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First addition to my bio since I added one to my profile:
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Making Good (1932)
Average early Lantz sound Oswald
This is a cartoon in the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series produced by Walter Lantz. There will be spoilers ahead:
From my point of view, the most interesting aspect of this cartoon is that Fred "Tex" Avery is listed as one of the artists who worked on it. Otherwise, there's nothing terribly good or bad about it. It's done without dialog and there's some enjoyable animation and a few good gags, but it isn't anything special.
The premise here is that a stork is flying into Fairy Tale Land with a less than welcome bundle. Oswald spots it and races ahead to give various animals warning. The best bot in here is a turtle serving as a taxi after Oswald starts his engine.
Oswald successfully warns an old bird and a family of squirrels before the stork drops a load of bugs on the Old Woman Who Lived In a Shoe and they become here "children". There's a nice bit of animation showing the old lady dancing.
Cue next menace-a puppy which is huge compared to the other characters. A fondness for chewing shoes is established before he spots the old woman's shoe. Oswald tries to save the shoe by calling help by blowing his whistle, but the dog eventually chews up the shoe. Oswald ultimately saves the day in a novel fashion.
This cartoon is available on DVD, Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald, which was produced by Thunderbean. The DVD is well worth getting and this cartoon is worth watching.
It's Everybody's War (1942)
Very good piece of wartime propaganda telling the folks on the home front why they need to sacrifice
This documentary short was nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary, losing to a four-way tie in a crowded field. There will be spoilers ahead:
This is a very well-executed piece of wartime propaganda aimed at getting people at home to do what was needed in order to help the war effort-rationing, buying war bonds, working extra jobs and the like.
It's narrated by Henry Fonda and he talks about "his" small town (unnamed in the film) where, two years before, a National Guard unit with some of the town's "boys" has been called up for active duty. The unit, after training, winds up stationed in the Phillipines. The audience, of course, knows what that means.
As the events of late 1941 and early 1942 unroll again for the people of this town, Fonda narrates how the complacency of the townsfolk first gives way to a burst of activity, only to see most go back to "normal"-until the casualties start to mount and, finally, what's left of their "boys" become prisoners of the Japanese.
The town now fully aware of the stakes, the townsfolk now throw themselves into the war effort completely. The not at all subtle message is that everybody needs to do so because, as the title says, "It's Everybody's War".
Well worth watching if you care to track it down. Recommended.
The Boxtrolls (2014)
The stop motion animation is nice, even if the story is obvious and somewhat derivative
This film was nominated for the Academy Award for Animated Feature, losing to Big Hero 6. There will be spoilers ahead:
I'm of decidedly mixed feelings about this film. On the whole, I did find it enjoyable. The animation is good, the voice work was extremely good, the other technical aspects were decent, the pacing was good. Yet I couldn't escape the relative ordinariness of the plot and the script.
It's an obvious and somewhat derivative script, for one thing. Outsiders shunned by the world and even hunted down for being different. One of them, our hero, decides to fight back, contends against their enemies and wins out.
There's nothing inherently wrong with this. The basic plots of some of the greatest films, books and plays would sound almost as ordinary if stripped to their basics. The problem here is more or less in the execution. Unfortunately, the film hinges on literally every adult being crazy, evil, stupid or some combination of those or it falls apart. Not one of them is able to summon up any sense except one of the main villain's henchmen and he comes to that rather late in the film.
There are two characters who show any determination or intellect for most of the film-Eggs, a human boy raised by the box-trolls and Winnie, the daughter of the town leader, a cheese-obsessed nitwit with the sense God gave a light bulb. Lord Portley-Rind is led down the garden path by the villain, Snatcher (even the character names make plot points obvious from the start). It's obvious just who Eggs is almost immediately and it's just a matter of the film running its course.
There's little in the way of suspense to this and, depending on just how many films like this you've seen, you can just about tick off plot devices as you go, until the guaranteed moment when the villain receives his comeuppance and sentiment turns around in the favor of the outcasts. There's a fair amount to like here, but I wish they'd done a bit more work on the script.
This film is available on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo and it looks particularly nice on Blu-Ray.
The Mild West (1947)
Average at best, even for the studio and series
This is a cartoon in the Screen Songs series produced by Famous Studios. There will be spoilers ahead:
Famous Studios, when they replaced Fleischer, kept the Screen Songs series going, "bouncing ball" and all. They ran the gamut from absolutely horrible to very good. This one's somewhere in the middle of the pack.
