Back when I was young, I loved animation. From Disney’s intricate feature length masterpieces to dirt-cheap TV filler in which characters walked past the same door, pot-plant and fire hydrant fifteen times in a row, if it was animated I would be glued to it. Not unusual for a child you might think but as I grew up and my peers lost interest in what they derisively termed ‘kid’s stuff’, my love of animation only grew stronger. You see, where most people saw only cute, colourful characters frolicking (or more often, being whammed on the head by anvils), I saw thousands of little drawings soaked in the sweat of the unseen talent that brought them to life; I saw the fingerprints of painstaking plasticine manipulators as they dedicated days to perfecting a gesture that could be missed in the blink of an eye; and as I further embraced this incredible medium, I realised that animation was not just an escapist, comedic entertainment but a medium with more possibilities than almost any other, bursting with scathing satires, loving laments and incisive examinations of the human condition with the power to unite international audiences in a shared sense of wonder at the miracle of the moving image. And I wondered then, as I wonder still, how so many people around me were not seeing what I saw. How could they look at such a sumptuously diverse dessert cart and see only a trifle?
My love affair with animation began where it did for so many cartoon-lovers of my age: the theatrical shorts of Warner Bros., Walt Disney, the Fleischer brothers, MGM and UPA. During this golden age of Hollywood animation, thousands of little masterpieces were created by dozens of directors with the expectation that they would be shown as supporting featurettes in cinemas and then largely forgotten. Fortunately, these cartoons found a new home on television, often as timeslot fillers for 10 minute gaps before news broadcasts, and as such they seeped into the consciousness of millions of children and their equally-transfixed parents. While many of the characters remain recognisable today, the cartoons themselves have gradually disappeared from television and found another home on DVD and Blu-ray where collectors like myself can own and cherish them forever.
As part of my ongoing quest to convince people to appreciate these films for the works of genius that they are, I have compiled a top 100 list of my favourite shorts from animation’s golden age. In the first of four parts, I’ll be counting down from 100 to 76 and hopefully bringing back a few memories in the process.
100. FRESH AIREDALE
Chuck Jones’s Fresh Airedale is one of the most remarkable Warner Bros. one shots ever made. Extremely subversive in that it refuses to bow to our moral expectations, Fresh Airedale presents us with a set-up that is crying out for a comeuppance at the finale and then declines to provide us with it. Instead, it offers us a scathing political satire which tells it like it is; if you’re at the right place at the right time and willing to behave only in your own interests, you can reap the benefits at the expense of everyone else. So we are presented with a sweet-natured, heroic cat who is upstaged at every turn by the deceitful, manipulative, downright evil dog Shep who uses his accepted status as “man’s best friend” to gain ever greater plaudits from his master and, ultimately, the rest of the country while the cat is either brutalised or ignored. Cruelly hilarious and constantly relevant, Fresh Airedale is 100% more effective for not giving us the happy ending we all want and expect. While it remains a buried treasure, it continues to delight and exhilarate anyone who happens to unearth it, provided they are not married to the constrictive notion that good must always triumph over evil in entertainment.
99. DUCK PIMPLES
Jack Kinney’s Duck Pimples is one of the most remarkable Donald Duck cartoons Disney ever produced. Beginning with Donald scaring himself silly with a series of radio shows, the short then enters extremely surreal territory as an intimidating book salesman leaves a pile of mystery books in Donald’s house (prior to disappearing into thin air) and Donald imagines a whole crime thriller plot right before his eyes, complete with an aggressive Irish cop, am opportunistic femme fatale and a set of missing jewels. One of the elements of Duck Pimples that has fascinated many is the fact that Donald, so forceful and vivid a character, is apparently side-lined by the other goings-on in the cartoon. He appears to be a punching-bag for the stereotypical film noir players. However, I would argue that, far from side-lining Donald, Duck Pimples is entirely about him, given that everything and everyone in the whole film seems to be a product of his overactive imagination. Just as Donald’s temper is an uncontrollable beast in many cartoons, so his vulnerable side is just as extreme, with the merest of suggestions triggering an entire murder-mystery scenario in his brain, so vivid that it manifests itself before our (and his) very eyes. Duck Pimples carefully ensures that nothing is completely certain, so that maybe this whole thing really did occur outside of Donald’s tightly-wound brain, and that makes it as troubling as it is funny. Whatever you make of this unique little short, it’s truly a one off and it expands greatly upon the complex character that is Donald Duck.
