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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 25, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown, Louis Armstrong
There’s much to say for it: the short is one of the wonderful pre-code swing cartoons, featuring no less than the great Louis Armstrong, who appears here in person, not only in the introduction, but also as a floating head, in a remarkable blending of animation and live action.
Unfortunately, ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You’ is also one of those ignorant cartoons featuring severe caricatures of black people, in their most cliche form: cannibals. Even worse, in this cartoon a direct connection is made between the backward caricatures and the black performers, as one of the cannibals grows into Louis Armstrong’s singing head, and his drummer (probably Tubby Hall) is likened to another big-lipped cannibal. Thus this cartoon is as entertaining as it is offensive.
There’s not much of a story: Betty, Bimbo and Koko are on a safari in dark Africa. There they encounter a tribe of hungry cannibals, who kidnap Betty. Then we cut to Bimbo and Koko on their aimless search for Betty. Soon they’re followed by a cannibal who morphs into a giant floating native head, which turns into that of Louis Armstrong singing the title song. Bimbo and Koko manage to rescue Betty with help of a porcupine. The last shot is for Louis Armstrong and his band. The complete cartoon is rather nonsensical, but Armstrong’s hot jazz make it a great ride, if an uncomfortable one.
Watch ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’
Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 2, 1930
The Silly Symphonies were to be a series of great innovation, but in 1930 this was not so clear, yet, as the entries of that year were mostly preoccupied with dance routines.
The ‘innovation’ of ‘Monkey Melodies’, for example, is the embryonic story of its second half. But only with ‘Playful Pan‘ from the end of the year, some real experimentation was to kick in.
‘Monkey Melodies’ opens with monkeys, apes and parrots frolicking in the jungle in a long dance routine. After several minutes we follow two monkeys in love, who frolic to the tune of Rudy Wiedoeft’s Narcissus. The two go on a boat ride on a log, and manage to escape a crocodile, a hippo, a snake and a leopard.
‘Monkey Melodies’ is a very standard Silly Symphony, typical of 1930, the ‘story’ of the second half notwithstanding, and to be frank, the short is rather dull. Its highlight may be the effect animation of a crocodile swimming under water.
Watch ‘Monkey Melodies’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Silly Symphony No. 13
‘Monkey Melodies’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’
Director: Walt Disney
Release Date: November 15, 1929
Stars: Mickey Mouse
Mickey shoots a vulture, but misses and is soon threatened by a bear and a lion. Luckily at that moment a monkey and a parrot start playing a tune on his harmonica, and a long dance routine can begin…
First we watch Mickey dancing with the lion and the bear, then two monkeys. Then Mickey plays the saxophone with two ostriches dancing. Mickey plays the whiskers of a little leopard like a harp, while a lion dances the hula, and he even returns to ‘Turkey in the Straw’, the tune that made him famous in his first sound cartoon ‘Steamboat Willie‘ (1928). After playing’Yankee Doodle’ on five tigers, a number of apes and a lion, the crowd applauds, and the cartoon ends.
‘Jungle Rhythms’ is easily one of the most boring entries among the early Mickey Mouse shorts: there’s no plot, no dialogue, no song, and the dance routines resemble the worst in contemporary Silly Symphonies. In fact, to me, ‘Jungle Rhythm’, together with ‘When The Cat’s Away‘ and ‘The Castaway‘ (1931), forms the worst trio of all Mickey Mouse cartoons. Luckily, weak cartoons like these remained a rarity within the series.
Watch ‘Jungle Rhythm’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Release Date: December 15, 1925
Stars: Virginia Davis (Alice), Julius
The cartoon consists of several unrelated gags: Julius encounters some crocodiles, two elephants go bathing, Julius makes a barber sign post out of a tiger’s tail, and both Alice and Julius are chased by lions (a scene similar to the finale of Alice’s pilot cartoon).
The cartoon contains many surreal gags, a lot of them unashamedly Felix the Cat-like, especially when Julius uses his comic expressions and balloons as tools. Alice’s role, however, is extremely limited here. This is no surprise, for ‘Alice in the Jungle’ is made around leftover footage of Virginia Davis, who, after some salary problems, had been replaced by Margie Gay in early 1925.
Watch ‘Alice in the Jungle’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Alice in the Jungle’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’
Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: March 28, 1936
‘Elmer Elephant’ is a beautiful cartoon. It’s full of cute animals, but despite its cuteness it never becomes cloying. Based on an idea by story artist Bianca Majolie, its storyline is very straightforward and really heartfelt, like the best of Disney’s works.
Elmer visits the birthday party of one of his jungle friends, the extremely cute girl tiger Tilly. He appears to be her favorite guest, but all the other animals (including some non-tropical foxes) mock him because of his trunk, singing “your nose is like a rubber hose”. Moreover they bully and taunt him and send him away.
Unhappy, Elmer wanders through the jungle, but then he encounters even stranger-looking animals: an old giraffe and three Jimmy Durante-like pelicans, who comfort him a little. Then, suddenly, there’s a fire in Tillie’s tree hut. Elmer comes to the rescue, and with help of his nose and of his new odd friends he saves Tillie from the anthropomorphized flames. Thus being the hero of the day he wins Tillie’s love, displayed by a kiss.
Elmer Elephant has the looks of a storybook. It’s beautifully animated, with lots of shadows, and it has well-designed characters. Especially the hippo, who has an absurdly low voice, is a wonderful character. It’s both surprising and a shame that no other cartoon has been made with these cute characters in their beautiful jungle forest, although Elmer and Tilly have a cameo appearance in ‘Toby Tortoise Returns‘.
Of course, the idea of a kind elephant being mocked for a handicap would later return in ‘Dumbo’, making ‘Elmer Elephant’ its immediate predecessor.
Watch ‘Elmer Elephant’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Silly Symphony No. 59
To the previous Silly Symphony: Broken Toys
To the next Silly Symphony: Three Little Wolves