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 third of four parts, I’ll be counting down from 50 to 26 and hopefully bringing back a few memories in the process.
50. HIGH DIVING HARE
Friz Freleng’s High Diving Hare is one of the director’s best and best-loved cartoons. A masterclass in how to put a different spin on the same gag over and over again, High Diving Hare quickly sets up its premise and then has tons of fun with it. When high-diving daredevil Fearless Freep cancels his appearance at a carnival, Yosemite Sam will stop at nothing to see the diving act he’s been promised. Holding Bugs Bunny at gunpoint, he attempts to force him into performing the act himself. Needless to say, it is Sam who ends up plunging into the water tank again and again and again. Much like when Lucy convinces Charlie Brown that she won’t pull away the football when he tries to kick it, High Diving Hare derives its humour from the numerous different ways in which Bugs convinces Sam to take the plunge himself. By the end of the cartoon, Freleng doesn’t even need to show us this, such is the inevitability of the situation. Instead he resorts to an inspired shot of Sam running up the ladder, a couple of seconds silence and then him plunging downwards. The inevitability of this conclusion has become the gag itself. High Diving Hare takes a minimalist concept and milks it dry. The repetitiveness of the short is where its charm lies. It remains a skilfully executed and extremely funny film.
49. THREE LITTLE PIGS
A groundbreaking short of enormous popularity, Burt Gillett’s Three Little Pigs struck a chord with Depression era audiences and cinemas ran it for months after its debut, sometimes giving it top billing over the feature it accompanied. The short’s popularity was well deserved. As well as continuing to display the Disney Studio’s growing mastery of engaging storytelling and gorgeous colour visuals, the film also saw a notable growth in characterisation, with the pigs and wolf emerging as memorable characters in and of themselves, rather than merely frolicking representations of types. Three Little Pigs also featured composer Frank Churchill’s unforgettable song ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’, which immediately became a little piece of film history and pre-empted Churchill’s classic work on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with great songs like ‘Heigh Ho’ and ‘Whistle While You Work’. All in all, Three Little Pigs is one of the most important and beloved shorts in animation history, not only inspiring three sequels but also several parodies from other studios, including Warner Bros. excellent Pigs in a Polka and Three Little Bops.
48. DUCK! RABBIT, DUCK!
Chuck Jones’s Duck! Rabbit, Duck! is the last instalment of the celebrated hunting trilogy. Often considered the weakest of the three cartoons, I believe it is at least as funny as its two predecessors. Set in a snowy wintertime wood as opposed to the summery setting of the other two cartoons, Duck! Rabbit, Duck! is an attractive and hilarious short which hinges on a brilliant running gag involving Daffy being duped into proclaiming that he is a series of different animals, all of which correspond to signs held up by Bugs. As with its two predecessors, Duck! Rabbit, Duck! features a variety of jokes involving Daffy’s beak being blown off and plenty of ingenious wordplay. It culminates in the most violent moment of the whole trilogy. Easily the equal of its two predecessors, Duck! Rabbit, Duck! is a superb final entry in an historical series of cartoons by one of the masters of the animated art form. What more recommendation do you need?!!
47. QUIET PLEASE
By now, William Hannah and Joseph Babera were so confident in their creations that nearly every Tom & Jerry cartoon was a work of art. Although they are often unfairly criticised for being nothing but slapstick and violence, the Tom and Jerry series was actually always experimenting with new ways to put the familiar chase in different contexts. Quiet Please plays on the contrast between silence and very loud noises to maximum comedy effect. As well as experimenting with sound, the short also works largely with one confined space, as the battle commences around the sleeping Spike. Quiet Please continued the deserved run of Oscar glory for this seemingly unstoppable series and, while it may be retrospectively viewed as one of the more modest of the Tom and Jerry Oscar winners, it is also one of the cleverest for anyone willing to look beyond the obvious.
46. BOOBY HATCHED
Frank Tashlin’s Booby Hatched is a splendid cartoon full to bursting with all sorts of different types of gag. A mother duck tries desperately to keep her eggs warm in sub-zero temperatures (and this set up alone spawns five or six great jokes in only a couple of minutes). All but one finally hatch out and the unhatched egg sets out on a journey to find warmth. Booby Hatched seems to pack a ridiculous amount of plot into its seven minutes, incorporating the mother duck’s attempts to hatch the eggs, the introduction of the unhatched protagonist, his attempts to find a source of heat, the discovery of his disappearance, the very late introduction of the main villain, a frantic chase, an unexpected twist and finally the punch line. That’s without even mentioning the cameo appearance of a hibernating bear who steals the cartoon with just two lines! Tashlin’s direction here is as magnificent as ever with some great executions of some tricky concepts (the egg x-ray sequence that opens the cartoon is particularly beautiful) and Booby Hatched emerges as something of an undiscovered masterpiece, a tremendously satisfying classic.
