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Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: November 25, 1940
Stars: Andy Panda, Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Knock Knock © Walter Lantz1940 was a watershed year: in this year the last remnants of the cute, childish and timid style of the late 1930s gave way to the brassier, faster and funnier style of the 1940s. In no film this change can be seen as well as in ‘Knock Knock’ in which the new style in the form of Woody Woodpecker literally invades the cute, slow world of Andy Panda.

Andy Panda had been a recent start himself, and ‘Knock Knock’ is only his fourth cartoon. Unfortunately, the little Panda kid and his pa never were particularly funny characters, and they’re immediately eclipsed by the flashy red and blue woodpecker. The bird makes his presence immediately clear by knocking hard on the door, driving Andy’s pa mad. And when he’s visible for the first time, he immediately utters both his classic line “guess who?”, which would be reused in the leaders for his own films, and his classic laugh.

Strangely enough, Woody Woodpecker was not the first character to utter this instantly recognizable laugh. It was used earlier by rabbits in the Warner Bros. pictures ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938) and ‘Hare-Um Scare-Um‘ (1939). This is no coincidence. Both those rabbits and Woody Woodpecker were conceived by the same person: Bugs Hardaway, who even had been a story man on the first Daffy Duck films ‘Porky’s Duck Hunt’ (1937) and ‘Daffy Duck and Egghead‘ (1938). The latter cartoon even provided the story idea of the ending of ‘Knock Knock’. Hardaway thus had a strange love for lunatic characters. Hardaway had recently interchanged Warner Bros. for Walter Lantz, and in many ways, the woodpecker is the same character as Daffy and those loony rabbits: all these characters’ aims remain unknown, they’re just there to be loony.

In fact, Woody Woodpecker never developed much of a personality: later he clearly became less clearly a woodpecker, and less of a lunatic, but he never gained clear character traits. His appeal came from his cheerfully loony actions, not caring about laws, status or authority. Watching Woody the trickster getting the best of strong adversaries was a delight throughout the series.

In ‘Knock Knock’ the humor unfortunately is hampered by the slow reactions of Andy’s pa, Woodpecker’s primary foil. This unfunny character was soon dropped in favor of stronger and funnier adversaries, like Wally Walrus and Buzz Buzzard. Woody Woodpecker, on the other hand, was clearly here to stay. Hardaway and Woody transformed the humor of the Walter Lantz films, making the Lantz cartoons among the most hilarious of the era, after several years of sickening sweetness. Starting with the title cartoon ‘Woody Woodpecker’ the loony bird was given his own series in early 1941. The Woody Woodpecker series lasted until 1966 – longer than that of any contemporary cartoon star. In the early 1940s Woody Woodpecker certainly transformed the Walter Lantz studio, and secured the studio’s place in animation history. Now the wild days could begin.

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

‘Knock Knock’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: February 10, 1940
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Mammy Two-Shoes
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Puss gets the Boot © MGM‘Puss Gets the Boot’ marks the first of three important debut cartoons of 1940 (the other ones being ‘A Wild Hare‘ from July and ‘Knock Nock’ from November), making the year a turning point in American studio animation. From now on cartoons were to be brassier, more energetic and more violent.

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ introduces that illustrious cat and mouse duo, Tom & Jerry. The cartoon was made by William Hanna and Joe Barbera under Rudolf Ising’s flag, and like ‘A Wild Hare’ only meant as a one-off cartoon. Indeed, Tom is called Jasper in this short, and Jerry remains unnamed.

Moreover, the two look quite different from their later incarnations. Not only is Tom drawn with outrageous detail, he also has a white nose and very modest eyebrows. Jerry’s physique is rather unstable, as if he were made of a sort of rather amorphous jelly.

Yet, the characters are well established, and the friendly antagonism between the two is set from the start, as is the prize-winning combination of silent comedy and high production values. Also present is the combination of cuteness and gag-rich cartoon violence that made the Tom & Jerry series unique.

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ also marks the debut of Mammy Two-Shoes, a black maid character whose face we were never to see (except for a few frames in ‘Saturday Evening Puss‘ from 1950). Mammy was borrowed from Disney, who had introduced exactly such a character in ‘Three Orphan Kittens‘ (1935). For present American audiences this character is problematical, as she clearly is a stereotype of a black maid. But I, as a European kid, always thought of her as the owner of the house, never realizing the discrepancy of the enormous mansion and the maid’s modest looks. In any case Mammy lasted until 1952, starring 18 Tom & Jerry cartoons in total.

