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Director: Joe Grant?
Release Date: November 18, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Wallace Beery, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, Helen Hayes, Fredric March, Marie Dressler
The short is based on the opening parade of ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ (1931), and reuses quite some animation from the original Silly Symphony, but this time it features Mickey, Minnie and Pluto, all in their color debut, predating their official color debuts in ‘The Band Concert‘, ‘On Ice‘ and ‘Mickey’s Garden‘ respectively by three years. Thus, their color designs are a bit different: Mickey wears green shorts instead of red ones, and Pluto is a sort of grey-ish, instead of orange-brown.
Following Mickey, Minnie and some characters from the original ‘Mother Goose Melodies’ we watch the following Hollywood stars parade: Wallace Beery as ‘The Champ’, Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt (both starring ‘The Guardsman’), Helen Hayes (‘The Sin of Madelon Claudet’), Fredric March (‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’), transforming while walking, and finally Marie Dressler (‘Emma’).
The caricatures were based on designs by Joe Grant, who, at that time, was still working as a newspaper caricutarist. Grant was only hired later, for ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘, which premiered eight months later, and which features many more caricatures of Hollywood stars. Incidentally, Fredric March, Wallace Beery and Helen Hayes won the Oscars.
Apart from this film, Disney was very present at this gala night: he was nominated for Best Sound Recording, he won the Oscar for the new category ‘Best Animated Short Film’ with his full-color debut ‘Flowers and Trees‘, and he got an honorary award for the creation of Mickey Mouse, with which Hollywood acknowledged the little mouse’s extraordinary fame. This was Disney’s first triumphant presence at the Academy Awards, but many successes would follow, as Walt Disney would receive no less than 26 Academy Awards during his career…
Watch ‘Parade of the Award Nominees’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Parade of the Award Nominees’ is available on the DVD ‘Mickey Mouse in Living Color’
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 12, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
In ‘Stopping the Show’, she’s the highlight of a show that is half cinema half theater. The show starts off with a “noose reel”, followed by a screening of a short cartoon (!) starring Bimbo and Koko. Then Betty enters the stage. She starts with singing ‘That’s My Weakness Now’, which in 1928 had been a hit song for her source of inspiration, Helen Kane. Then she does imitations of Fanny Brice and Maurice Chevalier.
By now, Betty is so well animated, that she feels like a real character, who easily steals the hearts of the audience. She’s a real cartoon star, second only to Mickey Mouse. Her performance makes ‘Stopping the Show’ a delightful watch, even though it lacks the surrealism of earlier outings.
Watch ‘Stopping the Show’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Stopping the Show’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’
Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: August 29, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog
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:
‘Movie Mad’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’
Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: July 5, 1931
‘Making ‘Em Move’ is a surprisingly original cartoon, being about animation itself. It’s astonishing that this early cartoon about its own industry comes from the Van Beuren studio, the least developed American animation studio in business those days.
The film is a strange mix of accuracy and nonsense. We watch a fat lady visiting an animated cartoon studio, where several animals are animating ridiculously fast and as if in an assembly line. Among the less accurate scenes are an animator animating a dancing cat who’s dancing right in front of him, and a humanized camera filming the flip-books animators are running in front of it. Meanwhile a jazz band is playing, whose sound is recorded directly on film.
In the second half of the film we watch a public cartoon screening: “Fable Animals present Little Nell’, a crude animation of a classic melodrama with stick figures, predating Tex Avery’s similar ‘Porky’s Preview’ by eleven years(!).
‘Making ’em Move’ is a remarkable cartoon, being about the cartoon industry itself, which remained a rare feat. Unfortunately, the film is neither very educational nor funny. It’s in fact rather directionless, making it to fall short as a classic.
Watch ‘Making ‘Em Move’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Making ‘Em Move’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’
Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: June 17, 1950
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
‘What’s Up, Doc?’ starts very much like Friz Freleng’s ‘A Hare Grows in Manhattan‘ from 1947: Bugs Bunny is a Hollywood star, interviewed by the press.
However, Writer Warren Foster and director McKimson’s take is much funnier than Freleng’s: instead of turning to an ordinary chase sequence, the duo retains the idea of Bugs being a real actor throughout the picture. The cartoon shows his erratic career in the vaudeville scene.
The most absurd take is when Bugs Bunny is down in the dumps. We seem him hanging out in the park with actors, who, by 1950, belonged pretty much to the has-beens: Al Jolson, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor and Bing Crosby. At this point, it is Elmer, “the famous vaudeville star”, who turns Bugs into a star. We watch the duo performing in what must be the most terrible vaudeville act ever put on screen. But when Bugs utters “what’s up, doc” the duo hits the jackpot.
