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Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 May 27, 1933
Rating:★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Three Little Pigs © Walt Disney‘Three Little Pigs’ is one of the most successful, most famous and most perfect cartoons ever made. It was hugely popular when it was released, with people associating its catchy theme song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ with an optimism with which one could fight the haunting effects of the Great Depression.

Norm Ferguson and Fred Moore were the principle animators on the film. Norm Ferguson animated the wolf in his typical broad vaudeville acting style, which comes to full bloom in this film. The wolf is a great character, with his glances at the public. He’s a real villain, but somehow too sympathetic as an actor to be really threatening. Unfortunately, his design is not very consistent. Especially his eyes are unsteady and a bit wobbly. One can clearly watch the wolf’s design improving during the film, as if it was animated chronologically. And this may very well possible.

However, it’s Fred Moore’s animation that made the deepest impression on the animation field. Because of his animation on the three pigs, ‘Three Little Pigs’ is regarded as the first animated cartoon to feature so-called character animation. The three pigs form the key to character animation: although the three are drawn the same, the sensible pig behaves differently from the other two: he’s clearly a different character, not by design, but by animation. This was a great step forward in the evolution in animation, and admired by the whole animation industry.

Apart from that the pigs’ designs, by the highly influential concept artist Albert Hurter, are highly appealing. Hurter had joined Disney in June 1931, first as an animator, but soon he switched to concept art, and he had a tremendous influence on the looks of Disney’s films in the 1930s. It must have been around this time that Disney started to think of an animated feature – a daring project which would dominate the studio during 1934-1937. For this ambitious project Moore would design no less than seven similar, yet different characters, while Hurter would indulge in elaborate sets, full of little details.

The film was a success not only within the animation industry, but with the American public, as well. The audiences took the film and its catchy song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ (sung by Mary Moder, Dorothy Compton and Pinto Colvig) as a sign of comfort and hope in the dark days of the Great Depression era. And even after more than eighty years, Frank Churchill’s song is still extremely catchy, even though it’s never heard in its entirety during the short. After a while the cartoon became no less than a sensation, lasting weeks in some theaters, and spawning a great deal of merchandise, like alarm clocks and jigsaw puzzles. In 1934 it won the Academy Award for best animated short film. In 1941 it was still famous enough to be changed into Disney’s first war propaganda film: ‘The Thrifty Pig‘.

The film undoubtedly was Walt Disney’s most famous and most successful short, and the first Silly Symphony to spawn sequels – due to the pressure by distributor United Artists. These sequels (‘The Big Bad Wolf‘ from 1934, ‘Three Little Wolves‘ from 1936, and ‘The Practical Pig‘ from 1939) were, of course, much less successful than the original, and are all but forgotten today. As Disney himself said “You can’t top pigs with pigs’.

The film also raised director Burt Gillett’s fame, and soon he was lured away by the ailing Van Beuren studios to repeat this immense success. However, at Van Beuren it soon became clear that ‘Three Little Pigs’ was not a success because of Burt Gillett’s genius, but because of the ambitious group effort of the Disney studio, and Gillett never managed to come near his most successful films at Disney again.

For ‘Three Little Pigs’ was a true collective effort, with Hurter, Churchill, Ferguson and Moore showing their best work thus far, but also through contributions by e.g. Art Babbitt, Dick Lundy and Jack King, who also animated some sequences, voice artist Pinto Colvig, the voice of the practical pig, and story man Ted Sears, who both contributed to the cartoon’s theme song, and Carl Stalling, who provided the practical pig’s piano-playing.

The film has easily stood the test of time: not only are the characters still appealing, its backgrounds are gorgeous, its music catchy, and its storytelling extraordinarily economical and effective, probably because may have been the first animated cartoon with a complete storyboard. The short’s joy is still infectious today. And although one will always remember the short’s cheerfulness, it contains some black humor, too: look for the portraits of dad and Uncle Tom in the wise pig’s house.

