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Director: Harold Mack
Release Date: August 1, 1952
Rating: ★★★★★

De gouden vis © Toonder Studio'sBy 1952 the Dutch Toonder studios had been producing animation films for ten years, and now they were ready to produce a ‘free film’, not commissioned, but out of their own ideas.

The first of these free films was ‘De gouden vis’ (The Golden Fish). It was Marten Toonder’s old wish to produce a free film, and the result is clearly a work of love. ‘De gouden vis’ is an astonishing achievement for the Dutch studio: all elements of animation film have matured in this film: its storytelling is original, its designs are gorgeous, the animation is excellent, the effects are convincing and its atmosphere is unique. The result is arguably one of the most beautiful films ever made in The Netherlands.

Based on a story by Marten Toonder’s brother, Jan Gerhard Toonder, the film tells about the Chinese prince Li Pai, who repeatedly asks an old wise fish how to live. The fish tells the prince that his eyes know the answer, but Li Pai misinterprets what he sees, and only in old age he discovers the truth…

The film has a genuinely Chinese atmosphere, thanks to designs by Pamela & Harold Mack and backgrounds by Cees van de Weert and Ling Nan Lung. The film hasn’t aged a bit, except for Nell Knoop’s Dutch narration, which has an unmistakable 1950s diction.

Unfortunately, ‘De gouden vis’, in spite of praise on several film festivals around the world, only returned a mere thousand guilders, while its production had costed about 40,000 guilders. So, during the rest of its existence, the Toonder studios produced only a handful of other ‘free films’, most notably ‘Moonglow’ (1955).

‘De gouden vis’ is available on the DVD inside the Dutch book ‘De Toonder Animatiefilms’

Director: John Hubley
Release Date: March 27, 1952
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

Rooty Toot Toot © UPAIn a time when most Hollywood animation studios produced chase cartoons featuring anthropomorphized animals, UPA and director John Hubley come with a court drama about a murder…

That we have something different in our hands is underlined when during the opening titles we watch a choreographer being billed. Indeed, ‘Rooty Toot Toot’ is something different, and widely praized as one of the most beautiful cartoons ever produced.

Based on the traditional murder ballad ‘Frankie and Johnny’, it’s set in a court room. We come to know how the jealous girl Frankie shot her lover Johnny down, when she caught him with singer Nellie Bly. Then Frankie’s lawyer, Honest John, comes in with a rather different story…

‘Rooty Toot Toot’ is not a flawless cartoon. Phil Moore’s music is a rather unsuccessful marriage between musical and jump blues, lacking strong melodies. His score even threatens to wear the action down. One can only guess what the cartoon would have sound like in the hands of a more capable composer.

Moreover, Honest John’s account of the murder is a missed opportunity. It’s too silly and too cartoonish (the following bullets come right out of the chase cartoon) to be believed. Indeed, the lawyer himself declares it to be fiction, making all claims of ‘Rooty Toot Toot’ being a sort of cartoon ‘Rashomon’ out of place and unfounded. In substance ‘Rooty Toot Toot’ is much more akin to that other great musical court cartoon, ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?‘ from 1935, which is also based on a traditional text.

No, the real attraction of ‘Rooty Toot Toot’ lies in it looks: practically every frame is a beautiful illustration in itself. The colors and designs, by Paul Julian, are elegant and stylish; simple, yet sophisticated. There’s a perfect harmony between characters and backgrounds, and the stark colors enhance both character and mood.

The animation, too, is superb. John Hubley didn’t think much of his colleague’s Bobe Cannon’s ideal of “drawings that moved”. Instead we watch moving characters, and it’s clear where the choreography comes in, for many characters move with a ballet-like elegance, especially Frankie and Honest John. The movement of the characters is often unreal (as in Nellie’s curling arms), but always delicate. It’s no surprise that the animation was done by the able hands of veteran animators like Art Babbitt and Grim Natwick. When the Jury declares Frankie not guilty, the cartoon bursts in a frenzy of bold design that has to be seen to be believed.

Even if ‘Rooty Toot Toot’ is not perfect, it’s a masterpiece nonetheless, and one of the best cartoons UPA ever produced.

Watch ‘Rooty Toot Toot’ yourself and tell me what you think:


Director: Bobe Cannon
Release Date: January 24, 1952
Rating: ★★★★★

The Oompahs © UPAIn ‘The Oompahs’ a voice over tells a story about a family of musical instruments.

‘The Oompahs’ is one of UPA’s most avantgardistic cartoons. Its story and designs are by caricaturist T. Hee, who went for the extremes. The instruments are very basic paper cut outs, with very little animation on them. Mostly they just move across the screen. It’s almost unbelievable that such a modern cartoon could come from a Hollywood studio, at all.

The cartoon is the prime example of director Bobe Cannon’s wish to let the audience watch “drawings that moved”. Even if the founding idea of humanized musical instruments is the same as in Disney’s ‘Music Land‘ (1936), ‘The Oompahs’ is aesthetically miles away from the earlier cartoon.

Like some other UPA cartoons ‘The Oompahs’ tells about a young character with a free spirit. Young Orville, a trumpet, wants to play and improvize freely with his friends (some other instruments), in a game that is depicted by a baseball match, and which sounds like a dixieland band. But Oompah Pa doesn’t approve and makes young Orville practice boring tunes. Then young Orville loses all spirit, gets sick, and only his friends can revive him.

This message of letting creative energy run free must have appealed a lot to its makers, for creative freedom was the raison d’être of the whole studio.

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

Director: Dick Lundy
Release Date: September 27, 1952
Stars: Droopy, The Wolf

Caballero Droopy © MGMIn 1950 Tex Avery left MGM for a sabbatical, most probably due to overwork. Dick Lundy was hired to replace him, and the first cartoon he directed at MGM was ‘Caballero Droopy’.

This short’ is strangely reminiscent of the cartoons of Lundy’s former employer, Walter Lantz, with which it shares a lesser quality: both the designs and the animation are sub-par. It’s really as if this cartoon was made at Walter Lantz instead of at MGM.

For ‘Caballero Droopy’ Lundy revived the wolf, gave him a mustache and placed him into a Mexican setting, in which he tries to outdo Droopy in serenading the phlegmatic dog’s girl. The cartoon is full of Tex Averyanisms, but due to its low production quality it never takes off.

‘Caballero Droopy’ remained the only Droopy cartoon Lundy directed. He moved on to the ailing Barney Bear series, before he had to leave MGM on Tex Avery’s return in October 1951.

Watch ‘Caballero Droopy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date:
 April 19, 1952
 Bugs Bunny

Water, Water Everyhare © Warner BrothersSix years after ‘Hair-raising Hare’ (1946) Bugs Bunny faces the orange monster in sneakers again.

‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is a horror cartoon featuring almost everything a horror movie should have: an evil scientist, a monster, a mummy and a robot. This story is rather awkwardly framed, however, by a story about the river flooding Bugs’s home and transporting him to and from the castle. Facing the monster Bugs repeats his manicure-tric from the earlier film, although this time he pretends to be a hair dresser. He also makes himself invisible and he makes the monster shrink.

If not as funny as ‘Hair-raising Hare’, ‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is full of clever gags. It moves at a relatively relaxed pace, which only a very confident film maker could use with such effect. In that respect, ‘Water, Water Evey Hare’ shows the mastery director Chuck Jones had achieved. He needn’t be fast and furious to be funny and he knew it.

Watch ‘Water, Water Every Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 90
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Foxy Proxy
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hasty Hare

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: January 19, 1952
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Wile E. Coyote

Operation Rabbit © Warner BrothersThe second appearance of the Coyote after his debut film ‘Fast and Furry-ous‘ (1949) was, surprisingly, not another Road Runner cartoon.

Instead, director Chuck Jones decided to place his still fresh carnivore character against Bugs Bunny,  a character increasingly in need of worthy opponents.

in ‘Operation: Rabbit’ Wile E. Coyote gets his name (in the Road Runner cartoons he’s never called that way). Wile E. introduces himself to Bugs as ‘genius’, and suddenly he is a talking character, speaking with an eloquent, vaguely British voice. The experiment is not successful. The coyote’s ability to speak floods the action with a lot of superfluous dialogue, and he almost totally lacks the sympathetic frustration so wonderfully demonstrated in the Road Runner cartoons. Moreover, there’s hardly any chemistry between the two overconfident characters, which leads to remarkably unfunny gags, with only the one involving a flying saucer being able to create a chuckle.

