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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’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 14, 1941
Stars: Popeye
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

the mighty navy © max fleischerIn ‘The Mighty Navy’ Popeye follows Porky Pig (‘Meet John Doughboy‘) and Barney Bear (‘The Rookie Bear’) and joins the army.

As a sailor, he naturally chooses the navy. Thus, at the start of the cartoon, we find him on a training ship. However, being a navy sailor turns out to be quite different, and most of the humor comes from Popeye’s inapt ways of being a navy sailor. “Do I wants to be a sailor? I AM a sailor! I’m Popeye the sailor! I was born a sailor“, Popeye exclaims at one point. But despite his lifelong experience, Popeye’s ways of hoisting an anchor, aiming the guns and flying a dive bomber in no way convince his superior, so he’s sent to the kitchen to peel onions. Yet, when the training ship is under attack, Popeye saves the day.

‘The Mighty Navy’ was released only thirteen days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and thus the enemy is neither named nor seen in this cartoon. The enemy’s fleet flag bears ‘The Enemy (Name Your Own)’, and when Popeye disposes of its fleet, no victim can be seen. This in sharp contrast to the post-Pearl Harbor Popeye cartoons by the Famous studios: now the Japanese were clearly identified, and racial stereotypes roamed wildly. None of that in this cartoon, making it much more fun to watch.

‘The Mighty Navy’ seems to be a tribute cartoon to the navy. Apart from Popeye, all sailors look like Superman, and the navy itself isn’t ridiculed at all. Instead, the cartoon looks like a celebration of the navy’s choice to make Popeye the official insignia for its own bomber squad. In the insignia, which is presented to the character himself at the end of the cartoon, Popeye looks like his older self, but in ‘The Mighty Navy’ Popeye’s clothes have changed into navy white. I don’t think that this was meant to be a permanent change of dress. Indeed, in Popeye’s next cartoon, ‘Nix on Hypnotricks’ Popeye wears his old clothes again. Yet, in most of his following cartoons, he would be dressed in navy white, and it’s in this dress he would be seen the rest of his theatrical career.

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

This Popeye film No. 100
To the previous Popeye film: I’ll Never Crow Again
To the next Popeye film: Nix on Hypnotricks

‘The Mighty Navy’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: May 9, 1942
Rating: ★★½
Review:

the draft horse © warner bros.In 1942 Chuck Jones found his own voice as a director. Gone were the Disneyesque characters and settings. Instead, Jones put forward his own recognizable character designs, a very original animation approach based on strong poses, and an unprecedented emphasis on facial expressions.

Gone, too, were the cute, childish subjects, now replaced by wild, mature and gag rich stories. Suddenly Jones became one of the most recognizable directors in the field, equaled only by Bob Clampett. The most obvious example of this change is ‘The Dover Boys‘ from September 1942, but the new style is already very present in the Conrad Cat cartoons from January/February (‘The Bird Came C.O.D.’, ‘Conrad the Sailor‘ and ‘Porky’s Cafe’ ).

‘The Draft Horse’, from May, is also a nice example of Jones’s new self-assurance. The short features a plow horse who, after reading a billboard saying ‘Horses wanted for US Army’ plows all the way to the next army training camp to get himself enlisted. His race is depicted marvelously: we don’t see the horse himself, but we watch several images of the countryside wrecked by his plow, accompanied by a frantic rendering of Gioacchino Rossini’s William Tell overture.

Besides an example of Jones’s new style, ‘The Draft Horse’ was also the first Warner Bros. cartoon penned by Tedd Pierce, after his return from his move to the Max Fleischer studios. Highlight of the cartoon is the horse acting out a complete war scene for the eyes of a bewildered colonel. This scene, animated by Ken Harris, can match the much praised scene from ‘Brave Little Tailor’ (1938, animated by Frank Thomas), in which Mickey Mouse tells his story of how he beat seven [flies] in one blow. In this scene the horse looks like a forerunner of Charlie Dog, who does an equally hilarious performance in ‘Often an Orphan‘ (1949).

Unfortunately, the rest of the cartoon doesn’t live up to the high standards set here. Tedd Pierce’s story is too loosely jointed to engage the viewer, falling back on spot gags. Soon the horse ends in a war exercise, and he flees home with equal speed. In the end we watch him knitting V-sweaters as part of the ‘Bundles for Blue Jackets’ program, in which local ladies knitted sweaters for navy men.

