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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 23, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Mother Goose Land © ParamountThis short opens with Betty Boop reading a Mother Goose book in bed.

As soon as she wishes she were in Mother Goose land, the Mother Goose from the cover grows full-size and takes Betty to ‘Mother Goose Land’ on her broom. Here we meet many nursery rhymes, while Betty is threatened by a giant spider. When she’s kidnapped by the spider, an army of crows come to the rescue. They carry the spider on its own web, in a remarkable birds-eye scene, in which the spider’s shadow is visible on the ground.

‘Mother Goose Land’ seems to herald a new era in The Fleischer Studios: the animation appears to be more ambitious and more complex than before, showing a slight Disney influence, at least from the Silly Symphony ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ (1931).

Typical for Fleischer, however, Betty Boop is still sexy, and kidnapped by a spider whose intentions are clearly sexual. At same time, Betty is now featured in more infantile material, highlighted by the sugary close harmony music, something that would become worse in 1934, when the Hays code toned down her character.

Nevertheless, the growing infantility can be seen in all studios, and this transgression from the adult world of sex and violence to an innocent children’s world is typical for the 1933/1934, with ‘Mother Goose Land’ being just an example.

Watch ‘Mother Goose Land’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 17
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Big Boss
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Popeye the Sailor

‘Mother Goose Land’ is available on the DVD ‘Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Vol. 1’, and on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

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Director: unknown
Release Date:
 February 20, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Milkman © Ub IwerksIn ‘The Milkman’ Flip is both a farmer with a dairy farm and a milkman.

The cartoon features an extraordinary scene of Flip delivering milk, which uses an animated background, with an original curved perspective. Unfortunately, most of the screen time is devoted to Flip trying to deal with an annoying little brat he finds in a trashcan. The brat causes Flip quite some trouble, but at the end of the cartoon Flip and the brat become friends. Indeed, one month later we watch them together in the sentimental ‘What A Life‘.

The antics of Flip and the boy anticipate similar cartoons of ca. 1934-1938, when the Hays code had hit Hollywood hard, and most studios turned out remarkably childish, goody-goody cartoons. ‘The Milkman’ is an early example, playing on sentiments instead of laughs.

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

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 17
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Spooks
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Fire! Fire!

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

Directors: John Foster & Mannie Davis
Release Date:
 September 14, 1931
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Family Shoe © Van BeurenBy 1931, Van Beuren’s ‘Aesop’s Fables’ had become the studio’s answer to Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies, being the first studio clearly trying to copy Disney’s format (Warner Bros’ Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were only variations on the Silly Symphonies in name, being very different otherwise).

Given the studio’s animation output up to 1931, ‘The Family Shoe’ is a remarkably consistent and forward-looking product. With its consistent storytelling ‘The Family Shoe’ actually predates Walt Disney’s breakthrough short ‘The Ugly Duckling‘ by three months.

Merging the nursery rhyme of the old woman who lived in a shoe with the fairy tale of Jack and the beanstalk, the film anticipates Mickey’s ‘Giantland’ (1933) by two years, and the cute and childish cartoons of the Hays code era by three years. Also, the opening scenes, with hundreds of brats running around and causing mischief predate similar scenes in Walt Disney’s ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (December 1931) and ‘Mickey Nightmare’ (1932).

The cartoon retells the story of Jack and the beanstalk quite faithfully, and the cartoon may be a little low on gags. Yet, there are some typical Van Beuren throwaways present, like the bean planting itself, and the ending, in which the golden eggs transform the old lady into a classy aristocrat overnight.

Van Beuren is often described as merely an also-run studio, but this short shows that at least in 1931 it was more ambitious and more capable than one would expect.

Watch ‘The Family Shoe’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Family Shoe’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 21, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Still from 'Betty Boop's Little Pal' featuring Betty Boop and PudgyBetty and her little dog Pudgy are picnicking.

However, Pudgy wrecks the picnic, so Betty sends him home. Unfortunately he’s immediately caught by a dog catcher. Luckily, Pudgy manages to escape together with some other dogs.

‘Betty Boop’s Little Pal’ marks the debut of Betty’s little pup Pudgy, even though he remains unnamed in this cartoon. Though more cute than funny, Pudgy was to be Betty Boop’s most entertaining and long-lasting co-star of the Hays Code era. He was a real character, and, like Pluto, he behaved like a real dog, although he’s as anatomically incorrect as Pluto is. Compared to Pluto, Pudgy is younger, cuter and naughtier. He is as much a child character as a dog character, while Pluto is more mature. Pudgy starred in 23 cartoons, only retiring in 1939. Unfortunately, none of his cartoons can be considered classics, save one: ‘Pudgy Picks a Fight‘ from 1937.

‘Betty Boop’s Little Pal’  is very typical of a trend in the Fleischer films that caught on during 1934 (after the Hays Code was in practice): the story line is very clear, which is a great improvement upon most earlier cartoons, but at the same time all nonsense, weirdness, surrealism, sex and jazz have vanished, too (there’s only one surreal gag, of a car scratching itself). Therefore, this and the other Betty Boop cartoons from 1934 and later are remarkably boring compared with the earlier entries.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Little Pal’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 32
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: There’s Something About a Soldier
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Prize Show

‘Betty Boop’s Little Pal’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 18, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop, Max Fleischer
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Betty Boop's Rise to Fame © Paramount‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame” is a compilation cartoon, but it’s easily one of the best in its kind.

