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Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: March 19, 1960
Stars: Sylvester, Sylvester junior
Rating:
Review:

Goldimouse and the three Cats © Warner Bros.

‘Goldimouse and the Three Cats’ starts as a re-telling of the classic fairy tale with Sylvester as the papa bear, Sylvester junior as the baby bear, and a rather anonymous female mouse as Goldimouse.

This part uses a classic fairy tale voice over, but after three minutes the tale is told and makes place for a routine in which Sylvester tries to capture Goldimouse to impress his son. This part borrows heavily from McKimson’s Hippety Hopper cartoons, with Sylvester junior hiding in shame under a paper bag.

A nice touch is that Sylvester keeps on trying, even after his wife and son have long lost faith, making him a genuine fanatic. This cannot hide the fact that this is a cartoon of tried routine spot gags, which adds nothing new, despite the fairy tale setting with which the film starts.

Watch ‘Goldimouse and the Three Cats’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Goldimouse and the Three Cats’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Five’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: March 16, 1957
Stars: Tweety & Sylvester
Rating: ★★
Review:

Tweety and the Beanstalk © Warner Bros.

This short could better have been called ‘Sylvester and the Beanstalk’, because it’s Sylvester who finds himself on top of the beanstalk, and in giantland.

In the giant’s castle Sylvester discovers a giant Tweety, which he tries to catch in four attempts, before the giant chases him down. The cartoon ends rather poorly with the giant falling on the cat, making him fall straight through the earth, and ending in China.

‘Tweety and the Beanstalk’ is essentially a normal Tweety and Sylvester routine, making little use of the size difference (for example, at one point Sylvester uses a saw and a string fit to his own size – how on earth did he find those in giantland?). Freleng’s excellent timing cannot rescue the used and tried spot gags, and the result is a disappointing and forgettable cartoon.

Watch ‘Tweety and the Beanstalk’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Tweety and the Beanstalk’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Five’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: August 29, 1959
Stars: Speedy Gonzales, Sylvester
Rating: ★★
Review:

Here Today, Gone Tamale © Warner Bros.‘Here Today, Gone Tamale’ starts with a cheese famine in a harbor village.

But then a ship called ‘Dutch Treat’ arrives, full of cheese. Unfortunately, the ship is protected by Sylvester, but the starved mice get Speedy Gonzales (he knows one’s sister – let me correct this – he knows everybody’s sister) to get the cheese. In some blackout gags Sylvester does his best to catch Speedy Gonzales, e.g. with a large mallet and a guillotine. In the end, Sylvester has to admit defeat, and adding ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, he puts on some Mickey Mouse-club-like mouse ears and joins some dancing mice.

The best gag is when Speedy Gonzales locks Sylvester inside a storage room full of Limburger cheese, but otherwise there’s not too much to enjoy in ‘Here Today, Gone Tamale’ and one has ample time to enjoy the functional layouts by Hawley Pratt, beautifully painted by Tom O’Loughlin.

Watch the opening of ‘Here Today, Gone Tamale’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Here Today, Gone Tamale’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: July 4, 1959
Stars: Speedy Gonzales
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mexicali Shmoes © Warner Bros.In ‘Mexicali Shmoes’, Speedy Gonzales’s usual adversary Sylvester is replaced by a couple of slow dumb Mexican cats called Manuel and José.

When Manuel does an ill-fated attempt to catch Speedy, José tells him you need brains to catch the little mouse. As José provides the brains, the two immediately set out to catch the rapid rodent. What follows are some blackout gags, the best of which features a street full of landmines.

Writer Warren Foster saves the best gag for the finale: tired of trying to catch the fastest mouse in all Mexico, Manuel suggests they should try to catch Slowpoke Rodriguez, the slowest mouse in all Mexico. José immediately rushes away to do so, but Manuel still has to tell him something important about Slowpoke…

‘Mexicali Shmoes’ is no all-time classic, but it must be the funniest of all Speedy Gonzales films, thanks to the interplay between the two cats. Because of their characterization, the film actually works. Manuel may clearly be the dumber of the two, José fares hardly better, and is equally hilarious to watch. Speedy Gonzales, on the other hand, is as bland as ever, and only speaks during the opening scene. All the more a pity that the two cats weren’t used again.

