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Director: Charles Nichols
Release Date: September 22, 1944
Stars: Pluto, Figaro, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★½
Review:

First Aiders © Walt DisneyAfter a cartoon with Cleo, Pinocchio‘s kitten Figaro was coupled to Pluto to co-star in three cartoons, of which ‘First Aiders’ is the first.

In this short both pets want to help Minnie while she’s practicing first aid. Pluto pushes little Figaro away to be the first, a move he regrets when he’s all put in plints and Figaro starts to taunt him.

Even though some of the animation is pretty outlandish, this is a cute, not a funny short. Most interesting are some of the backgrounds, which are kept deliberately vague during the chase scenes. Figaro and Pluto would be together again in ‘Cat Nap Pluto’ (1948) and ‘Pluto’s Sweater’ (1949). Both cartoons are more enjoyable than ‘First Aiders’.

Watch ‘First Aiders’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Pluto cartoon No. 12
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Springtime for Pluto
To the next Pluto cartoon: Dog Watch

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Director: Shamus Culhane
Release Date: October 4, 1944
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Barber of Seville © Walter LantzWoody Woodpecker enters a barbershop to get a ‘victory’ haircut.

When the barber appears to be gone away, Woody himself steps in, maltreating a large chief and giving an Italian construction worker ‘the works’, singing the complete aria ‘Largo el factotum’ from Gioachino Rossini’s opera ‘The Barber of Seville’.

‘Barber of Seville’ is probably inspired by the barber scene from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940), which is set to a Hungarian dance by Brahms. The cartoon in its turn probably inspired Chuck Jones, who would use the opera’s overture in ‘Rabbit of Seville‘ (1950), with even better results.

‘Barber of Seville’ was the first Woody Woodpecker directed by Shamus Culhane. Culhane was an animation veteran, who had worked at Max Fleischer, Ub Iwerks, Van Beuren, Walt Disney and Warner Bros. Culhane obviously understood the character better than his predecessor Alex Lovy did: the gags in ‘Barber of Seville’ are faster and funnier, and the story is more consistent than in most of the earlier Woody Woodpecker cartoons.

Moreover, Woody Woodpecker looks better than ever before. Layout man and color stylist Art Heinemann redesigned the character to make him less grotesque, and more appealing. Unfortunately, Culhane would direct only ten Woody Woodpecker shorts, before he left the studio to set up one of his own to make animation films for television.

Watch ‘Barber of Seville’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: October 14, 1944
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Plane Daffy © Warner Brothers‘Plane Daffy’ opens with a military squad of pigeons hopelessly awaiting the return of Homer Pigeon, a dopey character, resembling Bob Clampett’s Bashful Buzzard from ‘Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid’ (1942).

This character has fallen into the clutches of Hatta Mari (an obvious reference to Mata Hari, a Dutch exotic dancer and spy during World War I). Hatta Mari appears to be a seductive pin up pigeon and a spy for the axis powers. After he realizes he has revealed his secret, Homer shoots himself (!).

The squad now seeks another for the job, to which Daffy, ‘the woman hater’, happily volunteers. Finally, after a wild chase, he too has to reveal his secret to the Fuehrer. But it turns out to be “Hitler is a stinker”, to which Adolf exclaims “that’s no secret!”, and Goehring and Goebbels add: “Ja! Everyone knows that!”.

‘Plane Daffy’ is one of the best war cartoons the Warner Bros. studio ever made. It may have been inspired by Walter Lantz’s ‘Pigeon Patrol’, but it’s much faster, wilder and zanier. It uses a voice over in rhyme, and citation-rich dialogue, and it’s full of extremely wild and zany animation.

Watch ‘Plane Daffy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Daffy Duck cartoon No. 27
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: Slightly Daffy
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: The Stupid Cupid

‘My Favorite Duck’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’

Director: Hamilton Luske
Release Date: January 7, 1944
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Pelican and the Snipe © Walt DisneyMonte (a pelican) and Video (or Viddy, a snipe) live on top of a lighthouse in Montevideo, Uruguay (hence their names).

Viddy tries to prevent Monte, who’s crazy about the practicing war planes nearby, from ‘sleep-flying’. Unfortunately to no avail…

‘The Pelican and the Snipe’ probably is the cutest cartoon relating to World War II. Told by Sterling Holloway, its story is simple and short, and about friendship instead of sex or violence. Typical in its South American setting, it was originally intended for ‘The Three Caballeros‘,released later that year.

‘ The Pelican and the Snipe’ marks Sterling Holloway’s debut as a voice over artist in a Disney short, after appearing in ‘Dumbo‘ (Mr. Stork, 1941) and ‘Bambi‘ (adult Flower, 1942). Holloway would become Disney’s most  favorite voice actor, providing voices and voice overs for Disney cartoons up to the late 1970s. In fact, he will be most remembered as the voice of Winnie the Pooh (1966-1974).

Watch ‘The Pelican and the Snipe’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Pelican and the Snipe’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: November 3, 1944
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

I Got Plenty of Mutton © Warner Brothers‘I Got Plenty of Mutton’ opens with a hungry wolf reading in the newspaper that the sheepdog is drafted, leaving the sheep unprotected.

Unfortunately, Killer-Diller, “the wolf destroying ram” is now in charge, giving the wolf a hard time, especially when the wolf dresses up as a sexy female sheep tot lure the ram away. When to get rid of the horny ram, the wolf reveals himself as being a wolf, the ram simply replies “so am I!”.

