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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 7, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Wimmen is a Myskery © Max Fleischer‘Wimmen Is a Myskery’ opens with Popeye proposing to Olive.

Olive tells our favorite sailor that she’ll answer him next morning. That night Olive dreams of her married life. Popeye is nowhere to be seen, but she sure has a hard time with their children: Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye, who after taking spinach give her a good spanking.

‘Wimmen Is a Myskery’ is one of those cartoons in which cartoon characters dream of marriage, with unfavorable results. In this respect, Olive follows Mickey Mouse in ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932), and Porky Pig in ‘Porky’s Romance‘ (1937). Like Mickey Olive’s main fear is numerous disobedient children, and indeed, Popeye’s offspring have none of his gentle character. No wonder Olive turns Popeye down in the morning….

Nevertheless, Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye would materialize in the real world as Popeye’s nephews in ‘Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye an’ Peep-eye’ (1942), just like the little mice from ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ had done in ‘Giantland‘ (1933). Obviously, Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye have more in common with Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, introduced in ‘Donald’s Nephews‘ (1938), and no doubt are inspired by them.

Watch ‘Wimmen Is a Myskery’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 81
To the previous Popeye film: Onion Pacific
To the next Popeye film: Nurse-Mates

‘Wimmen is a Myskery’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 19, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Wotta Nitemare © Max Fleischer‘Wotta Nitemare’ features new titles, abandoning the boat titles the series featured from its very start in 1933.

However, these new titles only lasted four cartoons, apart from ‘Wotta Nightmare’, ‘Ghosks is the Bunk‘, ‘Hello How Am I‘ and ‘It’s the Natural Thing To Do‘. With ‘Never Sock a Baby‘ the boat was back again.

‘Wotta Nightmare’ essentially stars Popeye only, as we watch him dreaming, having a nightmare in which a devil-like Bluto courts an angel-like Olive Oyl. Popeye is having a hard time in his own dream, while we watch him tossing and turning in his bed, and even sleepwalking across the room. In the end spinach comes to the rescue, but then Popeye awakes before he can take his revenge, so he rushes out of his house to clobber a bewildered Bluto in real life.

‘Wotta Nitemare’ is the first Popeye cartoon to show the familiar love triangle of Popeye, Bluto and Olive Oyl since ‘Learn Polikeness’ (1938), being absent for more than a year. More striking is the welcome return to Fleischer’s surreal world of the early 1930s during dream sequence , with its metamorphosis gags, floating faces, and extreme body deformations when the dream-Bluto clobbers Popeye.

Watch ‘Wotta Nitemare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 71
To the previous Popeye film: Leave Well Enough Alone
To the next Popeye film: Ghosks is the Bunk

Wotta Nitemare’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 August 13, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Nightmare © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ is not a spooky horror cartoon like ‘The Haunted House‘ or ‘The Gorilla Mystery‘. No, it’s more of a bachelor’s nightmare…

The short’s plot harks back all the way to ‘Poor Papa’ (1928), the pilot film for the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series, Mickey’s predecessor. In ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ Mickey dreams he finally marries Minnie, and is soon visited by a stork delivering a baby, and another, and another… Until the storks deliver tons of little kids. When he is awake he’s very happy to be still a bachelor.

‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ introduces the little orphan mice, who would replace the little kittens of ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (1931) and ‘Mickey’s Revue’ (1932) as a cause of complete destruction. In Mickey’s dream they ruin the house, especially with paint. In order to show Mickey’s horror scenario, the short uses some excellent and complex use of animation cycles featuring lots and lots of little kids.

It’s interesting that the orphan mice first were introduced as Mickey’s children, and only in dream form. In their next cartoon, ‘Giantland‘ (1933), they suddenly materialized into the real world. The orphan mice would stay around until 1936, starring five more cartoons, before returning one final time in ‘Pluto’s Party‘ from 1952.

The little brats also appeared in the Sunday Pages of Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comic, starting on September 18. In Gottfredson’s comics the mice are reduced to two, but no less disastrous. They are introduced as Mrs. Fieldmouse’s children and are apparently Mickey’s nephews. These two would eventually be christened Morty and Ferdie, and reenter the movie screen once in ‘Mickey’s Steamroller‘ (1934).

‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ spawned at least two similar cartoons: first the Warner Bros. cartoon ‘Porky’s Romance‘ (1937), and second, the Donald Duck short ‘Donald’s Diary‘ from 1954.

Watch ‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 44
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey in Arabia
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Trader Mickey

‘Mickey’s Nightmare’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in black and white’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: February 15, 1932
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit
Rating: ★★
Review:

Mechanical Man © Walter LantzIn 1932 Oswald was redesigned to give him a more boy-like appearance. ‘Mechanical Man’ features this new design and opens with Oswald an his girlfriend playing the piano together.

Meanwhile Peg Leg Pete has built a robot, which needs a human heart. Pete kidnaps Oswald’s girlfriend and takes it to his hideout, followed by Oswald. After a long pursuit Oswald manages to get rid of Pete, and rescuing his sweetheart. But it’s a goat who rescues the two from the robot.

When you read this, the cartoon seems to make some sense, but the real thing is rather different: there’s a lot happening on the screen, and nonsensical gags fill every scene. For example, during the chase scene, various skeletons appear at random, giving the cartoon its typical horror atmosphere, but adding nothing otherwise. This gives the cartoon a rather stream-of-consciousness-like character, and at every point one expects Oswald to wake up from this random nightmare.

Watch ‘Mechanical Man’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mechanical Man’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 July 24, 1931
Stars: Bimbo, Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Bimbo's Initiation © Max Fleischer‘Bimbo’s Initiation’ is probably the most famous Betty Boop cartoon, apart from ‘Snow-White‘ (1933).

Nevertheless, Betty only plays a small part in the cartoon, which is really about Bimbo. In his previous cartoon, ‘The Herring Murder Case’, Bimbo had been redesigned. He’s now more clearly a dog character, with a predominant black coloring instead of the earlier white. This redesigned Bimbo has some character in his rather original looks, but he’s still far from a character, remaining only a foil for the things happening around him.

In no cartoon this is so clear as in ‘Bimbo’s Initiation’. In the first scene we watch him walking on the street, when he suddenly falls into a well and is being caught in a scary underworld beneath the street. There bearded guys repeatedly ask him whether he wants to be a member of their secret order. Bimbo keeps saying no, and he tries to flee, but he cannot escape the nightmarish world, in which every deadly room leads to another one. These scenes are accompanied by a hot jazz version of ‘Tiger Rag’. Luckily, the last room features Betty, and when she asks him whether he wants to be a member, Bimbo gives in. Then all the bearded figures appear to be duplicates of her!

Betty Boop is completely blank in this cartoon and she still has dog ears here. But the nightmarish world is absolutely inspired. It’s both claustrophobic and funny, and we feel with Bimbo, who’s now victim of a world, in which no law, whether human or natural, applies. No other cartoon was so far removed from the happy world of Walt Disney, and arguably no other cartoon before Tex Avery’s ‘Northwest Hounded Police‘ (1946) and Chuck Jones’s ‘Duck Amuck‘ (1953) would be so compelling in portraying the anguish of a trapped cartoon character. Despite its primitive looks, the cartoon hasn’t aged at all, and it’s an undisputed classic within the complete cartoon canon.

‘Bimbo’s initiation’ undoubtedly has been the inspiration of the scary cartoon sequence in which a girl is caught in Joe Dante’s episode in the theatrical version of ‘The Twilight zone’ (1983).

Watch ‘Bimbo’s initiation’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 23
To the previous Talkartoon: The Herring Murder Case
To the next Talkartoon: Bimbo’s Express

‘Bimbo’s initiation’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’ and on Betty Boop: Essential Collection 2′

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
July 28, 1931
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Cat's Out © Walt DisneyA cat is put out. When he tries to catch a bird, he falls down and gets knocked unconscious by a wind-flower.

Enter a nightmarish sequence, in which the cat imagines his lives are fleeing him, and that he’s being attacked by giant birds, hooting owls, bats, giant spiders and hollow trees. Luckily, in the morning it all appears to have been a dream.

