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Director: Ikuo Ōishi
Release Date: 1939
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Swim, Monkey, Swim © Ikuo Ōishi‘Swim, Monkey, Swim’ tells about monkey, who learns to swim, and immediately joins a swimming contest.

The monkey wins by cheating, riding a ‘water imp’. In the end he succeeds in “cheating the others, but not his heart”.

‘Swim Monkey Swim’ is a primitive film, with the designs and animation looking like an Aesop Fable from the 1920s. Indeed, Ōishi was a Japanese animation pioneer, already making films in the 1910s. But if this film really was made 1939, it seems he had little learned since. The designs are nice and readable, but the film’s timing is too slow, rendering endless footage of the race. With its ten minutes the film is overlong and overstays its welcome.

Watch ‘Swim, Monkey, Swim’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Swim, Monkey, Swim’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

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Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: August 28, 1939
Stars: Lil’ Eightball
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Silly Superstition © Walter Lantz‘Silly Superstition’ is the second of three cartoon starring Lil’ Eightball, a heavy caricatured black boy with a deep southern voice (by Mel Blanc).

In ‘Silly Superstition’ Lil’ Eightball’s mama warns him that it’s Friday the 13th, and that he shouldn’t walk under a ladder or let a black cat cross his path. Lil’ Eightball dismisses these warnings as superstition, doing deliberately these things. The ladder walk rather unlikely makes a complete building collapse, while the black cat immediately introduces an escaped lion. Luckily, Lil’ Eightball’s puppy dog saves the day, chasing the lion back to the zoo.

‘Silly Superstition’ is pretty hard to watch today. The animation in this short is very uneven, being sometimes strikingly modern, yet at other times disappointingly old-fashioned. But more importantly, Lil’ Eightball is too severe a stereotype to enjoy. The boy looks particularly goofy in this cartoon, having a balloon head, a ridiculously small body and over-sized, rather clownish shoes, emphasizing his stupidity. Most of the ‘humor’ of the cartoon stems from the fact that despite his uneducated background, Lil’ Eightball manages to use big words.

As Christopher P. Lehman notices in ‘The Colored Cartoon’ it’s a sad fact that Lil’ Eightbal starts atypically self-assured and brave, but ends up as a stereotypical fearful negro boy. This ‘morale’ is dubious to say the least. Luckily, contemporary reviewers weren’t impressed either, and Lil’ Eightball vanished from the screen after only three cartoons.

Watch a colorized version of ‘Silly Superstition’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Silly Superstition’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 3, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Swee’Pea
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Never Sock a Baby © Max FleischerThis cartoon opens with Popeye softly spanking Swee’Pea, and sending him to bed without supper.

While Popeye struggles with his conscience (which materializes into his angelic and devilish side), Lil’ Swee’Pea leaves home, and almost immediately enters a hazardous, mountainous terrain. When Popeye’s angelic side has won, Popeye enters Swee’Pea’s room, only to find him gone. It’s now up to our hero to rescue Swee’Pea from grave dangers…

‘Never Sock a Baby’ is a morality tale, all too typical for the late 1930s, in which Popeye teaches us that it’s not right to spank a child. However, what a delightful morality cartoon this is! Despite the trite dream ending, the cartoon is full of wild and zany animation, plenty of gags and suiting music. Priceless is the scene in which Popeye reaches for his spinach only to find the can empty. The music score follows with a hilariously deflated version of the spinach theme. ‘Never Sock a Baby’ shows that by the end of the decade the goody-goody cartoon style of the mid-1930’s was at its end.

Watch ‘Never Sock a Baby’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Never Sock a Baby’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date: December 9, 1939
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Peace on Earth © MGM‘Peace on Earth’ is a Christmas cartoon, but a highly unusual one.

With ‘Peace on Earth’ Hugh Harman daringly combines the world of cute animals to gloomy and surprisingly realistic images of war and devastation (which, incidentally have more in common with World War I than with World War II).