Watch ‘Mexicali Shmoes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mexicali Shmoes’ is released on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: December 6, 1941
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

rhapsody in rivets © warner bros.‘Rhapsody in Rivets’ without doubt is one of Friz Freleng’s finest films. The very idea of turning a building site into a symphony orchestra with the foreman as a conductor is marvelous.

The execution, too, is superb. Using Franz Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody, Freleng presents a string of clever sight gags, perfectly timed to the music. When the foreman enters the stage, an audience applauds. The foreman uses his blueprint as sheet music. We watch a cement mixer mixing as if it were a cocktail shaker, and a brick layer frantically building a wall to the fast music. While performing, the workers really do build a skyscraper (with some twists and turns), until a Droopy-like dog destroys it all.

Liszt’s composition had been a staple since the advent of sound in cartoons. For example it had been used in the Mickey Mouse cartoons ‘The Opry House‘ (1929) and ‘The Mechanical Man‘ (1933) and the Betty Boop cartoon ‘Betty in Blunderland‘ (1934). But Freleng was the first to devote an entire cartoon to the composition. With this move Freleng made his own mini-Fantasia. The short uses no dialogue, whatsoever, and is a prime example of Freleng’s famous musical timing. In 1942 the film was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award. Freleng would return to Liszt’s rhapsody several times, most notably in ‘Rhapsody Rabbit‘ (1946) and ‘Back Alley Uproar‘ (1948).

Watch ‘Rhapsody in Rivets’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rhapsody in Rivets’ is available on the DVD ‘Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Award-Nominated Animation: Cinema Favorites’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: June 7, 1941
Stars: Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

hiawatha's rabbit hunt © warner bros.This cartoon opens with the voice of Bugs Bunny reciting the first lines of Longfellow’s famous poem ‘The Song of Hiawatha’, while we watch the Indian paddling through a beautiful scenery.

Bugs soon discovers that Hiawatha is hunting rabbits. Luckily, in Freleng’s cartoon the Indian is one of those nit-witted characters based on Lon Chaney jr.’s portrayal of Lennie Small in ‘Of Mice and Men’ (1939), so popular at Warner Bros. (see also ‘Of Fox and Hounds’). In the end the mighty warrior leaves the scene empty-handed, while Bugs recites some last lines from the poem. Nevertheless, it’s the hunter who has the last laugh…

‘Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt’ marks Friz Freleng’s first try at Warner Bros.’ new star. He understands the character very well: his Bugs Bunny is both self-assured and capable of making mistakes. In one scene Bugs wants to take one of his graceful dives into a hole, only to land hard on the ground besides it. There’s a priceless scene in which Bugs enters Hiawatha’s cooking pot as if he were taking a hot bath. This is by all means already classic Bugs Bunny material. The looks of the rabbit, on the other hand, are highly unstable, and at times Bugs looks more like his predecessor from ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera‘ (1940) than himself.

In his book ‘Chuck Amuck’ Chuck Jones writes that he feels that “[Freleng], too, went wide of the mark in understanding Bugs’s persona. Not as wide as I did and Tex did, but ’twas enough, ‘twould serve“. I don’t quite agree. Tex Avery indeed is way more off in ‘Tortoise Beats Hare‘. Freleng’s Bugs is not really defined, yet, but he’s well underway.

‘Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt’, being Bugs Bunny’s only fourth cartoon, proved once again that this was a character to stay. Nevertheless, in this cartoon Freleng’s unit is at his best in the animation of Bugs’s adversary, Hiawatha. The moves of this dumb and clumsy character are very well-timed and matched with equally funny music by Carl Stalling. The cartoon also boasts some gorgeous background art, which add to the poetic atmosphere, despite all the delightful nonsense.

