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Director: Yasuji Murata
Stars: Norakuro
Release Date: June 14, 1933
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Private 2nd Class Norakuro © Yasuji MurataNorakuro is a black dog who has joined an army of white dogs.

But like Donald Duck in his later World War II army films, Norakuro is far from a good soldier. When he has to clean an officer’s office, he starts wearing the officer’s sabre, and smoking his cigarettes. Later, Norakuro follows marching orders without thinking, and walks blindly into a stable, where he’s kicked out. In the second episode Norakuro manages to capture a tank, only to find out that it’s manned by his own supervising colonel…

‘Private 2nd Class Norakuro: The Drill’ is a silent film with a strong 1920s design. Norakuro had been a manga star first, making his debut in 1931. Norakuro is drawn sympatherically, and is a relative of silent stars Bonzo and Felix the Cat. In this film, Norakuro’s first, his antics are pure for fun, lacking any moral or military subtext, even though it’s a film about the army during the militaristic Shōwa period. Norakuro would star four more films (1934-1938), which would become increasingly propagandistic. The comic strip lasted until 1941.Unfortunately, Murata’s drawing style is less impressive than in other films, and the film a little too long and mildly amusing at best.

Watch ‘Private 2nd Class Norakuro: The Drill’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Private 2nd Class Norakuro: The Drill’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 22, 1932
Stars: Les Reis, Artie Dunn, Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Oh! How I hate to Get up in the Morning © Max FleischerIn this Screen Song Les Reis and Artie Dunn, a.k.a. The Wandering Minstrels, make their screen debut to sing the World War I title song by Irving Berlin.

The cartoon sequence contains many military gags, while Betty Boop introduces the bouncing ball. The most interesting part of this mediocre cartoon is the morning scene, in which we watch trees, a cannon, and even fire and smoke waking up.

Betty Boop already had her picture featured in ‘Any Little Girl that’s a Nice Little Girl‘, and Kitty from Kansas City in the Screen Song of the same name could also have been her, but it’s this cartoon that marks Betty Boop’s first appearance in a Screen Song, underlining her popularity in 1932. She would appear in six more Screen Songs, the last being ‘Popular Melodies‘ from 1933.

Watch ‘Oh! How I hate to Get up in the Morning’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Oh! How I hate to Get up in the Morning’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 15, 1942
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Many Tanks © ParamountIn this World War II cartoon Bluto is a soldier who tries to sneak away to date 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: Walter Lantz
Release Date: September 1, 1941
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B © Walter LantzBased on the 1941 hit song by the Andrews sisters, ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”‘ tells the story of a black trumpeter who gets drafted and has to blow the reveille, which he does in a swinging style, introducing the song.

The song itself is accompanied by various gags on blacks in the army. Even the Andrews Sisters themselves make a cameo, although they do not sing. Typical of the era, the blacks are pretty stereotyped, with huge lips, grammatically incorrect speech, and allusions to gambling. Two of them even die during the cartoon: one black after playing xylophone on some shells, while the other gets eaten by an alligator. So I can understand if some people find it hard to watch this cartoon today. Even so, the cartoon is less offensive than ‘Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat’ from six months earlier, from which the cartoon reuses some animation.

Indeed, the overall mood of the cartoon is cheerful and rather innocent, emphasizing the swinging mood. In fact, thanks to the catchy song and some flexible animation ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”‘ is one of the great jazz cartoons. It’s also one of the most enjoyable army cartoons of the era, of which it is probably the first. It’s at least one of the first American cartoon on conscription, which had come in effect in September 1940, as a reaction on the war in Europe. The cartoon thus predates cartoons like the Pluto short ‘The Army Mascot‘, ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘ featuring Donald Duck, and the Woody Woodpecker cartoon ‘Ace in the Hole’ (all from 1942).

Watch ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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: Chuck Jones
Release Date: 1956
Stars: Ralph Phillips
Rating: ★★★
Review:

90 Days of Wondering © Warner Brothers’90 Days of Wondering’ is a rather propagandistic advertising film to persuade ex-soldiers to reenlist.

Despite its rather questionable message, the film is beautifully designed and animated. Especially striking is its dazzling opening sequence in which we see a young man (an adult version of dreamer boy Ralph Phillips from ‘From A to Z-Z-Z-Z’ from 1954) being extremely happy to leave the army and rushing home. This opening sequence has a speed and gusto that recalls the Warner Brother shorts from the 1940s. It contrasts with the slow pace of the scenes following after, where the young man soon discovers he is out of tune with is hometown. Soon he is visited by two small characters explaining him why he should reenlist…

In 1957 ’90 Days of Wondering’ was followed by yet another propaganda film for the army called ‘Drafty, isn’t it?‘. It also stars the adult version of Ralph Phillips.

