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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’

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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: 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: 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’

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