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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: Walter Lantz
Release Date: February 9, 1942
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

hollywood matador © walter lantz‘Hollywood Matador’ is Woody Woodpecker’s contribution to the bullfight cartoon, a trope that comes back to the animated screen from time to time, from the early Silly Symphony ‘El Terrible Toreador‘ (1929) to the late Pink Panther short ‘Toro Pink’ (1979).

Woody Woodpecker is introduced as matador without any back story. His opponent is ‘Oxnar the Terribull’, who ends sadly as ‘fresh bull burgers’, in a gag that echoes a similar one in the Popeye short ‘I Eats My Spinach‘ (1933).

‘Hollywood Matador’ is the least inspired of the early Woody Woodpecker films, but Darrell Calker’s music is spiced with Spanish flavor, and there’s a great gag in which Woody Woodpecker directs a huge crowd with an applause sign, making it applaud and stop applauding without pause. Tex Avery reused this gag to great effects in his own, vastly superior bullfight cartoon ‘Señor Droopy‘ (1949).

Watch ‘Hollywood Matador’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hollywood Matador’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

 

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: November 24, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

what's cookin' © walter lantzThis short opens with a groundhog warning for a terrific cold wave and urging all birds to go South at once.

All birds (drawn in cute 1930s fashion) leave the forest at once to take off to Miami. Not Woody Woodpecker, who takes another swim, only to discover that his summer scene changes into harsh winter within a second. Later a whirlwind deprives him of all his food, and Woody is left hungry and miserable. At that point an equally hungry cat drops by, and both characters try to eat each other, in what must be the grimmest and most violent cartoon of the sound era thus far.

The idea of characters trying to each other was revisited later by other film makers, e.g. Chuck Jones in ‘Wackiki Wabbit‘, Tex Avery in ‘What’s Buzzin’ Buzzard’ (both 1943), and James Culhane in ‘Fair Weather Friends’ (1946), which also stars Woody Woodpecker. Woody Woodpecker’s search for food would become a recurring theme in his films, e.g. ‘Ski for Two’ (1944), ‘Chew-Chew Baby’ (1945) and ‘Banquet Busters’ (1948).

Watch ‘What’s Cookin’?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘What’s Cookin’?’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’ and on the Thunderbean DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: August 11, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Screwdriver © Walter Lantz‘The Screwdriver’ forms an important step in the evolution of Woody Woodpecker.

Woody had been a clear woodpecker in his first cartoon, ‘Knock Knock‘ (1940), and he remained a forest animal in ‘Woody Woodpecker‘. Now he had become more or less an American citizen, capable of driving a car. In fact, the cartoon opens with Woody driving his rather silly vehicle, singing his theme song from ‘Woody Woodpecker’.

The bird soon turns out to be a road maniac, but the gags really start rolling in when he’s confronted by a police man. The woodpecker gives the officer a hard time, driving him nuts, in a string of fast and funny gags, greatly helped by an inspired score by Darrell Calker.

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

‘The Screwdriver’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: July 7, 1941
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Woody Woodpecker © Walter LantzAfter his knockout debut in ‘Knock Knock‘ (1940) fledgling star Woody Woodpecker was given his own series.

The first two entries in this new series, ‘Woody Woodpecker’ and ‘The Screwdriver‘ clearly play on the character’s lunacy. In fact, in his first scene Woody sings a song about how crazy he is. The other forest animals, all cute characters straight from a 1930s cartoon, think so, too, thus Woody goes to visit a psychiatrist, who turns out to be a fox who is even loonier than Woody is. What follows is a string of random gags of nonsense. For example we watch Woody swimming in the doc’s carpet, and the doc and Woody dancing the conga out of the blue.

‘Woody Woodpecker’ is full of wild gags, and owes almost nothing to Lantz’s previous cartoons, except of course for the cute forest animals. In this film Woody shows both a Donald Duck-like fighting style and a Porky Pig-like stutter, when he says: “maybe I AM crazy. Maybe I’d better see a psy… a psy… I go see a doctor”. Soon Woody’s lunacy would be downplayed, as this was a little too narrow a scope to build a series on.

Watch ‘Woody Woodpecker’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Woody Woodpecker’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: March 31, 1941
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Hysterical High Spots in American History © Walter Lantz‘Hysterical High Spots in American History’ is one of the first cartoons reflecting the peace time conscription that had been initiated on September 26, 1940, when Europe and Asia already were at war, but the United States were not: the short is supposedly brought to you by draftee number 1-58. But then he’s swept away from the screen by his sergeant, who, in his turn, is looking for draftee number 1-9-2.

