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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 12, 1939
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Musical Mountaineers © Max FleischerIn the opening scene of ‘Musical Mountaineers’ Betty Boop’s car stops in the middle of nowhere, and she gets stranded in ‘feud county’.

Betty seeks for help in a poor barn, where she encounters a fully armed hillbilly family. The hostile hillbillies make Betty Boop dance by shooting at her feet, but Betty’s inspired dancing brings out their musical element, and soon we watch them all singing and dancing together.

It’s hard to enjoy ‘Musical Mountaineers’, as the short features cliche caricatures of mountain people, even if the Appalachians are treated better than in the extremely backward ‘Be Up To Date’ from one year earlier. Nevertheless, the musical routine feels trite, and seems to belong to the early 1930’s, when song-and-dance routines were all too common. The best gag is Margie Hines’s, who, as Betty Boop’s voice, adlibs “it looks like the people who moved out, don’t live here anymore”.

Watch ‘Musical Mountaineers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 81
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: So Does an Automobile
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: The Scared Crows

‘Musical Mountaineers’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 31, 1939
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

So Does an Automobile © Max FleischerIn ‘So Does an Automobile’ Betty Boop owns a car hospital for ill anthropomorphized cars.

Although this cartoon features a musical number, it mainly consists of inspired spot gags, making this short the only Betty Boop entry in the spot gag genre. And, in true gag cartoon fashion, this cartoon saves its best gag for last.

For a Betty Boop cartoon from the second half of the 1930s, ‘So Does an Automobile’ has a surprisingly silly atmosphere, which harks partly back to the early 1930’s, Betty Boop’s heydays. The number of gags and the silly atmosphere arguably make the short one of the best Betty Boop cartoons of the second half of the 1930’s, right behind ‘Betty Boop and Grampy’ (1935) and ‘Pudgy Picks A Fight‘ (1937). Unfortunately, ‘So Does an Automobile’ was to be Betty Boop’s last great cartoon, as her series stopped four months later.

Watch ‘So Does an Automobile’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 80
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: My Friend the Monkey
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Musical Mountaineers

‘So Does an Automobile’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 2, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating:  ★★
Review:

On with the New © Max FleischerIn the opening scene of ‘On with the New’ we watch Betty Boop working at the ‘Ye olde quainte coffee house’.

Betty has to work hard: she must cook and wash the dishes at the same time. She clearly hates her job, but luckily she gets a job as a nurse in ‘Bundle from Heaven Nursery’. At the nursery we watch the babies being cleaned at an assembly line. However, as soon as Betty has them in their beds and said goodnight to them, the babies cause havoc. The uncontrollable babies behave so badly that Betty quits her job on the spot and rushes back to her old job, which she does with renewed enthusiasm.

There’s little to enjoy in ‘On With The New’, although the assembly line sequence is rather nice. The uncontrollable baby material go all the way back to ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (1931) and ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932), and by 1939 such antics, with its multitude of animation cycles, had become old fashioned and trite. The assembly line sequence, on the other hand, looks forward to a similar sequence in the Warner Bros. classic ‘Baby Bottleneck’ (1946).

Watch ‘On with the New’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 77
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Sally Swing
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy in Thrills and Chills

‘On with the New’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 28, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★
Review:

Leave Well Enough Alone © Max Fleischer‘Leave Well Enough Alone’ opens with Popeye visiting Olive Oyl’s pet shop, buying all her animals (dogs) for $500, only to set them free immediately.

Only a parrot stays behind. He sings the cartoon’s title tune, in which he tells us that it’s better to be safe inside, being cared for than free in the outer world. Indeed, in no time all the dogs have been caught by a dog catcher. Popeye buys them all from the dog catcher and restores them to the shop.

‘Leave Well Enough Alone’ is low on gags, its title song is trite, but most importantly, its message is highly questionable. It’s very strange to watch such a free spirit as Popeye finally obeying to this extremely conservative motto. Was it a hidden message from Max to his employees?

Watch ‘Leave Well Enough Alone’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 70
To the previous Popeye film: Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp
To the next Popeye film: Wotta Nitemare

‘Leave Well Enough Alone’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 7, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp © Max Fleischer‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ is the last of three Popeye two-reelers in Technicolor.