It starts out promisingly enough, with what turns out to be one of the best gags in the short-a pan across an urban skyline which abruptly comes to a wall and end with a sign indicating that the west now begins. There follows a whole slew of blackout gags, the majority of which are tepid at best, with some of them quite bad. Two of the better ones involve outlines or silhouettes of girls-which tells you how mediocre most of them are.
The lead in to the singalong is rather strange, as a short cowboy comes out of a chute at a rodeo and basically orders the audience to sing along with him and the "bouncing ball" to "I'm An Old Cow Hand", which is actually about someone who isn't even marginally a cowboy. The singalong is bland and the best thing about this short is the closing gag.
Worth watching once.
Ko-Ko Explores (1927)
Exceptional Koko short, very unusual even for the series
This is a cartoon in the Koko the Clown series produced by Fleischer studio. There will be spoilers ahead:
Koko the Clown was the lead character in a series which started in the silent era, though Koko made the transition into sound and also later became a supporting character in the Betty Boop series. The Koko cartoons in the 1920s were generally very good and pretty much anything could (and often did) happen.
In this one, Max is typing while Koko and Fitz are sitting around. Fitz is playing ball with his own nose! Koko asks Max what they'd be doing today and Max tells him he's working on a scenario with cannibal head-hunters, which shakes the pair up considerably. A cannibal rises up from a globe and takes Max's head. His body is then shown wandering around to the sounds of squawking chickens! Koko and Fitz go into the drawing to look for Max's head and the head-hunter. From this point on, the animated sequences are inter-cut with live action scenes of Max's headless body. I'm not going to spoil the gags by describing them much, because they deserve to be seen, but Koko and Fitz split up, Koko travels widely (and often involuntarily) chasing the cannibal, the pair are reunited and captured to be taken to the chief.
The gags are very good to great and can come at you from out of left field. Some of them are quite odd and very funny. The ending is very good.
This short deserves to be more widely known. Most recommended.
Frozen Fever (2015)
Cute, creative little short with a catchy song
This as an animated short using characters and events from the film Frozen. There will be spoilers ahead:
This is a short cartoon set in the Frozen universe. The short opens with Elsa frantically planning the perfect birthday for Anna. The main problem is, Elsa has a cold and every time she sneezes, she creates little snowmen. Rather active and devious little snowmen, with designs on Anna's birthday cake. This sets up one of the two story lines in the short-a battle between the snowmen on one side and Olaf, Sven and Kristoff trying to save the day and preserve the cake.
Meanwhile, Elsa has gone to wake up Anna for her birthday. Anna has a serious case of bed head when she wakes up. The two sisters get dressed and go on a treasure hunt of sorts, Anna following a string to her presents while Elsa sings her a song between sneezes and the creation of yet more snowmen, which she strangely never notices.
As the two go from point to point, they meet characters from the previous feature and Anna becomes increasingly concerned about Elsa's cold (there's a nice nod to the feature's biggest musical hit at one point) and tries to get her to go home and go to bed so she can get better.
Throughout the short, the action switches between the two plot lines until they join up at the end. There are references back to events and characters in Frozen several times and the ending is rather nice. I suspect we'll be seeing more of the little snowmen in Frozen 2 and that this short was made as a test of sorts for the characters and the animation requirements.
It was released to theaters with the feature Cinderella, but apparently wasn't qualified for some reason for the Animated Short category for the Academy Awards. It's a strong year, so it won't really be missed much. It's an entertaining short, particularly if you like the characters.
This short is on both Blu-Ray and DVD, included on a compilation of recent Disney animated shorts (Walt Disney Animation Studio Short Film Collection) as well being included as an extra on the Cinderella (2015) release. Most recommended.
Bedtime for Sniffles (1940)
Thoroughly charming Christmas cartoon
This is a cartoon in the Sniffles series produced by Warner Brothers studio. There will be spoilers ahead:
While I can typically take or leave most Sniffles cartoons (I like them, but the character is kind of one-dimensional) this one is very sweet and charmingly sentimental. It's a quiet little cartoon-no chase scenes, no cat or other creature to outwit.
It opens with Sniffles singing Jingle Bells and doing some house-cleaning. It's a little before 10:30 on Christmas Eve night and Sniffles is determined to stay awake until Santa comes at midnight. That's it as far as plot goes. We see Sniffles try everything he can think of to stay awake-coffee, pacing, reading.