Despite the shortcomings, Jones would make Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote co-star in three more cartoons: ‘To Hare is Human’ (1956), ‘Rabbit’s Feat’ (1960), and ‘Compressed Hare’ (1961). Meanwhile the Coyote would have a much more interesting career in the Road Runner cartoons, with the second one, ‘Beep Beep’, appearing four months after ‘Operation Rabbit’.

Watch ‘Operation: Rabbit’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 87
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Big Top Bunny
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: 14 Carrot Bunny

Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: November 21, 1952
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Chip ‘n Dale
Rating: ★★★★★

Pluto's Christmas Tree © Walt DisneyMickey chops Chip ‘n Dale’s tree down to use as a Christmas tree.

By doing so he accidentally brings the two little chipmunks home. Pluto soon discovers the duo, but Mickey only does so in the very end. The cartoon ends with a cameo of Goofy, Donald and Minnie singing Christmas carols in Mickey’s garden.

The cartoon’s overall atmosphere is cute, adorable and full of charm, making ‘Pluto’s Christmas Tree’ one of the most delightful Mickey Mouse cartoons from the post-war period. This short is the second of two Mickey Mouse cartoons directed by Jack Hannah, the other being ‘Squatter’s Rights’ from 1946. These are the only two cartoons to feature Mickey and Chip ‘n Dale. It’s also the third of Mickey’s four Christmas cartoons, the others being ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ from 1931, ‘Mickey’s Good Deed‘ from 1932 and ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol‘ from 1983.

Watch ‘Pluto’s Christmas Tree’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 124
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Pluto’s Party
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Simple Things

Director: Milt Schaffer
Release Date:
September 19, 1952
 Mickey Mouse, Pluto, The Orphan Mice

Pluto's Party © Walt DisneyMickey and Pluto celebrate Pluto’s birthday, which includes a huge pink birthday cake and the presence of several little mice.

In fact, this cartoon marks the unexpected return of the orphan mice, which we hadn’t seen on the screen since ‘Mickey’s Circus‘ from 1936. The little mice give Pluto a hard time and they eat all the cake. Luckily Mickey has saved a piece for our canine friend.

‘Pluto’s Party’ is the only Disney film directed by Pluto story man Milt Schaffer. Unfortunately it’s not a success. Mickey’s design is rather angular in this cartoon and the antics by the orphan mice are quite tiresome, not funny. In spite of the bright colors and the fast cutting, the overall mood is timid and listless. Only two Mickey Mouse cartoons would follow, and you can almost feel the series ending in this cartoon.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 123
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: R’coon Dawg
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Pluto’s Christmas Tree

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: February 16, 1952
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★★★

Duck Doctor © MGMTom is hunting ducks and he hits a little drake.

Jerry helps the duckling, dressing his wounds, but he has a hard time preventing the careless duck of being shot again. This cartoon builds up to a great finale involving an anvil.

The little drake looks and behaves like Little Quacker (see ‘Little Quacker‘ from 1950), but differs in having mature feathering. In fact, this overenthusiastic, but not too clever drake leads to greater comedy than the more famous little duckling. As a result ‘Duck Doctor’ is very entertaining, and one of the more inspired of the latter day Tom & Jerry cartoons.

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

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 64
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Flying Cat
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Two Mouseketeers

Director: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: January 12, 1952
Stars: Tom & Jerry

The Flying Cat © MGMIn ‘The Flying Cat’ Jerry teams up with a canary, whom Tom wants to eat.

The chase routine that follows, gets an unexpected twist when Tom accidentally acquires some wings (out of a corset) and becomes a flying cat. It makes him a real threat to the two little creatures.

Unlike the contemporary Tom & Jerry cartoons, the ugly ‘His Mouse Friday‘ and ‘Cat Napping’, ‘The Flying Cat’ uses the simplified character designs to great effects. The cartoon is fast and full of gags, many of which involving great and inspired deformations of Tom.

