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Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: December 16, 1938
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Cracked Ice © Warner Bros.‘Cracked Ice’ looks like Frank Tashlin’s answer to Walt Disney’s ‘On Ice‘ (1935).

However, the familiar scene of animals skating is enhanced by the presence of a pig, who is an excellent caricature of W.C. Fields, both in voice and design. When he discovers the liquor storage of a phlegmatic St. Bernard, the pig goes at lengths to retrieve the alcohol. His best scene is in which he tries to get the drinks by talking to the dog, in real W.C. Fields style. In another great scene the pig goes into discussion with someone in the audience. The cartoon ends with an elaborate magnet gag, but it’s the man in the audience, who has the last laugh.

‘Cracked Ice’ is an entertaining film, if not a too spectacular one. It was Frank Tashlin’s last film at Warner Bros. for the time being, and his unit was taken over by Chuck Jones. Tashlin left Warner Bros. for Walt Disney, where he worked on films like ‘Donald’s Vacation’ and ‘Mr. Mouse Takes A Trip’ (both 1940). However, the Disney studio was not his style, and he interchanged it for Columbia in 1941, working on the ‘Fox and Crow’ series. By June 1942 he was back at Warner Bros. where he would direct some superb films, like ‘Plane Daffy‘ and ‘The Stupid Cupid’ (both 1944).

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

‘Cracked Ice’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4’

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Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: June 25, 1938
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Have You Got Any Castles © Warner Bros.‘Have You Got any Castles?’ is the second of Frank Tashlin’s three contributions to the Warner Bros. books-come-to-life-cartoons, a type of short unique to this studio. 

The cartoon doesn’t really have any story, but is built around four songs, of which the song ‘Have You Got Any Castles’ , from the film ‘The Varsity Show’ (1937) is the last.

This entry is one of the most Silly Symphony-like of all, starting with a particular lush opening, in which a town crier casts a huge shadow on a library. There’s also some beautiful shading on this character (a caricature of radio man Alexander Walcott) himself.

The Silly Symphony-like lushness notwithstanding, the cartoon is full of gags and caricatures of a.o. Greta Garbo, Cab Calloway (while Heidi sings hi-de-hi), Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and W.C. Fields. The animation is surprisingly mature, and shows how the Warner Bros. studio had improved in only a few years. The human figures are particularly lifelike, highlight being the town crier, and some scarcely dressed black ladies dancing to the swinging score.

The film features best-sellers from the 1920’s and 1930’s like ‘Topper’ (1926) by Thorne Smith, ‘Green Pastures’ (1929) by Marc Connelly, and ‘The Good Earth’ (1932) by Pearl S. Buck, which had been made into a film in 1937. It also revisits and improves on the thin man gag from ‘Speaking of the Weather’ (1937).

When the three musketeers rescue the prisoner of Zenda, the cartoon suddenly bursts into a frantic finale, with all kinds of book characters shooting at the four characters. After this frenzy we return to the town crier, rounding off this wonderful cartoon perfectly.

Watch ‘Have You Got any Castles?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Have You Got any Castles?’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: November 27, 1933
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

The Merry Old Soul © Walter LantzThis short opens with Oswald sitting in a dentist’s chair. The dentist knocks Oswald out to be able to pull his sore tooth.

Then the radio announces that Old King Cole has the blues. Oswald immediately runs off to warn all Hollywood entertainers, a.o. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Joe E. Brown, Laurel & Hardy, Ed Wynn, but also Wallace Beery and Greta Garbo. They all hurry to the depressed king. Old King Cole looks quite similar to the same character in the Silly Symphony ‘Old King Cole‘ from four months earlier, proof of how close the rival studios followed the Disney output.

Paul Whiteman plays a tune for him, and Oswald sings a song about Mother Goose, assisted by a.o. Joe E. Brown, W.C. Fields, Al Jolson, Mae West, and a stuttering person I don’t recognize [this is Roscoe Ates – thank you Don M. Yowp  for the info]. This immediately cheers up the old king. Then Laurel & Hardy enter with a pile of pies, which soon results in a large pie throwing battle, featuring a.o. Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Durante, Harold Lloyd, and the Marx Brothers. Meanwhile, Old King Cole’s old jester grows jealous of Oswald’s success. The jester kidnaps Oswald and takes him into a dark cellar. Soon Oswald awakes, revealing it all has been a dream…

Despite the trite dream ending, ‘The Merry Old Soul’ is a quite entertaining cartoon. The short follows a trend that really caught on in 1933 of simply stuffing cartoons with Hollywood stars. Earlier examples are the great Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘, and ‘Soda Squirt‘ featuring Flip the Frog. Five years later, Disney would also mix Mother Goose and Hollywood stars in ‘Mother Goose goes Hollywood’ (1938), which owes nothing to this Oswald short.

Watch ‘The Merry Old Soul’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Merry Old Soul’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’.

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