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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 11, 1941
Stars: Gabby
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Swing Cleaning © Max FleischerThe title ‘Swing Cleaning’ promises a cartoon full of big band music.

None of that. Instead, we have a Gabby cartoon, in which our read-headed hero volunteers to take control of the palace’s spring cleaning. Gabby soon meddles with everyone and everything, and manages to destroy a great deal, twice. In the end the other palace dwellers give him their tokens of gratitude, and clobber him with their brooms.

Compared to ‘Two for the Zoo‘ ‘Swing Cleaning’ is a much better cartoon, with its focus on Gabby’s destructive meddling. However, the short loses some screen time to unrelated gags, and one doesn’t feel for either Gabby or the other palace dwellers. In the end. Swing Cleaning’ remains a mediocre cartoon, still much rooted in the sugary 1930s era, and feeling dated when compared to contemporary cartoons from other studios.

Watch ‘Swing Cleaning’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Swing Cleaning’ is available on the Thunderbean DVD/Blu-Ray ‘Fleischer Classics featuring Gulliver’s Travels’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 21, 1941
Stars: Gabby
Rating:
Review:

Two for the Zoo © Max FleischerIn a search for more lasting characters, the Fleischer studio gave Gabby, the omnipresent watchman from ‘Gulliver’s Travels‘ (1940) his own series.

In 1940 and 1941 the studio made eight Gabby cartoons. Unfortunately, the series was not a success. The problem lies with the character itself. Even in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ Gabby is hardly funny, and in ‘Two for the Zoo’, his fourth solo film, he only demonstrates that he was the most talkative character of his era, which is hardly an advertisement.

In this rather tiresome cartoon Gabby meets a porter who transports a ‘rubberneck Kango’ to the zoo inside a large crate. For unclear reasons Gabby volunteers to take the animal itself, taking a small fantasy creature out of the box, which looks like a kangaroo with a trunk and giraffe-like horns. What Gabby doesn’t realize is that he has only taken the cub, and that the mother Kango is still inside the crate. She soon follows the two, putting her cub inside her pouch. This leads to quite some confusion, and only in the end Gabby discovers that there were actually two animals all along.

Unfortunately, none of Gabby’s antics are remotely funny, and the gags are greatly hampered by Gabby’s constant jabbering. The best part is when the large Kango has the hiccups, and Gabby balances on a ladder on her head.

Watch ‘Two for the Zoo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Two for the Zoo’ is available on the Thunderbean DVD/Blu-Ray ‘Fleischer Classics featuring Gulliver’s Travels’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 22, 1939
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Gulliver's Travels © Max Fleischer

Following the huge success of Walt Disney’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ other Hollywood animation studios considered the making of an animated feature themselves. In the end, only the Fleischer studio really attempted it, persuaded by their distributor, Paramount.

In fact, the Fleischers’ plans for a feature film dated back to as early as 1934, and the three Popeye two-reelers (‘Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor’, ‘Popeye the Sailor meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves’ and ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp‘) can be regarded as exercises in the longer format. Nevertheless, it was the enormous success of Disney’s first feature that prompted Paramount to demand a Christmas feature from the Fleischer animation studio.

To achieve this, the Fleischers moved to a completely new studio in Miami, Florida, and hired a lot of new personnel, including Snow White veterans like animators Grim Natwick, Al Eugster and Shamus Culhane. This huge undertaking resulted in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, becoming America’s second animated feature, beating Disney’s second feature, ‘Pinocchio‘, by more than a month.

As often, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ only depicts the first part from Swift’s famous book: Gulliver’s visit to the island of Lilliput. Indeed, the film seems to take considerable inspiration from the Soviet adaptation ‘The New Gulliver’ (1934), which looks surprisingly similar. Nevertheless, the story deviates mostly from Swift’s book, focusing on two kings who quarrel over a song to be played at their children’s wedding, instead. This quarrel and the discovery of Gulliver by a night watchman called Gabby completely take up the first part of the film. In fact, Gulliver only awakes halfway the feature!

Only after Gulliver’s rise the film gains some momentum, being otherwise surprisingly slow. For example, the scene in which the civilians find Gulliver and tie him up lasts no less than a quarter of an hour, one-fifth of the complete film. Luckily, in the second half there’s some suspense, when three spies conspire to kill Gulliver with his own gun, and Gulliver tries to reconcile the two estranged kingdoms.

Unfortunately, Gulliver and the wedding couple, Princess Glory and Prince David, never become real characters. Glory and David are clearly based on Snow White and Prince Charming, and they are even blander than the originals. Their semi-realistic designs are devoid of character, and only after 70 minutes they utter a little dialogue. One just doesn’t care about them. Gulliver, on the other hand, looks good – especially the coloring and shading on him is very well done, with the night banquet scene as a particular highlight. Yet, his realistic design and hi slow, rotoscoped movements don’t blend well with the cartoony inhabitants of Lilliput. And he, too, is surprisingly devoid of character.

In fact, only three protagonists have clear characters: king Little, king Bombo, and the omnipresent Gabby, who must be regarded as the film’s star, even though he fails as a comic relief, and lacks a story of his own. Indeed, the film’s best comical scene doesn’t feature Gabby, but goes to the three spies trying to think of a plan to kill Gulliver. This is great silent comedy, unmatched by the rest of the film.

Together with ‘Pinocchio’ ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ can be regarded as the epitome of 1930s aesthetics. The feature is very well made, with beautiful background art, very much influenced by that of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, beautiful coloring and shading, and spectacular effect animation, especially in the storm scene with which the film opens. The animation belongs to the best ever produced at the Fleischer studio, and certainly is the most Disney-like. Yet, at the same time the animation fails to reach the heights of the Walt Disney studio, and at times is over-excessive, for example in the scene in which King Bombo remembers his friendship with King Little. The songs, too, are pleasant, but nothing more than that. Most catchy is ‘It’s a Hap-Hap-Happy Day’, a clear attempt to give the film its own ‘Whistle While You Work’. More impressive than the songs, however, is the lush score by Victor Young.

In all, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is a beautiful film, but a slow one, and with a story that fails to catch the audience. Indeed, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ doesn’t stand the comparison to its model, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, and it was only a small success upon release. What certainly didn’t help was that World War II had broken out in Europe, depleting the film of a huge foreign market. These problems of course also troubled Disney’s own ‘Pinocchio’, released in February 1940.

Despite the film’s modest profits, the Fleischers decided to make another feature to keep their enormous organisation at work (resulting in the 1941 release ‘Mr. Bug goes to Town’). This economically unhealthy path would eventually lead to their downfall.

Watch ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is available on the Thunderbean Blu-Ray/DVD set ‘Fleischer Classics featuring Gulliver’s Travels’. All other copies are considerably inferior to this one and should be avoided.

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