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Director: Ward Kimball
Airing date: December 28, 1955
Stars: Walt Disney, Ward Kimball, Wernher von Braun
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Man and the Moon © Walt DisneyAfter ‘Man in Space‘ (1955), ‘Man and the Moon’ is the second of three Disneyland broadcasts documenting man’s plans to conquest space.

‘Man of the Moon’ deals with the conquest of the moon, and consists of four parts. The first, largely animated, tells about man’s fascination for the moon, depicting the moon in mythology, in literature, in folklore, in nursery rhymes and in song. This sequence is a highlight of ‘cartoon modern’ style, and is full of director Ward Kimball’s trademark zany humor. It’s also the highlight of the documentary, despite the studio’s efforts to evoke the first mission to the moon in the fourth part. The folklore section is the most bold part featuring a highly stylized man, but even better are the charming animated children’s drawings in the nursery rhyme section. The sequence ends hilariously with a silly tin pan alley song about the moon, in which the writers throw in every obvious rhyme word (June, swoon, spoon, honeymoon, and even Daniel Boone).

After 18 minutes of great animation, the live action sections start, beginning with the second part. This is the shortest of the four, and features Ward Kimball in real person, telling us facts about the moon. The third part is hosted by German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, who tells about a possible mission to the moon. Surprisingly, Von Braun does not try to land on the moon, but merely wants to fly around it. His plans involve the assembly of a giant wheel-like space station before even one vessel is flown to the moon.

His plans are shown in the fourth part as an “on the spot account of the first expedition to the moon”. Unfortunately, this is not as exciting a finale it possibly was in 1955, despite the dramatic music and the inclusion of an emergency scene in which a small meteor hits one of the fuel tanks. Nevertheless, the special effects are quite good, showing the space station rotating, and smaller reparation vessel leaving the moon rocket. Especially,  weightlessness within the moon rocket is shown quite convincingly.

In 1957 Disney even showed more ambitious space plans, in ‘Mars and Beyond’.

Watch ‘Man and the Moon’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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Directors: William Beaudine & Wilfred Jackson
Airing date: November 30, 1955
Stars: Walt Disney, Gertie the Dinosaur, Colonel Heeza Liar, Silas Bumpkin, Bobby Bumps, Felix the Cat, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Story of Animated Drawing © Walt DisneyWalt Disney himself hosts a Disneyland television episode on the history of animation, from the humble attempts to capture movement in drawing in the caves of Lascaux to his own masterpiece ‘Fantasia’ (1940).

Disney demonstrates some early devices of animation like the thaumatrope, the phenakistoscope, the zoetrope and the praxinoscope, showing that animation in fact predates cinema. One of the highlights of the program is the complete showing of one of Charles-Émile Reynaud’s animated “films” for his own praxinoscope device. The other one is the reenactment of Winsor McCay’s vaudeville show with Gertie the Dinosaur (1914). This part alone makes the episode worthwhile watching, as McCay’s classic work becomes even stronger in its vaudeville context.

More animation from other early studios is shown, like Bray’s Colonel Heeza Liar, Raoul Barré’s Silas Bumpkin, Earl Hurd’s Bobby Bumps and Pat Sullivan’s Felix the Cat.

Disney also plays tribute to his old rival, Max Fleischer, by showing a Koko the Clown cartoon, accompanied by organ playing by his own cartoon composer, Oliver Wallace. The show ends with one of Walt Disney’s major achievements, the Nutcracker Suite from’Fantasia'(1940), which, unfortunately, is shown in black and white.

Watch ‘The Story of Animated Drawing’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Story of Animated Drawing’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release date: November 26, 1955
Stars: Sylvester, Elmer Fudd, Tweety (cameo)
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Heir-Conditioned © Warner Brothers‘Heir-Conditioned’ was the second of three propaganda cartoons funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (the other two being ‘By Word of Mouse‘ from the previous year, and ‘Yankee Dood It‘ from the next year).

In this cartoon Sylvester has inherited a fortune, and all the alley cats try to persuade him to spend it. But Elmer, who’s Sylvester’s financial adviser, persuades Sylvester, and all the listening cats, to invest the money, in a lecture celebrating the capitalistic system, now focusing on the importance of investment. Sylvester remains pretty much the straight man in this cartoon, with most of the comic relief coming from the alley cats.

Watch ‘Heir-Conditioned’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Tex Avery
Release date: June 6, 1955
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Sh-h-h-h-h-h © Walter LantzIn ‘Sh-h-h-h-h-h’ small, mustached Mr. Twiddle suffers from “trombonosis”.

He tries to calm down his nerves in an extraordinarily quiet hotel in the Swiss alps. But then some noisy neighbors drop in, who play the trombone and laugh all the time. In the end, they turn out to be Mr. Twiddle’s own doctor and nurse.

