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Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 May 27, 1933
Rating:★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Three Little Pigs © Walt Disney‘Three Little Pigs’ is one of the most successful, most famous and most perfect cartoons ever made. It was hugely popular when it was released, with people associating its catchy theme song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ with an optimism with which one could fight the haunting effects of the Great Depression.

Norm Ferguson and Fred Moore were the principle animators on the film. Norm Ferguson animated the wolf in his typical broad vaudeville acting style, which comes to full bloom in this film. The wolf is a great character, with his glances at the public. He’s a real villain, but somehow too sympathetic as an actor to be really threatening. Unfortunately, his design is not very consistent. Especially his eyes are unsteady and a bit wobbly. One can clearly watch the wolf’s design improving during the film, as if it was animated chronologically. And this may very well possible.

However, it’s Fred Moore’s animation that made the deepest impression on the animation field. Because of his animation on the three pigs, ‘Three Little Pigs’ is regarded as the first animated cartoon to feature so-called character animation. The three pigs form the key to character animation: although the three are drawn the same, the sensible pig behaves differently from the other two: he’s clearly a different character, not by design, but by animation. This was a great step forward in the evolution in animation, and admired by the whole animation industry.

Apart from that the pigs’ designs, by the highly influential concept artist Albert Hurter, are highly appealing. Hurter had joined Disney in June 1931, first as an animator, but soon he switched to concept art, and he had a tremendous influence on the looks of Disney’s films in the 1930s. It must have been around this time that Disney started to think of an animated feature – a daring project which would dominate the studio during 1934-1937. For this ambitious project Moore would design no less than seven similar, yet different characters, while Hurter would indulge in elaborate sets, full of little details.

The film was a success not only within the animation industry, but with the American public, as well. The audiences took the film and its catchy song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ (sung by Mary Moder, Dorothy Compton and Pinto Colvig) as a sign of comfort and hope in the dark days of the Great Depression era. And even after more than eighty years, Frank Churchill’s song is still extremely catchy, even though it’s never heard in its entirety during the short. After a while the cartoon became no less than a sensation, lasting weeks in some theaters, and spawning a great deal of merchandise, like alarm clocks and jigsaw puzzles. In 1934 it won the Academy Award for best animated short film. In 1941 it was still famous enough to be changed into Disney’s first war propaganda film: ‘The Thrifty Pig‘.

The film undoubtedly was Walt Disney’s most famous and most successful short, and the first Silly Symphony to spawn sequels – due to the pressure by distributor United Artists. These sequels (‘The Big Bad Wolf‘ from 1934, ‘Three Little Wolves‘ from 1936, and ‘The Practical Pig‘ from 1939) were, of course, much less successful than the original, and are all but forgotten today. As Disney himself said “You can’t top pigs with pigs’.

The film also raised director Burt Gillett’s fame, and soon he was lured away by the ailing Van Beuren studios to repeat this immense success. However, at Van Beuren it soon became clear that ‘Three Little Pigs’ was not a success because of Burt Gillett’s genius, but because of the ambitious group effort of the Disney studio, and Gillett never managed to come near his most successful films at Disney again.

For ‘Three Little Pigs’ was a true collective effort, with Hurter, Churchill, Ferguson and Moore showing their best work thus far, but also through contributions by e.g. Art Babbitt, Dick Lundy and Jack King, who also animated some sequences, voice artist Pinto Colvig, the voice of the practical pig, and story man Ted Sears, who both contributed to the cartoon’s theme song, and Carl Stalling, who provided the practical pig’s piano-playing.

The film has easily stood the test of time: not only are the characters still appealing, its backgrounds are gorgeous, its music catchy, and its storytelling extraordinarily economical and effective, probably because may have been the first animated cartoon with a complete storyboard. The short’s joy is still infectious today. And although one will always remember the short’s cheerfulness, it contains some black humor, too: look for the portraits of dad and Uncle Tom in the wise pig’s house.

