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‘Sleepy Time Down South’ is a Screen Song featuring the Boswell Sisters, the most famous close harmony trio of its time, but later eclipsed by the similar Andrews Sisters.
The animated part of the short tells about a cat, who’s in the fire brigade, and who with his fellow firemen rushes to a burning house. This part contains nice cartoon versions of the three sisters singing help. When they get rescued they throw down the piano first, which falls apart, but which the three sisters reassemble in an instant. Cut to the live action Boswell Sisters, with lead singer Connee Boswell starting the title song ‘When It’s Sleepy Time Down South’, which had been a hit for Louis Armstrong in 1931. In the end the animation returns, and the three sisters lend their voices to three flames following the cat.
Because of the sisters’ subtle harmonies the song is very hard to sing along, so one wonders whether the cartoon was a success in the theaters. Yet, the combination of the Fleischer’s imaginative images and the Boswell Sisters’ intoxicating performance makes ‘Sleepy Time South’ a joy to watch.
Watch ‘Sleepy Time Down South’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Sleepy Time Down South’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’
Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: December 16, 1930
With his double pipe, Pan makes all animals and plants, yes, even trees and clouds move and dance. The latter cause a fire with their lightning, but Pan lures the flames away to the lake, as if he were the pied piper.
Like ‘Springtime‘ (1929) ‘Playful Pan’ can be regarded as a forerunner of Disney’s groundbreaking cartoon ‘Flowers and Trees‘ (1932). The short is especially interesting for the introduction of the anthropomorphized flames, so typical of cartoons about fire. ‘Playful Pan’ is more entertaining than earlier Silly Symphonies, because half way the dance routine gives way to some kind of story, in which fire threatens the forest. This fire sequence is actually rather exciting. The fire itself is well animated, and the flames form a real threat: they do kill a humanized tree, and make all the animals flee.
The story formula of ‘Playful Pan’, in which the second half has some kind of story, was explored in many more Silly Symphonies from 1931 (e.g. ‘Birds of a Feather‘, ‘The China Plate‘. ‘The Busy Beavers‘). One had to wait until ‘The Ugly Duckling‘, from the end of that year, to watch a Silly Symphony to feature a concise story from start to end.
Watch ‘Playful Pan’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Playful Pan’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’
Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: June 20, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Horace Horsecollar
Together with Horace Horsecollar he rather pitifully tries to extinguish the fire. But he saves the day when he rescues Minnie from the flames.
‘The Fire fighters’ is the first Mickey Mouse cartoons since ‘The Gallopin’ Gaucho‘ to tell a straightforward story. The cartoon is simply packed with gags, which lead to an exciting finale, showing Mickey’s heroic character.
Among Mickey’s team mates is a primitive Horace Horsecollar who is only half anthropomorphized. ‘The Fire Fighters’ is also notable for its use of animals as objects (an ostrich as a pole, a cat as a siren), while objects are very much alive, indeed, most notably the ladder, which is shown sleeping in bed.
The cartoon makes clever use of animation cycles, especially in the scenes depicting the burning building. Some of the gags are quite unique, like Mickey milking a fire hydrant and a ladder that climbs itself down, a gag that has to be seen to be believed.
In all, ‘The Fire Fighters’ is one of the best of the early Mickey Mouse cartoons, and certainly Mickey’s best short of 1930.
Mickey would fighting fire again five years later in the equally inspired ‘Mickey’s Fire Brigade‘ (1935).
Watch ‘The Fire Fighters’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Fire Fighters’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: ‘Mickey Mouse in black and white’
Director: Paul Driessen
Release Date: 1970
Made largely in Spain with help of small subsidy from the Dutch Ministry of Culture, the film tells about a small boy who accidentally sets a forest on fire, but repays his deed by extinguishing another one with help of an elephant with two trunks.
The simple story is hampered by the childish voice over (the English version is much more enjoyable than the original in that respect), and the film certainly doesn’t belong to Driessen’s best works, but its imaginative colors and weird perspectives are still thrilling. It already shows the film maker’s very distinctive animation style, which he would expand and improve over the years, creating such masterpieces as ‘On Land, at Sea and in the Air‘ (1980) and ‘The Writer‘ (1988).
Watch ‘Het verhaal van Kleine Yoghurt’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Het verhaal van Kleine Yoghurt’ is available on the DVD ‘The Dutch Films of Paul Driessen’
Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: March 28, 1936
‘Elmer Elephant’ is a beautiful cartoon. It’s full of cute animals, but despite its cuteness it never becomes cloying. Based on an idea by story artist Bianca Majolie, its storyline is very straightforward and really heartfelt, like the best of Disney’s works.
Elmer visits the birthday party of one of his jungle friends, the extremely cute girl tiger Tilly. He appears to be her favorite guest, but all the other animals (including some non-tropical foxes) mock him because of his trunk, singing “your nose is like a rubber hose”. Moreover they bully and taunt him and send him away.
Unhappy, Elmer wanders through the jungle, but then he encounters even stranger-looking animals: an old giraffe and three Jimmy Durante-like pelicans, who comfort him a little. Then, suddenly, there’s a fire in Tillie’s tree hut. Elmer comes to the rescue, and with help of his nose and of his new odd friends he saves Tillie from the anthropomorphized flames. Thus being the hero of the day he wins Tillie’s love, displayed by a kiss.
Elmer Elephant has the looks of a storybook. It’s beautifully animated, with lots of shadows, and it has well-designed characters. Especially the hippo, who has an absurdly low voice, is a wonderful character. It’s both surprising and a shame that no other cartoon has been made with these cute characters in their beautiful jungle forest, although Elmer and Tilly have a cameo appearance in ‘Toby Tortoise Returns‘.
Of course, the idea of a kind elephant being mocked for a handicap would later return in ‘Dumbo’, making ‘Elmer Elephant’ its immediate predecessor.
Watch ‘Elmer Elephant’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Silly Symphony No. 59
To the previous Silly Symphony: Broken Toys
To the next Silly Symphony: Three Little Wolves
Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: August 3, 1935
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Donald Duck, Goofy, Mickey Mouse
When one compares this cartoon to the similar ‘The Fire Fighters’ from 1930, one can see what stunning progress the Disney studio had made in a mere five years: the backgrounds, the camera angles, the character animation, the effect animation: everything has improved considerably.
What’s more, its gags are faster, more clever and better constructed, and they build up to a wonderful finale. Among the numerous brilliant ideas are a burning title card, water splashing against ‘the camera’ and a bathing Clarabelle Cow who is not amused when saved by our heroes.
This cartoon is both Goofy’s first color appearance as the last time he’s seen in the design he got in ‘The Whoopee Party’ about three years before. In this film he’s got a particularly goofy cuckoo theme song, while some of the anthropomorphized flames play ‘who’s afraid of the big bad wolf’ from ‘Three Little Pigs’ on the piano.
Watch ‘Mickey’s Fire Brigade’ yourself and tell me what you think: