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Director: Michael Lah
Release Date: December 6, 1957
Stars: Droopy, Butch (Spike)
Rating: ★★★
Review:

One Droopy Knight © MGMIn this Cinemascope cartoon ‘sir Butchalot’ (Butch a.k.a. Spike) and ‘sir Droopalot’ (Droopy) combat a dragon over a beautiful princess.

Despite its medieval setting ‘One Droopy Knight’ feels like a remake of ‘Señor Droopy‘ from 1949, as it reuses no less than three gags from the earlier film, including the last one. Unlike the wolf in ‘Señor Droopy’, however, Spike is as unsuccessful as Droopy in combating the dragon, until the very end. The dragon appears quite invincible, indeed, as is demonstrated by Droopy’s feeble attempts to pinch it with his rubbery sword. He’s a well-conceived character on his own, and less a ferocious bully than the bull was in ‘Señor Droopy’. One has the genuine feel he rightly defends himself against those pesky, puny knights.

As in his other cartoons, Michael Lah’s timing is a little too relaxed to make the gags work right. Moreover, the short is hampered by a large amount of dialogue, and even Scott Bradley’s music sounds more canned than before. Several scenes are stolen by the beautiful, highly stylized backgrounds, laid out by Ed Benedict and painted by F. MonteAlegre, with their bright colors and elementary designs.

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

‘One Droopy Knight’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Tex Avery’s Droopy – The Complete Theatrical Collection’

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Directors: Bill Justice & Wolfgang Reitherman
Release Date: August 28, 1957
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Truth about Mother Goose © Walt DisneyThis fifteen minute short tells about the historical origin of three nursery rhymes: ‘Little Jack Horner’, ‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary’ and ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’.

Each rhyme is first sung in quasi-jazzy style by the The Page Cavanaugh Trio, then a voice over takes over, telling the real stories. The presentation is rather dour, with only a few rather poor attempts at gags. These ‘gags’ are at times uneasily at odds with the grave subject matter, like the tragic fate of Mary, queen of Scots or the London fire of 1666. In fact, the short is quite educational, but also remarkably boring, and fails to entertain.

The short is noteworthy, however, for its very intricate background art, e.g. by Eyvind Earle. Unfortunately, against these elaborate backgrounds the rather angular characters don’t read very well. In this respect ‘The Truth about Mother Goose’ foreshadows the problems of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1959). The design is stylized and baroque, but not very elegant, except for some silhouette scenes in the Queen Mary episode, which combine blacks and blues in an graceful way, reminiscent of the color scheming in ‘Cinderella‘ (1951).

Nevertheless, the background art is far more interesting than the animation, and several shots contain little or no animation at all. The best animation goes to two knights in a tournament, otherwise a rather superfluous scene, adding little to the narrative.

The short is further hampered by the ugly, uninspired music, and consequently, ‘The Truth About Mother Goose’ must be regarded as one of the weakest of all Disney one-shots, despite the clear effort that went into the film.

Watch ‘The Truth about Mother Goose’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Truth about Mother Goose’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: November 4, 1957
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Windy & Breezy
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Fodder and Son © Walter LantzIn Yellowstone Park a father bear shows his son how to get free food from the park visitors.

Father bear gets cake from an old couple, looking particularly miserably, and food from some youngsters playing ‘rock-‘n-roll’ (the tune the bear plays is more rock ‘n roll in name than in sound). The next customer is Woody Woodpecker, who for once isn’t short of food himself.

After making the bear perform some tricks, Woody gives the bear a sandwich and a bottle of ketchup, but when the greedy bear wants more, a gag routine starts, with Woody placing some food on ‘Old Faithful’ (a geyser), and the bear falling for it, no less than five times. This sequence is surprisingly fast-paced, making the comedy, which are essentially variations on one theme, work.

The little bear’s function in the plot is only to address the audience once in a while with an admiring ‘that’s my pop’, no matter what calamity befalls his father. In this respect he resembles Sylvester jr, who had made his debut eight years earlier in ‘Pop ‘Im Pop!’ (1950).

The bear pair was later christened ‘Windy & Breezy’ and starred four cartoons of their own, starting with ‘Salmon Yeggs’ (1958).

Watch ‘Fodder and Son’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Fodder and Son’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Dave Tendlar
Release Date: November 22, 1957
Stars: Herman and Katnip
Rating:
Review:

One Funny Knight © Paramount‘One Funny Knight’ takes place in mystical medieval times.

Herman works as a servant in a tiny medieval castle in a forest. When Katnip kidnaps ‘beautiful’ princess Guinevere, Herman comes to the rescue. Rather incongruously, Katnip is dressed in 17th century style, and rides a scooter to his own, much larger, castle, followed by Herman on a bicycle.

There is more melodrama than humor in ‘One Funny Knight’, which makes the cartoon a rather boring watch. Nevertheless, there are some nice perspective stagings.

Watch ‘One Funny Knight’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘One Funny Knight’ is available on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

Director: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: August 16, 1957
Stars: Herman and Katnip
Rating: ★★
Review:

From Mad to Worse © Paramount‘From Mad to Worse’ takes place at a department store, where Katnip is a night guard.

We watch Herman and his cousins playing with a toy train in the toy department. When Katnip tries to catch them, Herman and his fellow mice play tricks on the cat, making him think he has gone mad, much like Hubie and Bertie did to Claude Cat in the Chuck Jones cartoon ‘Mouse Wreckers‘ (1949). Katnip even goes to a psychiaCATrist (got it?).

Compared to Chuck Jones’s cartoon, ‘From Mad to Worse’ is a rather tiresome experience. The short is surprisingly dialogue-rich, hampering the gags, and in this short Herman ‘quotes’ Confucius twice, turning into a stereotyped China-man while doing so. The animation is full, but mediocre. In fact the cartoon’s highlight is the cartoon modern background art, especially the background paintings of the first scenes are very beautiful.

Watch ‘From Mad to Worse’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘From Mad to Worse’ is available on the DVD ‘Herman and Katnip – The Complete Series’

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: December 14, 1957
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Rabbit Romeo © Warner Brothers‘Rabbit Romeo’ opens with Elmer Fudd receiveing an enormous package from his uncle Judd Fudd containing a ‘Slobavian rabbit’.

The Slobavian rabbit turns out to be a giant female rabbit called Millicent. Elmer will get $500 if he will guard the rabbit until his uncle arrives. Unfortunately Millicent gets lonely, and expresses that by wrecking things, so Elmer seeks a companion, which of course has to be Bugs Bunny. In the end of the cartoon Bugs gets rid of the all too loving Millicent by putting Elmer into a rabbit suit.

‘Rabbit Romeo’ is a rare combination of storyman Michael Maltese and director Robert McKimson. Maltese’s peppy story makes it one of McKimson’s better latter day shorts. The designs on Bugs and Elmer may be flat and uninspired,  the animation on Millicent is great. Moreover, McKimson’s timing is excellent, and he excels in some facial expressions on Bugs Bunny, which belong to the best in any Bugs Bunny short.

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

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 134
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Show Biz Bugs
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hareless Wolf

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: 1957
Stars: Ralph Phillips
Rating: ★★
Review:

Drafty, Isn't It © Warner Brothers‘Drafty, isn’t it’ is the second of two propagandistic advertisement shorts Chuck Jones made for the US Army in the late 1950s.

Like its predecessor, ‘90 Days of Wondering‘ (1956), it stars a young adult form of dreamer boy Ralph Phillips. In this short Ralph Phillips has nightmares about all his ideas of  adventure being blocked by a giant shadow of a soldier beckoning him. Then he’s visited by an army pixie who elists some fictions and facts about the army. The cliches, of course, are the most hilarious. This short also contains a very Tex Avery-like running gag in which he pixie repeatedly has to put Ralph’s dog to sleep by singing it a fast lullaby.

‘Drafty, Isn’t It?’ is a well-made and beautiful film, and it would have been more enjoyable were it not so sickeningly propagandistic.

Watch ‘Drafty, Isn’t It?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: July 20, 1957
Stars: Speedy Gonzales
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Tabasco Road © Warner BrothersIt was Robert McKimson, not Friz Freleng, who directed the first Speedy Gonzales film ‘Cat-Tails for Two’. But it took four years before McKimson revisited this character.

By then Friz Freleng had redesigned McKimson’s creation in ‘Speedy Gonzales’, which had won an Academy Award.