Watch ‘Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 4
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Tortoise Beats Hare
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: The Heckling Hare

‘Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt’ is available on the DVD ‘Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Award-Nominated Animation: Cinema Favorites’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: October 25, 1941
Rating:
Review:

rookie revue © warner bros.

Like Bob Clampett’s earlier ‘Meet John Doughboy‘ Friz Freleng’s ‘Rookie Revue’ is a spot gag cartoon on the army, which grew by the minute due to the draft that had been installed since October 1940.

Note that both cartoons predate the attack on Pearl Harbor, showing that the US armed forces were growing even before the United States were being attacked. The premise of ‘Rookie Revue’ is that we “join the army for a day and get a glimpse of military life”. None of the spot gags are remotely funny, however, making ‘Rookie Revue’ very, very tiresome, and only interesting as a period piece. Nevertheless, animation lovers will appreciate the caricatures of Tex Avery, Henry Binder and Ray Katz in the mess.

Watch ‘Rookie Revue’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rookie Revue’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: January 18, 1941
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Fighting 69 1-2th © Warner Bros.‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ opens with peaceful scenes of a picnic in a forest. Soon a red ant and a black ant argue about an olive. When the red ant smothers the black ant with it, he exclaims, Groucho Marx style: ‘Of course you know this means war!’.

Soon the picnic cloth is encircled by trenches, with several ants trying to obtain the food on it, until a lady comes to clear it all away. When only a cake is left behind, the generals try to make peace, which is thwarted by a discussion on how to cut the cake.

‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ is a rather somber war film, in the tradition of e.g. ‘Bosko the Doughboy’ (1931), ‘There’s Something about a Soldier’ (1934), ‘What Price Porky’ (1938), and ‘Ants in the Plants‘ (1940) and arguably the last to show war as it looked like in World War I. Eleven months later war would come to the US itself, changing the looks of war cartoons forever.

‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ is not really funny, but it boasts beautiful oil backgrounds, Silly Symphony-like production values like careful shading, and Freleng’s trademark musical timing. There’s even a ‘hold the onions’ gag, when several ants build a hamburger.

Watch ‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: July 18, 1942
Rating:
Review:

Foney Fables © Warner Bros.‘Foney Fables’ is a spot gag cartoon on fairy tales, very much in the vain of ‘A Gander at Mother Goose‘ (1940), sharing the realistic hand skipping pages of a storybook with the former cartoon.

‘A Gander at Mother Goose’ already was anything but classic, but ‘Foney Fables’ is even worse. Neither writer Michael Maltese nor director Friz Freleng seem inspired, and the often beautiful animation is wasted on all the lame spot gags. Even the running gag is trite and predictable.

The most interesting aspects of the cartoon are the war references: the grasshopper will survive winter, because he has bought war bonds, the wolf in sheep’s clothing is called ‘the fifth columnist of his day’, the goose that lays golden eggs lays normal eggs for national defense, and old mother Hubbard is being accused of hoarding food. These gags cannot rescue the cartoon, however, which remains uninteresting and forgettable.

Watch ‘Foney Fables’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Foney Fables’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 26, 1941
Rating:★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Trial of Mr. Wolf © Warner Bros.‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ stands in a great tradition of fairy tale spoofs, which go all the way back to 1931, with cartoons like Van Beuren’s ‘Red Riding Hood‘ and Max Fleischer’s ‘Dizzy Red Riding Hood‘.

More recent inspirations must have been Disney’s ‘The Big Bad Wolf‘ (1934), and especially Tex Avery’s ‘Cinderella Meets Fella‘ (1938) and ‘The Bear’s Tale‘ (1940).

‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ tops all these cartoons, however, and can be regarded as Warner Bros.’ first mature film: the short fuses Tex Avery’s silliness with Michael Maltese’s inspired story writing, and above all, Friz Freleng’s excellent timing, which at this stage was much better than Avery’s. The result is an outrageously funny cartoon, unlike everything seen before (yes, I’m including ‘A Wild Hare‘ in this!).

The short opens with a court scene, in which the wolf tells his side of the story about Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf portrays himself as an innocent boy from Sunday school, being a hapless victim of a double-crossing Red Riding Hood, and her extremely homicidal grandma, who is only after the wolf’s fur.

Red Riding Hood is a fantastic caricature of Katherine Hepburn, and never has the fairy tale character been so portrayed so vile on the animated screen. But all the characters have an assured, modern, and rubbery design – there’s no trace of the primitivism left that haunted much of Warner Bros.’ earlier output. But moreover, the gags come in fast and plenty, like they never did before. Highlight is the scene in which the wolf opens several doors, only to find grandma behind it, heavier armed every time (by the last door she has mounted a tank). This type of scene would recur in several other cartoons.

The door scene is done very fast, as are all other gags in the cartoon, with the ending being a particular standout: the wolf exclaims that if what he has told weren’t the truth, then he hopes to get run over by a streetcar. And immediately, the vehicle kicks in, taking just a few frames. Such quick timing tops everything Avery had done before, and would be hugely influential, arguably even to Avery himself.

Nevertheless, ‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ owes a lot to Avery, with its numerous throwaway gags, like the skunk jury member, and puns, like Red Riding Hood literally having guilt written all over her face. No doubt this cartoon was a great inspiration to the other directors at Warner Bros., who all sped their cartoons up during 1941 and 1942, even Chuck Jones, who had made the slowest cartoons of the lot thus far. The Schlesinger studio could now enter its classic era.

Watch ‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: February 11, 1939
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Mama's New Hat © MGM‘Mama’s New Hat’ was the last entry of MGM’s ill-conceived ‘Captain and the Kids’ series, which ended prematurely after only fifteen cartoons, lasting only one year.

Surprisingly, it’s the series’ best entry, as for once the studio has tried to make a genuine gag cartoon.

The short opens with the two brats buying a new hat for their mother for mother’s day. Unfortunately they ruin it immediately by falling into the mud. So they exchange their muddy hat for one of a neighboring horse. The horse is not pleased, however, and tries to steal the hat back from Ma Katzenjammer. This leads to a long chase scene, making ‘Mama’s New Hat’ one of the earliest entries in a genre that would become standard in the 1940s and 1950s.

The short suffers from inner logic, but it builds up nicely to a grand finale, and it’s surprisingly full of inventive gags, the one in which the horse turns into a plane as a highlight. This is imaginative storytelling at its best.

‘Mama’s New Hat’ still is no masterpiece, but it’s better than all the other ‘Captain and the Kids’ cartoons, and the only one looking forward. It shows that the young studio’s team was capable of more. Friz Freleng, of course, would further prove his worth back at Warner Bros., the others only came into their own with the arrival of MGM stars ‘Tom and Jerry’, who made their debut two years later.

‘Mama’s New Hat’ contains a scene in which we watch a supposed pursuit in a large house from the outside (using a moving pan with a lot of sound effects). This gag was reused much later in the Tom & Jerry short ‘The Flying Cat‘ (1952).

Watch ‘Mama’s New Hat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mama’s New Hat’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: January 28, 1939
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating:
Review:

Seal Skinners © MGMIn ‘Seal Skinners’ a million dollar seal has escaped and a ten thousand dollar reward has been promised to anyone who can bring him back.

Somehow, both the captain and the kids, his arch rival Long John Silver and an unknown Eskimo are at the North Pole, waiting for the escaped animal. At one point Long John Silver dresses as a seal himself. When the captain and the kids discover the scam, they roll him into a barrel and shake him like a cocktail. This is arguably the best gag in an otherwise remarkably unfunny cartoon, which ends with no conclusion.