It’s Christmas time, and the short opens with scenes of a village of squirrels, whose houses are made of helmets. Grandpa squirrel tells his two grandchildren what men were, for they have disappeared from the Earth. His tale is one of war (oddly between meat-eaters and vegetarians) and extermination. This section contains the grimmest war images ever put into an animated cartoon. In Harman’s world cute animals shall inherit the earth, but the film’s message is clear. Released when World War II had been going on for three months, this message came none too soon. Unfortunately, much, much worse was still to come…

‘Peace on Earth’ is a surprisingly daring film for its time, with its clear pacifistic message and dark war imagery – no ordinary feat for a Hollywood cartoon! For today’s standards the animal scenes may be too saccharine, the staging too melodramatic, and the message too obvious, but the war images and the atmosphere of doom make ‘Peace on Earth’ a film that still impresses today. The short was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award.

Watch ‘Peace on Earth’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Peace on Earth’ is available on the DVD ‘Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Award-Nominated Animation: Cinema Favorites’

Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: November 20, 1939
Stars: Peterkin
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Scrambled Eggs © Walter Lantz‘Scrambled Eggs’ stars a misschievous young satyr, called Peterkin.

After Lil’ Eightball (see ‘A Haunting We Will Go‘) and Andy Panda (‘Life Begins for Andy Panda‘) Peterkin was the third character Walter Lantz introduced with a color cartoon during the fall of 1939. Peterkin, however, only lasted this one cartoon.

Peterkin was conceived by Elaine Pogány, wife of the great Hungarian illustrator Willy Pogány, who did the backgrounds for this cartoon. These backgrounds are the short’s most striking feat, for they are ludicrously detailed, and while beautiful, way out of tune with Lantz’s cartoony characters, who don’t read well against the intricate background drawings.

Made at the very end of the 1930s, ‘Scrambled Eggs’ is a strange mix between the childish cute style of the mid-1930s and the more adult, urban style of the 1940s. Peterkin himself is drawn all too cute, with a matching voice and story. He changes several birds’ eggs for fun, but on hatching the dazzled parents abandon their strange children: the men go spend their time at the club, while the women go to their mothers, leaving Peterkin solely in charge of the hungry chicks. When he confesses his crime to the parents, the birds make him do all the laundry, which cost him work well into the night. This moralistic story contrasts wildly with some of the voices and animation of the birds, which are definitely contemporary and urban, aiming at adult audiences. This strange mix doesn’t work well, and as Peterkin is far from an engaging character, the cartoon is unfortunately a failure, despite some splendid animation, and of course, the elaborate background paintings.

Watch ‘Scrambled Eggs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Scrambled Eggs’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: December 2, 1939
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Sniffles and the Bookworm © Warner Bros.‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ opens with Sniffles taking refuge in a bookshop to escape the winter cold.

Inside Sniffles encounters the bookworm, who’s scared of the little mouse, and asks two book characters, the pied piper and a viking, for help. This first act is acted out completely silently, and is very, very Silly Symphony-like. Its uninteresting comedy is greatly helped by Carl Stalling’s score, who makes excellent use of music from Franz Schubert’s Moment musical no. 3.

When Sniffles turns out to be small, the pied piper suddenly starts playing the clarinet, with Sniffles joining in. Thus starts the second part, in which Sniffles, the bookworm and several nursery rhyme characters play and sing some peppy swing tune. Unfortunately, a particularly angular version of Frankenstein’s monster awakes, too, and soon spoils the fun. This second act is hardly more interesting than the first, but the swing music is nice.

With ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’, the third cartoon starring Sniffles, Chuck Jones gives his own twist on his precursor Frank Tashlin’s books-come-to-life series (e.g. ‘Have You Got any Castles?‘ and ‘You’re an Education‘ from 1938). Despite the paper-thin story about Sniffles and the bookworm itself it’s all there: book characters coming to life at night, characters performing some jazz music, and a threat which ends the fun – this all done with the highest production values possible at Leon Schlesinger’s studio at the time.

It’s hard to call the bookworm a classic character (after all, Sniffles himself isn’t really interesting). Yet, the bookworm would return in two other Sniffles cartoons: ‘The Egg Collector’ (1940) and ‘Toy Trouble’ (1941).

