Hello my friends and happy Saturday Morning, once again it is time for some classic cartoons.
In the 1930's the Fleischer Studio's Popeye cartoon had reached an incredible level of popularity even rivaling that of Mickey Mouse. These simple black and white seven minute cartoons captured the hearts of moviegoers just as much as any feature film. Because of this both Paramount encouraged the cartoon studio to create something bigger with Popeye. The result was a series of three two-reel full color cartoons starring the cartoon sailor. These films were over twice the length of an average Popeye cartoon and they felt bigger in every way possible. My personal favorite of the three is the second, Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves (1937). This one has the same larger than usual and visual gorgeous look as the others, but in my opinion the humor in this short is probably the funniest. The cartoon was later edited down to a seven minute short with some new animation featuring Popeye and his nephews for a cheater cartoon, Popeye Makes a Movie (1950). The following are some exhibitor reviews from the Motion Picture Herald, "Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves (Color Special): Popeye the Sailor - A two reel cartoon that means nothing more at the box office than a single. Does not compare with 'Sinbad the Sailor' in entertainment. Running time, 17 minutes. A. Goldson, Gold Coast Theatre, Chicago, Ill. Neighborhood Patronage." "Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves: Popeye the Sailor - Not nearly as funny as it ought to have been. Still most everyone enjoyed it. Popeye needs a change of diet anyway. One tires of too much spinach. - L. A. Irwin, Palace Theatre, Penacook, N.H. General Patronage." "Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves: Popeye the Sailor - Ran it to bolster 'Rosalie' and really believe it drove in a few. Play it. They'll enjoy it. Running time, 20 minutes. - A.E. Eliassen, Rialto Theatre, Paynesville, Minn., Small Town and Rural Patronage." "Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves: Popeye the Sailor - Played this with 'College Holiday.' We put this in as a double attraction and which met with a great success. Played the Easter Sunday with very good business. Had a large matinee. Popeye sure pleases the children. -Edelstein Amusement Company, Homer Theatre, Hibbing, Minn. General Patronage." "Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves: Color Special - This is an extra price cartoon of two reels, which was just one reel too long. They can't sustain an audience's attention for the extra length and it got boresome before it was halfway through. Don't buy it. Kids will like it of course but you don't pay off with them. - A.E. Hancock, Columbia Theatre, Columbia City, Ind. General Patronage."
Next comes an especially good Pink Panther cartoon, Pink of the Litter (1967). In this film like in many others, Pink's co-star is the little man. It has often been said that this little man was a take-off on producer Friz Freleng.
The famous cat an mouse duo were not the first cartoon characters to be named Tom and Jerry. During the 1930's the Van Beuren cartoon studio made a series of shorts starring a human duo with the same name. While these shorts would never reach the same fame as the latter cat and mouse cartoons, they are often very entertaining in their own right. The duo began with the idea from director John Foster to create a Mutt and Jeff like cat and dog duo. When New York artists George Stallings and George Rufle joined the studio they thought to take this idea but turn the characters into humans. To not be confused with a more famous cartoon duo in the 1950's Tom and Jerry were renamed Dick and Larry when they aired on TV. Next is one of my favorite cartoons starring this duo, Barnyard Bunk (1932). Gene Rodemich's musical score is especially excellent in this short.
Next comes a delightful modernized version of the Cinderella tale from the Terry Toons studio. Appropriately it is titled, Cinderella (1933).
Now it is time to sing along, I am sure you know all the words.
Though Chuck Jones would be one of the main contributors into Daffy Duck changing from his early wild, unhinged and well Daffy personality into the later self absorbed and greedy duck, Chuck's earliest cartoons with Daffy featured the duck as completely crazy. In my opinion one of the best of these films is To Duck or Not To Duck (1943). This is a wild and crazy and very funny cartoon that is instantly quotable. This short has fallen in the public domain and therefore those who collect VHS and DVDs of classic cartoons will instantly recognize it. A review in The Film Daily stated, "Leon Schlesinger has turned out another ace Technicolor cartoon featuring the characters of Daffy Duck and the Goofy hunter."
Up next is another Chuck Jones directed cartoon, Prest-o Change-o (1939). This film features an early prototype for Bugs Bunny, as well as a pair of short lived Chuck Jones characters, know as Two Curious Dogs. These dogs didn't really have much personality despite being curious but they worked perfectly for Chuck's early love of pure pantomime cartoons. Many of Chuck's films around this time featured minimal dialogue and lots of visual acting. Pantomime is of course something that would play an important role later when Chuck did his Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons.
Today's cartoon selection concludes with one of Walt Disney's great Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons, The Ocean Hop (1927). Like the early Mickey Mouse cartoon, Plane Crazy (1928), in this film Oswald takes to the skies in his self-made plane. Here though Oswald is in a race against a variety of competitors including an early version of the later Mickey Mouse nemesis Peg Leg Pete. When it comes to the early Disney cartoons, the animator most cartoon buffs think of is Ub Iwerks. However Iwerks animates surprisingly little footage in this movie. Still what he does animate shows his skill to its finest level. For instance there is an incredible scene (animated by Iwerks) in which Oswald's "plane" is spinning wildly out of control and rotating around the sky. Rollin "Ham" Hamilton's animation looks crude in comparison with other Disney animators, but there is some great acting in his scenes that come across perfectly. This is something that is well seen when Oswald tells a couple of mice to blow up a balloon. Hugh Harman animates the majority of action in this cartoon including a great scene in which Pete uses a stick of gum to prevent Oswald from winning. There is unfortunately a missing scene from this film. That scene involves the dog falling into a taxi's engine and coming out as a series of sausages. While that joke sounds mean spirited today, it was a common joke during this time period and Walt Disney himself had previously used a similar gag in the Alice Comedy, Alice’s Mysterious Mystery (1926). These Oswald cartoons were later released in the 1930's with new soundtracks and unfortunately scenes shuffled around and left out.
Thanks for joining me come back next week for more animated treasures. Until then may all your tunes be looney and your melodies merry.
Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons by Leonard Maltin.