McKimson’s returns to Speedy Gonzales actually results in one of Speedy’s finest films. Here Speedy tries to protect two drunken mice called Pablo and Fernando from a large grey cat. ‘Tabasco Road’ is a very talkative cartoon, but it’s also inspired and charming, especially because of the characters of Pablo and Fernando, who are as intoxicating as they are intoxicated. The best gag, however, is when Speedy’s action appears too fast for the viewer, and Speedy replays it for us in slow motion.

Watch ‘Tabasco Road’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: July 6, 1957
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:   ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

What's Opera, doc © Warner BrothersOne of the most celebrated animated cartoons of all time, ‘What’s Opera, Doc’ places the typical Elmer Fudd-Bugs Bunny chase routine into the world of Wagnerian opera.

The cartoon’s masterstroke is that it uses all the cliches of the chase, which go all the way back to the first Bugs Bunny Cartoon ‘A Wild Hare‘ (1940), but that they are carried out in the most serious, Wagnerian fashion. The result is ridiculously pompous, mocking Wagnerian opera, as well as playing homage to it. Milt Franklyn’s score quotes music from five Wagner operas: ‘Der fliegende Holländer’, ‘Die Walküre’, ‘Siegfried’, ‘Rienzi’ and ‘Tannhäuser’.

The cartoon’s operatic character is emphasized not only by operatic singing, but also by featuring Wagnerian magic (a magic helmet), a ballet (a staple of French opera, but only employed by Richard Wagner in his very first operas), and a sad ending, a cliche of 19th century opera in general. Michael Maltese provided new lyrics to Wagner’s pilgrim chorus from ‘Tannhäuser’ and made it into a rather Hollywood musical-like love duet between Elmer and Bugs.

The animation is outstanding throughout, especially in the ballet and love duet between Bugs and Elmer. Indeed, for the ballet sequence the animators studied Tatania Riabouchinska and David Lichine from The Original Ballet Russe, and there’s a genuine seriousness about this scene. Yet, the main attraction of the cartoon lies in Maurice Noble’s extreme background layouts and bold color designs. Especially when Elmer gets furious, there is a startling emotional use of colors that has not been seen on the animated screen since ‘Bambi‘ (1942).

The opening sequence, with Elmer casting a mighty shadow is a straight homage to ‘The Night on Bold Mountain’ sequence from ‘Fantasia’ (1940), while the shots of Bugs being dressed as Brünnhilde and riding an oversized horse are retaken from ‘Herr meets Hare’ from 1945 (which, like ‘What’s Opera, doc?” was also penned by Michael Maltese). In this sense the cartoon is as much a homage to animation history as it is to opera.

‘What’s Opera, doc?’ is a brilliant cartoon of pure grandeur and one of Chuck Jones’s all time masterpieces. What’s most striking is that it was made during the normal grind of a commercial animated cartoon studio. The film took much longer than normal to make, which Jones and his unit could only manage to do by cheating on their schedule, stealing time from a much more ordinary short, the Road Runner cartoon ‘Zoom and Bored’ (1957).

Watch ‘What’s Opera, Doc?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 131
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Piker’s Peak
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Bugsy and Mugsy

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: January 5, 1957
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Three Little Bops © Warner Brothers‘Three Little Bops’ retells the story of the three little pigs in a jazz style.

The film features voice actor Stan Freberg as a singing narrator. In the cartoon the three little pigs are jazz musicians who play jump blues (not bebop!). The wolf is a corny jazz cat, who wants to sit in, but whose trumpet playing is too amateurish to entertain. Only in hell the wolf learns that “you gotta get hot to play real cool”.

The film is unique within the Warner Bros. cartoon canon because it features neither voice work by Mel Blanc nor music by Carl Stalling/Milt Franklyn. It even lacks the ‘That’s All Folks!’ ending, showing a ‘The End’, instead. In the cartoon Stan Freberg does all the singing, while the swinging rhythm & blues music is provided by jazz musician Shorty Rogers and his combo. Together with ‘Rhapsody in Rivets‘ (1941), the cartoon is one of the best examples of director Friz Freleng’s perfect sense of musical timing. The result is one of the most entertaining animated cartoons of the late 1950s.

Watch ‘Three Little Bops’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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