Watch ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: September 2, 1939
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Little Brother Rat © Warner Bros.‘Little Brother Rat’ is the second cartoon featuring that cute little mouse Sniffles.

In this short Sniffles has to perform tasks at a party. The cartoon opens with Sniffles plucking a whisker from a cat. His second task is stealing an owl’s egg. The egg soon hatches into a little, far from life-like baby owl. The owl appears to be a precursor of the Minah-Bird, Jones’s famous dimension-defying bird, or even Droopy in ‘Northwest Hounded Police‘, as it is as capable of being in unexpected places.

‘Little Brother Rat’ is far from funny, but the night scenes are very beautiful, and Carl Stalling’s score is excellent.

Watch ‘Little Brother Rat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Little Brother Rat’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: May 20, 1939
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Naughty But Mice © Warner Bros.‘Naughty But Mice’ introduces Chuck Jones’s very first regular cartoon star, the infamous mouse Sniffles.

Sniffles’ first appearance immediately explains his name, for he has a cold, and visits a drug store for medicine. He finds one with a lot of alcohol, and is drunk almost immediately. Then follows a rather curious scene in which Sniffles talks and even sings with a humanized electric razor, in an all too slow scene. After this strange scene the second act starts, in which Sniffles is threatened by a cat, and rescued by the razor.

Like many of Jones’s earliest cartoons, ‘Naughty But Mice’ is a clear attempt to emulate Walt Disney. Sniffles even vaguely resembles the country mouse from ‘The Country Cousin‘ (1936), which also gets drunk. The result is a slow and cute cartoon. The short is saved, however, by gorgeous art deco-inspired background paintings and by Carl Stalling’s beautiful score.

Sniffles is far from an interesting character, and out of league with Daffy or even Porky. Nevertheless, the little mouse would star ten more cartoons, lasting even until 1946.

Watch ‘Naughty But Mice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Naughty But Mice’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 30, 1939
Stars: Hunky & Spunky
Rating:  ★
Review:

Barnyard Brat © Max Fleischer‘Barnyard Brat’ is the third of seven cartoons featuring Hunky and Spunky, arguably the worst comic duo ever put to the animated screen.

In ‘Barnyard Brat’ little burro Spunky is no less than a spoiled brat, who goes into tantrums and who bullies the other barnyard animals. These animals take revenge, however, and give the little brat a severe punishment. At that point Spunky’s mother comes to the rescue, but as Spunky remains as ungovernable as ever, she gives him a spanking. In the end it seems that Spunky has learned his lesson, but he has one final trick on his sleeve…

It may be clear that like ‘Small Fry‘ and the other Hunky and Spunky cartoons ‘Barnyard Brat’ belongs to the childish and cloying cartoons that had swamped the second half of the 1930s. By 1939 these were more and more replaced by gag cartoons. None of that, in ‘Barnyard Brat’, although there’s one mildly amusing gag of two ducks running away while stuck together in a pipe.

Besides the cloying story, the animation is rather poor. Spunky looks as if he’s seriously misshapen, and there’s some thinking animation on Hunky that’s anything but convincing, and cannot match that of Pluto in ‘Playful Pluto‘ (1934). Since that cartoon was already five years old by 1939, this only shows the Fleischers’ incompetence to catch up with the Disney style, and one wishes they never even tried this, for the Disney style would never become their strength. Besides, Warner Bros. and Walter Lantz were already showing that this copycat behavior wasn’t necessary for success.

Watch ‘Barnyard Brat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Barnyard Brat’ is available on the DVD set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 21, 1939
Rating:  ★
Review:

Small Fry © Max FleischerIn ‘Small Fry’ we meet again Tommy, the little fish who likes to play hooky from ‘Educated Fish‘ (1937).

In the one-and-a-half years separating these two cartoons Tommy hasn’t learned a thing, and he can be found in the pool hall, where he wants to join the ‘Big Fry Club’. The big guys send him into a scary cave, however, and scare the shit out of the little fish. The cave scene is the most interesting part of the film, with its nice, rather nightmarish visuals.

