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Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: 1958
Stars: Patapouf
Rating: ★★
Review:

Winter Carousel © Ladislaw StarewiczWładysław Starewicz was a stop motion pioneer, who had made some very important films in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. ‘Winter Carousel’ was the last film he completed, and the short’s style is practically the same as that of his films of forty years earlier: the film is essentially silent, and populated by various animals, whose rather gritty look is typical for the Polish-Russian filmmaker.

‘Winter Carousel’ stars brown bear Patapouf and his rather mischievous friend Rabbit, who had been introduced in Starewicz previous film, ‘Nez au Vent’ (Nose in the Wind, 1956). In ‘Winter Carousel’ the duo encounters a jolly snowman, who apparently is father Winter, and a female polar bear. Both Patapouf and Rabbit are clearly interested in the female creature, and the three go skating together, playing blind man’s buff, and riding a Christmas tree carousel. This part of the film is a delightful sequence: Starewicz’s arctic backgrounds are pretty evoking, there’s a unique sense of poetry in the images, and his suggestion of speed during the skating and carousel scenes is impressive.

But then suddenly Father Winter starts to melt and reveals a female wooden creature (clearly a goddess of spring) underneath. Thus, strangely, the last five minutes of the film take place in spring. Unfortunately, from that moment all suggestions of narrative are thrown out of the window, and things just happen on the screen. We watch Patapouf en Rabbit gamble with some dice, watching a performance by a grasshopper and drinking in a long, plotless and completely superfluous kind of epilogue. None of theses spring images matches the winter scenes, and in the end the film is too uneven and too rambling to be a lasting work.

The animation is at times quite good, especially in Rabbit’s and Patapouf’s little gestures, but the complete result is unfortunately rather boring. In fact, this product, already old-fashioned and hopelessly dated by its release, is a rather sad ending to Starewicz’s great career. With this film he only managed to proof that he was a relic from another era.

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

‘Winter Carousel’ is available on the DVD ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge & other Fantastic Tales’

Director: Lew Keller
Release Date: October, 1958
Stars: Ham and Hattie
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Spring and Saganaki © UPA

‘Spring and Saganaki’ is the third cartoon within the short ‘Ham and Hattie’ series.

‘Spring’ is another gentle children’s song by Mel Leven, sung by him accompanied by his ukelele. This part is notable for its very beautiful background art. For the second song Ham changes into Japanese farmer Saganaki, who wants to join an army of Samurai. This part is in fact a story told in rhyme. Unfortunately, the episode is hampered by singer Hal Peary’s mock-Japanese and the more trite song by Mel Leven and Jim Murakami, which is reminiscent of similar pseudo-ethnic swing songs from the 1930s. The result is the weakest of the four Ham and Hattie cartoons. Yet, as the designs are still top notch, ‘Spring and Nagasaki’ remains a delight to watch, if not to listen to.

Watch ‘Spring and Saganaki’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Spring and Saganaki’ is available on the DVD box set ‘UPA – The Jolly Frolics Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: May 27, 1935
Stars: Oswald
Rating: 
Review:

Springtime Serenade © Walter Lantz‘Springtime Serenade’ features Oswald and his unnamed girlfriend among some cute furry animals.

They all believe spring has come, even though the old groundhog warns them for six more weeks of cold weather. After some joyous spring cleaning (what the &$#?!!), the groundhog turns out to be right after all.

This Cartune Classic is as cloying as it is unfunny. Tex Avery, who was an animator at Lantz’s at the time, would deal with cute furry animals such as these ten years later in ‘The Screwy Truant’ (1945).

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

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

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

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: October 4, 1929
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'Springtime' featuring a tree washing itself in the rain‘Springtime’, the third entry in the Silly Symphony series, is also the first of four Silly Symphonies devoted to the seasons.

Animated by Ub Iwerks, Les Clark and Wilfred Jackson, it sets the tone for many Silly Symphonies to come: the atmosphere is fairy-tale-like, there is no story whatsoever, but only one long dance routine. One had to wait two years, until ‘The Ugly Duckling‘, to watch a Silly Symphony escaping this rather limited format.

In this particular short we watch flowers dancing to Edvard Grieg’s ‘Morning’ from ‘Peer Gynt’. The flowers are very similar to the ones in ‘Flowers and Trees‘ from 1932. There are also several dancing animals: bugs, a caterpillar, crows, grasshoppers, frogs, a spider and a heron. The latter three dance to Amilcare Ponchielli’s ‘Dance of the hours’, which would be reused in the much more famous ‘Fantasia’ (1940). Besides the dancing there’s a remarkable portion of devouring: the crow eats the caterpillar, the heron eats the four frogs. The most extraordinary scene is the short rain storm scene, in which we watch a tree bathing in the rain.

However, one other scene particularly deserves our attention: in it we watch a rippled reflection of a dancing frog in the water, an early and interesting attempt of realism. Many of these attempts were soon to follow, and the Silly Symphonies became Disney’s laboratories for experimentation towards better animation.

In ‘A Hundred and One Dalmatians”Springtime’ is shown on television during a scene at the old De Vil mansion: we can watch the dancing flowers and frogs, and the short’s score provides the background music for a large part of the scene.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 3
To the previous Silly Symphony: El Terrible Toreador
To the next Silly Symphony: Hell’s Bells

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