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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 6, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'Betty in Blunderland' featuring Betty Boop and several characters from 'Alice in Wonderland'Late at night, Betty Boop is making a jigsaw puzzle with a picture of Alice in Wonderland on it.

When the clock says it’s time for bed, the rabbit jumps out of the puzzle, and through the mirror. Betty follows him, and the mirror changes her more or less into a sexy Alice, with long curly hair, which becomes her very well.

In Wonderland, the Mad Hatter’s hat pulls out several characters from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’, a.o. Humpty Dumpty, the Duchess, the Mad Hatter, the Walrus and the Carpenter, the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle. Betty sings “How Do You Do” to them, before being kidnapped by the evil Jabberwock. Of course, the creatures come to her rescue, accompanied by Franz Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody, but when she falls off a cliff, she awakes.

‘Betty in Blunderland’ is a sweet, albeit a bit uninspired cartoon that fails to deliver its promises. It features wonderful designs of the Wonderland characters, many of which are clearly based on the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel. However, the Fleischers don’t do anything interesting with them. We watch Tweedledee and Tweedledum fighting, the duchess doing a boring dance, and the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle shooting craps. None of these scenes is remotely interesting. Moreover, one grows tired of creatures kidnapping Betty, something that happens in several cartoons from the era, e.g. ‘Mother Goose Land‘ and ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers‘ (both 1933).

Two years later Betty was followed by Mickey who, too, dreamed stepping through the mirror into Wonderland, in ‘Thru the Mirror’ from 1936, which is by all means a much more memorable cartoon.

Watch ‘Betty in Blunderland’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 27
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Ha! Ha! Ha!
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame

‘Betty in Blunderland’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

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Director: Graham Heid
Release Date: May 27, 1938
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Wynken, Blynken and Nod © Walt Disney‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ is one of the last, and certainly one of the most spectacular Silly Symphonies ever made.

There is hardly any story: at the start of the cartoon we hear the poem being sung by a sugary soprano, then we watch Wynken, Blynken and Nod sailing the Milky Way and fishing ‘starfish’ and being at the mercy of some clouds.

The three babies are very alike, with Nod being the ‘Dopey’ of the three, and the humor is mild. But, boy, the looks of this cartoon! Like two other Silly Symphonies obsessed with babies and their bare behinds (‘Lullaby Land’ from 1933 and ‘Water Babies’ from 1935), ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ is a showcase of Disney Animation. The cartoon features extraordinarily beautiful backgrounds, and literally bursts with effect animation, rendering astonishingly beautiful stars, comets, clouds and lightnings. The fantasy is enhanced by a wonderful score, which makes clever use of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. All this gives one the feeling of watching a mini-Fantasia.

Certainly, no animated cartoon would ever show such lushness again. As such, in a sense ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ forms the end and culmination of an era, which had started in the end of 1933, in which the Disney studio combined ever growing ambitions with childish and sugary material.

‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ was the only cartoon directed by Graham Heid. Remarkably little is known about this artist, who also contributed to ‘Pinocchio‘, ‘Fantasia’ and ‘Bambi‘. In fact, I can only find a birth date (November 14, 1909). This is rather surprising, for one can have worse seven minutes of fame than this delightful short. Luckily, animation historians Jerry Beck & Michael Barrier help us out on the Cartoon Research F.A.Q. page.

One trivial remark: ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ is based on the 1889 published poem ‘Dutch Lullaby’ by Eugene Field. Indeed, the words Wynken and Blynken seem to suggest some Dutch origin, but there are no such verbs in the Dutch language, which would translate ‘to wink’ and ‘to blink’ as ‘knipogen’ and ‘knipperen’, respectively.

Watch ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 70
To the previous Silly Symphony: Moth and the Flame
To the next Silly Symphony: Farmyard Symphony

Director: David Hand
Release Date: August 31, 1935
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Pluto's Judgement Day © Walt DisneyAlthough this cartoon is part of the Mickey Mouse series, Pluto is its star.

After he has chased a little kitten, he dreams that his Judgement Day has come and that he’s put on trial by a number of cheating cats.

Like most of Disney’s dream-cartoons this one contains wonderful backgrounds, characters and ideas, thanks to story men Joe Grant and Bill Cottrell. The dream sequence is executed in a Silly Symphony-like fashion with lots of rhyme and song and very beautiful animation. The prosecutor, animated by Bill Roberts, is particularly well done: he’s an impressive figure, whose stature anticipates Stromboli from ‘Pinocchio‘ (1940).