By the way, present-day viewers see an altered version of the film. The original featured a sequence in which the wolf dressed as a stereotyped Jewish door-to-door salesman. For its video release in the early 1980s this sequence was completely redrawn, to remove all Jewish references.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 36
To the previous Silly Symphony: Father Noah’s Ark
To the next Silly Symphony: Old King Cole

Director: unknown
Release Date:
 November 26, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Nurse Maid © Ub Iwerks‘Nurse Maid’ is a typical cartoon from the Great Depression era, depicting small jobs and poverty.

The short starts very well with Flip as a newspaper boy facing a lot of bad luck destroying his trade. Broke, he sits down on the street to worry. Luckily a woman offers him a dollar if he minds her big-nosed baby. The rest of the cartoon is devoted to Flip’s troubles with the baby, which start immediately when the baby swallows the coin. Thus Flip conjures an unhealthy plan to retrieve it from the baby’s mouth with a fishing rod (!). While Flip sets out to get one, the baby swallows a potion which makes the little fellow strong…

Like ‘The Goal Rush‘, ‘Nurse Maid’ is as gag rich as it is unfunny. Luckily, Carl Stalling’s music is very inspired, following the action so closely that most of the tunes are reduced to snippets (for example, when during a chase a Scotchman is encountered, Stalling inserts a few bars of a Scottish tune before resuming the chase music). In fact, the cartoon is recommended for Stalling’s music only, which is a marvel to listen to.

Watch ‘Nurse Maid’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 30
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: The Music Lesson
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Funny Face

‘Nurse Maid’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 August 29, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Movie Mad © Ub Iwerks‘Movie Mad’ starts with Flip the Frog reading a book titled ‘How to be a Movie Actor’ and imitating Charlie Chaplin.

With his newfound talent he tries to enter a film studio, but he’s thrown out again and again by the guard. Flip even reuses an Oswald trick from ‘Bright Lights‘ (1928), trying to sneak in under a man’s shadow. When he finally’s inside, the cartoon actually fails to deliver its premise. Flip gets caught in a Western, in some 1001 Arabian Nights setting, and in a Russian drama, but that’s pretty much it. The Russian drama scene is undoubtedly inspired by the 1915 Charlie Chaplin comedy ‘His New Job’.

Although the cartoon fails to make full use of its Hollywood setting, it contains a great corridor scene. This scene expands on the one in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Gorilla Mystery‘ (1930), adding more zaniness to it. It is a direct ancestor to the marvelous corridor scene in Tex Avery’s ‘Lonesome Lenny’ (1946). Besides this there are some great caricatures of Laurel and Hardy, depicted as dogs. These may very well be the first animated caricatures of Laurel and Hardy ever put on screen. They would return in the very last Flip the Frog cartoon, ‘Soda Squirt’ (1933), along with several other Hollywood caricatures.

‘Movie Mad’ may turn out to be rather disappointing, it does feature great music by Carl Stalling, and it lays out the story plan for both the Donald Duck cartoon ‘The Autograph Hound’ (1939) and the Looney Tune ‘You Ought To Be in Pictures‘ (1940).

Watch ‘Movie Mad’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 12
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: The New Car
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: The Village Specialist

‘Movie Mad’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 January 31, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating:
Review:

The Village Smitty © Ub IwerksIn this cartoon Flip the Frog is a blacksmith in a farm-like setting.

Flip replaces a horseshoe of a horse that belongs to a female cat character. This kitten looks exactly like Honey, who was Oswalds’s girlfriend in the 1927-1928 Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons, which Disney and Iwerks had made together. When the horse gets stung by a mosquito he runs off with “Honey” helpless in her carriage. Luckily, Flip saves the day, and wins “Honey”’s kiss.

‘The Village Smitty’ is much more interesting on paper than on the animated screen. Its even pace and its scarcity of gags makes the cartoon virtually endless.

Nevertheless, ‘The Village Smitty’ profits from Carl Stalling’s inspired music. Stalling had left Disney together with Iwerks, thinking that without Iwerks the Disney studio would have no future. After a while he joined Iwerks in his new studio. Stalling would stay with Iwerks until the studio collapsed in 1936. He then moved to Warner Bros., where he would become the most famous cartoon composer of all time.

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

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 8
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: The Soup Song
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Laughing Gas

‘The Village Smitty’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: August 22, 1936
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Porky's Poultry Plant © Warner BrothersBoth director Frank Tashlin and composer Carl Stalling make their Warner Bros. debut in this film in which Porky (with his old ugly voice) has a fowl farm, threatened by a bunch of evil buzzards.

‘Porky’s Poultry Plant’ looks primitive when compared to Disney films of the same time, looking more like a Disney film from 1932-1933. Its story is sweet, and not very funny, but Carl Stalling’s music is fresh, and Tashlin’s staging is already very impressive. Especially the air battle sequence (in which Porky, in a small army plane, fights an air fleet of hawks ) is remarkably stunning, showing unparalleled fast montage and original ‘camera’ shots. Both these techniques would become Tashlin trademarks, and would contribute to a faster, more gag-orientated style at Warner Bros. Tashlin had replaced Jack King, who had returned to Disney, and with his first Warner Bros. cartoon he immediately proves to be a more inventive director than his predecessor.

Watch ‘Porky’s Poultry Plant’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.supercartoons.net/cartoon/822/porky-pig-porkys-poultry-plant.html

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 12
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky the Rainmaker
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Milk and Money

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: September 7, 1929
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'El Terrible Toreador'featuring the bull and the toreador‘El Terrible Toreador’ is the second entry of the Silly Symphonies. It has been far lesser known than the first, ‘The Skeleton Dance‘, which is no surprise, because it contains none of the ingredients which made ‘The Skeleton Dance’ a classic: there’s no interesting mood, no spectacular animation, and there are hardly any funny gags.

Unlike the other early Silly Symphonies, ‘El Terrible Toreador’ is more silly than symphony-like. That is: it’s more of a ‘story’ consisting of silly gags than the song-and-dance-routine typical of the Silly Symphonies up to 1931.

The cartoon consists of two parts: in the first part we watch a Spanish canteen, where a large officer and a toreador are  fighting for the love of a waitress. In the second part, the toreador is fighting and dancing with a bull in the arena. Surprisingly, the story of the first part is hardly developed here: the cartoon ends when the toreador has pulled the bull inside out, thus ending the fight.

‘El Terrible Toreador’ is notable for being Disney’s first attempt at the human form since the early 1920s. However, the humans are a far cry from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ from (only) eight years later. In this early cartoon the human characters are extraordinarily flexible and they do not move lifelike at all (I noticed I thought of them as bugs some of the time).

The most interesting feature of this short is Carl Stalling’s score. His music already bears his signature and contains many citations from ‘Carmen’ by Georges Bizet.

Watch ‘El Terrible Toreador’  yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 2
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Skeleton Dance
To the next Silly Symphony: Springtime

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: May 10, 1929
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Skeleton Dance © Walt Disney‘Skeleton Dance’ is the first of the Silly Symphonies and easily one of the best. It deservedly even ranks among the best cartoons of all time.

It starts spectacularly to begin with: we first watch lightning crack, immediately followed by an extreme close up of huge eyes, which only after the camera zooms out appear to belong to an owl.

The complete film is simple, yet perfect in its timing and its peculiar mix of eerie atmosphere and silly gags. The animation (which includes a remarkable quantity of repetition) is extraordinary fluent and the skeletons are convincing throughout the picture.

More than in any earlier cartoon the animation and music are a perfect match. This cartoon single-handedly puts Walt Disney, animator Ub Iwerks and composer Carl Stalling to the eternal hall of fame. A masterpiece.

‘The Skeleton Dance’ clearly shows Disney’s ambition. From now on Disney would use the Silly Symphony series to propel the art of animation forward, until the series ended 1939, after becoming a little obsolete, because their role had been taken over by the animated features.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 1
To the next Silly Symphony: El Terrible Toreador

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