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Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date: June 10, 1933
‘I Like Mountain Music’ is not the first of books-come-to-life cartoons, that was ‘Three’s a Crowd’ from 1932. But ‘I Like Mountain Music’ takes the concept a little further, stuffing the film with many caricatures of Hollywood stars, like Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, Edward G. Robinson, Jean Harlow, King Kong (Hollywood’s latest star), and even Benito Mussolini. Also featured is a remarkably realistic skater. I wonder who she is. It’s not likely Sonia Henie, who started her film career only in 1936.
The book-come-to-life concept was unique to Warner Bros. and was reused in many more, and more enjoyable cartoons like ‘Speaking of the Weather’ (1937), ‘Have You Got any Castles?’ (1938) and ‘Book Revue‘ (1946). This early short proves that the unique Warner Bros. style had a firm root in the Hugh-Harman era, even though it was to Frank Tashlin and Tex Avery to push it to its later heights.
Watch ‘I Like Mountain Music’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘I Like Mountain Music’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six’
Director: Joe Grant?
Release Date: November 18, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Wallace Beery, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, Helen Hayes, Fredric March, Marie Dressler
The short is based on the opening parade of ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ (1931), and reuses quite some animation from the original Silly Symphony, but this time it features Mickey, Minnie and Pluto, all in their color debut, predating their official color debuts in ‘The Band Concert‘, ‘On Ice‘ and ‘Mickey’s Garden‘ respectively by three years. Thus, their color designs are a bit different: Mickey wears green shorts instead of red ones, and Pluto is a sort of grey-ish, instead of orange-brown.
Following Mickey, Minnie and some characters from the original ‘Mother Goose Melodies’ we watch the following Hollywood stars parade: Wallace Beery as ‘The Champ’, Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt (both starring ‘The Guardsman’), Helen Hayes (‘The Sin of Madelon Claudet’), Fredric March (‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’), transforming while walking, and finally Marie Dressler (‘Emma’).
The caricatures were based on designs by Joe Grant, who, at that time, was still working as a newspaper caricutarist. Grant was only hired later, for ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘, which premiered eight months later, and which features many more caricatures of Hollywood stars. Incidentally, Fredric March, Wallace Beery and Helen Hayes won the Oscars.
Apart from this film, Disney was very present at this gala night: he was nominated for Best Sound Recording, he won the Oscar for the new category ‘Best Animated Short Film’ with his full-color debut ‘Flowers and Trees‘, and he got an honorary award for the creation of Mickey Mouse, with which Hollywood acknowledged the little mouse’s extraordinary fame. This was Disney’s first triumphant presence at the Academy Awards, but many successes would follow, as Walt Disney would receive no less than 26 Academy Awards during his career…
Watch ‘Parade of the Award Nominees’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Parade of the Award Nominees’ is available on the DVD ‘Mickey Mouse in Living Color’
Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: August 29, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog
With his newfound talent he tries to enter a film studio, but he’s thrown out again and again by the guard. Flip even reuses an Oswald trick from ‘Bright Lights‘ (1928), trying to sneak in under a man’s shadow. When he finally’s inside, the cartoon actually fails to deliver its premise. Flip gets caught in a Western, in some 1001 Arabian Nights setting, and in a Russian drama, but that’s pretty much it. The Russian drama scene is undoubtedly inspired by the 1915 Charlie Chaplin comedy ‘His New Job’.
Although the cartoon fails to make full use of its Hollywood setting, it contains a great corridor scene. This scene expands on the one in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Gorilla Mystery‘ (1930), adding more zaniness to it. It is a direct ancestor to the marvelous corridor scene in Tex Avery’s ‘Lonesome Lenny’ (1946). Besides this there are some great caricatures of Laurel and Hardy, depicted as dogs. These may very well be the first animated caricatures of Laurel and Hardy ever put on screen. They would return in the very last Flip the Frog cartoon, ‘Soda Squirt’ (1933), along with several other Hollywood caricatures.
‘Movie Mad’ may turn out to be rather disappointing, it does feature great music by Carl Stalling, and it lays out the story plan for both the Donald Duck cartoon ‘The Autograph Hound’ (1939) and the Looney Tune ‘You Ought To Be in Pictures‘ (1940).
