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Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1908
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Le petit soldat qui devient dieu © Émile Cohl‘Le petit soldat qui devient dieu’ is a short film about a little tin soldier.

We watch him and the other tin soldiers leave their box, and perform some antics in front of a childlike drawing of a house. At one point the little soldier is left behind, when the others return to their box. Suddenly we watch him floating on a paper boat down the sewer, and on the Seine.

Apparently the tin soldier floats to the ocean, because in the next scene he’s found by an African boy and taken to his negro tribe, who are about to kill another black man. The chief licks the tin soldier and dies instantly. Then the other tribesman crown the other black man. The end.

‘Le petit soldat qui devient dieu’ is another one of Cohl’s early experiments in stop-motion, blending it with live action. Unfortunately, the short is the weakest of Cohl’s 1908 films: the tin soldier sequences are very static, all taking place against the same backdrop, and consisting of little more than soldiers marching. Moreover, none of the action makes sense. But the end is the worst: not only is this scene totally incomprehensible, the cannibals are but white men in blackface, and their characters are the worst cliche cannibals imaginable.

Watch ‘Le petit soldat qui devient dieu’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Le petit soldat qui devient dieu’ is available on the DVDs ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

 

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Director: J. Stuart Blackton
Release Date: July 15, 1907
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Lightning Sketches © Vitagraph‘Lightning Sketches’ is the third surviving film by J. Stuart Blackton in which he used drawn animation.

Unfortunately the film has less in common with his ground-breaking film ‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces‘ (1906), and much more with his first trick film ‘The Enchanted Drawing’ from 1900: Once again Blackton himself appears on screen, and not only his hand. As in the earliest film, he now draws with a brush on paper, replacing the chalk and chalkboard.

Compared to ‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’ ‘Lightning Sketches’ is by all means the lesser product: there is less animation or movement (the best is of a bottle of champagne and a bottle of soda water filling a glass). Worse, Blackton’s first gag involves a stereotype ‘coon’ and Jew, but no animation at all.

In no sense ‘Lightning Sketches’ did propel the medium of animation forward, and it was up to others pioneers, like Émile Cohl, Winsor McCay and J.R. Bray to advance upon the new technique.

Watch ‘Lightning Sketches’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Lightning Sketches’ is available on the DVD/Blu-Ray ‘Cartoon Roots’

Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: October 23, 1941
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

dumbo © walt disneyAlthough released before ‘Bambi’ (1942), Dumbo is essentially Disney’s fifth feature film (or sixth, if you take ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ in account).

The production on ‘Bambi’ in fact had already started in Disney’s golden age, when only the sky seemed the limit. But the disappointing box office results of costly ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Fantasia’ (both 1940) and the cut-off from foreign markets due to World War II completely changed the financial outlook of the Disney studio.

New projects were to be cheaper and simpler than the highly ambitious ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, ‘Pinocchio’, ‘Fantasia’ and ‘Bambi’. ‘The Reluctant Dragon’, of course, was the first result of this new policy, but ‘Dumbo’, too, is a product of this new era. Luckily it was very successful at the box office, but sadly, only six weeks after its premiere World War II hit the United States itself, and suddenly the Disney studio was faced with entirely new problems…

‘Dumbo’s origin lies in a little book by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, which has been completely eclipsed by Disney’s film. The first plans were to make into a short, but Joe Grant and Dick Huemer expanded it to feature length, even if barely. Clocking a mere sixty minutes, ‘Dumbo’ is the shortest, simplest and most direct of all Disney features. Its story is extremely straightforward, and sets in after a short setting introduction. When the film climaxes, with Dumbo’s first triumphant flight, the film has only four minutes left. In no other animated film things are rounded up so quickly in the end. It’s as if Dumbo’s success is way less interesting than his sorrow. Even the loss of the ‘magic feather’ provides only a few seconds of stress. A contemporary animation film would certainly expand this story idea with more predictable results.