By the way, present-day viewers see an altered version of the film. The original featured a sequence in which the wolf dressed as a stereotyped Jewish door-to-door salesman. For its video release in the early 1980s this sequence was completely redrawn, to remove all Jewish references.

Watch ‘Three Little Pigs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 36
To the previous Silly Symphony: Father Noah’s Ark
To the next Silly Symphony: Old King Cole

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 December 17, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Good Deed © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is the second of four Mickey Mouse Christmas cartoons (‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ from 1931 was the first, the third would only appear at the end of Mickey’s career in 1952: ‘Pluto’s Christmas Tree‘ and the fourth would herald Mickey’s return to the screen in ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol‘ from 1983).

‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is a typical cartoon of the Great Depression era, which, if we look at the Hollywood output, seemed to find its lowest point in 1931-1933. Surprisingly many films from these years show people in great poverty, struggling at the bottom of society. Other examples are the Laurel and Hardy short ‘One Good Turn’ (1931), the Flip the Frog cartoon ‘What A Life’ (1932), the Cubby the Bear cartoon ‘Barking Dogs’, and the Warner Bros. musical ‘ Gold Diggers of 1933’ (1933).

In the opening scene of ‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ we watch Mickey being down at the dumps: he is a poor street musician, playing ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ on a double bass in the snow. He’s obviously homeless and his pants are ragged. When all the change he got turns out to be just bolts and nuts his hopes of a decent meal in a fancy restaurant are shattered.

Meanwhile a rich and spoiled brat discovers Pluto and wants him for a present. So his father sends out his servant to buy Pluto from Mickey. Mickey first refuses, stating that Pluto is his pal. But then his double bass is destroyed by a sleigh and Mickey discovers a very poor and desperate mother of numerous kittens.

In other to help the latter, he finally sells Pluto to buy numerous toys for the little kittens, which he gives them, dressed like Santa, while they’re sleeping. Meanwhile, the spoiled brat is giving Pluto, his own father and the servant a hard time. In the end, the father spanks his son and throws Pluto out of the house. The cartoon ends when Mickey and Pluto are rejoined again, sharing a roasted chicken Pluto accidentally had brought along.

‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is one of Mickey’s most melodramatic cartoons, and relatively low on gags, the most of which involving the spoiled brat and his antics. It plays a familiar theme contrasting the spoiled rich, who think they can get anything with money, with the unfortunate poor, who are willing to help each other out. It’s strange to see Mickey so poor, however, as he is in this cartoon. It’s as if he had lost Minnie and his friends, as well. The most poignant scene is that of a homeless Mickey roasting a sausage on a fire with a mock Pluto made out of snow.

This cartoon contains a caricature of Jimmy Durante as a jack-in-the-box, which is probably the first of many caricatures of this 1930s comedian in animated film. One and a half year later, Mickey would meet Jimmy Durante in person in the live action movie ‘Hollywood Party’.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 50
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Klondike Kid
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Building a Building

‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white Volume two’

 

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: May 18, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear, Honey
Rating: ★★
Review:

Barking Dogs © Van Beuren‘Barking Dogs’ is one of those 1930’s cartoons with a clear Great Depression theme.

The short opens with Honey worrying as she will be displaced because she didn’t pay her mortgage (a story idea anticipating Disney’s ‘Moving Day‘ by three years). Cubby comes along, and offers her to help. His help is hardly convincing, as he immediately runs off in a feeble attempt to pawn his pocket knife. Meanwhile, the evil land owner, A. Wolf, comes along to take all Honey’s furniture away, and incidentally, her house, too. Meanwhile, two metal dogs (?!) warn Cubby who returns to the scene, finding Honey crying on the doorstep. “It’s too late” she sobs, at which he replies “Nothing is too late for Cubby!”, and together they ride the two metal dogs to A. Wolf’s house. Strangely, it’s the two dogs who fight and dispose of the evil land owner, leaving Cubby as a completely idle bystander.

