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Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: May 27, 1931
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Bandmaster © Walter LantzIn ‘The Bandmaster’ Oswald is the leader of a three-piece brass band.

This idea is dropped after three minutes, however, and after that there’s some kind of story with Oswald trying to comfort a crying hippo baby with music. This part features dancing flowers, rag dolls, and musical notes. The latter dance to the song ‘Happy Feet’, a huge hit for Paul Whiteman in 1930. The cartoon ends with the mother hippo hitting Oswald hard, and the baby hippo laughing.

Several animators worked on ‘The bandmaster’ who would later become famous in the field, like Clyde Geronimi, Tex Avery and Pinto Colvig. Could it be possible that the baby hippo’s laugh was provided by Tex Avery himself?

The cartoon contains some lovely flexible animation in a style also fashioned at Walt Disney and Warner Bros. The cartoon doesn’t make any sense, however, and the gags pop in almost randomly. Thus the Walter Lantz cartoon falls short in matching the quality of those other studios.

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

‘The Bandmaster’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares’ and the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: July 14, 1930
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit, Kitty
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Spooks © Walter Lantz‘Spooks’ is a nice early Oswald cartoon from the Walter Lantz studio.

It takes place in a theater where Oswald performs. It features a mysterious phantom who helps Oswald’s girlfriend Kitty to become a great singer by putting a record player in her dress. This leads to an absurd performance. The phantom fancies Kitty, but she prefers Oswald, who has to rescue her from the phantom’s clutches. This part of the film has horror overtones, commonplace in the early 1930s. The film ends with a rather lame gag.

‘Spooks’ features some very Mickey Mouse-like mice. Its animation, by Bill Nolan, Clyde Geronimi and Pinto Colvig is fair, and the story enjoyable, even if it’s rather inconsistent.

Watch ‘Spooks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: June 2, 1930
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit, Peg Leg Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Hell's Heels © Walter LantzIn the spring of 1929 Universal announced that it had set up an animation studio to make sound cartoons of its own. Head of the studio was Walter Lantz. This was the beginning of the Walter Lantz studio, which lasted well into the 1970s, outliving all other contemporary cartoon studios.

With this contract Walter Lantz inherited Oswald the rabbit, a character originally conceived by Walt Disney in 1927, but whose copyright was owned by Universal. Universal demanded no less than 26 Oswald cartoons each year, and the results were consequently of variable quality.

‘Hell’s Heels’, Lantz’s 23th Oswald cartoon, is one of the better ones. It opens with Oswald, Peg Leg Pete and an anonymous grey dog being a gang of bandits wandering and singing through the desert. The three decide to rob a bank and Pete and the Dog send Oswald inside with dynamite. Oswald blows up the bank, killing Pete and the dog(!). Later, Oswald befriends the Sheriff’s little boy, which leads to some song-and-dance scenes, which surprisingly features a number of skeletons.

It’s strange to watch Oswald and Pete being buddies in this film, and the story is rather inconsistent, but the cartoon is fast and funny, and full of gags. Its lively jazzy score by James Dietrich is highly enjoyable, and the animation by Bill Nolan and Clyde Geronimi is joyful and of a fair quality. ‘Hell’s Heels’ shows that in 1930 other animation studios still could match the Walt Disney studio.

Watch ‘Hell’s Heels’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: August 14, 1942
Stars: Pluto, Butch
Rating: ★★½
Review:

T-Bone for Two © Walt Disney‘T-Bone for Two’ is one of those Clyde Geronimi directed Pluto shorts about bones (other examples are ‘The Sleep Walker‘ and ‘Pluto at the Zoo‘ from the same year). It’s also Pluto’s second attempt to get a bone from vicious bulldog Butch, after ‘Bone Trouble’ from 1940.

This time Pluto gets the bone by making Butch think he has buried a gigantic bone somewhere else. The second half is devoted to Pluto’s problems with a car horn. The horn make him lose his bone to Butch again, but he regains it with it, too.

Despite some great comedy (Pluto’s fake steps to his supposed hiding place and Butch’s flight into the air), Clyde Geronimi’s interplay between Pluto and Butch is less successful than Jack Kinney’s was in ‘Bone Trouble’. The cartoon never becomes really funny, resulting in one of the weaker entries in the Pluto series.

