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Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date: April 10, 1933
Stars: Bosko, Honey
‘Bosko in Person’ is to Bosko what ‘Just Mickey‘ (1930) was to Mickey: a cartoon devoted solely to the star performing on stage.
Where Mickey was completely alone, Bosko gets help from Honey in an extraordinary song-and-dance extravaganza, including Bosko playing the piano, Honey dancing, Bosko tap-dancing, Bosko’s glove(!) reciting ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’, Honey singing a blues and doing a Greta Garbo imitation, and Bosko imitating both Maurice Chevalier and Jimmy Durante. The cartoon ends with a celebration of the end of the prohibition, which after 13 years ended in effect when on March 22, low alcohol beer and wine were legalized again.
Unfortunately, ‘Bosko in person’ is over-the-top, trying much too hard to make Bosko an appealing personality, which he isn’t. Indeed, when turning into Maurice Chevalier and Jimmy Durante he loses himself completely. Moreover, the cartoon is stuffed with repetition as some gags appear not once, but twice. The result is tiresome and desperately unfunny. In the end, the short is only noteworthy because of the caricatures of Hollywood stars.
Watch ‘Bosko in Person’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Bosko in Person’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six’
Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date: January 16, 1933
Stars: Bosko, Honey, Rudolf Ising
Bosko enters a saloon in Red Gulch, immediately starts a dance and goes on playing the piano. Meanwhile his girlfriend Honey rides a stagecoach, which is chased by three vicious bandits. This chase scene is simply stuffed with animation cycles. As Bosko is busy entertaining, it takes quite a while before Bosko rides off to rescue his sweetheart.
The complete cartoon is rich in action, but surprisingly low on gags (there’s one about a homosexual). It ends surprisingly however. Suddenly we cut back to three animators. Rudolph Ising asks “Say, how does Bosko save the girl?”, an animator replies: “I don’t know.”, and another: “Let’s go home”, leaving Bosko on his sheet of paper. This gag is pretty unconventional, but one cannot but feel a bit of laziness and disinterest in this scene, as if the animators didn’t care much for their own star themselves. Even so, Bosko would star in fourteen more Warner Brothers films, before Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising took him with them to MGM.
Watch ‘Ride Him, Bosko!’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Ride Him, Bosko!’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six’
Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date: October 17, 1931
The cartoon opens spectacularly with several war scenes, including an enemy soldier firing his automatic gun at the audience. The cartoon is completely plotless, and Bosko actually only does three things:
- trying to cook a meal and kissing the picture of his sweetheart, before both are bombed (echoing the Oswald cartoon ‘Great Guns‘ from 1927 on which Hugh Harman had worked as an animator);
- helping an officer to get rid of his flees;
- saving a hippo, who has swallowed a bomb, by zipping its body open.
The cartoon is remarkably violent, and there’s a lot of killing going on. For example, we watch literally a dog being shot to pieces. Because all the animals involved still have mechanical bodies (a legacy of Harman and Ising’s work on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit), pain is never suggested, and the violence remains cartoony. For example, the dog, after being shot, just walks away much shorter, while a bird with a hole in his body only collapses because he’s supposed to, not because he’s in pain.
Nevertheless, there’s little to enjoy in Bosko’s World War I cartoon, and even when fought out by practically invulnerable animals, it remains a disturbing event.
Watch ‘Bosko the Doughboy’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Bosko the Doughboy’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’
Directors: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Release Date: October 1930
‘Congo Jazz’, Bosko’s second official cartoon, is Harman and Ising’s answer to Disney’s ‘Jungle Rhythm‘ (1929).
Like Disney’s cartoon, it hasn’t aged very well. The cartoon opens with Bosko wearing a pith helmet and exploring a supposedly African jungle. When confronted by a tiger (a species not endemic to Africa), Bosko immediately loses the pith helmet.
He appeases the tiger with music, and then kicks it over a cliff. Then he has to sooth a large ape, which he does by giving it some chewing gum. Together they play some plucking string music with their gums, while a few monkeys dance. Soon, other animals join in, e.g. a kangaroo, another rather un-African animal. Bosko directs all the animals into an upbeat tune.
