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Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: December 1, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

$21 a Day (Once a Month) © Walter Lantz‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ is the first of the Swing Symphonies, a wartime cartoon series of fifteen based on swing music.

‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ reflects the war era perfectly, even though it appeared five days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The cartoon celebrates the draft that had been installed in 1941. The short’s original twist, however, is that the title song (by Felix Bernard and Ray Klages) is sung by toy animals, toy dolls, toy soldiers etc.

The designs are a mixed bag, some harking back to the early 1930s. Some animals are clearly stuffed, while others look like any other cartoon animal. Unfortunately, this first Swing Symphony hardly really swings. Darrel Calker’s arrangement features a lot of close harmony, but no jazz solos. Only after five minutes some boogie-woogie piano kicks in. Woody Woodpecker has a cameo, making some marching toy soldiers walk differently.

‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ is a joyful cartoon, but there were much better Swing Symphonies to follow.

Watch ‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘$21 a Day (Once a Month)’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

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Director: George Pal
Release Date: December 26, 1941
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Rhythm in the Ranks © George PalIn ‘Rhythm in the Ranks’ the action already starts during the opening titles, when we watch a package unwrap itself. The package reveals to contain a battalion of toy soldiers, who quickly come to life.

Our hero is ‘Little Jim’, a toy soldier who has to carry a large cannon. When he meets a skating girl in Dutch costume, he forgets the cannon. He gets punished, having to paint the barracks, which he does with invisibility paint, anticipating the Donald Duck short ‘The Vanishing Private‘ (1942), which uses the same story idea.

Both the vanishing paint and the cannon come in handy, when an evil army invades the countryside, although it remains pretty unclear how our hero conquers the foreign troops. Nevertheless, in the end he’s decorated and earns a kiss from the Dutch girl.

‘Rhythm in the Ranks’ is a charming, but uneven cartoon that suffers from an erratic story. The models, colors and staging, on the other hand, are top notch, as always in Pal’s works. The trickery used to make things becoming invisible is very well done.

The evil army of mindless robots, which invade the toy countryside reflect the war era. Yet, Pal’s film never becomes really topical, sticking to the fairy tale world of wonder. ‘Rhythm in the Ranks’ makes great use of two Raymond Scott compositions: ‘Toy Trumpet’ for the marching soldiers, and ‘Powerhouse’ to accompany the evil army.

‘Rhythm in the Ranks’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Puppetoon Movie’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: April 12, 1941
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★
Review:

Toy Trouble © Warner Bros.‘Toy Trouble’ marks the return of Sniffles’s friend the bookworm, from ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ (1939) and ‘The Egg Collector’ (1940).

This time the two friends snoop around in the toy collection of a department store. All goes well until the duo encounters a cat.

Like Sniffles himself, the bookworm is more cute than funny, and like most Sniffles cartoons this short suffers from a terrible slowness. The result is a rather tiresome watch. Nevertheless, it contains a nice scene in which Sniffles hides in a row of Porky Pig dolls, predating a similar scene in the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Night Before Christmas’ by eight months. There’s also a mechanical duck, which accounts for some gags that look all the way forward to the elaborate gags of Chuck Jones’s Roadrunner and Tom & Jerry cartoons.

Watch ‘Toy Trouble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Toy Trouble’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date: August 26, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

We're in the Money © Warner Bros.‘We’re in the Money’ is entirely built around the catchy opening tune of the Warner Bros. musical ‘Gold Diggers of 1933’.

The joyous song, with its anti-Great Depression theme is entertaining enough to carry the whole cartoon. It is played and sung by toys and dolls in an apartment store at night. Even coins from a cashier join in, singing ‘we are the money’. There’s also a doll doing a Mae West imitation.

Composer Frank Marsales is on the loose here, and plays endless variations on the title song. There’s absolutely no story, whatsoever, but the cheerful mood is captivating, and despite the lack of real action, the cartoon will leave you with a smile.

Watch ‘We’re in the Money’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘We’re in the Money’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’ and the DVD-set ‘The Busby Berkeley Collection’

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’

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