Watch ‘T-Bone for Two’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Pluto cartoon No. 8
To the previous Pluto cartoon: The Sleep Walker
To the next Pluto cartoon: Pluto at the Zoo

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: July 3, 1942
Stars: Pluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Sleep Walker © Walt DisneyIn the first scene of this cartoon a female black dachshund tries to steal Pluto’s bone, but she fails.

Then, strangely enough, Pluto delivers her his bone in his sleep, but when he awakes he thinks she has stolen it. After some chasing, he finally destroys her home in his wrath, only to discover that she’s a mother of five pups. When it starts to rain, too, he repents and lends her his own house and collection of bones.

Director Clyde Geronimi favored food-themed Pluto cartoons, and this short is no exception. Unfortunately, the premise of Pluto sleepwalking  is very unlikely and the execution more aimed at sighs than at laughs. The result is yet another cute and rather unfunny Pluto entry. Its best feature is its music (unfortunately uncredited), which uses an effective muted trumpet during the chase scenes, and a weird melody for woodwinds during Pluto’s sleepwalking.

The female dachshund is an early forerunner of Pluto’s later love interest, Dinah, who would first appear in the 1945 cartoon ‘Canine Casanova’.

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

This is Pluto cartoon No. 7
To the previous Pluto cartoon: The Army Mascot
To the next Pluto cartoon: T-Bone for Two

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: February 28, 1942
Stars: Pluto
Rating: ★★
Review:

Pluto Junior © Walt DisneyIn this cartoon Pluto has only one son (instead of five as in ‘Pluto’s Quin-Puplets’ from 1937).

We watch this pup playing with a ball, a balloon, a caterpillar and a bird, which leads him into a distressful position on a clothes-line. Only then Pluto, who had been asleep all the time, comes into action. Pluto rescues his son and both fall into a wash-tub.

The best sequence of the cartoon involves Pluto’s antics on the clothes-line. It’s clear that he is a far funnier character than his son, which is only cute. Indeed, after this cartoon Pluto jr. was never seen again.

Watch ‘Pluto Junior’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Pluto cartoon No. 5
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Pluto’s Playmate
To the next Pluto cartoon: The Army Mascot

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske
Release Date: July 26, 1951
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Alice in Wonderland © Walt DisneyOf all the classic Walt Disney features, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ had the longest and most troublesome history.

Lewis Carroll’s book had intrigued Walt Disney for years. It had inspired the Alice cartoons, if only in name, and already in 1933 the first ideas appeared to turn the literary classic into an animated feature, starring Mary Pickford as Alice – being Disney’s first feature idea ever. Unfortunately, the idea was dropped because in 1933 Paramount released their version of the classic tale.

More serious work on Alice started in 1939/1940 when illustrator David Hall made numerous, exceptionally beautiful concept drawings. After the failures of ‘Pinocchio’ (1939) and ‘Fantasia’ (1940) at the box office, these ideas were shelved, and virtually nothing of Hall’s ideas entered the final film. At one point even novelist Aldous Huxley cooperated, turning in a literary script in 1945, which the Disney studio found useless. Only in 1949 real work on the film began, resulting in Disney’s second feature of the 1950s, after the successful ‘Cinderella‘.

The final film unfortunately was poorly received when it was finally released in 1951. It performed rather badly at the box office, losing the studio almost a million dollars, practically evaporating the profits that ‘Cinderella’ had made the previous year. The film was critisized even by its own animators. Marc Davis said the film “gave us nothing to work it” and called it a “cold film”. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston hardly mention the film in their elaborate book ‘The Illusion of Life’. In ‘The Disney Villain’ they reveal why: they felt they “had failed to find the intriguing combination of fantasy, satire and whimsy that made the original book popular”. Even Walt Disney himself denounced the film, saying it lacked heart.

However, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ has aged suprisingly well. In fact, it has turned out to be one of the best adaptations of the book to the screen, its only serious rivals being Jan Švankmajer’s disturbing stop motion film from 1987, and a NBC production from 1999. Certainly not Disney’s feature from 2010, which, although visually stunning, owes very little to the original story.