‘The Draft Horse’ mocks the over-zealous response after the United States had entered World War II. At the same time, it shows that every citizen can do his part, even when he is not in the army itself. The horse is designed interestingly, remaining halfway anthropomorphization. For example, he retains his hoofs, and remains on all fours half of the time.

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

‘The Draft Horse’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: July 5, 1941
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★½
Review:

meet john doughboy © warner bros.On September 26 1940 the Selective Training and Service Act came into effect. This was the first peace time conscription in the history of the United States.

By 1941 the draft was in full effect, as is reflected by cartoons like ‘Hysterical Highspots in American History‘, ‘Meet John Doughboy’, ‘Rookie Revue’ and ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B‘. Of the real draftee cartoons ‘Meet John Doughboy’ is probably the first. The short stars Porky Pig, who can boast to be the first major cartoon star to join the army. In November Porky was followed by Barney Bear (‘The Rookie Bear’) and Popeye (‘The Mighty Navy‘), while other stars only joined the war effort after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

Unfortunately, ‘Meet John Doughboy’ is not about Porky’s tribulations as a draftee. Instead Porky introduces a movie newsreel “chock full of military secrets, so if there are any Fifth Columnists in the audience, please leave the theater right now.”. This is immediately the best gag of the short, which is a rather trite spot gag cartoon.

‘Meet John Doughboy’ is mostly of historical interest. The film features some stark images of weaponry, in beautiful black and white contrasts. The cartoon even depicts a possible invasion by air, luckily easily dispelled by the Statue of Liberty with some use of inspect spray. Otherwise, it remains a rather uninteresting spot gag cartoon. Three months later, Friz Freleng made a color cartoon covering similar grounds in the even less funnier ‘Rookie Revue‘.

Watch ‘Meet John Doughboy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 88
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Prize Pony
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: We, the Animals, Squeak

‘Meet John Doughboy’ is available on the DVD-sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: January 18, 1941
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Fighting 69 1-2th © Warner Bros.‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ opens with peaceful scenes of a picnic in a forest. Soon a red ant and a black ant argue about an olive. When the red ant smothers the black ant with it, he exclaims, Groucho Marx style: ‘Of course you know this means war!’.

Soon the picnic cloth is encircled by trenches, with several ants trying to obtain the food on it, until a lady comes to clear it all away. When only a cake is left behind, the generals try to make peace, which is thwarted by a discussion on how to cut the cake.

‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ is a rather somber war film, in the tradition of e.g. ‘Bosko the Doughboy’ (1931), ‘There’s Something about a Soldier’ (1934), ‘What Price Porky’ (1938), and ‘Ants in the Plants‘ (1940) and arguably the last to show war as it looked like in World War I. Eleven months later war would come to the US itself, changing the looks of war cartoons forever.

‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ is not really funny, but it boasts beautiful oil backgrounds, Silly Symphony-like production values like careful shading, and Freleng’s trademark musical timing. There’s even a ‘hold the onions’ gag, when several ants build a hamburger.

Watch ‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Fighting 69 1/2th’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: July 18, 1942
Rating:
Review:

Foney Fables © Warner Bros.‘Foney Fables’ is a spot gag cartoon on fairy tales, very much in the vain of ‘A Gander at Mother Goose‘ (1940), sharing the realistic hand skipping pages of a storybook with the former cartoon.

‘A Gander at Mother Goose’ already was anything but classic, but ‘Foney Fables’ is even worse. Neither writer Michael Maltese nor director Friz Freleng seem inspired, and the often beautiful animation is wasted on all the lame spot gags. Even the running gag is trite and predictable.

The most interesting aspects of the cartoon are the war references: the grasshopper will survive winter, because he has bought war bonds, the wolf in sheep’s clothing is called ‘the fifth columnist of his day’, the goose that lays golden eggs lays normal eggs for national defense, and old mother Hubbard is being accused of hoarding food. These gags cannot rescue the cartoon, however, which remains uninteresting and forgettable.

Watch ‘Foney Fables’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Foney Fables’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

Director: Yoshitaro Kataoka
Release Date: 1942
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Sankichi the Monkey The Air Combat © Yoshitaro KataokaWith ‘Sankichi the Monkey: The Air Combat’ we’re clearly in propaganda area. The film’s motto says it all: “Protect our sky! The best defense is offense!”.

In the film the monkeys (Japan) are attacked by an air squadron of bears (Soviet Union). The monkeys shoot the bears out of the sky by the dozen, and win the day. But the film warns the audience: ‘There still are other enemies. We must protect our sky!”.

The film’s message, as if Japan were threatened by other nations and had to be aggressive out of defense, is sickening. When the film was released, in 1942, Japan was already the cruel occupier of most of South East Asia, an aggressor on a scale only matched by Nazi Germany.

‘Sankichi the Monkey: The Air Combat’ is a silent film, and the animation is poor and old-fashioned. In fact, the film looks like as if it had been made in 1929, not 1942. At least the short sheds a light on how the military government sold its actions to the Japanese public: with lies and seeds of fear. And while in 1945 the Soviet Union did declare war on Japan (on August 9, after the U.S. had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Japan was on the brink of collapse), the Soviet air attack never materialized.

Watch ‘Sankichi the Monkey: The Air Combat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sankichi the Monkey: The Air Combat’ is available on the DVD-box set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’

Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date: December 9, 1939
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Peace on Earth © MGM‘Peace on Earth’ is a Christmas cartoon, but a highly unusual one.

With ‘Peace on Earth’ Hugh Harman daringly combines the world of cute animals to gloomy and surprisingly realistic images of war and devastation (which, incidentally have more in common with World War I than with World War II).

It’s Christmas time, and the short opens with scenes of a village of squirrels, whose houses are made of helmets. Grandpa squirrel tells his two grandchildren what men were, for they have disappeared from the Earth. His tale is one of war (oddly between meat-eaters and vegetarians) and extermination. This section contains the grimmest war images ever put into an animated cartoon. In Harman’s world cute animals shall inherit the earth, but the film’s message is clear. Released when World War II had been going on for three months, this message came none too soon. Unfortunately, much, much worse was still to come…

‘Peace on Earth’ is a surprisingly daring film for its time, with its clear pacifistic message and dark war imagery – no ordinary feat for a Hollywood cartoon! For today’s standards the animal scenes may be too saccharine, the staging too melodramatic, and the message too obvious, but the war images and the atmosphere of doom make ‘Peace on Earth’ a film that still impresses today. The short was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award.

Watch ‘Peace on Earth’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Peace on Earth’ is available on the DVD ‘Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Award-Nominated Animation: Cinema Favorites’

Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date: October 17, 1931
Stars: Bosko
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Bosko the Doughboy © Warner Bros.In ‘Bosko the Doughboy’ Bosko is a soldier during World War one.

The cartoon opens spectacularly with several war scenes, including an enemy soldier firing his automatic gun at the audience. The cartoon is completely plotless, and Bosko actually only does three things:

  1. trying to cook a meal and kissing the picture of his sweetheart, before both are bombed (echoing the Oswald cartoon ‘Great Guns‘ from 1927 on which Hugh Harman had worked as an animator);
  2. helping an officer to get rid of his flees;
  3. saving a hippo, who has swallowed a bomb, by zipping its body open.

The cartoon is remarkably violent, and there’s a lot of killing going on. For example, we watch literally a dog being shot to pieces. Because all the animals involved still have mechanical bodies (a legacy of Harman and Ising’s work on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit), pain is never suggested, and the violence remains cartoony. For example, the dog, after being shot, just walks away much shorter, while a bird with a hole in his body only collapses because he’s supposed to, not because he’s in pain.

Nevertheless, there’s little to enjoy in Bosko’s World War I cartoon, and even when fought out by practically invulnerable animals, it remains a disturbing event.

Watch ‘Bosko the Doughboy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bosko the Doughboy’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 13, 1942
Stars: Popeye
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Fleets of Stren'th © Max Fleischer‘Fleets of Stren’th’ is the third in a series of cartoons in which Popeye has joined the American navy.

In this cartoon Popeye still is a lousy sailor, but when the battle cruiser is under attack, he once again shows what he’s able to do (see also ‘Blunder Below‘). This time the battle cruiser is attacked by a squad of Japanese dive bombers. It takes some time before Popeye is able to eat his spinach, but when he does, he turns into a plane himself, defeating the complete enemy fleet.

In this process we see only one pilot, the other planes are subtly dehumanized. In this way we’ll never think of the fate of the Japanese pilots, at all. This was a clever device used in many war propaganda films of the time.