The pleasure in watching this one lies, in part, in his struggles to stave off sleep in order to see Santa. The beauty of this is in the details around the edges. Sniffles drinks "Haxwell Mouse" coffee, uses cigarette rolling papers as towels and has a garbage can made out of a walnut shell.
Periodically, the passage of time is shown on a "clock" (it's a watch) and Sniffles drifts in and out of wakefulness. When he begins seeing the bed no matter where he looks, it's clear he's all but out. When he sees a ghostly version of himself lying in bed and it beckons him to come to bed, it's all over but the count. The tug of war between Sniffles and his doppelganger is perfectly done and worth the price of admission. The ending is sweet and perfect.
This short is available on The Mouse Chronicles and it and the set are most recommended.
Barney Bear's Victory Garden (1942)
Wartime short has Barney trying to plant a victory garden
This is a short in the Barney Bear series produced by MGM studios. There will be spoilers ahead:
During World War II, given that food was rationed, Americans were encouraged to plant vegetable gardens to supplement their diet and help out the war effort. This short humorously has Barney Bear trying to plant and maintain one with limited success.
The short begins with a narrator telling the audience what is needed to have a victory garden and starts with "Preparing The Soil". It turns out that the ground Barney has to work with is hard and dry. How he finally gets the soil loose enough and turned enough to plant is great and it's also a nod to wartime propaganda.
Then, there's a section on what to plant, with some good to average gags in what is the weakest section of the cartoon. Finally, a gopher enters the scene and the fun begins. There's a running gag here which actually is less flat and stale than I would have thought it would be. Barney spends the rest of the short dealing with the gopher.
The ending of the cartoon is predictable but entertaining and this short is well worth watching. Recommended.
Library of Congress (1945)
Fascinating time capsule of the workings of the Library of Congress circa 1945
This short was nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary, Short Subject, losing to Hitler Lives?. There will be spoilers ahead:
This is a magnificent documentary on the Library of Congress, its purpose and functions and its history and significance. It's fascinating that, for all that some of the technical aspects of the operations of the library have changed to some degree, the basic purposes of the LoC are still the same some 70 years later-it's still the repository of the copyrighted material produced in the US and a working research library, available to Congress and the public.
The short begins in rural Virginia, with a bookmobile and a young boy asking the librarian what the word "copyright" means. In reply, she tells him (or rather, the narrator tells the audience) about the Library of Congress. For the bulk of the short, the history, purpose and workings of the library are shown. The LoC handles, among other things, the recording of copyrights and the storage of copyrighted material. At the time of filming, the library held some six million books, as well as other types of media, such as film and recordings.
Newsreel footage of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson is shown, as is footage of recordings being made in the field of musicians playing "roots" music. The documentary also discusses the inner workings of the LoC, showing the huge card catalog where a patron went to find the listing for a particular book or other media.
The process by which a particular item in the collection is retrieved and mad e available to a patron is shown as well and that too is fascinating. I suspect the process is a bit more streamlined now than it was 70 years ago (for one thing, the rows of files for the card catalog have undoubtedly been replaced by this point) the end result is the same.
This short is a most intriguing look into the past and is well worth seeking out and watching. Recommended.
1001 Arabian Nights (1959)
Entertaining, if very uneven, feature film from UPA
This is a feature-length film using the character of Mr. Magoo and produced by UPA. There will be spoilers again:
This is a very nice looking and even charming film, but the whole is much less than the sum of its parts. Mr. Magoo, in theory the star of the film (the character's name appears before the title does) is really a supporting player used effectively as comic relief. The film tries to do far too much and winds up doing very little sufficiently well to carry the film. It tries to be a musical, even going so far as to give Magoo a musical number, but the songs don't really work all that well.
It becomes mostly a romance with the entrance of Aladdin and his falling in love with the princess, but it really doesn't carry things off all that well. All the basic plot points are here-the bad guy, the lamp, the genie, a magic carpet (there's a neat little running gag here which has the carpet becoming fond of Magoo) and yet the film never really fully comes together as it needs to do in order to succeed.
This is unfortunate, because the film is nice visually and the voice work, particularly Jim Backus as Magoo and Herschel Bernardi as the genie and there are more than enough good jokes that this could have been very good. There's a lot to like here. I just wish it held together better.
