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Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: February 24, 1941
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Fair Today © Walter Lantz‘Fair Today’ is a spot gag cartoon on a county fair.

The short uses a voice over in the tradition of Tex Avery’s Warner Bros. Spot gag cartoons, e.g. ‘Circus Today’ (1940), ‘Holiday Highlights’ (1940) and ‘Aviation Vacation’ (1941). Indeed, three months later the Warner Bros. studio itself came with a similar cartoon called ‘Farm Frolics‘. The Warner Bros. connection is further enhanced by the presence of Mel Blanc as voice artist, and a ‘story’ by Warner Bros.-alumnus Ben Hardaway.

The Warner Bros.-influx does not lead to a funny cartoon, however. Even Avery’s spot gag cartoons were more than often rather tiresome, and Lantz’s ‘Fair Today’ is more miss than hit. The gags flow in at a high speed, but let’s face it: most of them are very corny, to say the least, and they include some very bad puns. The obligate running gag is give to an old lady in search of her little boy. The best gag is when the narrator says “let’s skip over to … ‘ and the camera hops accordingly through the scene.

Watch ‘Fair Today’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fair Today’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

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Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 4, 1939
Stars: Lil’ Eightball
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

A Haunting We Will Go © Walter LantzAfter the closing down of the Van Beuren studio, and a short return to the Walt Disney studios we find Burt Gillett directing at the Walter Lantz studios. In 1939-1940 Gillett directed seven cartoons for Lantz, of which ‘A Haunting We Will Go’ is the fourth.

‘A Haunting We Will Go’ was Lantz’ first cartoon in full Technicolor, and it excels in high production values, making it a kind of strange mix between a Silly Symphony (Gillett’s specialty) and Warner Bros.-like nonsense.

The short stars a black boy called Lil’ Eightball, whom Gillett had introduced in July in ‘Stubborn Mule’, but who would disappear from the screen after this cartoon, after starring only three cartoons. This is not a pity, as Lil’ Eightball is a clear black stereotype. Despite being a boy, he has a deep Southern voice, provided by Mel Blanc (when he stutters in the end, his voice is practically that of Porky Pig), and part of the humor stems from the boy using extraordinarily difficult words, while remaining the stereotyped ignorant and fearful negro figure.

Lil’ Eightball is visited by a baby ghost, but he doesn’t believe in ghosts. So the baby ghost drags him to his poppa in a haunted house, where several ghosts give Lil’ Eightball “the works”. Gillett had also directed the Mickey Mouse short ‘Lonesome Ghosts’ (1937), and the ghosts in ‘A Haunting We Will Go’ are exact copies from those in the Disney cartoon, with their red noses and bowler hats. The haunting scene is the highlight of the cartoon, featuring great surreal gags, and some extraordinarily flexible animation, unmatched at the time. The best scene arguably is the one in which a room shrinks to Lil’ Eightball’s size.

Watch ‘A Haunting We Will Go’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Haunting We Will Go’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Directors: Robert Zemeckis (live action) & Richard Williams (animation)
Release Date: June 22, 1988
Stars: Roger Rabbit, Baby Herman, Bob Hoskins, Jessica Rabbit, Christopher Lloyd, Yosemite Sam, Dumbo, Hyacinth Hippo, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Betty Boop, Goofy, Droopy, Tweety, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Koko the Clown, Pinocchio, Woody Woodpecker, Pete, Porky Pig a.o.
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Who-Framed-Roger-Rabbit © Touchstone PicturesVery rarely a film comes out that raises great expectations, but also lives up to it. ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ is such a picture.

Brought to us by golden team of film entertainment professionals, producing company Walt Disney, executive producer Steven Spielberg and director Robert Zemeckis, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ stands among the great fantasy films of the 1980s.

More importantly, however, it heralded a renaissance in the animation world after ca. 20-25 dark years, in which animation got cheaper, lousier, more commercial and more and more directed at kids. ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ showed that once there was a golden age of animation, in which animation was impressive, massively funny and directed at adults. The film clearly pays homage that period. For example, the Baby Herman cartoon with which the film starts, combines Disney-like elongated prop-gags with Tex Averyan takes and Tom & Jerry-like cartoon violence. Indeed, Tom & Jerry seem to be the cartoon’s biggest influence with its household setting, fast pacing and violent takes on Roger.

The film renewed the attention for the golden age (roughly 1930-1955) and spawned a new era, in which Disney found inspiration again. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ is one of the least typical Disney-features Disney ever made, and the introduction of Warner Bros./MGM-like cartoon humor was a great injection for the company, resulting in genuinely fast and funny animation in its own features, most notably in ‘Aladdin’ (1992) and ‘Hercules’ (1997).

