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Director: Jack King
Release Date: June 7, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Mr. Duck Steps Out © Walt Disney‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ opens with Donald Duck preparing to visit his love interest, Daisy Duck.

To Donald’s dismay, his nephews want to go too, and the kid trio seriously hampers his courting efforts. Even sending them off to get some ice cream doesn’t help. Nevertheless, when Huey, Dewey and Louie make Donald swallow a popping corn, Donald’s dance moves become so hot, he quickly wins Daisy over. Thus, in the end, the exhausted duck is smothered in kisses.

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is a clear cartoon of the swing era, and we watch all ducks trucking and doing the lindy hop to the swinging music. The Disney composers weren’t capable of making real jazz, however, and the music remains rather tame when compared to the big bands of the era. It’s a pity, because the animation on Donald and Daisy dancing, and on the nephews are playing the music is marvelous, and certainly hotter than the music accompanying it.

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is noteworthy for marking the debut of Donald’s long lasting girlfriend, Daisy Duck, Donald’s second love interest after Donna Duck had disappeared into the distance on her unicycle in ‘Don Donald‘ (1937). On the screen, Daisy remained a minor character, only appearing in ten more Donald Duck cartoons. However, she would become a regular in Al Taliaferro’s daily strip, making her debut on 4 November 1940, first as Donald’s new neighbor. Later, Carl Barks, too, made regular use of this character. In both comic strips Daisy’s appearance remained largely the same as in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 17
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Dog Laundry
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Put-Put Troubles

‘Mr. Duck Steps Out’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

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Director: Jack King
Release Date: April 5, 1940
Stars: Donald Duck, Pluto
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Donald's Dog Laundry © Walt DisneyIn ‘Donald’s Dog Laundry’ Donald Duck has built a rather Rube Goldberg-like dog washing machine.

Donald decides that the unwilling Pluto is to be his first customer in bath, and tries to get him in bath, first with the use of a whistling rubber bone, and then with an all too lifelike cat hand-puppet. Of course, it’s the duck himself who takes the plunge, yet the cartoon ends with Donald cheering because his apparatus works.

‘Donald’s Dog Laundry’ is full of the mild and long character animation routines so typical of the Mickey Mouse cartoons of the second half of the 1930s. Where in later Warner Bros. or MGM cartoons the rubber bone and hand-puppet would have been only two of several attempts, in this short the two devices are milked at length. Especially, Pluto, probably animated by Norm Ferguson, gets ample screen-time, to a rather tiring effect.

Watch ‘Donald’s Dog Laundry’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 16
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Riveter
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Mr. Duck Steps Out

‘Donald’s Dog Laundry’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: August 11, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating:
Review:

Donald's Penguin © Walt DisneyIn ‘Donald’s Penguin’ Donald Duck receives a present from one Admiral Bird, South Pole.

The package appears to contain a female penguin, whom Donald calls Tootsie. In ‘Donald’s Penguin’ Donald’s behavior is quite different than from the earlier ‘Polar Trappers‘ (1938), in which he tried to kill several penguins in order to eat them. True, even in this gentle cartoon he threatens to blast the penguin away with a shotgun, but mostly the short shows Donald’s soft side. This doesn’t lead to great comedy, and mostly ‘Donald’s Penguin’ seems to be the Donald Duck counterpart of the later, but equally dull Pluto-befriends-an-animal series (e.g. ‘Pluto’s Playmate’ from 1941 and ‘Canine Patrol‘ from 1945). Nonetheless, ‘Donald’s Penguin’ is a rare Disney cartoon in which creatures are killed, as Donald’s three goldfish all end in the penguin’s stomach.

‘Donald’s Penguin’ was the last cartoon in which Donald Duck wears a white cap. In his next short, ‘The Autograph Hound’ it was replaced by a blue one, probably for greater contrast.

Watch ‘Donald’s Penguin’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 12
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Sea Scouts
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: The Autograph Hound

‘Donald’s Penguin’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: May 19, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Cousin Gus
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Donald's Cousin Gus © Walt DisneyIn the rare occasion that Donald’s relatives visited our hero, this quickly turned into disaster: in ‘Donald’s Nephews‘ (1938) the nephews managed to wreck Donald’s house within seconds, in ‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ Gus makes Donald’s food disappear almost instantly.

Cousin Gus had first appeared in Al Taliaferro’s daily comic strip, from May 9 to 24, 1938, and from November 7 to 19, and the May comics clearly inspired this cartoon. He was less obnoxious during the November run, letting Donald Duck visit him at the farm. Both in the comic strip as in the film Cousin Gus is a silent character- in the short the only sound he makes is a honk when he squeezes his own behind.

Gus is introduced as being rather dumb, but his ways of eating are ingenious, eating corn-on-the-cob like a typewriter, knitting a sock out of spaghetti, eating a ridiculously large sandwich like a pack of cards, and peas by playing an Indian tune while sucking them in one by one. Soon Donald is left without any food and no wonder he tries to get rid of his gluttonous relative. He does so with a ‘barking hot dog’, a bizarre gadget that must only exist in the cartoon world.

‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ is a genuine gag cartoon, almost fit for more modern times, if it were quicker paced. The cartoon is entertaining, but never reaches classic status. More cartoons with cousin Gus were conceived, but they never materialized, and this cartoon remained Gus’s only screen appearance. However, he would embark on a comic career as Grandma Duck’s lazy farmhand.

Watch ‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 9
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Hockey Champ
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Beach Picnic

‘Donald’s Cousin Gus’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

 

Director: Jack King
Release Date: April 28, 1939
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Hockey Champ © Walt Disney‘The Hockey Champ’ easily is one of the best Donald Duck cartoons of the 1930s.

Unlike ‘Good Scouts‘ or ‘Donald’s Golf Game‘, this short is fast paced, full of gags, speed lines and chase scenes, looking forward to the 1940s, the age of chase cartoons. The cartoon opens wonderfully with Donald Duck performing some impressive figure skating, and imitating Norwegian world champion and movie star Sonja Henie.

His performance is interrupted by Huey, Dewey and Louie playing ice hockey, and Donald Duck challenges the trio to a game. He indeed shows some impressive ice hockey skills, playing all by himself, in a scene recalling Max Hare playing tennis with himself in ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ (1935). This is a speedy scene for a 1939 cartoon, but when the Huey, Dewey and Louie take revenge, this speed is retained. There’s a wonderfully silly chase scene underneath the snow, with the hockey sticks acting as periscopes, and, needless to say, the haughty Donald is finally defeated by his nephews.

‘The Hockey Champ’ is an important step towards the faster cartoon style of the 1940s, and still a delight to watch, in contrast to contemporary Donald Duck cartoons, which are as beautifully made, but unfortunately less funny.

Watch ‘The Hockey Champ’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 8
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Lucky Day
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Cousin Gus

‘The Hockey Champ’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: November 4, 1938
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★
Review:

Donald's Golf Game © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Golf Game’ is the third film featuring Donald and the nephews.

Donald’s in for a game of golf, and it’s clear he only uses his nephews to be caddies, without granting them anything. Naturally, the nephews take matters in their own hand, with ‘Goofy Golf Clubs’: one changes into a net, another into an umbrella, and a third one into a boomerang. Soon Donald is stuck in a rubber band, while the three brats are playing the field.

‘Donald’s Golf Game’ is a genuine gag cartoon, but once again Jack King’s timing is ridiculously slow, spoiling otherwise fine gags. In the family’s fourth outing, ‘The Hockey Champ‘ (1939), this problem was finally over. Al Taliaferro would set the stage before the film, letting Donald Duck play golf in his daily comic strip from October 24 to November 5.

Watch ‘Donald’s Golf Game’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 6
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Good Scouts
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Lucky Day

‘Donald’s Golf Game’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: July 8, 1938
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Good Scouts © Walt Disney‘Good Scouts’ immediately follows ‘Donald’s Nephews‘, and is the second Donald Duck cartoon featuring Huey, Dewey and Louie. This short shows that the nephews certainly were good gag material.

In ‘Good Scouts’ the four ducks are scouts camping out in Yellowstone Park. When Donald tries to make a tent out of a bent tree, this causes a string of events, which finally leads to him ending on top of a rock on a geyser, followed by a large bear.

‘Good Scouts’ clearly establishes Donald as an unlikely and misguided authority figure. There’s no real antagonism between him and the nephews, however, and when Donald is stuck on top of the geyser the trio seriously tries to save him, only to make matters worse. ‘Good Scouts’ is a great gag cartoon, but like more Donald Duck cartoons from this period it suffers a little from Jack King’s rather relaxed timing. Nevertheless, it provided Donald Duck with his first of no less than eight Academy Award Nominations.

This film’s theme was reused in Al Taliaferro’s daily Donald Duck strip during July 18-30, 1938, shortly after the film’s release. The scout theme was, of course, revisited with gusto by Carl Barks when he made Donald’s nephews into Junior Woodchucks.

Watch ‘Good Scouts’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon no. 5
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Nephews
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Golf Game

‘Good Scouts’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: April 15, 1938
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Donald's Nephews © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Nephews’ marks the screen debut of Donald’s famous nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

Al Taliaferro had introduced them in the Donald Duck Sunday Page of October 17, 1937, and by April 1938 they had become regular stars of the Donald Duck comic strip. Their screen debut is explosive, however. Once inside the “angel nephews” initiate a game of polo on their tricycles, wrecking Donald’s house within seconds.

Luckily Donald Duck discovers a book on ‘Modern Child Training’, which gives him ideas to treat the three kids. First, Donald tries to sooth the brats by playing Pop Goes the Weasel on the piano, to no avail. Then he tries to calm them down with a nice turkey supper, still without success. In the end of the cartoon the three nephews rush off back to Aunt Dumbella, supposedly their mother, but they would return three months later, in ‘Good Scouts‘. In fact, Uncle Donald clearly became their surrogate father, as Aunt Dumbella was never seen in either comic strip or animated film.

‘Donald’s Nephews’ is a wonderful cartoon: the gags come in fast and plenty, and there’s a real battles of wits going on between Donald and his nephews. There’s nothing of the slowness of Donald’s earlier cartoons. Instead, there’s a lot of speed, and some remarkable exaggeration, like Donald Duck’s hand swelling up three times its original size, and the sound effect of horses galloping when the three nephews rush to the dinner table. Highlight of ‘Donald’s Nephews’ may be the saying grace scene, which is anything but devout. Donald’s attempts to pacify his nephews come from a book, a story idea later copied in e.g. ‘Goofy’s Glider’ (1940), and the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘Mouse Trouble’ (1944).

Speed, exaggeration, weird sound effects, the book idea – all these elements look forward to the zanier cartoon style of the 1940s, of which ‘Donald’s Nephews’ can be regarded as an early example.

‘Donald’s Nephews’ is an important cartoon: it clearly establishes Donald Duck as old enough to be an authority figure to the three kids. His school-going days of ‘Donald’s Better Self’ were now over. Moreover, the wrecking trio are a worthy adversary to the duck, really testing his temper. This would lead to many great cartoons, e.g. ‘Good Scouts‘, ‘The Hockey Champ‘ (both 1938), ‘Sea Scouts‘ (1939) and ‘Mr. Duck Steps Out‘ (1940). Huey, Dewey, and Louie starred 23 cartoons in total, lasting until Donald Duck’s very last theatrical cartoon, ‘The Litterbug’ (1961).

Watch ‘Donald’s Nephews’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 4
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Better Self
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Good Scouts

‘Donald’s Better Self’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: March 11, 1938
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Donald's Better Self © Walt DisneyWhen ‘Donald’s Better Self’ was released, it was not yet firmly established whether Donald Duck was a boy or an adult.

This would be settled in the next cartoon, ‘Donald’s Nephews‘, with Donald clearly playing a rather unlikely role of authority figure. But in ‘Donald’s Better Self’ he’s young enough to go to an elementary school.

Throughout the cartoon, Donald is advised by both is angelic and his devilish self. The devilish self makes him skipping school and smoking a pipe, which renders Donald sick. Luckily, his angelic side comes to the rescue, mimicking a war plane, and clobbering the devilish side straight into hell.

‘Donald’s Better Self’ is animated wonderfully throughout, but as often, Jack King’s timing is terrible, wearing down the action. Worse, the tale is overtly moralistic (typical for the mid-1930s), and low on gags. The result is another mediocre entry in Donald’s fledgling series. Luckily, with the next Donald Duck cartoon, ‘Donald’s Nephews’, the studio would hit the jackpot.

Together with material from ‘Self Control‘, animation from ‘Donald’s Better Self’ was reused in the film ‘Donald’s Decision‘ (1941), a war propaganda film for the Canadian government.

Watch ‘Donald’s Better Self’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 3
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Self Control
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Nephews

‘Donald’s Better Self’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: February 11, 1938
Rating: ★★
Review:

Self Control © Walt DisneyIn ‘Self Control’ Donald Duck is relaxing in a hammock in his garden, listening to the radio.

On the radio some professor advises to keep your temper, an advice Donald Duck takes wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, when he tries to rest, this becomes very difficult, as he’s hindered by a fly, a caterpillar, a chicken and an obnoxious woodpecker. The cartoon ends with Donald Duck battering the radio to pieces.

‘Self Control’ is the first Donald Duck cartoon with the Duck as the average citizen battling everyday annoyances, a role he would play with gusto during the 1940s. Unfortunately, in ‘Self Control’ his annoyances are a little too outlandish to be really familiar.

Moreover, the cartoon suffers from a terrible slowness, rendering a surprisingly boring cartoon. It seems the studio was still struggling with the character in a solo outfit. Indeed, when coupled to strong adversaries, like his nephews in ‘Donald’s Nephews‘ from two months later, the result was much more explosive. The woodpecker would return in ‘Donald’s Camera’ (1941).

Watch ‘Self Control’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 2
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Ostrich
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Better Self

‘Self Control’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Jack King
Release Date: December 10, 1937
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Donald's Ostrich © Walt Disney‘Donald’s Ostrich’ is the first entry in Donald Duck’s very own series.

True, Donald had already gone solo in ‘Don Donald‘ and ‘Modern Inventions‘ from earlier that year, but those two cartoons had been released within the Mickey Mouse series. With ‘Donald’s Ostrich’ Donald Duck would really be on his own, only two weeks after Pluto had made the same jump with ‘Pluto’s Quin-Puplets’. Now he was ready to become Disney’s most popular star.

Unfortunately, this first entry is not really a success. In this short Donald Duck works at a remote train station, where he encounters an ostrich in a package. The ostrich has male plumage, but is clearly female, and called Hortense. Most of the gags are about Hortense, who, as an accompanying note says, eats everything, including a harmonica, an alarm clock, a few balloons, and Donald’s radio.

The radio, especially, takes much screen time, making the ostrich behave like e.g. a boxer and a race car. This string of gags is rather tiresome, and suffers from King’s slow timing, and it’s a pity Donald gets so little screen time himself.

Donald’s next two cartoons wouldn’t be better, but with ‘Donald’s Nephews‘, the studio would hit the jackpot. Hortense meanwhile would enter Donald’s life, too, in Al Taliaferro’s daily Donald Duck comic strip in May 9, 1938, causing a string of gags until May 24, and occasionally appearing afterwards.

Watch ‘Donald’s Ostrich’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 1
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Self Control

‘Donald’s Ostrich’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Chronological Donald Volume 1’

Director: Tom Palmer
Release Date: September 23, 1933
Rating: ★★★
Review:

I've Got to Sing a Torch Song © Warner Bros.‘I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song’ was the first Merrie Melodie of Leon Schlesinger’s erratic fledgling studio after Harman & Ising quit making cartoons for him.

The short is the second of only two cartoons directed by Tom Palmer, the other being ‘Buddy’s Day Out‘. Like in ‘Buddy’s Day Out’ Palmer is completely at loss as a director, delivering a completely aimless and meandering cartoon. So, soon Schlesinger fired him. Palmer went to Van Beuren where he (co-)directed eighteen more cartoons.

‘Ive Got to Sing a Torch Song’ is a blackout gag cartoon on radio. It features numerous caricatures of radio and movie stars, like Bing Crosby, Ed Wynn, Joan Blondell, James Cagney, and even of Benedetto Mussolini and George Bernard Shaw. The title song only kicks in after five minutes, introduced by the Boswell sisters, and sung by Greta Garbo, Zasu Pitts and Mae West. Garbo even says ‘That’s All Folks!’ at the very end of the cartoon. This last gag undoubtedly is the funniest of the complete short, despite the presence of some typical Warner Bros. gags, like a conductor conducting a phonograph. The complete film makes no sense, but at least it’s well animated, thanks to Jack King, whom Schlesinger had hired away from Walt Disney.

Watch ‘I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Five’

Director: Bernard Brown
Release Date: January 27, 1934
Rating: ★★
Review:

Pettin' in the Park © Warner Bros.Mid-1933 Harman and Ising had quit with Leon Schlesinger after a dispute over money, leaving Schlesinger without a studio.

So Schlesinger quickly set up one at Sunset Boulevard, initially with help from sound engineer Bernard Brown and his friends. Brown even himself directed two cartoons during the studio’s chaotic starting months, of which ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ is the first.

Brown was no animator himself, and judging from this cartoon he was not much of a director, either: ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ just makes no sense. The first half is just an illustration of the song from the Warner Bros. musical ‘Gold Diggers from 1933’, featuring the familiar theme of a cop courting a babysitter (see also Fleischer’s ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart‘ and Van Beuren’s ‘In the Park‘ (1933). The second half suddenly reports a diving contest and a swimming race between birds. Bridging the action is a cheeky little penguin – what he does in a park no-one will ever know.

There’s a surprising lack of continuity and consistency rarely seen outside the Van Beuren studio output, and the cartoon is of an appalling low quality, especially when compared to the earlier Harman and Ising output. Even worse, few of the gags come off, and none is anything near funny.

Nevertheless, even a terrible film like ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ shows that the typical Warner Bros. animation style, developed at Harman & Ising, had not been lost. It certainly helped that Schlesinger had managed to hire away some crew from his former associates. Bob Clampett, for example, who gets his first billing as an animator here. Clampett and Jack King (hired away from Disney) are clearly trying to put some pepper into the hopeless scenes. Thus despite its story atrocities, even ‘Pettin’in the Park’ displays Warner Bros. own distinct animation style, which, in 1933 was second to Disney only in quality.

Watch ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Pettin’ in the Park’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Busby Berkeley Collection’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 May 27, 1933
Rating:★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Three Little Pigs © Walt Disney‘Three Little Pigs’ is one of the most successful, most famous and most perfect cartoons ever made. It was hugely popular when it was released, with people associating its catchy theme song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ with an optimism with which one could fight the haunting effects of the Great Depression.

Norm Ferguson and Fred Moore were the principle animators on the film. Norm Ferguson animated the wolf in his typical broad vaudeville acting style, which comes to full bloom in this film. The wolf is a great character, with his glances at the public. He’s a real villain, but somehow too sympathetic as an actor to be really threatening. Unfortunately, his design is not very consistent. Especially his eyes are unsteady and a bit wobbly. One can clearly watch the wolf’s design improving during the film, as if it was animated chronologically. And this may very well possible.

However, it’s Fred Moore’s animation that made the deepest impression on the animation field. Because of his animation on the three pigs, ‘Three Little Pigs’ is regarded as the first animated cartoon to feature so-called character animation. The three pigs form the key to character animation: although the three are drawn the same, the sensible pig behaves differently from the other two: he’s clearly a different character, not by design, but by animation. This was a great step forward in the evolution in animation, and admired by the whole animation industry.

Apart from that the pigs’ designs, by the highly influential concept artist Albert Hurter, are highly appealing. Hurter had joined Disney in June 1931, first as an animator, but soon he switched to concept art, and he had a tremendous influence on the looks of Disney’s films in the 1930s. It must have been around this time that Disney started to think of an animated feature – a daring project which would dominate the studio during 1934-1937. For this ambitious project Moore would design no less than seven similar, yet different characters, while Hurter would indulge in elaborate sets, full of little details.

The film was a success not only within the animation industry, but with the American public, as well. The audiences took the film and its catchy song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ (sung by Mary Moder, Dorothy Compton and Pinto Colvig) as a sign of comfort and hope in the dark days of the Great Depression era. And even after more than eighty years, Frank Churchill’s song is still extremely catchy, even though it’s never heard in its entirety during the short. After a while the cartoon became no less than a sensation, lasting weeks in some theaters, and spawning a great deal of merchandise, like alarm clocks and jigsaw puzzles. In 1934 it won the Academy Award for best animated short film. In 1941 it was still famous enough to be changed into Disney’s first war propaganda film: ‘The Thrifty Pig‘.

The film undoubtedly was Walt Disney’s most famous and most successful short, and the first Silly Symphony to spawn sequels – due to the pressure by distributor United Artists. These sequels (‘The Big Bad Wolf‘ from 1934, ‘Three Little Wolves‘ from 1936, and ‘The Practical Pig‘ from 1939) were, of course, much less successful than the original, and are all but forgotten today. As Disney himself said “You can’t top pigs with pigs’.

The film also raised director Burt Gillett’s fame, and soon he was lured away by the ailing Van Beuren studios to repeat this immense success. However, at Van Beuren it soon became clear that ‘Three Little Pigs’ was not a success because of Burt Gillett’s genius, but because of the ambitious group effort of the Disney studio, and Gillett never managed to come near his most successful films at Disney again.

For ‘Three Little Pigs’ was a true collective effort, with Hurter, Churchill, Ferguson and Moore showing their best work thus far, but also through contributions by e.g. Art Babbitt, Dick Lundy and Jack King, who also animated some sequences, voice artist Pinto Colvig, the voice of the practical pig, and story man Ted Sears, who both contributed to the cartoon’s theme song, and Carl Stalling, who provided the practical pig’s piano-playing.

The film has easily stood the test of time: not only are the characters still appealing, its backgrounds are gorgeous, its music catchy, and its storytelling extraordinarily economical and effective, probably because may have been the first animated cartoon with a complete storyboard. The short’s joy is still infectious today. And although one will always remember the short’s cheerfulness, it contains some black humor, too: look for the portraits of dad and Uncle Tom in the wise pig’s house.

By the way, present-day viewers see an altered version of the film. The original featured a sequence in which the wolf dressed as a stereotyped Jewish door-to-door salesman. For its video release in the early 1980s this sequence was completely redrawn, to remove all Jewish references.

Watch ‘Three Little Pigs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 36
To the previous Silly Symphony: Father Noah’s Ark
To the next Silly Symphony: Old King Cole

Director: Jack King
Release Date: December 1943
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Defense Against Invasion © Walt Disney‘Defense Against Invasion’ is an educational short for the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, the governmental institution, which tried to secure Latin America from the influence of the Axis powers.

The office commissioned quite a few films from Disney, apart from ‘Defense Against Invasion’ e.g. ‘The Grain that built a Hemisphere’ and’The Winged Scourge‘ (both 1943).

Despite its title, ‘Defense Against Invasion’ is not about war, but about vaccination. It uses a voice over to narrate the silent live action sequences of three boys entering a doctor’s office to get vaccinated. This live action part is a little boring, but the principle of vaccination is told with animated sequences in which the human body is depicted as a large city. Here we watch blood cells, ‘little workers’, fight disease (depicted as black creepy crawlers) with modern warfare. Oddly enough, it is the red blood cells, not the white blood cells (who are strangely absent), who are fighting disease.

Despite its peaceful message, the short contains many war metaphors in its fighting sequences, which all have a very science fiction-like look. This makes the short a typical World War II cartoon, after all. The animated sequences are very beautiful. Especially the backgrounds are at times no less than gorgeous.

With its depiction of the body as inhabited by little creatures ‘Defense Against Invasion’ predates Albert Barillé’s successful television series ‘Il était une fois… la vie’ (Once upon a Time… Life, 1987) by over forty years.

Watch ‘Defense Against Invasion’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Jack King
Release Date: May 29, 1937
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Modern_Inventions © Walt DisneyAfter a short stint at Warner Brothers, veteran animator Jack King makes his debut as a director at the Disney studio.

King would remain a director of Donald Duck films until his retirement in 1948, directing only three cartoons without the duck (‘Farmyard Symphony‘ from 1938, and the propaganda shorts ‘Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line‘ and ‘Defense against Invasion‘, from 1942 and 1943, respectively).

‘Modern Inventions’ is Donald’s first real solo outing, sharing screen time only with mechanical objects. He visits a ‘museum of modern marvels’ , where he has to deal with a mechanical robot butler (the running gag of the film), a package wrapper, a ‘robot nurse maid’ and an automatic barber chair. Like in ‘The Band Concert‘ Donald shows an ability to produce numerous objects out of nothing, this time hats. He even manages to change his army cap into a baby cap.

‘Modern Inventions’ was the last of three Donald Duck shorts under the Mickey Mouse flag. With his next cartoon, ‘Donald’s Ostrich‘ he would have a series of his own…

Watch ‘Modern Inventions’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 95
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Amateurs
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Hawaiian Holiday

Director: Jack King
Release Date: January 7, 1943
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Spirit of '43 © Walt Disney‘The Spirit of ’43’ is the follow-up to ‘The New Spirit’ from the previous year. The second half is exactly the same, but the first half is even better than the first half of its predecessor, making a clever use of strong symbolic imaginary.

Donald just got paid and he’s divided between his two selves: the thrifty (a Scottish forerunner of Uncle Scrooge) and the spendthrift. These two characters struggle for Donald, in which they both fall down: the spendthrift into a tavern with a swastika-shaped swing-door and the thrifty into a wall, which, together with the stars his fall produces, resembles the American flag. This makes the decision for Donald easier, will he “spend for the axis or save for taxes”? He knocks his spendthrift side into the tavern, crushing the swastika door changing it into a V for victory. At this point the second half starts (see ‘The New Spirit‘ for a description of this part).

‘The Spirit of ’43’ is propaganda, and quite obviously so. But the film is both inventive and effective in its delivery of its message, and therefore surprisingly enjoyable.

Watch ‘The Spirit of ’43’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Jack King
Release Date: 
April 10, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Donald's Snow Fight © Walt DisneyThe world is covered in snow, and Donald goes for a sled ride, wearing a ridiculously broad fur overcoat.

He purposely ruins Huey, Dewey and Louie’s snowman by sledding right through it. They seek revenge and build a snowman resembling Donald around a rock. This feud leads to a snow-fight between admiral Donald on a battle ship made out of ice and his three nephews on an ice fort.

‘Donald’s Snow Fight’ is a classic Donald vs. his nephews cartoon, but the complete film is quite slow, due to Jack King’s tame directing. Despite some excellent gags, it doesn’t live up to ‘Hockey Champ’ (1939), the other classic winter cartoon featuring Donald and his nephews, or ‘Truant Officer Donald’ (1941), which also features a battle between Donald and his nephews.

The short’s excellent story is by Carl Barks, who reused its theme two years later in his Donald Duck comic WDC 44-442.

Watch ‘Donald’s Snow Fight’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 31
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Village Smithy
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald Gets Drafted

Director: Jack King
Release Date: July 30, 1942
Stars: Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line © Walt Disney‘Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line’ is a short propaganda film aimed at American housewives.

In this propaganda short, Minnie is just about to give Pluto some hot bacon grease, when the narrator interrupts, telling housewives of America to save their kitchen fats in order to deliver them at a “neighborhood meat dealer, who is patriotically cooperating”. The fats are apparently used to make glycerine, which is used in ammunition.

This short contains a rare picture of Mickey as a soldier at the front. Otherwise, Mickey was left out of the propaganda, leaving that role to Donald Duck.

‘Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line’ is an interesting example of how the American government tried to make every citizen help in the war effort. It shows how World War II entered the life of the average citizen: even kitchen grease could be useful… It offers no one-liner, however, at the likes of the contemporary slogans  ‘Save Your Scraps to Bomb the Japs’ or ‘Is Your Trip Really Necessary?”

Watch ‘Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Jack King
Release Date: November 6, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Pete
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

Sky Trooper © Walt DisneySky Trooper’ is the third of six shorts dealing with Donald in the army.

The cartoon starts where ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘ ended: with Donald peeling potatoes. And like in the former cartoon Donald Duck wants to fly.

Sergeant Pete gives him a chance, letting him do some ridiculous test and sending him up to be a paratrooper. Unfortunately, Donald doesn’t want to jump and clings to Sergeant Pete. They both end up falling without a parachute but with a huge bomb in their hands. Surprisingly, they survive the fall, because in the end-shot we can see them both peeling potatoes.

‘Sky Trooper’ is surprisingly similar to the Woody Woodpecker cartoon ‘Ace in the Hole’ from five months earlier. However, the cartoon is an improvement on the former two Donald Duck army cartoons. The next ones would even be better…

Watch ‘Sky Trooper’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 36
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: The Vanishing Private
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Bellboy Donald

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