However, these soldiers don’t return to the screen, and the rest of the cartoon is filled with spot gags on American history, dwelling on e.g. Columbus, Thanksgiving, the war of independence, Lincoln’s Gettyburg address and the opening of the Panama canal.

The “story” of ‘Hysterical High Spots in American History’ is by Ben Hardaway, and he clearly had brought the humor of Tex Avery’s spot gag cartoons to the Walter Lantz studio (see also ‘Fair Today‘ from one month earlier). Spot gag cartoons like this were rarely very funny, but the gags are surprisingly inspired in this cartoon, with the Capistrano mission gag giving the lowdown of a complete cartoon: Robert McKimson’s ‘Swallow the Leader‘ from 1949.

‘Hysterical High Spots in American History’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: November 25, 1940
Stars: Andy Panda, Woody Woodpecker
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Knock Knock © Walter Lantz1940 was a watershed year: in this year the last remnants of the cute, childish and timid style of the late 1930s gave way to the brassier, faster and funnier style of the 1940s. In no film this change can be seen as well as in ‘Knock Knock’ in which the new style in the form of Woody Woodpecker literally invades the cute, slow world of Andy Panda.

Andy Panda had been a recent start himself, and ‘Knock Knock’ is only his fourth cartoon. Unfortunately, the little Panda kid and his pa never were particularly funny characters, and they’re immediately eclipsed by the flashy red and blue woodpecker. The bird makes his presence immediately clear by knocking hard on the door, driving Andy’s pa mad. And when he’s visible for the first time, he immediately utters both his classic line “guess who?”, which would be reused in the leaders for his own films, and his classic laugh.

Strangely enough, Woody Woodpecker was not the first character to utter this instantly recognizable laugh. It was used earlier by rabbits in the Warner Bros. pictures ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938) and ‘Hare-Um Scare-Um‘ (1939). This is no coincidence. Both those rabbits and Woody Woodpecker were conceived by the same person: Bugs Hardaway, who even had been a story man on the first Daffy Duck films ‘Porky’s Duck Hunt’ (1937) and ‘Daffy Duck and Egghead‘ (1938). The latter cartoon even provided the story idea of the ending of ‘Knock Knock’. Hardaway thus had a strange love for lunatic characters. Hardaway had recently interchanged Warner Bros. for Walter Lantz, and in many ways, the woodpecker is the same character as Daffy and those loony rabbits: all these characters’ aims remain unknown, they’re just there to be loony.

In fact, Woody Woodpecker never developed much of a personality: later he clearly became less clearly a woodpecker, and less of a lunatic, but he never gained clear character traits. His appeal came from his cheerfully loony actions, not caring about laws, status or authority. Watching Woody the trickster getting the best of strong adversaries was a delight throughout the series.

In ‘Knock Knock’ the humor unfortunately is hampered by the slow reactions of Andy’s pa, Woodpecker’s primary foil. This unfunny character was soon dropped in favor of stronger and funnier adversaries, like Wally Walrus and Buzz Buzzard. Woody Woodpecker, on the other hand, was clearly here to stay. Hardaway and Woody transformed the humor of the Walter Lantz films, making the Lantz cartoons among the most hilarious of the era, after several years of sickening sweetness. Starting with the title cartoon ‘Woody Woodpecker’ the loony bird was given his own series in early 1941. The Woody Woodpecker series lasted until 1966 – longer than that of any contemporary cartoon star. In the early 1940s Woody Woodpecker certainly transformed the Walter Lantz studio, and secured the studio’s place in animation history. Now the wild days could begin.

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

‘Knock Knock’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: February 24, 1941
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Fair Today © Walter Lantz‘Fair Today’ is a spot gag cartoon on a county fair.

The short uses a voice over in the tradition of Tex Avery’s Warner Bros. Spot gag cartoons, e.g. ‘Circus Today’ (1940), ‘Holiday Highlights’ (1940) and ‘Aviation Vacation‘ (1941). Indeed, three months later the Warner Bros. studio itself came with a similar cartoon called ‘Farm Frolics‘. The Warner Bros. connection is further enhanced by the presence of Mel Blanc as voice artist, and a ‘story’ by Warner Bros.-alumnus Ben Hardaway.

The Warner Bros.-influx does not lead to a funny cartoon, however. Even Avery’s spot gag cartoons were more than often rather tiresome, and Lantz’s ‘Fair Today’ is more miss than hit. The gags flow in at a high speed, but let’s face it: most of them are very corny, to say the least, and they include some very bad puns. The obligate running gag is give to an old lady in search of her little boy. The best gag is when the narrator says “let’s skip over to … ‘ and the camera hops accordingly through the scene.

