You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘horror cartoon’ tag.

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: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: February 15, 1932
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit
Rating: ★★
Review:

Mechanical Man © Walter LantzIn 1932 Oswald was redesigned to give him a more boy-like appearance. ‘Mechanical Man’ features this new design and opens with Oswald an his girlfriend playing the piano together.

Meanwhile Peg Leg Pete has built a robot, which needs a human heart. Pete kidnaps Oswald’s girlfriend and takes it to his hideout, followed by Oswald. After a long pursuit Oswald manages to get rid of Pete, and rescuing his sweetheart. But it’s a goat who rescues the two from the robot.

When you read this, the cartoon seems to make some sense, but the real thing is rather different: there’s a lot happening on the screen, and nonsensical gags fill every scene. For example, during the chase scene, various skeletons appear at random, giving the cartoon its typical horror atmosphere, but adding nothing otherwise. This gives the cartoon a rather stream-of-consciousness-like character, and at every point one expects Oswald to wake up from this random nightmare.

Watch ‘Mechanical Man’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mechanical Man’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: unknown
Release Date:
 December 21, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Spooks © Ub Iwerks‘Spooks’ opens with Flip seeking shelter from a rain storm in an old mansion.

There he encounters a skeleton who invites him to dinner of a skeleton of a roasted chicken. Later Flip dances with a female skeleton, while the deceased owner of the house plans to add flip to his skeleton collection.

‘Spooks’ is one of the best of the Flip the Frog cartoons. Featuring a much more consistent story than the earlier ‘The Cuckoo Murder Case’, the cartoon manages to provide a genuine feeling of horror, only matched by Disney’s ‘The Mad Doctor‘ (1932). When confronted with the homicidal skeleton, Flip is in real peril. Moreover, outside the mansion the nightmare continues, when even Flip’s own horse has turned into some living bones.

The scenes inside the haunted house feature distorted angles, which add to the claustrophobic feel. Strangely enough the curved backgrounds can also be seen in subsequent Flip the Frog cartoons, like ‘The Milkman‘ and ‘What A Life‘, where they don’t contribute to the atmosphere, at all. In fact, they would become a unique style element in the Ub Iwerks cartoons.

The complete cartoon is well-animated, with the opening scene, in which Flip and his horse battle the elements, being particularly outstanding.

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

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

Directors: John Foster & George Stallings
Release Date:
 August 1, 1931
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Wot A Night © Van BeurenIn 1931 the Van Beuren studio was strengthened by two new staff members, both veterans of the New York animation scene: George Stallings (1891-1963) and George Rufle (1901-1974).

The two transformed Waffles and Don into two new characters that became Van Beuren’s first real stars: Tom & Jerry (not to be confused with the later, much more famous cat and mouse duo). Unfortunately, Tom & Jerry are as bland as their models, sharing with the cat and dog their only character traits: in ‘Wot a Night’ Tom clearly has inherited Waffles’s fear, while Jerry remains calm. However, already after ‘Wot a Night’ these basic character traits evaporated. Yet, with their cheerful looks, the duo was more sympathetic than Waffles and Don ever were.

Tom & Jerry lasted until 1933, starring 27 cartoons, but ‘Wot a Night’ remains their finest film. It borrows a good dose of surrealism from the neighboring Max Fleischer studio, and it’s much better animated than any Van Beuren cartoon before the coming of Burt Gillett. Already in the opening scene there’s a lot of flexible animation when we watch a train coming in at a station. Moreover, there’s a great deal of rain and water effect animation not seen before at Van Beuren.

