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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: Friz Freleng
Release Date: December 18, 1964
Stars: The Pink Panther, The Little Guy
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Pink Phink © DePatie-FrelengIn his very first own short The Pink Panther nags a painter by painting everything pink that the painter just has painted blue.

This is the Pink Panther’s first film, and it’s easily one of his best. Its simple idea is worked out perfectly into a tight plot (by John Dunn) with a grand finale. Its pantomime animation is effective and its sober design supporting.

Although he never got a name, the “little guy”,  the white, big-nosed, mustached antagonist, who resembles both his creator, Friz Freleng, and Inspector Clouseau, is very important to the success of the series: he is easily the best designed opponent in the Pink Panther cartoons. Like the Pink Panther he’s monochrome, and a silent character, allowing the animators to make the best out of pantomime animation. Moreover, he could be staged in all kinds of functions and settings. Nevertheless, he kept a consistent character, being normally kind and gentle, but getting puzzled, then frustrated and often in the end, very angry with the Pink Panther’s antics.

Nevertheless, it took the makers a while to realize his potential, for though the little guy would return as a janitor in ‘We Give Pink Stamps’ (1965), he would only become a regular from ‘The Pink Blue Print‘ (1966) on, after twenty films with other, often talking, and always less wonderfully designed characters.

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

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: October 9, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto (as Rover)
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'The Picnic' featuring Mickey and Minnie picnickingMickey’s driving to Minnie’s house singing his own theme song. They both are going on a picnic. While Mickey and Minnie are singing and dancing across the field to the tune of ‘In the Good Old Summertime’, hundreds of wild animals take their food away. The picnic ends in rain.

‘The Picnic’ is a rather plotless and unremarkable cartoon. It nevertheless contains a nice surreal gag in which a rabbit pulls away a hole. This kind of surrealism was rare at Disney’s at that time, but later, Tex Avery would reuse this gag many times at Warner Brothers and MGM.

‘The Picnic’ would have been forgettable, did it not mark the debut of Pluto. He is called Rover in this cartoon, and appears to be Minnie’s dog rather than Mickey’s, but he’s Pluto alright. At this point there’s no reason to believe that Disney intended to make the dog a regular character. Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comics of January 1931 cover similar grounds, but feature a very large dog called “Tiny”.

Nevertheless, in April 1931 Pluto would return in ‘The Moose Hunt‘. This time to stay*. In fact Pluto would become a more and more important character in the Mickey Mouse cartoons, at times stealing most of the screen time from Mickey, who would become more and more a ‘straight man’. Eventually, Pluto would be given his own series, in 1937.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 23
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Gorilla Mystery
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Pioneer Days

* Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comics followed three months later, introducing Pluto on July the 8th.

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 21, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Still from 'Betty Boop's Little Pal' featuring Betty Boop and PudgyBetty and her little dog Pudgy are picnicking.

However, Pudgy wrecks the picnic, so Betty sends him home. Unfortunately he’s immediately caught by a dog catcher. Luckily, Pudgy manages to escape together with some other dogs.

‘Betty Boop’s Little Pal’ marks the debut of Betty’s little pup Pudgy, even though he remains unnamed in this cartoon. Though more cute than funny, Pudgy was to be Betty Boop’s most entertaining and long-lasting co-star of the Hays Code era. He was a real character, and, like Pluto, he behaved like a real dog, although he’s as anatomically incorrect as Pluto is. Compared to Pluto, Pudgy is younger, cuter and naughtier. He is as much a child character as a dog character, while Pluto is more mature. Pudgy starred in 23 cartoons, only retiring in 1939. Unfortunately, none of his cartoons can be considered classics, save one: ‘Pudgy Picks a Fight‘ from 1937.

‘Betty Boop’s Little Pal’  is very typical of a trend in the Fleischer films that caught on during 1934 (after the Hays Code was in practice): the story line is very clear, which is a great improvement upon most earlier cartoons, but at the same time all nonsense, weirdness, surrealism, sex and jazz have vanished, too (there’s only one surreal gag, of a car scratching itself). Therefore, this and the other Betty Boop cartoons from 1934 and later are remarkably boring compared with the earlier entries.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Little Pal’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 32
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: There’s Something About a Soldier
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Prize Show

‘Betty Boop’s Little Pal’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: November 5, 1937
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Old Mill © Walt Disney‘The Old Mill’ is a milestone in effect animation.

From the first scene on special effects seem to be the sole raison d’être of the film. The cartoon is literally stuffed with them: dew on a cobweb, ripples in the water, light beams, fireflies, wind, rain and a thunderstorm.

Disney’s famous multiplane camera, with which the feeling of depth could be realized, makes its debut here. Together these effects create an astonishing level of realism, necessary for the upcoming first animated feature, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. In ‘The Old Mill’ even the animal characters are more or less realistic, a rare feat in Disney cartoons until then.

All this realism leads to awe-inspiring images, based on concept art by Danish illustrator Gustaf Tenggren, who had joined the studio in 1936. Unfortunately, the images do not lead to much of a story. The film is more of a series of moods from dusk to dawn. Despite its clever pacing, reaching a climax in the thunderstorm sequence, ‘The Old Mill’ is an overly romantic depiction of nature, and less enjoyable as a cartoon than as a showcase of Disney animation.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 68
To the previous Silly Symphony: Little Hiawatha
To the next Silly Symphony: Moth and the Flame

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: May 9, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Plow Boy © Walt DisneyIn this weak cartoon (Mickey’s seventh) Mickey and Minnie are farmers.

