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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 23, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Mother Goose Land © ParamountThis short opens with Betty Boop reading a Mother Goose book in bed.

As soon as she wishes she were in Mother Goose land, the Mother Goose from the cover grows full-size and takes Betty to ‘Mother Goose Land’ on her broom. Here we meet many nursery rhymes, while Betty is threatened by a giant spider. When she’s kidnapped by the spider, an army of crows come to the rescue. They carry the spider on its own web, in a remarkable birds-eye scene, in which the spider’s shadow is visible on the ground.

‘Mother Goose Land’ seems to herald a new era in The Fleischer Studios: the animation appears to be more ambitious and more complex than before, showing a slight Disney influence, at least from the Silly Symphony ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ (1931).

Typical for Fleischer, however, Betty Boop is still sexy, and kidnapped by a spider whose intentions are clearly sexual. At same time, Betty is now featured in more infantile material, highlighted by the sugary close harmony music, something that would become worse in 1934, when the Hays code toned down her character.

Nevertheless, the growing infantility can be seen in all studios, and this transgression from the adult world of sex and violence to an innocent children’s world is typical for the 1933/1934, with ‘Mother Goose Land’ being just an example.

Watch ‘Mother Goose Land’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 17
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Big Boss
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Popeye the Sailor

‘Mother Goose Land’ is available on the DVD ‘Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Vol. 1’, and on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

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Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 October 13, 1931
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Spider and the Fly © Walt DisneyAfter ‘The Cat’s out‘ of three months earlier ‘The Spider and the Fly’ is the second silly symphony focusing on a story instead of a musical routine.

In this short a mean spider lures two flies into his web by playing harp on it, recalling a similar scene in Max Fleischer’s ‘Wise Flies‘ from 1930. The female fly is captured, but the male fly summons all the other flies to help him rescue her, which they do in a long battle scene on the music of Franz von Suppé’s overture ‘Die leichte Kavalerie’ and Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig. Here we watch flies riding horseflies and using dragonflies as bombers and shoes on caterpillars as tanks. There’s also a spectacular scene in which the flies set fire to the spider’s web, with the poor female fly still in it. Ironically, the spider’s finally captured with flypaper.

‘The Spider and the Fly’ is more melodramatic than funny, but there’s a lot going on, and one doesn’t get the time to get bored. The basic story line of this cartoon would be followed in two other Silly Symphonies: ‘Bugs in Love‘ (1932) and ‘The Moth and the Flame’ (1938), also featuring insects.

Watch ‘The Spider and the Fly’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 23
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Clock Store
To the next Silly Symphony: The Fox Hunt

‘The Spider and the Fly’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Directors: John Foster & Harry Bailey
Release Date:
 March 5, 1932
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Fly Frolic © Van Beuren‘Fly Frolic’ quite shamelessly puts its inspiration from films like Fleischer’s ‘Wise Flies‘ (1930) and Disney’s ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931), visiting exactly the same theme of the spider and the fly.

In Van Beuren’s version, two flies go to the ‘Coffee Pot Cabaret’ for a night out. At one point an old spider enters, scaring the flies to death. He goes into a Cab Calloway routine, singing the bandleader’s 1931 hit ‘Kickin’ The Gong Around’, Calloway’s second song about Minnie the Moocher. Interestingly, this film was released a week before Cab Calloway himself appeared in an animation film in Fleischer’s ‘Minnie the Moocher‘.

After some scatting the spider kidnaps the female fly and takes her to his secret laboratory. At this point the film suddenly changes into a parody of the 1931 horror film ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, with the spider changing into a handsome dandy. This doesn’t fool anyone, however, and the hero fly beats him, joined by his fellow flies.

‘Fly Frolic’ is a quite consistent film with a lot of melodrama. The designs are pretty primitive, however, and the spider changes completely from the nightclub scene to the laboratory scene, even before drinking his potion!

Watch ‘Fly Frolic’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fly Frolic’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date:
 July 28, 1930
Rating: ★★
Review:

Midnight in a Toy Shop © Walt Disney

1930 saw a string of Silly Symphonies featuring animals performing endless dance routines. In ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’, however, the dancing is being done by toys and dolls. Not that it makes a difference…

‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’ introduces the small spider, who would also be the hero of ‘Egyptian Melodies‘. To escape the freezing cold the spider enters a toy shop. First he’s afraid of everything, but when he’s playing the piano, the dolls and toys come to life, dancing to his tunes. This results in a very, very long dance routine, rendering ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’ a rather dull short. However, in the first scene the spider leads the viewer into the scenery, and we as an audience, explore the toy shop with him. This story idea would be perfected in the intro of ‘Pinocchio’ (1940), of which the intro of ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’ is an embryonic version.

‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’ contains a strange mixture of primitive and more advanced designs and animation. It starts with some stunning effect animation of snow, and ends when a candle lights some fireworks, making the spider flee the shop.

Watch ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 12
To the previous Silly Symphony: Arctic Antics
To the next Silly Symphony: Monkey Melodies

‘Midnight in a Toy Shop’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 18, 1930
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Wise Flies © Max Fleischer

The Fleischer studio had already experimented with synchronized sound in 1924, four years before ‘Steamboat Willie‘, so of all cartoon studios they made the transition to sound the most easily.

The Fleischers’ first sound series were the Screen Songs, the first of which was released in February 5, 1929. Eight months later they were followed by the aptly titled Talkartoons. These Talkartoons didn’t have a single star, but like Disney’s Silly Symphonies explored a wide range of subjects.

These Talkartoons show the Fleischers’ disregard of lip synchronization. This feat was reserved for special scenes, like song sequences. Unlike Disney, the Fleischers recorded all dialogue after animation, inviting the voice actors to ad-lib at will. Thus the Fleischer cartoons were the most talkative of all 1930s shorts. This technique reached its peak when Jack Mercer became Popeye’s voice in 1935, but already peppers their earliest output.

The improvised dialogue suits the studio’s free spirited, and equally improvised animation style perfectly. Add a multitude of zany gags, strikingly jazzy soundtracks and remarkably adult subject material, and it’s clear why the Max Fleischer cartoons from 1930-1933 are among the most delightful of all studio cartoons from the golden age.

‘Wise Flies’, the seventh Talkartoon, is a perfect example. It uses the theme of ‘the spider and the fly’, a theme Walt Disney would also use one year later in ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931). However, the Disney version lacks the sexual overtones present in this Fleischer’s version. In it a six-legged spider spots some flies on a hobo’s head. He tries to catch one, but returns home to his wife empty-handed.

However, later he seduces a female fly, playing ‘Some of These Days’ on his web (a delightfully fast piece of guitar jazz). He then starts singing this tune, popularized by Sophie Tucker in 1926, and a hit for Louis Armstrong in 1929. His song leads to a dance sequence much akin to Disney’s Silly Symphonies from the same era. The film ends when the spider’s wife gets jealous, and interrupts the spider’s courting.

The animation by Willard Bowsky and Ted Sears is crude and simple, but the swinging soundtrack is delightful. The end result is an enjoyable piece of rubberhose animation.

Watch ‘Wise Flies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 7
To the previous Talkartoon: Fire Bugs
To the next Talkartoon: Dizzy Dishes

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