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Directors: Harry Bailey
Release Date: July 14, 1933
No other contemporary studio tried as hard as Van Beuren to emulate Disney’s Silly Symphonies. ‘Rough on Rats’ is rather unique in that it even anticipates a Silly Symphony: its subject of three mischievous kittens makes it the direct ancestor of Disney’s Academy Award winning ‘Three Orphan Kittens‘ (1935), and Fleischer’s ‘We Did It‘ (1936).
In this film we watch three kittens wander through an abandoned grocery store. Then the black kitten gets kidnapped by an outrageously large mean rat. This leads to a battle sequence, reminiscent of the Silly Symphonies ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931), ‘The Bird Store‘ (1932) and ‘Bugs in Love‘ (1932). During this battle the kittens throw almost everything in sight at the vicious creature.
‘Rough on Rats’ is ripe with ambition, and pretty entertaining. Especially Gene Rodemich’s score is enjoyable throughout. Unfortunately, the animation varies between excellent to downright poor, and the designs are erratic, varying greatly between scenes. These shortcomings haunted the Van Beuren studios since its beginning, and it’s depressing to note that by 1933 the animators were still not able to tackle them. Doubtless this was influential to the studio’s lack of success. For example, the ideas in ‘Rough on Rats’ are more interesting than those in most of Warner Bros.’ or Ub Iwerks’s contemporary output, but as the execution is not on par with the ambition, the result is close to failure. And yet one cannot blame the studio trying. Anyhow, it was to Disney-alumnus Burt Gillett to teach the Van Beuren animators the Disney solutions to their problems…
‘Rough on Rats’was the last of the Aesop’s Fables (not including the Cubby the Bear cartoons, which appeared under the same flag). Apparently their outdated 1920’s title card and uninspired series name had the better of them. Nevertheless, one year later they would get a follow-up in the ‘Color Classics’, Van Beuren’s venture into color.
Watch ‘Rough on Rats’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Rough on Rats’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’
Director: David Hand
Release Date: December 19, 1936
The success of Oscar-winning ‘Three Orphan Kittens‘ (1935) undoubtedly prompted this sequel, which is both less beautiful, less entertaining and less remarkable than the original short.
The film is aptly titled ‘More Kittens’, which shows its crowd-pleasing character. This time the kittens create havoc in the garden, while dealing with a fly, a tortoise and a teasing blue bird.
The cartoon is remarkable for introducing the good-natured St. Bernard Bolivar, who would become Donald Duck’s dog in the comic strip two years later. He’s not named here, but the likeness is so stunning, not only in design but also in character, that there’s no doubt it’s him. True, there was also a St. Bernard in ‘Alpine Climbers’ (1936), but this dog lacks Bolivar’s character, being more of a cliche St. Bernard instead.
Watch ‘More Kittens’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: David Hand
Release Date: October 26, 1935
Luckily they can escape the cold by entering the house, which they explore. This sweet cartoon contains elaborate gags with a.o. pepper, a bottle of milk, and a pianola.
‘Three Orphan Kittens’ was penned by Joe Grant and Bill Cottrell, and benefited from Fred Moore’s appealing animation. Indeed, it won an Academy Award. Its success made it one of those rare Silly Symphonies to evoke a sequel (‘More Kittens‘ from 1936). Moreover, it clearly inspired other animation film makers: the milk bottle gag was more or less copied by Fleischer in ‘We did it‘ (1936) which also stars three kittens. And, some of the pianola gags may have inspired Hanna and Barbera in their ‘The Cat Concerto‘ (1947).
At least Hanna and Barbera copied the black maid (of whom we only see her arms and legs) for their own Mammy Two-Shoes in the Tom & Jerry series. The black maid would also return in a few Disney shorts: ‘More Kittens‘ (1936), ‘The Pantry Pirate‘ (1940, starring Pluto), and ‘Figaro and Cleo‘ (1943).
Watch ‘Three Orphan Kittens’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Silly Symphony No. 56
To the previous Silly Symphony: Music Land
To the next Silly Symphony: Cock o’ the Walk
Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 30, 1931
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
All goes well, until a cat and her little kittens cause havoc in the studio. Mickey has a hard time chasing them away, and during his efforts all instruments are destroyed.
‘The Barnyard Broadcast’ reuses the cat from ‘Mickey Steps Out‘ from two months earlier, and it introduces the numerous kittens that would cause Mickey lots of trouble in the subsequent films ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (1931) and ‘Mickey’s Revue‘ (1932). After that their role would be taken over by the orphan mice, introduced in ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932).
After ‘Mickey Steps Out’, ‘The Barnyard Broadcast’ is another attempt in building a finale in a string of gags. The film is not entirely successful in this and only gains momentum when Mickey chases the cat away with a broom. The technique would be perfected in the subsequent films, ‘The Beach Party‘ and ‘Mickey Cuts Up‘.
Watch ‘The Barnyard Broadcast’ yourself and tell me what you think: