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Reviews

Mickey's Mellerdrammer
(1933)

Low Budget Melodrama Gone Array
Mickey and the gang put on a low budget play of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Hilarity ensues when an unruly audience heckles the performance.

The source material was still well known decades after it was published and stage plays were commonplace. This provides some degree of historical context of this highly problematic short. Mickey and Clarabelle in blackface make it all the more troubling.

It's been noted that during post production, the staff went back and re-did several scenes to improve the production value. (The animation draft thoroughly documents all the changes). It resulted in another step towards stronger character animation and a more believable "illusion of life." Horace getting pelted with fruit in the end looks very painful, but well timed (poor Horace!).

Despite the minor achievement in artistic advancement, this short falls flat. The stereotypes and (dumb) blackface gags repulse (despite the audiences' apparent disdain of the in-universe portrayal of Simon Legree, the cruel slave-owner). It does serve as an important reminder of the progress American society has made in the decades since.

So Dear to My Heart
(1948)

So So Disney
Disney started to venture into live action in the post war years to keep the studio alive and functional.

This was their second predominantly live action film, with animated sequences. The child actors from Song Of The South were recast as the main characters with Burl Ives as a supporting character.

Disney's initial live action films lacked the artistic quality of the animated counterparts. As much as I enjoy Walt's postwar films, I find this one in particular a little underwhelming. Unlike Song Of The South, the animated sequences don't particularly stand out in that they're not integral to the overall story. I kind of wish they made it fully animated. But, knowing the situation at the studio at the time, it makes sense why they made it live action. Some of the songs, Burl Ives performance, and the Technicolor photography are the strongest elements.

Unlike Song Of The South, this film hasn't been shelved, but it hasn't been easy to acquire past the analog age. Even then, I wasn't aware of the film.

If you're a true Disney fan, definitely look into it.

The Black Cauldron
(1985)

Disney's Darkest Film
The last of the Disney crew that had been with the studio since Snow White retired after the release of The Fox And The Hound. The baton was passed onto the next generation of artists.

Unfortunately, like most newly established crews, their first film was not successful. It was a critical and commercial failure. So much so that it took over a decade for it to see the light of day again. Is it as bad as critics and fans have made it out to be? Not really.

There are a lot of great elements in this film. Some of them were not utilized to the fullest extent. The basic idea of a boy joining forces with a princess and another supporting man echoes the strong points of Star Wars. The relationship between Taran and the Princess was good. I compare it to the Ghibli film Castle In The Sky, which came out the following year. In fact, I can imagine, Miyazaki seeing this film, during production, and thinking "we can do this much better with the film we're currently working on"

The three witches were also entertaining (much more so than Madam Mim). Orwen's infatuation with Ffleuder was funny and mildly naughty.

Unlike some fans, I found Gurgi to be more cute than annoying. They mishandled his cowardly nature. His redemption at the end was a sad moment.

I reckon the dark and grotesque moments did not endure movie goers whom were not accustomed to that in a Disney film.

Overall, this is a Disney film worth seeking out. Maybe not the best for younger children, but definitely an unappreciated classic.

The Little Mole
(1941)

A Beautifully Crafted Film With Conflicted Story
Hugh Harman's last films for MGM are his best work. While no longer an independent producer, he succeeded in competing with Disney in the visual sense, but not with story and characters.

The Little Mole is a perfect example of a visually impressive film with haphazard story. A child mole, who cannot see very well in the sunlight, mistakes a trash dump for a castle. A traveling skunk salesman, Primrose Skunk, reveals this to him after selling him a pair of glasses and encourages him to see the world. Primrose Skunk is supposedly a con man, based on his smooth talking demeanor and theme song, despite that he doesn't really do anything deceiving.

The glasses break after a fall and the mole falls into a rushing river. We then see various flashbacks to his mother warning him to be careful and Primrose Skunk's advice. These don't make a whole lot of sense.

The mole is somehow washed back on the bank near his burrow and is home safe. The short ends with him and his mother admiring "his castle."

I'm guessing that Harman's intended moral was home is where you're safe, but the ending shot of the trash dump from the perspective of the mole comes across as "ignorance is bliss."

