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Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: December 26, 1941
Stars: Goofy
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Art of Self Defense © Walt DisneyThe first five Goofy shorts all progressed the Goofy character, and none was like the previous one.

Goofy and Wilbur’ had made Goofy a solo star, ‘Goofy’s Glider’ introduced the pompous narrator John McLeish, ‘Baggage Buster’ rendered Goofy voiceless, and ‘How to Ride a Horse’ and ‘The Art of Skiing‘ put this all together into the archetypical sports cartoon.

Now, in ‘The Art of Self Defense’ another step was made: the duplication of Goofs. In the main body of the cartoon we still watch only one Goofy, but this is preceded by a historical overview of fighting, featuring several different goofs, even in caveman and hieroglyph form. Now Goofy could be anybody, and indeed, already in his next cartoon, ‘How to Play Baseball’ (1942) numerous Goofs flock the screen.

‘The Art of Self Defense’ is about boxing, and features Goofy being clobbered by his own shadow, and training endlessly, only to be knocked out in the ring within seconds. The very silly historical opening is the highlight of the cartoon, however, featuring great sound effects, and various depictions of time marching on. Also interesting is the boxing scene from the turn of the century, which figures very graphical quasi-etched background art.

Watch ‘The Art of Self Defense’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Goofy cartoon No. 5
To the previous Goofy cartoon: The Art of Skiing
To the next Goofy cartoon: How to Play Baseball

‘The Art of Self Defense’ is available on the DVD set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy’

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Director: unknown
Release Date:
 June 18, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Bully © Ub Iwerks‘The Bully’ is a Flip the Frog featuring Flip’s little human child friend from ‘The Milkman‘ and ‘What a Life‘. However, unlike those two cartoons it’s not sentimental, but a gag-packed cartoon.

When a bully destroys the child’s balloon with his cigar, Flip and him start a fight. A passer-by suggests they continue their fight in the ring, which leads to a long boxing match scene that belongs to the most entertaining of the era, outplaying the similar ‘The Robot‘ (Fleischer, 1932) and ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ (1933), not in the least because Flip has to face the bully himself instead of letting a robot doing the work for him. The boxing scene is even more interesting than the one in the Laurel & Hardy short ‘Any Old Port’ from three months earlier, which is a more valid comparison.

The highlight of the fight is the knockout in which the bully hits Flip into orbit around the earth only to get floored by Flip falling on his head. The boxing match features some interesting and very vivid backgrounds of constantly moving spectators. It also features strong stereotypes of Afro-Americans and a homosexual.

At this point in Iwerks’s career his studio could produce cartoons with strong stories consisting of a continuous string of gags. In 1932 only Disney could tell more consistent stories. Unfortunately, the studio’s cartoons were hampered by silent era visual language, erratic animation, inconsistent designs and sloppy timing. In other words, Iwerks’s style was as modern as it was old-fashioned.

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

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 22
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: School Days
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: The Office Boy

‘The Bully’ is available on the DVD Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2

 

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 5, 1932
Stars: Bimbo, Betty Boop
Rating: ★
Review:

The Robot © Max FleischerEven though ‘The Robot’ was released half a year after ‘The Herring Murder Case’ (1931) it features Bimbo in his design before his make-over in that film.

In this film Bimbo is courting a female character, who only wants to marry him, when he can lick ‘One Round Mike’ in a boxing match. Bimbo accepts, but when it’s his turn he builds a robot out of his car to win the game.

Betty Boop has a small cameo in this cartoon when she rushes outside to revive Bimbo’s car-robot (or is she Bimbo’s girlfriend but in a different design? The Fleischers were inconsistent enough to be unclear on this). Apart from this short scene, there’s little to enjoy in ‘The Robot’. The most interesting part maybe Bimbo’s way of courting his sweetheart, which he does by ‘television’, a sort of Skype avant la lettre.

Strangely enough, the idea of a boxing robot was reused in ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ from 1933, with equally weak results. There was something going on in 1932 with boxing robots anyway, for also Popeye socks a robot in the ring in the Popeye Sunday comic strip of April, 24 and May 1, 1932. In any case, to most people in the Great Depression robots were the ultimate terror, as unemployment already was a major problem. Luckily, no robot would be used in any factory until the 1960s. And boxing robots still haven’t seen the light of day, yet.

Spread from the April 1934 issue of Modern Mechanix and Inventions

Spread from the April 1934 issue of Modern Mechanix and Inventions

More on the robot craze of the early 1930s can be found here and here.

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

This is Talkartoon No. 32
To the previous Talkartoon: Boop-Oop-a-Doop
To the next Talkartoon: Minnie the Moocher

‘The Robot’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: January 9, 1943
Stars: Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

To Duck or not to Duck © Warner Bros.In ‘To Duck or not to Duck’ Elmer Fudd shoots Daffy out of the sky. The duck then challenges the ‘sportsman’ for a boxing match, something which takes place immediately for a crowd of ducks. Needless to say, the match is far from fair.

‘To Duck or not to Duck’ is the first Warner Bros. cartoon to star both Daffy and Elmer. The poor hunter is good fowl for the foul-playing duck and his brethren. When Elmer gets his revenge in the end, we’re almost surprised.

The cartoon knows some good gags, but Jones’s timing is still sloppy, and not every gag hits the screen well. Highlight may be Daffy’s ridiculously haughty humphing at Elmer Fudd’s apology for shooting him.