The film’s most overt weakness, its episodic character (which, of course, it shares with the original book), is also its strong point: none of the Disney story cliches are apparent, and there’s a welcome lack of sentimentality to the film. In fact, the film’s low point is reached when the studio does try to squeak sentimentality into the story: in the Tulgey Wood scene, an invention of the story department and not found in the original book, Alice has enough of nonsense, wants to go home and feels lost. She sings the feature’s weakest and most forgettable song with a sobbing voice, with some fantasy birds sympathizing with her in stereotypical Disney fashion. Despite the inventive bird designs, this scene is wide of the mark.

Luckily, it is one of only two weak scenes (the other one being the flower scene, squeaked in from ‘Through the Looking Glass’) amidst the wonderful series of utter nonsense, which evoke the zany spirit of the book very well. The film is literally stuffed with great characters, most of them voiced by well-known British and American actors: the white rabbit (Bill Thompson, the voice of Droopy), the dodo, Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Pat O’Malley), the caterpillar (Richard Haydn), The Cheshire Cat (Disney favorite Sterling Holloway), The Mad Hatter and the Marc Hare (Ed Wynn & Jerry Colonna), the Queen of Hearts (Verna Felton), and the little king. Eleven year old Kathryn Belmont is a perfect Alice: pleasantly normal, and a little pedantic, just like the one in the book.

Of all Nine Old Men, the Disney animators who worked on the film, Ward Kimball in particular seems in his element, as Lewis Carroll’s work has much in common with his own zany type of humor. Kimball supervised animation on Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Walrus and the Carpenter, the Mad Tea Party and the Cheshire Cat, and all characters are delightfully loony.

However, the film’s strongest point may be in its design, which is nothing like Sir John Tenniel. In contrast to his gloomy black-and-white engravings, styling artists Mary Blair, John Hench, Claude Coats and Ken Anderson present a vibrant world of colors. The stylized backgrounds are superb with their angular designs and highly original color combinations, evoking a perfect dream world. It’s these designs that give the movie unity. They are matched by the looniest animation within any Disney feature, all bringing the zany Lewis Carroll perfectly to life. Both the animation and the countless visual gags complement the textual madness of the original book. Moreover, the film is surprisingly speedy, and still enjoyable for a 21st century audience.

‘Alice in Wonderland’ may not be Disney’s best or most successful feature, it’s a very pleasant ride through a colorful world, and more of a timeless classic than anyone would have imagined in 1951.

Watch ‘Alice in Wonderland’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske
Release Date: June 16, 1955
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Lady and the Tramp © Walt Disney‘Lady and the Tramp’ is a mild and friendly film based both on story ideas by Joe Grant that went as far back as 1939, and a short story by novelist Ward Greene. It tells the story of Lady, an upper class female Cocker Spaniel living around the turn of the century.

Lady’s life of luxury seems to be threatened by the coming of a baby, but it is the babysitter, aunt Sarah, who’s her real nemesis. The cat-loving old lady quickly has Lady muzzled, and it’s up to the tramp to rescue her. They spend a night out together, but in the morning, while they’re chasing chickens “together”, Lady gets caught and ends in the city dogpound. There she discovers that the tramp is quite a ladies’ man. It seems their short-lived relationship is over, but then the tramp helps her catching a rat that has sneaked into the house and into the baby’s room…

‘Lady and the Tramp’ was the first animated feature in Cinemascope. The film uses the new technique to great effects, with the action carefully laid out to the broad screen. Its backgrounds are very beautiful, and remarkably lush or, when necessary, highly dramatic. Only in the love scene they become somewhat stylized, showing a Mary Blair influence otherwise absent from the film.

The high quality animation is a delight to watch and stands out in an age of stylized and limited animation, something the 1950s more and more became to be. Like the animals in ‘Bambi‘ (1942), the dogs have a look and feel of real animals, while, at the same time, being full characters one can relate to, with a complete range of human expressions. Even the minor characters, like the dogs in the dogpound, are perfectly animated in that respect. The voices help in this dualism, often being a combination of human and dog-like sounds.

The humans, on the other hand, are hardly seen, and only the strongly caricatured ones, Aunt Sarah, Tony and Joe, have something of a character. It is telling that the most famous and probably most romantic kiss in animation history can be seen in this movie and is a kiss between two dogs. In this scene Lady and the tramp share a meal of spaghetti, accompanied by romantic music by the two Italian restaurant owners. This scene, animated by Frank Thomas, is the undisputed highlight of the film. Honorable mention goes to the very lifelike fight between the tramp and a large rat, a strongly dramatic scene animated by Wolfgang Reitherman, which can compete with the fighting scene in ‘Bambi’ in its impact.

Watch the dining scene from ‘Lady and the Tramp’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: December 17, 1943
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Chicken Little © Walt DisneyThis Disney short is an original take on the classic fable. It has a clear war message, even though there’s no direct visible link to World War II.

The villain, Foxy Loxy, uses a psychology book, from which he quotes, to lure the inhabitants of a poultry farm into his cave. The inhabitants of the poultry farm are clear representations of contemporary American society, including the upper class (turkeys), female middle class (chicken), male working class (ducks) and the youth (chickens and roosters, whom we see dancing to hot jazz in a short scene).

Foxy Loxy chooses a simpleton called Chicken Little as his main object, making him believe the sky is falling and encouraging him to spread the rumor. Originally, Foxy Loxy was to read from Adolf Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf’. It is not likely that the quotes are really from ‘Mein Kampf’, but they do contain surprisingly true lessons in how to manipulate the masses and how to undermine the present authority.

The film’s clear war message is not to fall for rumors and not to join mass hysteria. The film’s ending is as grim as there ever was one in a classic cartoon. In fact, the vision of a graveyard full of chicken bones is only topped by the similar ending in ‘Education for Death’ from the same year.

‘Chicken Little’ remains a little known Disney film, but its message is surprisingly fresh, and is probably even more valid today in an era in which propaganda and false rumors roam the internet and social media than it was during World War II.

‘Chicken Little’ was to be the last short directed by Clyde Geronimi before his dull comeback in ‘The big wash’ (1948). The Disney studio revisited the fable in 2005 in the feature film ‘Chicken Little’, which has ca. nothing in common with this far more interesting and disturbing short.

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

Directors: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney
Release Date: October 5, 1949
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow © Walt DisneyThe Legend of Sleepy Hollow, told and sung by Bing Crosby, quite faithfully retells the story by Washington Irving.

The story tells us about the skinny schoolmaster Ichabod Crane who tries to court Katrina van Tassel, the most beautiful girl in town, while ignoring his rival Brom Bones. At Halloween Bones tells a spooky story about a headless horseman, scaring the schoolmaster to death. And when on the way home he really encounters a headless horseman, he’s never seen again…

The animation of Ichabod Crane and Katrina van Tassel both show how familiar the animators had become with the human figure. Ichabod Crane is an awkward, slender figure, but human, nonetheless. Katrina both has a sexy, graceful charm, as well as stylized moves, which make her a little abstract, like an all too beautiful woman can be in the hearts of men. Certainly, in the next feature, ‘Cinderella‘ (1950) the animators were confident enough to let human characters star a feature for the first time since ‘Pinocchio’ (1940).

This film’s highlight, however, are the wonderful backgrounds, which were lacking in the first story, ‘The Wind in the Willows‘. In ‘The legend of Sleepy Hollow’ the backgrounds are stylized, with striking colors, and most of the times clearly inspired by Mary Blair. The background artists’ art reaches its peak in the stunning scary forest scene, an elaboration on the scary forest in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937). This climatic scene, in which Ichabod Crane is confronted with the headless horseman, makes effective use of expressionistic coloring, like the best parts in ‘Fantasia’ (1940) and ‘Bambi‘ (1942).

These positive aspects, however, cannot rescue this film, which is rather slow, and totally devoid of sympathetic characters. In the end one has to conclude that this second part of the feature, like the first, is not particularly interesting or memorable.

Watch ‘The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Directors: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney
Release Date: October 5, 1949
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Wind in the Willows © Walt Disney‘The Wind in the Willows’ is the first of the two stories that make up the compilation feature ‘The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad‘. 