Moreover, in the age following the movie, TV-animation suddenly got interesting (Nickelodeon with series like Ren & Stimpy and Rocko’s Modern Life, Cartoon Network with series like Cow & Chicken and Dexter’s Laboratory), and animation returned to evening television, aimed at adults (The Simpsons, Duckman, South Park). For people like me, who had grown up in the deserts of 1970s and 1980s this change in perception of what animation was and could be was very welcome, and in my perception it all began with this film.

‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ is not only a milestone, however, it’s a hugely entertaining movie itself, with a strong plot and great scenes. The animation, led by Richard Williams, is pre-computer, but an enormous improvement on similar earlier films combining animation with live action (e.g. ‘The Three Caballeros‘, ‘Mary Poppins’, ‘Elliott and the dragon’). Not only are the character animated very well, they’re staged stunningly fluently, following the camera, and they’re shaded like they are actually in the set, giving them a 3D quality like no cartoon character in a live-action setting ever had before.

This sense of the cartoon characters being in the same space as the actors is greatly helped by an endless string of very convincing special effects, using real props. For example the weasel gang leader handles a real gun, and when he splashes water, the water is real, too. Meanwhile, of course, the characters remain drawn on cells. To contemporary eyes there’s a great lesson here, in that cartoon characters needn’t be animated in 3D to get a real sense of existential body…

Part of the fun of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ of course, is the presence of several classic cartoon stars, coming from different animation studios and appearing for the first (and only) time together in one film. It’s a great pleasure to watch Disney characters (a.o. Donald and Mickey) appearing together with Warner Bros. characters (a.o. Daffy, Bugs, Tweety, Yosemite Sam), MGM (Droopy) and even from former Disney-rival Fleischer (Betty Boop, and for a brief moment Koko). Only Walter Lantz’s star Woody Woodpecker doesn’t get the screen time he deserves, and Popeye and Hanna & Barbera’s Tom & Jerry are notably absent. The fun is raised by the presence of two of the original voice talents, Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety & Porky Pig) and Mae Questel (Betty Boop).

However, the film’s own stars are hardly less entertaining. Roger Rabbit, voiced by Charles Fleischer, easily carries the film, and Jessica Rabbit is not only a female attraction, but a wonderfully subtle character, with great lines like ‘I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way‘. The live action stars are equally strong, most notably Bob Hoskins, who brings a very subtle tragic edge to his cynical character Eddie Valiant, the film’s starring role.

The story has surprisingly critical overtones, with its plot circling around the loss of Los Angeles public transport in favor of freeways, something that really happened in the late 1940s (the showing of ‘Goofy Gymnastics‘ places the film’s time setting firmly in 1949). Judge Doom’s vision of what the freeway looks like is the film’s most cynical moment. Especially when his lifeless vision of commerce, cheapness and efficiency is placed against the loss of Toontown – symbol of fun, creativity and the extras of life.

In all, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ is a great film, a classic which doesn’t fail to entertain. It was not the first film to blend cartoon stars in the real world (the idea is almost as old as animation itself, going all the way back to ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ (who interacted with her creator Winsor McCay in a theater), or Fleischer’s Out of the inkwell films from the 1910s) – nor was it the last (less successful successors include ‘Cool World’ from 1992 and ‘Space Jam’ from 1996), but it is arguably the best in its kind. It’s questionable whether we’ll see a film like this again, as nowadays there’s a tendency of recreating cartoon characters in 3D, with ‘The Smurfs’ (2011) as the most appalling example.

Watch the trailer for ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Chuck Jones
Airing Date: February 23, 1978
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam
Rating: ★
Review:

Bugs Bunny in King Arthur's Court © Warner BrothersThe Looney Tunes Television Specials were a series of 25 minute long television programs running from 1976 to 1989 and revisiting the classic Warner Brothers characters in all new material. They were produced by either Chuck Jones’ studio or De Patie-Freleng.

‘Bugs Bunny in King Arthur’s Court’ is the fourth within the series, and produced and directed by Chuck Jones. The story is loosely based on Mark Twain’s ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ from 1889, as Jones readily admits in the opening titles. It features Bugs Bunny as himself, Elmer Fudd as a knight, Daffy Duck as a very unlikely King Arthur, Yosemite Sam as Merlin, and Porky Pig as an anonymous soldier.

Although Jones’s mastery shines through at times, the episode is a sad caricature of the old cartoons. Just nothing seems right. The designs are weak, especially that of Yosemite Sam (not a Jones character), who is too small compared to the others. Moreover, the timing is remarkably slow, and there’s way too much dialogue, slowing down the animation. The gags are further hampered by Dean Elliott’s terrible, partly electronic music. Even Mel Blanc’s voices are poor: his imitation of Arthur Q. Bryan’s voice of Elmer Fudd is nothing like the real thing, and Porky Pig simply stutters too much.