Like ‘Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor’ (1936) and ‘Popeye the Sailor meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves’ (1937) the short has a clear 1001 Arabian Nights setting. In fact, it’s a rather faithful retelling of the classic fairy tale, until Spinach comes along. Unlike the earlier two-reelers ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ doesn’t either feature Fleischer’s table-top technique, Wimpy or Bluto, with an anonymous villain taking Bluto’s place.

The film is introduced as being a script Olive is writing for ‘Surprise Pictures’, and, of course, she herself stars as the princess. It’s the first scene in which we can hear Margie Hines as Olive Oyl’s voice. Hines had replaced Mae Questel, who didn’t make the move to Miami together with the rest of the Fleischer studio. Margie Hines would remain Olive’s voice until the end of 1943, after which Mae Questel picked it up again.

‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ is wonderfully made. Its background art is no less than gorgeous, and some of the animation is outstanding, for example that on Popeye’s horse. The final battle is a delight, when Popeye uses cans of spinach as his own magic against the magic of the lamp, now in the villain’s hands.

The film contains a novelty: in the cave scene and in the scene in which Popeye parades the streets as a prince, he suddenly has eyes with pupils, foreshadowing his design of the Paramount studio years.

Watch ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 69
To the previous Popeye film: Customers Wanted
To the next Popeye film: Leave Well Enough Alone

‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 27, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Wimpy
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Customers Wanted © Max FleischerIn 1937 the Fleischer Studio suffered a severe strike. In 1938 they moved their studios to Miami, Florida to break up union activity, and because of the state’s more favorable financial climate.

The new studio opened in October 1938, and devoted a lot of its resources to the Fleischer’s first feature film, ‘Gulliver’, which was released at the end of 1939.

The move to Florida had several consequences for the Popeye series: as the studio’s top animators now worked on ‘Gulliver’, the series was laid in hands of some lesser men, and this shows in many 1939 Popeye cartoons. More importantly, there were some voice changes: Mae Questel and Gus Wickie (Bluto’s voice) had stayed behind in New York, so Olive’s voice was taken over by Margie Hines, who would do her voice until the end of 1943. Bluto’s voice was now done by Pinto Colvig, whom the Fleischers had hired away from Disney. Jack Mercer, Popeye’s voice, got along very well with Margie Hines – in fact the two were married on March 8, 1939.

The move may have had a particular impact on ‘Customers Wanted’, for this cartoon is a ‘cheater’: it only partially features new material, some scenes are reused from two earlier Popeye cartoons, albeit in the most natural way.

‘In ‘Customers Wanted’ Popeye and Bluto as competing arcade owners at a Coney Island-like amusement park. They’re both out of customers, and dive on Wimpy, when he seems interested.

The competing entrepreneurs are so eager to show Wimpy their films on their mutoscopes, they don’t even charge him money. The mutoscope films are excerpts from ‘Let’s Get Movin” (1936) and ‘The Twisker Pitcher’ (1937). Soon, however, Bluto’s and Popeye’s competition turns into a fight, and it’s Wimpy who cashes in by advertising their row as ‘the fight of the century”.

‘Customers Wanted’ is an early compilation cartoon, but a very entertaining one. Bluto’s and Popeye’s tricks to lure Wimpy away from the competition are delightful, and so are the voices. The amusement park itself is beautifully designed, and is reminiscent of the futuristic fair of ‘All’s Fair at the Fair‘ (1938).

Watch ‘Customers Wanted’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 68
To the previous Popeye film: Cops Is always Right
To the next Popeye film: Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp

‘Customers Wanted’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 9, 1939
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating:  ★
Review:

The Scared Crows © Max FleischerIn the opening scene of ‘The Scared Crows’ we watch Betty and Pudgy planting seeds, which are immediately eaten by crows.

Betty chases them away using a scarecrow, but one flies against a tree, and Betty takes the poor bird inside to nurse it. However, the crow soon invites all his friends inside, and the flock creates havoc in Betty’s kitchen. Using the scarecrow as a disguise Betty chases them all away, restoring peace.

‘The Scared Crows’ is a slow and tiresome cartoon, and it’s difficult to see anything noteworthy in it, apart from being Pudgy’s last theatrical cartoon. The little cute dog had hardly made an impression during its five year career, never reaching the stardom of its owner, let alone Popeye, Fleischer’s major star, and he wasn’t missed.