‘Small Fry’ is based on the swing tune of the same name, penned by Frank Loesser and Hoagy Camichael, which in 1938 had been recorded by e.g. Adrian Rollini, Hot Lips Page and Al Bowlly. In the cartoon the song is sung twice: by Tommy’s mother and by a voice over during the cave scene.

Unfortunately, the Fleischers add nothing interesting to the song, making ‘Small Fry’ another tiresome entry in the all too often cloying Color Classics series.

Watch ‘Small Fry’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Small Fry’ is available on the DVD set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: September 9, 1939
Stars: Andy Panda
Rating:  ★
Review:

Life Begins for Andy Panda © Walter LantzAs Lil’ Eightball failed to become Walter Lantz’s next star, Lantz came up with a new one for his second full color cartoon. It was an animal never used before: a panda.

‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ literally starts with his birth, in a scene remarkably anticipating a very similar one in ‘Bambi‘ (1942). Soon we skip six months and watch Andy as a young brat, ignoring his father’s lessons, and leaving the forest, where his father is captured by a tribe of stereotype pygmies. The forest animals come to help, but it’s the skunk who scares the natives all away.

‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ is a very bad start for Andy Panda’s career: the film just makes no sense. To start, Lovy seems to be at loss at what this film actually is: a 1930s morality tale, or a 1940s gag short. Moreover, his timing is terribly slow, the designs are often mediocre (especially Andy’s parents are badly designed), and the animation is erratic and over-excessive. Finally, this cartoon world, in which pygmies, kangaroos and pandas are all living together next to a Utah-like landscape, defies believability. The cartoon’s best feature is a short swing track during the chase scene.

Despite its shortcomings, ‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ apparently was a hit, and Andy Panda would continue to outwit his dad for years to come.

Watch ‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 4, 1939
Stars: Lil’ Eightball
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

A Haunting We Will Go © Walter LantzAfter the closing down of the Van Beuren studio, and a short return to the Walt Disney studios we find Burt Gillett directing at the Walter Lantz studios. In 1939-1940 Gillett directed seven cartoons for Lantz, of which ‘A Haunting We Will Go’ is the fourth.

‘A Haunting We Will Go’ was Lantz’ first cartoon in full Technicolor, and it excels in high production values, making it a kind of strange mix between a Silly Symphony (Gillett’s specialty) and Warner Bros.-like nonsense.

The short stars a black boy called Lil’ Eightball, whom Gillett had introduced in July in ‘Stubborn Mule’, but who would disappear from the screen after this cartoon, after starring only three cartoons. This is not a pity, as Lil’ Eightball is a clear black stereotype. Despite being a boy, he has a deep Southern voice, provided by Mel Blanc (when he stutters in the end, his voice is practically that of Porky Pig), and part of the humor stems from the boy using extraordinarily difficult words, while remaining the stereotyped ignorant and fearful negro figure.

Lil’ Eightball is visited by a baby ghost, but he doesn’t believe in ghosts. So the baby ghost drags him to his poppa in a haunted house, where several ghosts give Lil’ Eightball “the works”. Gillett had also directed the Mickey Mouse short ‘Lonesome Ghosts’ (1937), and the ghosts in ‘A Haunting We Will Go’ are exact copies from those in the Disney cartoon, with their red noses and bowler hats. The haunting scene is the highlight of the cartoon, featuring great surreal gags, and some extraordinarily flexible animation, unmatched at the time. The best scene arguably is the one in which a room shrinks to Lil’ Eightball’s size.

Watch ‘A Haunting We Will Go’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Haunting We Will Go’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: October 10, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Officer Duck © Walt Disney‘Officer Duck’ is the first of nine cartoons co-starring Donald Duck and Pete.

Pete, who in this short is called Tiny Tom and who has a golden tooth, had been a great adversary to the courageous Mickey Mouse, and he also was a strong opponent to Donald Duck. However, he was dropped after 1944, as Donald Duck director Jack Hannah preferred smaller adversaries, making Donald Duck more of a straight man to bees, bugs and chipmunks.