This film is available on DVD as part of a set of the Mr. Magoo theatrical shorts, with the film taking the fourth disc in the set. The set is worth getting for the shorts and the film is worth watching.
'Eliza on the Ice' (1944)
Pretty much a typical Mighty Mouse short, except this one will offend a lot of people
This is a cartoon in the Mighty Mouse series produced by Terrytoons studio. There will be spoilers ahead:
This, in many respects, is your basic Mighty Mouse cartoon-the first two-thirds of this sets up a peril which befalls a heroine, with the villain creating problems and then, just when it looks hopeless, Mighty Mouse is called in to save the day. But the heroine is Eliza, from Uncle Tom's Cabin, the villain is Simon Legree and the peril is the chase across the ice. Somehow, I suspect Harriet Beecher Stowe is whirling in her grave!
There's a jazz band and Uncle Remus comes bopping in while Eliza and Legree are standing around. Uncle Remus gives the signal to start the chase, after asking the various participants (including the bloodhounds) if they're ready and then off everybody goes.
The gags are largely standard for Terrytoons, although there are a few which are relatively novel and some with racial connotations/stereotypes. There's a nice gag with regard to the ice floes on the river and how that begins. There's also a joke where Eliza and her baby are stoking the furnace on a train with something unusual and very stereotypical. A lot of people would blow a gasket just on this gag alone.
After roughly two-thirds of the short is over, Eliza is in trouble, but Little Eva places a call to Mighty Mouse from her perch on a cloud and he comes in to save the day. Standard Mighty Mouse ending, down to the superfluous ending peril so that Mighty Mouse can show off.
Worth seeing, but if you're easily offended, you might want to pass on seeing this one.
Mad Melody (1931)
Exceedingly strange cartoon, even for an early Van Beuren sound cartoon
This is a cartoon in the Aesop's Fables series produced by Van Beuren studio. There will be spoilers ahead:
Van Beuren cartoons could be quite strange, particularly the early ones. This one is an excellent example of that. It has the usual hallmarks of an early 1930s cartoon-rubbery limbs, rough synchronization of sound and picture and so on. The gags are very odd ones, even for the studio and the time frame.
We see a lion at a piano, apparently trying to compose a melody. He gets frustrated, starts speaking vehemently in what sounds like German and begins pacing the floor-and his piano does likewise! After they settle back to work, a monkey comes in, words are exchanged and the monkey goes to the back of the piano with a brush and a dustpan. Musical notes flow out of the piano onto the floor and the monkey brushes most of them into the dustpan and drops them back into the piano. The monkey soon has a close and hilarious encounter with a note in what might be the best gag in the short.
The lion leaves after putting on a cape with a mind of its own and we cut to the next scene-the front of an opera house billing a new opera and the audience flowing into the building. There's an extended bit involving a hippo in the wrong seat and a monkey who has the ticket for that seat. It's funny with a great gag at the end.
The lion is now the conductor and an odd opera begins. There's everything you might expect in a cartoon opera, including a lengthy fight scene and then the short ends with the lion playing his piano to a surprise conclusion, which I won't spoil here.
This cartoon is well worth seeing.
Grape Nutty (1949)
The last short in the series from Screen Gems and it's average at best
This is the last cartoon in the Fox and Crow series produced by Screen Gems for Columbia studio, although UPA did three more after production closed in 1946. There will be spoilers ahead:
This is the last Fox and Crow done by Screen Gems, produced several years before its release in 1949. Columbia was unhappy with the cartoons they were getting and struck a deal with UPA. There's nothing terribly special about this short. The voices are different and don't sound right to me, for one thing. The gags are predictable more so than usual for another.
Fox and Crow are peaceably sitting together, reading and eating grapes, when Crow tells Fox he's reading about a fox and a crow fighting over a bunch of grape (there was another Fox and Crow cartoon, Fox and Grapes). They find the idea that they would fight like that absurd.
Then they both decide they want the last grape. Things escalate in a predictable, though largely unfunny, arc. Most of the gags are decent. The problem is that they're old and familiar. Even the ending is obvious.
Still, the short is worth watching at least once.
Punchy de Leon (1950)
The last of three in the series done by UPA ends the series well
This is a cartoon in the Fox and the Crow series and was produced by UPA studio. There will be spoilers ahead:
When UPA got hired by Columbia to produce animated shorts for them, a condition of this was that they use the characters of the Fox and the Crow. UPA did three cartoons with the character, with the first Magoo cartoon produced in that stretch. Punchy De Leon was the fourth cartoon produced and it's both a typical Fox and Crow cartoon and a typical UPA cartoon. It's possibly the weakest of the three shorts produced by UPA, it's still an extremely good cartoon.