In this very first Tom & Jerry short Mammy tells Jasper (Tom) that if he breaks one more thing, he goes out. So the still unnamed Jerry takes advantage of the situation, in a series of gags that culminate in a scene in which Tom tries to hold a ridiculously high pile of plates. The short features several gags that were pretty modern at the time, like Tom drawing a fake mouse hole entrance, and Jerry poking Tom’s eyes. Indeed, the idea was strong enough to be more or less revisited in ‘Mouse Cleaning’ (1948), with even better results.

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ is a very well made cartoon. The silent comedy of the two characters is acted out perfectly and the action is timed very well. It’s still very funny, and it’s no wonder that the audiences asked for more cartoons from this cat and mouse duo. The short even was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost it to another MGM cartoon, the much more saccharine ‘The Milky Way‘.

However, Tom and Jerry would quickly become MGM’s superstars, and they would win no less than seven Academy Awards, more than any other cartoon star. Indeed, Tom and Jerry arguably were the most successful cartoon stars of the 1940s and 1950s, starring 114 cartoons, and lasting until 1958, when MGM shut its animation department down. However, even that wouldn’t be the end of the cat and mouse duo, and even in the 21st century still films are made featuring these great characters.

Watch ‘Puss Gets the Boot’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 1
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Midnight Snack

‘Puss Gets the Boot’ is available on the European DVD set ‘Tom and Jerry Collection’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: December 7, 1940
Stars: Willoughby
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Of Fox and Hounds © Warner Bros.‘Of Fox and Hounds’ introduces Willoughby, that dumb dog that was the first of many cartoon parodies on Lon Chaney jr.’s portrayal of Lennie Small in the movie ‘Of Mice and Men’ (1939).

In this cartoon he’s a rather fat hunting dog too dumb to recognize a fox when he sees one. Worse, the fox makes him fall for the same gag twice, in an extraordinarily long gag, which Avery plays out full. The fox is a clear variation on the wise guy type Avery introduced with Bugs Bunny in ‘A Wild Hare‘ four months earlier, without adding anything new, and he was never seen again. Willoughby, on the other hand, would encounter the hare himself in his next cartoon, ‘The Heckling Hare’, and another variation on this character type in ‘The Crackpot Quail’ (both 1941). In all, he would star in seven cartoons, the last one being Friz Freleng’s ‘Hare Force’ (1944).

In his next cartoon Willoughby would become less fat, but not smarter. Luckily not, for his all too late insights, which he shares with the audience, absolutely form the character’s main attraction. At MGM Avery would more or less return to the character in ‘Lonesome Lenny’ (1946). Willoughby’s “Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?” would become a catch phrase, and was also used by Lenny in that latter cartoon.

‘Of Fox and Hounds’ features high production values. It opens with a very realistic image of a hunter, followed by a beautiful shot of horses and hounds silhouetted against the morning sun. The cartoon also features remarkable oil paintings that provide great realistic backgrounds in the best academic tradition, which make all the nonsense staged in front of it more believable.

Unfortunately, the cartoon is a little too slow to be an all time winner. Avery clearly was still experimenting with timing, and in this cartoon in particular he juxtaposes slow scenes to lightning fast action, especially in the parts featuring the bear. ‘Of Fox and Hounds’ may be no classic, it’s an important entry in the evolution of Tex Avery’s films, the Warner Bros. style, and the chase cartoon in general.

Watch ‘Of Fox and Hounds’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Of Fox and Hounds’ is available on the French DVD set ‘Tex Avery’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: July 27, 1940
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

A Wild Hare © Warner Bros.‘A Wild Hare’ marks the birth of one of the biggest cartoon stars of all time, Bugs Bunny.

The short had been preceded by four other Warner Bros. cartoons about hunting and rabbits, ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938), ‘Prest-O Chang-O‘ (1939). ‘Hare-Um Scare-Um‘ (1939) and ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera‘ (1940), which all contributed to the formation of the character.

Yet, it’s the character, design and voice the rabbit got in ‘A Wild Hare’ that made the rodent into the Bugs Bunny we all know now, even though he still looks a little different. Nevertheless, the difference between Tex Avery’s Bugs and his predecessors is less marked than sometimes advertised: Jones’s rabbit in ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera’ already was a calm character, and both the rabbits in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ and in ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera’ had performed fake death scenes. Moreover, even in the first half of ‘A Wild Hare’ the rabbit still seems a bit loony, like his predecessors.

Still, the rabbit has become a lot cooler: in his first appearance (which surprisingly only occurs after two and a half minutes!) he calmly addresses his hunter with the first occurrence of that famous line ‘What’s up, doc?‘. And in the second half he kisses Elmer Fudd a few times (another Bugs Bunny trademark) and deliberately invites Elmer to shoot him, only to act out a superb death scene, animated to perfection by Robert McKimson.