45. STOP! LOOK! AND HASTEN!
Chuck Jones’s Stop, Look and Hasten is one of the greatest installments in the whole Road Runner series. The fifth cartoon in the series, it brings together all the lessons learned in the first four Road Runner shorts and uses them to create a perfect marriage between the ingredients that make these characters and their antics so popular. It combines the breathless pace of Going! Going! Gosh!, the wonderful reaction shots of Zipping Along and the experimental extended chase scenes of Beep Beep to hilarious effect. Even the oft-used gags are executed with such perfection that they breathe new life into the joke. Look to the falling bridge gag for proof. But Stop, Look and Hasten isn’t just a classic combination of elements from earlier cartoons. It brings to the Road Runner series a very valuable element; the extended set-up. Previous cartoons had just opened with the Coyote in pursuit of or awaiting the Road Runner. Stop, Look and Hasten adds a slower paced opening in which we see the Coyote wandering slowly through the desert, attempting to eat anything from insects to tin cans. It’s a great sequence which gives us a glimpse at the sad existence of the character outside of his pursuit of the Road Runner. These steady opening set-ups would go on to become an important part of later cartoons in the series. Stop, Look and Hasten is simply a cut above most Road Runner cartoons. It has everything down perfectly. There’s not a wasted second, a rarity in spot-gag cartoons such as this.
44. PAGE MISS GLORY
Tex Avery’s Page Miss Glory is one of the most beautiful cartoons ever made, a parody of the live action musical of the same name, incorporating art-deco experimentation into a lush, grandiose musical extravaganza. If ever testament were needed to Avery’s directorial genius, Page Miss Glory is ample answer alone. While a bellboy in Hicksville awaits the arrival of the much touted Miss Glory, he drifts off to sleep and fantasizes himself as bellboy in a huge luxury hotel in which all the male occupants are vying for the attention of the sultry Miss Glory. Stuffed to the gills with great gags and eye-popping visuals, Page Miss Glory is a very early Warner Bros. masterpiece. Avery excels and, while his subsequent output would be crammed full of defining masterpieces, it’s only a shame Page Miss Glory seems to have got lost in the shuffle. It is, for want of a better word, truly a glorious creation.
43. ROCK-A-BYE BEAR
Rock-a-Bye Bear, for my money, is one of the most gut-bustingly hilarious cartoons Tex Avery ever directed. Though not generally considered among his classics, Rock-a-Bye Bear still makes me roar with laughter every time I see it. Similar in theme to the classic Tom and Jerry short Quiet Please, Rock-a-Bye Bear features a dog trying desperately not to wake up a violent-tempered hibernating bear. The bear, who apparently can’t stand noise, is actually one of the loudest characters ever animated, a classic comedy contrast that Avery exploits to characteristic extremes. This cartoon also features the most successful example of a gag that Avery would return to again and again in other cartoons, in which a character is forced to run backwards and forwards to a safe hiding place in order to let out a loud noise. Avery made cartoons with greater technical flourishes and more unusual moods but Rock-a-Bye Bear is perhaps the quintessential example of his skill for comedic extremes.
42. MOUSE IN MANHATTAN
Of all the experiments Hanna and Barbera made in this era of Tom and Jerry shorts, Mouse in Manhattan is probably the most audacious. After all, Tom and Jerry were a duo and audiences expected to always see them together. So the idea of making a solo Jerry cartoon in which Tom makes only a cameo was a bold move indeed. Luckily, it works beautifully, although the absence of Tom in favour of an entire city as Jerry’s opponent is perhaps the reason this exquisite short remains underrated. Throughout its runtime Mouse in Manhattan aspires to Disney realism, offering us a beautiful depiction of New York at night. One would expect Jerry to be an insipid character without Tom to play off but he proves more than affable company throughout. But it is the sparkling visuals that are the real star of Mouse in Manhattan and it emerges as one of the most immersive of cartoons I can think of. When Jerry returns to Tom at the end we are still relieved to see the pair reunited and there is no desire to see any more solo Jerry outings, but that is because Mouse in Manhattan nailed it first time out and there is no need to attempt to improve on such a wonderful cartoon.
