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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 17, 1933
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Seasin's Greetinks! © Max Fleischer‘Seasin’s Greetinks!’ is Popeye’s first Christmas cartoon. It must be one of the least typical Christmas cartoons around: we watch Bluto and Popeye clobbering each other, while wishing each other ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘A Happy New Year’, respectively.

Most of the time we watch the trio skating. When Olive gives him the cold shoulder, Bluto cuts off the ice on which she sits, and she immediately drifts towards a waterfall. Luckily, Popeye saves her in a rather bizarre way. The cartoon ends with Olive and Popeye watching a Christmas tree, decorated by the stars from the blow Popeye gave Bluto.

‘Seasin’s Greetinks’ is the first mediocre Popeye cartoon. Compared to earlier entries this cartoon is rather low on gags, and the love triangle already becomes predictable. Luckily, the Fleischers came up with enough variations to keep the series fresh, even if not in all its entries.

‘Seasin’s Greetinks!’ is noteworthy for introducing the skating-near-a-waterfall plot, which Disney would copy in ‘On Ice‘ (1935) and the ‘Once upon a Wintertime’ sequence of ‘Melody Time’ (1948).

Watch ‘Seasin’s Greetinks!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Seasin’s Greetinks!’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

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Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date:
 October 22, 1930
Rating:
Review:

Winter © Walt DisneyAmong the earliest Silly Symphonies there was a cycle devoted to the four seasons. ‘Winter’ is the last of these four season cartoons.

Following the artistic success of ‘Autumn‘, ‘Winter’ is unfortunately as dull and plotless as the earlier ‘Springtime‘ or ‘Summer‘. The cartoon both starts an ends with a winter storm. In between we watch animals skating and dancing on Emile Waldteufel’s Skaters’ Waltz. This scene features some deer, which are a far cry from ‘Bambi‘ (1942), but who are more comfortable on ice than Bambi would ever be twelve years later. The cartoon ends when a groundhog sees his shadow again, and cold and snowy winds drive the animals back to their hiding places.

Luckily, ‘Winter’ formed the end of an era. Already with the next Silly Symphony, ‘Playful Pan‘ the Disney studio would aim to exchange the endless dance routines for more experiment, and this level of experiment would only increase from 1931 onwards…

Watch ‘Winter’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 14
To the previous Silly Symphony: Monkey Melodies
To the next Silly Symphony: Playful Pan

‘Winter’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Director: Alexander Ivanov
Release Date: 1950
Rating: ★
Review:

Grandpa and Grandson © SoyuzmultfilmIt’s winter, and a rabbit, a fox and a squirrel wake up a hibernating little bear to go skating with them.

‘Grandpa and grandson’ is one of the countless harmless children’s films the Soviet Union produced in the 1950s. Unfortunately, it’s not among the best. It’s a slow and sugary film starring many all too cute animals and using a lot of dialogue.

Unlike contemporary Soviet animation films it doesn’t seem to be based on a folk tale. Instead, it feels like an overlong Silly Symphony (it lasts almost twenty minutes), ending with a seemingly endless ballet on skates. Because of the slow animation of the characters (typical of Russian films from the era), even this ballet doesn’t really comes off like its Disney models.

Watch ‘Grandpa and grandson’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: David Hand
Release Date: August 13, 1942
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Bambi © Walt DisneyAlthough it was released after ‘Dumbo’, ‘Bambi’ is essentially Disney’s fourth feature, and it was also the last in which the studio really pushed the envelope.

‘Bambi’ had been long in the making, with initial work already starting in 1937. In fact, it was initially planned as Disney’s second feature, but soon pushed back in favor of ‘Pinocchio’.

After having made such great and diverse efforts as ‘Snow White’, ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Fantasia’, Disney set the stakes even higher in Bambi, reaching a zenith in naturalism. But the film is way more than that: it’s a symphony of nature, utterly romantic in its depiction of forest life. It’s also a coming of age story and a depiction of the circle of life.

‘Bambi’ is full of great scenes, starting with the stunning opening scene, a long and complicated shot, which shows the vastness and depth of the forest using a multiplane camera, and which leads us straight into the story, when we come to follow friend owl in his flight.

The storytelling is very lean, it uses little dialogue and it consists of only a few distinct parts, which all concentrate on Bambi’s experiences. Most of the story is told by images and music only, and there are three pure mood pieces very reminiscent of a Silly Symphony like ‘The Old Mill‘ (1937) and parts of ‘Fantasia’: the April Shower sequence, the autumn sequence and Bambi’s love scene. In these sequences especially, it’s clear that atmosphere prevails above character development, and the studio indulges in beautiful imagery that is still impressive and enchanting today.