Likewise, Elmer Fudd gets his definite design in this cartoon, and it’s here he utters his trademark opening words ‘Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits‘ for the first time. He still has the red nose he had inherited from his predecessor Egghead, but that would soon go, too.

Priceless is the ‘guess who’ scene, in which Elmer guesses several beautiful Hollywood actresses as likely candidates (“Hedy Lamarr? Carole Lombard? Rosemary Lane? Olivia de Havilland?“), before deciding upon ‘that screwy rabbit’. The complete cartoon forms the template for many Bugs Bunny cartoons to come, up to such a late short like ‘What’s Opera, Doc?‘ (1957).

The cartoon itself at least was a success, and nominated for an Academy Award (which it lost to MGM’s ‘The Milky Way‘), and it prompted other cartoon directors to use the character, too. Five months later, Chuck Jones was the first, with ‘Elmer’s Pet Rabbit’. Thus this rabbit had to get a name. And in an era in which virtually all cartoon stars had alliterated names, he was christened Bugs Bunny. In fact, this name that already appeared on a model sheet for ‘Hare-Um Scare-um’ as ‘Bugs’ Bunny’, after director Bugs Hardaway, who had directed that particular cartoon. ‘Elmer’s Pet Rabbit’ has a separate title card to introduce this rabbit and his red-hot name.

With ‘A Wild Hare’ the Leon Schlesinger studio turned a new page. Together with MGM’s ‘Puss Gets the Boot‘, Tom & Jerry’s debut film, which had been released five months earlier, the short somehow heralds the wilder and more mature days of the 1940s. And although Elmer and Bugs don’t chase each other in ‘A Wild Hare’, the cartoon helped to shape the format of the chase cartoon, with the comedy played out well with just the two characters, in a clear antagonistic relationship. Now the fun could really begin…

Watch ‘A Wild Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 1
To the last proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Elmer’s Candid Camera
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Elmer’s Pet Rabbit

‘A Wild Hare’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and on the DVD ‘Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Award-Nominated Animation: Cinema Favorites’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: June 7, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Mr. Duck Steps Out © Walt Disney‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ opens with Donald Duck preparing to visit his love interest, Daisy Duck.

To Donald’s dismay, his nephews want to go too, and the kid trio seriously hampers his courting efforts. Even sending them off to get some ice cream doesn’t help. Nevertheless, when Huey, Dewey and Louie make Donald swallow a popping corn, Donald’s dance moves become so hot, he quickly wins Daisy over. Thus, in the end, the exhausted duck is smothered in kisses.

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is a clear cartoon of the swing era, and we watch all ducks trucking and doing the lindy hop to the swinging music. The Disney composers weren’t capable of making real jazz, however, and the music remains rather tame when compared to the big bands of the era. It’s a pity, because the animation on Donald and Daisy dancing, and on the nephews are playing the music is marvelous, and certainly hotter than the music accompanying it.

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is noteworthy for marking the debut of Donald’s long lasting girlfriend, Daisy Duck, Donald’s second love interest after Donna Duck had disappeared into the distance on her unicycle in ‘Don Donald‘ (1937). On the screen, Daisy remained a minor character, only appearing in ten more Donald Duck cartoons. However, she would become a regular in Al Taliaferro’s daily strip, making her debut on 4 November 1940, first as Donald’s new neighbor. Later, Carl Barks, too, made regular use of this character. In both comic strips Daisy’s appearance remained largely the same as in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 17
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Dog Laundry
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Put-Put Troubles

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: May 20, 1939
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Naughty But Mice © Warner Bros.‘Naughty But Mice’ introduces Chuck Jones’s very first regular cartoon star, the infamous mouse Sniffles.

Sniffles’ first appearance immediately explains his name, for he has a cold, and visits a drug store for medicine. He finds one with a lot of alcohol, and is drunk almost immediately. Then follows a rather curious scene in which Sniffles talks and even sings with a humanized electric razor, in an all too slow scene. After this strange scene the second act starts, in which Sniffles is threatened by a cat, and rescued by the razor.

Like many of Jones’s earliest cartoons, ‘Naughty But Mice’ is a clear attempt to emulate Walt Disney. Sniffles even vaguely resembles the country mouse from ‘The Country Cousin‘ (1936), which also gets drunk. The result is a slow and cute cartoon. The short is saved, however, by gorgeous art deco-inspired background paintings and by Carl Stalling’s beautiful score.

Sniffles is far from an interesting character, and out of league with Daffy or even Porky. Nevertheless, the little mouse would star ten more cartoons, lasting even until 1946.

Watch ‘Naughty But Mice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Naughty But Mice’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: September 9, 1939
Stars: Andy Panda
Rating:  ★
Review:

Life Begins for Andy Panda © Walter LantzAs Lil’ Eightball failed to become Walter Lantz’s next star, Lantz came up with a new one for his second full color cartoon. It was an animal never used before: a panda.

‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ literally starts with his birth, in a scene remarkably anticipating a very similar one in ‘Bambi‘ (1942). Soon we skip six months and watch Andy as a young brat, ignoring his father’s lessons, and leaving the forest, where his father is captured by a tribe of stereotype pygmies. The forest animals come to help, but it’s the skunk who scares the natives all away.

‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ is a very bad start for Andy Panda’s career: the film just makes no sense. To start, Lovy seems to be at loss at what this film actually is: a 1930s morality tale, or a 1940s gag short. Moreover, his timing is terribly slow, the designs are often mediocre (especially Andy’s parents are badly designed), and the animation is erratic and over-excessive. Finally, this cartoon world, in which pygmies, kangaroos and pandas are all living together next to a Utah-like landscape, defies believability. The cartoon’s best feature is a short swing track during the chase scene.

Despite its shortcomings, ‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ apparently was a hit, and Andy Panda would continue to outwit his dad for years to come.

Watch ‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Life Begins for Andy Panda’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 14, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Popeye the Sailor © Max Fleischer1933/1934 marked a watershed for American animated cartoons: not only had the sex and horror rich cartoons of 1933 have to make way for the much more prudish content  of the Hays code era – during the same period many studios traded their old stars in for new ones.

In this period Iwerks dropped Flip the Frog in favor of Willy Whopper, Warner Bros. saw the departure of Bosko, and introduced Buddy, Van Beuren said farewell to Tom & Jerry and welcomed Cubby the Bear and The Little King. Even at the Walt Disney studio Mickey Mouse, the biggest star of all, would steadily lose popularity to the 1934 newcomer Donald Duck. The relay race was most visible at the Fleischer studio. In their 1933 cartoon ‘Popeye the Sailor’ Betty Boop literally gave way to Popeye.

True, like Mickey, Betty would keep on starring cartoons after 1933, but due to the Hays code, her sexuality, her biggest feat, was toned down, and by 1934 her heydays were clearly over. Popeye, on the other hand, would grow into arguably the most successful cartoon star of all, starring more than 200 cartoons, and lasting well into the 1950s, before embarking on a career in television.

Of course, Popeye already had been a star before he was introduced to the animated screen, having quickly grown into the leading character of Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theater comics since his introduction in 1929. But when the Fleischers started their films, he quickly became one of the most familiar cartoon stars of all time, still recognizable to present day audiences, where Buddy, Willy Whopper and Cubby Bear rapidly fell into oblivion.

In their pilot Popeye cartoon, officially part of the Betty Boop series, the Fleischers appear very well aware of the potentials of their new hero. It opens with a newspaper announcing that Popeye now is a movie star. The accompanying illustration immediately comes to life, and then we watch an iconic scene: Popeye singing his own new theme song, while socking things into tiny little things, in a string of metamorphosis gags. Popeye’s theme song is irresistably catchy, but who would have thought at the time that it would be still a familiar tune in the 21st century?

During the main section of the film it’s shore leave, and Popeye, Bluto and Olive visit a carnival. Because it’s de facto a Betty Boop cartoon, the human trio is oddly staged in Betty’s animal world, which she, too, would abandon within a few months. Betty’s role is minimized to that of a sexy hula dancer, in reused footage from ‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle‘ (1932). Popeye joins in, sharing Betty’s rotoscoped movements.

The cartoon introduces the basic story arc that would be varied upon in many years to come: Popeye and Olive are sweethearts, but Bluto craves for Olive, too, creating friction between the two strong men. There’s a lot of clobbering, and at one point Popeye grabs for a can of spinach to give him extra strength. This premise is very different from Segar’s Comic Strip, with its melodramatic stories which could easily last for month.

Both Bluto and spinach were taken from Segar’s strip, but there they had played minor roles. Bluto, in fact, only appeared a couple of weeks in September/October 1932, never to return to Segar’s comic strip. In the Fleischer cartoons, however, he was promoted to one of the three starring roles, easily eclipsing Wimpy. During his first cartoon, Bluto’s theme music is ‘Barnacle Bill’, extensively used in the cartoon of the same name from 1930. Unlike Popeye’s tune, this theme music would not return in later Popeye cartoons. The love triangle, of course, was far from new, and had been employed in e.g. several Oswald and Mickey Mouse cartoons. But the Fleischers managed to keep this premise surprisingly fresh, delivering several of the funniest cartoons of the 1930s.