Watch an excerpt from ‘The Flying Cat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 63
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Cat Napping
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Duck Doctor

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: February 2, 1952
Stars: Marc Anthony
★★★★★ ♕

Feed the Kitty © Warner BrothersAmong all the masterpieces of animation, this must be the most inconspicuous one: it’s a seemingly classical dog and cat story, involving quite some dull dialogue (provided by the dog’s mistress, of whom we only see her legs), and its looks are quite traditional, with unremarkable layouts and backgrounds.

Nevertheless, ‘Feed The Kitty’ is a real masterpiece, and its reputation is entirely due to the acting of its main character, the gentle bulldog Marc Anthony. His facial expressions are so wide ranging, so extreme and so heartfelt that ‘Feed the Kitty’ can almost be regarded as a study in depiction of emotion. Silent acting really reaches its peak here, and director Chuck Jones is without doubt at his all time best in this sweet little cartoon.

In ‘Feed the Kitty’ Marc Anthony adopts a sweet little kitten, but he’s not allowed to bring anything into the house. This leads to various gags with the dog trying to hide the little kitten from his mistress. However, the highlight of the cartoon is the sequence in which Marc Anthony thinks his darling pet is dead. His emotions are both hilarious and heartbreaking. Never before has the anxiety of having lost a dearly beloved been so convincingly put to the animated screen. At this point I often can’t keep my tears from running.

Indeed, this sequence is so popular among animators that it was almost exactly copied in ‘Monsters, Inc.‘ (2001) as a homage to the original. I’d say, if cartoons were shown at funerals (and why not?), ‘Feed the Kitty’ would be a perfect candidate.

Watch ‘Feed the Kitty’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Feed the Kitty’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 8, 1952
Rating: ★★★½

The Little House © Walt DisneyHalf a year after ‘Lambert the Sheepish Lion‘, voice actor Sterling Holloway returns as a narrator for a Disney cartoon.

Here he tells the story of a little house on a hill in the country side who is soon surrounded by the city and forgotten. The house’s first neighbors are arrogant and aristocratic wooden houses, which soon burn down. The second neighbors are sloppy brick houses, which are pulled down in the end. Her third neighbors are enormous skyscrapers. When the little house thinks she’s finished, she’s moved to start anew on the countryside.

This sweet little story is based on a children’s book from 1942 by Virginia Lee Burton and uses a slightly different design to remain faithful to her original illustrations. Like ‘Lambert the Sheepish Lion’, the story is very sweet, not funny. Its main attraction are the humanized houses, excavators and such.

However, the story is well-told, thanks to story man Bill Peet. It contains heart and has a strong sense of nostalgia. In fact, conservative nostalgia has rarely been put more convincingly to the screen. The film is strongly anti-urban and anti-progress, and full of longing to the peace and quiet of a bygone era. Its message is expressed at the end of the cartoon, when Holloway tells us that “the best place to find peace and happiness is in a little house on a little hill way up in the country”.

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

‘The Little House’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: February 8, 1952
Rating: ★★½

Lambert, the Sheepish Lion © Walt DisneyDisney’s  favorite voice, Sterling Holloway, returns for the first time since ‘Peter and the Wolf’ (‘Make Mine Music’, 1946), to lend his voice to a child-delivering stork like he did in ‘Dombo’ (1942).

Holloway tells the story of Lambert, a lion cub who’s accidentally delivered to a mother sheep. Because he’s different, he’s bullied by the other lambs, and he grows into a cowardly lion, until he rescues his mother from the clutches of an evil wolf.

Like the similar ‘Morris, the Midget Moose‘ from two years earlier, the story of ‘Lambert, the Sheepish Lion’ is slow, sickeningly sweet and terribly unfunny. What Lambert eats during his stay among the sheep remains a puzzling mystery. The cartoon’s only delight are the facial expressions on the adult Lambert.

Watch ‘Lambert, the Sheepish Lion’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Lambert, the Sheepish Lion’ is available on the DVDs ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’ and ‘Melody Time’

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