At the station Tom & Jerry are taxi drivers, picking up a couple of strange bearded men, whom they drop at a castle. Because the bearded men didn’t pay the ride, Tom & Jerry follow them inside the castle. Inside the two have a typical horror cartoon experience, similar to  ‘The Haunted House‘ (Mickey Mouse, 1929) and ‘The Haunted Ship‘ (Waffles and Don, 1930).  The story is not any more consistent than other Van Beuren cartoon, but there’s much to marvel at, like a cloud playing organ on the battlements of the castle, a skeleton taking a bath, while whistling, and another skeleton painting piano keys, on which it starts to play. There’s also a shot of four black skeletons singing a gospel song. The ending is extraordinary, when Tom and Jerry discover they’re nothing but skeletons under their clothes, themselves…

‘Wot a Night’ is a marvelous cartoon, one of the best of the surreal movement of the early 1930s. Unfortunately, only a few of Tom & Jerry’s lived up to the premise of their debut cartoon (‘Pencil Mania’ from 1932 arguably is the best contender). Their future cartoons were quaint at best, to downright poorly animated. It is as if ‘Wot a Night’ was given some extra effort that was not put into the subsequent cartoons.

Stallings stayed at Van Beuren until 1935, when he joined Walt Disney to work on the stories of the studio’s animated features. Rufle’s career is more unclear: he seemed to have left Van Beuren in 1933, but only pops up at Famous Studios in 1948. He animated until his death, working on several television series in the 1960’s and 1970’s. But what did he do between 1933 and 1948? I haven’t got a clue…

Watch ‘Wot A Night’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Wot A Night’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

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.

Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date: November 9, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
Rating: ★★
Review:

Gypped in Egypt © Van Beuren‘Gypped in Egypt’ is a cartoon set in Egypt. It predates Disney’s ‘Egyptian Melodies‘, which covers similar grounds, by nine months.

This cartoon was the last of four to feature Waffles and Don. The duo had finally reached distinct personalities in this short: Waffles, the tall cat, is constantly afraid, while Don, the small dog, keeps calm and unimpressed.

In the opening shot we watch the duo traveling through the desert on a camel. When the camel dies, a nightmarish scene starts, featuring a sphinx, pyramids and more camels. This brings our heroes inside an Egyptian tomb, where they encounter dancing skeletons and hieroglyphs. Suddenly, there are skeletons everywhere, and Don plays the piano with one of them. The cartoon ends abruptly with Waffles and Don running from a giant hypnotizing sphinx face.

‘Gypped in Egypt’ features several elements that were reused in Disney’s ‘Egyptian Melodies’: dancing hieroglyphs, nightmarish scenes, and even a corridor scene. However, Van Beuren’s cartoon is much cruder and more disjointed than Disney’s latter cartoon. Its greatest feature is it hallucinating character. Unfortunately, it is not retained throughout the picture, and the whole cartoon suffers from all too sloppy storytelling and ditto timing.

Watch ‘Gypped in Egypt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Gypped in Egypt’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: July 14, 1930
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit, Kitty
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Spooks © Walter Lantz‘Spooks’ is a nice early Oswald cartoon from the Walter Lantz studio.

It takes place in a theater where Oswald performs. It features a mysterious phantom who helps Oswald’s girlfriend Kitty to become a great singer by putting a record player in her dress. This leads to an absurd performance. The phantom fancies Kitty, but she prefers Oswald, who has to rescue her from the phantom’s clutches. This part of the film has horror overtones, commonplace in the early 1930s. The film ends with a rather lame gag.

‘Spooks’ features some very Mickey Mouse-like mice. Its animation, by Bill Nolan, Clyde Geronimi and Pinto Colvig is fair, and the story enjoyable, even if it’s rather inconsistent.

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

Director: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date:
 April 27, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Haunted Ship © Van Beuren StudioWhen the Van Beuren studio lost their main character, Farmer Al Falfa to Paul Terry, they had to come up with new stars. Their first attempt was the animal duo Waffles and Don, a tall cat and a small dog who are the precursors of Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry.

In their first film we watch them flying a plane before lightning strikes them down deep into the ocean. Here they meet an opera-singing walrus (probably inspired by Walt Disney’s ‘Wild Waves‘ (1929), which also features one). Then they enter the shipwreck ‘Davy Jones’, which is full of monsters swooping into the camera, and a skeleton. The skeleton orders Waffles and Don to play the piano and xylophone, which starts the song-and-dance-routine-part of this cartoon.

