Category Archives: Cartoon

Chicken in the Rough (1951, Jack Hannah)

Chicken in the Rough is constantly charming. It feels incomplete, but it’s still constantly charming.

Chip ‘n’ Dale are collecting nuts near a farm. On that farm, the rooster is waiting for a hen’s eggs to hatch. Anthropomorphizing roosters and hens is one heck of a thing, incidentally. Just the relationship and the implied expectant mother and father. So Dale, being an idiot, mistakes the soon-to-hatch eggs for walnuts and gets curious. Chip tries to correct him, but fails (and then disappears, another reason the cartoon feels incomplete); basically, it ends up with Dale pretending to be a chick to try to fool the rooster, who’s thrilled he’s a new daddy.

And the hen just assumes Dale is one of her chicks. Even after all the other chicks are born.

It’s a short cartoon, with Dale trying to get away from the rooster–who’s simultaneously wise to the chipmunk not being a chick and yet still hopeful he’s wrong and Dale is his newborn (it’s weird and cute). There’s a great sequence where Dale has to pretend to eat a bug. And Dale trying to convince the actual chick to stick around is excellent too.

Most of the action takes place inside the expecting hen’s hen house (separate from the other hens) and the animation’s good.

It’s too short and doesn’t have anything approaching an ending, but Chicken in the Rough’s many charms–particularly the voice acting (even the hen gets some “lines”)–make up for the cartoon’s foibles.

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Hannah; written by Nick George and Bill Berg; animated by Bob Carlson, Bill Justice, and Judge Whitaker; music by Joseph Dubin; produced by Walt Disney; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dessie Flynn (Dale), James MacDonald (Chip), and Florence Gill (hen).


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Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Flying House (1921, Winsor McCay)

The Flying House does a lot in its eleven minute runtime. First and maybe foremost–it’s questionable given where the film ends up–it’s a successful, ambitious format change for the Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend comic strip. Adapted by its creator, McCay–who’s got his twenty-five year-old son, Robert, animating–Flying House is a cartoon version of the strip. It’s a complete success in that regard.

But it’s also how McCay tells a story in a silent cartoon. The characters, a husband and wife who have to convert the house to a flying version to escape a greedy landlord, talk to one another in word balloons. The husband doesn’t say much. The wife has these hilarious one-liners. She’s nagging, but passive aggressively and condescendingly. And the husband deserves it to some degree. He doesn’t have the best plan.

The word balloon thing? It’s phenomenal. It’s jaw-droppingly effective. There’s the expectation of intertitles in a silent film so having those intertitles on screen with the action (or at least the illusion of action)… it starts Flying House out on a serious level. It’s an ambitious film. McCay (and McCay) always excel. Even before the big, “here, look at this scientifically accurate” space thing to show off the potential for animation in education.

The way the figures move–whether people or flying houses or planets–is another of the film’s magical parts. Between movements, objects are completely still. But while moving, they’re graceful, with an enthusiastic pace. Culminating in the space sequence, which is ballet.

Fantastic direction, fantastic animation. The Flying House is perfect.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written, produced, and directed by Winsor McCay; animated by Robert Winsor McCay.


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Off to the Vet (2015, Simon Tofield)

Off to the Vet is a longer “Simon’s Cat” cartoon. Eleven minutes instead of three. As always, creator Simon Tofield comes up with a series of annoying cat problems for the titular cat to cause. Here, the cat gets a bee sting on the paw and suffers until owner Simon has to take him to the vet.

There’s the preparation for getting the cat into the carrier, which takes up most of the run time. It’s kind of a battle of the wits, with the cat often winning.

Vet’s success lies in Tofield’s affable animation and his patience in setting up the jokes. Or just honest observations from cat ownership. They’re funny so long as they’re not happening to you. And no one can really get hurt in Off to the Vet, Tofield never lets the cats draw blood.

It’s a solid short. Precious in just the right ways.

However, it probably has zero appeal to non-cat owners (other than for its precious cuteness).

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Simon Tofield; written by Tofield and Emma Burch; music by Stuart Hancock; produced by Burch.


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Uncle Tom’s Bungalow (1937, Tex Avery)

Uncle Tom's Bungalow manages to be both appallingly racist and a little progressive. Director Avery turning the slave trader into the devil, poking a little fun at the angelic white girl, general mocking of Southern cultural all around….

But Bungalow just isn't a good cartoon. Ben Harrison's script–with Tedd Pierce obnoxiously narrating–doesn't even include a bungalow. It's just for the title. The first two or three minutes is setting up the characters and setting up the characters is the cartoon being both racist (with the black characters) and condescending (of the Southerners). The wrap-up even has the cartoon taking inexplicable pot shots at social security, which make it more significant historically than anything else about it.

The gags are trite and predictable. The slave trader turning into a snake and getting electrocuted felt way too familiar.

I kept expecting it to be worse, but it could never be any better.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Tex Avery; written by Ben Harrison; animated by Virgil Ross and Sidney Sutherland; edited by Treg Brown; music by Carl W. Stalling; produced by Leon Schlesinger; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Tex Avery (Uncle Tom), Mel Blanc (Hound), Billy Bletcher (Simon Simon Legree), Bernice Hansen (Little Eva) and Lillian Randolph (Topsy / Eliza); narrated by Tedd Pierce.


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