Watch ‘Fair Today’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fair Today’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: March 28, 1941
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat © Walter Lantz‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ opens with scenes from ‘Lazy Town’, a place in the South full of lazy negroes, whose depiction is the epitome of racist stereotyping: everyone is asleep, doing things ridiculously slowly or with a minimum of effort. Oh! Those lazy Southern blacks!

Then a steamer stops, and a sexy, light-skinned woman steps out, immediately reviving the male population. She starts the title song, and all the villagers join in.

‘Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat’ is rather tiresome to watch. The boogie-woogie song itself never really comes off, and is less swinging as it could be. But more importantly, the images accompanying the song are hardly funny, as most of the ‘humor’ comes from those ha-ha silly blacks doing things on the musical beat. As none of these gags work today, the short becomes surprisingly empty.

In fact, together with the Van Beuren cartoon ‘Plane Dumb‘ (1932) ‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ is a likely candidate of being the most offensive racist cartoon around. Only the singing girl is given some dignity, but her race remains unclear, and she could as well be white.

Some of the animation on this girl was reused on the Andrews Sisters in the equally racist, yet less offensive, and much more entertaining ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B‘ from six months later.

‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ was one of the first cartoons to evoke serious issues because of its racism, as upon its re-release in 1948, it was heavily criticized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With help from the more powerful Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), the NAACP managed to make Universal withdraw the cartoon in February 1949. After this incident black stereotypes virtually vanished from the animated screen, except for the occasional cannibal here and there.

Watch ‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

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’.

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: September 4, 1933
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

King Klunk © Walter Lantz‘King Klunk’ is a surprisingly faithful, if silly retelling of the 1933 hit movie ‘King Kong‘.

The short stars Pooch the Pup as a film maker, who enters the jungle to film the monster King Klunk, accompanied by his girlfriend. In the jungle they soon meet a savage tribe offering a young girl to King Klunk. Of course, the giant ape takes much more interest in Pooch’s girlfriend, and abducts her instead.

Imitating Tarzan (made famous by Johnny Weissmuller in ‘Tarzan the Ape Man’ from 1932), Pooch rescues his girlfriend and together they floor the giant ape with a giant rotten egg. Like in the live action film, the duo takes the monster home to New York to display. And in the final scene, King Klunk, too, falls from the skyscraper, but in the cartoon he immediately catches fire and burns to a skeleton…

It’s weird to watch such a tight parody of a movie as this one, and the cartoon’s close satire is without precedent. However, this also means that the film is lower on gags than it could be, and Pooch the Pup is as bland as ever, never becoming near star potential. In the opening scene we hear him whistling ‘Kingdome Coming’, familiar to many as the wolf’s whistling tune in Tex Avery’s ‘Three Little Pups‘ (1953). Tex Avery worked at Lantz during the production of ‘King Klunk’, so it may very well be he remembered the tune from this cartoon when he used it twenty years later. In any case, ‘King Klunk’ features a dinosaur having a double-take that is surprisingly Tex Averyan. This is probably the first classic double-take to enter the animated scene.

Watch ‘King Klunk’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘King Klunk’ is available on the DVD set ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’.

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: July 31, 1933
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Confidence © Walter LantzThis cartoon opens with a jolly dance scene at a farm, which appears to be Oswald’s.

Then suddenly, the ghost of depression appears, haunting the world. This scene is a nice mix of the animated ghost and a live action globe. The ghost of depression also affects Oswald’s farm. What follows, are scenes of sheer panic, with Oswald running from psychedelic circles, and snapshots of people, bankers and stock markets panicking – depicting the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression in a nutshell. Meanwhile, Oswald runs to a doctor for help.

The doctor tells Oswald “There’s your doctor”, pointing to a portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had taken office in March. So, Oswald flies on a bizarre contraption to the White House, where he meets the president himself. F.D.R. starts singing the title song “Confidence, and lick the old depression”, and gives Oswald a pump sprayer full of confidence. Oswald returns to his farm on another strange flying machine, and revives his farm with his pump sprayer full of confidence.

‘Confidence’ is probably the most famous of all Oswald cartoons by Walter Lantz, and it’s clear to see why. It’s highly entertaining, and surprisingly gag rich, despite the propaganda. Even the propaganda message itself is surprisingly joyful. I mean, how often do you see a president singing a jolly tune? In any case, the short is a prime example of how Roosevelt’s new deal was marketed to the audience. As the depression seemed to hit an all time low in 1932-1933, Roosevelt’s message must have been a very welcome one.