A beautifully crafted film with top notch personality animation, but a troubling narrative.

The Stork's Holiday
(1943)

Mr. Stork Walks Out
During WWII, the birth rate dropped and this obscure cartoon provides a clever explanation, the Stork quit. He recalls getting ambushed by anti-aircraft missiles while making a routine delivery.

This would be George Gordon's only direction screen credit. The five cartoons he directed take a lot of inspiration from the Donald and Pluto shorts from this timeframe. Specifically the basic situations. They have a distinctive style from Avery and Hanna-Barbera, but still maintain the MGM house style.

Disney story veterans Otto Englander and Webb Smith are credited as the writers for this short. The suspenseful mood of Disney's darker films carries over here. The anthropomorphic weapons and military equipment looks reminiscent of some of Disney's propaganda films from the same timeframe. The fact that there's little movement or expression makes them menacing, while still cartoony at the same time. The most clever touches of the film.

While a product of WWII, it's more entertaining and timely nowadays, because of the baby boom that would come just two years later.

A very richly illustrated gem, worth seeking out.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears
(1939)

Harman's Goldilocks
After Harman and Ising lost their contract with MGM, their former colleague/competitor Walt Disney gave them some work to do. He subcontacted a few cartoons that had been in production for a few years, but had not yielded a satisfactory storyline. Merbabies was one of these.

Disney had produced many adaptations of fairy tales for the Silly Symphonies and was underway on translating these for features. One of the stories was Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Disney had been developing the story as a Silly Symphony for most of the 1930s.

Although Harman was not the adept storyteller that Walt was, this short could very well have passed as a Disney cartoon had RKO not intervened with their agreement. The characters do not recite the dialogue from the story word for word. Instead it carries out in a natural flow. The characters are more fleshed out and have unique personalities. The Papa bear is the most entertaining of the four characters. (I wonder who voiced him).

The length however is over ten minutes. Walt would have probably condensed some of the action if his involvement lasted through production. I imagine the Disney personnel had a lot to do with how the picture turned out though, just considering how effective they were with adapting existing stories to screen.

A very engaging and entertaining mood piece.

Petunia Natural Park
(1939)

MGM's Travelogue Parody
Tex Avery's WB cartoon, THE ISLE OF PINGO PONGO must have caused a sensation in Hollywood. It was the first cartoon to feature a collection of sight gags centered around a theme with an offscreen narrator.

Friz Freleng, a colleague of Tex, was at MGM at the time of its release and no doubt took inspiration from it. During this time, he was working on The Captain And The Kids series, which he and the exhibitors despised.

This entry uses the travelogue format that Avery had parodied. The offscreen narrator (I wonder who the voice is) shows the viewer around Petunia Natural Park, intermittently showcasing the misadventures of the family.

Tex must have taken some of the gags from this short, as they will later reappear in DETOURING AMERICA and WACKY WILD LIFE. They're better executed in those shorts.

This is also one of the only entries in the series that was produced in Technicolor.

Now difficult to find, but worth seeking out.

The Honduras Hurricane
(1938)

Epic Rooster Fight
The Caprain and the Kids cartoon series is generally considered to be a critical failure. That isn't really a fair assessment considering the top-notch animation and sharp timing. However, the lack of success might have to do with the sudden drop in budget after MGM cancelled its contract with Harman and Ising.

This short is one of the best in the series. Long John makes a bet with the Captain, against his will, in a cock fight. The stake is the Captain's house. Unfortunately, the Captain's rooster is no match for Long John's rooster. With the ingenuity of Hans and Fritz, this match becomes interesting.

The animation and timing are very sharp. It would be nice to know who the principle animators were in this series. Despite the lesser budgets, these shorts were beautifully crafted. If MGM better observed the makings of an A- cartoon when they started their own animation department, the series may have had better success.

Like the other odds and ends of the MGM animation library, hopefully this and the other entries in the series will get a proper release.

Honeyland
(1935)

A Bee-Dazzling Picture
Harman and Ising were making strides in their cartoons shortly after their arrival at MGM. Disney's exclusive use of 3-strip Technicolor ended in 1935, which allowed other studios to make use of it. Harman and Ising's cartoons really took off once they started to use Technicolor.