‘Seal Skinners’ features some excellent animation, and Scott Bradley’s score is pretty inspired, but these aspects cannot save the cartoon, which suffers from lack of inner logic, and an absence of appealing characters.

Watch ‘Seal Skinners’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Seal Skinners’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: December 17, 1938
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Captain's Christmas © MGM‘The Captain’s Christmas’ is the first of only two ‘Captain and the Kids’ cartoons in color.

Color definitely adds some charm to the series, as does the presence of the foe Long John Silver and his three helpers, and the result is one of the better ‘Captain and the Kids’ cartoons.

Watching the captain playing Santa, Long John Silver decides to steal the captain’s act, and, dressed as Santa, descends down the chimney. He plays his part jollily alright, but also very violently, destroying all the kids’ toys. In an all too typical 1930s morale, the villain is reprimanded by his own younger self.

So, Long John Silver thinks up a plan, and with his men goes singing Christmas Carols in a village inexplicably inhabited with Santa Clauses. Silver and his men do their best, but soon the Santas are disgusted by their act, and start throwing toys at the bunch. Thus, the four scoundrels can flood the Captain’s house with toys.

‘The Captain’s Christmas’ is joyous, if nowhere near classic, and full of the Christmas spirit. Unfortunately, its story is rather weird than engaging, and the carol singing sequence just makes no sense. Moreover, none of the songs are really memorable, and one has the feeling that a lot of money and animation talent is wasted on this cartoon, which, after all, remains mediocre.

Watch ‘The Captain’s Christmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Captain’s Christmas’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: June 25, 1938
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating:
Review:

A Day at the Beach © MGM‘A Day at the Beach’ features the complete Katzenjammer family frolicking at the beach.

The film lacks any story, and consists of an unrelated string of repetitive gags whose only reason of existence seems to demonstrate that one can milk a gag to nausea. For example, there’s almost endless footage of the captain battling with a jumpy sun for some shade, and there’s a running ‘gag’ of the ocean destroying grandpa’s der inspector’s sand castle.

Only when Ma almost drowns, the cartoon gains something of a momentum. The film’s best feature, however, is it depiction of drunken sea creatures, a very small highlight in an otherwise endlessly boring film.

Watch ‘A Day at the Beach’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Day at the Beach’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 16, 1938
Stars: The Captain and the Kids
Rating: ★★
Review:

Poultry Pirates © MGMIn 1937 MGM decided to start its very own studio, after having distributed cartoons by Ub Iwerks (1930-1934) and Harman-Ising. They put Fred Quimby, a producer famous for having neither animation experience nor any sense of humor, in charge.

Quimby hired virtually Harman & Ising’s complete staff away. He also hired some talent from other studios, most notably Jack Zander and Joe Barbera, who would later work on Tom & Jerry, and Friz Freleng. Quimby lured Freleng away from Leon Schlesinger by flattery and by offering him a much larger salary. Freleng stayed less than a year at MGM before happily returning to Warner Bros.

Freleng’s talents were wasted on ‘The Captain and the Kids’, a series based on the classic comic strip of the same name by Rudolph Dirks. MGM had bought the rights to this comic strip, and insisted to make a series out of them. The strip had been around since 1897 (first as ‘The Katzenjammer Kids’), and really felt as coming from another era. Amidst the days of Donald Duck, Daffy Duck and Popeye, these characters were hopelessly old-fashioned, and Freleng struggled to create any fun with them. Consequently, none of the Captain and the Kids cartoons have become classics.

Nevertheless, Freleng’s films were still better than that of other people directing the ill-conceived series, which was, in the end, a failure. In total, Freleng directed six Captain and the Kids cartoons, and one stand-alone cartoon called ‘The Bookworm’, before returning to the greener pastures of the Leon Schlesinger studio.

Of Freleng’s Captain and the Kids cartoons, ‘Poultry Pirates’ is the first. It stars the captain, only, who tries to keep a bunch of chickens and ducks out of his vegetable garden, to no avail. At one point he has to fight a six feet tall rooster, but that happens to be part of a dream.