41. ROBIN HOOD DAFFY
One of the great classics of animation, Chuck Jones’s Robin Hood Daffy is a sumptuous and hilarious short from the late era of Warner Bros. cartoons. Based on the glorious Warner production The Adventures of Robin Hood, Robin Hood Daffy combines subtle character comedy and broad slapstick with an astonishingly perfect balance. The famous “buck and a quarter quarterstaff” scene that opens the film is the finest example of this. Daffy’s wild thrashing around is punctuated by his quiet run through of how the routine should go as he takes time out to establish just where he went wrong. It’s a classic scene with some terrific animation as the chortling Porky Pig defeats Daffy Duck at a duel with very little effort. Compare this scene and the laughing fits that the characters break into afterwards with the same scene from The Adventures of Robin Hood and it becomes even funnier as you realise how close to the source material it actually is.
There are plenty of other classic moments in Robin Hood Daffy (“Yoiks and away”), each punctuated by the frolicking image of the weary traveller that Daffy is attempting to rob obliviously passing by the latest scene of Daffy’s humiliation. Apart from the gorgeous layouts, the brilliant gags and the wonderful performance by Mel Blanc, Robin Hood Daffy is also notable for how Jones uses the characters, particularly Porky Pig. Porky had long been a straight man whose star billing was contradicted by the way his co-stars upstaged him. Relegating Porky to supporting player breathed new life into him and, as is the case with all Jones’s Porky and Daffy genre parodies, Porky excels himself. His laidback, overly-jolly friar is the perfect foil to inspire escalating frustration in Daffy as he tries in vain to prove he’s Robin Hood, never thinking to just point out one of the many Wanted posters bearing his image. Robin Hood Daffy is an exceptional piece of work that everyone of a certain age remembers fondly. It’s another in an extraordinarily long line of Chuck Jones classics.
40. READY… SET… ZOOM!
Chuck Jones’s Ready, Set, Zoom, the sixth Road Runner cartoon, had the mammoth task of following Stop, Look and Hasten, one of the best cartoons of the series. Jones and his regular Road Runner writer Michael Maltese more than rose to the challenge and, if anything, Ready, Set, Zoom is even better than its classic predecessor. A startlingly handsome and extremely funny short, it opens with the unusual sight of a stationary Road Runner. From here, it continues to confound audience expectations with the most unpredictable set of jokes yet. When we do arrive at a gag with an obvious outcome (the enormous weight), Jones opts to trust our instincts as an audience and not even bother showing us the Coyote’s inevitable clobbering, instead simply allowing a squashed creature to waddle past the screen after an off-screen clang! The facial expressions of the Coyote are priceless throughout Ready, Set, Zoom, from the glorious evil grin as he formulates his first plan to the look of horror in the final unexpected twist. The best sequence, however, is the extended scene in which a glue-drenched Coyote attempts to rid himself of a sticky stick of dynamite. Everyone knows what’s going to happen. Effectively, the gag has already ended the moment the glue covers the Coyote. Yet Jones wrings out every last laugh from the situation, playing on our sympathies as we hope that just maybe this time he’ll be spared, and our wicked sides as we savour his desperation to evade the inevitable Ka-boom! It’s a glorious sequence in a glorious cartoon which makes a convincing case for being the absolute best of the series.
39. PUSS ‘N’ BOOTY
Frank Tashlin’s Puss ‘n’ Booty is perhaps the great underrated director’s most perfect cartoon. The last black and white Looney Tune, Puss ‘n’ Booty opens with a fairly standard setup that you might expect to see in a Tweety and Sylvester cartoon. What separates it from that repetitive series is this cartoon’s refusal to just cut straight to the easy gags. Instead, Puss ‘n’ Booty is very much a character piece and dedicates a good portion of its running time to sequences which would have been summarised in a couple of shots in a Tweety and Sylvester cartoon. After Rudolf the cat has hiccupped feathers, thereby letting the audience know what has happened, Tashlin refuses to leave it at that and cut to the main story, instead initiating a tremendous bit of character comedy as Rudolf pretends to be devastated and searches everywhere for his missing “friend”. The following sequence is even more masterful as Rudolf anxiously awaits the delivery of a new canary, pacing backwards and forwards on the garden wall and frantically waving down every passing vehicle.