98. HILLBILLY HARE
Robert McKimson’s Hillbilly Hare is probably the director’s best loved short, an absolutely fantastic piece of work and one of the few McKimson cartoons which really stands up alongside the best work of his contemporaries. Pitting Bugs against a couple of stereotype hillbillies, Hillbilly Hare’s first half features some decent heckling but the halfway mark is the turning point as Bugs drags up and uses his sex appeal to tempt his adversaries into a square-dancing rehearsal. This leads to an extended climactic square-dance sequence which is one of my favourite routines in cartoon history. The success of this sequence is down to several contributors. Writer Tedd Pierce has written a fantastically funny set of lyrics which are delivered with astonishing comedic brilliance by Mel Blanc in one of the highlights of his long and distinguished voice-over career. McKimson creates the perfect visual accompaniment for this astonishing sequence. While Hillbilly Hare might take a few minutes to really get going, its extended musical climax is one of the classic moments in cartoon history. It never fails to have me roaring with laughter and it elevates the cartoon to the status of a true classic.
97. A DREAM WALKING
The Fleischer brother’s biggest cartoon star was initially Betty Boop and it was in one of her cartoons that their next great star first appeared on screen. Previously a supporting character in Elzie Crisler Segar’s comic strip Thimble Theatre, the Fleischer’s transfered Popeye beautifully to film as a mumbling, muscle-bound, pipe-smoking sailor whose super-strength was unleashed through the consumption of spinach. Popeye quickly surpassed Betty in popularity, especially with Betty being toned down due to the demands of the production code. Popeye’s adventures were usually fast-paced, exciting affairs but the first Popeye cartoon on this list is a bit different. A beautifully paced and constructed short, A Dream Walking finds Popeye and Bluto trying to rescue Olive Oyl from herself as she sleepwalks into danger on a building site. There are some brilliant gags using location and perspective, as well as the great characters that made Popeye so watchable. A cameo by hamburger fanatic J. Wellington Wimpy is one of the funniest moments in the film but the sailorman himself was always the highlight, especially in these early Fleischer films when he was voiced by the mumbling William Costello, or the even funnier Jack Mercer, whose under-the-breath ranting made these cartoons all the funnier.
96. THE HYPO-CHONDRI-CAT
I’ve always been a big fan of black comedy so it’s hardly surprising that Chuck Jones’s Hubie and Bertie cartoons are amongst my favourite Warner creations. These fantastic shorts tackled such dark subjects as mental illness and attempted suicide but The Hypo-chondri-cat is the grimmest of all, focusing on the big one; death itself. Pitted against their regular rival Claude Cat, a neurotic mess of a feline, the sadistic mice Hubie and Bertie set about convincing him that he is fatally ill. This results in a terrific, nightmarishly surreal scene in which Claude visualizes himself being pursued by surgical equipment as he listens to Hubie and Bertie preparing to operate. When he comes round again is when the cartoon gets really cruel as the mice convince a terrified Claude that he didn’t survive the operation. It’s all very macabre but also hilarious in a deliciously sick way. The cartoon ends on a peaceful but troubling note with Claude still totally unaware he’s not dead. With such dark subject matters, it’s hardly surprising Hubie and Bertie didn’t catch on with a 40s and 50s audience but these cartoons remain incredibly interesting and entertaining forgotten classics that give us a glimpse into the darker side of Warner animation. Riot!