Most interesting are four drunken tortoises singing ‘Sweet Adeline’ (probably inspired by ‘The Karnival Kid‘ (1929) in which two cats sing exactly the same song). The dance routine ends when Davy Jones himself appears and chases Waffles and Don away. However, the last shot is for the singing turtles.

‘The Haunted Ship’ clearly shows Walt Disney’s influence on other studios. It’s obvious that The Van Beuren studio tried its best to copy Walt Disney’s formulas and standards. Indeed, the cartoon is a great improvement on ‘The Iron Man‘ from three months earlier. There’s song and there’s dance, and music and animation now are closely intertwined. The Van Beuren studio would never reach Walt Disney’s sophistication, but in these early years they were at least able to come somewhere near.

Waffles and Don’s career, however, proved to be short-lived. They only starred in three other 1930 cartoons: ‘Jungle Jazz‘, ‘Frozen Frolics‘ and ‘Gypped in Egypt‘.

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

‘The Haunted Ship’ is available on the DVDs ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’ and ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 November 11, 1929
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Hell's Bells © Walt DisneyWith its fourth Silly Symphony, ‘Hells Bells’, the Disney studio returned to the macabre that inspired the series’ very first entry.

Set in hell itself, it starts with a fire, bats and a spider swooping into the camera, and images of the three-headed dog Cerberus and some dragons. The main part however is devoted to a large devil, surrounded by numerous smaller ones playing music and dancing to it.

This section involves endless animation cycles. Luckily, there’s one great shot with a devil casting a huge shadow (looking forward to a similar, if much more elaborate scene in ‘The Goddess of Spring’ (1934). There’s also a great gag involving a crooked devil, and a weird one in which we watch devils milking a dragon-cow(?!). Despite its evil scenery, the whole atmosphere is remarkably merry.

‘Hells Bells’ is most noteworthy for its last part, in which the dance routine makes place for a tiny story, in which the large devil demands a smaller one to offer itself as dog food to Cerberus. The little devil refuses and flees, and finally manages to kick the large one into the fires of hell. Over the coming years, stories like these would overtake the song and dance routines of the Silly Symphonies, finally replacing them altogether.

Watch ‘Hell’s Bells’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 4
To the previous Silly Symphony: Springtime
To the next Silly Symphony: The Merry Dwarfs

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: April 12, 1947
Stars: Daffy Duck
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Birth of a Notion © Warner BrothersDaffy Duck tricks a dog called Leopold with a ‘poisoned bone’ to let him stay at his house during the winter.

Unfortunately, the dog’s owner is an evil scientist (a caricature of Peter Lorre) who happens to be looking for a duck’s wishbone. This leads to a wild chase full of pretty weird gags and off-beat dialogue penned by Warren Foster.

‘Birth of a Nation’ is the second of two Warner Bros. cartoons featuring Peter Lorre as a mad scientist, the other being ‘Hair-Raising Hare’ from 1946. New voice artist Stan Freberg does an excellent job in mimicking and parodying Lorre’s typical voice.

Watch ‘Birth of a Notion’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Alexandre Alexeieff
Release Date: 1933
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Une nuit sur le mont chauve © Alexandre AlexeieffPredating Disney’s film to the same classical piece by seven years, this ‘video clip’ to the music of ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ by Modest Mussorgsky is an impressive mood piece.

The Russian-French artist Alexeieff animated ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ on a so-called pinscreen, a device he invented himself , and which consists of a screen with numerous pins, which can be pushed further in or out, to produce a shadowy image together. This technique is highly original, and the images produced are totally unique.The film’s imagery has more in common with surreal paintings from the era than with any other animation film from the 1930s. ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ was Alexeieff’s first film on the pinscreen. Together with his wife Claire Parker he would animate five more, of which ‘The Nose’ (1963) is arguably the best.