‘The Cat’s Out’ is not devoid of dance routines (there are two dance scenes featuring scarecrows and a bat), but it has a surprisingly clear story, unmatched by earlier Silly Symphonies. It is arguably the first Silly Symphony with such a clear story, anticipating the straightforward storytelling of ‘The Ugly Duckling‘ of the end of the same year. This makes the short one of the most interesting Silly Symphonies of 1931.

Watch ‘The Cat’s Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 20
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Busy Beavers
To the next Silly Symphony: Egyptian Melodies

‘The Cat’s Out’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 September 24, 1930
Stars: Bimbo?
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Swing You Sinners © Max Fleischer‘Swing You Sinners!’ is an early Talkartoon, and a wildly imaginative one, too.

We watch a thief (probably Bimbo, but his appearance in the early Talkartoons is so inconsistent, one can’t be sure). The thief tries to steal a chicken, but runs into a cop. The thief then flees into a graveyard, where he has a particularly nightmarish experience. First the gate locks itself, then turns into a stone wall, and then the graves start to sing…

Soon all kinds of inanimate objects start to haunt him. And although the soundtrack is very jazzy, ‘Swing You Sinners!’ remains a bad trip throughout. At one time the walls close into him, at another a ghost promises him to give him a ‘permanent shave’.

The animation is extremely rubbery, and even insane. For example, when we watch a chicken do some scatting, both the chicken and the background are very wobbly, to a hallucinating effect. In the end we watch countless ghosts marching, followed by even more ghostly images when the thief starts to descend into hell. The cartoon ends with a giant skull swallowing the thief, a surprisingly grim ending for a cartoon with such swinging music*.

In any case ‘Swing You Sinners!’ is a testimony of the sheer creativity, which was the Max Fleischer Studio in the early 1930s, and should be placed among the greatest cartoons of all time.

Watch ‘Swing You Sinners!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 10
To the previous Talkartoon: Barnacle Bill
To the next Talkartoon: Grand Uproar

‘Swing You Sinners’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

*It may be interesting to note that this is one of the earliest mentions of swing, predating for example Duke Ellington’s song ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)’ by two years, and being miles ahead of the swing craze of the second half of the 1930s.

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: 1957
Stars: Ralph Phillips
Rating: ★★
Review:

Drafty, Isn't It © Warner Brothers‘Drafty, isn’t it’ is the second of two propagandistic advertisement shorts Chuck Jones made for the US Army in the late 1950s.

Like its predecessor, ‘90 Days of Wondering‘ (1956), it stars a young adult form of dreamer boy Ralph Phillips. In this short Ralph Phillips has nightmares about all his ideas of  adventure being blocked by a giant shadow of a soldier beckoning him. Then he’s visited by an army pixie who elists some fictions and facts about the army. The cliches, of course, are the most hilarious. This short also contains a very Tex Avery-like running gag in which he pixie repeatedly has to put Ralph’s dog to sleep by singing it a fast lullaby.

‘Drafty, Isn’t It?’ is a well-made and beautiful film, and it would have been more enjoyable were it not so sickeningly propagandistic.

Watch ‘Drafty, Isn’t It?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: 
October 5, 1946
Stars:
 Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:
 ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Big Snooze © Warner BrothersAfter a short chase routine involving a tree trunk on a cliff, Elmer quits.

He tears his contract with Warner apart and decides to enter a career of fishing only ‘and no more wabbits!’. When he rests at the riverside, Bugs enters his serene dream to create a nightmare. This involves e.g. nightmare paint, rendering Elmer in Adam’s costume, making a girl out of him, followed by wolves and a great fall, which typically ends the nightmare. At the end Elmer returns to the scene, reassembling the contract and ready for another routine with the tree.

‘The Big Snooze’ is one of those great cartoons that play with their characters as being real stars (others being the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ (1933), the Donald Duck cartoon ‘The Autograph Hound‘ (1939) and ‘You Ought to Be in Pictures’ (1940, starring Porky and Daffy).