With this lean story, the studio perfectly managed to focus on the character of little Dumbo (or Jumbo jr., which is his real name) himself. With his over-sized ears the adorable little elephant soon becomes the laughing stock of the circus, and when he ruins an act, he’s treated as an outcast. Even worse, when his mother tries to defend him, she’s locked up in solitary confinement, which means that Dumbo is separated from his mother. The relationship of Dumbo and his mother forms the heart of the film, and their scenes together, animated by Bill Tytla, excel in charm and tenderness. Especially Dumbo’s visit to his locked up mother is an emotional highlight, and the reunion of mother and son forms a pinnacle of emotional animation. Unfortunately, the studio knew too well that this was the case, and this scene is enhanced with a sentimental song, a crying Timothy, and shots of other animals and their cubs. This tendency of overdoing sentimentality has become a major problem in American animated features ever since. All this elaboration was unnecessary, as the simple interplay between mother and son clearly is marvelous enough to steal the heart of the greatest cynic.

Surprisingly, Dumbo, despite being the main protagonist of the film, doesn’t speak. In fact he hardly makes a sound, except for a few blows and hiccups here and there. His silence is countered by the talkative little mouse Timothy, who’s introduced after twenty minutes, and who, from then on, carries the film forward. It’s Timothy who acts as the little kid’s first helper, after his mother has been taken away, it’s Timothy who manages to get Dumbo in his first act, it’s Timothy who takes Dumbo to his mother, and it’s Timothy who helps Dumbo finds his real talent. Although much smaller than Dumbo, Timothy clearly is a much more confident character, speaking with Ed Brophy’s tough New York accent, and taking on guys bigger than him. He certainly is a marvelous character, and one of the best friend characters in any animation film. Nevertheless, with his arrival the film loses some of its show-don’t-tell-quality, which it has in its first scenes. For example, the building of the circus, and the scene in which Dumbo and his mother play hide and seek are prime examples of telling a story without words or any commentary.

However, Timothy is not the only great character in the film. There’s for example a gentle stork, voiced by Sterling Holloway, in his first Disney assignment. Holloway would become Disney’s all-time favorite voice actor, lasting until the 1970s. This stork takes his duty very seriously, insisting on singing happy birthday for the newborn. Also noteworthy is Casey Junior, the train. He is Disney’s first anthropomorphized train since ‘Mickey’s Choo-Choo’ from 1929, and only given a few short scenes, but these are delightful enough to make him one of the stars. ‘Casey Junior’ gets more footage in ‘The Reluctant Dragon’. Moreover, that film reveals how he speaks.

Then, of course, there are the other elephants, all female, and acting like a bunch of narrow-minded gossiping ladies. It seems that already before the arrival of Dumbo his mother is somewhat of an outcast. She clearly fits in less well in their petty little group. Rarely an uglier bunch of vile females hit the animated screen.

Even more memorable are the five crows who find Dumbo and Timothy up in the tree. These crows are clearly stereotyped blacks, but luckily they are actually voiced by blacks, except for their leader, who is voiced by Cliff Edwards (better known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in ‘Pinocchio’). And luckily they don’t show any abject stereotyped black character traits like being dumb, slow, lazy, fearful or addicted to gambling. Instead, they look like a bunch of fun-loving characters, and they help little Dumbo in the end. Animated by Ward Kimball, these crows are given a song-and-dance routine that has a wonderful jazzy air to it, even if the music hardly hasn’t.

The humans in ‘Dumbo’, on the other hand, are very anonymous. We only get to know the face of the Italian ringmaster, other characters only appear in silhouette or in greasepaint. During the circus building scene the workers are kept completely faceless, making the viewer focus on the work of the elephants, including Dumbo.

The music is very supportive to the story, and the songs hardly stop the action, if at all. Somehow the songs from Dumbo have become less classics than from ‘Snow White’ or ‘Pinocchio’. This is a pity, for composers Oliver Wallace and Frank Churchill and lyricist Ned Washington have produced a very inspired score, which matches the colorful scenes perfectly, with ‘Casey Junior’ and ‘When I See an Elephant Fly’ as major standouts.

