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Director: Hamilton Luske
Release Date: June 21, 1961
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Litterbug © Walt Disney‘The Litterbug’ is the very last Donald Duck cartoon, ending a theatrical cartoon career that had lasted 27 years.

The cartoon uses a voice over in rhyme to describe ‘the litterbug’ as if it were some kind of harmful insect species. The short starts with live action footage of litter and garbage, then we cut to a book full of pests, containing the mosquito, the boll weevil, the termite, and… ‘the litterbug’, with Donald Duck representing the latter.

‘The Litterbug’ is one of the earliest environmental cartoons ever. Nevertheless the tone is light, helped by the joyful song by Mel Leven. Donald looks more angular than ever, and is clearly xeroxed. Al Dempster’s background art resembles that of ‘101 Dalmations’. Both xerox and background art give this short a particularly graphic look, which doesn’t suit Donald very well. Nevertheless, ‘The Litterbug’ is a fitting goodbye to a great career, and certainly better than Mickey’s last cartoon, ‘The Simple Things‘ from 1953.

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

This is the last Donald Duck cartoon
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald and the Wheel

‘The Litterbug’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume Four 1951-1961’

Director: Hamilton Luske
Release Date: June 21, 1961
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating:
Review:

Donald and the Wheel © Walt Disney‘Donald and the Wheel’ is an educational special lasting almost 18 minutes.

The short features two ‘spirits of progress’, an old one and a junior, who are depicted by grotesque looking live actors, of whom we only see their silhouettes. These spirits are voiced by The Mellotones, who provide the rhyming dialogue, and who sing two swinging songs by Mel Leven: ‘Wheels of progress’ and ‘That’s the Principle of the Thing’. Donald Duck is only a pawn in this cartoon, and throughout the picture he’s depicted in his stone age appearance, introduced at the beginning: wearing a bear skin, and suddenly bearing a red scalp.

The educational value of this short is very limited: we watch how wheels are used in all kinds of transport, and in various machines – that’s about it. Thus soon the tiresome dialogue and the irritating duo of spirits wear out their welcome.

The short is further hampered by ugly colored live action footage of cars and industrial wheels, looking forward to the cheap look of Ralph Bakshi’s features from the late 1970s.

Watch ‘Donald and the Wheel’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 118
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: How to Have an Accident at Work
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: The Litterbug

‘Donald and the Wheel’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume Four 1951-1961’

Director: Bill Justice
Release Date: November 10, 1959
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Noah's Ark © Walt DisneyThis is the second of no less than three Disney interpretations from the classic story from Genesis, the other ones being the Silly Symphony ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ (1933) and a sequence from ‘Fantasia 2000’ (1999), starring Donald Duck.

This second version is the most extraordinary of the three as it exchanges the ordinary cel animation for stop motion, an animation technique not practiced at the Disney studio. Yet animators Bill Justice and X Atencio gave it a go. For novices in this particular technique, the stop motion is of a remarkably high quality, on par with other stop motion films of the time.

In classic animation tradition, the film start with human hands handling the material, and even the film’s title is animated in stop motion, using a string of wool. Justice’s and Atencio’s designs, too, are refreshing: all characters are mostly made of ordinary material, like corks, pencils and clothespins, often still very visible. The cinematography, too, is superb. For example, there’s a clever montage scene of Noah and his sons building the ark.

The story (by T. Hee) is told by Jerome Courtland in rhyme and features a jazzy score by George Bruns and several songs by Mel Leven. The makers don’t take their story too seriously, and at one point there’s even room for a blues song sung by an abandoned female hippo who grieves, while her husband Harry dances with all other female creatures.

In all, ‘Noah’s Ark’ is a nice departure for Disney, and the film’s looks remain unique within the Disney canon. At 20 minutes the short may be a little too long, but the sheer fun with which this film has been made is contagious.

Watch ‘Noah’s Ark’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Noah’s Ark’ is released on the DVD-set ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

Director: Lew Keller
Release Date: January 16, 1959
Stars: Ham and Hattie
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Picnics are Fun and Dino's Serenade © UPA

‘Picnics are Fun and Dino’s Serenade’ is the last of only four Ham and Hattie cartoons, and one of UPA’s last theatrical cartoons, overall (it was followed by only four Mr. Magoo cartoons).

‘Picnics are Fun’ is a particular highlight within the series. In this charming children’s song Mel Leven, with his ukelele, sings about the delight of picnicking. His song clearly is about picnic in the countryside, and features a pool, a waterfall, and wild flowers. But Lew Keller places Hattie on the roof top of a tall building, juxtaposing the song’s rural lyrics with surprisingly urban images. Especially when Leven sings about “the clean country air” the brown images become poignant indeed. At the same time this little film is an ode to children’s fantasy, which can change a roof top into a forest worth picnicking in.

