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Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: December 5, 1942
Stars: Daffy Duck, Porky Pig
‘My Favorite Duck’ is Chuck Jones’s third try on Daffy Duck (after ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’ from 1939 and ‘Conrad the Sailor‘ from 1942), and his first cartoon starring both Daffy and Porky Pig.
In this cartoon he finally manages to get grip of Daffy’s wacky character: Daffy’s antics are not only annoying, they’re also funny, and well-timed, and Porky is much more sympathetic victim to his antics than Caspar Caveman and Conrad ever were.
When Porky goes camping, the duck nags him, protected by the law which forbids Porky to harm any duck. Nonetheless, in the end, the tables are turned and Porky has his revenge. However, at that point the film breaks, and Daffy tells us ‘what happened’, or does he?
The film break gag first appeared in Max Fleischer’s Popeye cartoon ‘Goonland’. Six years later Jones reused this wonderful film break gag in ‘Rabbit Punch‘ (1948).
Like in other Chuck Jones cartoons from this era, the beautifully stylized backgrounds are a highlight on their own.
Watch ‘My Favorite Duck’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 97
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Cafe
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Confusions of a Nutzy Spy
Director: Joop Geesink
Production Date: September 1942
The collaboration results in a charming little advertising film about a Mexican who tries to serenade his love, to no avail. He tries several instruments, without success. But then he magically produces a Philips Radio, and finally his love is impressed.
The puppet animation in this short is very reminiscent of that of George Pal, the Hungarian animator, who had an important puppet film studio in Eindhoven in the late 1930s, and who had made several films for Dutch electronics company Philips himself. Pal, however, had exchanged The Netherlands for the United Kingdom, and finally emigrated to the United States in December 1939, leaving The Netherlands without any animation studio of importance. Now, Toonder and Geesink tried to fill this gap. Perhaps, Philips would be interested to commission films from them.
However, the inexperience of both animators shows: the animation still looks primitive, with a lot of excessive movement. The short’s story, however, is funny and still entertaining today. Indeed, Philips saw potential, and would become an important commissioner to both film makers.
Toonder would soon abandon stop motion, but Geesink would continue in the field, creating one of the most successful stop motion animation studios of the post-war era.
Watch ‘Serenata nocturna’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Serenata nocturna’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’
Director: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: September 18, 1942
No other American cartoon stars featured in as many propaganda shorts fighting the foe. Superman stars in five, of which ‘Japoteurs’ is the first.
In this entry three Japanese spies try to steal the world’s largest bomber on its test flight. Of course, Lois flies along, and both she and the plane have to be rescued by Superman.
‘Japoteurs’ is an unfortunate cartoon, which adds to the idea of a fifth column of Japanese within The United States, making every Japanese person suspicious. Indeed, due to this type of paranoia, during the war no less than 110,000 Japanese Americans, including women and children, were put into internment camps.
Director: Dick Lundy
Release Date: July 24, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck
Donald is a gold miner, who has to deal with a donkey again (see ‘The Village Smithy‘ from the same year) and a gigantic and nonsensical ore processing machine.
Like contemporary Donald Duck cartoons directed by Dick Lundy, like ‘The Village Smithy’ and ‘Donald’s Garden‘ the cartoon is filled with situation comedy only. This type of comedy reaches its apex in an almost endless scene of Donald being stuck into the head of a pickaxe. Granted, the number of ways Donald can get stuck in it is impressive, but there’s a strong sense of milking the gag, and the result is more tiresome than funny.
Watch ‘Donald’s Gold Mine’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Directors: Bill Roberts, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske & Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 24, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Goofy, Joe Carioca
This trip was financed by the Coordinator of Inter-American affairs, and ‘Saludos Amigos’ feels like an advertisement for South America. It’s the first of several ‘package films’ Disney made in the 1940s, and like its followers, it is uneven. There is not much of a story, just a live action travelogue across Bolivia, Chile, Argentine, and Brazil. In between there are four cartoon sequences: Donald Duck as a tourist at Lake Titicaca, the story of Pedro the airplane, Goofy as a Gaucho and a samba sequence featuring Donald and a new character, Joe Carioca.