The importance of Popeye’s move to the movie screen for cartoon history cannot be overestimated: for the first time in the sound era a comic strip star was successfully put to the screen, for the first time a strong idiosyncratic character appeared on the animated screen, for the first time cartoon violence was not incidental, but a vital part of the series. Strong characters and cartoon violence would recur more often and often when the 1930s progressed, and would become essential to cartooning during the 1940s. Indeed, other characters, most notably Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, contributed to the evolution of a brassier style, but it was Popeye who had shown the way.

Watch ‘Popeye the Sailor’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 18
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Mother Goose Land
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: The Old Man of the Mountain

This the first film featuring Popeye
To the first Popeye film in his own series: I Yam What I Yam

‘Popeye the Sailor’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 May 12, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Pluto, Goofy
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Revue © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Revue’ is famous for introducing Goofy, whose guffaw we had heard off-stage in the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon, ‘Barnyard Olympics‘.

In this cartoon he’s an elderly person, bearded and wearing glasses. We don’t hear him speak, only his guffaw can be heard, and together with Pluto he forms the running gag of the cartoon. Although Goofy literally has the last laugh, nothing points to the direction of a star career beyond the laugh itself, and indeed, in ‘Trader Mickey‘ his guffaw was used by a cannibal king, indicating it was not an exclusive trait, yet.

Nevertheless, Goofy would return in ‘The Whoopee Party‘, redesigned, christened Dippy Dawg, and here to stay. In fact, Goofy arguably is the first cartoon character, whose voice predates the screen persona, which is completely built around the stupid laugh, and ditto voice.

Apart from Goofy’s debut, there’s enough to enjoy in ‘Mickey’s Revue’, even though it revisits two themes explored earlier in the Mickey Mouse cartoons: that of Mickey and the gang giving a performance and that of animals causing havoc. Here, the source of havoc are the small kittens from ‘The Barnyard Broadcast‘ and ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (both 1931). It was their last screen performance, for they would soon be replaced by little mice, first introduced in ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932).

‘Mickey’s Revue’ follows the same lines as ‘The Barnyard Broadcast’, but is much better executed, cleverly intertwining the subplots of Goofy’s annoying laugh, Pluto trying to enter the stage, and the kittens interfering with Mickey’s performance. One of the gags involve a kitten caught in the hammers of Minnie’s piano, a gag looking forward to a similar one in the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Cat Concerto‘ (1947). Despite it’s great comedy, ‘Mickey’s Revue’ was the last cartoon exploiting the ruin finale, as used in 1931/1932 cartoons like ‘Mickey Cuts Up‘ and ‘The Grocery Boy‘.

‘Mickey’s Revue’ is a typical ensemble cartoon, also starring Minnie, Horace Horsecollar and no less than three Clarabelle Cows. By now Horace Horsecollar had caught up with his comic personality, and had grown in personality beyond that of a stereotyped horse. Unfortunately, Horace was not developed further on the movie screen – it was left to Floyd Gottfredson  to explore Horace’s character further in his comic strip.

Watch ‘Mickey’s Revue’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 41
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Barnyard Olympics
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Musical Farmer

‘Mickey’s Revue’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 21, 1945
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Hare Trigger © Warner Bros.‘Hare Trigger’ introduces that tiny yet explosive adversary to Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam.

His introduction music is Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig, and train robbery is his profession. However, on the train he encounters Bugs, who gives the short-tempered bandit a hard time.

The cartoon contains a shot of an über-cool Bugs rolling a cigarette, a gag repeated and improved on in ‘Bugs Bunny Rides Again‘ (1948). The short  also contains live action footage in the ‘club bar’ wagon.  The gun drawing scene is a highlight, as is Yosemite Sam’s death scene, which bugs invokes with ketchup. The cartoon ends brilliantly with a tongue-in-cheek cliffhanger.

According to Freleng he needed a stronger adversary to Bugs than Elmer Fudd ever was, and Yosemite Sam perfectly fitted the job. He was a delightful opponent to Bugs Bunny, and he became Friz Freleng’s favorite bad guy, lasting until 1964, and starring 31 cartoons in total, nearly all with Bugs Bunny. Perhaps Freleng was so fond of the character because he was partly based on Freleng himself.

In any case, he soon took Sam out of his Western origin, making him a.o. a pirate (‘Buccaneer Bunny‘, 1948), a foreign soldier (‘Bunker Hill Bunny‘, 1950) and a sheik (‘Sahara Hare’, 1955). Free from his Western origins Yosemite Sam could be Bugs Bunny in every country and every period of time, and in this respect he anticipates the Little Guy, the Pink Panther’s adversary, who also sprouted from Friz Freleng’s imagination.

Watch ‘Hare Trigger’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 32
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Unruly Hare
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hare Conditioned

 

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: November 19, 1949
Stars: Sylvester, Hippety Hopper
Rating: ★★
Review:

Hippety Hopper © Warner Bros‘Hippety Hopper’ introduces the kangaroo of the same name, and its only function during its entire career: being mistaken for a mouse.

