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Directors: Cal Howard & Cal Dalton
Release Date: June 11, 1938
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Katnip Kollege © Warner Bros.At Katnip Kollege, all cool hep cats attend the swingology class. They all sure can swing, except bespectacled Johnny, who has no rhythm at all.

Johnny has to stay in the dunce’s corner, and at night he’s still there, while all other cats are having fun outside. But wait! Suddenly the clock gives Johnny the ‘rhythm bug’ and he rushes to the others to sing that swinging is ‘as easy as rollin’ off a log’ to his surprised girlfriend Claudia Kitty Brite. He also breaks into a hot trumpet solo, Roy Eldridge-style, which earns him kisses from his sweetheart.

‘Katnip Kollege’ is the second of only three films directed by the duo consisting of story man Cal Howard and animator Cal Dalton. The two Cals replaced Friz Freleng when he was lured away by MGM. After these three cartoons their unit was merged with that of Ben Hardaway, until Freleng returned from an all too short stint at the competing studio in 1940. In their films Howard, Hardaway and Dalton displayed not too much talent as directors, and although they produced some fun shorts, their cartoons are inferior to contemporary cartoons by Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, and Frank Tashlin.

‘Katnip Kollege’ is a clear example of their unsure style: the cartoon is low on gags, and the animation is erratic, with a lot of superfluous movement. At times it’s unclear whether the characters’ actions are supposed to be funny. Moreover, the school backgrounds feature incongruous over-sized tins, cans and clothes pins, as if the cat characters are supposed to be as tiny as bugs.

On the other hand, the swing music is genuinely intoxicating, the cartoon simply bursts with color, and the atmosphere is one of sheer joy, resulting in a really enjoyable cartoon. The cartoon easily beats ‘The Swing School‘ by the Fleischer studio, which was released only two weeks earlier, but which covers remarkably similar grounds.

Watch ‘Katnip Kollege’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Katnip Kollege’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 29, 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Hold It © Max FleischerIn ‘Hold It’ a bunch of cats sing a song with many stops in it, a rather lame variation on the 1937 hit song ‘Posin”.

At the stops everybody freezes, including the singing cat himself, who’s able to hang still in mid-air. Later, the cats’ song manages to stop apples from falling and water from flowing.

These rather original and silly gags save the cartoon, which otherwise is anything but interesting, The cats’ song is too trite to become a real classic, and apart from the threat of a dog, nothing really happens in the cartoon. And yet, ‘Hold It’ marks a welcome diversion from the childish morality tales that most Color Classics are. As is often the case with the Color Classics, the opening scene is the most memorable, with its beautiful 3D shots of a village going to sleep. This scene takes a full minute off the cartoon, while the song only enters after the third minute.

Watch ‘Hold It’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hold It’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 May 12, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Pluto, Goofy
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Revue © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Revue’ is famous for introducing Goofy, whose guffaw we had heard off-stage in the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon, ‘Barnyard Olympics‘.

In this cartoon he’s an elderly person, bearded and wearing glasses. We don’t hear him speak, only his guffaw can be heard, and together with Pluto he forms the running gag of the cartoon. Although Goofy literally has the last laugh, nothing points to the direction of a star career beyond the laugh itself, and indeed, in ‘Trader Mickey‘ his guffaw was used by a cannibal king, indicating it was not an exclusive trait, yet.

Nevertheless, Goofy would return in ‘The Whoopee Party‘, redesigned, christened Dippy Dawg, and here to stay. In fact, Goofy arguably is the first cartoon character, whose voice predates the screen persona, which is completely built around the stupid laugh, and ditto voice.

Apart from Goofy’s debut, there’s enough to enjoy in ‘Mickey’s Revue’, even though it revisits two themes explored earlier in the Mickey Mouse cartoons: that of Mickey and the gang giving a performance and that of animals causing havoc. Here, the source of havoc are the small kittens from ‘The Barnyard Broadcast‘ and ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (both 1931). It was their last screen performance, for they would soon be replaced by little mice, first introduced in ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932).

‘Mickey’s Revue’ follows the same lines as ‘The Barnyard Broadcast’, but is much better executed, cleverly intertwining the subplots of Goofy’s annoying laugh, Pluto trying to enter the stage, and the kittens interfering with Mickey’s performance. One of the gags involve a kitten caught in the hammers of Minnie’s piano, a gag looking forward to a similar one in the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Cat Concerto‘ (1947). Despite it’s great comedy, ‘Mickey’s Revue’ was the last cartoon exploiting the ruin finale, as used in 1931/1932 cartoons like ‘Mickey Cuts Up‘ and ‘The Grocery Boy‘.