Note the surprisingly empty backgrounds in this cartoon.

Watch ‘To Duck or not to Duck’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Daffy Duck cartoon No. 17
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: My Favorite Duck
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: The Wise Quacking Duck

‘My Favorite Duck’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Bobe Cannon
Release Date: November 29, 1951
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Wonder Gloves © UPA‘The Wonder Gloves’ is one of the more extreme films by the UPA studio: the characters have an extraordinarily thick outline, and Paul Julian’s backgrounds are minimal and very graphic, indeed, using photographic material to indicate textures.

Moreover, the animation is limited, sometimes no more than several poses without movement inbetween. Lou Maury’s music, too, is strikingly modern, more reminiscent of contemporary French music than of classic cartoon music.

In the cartoon Uncle George tells his nephew how he found yellow wonder boxing gloves with which he became a star boxer. The framing story uses dialogue, but Uncle George’s story is told in pantomime.

Unfortunately, the story is less interesting than the designs of the cartoon. At points the limited animation hampers a fluent telling instead of enhancing it.

Watch ‘The Wonder Gloves’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: April 10, 1948
Stars: Bugs Bunny, The Crusher
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Rabbit Punch © Warner BrothersWhen Bugs jeers at the champion of a boxing game, he’s suddenly ‘invited’ to be in it.

The boxing game soon changes into a wrestling match with blackout gags, in which we only see round 37, 49, 73, 98 and 110. These blackout gags foreshadow the complete Road Runner series. In the last one the champ uses a train in order to ride over Bugs, but then the film abruptly breaks, a revival of a gag Jones used in ‘My Favorite Duck‘ (1942).

‘Rabbit Punch’ is one of the earliest cartoons in what we can call Chuck Jones’ mature style, which consolidated in 1949. Like in his earlier Bugs Bunny cartoons ‘Case of the Missing Hare‘ (1942) and ‘Hare Conditioned‘ (1945), Jones uses his sense of grace and deftness to portray a particularly large, human opponent to Bugs. And like in those cartoons he does that with stunning ‘camera angles’ and a cinematic approach. Bugs is pretty suave in this cartoon, acting out complete terror in the final scene, only to appear in full control, after all.

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

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 48
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: A Feather in his Hare
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Buccaneer Bunny

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: June 17, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating:
Review:

Still from 'Mickey's Mechanical Man' featuring a gorilla boxing a robotMickey has build a robot to fight a gorilla in a boxing match, which is called “the battle of the century: machine vs. beast”.

Mickey’s robot has one disadvantage: he runs wild when he hears Minnie’s car horn. Luckily, this fact helps him in the end: when he’s clobbered by the gorilla (on the tune of Franz Liszt’s second Hungarian rhapsody), he seems almost lost. But then Minnie fetches her car horn, revitalizing the robot. From that point he actually cheats, using multiple boxing gloves, a hammer and hits below the belt.

Despite its clear story and high quality animation, ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man’ is a very weak short, and a low point in the otherwise outstanding Mickey Mouse year of 1933. The cartoon is surprisingly low on gags and it’s difficult to sympathize with the robot character, as it’s mechanical after all, while the gorilla is a living being. Moreover, Mickey’s motives remain unclear and we’re not invited to care about the match.

The cartoon most interesting feat. are the robot’s jerky movements, which are clearly mechanical and based on wind-up toys, but which become rather frantic and ridiculously elaborate when the robot goes wild. Nevertheless, there are some traces of Stan Laurel’s boxing moves from ‘Any Old Port’ (1932).

‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man’ is reminiscent of the Fleischer Studio’s equally weak ‘The Robot‘ (1932). Both films were inspired by rather hysterical stories about robots taking over jobs, which circulated in the early 1930s, and which struck a chord in an era of vast unemployment.

Watch ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 57
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Mail Pilot
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Gala Premier

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 22, 1936
Stars: Max Hare, Toby Tortoise, The Three Little Pigs
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Toby Tortoise Returns © Walt DisneyOne of the few sequels in Disney’s pre-video era, ‘Toby Tortoise Returns’ features the two stars of ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ from 1935.

In this cartoon, written by Ward Kimball and featuring his typically zany style of humor, Max Hare (who’s still a bragging bully) and Toby Tortoise combat each other in a boxing match, which – of course – Toby eventually wins, albeit by means of Max’s own trickery.

Apart from Toby Tortoise and Max Hare there are many cameos of other Silly Symphony stars, among them the three little pigs, Dirty Bill (from ‘The Robber Kitten’), Jenny Wren and the Cuckoo from ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ and, Elmer Elephant and Tilly Tiger (from ‘Elmer Elephant’), as if all Silly Symphonies were taking place in the same space and time.

This makes ‘Toby Tortoise Returns’ akin to the earlier ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ from the same year. The whole atmosphere is rather like that of a future Warner Brothers-cartoon, and one can sense the sheer joy the makers had in bringing all these characters together in a cartoon which sole reason of existence seems to be pure fun.

Notice the black bunny and the black turtle that are Max’s and Toby’s helpers, respectively.

Watch ‘Toby Tortoise Returns’ yourself and tell me what you think:


This is Silly Symphony No. 61
To the previous Silly Symphony: Three Little Wolves
To the next Silly Symphony: Three Blind Mouseketeers

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