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Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: August 11, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Nut Factory © Van BeurenIn ‘The Nut Factory’ Cubby Bear is a Sherlock Holmes-like detective, with the little cat from ‘Fresh Ham‘ as his Watson.

Our hero soon gets a call to solve a mystery of stolen false teeth. After a completely unnecessary diversion in a ghost house, Cubby discovers the false teeth in a hollow tree, in which squirrels use them to crack nuts. The ghost house sequence feels almost obligatory, placing the cartoon in a long series of pre-code horror cartoons.

‘The Nut Factory’ is a terribly animated and erratic cartoon, and Cubby is as lifeless and bland as ever, but the cartoon shows two gags that foreshadow Tex Avery: when an old lady phones Cubby, she crosses the split screen, and later Cubby opens multiple doors in one door post, a gag that first appeared in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Mad Doctor‘ from earlier that year.

Watch ‘The Nut Factory’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Nut Factory’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 17, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Is My Palm Read © Max FleischerIn ‘Is My Palm Read’ Bimbo is a fortune-teller, assisted by Koko the Clown.

Betty drops by to see her future told. Bimbo first sees in his crystal ball Betty as a naked baby, and second as being shipwrecked and washed ashore an island. There she sings ‘All by myself’, only to attract a bunch of evil ghosts. Luckily, he Bimbo himself is there to rescue her, but as soon as he has revealed himself, the ghosts appear out of the crystal ball to chase the duo once again (Koko is completely forgotten at this stage).

‘Is My Palm Read’ is one of the Betty Boop cartoons strongly exploiting her erotic character. For example, when Betty enters the room, Bimbo and Koko use special lighting to see her legs right through her elegant dress. On the island we see Betty undressing and catch her briefly in her underwear, although she remains scantily clothed in a sexy tropical costume throughout the island scenes. The result is an erotic and surrealistic cartoon, which doesn’t make much sense, but which is over before you know it.

Watch ‘Is My Palm Read’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 11
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Penthouse

‘Is My Palm Read’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 11, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Cab Calloway
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Minnie the Moocher © Max FleischerThis talkartoon is completely built around the title song, Cab Calloway’s huge 1931 hit ‘Minnie the Moocher’, which is sung by the great jazz singer himself.

In fact, the cartoon opens with a live action shot of Calloway showing some of his extraordinary dance moves in front of his orchestra. We then cut to a home setting with Betty Boop and her parents, which are apparently of German Jewish descent. Her father scorns her, his jabbering head suddenly changing into a cylinder phonograph. Betty flees crying to her room, and decides to leave home, and she rings Bimbo to come along. This sequence is accompanied by the 1929 hit song ‘Mean to Me’.

The couple flees to the countryside, which quickly becomes very scary, so they hide inside a cave, where the theme song starts. Inside the cave they encounter a walrus-shaped ghost (a rotoscoped Cab Calloway) giving an almost complete rendering of ‘Minnie the Moocher’. During the song we watch images of e.g. skeletons drinking and some prisoner ghosts getting the electric chair. In the end, the ghosts chase the couple back home to the tune of ‘Tiger Rag’.

‘Minnie the Moocher’ makes little sense, and is not as good as the later ‘Snow White’, which also stars Calloway. However, Calloway’s performance is so intoxicating, and the Fleischers’ sense of humor so mesmerizing, it remains a joy to watch the cartoon throughout.

‘Minnie the Moocher’ was the first of handful Fleischer cartoons featuring popular jazz stars, the others being ‘Snow-White‘ and ‘The Old Man of the Mountain‘ from 1933, also featuring Calloway, ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re dead you Rascal You‘ (1932) featuring Louis Armstrong, and ‘I Heard‘ (1933) featuring Don Redman and his Orchestra.

Watch ‘Minnie the Moocher’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 33
To the previous Talkartoon: The Robot
To the next Talkartoon: S.O.S.

‘Minnie the Moocher’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 September 24, 1930
Stars: Bimbo?
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Swing You Sinners © Max Fleischer‘Swing You Sinners!’ is an early Talkartoon, and a wildly imaginative one, too.

We watch a thief (probably Bimbo, but his appearance in the early Talkartoons is so inconsistent, one can’t be sure). The thief tries to steal a chicken, but runs into a cop. The thief then flees into a graveyard, where he has a particularly nightmarish experience. First the gate locks itself, then turns into a stone wall, and then the graves start to sing…

Soon all kinds of inanimate objects start to haunt him. And although the soundtrack is very jazzy, ‘Swing You Sinners!’ remains a bad trip throughout. At one time the walls close into him, at another a ghost promises him to give him a ‘permanent shave’.

The animation is extremely rubbery, and even insane. For example, when we watch a chicken do some scatting, both the chicken and the background are very wobbly, to a hallucinating effect. In the end we watch countless ghosts marching, followed by even more ghostly images when the thief starts to descend into hell. The cartoon ends with a giant skull swallowing the thief, a surprisingly grim ending for a cartoon with such swinging music*.

In any case ‘Swing You Sinners!’ is a testimony of the sheer creativity, which was the Max Fleischer Studio in the early 1930s, and should be placed among the greatest cartoons of all time.

Watch ‘Swing You Sinners!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 10
To the previous Talkartoon: Barnacle Bill
To the next Talkartoon: Grand Uproar

‘Swing You Sinners’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

*It may be interesting to note that this is one of the earliest mentions of swing, predating for example Duke Ellington’s song ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)’ by two years, and being miles ahead of the swing craze of the second half of the 1930s.

Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: July 27, 1942
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Juke Box Jamboree © Walter LantzIn the deserted ‘Zowie cafe’ a mouse is disturbed a jukebox playing latin music.

In his attempts to stop the machine, the mouse ends in a cocktail and gets drunk. He visions ‘spirits’ coming from the bottles who start a conga beat. A lobster does a Carmen Miranda act, blending Cuban and Brazilian styles, and singing in some kind of mock-Spanish. The mouse happily joins in, until he returns to his home to sleep.

The whole cartoon has a delirious atmosphere, and can be called ‘intoxicating’ without necessarily being really entertaining. The ghosts’ designs, with their red noses and bowler hats, are copied straight from the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘Lonesome Ghosts’ (1938).

Watch ‘Juke Box Jamboree’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Mark Brierley
Release Date: 1997
Rating: ★
Review:

Owzat © AardmanIn a graveyard a skeleton plays cricket with some unwilling ghosts.

‘Owzat’ is Aardman’s first endeavor into computer animation and it pales when compared to Pixar films from the same period. The designs look hopelessly primitive, the animation is stiff and the colors are rather ugly. As the film is quite incomprehensible, slow and unfunny, one wonders why it was made in the first place. It looks like a study, and it probably wouldn’t have been released if it had not been an Aardman production.

Watch ‘Owzat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Owzat’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

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