There’s very little to enjoy in ‘Poultry Pirates’. The animators do no attempts to lip synch, neither the captain nor the chicks gain and sympathy, the story drags on, and the result is frustratingly unfunny.

Watch ‘Poultry Pirates’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Poultry Pirates’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: February 29, 1938
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Jungle Jitters © Warner Bros.‘Jungle Jitters’ is a cartoon about cannibals.

We watch them drumming, dancing and trying to cook a Goofy-like travelling salesman. Their white, bird-like queen sees a Clark Gable or Robert Taylor in him and wants to marry the salesman, but he prefers the cooking pot.

‘Jungle Jitters’ is an unsure mix of musical gags, spot gags and a rudimentary gag story. The voices of both the salesman and the queen are weak [see Yowp’s comment below for their origin], and the weird mix of human cannibals and these two animal-like characters is very unconvincing. And let’s not get started on the racist aspect of the movie. Besides, the scenes with the salesman are irritatingly slow, and the gags mostly trite. The best gag is when some cannibals dancing around a hut suddenly change into a merry-go-round.

On the positive side, Carl Stalling’s music is superb throughout, and enhances the action, even if it’s not much to look at.

Watch ‘Jungle Jitters’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Jungle Jitters’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: January 30, 1937
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Pigs is Pigs © Warner Bros.In ‘Pigs is Pigs’ a fat little pig thinks of food all the time.

At night the pig dreams he’s being fed by a machine of an evil scientist with a hic-cough. He eats so much, he explodes. He awakes in a fright, but when his mother invites him to breakfast, it’s clear he hasn’t learned anything.

With its quasi-moralistic tale, its family-setting, its child star, and its Silly Symphony-like backgrounds, ‘Pigs is Pigs’ is still firmly rooted in the goody-goody world of the mid-1930s. However, an early ‘Hold the onions’-gag (the first of a long series), the fast machine-scenes, and the surprisingly non-moralistic finale look forward to a more individual Warner Bros. style.

‘Pigs is Pigs’ is far from a classic, but it’s surprisingly well animated, and shows that by 1937 the Schlesinger studio could use the Disney influence to their own ends.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Pigs is Pigs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Pigs is Pigs’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Director: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Release Date: August 25, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★
Review:

Cubby's World Flight © Van BeurenIn 1933 the Harman and Ising studio had lost their deal with Leon Schlesinger to produce cartoons for Warner Bros. They had not yet got their later deal with MGM, and were in sort of a limbo, doing odds and pieces for several bidders.

One of the most surprising contracts they got was to produce two Cubby the Bear films for the New York-based Van Beuren in 1934. Van Beuren had his own studio making Cubby the Bear films, so what made him contracting Harman and Ising remains a puzzle. What’s clear, however, is that Harman & Ising’s Cubby was a far cry from Van Beuren’s own output.

Harman & Ising’s Cubby was in fact, Bosko but in a different design. His movements and spirit were indistinguishable from Harman & Ising’s former star. Like their cartoons for Warner Bros., Harman & Ising’s two Cubby the Bear films are animated by the same crew who had made the Bosko cartoons (e.g. Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson, before Schlesinger hired them away), resulting in cartoons that are at least well animated.

In the first of the two films, ‘Cubby’s World Flight’, Cubby follows Oswald (‘The Ocean Hop‘, 1927) and Mickey (‘Plane Crazy‘, 1928) in a Charles Lindbergh-inspired aviation film. Cubby starts flying alarmingly low, which leads to gags that go all the way back to ‘Plane Crazy’, he then crosses the United States, only to dive through the earth to reach China at the other side. Undaunted and with seemingly limitless supplies of fuel, Cubby flies over Russia to France, but above the Atlantic his plane is destroyed by a thunderstorm. Luckily our hero lands safely on the statue of liberty.