And then, of course, there’s the pink elephant scene. This scene forms the break between Dumbo’s misery and triumph, and it’s the only scene to show real experimentalism (although one must admit that the circus building scene, with its strong angles and expressive staging is a very impressive example of cinematic expressionism). Directed by Jack Kinney, the wildest of Disney’s directors, it’s in fact the most surreal scene in studio animation since Bob Clampett’s ‘Porky in Wackyland’ (1938). Of absolute beauty is the elephant ballet, painted only in outlines. The scene knows a great deal of metamorphosis, a rare feat in Disney animation since ca. 1933. It’s a welcome return of one of the most powerful tools of animation. Some elements of the Pink Elephant scene hark all the way back to the boogie men sequence from the Silly Symphony ‘Lullaby Land’ (1933). In is turn it influenced later surreal sequences in e.g. ‘The Three Caballeros’ (1944) and ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’ (1968).

In all, ‘Dumbo’ is a charming little film, with a lot of heart. Its cuteness never gets in the way, and its leanness makes it more accessible than any other Disney feature. What ‘Dumbo’ may lack in astonishing experimentalism, is compensated by a lot of color and delightfully playful animation. It’s by all means a little gem that can easily stand the test of time.

Or can it? As the years go by, ‘Dumbo’ may become less and less acceptable. It already contains a newspaper headline gag that makes it a clear product of the war era (‘Dumbombers for home defense’). Then there are the stereotyped crows, which certainly have become more problematic since then. Add the pink elephant scene, in which Dumbo (a little kid!) in fact gets drunk. I predict a time in which this scene will not be accepted anymore by the “politic correct”. And finally, there’s the circus setting itself. With the advent of television, the circus has known a steady decline, and in the 21st century the idea itself of animals performing becomes less and less acceptable. All these factors are a real threat to the film, and if we’re unlucky it will finally receive the same fate as ‘Song of the South’ (1948), which is virtually banned from life, leaving us with the dreary photo-realistic remake, which will be released on March 29 this year.

This would be a pity, for the original ‘Dumbo’ is great entertainment, and a prime example of what great animation is all about.

Watch the original trailer for ‘Dumbo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Norman McCabe
Release Date: October 11, 1941
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

robinson crusoe, jr. © warner bros.When Tex Avery left Warner Bros., Bob Clampett took over his animation unit. To fill in Clampett’s gap, Norman McCabe was promoted to director.

McCabe had joined the Harman-Ising studio in 1932 as an inbetweener. By 1941 he had become Bob Clampett’s star animator. He had even co-directed two cartoons with Bob Clampett, ‘Timid Toreador’ (1940) and ‘Porky’s Snooze Reel’ (1941).

As a solo director McCabe only made eleven Looney Tunes, all in black and white. And thus, McCabe sadly remains the least known Warner Bros. director from the classic era. This is a pity, because ‘Robinson Crusoe jr.’ , McCabe’s first cartoon, shows that he had fully absorbed his former master’s style, and that he could deliver a fast and funny film.

In ‘Robinson Crusoe, jr.’ Porky Pig plays the starring part. As soon as he’s stranded on the island, he’s awaited by Friday, who carries a sign saying ‘Welcome, Robinson Crusoe’ and who says to Porky in a Southern accent: “Hello Boss, What kept yuh?“. Later we watch Friday singing ‘The Java Jive’, which had been a huge hit for the Ink Spots in 1940.

Most of the cartoon consists of silly spot gags, and is quite entertaining, even if quite a lot of the humor is time-bound. The short ends when Porky encounters a tribe of cannibals, and flees with Friday on a motor boat he has carved out of a log within seconds.

Note that the character Friday is one of those standard representations of the black servant of the period, with his Southern accent. Nevertheless, in this film Friday is neither dumb, nor lazy, fearful, superstitious or overtly dependent on his white benefactor, all character traits normally given to black characters in cartoons. Neither is he given the horrible ape-like mannerisms found in ‘Mickey’s Man Friday‘ (1935). With his huge lips, Friday may be a heavy caricature, he still is one of the more enlightened black representations of the era. The cannibals, on the other hand, are the standard cliche racist fare.

