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Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: July 12, 1947
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★★★★

Salt Water Tabby © MGMTom is at the beach, trying to impress a sexy white kitten.

He’s disturbed by Jerry, who appears from the kitten’s picnic basket, and by a green crab, which looks surprisingly similar to the crab in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘Hawaiian Holiday’ (1937).

‘Salt Water Tabby’ was the first Tom and Jerry cartoon to feature oil backgrounds, several years after Disney and Warner Brothers made that transition. Nevertheless, this experiment was not to be continued, leaving ‘Salt Water Tabby’ the only Tom and Jerry to feature oil backgrounds for years.

Watch ‘Salt Water Tabby’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 31
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: A Mouse in the House

Director: Dick Lundy
Release Date: January 16, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck

The Village Smithy © Walt DisneyIn ‘The Village Smithy’ Donald is a blacksmith who has to fix a large cartwheel and to shoe a stubborn female donkey. He succeeds in neither in this remarkably unfunny cartoon, which is one of the weakest within the whole Donald Duck series.

Long situation gags became a common feature of Disney shorts during the rise of the character comedy, in cartoons like ‘Mickey Plays Papa‘ (1934) and ‘Moving Day‘ (1936). Arguably, this time of comedy reaches its nadir in ‘The Village Smithy’. In it only two situations are milked to the length of the complete cartoon, with tiresome results. The wheel scene is the most interesting of the two, if still far from funny, and tributary to the spiral spring scene in ‘Clock Cleaners’ (1937).

The most interesting feature of this otherwise boring cartoon are its backgrounds, which belong to the first oil backgrounds in a Disney short, and which give the film a distinct, gloomy look. Donald, too, has a unique yellowish tan throughout this picture, setting the cartoon apart from all other Donald Duck shorts.

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

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 30
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Chef Donald
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Snow Fight

Director: Charles Nichols
Release Date: June 23, 1944
Stars: Pluto
Rating: ★★★★

Springtime for Pluto © Walt DisneyAn updated version of Pan from ‘Fantasia’ (1940), now wearing a boiler hat, creates spring.

Pluto enjoys it for a while, e.g. discovering a caterpillar who transforms into a very sexy butterfly. The butterfly is designed as a miniature pin-up girl, who dances to a conga beat. After this encounter, Pluto juggles with a wasps’ nest, angering the wasps who sting him in the form of a Lockheed Lightning and a V2 rocket. These two sequences make ‘Springtime for Pluto’ a typical war era cartoon, even though it’s not about war, at all.

After Pluto gets stung, he’s caught in the rain, and even in a hailstorm. In the end he’s not enjoying spring anymore, and angrily he chases Pan into the distance.

‘Springtime for Pluto’ is the first cartoon directed by Charles Nichols, who would direct all Pluto and Mickey cartoons (save one) from now on until their retirement in 1953. Nichols is famous for his mild-mannered humor, but his debut consists of very enjoyable utter nonsense from the beginning to the end. It’s full of the exuberant spirit of the war time era.

Even the oil backgrounds, painted by Lenard Kester (1917-1997), have more vivid colors than before. These are flatter than in most Disney films, and during the butterfly sequence one can even see the paper texture. They form an early example of a more graphic style of backgrounds within a Disney film, and look forward to the fifties. Perhaps Kester had been inspired by similar experiments by Chuck Jones’ unit at Warner Brothers (e.g. ‘The Dover Boys‘ from 1942). In any case, the result contributes to the surreal atmosphere of the film.

Kester has been credited for backgrounds of only one other Disney cartoon, ‘How To Play Football’ from a few months later. In this short the backgrounds are effective, but unremarkable. Had he been toned down by the studio? Fact is that Kester soon moved on to devote his life to oil painting…

Watch ‘Springtime for Pluto’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Pluto cartoon No. 11
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Private Pluto
To the next Pluto cartoon: First Aiders

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