It was to be Bob Clampett’s last cartoon at Warner Bros. He was fired before he could finish it, and the short was completed by Art Davis, who succeeded him as a director. The short’s look and feel is still that of the war era, while contemporary cartoons by Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng show the studio was heading into other directions, with milder humor and more sophisticated designs. In contrast, in ‘The Big Snooze’ Clampett’s animation style is extremely flexible, as usual for him, and his backgrounds are as vague as ever.

‘The Big Snooze’ is a hilarious cartoon that marks the end of an era, where the wildest and the zaniest gags were possible. Only Tex Avery at MGM would continue the extreme style. Bob Clampett left Warner Bros. in May 1945 to join the Screen Gems studio. He was succeeded by Art Davis, who would direct some great cartoons until his unit was closed down in 1949.

In the years following Clampett’s leave, his zany style was continued for a while by his master animator Robert McKimson, who had been promoted to director only a few months earlier. However, McKimson soon toned down both animation and humor, and he would never achieve the same level of originality as Bob Clampett did during his Warner Bros. days.

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

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 40
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Racketeer Rabbit
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Rhapsody Rabbit

Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date: January 1912
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

How A Mosquito Operates © Winsor McCayWinsor McCay’s second cartoon is about a giant mosquito who sucks a sleeping man until his body is a giant bulb. Then, suddenly aware of the audience, he performs some tricks on the man’s nose, sucks some more and explodes.

Unlike McCay’s first film, ‘Little Nemo‘, a long live action intro is absent, and more importantly, this one tells a real story. These are both great improvements on ‘Little Nemo’. Moreover, the mosquito is quite a character, arguably the first in animated history: he wears a tall hat and carries a suitcase. Besides, he’s not only a menace to the man, but also playful and a bit of a showoff. In ‘Before Mickey’ Donald Crafton tells us McCay even baptized the character ‘Steve’.

The film stands in the tradition of McCay’s ‘Dream of the Rarebit Fiend’ comics and is a rather peculiar combination of a sleeper’s nightmare and a bit of silliness. The mosquito is larger than life, and when he sticks in his long proboscis into the man’s head, it looks incredibly painful. This makes some of the action a discomforting watch, and this is perhaps the first time an animated film tries to draw on an audience’s emotions.

Unfortunately, the action is rather slow, and there’s a lot of reverse animation, in which McCay reuses the same drawings in reverse order. This may have spared drawings, but it doesn’t look convincing in its perfect symmetry of movement. Nevertheless, the realism with which the man is drawn and animated remains absolutely stunning.

Despite some flaws ‘How a Mosquito Operates’ remains an original and fresh film, and like all McCay’s films, very well animated.

Watch ‘How a Mosquito Operates’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Winsor McCay’s second film
To Winsor McCay’s first film: Little Nemo
To Winsor McCay’s third film: Gertie the Dinosaur

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 14, 1937
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Pudgy Picks A Fight' featuring Pudgy terrified by a cuckoo clockBetty has bought a fox. Pudgy, jealous of the lifeless animal, starts a fight, but after knocking his enemy down, he thinks he has killed it.

What follows is a great depiction of his feeble attempts to revive his foe, and then his genuine horror when he realizes he has killed the animal. His feeling of guilt turns his surroundings into a nightmare.

‘Pudgy picks a Fight’ is undoubtedly the most inspired of all Pudgy cartoons, the nightmare sequence being particularly imaginative. Its theme of guilt and imagination running away with it would be revisited by Disney in ‘Donald’s Crime’ (1945) with equally impressive results.

Watch ‘Pudgy Picks A Fight’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 63
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy Takes a Bow-Wow
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: The Impractical Joker

‘Pudgy Picks A Fight’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: David Hand
Release Date: August 31, 1935
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Pluto's Judgement Day © Walt DisneyAlthough this cartoon is part of the Mickey Mouse series, Pluto is its star.

After he has chased a little kitten, he dreams that his Judgement Day has come and that he’s put on trial by a number of cheating cats.