The cartoon starts gloomily enough, with a misty harbor scene, where a mouse is trying to commit suicide. He’s rescued by Hippety Hopper, however, and together they face the mouse’s terror: Sylvester the cat. The mouse makes Sylvester think he can grow tall, and lets Hippety Hopper beat him out of the house. The best comedy comes from a bulldog who keeps pushing Sylvester back inside.

Hippety Hopper himself is a silent character with a friendly smile and absolutely no personality. He’s easily the least funny recurring star in the Warner Brothers cartoon catalog before the 1960s. Even in this first cartoon his appearance is tiresome. Nevertheless, he would star in twelve other cartoons, lasting even till 1964. The mouse, on the other hand, would disappear after this cartoon. No wonder: he’s designed and animated rather uglily.

Watch ‘Hippety Hopper’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: August 31, 1946
Stars: Henery Hawk, Foghorn Leghorn
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Walky Talky Hawky © Warner BrothersAlready in his fourth film as a director McKimson introduces his most durable star, Foghorn Leghorn.

The loud-mouthed rooster is coupled with Henery Hawk, in his second appearance since the Chuck Jones cartoon ‘The Squawkin’ Hawk’ (1942). Also featured is the Foghorn Leghorn’s regular opponent, the barnyard dog, and their recurring feud is already laid out in this short. Foghorn Leghorn uses Henery in this feud, making him believe the dog, not he, is a chicken. In the end Henery catches both, and even a horse, exclaiming; “one of them got to be a chicken”.

‘Walky Talky Hawky’ is one of McKimson’s most inspired cartoons. Both Foghorn Leghorn and the barnyard dog are great characters, and the short is full of great, rather Clampettian animation.

Foghorn Leghorn’s vocal mannerisms were inspired by a 1930s radio character called ‘The Sheriff’. Later, mannerisms from another radio character, Senator Claghorn, crept into the rooster’s vocabulary. For a detailed account on the origins of Foghorn Leghorn, see Keith Scott’s excellent post on Cartoon Brew.

Watch ‘Walky Talky Hawky’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: January 5, 1945
Stars: Pepe le Pew
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Odor-able Kitty © Warner Brothers ‘Odor-able Kitty’, marks the debut of that French-speaking, amorous skunk Pepe le Pew.

In his book ‘Chuck Amuck’ Jones reveals that this character was based on story man Tedd Pierce. In any case, Pierce wrote the story, but how much of himself he had put self-knowingly into this smelly Don Juan remains a mystery.

Oddly enough, in his first cartoon Pepe turns out to be a fraud, being married and having two children. Even his voice changes in the end of the cartoon. But before this surprising finale he’s genuinely Pepe, complete with quasi-French accent, strange hop (including Stalling’s typical theme music), and a love for cats that look like skunks.

Only, in ‘Odor-able Kitty’ this is a male cat, who deliberately disguises himself as a skunk to get a happier life. He has one, until Pepe hops along. In the end, the cat washes himself and returns to his former life as victim of maltreatment, exclaiming “this is the life!”.

Pepe le Pew’s character didn’t really develop after this film, and all his films have more or less the same story as his debut film. Nevertheless Pepe would be one of the most successful of the characters conceived by Chuck Jones, second to the Road Runner and the Coyote, only. He lasted until 1962, starring fourteen more cartoons.

Watch ‘Odor-able Kitty’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.220.ro/desene-animate/12-Odor-Able-Kitty/GcMYA69rME/

Directors: Tex Avery
Release Date: March 20, 1943
Stars: Droopy, The Wolf
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Dumb Hounded © MGM‘Dumb Hounded’ marks the debut of Droopy, the first of all cartoon heroes to be deliberately deadpan.

He is introduced as a very slow bloodhound used to catch the escaped convict, the wolf. He manages to do so by being everywhere the wolf flees to.

Droopy’s übercalm contrasts nicely with the wolf’s extreme double-takes. The best gag is when Droopy asks the wolf not to move, whereupon the wolf uses a multitude of vehicles to flee to a very remote log cabin, only to find Droopy there, exclaiming: “you moved, didn’t you?”. This sequence has a lightning fast montage, something that is lacking from the rest of the film, which suffers a little from an inconsistent story line. The result is a film that is not quite satisfying in the end.

Tex Avery may have felt the same, for he would remake ‘Dumb Hounded’ only three years later with ‘Northwest Hounded Police‘, which uses the same or similar gags to a much greater comic effect.

