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Directors: Max Fleischer & F. Lyle Goldman
Production Date:
June 21, 1929
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Finding his Voice © Max FleischerWell, here’s a real treat: an educational/promotional film directed by Max Fleischer & F. Lyle Goldman to explain sound film, right from the era in which this new feat. was introduced.

The film starts with a sound film role changing into a cartoon figure. The sound film takes a silent film to a professor, who explains how sound film works. The film is most interesting, for it clearly shows the tremendous amount of changes that had to be made to make sound film work.

For example, in live action films the camera was now placed inside a box to prevent the primitive sound recording microphone from catching up the sound of the camera itself. And theaters, too, had to invest in the change. The screen had to be porous to let the sound through produced by giant loudspeakers behind the screen.

The designs and animation of this little film is still firmly rooted in the 1920s, and the animation is remarkably stiff, especially when compared to contemporary Disney cartoons. And although the characters talk a lot, lip synchronization is only suggested, but not really there. In fact, Fleischer would mostly neglect lip synchronization way until the end of the 1930s, only using it minimally. The voice over, too, is a little bit dull and hesitating in explaining the processes, but in the end this film is too unique a document of its time not to enjoy.

Watch ‘Finding his Voice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Finding his Voice’ is available on the DVD ‘Cultoons! Rare, Lost and Strange Cartoons! Volume 2: Animated Education’ and on the DVD box set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 August 26, 1942
Stars:
 Superman
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

Terror on the Midway © ParamountIn ‘Terror on the Midway’ Lois is reviewing something as mundane as a circus, when a small monkey accidentally releases a titanic gruesome gorilla.

The gorilla follows her, while Superman’s busy putting other animals back into their cages. He rescues Lois and captures the gorilla, but it remains unclear how he stops the fire that has started, too.

‘Terror in the Midway’ is one of those fortunate Superman shorts without a villain (see also ‘The Arctic Giant’ and ‘Volcano‘ from the same year). However, it also shows Fleischer’s ambivalent realism: it contains some generic Fleischer thirties children designs, which by 1942 really look old-fashioned, but there are also some rare close-ups of Lois and Superman, which add to the drama. The staging, too, is superb, with some spectacular shots.

The gorilla looks like a typical King Kong-like monster, despite the fact that its model sheet was partly based on rotoscoped movements of real gorillas. Apparently, Bambi-like naturalism was wasted on the Fleischers animators.

Terror on the midway gorilla modelsheet © Max Fleischer

gorilla modelsheet from ‘Terror on the midway’

Unfortunately, ‘Terror on the Midway’ would be the last Superman cartoon made by the Fleischer studios, before Paramount stole their crew to form their own Famous Studios. Indeed, it was the very last film the Fleischer brothers made together, ending an era that had begun 27 years earlier.

Watch ‘Terror on the Midway’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Superman film No. 9
To the previous Superman film: Volcano
To the next Superman film: Japoteurs

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 18, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop, Max Fleischer
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Betty Boop's Rise to Fame © Paramount‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame” is a compilation cartoon, but it’s easily one of the best in its kind.

It features Betty Boop and her creator, Max Fleischer in a nice mix of animation and live action. Fleischer asks Betty, who is depicted as a tiny cartoon character, to perform for a reporter. She does three of her finest moments, using footage from ‘Stopping the Show‘ (1932), ‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle‘ (1932) and ‘The Old Man from the Mountain’ (1933).

In between, there’s some lovely interplay between Betty and “uncle Max”. Even these new scenes are sexy, when Betty changes clothes behind an ink pot and some books. This delightful cartoon can be regarded as an ode to Betty’s glorious past. From now on sex and eroticism would be banished from her cartoons due to the censorship of the Hays code.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 28
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty in Blunderland
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Trial

‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 19, 1933
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Lullabye Land © Walt DisneyIn ‘Lullaby Land’ a baby is lulled to sleep by his mother, singing ‘rock-a-bye baby’. The song takes the baby and his stuffed dog to Lullaby Land, a wonderfully surreal land made of plaids, rattles etc.

There the baby encounters a parade of baby objects, and a forbidden garden, full of sharp things, like knives and scissors. Despite the warnings of the female choir in the soundtrack, the baby enters. He destroys all watches from a watch tree with a hammer, and plays with matches. The smoke evokes three bogey men, which scare the baby away. Finally, the baby meets the Sandman, who puts the baby asleep to the tune of Johannes Brahms’s lullaby.

With cartoons like ‘Lullaby Land’ Disney set new standards for animation that are still thrilling today. Don’t get me wrong, the cartoon is rather patronizing and sugary cute, especially through the soundtrack. But this is compensated by wonderful surrealistic images, beautiful artwork and superb animation. And, hey, this way of warning against sharp things and matches just may work with small children.

Lullaby Land itself is a highly original fantasy world, and especially its first images are stunningly beautiful. The dance of the bogey men contains some striking use of color that anticipates similar surreal images in ‘Dumbo‘ (1941). Moreover, it is the first example of totally unrealistic color use in animated cartoons, and therefore a milestone.

Unfortunately, the cartoon also marks a trend of childishness creeping into the animation world, not only at Disney’s, but at all other studios, as well. For example, ‘Lullaby Land’ is the first of a whole series of Silly Symphonies obsessed with little babies, and their bare behinds in particular, with ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod‘ from 1938 being the last example.

Anyway, ‘Lullaby Land’ left all competitors far behind. Later, both Walter Lantz (‘Candy Land’, 1934) and Max Fleischer (‘Somewhere in Dreamland‘, 1936) tried to copy the concept with far less convincing results.

Watch ‘Lullaby Land’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 38
To the previous Silly Symphony: Old King Cole
To the next Silly Symphony: The Pied Piper

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: March 24, 1934
Rating: ★★
Review:

Funny Little Bunnies © Walt Disney‘Cute Little Bunnies’ would have been a better title for this easter short, for the bunnies are very cute, not funny.

In fact, “Funny Little Bunnies’ is so cute it can only have been meant for children. It makes one wonder what movies it was supposed to support in the theaters (surely no grim gangster thriller!).

Because everybody copied Disney at that time, other studios were copying this ‘new cuteness’ as well. Especially 1934 saw an explosion of Silly Symphonies imitating series, combining the appeal of color with sugary tales. Former Disney associate Ub Iwerks was the first, releasing his first Comicolor cartoon on December 23, 1933. He was followed by Max Fleischer (Color Classics, August 1934), MGM (Happy Harmonies, September), Van Beuren (Rainbow Parade, September), Columbia (Color Rhapsodies, November), and Walter Lantz (Cartune Classics, December). This resulted in a spread of cute (and severely unfunny) cartoons in the mid-thirties.

One is therefore particularly thankful that in the late thirties Tex Avery restored nonsense, wackiness and absurdism in the animated cartoon. These qualities Disney sometimes seemed to have forgotten during his pursuit for greater naturalism and beauty.

Notice how, for example, ‘Funny Little Bunnies’ uses animation to tell a story that cannot be told in live action, but how it tries to tell this story in the most conventional, ‘live action-like’ way. Especially the opening shot of this short is stunning, with two bunnies hopping realistically and lots of birds and butterflies flying around.

Watch ‘Funny Little Bunnies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 43
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Grasshopper and the Ants
To the next Silly Symphony: The Big Bad Wolf

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