This story had originally been conceived in 1938 as a possible feature film, before it was shelved in 1942. The 1949 version is clearly truncated, and it shows. This story tells only an episode from ‘The wind in the Willows’ starring the enthusiastic Toad, whose love for chariots and cars causes a lot of trouble for himself and his quiet, all too British friends Water rat, Mole and Badger. The story is quite unfaithful to the book, giving a large role to one Cyril the horse and containing both a long scene at the court and a long sequence in which our four friends try to steal a document from a gang of weasels.

Although the English feel is retained, this version of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ completely lacks the poetry so typical for the book. Sure, Toad’s intoxicating character has been transferred to the screen very well, but the characters beside him never really come off. Moreover, the story is told too unevenly to be either exciting or endearing, and the interplay between animals and humans remains unconvincing. The backgrounds are uninspired, especially when compared to those in ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow‘, except for those in the winter train sequence. The weasels, which are animated excellently with broad comedy, anticipate those in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?‘ (1987).

Watch ‘The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Directors: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney
Release Date: October 5, 1949
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad © Walt DisneyThe adventures of ‘Ichabod and Mr. Toad’ was the last of the Disney compilation features so typical of the 1940s.

Like ‘Fun and Fancy Free‘ (1947) it consists of only two stories, this time both drawn from literature. Both use a narrator, which gives the films a feeling of moving illustrations. Neither of the stories is particularly endearing: the story of Mr. Toad lacks the poetry of the original story, the story of Sleepy Hollow lacks speed. It would be a happy return to direct story telling (opposed to using voice overs) in ‘Cinderella‘, the next year.

The six directing animators of this feature all belong to the group of ‘nine old men’.

‘The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad’ consists of the following two episodes, which I will discuss in more detail elsewhere:

1. The Wind in the Willows
2. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Watch ‘The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske
Release Date: May 27, 1948
Stars: Donald Duck, Joe Carioca, The Aracuan Bird
Rating: ★★
Review:

Melody Time © Walt DisneyMelody Time’ is a compilation film in the same vein as ‘Make Mine Music’ (1946).

It consists of seven unrelated episodes, connected by a voice over and an animated brush. The songs of these sequences are sung by popular artists, who, except for the Andrews Sisters and Roy Rogers, are all but forgotten today. Even more obviously than in ‘Make Mine Music’, these songs are clearly designed for the cartoons, instead of the other way round, like in ‘Fantasia’ (1940). In any sense ‘Melody Time’ is a far cry from that latter film, and the most interesting feature of this film is not the animation, but the film’s beautifully stylized backgrounds, especially in ‘Once upon a Wintertime‘ and ‘The Legend of Johnny Appleseed‘.

The sequences themselves are mediocre, often slow and only moderately funny at best. Luckily, Disney would soon return to real features, for ‘Melody Time’ shows that the studio’s compilation features had outstayed their welcome.

Melody Time consists of the following episodes, which I will discuss in more detail, elsewhere:

  1. Once upon a Winter Time
  2. Bumble Boogie
  3. The Legend of Johnny Appleseed
  4. Little Toot
  5. Trees
  6. Blame it on the Samba
  7. Pecos Bill

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: February 6, 1948
Stars: Goofy
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Big Wash © Walt DisneyIn ‘The Big Wash’ Goofy tries to wash his unwilling circus elephant Dolores (or Dolorious as he calls her).

‘The Big Wash’ was Clyde Geronimi’s last cartoon and his only one in the Goofy series. In the years to follow he would concentrate his directing skills on feature films, with the exception of two short specials, ‘Susie, the Little Blue Coupe’ (1952) and ‘The Story of Anyburg, U.S.A.’ (1957).

‘The Big Wash’ is not really a highlight in Geronimi’s career. Like ‘Foul Hunting‘ from the previous year, it uses the original Goofy character and Pinto Colvig’s voice, and, like in the former cartoon, this results in a slow, boring and remarkably old-fashioned film. The short is cute, but terribly unfunny, especially when compared to most other Goofy cartoons or contemporary entries from other studios.

‘The Big Wash’ was the last cartoon to feature the Goofy character as it was developed in the thirties. In his next cartoon, ‘Tennis Racquet‘, Goofy was not only once again voiceless, he was also redesigned, making him more fitting to the post-war era.