Ising, like Harman, fancied atmospheric cartoons, but was better at making his characters relatable. This short opens with elaborate shots of wide eyed bees producing honey in an assembly line factory, singing a catchy original tune. The plot involves a cute romance between two bees and a spider villain.

Some of the plot, and mostly the setting, comes from Ising's earlier short for Warner Bros. YOU'RE TOO CARELESS WITH YOUR KISSES, which also featured bees and a spider. The jump in production quality in less than three years is staggering.

The only criticism viewers may have is the ten minute length (typical for a Happy Harmony) but every moment is a feast for the eyes.

Harman and Ising really succeeded in capturing the visual and musical essence of the Disney cartoons.

The Bookworm Turns
(1940)

My Polysyllabical Allocution Precludes the Communication of the Profundities of my Lucubration
The Bookworm and the unnamed crow return for mote hijinks. This time Dr. Jekyll convinces the crow that he needs a brain. He performs an experiment that leaves the crow and the bookworm too big for their britches.

Hugh Harman continued to produce very lush cartoons once he returned to MGM. He never mastered story telling and as a result the continuity of his shorts tend to be very uneven. He also resisted comedy and some have criticized his attempts.

This short however manages to wow with impressive effects animation while containing some nuanced comedy. Mel Blanc's performance and dialogue with the crow, moreso after he gets a brain, is hilarious. And unlike many of Harman's other MGM shorts, this one is solid from start to finish; No uneven conclusions. The crows last line is especially funny how the viewer almost anticipates him swearing.

Some sources arrtibute authorship to Friz Freleng, but he was long gone by the time production started.

The sequence of the bookworm going through the glass tubes is reused from an earlier MGM short titled BOTTLES.

Unfortunately, this has never been released on any video format. We must lobby WB for a complete collection of the Harman-Ising cartoons.

Jungle Jitters
(1938)

Al Pierce In Africa
One of Freleng's last entries before heading to MGM takes us to Darkest Africa.

The Al Pierce radio program was a rich source of humor for the 1937-38 WB cartoons and that has made many of them a challenge to understand. The salesman Elmer Blurt is caricatured as a Goofy like dog attempting to sell merchandise to a cannibal tribe, only to end up on the menu. The wacky Tizzie Lish is caricatured as the caucasian queen of the tribe.

The use of African stereotypes, the cliched cannibal trope, has kept this short off the airwaves and official video release for decades. However, its public domain status has made it easily accessible.

Racial imagery aside, many fans really despise this short. The dated Al Pierce references are no doubt a factor. It definitely isn't a great cartoon, but comes across as silly and as, what one trade paper review described, "highly amusing."

Aside from a couple amusing moments with the salesman and some brisk pacing, there isn't much to see. The stereotypes repulse and the dated references have lost their context over time.

Angel Puss
(1944)

And This Time Brother, Us Ain't Kiddin'
Compared to the other directors at Schlesinger's, Jones was probably the most minor offender when it came to using racial stereotypes. The Inki cartoons, for the most part, were benign aside from Inki's basic design.

ANGEL PUSS sticks out like a sore thumb in Jones' filmography. In addition to negative stereotypes, animal abuse is played for laughs, which has made it the most disliked entry of the fabled Censored 11. A black boy named Sambo is paid to drown a cat, but the cat gets away and pretends to be a ghost; Playing on the cliche that African Americans were supposedly afraid of ghosts. It is unclear whether the cat himself is an African-American character or if he is mocking the dialect.

Unlike some of the other celebrated Censored 11 shorts, there aren't really any redeeming qualities. It's slow and not at all interesting. The only artistic value that this short really has is the layouts, blue color scheme, and Jones' signature poses and facial expressions.

It has been pointed out that some movie goers protested the stereotypes in this short during its original release. I have long wondered how some of the directors felt about some of their un-pc work when it became unacceptable in later years. It has been said that Jones himself avoided talking about this short. Which is unfortunate, since we may never know how this sole blatantly racist short in Jones' filmography came about.

Compressed Hare
(1961)

Are You In-Genius?
I always found it interesting that Chuck Jones occasionally gave the Coyote a voice. Yet, his over the top ego makes him a less sympathetic character than his pantomime role in the Road Runner shorts. His interactions with Bugs were usually entertaining in how Bugs never takes him seriously.

This is probably the best pairing between Bugs and the Coyote. Bugs' facial expression when he reads genius on the Coyote's mailbox was priceless. He's like, "you gotta be kidding me." Interestingly there isn't a whole lot of dialogue between the two, but their exchanges consist of verbal puns.

Jones revisits the chain reaction gag he did several years earlier in TRAP HAPPY PORKY (1945).

The sound effects of the Coyote's magnet going array is harsh on the ears, but the results are still funny. Bugs' comment on the US being the first country to blast a coyote into orbit was no doubt a tongue in cheek reference to the dismay the nation felt a few years earlier when the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite into orbit.

One of the better shorts from the final years of the fabled WB animation studio. Hopefully this'll make it on DVD in the future.

My Favorite Duck
(1942)

My Mama Done Told Me...
Chuck Jones found his groove beginning with his 1942 releases. In fact, his unit started a new trend in animation with smear techniques and stylized backgrounds. Something that wouldn't become mainstream for at least another decade. For the longest time, I didn't realize this short was from the early 40s, because of how modern it looks. (Compare the scene with Daffy against the white background with similar scenes from DUCK AMUCK over a decade later and see how different Daffy is drawn; it's a subtle indicator of the timeframe)

Jones also started to move Daffy in a different direction. He's still very much the screwy and obnoxious Daffy, but Jones doesn't let him get away with it. As funny as zany Daffy can be, here he is an unsympathetic character and one enjoys seeing him get comeuppance in the end.

As mentioned, the most striking parts are the stylized backgrounds (I reckon John McGrew did the layouts). The pallette is very subtle but attractive. I was surprised when the restoration revealed how subtle the greens and blues were originally. (If only the original titles can be located).

A very solid early Jones cartoon.

Herr Meets Hare
(1945)

There Is No Las Vegas In Germany
WB produced the most entertaining propaganda of WWII. Clampett's and Tashlin's shorts are among the wildest propaganda Hollywood ever produced. Compared to those, Freleng's HERR MEETS HARE looks very tame at first glance, but it's a strong entry in its own right.

It has been pointed out that this is a Bugs Bunny first in a couple regards. This marks the first time Bugs makes a wrong turn at Albuquerque. Bugs' cross dressing in this short is a foreshadow, if not inspiration, of Jones' WHAT'S OPERA DOC more than a decade later.

While it wouldn't play well to current audiences due to irreverent Nazi humor, there is a lot of great comedy to see. The hawk's remark on Goering and the exchange between Bugs and Goering is priceless. There is also a subtle reference to the pop tune turned Disney short DER FUEHER'S FACE in the soundtrack when Goering attempts to get Bugs out of the hole with a plunger.

The irony of this short is that shortly after it was released, Hitler would commit suicide and Goering would do the same after his capture.

The Bon Bon Parade
(1935)

Boy's Candy Fantasy
Columbia's cartoon legacy has been largely forgotten in recent decades, some of it for good reason. There are some gems to be found in their library. To their credit, they did make some very polished cartoons, although not as imaginative as Disney's or Schlesinger's.

This short follows the pattern of a Silly Symphony of a child's fantasy world. Particularly, Depression era themed with a disadvantaged child. This contains lots of lush visuals of candy. It does hold up closely to some of Disney's best visuals with minimal effects animation.

This was a common theme in cartoons in the 30s and was no doubt well received by audiences. If only this was officially available.

The Daffy Doc
(1938)

Daffy Plays Docor
Daffy became a hit with audiences after his debut. Tex Avery's unit created him, but ultimately stopped using him after three shorts. Clampett and the other units utilized him more. A zany character like Daffy was something Clampett no doubt fancied.

After Daffy's antics get him thrown out of the doctor's demonstration, he vows to get a patient of his own. And Porky becomes an unwilling participant.

