Lantz's Swing Symphonies get off to a rousing start
This cartoon, the first in Walter Lantz's Swing Symphony series, is built around a performance of the title song, an original by Felix Bernard and Ray Klages about army life. It's set at "Camp Pain," situated within the Toyland Army section of the Toy Department of the "Maybe So Dept. Store" and features the toy soldiers and animals on the shelves coming to life and joining in to do all the orchestral and vocal parts. There's nothing more to it than that, but it's a lively song with some great jazz bits and it benefits from creative musical arrangements by Darrell Calker, Lantz's talented longtime music supervisor.
The lyrics include the standard barracks soldier's lament: "They wake you up at 5 o'clock in the morning / For 21 dollars a day - once a month / The bugle blows at you without any warning / For 21 dollars a day - once a month."
A lot of cute animal characters are part of the action, including a snoring turtle with flannel pajamas under his shell and a hippo who sleeps in a bunk filled with water. There are the usual cartoon musical gags involving elephants and their trunks, giraffes and their long necks, a turtle drummer banging on his own shell, and a kangaroo drummer getting help from the little one in its pouch. A baby seal proves quite a musical virtuoso. In fact, despite the military theme, the animal marching band that performs the orchestral version of the song looks more like a circus band than an army one. Woody Woodpecker and Andy Panda make cameo appearances. Most of the gags focus on unusual ways of creating the music and sound effects for the song. They're amusing but don't quite generate a lot of laughs. There's one clever visual gag, though, illustrating the lyric about going "to school to learn to groom a mule."
This came out just a few days before Pearl Harbor, which made its military theme all the more relevant, even if the helmets and weapons on display date from the WWI era. The song is catchy and well-performed by great musicians and a variety of colorful voices and remains the chief reason to watch this Technicolor cartoon, which is found in the Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection DVD box set.
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