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

This is Goofy cartoon No. 22
To the previous Goofy cartoon: They’re Off
To the next Goofy cartoon: Tennis Racquet

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: 
January 15, 1943
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Education for Death © Walt DisneyBoth propaganda shorts Disney released in January 1943, ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face‘ and ‘Education for Death’, were the most powerful propaganda the studio ever released. However, the two couldn’t be more different: while ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ is an outrageously funny satire, ‘Education for Death’ is, some funny scenes notwithstanding, the most unsettling short the studio ever released. Its general tone is black, grim and its purpose is to shock, not to entertain.

Based on a book by Gregor Ziemer, ‘Education for Death’ tells us how Hans, a typical German boy, is indoctrinated by the rulers of the Third Reich. The short is conceived in a quasi-documentary style. The narrator makes us believe that the scenes we’re watching, are happening right before our eyes, and unlike any other cartoon of the period, the Germans speak real German, which is translated by the narrator.

Moreover, most of the human designs are quite realistic, with Hans’s mother, animated by Milt Kahl, being the acme in human naturalism by the studio thus far. On the other hand, all scenes are heavily dramatized, using colors like red and black, vast shadows, and extreme camera angles, which depict every Nazi as a towering and threatening figure.

In the beginning we are still allowed to laugh at a ridiculous version of Sleeping Beauty, in which Hitler, dressed like a ‘handsome knight’ rescues a fat, Valkyrie-like Germany from an evil witch (said to be democracy). But after the school scene, the short turns decidedly black, with images of book burning, a bible being replaced by ‘Mein Kampf’ and Jesus by a Nazi sword. In the final scene, Hans has grown into a grim soldier, who, wearing chains, blinders and a muzzle, marches to his own death. No matter how blatant this propaganda short is, this is one of the most disturbing endings of an animated film ever put on screen.

Watch ‘Education for Death’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: February 19, 1943
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Pluto and the Armadillo © Walt Disney‘Pluto and the Armadillo’ is one of the South American films Disney released in the forties after a visit to South America in 1941 (other examples are ‘The Pelican and the Snipe‘ and ‘Contrary Condor’ from 1944).

‘Pluto and the Armadillo’ is actually an outtake from Disney’s first South American ensemble feature ‘Saludos Amigos‘ (1942). This explains its use of a narrator introducing the armadillo and its Brazilian setting.

As the title suggests, this Mickey Mouse cartoon is actually devoted to Pluto. While playing with Mickey during a stop at an airport near a jungle, he mistakes the armadillo for his own ball. As in many other Pluto cartoons (e.g. ‘Pluto’s Playmate’ from 1941 and ‘Canine Patrol‘ from 1945), Pluto is first suspicious of this new little animal, but then grows in love with it. This standard scenario would have led to a routine Pluto entry, if it were not for the armadillo itself.

The South American mammal is not drawn very lifelike, but looks like a very cute, feminine armed little dog. Her moves are accompanied by metallic and rattling sounds, as if her armor consists of loose mechanical parts, and she walks to an irresistible samba tune, which provides the theme music for the complete cartoon.

Because of her charming presence ‘Pluto and the armadillo’ is very cute and joyful, and a delight to watch, even though it’s not very funny.

Watch ‘Pluto and the Armadillo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 117
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Symphony Hour
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Squatter’s Rights

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: March 28, 1941
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

A Gentleman's Gentleman © Walt DisneyPluto serves Mickey breakfast on bed, then Mickey gives him a dime to get the morning paper.

Pluto loses the coin almost immediately down into a sewer, but he cleverly retrieves it using chewing gum. When Pluto gets the newspaper, he reads the funnies (a comic strip about… Pluto! – a rare cross reference to a Disney spin-off outside the cinema), before the wind starts to play with it, blowing the paper into the mud, leading to a blackface gag, which is a copy from the Pluto comic he has just read.

‘A Gentleman’s Gentleman’ is officially a Mickey Mouse cartoon, but most of the time is devoted to Pluto. In this cartoon his supreme silent character comedy is simply delightful, making ‘A Gentleman’s Gentleman’ one of the classic Pluto shorts.