The complete cartoon makes little sense and is difficult to enjoy as none of the animation is interesting or any of the gags funny. But once again, Gene Rodemich’s score is delightful and on a complete different level than all other aspects of the cartoon. The two metal dogs are elegantly designed and much more appealing than Cubby and his girlfriend.

Watch ‘Barking Dogs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: unknown
Release Date:
 November 26, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Nurse Maid © Ub Iwerks‘Nurse Maid’ is a typical cartoon from the Great Depression era, depicting small jobs and poverty.

The short starts very well with Flip as a newspaper boy facing a lot of bad luck destroying his trade. Broke, he sits down on the street to worry. Luckily a woman offers him a dollar if he minds her big-nosed baby. The rest of the cartoon is devoted to Flip’s troubles with the baby, which start immediately when the baby swallows the coin. Thus Flip conjures an unhealthy plan to retrieve it from the baby’s mouth with a fishing rod (!). While Flip sets out to get one, the baby swallows a potion which makes the little fellow strong…

Like ‘The Goal Rush‘, ‘Nurse Maid’ is as gag rich as it is unfunny. Luckily, Carl Stalling’s music is very inspired, following the action so closely that most of the tunes are reduced to snippets (for example, when during a chase a Scotchman is encountered, Stalling inserts a few bars of a Scottish tune before resuming the chase music). In fact, the cartoon is recommended for Stalling’s music only, which is a marvel to listen to.

Watch ‘Nurse Maid’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 30
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: The Music Lesson
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Funny Face

‘Nurse Maid’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: unknown
Release Date:
 March 26, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★
Review:

What a Life © Ub Iwerks‘What a Life’ is a genuine cartoon from the Great Depression era.

In the opening scene Flip and the little brat from ‘The Milkman‘ are poor musicians performing on the street to no avail. Being hungry, they pawn their instruments, only to lose their money to a swindler. Later they have to flee for a cop, and find food and shelter at a house, whose owner turns out to be the cop’s wife.

‘What A Life’ is a sentimental film, akin to the Laurel & Hardy film ‘Below Zero’ (1930), and ‘Mickey’s Good Deed‘ from later that year. Even more than ‘The Milkman’ it plays at sentiments more than laughs, and it looks ahead to the sentimentality that would dominate the years 1934-1938. Nevertheless, because it’s so typical of the darkest days of the Great Depression, it’s more interesting than most of those films. Moreover, it features a remarkably sexy and adulterous woman in the cop’s wife.

One of the spectators in the opening scene is a clear caricature of someone, but of whom?

Watch ‘What a Life’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 19
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Fire! Fire!
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Puppy Love

‘What a Life’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 17, 1936
Rating:

Review:

Somewhere in Dreamland © Max FleischerMax Fleischer’s first full color cartoon is in the same vein as Disney’s ‘Lullaby Land‘ (1933) and Walter Lantz’s ‘Candy Land’ (1934), depicting little children’s wonderful dreams.

‘Somewhere in Dreamland’ deals with two very poor children who dream that they are in dreamland which is full of candy and toys. Fleischer’s 3D-technique is used with stunning results, and the cartoon must have struck a chord with the audience during the Great Depression era, in which poverty was an all too familiar thing. Indeed, as children the Fleischer Brothers themselves had known hunger like depicted in the film, when their father ran out of business. Unfortunately, the cartoon is remarkably unfunny and sickeningly sweet, following similar sugary outings in Disney’s Silly Symphonies series, like ‘Funny Little Bunnies‘ (1934) and ‘The Robber Kitten‘ (1935).

Unlike those films, however, ‘Somewhere in Dreamland’ suffers from primitive designs. The children’s mother looks like a relative of Olive Oyl, while the little children are drawn in typical thirties kids style resembling Hänsel and Gretel from Disney’s ‘Babes in the Woods‘ from four years earlier. The result is that none of the characters seem to fit within the elaborate 3D-sets.

Watch ‘Somewhere in Dreamland’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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