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Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: May 24, 1941
Stars: a.o. Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Johnny Weismuller, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Harpo Marx, Bing Crosby, Leopold Stokowski, James Stewart, Sonja Henie, Boris Karloff, the Three Stooges, Oliver Hardy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Peter Lorre, Henry Fonda, Buster Keaton, Jerry Colonna, Clark Gable, Groucho Marx
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Hollywood Steps Out © Warner Bros.Caricatures of Hollywood stars have been featured in many animated cartoons since ‘Felix goes Hollywood’ (1923).

With cartoons like ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ (1933), ‘Soda Squirt‘ (1933), ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936). ‘The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos’ (1937) and ‘Mother Goes to Hollywood’ (1938) the caricatures even became the main attraction of the cartoon. This trend reached its climax in Tex Avery’s ‘Hollywood Steps Out’, as this is a spot gag cartoon on nothing but Hollywood stars. After this short Hollywood stars kept popping up in cartoons, but not in such abundance as in this short.

In ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ we watch the stars of the silver screen going out at the Ciro’s nightclub, which had opened in 1940. The gags are actually rather lame, but it’s a sheer joy to see all these caricatures of late 1930s Hollywood stars, some still famous, others forgotten. Among the more familiar names are Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Johnny Weismuller (as Tarzan), James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Harpo Marx, Bing Crosby, Leopold Stokowski, James Stewart, Sonja Henie, Boris Karloff (as Frankenstein), the Three Stooges, Oliver Hardy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Peter Lorre, Henry Fonda, Buster Keaton and Jerry Colonna.

Also featured are Henry Binder and Leon Schlesinger, the animators’ bosses. The cartoon contains some rotoscoped dance movements, including a rather sexy bubble dance, and a running gag about Clark Gable following a girl who turns out to be Groucho Marx.

The caricatures in ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ were based on drawings by Ben Shankman, whose work was first used by Friz Freleng in ‘Malibu Beach Party’ (1940), and who clearly is a worthy successor of Joe Grant (e.g. ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’) and T. Hee (e.g. ‘Mother Goes to Hollywood’). All Shankman’s caricatures in ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ are pretty good to excellent. Moreover, most of them are well-animated, with the animation of James Stewart as a particular highlight. Like the otherwise very different ‘Old Glory‘ (1939) this short shows that by the turn of the decade the Warner Bros. animators could handle the human figure very well.

The voices, too, are very well done. In ‘The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons’ Keith Scott reveals they were all done by one Kent Rogers, who was not yet 18 when ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ was released. Rogers also voiced e.g. Willoughby, Beaky Buzzard, and ‘Henery Hawk’. Unfortunately, he died in World War II in 1944, cutting short a career that might have become as illustrious as Mae Questel’s or Mel Blanc’s. In a way ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ stands out as his greatest work.

Apart from a celebration of Hollywood stars, ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ is also a testimony of the conga craze that took over the United States in the early forties: the irresistible conga beat sounds in the opening sequence and during the dance scene. Other examples of cartoons prominently featuring conga music are ‘Mickey’s Birthday Party’ (1942), ‘Juke Box Jamboree‘ (1942) and ‘Springtime for Pluto‘ (1944).

Watch ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hollywood Steps Out’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Two’

 

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Director: Georges Schwizgebel
Release Date: 1982
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Le ravissement de Frank N. Stein © Georges Schwizgebel‘Le ravissement de Frank N. Stein’ starts with very abstract images, which resolve into Frankenstein’s laboratory as depicted in the film from 1931.

After 1’40 we become the monster itself, walking through endless chambers and corridors and staircases in an almost computer animation-like long sequence of perspective animation. The rooms, initially filled with abstract shapes, become more and more complex. They contain more and more windows and human forms, and finally moving human forms, ending with multiple copies of the monster’s bride. In the end we watch the monster itself, in his depiction by Boris Karloff. he smiles at his bride, but she only screams…

This film, which is set to very nervous electronic music, is a very impressive study of perspective: we really feel we are walking. The film has a repetitive and dreamlike quality, which is enhanced by its surreal settings, reminiscent of paintings by Giorgio de Chirico.

Watch ‘Le ravissement de Frank N. Stein’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le ravissement de Frank N. Stein’ is available on the DVD ‘Les Peintures animées de Georges Schwizgebel’

Director: Jiří Trnka
Release Date: April 15, 1949
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Emperor's Nightingale © Jiri Trnka‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’ is Jiří Trnka’s second feature film (he made no less than six in total).

It tells the familiar story by Hans Christian Andersen from an original perspective: he frames the fairy tale by a live-action story about a lonely rich boy, who lives in a restricted environment. When the boy goes to bed, he dreams the fairy-tale, which stars some of his toys. Thus, after more than seven minutes, the animation kicks in.

In the boy’s dream, the Chinese emperor is a lonely little rich boy, restricted by rules, too, and the whole film seems a plea for freedom and against rules and restrictions, quite some message in communist Czechoslovakia. This theme is enhanced by the English narration, wonderfully voiced by Boris Karloff, which is a welcome addition to Trnka’s silent comedy. The whole film breathes a kind of surrealistic atmosphere and Trnka’s use of camera angles is astonishing, as is his sometimes very avant-garde montage.

Nevertheless, the pacing of the film is slow, its humor sparse and only mildly amusing, and the puppet animation still too stiff to allow elaborate character animation. Therefore, the film hasn’t aged very well, and although a tour-de- force, ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’ falls short as a timeless masterpiece.

Watch ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Chuck Jones
Airing Date: December 18, 1966
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

How The Grinch Stole Christmas © MGM‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’ is a wonderful Christmas cartoon. The Christmas of a little town called the Whoville is threatened by a green character called the Grinch, who disapproves of Christmas, and particularly the noise involved. He decides to ‘steal’ Christmas from the little creatures, but then he discovers that Christmas is not restricted to objects.

This special, lasting 26 minutes, is one of Chuck Jones’s productions for MGM television. It’s a very faithful and beautiful reading of the classic Dr. Seuss children’s book, keeping Dr. Seuss’s rhymes and faithfully reproducing its designs, but extending those by long and beautiful silent comedy scenes and Jones’s wonderful facial expressions, to even better results.

Especially the Grinch himself is a wonderfully expressive character. In him Jones’ mastery of facial expression reaches its apex. Particularly amazing is the scene in which the Grinch thinks up his evil plan, making his face curl with wickedness.

The story is told by Boris Karloff’s grim voice, and it contains two songs: a rather annoying Christmas song sung by the Whos and an odd song describing the meanness of the Grinch. While we hear this song, we see the Grinch steal every Christmas item in Whoville.

All in all, it’s a classic. It’s arguably the best Dr. Seuss adaptation ever, and certainly one of the best Christmas cartoons ever made. It’s certainly better than the rather annoying live action remake from 2000.

Watch ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

https://myspace.com/171601491/video/how-the-grinch-stole-christmas/47941731

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