The film can be divided into eight sections (the titles are all mine):

1) Birth: which also introduces the lovable little rabbit Thumper;
2) Discovery of the world: including the introduction of the little skunk Flower and a rain scene, set to the beautiful song ‘April shower’;
3) The meadow: where both danger and other deer are introduced, including Bambi’s father and his later love interest, Feline;
4) Autumn: a short transitional mood piece;
5) Winter: which includes the famous skating scene, inspired by Pluto’s difficulties on ice in ‘On ice‘ (1935) and which ends with that harrowing, yet off screen death of Bambi’s mother;
6) Spring: where all our characters have become adolescents and discover the power of love;
7) Man: where man, who never is seen on screen, but whose threatening presence is so much more felt, once again brings danger into the forest, shooting animals (including Bambi) and causing a forest fire, which leads to great dramatic and apocalyptic shots of the burning forest;
and finally
8) Birth again: in which the cycle is completed.

The first five sections take almost two-thirds of the film and are responsible for Bambi’s reputation of being a childish film full of cute animals. This may be partly true, but is does no justice to the complete film, for the last three sections, starting with the death of Bambi’s mother (which essentially ends his childhood) are more artistic, more expressionistic and more dramatic. These scenes belong to the most powerful animated images ever brought to the screen.

But throughout the complete picture the artwork is stunning: the backgrounds, based on designs by Tyrus Wong, are lush and suggestive,  the use of color is very clever and often amazing, and the music, which is very important to the narrative and which uses off-screen songs to evoke moods, is rich and effective. Indeed, Bambi’s soundtrack, by composers Frank Churchill and Edward Plumb, ranks among the best scores of any animation film. Backgrounds, design, color, music – all these make  the film a mood piece of an astonishing quality.

The animation itself, too, is a highlight. It was supervised by four of the later so-called ‘nine old men’: Eric Larson, Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, and it’s the first testimony of their legendary status. The animation is amazingly well-done both in its naturalism as in its sense of character. It ranks from pure naturalism in Bambi’s mother exploring the meadow and Bambi preparing to fight to pure character animation. A highlight of the latter is Bambi having to say hello to Feline. Bambi’s behavior in this scene is perfect that of a young bashful boy.

The only deviation from believability is during the Twitterpated sequence: Eric Larson’s animation on friend Owl is zany and cartoony, as is the animation of the lovestruck Flower. The whole sequence is a little bit ridiculous, and out of place with the rest of the film. Luckily as soon as Bambi falls in love with Feline, the last part starts, which in its drama, powerful imagery and stunning effects is the undisputed highlight of the whole movie.

Bambi never ceases to amaze: it is simply beautiful.

Watch the skating scene from ‘Bambi’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1913
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Insects' Christmas © Ladislav Starewicz‘The Insects’ Christmas’ is Starewicz’s next film after his masterpiece ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge‘.

Although the short uses insects again, it’s a whole different film, turning to the sweet subject of Christmas. It’s probably the first animated film about Christmas ever made.

The plot is surprisingly simple: Father Christmas climbs down a Christmas tree, awakes some insects and a frog, who are hibernating underground, and he invites them to a Christmas party. He gives them presents and they all go skiing and skating.

This film’s story cannot be compared to the mature plot of ‘The Cameraman’s revenge‘. It’s more like a child’s dream of Christmas. The film reuses puppets from ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ and others, and even though the animation is less engaging than in Starewicz’s earlier film, it is still of a stunning virtuosity, making the result still a delight to watch. Note, for example, the illusion of wind in the animation of Father Christmas’s coat.

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

‘The Insects’ Christmas’ is available on the DVD ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge & other Fantastic Tales’

Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: September 28, 1935
Stars: Donald Duck, Goofy, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

On Ice © Walt DisneyOn Ice is the first of Disney’s ‘ensemble cartoons’.

Everyone is in it: Mickey, Minnie (in her color debut), Donald, Goofy, Pluto and even, albeit very briefly, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow. ‘On Ice’ introduces two story ideas that would be used again much later: Pluto’s problems on ice in ‘Bambi’ (1942) and the idea of skating near a waterfall in the ‘Once upon a Wintertime’ sequence of ‘Melody Time’ (1948), although this latter idea first appears in the Popeye cartoon ‘Season’s Greetinks!‘ from 1933.

Apart from this, ‘On Ice’ has been very important in the development of Goofy. He’s been completely restyled, has more body to his looks and a much more distinct personality. All these important improvements on the character are attributed to Art Babbitt, one of the greatest animators of all time. Goofy sings ‘The world owes me a living’ from ‘The grasshopper and the ants’ (1934). The song naturally becomes his theme song. No wonder, for the grasshopper and Goofy share the same voice: that of Pinto Colvig. Also of note is Goofy’s original fishing style, using chew to catch fish.

Watch ‘On Ice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 79
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Pluto’s Judgement Day
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Polo Team

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