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

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: ★★★★

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: ★★★★★

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: ★★★

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

Directors:Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske
Release Date: February 15, 1950
Rating: ★★★★★

Cinderella © Walt Disney‘Cinderella’ was Disney’s first fairy tale movie since ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937) and Disney’s first real feature animation film in eight years.

With its classic fairy tale story featuring a heroine, whose unhappy fate is turned, Cinderella seems to be like ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, Disney’s only million seller feature up to that point, and, indeed, ideas for this film go back as far as 1938. However, it is very clear many things had changed for the studio since then:

First: Gone are the lush water color backgrounds. They’re replaced by way more stylized oil backgrounds, based on the colors and styling of designers Mary Blair and John Hench, who both favored bright and unrealistically vivid colors. Mary Blair’s influence is particularly strong in the dreamlike ‘So This Is Love’ sequence and the chase of Cinderella’s pumpkin couch: here the stunningly beautiful backgrounds lose all sense of realism, in favor of emotional storytelling.

Second: The animation of humans, hardly mastered in 1937, now looks fluent, convincing and even easy. It’s also striking how very realistic humans (Cinderella, the prince, the evil stepmother) blend easily and convincingly with more caricatured humans (the king, the grand duke and the two stepsisters) and anthropomorphic animals. The Disney studio clearly had matured.

Indeed, the animation studio had been greatly streamlined in the forties. Gone were the experimental, time consuming and costly work methods of ‘Snow White’, ‘Pinocchio‘ and ‘Fantasia’. For his new feature Disney would take no chances: all human scenes would be filmed first with live action actors, in order to perfect the staging before it went into animation. Only one short scene with outrageously colored soap bubbles evokes some of the earlier experimentalism.

Disney’s animation unit was now led by a group of younger, highly talented animators, who had matured their skills in the forties, and whom Walt Disney affectionately called his ‘Nine Old Men’. In Cinderella these Nine Old Men are all credited as supervising animators (alongside, like a ghost from the past, pioneer animator Norm Ferguson [see ‘Frolicking Fish‘ and ‘Playful Pluto‘], although his contribution remains unclear). The Nine Old Men would be responsible for Disney Feature animation way up to ‘The Rescuers‘ (1978). The fluent and confident animation in ‘Cinderella’ clearly shows why.

Especially the stepmother (animated by Frank Thomas) is a wonderful character: she’s very nasty, but her evilness is acted out in the subtlest way. She’s only indirectly responsible for the most dramatic scene of the film, in which the two stepsisters tear Cinderella’s dress from her body. The horror of this scene is heartfelt, especially because we had seen that this dress was made for her by some friendly birds and mice in an earlier scene .

These animals star a huge subplot with leading roles for a keen mouse called Jaq, a fat, dumb mouse called Gus, and a mean old cat called Lucifer (all animated by Ward Kimball, who went berserk on the outrageous animation of Lucifer). This subplot provides a funny counterpoint to the familiar fairytale and even completely dominates the first twenty minutes of the film.

Cinderella was a huge success and paid the studio well. Once again Disney’s attention and reputation rested with animated features and the studio would dominate the scene up to the 1980s, being practically the monopolist on animated features in the United States.

In a time when TV would cause the decline and fall of the animated cartoon industry, this was no luxury, at all.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Cinderella’:

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