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

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 82
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Musical Mountaineers
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Rhythm on the Reservation

‘The Scared Crows’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 27, 1939
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating:  ★★
Review:

My Friend the Monkey © Max FleischerBelow Betty Boop’s window there’s an Italian organ grinder with a monkey.

Betty invites the monkey inside to play with Pudgy. But the mischievous little animal immediately aims for her food, and Pudgy has a hard time trying to chase the intruder out of the house. When Pudgy finally succeeds, the monkey returns in Betty’s arms, as she has just bought him from the organ grinder.

‘My Friend The Monkey’ is the closest the Betty Boop series ever came near becoming a chase cartoon, a new genre that was emerging at the time. However, the cartoon is far from a gag rich chase cartoon, being more tiresome than funny. Even the pay off scene is anything but a surprise, as we could watch Betty negotiating with the organ grinder throughout the picture.

The animation of the monkey dancing was reused from Pudgy swinging in ‘The Swing School‘, even using the same music, but now in barrel organ form.

Watch ‘My Friend the Monkey’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 79
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy in Thrills and Chills
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: So Does an Automobile

‘Pudgy in Thrills and Chills’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 23, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Pudgy in Thrills and Chills © Max FleischerIn ‘Pudgy in Thrills and Chills’ Betty and Pudgy board on a mountain train for winter sport.

Betty wears a rather sexy winter outfit and goes skating on the frozen lake, in a rotoscoped action to the music of a nice waltz version of ‘Jingle Bells’. Meanwhile a dumb skier wants to kiss her.

However, in the cartoon world, skating often takes place near a waterfall (see also the Popeye cartoon ‘Seasin’s Greetinks!‘ (1933) and the Mickey Mouse short ‘On Ice‘ from 1935), and ‘Pudgy in Thrills and Chills’ is no exception. Thus soon Pudgy and Betty fall off the waterfall, only to be saved by the dumb skier. He returns both Betty and Pudgy into safety, and finally earns the desired kiss… from Pudgy.

There are actually remarkably few thrills and chills in this slow cartoon, as most screen time goes to Betty Boop skating, the antics of the dumb skier, and some boring actions by Pudgy. Most remarkable is the very convincing scene of Betty Boop and Pudgy playing tic-tac-toe on a steamy train window.

Watch ‘Pudgy in Thrills and Chills’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 78
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: On with the New
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: My Friend the Monkey

‘Pudgy in Thrills and Chills’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 29, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Cops Is Always Right © Max FleischerIn ‘Cops Is Always Right’ Popeye gets fined several times: for riding against a policeman, for blowing a horn, for parking near a fire hydrant, for parking in front of a fire station.

Actually, he’s trying to help Olive with her spring cleaning, but he’s constantly hindered by the same police officer. The comedy of this cartoon is flawless. It’s well-timed and makes clever use of a string of running gags, beautifully intertwined into one logical story.

Unfortunately, the short’s finale is disappointing. When Popeye accidentally hits the cop with a flower pot he locks himself in, as he always respects the law. This unfunny and cloying, law-abiding end hampers the cartoon, which otherwise would have been one of Popeye’s best.

‘Cops Is Always Right’ is noteworthy for lacking spinach, and for its unique type of comedy, which in many ways has more in common with Laurel and Hardy than with other Popeye cartoons. The short also shows how goody-goody Popeye had become. Although the cop pictured is far from sympathetic, Popeye remains über-calm, and never even thinks of knocking him down. His superhuman strength is strictly reserved for the cleaning of Olive’s house.

‘Cops Is Always Right’ is the last Popeye cartoon to be staged in the distinct New York environment. In 1938 the Fleischer studio had moved to Miami Florida, opening their new studio in October. From now on, Popeye’s surroundings would be generally spacier and sunnier than ever before.

Watch ‘Cops Is Always Right’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 67
To the previous Popeye film: A Date to Skate
To the next Popeye film: Customers Wanted

‘Cops Is Always Right’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 18, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

A Date to Skate © Max FleischerPopeye invites Olive into a roller skating hall.