Watch ‘Robinson Crusoe, jr.’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

 

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 92
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Notes to You
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Pooch

‘Robinson Crusoe, jr.’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Porky Pig 101’ and on the Thunderbean DVD ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: March 28, 1941
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat © Walter Lantz‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ opens with scenes from ‘Lazy Town’, a place in the South full of lazy negroes, whose depiction is the epitome of racist stereotyping: everyone is asleep, doing things ridiculously slowly or with a minimum of effort. Oh! Those lazy Southern blacks!

Then a steamer stops, and a sexy, light-skinned woman steps out, immediately reviving the male population. She starts the title song, and all the villagers join in.

‘Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat’ is rather tiresome to watch. The boogie-woogie song itself never really comes off, and is less swinging as it could be. But more importantly, the images accompanying the song are hardly funny, as most of the ‘humor’ comes from those ha-ha silly blacks doing things on the musical beat. As none of these gags work today, the short becomes surprisingly empty.

In fact, together with the Van Beuren cartoon ‘Plane Dumb‘ (1932) ‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ is a likely candidate of being the most offensive racist cartoon around. Only the singing girl is given some dignity, but her race remains unclear, and she could as well be white.

Some of the animation on this girl was reused on the Andrews Sisters in the equally racist, yet less offensive, and much more entertaining ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B‘ from six months later.

‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ was one of the first cartoons to evoke serious issues because of its racism, as upon its re-release in 1948, it was heavily criticized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With help from the more powerful Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), the NAACP managed to make Universal withdraw the cartoon in February 1949. After this incident black stereotypes virtually vanished from the animated screen, except for the occasional cannibal here and there.

Watch ‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: August 28, 1939
Stars: Lil’ Eightball
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Silly Superstition © Walter Lantz‘Silly Superstition’ is the second of three cartoon starring Lil’ Eightball, a heavy caricatured black boy with a deep southern voice (by Mel Blanc).

In ‘Silly Superstition’ Lil’ Eightball’s mama warns him that it’s Friday the 13th, and that he shouldn’t walk under a ladder or let a black cat cross his path. Lil’ Eightball dismisses these warnings as superstition, doing deliberately these things. The ladder walk rather unlikely makes a complete building collapse, while the black cat immediately introduces an escaped lion. Luckily, Lil’ Eightball’s puppy dog saves the day, chasing the lion back to the zoo.

‘Silly Superstition’ is pretty hard to watch today. The animation in this short is very uneven, being sometimes strikingly modern, yet at other times disappointingly old-fashioned. But more importantly, Lil’ Eightball is too severe a stereotype to enjoy. The boy looks particularly goofy in this cartoon, having a balloon head, a ridiculously small body and over-sized, rather clownish shoes, emphasizing his stupidity. Most of the ‘humor’ of the cartoon stems from the fact that despite his uneducated background, Lil’ Eightball manages to use big words.

As Christopher P. Lehman notices in ‘The Colored Cartoon’ it’s a sad fact that Lil’ Eightbal starts atypically self-assured and brave, but ends up as a stereotypical fearful negro boy. This ‘morale’ is dubious to say the least. Luckily, contemporary reviewers weren’t impressed either, and Lil’ Eightball vanished from the screen after only three cartoons.

Watch a colorized version of ‘Silly Superstition’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Silly Superstition’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: April 22, 1940
Stars: Andy Panda
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

100 Pygmies and Andy Panda © WaIn Andy Panda’s third film the little brat receives a package from a turtle postman, which is a clear caricature of a black man.

The package contains a magic wand, and Andy immediately uses it on the delivery boy and on his dad. Meanwhile, the pygmy witch doctor consults his magic mask, as if he were Snow White’s stepmother. The mask tells him Andy Panda now has more magic than he has. The witch doctor battles with Andy, but he loses. Then he summons countless pygmies, and soon Andy ‘s overwhelmed. Unfortunately, the witch doctor uses the wrong magic wand, and he and his pygmies are immediately transferred to some busy American town: we watch the pygmies fleeing in terror from cars and such in black-and-white live action footage. This last gag is the single entertaining one in an otherwise very tiresome film that hasn’t aged well, and not only because of the racial stereotypes it exploits.

Watch ‘100 Pygmies and Andy Panda’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘100 Pygmies and Andy Panda’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

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’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 22, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Out of the Inkwell © Max Fleischer‘Out of the Inkwell’ starts with live action footage of a black cleaner reading a book on hypnosis.