After Bugs Bunny, Droopy would be Tex Avery’s best effort in creating a cartoon star. The phlegmatic dog would last until 1958, starring 24 cartoons in total. The wolf would be his adversary until 1949, after which he was exchanged for the bulldog Spike. Nevertheless, the wolf would return in 1954, in two Western cartoons, ‘Drag-along Droopy’ and ‘Homesteader Droopy’. Unfortunately, Droopy’s popularity would never come near MGM’s superstars Tom and Jerry, let alone win Academy Awards, like the cat and mouse duo did.

Watch ‘Dumb Hounded’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: March 2, 1940
Stars: proto-Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating: ★★
Review:

Elmer's Candid Camera © Warner BrothersIn this slow and only moderately funny cartoon Elmer tries to photograph nature, but he’s hindered by a predecessor of Bugs Bunny.

This goofy rabbit is not quite Bugs, even though he behaves very calmly and does a Bugs-style death act. His looks and sounds are those of the crazy rabbit in ‘Hare-um Scare-um‘ (1939) and he still has the Woody Woodpecker-style laugh introduced in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938). Jones has toned this loony fellow down, but it was to Tex Avery to introduce a really cool rabbit in ‘A Wild Hare‘ from four months later.

No, the importance of ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera’ lies in the fact that it marks Elmer’s debut. Although he’s still wearing an Egghead suit (the character from which he evolved), he lacks Egghead’s goofiness, and he has received his distinctive voice provided by Arthur Q. Bryan. Moreover, he utters his famous line “wabbit twacks” for the first time here.

Unfortunately, ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera’ is more historically interesting than entertaining, and outside its historical importance, the cartoon is quite forgettable.

Watch ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://ulozto.net/live/xzv5WBh/bugs-bunny-elmers-candid-camera-1940-avi

This is the last of four cartoons featuring a Bugs Bunny forerunner
To the first Bugs Bunny cartoon: A Wild Hare
To the previous proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hare-um Scare-um

 

 

Director: Osvaldo Cavandoli
Release Date:
 1974
Stars:
 La Linea
Rating:
 ★★★★
Review:

La Linea episode 1 © Osvaldo CavandoliLa Linea is an Italian television series, which takes graphic design, introduced by UPA to the animated screen, to the max.

The first of all La Linea shorts defines the complete series: it consists of numerous unrelated gags around the jabbering little man Linea, who lives in a 2-dimensional world, consisting of only one white line, of which he is part.

This cheerful, but temperamental guy has some characteristics that return in every single episode: First, he talks an Italian-sounding sort of gibberish, provided by voice actor Carlo Bonomi. Second, he always walks to the left of the screen. Third, he always encounters at least one interruption of the line during his walk. Fourth, he frequently argues with his off-screen creator, of whom we only see his hand drawing things for the little guy. And Fifth, our hero has also has an intoxicating laugh, which is heard at least once.

All designs are extremely stylized, yet perfectly recognizable, and beautifully animated. The backgrounds are monochromic, changing from green to red to blue etc. All these elements make this series such a classic, even though most of the episodes are completely plotless, and only last about 2 minutes.

In this particular episode La Linea encounters a turtle, a television set, a tap and a woman. He plays golf and takes a rollercoaster ride. It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s fun. Franco Godi’s music in this particular cartoon is more present than in the following ones, using a tune with voices instead of the instrumental background music of later cartoons.

Watch ‘La Linea episode 1’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘La Linea episode 1’ is available on the DVD ‘La Linea 1’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: January 7, 1950
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Little Quacker
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Little Quacker © MGMTom steals an egg from a duck’s nest. When he tries to fry it, it appears to contain a little duck, who seeks shelter at Jerry’s place.

‘Little Quacker’ introduces the talkative little duckling, whose voice resembles that of Donald Duck. It would be the most frequent character of the Jerry-befriends-another-animal-cartoons, starring seven other shorts. The character even survived Tom & Jerry to reincarnate as Yakky Doodle in Hanna-Barbera’s television series ‘Augie Doggie and Doggy Daddy’ in 1960.

Despite the character’s apparent popularity, ‘Little Quacker’ is no different from any other Jerry-befriends-another-animal-cartoon. Like all the others, ‘Little Quacker’ is more cute than funny, in spite of some fine gags, and a great long chase scene.

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

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 47
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Tennis Chumps
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Saturday Evening Puss

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: October 1, 1949
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Spike & Tyke
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Love That Pup © MGMTom’s chases of Jerry disturb Spike’s son Tyke. If Tom is at it again, Spike “will tear him apart”. Needless to say, Jerry takes advantage of this situation.

‘Love that pup’ is one of the most hilarious Tom & Jerry cartoons. The gags come in fast and plenty, and Scott Bradley’s music is particularly inspired, perfectly matching the fast action. Highlight may be the running gag involving Tom rushing into several garden tools.