The cartoon is low on gags and feels endless, especially during the musical part. The most extraordinary scene is that of a palm tree shimmying to Bosko’s music as if it were a woman. The animation of Bosko is still very rooted in the Oswald-era: Bosko’s body is very flexible, and almost mechanical.
Watch ‘Congo Jazz’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Congo Jazz’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’
Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date: September 19, 1931
In the next scene Bosko is washed ashore a tropical island. When fleeing from a lion, Bosko enters a cannibal settlement. Luckily our hero can escape certain death by climbing on a rhino in a lake.
‘Bosko Shipwrecked!’ is hampered by long scenes, which are surprisingly low on gags. The animation, on the other hand, is fluent, and at times no less than outstanding, with the lion chase scene as a particular highlight. The film’s best gag is when out of the cooking pot a skeleton appears to shake hands with Bosko: “Come on in, the water is fine!“.
Watch ‘Bosko Shipwrecked!’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Bosko Shipwrecked!’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’
Director: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Release Date: April 19, 1930
Stars: Bosko, Honey
Harman & Ising’s pilot ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid‘ lead to a succesful contract with Leon Schlesinger, and in April 1930, the young studio could release their first film for Warner Bros.: ‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’.
‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’ is the very first of the Looney Tunes, Harman and Ising’s first of three series which name was an all too obvious variation on Walt Disney’s successful Silly Symphonies. In 1931 they would launch the Merrie Melodies, and in 1934, when at MGM, the Happy Harmonies.
Schlesinger had sold the series to Warner Bros. with the prospect of selling their sheet music, and music would be an important part of both the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies until the end of the 1930s. Apart from the title song, one can hear ‘Forever Blowing Bubbles’ when Honey turns her bath tub into Bosko’s saxophone, making him blowing bubbles with his instrument.
Animated by Friz Freleng, ‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’ features Bosko, the star of ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’, and Warner Bros.’ sole star from 1930 to 1933. Bosko invites his girlfriend Honey for a ride in his anthropomorphized car (which he finds on the toilet(!)). On their journey they experience problems with a cow and a steep hill. The ride ends in a pool.
The cartoon is well-animated and cheerful, but surprisingly boring at the same time, even though it lacks the endless song-and-dance-routines of contemporary Mickey Mouse cartoons. Bosko and his girl behave like Oswald and his girlfriend, and are only different in design, being clearly black stereotypes. They are totally devoid of any personality. In fact, Bosko would never develop one, and eventually it became even unclear what Bosko actually was, as exemplified by the following anecdote from Jack Zander, quoted by Leonard Maltin in ‘Of Mice and Magic’ (page 225):
One Day a porter at the studio said to young animator Jack Zander, “I want to ask you something about that character you’ve got. I know Mickey Mouse, and Krazy Kat, and Oswald the Rabbit… but Bosko the what?”
Watch ‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Sinkin’ in the Bathtub’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’ and on the Blu-Ray ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’
Directors: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Production Date: May 1929
Stars: Bosko, Rudolf Ising
In 1928 Charles Mintz had hired away virtually Walt Disney’s complete staff and main cartoon character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. These animators now came to work for a studio, set up by George and Margaret Winkler to produce more Oswald cartoons. However, ca. one year later Universal, who owned Oswald, broke with the Winklers, gave Oswald to Walter Lantz, and left the former Disney animators out of work.
Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising now tried to set up a studio of their own, and following the overnight success of ‘Steamboat Willie‘, they knew they had to come up with a character fit for sound. This new star was Bosko, a little negro, who, in his first appearance, had a remarkably low voice, provided by animator Max Maxwell. Bosko is introduced in ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’, Harman and Ising’s pilot film, made to sell their new studio.
The film starts with Rudolf Ising drawing Bosko and talking with him. Then Bosko performs a little dance, imitates a stereotypical Jew, and plays the piano. He then starts to sing ‘Sonny Boy’, but unfortunately with an awful voice, which prompts Ising to put the cartoon character back into the pen and the ink pot. But Bosko returns from the inkwell to say the very first version of that famous Warner Bros. line: “So long folks!“.
Bosko is not really an endearing character and the film is a little bit slow, yet it’s easy to see why this pilot film sold: the interplay between the animator and the cartoon character, although by 1929 far from new, still looks fresh, and the dialogue adds a new dimension to the trick. This dialogue is way more sophisticated than anything made at Disney at the time. Bosko jabbers along, with a lot of lip-synchronization, which is not always perfect, but mesmerizing, nonetheless. Mickey would go lip-synch only two months later, in ‘The Karnival Kid‘, but even then his facial expressions were to be less natural than Bosko’s in this little short. Thus ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’ is an absolute milestone in animation history, and a rare film in which Harman and Ising were in fact ahead of their former employer.
The animation on Bosko, on the other hand, looks very, very Disney-like and is almost an exact copy of Ub Iwerks’s animation style. This would become a Harman-Ising trademark: combining sophistication with copycatting. This unfortunately would often prevent their films from being entirely new or original.
Anyhow, ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’ raised the interest of Leon Schlesinger, a newcomer in the animation field, who sold the idea of a new cartoon series to Warner Bros., with the argument that the animated shorts could be used to promote Warner Bros. songs. Thus, the famous Warner Bros. animation studio was born!
Watch ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’ and the Blu-Ray ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’
Release Date: July 9, 1928
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
It features Oswald canoeing in the wild, shooting ducks and encountering wild animals, like a moose and a family of bears.
The cartoon’s story is sloppy (although it doesn’t help that some sequences are missing), but the short shows that Disney had advanced animation already before the advent of Mickey. For example, the cartoon features some spectacular waterfall animation, and a convincing falling rock sequence.
The falling rock eventually renders Oswald flat, and in a sequence animated by Hugh Harman we watch him wandering about a little as a flat character. In an attempt to get normal again, he becomes bulbous, which accounts for some surreal, almost trippy close ups of his inflated face, animated by Ham Hamilton.
‘Tall Timber’ was released in June 1928. By that time Disney had already started anew, trying to sell the very first Mickey Mouse cartoon, ‘Plane Crazy‘, to distributors.
‘Tall Timber’ was followed by two more Oswald cartoons by Disney (the recently rediscovered ‘Sleigh Bells’ and the lost ‘Hot Dog’), then by nine by Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, before the series was given to Walter Lantz’s studio. Lantz by far produced the most Oswald cartoons, releasing 142 in total. The character lasted until 1938. But by then Oswald looked quite different from the version in ‘Tall Timber’…
Watch ‘Tall Timber’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon No. 23
To the previous Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: The Fox Chase
To the next Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: Sleigh Bells
Director: Walt Disney
Production Date: 1923
Stars: Virginia Davis (Alice), Walt Disney, Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, Ub Iwerks, Carman Maxwell
The title card of this pilot reads: “Scenario and direction by Walt Disney. Photography by Ubbe Iwerks and Rudolf Ising. Technical direction by Hugh Harman and Carman Maxwell.”
Alice (the four year old Virginia Davis) drops by the studio and tells Walt Disney she likes to watch him drawing some funnies. Walt Disney lacks his familiar mustache in this sequence, but he is already the kind entertainer of children here, and he takes her to a sheet of paper on where a cat chases a dog out of a dog house. The rest of the studio is also populated by animators (Iwerks, Harman, Ising and Maxwell all appear in this cartoon) and toons alike. The whole crew ‘s watching a boxing match between a dog and a cat, for example.
That night Alice dreams she arrives in cartoonland by train. She’s welcomed by animals and she performs a little dance for them. Unfortunately four lions break out of Cartoonland Zoo and they chase her into a tree, into a cave, into a rabbit hole and finally, to a cliff. She falls off the cliff, and then she awakes.
This cartoon is very entertaining. The idea of a girl in a cartoon (the inverse of the idea of Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell, a series that was around for eight years by then) works wonderfully, and the cartoon is lively. It already contains lots of music and dance, and a very rubbery animated train, besides the normal stiff animation you find in most cartoons of the twenties. The animation of the train looks forward to the flexible animation style that would later make Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney famous.
Luckily, Disney was able to sell the Alice series, starting his Hollywood career. His fledgling studio released 56 Alice Comedies in the next four years, until the series was replaced by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1927. The series was quite successful, allowing Disney to expand and to improve. In that sense, ‘Alice’s Wonderland’ lay the foundation of the Disney imperium.
Watch ‘Alice’s Wonderland’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Alice’s Wonderland’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’