This loony, self-satirizing from-rags-to-riches story is entertaining throughout, and leads to a great finale. It may well have inspired the equally tongue-in-cheek opening sequence of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ (1952), which shows some similarities to McKimson’s short.
‘What’s Up, Doc?’ is without doubt one of McKimson’s best cartoons. Sadly, the film more or less marks the end of McKimson’s most inspired era, for during the 1950s the quality of his cartoons steadily declined, becoming more and more routine, and less and less funny.
Watch ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘What’s Up, Doc?’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’
Directors: William Beaudine & Wilfred Jackson
Airing date: November 30, 1955
Stars: Walt Disney, Gertie the Dinosaur, Colonel Heeza Liar, Silas Bumpkin, Bobby Bumps, Felix the Cat, Koko the Clown
Walt Disney himself hosts a Disneyland television episode on the history of animation, from the humble attempts to capture movement in drawing in the caves of Lascaux to his own masterpiece ‘Fantasia’ (1940).
Disney demonstrates some early devices of animation like the thaumatrope, the phenakistoscope, the zoetrope and the praxinoscope, showing that animation in fact predates cinema. One of the highlights of the program is the complete showing of one of Charles-Émile Reynaud’s animated “films” for his own praxinoscope device. The other one is the reenactment of Winsor McCay’s vaudeville show with Gertie the Dinosaur (1914). This part alone makes the episode worthwhile watching, as McCay’s classic work becomes even stronger in its vaudeville context.
More animation from other early studios is shown, like Bray’s Colonel Heeza Liar, Raoul Barré’s Silas Bumpkin, Earl Hurd’s Bobby Bumps and Pat Sullivan’s Felix the Cat.
Disney also plays tribute to his old rival, Max Fleischer, by showing a Koko the Clown cartoon, accompanied by organ playing by his own cartoon composer, Oliver Wallace. The show ends with one of Walt Disney’s major achievements, the Nutcracker Suite from’Fantasia'(1940), which, unfortunately, is shown in black and white.
Watch ‘The Story of Animated Drawing’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Story of Animated Drawing’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio’
Director: Georges Schwizgebel
Release Date: 1982
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: Peter Lord & David Sproxton
Release Date: 1978
Like its predecessor, ‘Down & Out‘, the film uses recorded dialogue. This time we hear two foyer girls chatting in a cinema. The dialogue is hard to understand and the lip-synch is not as good as in ‘Down & out’. Moreover, the animation is associated with seemingly unrelated stock live action footage, which leads to a film, which is both experimental and vague. The result never quite works and the result must be called a failure.
‘Confessions of a Foyer Girl’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’
Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: January 15, 1949
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Like Freleng’s quite similar ‘Stage Door Cartoon‘ (1944), the action soon shifts into a theater, with wonderful comedy with Bugs’s and Elmer’s repeatedly passing past sitting people, continuously using the phrases ‘pardon me’ and ‘excuse me’ as a major highlight. Other great gags are Bugs’s playing with the intermission switch (which immediately causes the public to rush outside to smoke) and the finale, in which Bugs manages to get a blinded Elmer into a lion’s beak.
Despite the wonderful comedy, the film nevertheless fails to reach the heights of ‘Stage Door Cartoon’, falling short, due to some bad designs of Elmer and to a sense of routine.
Watch ‘Hare Do’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1912
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is one of the earliest animation films ever made, and a very early masterpiece (it predates ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ by two years). Surprisingly, it’s a film about adultery involving insects.
The plot of this stop motion film is as follows: Mr. Beetle commits adultery with a dragonfly, who is a dancer at a nightclub. Unbeknownst to him his secret behavior is filmed by a rival grasshopper who happens to be a cameraman. Meanwhile, Mrs. Beetle also commits adultery, with a beetle who is also a painter. But they’re discovered by Mr. Beetle who chases the painter out of his house. Nevertheless he forgives his wife and takes her to the cinema. However, the film that is shown reveals his infidelity, which creates a riot and the married couple ends in jail for destroying the movie box.
‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is an extraordinary film, and without doubt one of the first masterpieces of animation. The animation of the very lifelike insects is stunning and very convincing. Moreover, its storytelling is mature and its subject highly original for an animation film, even today. It’s almost unbelievable that such a modern film was made in Czarist Russia.
