly learned kicking technique to kick the hell out of the evil bird. In the end we watch all the birds admiring Spunky’s kicking practice.

It’s difficult to say anything positive about this cartoon. Its story is so utterly cloying, its protagonists so terribly boring, and its timing so remarkably slow, it’s a real pain to sit it out. When one does so, the short’s seven-and-half minutes feel much, much longer… One can only guess what the Fleischers ever saw in their donkey duo, as they made yet another five cartoons with them.

Watch ‘Always Kickin” yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Always Kickin” is available on the DVD-set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: February 11, 1939
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Mama's New Hat © MGM‘Mama’s New Hat’ was the last entry of MGM’s ill-conceived ‘Captain and the Kids’ series, which ended prematurely after only fifteen cartoons, lasting only one year.

Surprisingly, it’s the series’ best entry, as for once the studio has tried to make a genuine gag cartoon.

The short opens with the two brats buying a new hat for their mother for mother’s day. Unfortunately they ruin it immediately by falling into the mud. So they exchange their muddy hat for one of a neighboring horse. The horse is not pleased, however, and tries to steal the hat back from Ma Katzenjammer. This leads to a long chase scene, making ‘Mama’s New Hat’ one of the earliest entries in a genre that would become standard in the 1940s and 1950s.

The short suffers from inner logic, but it builds up nicely to a grand finale, and it’s surprisingly full of inventive gags, the one in which the horse turns into a plane as a highlight. This is imaginative storytelling at its best.

‘Mama’s New Hat’ still is no masterpiece, but it’s better than all the other ‘Captain and the Kids’ cartoons, and the only one looking forward. It shows that the young studio’s team was capable of more. Friz Freleng, of course, would further prove his worth back at Warner Bros., the others only came into their own with the arrival of MGM stars ‘Tom and Jerry’, who made their debut two years later.

‘Mama’s New Hat’ contains a scene in which we watch a supposed pursuit in a large house from the outside (using a moving pan with a lot of sound effects). This gag was reused much later in the Tom & Jerry short ‘The Flying Cat‘ (1952).

Watch ‘Mama’s New Hat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mama’s New Hat’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: January 28, 1939
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating:
Review:

Seal Skinners © MGMIn ‘Seal Skinners’ a million dollar seal has escaped and a ten thousand dollar reward has been promised to anyone who can bring him back.

Somehow, both the captain and the kids, his arch rival Long John Silver and an unknown Eskimo are at the North Pole, waiting for the escaped animal. At one point Long John Silver dresses as a seal himself. When the captain and the kids discover the scam, they roll him into a barrel and shake him like a cocktail. This is arguably the best gag in an otherwise remarkably unfunny cartoon, which ends with no conclusion.

‘Seal Skinners’ features some excellent animation, and Scott Bradley’s score is pretty inspired, but these aspects cannot save the cartoon, which suffers from lack of inner logic, and an absence of appealing characters.

Watch ‘Seal Skinners’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Seal Skinners’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: April 22, 1939
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur © Warner Bros.After directing four films with stars of his own, fledgling director Chuck Jones first directed a major Warner Bros. Star in ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’.

Jones does a fairly good job in trying to capture the wacky spirit of contemporary cartoons by Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, although his animation is more Disney-like than that of his peers.

Daffy’s adversary is a grumpy caveman called Caspar, whose surprisingly elaborate design and voice anticipate Elmer Fudd a little. The dinosaur of the title is called Fido. He is the caveman’s pet, and a large brontosaur. However, the dinosaur hardly comes into action, and most of the comedy is between the duck and the caveman.

There are some nice gags, but highlight is the non-animated gag of an enormous string of billboards leading to a duck dinner. Jones is still uncertain with Daffy as a character, but let’s be fair, so was even Tex Avery himself at this point – and he invented the duck. Jones’s caveman in fact is a better opponent to Daffy than Avery’s Egghead was. However, only with his third Daffy Duck film, ‘My Favorite Duck‘ (1942), Jones directed the character to great comic effect.

Watch ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Daffy Duck cartoon No. 6
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: Daffy Duck in Hollywood
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: Scalp Trouble

‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3’

 

Directors: Ben Hardaway & Cal Dalton
Release Date: May 1, 1939
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Porky and Tea Biscuit © Warner Bros.In ‘Porky and Teabiscuit’ Porky is the son of a farmer.

Porky’s father sends him away to the race track to sell hay. By accident Porky buys a sick horse, called ‘Tea Biscuit’, a salute to Seabiscuit, the most famous race horse of its time. Despite the horse’s illness, Porky enters a steeple chase with it, end even wins the race.

‘Porky and Teabiscuit’ pays tribute to Floyd Gottfredson’s classic Mickey Mouse comic ‘Mickey Mouse and Tanglefoot’ (1933). Where Tanglefoot won by his fear of wasps, Tea Biscuit wins by being startled by blows. Unfortunately, Hardaway & Dalton add nothing to this premise, and the result is a rather mediocre cartoon, albeit a quite entertaining one.

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

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 54
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon:  Chicken Jitters
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Kristopher Kolumbus, jr.

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

Director: Dick Rickard
Release Date: February 24, 1939
Stars: The Three Little Pigs
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Practical Pig © Walt Disney ‘The Practical Pig’ was the fourth and last of the ‘Three Little Pigs’ cartoons*. It’s also arguably the least inspired one of the four.

Again, the two pigs flout the practical pig’s warnings. Again, the wolf dresses up (this time as a mermaid, and, surprisingly, it works), and again, his three little brats try to bake the two pigs alive. The complete cartoon feels routine, it’s as even the animators had lost the interest in the trio, and the result is a rather tiresome watch. The only new idea comes in the very end of the cartoon, when the rather goody-goody practical pig is punished by his own lie detector.

It’s no wonder that the three little pigs were dropped after this cartoon. Of course, the Silly Symphony series were about to stop, but the pigs had had their time, anyway.

Nevertheless, in 1963, they were revived for a special animated sequence for the Mexican live action feature ‘Cri Cri el grillo cantor’, which can be seen on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSkbZArXSXI.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 74
To the previous Silly Symphony: Mother Goose Goes Hollywood
To the next Silly Symphony: The Ugly Duckling

* Not counting ‘The Thrifty Pig’, which was a propaganda film made for the Canadian government and which used the opening music of this cartoon.

Director: Jack Cutting
Release Date: April 7, 1939
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Ugly Duckling 1939 © Walt DisneyThe remake of ‘The Ugly Duckling‘ (1931) is the last of the Silly Symphonies and, like the very first (The Skeleton Dance, 1929) one of the best.

Following Hans Christian Andersen’s tale much closer than the original ‘Ugly Duckling’, the 1939 version reaches the apex in animated storytelling. One can even watch it silent and understand the cartoon perfectly, and even more significant, remain emotionally involved, as well.

The Duckling is an instantly likeable character whose emotions are totally convincing and moving. Even the colors of the backgrounds add to the drama, changing from bright greens to blues when the Duckling is expelled. The 1931 version was a milestone in its time, yet it looks crude and primitive today. This 1939 version of The Ugly Duckling, however, is an all time animation masterpiece, and it will doubtless never date.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 75 (the last in the series)
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Practical Pig

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