95. FLOWERS AND TREES
It’s spring and the flowers, trees and other plants are alive with energy. Amidst this idyllic scene, a fight for the affections of a lady tree leads to an outbreak of fire. Burt Gillett’s Flowers and Trees was the first Disney cartoon to be produced using the full colour three-strip Technicolor process and it was the ideal candidate for this experiment. Beautifully alive with colour, the cartoon’s bright flora and fauna were perfect subjects to bring to life so vividly. The cartoon was already in production as a black and white film when the process became available, at which point Disney scrapped the existing footage and remade Flowers and Trees in full colour. The result is gorgeous and it went on to win the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Short. The arrival of colour was a huge boost for Disney’s Silly Symphony series, which benefited greatly from this extra visual enhancement. Flowers and Trees was such a success that from thereon in all Silly Symphonies were produced in colour.
94. DOUGH RAY ME-OW
Arthur Davis’s Dough Ray Me-ow is an absolutely hysterical cartoon and easily my favourite of this lesser-known director’s films. Starring two boldly drawn one-shot characters, a grumpy green parrot named Louie and an ugly and ludicrously moronic cat named Heathcliff, Dough Ray Me-ow quickly sets up its dark scenario leaving ample time to have tons of fun with it. When Louie discovers that Heathcliff stands to inherit a large sum of money which will go to Louie in the event of the cat’s disappearance, the parrot sets about trying to dispense with his “friend” permanently. It’s an idea filled with potential which becomes even funnier when Louie realises to his horror that Heathcliff isn’t only startlingly stupid, he is also practically indestructible! Dough Ray Me-ow is slightly cheap looking with a style that’s akin to TV animation but it fits the feel of the cartoon beautifully, the more stylised character designs reflecting the bigger exaggerations of their personalities. There are loads of great bits but my favourite is the train sequence, the final battle over a stick of dynamite and a series of throwaway gags involving Heathcliff’s novel methods for cracking nuts. One of the great one-shot cartoons, Dough Ray Me-ow starred characters who were perhaps too extreme to ever be considered as potential stars but their one appearance still delights me and makes me laugh out loud to this day.
93. PEACE ON EARTH
It’s Christmas in a post-apocalyptic world populated by animals. Two young squirrels ask their grandfather who the ‘men’ are in the expression ‘Peace on Earth, Good will to men’. Their grandfather relates the story of the history of mankind, focusing on their endless wars and their eventual destruction. Hugh Harman’s Peace on Earth is a stark anti-war film that sneaks the story of the destruction of the entire human race into what initially seems to be a cutesy Christmas cartoon. The two elements of the film (the squirrel family enjoying Christmas and the realistic depiction of humans at war) are blended together with surprising smoothness and the result is hard-hitting and unexpected. It gets a bit preachy when they can’t resist bringing in the Bible but Peace on Earth is a very powerful piece of work and tends to remain with any viewer lucky enough to catch it. It’s mandatory Christmas viewing for animation fans.
92. TRANSYLVANIA 6-5000
Chuck Jones’s last original Bugs Bunny cartoon, Transylvania 6-5000 ended their association on a high and remains one of Bugs’s most famous cartoons and one of the most acclaimed of the 60s Warner Bros. cartoons. This is the one where Bugs stays the night at Count Blood Count’s castle where he reads a book on magic incantations. When the Count tries to drink his blood, Bugs is able to use the phrases ‘Hocus Pocus’ and ‘Abracadabra’ to transform himself or the Count into various other forms. These exchanges are witty and progress with a comedic logic that is entirely satisfying (‘I’m a vampire’, ‘Oh yeah, well abacadarbra, I’m an umpire’). As a final cartoon for the director who gave him so many of his finest and most famous moments, Transylvania 6-5000 sees Bugs on top form.