The unwilling Olive is no roller skate talent, however, and after some antics inside the hall, she accidentally skates outside and into the streets. It’s up to Popeye to rescue her. Unfortunately, he has forgotten his spinach, but luckily somebody in the audience can give him a can. This particular gag is rare but undeniable influence of the new Warner Bros. cartoon style on the Fleischer cartoons. The rest of the cartoon retains Fleischer’s unique and charming style.

‘A Date to Skate’ is in no way a classic, but it’s enjoyable from start to end, and gains particular speed when Olive is lost on the streets. There’s a great scene in which she manages to skate inside a department store, and another one in which she and Popeye make a long descend – a scene that seems to make use of a ridiculously long background painting, even though some parts are clearly reused.

Watch ‘A Date to Skate’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 66
To the previous Popeye film: Goonland
To the next Popeye film: Cops Is always Right

‘A Date to Skate’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 21, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Poopdeck Pappy
Rating:  ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Goonland © Max Fleischer‘Goonland’ is a pivotal Popeye cartoon, which introduces two characters from E.C. Segar’s famous comic strip to the movie screen: the goons and Poopdeck Pappy.

The short opens with Popeye sailing an unknown sea in search for his father. He lands on a volcanic island, which is clearly doomed, as witnessed by the number of shipwrecks around it. The island turns out to be Goonland, inhabited by ‘Goons’, large, hairy humanoid creatures with superhuman strength. Indeed, even though Popeye doesn’t show any fear, he remains as long in hiding as possible, and only dares to confront the goons when disguised as one.

Goonland indeed turns out to be the home of  Popeye’s dad, Poopdeck Pappy, locked in a prison and playing checkers with himself. But Poopdeck Pappy doesn’t want to be rescued, and only comes into action, when Popeye is captured by the goons. In this short Popeye fails to reach his spinach, but his dad succeeds, rescuing his son before a bunch of goons jump at the duo. At this point the film breaks, making all the goons falling off into oblivion. Two hands stitch the film back together, and in the end we watch Poopdeck Pappy carrying his son from the island, the two singing Popeye’s signature song together.

‘Goonland’ is easily one of the all time best Popeye cartoons. Its settings, its characters, its story, Jack Mercer’s improvisation – everything is really great in this cartoon. Goonland is conceived wonderfully, and this part excels in beautiful background images. Jack Mercer is in top form. For example when Popeye disguises himself as a goon, he says ‘here today, goon tomorrow’. Later, when tiny rocks fall on him he mumbles ‘Guess somebody’s trying to rock me to sleep’.

Poopdeck Pappy, who’s also voiced by Mercer, is a strong character and an easy match to Popeye himself. Moreover, the story is truly exciting, as the goons are clearly no small fry for our hero. Indeed, the inventive film break gag, probably the first of its kind, is actually a deus ex machina , appearing when father and son are in undeniable dire straits.

The short also features some beautiful animation, most notably that of Poopdeck Popeye breaking his prison walls. In this scene we can really feel the sheer power of his action. Despite being such a wonderful character, the studio would wait two years before bringing Poopdeck Pappy back to the screen in ‘My Pop, My Pop‘ (1940). Poopdeck Pappy would star some of Popeye’s best cartoons, like ‘With Poopdeck Pappy‘ (1940) and ‘Problem Pappy‘ (1941).

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

This Popeye film No. 65
To the previous Popeye film: Mutiny Ain’t Nice
To the next Popeye film: A Date to Skate

‘Goonland’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 23, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Mutiny Ain't Nice © Max Fleischer‘Mutiny Ain’t Nice’ is one of the rarer Popeye cartoons in which we watch our amiable sailor actually sailing.

The cartoon starts with Popeye preparing ship and saying goodbye to Olive, who, as a woman, cannot board ship because she will bring bad luck. Olive, however, lands on Popeye’s ship by accident, and as soon as she’s discovered by the crew, a mutiny starts. With help of spinach, Popeye rounds up his crew single-handed, chains them in one go and throws them into the hold.

Never mind the straight-forward story: ‘Mutiny Ain’t Nice’ is a fast and very enjoyable cartoon, greatly helped by Jack Mercer’s inspired ad-libbing and by beautiful background art.

Watch ‘Mutiny Ain’t Nice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 64
To the previous Popeye film: Bulldozing the Bull
To the next Popeye film: Goonland

‘Mutiny Ain’t Nice’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 26, 1939
Stars: Hunky and Spunky
Rating:  ★
Review:

Always Kickin' © Max Fleischer‘Always Kickin” sees the return of that infamous duo of burrows, Hunky and Spunky.