The most remarkable thing about this cartoon is that it marks the debut of Horace Horsecollar. One might say, it marks the debut of Clarabelle Cow, as well, but the early Mickey Mouse cartoons contain a little too many non-distinct cows to state that clearly, because this cow is not different from the others.

This cartoon is particularly important in the development of Minnie: she now has lost the bra-like circles on her body and she’s singing for the first time. Notice how the animation of the tongue is completely convincing. Although Minnie’s only singing “lalalala” (something she would do in many cartoons to follow), this is an important step in the animation of speech. This was something I guess Disney was eager to master. Indeed, in the next cartoon, ‘The Karnival Kid‘, there’s suddenly a lot of talking and singing.

‘The Plow Boy’ contains a scene where the background moves the wrong way making the cow walk backwards.

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


This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 8
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: 
The Barnyard Battle
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Karnival Kid

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date:
May 15, 1928
Stars:
Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating:
★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Plane Crazy © Walt DisneyApril 1928. Disney has just returned from an ill-fated journey to New York. There he had learned that he had lost his star character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and all his crew – all hired away by his distributor, Charles Mintz.

All, save one – only his friend and star animator Ub Iwerks has remained loyal*. And while the rest of the studio is working on the last Disney-produced Oswald cartoons, Iwerks is set to work in a separate office, secretly working on a cartoon, not for Mintz, but for Disney.

Iwerks works at an astonishing speed, and he finishes the animation on the cartoon after two weeks. This is a stunning effort by all standards. But what is even more extraordinary is that the finished product, ‘Plane Crazy’, turns out to be such a fine cartoon!

‘Plane Crazy’ is more consistent than most of the preceding Oswalds. It’s fast, it’s simply packed with gags and very funny. Moreover, it’s full of visual tricks. For example, the film opens with the behind of a cow (!), walking away from the camera. Later there are some great perspective scenes with Mickey’s plane flying under a cow’s udders, and almost crashing into two cars.

The film draws inspiration from the same event as the earlier Oswald cartoon ‘The Ocean Hop‘ (1927): Charles Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris on May 20-21 1927, the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. A goggle-eyed Mickey Mouse (without shoes or gloves) wants to imitate ‘Lindy’ and builds a plane himself, helped by the other farm animals.

Unfortunately his plane crashes against a tree. Then Mickey transforms a car into a plane, and asks Minnie to fly along. After a breath taking take-off, the plane flies, and up in the air Mickey forces a kiss from Minnie, with disastrous results.

‘Plane Crazy’ is, of course, Mickey’s first cartoon and it hasn’t aged a bit. Yes, it’s a silent cartoon with sound added later. Yes, Mickey looks and behaves rather differently than he would do later, and yes, some of the gags are rather crude. Yet, Plane Crazy is outstanding for its fast-paced gags, its extraordinarily rubbery animation, its awesome use of perspectives and its effective pantomime character animation (its only piece of dialogue is Minnie asking “who, me?”).

The film is a testimony of Ub Iwerks’s extraordinary skill. Not only was he an incredibly fast animator, as this short shows he was also an original artist, with a distinct style and an excellent sense of comic timing.

Unfortunately, in 1928, the distributors didn’t see anything distinctive in Mickey. True, he was not too different from Oswald. Both characters were of more or less the same size (with Mickey being outrageously big for a mouse from the outset). Both characters were kinda likable, had a joyful, adventurous spirit, and were seen courting a love interest. Nevertheless, Disney produced a second cartoon with his new character, ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘.

Watch ‘Plane Crazy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 1
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Gallopin’ Gaucho

* and, to be fair, animator Johnny Cannon, and the recently hired Les Clark (one of the future Nine Old Men – who was not even approached by Mintz), and some ink and paint girls, and the janitor.

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
June 9, 1934
Stars:
Donald Duck
Rating:
★★★★
Review:

The Wise Little Hen © Walt Disney‘The Wise Little Hen’ is a simple and quite moralistic Silly Symphony carried by a mediocre, yet all too memorable song. I guess it might have fallen into oblivion, were it not for Donald Duck.

In his first appearance Donald Duck is a real sailor, living on a boat and dancing the hornpipe. He’s a strong voice character from the start. When he joyfully shouts ‘oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!’ we all know it’s him, even though his looks are different.

Indeed, like Goofy’s voice, Donald Duck’s voice anticipated the character. When Walt Disney heard Clarence Nash use this particular voice, he really wanted something to do with it. According to animator Bill Cottrell, cited in ‘They Drew As They Pleased’, concept artist Albert Hurter was responsible for the duck’s looks. He gave Donald his trademark sailor suit, which he maintained to the present day.

Besides his typical voice and suit, Donald Duck displays two of his typical character traits: egotism and his tendency to trick others. However, he does not yet display his short temper: when ultimately foiled by the hen he’s not breaking down in anger, but joins Peter Pig in remorseful self-chastisement (a gag reused from an early Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon called ‘Rival Romeos‘, 1928). But Donald would show his temper, in his next cartoon: ‘Orphan’s Benefit‘.

Besides Donald Duck this cartoon is interesting for an appetizing and startlingly realistic animation shot of butter melting on hot corn.

Watch ‘The Wise Little Hen’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 45
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Big Bad Wolf
To the next Silly Symphony: The Flying Mouse

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