91. RED HOT RIDING HOOD
When the characters in a version of Little Red Riding Hood rebel against the cartoon demanding a fresh approach, the narrator reluctantly obliges, placing them in a modern day setting in which Red is a sexy club singer, the wolf is a lustful audience member and Granny is a man-hungry predator. Red Hot Riding Hood is an unforgettable classic which has proved incredibly influential since its first appearance in 1943. With this short, Tex Avery upped the ante for sexual content in a cartoon with one of cinema’s most famous set of reaction shots. Driven crazy by Red’s sex appeal, the wolf does a series of amazing takes in which his entire face and body contort in a sexual frenzy. This sequence has been recreated many times, perhaps most famously in The Mask, while the character of Red went on to inspire that most famous of animated babes, Jessica Rabbit. Red Hot Riding Hood found Avery pushing the boundaries of both sexual content and wild, expressive animation to devastating effect and is justly one of the most famous cartoons MGM every produced.
90. LONG HAIRED HARE
Chuck Jones’s Long Haired Hare is a much loved classic largely thanks to its final few minutes. Pitting Bugs against opera singer Giovanni Jones, Long Haired Hare is a typical example of how Warner cartoons set out to prick pomposity and expose those with lofty aspirations as just as ludicrous as the rest of us. As was usually the case with Jones’s take on Bugs, he is presented as an easy going, likeable character who is driven to extremes by the unforgiving nature of others. In the superb set up, Bugs’ jolly attempts to have a good old-fashioned sing-song are interrupted by the rotund opera singer who is attempting to practice nearby. Despite his violent reactions and destruction of Bugs’ instruments, the rabbit generously gives him a three-strikes-and-you’re-out chance. When he exceeds this, however, Bugs unleashes the full force of his revenge. The middle of the cartoon sags slightly while Bugs indulges in some pretty standard heckling (prime example: substituting a stick of dynamite for a pen) but its quickly compensated for by the unforgettable ending in which Bugs assumes the role of conductor and takes Giovanni Jones through a vocal tour de force which results in the collapse of the building. 2/3 of Long Haired Hare stands up against Jones’s (Chuck, not Giovanni) very best work and the remaining 1/3 is an enjoyable enough romp ensuring that the cartoon has comfortably and deservedly passed into legend.
89. THE MAD DOCTOR
When his faithful dog Pluto is kidnapped by a mad doctor, Mickey Mouse follows them to a haunted castle where he must battle against an army of skeletons to rescue his beloved pet. Although it alarmed some cinema owners, leading to a short ban when the film was deemed too scary for kids, Dave Hand’s The Mad Doctor actually covers ground already visited in earlier Disney shorts. The skeletons featured here immediately recall both The Skeleton Dance and The Haunted House, the latter of these also finding Mickey at the mercy of skeletons. In that short Mickeyy was merely forced to play music for them while they danced and capered but by the time of The Mad Doctor, the Mickey shorts were becoming far stronger on plot and character, the singing and dancing elements that once dominated now taken up by the Silly Symphonies series. So The Mad Doctor sticks with Mickey throughout as he combs the castle for Pluto, fitting in lots of spooky, sometimes even morbid, but always delightfully inventive gags (the disintergration of Pluto’s x-rayed bones and organs as he contemplates his fate).
88. NORTHWEST HOUNDED POLICE
Droopy is probably Tex Avery’s most famous MGM character and even those who don’t necessarily realise they know the hangdog little hound probably remember this cartoon. Northwest Hounded Police is actually a remake of Droopy’s debut cartoon Dumb Hounded from six years earlier, but Avery was not so lazy as to just reproduce without attempting to improve and with Northwest Hounded Police he does so several-fold, creating a beloved classic in the process. For those of you who still don’t recognise it, this is the one where a convict wolf runs from place to place to evade Droopy but finds him everywhere, even when it seems utterly implausible. Although it is a fairly simple idea, Avery keeps it fresh and funny throughout, particularly with more of those trademark wild takes as the wolf becomes more and more alarmed by Droopy’s omnipresence.