‘Dino’s Serenade’ is less successful. The song is sung by Hal Peary, who had used mock-Japanese in ‘Saganaki’ and who uses mock-Italian in this song. ‘Dino’s Serenade’ is a song about love, and Lew Keller’s images are most original, as Dino provides the complete setting for the song himself: not only his violin, but also the Italian restaurant, and the girl, who long looks like a lifeless doll. Unfortunately, a rival uses Dino’s serenade to woo the girl, leaving Dino empty-handed, yet the song ends on an upbeat note: “It’s a good day to make love”.

Like all ‘Ham and Hattie’ cartoon, ‘Picnics are Fun and Dino’s Serenade’ is a delight to watch: the designs are beautiful, and the characters are appealing, even in their extremely limited animation. It’s a pity no more were made.

Watch ‘Picnics are Fun and Dino’s Serenade’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Picnics are Fun and Dino’s Serenade’ is available on the DVD box set ‘UPA – The Jolly Frolics Collection’

Director: Lew Keller
Release Date: October, 1958
Stars: Ham and Hattie
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Spring and Saganaki © UPA

‘Spring and Saganaki’ is the third cartoon within the short ‘Ham and Hattie’ series.

‘Spring’ is another gentle children’s song by Mel Leven, sung by him accompanied by his ukelele. This part is notable for its very beautiful background art. For the second song Ham changes into Japanese farmer Saganaki, who wants to join an army of Samurai. This part is in fact a story told in rhyme. Unfortunately, the episode is hampered by singer Hal Peary’s mock-Japanese and the more trite song by Mel Leven and Jim Murakami, which is reminiscent of similar pseudo-ethnic swing songs from the 1930s. The result is the weakest of the four Ham and Hattie cartoons. Yet, as the designs are still top notch, ‘Spring and Nagasaki’ remains a delight to watch, if not to listen to.

Watch ‘Spring and Saganaki’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Spring and Saganaki’ is available on the DVD box set ‘UPA – The Jolly Frolics Collection’

Director: Lew Keller
Release Date: February 27, 1958
Stars: Ham and Hattie
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Sailing and Village Band © UPA‘Sailing and Village Band’ is the second of four ‘Ham and Hattie’ cartoons, virtual video clips to two songs each.

‘Sailing’ is a very nice children’s song by Mel Leven on his ukelele. In this song he sing about sailing, and his lyrics are accompanied by images of little girl Hattie with a toy sail boat in a fountain in a park. This song is more narrative than ‘Trees’ was, and when Mel Leven sing about a sea monster, Hattie’s toy boat encounters a frog in the pool.

For the second song, ‘Village Band’ Ham changes himself into blue dog Roscoe, a tuba player in a very undignified village band in small, but very dignified village. Unlike any other Ham and Hattie episode this is actually a story, using a narrator. This is a typical UPA story of misfits and outcasts getting respect from their environment. Nevertheless, there’s an unwelcome sense of conformism present, for the beatnik-like band gets ‘dignified’ by wearing official costumes, emblem of their incorporation into the system…

Watch ‘Sailing and Village Band’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sailing and Village Band’ is available on the DVD box set ‘UPA – The Jolly Frolics Collection’

Director: Lew Keller
Release Date: January 30, 1958
Stars: Ham and Hattie
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Trees and Jamaican Daddy © UPA

UPA’s last theatrical cartoon series consisted of four films only, but these four are beautiful and delightful shorts well worth watching.

The four shorts are all double-bills showcasing two songs each: the first is a children’s song by Mel Leven (who would become famous for his songs for ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians‘), who sings and plays the ukulele. This first song stars the little girl Hattie, who herself remains a silent character. After Hattie’s song comes a more general song, starring the mustached wizard Ham. Ham was actually a non-character, as for each song he changes himself into someone else.

All four Ham and Hattie films boast beautiful designs, superb cartoon modern background art, but extremely limited animation, with little to no movement and practically no inbetweening. The first song of ‘Trees and Jamaican Daddy’ is a gentle children’s song about er… trees. The images feature Hattie and her toy bird playing in a forest. The second song, ‘Jamaican Daddy’, stars Ham as a Jamaican maracas player and is arguably the best song in the series. This catchy Calypso song tells how one should maintain the family tree by getting as many babies as possible. The song is accompanied by sunny and tongue-in-cheek images of Latinos with very large families.

Watch ‘Trees and Jamaican Daddy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Trees and Jamaican Daddy’ is available on the DVD box set ‘UPA – The Jolly Frolics Collection’

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