Watch ‘Movie Mad’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 12
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: The New Car
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: The Village Specialist
‘Movie Mad’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’
Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: June 17, 1950
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
‘What’s Up, Doc?’ starts very much like Friz Freleng’s ‘A Hare Grows in Manhattan‘ from 1947: Bugs Bunny is a Hollywood star, interviewed by the press.
However, Writer Warren Foster and director McKimson’s take is much funnier than Freleng’s: instead of turning to an ordinary chase sequence, the duo retains the idea of Bugs being a real actor throughout the picture. The cartoon shows his erratic career in the vaudeville scene.
The most absurd take is when Bugs Bunny is down in the dumps. We seem him hanging out in the park with actors, who, by 1950, belonged pretty much to the has-beens: Al Jolson, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor and Bing Crosby. At this point, it is Elmer, “the famous vaudeville star”, who turns Bugs into a star. We watch the duo performing in what must be the most terrible vaudeville act ever put on screen. But when Bugs utters “what’s up, doc” the duo hits the jackpot.
This loony, self-satirizing from-rags-to-riches story is entertaining throughout, and leads to a great finale. It may well have inspired the equally tongue-in-cheek opening sequence of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ (1952), which shows some similarities to McKimson’s short.
‘What’s Up, Doc?’ is without doubt one of McKimson’s best cartoons. Sadly, the film more or less marks the end of McKimson’s most inspired era, for during the 1950s the quality of his cartoons steadily declined, becoming more and more routine, and less and less funny.
Watch ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘What’s Up, Doc?’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’
Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: November 1, 1947
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Humphrey Bogart is one of the costumers, and he tells Elmer to bring him a rabbit or else… By chance, Elmer discovers Bugs in his kitchen and what follows is a wild chase involving more celebrities, like The Marx Brothers and Carmen Miranda.
‘Slick Hare’ is a hilarious cartoon. Highlights are a well-timed pie throwing sequence and a a great dance routine by Bugs on an irresistible samba. The cartoon contains some more caricatures of Hollywood stars, like Leopold Stokowski, Frank Sinatra and at the end, Lauren Bacall.
Watch ‘Slick Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 45
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Easter Yeggs
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Gorilla My Dreams
Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: May 22, 1947
Stars: Bugs Bunny
He is visited by one “Lola Beverley” (only a voice over) who asks him to tell of his humble origin. Next we watch a youthful Bugs in East-side, New York encountering a group of tough street dogs led by a rather dumb bulldog wearing a bowler hat.
Unfortunately, this section remains an ordinary chase sequence, which does not differ from an ordinary Bugs Bunny cartoon. Three years later, McKimson would reuse the idea of Bugs reminiscing his origins in ‘What’s Up Doc?‘, with much better results.
‘A Hare Grows in Manhattan’ contains a ‘little piggy’ gag which was to be repeated by Tweety in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?‘ (1988).
Watch ‘A Hare Grows in Manhattan’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 43
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Rabbit Transit
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Easter Yeggs
Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 10, 1937
It makes very clear that in the 1930s the experience of going to the movies was way more elaborate than nowadays: we watch newsreels, the audience singing to the title song and a feature, ‘The Petrified Florist’, a satire of the Warner Brothers film ‘The Petrified Forest’ (1936), with caricatures of its stars Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. During the cartoon we’re confronted with several movie theater annoyances, like people changing seats, people passing by in the middle of a film, popcorn sellers and bad front row seats.
In this cartoon, Friz Freleng really caught up with the new spirit at Warner Brothers induced by the coming of Tex Avery and Frank Tashlin in 1936. Gone is any resemblance to cuteness or children stars. Instead, there is an annoying duckling asking questions in an irritable voice, and causing havoc in the cinema. There’s no story, just gags, and the film ends rather unexpectedly. But the whole film is a sheer delight, aimed at laughs, and succeeding in it, too. Also featured is an early caricature of Adolf Hitler.
Watch ‘She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: July 1, 1933
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
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