‘Sh-h-h-h-h-h’ was the last of only four cartoons Tex Avery directed at Walter Lantz. It is also the last theatrical cartoon he ever made. Unfortunately, it is not a great goodbye. Although excellently timed, ‘Sh-h-h-h-h-h’ is only a mildly amusing cartoon, which reuses many of Avery’s gag routines. It has some fatigued and sad feeling to it, as if Avery himself was tired of his own routines.

Having served his contract at Lantz, Avery left the studio on August 20th, 1954, only six months after he had started there. Avery founded his own company, Cascade Studios, with which he made several animated commercials for television. He kept this studio running until the late 1970s. After that he joined Hanna-Barbera, working on a few Saturday morning series until his death in August 1980.

After Avery had left Lantz, Alex Lovy took over his unit. Although the studio rarely hit Avery’s heights, Avery’s influence on the Lantz studio was strong, and kept being visible throughout the 1950s, leading to several inspired cartoons.

Watch ‘Sh-h-h-h-h-h’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Tex Avery
Release date: April 11, 1955
Stars: Chilly Willy
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Legend of Rockabye Point © Walter LantzIn ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point’ a polar bear tries to steal blue finned tuna from a ship which is guarded by a vicious bulldog.

However, he’s hindered by Chilly Willy, who does anything to awaken the bulldog. The polar bear repeatedly tries to save his skin by singing the bulldog back to sleep. In the end, it has become a habit, and we watch the old-aged polar bear singing his old friend to sleep in his arms.

Penned by Michael Maltese, this cartoon shares some ideas with ‘Deputy Droopy’ (which was made earlier, but only released six months later), but the result is fresh and original. ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point’ was the third of four cartoons Tex Avery made at Walter Lantz’s studio, and without doubt it is the best of the lot. Avery’s timing is, as always, excellent, and the gags come fast and funny. In fact, the cartoon is one of Tex Avery’s all time best, and it stands as Avery’s last masterpiece.

Watch ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Tex Avery
Release date: February 14, 1955
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Crazy Mixed-up Pup © Walter Lantz‘Crazy Mixed-up Pup’ was the second of four cartoon Tex Avery directed at the Walter Lantz studio. Unfortunately, it is not one of his best.

When a man and his dog are overrun by a car, mixed-up blood plasma results in mixing their behavior: the man starts to act dog-like, while the dog wins some human character traits. This is not a very exciting idea to start with, and Avery milks this premise to a nice finale, without ever getting really funny. Luckily, he would do much, much better with his next cartoon at Lantz, ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point‘ (1955).

The married couple, ‘Maggie and Sam’, were reused in three more cartoons in 1956-1957.

Watch ‘Crazy Mixed-up Pup’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske
Release Date: June 16, 1955
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Lady and the Tramp © Walt Disney‘Lady and the Tramp’ is a mild and friendly film based both on story ideas by Joe Grant that went as far back as 1939, and a short story by novelist Ward Greene. It tells the story of Lady, an upper class female Cocker Spaniel living around the turn of the century.

Lady’s life of luxury seems to be threatened by the coming of a baby, but it is the babysitter, aunt Sarah, who’s her real nemesis. The cat-loving old lady quickly has Lady muzzled, and it’s up to the tramp to rescue her. They spend a night out together, but in the morning, while they’re chasing chickens “together”, Lady gets caught and ends in the city dogpound. There she discovers that the tramp is quite a ladies’ man. It seems their short-lived relationship is over, but then the tramp helps her catching a rat that has sneaked into the house and into the baby’s room…

‘Lady and the Tramp’ was the first animated feature in Cinemascope. The film uses the new technique to great effects, with the action carefully laid out to the broad screen. Its backgrounds are very beautiful, and remarkably lush or, when necessary, highly dramatic. Only in the love scene they become somewhat stylized, showing a Mary Blair influence otherwise absent from the film.

The high quality animation is a delight to watch and stands out in an age of stylized and limited animation, something the 1950s more and more became to be. Like the animals in ‘Bambi‘ (1942), the dogs have a look and feel of real animals, while, at the same time, being full characters one can relate to, with a complete range of human expressions. Even the minor characters, like the dogs in the dogpound, are perfectly animated in that respect. The voices help in this dualism, often being a combination of human and dog-like sounds.

The humans, on the other hand, are hardly seen, and only the strongly caricatured ones, Aunt Sarah, Tony and Joe, have something of a character. It is telling that the most famous and probably most romantic kiss in animation history can be seen in this movie and is a kiss between two dogs. In this scene Lady and the tramp share a meal of spaghetti, accompanied by romantic music by the two Italian restaurant owners. This scene, animated by Frank Thomas, is the undisputed highlight of the film. Honorable mention goes to the very lifelike fight between the tramp and a large rat, a strongly dramatic scene animated by Wolfgang Reitherman, which can compete with the fighting scene in ‘Bambi’ in its impact.

Watch the dining scene from ‘Lady and the Tramp’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Ward Kimball
Airing Date: March 9, 1955
Stars: Walt Disney, Ward Kimball, Wernher von Braun
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Man in Space © Walt Disney‘Man in Space’ is a Disneyland special about man’s conquest of space, which, two years before the launching of Sputnik, was still a dream at that time.