Donald’s antics at Lake Titicaca are only mildly funny, until its finale, the suspension bridge scene, which evokes a genuine sense of heights. Pedro the airplane is a children’s story using a narrator. It’s probably the first animation film starring a humanized vehicle, and very successful at that. Pedro is well-designed, being both a plane and a likable little boy. His story reaches an exciting climax when Pedro gets caught in a storm near Aconcagua. ‘Goofy as a gaucho’ is a nice follow-up to ‘How to ride a horse’ from ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ (1941), with Goofy acting as an Argentine gaucho. This sequence is based on the art of Argentine painter Florencio Molina Campos (1891-1959), without being as gritty. The result is both educational and funny.
However, the real highlight of the film is its finale, in which Donald meets the Brazilian parrot Joe Carioca. Both dance to a samba, following a background which is created ‘on the spot’ by a brush. This sequence is alive with creativity, seemingly introducing a new era of more stylized images and brighter colors, which would dominate the 1940s and 1950s.
Joe Carioca was such an intoxicating character, he was returned to the screen, where he would reunite with Donald in ‘The Three Caballeros‘ (1944) and ‘Melody Time‘ (1948), in still more stylized and colorful scenes.
Watch an excerpt from ‘Saludos Amigos’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: 1942
‘Stop That Tank!’ was the first commission that resulted from the showing of the pilot instruction film ‘Four Methods of Flush Riveting‘. In that respect it was Disney’s very first commissioned animated instruction film.
The film was made for the Canadian army to show the working of the Boys MK-1 anti-tank rifle. Unlike ‘Four Methods of Flush Riveting’ it features full animation and humor, as well as live action sequences, to educate the soldiers. Most of the film consists of (very boring) instructions, but the film starts very nicely with the full animation sequence of a squad of rattling tanks led by a caricature of Adolf Hitler, jabbering in mock-German, being shot to hell by Tommies and their anti-tank-rifles. In hell we watch Hitler raging in distress. The devil explains to us that Hitler says that “against your anti-tank rifles he simply can’t win”.
During the instruction film which follows we still have four incidents of full animation: three involving a goofy soldier, who 1) tries to carry an anti-tank rifle on his own, 2) opens the magazine the wrong way and 3) goes to bed with his gun, the film’s last shot. The fourth incident is that of a cow being shot instead of a tank.
No doubt these four comic reliefs were very welcome during the otherwise extremely dry and boring instruction film. However, for contemporary audiences only the opening sequence remains of interest. Its strong and rather vicious propaganda was going to be echoed in a lot of cartoons during the war era.
Interestingly, this film was directed by Ub Iwerks, Disney’s old friend, who, after the end of his own animation studio adventure, had recently rejoined the Disney studio. Iwerks went to work at the technical department, and ‘Stop That Tank’ is the only film he directed during his second stay at Disney’s I know of.
Watch ‘Stop That Tank!’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: James Algar
Release Date: 1942
It was made in early 1941, thus before The United States had entered the war, for the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, which was located nearby the Disney studio at Burbank. The film was “produced under the technical direction of the Lockheed Aircraft Cop.”, and without doubt very useful, but it was in fact a pilot film. As the title card states:
“The following film uses a simplified technique developed by the Walt Disney studio to demonstrate the quickest and cheapest method whereby the animation medium can be applied to National Defense Training”.
Both 1940 features ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Fantasia’ had lost money, and Disney was looking for new opportunities to earn some. In World War I J.R. Bray had demonstrated that animation film could be used perfectly for training the troops, thus pioneering the educational animation film. Nevertheless, between World War I and World War II only few educational films were made.
Disney’s new technique is in fact limited animation. As such it is the mother of all animated instruction films up to the present day, but even more of limited animation as an art, which would be explored more and more during the 1950s and 1960s.
The immediate effect on the Disney studio was that it sprouted commissions for several instruction films, mostly for the army and the navy, starting with ‘Stop That Tank!‘ for the National Film Board of Canada.
During World War II the Disney studio produced no less than 200 different training films for the armed forces. Moreover, limited animation immediately entered propaganda shorts, like ‘The Thrifty Pig‘ (1941) and such, as well as features, like ‘The Three Caballeros‘ (1944).
The film itself is very dry, and as educational as it is dull. Its most interesting feature is the use of a structured blue monochrome background against which the clean, airbrushed objects read very well. The idea of using monochromes and structures in backgrounds was going to be of as much importance as limited animation to the more forward looking forces in the animation field, and the UPA studio, which sprouted from the 1941 Disney strike, in particular.
Watch ‘Four Methods of Flush Riveting’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Isadore Sparber
Release Date: September 4, 1942
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
There they meet a ‘princess Alona’ (Olive Oyl in a sarong). Her parrot warns the two suitors that if the princess get’s harmed, the volcano will erupt. In the end all turns out to be just a dream.
In this cartoon the comedy is mostly silent, and princess Alona doesn’t speak at all. Unfortunately, Jack Mercer’s jabbers are absent, too, and they are certainly missed. The result is the weakest Popeye cartoon in years.
Watch ‘Alona on the Sarong Seas’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Dan Gordon
Release Date: August 7, 1942
This film is immediately the most vicious propaganda film in Popeye’s career, and one of the most extreme cartoons of the entire World War II era. In it Popeye encounters some vicious caricatures of Japanese who doublecross him while suggesting to want to make peace. Their small boat turns out to be on top of a giant battleship which Popeye defeats singlehandedly. The cowardly admiral then commits suicide by drinking nitroglycerin and eating firecrackers, destroying the whole ship.
‘You’re a sap, Mr. Jap’ is as propagandistic as it is ferocious. In the Fleischer’s ‘Fleets of Stren’th’ from five months earlier, the enemy was still rather abstract, but in ‘You’re a sap, Mr. Jap’ the Japanese people themselves are attacked. The film was the first, but not the only one to feature extreme caricatures of Japanese, which in this cartoon are killed by the dozen. Later, cartoons like ‘Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips’ and ‘Commando Donald’ (both 1944) would follow suit.
These cartoons mark a clear difference between the two enemies: the Germans and the Japanese. While the Nazis were always portrayed as silly, the German people were almost never seen in cartoons, and when shown, they were regarded as victims of their leaders, like in ‘Education for Death‘ (1943). The Japanese, on the other hand, with their less visible regime, were treated as one and the same, from the military top to the average soldier. No doubt, a sizable dose of racism accompanied this view. And it’s views like this that resulted in the arrest and internment of American Japanese, something that also happened to Germans living in the United States, but on a much smaller scale…
In ‘You’re a sap, Mr. Jap’ the anti-Japanese sentiment results in a remarkably unfunny cartoon, and the short is more famous for its lack of politic correctness than for its humor.
Watch ‘You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 3, 1942
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Li’l Swee’Pea
Olive has brought li’l Swee’Pea with her. The baby wants to have a battleship en climbs aboard the cruiser. Popeye has a hard time catching him again.
The result is a cartoon of great comedy and excellent timing. The action includes a musical number in which Popeye is clobbered by a canon. Like in the previous Popeye cartoon, ‘Many Tanks’, Popeye’s design switches between old and new.
Watch ‘Baby wants a Bottleship’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 15, 1942
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
When Popeye passes by Bluto tricks him into his army uniform. Popeye unwillingly has to join a tank squad, which leads to hilarious antics. Only when he has eaten some spinach Popeye directs his tank out of the camp straight to Bluto, who is wooing Olive.
Jack Mercer’s ad libbing during Popeye’s tank ride is fantastic and a highlight of the cartoon, as is the extremely flexible animation on Popeye’s tank. Popeye’s design changes back and forth from the old Fleischer design to the later, more streamlined Famous design, which makes its debut in this cartoon.