The iron lung gags were met in controversy in later years, likely when Guild Films started airing on television in the mid 50s, during the polio epidemic. Clampett likely gave no thought when he made the short and saw it as simply an opportunity for a medical themed visual gag. More of a case of something that became tasteless in later years.

It would have been a funnier short if there were more scenes of Daffy in the operarting room. Having him thrown out killed some great opportunities for some hilarious sequences a la The Three Stooges.

A pretty good "zany" Daffy, but pretty low key compared to the other 1938 Daffy shorts.

Bottles
(1936)

Glass & Ceramic Fantasy
Harman and Ising largely developed the midnight in the store trope during their WB years. Disney also utilized it, but not to the extent that Harman and Ising, and by extension WB, did.

BOTTLES continues this idea; this time in a chemist's laboratory. This short strongly benefited from the use of three-strip Technicolor, which was recently unleashed to Hollywood after Disney's trial period ended. Much like Disney's earlier short THE CHINA SHOP, the glass/ceramic characters are convincingly animated as such.

The mood goes from sinister to light hearted, much like what Disney would achieve in the features.

One of the best Happy Harmonies and most polished of the inanimate objects come to life cartoons.

Goopy Geer
(1932)

Goopy Jams
The earliest years of the Warner Bros. cartoons have become an almost forgotten chapter to anyone under 40. Granted the studio didn't come into their prime until 1937. Such characters as Bosko and Buddy are now virtually unheard of.

The Harman and Ising years had a stable of characters that were derivative of Disney's growing stars. Among them was Goopy Geer. The name and design may lead one to think that he's a knockoff of Goofy, but that's highly unlikely, considering the proto Goofy, Dippy Dawg, made his debut the same year. And Goofy as we know him today wasn't fully developed until 1935. He wasn't named Goofy until around 1937. So the similarities are likely coincidental. Although there is a slight possibility that Goofy may have taken some cues from Goopy, but it's highly unlikely.

Like all Harman and Ising's WB cartoons, the emphasis is on music and gags and this one doesn't disappoint. Some parts of the score sound reminiscent of the earlier Fleischer cartoons. While there are some imaginative gags, such as the dancing coat racks, it would have been cool if Ising went further in the wildness that the Fleischers did.

It is quite remarkable just how different a direction the studio went just a few years later.

Flop Goes the Weasel
(1943)

Another Sneezing Weasel
Chuck Jones' cartoons began to pick up pace by 1942. He not only began to find his groove, but he made limited animation and stylized backgrounds into an art. This short is a prime example of striking backgrounds starting from the opening scenes.

The climax of the weasel sneezing uncontrollably is lifted from Avery's earlier short THE SNEEZING WEASEL (1938). The gags with the smelling salts and the chick getting lodged inside the outlet and into the light bulb are also carried over, but with less effectiveness.

This shorts politically incorrect content has kept it off of television for a number of years, but somehow was not part of the Censored 11 and was available on laserdisc. How did it escape that scrutiny? I speculate that because blackface imagery is nonexistent and the fact that the black baby chick easily outsmarts the caucasian sounding weasel was not a cause for alarm when UA made the Censored 11. While not as egregious as the titles on the Censored 11, this short is best kept off of television airwaves, but recognized as a product of its time.

Kind of like the crows from Dumbo, where the characters are intended to be African-American, but there isn't a strong emphasis on stereotypes other than the dialect.

Aside from some striking backgrounds, there isn't much to see here. Avery's original sneezing weasel has a lot more to offer in comedy.

Beauty and the Beast
(1934)

Fairy Tale Fantasy
Leon Schlesinger reportedly resisted making the jump to color, since it was an added expense. This was a factor as to why Harman and Ising walked out on him. Disney made the jump to color in 1932 and Harman and Ising immediately started upon arrival to MGM in mid 1934.

Schlesinger's first color short was HONEYMOON HOTEL which was processed in Cinecolor and released in 1934, just prior to the enforcement of the censorship code. The next color release was a few months later.

In contrast to the adult nature of their first entry in color, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST delves into a child's dreamland. A little girl is visited by the sandman and is taken away to a wonderful fantasy land with many nursery rhyme characters.