In ‘Officer Duck’ Donald is a policeman ordered to arrest Tiny Tom (ergo Pete). He does so by pretending to be a baby, bringing out Pete’s previously unknown soft side. Apart from being rather unlikely, the comedy also suffers from milking this one idea – in a 1940s Warner Bros. cartoon the baby trick would have been only one of several schemes.

Watch ‘Officer Duck’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 14
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Autograph Hound
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: The Riveter

‘Officer Duck’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: September 1, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Mickey Rooney, Sonja Heni, The Ritz Brothers, Shirley Temple
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

The Autograph Hound © Walt Disney‘The Autograph Hound’ is an update of the idea of the Flip the Frog cartoon ‘Movie Mad‘ (1931): Donald Duck tries to enter a Hollywood studio, to meet some stars, but is hindered by a guard.

The caricature of Hollywood stars of course form the highlight of the cartoon, and like the ones in ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ (1933), they were all done by Joe Grant. Donald especially has to deal with an obnoxious Mickey Rooney, the rather bland Sonja Henie (whom Donald had imitated in ‘The Hockey Champ‘), the forgotten Ritz Brothers and a lovely Shirley Temple.

During the final scene we also see Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Charlie, Stepin Fetchit, Joe E. Brown, Martha Raye, Hugh Herbert, Katharine Hepburn, Groucho Marx and several others, all wanting to have Donald’s autograph.

Donald’s extraordinary fame in this cartoon seems to be a case of wishful thinking by the Disney Studio, but chances are that by 1939 Donald Duck had become the biggest animated star around. Mickey Mouse, the greatest cartoon star of the 1930s, was seen less and less on the screen, while Pluto and Goofy only came into their own during the 1940s. Fleischer’s Betty Boop had retired in July 1939, and even Popeye’s popularity may have waned after Segar’s death and the Fleischer’s move to Florida. Warner Bros.’ Porky Pig never became a huge star, and Daffy had still to reach his peak, while other potential rivals, like Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry or Woody Woodpecker only entered the scene in 1940.

Donald wears his blue cap for the first time in this cartoon, replacing his original white one. The blue cap was to stay till the present day.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 13
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Penguin
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Officer Duck

‘The Autograph Hound’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: August 11, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating:
Review:

Donald's Penguin © Walt DisneyIn ‘Donald’s Penguin’ Donald Duck receives a present from one Admiral Bird, South Pole.

The package appears to contain a female penguin, whom Donald calls Tootsie. In ‘Donald’s Penguin’ Donald’s behavior is quite different than from the earlier ‘Polar Trappers‘ (1938), in which he tried to kill several penguins in order to eat them. True, even in this gentle cartoon he threatens to blast the penguin away with a shotgun, but mostly the short shows Donald’s soft side. This doesn’t lead to great comedy, and mostly ‘Donald’s Penguin’ seems to be the Donald Duck counterpart of the later, but equally dull Pluto-befriends-an-animal series (e.g. ‘Pluto’s Playmate’ from 1941 and ‘Canine Patrol‘ from 1945). Nonetheless, ‘Donald’s Penguin’ is a rare Disney cartoon in which creatures are killed, as Donald’s three goldfish all end in the penguin’s stomach.

‘Donald’s Penguin’ was the last cartoon in which Donald Duck wears a white cap. In his next short, ‘The Autograph Hound’ it was replaced by a blue one, probably for greater contrast.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 12
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Sea Scouts
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: The Autograph Hound

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

Director: Dick Lundy
Release Date: June 30, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Sea Scouts © Walt DisneyIn ‘Sea Scouts’ Donald Duck pretends to be an admiral, commanding his inept nephews on a sailing trip.

All too soon, however, their trip turns into disaster, and when the mast breaks loose, Donald seems destined to end in the jaws of a ferocious shark. The shark is exactly the same design as the one in ‘Peculiar penguins‘ (1934), including the strange green coloring.