It features Betty Boop and her creator, Max Fleischer in a nice mix of animation and live action. Fleischer asks Betty, who is depicted as a tiny cartoon character, to perform for a reporter. She does three of her finest moments, using footage from ‘Stopping the Show‘ (1932), ‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle‘ (1932) and ‘The Old Man from the Mountain’ (1933).

In between, there’s some lovely interplay between Betty and “uncle Max”. Even these new scenes are sexy, when Betty changes clothes behind an ink pot and some books. This delightful cartoon can be regarded as an ode to Betty’s glorious past. From now on sex and eroticism would be banished from her cartoons due to the censorship of the Hays code.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 28
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty in Blunderland
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Trial

‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 5, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop, Fearless Freddie
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:
She Wronged Him Right © ParamountBetty is the star in a melodrama with an evil landlord and a classic hero.

Arguably the first Betty Boop cartoon with a clear plot, ‘She Wronged Him Right’ marks the debut of Fearless Freddie, who seems to be designed as Betty’s new suitor (Bimbo, being an animal, was no longer accepted in a Hollywood dominated by the puritan Hays Code). His stay would be short, however, because very soon Betty would lose interest in men altogether, taking the Code even further.

Only nine months later the formula of this cartoon was repeated with less successful results in ‘Betty Boop’s Prize Show’. ‘She Wronged Him Right’ still contains some wonderful metamorphosis gags and some inanimate objects speaking or suddenly growing hands, preserving some of Fleischer’s famous surrealism.

The very idea of Betty performing in a melodrama may have been borrowed from Disney, who had released the comparable ‘Mickey’s Mellerdrammer‘ in 1933.

Watch ‘She Wronged Him Right’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 24
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Parade of the Wooden Soldiers
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Red Hot Mamma

‘She Wronged Him Right’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 1, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko The Clown
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Still from 'I Heard' featuring Betty in underwear and Bimbo © ParamountBetty Boop works in a tavern near a coal mine, where Koko The Clown and Bimbo are working. The latter discovers some ghosts in the mine.

This short contains an excellent swinging jazz score by Don Redman and his orchestra, who are introduced in the beginning of the picture, playing in a zany cartoon decor. The music includes adapted versions of Don Redman’s hit songs ‘How am I doing?’ (1932) and ‘I Heard’ (1931).

‘I Heard’ was the last Fleischer cartoon to feature a great jazz score. Don Redman, and his predecessors Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong, where soon replaced by Rubinoff and his orchestra playing sweet semi-classical music in ‘Morning Noon and Night‘  and ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers‘ (both late 1933). Even worse, the cartoon marked Bimbo’s last screen appearance. Being an animal he was no longer accepted as being Betty’s suitor in a Hays Code dominated Hollywood which shunned all eroticism and ‘unnatural sexual behavior’, including human-animal relationships.

After Bimbo, Betty would shortly date a human character named Fearless Freddie, but from 1935 on she remained a bachelor apparently with no interest in men whatsoever. In this cartoon, though, she’s still sexy, and she can briefly be seen in her underwear, after the elevator she and Bimbo had taken has crashed.

Thus, in many ways, one can regard ‘I Heard’ as the last of the classic Betty Boop cartoons. After this cartoon, the intoxicating mix of sex and surrealism was only seen once, in the compilation cartoon ‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame‘ (1934), a last tribute to Betty’s glory days.

Watch ‘I Heard’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 20
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: The Old Man of the Mountain
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Morning Noon and Night

‘I Heard’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: David Hand
Release Date: June 29, 1935
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Who Killed Cock Robin? © Walt Disney‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ is a musical mystery very loosely based on the nursery rhyme of the same name. Its source material notwithstanding, ‘Who Killed Cock Robin’ is the most adult Silly Symphony ever made.

True to the Silly symphony concept, all characters either sing or speak in rhyme to Frank Churchill’s music (with Jenny Wren’s sensual blues as a highlight), but in a bare seven minutes the cartoon manages to mock both the law, racialism and gay people, while displaying an unusual eroticism through Jenny Wren, who is a very fine caricature of famous Hollywood actress Mae West, a tour de force by Joe Grant (design) and Hamilton Luske (animation).

These features are especially striking when one bears in mind that the Hays Code was already active in 1935. Due to his self-censorship of the movie industry sex and violence were banned from the movies. To illustrate its effect: due to this code an erotic cartoon character like Betty Boop had to be tuned down and was turned into a goody-goody and quite a bland character. Yet, ‘Who Killed Cock Robin’ displays its satire and eroticism in full glory.

When Cock Robin has been shot by a mysterious shadow, the Keystone Cop-like police randomly arrests some bystanders: a tough-looking guy, a black bird (in those days blacks were easily arrested just because of their color) and a cuckoo who resembles Harpo Marx. They’re treated very roughly, being knocked by the cops almost all the time. And when Jenny exclaims that justice should be done, the judge simply orders to hang all verdicts even though nobody knows who’s guilty!

It’s Cupid, an obvious caricature of a homosexual, who prevents this cruel sentence. Cock Robin appears to be alive, and finally he and Jenny Wren reunite in a hot kiss. Thus ends one of the most spectacular cartoons of the 1930s.

Watch ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 54
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Cookie Carnival
To the next Silly Symphony: Music Land

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