Like most of Disney’s dream-cartoons this one contains wonderful backgrounds, characters and ideas, thanks to story men Joe Grant and Bill Cottrell. The dream sequence is executed in a Silly Symphony-like fashion with lots of rhyme and song and very beautiful animation. The prosecutor, animated by Bill Roberts, is particularly well done: he’s an impressive figure, whose stature anticipates Stromboli from ‘Pinocchio‘ (1940).

Pluto now is a fully developed character who easily carries the complete cartoon on his own. Mickey’s part, on the other hand, is reduced to that of a cameo, something that would occur more and more in the years to come.

Watch ‘Pluto’s Judgement Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:


This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 78
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Fire Brigade
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: On Ice

Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date:
January 1, 1943
Stars: Donald Duck
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Der Fuehrer's Face © Walt DisneyIn ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ Donald is apparently a citizen of ‘Nutziland’, a fascist country where even trees and clouds are swastika-shaped.

Donald is awoken by a silly march band singing the sarcastic title song (penned by Disney composer Oliver Wallace and sung with gusto by Spike Jones). Then he has breakfast that consists of only one coffee bean, ‘aroma de bacon & eggs’ and a slice of wooden bread. All too soon he has to work at the assembly line, making shells and saluting to images of Adolf Hitler.

In the end, it appears that it was all just a dream, and Donald, in his Stars and Striped-colored room, sighs, embracing a golden copy of the statue of liberty: “Am I glad to be a citizen of the United States of America”. This closing scene is rather corny and the satire of the film misses some points: most of the (German) citizens of Nazi Germany were not poor and did not have to work like slaves, as is suggested here. Instead, the Nazis used forced labor forces from their occupied territories.

Nevertheless, ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ was both artistically and commercially the most successful of the Disney war time propaganda films. It even won an academy award for being the best animated short of 1943. It’s so successful, because, unlike most other propaganda shorts, it’s outrageously funny: its satire is so zany, its depiction of ‘Nutzi land’ so wacky, and the scene at the assembly line so out-to-lunch, that one cannot stop laughing. When Donald goes mad, these segments are even topped by a brightly colored, rather avantgardistic and very surrealistic stream-of-consciousness-like scene, which resembles similar dream sequences in ‘Dumbo’ (1941) and ‘The three Caballeros‘ (1944).

This short was not directed by any of the two regular Donald Duck directors of the time, Dick Lundy and Jack King, who both preferred a more unassuming type of humor, but by Jack Kinney, who is most famous for directing Goofy, and who was undoubtedly the wackiest of the Disney directors, of which this film certainly is proof.

Watch ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 38
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Bellboy Donald
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Tire Trouble

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 19, 1931
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Egyptian Melodies © Walt Disney

In ‘Egyptian Melodies’ the little six-legged spider from ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop‘ (1930) returns to the animated screen.

The short is one of those early Silly Symphonies that offers quite a dull dance routine only (and no story). Nevertheless, the introduction of the cartoon is well worth watching: when we follow the spider down into the pyramid, we experience some astonishing 3D-effect animation, creating the feeling that the camera wanders with the spider through corridors and staircases.

This unique exercise in perspective would not be repeated in animation until labyrinth computer games were introduced in the 1980s. The Disney Studio itself must have been impressed by this stunning piece of animation, for it was reused two years later in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Mad Doctor‘ (1933).

Once inside the pyramid, the spider watches four mummies dance, and the drawings on the walls coming to life. These last scenes feature 2-dimensional characters, which can be seen as very early and primitive forerunners of the cartoon modern style of the 1950s. Unfortunately, these scenes are a little bit dull, but they do lead to a great finale. This is one of the earliest nightmare-sequences, in which the montage of images is diffuse and increasingly sped up, in order to suggest the feeling of getting insane. This predates similar sequences in films like ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face‘ (1943) by many years.

The idea for ‘Egyptian Melodies’ may have come from the Van Beuren cartoon ‘Gypped in Egypt‘ (1930), which also features dancing hieroglyphs, nightmarish scenes, and even a corridor scene. Notice that the classic horror film ‘The mummy’ (1932) hadn’t been released, yet, at the time.

This is Silly Symphony No. 21
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Cat’s Out
To the next Silly Symphony: The Clock Store

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