However, unlike the similar Little King cartoon ‘Marching Along‘ from three months later, there’s no mention of the National Recovery Administration (or N.R.A.), effected on June 16. So the cartoon makes it seem that confidence alone will revive the American economy… a little too naive, perhaps, but the sheer joy with this message is brought makes ‘Confidence’ well worth watching.

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

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

 

 

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: October 9, 1933
Stars: Pooch the Pup, Dopey Dick
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

She Done Him Right © Walter Lantz‘She Done Him Right’ was the last of thirteen cartoons starring Pooch the Pup, a Walter Lantz character that was virtually Oswald the lucky Rabbit, but with different ears.

The cartoon is an obvious spoof of the Paramount Mae West vehicle ‘She Done Him Wrong’ from earlier that year. Like the feature, the cartoon is set in the 1890’s, and it features a nightclub singer called Poodles, who’s dressed and talks like West. Inside Joe’s Beer Garden a man sings the 1908 music hall song ‘Has Anybody Here Seen Nelly?’, but Poodles has a much more modern song to offer: Cab Calloway’s 1932 hit song ‘Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day’. Then a villain kidnaps Poodles, and Pooch the Pup comes to the rescue.

Pooch the Pup himself is utterly forgettable, but this cartoon is packed with wonderful and weird gags, and features great jazz music. ‘Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day’ is sung with a great voice, which makes one wonder who the particular voice artist is. The cartoon also marks the first appearance of a fat character called Dopey Dick, who is remarkably similar to Wellington Wimpy, who only hit the screen ten days before ‘She Done Him Right’.

Watch ‘She Done Him Right’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘She Done Him Right’ is available on the DVD ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 2’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: February 15, 1932
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit
Rating: ★★
Review:

Mechanical Man © Walter LantzIn 1932 Oswald was redesigned to give him a more boy-like appearance. ‘Mechanical Man’ features this new design and opens with Oswald an his girlfriend playing the piano together.

Meanwhile Peg Leg Pete has built a robot, which needs a human heart. Pete kidnaps Oswald’s girlfriend and takes it to his hideout, followed by Oswald. After a long pursuit Oswald manages to get rid of Pete, and rescuing his sweetheart. But it’s a goat who rescues the two from the robot.

When you read this, the cartoon seems to make some sense, but the real thing is rather different: there’s a lot happening on the screen, and nonsensical gags fill every scene. For example, during the chase scene, various skeletons appear at random, giving the cartoon its typical horror atmosphere, but adding nothing otherwise. This gives the cartoon a rather stream-of-consciousness-like character, and at every point one expects Oswald to wake up from this random nightmare.

Watch ‘Mechanical Man’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mechanical Man’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: January 18, 1932
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit
Rating: ★★
Review:

Grandma's Pet © Walter LantzBy 1932 Oswald had changed into a cute little boy. And yet, in the opening scene of ‘Grandma’s Pet’ he’s shown reading the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood to his three nephews(?).

Soon Oswald falls asleep himself and he dreams that he’s inside the fairy tale himself. Apart from Oswald’s presence, the cartoon quite faithfully follows the fairy tale until the wolf kidnaps Little Red Riding Hood, and out of nowhere produces a magic wand, which changes the complete scenery several times. In the end, Oswald uses the magic wand to change the wolf into a roast.

‘Grandma’s Pet’ is one of the Lantz films in which Tex Avery is billed as an animator. It may have inspired his own mix-up fairy tale films, like ‘Little Red Walking Hood’ (1937) and ‘The Bear’s Tale‘ (1940). It pales when compared to those latter cartoons, however, suffering from erratic animation and sloppy timing.

Watch ‘Grandma’s Pet’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Grandma’s Pet’ is available on the DVD ‘The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: May 27, 1931
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Bandmaster © Walter LantzIn ‘The Bandmaster’ Oswald is the leader of a three-piece brass band.

This idea is dropped after three minutes, however, and after that there’s some kind of story with Oswald trying to comfort a crying hippo baby with music. This part features dancing flowers, rag dolls, and musical notes. The latter dance to the song ‘Happy Feet’, a huge hit for Paul Whiteman in 1930. The cartoon ends with the mother hippo hitting Oswald hard, and the baby hippo laughing.

Several animators worked on ‘The bandmaster’ who would later become famous in the field, like Clyde Geronimi, Tex Avery and Pinto Colvig. Could it be possible that the baby hippo’s laugh was provided by Tex Avery himself?