87. THE DUCKSTERS
Since I first saw it at a very young age, I’ve always found Chuck Jones’s The Ducksters to be one of the funniest cartoons I’ve ever seen. This is largely due to Michael Maltese’s hilarious script but, as always, Jones displays extraordinary timing in bringing it to the screen. A spoof of radio quiz shows, The Ducksters is a deliciously sadistic film in which Daffy Duck’s host terrorizes Porky Pig’s contestant with impossible questions and horrendously violent penalties. The timing of both the verbal and physical antics is impeccable, leading up to a thoroughly satisfying finale with the iris closing on a fantastic climactic Daffy line. Rarely discussed or praised, The Ducksters is a childhood favourite of mine and a cartoon very dear to my heart. It’s both rib-ticklingly witty and delightfully violent, which just about amounts to the perfect combination for this cartoon fanatic!
86. CLOCK CLEANERS
Mickey, Donald and Goofy encounter their usual barrage of problems while trying to clean a large clock tower. Ben Sharpsteen’s Clock Cleaners is often celebrated as the best of the Mickey, Donald and Goofy shorts and it’s easy to see why it is so revered. For one, the writing is perfectly balanced so that every character gets a slice of the action. No-one is marginalised as they were in less effective shorts starring the trio, such as Moving Day or Magician Mickey. The setting of the clock tower is ripe for comedy and there’s plenty of fun to be had as Mickey takes on a dozy stork, Donald a rebellious main spring and Goofy a duo of bell-ringing metal figures. Goofy’s segment particularly shines here and sets up the climax in which all three are brought together. By this stage the Mickey, Donald and Goofy shorts were extremely popular and it’s easy to see why, with Clock Cleaners enshrined as a classic.
85. HAREDEVIL HARE
Chuck Jones’s Haredevil Hare is a brilliant and fascinating cartoon for several reasons. The first thing you’ll notice when watching it is its comparatively leisurely pace. Several minutes are taken up with Bugs being sent into space against his will and then succumbing to an alarming breakdown that manifests itself in a series of involuntary, jerky movements. The desolate, lonely atmosphere Jones creates is unforgettable and it is one of the reasons I found this cartoon so eerie when I was a child. The climax, which leaves Bugs in an extremely uncertain situation (and is not unlike the ending of another Jones’ masterpiece, Duck Dodgers in the 24th ½ Century), also left me reeling when I was a kid. It remains one of my favourite finales of a Warner cartoon.
Of course, in examining all of these elements we’ve ignored the most significant feature of Haredevil Hare, namely the first appearance of Marvin the Martian. A comparatively underused but extremely popular character, Marvin is a wonderfully strange creation in his Roman helmet, skirt and sneakers. As is often the case with classic cartoon characters, Marvin is a little off in his first appearance. His eyes are a little bigger than normal and his beautifully bizarre voice has not yet been fully developed. Here he sounds more like Droopy with a cold! His intention to blow up the Earth, however, is firmly in place from the get-go. His appearance shatters the eerie sense of isolation that characterises the first half of the cartoon but the pace remains fairly slow as Bugs treats Marvin like nothing more than a naughty schoolboy. Also given his first outing (and also slightly off-model) is Marvin’s green dog and his appearance triggers off the worst section of Haredevil Hare in which Bugs lapses into some very standard heckling which sits at odds with the more unusual content. The Martian dog is also given a stereotypical idiot voice which weakens his character considerably. His later appearances as an austere silent creature were much more effective since he had dignity of which to be robbed, unlike in this short. Thankfully, the battle between Bugs and the dog is short lived and gives way to the brilliant punchline. Haredevil Hare is a superb and highly unusual cartoon which spawned yet another star in Marvin the Martian. Beautifully downbeat and full of unexpected gags (the radio communication that lapses into an advertising jingle makes me laugh out loud every time), Haredevil Hare is a must see oddity and yet another masterpiece in the Chuck Jones canon.
84. DON’T GIVE UP THE SHEEP
Chuck Jones’s Don’t Give Up the Sheep is the first of six cartoons Jones made with the lesser known characters of Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf (although in this early entry to the series it is the Sheepdog who is called Ralph and the Wolf is unnamed). The first thing cartoon buffs will notice is that, but for his red nose, the Wolf is basically Wile E Coyote. What provoked this design decision is uncertain and it may have just been down to laziness but Jones later turned it into a brilliant comment on both the similarity and difference between the Sheepdog and Wolf shorts and the Road Runner series. The Wolf’s attempts to capture the sheep in a series of blackout gags could have been likened to the style of storytelling in the Road Runner cartoons but there’s a key difference that tells us that Ralph Wolf is completely different from Wile E Coyote. The Coyote is an insanely obsessive creature driven by his one track mind to catch and devour the Road Runner. The highly unusual opening scenes of the Sheepdog and Wolf cartoons, however, reveal that Ralph is simply fulfilling his duties as he punches in on a timecard like any other workaday stiff. His duties are presumably determined by either nature or the all powerful cartoonists. The fact that only the Sheepdog punches in at the beginning of Don’t Give Up the Sheep suggests that maybe Jones extension of this gag to the Wolf as well may have been a sly joke at the expense of those who accused him of repeating himself.
In my opinion, those who claim that the Sheepdog and Wolf cartoons are just a retread of Road Runner are absolutely wrong. This is a quite different setup in which the antagonist has the added inconvenience of having to remain covert. The brutal, threatening presence of Sam the Sheepdog is a different proposition from the falling boulders and malfunctioning gadgets that scupper Wile E Coyote’s plans. The implication here is that Ralph is extremely good at catching sheep and would undoubtedly be a success were Sam not just that tiny bit better at his job. Ralph is not the self-sabotaging dupe that the Coyote is, he’s merely the victim of a superior co-worker.
Don’t Give Up the Sheep is a superb cartoon. The jokes, courtesy of Michael Maltese, are brilliantly inventive and unpredictable. The funniest gags are often the simplest, such as the panpipe sequence or the wildcat joke. There’s also a hilarious extended piece involving the sawing of branches which leads up to the only already well-used punchline in the cartoon. I always enjoyed the later episodes in which the Wolf punched in alongside the Sheepdog and it was implied that they were casual friends outside the working hours of a job that demanded they be enemies but Don’t Give Up the Sheep makes up for this omission by sheer quality of the gags and their impeccable execution.
83. KIT FOR CAT
Friz Freleng’s Kit for Cat is a largely forgotten classic. One of my favourite Freleng cartoons, it pits Sylvester against an unnamed orange kitten as they vie for the position of Elmer Fudd’s pet. Michael Maltese and Tedd Pierce have come up with a corking script filled with unexpected gags as Sylvester tries to make the kitten look bad and only succeeds in incriminating himself. I’ve always preferred Sylvester’s appearances without the comedically draining presence of Tweety and Kit for Cat is a perfect example of how hilarious the red-nosed cat is when not forced into the constrictive role of birdnapper. Kit for Cat features Sylvester at his most well rounded. The reactions and expressions he goes through are constantly hilarious (just look at the way his face droops into genuine sadness and resignation when he is caught tampering with Elmer’s light) and thus the audience roots for him over the smug kitten despite the extreme lengths he’s willing to go to in order to get rid of the little pest. Elmer is also great in this cartoon, playing the good-hearted but stern authority figure to a tee. It all builds to a sensational climax involving a player piano, a murderous radio show and a firearm that keeps changing hands. This is Freleng at the top of his game and those who are willing to write him off as a less interesting director need only look to this stunning sequence for proof of the contrary. The final punchline is also unexpected and an extremely refreshing alternative to the Sylvester-gets-ejected conclusion most people will be expecting. All in all, Kit for Cat is a beautiful example of a director at his very best and is up there with Freleng’s best work.