Watch ‘90 Days of Wondering’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Jack King
Release Date: November 6, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

Sky Trooper © Walt DisneySky Trooper’ is the third of six shorts dealing with Donald in the army.

The cartoon starts where ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘ ended: with Donald peeling potatoes. And like in the former cartoon Donald Duck wants to fly.

Sergeant Pete gives him a chance, letting him do some ridiculous test and sending him up to be a paratrooper. Unfortunately, Donald doesn’t want to jump and clings to Sergeant Pete. They both end up falling without a parachute but with a huge bomb in their hands. Surprisingly, they survive the fall, because in the end-shot we can see them both peeling potatoes.

‘Sky Trooper’ is surprisingly similar to the Woody Woodpecker cartoon ‘Ace in the Hole’ from five months earlier. However, the cartoon is an improvement on the former two Donald Duck army cartoons. The next ones would even be better…

Watch ‘Sky Trooper’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 36
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Vanishing Private
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Bellboy Donald

Director: Jack King
Release Date: September 25, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:
 ★★½
Review:

The Vanishing Private © Walt Disney‘The Vanishing Private’ is the second of the Donald in the army cartoons. Like the first, ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘ from four months earlier, it features Pete as Donald’s adversary.

In the opening shot we watch Donald singing the theme song from ‘Donald Gets Drafted’ and painting a huge canon in ridiculously bright colors. Sergeant Pete tells him to make the canon hard to see. Donald does so by using invisible paint from an experimental laboratory. He accidentally falls into the bucket of paint himself, making himself invisible and driving Sergeant Pete mad.

‘The Vanishing Private’ suffers because of two reasons:

1) the invisibility makes Donald all too powerful. It’s therefore hard to sympathize with him, and not with poor Pete. This is a problem shared by other invisibility cartoons, like the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Invisible Mouse‘ (1947).

2) The other Donald army cartoons are all about the pains and annoyances of normal army life, which is absolutely part of their fun. But the subject of ‘The Vanishing Pirate’ is so unlikely, one can hardly relate to it.

The result is not a funny cartoon, making ‘The Vanishing Private’ arguably the weakest of Donald’s army cartoons.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 35
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Goldmine
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Sky Trooper

Director: Jack King
Release Date: May 1, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Donald Gets Drafted © Walt DisneyThe attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, suddenly smacked The United States into war. The war changed the life of many American citizens, including cartoon stars.

Donald Duck was the fourth of these to support the war effort on the big screen, following Porky Pig, Barney Bear and Popeye, who had joined the army and navy, respectively, in July (‘Meet John Doughboy’) and November 1941 (‘The Rookie Bear, ‘The Mighty Navy’). Moreover, Popeye had already engaged the enemy in February in ‘Blunder Below‘. Donald was soon followed by Pluto (May 22), and Woody Woodpecker (June).

In ‘Donald Gets Drafted’, Donald enthusiastically signs up for the army, because he wants to fly, especially after seeing posters of very attractive air hostesses in uniform. His rather naive enthusiasm soon is lowered, when he first has to go through a rather rude medical examination only to end up in the infantry, where he’s bullied by sergeant Pete. Donald doesn’t make a very good soldier, much to Pete’s frustration, and ends up peeling potatoes.

‘Donald Gets Drafted’ is the first of six Donald Duck cartoons devoted to Donald’s career in the army. It introduces Pete as Donald’s sergeant, a role he would fulfill in three other of these war cartoons. The Donald Duck army cartoons are noteworthy for their ambiguous propaganda. Donald is far from a model soldier, and the cartoons makes quite some fun of the army superiors, in the form of Pete. It’s difficult to see them as army advertisements. Moreover, five of the six cartoons are devoted to Donald’s timid life at the training camp. Only in his last war cartoon, ‘Commando Duck’ (1944) would Donald leave American soil to kill some enemies.

With its humor being still quite mild, ‘Donald Gets Drafted’ is not the funniest of Donald’s army cartoons. It is noteworthy, however, for revealing that Donald Duck’s second name is Fauntleroy.

Watch ‘Donald Gets Drafted’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 32
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Snow Fight
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Garden

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: April 2, 1943
Stars: Pluto, Chip ‘n Dale
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Private Pluto © Walt Disney

Pluto has joined the army, and wearing a helmet, he has to protect “the pillbox” (a canon) against saboteurs.

