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Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: February 10
, 1934
Rating:
★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Grasshopper and the Ants © Walt Disney‘The Grasshopper and the Ants’ is easily one of the best Silly Symphonies: it has a catchy song, great use of color and beautiful effect animation. Notice, for instance, the realism of the leaves blowing away during the autumn scene. One can even recognize which trees they’re from!

The grasshopper, too, is a wonderfully designed character, based on concept art by the great Albert Hurter. In contrast, the design of the ants looks a little primitive, still belonging to the black and white era. But, by now, the Disney staff has fully mastered the idea of character animation. This is best shown in the final dance scene: even in a crowd of lookalikes one easily recognizes the joyful ant the Grasshopper had tempted earlier.

Note that morality notwithstanding, the grasshopper is allowed to do what he does best: singing and playing. An encouragement to view art as an important contribution to society. Even so, the way the queen finally invites him is a real cliff-hanger.

This cartoon’s theme song, ‘the world owes me a living’ was composed by Leigh Harline, who would also compose the catchy songs of ‘Pinocchio‘. the grasshopper’s catchy song would become Goofy’s theme song. No wonder, for he and the Grasshopper share the same voice, by Pinto Colvig.

Watch ‘The Grasshopper and the Ants’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 42
To the previous Silly Symphony: The China Shop
To the next Silly Symphony: Funny Little Bunnies

Director: David Hand
Release Date:
April 20, 1935
Rating:

Review:

The Robber Kitten © Walt Disney‘The Robber Kitten’ is one of the more annoying entries in the Silly Symphony series.

Being a Silly Symphony, its animation is top notch, especially the character animation of the little rascal Ambrose (or ‘Butch’ as he prefers to be called) and the experienced robber Dirty Bill. But, the story is slow-paced, childish and dripping with morality.

The setting is vague and pretty unconvincing: Bill is clad in a medieval Robin Hood-like costume, while Ambrose is clad in 17th century fashion. A much sillier world as that of ‘The Cookie Carnival’ was brought with much more bravado.

All too typical for the Silly Symphonies of the mid thirties, ‘The Robber Kitten’ is nothing more than beautifully animated pulp.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 51
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Golden Touch
To the next Silly Symphony: Water Babies

Director: Norm Ferguson
Release Date: December 21, 1944
Stars: Donald Duck, Joe Carioca, Panchito, The Aracuan Bird
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Three Caballeros © Walt DisneyDonald stars in his first and only very own feature film.

In the opening scene he receives a large package full of presents. When he opens these presents, they lead him to the mild story of Pablo the cold-blooded penguin (narrated by the melancholy voice of Disney-favorite Sterling Holloway), and to the childish story of ‘Gauchito and his flying donkey Burrito’, before it reintroduces Joe Carioca from ‘Saludos Amigos‘ (1942). Joe takes Donald to Baía, where they dance the samba with Aurora Miranda, nicely blending animation with live action, something that occurs throughout the picture.

Another package introduces the Mexican rooster Panchito. Together the trio sings the intoxicating theme song, wonderfully animated by Ward Kimball, who regarded the scene as his best work. Panchito takes Donald and Joe on a magic serape ride over Mexico, visiting Mexico City, Veracruz en Acapulco Beach, where Donald plays blind man’s buff with a bunch of girls in bathing suits. Actually, Donald keeps hunting girls like a hungry wolf throughout the picture.

‘The Three Caballeros’ was the second of two ‘Good neighbor policy’ features, focusing on South America, and the second of six compilation features Disney made until returning to real features with ‘Cinderella‘ in 1950. When compared to ‘Saludos Amigos’, ‘The Three Caballeros’ is brighter, bolder and more nonsensical. It is noteworthy for its bold color design and for its beautiful color book artwork by Mary Blair, which in its modernity looks forward to the 1950s (especially in the opening titles, during the train ride and in the Mexican Christmas episode).

It is most interesting however, because of its zany surrealism, which invades many scenes with associative images, where metamorphosis and abstraction run haywire, not even sparing Donald himself. In this respect ‘The Three Caballeros’ is the boldest feature Disney ever made.

However, its lack of story, its strong touristic content, its outdated live action imagery, its sentimental songs and the two childish stories at the beginning of the feature all harm the picture. Thus watching the movie feels like being on a colorful journey full of beautiful images that nevertheless turns out to be unsatisfactory in the end.

Watch the title song from ‘The Three Caballeros’ below:

Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date:
January 1, 1943
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Der Fuehrer's Face © Walt DisneyIn ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ Donald is apparently a citizen of ‘Nutziland’, a fascist country where even trees and clouds are swastika-shaped.

Donald is awoken by a silly march band singing the sarcastic title song (penned by Disney composer Oliver Wallace and sung with gusto by Spike Jones). Then he has breakfast that consists of only one coffee bean, ‘aroma de bacon & eggs’ and a slice of wooden bread. All too soon he has to work at the assembly line, making shells and saluting to images of Adolf Hitler.

In the end, it appears that it was all just a dream, and Donald, in his Stars and Striped-colored room, sighs, embracing a golden copy of the statue of liberty: “Am I glad to be a citizen of the United States of America”. This closing scene is rather corny and the satire of the film misses some points: most of the (German) citizens of Nazi Germany were not poor and did not have to work like slaves, as is suggested here. Instead, the Nazis used forced labor forces from their occupied territories.

Nevertheless, ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ was both artistically and commercially the most successful of the Disney war time propaganda films. It even won an academy award for being the best animated short of 1943. It’s so successful, because, unlike most other propaganda shorts, it’s outrageously funny: its satire is so zany, its depiction of ‘Nutzi land’ so wacky, and the scene at the assembly line so out-to-lunch, that one cannot stop laughing. When Donald goes mad, these segments are even topped by a brightly colored, rather avantgardistic and very surrealistic stream-of-consciousness-like scene, which resembles similar dream sequences in ‘Dumbo‘ (1941) and ‘The three Caballeros‘ (1944).

This short was not directed by any of the two regular Donald Duck directors of the time, Dick Lundy and Jack King, who both preferred a more unassuming type of humor, but by Jack Kinney, who is most famous for directing Goofy, and who was undoubtedly the wackiest of the Disney directors, of which this film certainly is proof.

Watch ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 38
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Bellboy Donald
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Tire Trouble

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 19, 1931
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Egyptian Melodies © Walt Disney

In ‘Egyptian Melodies’ the little six-legged spider from ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop‘ (1930) returns to the animated screen.

The short is one of those early Silly Symphonies that offers quite a dull dance routine only (and no story). Nevertheless, the introduction of the cartoon is well worth watching: when we follow the spider down into the pyramid, we experience some astonishing 3D-effect animation, creating the feeling that the camera wanders with the spider through corridors and staircases.

This unique exercise in perspective would not be repeated in animation until labyrinth computer games were introduced in the 1980s. The Disney Studio itself must have been impressed by this stunning piece of animation, for it was reused two years later in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Mad Doctor‘ (1933).

Once inside the pyramid, the spider watches four mummies dance, and the drawings on the walls coming to life. These last scenes feature 2-dimensional characters, which can be seen as very early and primitive forerunners of the cartoon modern style of the 1950s. Unfortunately, these scenes are a little bit dull, but they do lead to a great finale. This is one of the earliest nightmare-sequences, in which the montage of images is diffuse and increasingly sped up, in order to suggest the feeling of getting insane. This predates similar sequences in films like ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face‘ (1943) by many years.

The idea for ‘Egyptian Melodies’ may have come from the Van Beuren cartoon ‘Gypped in Egypt‘ (1930), which also features dancing hieroglyphs, nightmarish scenes, and even a corridor scene. Notice that the classic horror film ‘The mummy’ (1932) hadn’t been released, yet, at the time.

This is Silly Symphony No. 21
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Cat’s Out
To the next Silly Symphony: The Clock Store

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