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Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: October 13, 1931
After ‘The Cat’s out‘ of three months earlier ‘The Spider and the Fly’ is the second silly symphony focusing on a story instead of a musical routine.
In this short a mean spider lures two flies into his web by playing harp on it, recalling a similar scene in Max Fleischer’s ‘Wise Flies‘ from 1930. The female fly is captured, but the male fly summons all the other flies to help him rescue her, which they do in a long battle scene on the music of Franz von Suppé’s overture ‘Die leichte Kavalerie’ and Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig. Here we watch flies riding horseflies and using dragonflies as bombers and shoes on caterpillars as tanks. There’s also a spectacular scene in which the flies set fire to the spider’s web, with the poor female fly still in it. Ironically, the spider’s finally captured with flypaper.
‘The Spider and the Fly’ is more melodramatic than funny, but there’s a lot going on, and one doesn’t get the time to get bored. The basic story line of this cartoon would be followed in two other Silly Symphonies: ‘Bugs in Love’ (1932) and ‘The Moth and the Flame’ (1938), also featuring insects.
Watch ‘The Spider and the Fly’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Silly Symphony No. 23
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Clock Store
To the next Silly Symphony: The Fox Hunt
‘The Spider and the Fly’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’
Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: December 25?, 1982
In ‘Les géants’ Pierrot, Psi and Metro visit a huge planet, which, like almost every other planet in the Barillé universe, is an exact copy of earth, this time only bigger. On this planet our heroes encounter huge animals, like a giant caterpillar, a monstrous spider and a very cartoony rat.
Most of the episode, however, they are trapped in a termite colony. Thus, Barillé is able to tell us more about these little insects, which he does mostly through a lecturing Metro. There’s practically no story, and most of the time Pierrot and Psi are trying to get out of the colony. This fact and the lectures render one of the most boring episodes of Il était une fois… L’espace.
It seems this and the following two episodes were made to sell the series as an educational one. However, ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ remains far less educational than the previous ‘Il était une fois… l’homme’ or indeed, the subsequent ‘Il était une fois… la vie’, and its charm lies mainly in Barillés story. Unfortunately, ‘Les géants’, ‘Les Incas‘ and ‘Chez les dinosaurs‘ are no part of that and form the low point of the entire series.
Watch ‘Les géants’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: August 22, 1947
Stars: Donald Duck, Bootle Beetle
In the postwar era Jack Hannah introduced three adversaries of Donald Duck: Bootle Beetle, Chip ‘n Dale*, and a little bee. Bootle Beetle, a little insect, was the first and surely the cutest of the lot.
In his first film Bootle Beetle, who resembles Jiminy Cricket a little, is introduced here as a rare species. In fact, we’re watching two Bootle Beetles, with the elderly one telling a younger one about his meeting with bug collector Donald Duck, who, in some scenes, is depicted as an enormous giant. These scenes with a humongous Donald are the highlights of a cute and gently cartoon, which is unfortunately low on gags.
Bootle Beetle would return in two 1949 Donald Duck cartoons, ‘Sea Salts‘ and ‘The Greener Yard‘. The little insect never became funny, and Hannah dropped him as Donald’s adversary after these three cartoons. His last role was as a narrator in ‘Morris, the Midget Moose‘ (1950).
Watch ‘Bootle Beetle’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 64
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Dilemma
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Wide Open Spaces
* Chip ‘n Dale actually made their debut in the war short ‘Private Pluto‘ (1943), directed by Clyde Geronimi, but it was Hannah who turned the two chipmunks into two different characters and made them opponents of Donald Duck.
Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1913
‘The Insects’ Christmas’ is Starewicz’s next film after his masterpiece ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge‘.
Although it uses insects again, it’s a whole different film, turning to the sweet subject of Christmas. It’s probably the first animated film about Christmas ever made.
Its plot is surprisingly simple: Father Christmas climbs down a Christmas tree, awakes some insects and a frog, who are hibernating underground, and he invites them to a Christmas party. He gives them presents and they all go skating.
This film’s story cannot be compared to the adult plot of ‘The Cameraman’s revenge‘. It’s more like a child’s dream of Christmas. However, the film reuses puppets from ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ and others with stunning virtuosity, making it still a delight to watch.
Watch ‘The Insects’ Christmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1912
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is one of the earliest animation films ever made, and a very early masterpiece (it predates ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ by two years). Surprisingly, it’s a film about adultery involving insects.
The plot of this stop motion film is as follows: Mr. Beetle commits adultery with a dragonfly, who is a dancer at a nightclub. Unbeknownst to him his secret behavior is filmed by a rival grasshopper who happens to be a cameraman. Meanwhile, Mrs. Beetle also commits adultery, with a beetle who is also a painter. But they’re discovered by Mr. Beetle who chases the painter out of his house. Nevertheless he forgives his wife and takes her to the cinema. However, the film that is shown reveals his infidelity, which creates a riot and the married couple ends in jail for destroying the movie box.
‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is an extraordinary film, and without doubt one of the first masterpieces of animation. The animation of the very lifelike insects is stunning and very convincing. Moreover, its storytelling is mature and its subject highly original for an animation film, even today. It’s almost unbelievable that such a modern film was made in Czarist Russia.
Watch ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: January 4, 1930
Like the other early Silly Symphonies, there’s only one long sequence of unrelated dance scenes, there’s no story whatsoever, and a lot of the animation is repetitive. This makes ‘Summer’ rather tiresome to watch. It’s undoubtedly the weakest entry of the four seasons, and one of the weakest of all Silly Symphonies. Like ‘Springtime‘ and ‘Autumn‘ it was directed by Ub Iwerks, and somehow, it shows the animator’s lesser ambitions.
Watch ‘Summer’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date: 1921
These films are the animated counterparts of his comic strip of the same name, which run from 1904 to 1913. The films, like the comics, are about ordinary people having a bad dream. When they awake, they blame it on the food they’ve eaten.
The three animated Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend can be regarded as McCay’s most mature works. They’re not as revolutionary as ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ or ‘The Sinking of the Lusitania‘, but they display a total command of form and style, and they are flawless in their execution. It’s too bad, McCay didn’t complete any other film after these three, although he lived for another 13 years.
‘Bug Vaudeville’ is the first of the three ‘Dream of the Rarebit Fiend’ films. In this short, a man falls asleep against a tree and dreams he witnesses a bug vaudeville show. He watches the grasshopper and the ants performing acrobatics, a daddy longlegs (with beard and a a hat) dancing, a cockroach stunting on a bicycle, tumble bugs performing acrobatics, two potato bugs boxing and a butterfly on a horse-like black beetle. He awakes when he dreams that he’s been attacked by a giant spider.
‘Bug Vaudeville’ is an entertaining short, but in some respects it is the weakest of the three Dream of a Rarebit Fiend films. Its viewpoint is static: we see the same stage for the most part of the film, without any change of setting. The bugs are drawn relatively simple, and there’s no particularly outstanding animation involved, either of character or of effects. Highlight may be the cockroach on the bicycle, with its certain control of perspective.
Watch ‘Bug Vaudeville’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: March 13, 1937
This enjoyable gem depicts a Harlem-like nightclub for bugs, in which blackface grasshoppers perform hot jazz, led by a Cab Calloway-like bandleader. All bugs swing to it as soon as they enter the club.
After a remarkably erotic act played by a spider and a fly the cartoon climaxes in the jazz song ‘Truckin’, recorded by both the Mills Blue Rhythm Band and Duke Ellington in 1935, and celebrating a dance style that was fashionable around ca. 1935-1938. The main feature of trucking is the shoulders which rise and fall as the dancers move towards each other while the fore finger points up and wiggles back and forth like a windshield wiper. At this point in the short even some astonishing effect animation joins in, delivering totally convincing glitter ball effects and beautiful descending fluffy flowers.
Both charming and entertaining, the whole mood of this delightful cartoon is one of sheer joy.
Watch ‘Woodland Café’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Silly Symphony No. 66
To the previous Silly Symphony: More Kittens
To the next Silly Symphony: Little Hiawatha
Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: July 13, 1935
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
‘Mickey’s Garden’ is Mickey’s second color cartoon (after ‘The Band Concert‘).
It’s also Pluto’s first: he passes the transition into color fluently, getting his typical orange color we’re all familiar with now.
Mickey and Pluto are in the garden trying to kill a number of insects eating Mickey’s crop. When Mickey accidentally sprays himself with bug poison he starts to hallucinate (the transition to the dreamworld is particularly psychedelic: everything, including the background becomes unsteady and wobbly). He dreams that all plants and bugs have grown. This leads to some imaginative scenes. The bugs are not very lifelike, though. The animators even make a weird mistake by giving a particularly evil-looking beetle eight legs instead of six.
Watch ‘Mickey’s Garden’ yourself and tell me what you think: