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Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: September 1, 1941
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B © Walter LantzBased on the 1941 hit song by the Andrews sisters, ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”‘ tells the story of a black trumpeter who gets drafted and has to blow the reveille, which he does in a swinging style, introducing the song.

The song itself is accompanied by various gags on blacks in the army. Even the Andrews Sisters themselves make a cameo, although they do not sing. Typical of the era, the blacks are pretty stereotyped, with huge lips, grammatically incorrect speech, and allusions to gambling. Two of them even die during the cartoon: one black after playing xylophone on some shells, while the other gets eaten by an alligator. So I can understand if some people find it hard to watch this cartoon today. Even so, the cartoon is less offensive than ‘Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat‘ from six months earlier, from which the cartoon reuses some animation.

Indeed, the overall mood of the cartoon is cheerful and rather innocent, emphasizing the swinging mood. In fact, thanks to the catchy song and some flexible animation ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”‘ is one of the great jazz cartoons. It’s also one of the most enjoyable army cartoons of the era, of which it is probably the first. It’s at least one of the first American cartoon on conscription, which had come in effect in September 1940, as a reaction on the war in Europe. The cartoon thus predates cartoons like the Pluto short ‘The Army Mascot‘, ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘ featuring Donald Duck, and the Woody Woodpecker cartoon ‘Ace in the Hole’ (all from 1942).

Watch ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: October 29, 1951
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Wally Walrus
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Woody Woodpecker Polka © Walter Lantz‘The Woody Woodpecker Polka’ is one of several cartoons in which Woody Woodpecker tries to get some food.

In this cartoon Woody Woodpecker tries to enter a barn dance, but only for the food that is served there. The usher, Wally Walrus, doesn’t let him in however, for Woody can’t pay the one dollar entrance fee. Luckily, ladies are free of admission, so Woody dresses like one and makes Wally accompany him to the dance floor. What follows is a dancing scene in which Woody tries to eat as much food as he can, a story idea the studio borrowed from Walt Disney’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow‘ (1949).

The dancing scene is enhanced by the intoxicating title song, sung by the Starlighters, and for a change Clarence Wheeler’s music is inspired during this sequence.

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

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: October 10, 1951
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Redwood Sap © Walter Lantz‘Redwood Sap’ is the fable of the grasshopper and the ants disguised as a Woody Woodpecker cartoon.

Woody Woodpecker plays the role of the grasshopper, being extremely lazy, and stealing food from his neighbors: two beavers, a squirrel and a nest of ants. In the opening shot we watch him reading a book called “work and how to avoid it” by Hans Doolittle, and later we learn that Woody’s motto is “Why worry about tomorrow, I’m gone the day after”.

Then winter arrives, and Woody even refuses to join the birds flying South. However, confronted with an empty stomach and an empty cupboard Woody is forced to beg his neighbors for food. They however punish him for their maltreatment. So, when spring arrives they find him trapped inside an ice cube. However, when the animals take pity on Woody and revive him, they soon experience the woodpecker hasn’t learned a bit…

‘Redwood Sap’ is not a gag cartoon like contemporary Woody Woodpecker shorts. With its fable-like story it looks back to cartoons of the 1930s. However, in its speed, its animation and in its dubious moral, it’s clearly a product of its own time. ‘Redwood Sap’ shows the inventiveness of the Walter Lantz studio, who could turn out original cartoons even on a small budget.

Watch ‘Redwood Sap’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: July 23, 1951
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Buzz Buzzard, Wally Walrus
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Sling Shot © Walter Lantz

In ‘Sling Shot’ Woody Woodpecker enters a shooting contest in a Western town.

Woody wins time after time using his slingshot. His main rival is Buzz Buzzard, who ‘plays’ an evil, but extraordinarily dumb Indian who fails to understand the slingshot’s mechanism. When Buzz steals the prize money, Woody destroys the villain with an H-bomb, a nuclear weapon that would be tested the following year.

Despite the animation being surprisingly good at times, ‘Sling Shot’ is a rather mediocre cartoon, but it is noteworthy for being the first Woody Woodpecker short to feature both Buzz Buzzard and Wally Walrus, who appears as a sheriff.

Watch ‘Sling Shot’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.toon.is/woody-woodpecker-37-slingshot-6-78-video_c9e6198ee.html

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: May 28, 1951
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Wicket Wacky © Walter Lantz‘Wicket Wacky’ opens with Woody Woodpecker playing croquet, disturbing a gopher by doing so.

‘Wicket Wacky’ features the first original story since Lantz’s reopening of his studio in 1950, and it’s way less successful than the leftovers from the 1940s: ‘Puny Express‘ and ‘Sleep Happy’.

The comedy doesn’t work, because it remains unclear whose side we should be on: both Woody and the gopher behave rather unsympathetically. Moreover, Woody remains a totally blank character in this cartoon, showing practically no emotions whatsoever.

‘Wicket Wacky’ only seems to show that gophers are poor comedy material, something we knew from other weak cartoons like the Donald Duck short ‘Donald’s Garden‘ (1942) and the Pluto shorts ‘Bone Bandit‘ (1948) and ‘Pluto and the Gopher‘ (1950).

Watch ‘Wicket Wacky’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.toon.is/woody-woodpecker-36-wicket-wacky-video_7ffa37880.html

Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: January 22, 1951
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Buzz Buzzard
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Puny Express © Walter LantzAfter a squabble with his distributor Universal, and a short fling with United Artists, Walter Lantz was forced to close down his studio in 1948.

Only when Lantz and Universal came to terms again in 1950 Lantz could restart again, with a strongly reduced staff. For example, there was no story department, so the first new cartoon in two years, ‘Puny Express’, was based on storyboards Bugs Hardaway and Heck Allen had left behind in 1948. Worse, Woody Woodpecker was left voiceless.

Lantz himself picked up directing, something he hadn’t done in nine years. The studio owner directed eleven cartoons before Don Patterson took over in 1952. All these cartoons feature Woody Woodpecker; Andy Panda was not revived. Woody himself was redesigned, his looks made simplier and more appealing. It’s this new cute design which remains the best known to viewers today.

Woody’s voicelessness turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In contrast to the dialogue-driven cartoons of rival studios the 1951/1952 Woody Woodpecker shorts feature excellent silent comedy and situation gags, competing with the best of the Pink Panther, who would enter the scene only in 1964.

‘Puny Express’ is a western in which Woody volunteers to deliver the mail, despite the fact that Buzz Buzzard has killed no less than 125 mailmen. What follows is a gag-rich wild chase, full of fast and flexible animation. The humor is overtly Tex Averyan: at one point Woody’s little horse gets a flat hoof, and the cartoon cites the empty road gag from Tex Avery’s own western ‘Wild and Woolfy‘ from 1945.

The cartoon’s only weakness is its music by Clarence Wheeler, which is surprisingly out of tune with the short’s zany character, evoking a mellower 1930s feel.

Watch ‘Puny Express’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.funny-city.com/videos/3499-woody-woodpecker-puny-express-1951

Director: Paul J. Smith
Release Date: August 10, 1953
Stars: Maw and Paw
Rating: ★
Review:

Maw and Paw © Walter LantzIn the early 1950s Lantz seemed to be in search of new characters for his cartoons.

This cartoon introduces Maw and Paw, two poor, phlegmatic farmers with hundreds of kids and one pig, who’s introduced as being the most intelligent of the lot. In an almost plotless story the pig wins a sports car. This leads to a lot of gags, without getting any funny. The cartoon even seem to look back all the way to the early 1930s with its barnyard setting and its abundance of repetitive animation.

Maw and Paw were no strong characters, and their series stopped two years later after only four films.

Director: Dick Lundy
Release Date: March 25, 1949
Stars: Woody Woodpecker, Buzz Buzzard
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Drooler's Delight © Walter LantzWoody wants to go and buy a ‘drooler’s delight’ (a large sorbet), but Buzz Buzzard steals his quarter.

The rest of the cartoon consists of Woody and Buzz fighting for it, with mildly amusing results.

‘Drooler’s Delight’ was to be Dick Lundy’s last cartoon at Walter Lantz. After a squabble with his distributor, Universal, and a short fling with United Artists, Walter Lantz was forced to close down his studio in 1948, and Lundy was left on the street. In May 1950 he replaced Tex Avery at MGM, who had left for a sabbatical. At MGM Lundy directed one Droopy cartoon and revived the Barney Bear series.

Lantz meanwhile was able to reopen his studio in 1950. But because he had to watch his budgets more than ever, the quality of the cartoons would rarely match that of his 1940s output.

Watch ‘Drooler’s Delight’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 17, 1936
Rating:

Review:

Somewhere in Dreamland © Max FleischerMax Fleischer’s first full color cartoon is in the same vein as Disney’s ‘Lullaby Land‘ (1933) and Walter Lantz’s ‘Candy Land’ (1934), depicting little children’s wonderful dreams.

‘Somewhere in Dreamland’ deals with two very poor children who dream that they are in dreamland which is full of candy and toys. Fleischer’s 3D-technique is used with stunning results, and the cartoon must have struck a chord with the audience during the Great Depression era, in which poverty was an all too familiar thing. Indeed, as children the Fleischer Brothers themselves had known hunger like depicted in the film, when their father ran out of business. Unfortunately, the cartoon is remarkably unfunny and sickeningly sweet, following similar sugary outings in Disney’s Silly Symphonies series, like ‘Funny Little Bunnies‘ (1934) and ‘The Robber Kitten‘ (1935).

Unlike those films, however, ‘Somewhere in Dreamland’ suffers from primitive designs. The children’s mother looks like a relative of Olive Oyl, while the little children are drawn in typical thirties kids style resembling Hänsel and Gretel from Disney’s ‘Babes in the Woods‘ from four years earlier. The result is that none of the characters seem to fit within the elaborate 3D-sets.

Watch ‘Somewhere in Dreamland’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 19, 1933
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Lullabye Land © Walt DisneyIn ‘Lullaby Land’ a baby is lulled to sleep by his mother, singing ‘rock-a-bye baby’. The song takes the baby and his stuffed dog to Lullaby Land, a wonderfully surreal land made of plaids, rattles etc.

There the baby encounters a parade of baby objects, and a forbidden garden, full of sharp things, like knives and scissors. Despite the warnings of the female choir in the soundtrack, the baby enters. He destroys all watches from a watch tree with a hammer, and plays with matches. The smoke evokes three bogey men, which scare the baby away. Finally, the baby meets the Sandman, who puts the baby asleep to the tune of Johannes Brahms’s lullaby.

With cartoons like ‘Lullaby Land’ Disney set new standards for animation that are still thrilling today. Don’t get me wrong, the cartoon is rather patronizing and sugary cute, especially through the soundtrack. But this is compensated by wonderful surrealistic images, beautiful artwork and superb animation. And, hey, this way of warning against sharp things and matches just may work with small children.

Lullaby Land itself is a highly original fantasy world, and especially its first images are stunningly beautiful. The dance of the bogey men contains some striking use of color that anticipates similar surreal images in ‘Dumbo‘ (1941). Moreover, it is the first example of totally unrealistic color use in animated cartoons, and therefore a milestone.

Unfortunately, the cartoon also marks a trend of childishness creeping into the animation world, not only at Disney’s, but at all other studios, as well. For example, ‘Lullaby Land’ is the first of a whole series of Silly Symphonies obsessed with little babies, and their bare behinds in particular, with ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod‘ from 1938 being the last example.

Anyway, ‘Lullaby Land’ left all competitors far behind. Later, both Walter Lantz (‘Candy Land’, 1934) and Max Fleischer (‘Somewhere in Dreamland‘, 1936) tried to copy the concept with far less convincing results.

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

This is Silly Symphony No. 38
To the previous Silly Symphony: Old King Cole
To the next Silly Symphony: The Pied Piper

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: March 24, 1934
Rating: ★★
Review:

Funny Little Bunnies © Walt Disney‘Cute Little Bunnies’ would have been a better title for this easter short, for the bunnies are very cute, not funny.

In fact, “Funny Little Bunnies’ is so cute it can only have been meant for children. It makes one wonder what movies it was supposed to support in the theaters (surely no grim gangster thriller!).

Because everybody copied Disney at that time, other studios were copying this ‘new cuteness’ as well. Especially 1934 saw an explosion of Silly Symphonies imitating series, combining the appeal of color with sugary tales. Former Disney associate Ub Iwerks was the first, releasing his first Comicolor cartoon on December 23, 1933. He was followed by Max Fleischer (Color Classics, August 1934), MGM (Happy Harmonies, September), Van Beuren (Rainbow Parade, September), Columbia (Color Rhapsodies, November), and Walter Lantz (Cartune Classics, December). This resulted in a spread of cute (and severely unfunny) cartoons in the mid-thirties.

One is therefore particularly thankful that in the late thirties Tex Avery restored nonsense, wackiness and absurdism in the animated cartoon. These qualities Disney sometimes seemed to have forgotten during his pursuit for greater naturalism and beauty.

Notice how, for example, ‘Funny Little Bunnies’ uses animation to tell a story that cannot be told in live action, but how it tries to tell this story in the most conventional, ‘live action-like’ way. Especially the opening shot of this short is stunning, with two bunnies hopping realistically and lots of birds and butterflies flying around.

Watch ‘Funny Little Bunnies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 43
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Grasshopper and the Ants
To the next Silly Symphony: The Big Bad Wolf

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