‘Mickey’s Revue’ is a typical ensemble cartoon, also starring Minnie, Horace Horsecollar and no less than three Clarabelle Cows. By now Horace Horsecollar had caught up with his comic personality, and had grown in personality beyond that of a stereotyped horse. Unfortunately, Horace was not developed further on the movie screen – it was left to Floyd Gottfredson  to explore Horace’s character further in his comic strip.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 41
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Barnyard Olympics
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Musical Farmer

‘Mickey’s Revue’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: July 31, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Karnival Kid © Walt Disney‘The Karnival Kid’ forms an important step in the use of sound in an animated cartoon.

We had already watched and heard Minnie singing “lalala” in ‘The Plow Boy’, and in ‘The Barnyard Battle’ a sergeant spoke a few words. But in ‘The Karnival Kid’ there’s suddenly a lot of singing: Pete sings, Mickey sings, and the complete second half of the cartoon is devoted to song.

‘The Karnival Kid’ shows that lip synchronization was far more difficult to master than synchronized sound itself. The animation of the mouth to form syllables was a totally new feat, and initially it was done all too literally. This leads to awkward facial expressions at times, with especially Mickey’s face distorting into a multitude of mouth gestures. This would be even worse in Mickey’s next cartoon, ‘Mickey’s Follies’.

At the same time, a lot of the characters’ action remains typical silent pantomime. For example, when Mickey offers Minnie a hot dog for free, this is acted out in complete silence.

‘The Karnival Kid’ is a wonderfully witty film. Mickey works as a hot dog seller at the fair, where Minnie is a shimmy dancer. The film is split in two parts: in the first Mickey sells living(!) hot dogs and gives one to Minnie. When the unlucky weenie is not very cooperative, Mickey spanks him! These hot dog gags are reused from the Oswald short ‘All Wet‘ (1927), but they still feel fresh, due to the added sound. Now we can hear the hot dogs barking and yelping. And so, after ‘The Karnival Kid’ these hot dog gags were reused a second time by Ub Iwerks in the Flip the Frog cartoon ‘Circus’ (1932).

The second part is introduced by a title card ‘later that night’, which melts before the scene starts. Here Mickey offers Minnie a serenade with the help of two cats who sing ‘Sweet Adeline’. The cartoon ends when Mickey is hit by a bed(!) which Pete has thrown at him.

As you may have noticed, ‘The Karnival Kid’ has very little story. It’s enjoyable because of the carnival atmosphere, the large number of gags, and the intoxicating singing.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 9
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Barnyard Battle

To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Follies

Director: Friz Freleng
Release date: November 26, 1955
Stars: Sylvester, Elmer Fudd, Tweety (cameo)
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Heir-Conditioned © Warner Brothers‘Heir-Conditioned’ was the second of three propaganda cartoons funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (the other two being ‘By Word of Mouse‘ from the previous year, and ‘Yankee Dood It‘ from the next year).

In this cartoon Sylvester has inherited a fortune, and all the alley cats try to persuade him to spend it. But Elmer, who’s Sylvester’s financial adviser, persuades Sylvester, and all the listening cats, to invest the money, in a lecture celebrating the capitalistic system, now focusing on the importance of investment. Sylvester remains pretty much the straight man in this cartoon, with most of the comic relief coming from the alley cats.

Watch ‘Heir-Conditioned’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: David Hand
Release Date: December 19, 1936
Rating: ★★★
Review:

More Kittens © Walt DisneyThe success of Oscar-winning ‘Three Orphan Kittens‘ (1935) undoubtedly prompted this sequel, which is both less beautiful, less entertaining and less remarkable than the original short.

The film is aptly titled ‘More Kittens’, which shows its crowd-pleasing character. This time the kittens create havoc in the garden, while dealing with a fly, a tortoise and a teasing blue bird.

The cartoon is remarkable for introducing the good-natured St. Bernard Bolivar, who would become Donald Duck’s dog in the comic strip two years later. He’s not named here, but the likeness is so stunning, not only in design but also in character, that there’s no doubt it’s him. True, there was also a St. Bernard in ‘Alpine Climbers’ (1936), but this dog lacks Bolivar’s character, being more of a cliche St. Bernard instead.

Watch ‘More Kittens’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 65
To the previous Silly Symphony: Mother Pluto
To the next Silly Symphony: Woodland Café

Director: David Hand
Release Date: October 26, 1935
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Three Orphan Kittens © Walt DisneyOn a winter night three kittens are thrown in a sack into a garden.

Luckily they can escape the cold by entering the house, which they explore. This sweet cartoon contains elaborate gags with a.o. pepper, a bottle of milk, and a pianola.