‘Love That Pup’ marks Tyke’s debut. He has no name, yet. But then again, even Spike is still called Butch in this cartoon. Spike and Tyke would become Tom and Jerry regulars in the fifties, even starring two films without the cat and the mouse in 1957.

Watch ‘Love That Pup’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 44
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Cat and the Mermouse
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Jerry’s Diary

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: April 23, 1949
Stars: Claude Cat, Hubie and Bertie
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Mouse Wreckers © Warner BrothersMouse Wreckers’ is one of Chuck Jones’s all time classic cartoons.

Hubie and Bertie have found a new home, which unfortunately is inhabited by a prize-winning mouse chasing cat, Claude (in his debut). But Hubie and Bertie succeed to chase the cat out of the house by turning him into a nervous wreck. Hubie and Bertie angle themselves through the chimney to evoke the cat’s doom. After several gags, ending with one using an upside down room, the cat, who never knew what was going on, flees the house in horror, leaving it for Hubie and Bertie to roast marshmellows at the fire.

‘Mouse Wreckers’ features some minor stars from the Chuck Jones vault, but its character comedy is brilliant nonetheless. The character animation of Claude Cat trying to deal with his supposed hallucinations is wonderfully well done, and his steady decline into madness is both hilarious and chilling to watch.

Fifteen years later Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese would reuse this story idea in their Tom and Jerry cartoon ‘The Year of the Mouse’ (1965).

Watch ‘Mouse Wreckers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=f75_1173565907

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: September 16, 1949
Stars: Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Fast and Furry-ous © Warner Brothers‘Fast and Furry-ous’ is the very first Road Runner cartoon.

The short lays out the plan for all other Road Runner shorts, introducing the Road Runner, and the coyote, and their habitat: a desert canyon landscape covered by freeways. Like all following Road Runner cartoons it consists of blackout gags, involving mail orders, strange inventions, explosives, trucks, boulders and cliffs. It differs from the other Road Runner cartoons, however, in that only one of the products the Coyote purchases (the Superman suit) is made by ACME. It also features quite elaborate designs of Wile E. Coyote. In later cartoon his looks would become more streamlined.

Fast and Furry-ous is an excellent debut. It already contains a classic gag with the one in which the coyote constructs a ludicrous machine from a refrigerator, which produces snow to ski on. Unfortunately he runs out of snow when he’s skiing above a huge ravine…

‘Fast and Furry-ous’ introduces the excellent silent comedy of the Road Runner cartoons, second only to the Tom & Jerry series, and very welcome in an age in which animated shorts became more and more dialogue-driven.

Although we would call the series after the Road Runner, the speedy bird is essentially a one-dimensional character: being invincible, the Road Runner knows only one cheerful expression, and doesn’t do much more than running really, really fast and going ‘beep beep’.

The Coyote, on the other hand, is the best character ever conceived by Chuck Jones. Although he is the predator, in several shorts Jones goes at lengths to show he’s starving and desperate for food, making him more sympathetic. Moreover, the Coyote is an optimist, ever believing he will once triumph. He’s also a fanatic, not giving up despite all his mishaps. And he is an inventor, thinking of countless ways to catch the Road Runner. It is however his unfortunate doom to be confronted with bad luck no matter what he does. In Chuck Jones’s own words:

“In the Road Runner cartoons, we hoped to evoke sympathy for the Coyote. It is the basis of the series: the Coyote tries by any means to capture the Road Runner, ostensibly and at first to eat him, but this motive has become beclouded, and it has become, in my mind at least, a question of loss of dignity that forces him to continue. And who is the Coyote’s enemy? Why, the Coyote. The Road Runner has never touched him, never even startled him intentionally beyond coming up behind the Coyote occasionally and going “Beep-Beep!”. No, the only enemy the Coyote has is his overwhelming stubborness. Like all of us, at least some of the time, he persists in a course of action long after he has forgotten his original reasons for embarking on it.”
(from ‘Chuck Amuck’, page 219)

So when this wonderfully enthusiastic character looks to us for sympathy, when confronted by boulders, trucks, explosions or one of the immensely deep canyons of his homeland, he gains it, for we understand his frustrations and sympathize with him wholeheartedly.

These Oliver Hardy-like looks into the camera belong to the highlights of the series, and it is the silent comedy of the Coyote’s facial expressions that makes the Road Runner cartoons such fun to watch. Indeed, when given a voice, as in the Bugs Bunny cartoon ‘Operation Rabbit‘ (1952), the character becomes much less interesting; too pompous, too self-aware to gain the sympathy he would silently get. The four Bugs Bunny-Coyote combination shorts therefore never reach the comic success of the best of the Road Runner cartoons.

Watch ‘Fast and Furry-ous’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fast and Furry-ous’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

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