Pluto now is a fully developed character who easily carries the complete cartoon on his own. Mickey’s part, on the other hand, is reduced to that of a cameo, something that would occur more and more in the years to come.

Watch ‘Pluto’s Judgement Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:


This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 78
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Fire Brigade
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: On Ice

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: July 13, 1935
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Garden © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Garden’ is Mickey’s second color cartoon (after ‘The Band Concert‘).

It’s also Pluto’s first: he passes the transition into color fluently, getting his typical orange color we’re all familiar with now.

Mickey and Pluto are in the garden trying to kill a number of insects eating Mickey’s crop. When Mickey accidentally sprays himself with bug poison he starts to hallucinate (the transition to the dreamworld is particularly psychedelic: everything, including the background becomes unsteady and wobbly). He dreams that all plants and bugs have grown. This leads to some imaginative scenes. The bugs are not very lifelike, though. The animators even make a weird mistake by giving a particularly evil-looking beetle eight legs instead of six.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 76
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Kangaroo
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Fire Brigade

Director: David Hand
Release Date: January 21, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Mad Doctor © Walt Disney‘The Mad Doctor’ is Mickey’s third horror cartoon and easily his best (the other two are ‘The Haunted House’ from 1929 and ‘The Gorilla Mystery’ from 1930).

The plot is simple: it’s night, the weather is foul and Pluto is kidnapped by an evil scientist called Dr. XXX, who takes him into his laboratory, which is reminiscent of that of Frankenstein in James Whales’ film of the same name, 1931. Mickey follows Pluto’s tracks into a creepy castle, entering it in a scene which reuses some footage of ‘Egyptian Melodies‘ from 1931. Inside the castle he has to deal with several skeletons, including a ridiculous hybrid of a skeleton and a spider. Soon, he’s captured, too, and about to be killed by a chainsaw. Fortunately, it turns out to be all just a dream…

Besides the horror, this cartoon also features elaborate designs and loads of special effects. Especially beautiful is its shadowing on the characters. It also has a strong musical element, as the mad scientist sings all his lines. Some of the gags are quite surreal and reminiscent of the Fleischer style, like a lock locking itself or the scientist cutting off Pluto’s shadow. The cartoon also features a gag with many doors in one doorpost. This gag would be reused and improved by Tex Avery in ‘The Northwest Hounded Police’ from 1946.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 52
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Building a Building
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Pal Pluto

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 19, 1933
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Lullabye Land © Walt DisneyIn ‘Lullaby Land’ a baby is lulled to sleep by his mother, singing ‘rock-a-bye baby’. The song takes the baby and his stuffed dog to Lullaby Land, a wonderfully surreal land made of plaids, rattles etc.

There the baby encounters a parade of baby objects, and a forbidden garden, full of sharp things, like knives and scissors. Despite the warnings of the female choir in the soundtrack, the baby enters. He destroys all watches from a watch tree with a hammer, and plays with matches. The smoke evokes three bogey men, which scare the baby away. Finally, the baby meets the Sandman, who puts the baby asleep to the tune of Johannes Brahms’s lullaby.

With cartoons like ‘Lullaby Land’ Disney set new standards for animation that are still thrilling today. Don’t get me wrong, the cartoon is rather patronizing and sugary cute, especially through the soundtrack. But this is compensated by wonderful surrealistic images, beautiful artwork and superb animation. And, hey, this way of warning against sharp things and matches just may work with small children.

Lullaby Land itself is a highly original fantasy world, and especially its first images are stunningly beautiful. The dance of the bogey men contains some striking use of color that anticipates similar surreal images in ‘Dumbo‘ (1941). Moreover, it is the first example of totally unrealistic color use in animated cartoons, and therefore a milestone.

Unfortunately, the cartoon also marks a trend of childishness creeping into the animation world, not only at Disney’s, but at all other studios, as well. For example, ‘Lullaby Land’ is the first of a whole series of Silly Symphonies obsessed with little babies, and their bare behinds in particular, with ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod‘ from 1938 being the last example.

Anyway, ‘Lullaby Land’ left all competitors far behind. Later, both Walter Lantz (‘Candy Land’, 1934) and Max Fleischer (‘Somewhere in Dreamland‘, 1936) tried to copy the concept with far less convincing results.

Watch ‘Lullaby Land’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 38
To the previous Silly Symphony: Old King Cole
To the next Silly Symphony: The Pied Piper

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

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