Watch ‘Fleets of Stren’th’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 104
To the previous Popeye film: Blunder Below
To the next Popeye film: Pip-Eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 13, 1942
Stars: Popeye
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Blunder Below © Max FleischerPopeye had joined the navy before the United States entered the war, in ‘The Mighty Navy‘ (November 1941), so in ‘Blunder Below’ he’s ready to fight the enemy, the first major cartoon star to do so on the movie screen.

In the first part of this cartoon Popeye tries to be a normal sailor, among Superman-like sailors, trying to learn gunning. He is no talent, however, blundering away and almost shooting down the captain by accident.

But when a submarine approaches, Popeye shows his real worth: he beats the submarine single-handedly, saving the battle cruiser. It’s this great combination of clumsiness and superhuman powers which make Popeye such an appealing character.

The approaching submarine is accompanied by the music of Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig, indicating a German origin. However, it soon turns out to be Japanese. The submarine is anthropomorphic itself and completely dehumanized, as if it were not manned by people at all. When in August 1942 Popeye changed hands from the Fleischers to Paramount, this would radically change…

Watch ‘Blunder Below’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 103
To the previous Popeye film: Kickin’ the Conga ‘Round
To the next Popeye film: Fleets of Stren’th

Director: Alex Lovy
Release Date: August 3, 1942
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Pigeon Patrol © Walter Lantz‘Pigeon Patrol’ is a typical war era cartoon. It tells about Homer Pigeon, a dopey little country pigeon, whose girl Daisy May is impressed by the USA carrier pigeons, who look like American army planes.

Rejected by Daisy May, Homer decides to volunteer, too, but he’s way too small. However when he encounters a crashed carrier, he rescues an important message from an ugly Japanese vulture, beating the enemy saying: “remember Pearl Harbor and Singapore!”. In the end we watch him being decorated and happily married to Daisy May.

‘Pigeon Patrol’ is not too funny, but very propagandistic. It seems to want to emphasize that every man can do his job for the country. The Japanese vulture belongs to the typical stereotyped caricatures of a Japanese in Hollywood cartoons, complete with a suggestion of general Tojo-like glasses.

Two years later, Warner Bros. would tell another tale about a pigeon called Homer in ‘Plane Daffy‘ (1944). Their Homer commits suicide in that film. Walter Lantz’s Homer Pigeon, however, would star one other cartoon, ‘Pigeon Holed’ from 1956.

Watch ‘Pigeon Patrol’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Yuri Norstein
Release Date: 1979
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Tale of Tales © SoyuzmultfilmIn ‘Tale of Tales’ we’re watching a wolf cub trying to survive his loneliness in an old house, relying on his memories.

These images are altered with images of a river scene with a.o. a fisherman, his wife and his children, and a giant Picasso-like minotaur skipping rope. Two other recurring images are that of dancing wives losing their men to war, and that of a little boy eating apples in the snow.

‘Tale of Tale’s is regarded as Yuri Norstein’s masterpiece and as one of the best animation films of all time. This does not mean it is the most accessible of all films, on the contrary. ‘Tale of Tales’ is a poetic film, but a confusing one. The nostalgic images seem unrelated, and are shown in a non-linear fashion. In fact, it is very difficult to render a ‘tale’ out of the images, which are intrinsically very strong, especially those of the melancholy wolf cub and of the iconic river scene.

Most of the film is made of muddy images in sepia-tones, rendering a dreamy atmosphere. Many images return, bridged by the wolf cub character, who, alone, seems to live in the present, outside of the images of a childhood long past. There’s some vague sense of a happy childhood being shattered by war and being lost in time.

The film uses no dialogue, and even the music is timid in its evocation of mood. Some of the cut-out animation is superb, however, and the overall imagery one of great virtuosity. The end result is as beautiful as it is overlong and frustratingly incomprehensible.

Watch ‘Tale of Tales’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: March 26?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Combat de titans © ProcidisIn the opening scene of this next to final episode, Cassiopeian general Teigneux (Pest) convinces his senate to give an ultimatum for unconditional surrender to Omega. But then he himself gets the same ultimatum from his former ally, Yama…

The general’s reaction is to arrest his senate, taking the final step to become a full dictator at last, and to declare war on Yama. Meanwhile on Omega Pierrot conceives a plan to harm the robot enemy from the inside, which he performs not only with the faithful Psi and Metro, but also Le Petit Gros and his girlfriend, Pierrot’s sister. By trickery, the five manage to be brought inside a Yama cruiser, where Pierrot places a bomb.