Watch ‘Many Tanks’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: August 14, 1942
Stars: Pluto, Butch
‘T-Bone for Two’ is one of those Clyde Geronimi directed Pluto shorts about bones (other examples are ‘The Sleep Walker‘ and ‘Pluto at the Zoo‘ from the same year). It’s also Pluto’s second attempt to get a bone from vicious bulldog Butch, after ‘Bone Trouble’ from 1940.
This time Pluto gets the bone by making Butch think he has buried a gigantic bone somewhere else. The second half is devoted to Pluto’s problems with a car horn. The horn make him lose his bone to Butch again, but he regains it with it, too.
Despite some great comedy (Pluto’s fake steps to his supposed hiding place and Butch’s flight into the air), Clyde Geronimi’s interplay between Pluto and Butch is less successful than Jack Kinney’s was in ‘Bone Trouble’. The cartoon never becomes really funny, resulting in one of the weaker entries in the Pluto series.
Watch ‘T-Bone for Two’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: July 3, 1942
Then, strangely enough, Pluto delivers her his bone in his sleep, but when he awakes he thinks she has stolen it. After some chasing, he finally destroys her home in his wrath, only to discover that she’s a mother of five pups. When it starts to rain, too, he repents and lends her his own house and collection of bones.
Director Clyde Geronimi favored food-themed Pluto cartoons, and this short is no exception. Unfortunately, the premise of Pluto sleepwalking is very unlikely and the execution more aimed at sighs than at laughs. The result is yet another cute and rather unfunny Pluto entry. Its best feature is its music (unfortunately uncredited), which uses an effective muted trumpet during the chase scenes, and a weird melody for woodwinds during Pluto’s sleepwalking.
The female dachshund is an early forerunner of Pluto’s later love interest, Dinah, who would first appear in the 1945 cartoon ‘Canine Casanova’.
Watch ‘The Sleep Walker’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: February 28, 1942
We watch this pup playing with a ball, a balloon, a caterpillar and a bird, which leads him into a distressful position on a clothes-line. Only then Pluto, who had been asleep all the time, comes into action. Pluto rescues his son and both fall into a wash-tub.
The best sequence of the cartoon involves Pluto’s antics on the clothes-line. It’s clear that he is a far funnier character than his son, which is only cute. Indeed, after this cartoon Pluto jr. was never seen again.
Watch ‘Pluto Junior’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Pluto cartoon No. 5
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Pluto’s Playmate
To the next Pluto cartoon: The Army Mascot
Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: July 27, 1942
In his attempts to stop the machine, the mouse ends in a cocktail and gets drunk. He visions ‘spirits’ coming from the bottles who start a conga beat. A lobster does a Carmen Miranda act, blending Cuban and Brazilian styles, and singing in some kind of mock-Spanish. The mouse happily joins in, until he returns to his home to sleep.
The whole cartoon has a delirious atmosphere, and can be called ‘intoxicating’ without necessarily being really entertaining. The ghosts’ designs, with their red noses and bowler hats, are copied straight from the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘Lonesome Ghosts’ (1938).
Watch ‘Juke Box Jamboree’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: March 4, 1942
It turns out to be the wolf, who will be hanged for harassing the three little pigs. The wolf pleads unguilty, however, and tells us “what really happened”. In his own story the wolf is a classical music teacher, loving peace and quiet (the most ridiculous illustration of this is the image of the wolf crocheting a bath tube out of a sheep). He’s visited by the three little pigs who play hot jazz, bullying the wolf, wrecking his instruments, and finally his house.
It’s a bit odd to associate such intoxicating jazz with random violence à la Clockwork Orange, but the result is an entertaining cartoon, although it is clearly tributary to the 1941 Warner Bros. cartoon ‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’, which features a very similar story idea. Interestingly enough the director of that cartoon, Friz Freleng, would later also direct a cartoon about a wolf and three little pigs playing hot jazz, in ‘The Three Little Bops‘ (1957).