82. BILLION DOLLAR LIMITED
The Superman series by Fleischer Studios was made to capitalise on the phenomenal popularity of the Superman comic strips. By this time the Fleischer brothers had made their first feature film, Gulliver’s Travels, and were busy working on their second, Hoppity Goes to Town, so they were reluctant to commit to a demanding new series. To try and get out of it they quoted a ridiculously high figure to Paramount of how much each cartoon would cost. To their amazement, Paramount negotiated this down to half that cost, which was still a phenomenal amount for an animated cartoon. With this budget, the Fleischers were able to create some extremely handsome cartoons indeed. The Fleischer Superman series is a magnificent achievement and never less than rip-roaringly entertaining but ultimately it is also quite repetitive. Each film is a short set-up followed by a seven or eight minute burst of action as Superman turns up to take on whatever villain we’ve been introduced to this time. For this reason, although they come highly recommended, I’ve opted to only include one cartoon of the series on this list. I chose Billion Dollar Limited in which Superman takes on a gang of armed robbers attempting to steal a billion dollars being transported by train to the US mint, because for me it is the pick of the bunch. Although Superman is, by its very nature, a fantastical franchise, I always enjoyed his adventures when they were more grounded in reality, combining the everyday with the out-of-this-world might of the central hero himself. Although the transportation of a billion dollars in gold hardly qualifies as ‘everyday’, there’s something far more exciting about watching Superman foiling a straightforward robbery attempt as opposed to battling robots and monsters. Billion Dollar Limited handles this brilliantly and emerges as an exceptional action-adventure crammed into under ten minutes.
81. RHAPSODY IN RIVETS
Friz Freleng was a master at directing cartoons set to music and one of his most brilliant creations in this category was the Oscar nominated Rhapsody in Rivets, in which he beautifully synchronises the construction of a skyscraper with Liszt’s composition ‘Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2’. This particular piece of music was to become a ubiquitous cartoon soundtrack. While this was its first use on a Warner Bros. short, it had previously been used in Disney, Columbia and Fleischer cartoons and would go on to appear in many further animated films, most notably the famous Tom and Jerry Oscar winner The Cat Concerto. The importance of this piece of music to animation was acknowledged when its ubiquity was paid tribute in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, when Donald and Daffy Duck teamed up to perform a chaotic piano duet. It was Rhapsody in Rivets, however, that first established just how effectively the Hungarian Rhapsody could dictate animated action.
80. THUGS WITH DIRTY MUGS
Tex Avery’s Thugs With Dirty Mugs is one of the director’s great classics. Though less discussed than many of Avery’s pictures, Thugs With Dirty Mugs is a masterclass in parody and the visual gag. In fact, there are so many extraordinarily inventive and original sight gags on offer here that you can’t quite believe Avery packs them all into seven minutes. The main concept of the cartoon is a parody of all those great Warner Bros. crime movies of the time (the main villain is a caricature of Edward G. Robinson) and this is observed wonderfully but instead of focusing on plot, Thugs With Dirty Mugs quickly establishes itself as a series of spot gags with a loose cops and robbers through-line. Spot gag cartoons can sometimes be slow moving or hit and miss but Thugs With Dirty Mugs has a ridiculously high hit rate and moves at such a lick that the few misses barely register. I don’t want to spoil any of the gags by describing them here but Thugs With Dirty Mugs features one of the best and silliest sight gags in history. Just listen out for the phrase “Take that you rat” and you’ll see what I mean. One of the all-out funniest shorts in the entire Warner library, Thugs With Dirty Mugs is a classic which fans of gangster films should make the effort to see.
79. PORKY PIG’S FEAT
Frank Tashlin’s Porky Pig’s Feat is an exceptionally handsome black and white cartoon. Trapped in a hotel with a bill they can’t pay, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck attempt to rid themselves of the fearsome manager and escape. It’s a simple set up for a fast paced and very funny short. There are several things that make Porky Pig’s Feat notable besides its general excellence. The drawing and animation style have an unusually modern feel to them for 1943 and the camera angles and set-ups have a really cinematic look. Witness Daffy’s wild rush down the corridor and into the elevator or Porky and Daffy as they swing on a rope made of sheets from the hotel window. Perhaps the most notable element, however, is a last minute cameo from (a rather odd sounding) Bugs Bunny who makes his only appearance in black and white and his first appearance alongside Porky and Daffy. Although it was still early in Bugs’ career, he had already outshone all the studio’s previous stars in terms of popularity and this is reflected in Porky and Daffy’s hero worship of him. It’s slightly odd to hear Daffy proclaiming that Bugs is his hero in light of their more famous rivalry developed by Chuck Jones in later years. All these unusual elements help make Porky Pig’s Feat a classic but, crucially, it also has a great script and a wonderful energy that drives it forward until its surprise ending. One of Tashlin’s best films.
78. MINNIE THE MOOCHER
The first in a trilogy of Betty Boop cartoons made in collaboration with bandleader Cab Calloway and his Orchestra, Minnie the Moocher set the unsettling tone for this bizarre series of shorts. Combining great music with some of the Fleischer’s strangest animation, Minnie the Moocher sees Betty and Bimbo trapped in a cave by a group of ghouls all singing Calloway’s title song. Perhaps the weirdest of all is the singing ghost walrus, rotoscoped to follow Calloway’s distinctive dance moves. There is absolutely no reason for the cartoon’s creators to have made this character a walrus. The other creations are mostly ghosts, witches, standard creepy stuff. But a walrus…?!! Such outside-the-box thinking would continue to characterise the Fleischer-Calloway cartoons, peaking with the second in the series, the utterly masterful Snow White.
77. MOTHER GOOSE GOES HOLLYWOOD
The 73rd Disney Silly Symphony and the last cartoon to officially bear the series name, Wilfred Jackson’s Mother Goose Goes Hollywood is one of the best celebrity caricature cartoons out there, ingeniously mixing Hollywood stars into Nursery Rhymes. W.C. Fields is Humpty Dumpty, Laurel and Hardy are Simple Simon and the Pieman, the Marx Brothers are Old King Cole’s fiddlers and, in the cartoon’s fantastic running gag, Katherine Hepburn is a decidedly stoic Little Bo Peep. Although it features a couple of dodgy racial gags (the one that seems most offensive by today’s standards is actually a caricature of black actor Stepin Fetchit whose trademark stereotype shtick it accurately recreates) and a handful of celebrities that modern audiences may struggle to recognise (making it all the more fun for we film-buffs), Mother Goose Goes Hollywood is a fantastic cartoon which works itself up into an unprecedentedly lively crescendo in which the caricatures sing and dance along with Fats Waller and Cab Calloway. It was nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar in a phenomenal year for Disney that saw the studio nominated for four different cartoons (the others were Brave Little Tailor, Good Scouts and Ferdinand the Bull, which ultimately won the award).
76. INVISIBLE INK
The Fleischer brothers’ contribution to animation is too often overlooked in favour of Disney and Warner Bros. and I’ve always thought that their brilliant Out of the Inkwell series was massively underappreciated. Mixing live-action and animation, the Out of the Inkwell cartoons star Koko the Clown (who I always thought was one of the Fleischers’ coolest creations), a cartoon who comes to life on his cartoonist’s drawing board. The live action cartoonist, played by Max Fleischer himself, then interacts with Koko, in a precursor to such animator-vs-creation shorts as Duck Amuck or Daniel Greaves’ Manipulation. The mix of live action and animation still looks fantastic today. Invisible Ink’s chase through the city, which has Koko peeping out from behind buildings in a mocking fashion, is a great sequence which really opens the cartoon world out. The Out of the Inkwell series was originally an experiment to showcase the Fleischers’ new animation invention, Rotoscoping. This process of tracing real life movements to create realistic motion (clearly visible in Koko) would eventually become one of my least favourite animation techniques but the Fleischers used it brilliantly, first to bring together the real and cartoon worlds with seamless flair and later, in their first feature Gulliver’s Travels, to differentiate between the exaggeratedly cartoony and the realisitically human within a completely animated world.
That’s not all, folks! Join me soon for part two where we’ll count down the next 25 cartoons on the list.