‘With ‘Sea Scouts’ Dick Lundy joined Jack King and Clyde Geronimi as a director of Donald Duck. Lundy would direct nine Donald Duck cartoons before leaving Disney for Walter Lantz in October 1943. Like Geronimi, Lundy had a rather gentle style and only one of his Donald Duck shorts is a real classic: ‘Donald’s Tire Trouble‘ from 1943.

‘Sea Scouts’ is a genuine gag cartoon, and it’s admirable to watch how several events lead to complete disaster. Moreover, Donald Duck’s obsession with his own hat is a nice ingredient in the turn of events. However, Lundy’s direction lacks the necessary bite, and the cartoon falls short in reaching the heights it could have with a better timing.

Watch ‘Sea Scouts’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 11
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Beach Picnic
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Penguin

‘Beach Picnic’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: June 9, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Pluto
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Beach Picnic © Walt Disney‘Beach Picnic’ was the first short directed by Clyde Geronimi.

Geronimi was born in Italy in 1901, and worked for Hearst, Bray and Walter Lantz before joining Walt Disney in 1931. He was promoted to director in 1938, and he directed 21 shorts, featuring Donald, Goofy, Mickey and Pluto before moving on to feature films in 1943.

Geronimi had a gentle directing style, more fit for charm than for comedy, and best suited for Mickey and Pluto. ‘Beach Picnic’ is a typical example. It opens with Donald Duck singing the 1914 hit song ‘By the Beautiful Sea’, and in fact he looks like a bather from that era.

But most of the screen time goes to Pluto, not Donald, and our favorite cartoon dog stars in two long situation comedy sequences. First with Donald’s inflatable horse (which Donald calls Seabiscuit after the champion race horse of the era), then with flypaper. This latter sequence is for a great deal a straight copy of Norm Ferguson’s flypaper scene in ‘Playful Pluto‘ (1934). The animation is exactly the same, only redrawn in color.

Another gag features Pluto becoming inflated and flying through the air. This gag is undoubtedly the best of the entire film, and it was repeated by Hanna and Barbera in the Tom & Jerry short ‘Salt Water Tabby‘ (1947). Donald meanwhile has to deal with Indian-like ants, something he would have to do again in ‘Tea for Two Hundred’ (1948).

‘Beach Picnic’ is a slow, and only moderately funny cartoon, and it shows that Donald needed some stronger adversaries to make the comedy work than the gentle Pluto.

‘Beach Picnic’ is part of a transitional phase for Pluto. Even though Pluto’s own series had been launched in 1937, with ‘Pluto’s Quin-Puplets’, the series only really took of in 1940. In the meantime Pluto co-starred with Donald in four films, of which ‘Beach Picnic’ is the first (although the two had already shared screen time in ‘Donald and Pluto‘ from 1936).

Watch ‘Beach Picnic’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 10
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Cousin Gus
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Sea Scouts

‘Beach Picnic’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: May 19, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Cousin Gus
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Donald's Cousin Gus © Walt DisneyIn the rare occasion that Donald’s relatives visited our hero, this quickly turned into disaster: in ‘Donald’s Nephews‘ (1938) the nephews managed to wreck Donald’s house within seconds, in ‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ Gus makes Donald’s food disappear almost instantly.

Cousin Gus had first appeared in Al Taliaferro’s daily comic strip, from May 9 to 24, 1938, and from November 7 to 19, and the May comics clearly inspired this cartoon. He was less obnoxious during the November run, letting Donald Duck visit him at the farm. Both in the comic strip as in the film Cousin Gus is a silent character- in the short the only sound he makes is a honk when he squeezes his own behind.

Gus is introduced as being rather dumb, but his ways of eating are ingenious, eating corn-on-the-cob like a typewriter, knitting a sock out of spaghetti, eating a ridiculously large sandwich like a pack of cards, and peas by playing an Indian tune while sucking them in one by one. Soon Donald is left without any food and no wonder he tries to get rid of his gluttonous relative. He does so with a ‘barking hot dog’, a bizarre gadget that must only exist in the cartoon world.

‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ is a genuine gag cartoon, almost fit for more modern times, if it were quicker paced. The cartoon is entertaining, but never reaches classic status. More cartoons with cousin Gus were conceived, but they never materialized, and this cartoon remained Gus’s only screen appearance. However, he would embark on a comic career as Grandma Duck’s lazy farmhand.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 9
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Hockey Champ
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Beach Picnic

‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

 

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: July 15, 1939
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Dangerous Dan McFoo © Warner Bros.This Tex Avery cartoon is a rather zany retelling of the poem ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’ by Robert Service.

Dangerous Dan McFoo appears to be a small, timid dog with the meek Elmer Fudd voice of Arthur Q. Bryan. His love interest, Sue, talks like Katharine Hepburn, but the villain, an early version of Avery’s wolf, images her as Bette Davis.

In this cartoon Tex Avery’s zany style is in full operation: in the opening shot of the Malibu Saloon, which stands in cold Alaska, we watch it advertise with ‘A 90 degrees cooler inside’. There are no less than two embryonic door gags, which would be expanded upon in ‘Señor Droopy‘ and ‘Little Rural Riding Hood’ (both 1949), and a first draft of the horse-in-the-glove gag, reused with gusto in ‘Lonesome Lenny’ (1946). There’s also an old reuse of the gag featuring a chorus stopping in mid-verse to make some weird faces, earlier used in ‘Penguin Parade’ (1938). And then there’s someone in the audience interrupting and dropping the two fighters two guns. The best gag, however, must be the streetcar coming out of nowhere to signal the rounds of the fights between the hero and the villain.

‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ is delightful nonsense, but it still suffers from mediocre designs and sloppy timing. Its end too, is anything but fitting. Avery knew he could do better and he would return to the same material six years later with ‘The Shooting of Dan McGoo‘ (1945), starring Droopy as the hero.

Watch ‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ is available on the French DVD box set ‘Tex Avery’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: July 1, 1939
Stars: Porky Pig, Uncle Sam
Rating: ★★
Review:

Old Glory © Warner Bros.‘Old Glory’ starts with Old Glory itself, i.e. the American Flag. Below it we watch Porky Pig trying to memorize the pledge of alliance to no avail.

In frustration, Porky throws away his history book, and falls asleep. In his dream Uncle Sam materializes from Porky’s history book and he tells Porky what the pledge of alliance is all about, with images of the declaration of independence, Paul revere’s midnight ride, the war of independence, the signing of the constitution, the trek to the West, and finally the statue of Abraham Lincoln, while we listen to an excerpt of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. After this Porky awakes and salutes the flag with enthusiasm.

‘Old Glory’ was Chuck Jones’s first cartoon starring Porky Pig. It’s also the character’s first full color cartoon (after his debut in the two-color cartoon ‘I Haven’t Got A Hat’ Porky had remained a black and white character). Chuck Jones makes him genuinely juvenile, and perfect fodder for patronizing material, just like Frank Tashlin’s ‘Wholly Smoke‘ (1938) had been, which also stars a child version of Porky.

All of Chuck Jones’s early cartoons have a high quality look, matching the production values of Walt Disney and Harman-Ising’s cartoons for MGM. None more so than ‘Old Glory, a commission by Warner Bros. in a series of patriotic shorts about American history (all the others were live action shorts). Unlike any other Leon Schlesinger film, ‘Old Glory’ relies heavily on rotoscope, and features a multitude of realistic people. Moreover, there’s some careful and very convincing shading on the characters, and Uncle Sam, in particular, is animated with great care, even if his eyes become spooky at times.

‘Old Glory’ thus is a well made cartoon, with high production values. But let’s face it, the short also is a sickeningly patriotic and nationalistic cartoon, which has very little to offer to all those outside the U.S. In a way it looks forward to some of the propaganda from World War II, for example the finale of ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face‘ (1943). Unlike the latter cartoon, however, ‘Old Glory’ is completely devoid of humor. Luckily, it remained highly atypical for the Warner Bros. studio’s output.

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

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 59
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Scalp Trouble
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Picnic

‘Old Glory’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

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