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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.