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Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: May 24, 1941
Stars: a.o. Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Johnny Weismuller, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Harpo Marx, Bing Crosby, Leopold Stokowski, James Stewart, Sonja Henie, Boris Karloff, the Three Stooges, Oliver Hardy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Peter Lorre, Henry Fonda, Buster Keaton, Jerry Colonna, Clark Gable, Groucho Marx
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Hollywood Steps Out © Warner Bros.Caricatures of Hollywood stars have been featured in many animated cartoons since ‘Felix goes Hollywood’ (1923).

With cartoons like ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ (1933), ‘Soda Squirt‘ (1933), ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936). ‘The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos’ (1937) and ‘Mother Goes to Hollywood’ (1938) the caricatures even became the main attraction of the cartoon. This trend reached its climax in Tex Avery’s ‘Hollywood Steps Out’, as this is a spot gag cartoon on nothing but Hollywood stars. After this short Hollywood stars kept popping up in cartoons, but not in such abundance as in this short.

In ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ we watch the stars of the silver screen going out at the Ciro’s nightclub, which had opened in 1940. The gags are actually rather lame, but it’s a sheer joy to see all these caricatures of late 1930s Hollywood stars, some still famous, others forgotten. Among the more familiar names are Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Johnny Weismuller (as Tarzan), James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Harpo Marx, Bing Crosby, Leopold Stokowski, James Stewart, Sonja Henie, Boris Karloff (as Frankenstein), the Three Stooges, Oliver Hardy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Peter Lorre, Henry Fonda, Buster Keaton and Jerry Colonna.

Also featured are Henry Binder and Leon Schlesinger, the animators’ bosses. The cartoon contains some rotoscoped dance movements, including a rather sexy bubble dance, and a running gag about Clark Gable following a girl who turns out to be Groucho Marx.

The caricatures in ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ were based on drawings by Ben Shankman, whose work was first used by Friz Freleng in ‘Malibu Beach Party’ (1940), and who clearly is a worthy successor of Joe Grant (e.g. ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’) and T. Hee (e.g. ‘Mother Goes to Hollywood’). All Shankman’s caricatures in ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ are pretty good to excellent. Moreover, most of them are well-animated, with the animation of James Stewart as a particular highlight. Like the otherwise very different ‘Old Glory‘ (1939) this short shows that by the turn of the decade the Warner Bros. animators could handle the human figure very well.

The voices, too, are very well done. In ‘The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons’ Keith Scott reveals they were all done by one Kent Rogers, who was not yet 18 when ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ was released. Rogers also voiced e.g. Willoughby, Beaky Buzzard, and ‘Henery Hawk’. Unfortunately, he died in World War II in 1944, cutting short a career that might have become as illustrious as Mae Questel’s or Mel Blanc’s. In a way ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ stands out as his greatest work.

Apart from a celebration of Hollywood stars, ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ is also a testimony of the conga craze that took over the United States in the early forties: the irresistible conga beat sounds in the opening sequence and during the dance scene. Other examples of cartoons prominently featuring conga music are ‘Mickey’s Birthday Party’ (1942), ‘Juke Box Jamboree‘ (1942) and ‘Springtime for Pluto‘ (1944).

Watch ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hollywood Steps Out’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Two’

 

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Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: March 29, 1941
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Goofy Groceries © Warner Bros.‘Goofy Groceries’ was the first Merrie Melodie directed by Bob Clampett, and thus his first color film.

In this film Clampett made a follow up to Frank Tashlin’s cartoons, ‘Have You Got any Castles?‘ and ‘You’re and Education‘ (both 1938), in which things come alive at night, featuring Hollywood caricatures. Moreover, he maintains Tashlin’s high production standards and original cinematography. Thus, ‘Goofy Groceries’ is a beautiful and well-made picture, even though it makes little sense.

As the title implies, now things come to life in a grocery store, including caricatures of Ned Sparks, Jack Benny and Leopold Stokowski. The best parts are a Busby Berkeley ballet of some feminine sardines, and Tomato cans dancing a can-can. The musical number is interrupted by a King Kong-like gorilla, which prompts the stock battle scene, until he’s called home by his mother.

‘Goofy Groceries’ is far from a classic, but it shows that the Leon Schlesinger studio was capable to incorporate the innovations by one director, in this case Frank Tashlin, into other directors’ films, making the studio improve with a remarkably speed.

Watch ‘Goofy Groceries’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Goofy Groceries’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: July 1, 1933
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Mickey's Gala Premiere © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ is without doubt one of the greatest of all Mickey Mouse Cartoons.

The short both celebrates the enormous popularity Mickey enjoyed in the early 1930s, and establishes him as one of the leading actors of that period.

We’re witnessing the premiere of a new Mickey Mouse cartoon at the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, where Mickey and the gang are welcomed as celebrities (only Goofy is absent, his character was not yet established at that time).

The cartoon that is shown at the premiere is called ‘Galloping Romance’. It is an early and fantastic self-parody. This short only exists within ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ and is a ridiculous variation on ‘The Cactus Kid’ (1930), in which Mickey rides a number of silly animals in his pursuit of Pete, including a marimba. This self-consciously silly cartoon is way more old-fashioned than ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ itself.

Nevertheless, the crowd, which consists solely of well-known performers of the time, laugh their heads off and, after the show, all try to congratulate Mickey. Mickey’s wet dream appears to be being kissed by Swedish actress Greta Garbo, because it is the cartoon’s climax before it’s being revealed that all has been just a dream.

All the caricatures are the work of Joe Grant, whose work was also quoted by the Disney studio in the short special ‘Parade of the Award Nominees‘ (1932). For ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ Disney went directly to Grant, and the film became the story man’s first job for Disney. However, it was only two months after this film that Joe Grant became a full-time employee at the Disney studio. There he would also draw caricatures for ‘Broken Toys’ (1935) and ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936), but his main contribution would be to the story department.

The self-conscious nature of ‘Mickey’s Gala Premiere’ would remain rare at Disney’s, but it would become one of the key features of the Warner Brother Cartoons, who would produce similar cartoons as ‘You Ought to be in Pictures’ (1940) and ‘What’s Cookin’ Doc?’ (1944). Both cartoons are tributary to ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’.

The short also sprouted several other cartoons featuring caricatures of contemporary Hollywood stars, among others ub Iwerks’s ‘Soda Squirt‘ (1933), Walter Lantz’s ‘The Merry Old Soul‘ (1933) and ‘Toyland Premiere’ (1934), Disney’s own ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936) and ‘Mother Goose goes Hollywood’ (1938), and the Warner Brothers cartoons ‘The Coo-Coo Nut Groove’ (1936), ‘Porky’s Road Race’ (1937) and ‘Hollywood Steps Out‘ (1941). Nevertheless, ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ was not the first in his kind, for already ten years earlier Felix the Cat made the trip to Hollywood to meet the stars in ‘Felix in Hollywood’ (1923).

Among the stars featured in ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ I managed to identify The Keystone Cops, Marie Dressler, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Maurice Chevalier, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Harold Lloyd, Edward G. Robinson, Clark Gable, Joe E. Brown, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Mae West, Greta Garbo, Bela Lugosi, Frederic March and Boris Karloff.

Also featured is some guy who has a striking resemblance to Prince Charles of Wales and who’s dressed as a king. This is a caricature of Will H. Hays, the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). Hays was Hollywood’s chief censor and the man behind the Hays code, the censorship Hollywood imposed on itself between 1930 and 1968. Interestingly, the censorship only became severe when Hays made place for Joseph Breen in 1934…

Watch ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 58
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Mechanical Man
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Puppy Love

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