In the opening scene we watch Hunky teaching Spunky how to kick backwards. Next we watch Spunky trying to be like the birds. He fails at attempts to sing, to build a nest and to fly, and all the bird mock the little donkey. Then an evil vulture or eagle (it’s not very clear) arrives, and kidnaps one of the young birds, much to the distress of the other birds. Spunky comes to the rescue, using the newly learned kicking technique to kick the hell out of the evil bird. In the end we watch all the birds admiring Spunky’s kicking practice.

It’s difficult to say anything positive about this cartoon. Its story is so utterly cloying, its protagonists so terribly boring, and its timing so remarkably slow, it’s a real pain to sit it out. When one does so, the short’s seven-and-half minutes feel much, much longer… One can only guess what the Fleischers ever saw in their donkey duo, as they made yet another five cartoons with them.

Watch ‘Always Kickin” yourself and tell me what you think:

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

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

The Fresh Vegetable Mystery © Max FleischerAlright, that’s something we had never seen before: anthropomorphized vegetables…

It’s night in a kitchen, and all vegetables are sound asleep, when an evil cloaked figure arrives and kidnaps mother carrot and her kids. The entire potato police force comes into action, but like in the Silly Symphony ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?‘ (1935) the police force only manages to arrest a bunch of innocents from a bar.

Most of the ‘humor’ origins in the typical tortures the police men apply to their victims to make them talk: a cob is made into popcorn, an orange squeezed out, a ‘hard-boiled’ egg fried. In fact, it’s rather painful to watch these scenes. In the end the villain turns out to be four mice, who are caught in a mouse trap, and immediately to start a fight among themselves.

‘The Fresh Vegetable Mystery’ makes little sense, and can hardly be called funny, but the cartoon is alleviated by its original setting (which anticipates ‘Sausage Party’ from 2016), making it stand out among more generic Color Classics.

Watch ‘The Fresh Vegetable Mystery’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 28, 1938
Rating:  ★
Review:

The Playful Polar Bears © Max Fleischer‘The Playful Polar Bears’ starts with just that: playful Polar Bears.

Soon, we follow a disobedient little bear, who wants to catch a fish without entering the ice cold water. When a bunch of hunters arrive, all bears flee into an ice cave, except for the little one. When his mother finds him, she thinks he has been shot, which leads to an overlong mourning and funeral scene. Of course, the little one is unharmed, and in the end shot we watch the polar bears being playful again.

With ‘The Playful Polar Bears’ the Fleischer brothers hark all the way back to early Silly Symphonies like ‘Arctic Antics‘ (1930) and ‘Birds in the Spring‘ (1933), without adding anything new. It’s a great example of their misguided plagiarism of Disney’s Silly Symphonies series: there’s a protagonist, but nothing to let him gain the audience’s sympathy. There’s emotion, but it’s played out in the most standardized way. Thus in no frame we’re able to feel with the mother polar bear, whose emotions remain abstract and generic. Besides, the story lacks inner logic. In the opening shots it’s clearly established that the little polar bear hates the ice cold water, but nothing is done with this information. Moreover, the hunters are finally defeated by the deus ex machina of a snow storm, which sends their ship home.

So, in ‘The Playful Polar Bears’, there’s a lot happening on the screen, but nothing that’s remotely interesting. Films like these painfully showed what Disney had and what the Fleischers lacked. Luckily, they also made Popeye cartoons, which showed that the Fleischers really could make enjoyable cartoons, because in the Popeye series they could play their own game, instead of trying to imitate somebody else’s.

Watch ‘The Playful Polar Bears’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 26, 1938
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

All's Fair at the Fair © Max FleischerIn ‘All’s Fair at the Fair’ an old-fashioned couple visits a world fair. This world fair is probably inspired by the coming New York fair of 1939, but Fleischers’ version is much more modern than any existing one.

Inside the fair, the couple encounters some crazy inventions, they get a beauty treatment by a couple of robots, which greatly rejuvenates them, and they dance with some other robots on a latin beat. In the end we watch them rushing off on a car seemingly made out of chewing gum.