The film does not tell a story, but shows us a string of expressionistic images of animal and human forms, floating through air, and morphing into disturbing creatures. The animation is sometimes excellent (with a human figure circling through the air as a particular standout), but at times primitive, too, and the film suffers a little from the crude montage. Both shortcomings are a direct result of the limitations of the pinscreen. However, Alexeieff’s vision overcomes the film’s drawbacks, and ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ is rightly considered an animation classic.

Watch ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ is available on the DVD ‘Alexeïeff – le cinéma épinglé’

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: October 30, 1937
Stars: Porky Pig, Petunia Pig
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Case of the Stuttering Pig © Warner BrothersIn this cartoon Porky suddenly has three elder brothers (Peter, Portus, and Percy), while Petunia appears to be his sister.

The siblings inherit their estate from their late uncle Solomon (who’s a caricature of Oliver Hardy). Unfortunately, the evil lawyer Goodwill is after them, changing himself into a Dr. Hyde-like character. Strangely enough he insults somebody in the audience, the “guy in the third row”. This to his own regret, for it’s this guy who saves Porky and his siblings in the end! This type of dimension-defying humor was a novelty at the time and would become a Warner Bros. trademark in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Watch ‘The Case of the Stuttering Pig’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 31
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Rover’s Rival
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Double Trouble

Director: Boris Kossmehl
Release Date: 1993
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Not Without My Handbag © AardmanWhen she hasn’t paid her washing machine, a girl’s aunt has to go to hell.

However, she soon returns as a zombie to fetch her handbag. The devil has to take her once again, which he tries disguised as the handbag.

Atypical for the Aardman studios, ‘Not Without My Handbag’ features puppet animation and hardly any clay animation. It’s a highly designed film, using stark colors, extreme camera angles and expressionistic decors. Its unique style is somewhat akin to that of Tim Burton, but is even more idiosyncratic. Despite its horror theme, the film is more lighthearted than the earlier Aardman films ‘Adam‘ (1991) or ‘Loves Me, Loves Me Not‘ (1992), because of its zany humor and matter-of-fact dialogue.

‘Not Without My Handbag’ is a modest masterpiece: it’s unpretentious, but it combines originality with virtuosity. The animation of the evil handbag is particularly good. Director-animator Boris Kossmehl later moved to 3D computer animation, performing character animation for Dreamworks’ ‘Antz’ and ‘Shrek’.

Watch ‘Not Without My Handbag’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Not Without My Handbag’ is available on the DVD ‘Aardman Classics’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date:
 April 19, 1952
Stars:
 Bugs Bunny
Rating:
 ★★★★
Review:

Water, Water Everyhare © Warner BrothersSix years after ‘Hair-raising Hare’ (1946) Bugs Bunny faces the orange monster in sneakers again.

‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is a horror cartoon featuring almost everything a horror movie should have: an evil scientist, a monster, a mummy and a robot. This story is rather awkwardly framed, however, by a story about the river flooding Bugs’s home and transporting him to and from the castle. Facing the monster Bugs repeats his manicure-tric from the earlier film, although this time he pretends to be a hair dresser. He also makes himself invisible and he makes the monster shrink.

If not as funny as ‘Hair-raising Hare’, ‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is full of clever gags. It moves at a relatively relaxed pace, which only a very confident film maker could use with such effect. In that respect, ‘Water, Water Evey Hare’ shows the mastery director Chuck Jones had achieved. He needn’t be fast and furious to be funny and he knew it.

Watch ‘Water, Water Every Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/7621186/water_water_every_hare_1952/

‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 90
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Foxy Proxy
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hasty Hare

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date:
 December 18, 1948
Stars:
 Porky Pig, Sylvester
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

Scaredy Cat © Warner BrothersChuck Jones was the only director to pair Porky Pig with Sylvester.