Hypnosis as conceived by the Fleischers is more like a magic spell, and has the power of making things come alive. The cleaner hypnotizes a pen that then draws an old-style Betty. He hypnotizes this miniature Betty, too, but she turns the tables on him, hypnotizing the broom and the fan, and finally, the man himself, making him clean the room rapidly.

‘Out of the Inkwell’ returns to the origins of Max Fleischer’s career, blending animation and live action using a character born out of ink. The result surely is one of the more original latter day Betty Boop cartoons, and a delightful mix of live action, stop motion and traditional animation.

The cartoon delivers less than it promises, however, and is particularly hampered by the black man’s extremely stereotyped lazy voice, which sounds like it has been dubbed. Highlight is the hypnotized Betty, who dives and swims in mid air, and who is animated extraordinarily rubbery.

Watch ‘Out of the Inkwell’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 73
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Be Up To Date
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: The Swing School

‘Out of the Inkwell’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Directors:Ivan Ivanov-Vano & Leonid Amalrik
Release Date: 1933
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Black and White © SoyuzmultfilmOf all animated Soviet propaganda films, ‘Black & White’ certainly is one of the most powerful. The film is essentially silent, but it’s accompanied by the beautiful negro spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” sung in a deep mournful voice. 

The film is based on a poem of the same name from 1925 by Vladimir Mayakovsky, who wrote the poem during a trip to Cuba. Like the poem, the film shows American racism and the exploitation of black people. We watch them being oppressed by the white, as if they were still slaves, and kept quiet by religion. The images are strong and very stylized. Each image of the film is staged wonderfully to the best effect. A most impressive image is that of numerous blacks in prison, but the bleakest of them all is the final shot of a car passing a lawn with a black man hanging on each tree.

The overall mood of the film is absolutely depressing, especially when one realizes that for once the Soviet propagandists were not too far from the truth. Nevertheless, the Soviet solution, “Lenin”, may be a little too short-sighted, and I doubt whether this film has ever been watched by its intended audience, and if it struck any international chord at all. Who knows? At least, Cuba has been the only country in the Americas to experience a Marxist regime…

Anyhow, despite its abrupt and inapt Lenin-ending, ‘Black & White’ is one of the darkest and strongest of all animated films of the 1930s, and certainly the most interesting animation film to come from the Soviet Union in that decade.

Watch ‘Black & White’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Black & White’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 June 25, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating:
Review

Plane Dumb © Van Beuren‘Plane Dumb’ opens with Tom & Jerry on a non-stop flight to Africa.

Jerry is worried they’ll not be safe in Africa, so, to be sure, they change themselves into blackface. But immediately afterwards their plane crashes into the sea, as if the blackface had taken away their ability to fly! At sea Tom & Jerry are bothered by an equally blackfaced octopus, some sharks and a large whale, which throws them onto the African shore. There they encounter some fantasy monsters (recalling the Waffles & Don short ‘Jungle Jazz‘ from 1930), a gospel quartet of black skeletons, and finally several cannibals, who chase them away. Iris out.

Unlike any other Van Beuren film, ‘Plane Dumb’ is extremely dialogue-rich. In fact, it’s quite possibly the most dialogue-rich cartoon of the early 1930s. As soon as they’re blackfaced, Tom & Jerry start to talk in fake negro speak. Of course, as the duo is heading to Africa, this makes no sense at all – it only adds to the ignorant racism that completely fills this short. Moreover, one soon forgets that these characters had been Tom & Jerry in the first place.

Tom & Jerry’s dialogue is very reminiscent of Amos ‘n’ Andy, the popular fake black radio stars of the time. The cartoon stars’ trite conversation was supposed to be the sole source of the humor in the cartoon, making ‘Plane Dumb’ the first animated cartoon ever to rely on dialogue. Rarely there was such a strange combination of innovation and backward thinking.

The dependence on dialogue makes the short a failure by all means, as none of it is remotely funny; not only by today’s standards, but also by those of 1932 itself, as the short only received a lukewarm welcome at the time.