Some excitement is added, when after having placed the bomb the five are having difficulties leaving the ship, especially when Metro forgets an important code. Nevertheless, it’s the politics and the depressing battle scenes of Cassopeia’s ill-fated war that impress the most, not the antics of our heroes.

Yama’s might is shown by images literally flooded by space ships, and by battle scenes in which Cassiopeian cruisers are shot to pieces with a frightening ease. Nevertheless Le Teigneux persists almost to the very end, with his subordinates obeying with the motto of ‘Befehl ist Befehl‘. Thus Cassopeia heads to its own mass destruction, similar to Germany and Japan in World War II. Only when Yama threatens to blow up the entire planet of Cassiopeia itself, Le Teigneux gives in, and surrenders unconditionally. Now it will be Omega’s turn…

This episode’s images of war and mass destruction are very disturbing, and in no sense Barillé glorifies war, on the contrary. Although they had been the stock enemy in the past, the viewer is invited to sympathize with the Cassiopeians. Teigneux’s admiral is seen repeatedly in utter distress, torn between the general’s bullheadedness and the sheer hopelessness of his own duty, with his subordinates mourning the loss of human lives. Barillé raises the very question what cause would justify such loss, leaving the answer to the viewer. This is a very different take on war than the heroism of Star Wars, and a much more mature one, despite being aimed at children.

Watch ‘Combat de titans’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 25th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 24th episode: Le grand ordinateur (The Great Computer)
To the 26th episode: L’infini de l’espace (The Infinity of Space)

Director: Paul Grimault
Release Date: 1947
Rating:  ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Le petit soldat © Paul GrimaultOne of the most poetic animation films ever made, ‘le petit soldat’ is a very inspired re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale of the steadfast tin soldier.

In this version, written by poet Jacques Prévert and undoubtedly inspired by the recent experiences of World War II, the soldier is actually an acrobat doll who gets drafted by a humming-top into an unexplained war.

In his absence, Jack-in-the-box tries to seduce his love, a ballerina doll. And when our little soldier finally returns from the battlefield, injured, Jack tries to kill him by taking his heart-shaped winding key away and by trying to drown him into an icy river. Fortunately, in a dramatic climax, the ballerina saves her love from drowning, while the villain gets stuck in a gin-trap.

‘Le petit soldat’ is entirely told in pantomime and a great improvement upon ‘La flûte magique‘, Grimault’s film from the previous year: its storytelling is better, its settings more dramatic, its characterization more convincing, and its animation more sophisticated. Indeed, this beautiful short about triumphant love arguably is Grimault’s masterpiece, even topping his beautiful, but uneven feature film ‘Le roi et l’oiseau’ (1952/1980), which is also based on a Jacques Prévert story.

Watch ‘Le petit soldat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Le petit soldat’ is available on the DVD ‘Le roi et l’oiseau’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: June 26, 1943
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Yankee Doodle Mouse © MGMIn this Tom and Jerry short their chase routine is pictured as if it were World War II itself.

War references include a periscope, a “jeep”, (paper) planes, a bomber (throwing light bulbs), a parachute (a bra), and lots of fireworks. Tom is the clear villain now, with Jerry acting the role of the brave American soldier. At the end of the cartoon Tom explodes in the sky revealing the American flag to which Jerry salutes.

Although not a real war cartoon (Tom and Jerry do not fight Nazis or anything like that), it is drenched in war spirit. Moreover, the short is extremely fast and furious, with gags coming without any break. No wonder it won an Academy Award.

Watch ‘Yankee Doodle Mouse’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No.11

To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Lonesome Mouse
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Baby Puss

Director: Unknown
Release Date: October 17, 1927
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Great Guns © Walt DisneyWar has broken out. This leads to a surprisingly cheerful crowd of people happily volunteering to be a soldier. As if The Great War had never happened.

Oswald volunteers too, after a long goodbye to his girlfriend. In the trenches, he’s still kissing her portrait, until it is bombed by a mouse. This leads to an air battle between Oswald and the little rodent, which ends with Oswald beating up the mice, until he’s confronted by an angry officer. Oswald and the officer get into a bombing duel, in which Oswald uses an elephant, which explodes. In the end even Oswald himself is literally blown to pieces, but he’s revived by his girlfriend who’s a red cross nurse.