These appear to be two little chipmunks who use the canon to crack acorns. Pluto tries to fight them, but the two critters defeat him in an unexpected ending.

‘Private Pluto’ is the second of two World War II-themed Pluto cartoons (the first being ‘The Army Mascot‘ from 1942). It was also to be the last Pluto cartoon directed by Clyde Geronimi, who promoted to sequence director in Disney’s feature films. Geronimi was succeeded by Charles Nichols, who seemed to be more comfortable with the character and who would direct every Pluto cartoon save one from then on.

‘Private Pluto’ is an important cartoon, because it introduces those famous chipmunks, Chip ‘n Dale. They’re not named yet, nor are they two different characters here, but their mischievous behavior and their hardly comprehensible jabbering are already present, and they’re certainly instantly likeable.

Chip ‘n Dale would eventually become Donald’s adversaries, but Pluto, too, would re-encounter them in three cartoons: ‘Squatters Rights‘ (1946), ‘Food for Feudin’‘ (1950) and ‘Pluto’s Christmas Tree‘ (1952).

‘Private Pluto’ is interesting in its own right, for it shows the line of coastal defense the United States had placed at the Pacific Coast in the years preceding the war. After the attack on Pearl Harbor it had been placed on high alert (thus Pluto’s job), but luckily there was no need ever to use it.

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

This is Pluto cartoon No. 10
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Pluto at the Zoo
To the next Pluto cartoon: Springtime for Pluto

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: May 22, 1942
Stars: Pluto
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Army Mascot © Walt Disney‘The Army Mascot’ is the first of two World War Two cartoons starring Pluto (the other one being ‘Private Pluto‘ from 1943).

Pluto never gets really involved in the war, though, he only joins the army. He was the second Disney character to do so, following Donald Duck, who had been drafted only three weeks earlier, in ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘.

However, Pluto’s reasons to join the army are doubtful, to say the least: only when he sees the enormous portions of meat an army mascot gets, he wants to be one, too. He tries to replace “Gunther Goat”, mascot of the Yoo-hoo Division, but all he gets is cans. In his second attempt he tries to chew tobacco like Gunther can, to impress the soldiers. But Gunther makes Pluto swallow the whole piece, making him sick. This sequence is the highlight of the cartoon, as Pluto’s sickness is animated in the most ridiculous way.

Gunther then tries to finish his rival off by bumping Pluto into the munition depot, but it’s Gunther himself who bumps into the depot, which explodes, blasting the wicked goat up into the air, where he’s caught by a plane and carried away into the distance. Now Pluto takes Gunther’s place, and gets his steak after all.

‘The Army Mascot’ is a rather odd cartoon, where both main characters show unpleasant behavior: Pluto envy and trickery and Gunther haughtiness and wrath. Thus, ‘The Army Mascot’, although war-themed, can hardly be called a patriotic film.

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

This is Pluto cartoon No. 6
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Pluto Junior
To the next Pluto cartoon: The Sleep Walker

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: April 25, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Barnyard Battle © Walt DisneyMickey joins a barnyard army of mice (many of which are Mickey look-a-likes) against an invading army of cats.

We see him naked while he’s treated rather badly by a very rude officer. Mickey’s body is extraordinarily mechanical in this scene: the officer is able to stretch his neck and tongue endlessly, and can even take out Mickey’s heart.

In the next scene another officer shouts “company, forward march!”, making him the first character in a Disney cartoon that actually speaks. Up to this moment characters would only utter single syllable sounds and laughs. Only Minnie could express two syllables with her yoo-hoo, but that was it.

In spite of this step forward, ‘The Barnyard Battle’ remains, in effect, a silent cartoon. The way the inspecting officer asks Mickey to stick out his tongue is a perfect example. The highlight of silent acting, however, is given to Mickey, who, when confronted with a large and mean cat, gives a performance that matches Charlie Chaplin.

Mickey’s size is rather inconsistent in this cartoon. His never as small as in ‘When the Cat’s Away‘, but in some scenes he’s clearly much smaller than usual. The battle has more allusions to the American civil war than to World War I, making it a little more comfortable. Mickey finally defeats the cats by clobbering them with a hammer to Verdi’s anvil chorus from ‘Il Trovatore’. This is probably the first animated scene in which something totally unmusical is done musically. A great cartoon idea, which would be greatly expanded in many cartoons to come.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 7
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: When the Cat’s Away
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Plow Boy

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