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Director: Bill Justice
Release date: July 18, 1956
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Jack and Old Mac © Walt DisneyDirector Bill Justice had co-directed two educational shorts in 1943: ‘The Grain That Built a Hemisphere‘ and ‘The Winged Scourge‘, but ‘Jack and Old Mac’ marks his solo direction debut.

Taking the cartoon modern-style to the max, ‘Jack and Old Mac’ brings jazzy versions of two familiar addition songs: ‘The House That Jack Built’ and ‘Old MacDonald Had A Farm’.

This simple and unpretentious idea leads to one of Disney’s most daring cartoons. The first song only uses characters made out of words and throughout the picture startlingly modern backgrounds are used, which constantly change and which are totally abstract, giving no sense of space whatsoever. The animation, too, is mostly very limited, although some animation is reused from the ‘All the Cats Join In’-sequence from ‘Make Mine Music’ (1946).

George Bruns’s score is strikingly modern for a Disney cartoon, using genuine bebop jazz. In comparison, Louis Prima’s dixieland jazz in ‘Jungle Book’ from eleven years later is much more old-fashioned.

In all, ‘Jack and Old Mac’ is a neglected little masterpiece, and Disney’s modest, but most daring contribution to the cartoon avant-garde.

Justice would direct four more specials: ‘A Cowboy Needs a Horse’ (1956), ‘The Truth about Mother Goose’ (1957), ‘Noah’s Ark’ (1959) and ‘A Symposium on Popular Songs’ (1962), all strikingly modern in design.

Watch ‘Jack and Old Mac’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Jack and Old Mac’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

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Director: Bill Justice & Bill Roberts
Release Date: November 5, 1943
Stars: The Seven Dwarfs
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Winged Scourge © Walt DisneyThis war time educational short tells us about public enemy no. 1. This turns out not to be Nazi Germany or Japan, but the Anopheles mosquito, which spreads malaria. The film is quite insightful in how malaria is spread and how one can prepare oneself against it.

The film features the seven dwarfs from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937) as volunteers to give an example. Their precautionary actions are staged to an instrumental version of the song ‘Whistle While You Work’, which was originally associated with Snow White and some forest animals doing the household in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937).

It’s a bit surreal to watch these happy-go-lucky fairy tale characters fighting a serious disease in a modern (South) American environment. Especially because some of the precautionary methods against malaria are quite disturbing. They include spraying oil on ponds and the use of the poisonous gas Paris Green, methods with devastating results for the environment. Clearly, environmentalism was not yet on the agenda in the 1940s (in fact, it only hit the political agenda after the publishing of Rachel Carson’s book ‘Silent Spring’ in 1962).

The seven dwarfs were used earlier in the war propaganda short ‘7 Wise Dwarfs‘ (1941), but that consisted mainly of reused material. ‘The Winged Scourge’ has entirely new animation on the seven dwarfs. It was the last film to feature these happy little men.

‘The Winged Scourge’ was made for the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. It’s the first of a few educational health shorts made especially for the Latin American countries, other examples being ‘Defense Against Invasion‘ (1943), ‘Cleanliness Brings Health’ (1945), ‘What Is Disease’ (1945), and ‘Planning for Good Eating’ (1946).

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

Director: Bill Justice & Bill Roberts
Release Date: January 4, 1943
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Grain That Built a Hemisphere © Walt Disney‘The Grain that Built a Hemisphere’ is a war time educational short about corn in quite a propagandistic fashion.

The Disney studios made it “under the auspices of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs”, which means that it belongs to the ca. ten films Disney made in the context of America’s ‘good-neighbor policy’ .

‘The Grain that Built a Hemisphere’ is the most propagandistic of the lot. Its tone is set right away when the narrator pompously boosts that “corn is the symbol of a spirit that links the Americas in a common bond of union and solidarity”.

Luckily, the main part of the film is quite insightful, explaining about the origin of corn, and what products it can produce. We learn how inbreeding is used to produce bigger plants and how it can be used as food for livestock (this section reuses footage from ‘Farmyard Symphony‘ from 1938) and as a source for oils, starch, glucose and sugar. And maybe, in the near future, for plastics for all kinds of war machines? Thus ends this educational film as a typical war propaganda short, after all…

Watch ‘The Grain that Built a Hemisphere’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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