The depiction of war in this cartoon is surprisingly positive, and there are a lot of gags. Real danger is never felt, but the cartoon does feature some startling images of huge cannons swooping into the camera. Four years later Hugh Harman, who did some of the animation, would reuse elements of ‘Great Guns’ in his own World War I film ‘Bosko the Doughboy‘ (1931).

Watch ‘Great Guns’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon No. 4
To the previous Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: The Mechanical Cow
To the next Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon: All Wet

Director: Isao Takahata
Release Date: April 16, 1988
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Grave of the Fireflies © Studio GhibliBased on the semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is a strong, emotional and immensely sad film. It kicks in right away, when we hear Seita say “September 12, 1945. That was the night I died”.

What follows is Seita’s story: this boy, about fourteen, first loses his mother in the fire raid of Kobe, which destroys the wooden town completely. Then he and his little sister Setsuko try to live at their aunt’s place, but the initially kind woman grows increasingly hostile to them. So Seita decides to find his own living space for him and his sister in an abandoned shelter, first trying to get food by buying it, then by stealing. Unfortunately, Setsuko sickens from malnutrition, and while he finally has a real meal for her, she dies. Seita manages to build her funeral, but although not shown, the film suggests Setsuko’s death has broken his will, leading to his own death as depicted in the first scene.

The rather straightforward story is told with several flashbacks and flash-forwards and with a unique focus on details of everyday life, which really makes the two children come to life. The realism of ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is unprecedented, the animation of Setsuko in particular being very lifelike, despite a less fluent animation technique. Never before has such a realistic and endearing child entered the animated screen.

The film’s subject matter, which confronts the Japanese viewer with the lowest point in their recent history, is daring and so is its execution, with its concise focus on human suffering, instead of heroism or action. The film makes the viewer really feel the impact of war on innocent civilians: the agony of shortages, hunger and despair, while the rest of the war remains at the background.  Takahata focuses on Seita’s love for his little sister, and his struggle to shield her from the effects of war. Seita is a sympathetic character, but not without flaws. His struggle to survive and to nurture his sister is heroic, but his decision to leave his aunt is also iinduced by pride, and it’s partly his own stubbornness that prevents him from reconciling with his aunt, which may have prevented Setsuko’s death. It’s hard to blame him, though, for he’s a child himself, after all.

‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is one of the most serious animation features ever made, dealing with war and death. It’s also very sad, bringing tears to the eyes of almost every viewer. Like ‘Animal Farm‘ (1954), ‘Le planète sauvage‘ (1973) or ‘Watership Down’ (1978), ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is one of the few truly serious animation features, expanding the medium’s subject matter, and it’s a cinematic masterpiece by any standard.

‘Grave of the Fireflies’ was released as a double bill with ‘My Neighbour Totoro‘, which is equally classic, but very different in tone, indeed.

Watch the trailer for ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Ivan Ivanov-Vano
Release Date: 1972
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Ave Maria © Soyuzmultfilm‘Ave Maria’ is a very grim anti-Vietnam film, made in the Soviet Union.

It combines paintings of the Virgin Mary with images of war. Its darkest moment is when a soldier in a gas mask kills a Vietnamese child. The film ends with live action footage of people protesting against the Vietnam war. Clever montage suggests that the protesters are being repressed.

Despite its disturbing character the film is too blatantly propagandastic and too directionless to be a classic. It also uses little animation.

Watch ‘Ave Maria’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ave Maria’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Lev Atamanov
Release Date: 1970
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

We Can Do It © SoyuzmultfilmFrom a fascistic egg sprouts a military bird.

The young bird is fed by a capitalist and a general (who both are clearly American) with money and weapons. It grows into a huge black war-bird, which flies over the whole world, threatening loving couples in London, Paris, Moscow and Japan, and an old man, two mothers and several children in an unclear place. When the war-bird starts to attack, one mother turns Asian, Muslim and black, in order to illustrate that war can affect everybody everywhere. Eventually, however, the war-bird is overthrown by a multitude of peace doves, created by workers, writers, children, artists, musicians and pacifists.

‘We Can Do It’ is a beautiful and strikingly pacifistic film and undoubtedly one of the best propaganda films ever created in the Soviet Union. Despite its anti-American sentiment, its pacifistic theme is timeless and universal. The film tells its clear message without any dialogue or voice over. Moreover, its designs are stunning and very effective, especially that of the war-bird.

Watch ‘We Can Do It’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘We Can Do It’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

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