The premise was likely inspired by the Silly Symphony LULLABY LAND, which came out the previous year. This short doesn't have the lush visuals, especially due to the limited palette that cinecolor offered. However this still manages to be a very charming cartoon. It is interesting that the Schlesinger studio produced a cartoon like this, but cartoons like this were in vogue during this timeframe.

Mr. and Mrs. Is the Name
(1935)

Buddy In 2-Color
By the end of 1934, the Merrie Melodies were being produced in color. That is two-strip Technicolor, since Only Disney had the rights to full Technicolor. Although, most WB cartoons from this timeframe would not have greatly benefited from the expense. They were generally mediocre in almost every aspect. Although there were some occasional inspirational moments.

It has often been pointed out that the mer-boy in this short resembles Buddy, the star of the Looney Tune series from 1933-35. There is a strong resemblance, but can it truly be Buddy's sole appearance in a color Merrie Melody, considering that series was off-limits to continuing characters? We may never know.

The music scores for WB cartoons was generally low-key and primitive before Carl Stalling arrived. However the mermaid's piano solo gives the score a lot of vitality. I wonder why she doesn't sing the entire lyrics. While having a limited palette, the use of color is still handsome and there are good underwater effects.

According to the Look magazine article from 1939 that discussed cartoon censorship, the mermaid's chests had to be covered per the then newly established censorship requirements (before and after images are shown). However, the censorship apparently wasn't enforced on this short since they are still topless in all circulating prints.

While not as lush like Disney's KING NEPTUNE from 1932, this is a charming Merrie Melody with a catchy tune. If only these musical shorts from the 30s were still shown and made available.

Greetings Bait
(1943)

Ah Yes
The Wacky Worm must have had some popularity with audiences that warranted his return to the screen a couple years later. Here he aids a fisherman as crafty bait tricking fish into biting the line. Wacky Worm has a different trick for every fish.

The underwater backgrounds are nicely done and some of the fish look like they came from the short FRESH FISH.

A fairly entertaining WB cartoon with a funny premise. It could have used more tricks and snappy Jerry Colonna one liners. The character really lends itself to funny dialogue. but the punchline is truly unexpected and worth watching for that alone.

W'ere on Our Way to Rio
(1944)

Popeye Dances The Samba
World War II brought cultural exchanges between the two America's. Many film studios dabbled into Latin American culture during this time. This lively Popeye short was one of his first in Technicolor and it benefits greatly with a brilliant use of color. Popeye and Bluto ride into Rio on an Ox and go to a nightclub, where they oogle over the Samba dancer (Olive Oyle). I can only wonder if this sequence was inspired by Tex Avery's RED HOT RIDING HOOD which caught moviegoers by storm the previous year. (A South American themed Avery short with Red, the Wolf, and Droopy would have been interesting).

The gags and timing are nicely executed. Popeye's impromptu Samba dancing is both impressive and funny. I wonder who voiced the Samba dancer. It couldn't have been Olive Oyle's regular voice at that time.

An excellent contibution to America's wartime Good Neighbor policy. Well worth seeking out and now available on Blu-Ray fully restored.

Beauty and the Beast
(1991)

A Timeless Disney Masterpiece
There are very few films that I saw as a child that I still enjoy as an adult factoring in both nostalgia and a critical evaluation. Most of Disney's critically acclaimed films fit that description. Beauty And The Beast was the earliest film I recall seeing in the theater. I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, but because it was so popular, I have a lot of memories of seeing it just about everywhere. The opening prologue, the musical numbers, Gaston, and the scene of Maurice getting lost in the woods stick out the strongest from my recollections.

I don't recall when my appreciation for the film set in, but I've always enjoyed the Disney films with strong storytelling and great characters. And since it was one of the earliest then contemporary films I recall seeing, I do have a great affection for it. Watching it again as an adult, it holds up perfectly. The songs are catchy and memorable. The characters are very enjoyable. Gaston is a very entertaining yet dastardly villain. The character animation is on par with Disney's classic films, something I wish the studio would return to.

Considering that for several years Disney had not had a major hit until The Little Mermaid, this no doubt was a pleasant suprise to critics.

This is a prime example that a great animated film can still be enjoyed well into adulthood.

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