His Sylvester is very different from the one in Freleng’s Tweety cartoons. In Jones’s shorts he’s a cowardly cat that cannot speak. In all Porky-Sylvester cartoons Porky tries to stay asleep unaware of the real dangers around him. Sylvester, on the other hand, sees them all, but fails completely in convincing his master of the dangers.

The aptly titled ‘Sacredy Cat’ was the first of a series of three. In this cartoon Porky and his cat Sylvester enter their new mansion, which has genuine horror allure, scaring Sylvester to death. And for a good reason, because this mansion is inhabited by homocidal Hubie and Bertie-like mice who make several attempts to murder Sylvester and Porky.

Only when Porky discovers the mice, too, who lead him to a certain death, Sylvester rediscovers his courage and chases all the mice out of the house, except for the headsman mouse, who knocks the cat down, and reveals to be a caricature of comedian Lew Lehr (1895-1950), exclaiming a twist on the comedian’s catchphrase: “pussycats is the craziest people!”. An odd ending to a sometimes rather unsettling cartoon.

Porky and Sylvester would reunite six years later in an all too similar cartoon called ‘Claws for Alarm’ (1954), and again in ‘Jumpin’ Jupiter‘ (1955).

Watch ‘Scaredy Cat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Scaredy Cat’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 120
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Riff Raffy Daffy
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Awful Orphan

Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: 
March 23, 1946
Stars:
 Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:
 ★★
Review:

Hare Remover © Warner BrothersIn ‘Hare Remover’ Elmer Fudd is an unlikely evil scientist developing a potion to change animals into monsters.

He tries it on a dog, but it only makes it eat grass. Because he has run out of test animals, he has to find a rabbit to try the potion on. Enter Bugs Bunny. What follows is a plot in which both characters think they’ve turned the other into a monster, which happens to be a totally confused bear.

‘Hare Remover’ was to be Frank Tashlin’s last Warner Brothers cartoon and the second of only two Bugs Bunny cartoons directed by him. Unfortunately, it’s not a grand finale.

Despite some great gags and a clever story, the director seems at loss with the two personalities. Elmer, who has a slightly altered design, having suddenly received buck-teeth, is awkward enough as a scientist. But watching Bugs being aghast that he really has made his foe into a monster, and trying to revive Elmer’s former self by making a chemical drink of his own, is just out of character.

In September 1944 Frank Tashlin would leave Warner Brothers, to direct puppet films for the Joan Sutherland studio. Then he left animation all together to work at feature films, first as a gag writer and screen writer, then as a director, in 1951.

Robert McKimson would succeed Frank Tashlin as a director. When Bob Clampett left Warner Brothers, too, in May 1945, the studio had entered a new era. The wild days were over.

Watch ‘Hare Remover’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 36
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon:  Baseball Bugs
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hair-Raising Hare

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: December 2, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Still from 'The Haunted House' featuring Mickey startled by skeletons‘The Haunted House’ is Mickey’s first horror cartoon.

In this short he hides from a rain storm in a house, which appears to be haunted by skeletons. A cloaked skeleton orders Mickey to play on a harmonium, while all the skeletons dance.

This sequence reuses some footage of four skeletons dancing from ‘The Skeleton Dance‘. Unfortunately, the new animation on dancing and playing skeletons is hardly as good, and the dancing sequence feels more primitive than ‘The Skeleton Dance’. However, the opening shot is beautiful, with the house flexing in the wind. There’s also some good animation on the cloaked skeleton, and a beautifully lit scene when Mickey strikes a match.

Mickey’s role in this short is very limited, and his only function seems to be being the carrier of the audience’s fear. Indeed, he looks repeatedly into the camera for sympathy, dragging us into the haunted house with him.

The early scenes of this cartoon manage to evoke a genuine feel of horror, but in the end this short resembles the boring song-and-dance-routines of both the early Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony series too much to be a stand out.