Nevertheless, in 1934 Van Beuren produced two cartoons featuring the “real” Amos ‘n’ Andy. Neither of the two were a success. Van Beuren might have known, if he had remembered ‘Plane Dumb’ well…

‘Plane Dumb’ arguably one of the most racist cartoon ever released. It’s so full of severe racial stereotypes, it’s practically unwatchable, today. The short’s only highlight may be in the animation of the whale, which has some menacing quality.

Watch ‘Plane Dumb’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 12
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Tuba Tooter
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Redskin Blues

‘Plane Dumb’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date: August 17, 1930
Rating:
Review:

Laundry Blues © Van Beuren‘Laundry Blues’ is one of those cartoons that’s very hard to watch today.

This short features some extreme stereotypes of Chinese people, in animal form, plus one caricature of a (human) Jew. The Jew has his beard washed and ironed, only to fall into the mud with it shortly afterwards.

Apart from the vicious stereotyping, the short suffers from a lack of direction: things are just happening on the screen. The backward racism, the total lack of plot, and the scarcity of gags make ‘Laundry Blues’ endless. It’s everything but a classic, indeed. And yet, the part of the four Chinese ironing was reused in its entirety in ‘Chinese Jinks‘ from 1932.

Watch ‘Laundry Blues’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Laundry Blues’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: David Hand
Release Date:
January 19, 1935
Stars:
Mickey Mouse
Rating:

Review:

Mickey's Man Friday © Walt DisneyLike in ‘The Castaway‘ (1932), Mickey has been shipwrecked, and he’s washed ashore at a tropical island full of cannibals.

When the cannibals try to cook a young native, Mickey scares them away in order to rescue the poor fellow. He then adopts this young native and they build a fort together, which they finish just in time, before the cannibals return to attack them. These eventually manage to overrun Mickey’s defense, and Mickey and the native flee on a self made ‘ship’.

Even when compared to Disney’s two other embarrassing cartoons about cannibals (the Silly Symphony ‘Cannibal Capers‘ (1930) and ‘Trader Mickey‘ (1932, curiously also directed by David Hand), the depiction of natives in ‘Mickey’s Man Friday’ is backward and humiliating. Mickey’s man Friday uses his feet more than his hands and appears to be more closely related to apes than to man. This is so sickening to watch that this is one of the very rare cartoons of which I feel that they could have remained under the rug, despite the fast and clever ‘invention gags’ featured in this cartoon, which foreshadow comparable gags in ‘The Flintstones’.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 72
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Two-Gun Mickey
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Band Concert

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: March 15, 1930
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'Cannibal Capers' featuring a cannibal using skulls as castanets‘Cannibal Capers’ is a typical early dance routine Silly Symphony. This time we watch dancing cannibals, followed by the antics of one poor cannibal chased by a lion.

The caricatures of the ‘primitive’ blacks are backward and quite extreme in this cartoon: the cannibals have such huge lips, they almost look like ducks(!). Nevertheless, the cartoon is less offensive than a later film like ‘Mickey’s Man Friday‘ (1935), because the cannibals at least look sympathetic (despite the skulls that lie everywhere), and are not compared to apes, like in the latter cartoon.

It also fairs better than the Betty Boop cartoon ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Fead You Rascal You‘ (1932), which also features cannibals, but here they’re linked to musicians of Louis Armstrong’s orchestra, making a direct connection between the racist caricatures and real Afro-Americans.

Cannibals were staple characters of cartoons from the thirties, but the caricatures managed to stay well into the fifties, being featured in shorts such as ‘His Mouse Friday‘ (Tom & Jerry, 1951), ‘Spare The Rod’ (Donald Duck, 1954) and ‘Boyhood Daze’ (Merrie Melodies, 1957).

‘Cannibal Capers’ is noteworthy, because it contains the only animation by Floyd Gottfredson that hit the screen: that of the lion running out of the jungle and of a cannibal beating the drum. Around the time this cartoon was released, Gottfredson was asked to take over the Mickey Mouse comic strip (then still written by Walt Disney himself), something he would do until 1975.

Watch ‘Cannibal Capers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 8
To the previous Silly Symphony: Autumn
To the next Silly Symphony: Night

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