‘Three Orphan Kittens’ was penned by Joe Grant and Bill Cottrell, and benefited from Fred Moore’s appealing animation. Indeed, it won an Academy Award. Its success made it one of those rare Silly Symphonies to evoke a sequel (‘More Kittens‘ from 1936). Moreover, it clearly inspired other animation film makers: the milk bottle gag was more or less copied by Fleischer in ‘We did it‘ (1936) which also stars three kittens. And, some of the pianola gags may have inspired Hanna and Barbera in their ‘The Cat Concerto‘ (1947).

At least Hanna and Barbera copied the black maid (of whom we only see her arms and legs) for their own Mammy Two-Shoes in the Tom & Jerry series. The black maid would also return in a few Disney shorts: ‘More Kittens‘ (1936), ‘The Pantry Pirate‘ (1940, starring Pluto), and ‘Figaro and Cleo‘ (1943).

Watch ‘Three Orphan Kittens’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 56
To the previous Silly Symphony: Music Land
To the next Silly Symphony: Cock o’ the Walk

Director: ?
Release Date: 1987
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

My Baby Just Cares For Me © Aardman‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ was Aardman Studio’s second video clip, after ‘Sledgehammer’ for Peter Gabriel (1986).

‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’  is not quite as elaborate, however. It’s a sweet little video in mostly black and white. It’s set to Nina Simone’s 1958 recording of the song, which was reissued in 1987 after being used in a successful commercial for Chanel No.5.

The clip features cat characters, including a black female cat singer, and a white cat who’s in love with her. It also features some live action footage showing details of a piano, brushes on a snare drum, and a double bass.

The smoky nightclub atmosphere is captured very well, and the animation, joyful if a little crude, matches the song perfectly. The result is one of the most enjoyable little stop motion films of the 1980s.

Watch ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 6, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Still from 'Morning Noon and Night' featuring Betty Boop unwillingly dancing with some catsRubinoff and his orchestra play the score for this cartoon about a bunch of cats (‘the tom kat social club’) who threaten Betty Boop’s yard full of birds. This orchestra, led by the Russian violinist David Rubinoff, played sweet pseudo-classical music, and this sets the tone for the short.

Based on Franz von Suppé’s overture ‘Ein Morgen, ein Mittag und ein Abend in Wien’ (1844), ‘Morning Noon and Night’ is a very sweet cartoon. It opens with some typical Fleischer gags, like a sun with a hangover, but the overall mood is rather corny and lacking humor. The short is very Silly Symphony-like, and particularly reminiscent of Walt Disney’s ‘Birds in Spring‘ from earlier that year. Both feature a fledgling running away, and encountering a threat.

The cartoon’s finale is a battle scene in which all birds come to the rescue, most notably a boxing rooster. Battle scenes like this could be seen in e.g. the 1932 Silly Symphonies ‘Bugs in Love‘, ‘King Neptune‘, and ‘Babes in the Woods‘. Although ‘Morning, Noon and Night’ doesn’t come near any of these Disney cartoons in quality, it shows that the Disney style was invading the Fleischer studio, and that the brothers were getting more ambitious. This ambition would lead to the launch of the Color Classics in 1934.

Betty is more cute than sexy in this cartoon. The difference in mood between this cartoon and that of ‘I Heard‘ is enormous, although that cartoon was released only one month earlier. The reinforced Hays code would only be installed in the summer of 1934, but ‘Morning, Noon and Night’ shows that already by 1933 its morals had become more and more present in the American film industry’s output.

Watch ‘Morning Noon and Night’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 21
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: I Heard
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party

‘Morning Noon and Night’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: David Hand
Release Date: August 31, 1935
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Pluto's Judgement Day © Walt DisneyAlthough this cartoon is part of the Mickey Mouse series, Pluto is its star.

After he has chased a little kitten, he dreams that his Judgement Day has come and that he’s put on trial by a number of cheating cats.

Like most of Disney’s dream-cartoons this one contains wonderful backgrounds, characters and ideas, thanks to story men Joe Grant and Bill Cottrell. The dream sequence is executed in a Silly Symphony-like fashion with lots of rhyme and song and very beautiful animation. The prosecutor, animated by Bill Roberts, is particularly well done: he’s an impressive figure, whose stature anticipates Stromboli from ‘Pinocchio’ (1940).

Pluto now is a fully developed character who easily carries the complete cartoon on his own. Mickey’s part, on the other hand, is reduced to that of a cameo, something that would occur more and more in the years to come.

Watch ‘Pluto’s Judgement Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:


This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 78
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Fire Brigade
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: On Ice

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