Watch ‘The Hams That Couldn’t Be Cured’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: May 23, 1942
From the early 1930s to the early 1940s Warner Bros. released several cartoons in which books, magazines etc. come to life. Of all these cartoons, ‘Lights Fantastic’ is probably the most extreme and the most dated.
It opens with a real life shot of Times Square in New York, and all sequences after that supposedly take place in neon billboards on this square. This results in little movement, a few gags on Chinese and no laughs.
Present day viewers like me don’t even have a clue how many of these billboards were based on real and familiar ones. I personally could only recognize Mr. Peanut (from Planters). No doubt most of the fun disappeared with the familiarity of the pictured advertising. However, I seriously doubt whether this cartoon has ever been a winner, for its few gags are lame, and don’t build up to a finale, at all.
Watch an excerpt from ‘Lights Fantastic’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: April 11, 1942
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
‘Horton Hatches The Egg’ is a unique film within Bob Clampett’s oeuvre, and indeed the complete Warner Bros. canon: it’s the studio’s only book adaptation, it lacks sex and violence, and there is nothing of the zany and extreme animation so typical of Clampett’s unit.
Instead, we’re treated on a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s children’s book to the screen. The cartoon uses most of Dr. Seuss’s rhymes, with adding only a little dialogue of its own, which is easily identifiable because of the lack of rhyme. Dr. Seuss’s designs, too, are wonderfully transferred to the animated screen. Especially Horton and the other forest animals have a distinctive Dr. Seuss character.
The Warner Bros. team departs from Dr. Seuss’s drawings, however, in the human designs. The three hunters are rather bland in Dr. Seuss’s children’s book, but Clampett made them a very funny trio in the cartoon. Moreover, some of the wild Warner Brothers humor has crept into the cartoon, most typically two movie star references, which, unfortunately, date the film a little: Lazy Mayzie imitates Katharine Hepburn, and there’s a fish with Peter Lorre’s features, who, after seeing Horton on a ship, shoots itself, exclaiming “Now I’ve seen everything!”.
Today, a gag like this is regarded inappropriate for children, and it might be this gag that is responsible for the little screen time the cartoon gets today. This is very unfortunate, because this animated adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book is not only the first of all, it is also one of the best, being second only to Chuck Jones’s ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas‘ from 1966.
Watch ‘Horton Hatches the Egg’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 13, 1942
In this cartoon Popeye still is a lousy sailor, but when the battle cruiser is under attack, he once again shows what he’s able to do (see also ‘Blunder Below‘). This time the battle cruiser is attacked by a squad of Japanese dive bombers. It takes some time before Popeye is able to eat his spinach, but when he does, he turns into a plane himself, defeating the complete enemy fleet.
In this process we see only one pilot, the other planes are subtly dehumanized. In this way we’ll never think of the fate of the Japanese pilots, at all. This was a clever device used in many war propaganda films of the time.
Watch ‘Fleets of Stren’th’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 13, 1942
Popeye had joined the navy before the United States entered the war, in ‘The Mighty Navy’ (November 1941), so in ‘Blunder Below’ he’s ready to fight the enemy, the first major cartoon star to do so on the movie screen.
In the first part of this cartoon Popeye tries to be a normal sailor, among Superman-like sailors, trying to learn gunning. He is no talent, however, blundering away and almost shooting down the captain by accident.
But when a submarine approaches, Popeye shows his real worth: he beats the submarine single-handedly, saving the battle cruiser. It’s this great combination of clumsiness and superhuman powers which make Popeye such an appealing character.
The approaching submarine is accompanied by the music of Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig, indicating a German origin. However, it soon turns out to be Japanese. The submarine is anthropomorphic itself and completely dehumanized, as if it were not manned by people at all. When in August 1942 Popeye changed hands from the Fleischers to Paramount, this would radically change…
Watch ‘Blunder Below’ yourself and tell me what you think: