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Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 16, 1938
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating: ★★

Poultry Pirates © MGMIn 1937 MGM decided to start its very own studio, after having distributed cartoons by Ub Iwerks (1930-1934) and Harman-Ising. They put Fred Quimby, a producer famous for having neither animation experience nor any sense of humor, in charge.

Quimby hired virtually Harman & Ising’s complete staff away. He also hired some talent from other studios, most notably Jack Zander and Joe Barbera, who would later work on Tom & Jerry, and Friz Freleng. Quimby lured Freleng away from Leon Schlesinger by flattery and by offering him a much larger salary. Freleng stayed less than a year at MGM before happily returning to Warner Bros.

Freleng’s talents were wasted on ‘The Captain and the Kids’, a series based on the classic comic strip of the same name by Rudolph Dirks. MGM had bought the rights to this comic strip, and insisted to make a series out of them. The strip had been around since 1897 (first as ‘The Katzenjammer Kids’), and really felt as coming from another era. Amidst the days of Donald Duck, Daffy Duck and Popeye, these characters were hopelessly old-fashioned, and Freleng struggled to create any fun with them. Consequently, none of the Captain and the Kids cartoons have become classics.

Nevertheless, Freleng’s films were still better than that of other people directing the ill-conceived series, which was, in the end, a failure. In total, Freleng directed six Captain and the Kids cartoons, and one stand-alone cartoon called ‘The Bookworm’, before returning to the greener pastures of the Leon Schlesinger studio.

Of Freleng’s Captain and the Kids cartoons, ‘Poultry Pirates’ is the first. It stars the captain, only, who tries to keep a bunch of chickens and ducks out of his vegetable garden, to no avail. At one point he has to fight a six feet tall rooster, but that happens to be part of a dream.

There’s very little to enjoy in ‘Poultry Pirates’. The animators do no attempts to lip synch, neither the captain nor the chicks gain and sympathy, the story drags on, and the result is frustratingly unfunny.

Watch ‘Poultry Pirates’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Poultry Pirates’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’


Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: July 12, 1947
Stars: Foghorn Leghorn, Henery Hawk, Sylvester
Rating:  ★★★½

Crowing Pains © Warner Brothers‘Crowing Pains’ is Foghorn Leghorn’s second cartoon, and it immediately starts where the first (‘Walky Talky Hawky‘, from the previous year) left off: Henery Hawk wants to catch a chicken, and Foghorn Leghorn tricks him by pointing out somebody else as a chicken. This time it’s Sylvester, in an early appearance.

The cartoon is full of Warren Foster-penned nonsense, but the interplay between the four characters (the barnyard dog is also involved) doesn’t develop very well, and seems an early forerunner of the odd pairings of characters of some Warner Brothers cartoons from the 1960s. Unlike those, however, ‘Crowing Pains’ remains an enjoyable cartoon, albeit not among McKimson’s most inspired shorts.

Watch ‘Crowing Pains’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: October 10, 1942
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★★★½

Fine Feathered Friend © MGMDuring a chase at the barnyard Jerry seeks shelter with a large and angry chicken.

This short contains the very first example of the extreme cartoon violence that would become so typical for the Tom and Jerry series: the scene in which Jerry tries to cut off Tom’s head with a pair of hedge-shears.

The short’s highlight, however, is Jerry’s Josephine Baker-like dance with yellow feathers when he’s trying to disguise himself as a little chick.

‘Fine Feathered Friend’ is the first Tom & Jerry cartoon to start with their familiar opening tune.

Watch ‘Fine Feathered Friend’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 8

To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Bowling Alley Cat
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Sufferin’ Cats

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: May 27, 1950
Stars: Porky Pig

An Egg Scramble © Warner Brothers‘An Egg Scramble’ introduces the feeble hen Miss Prissy, who would star in several Foghorn Leghorn cartoons.

In this short, however, she’s owned by Porky, who scowls her for failing to lay eggs. Shes tricked by the other hens, who make her believe she’s laid an egg. But when Porky takes it from her to sell, she follows it into town, where she accidentally teams up with a huge gangster.

The story of ‘An Egg Scramble’ is rather odd and never really convinces. It features a dog-like criminal and a very lifelike human woman, for instance. It’s also hampered by way too much dialogue, something that would become sadly characteristic of the McKimson cartoons.

Watch ‘An Egg Scramble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 132
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: The Scarlet Pumpernickel
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Golden Yeggs

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: December 12, 1931
Rating: ★★★★★

The Ugly Duckling 1931 © Walt DisneyThis is the first of two versions of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ made by Disney.

Unlike the latter, more familiar version, this ugly duckling is a real duck, accidentally born to a chicken. He’s rejected until he saves his chick brothers and sisters from drowning in a long, fast and exciting action scene, involving both a tornado and a waterfall.

Although looking crude and primitive when compared to the 1939 short, this first version of The Ugly Duckling is a milestone in Disney’s storytelling: while the earlier Silly Symphonies contain a lot of repetitive animation and dance routines, The Ugly Duckling is the first Silly Symphony to tell a coherent story from the beginning to the end. Even the Mickey Mouse films of that time are not that consistent. There still is some rhythmic movement, especially at the beginning, but most of the animation is there to tell the story.

The duckling (who repeatedly looks to the audience for sympathy – not unlike Oliver Hardy) is a real character who transforms from an outcast to a hero, and gains its well-earned sympathy at last. Its best scenes are when it feels rejected, not only by his ‘family’, but also by a cow, a dog and a frog. There’s some genuine feeling of loneliness and unhappiness in these scenes, unparalleled in any other animated film of the time.

This short, which is neither about gags nor about moving to music, would be the first testimony of Disney’s ambitions in storytelling.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 25
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Fox Hunt
To the next Silly Symphony: The Bird Store

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