The episode’s trite story is expanded over 24 minutes, while, considering its flaws, it would already have been difficult to remain interesting within seven minutes. The result is a 24 minute long bore. The 1970s were the middle ages of animation, indeed…

Watch ‘Bugs Bunny in King Arthur’s Court’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.funniermoments.com/watch.php?vid=05851c679

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date:
March 4, 1950
Stars:
 Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Henery Hawk, Mama Bear, Porky Pig, Sylvester
Rating:
 ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Scarlet Pumpernickel © Warner Brothers‘The Scarlet Pumpernickel’ starts with Daffy Duck being tired of comedy.

He proposes to one of the Warner Brothers (who remains off-screen) to make an Errol Flynn-like film based on ‘The Scarlet Pumpernickel by Daffy Dumas Duck’, with, of course, himself in the starring role. This leads to an all-star cartoon with roles for Porky Pig, Sylvester, Elmer Fudd (with Mel Blanc’s voice), Henery Hawk and Mama Bear.

The film is both an excellent parody on and a faithful homage to the Errol Flynn adventure films. But more importantly, this short is important in the evolution of Daffy Duck, for it marks the birth of Daffy’s final incarnation. In this film Daffy is more of a frustrated and misguided character than downright loony. This new role is still a bit out of Daffy’s element: at times his eyes and behavior are similar to that of Charlie Dog, especially in the opening scene. Nevertheless, in the following years the frustrated Daffy would completely replace the loony one.

‘The Scarlet Pumpernickel’ is also the first of Jones’s Daffy cartoons in which Daffy serves as a misguided hero, starting a great series of shorts, with highlights as ‘Drip-along Daffy‘ (1951) and ‘Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½ Century‘ (1953).

Watch ‘The Scarlet Pumpernickel’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.220.ro/desene-animate/20-Daffy-Duck-Sylvester-The-Scarlet-Pumpernickel-1950/KJRkZjBcaE/

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 131
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Boobs in the Woods
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: An Egg Scramble

This is Daffy Duck cartoon No. 51
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: Boobs in the Woods
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: The Bitter Half

‘Boobs in the Woods’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume One’

 

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: January 5, 1946
Stars: Daffy Duck
Rating:
 ★★★★
Review:

Book Revue © Warner Brothers‘Book Revue’ is the last of the book-covers-come-to life cartoons, a series started by Harman and Ising in 1932, with ‘Three’s a Crowd’.

These cartoons, in which the book titles provide the gags, were mostly plotless, relying on puns and sight gags. ‘Book Revue’ is no exception, but it has the most swinging take on the formula one can wish for.

‘Book Revue’ contains caricatures of some famous (white) jazzmen of the era: Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa. At a certain point Daffy Duck interrupts the swing music to sing ‘Carolina in the Morning’, dressed like Danny Kaye (with a blonde wig). Daffy even imitates the Russian accent Kaye sometimes would explore. Daffy immediately exchanges the song for some superb scat singing to warn Red Riding Hood for the Wolf. These two sequences form a highlight in Daffy’s career, and a real tour de force from voice actor Mel Blanc. The ‘story’, if there is any, involves Daffy being followed by the wolf from red riding hood.

The animation of Daffy is extremely flexible in this cartoon, especially when animated by Rod Scribner and Manny Gould, who really push the limits here. At one point Daffy even converts into one big eye – probably the most extreme deformation of a major cartoon star ever put to screen.

‘Book Revue’ makes no sense at all, but it is a cartoon full of sheer joy, and a crowning achievement of the book series.

Watch an excerpt from ‘Book Revue’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Daffy Duck cartoon No. 31
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: Nasty Quacks
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: Baby Bottleneck

‘Book Revue’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Two’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: July 27, 1963
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Penthouse Mouse © MGM‘Penthouse Mouse’ was the first cartoon in a series of 34 Tom & Jerry cartoons produced by Chuck Jones, after he was fired by Warner Brothers.

Jones had taken all his staff with him, including writer Michael Maltese and co-director Maurice Noble. Even Warner Bros. voice Mel Blanc contributes to the film. The result is typical Chuck Jones: highly stylized backgrounds, excellent animation, and great facial expressions and poses. All this makes a great improvement on the Gene Deitch films.

Oddly enough ‘Penthouse Mouse’ borrows its theme precisely from one of Jones’ predecessor’s films: the Gene Deitch’s Tom & Jerry short ‘Buddies Thicker than Water‘ (1962). But now the story is reversed: Tom has made it on the top floor of a skyscraper, while Jerry is the hungry tramp, roaming the streets. Unfortunately, the story is not very consistent, and the result is not really good. Jones could do better as he was going to show in his next Tom & Jerry cartoon, ‘The Cat Above, The Mouse Below‘.

Watch ‘Penthouse Mouse’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 128
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Carmen Get It
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Cat Above, The Mouse Below

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