Watch ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Tom Ray
Release Date: July 14, 1966
Stars: Tom & Jerry
‘Matinee Mouse’ is a compilation cartoon, and a very cheap and terrible one, too. It uses footage of the classic Hanna/Barbera entries, but these are set to new sound effects and new music by Don Elliott. The gruesome result is easily one of the worst Tom and Jerry cartoons ever. Its director, Tom Ray (1919-2010), directed only one other Tom & Jerry cartoon, ‘Shutter Bugged Cat‘ (1967). That one is also a compilation cartoon, and arguably just as terrible.
Watch ‘Matinee Mouse’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 10, 1937
It makes very clear that in the 1930s the experience of going to the movies was way more elaborate than nowadays: we watch newsreels, the audience singing to the title song and a feature, ‘The Petrified Florist’, a satire of the Warner Brothers film ‘The Petrified Forest’ (1936), with caricatures of its stars Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. During the cartoon we’re confronted with several movie theater annoyances, like people changing seats, people passing by in the middle of a film, popcorn sellers and bad front row seats.
In this cartoon, Friz Freleng really caught up with the new spirit at Warner Brothers induced by the coming of Tex Avery and Frank Tashlin in 1936. Gone is any resemblance to cuteness or children stars. Instead, there is an annoying duckling asking questions in an irritable voice, and causing havoc in the cinema. There’s no story, just gags, and the film ends rather unexpectedly. But the whole film is a sheer delight, aimed at laughs, and succeeding in it, too. Also featured is an early caricature of Adolf Hitler.
Watch ‘She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: July 1, 1933
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
The short both celebrates the enormous popularity Mickey enjoyed in the early 1930s, and establishes him as one of the leading actors of that period.
We’re witnessing the premiere of a new Mickey Mouse cartoon at the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, where Mickey and the gang are welcomed as celebrities (only Goofy is absent, his character was not yet established at that time).
The cartoon that is shown at the premiere is called ‘Galloping Romance’. It is an early and fantastic self-parody. This short only exists within ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ and is a ridiculous variation on ‘The Cactus Kid’ (1930), in which Mickey rides a number of silly animals in his pursuit of Pete, including a marimba. This self-consciously silly cartoon is way more old-fashioned than ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ itself.
Nevertheless, the crowd, which consists solely of well-known performers of the time, laugh their heads off and, after the show, all try to congratulate Mickey. Mickey’s wet dream appears to be being kissed by Swedish actress Greta Garbo, because it is the cartoon’s climax before it’s being revealed that all has been just a dream.
All the caricatures are the work of Joe Grant, whose work was also quoted by the Disney studio in the short special ‘Parade of the Award Nominees‘ (1932). For ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ Disney went directly to Grant, and the film became the story man’s first job for Disney. However, it was only two months after this film that Joe Grant became a full-time employee at the Disney studio. There he would also draw caricatures for ‘Broken Toys’ (1935) and ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936), but his main contribution would be to the story department.
The self-conscious nature of ‘Mickey’s Gala Premiere’ would remain rare at Disney’s, but it would become one of the key features of the Warner Brother Cartoons, who would produce similar cartoons as ‘You Ought to be in Pictures’ (1940) and ‘What’s Cookin’ Doc?’ (1944). Both cartoons are tributary to ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’.
The short also sprouted several other cartoons featuring caricatures of contemporary Hollywood stars, among others ub Iwerks’s ‘Soda Squirt’ (1933), Walter Lantz’s ‘The Merry Old Soul’ (1933) and ‘Toyland Premiere’ (1934), Disney’s own ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936) and ‘Mother Goose goes Hollywood’ (1938), and the Warner Brothers cartoons ‘The Coo-Coo Nut Groove’ (1936), ‘Porky’s Road Race’ (1937) and ‘Hollywood Steps out’ (1941). Nevertheless, ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ was not the first in his kind, for already ten years earlier Felix the Cat made the trip to Hollywood to meet the stars in ‘Felix in Hollywood’ (1923).
Among the stars featured in ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ I managed to identify The Keystone Cops, Marie Dressler, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Maurice Chevalier, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Harold Lloyd, Edward G. Robinson, Clark Gable, Joe E. Brown, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Mae West, Greta Garbo, Bela Lugosi, Frederic March and Boris Karloff.
Also featured is some guy who has a striking resemblance to Prince Charles of Wales and who’s dressed as a king. This is a caricature of Will H. Hays, the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). Hays was Hollywood’s chief censor and the man behind the Hays code, the censorship Hollywood imposed on itself between 1930 and 1968. Interestingly, the censorship only became severe when Hays made place for Joseph Breen in 1934…
Watch ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 58
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Mechanical Man
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Puppy Love