The documentary includes information about rockets, weightlessness and concludes with an exciting account of man’s first space travel, based on the designs by rocket engineer Wernher von Braun. Von Braun is one of three German scientists featured in the program, the others being Willy Ley and Heinz Haber, demonstrating the enormous influence of German scientists on American science. Ley had fled Nazi Germany in 1935, but Haber stayed there till the end of the war, and Von Braun was even responsible for the deadly V2 rocket, a technical tour-de-force, but also the Nazi regime’s most fearful weapon.

‘Man in Space’ is shortly introduced by Walt Disney himself, quickly giving the presentation to director Ward Kimball, who remains the main host of the program. Kimball is clearly in his element here. His own wacky cartoon animation style is featured in a short history of man’s attempts to enter space, and in Haber’s accounts of ‘space medicine’. Indeed, he later called the space series, of which ‘Man in Space’ is the first entry, the creative high point of his career.

Throughout the movie, the use of animation is sparse, however, and the animation itself very limited. Nevertheless, its use is very effective, especially in the visionary concluding part, with its typical fifties science fiction designs.

‘Man in Space’ would be followed by ‘Man and the Moon‘ (1955) and ‘Mars and Beyond’ (1957), taking ideas on space travel even further.

Watch ‘Man in Space’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Chuck Jones
Release date: August 8, 1955
Stars: Porky Pig, Sylvester
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Jumpin' Jupiter © Warner Brothers‘Jumpin’ Jupiter’ was the last of three cartoons in which director Chuck Jones employed Porky Pig, and Sylvester as his frightened cat.

This time they’re camping out when they’re visited by a bird-like alien. The alien takes their complete camping site to outer space. As in the former cartoons, Porky remains completely unaware of what’s happening, while Sylvester sees it all, much to his horror. In the end we see them drive off into the horizon on a strange, strange planet.

‘Jumpin’ Jupiter’ is a beautiful and well animated cartoon, and arguably the most enjoyable of the Porky-Sylvester pairings. The action is helped by Carl Stalling’s particularly inspired music, which matches the science fiction setting perfectly.

Watch ‘Jumpin’ Jupiter’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 145
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: My Little Duckaroo
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Dime to Retire

Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: January 14, 1955
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

No Hunting © Walt DisneyIn ‘No Hunting’ Donald is encouraged by an off-screen narrator and by the spirit of his grandfather to join the hunting season.

This leads to a great satirical cartoon, ridiculing hunting and hunters. It even contains a parody on ‘Bambi‘!

‘No hunting’ feels like a Goofy short featuring Donald. Like in the Goofy shorts, most of the humor comes from the contrast between the narrator’s lines and what is shown on the screen. It’s a very enjoyable Cinemascope cartoon, which deserves to be more widely known.

Watch ‘No Hunting’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 110
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Grand Canyonscope
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Bearly Asleep

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: December 31, 1955
Rating:  ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

One Froggy Evening © Warner Brothers‘One Froggy Evening’ tells about a construction worker, who discovers a singing frog inside a cornerstone of a building.

He dreams of earning loads of money with the frog, but unfortunately the frog sings for him only, not for anybody else. This leads to the man’s ruin, and in the end he disposes the frog into another building. But in 2056 AD the same thing is about to happen all over again…

‘One Froggy Evening’ is one of the most perfect cartoons ever made (one competitor that comes to mind is ‘The Band Concert’ from 1935): its story, penned by Michael Maltese, is told with the most economical means, without any dialogue. The silent acting is superb, the timing excellent and the handling of the facial expressions gorgeous. The transition of the frog (baptized Michigan J. Frog in the seventies) from lively entertainer to ordinary amphibian is completely convincing, and a great example of the power of animation.

Although the frog was supposedly locked inside the building in 1892, most of the songs it sings are from a later date: ‘Hello! Ma Baby’ was published in 1899, ‘Won’t You Come Over to My House in 1906, ‘I’m Just Wild About Harry’ in 1921, and ‘Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone’ is even from 1930. Only ‘Come Back to Erin’ and ‘Throw Him Down McCloskey’ are apt, being from 1868 and 1890, respectively. The catchy ‘The Michigan Rag’ was written especially for this cartoon.

‘One Froggy Evening’ feels like a parable. It’s a story of greed, of misfortune, of headstrong belief in a bad idea, and of shattered dreams. It is not hilariously funny, but delightful and simply beautiful. It was Chuck Jones’s personal favorite, and it’s deservedly regarded as an all-time classic. Not that anyone in 1955 thought so, though. The Academy Award went to ‘Speedy Gonzales’, while ‘One Froggy Evening’ didn’t even get an Oscar nomination. Meanwhile, ‘One Froggy Evening’ remains one of the very, very few animated cartoons to inspire a scene in a live action movie, in this case the alien scene in Mel Brooks’s ‘Spaceballs’ (1987).

Watch ‘One Froggy Evening’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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