Mickey would return to the horror genre in ‘The Gorilla Mystery‘ (1930) and ‘The Mad Doctor‘ (1933), with much better results.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 14
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Jungle Rhythm
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Wild Waves

Director: David Hand
Release Date: January 21, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Mad Doctor © Walt Disney‘The Mad Doctor’ is Mickey’s third horror cartoon and easily his best (the other two are ‘The Haunted House’ from 1929 and ‘The Gorilla Mystery’ from 1930).

The plot is simple: it’s night, the weather is foul and Pluto is kidnapped by an evil scientist called Dr. XXX, who takes him into his laboratory, which is reminiscent of that of Frankenstein in James Whales’ film of the same name, 1931. Mickey follows Pluto’s tracks into a creepy castle, entering it in a scene which reuses some footage of ‘Egyptian Melodies‘ from 1931. Inside the castle he has to deal with several skeletons, including a ridiculous hybrid of a skeleton and a spider. Soon, he’s captured, too, and about to be killed by a chainsaw. Fortunately, it turns out to be all just a dream…

Besides the horror, this cartoon also features elaborate designs and loads of special effects. Especially beautiful is its shadowing on the characters. It also has a strong musical element, as the mad scientist sings all his lines. Some of the gags are quite surreal and reminiscent of the Fleischer style, like a lock locking itself or the scientist cutting off Pluto’s shadow. The cartoon also features a gag with many doors in one doorpost. This gag would be reused and improved by Tex Avery in ‘The Northwest Hounded Police’ from 1946.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 52
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Building a Building
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Pal Pluto

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 22, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★★
Review:

A gruesome gorilla has escaped. Mickey rings Minnie to warn her about it, but she’s not afraid and she plays Mickey a tune* through the telephone, until the gorilla enters and kidnaps her. Of course Mickey rushes to her house to save her.

This cartoon is interesting for the rather extensive dialogue in the beginning of the cartoon. By now the Disney animators had mastered lip-synch, and neither Mickey nor Minnie show any awkward faces anymore while talking.

Even more interesting is the cartoon’s quite elaborately drawn gorilla, which in several scenes is staged originally to show its huge size. The cartoon is a great improvement on Mickey’s earlier horror cartoon, ‘The Haunted House‘ (1929) and cleverly explores the possibilities of suspense by using some spectacular elements of horror: whispers, shadows, darkness and false alarms. It also contains a classic corridor-with-doors-scene, which may very well be the very first in its genre.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 22
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Chain Gang
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Picnic

* The tune is “All Alone”, a hit song from 1924, which of course still was copyrighted in 1930. The use of a copyrighted tune marks a change in Disney’s musical policy. Apparently by 1930 he could afford it to pay rights. Disney’s use of well-known pop tunes remained sporadical, however. And Disney soon turned to producing hit songs of his own, most notably ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ from ‘Three Little Pigs’ (1933).

Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: May 10, 1929
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Skeleton Dance © Walt Disney‘Skeleton Dance’ is the first of the Silly Symphonies and easily one of the best. It deservedly even ranks among the best cartoons of all time.

It starts spectacularly to begin with: we first watch lightning crack, immediately followed by an extreme close up of huge eyes, which only after the camera zooms out appear to belong to an owl.

The complete film is simple, yet perfect in its timing and its peculiar mix of eerie atmosphere and silly gags. The animation (which includes a remarkable quantity of repetition) is extraordinary fluent and the skeletons are convincing throughout the picture.

More than in any earlier cartoon the animation and music are a perfect match. This cartoon single-handedly puts Walt Disney, animator Ub Iwerks and composer Carl Stalling to the eternal hall of fame. A masterpiece.

‘The Skeleton Dance’ clearly shows Disney’s ambition. From now on Disney would use the Silly Symphony series to propel the art of animation forward, until the series ended 1939, after becoming a little obsolete, because their role had been taken over by the animated features.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 1
To the next Silly Symphony: El Terrible Toreador

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 748 other followers

Bookmark and Share

Follow TheGrob on Twitter

Categories