Fox and Crow are partners when they see a poster offering a reward for the Fountain of Youth and they decide to run a scam on the king. They try to con the king, but he wants proof before he pays them. He asks where the fountain is and they come up with "Florida". They become rivals when the king offers a reward to whichever on brings proof back first.
Most of the rest of the short is the two one-upping each other in an attempt to get back first. They actually find the fountain and there are some great gags as first Crow and then Fox try to get water from the fountain. They then proceed to cheat, steal and con each other in an effort to win. The gags are great, so I won't spoil them here.
They get back and they're still wrestling each other when they appear before the king again. The closing gag is vintage UPA and fits with the series. It's a good note on which to end the series.
This short is available on DVD as part of a set of UPA Jolly Frolics cartoons and it and the set are well worth getting. Recommended.
Viva Willie (1934)
The final short in the series is average at best, but is saved by the last gag
This is the last cartoon in the Willie Whopper series produced by Iwerks studio. There will be spoilers ahead:
The Willie Whopper series came to a close with this cartoon, the thirteenth one released theatrically and the fourteenth one made. In some ways, it's the antithesis of a Willie Whopper cartoon.
The short begins with Willie and Goofy playing Cowboys and Indians, when they come up to a movie theater and see a figure of Wallace Beery. When Goofy expresses admiration for Beery, that launches Willie into a tall tale about himself in the old West.
The trouble is, given that Willie's stories generally puff him up to be someone special, for most of the cartoon, he comes off as comedy relief rather than as a hero. He's seen playing a harmonica while riding, only to swallow it by accident. One long, bumpy and musically noisy ride later, Willie and his horse arrive at a cantina and Willie goes inside.
Willie's girlfriend, Mary, is a blonde-haired senorita dancing in the cantina. She dances over to the bad guy's table and smacks him when he makes a pass. Willie comes over when Mary cries out, but the harmonica sounds he makes aren't terribly intimidating and the bad guy brushes him off and then starts shooting at Willie, who fares poorly. A gunfight ensues and the bad guy escapes with Mary.
Meanwhile, Willie's horse has been drinking beer from a barrel and is drunk. Willie gives chase, drunk horse and all. there's a nice gag involving a pair of lariats and Mary actually gives the villain more grief than Willie does. There's a good gag with the bad guy's horse and a cliff and then the bad guy reaches his hideout the hard way.
Willie busts into the hideout, but is ineffective and the bad guys laugh at him and he catches the bad guys through sheer coincidence. The last gag is the best gag in the short and I'm a bit surprised it made it past the censors.
This cartoon along with the others in the series, is available on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Thunderbean and the set is great.
Pencil Mania (1932)
Fascinating cartoon which plays with the conventions of animation
This is a cartoon in the Tom and Jerry series produced by Van Beuren studio. There will be spoilers ahead:
The "other" Tom and Jerry duo (the human ones from Van Beuren) were actually pretty good, all things considered. For a bottom of the ladder studio, which Van Beuren most decidedly was, the Tom and Jerrys typically had a peculiar quality to them which made up for the marginal production values inherent to the studio.
This starts out with Tom doing a portrait of a dancing cow. Jerry comes along and the short starts getting even stranger. He takes a blob of paint into a pen and draws an ovoid in the sky. It falls on Tom and cracks like an egg and the chase is on. Tom tries to get the pen to work but can't. Jerry whittles a point and the shavings become wooden shoes, which are then danced on as if there are a xylophone.
Suddenly, pretty much everything morphs into something else and the cartoon becomes surreal. Then Jerry draws three fruit/vegetable shapes, which sing, "Yes, We Have No Bananas". Jerry then elongates two of them into the standard couple in a melodrama and later makes the third shape into the villain and the bulk of the rest of the cartoon becomes a melodrama, with Jerry stepping in to draw solutions or dilemmas, seemingly on a whim. The ending is very good, so I won't spoil that here.
This cartoon, along with all the other cartoons in the series, are available on a two-disc DVD set from Thunderbean and it and the set are recommended.