As had already been demonstrated by the Grampy cartoons, the Fleischers were most inspired when technique was involved, and ‘All’s Fair at the Fair’ is their homage to modern technology, which they clearly regard with much more optimism than the Disney studio. ‘All’s Fair at the Fair’ is akin to the Donald Duck short ‘Modern Inventions‘ (1937), but unlike the machines in the Donald Duck cartoon, the machines depicted here have no downside, and everything goes well.

There’s very little to laugh in ‘All’s Fair at the Fair’, but the short excels in inventive scenes, and beautiful art deco background art, which make the cartoon stand out above the complete Color Classics series in sheer looks.

Watch ‘All’s Fair at the Fair’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 14, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Sally Swing © Max FleischerThis short opens with Betty Boop looking for a singer to lead a swing band at the university ball.

Unfortunately, no one in the audition room qualifies. Luckily she discovers that the cleaning lady is a natural talent in swinging, ans she hires her on the spot.

In a smooth overlaying cut we are immediately transferred to the ball night. We watch Sally Swing performing her own theme music to intoxicating swing music for the remainder half of the film. Exit story, although during this swing part there’s some rudimentary story of an old professor who somehow doesn’t approve, but who’s caught by the swing music anyway.

The second half is joyous and captures the swing craze that had taken over America. But this section is hampered by lame gags, and ugly and old-fashioned animation, a problem the complete cartoon suffers from. It seems that Betty Boop had become the victim of the Fleischers’ move to Florida and the start of animation on their feature project, ‘Gulliver’s Travels‘. While for this project Fleischer attracted top animators, the lesser talents apparently had to work on Betty Boop cartoons. Even the animation on contemporary Popeye cartoons is much more flexible and inspired.

Even worse, Sally Swing is anything but an appealing character. In fact, she hasn’t got any character traits, at all. If the Fleischers had planned to make her their next star, this plan was doomed to fail, as stars devoid of character had become obsolete since ca. 1936. In any case, after this cartoon Sally Swing was never seen again.

For this short Betty Boop has been re-designed to look more human. Unfortunately, the restyling isn’t a success: she also looks a little more angular, less appealing, and if possible, less sexy than she already had become by the late 1930s. Nevertheless, Betty’s quite boring new design would stay up to her last cartoon.

Watch ‘Sally Swing’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 76
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy the Watchman
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: On with the New

‘Sally Swing’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 19, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Bulldozing the Bull © Max FleischerIn ‘Bulldozing the Bull’ we suddenly find Popeye in either Mexico or Spain, fancying a latin version of Olive Oyl.

Popeye follows the Spanish Olive into the arena, but is suddenly forced to fight the bull himself, something he already had done in his third cartoon ‘I Eats My Spinach‘ (1933).

In that cartoon Popeye beat the bull into a meat market, but five years later he refuses to fight the bull, because it’s inhuman to do so. Indeed, the cartoon clearly turns anti-bullfighting, and in the end Popeye sings ‘Don’t be a bullfighter, because kindness is righter’ to his own tune.

This is all a clear result of the role model Popeye had become over the years. Indeed, already in Segar’s Sunday Pages, Popeye had been promoting kindness to animals and other gentle behavior. It’s this original mix of kindness and violence that made Popeye such a wonderful comic character, and in this film the Fleischers play that combination to an excellent effect.

Watch ‘Bulldozing the Bull’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 63
To the previous Popeye film: The Jeep
To the next Popeye film: Mutiny Ain’t Nice

‘Bulldozing the Bull’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 29, 1938
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

I Yam Love Sick © Max Fleischer‘I Yam Love Sick’ opens with Olive Oyl reading a romance.

Popeye drops by, but Olive ignores him completely. Later she explains she has a new boyfriend now, Bluto. To win her back, Popeye feigns to fall very ill. This leads to a bizarre, and rather surreal series of hospital scenes, in which weird bearded doctors try to examine Popeye. In the end Popeye reveals he was only fooling, only to get clobbered by Olive.

‘I Yam Love Sick’ is full of delightful nonsense. The best gag is when Olive steps out of the panel to address the audience with an ‘is there a doctor in the house?’.

Watch ‘I Yam Love Sick’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 60
To the previous Popeye film: Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh
To the next Popeye film: Plumbing is a “Pipe”

‘I Yam Love Sick’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

 

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