‘World Flight’ is practically indistinguishable from the early Warner Bros. films, and has little to do with Cubby as conceived by the Van Beuren studio itself. However, it’s a rather uninspired film, low on gags, and with an all too episodic story. In the best Warner Bros. tradition it features caricatures of the four Marx Brothers and of Maurice Chevalier.

Watch ‘Cubby’s World Flight’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cubby’s World Flight’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date:
 May 14, 1932
Rating: ★★★
Review:

It's Got Me Again © Warner Bros.‘It’s Got Me Again!’ finds Harman and Ising at their most Disney-like. This Merrie Melodie is very similar to contemporary Silly Symphonies.

The short features a mouse entering a musical instrument shop at night. The music starts when the mouse accidentally starts the title song on a gramophone. This invites several other mice to join in. After four minutes of musical frolicking a mean cat appears who gets one mouse cornered, prompting the rodent to sing the title track. The other mice, however, come to the rescue and together they get rid of the cat.

The story of ‘It’s Got Me Again!’ is very similar to that of contemporary Disney shorts ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ or ‘The Bird Store‘, but the short’s premise is most akin to the Van Beuren short ‘Toy Time‘ from four months earlier. ‘It’s Got Me Again!’ is much more sophisticated than the Van Beuren short, though. The animation, by Friz Freleng and Tom McKimson, is excellent throughout, and second only to the Disney studio itself.

The mice are Mickey Mouse but in size, only, and the musical routine involves a French Apache dance, as can also be found in ‘Mickey’s Follies‘ (1929) and the later ‘Woodland Cafe‘ (1937). Harman & Ising’s mimicking paid off, as ‘It’s Got Me Again!’ was among the three very first animated shorts to get an Academy Award nomination. Yet, it’s no surprise it lost to Walt Disney’s landmark cartoon ‘Flowers and Trees‘.

Watch ‘It’s Got Me Again!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘It’s Got Me Again!’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Director: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Release Date:
 April 19, 1930
Stars: Bosko, Honey
Rating: ★★
Review:

Sinkin' in the Bathtub © Warner Bros.Harman & Ising’s pilot ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid‘ led to a succesful contract with Leon Schlesinger, and in April 1930, the young studio could release their first film for Warner Bros.: ‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’.

‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’ is the very first of the Looney Tunes, Harman and Ising’s first of three series which name was an all too obvious variation on Walt Disney’s successful Silly Symphonies. In 1931 they would launch the Merrie Melodies, and in 1934, when at MGM, the Happy Harmonies.

Schlesinger had sold the series to Warner Bros. with the prospect of selling their sheet music, and music would be an important part of both the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies until the end of the 1930s. Apart from the title song, one can hear ‘Forever Blowing Bubbles’ when Honey turns her bath tub into Bosko’s saxophone, making him blowing bubbles with his instrument.

Animated by Friz Freleng, ‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’ features Bosko, the star of ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’, and Warner Bros.’ sole star from 1930 to 1933. Bosko invites his girlfriend Honey for a ride in his anthropomorphized car (which he finds on the toilet(!)). On their journey they experience problems with a cow and a steep hill. The ride ends in a pool.

The cartoon is well-animated and cheerful, but surprisingly boring at the same time, even though it lacks the endless song-and-dance-routines of contemporary Mickey Mouse cartoons. Bosko and his girl behave like Oswald and his girlfriend, and are only different in design, being clearly black stereotypes. They are totally devoid of any personality. In fact, Bosko would never develop one, and eventually it became even unclear what Bosko actually was, as exemplified by the following anecdote from Jack Zander, quoted by Leonard Maltin in ‘Of Mice and Magic’ (page 225):

“One Day a porter at the studio said to young animator Jack Zander, “I want to ask you something about that character you’ve got. I know Mickey Mouse, and Krazy Kat, and Oswald the Rabbit… but Bosko the what?”

Watch ‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’ and on the Blu-Ray ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’

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