A Ship Is Born (1942)
Paint-by-numbers propaganda with a little interesting information
This documentary was nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary in a very crowded field, losing to four winners. There will be mild spoilers ahead:
While this is officially supposed to be a look at the making of a cargo ship (referred to here as a "victory ship", but what most people would better recognize referenced as a "Liberty ship") it is nothing more than another cheer-leading short to tell the people on the home front that their contributions to the war effort were absolutely vital.
There's a speech by one of the shipyard workers (most likely an actor) who talks about the different places various component parts are manufactured and then shipped to the yard, the inference being that men and women from all over the US have a hand in making each ship, not just the shipyard workers.
There's a bit of narration about mom and dad and sis all contributing scrap metal, rubber and so on, all of which was necessary in order for the ship seen here, the "Fred Morris", can be launched. We then go to a scene where we see the start of the training program for the Merchant Marines and the diverse backgrounds of the men being trained. This short is now essentially a boost and a recruiting tool for the Merchant Marines. This covers the training and the various specialties needed.
Once again, the drumbeat of, "Everyone is in this and must be for us to win", making it clear that the Merchant Marines, like every other branch of service, is comprised of regular, ordinary folks-like you, or your son.
This short is worth seeing once.
The Iron Giant (1999)
One of the best animated films of the last fifty years
This combination hand-drawn/computer animation film was the directorial debut of Brad Bird. There will be spoilers ahead:
This is an extraordinary mix of two different animation techniques and it manages this amazingly well. Based on an excellent novel by Ted Hughes, though it was critically acclaimed (deservedly so) it performed poorly in its initial run at the theaters, probably because the marketing left much to be desired. It's managed to find its audience through home video and word of mouth and it now gets the appreciation it deserves.
I'll just to a basic synopsis of the plot and discuss the technical aspects a bit. Set in 1957, just after Sputnik's launch, a huge robot crashes just off the coast of Maine. It comes ashore and eventually meets a young boy named Hogarth. After a series of misadventures and the robot's near destruction and recovery, Hogarth starts teaching the robot various things through reading him comic books. The robot is impressed with Superman.
Needless to say, the crash of the robot and his actions draw the attention of the authorities, represented by a smarmy jackass working as an FBI agent and an Army general. Hogarth tries to hide the robot, which, given its size, is no easy task. He gets the help of a proto-hippie/beatnik/sculptor who runs the junkyard (this comes in handy, because the robot eats metal).
The FBI and the military become aware of the robot eventually and through a series of misunderstandings and outright lies, the military moves to destroy the robot, even to the point of setting up a nuclear strike from a sub. The jackass government agent sets in motion certain destruction of the town, only to have the robot perform an heroic act to save everyone. The ending of the film is perfect.
The technical aspects of the film are great, from a top-notch script through great voice work, magnificent animation, a perfect score for the film and the timing is excellent. The film won a good many animation awards and was lauded by critics at the time. It's a fantastic film.
This film is available on DVD and was released on Blu-Ray this year (2015) in a "Signature Edition", which I have yet to see. Regardless, this film is most highly recommended.
Extremely good short, visually interesting and with more than a touch of the fey about it
This short was nominated for the Academy Award for Animated Short, losing to Mr. Hublot. There will be spoilers ahead:
I came to this short not really knowing what to expect. I'm not terribly enamored of anime's visual look most of the time, though the stills and clips I'd seen looked good. It impressed me more than I thought it would and the short as a whole is quite impressive.
I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, because the short is best encountered with as much left unknown to the viewer. A traveler caught in a storm (his hat blows away at the start) takes refuge for the night in a shrine, apparently a shrine for the dead.
He goes to sleep, only to awaken suddenly to find himself in different surroundings and with the first of a series of odd encounters facing him. He spends a good deal of time adapting to some strange challenges, literally pulling things from the box he carries to do what's needed.
He faces the ultimate challenge and quietly prays to the spirits of the shrine. The resolution of the short is beautiful, with just the right touch of whimsy.
This is available on Blu-Ray and DVD (Short Peace) and is well worth watching. Recommended.
Jungle Jitters (1934)
Cartoon about cannibals, with a Betty Boop look-alike
This is a cartoon in the Willie Whopper series produced by Iwerks studio. There will be spoilers ahead:
This cartoon is going to offend a fair number of people, as it features not only a basically topless Betty Boop clone, but an island full of cannibals as well.
