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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: 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: Friz Freleng
Release Date: October 25, 1941
Rating:
Review:

rookie revue © warner bros.

Like Bob Clampett’s earlier ‘Meet John Doughboy‘ Friz Freleng’s ‘Rookie Revue’ is a spot gag cartoon on the army, which grew by the minute due to the draft that had been installed since October 1940.

Note that both cartoons predate the attack on Pearl Harbor, showing that the US armed forces were growing even before the United States were being attacked. The premise of ‘Rookie Revue’ is that we “join the army for a day and get a glimpse of military life”. None of the spot gags are remotely funny, however, making ‘Rookie Revue’ very, very tiresome, and only interesting as a period piece. Nevertheless, animation lovers will appreciate the caricatures of Tex Avery, Henry Binder and Ray Katz in the mess.

Watch ‘Rookie Revue’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rookie Revue’ 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: Seymour Kneitel
Release Date: September 18, 1942
Stars: Superman
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Japoteurs © ParamountNo sooner were the Fleischer brothers removed from their own studio, or their stars Superman and Popeye were fully put to the war effort.

No other American cartoon stars featured in as many propaganda shorts fighting the foe. Superman stars in five, of which ‘Japoteurs’ is the first.

In this entry three Japanese spies try to steal the world’s largest bomber on its test flight. Of course, Lois flies along, and both she and the plane have to be rescued by Superman.

‘Japoteurs’ is an unfortunate cartoon, which adds to the idea of a fifth column of Japanese within The United States, making every Japanese person suspicious. Indeed, due to this type of paranoia, during the war no less than 110,000 Japanese Americans, including women and children, were put into internment camps.

This is Superman film No. 10
To the previous Superman film: Terror on the Midway
To the next Superman film: Showdown

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: 1942
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Stop That Tank © Walt Disney‘Stop That Tank!’ was the first commission that resulted from the showing of the pilot instruction film ‘Four Methods of Flush Riveting‘. In that respect it was Disney’s very first commissioned animated instruction film.

The film was made for the Canadian army to show the working of the Boys MK-1 anti-tank rifle. Unlike ‘Four Methods of Flush Riveting’ it features full animation and humor, as well as live action sequences, to educate the soldiers. Most of the film consists of (very boring) instructions, but the film starts very nicely with the full animation sequence of a squad of rattling tanks led by a caricature of Adolf Hitler, jabbering in mock-German, being shot to hell by Tommies and their anti-tank-rifles. In hell we watch Hitler raging in distress. The devil explains to us that Hitler says that “against your anti-tank rifles he simply can’t win”.

During the instruction film which follows we still have four incidents of full animation: three involving a goofy soldier, who 1) tries to carry an anti-tank rifle on his own, 2) opens the magazine the wrong way and 3) goes to bed with his gun, the film’s last shot. The fourth incident is that of a cow being shot instead of a tank.

No doubt these four comic reliefs were very welcome during the otherwise extremely dry and boring instruction film. However, for contemporary audiences only the opening sequence remains of interest. Its strong and rather vicious propaganda was going to be echoed in a lot of cartoons during the war era.

Interestingly, this film was directed by Ub Iwerks, Disney’s old friend, who, after the end of his own animation studio adventure, had recently rejoined the Disney studio. Iwerks went to work at the technical department, and ‘Stop That Tank’ is the only film he directed during his second stay at Disney’s I know of.

Watch ‘Stop That Tank!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: James Algar
Release Date: 1942
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Four Methods of Flush Riveting © Walt DisneyOf all milestones of Disney animation, ‘Four Methods of Flush Riveting’ is the most unassuming and certainly the most boring.

It was made in early 1941, thus before The United States had entered the war, for the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, which was located nearby the Disney studio at Burbank. The film was “produced under the technical direction of the Lockheed Aircraft Cop.”, and without doubt very useful, but it was in fact a pilot film. As the title card states:

The following film uses a simplified technique developed by the Walt Disney studio to demonstrate the quickest and cheapest method whereby the animation medium can be applied to National Defense Training”.

Both 1940 features ‘Pinocchio‘ and ‘Fantasia’ had lost money, and Disney was looking for new opportunities to earn some. In World War I J.R. Bray had demonstrated that animation film could be used perfectly for training the troops, thus pioneering the educational animation film. Nevertheless, between World War I and World War II only few educational films were made.

Disney’s new technique is in fact limited animation. As such it is the mother of all animated instruction films up to the present day, but even more of limited animation as an art, which would be explored more and more during the 1950s and 1960s.

The immediate effect on the Disney studio was that it sprouted commissions for several instruction films, mostly for the army and the navy, starting with ‘Stop That Tank!‘ for the National Film Board of Canada.

During World War II the Disney studio produced no less than 200 different training films for the armed forces. Moreover, limited animation immediately entered propaganda shorts, like ‘The Thrifty Pig‘ (1941) and such, as well as features, like ‘The Three Caballeros‘ (1944).

The film itself is very dry, and as educational as it is dull. Its most interesting feature is the use of a structured blue monochrome background against which the clean, airbrushed objects read very well. The idea of using monochromes and structures in backgrounds was going to be of as much importance as limited animation to the more forward looking forces in the animation field, and the UPA studio, which sprouted from the 1941 Disney strike, in particular.

Watch ‘Four Methods of Flush Riveting’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Isadore Sparber
Release Date: September 4, 1942
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Rating:
Review:

Alona on the Sarong Seas © ParamountPopeye and Bluto are on a battle cruiser stationed somewhere in the South Seas.

There they meet a ‘princess Alona’ (Olive Oyl in a sarong). Her parrot warns the two suitors that if the princess get’s harmed, the volcano will erupt. In the end all turns out to be just a dream.

In this cartoon the comedy is mostly silent, and princess Alona doesn’t speak at all. Unfortunately, Jack Mercer’s jabbers are absent, too, and they are certainly missed. The result is the weakest Popeye cartoon in years.

Watch ‘Alona on the Sarong Seas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 110
To the previous Popeye film: You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap
To the next Popeye film: A Hull of a Mess

Director: Dan Gordon
Release Date: August 7, 1942
Stars: Popeye
Rating: ★★
Review:

You're A Sap, Mr. Jap © Paramount‘You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap’ is the first Popeye short by the Famous studio, after Paramount had taken over business from the Fleischer Brothers.

This film is immediately the most vicious propaganda film in Popeye’s career, and one of the most extreme cartoons of the entire World War II era. In it Popeye encounters some vicious caricatures of Japanese who doublecross him while suggesting to want to make peace. Their small boat turns out to be on top of a giant battleship which Popeye defeats singlehandedly. The cowardly admiral then commits suicide by drinking nitroglycerin and eating firecrackers, destroying the whole ship.

‘You’re a sap, Mr. Jap’ is as propagandistic as it is ferocious. In the Fleischer’s  ‘Fleets of Stren’th’ from five months earlier, the enemy was still rather abstract, but in ‘You’re a sap, Mr. Jap’ the Japanese people themselves are attacked. The film was the first, but not the only one to feature extreme caricatures of Japanese, which in this cartoon are killed by the dozen. Later, cartoons like ‘Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips’ and ‘Commando Donald’ (both 1944) would follow suit.

These cartoons mark a clear difference between the two enemies: the Germans and the Japanese. While the Nazis were always portrayed as silly, the German people were almost never seen in cartoons, and when shown, they were regarded as victims of their leaders, like in ‘Education for Death‘ (1943). The Japanese, on the other hand, with their less visible regime, were treated as one and the same, from the military top to the average soldier. No doubt, a sizable dose of racism accompanied this view. And it’s views like this that resulted in the arrest and internment of American Japanese, something that also happened to Germans living in the United States, but on a much smaller scale…

In ‘You’re a sap, Mr. Jap’ the anti-Japanese sentiment results in a remarkably unfunny cartoon, and the short is more famous for its lack of politic correctness than for its humor.

Watch ‘You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 109
To the previous Popeye film: Baby Wants a Bottleship
To the next Popeye film: Alona on the Sarong Seas

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 3, 1942
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Li’l Swee’Pea
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Baby wants a Bottleship © Paramount‘Baby Wants a Bottleship’ opens with Olive visiting Popeye, whose battleship is stationed at the harbor.

Olive has brought li’l Swee’Pea with her. The baby wants to have a battleship en climbs aboard the cruiser. Popeye has a hard time catching him again.

The result is a cartoon of great comedy and excellent timing. The action includes a musical number in which Popeye is clobbered by a canon. Like in the previous Popeye cartoon, ‘Many Tanks’, Popeye’s design switches between old and new.

Watch ‘Baby wants a Bottleship’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 108
To the previous Popeye film: Many Tanks
To the next Popeye film: You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 15, 1942
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Many Tanks © ParamountIn this World War II cartoon Bluto is a soldier who tries to sneak away to date Olive Oyl.

When Popeye passes by Bluto tricks him into his army uniform. Popeye unwillingly has to join a tank squad, which leads to hilarious antics. Only when he has eaten some spinach Popeye directs his tank out of the camp straight to Bluto, who is wooing Olive.

Jack Mercer’s ad libbing during Popeye’s tank ride is fantastic and a highlight of the cartoon, as is the extremely flexible animation on Popeye’s tank. Popeye’s design changes back and forth from the old Fleischer design to the later, more streamlined Famous design, which makes its debut in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Many Tanks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 107
To the previous Popeye film: Olive Oyl and Water Don’t Mix
To the next Popeye film: Baby Wants a Bottleship

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: Clyde Geronimi
Release Date: December 17, 1943
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

Chicken Little © Walt DisneyThis Disney short is an original take on the classic fable. It has a clear war message, even though there’s no direct visible link to World War II.

The villain, Foxy Loxy, uses a psychology book, from which he quotes, to lure the inhabitants of a poultry farm into his cave. The inhabitants of the poultry farm are clear representations of contemporary American society, including the upper class (turkeys), female middle class (chicken), male working class (ducks) and the youth (chickens and roosters, whom we see dancing to hot jazz in a short scene).

Foxy Loxy chooses a simpleton called Chicken Little as his main object, making him believe the sky is falling and encouraging him to spread the rumor. Originally, Foxy Loxy was to read from Adolf Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf’. It is not likely that the quotes are really from ‘Mein Kampf’, but they do contain surprisingly true lessons in how to manipulate the masses and how to undermine the present authority.

The film’s clear war message is not to fall for rumors and not to join mass hysteria. The film’s ending is as grim as there ever was one in a classic cartoon. In fact, the vision of a graveyard full of chicken bones is only topped by the similar ending in ‘Education for Death’ from the same year.

‘Chicken Little’ remains a little known Disney film, but its message is surprisingly fresh, and is probably even more valid today in an era in which propaganda and false rumors roam the internet and social media than it was during World War II.

‘Chicken Little’ was to be the last short directed by Clyde Geronimi before his dull comeback in ‘The big wash’ (1948). The Disney studio revisited the fable in 2005 in the feature film ‘Chicken Little’, which has ca. nothing in common with this far more interesting and disturbing short.

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

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