Watch ‘A Gentleman’s Gentleman’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 110
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Little Whirlwind
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Canine Caddy

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: April 2, 1943
Stars: Pluto, Chip ‘n Dale
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Private Pluto © Walt Disney

Pluto has joined the army, and wearing a helmet, he has to protect “the pillbox” (a canon) against saboteurs.

These appear to be two little chipmunks who use the canon to crack acorns. Pluto tries to fight them, but the two critters defeat him in an unexpected ending.

‘Private Pluto’ is the second of two World War II-themed Pluto cartoons (the first being ‘The Army Mascot‘ from 1942). It was also to be the last Pluto cartoon directed by Clyde Geronimi, who promoted to sequence director in Disney’s feature films. Geronimi was succeeded by Charles Nichols, who seemed to be more comfortable with the character and who would direct every Pluto cartoon save one from then on.

‘Private Pluto’ is an important cartoon, because it introduces those famous chipmunks, Chip ‘n Dale. They’re not named yet, nor are they two different characters here, but their mischievous behavior and their hardly comprehensible jabbering are already present, and they’re certainly instantly likeable.

Chip ‘n Dale would eventually become Donald’s adversaries, but Pluto, too, would re-encounter them in three cartoons: ‘Squatters Rights‘ (1946), ‘Food for Feudin’‘ (1950) and ‘Pluto’s Christmas Tree‘ (1952).

‘Private Pluto’ is interesting in its own right, for it shows the line of coastal defense the United States had placed at the Pacific Coast in the years preceding the war. After the attack on Pearl Harbor it had been placed on high alert (thus Pluto’s job), but luckily there was no need ever to use it.

Watch ‘Private Pluto’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Pluto cartoon No. 10
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Pluto at the Zoo
To the next Pluto cartoon: Springtime for Pluto

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: November 20, 1942
Stars: Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Pluto at the Zoo © Walt DisneyWith ‘Pluto at the zoo’ director Clyde Geronimi delivers his most successful Pluto short.

In this short Pluto carries a tiny bone when he discovers a huge bone at the Lion’s cave. He decides to steal it, but this causes him lots of trouble with the lion, a kangaroo, a gorilla and several crocodiles.

Pluto’s pantomime is wonderful in this cartoon, and, unlike most of the previous entries directed by Geronimi, there’s an absence of sentimentality, which is nicely replaced by absurdism, with the simply hilarious gorilla sequence as a highlight within the whole series.

Watch ‘Pluto at the Zoo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Pluto cartoon No. 9
To the previous Pluto cartoon: T-Bone for Two
To the next Pluto cartoon: Private Pluto

Director: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: May 22, 1942
Stars: Pluto
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Army Mascot © Walt Disney‘The Army Mascot’ is the first of two World War Two cartoons starring Pluto (the other one being ‘Private Pluto‘ from 1943).

Pluto never gets really involved in the war, though, he only joins the army. He was the second Disney character to do so, following Donald Duck, who had been drafted only three weeks earlier, in ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘.

However, Pluto’s reasons to join the army are doubtful, to say the least: only when he sees the enormous portions of meat an army mascot gets, he wants to be one, too. He tries to replace “Gunther Goat”, mascot of the Yoo-hoo Division, but all he gets is cans. In his second attempt he tries to chew tobacco like Gunther can, to impress the soldiers. But Gunther makes Pluto swallow the whole piece, making him sick. This sequence is the highlight of the cartoon, as Pluto’s sickness is animated in the most ridiculous way.

Gunther then tries to finish his rival off by bumping Pluto into the munition depot, but it’s Gunther himself who bumps into the depot, which explodes, blasting the wicked goat up into the air, where he’s caught by a plane and carried away into the distance. Now Pluto takes Gunther’s place, and gets his steak after all.

‘The Army Mascot’ is a rather odd cartoon, where both main characters show unpleasant behavior: Pluto envy and trickery and Gunther haughtiness and wrath. Thus, ‘The Army Mascot’, although war-themed, can hardly be called a patriotic film.

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

This is Pluto cartoon No. 6
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Pluto Junior
To the next Pluto cartoon: The Sleep Walker

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