Willie Whopper is seen on a raft in his yard and then starts telling Goofy about the tie he was shipwrecked and we see him in the ocean. Looking through a spyglass, he spots a dark-haired version of Mary, his girlfriend, looking a bit like Betty Boop as well. He starts paddling his raft with glee, using a guitar as an oar. A wave sweeps him onto the island, knocking over the girl. She starts chewing Willie out until he starts playing his guitar.
A strange looking bird starts dancing to Willie's playing and then they hear drums playing and start running from cannibals. They're caught and taken to the chief. There's a very funny gag involving the chief's cigar and another gag where the chief envisions Willie as a pig with an apple in its mouth. Willie is taken to a cook (a Stepin Fechit caricature) who is supposed to cook Willie, but Willie pulls out some dice.
Cut to the chief and the girl, with the girl again basically topless and making a fool out of the chief. Music starts and a table is placed before the chief. There are a couple of good gags and then Willie and the girl escape. They jump off a cliff and are rescued from a pond by a friendly elephant. The ending is cute, so I won't spoil it here.
This short, along with all the Willie Whopper cartoons, is now available on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo released by Thunderbean and the set is well worth getting.
Cave Man (1934)
The dinosaur is the best character here
This is a cartoon in the Willie Whopper series produced by Iwerks studio. There will be spoilers ahead:
This is more like Willie Whopper does Tarzan than Willie Whopper as cave man, for all that he faces a dinosaur. Much of the time he's on screen, Willie is swinging on a vine and his best bits are more Tarzan than anything else.
The plot is simple-Willie is telling Goofy all about the dinosaur he caught. We first see Willie of the jungle and then we see a dinosaur. The dinosaur first eats what looks like a grass hut on a tree, only to have it turn out to be a rather disturbed bird which flies away. After Willie winds up at his place, we see the dinosaur at another tree.
The dinosaur then starts snuggling up to the tree and shaking the house, which just happens to be Mary's house. Mary is wearing a rather unusual outfit. It keeps changing in size and areas of coverage. Anyhow, the dinosaur pushes its way through the door, only to have Mary fight it off (she actually does a better job of this than Willie does).
Only after Mary runs out of stuff to throw at the dinosaur does she call Willie for help, on a telephone, of all things. Willie eventually gets to the phone and heads over to help Mary. By the time he gets there, her house is basically gone. Willie's main contribution is blowing pepper in the dinosaur's nose and the bulk of the remainder of the cartoon is sneezing gags. The dinosaur is defeated and the short ends on a gag which will offend a lot of people.
This short, along with all the other Willie Whopper cartoons, is now available on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo released by Thunderbean. The set is well worth getting.
Rasslin' Round (1934)
Average effort at best
This is a short in the Willie Whopper series produced by Iwerks studio. There will be spoilers ahead:
For some reason, I wasn't overly impressed by this cartoon, though I am a bit curious as to whether or not Chuck Jones or Michael Maltese saw this one at any point before doing Bunny Hugged, which is a much superior wrestling cartoon.
Willie is shining the shoes of a large man reading a paper and it may well be obvious to everyone but Willie who this will eventually turn out to be, particularly after Willie decides to tell one of his "whoppers".
Willie tells all about the night he beat the champ. It starts out with Willie being unable to even hold his own against a trainer! Willie gets roughed up getting a friendly rub down and then takes a shower. There are some stereotype gags in this short.
We see the march into the ring, with Mary in the crowd. There, the ref is also the announcer and he tears sheets off a roll of toilet paper as he introduces the two. The time keeper has an odd way to ring the bell and the match begins.
There's a fair amount of reused footage in here, mainly the re-use of one gag several times where a swarthy fan of Willie's exhorts him to "Geeve eat to heam, Willie!" in a thick Mexican accent. Willie actually gets the worst of it in the match starting out, until he and Mary cheat. Willie covers himself in cold cream to make himself too slippery and then proceeds to tire the champ into submission.
The ending of the short is rather obvious and not terribly funny or novel. Still the short looks reasonably nice and it and the other shorts in the series are now available on a Blu-Ray/ DVD combo released by Thunderbean, which is very nice and well worth getting.
Wartime propaganda done reasonably well, largely a curio at this point
This documentary short was nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary in a very large field, losing to four documentaries which tied. There will be mild spoilers ahead:
Henry A. Wallace was an interesting, even curious, choice for this type of wartime propaganda. First of all, he was the Vice President at the time and that job wasn't even remotely held in any esteem then. It was considered a dead end suitable for a non-entity. Second, Wallace was from the far left wing of the Democratic party. Third, Wallace clearly wasn't the most dynamic speaker and it shows here. The short turns out reasonably well for propaganda and does so largely in spite of Wallace rather than because of him.