The cartoon contains some lovely flexible animation in a style also fashioned at Walt Disney and Warner Bros. The cartoon doesn’t make any sense, however, and the gags pop in almost randomly. Thus the Walter Lantz cartoon falls short in matching the quality of those other studios.

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

‘The Bandmaster’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares’ and the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: July 14, 1930
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit, Kitty
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Spooks © Walter Lantz‘Spooks’ is a nice early Oswald cartoon from the Walter Lantz studio.

It takes place in a theater where Oswald performs. It features a mysterious phantom who helps Oswald’s girlfriend Kitty to become a great singer by putting a record player in her dress. This leads to an absurd performance. The phantom fancies Kitty, but she prefers Oswald, who has to rescue her from the phantom’s clutches. This part of the film has horror overtones, commonplace in the early 1930s. The film ends with a rather lame gag.

‘Spooks’ features some very Mickey Mouse-like mice. Its animation, by Bill Nolan, Clyde Geronimi and Pinto Colvig is fair, and the story enjoyable, even if it’s rather inconsistent.

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

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: June 2, 1930
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit, Peg Leg Pete
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Hell's Heels © Walter LantzIn the spring of 1929 Universal announced that it had set up an animation studio to make sound cartoons of its own. Head of the studio was Walter Lantz. This was the beginning of the Walter Lantz studio, which lasted well into the 1970s, outliving all other contemporary cartoon studios.

With this contract Walter Lantz inherited Oswald the rabbit, a character originally conceived by Walt Disney in 1927, but whose copyright was owned by Universal. Universal demanded no less than 26 Oswald cartoons each year, and the results were consequently of variable quality.

‘Hell’s Heels’, Lantz’s 23th Oswald cartoon, is one of the better ones. It opens with Oswald, Peg Leg Pete and an anonymous grey dog being a gang of bandits wandering and singing through the desert. The three decide to rob a bank and Pete and the Dog send Oswald inside with dynamite. Oswald blows up the bank, killing Pete and the dog(!). Later, Oswald befriends the Sheriff’s little boy, which leads to some song-and-dance scenes, which surprisingly features a number of skeletons.

It’s strange to watch Oswald and Pete being buddies in this film, and the story is rather inconsistent, but the cartoon is fast and funny, and full of gags. Its lively jazzy score by James Dietrich is highly enjoyable, and the animation by Bill Nolan and Clyde Geronimi is joyful and of a fair quality. ‘Hell’s Heels’ shows that in 1930 other animation studios still could match the Walt Disney studio.

Watch ‘Hell’s Heels’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: March 4, 1942
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Hams That Couldn't Be Cured © Walter LantzThis short has probably grimmest opening shot of all Hollywood cartoons: that of someone about to be hanged.

It turns out to be the wolf, who will be hanged for harassing the three little pigs. The wolf pleads innocent, however, and tells us “what really happened”. In his own story the wolf is a classical music teacher, loving peace and quiet (the most ridiculous illustration of this is the image of the wolf crocheting a bath tube out of a sheep). He’s visited by the three little pigs who play hot jazz, bullying the wolf, wrecking his instruments, and finally his house.

It’s a bit odd to associate such intoxicating jazz with random violence à la Clockwork Orange, but the result is an entertaining cartoon, although it is clearly tributary to the 1941 Warner Bros. cartoon ‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’, which features a very similar story idea. Interestingly enough the director of that cartoon, Friz Freleng, would later also direct a cartoon about a wolf and three little pigs playing hot jazz, in ‘The Three Little Bops‘ (1957).

Watch ‘The Hams That Couldn’t Be Cured’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://vk.com/video-20905395_162788911

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: April 13, 1942
Rating: ★★
Review:

Mother Goose on the Loose © Walter LantzMother Goose on the Loose’ stands in a long tradition of nursery rhyme cartoons, from the Felix the cat cartoon ‘Felix in Fairyland’ (1923) via the Silly Symphony ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ (1931) and ‘Mother Goose Land‘ starring Betty Boop (1933), to Disney’s ‘Mother Goose Goes to Hollywood’ (1938) featuring caricatures of Hollywood stars.

Unfortunately, ‘Mother Goose on the Loose’ is weaker than any of these, hampered by a slow timing, corny gags and an obnoxious voice over. Even a jazzy tune, setting in after five boring minutes, cannot rescue the cartoon. Its only attraction is its obsession with dames, which are literally all over the cartoon. This makes ‘Mother Goose on the Loose’ a typical cartoon of the World War II era.

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