This cartoon is full of zany silent comedy, with frequent looks into the camera by the poor wolf, anticipating similar looks by Chuck Jones’ Coyote in his Road Runner series.

Watch an excerpt from ‘I Got Plenty of Mutton’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date:
 December 30, 1944
Stars:
 Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:
 ★★★★★ 
Review:

Stage Door Cartoon © Warner BrothersIn ‘Stage Door Cartoon’, the forest scene, in which Elmer is “fishing’ for a certain rabbit”, is soon replaced by an urban environment, where Bugs flees into a stage door. From then on, the action takes place in the theater.

The numerous gags involve a great tap dance by Bugs, a spectacular dive by Elmer from a ridiculously high ladder into an “ordinary glass of water” and Elmer watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon. ‘Stage Door Cartoon’ does not make any sense, but it’s full of gags, resulting in one of the funniest of all Bugs Bunny cartoons.

‘Stage Door Cartoon’ also features a Southern Sheriff who looks and sounds like an early version of Yosemite Sam, a Friz Freleng character who would make his debut only four months later.

Watch ‘Stage Door Cartoon’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 29
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon:  The Old Grey Hare
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Herr Meets Hare

Director: Charles Nichols
Release Date: June 23, 1944
Stars: Pluto
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Springtime for Pluto © Walt DisneyAn updated version of Pan from ‘Fantasia’ (1940), now wearing a boiler hat, creates spring.

Pluto enjoys it for a while, e.g. discovering a caterpillar who transforms into a very sexy butterfly. The butterfly is designed as a miniature pin-up girl, who dances to a conga beat. After this encounter, Pluto juggles with a wasps’ nest, angering the wasps who sting him in the form of a Lockheed Lightning and a V2 rocket. These two sequences make ‘Springtime for Pluto’ a typical war era cartoon, even though it’s not about war, at all.

After Pluto gets stung, he’s caught in the rain, and even in a hailstorm. In the end he’s not enjoying spring anymore, and angrily he chases Pan into the distance.

‘Springtime for Pluto’ is the first cartoon directed by Charles Nichols, who would direct all Pluto and Mickey cartoons (save one) from now on until their retirement in 1953. Nichols is famous for his mild-mannered humor, but his debut consists of very enjoyable utter nonsense from the beginning to the end. It’s full of the exuberant spirit of the war time era.

Even the oil backgrounds, painted by Lenard Kester (1917-1997), have more vivid colors than before. These are flatter than in most Disney films, and during the butterfly sequence one can even see the paper texture. They form an early example of a more graphic style of backgrounds within a Disney film, and look forward to the fifties. Perhaps Kester had been inspired by similar experiments by Chuck Jones’ unit at Warner Brothers (e.g. ‘The Dover Boys‘ from 1942). In any case, the result contributes to the surreal atmosphere of the film.

Kester has been credited for backgrounds of only one other Disney cartoon, ‘How To Play Football’ from a few months later. In this short the backgrounds are effective, but unremarkable. Had he been toned down by the studio? Fact is that Kester soon moved on to devote his life to oil painting…

Watch ‘Springtime for Pluto’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Pluto cartoon No. 11
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Private Pluto
To the next Pluto cartoon: First Aiders

Director: Norm Ferguson
Release Date: December 21, 1944
Stars: Donald Duck, Joe Carioca, Panchito, The Aracuan Bird
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Three Caballeros © Walt DisneyDonald stars in his first and only very own feature film.

In the opening scene he receives a large package full of presents. When he opens these presents, they lead him to the mild story of Pablo the cold-blooded penguin (narrated by the melancholy voice of Disney-favorite Sterling Holloway), and to the childish story of ‘Gauchito and his flying donkey Burrito’, before it reintroduces Joe Carioca from ‘Saludos Amigos‘ (1942). Joe takes Donald to Baía, where they dance the samba with Aurora Miranda, nicely blending animation with live action, something that occurs throughout the picture.

Another package introduces the Mexican rooster Panchito. Together the trio sings the intoxicating theme song, wonderfully animated by Ward Kimball, who regarded the scene as his best work. Panchito takes Donald and Joe on a magic serape ride over Mexico, visiting Mexico City, Veracruz en Acapulco Beach, where Donald plays blind man’s buff with a bunch of girls in bathing suits. Actually, Donald keeps hunting girls like a hungry wolf throughout the picture.

‘The Three Caballeros’ was the second of two ‘Good neighbor policy’ features, focusing on South America, and the second of six compilation features Disney made until returning to real features with ‘Cinderella‘ in 1950. When compared to ‘Saludos Amigos’, ‘The Three Caballeros’ is brighter, bolder and more nonsensical. It is noteworthy for its bold color design and for its beautiful color book artwork by Mary Blair, which in its modernity looks forward to the 1950s (especially in the opening titles, during the train ride and in the Mexican Christmas episode).

It is most interesting however, because of its zany surrealism, which invades many scenes with associative images, where metamorphosis and abstraction run haywire, not even sparing Donald himself. In this respect ‘The Three Caballeros’ is the boldest feature Disney ever made.

However, its lack of story, its strong touristic content, its outdated live action imagery, its sentimental songs and the two childish stories at the beginning of the feature all harm the picture. Thus watching the movie feels like being on a colorful journey full of beautiful images that nevertheless turns out to be unsatisfactory in the end.

Watch the title song from ‘The Three Caballeros’ below:

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