This is, according to the text in the beginning, a speech Wallace gave at a dinner and was reprised here for the benefit of the American people. That it is propaganda is clear. Several times it refers to the Nazis as devils, Satan is their ally and so on and it brings in the Bible toward the end, quoting scripture to describe the cause on our side.
The purpose of this is the same as the purpose of much of the propaganda produced during the war-to explain to the people on the home front just how vital it was for them to keep up the hard work and sacrifice because it was needed for the allies to achieve complete victory. Through effective use of music and newsreel footage, the importance of the work on the home front is thrust in the faces of the audience, along with stirring proclamations about this being a "people's war".
A surprising amount of this was very left wing in tone, including a specific reference to the Communist revolution in Russia (understandable, given that the Russians were our allies and therefore one of the "free" peoples fighting the good fight against Satan's henchmen, the Nazis.
This documentary is seriously dated and is clearly, as with most propaganda, a product of its time. It's still worth watching if you're interested in the subject.
Reducing Creme (1934)
Not a good day for Willie or his cat
This is a cartoon in the Willie Whopper series produced by Iwerks studio. There will be spoilers ahead:
This one starts out with Willie and his girlfriend Mary watching a neon sign ad for a reducing creme (a larger figure is in place, creme is poured over the figure and it becomes smaller). Mary wants Willie to try it to lose some weight, which triggers another one of his tales.
Cut to a cat tormenting a mouse. As the cat does this, Willie starts going after a jar on a high shelf. His efforts harm and annoy the cat, which retaliates by knocking over a stool, causing Willie to fall and a jar of reducing creme on his head and covering his body.
The creme reduces Willie to the size of a mouse, so the cat starts tormenting Willie. Willie spends much of the short fending off the cat. There's a minor romantic sub-plot between a man and a woman in a kitchen and it plays into one of the nicer bits of action and the mouse re-enters at the end for a nice bit of business, but otherwise, this is between Willie and the cat.
Willie finds a relatively novel way to regain his full size and thoroughly frighten the cat and then there's the end. I won't spoil it here.
This short, along with all the other cartoons in the Wllie Whopper series, are now available on a Blu Ray/DVD combo released from Thunder been. Well worth watching.
Insultin' the Sultan (1934)
Very good cartoon in the series
This is a cartoon in the Willie Whopper series produced by Iwerks studio. There will be spoilers ahead:
I'm not overly enthusiastic about the Willie Whoppers for the most part, but I like this one. It uses a framing device, with Willie relating his tall tale to his friend, Goofy, in the middle of class.
His claim this time is that he and his girlfriend Mary were sightseeing in Constantinople. There are some great gags in here, like a snake which pulls the lid on its basket because the snake charmer is asleep and snoring. Willie and Mary stop in front of an auction for dancing girls. Given that this cartoon was made some 80 years ago, it almost goes without saying that there's "offensive" material in here (matter of fact, there's probably something in here to offend pretty much everybody). The sultan rejects two girls for various reasons.
Meanwhile, the snake, having spotted Willie and Mary, delivers a rather funny vocal resignation to the sleeping charmer and follows them. It then is the center of some jokes which are rather risqué for the 1930s and also trigger the meat of the cartoon, in that when Mary realizes there's a snake, she freaks out and winds up on the auction platform, where the sultan is smitten with her and buys her.
Willie tries to get her back when he realizes something's wrong and then gives chase, using the snake as a means of transportation. The sultan's slaves are black stereotypes, of course. Willie follows the sultan to his palace, where we see Mary is a horrible dancer, but that doesn't bother the sultan, who has other ideas.
Willie gets in and the sultan knocks him out of the room and he bounces into the harem. The women in the harem all jump on Willie and start kissing him, but Willie gets free and tries to leave. There's a gag in here involving the harem guards that I'm not going to spoil. Willie gets out of the harem and goes back to fight the sultan.
He and the sultan start wrestling and Willie sends the sultan spinning, with the sultan turning into a barber pole and shedding clothes. The closing gag of the scene is good, so I won't spoil it here. Cut back to Willie in the classroom and the final joke of the cartoon, which is perfect.
This short, along with all the others in the series, are now available on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo released by Thunderbean. The shorts look great and this short and the set are recommended.