This long build up to the arrival of the cartoon’s second main character would have been reason enough to hail Puss ‘n’ Booty as a masterpiece but Tashlin sustains the brilliance. Instead of resorting to a series of spot gags as Rudolf tries to eat the canary, Tashlin keeps the emphasis on character and the jokes themselves are kept conspicuously low-key so that we can continue to focus on the character’s priceless reactions. There’s an air of real threat that is absent in the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons, as the canary battles for his life. These scenes are also spectacular, particularly the beautifully directed night-time shots. It all culminates in one of the best and strangest final gags in cartoon history. Despite initially appearing to be just another cat and bird cartoon, Puss ‘n’ Booty quickly establishes itself as something very different. It’s a genuine triumph, an unsung classic that I still consider one of the most perfect films of animation’s golden age.
38. BIMBO’S INITIATION
After his terrifying graveyard experience in Swing You Sinners!, Bimbo’s Initiation made it clear that the Fleischers had a sadistic penchant for putting their little dog character Bimbo through the ringer. This memorably creepy cartoon starts innocently enough with Bimbo walking down the street whistling but he immediately plunges into a manhole and the depths of a hellish initiation ritual to a club that he never asked to be a member of in the first place. Once again the Fleischers demonstrate their skill with eye-popping, edge-of-the-seat surrealism, especially as the trials mount up and begin to follow each other without pause for breath. Bimbo’s Initiation is a little more focused than the gloriously loose splurge of Swing You Sinners! and its tighter approach makes it more akin to a thriller than a complete head-trip. Look out for an appearance by Fleischer icon Betty Boop in her early incarnation as a part-dog character.
37. I LOVE TO SINGA
Tex Avery’s I Love to Singa is a cartoon which confounds expectations about both Avery’s work and Warner Bros. cartoons in general. At this early stage in their development, the Merrie Melodies series of cartoons were an attempt to rival the prestige colour cartoons of Walt Disney, often by emulating them. Thus I Love to Singa is full of cute, wide-eyed characters and a sweet, slow-moving plot. However, it’s what Avery does with these character that makes I Love to Singa a mini-masterpiece. A parody of The Jazz Singer, I Love to Singa stars a baby owl named Owl Jolson, a jazz lover born into a family of classical musicians. When an over-zealous Papa Owl throws his son out for insisting on singing jazz, Owl Jolson goes on to win a radio talent contest and, subsequently, the approval of his family. This thinnest of plots is infused with enormous appeal through Avery’s mixture of strikingly handsome, warm visuals and hilarious character comedy. The cartoon is nearly stolen by a stammering hillbilly bird and his laboured rendition of Simple Simon but ultimately I Love to Singa belongs to Owl Jolson, a character who manages to be cute without being cloying. Every time he opens his mouth to sing, I Love to Singa positively lights up. While you won’t find any of the anarchic humour associated with Warner Bros. or the 100mph pacing and exaggerated reaction shots associated with Avery here, what you will find is an exceptional example of great storytelling and charming character comedy. I Love to Singa, while too sweet for some viewers, is a true classic in my eyes and I adore it more ever time I see it.
36. THREE LITTLE BOPS
Friz Freleng’s Three Little Bops is a longtime favourite of mine. From the first time I saw it at a very early age, I was always on the lookout for a chance to see it again. While I was growing up during the 80s and 90s, Warner Bros. cartoons were frequently on TV and every so often this one came around. A jazz parody of Disney’s famous Three Little Pigs cartoon, Three Little Bops is entirely set to music with a great vocal by the underrated Stan Freberg (who finally gets screen credit in this cartoon). It tells the story of the Big Bad Wolf’s unsuccessful attempts to be accepted into the Three Little Bops nightclub act and each time he is rejected, he blows the nightclub down! The visuals are beautifully stylised, fitting perfectly with the modern theme of the cartoon, and Warren Foster’s lyrics are often priceless (“Dew Drop Inn did drop down”!). It’s not quite a perfect cartoon, since there are a couple of slightly mistimed moments and the section in which the Wolf adopts a series of disguises slows things down and unnecessarily breaks from the musical narration for a conspicuously long time. Nevertheless, if asked to list my favourite Warner cartoons, Three Little Bops would always be one of the first to pop into my head. It’s a toe-tapping delight of which I never tire.
35. POPEYE THE SAILOR MEETS ALI BABA’S FORTY THIEVES
At the height of the character’s popularity, the Fleischer brothers made three full-colour Popeye specials which ran at three times the length of a normal Popeye cartoon and incorporated more ambitious plots and artwork. After the success of the first Popeye special it was inevitable that another one would follow. While bettering Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor seemed like an impossible task, the Fleischers equalled it at the very least with the brilliant Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. Once again the extra breathing space of a seventeen minute runtime, plus the possibilities that came with colour and a foreign setting, allowed the Fleischers to create an adventure of epic proportions. Full of tremendous gags, action set-pieces and musical numbers, Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves is an essential companion piece to the first Popeye special. It was only the release of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs weeks later that overshadowed this classic short.
34. THE CASE OF THE STUTTERING PIG
Frank Tashlin’s The Case of the Stuttering Pig is as strong a testament as any to the fact that Tashlin was an underrated director. A beautiful piece of storytelling with plenty of room for gags and a few scares, The Case of the Stuttering Pig is a sumptuous horror film. Setting the scene brilliantly with a creepy, knowingly clichéd thunderstorm as a backdrop for the reading of a will, Tashlin proceeds to introduce one of the great cartoon villains. Lawyer Goodwill begins as a too-good-to-be-true humanitarian but, even before the reveal, it’s clear that something is quite wrong with this apparently benevolent soul. There follows a cracking sequence in which Lawyer Goodwill transforms himself into a hideous villain, lunging towards the camera as he addresses the audience directly. This scene is startlingly creepy on a TV screen so one can only imagine the impact it must have had on a cinema screen. The initial transformation features an hilarious gag in which the potion doesn’t take and Lawyer Goodwill stands staring blankly out into the audience in anticipation of an effect that doesn’t arrive. The subsequent pursuit of Porky by the monstrous Goodwill is extremely effective and culminates in a predictable but pleasing gag. You can imagine that every guy in the third row during a showing of The Case of the Stuttering Pig was probably squirming uncomfortably throughout and cheering triumphantly at the climax. A masterpiece.
33. A WILD HARE
It’s a classic set-up. A round-headed, bulbous-nosed hunter creeps through the woods brandishing his gun, briefly turning to the audience to inform them “Be vewwy, vewwy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits”. Coming across a rabbit hole, the hunter begins to dig while from an adjacent hole a grey bunny emerges, casually moseys up to the hunter and, with a breathtaking confidence that suggests he sees the hunter as no threat whatsoever, asks “What’s up, Doc?” And cinema history is changed forever.
Tex Avery’s A Wild Hare not only created a universal superstar in Bugs Bunny but also remains the quintessential Bugs cartoon to this day. Mention the name Bugs Bunny to anyone and 90% of them will immediately picture a rabbit hole in a forest and Elmer Fudd stalking towards it. Not only does A Wild Hare open exactly this way, the first line is Elmer’s most famous catchphrase. When Bugs puts in an appearance, his opening line is perhaps the most famous catchphrase of all time. So the scene is set, the template established for a rivalry that will continue for decades. There’s enough history in the opening couple of minutes of A Wild Hare to make any serious cartoon fan’s heart swell with joy but there’s plenty more to recommend it. While it may seem like a comparatively no-frills cartoon for those who grew up watching the many, many variations on this set-up that followed, keep in mind that this was Bugs’s debut and these now familiar routines are being tried out for the first time. Bugs has rarely been cooler or looked more handsome than he does in A Wild Hare, his nonchalance really striking a chord with audiences and ensuring his place in cartoon history.
While there were a handful of cartoons that predate A Wild Hare starring prototype Bugs Bunnys, Avery’s cartoon is undoubtedly the first time he was the character we all know and love and, therefore, clearly his official debut. Avery’s expert timing, Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan’s instant chemistry as Bugs and Elmer and a solid script by Rich Hogan all contribute to creating an Academy Award nominated classic and the smell of history that now lingers around A Wild Hare makes it positively electric. It is an experience to treasure which, for me, will never lose its heart-stopping air of excitement.
32. DRAFTEE DAFFY
Bob Clampett’s Draftee Daffy is a remarkable cartoon in many respects. Of course, there is its extraordinary energy, phenomenal facial expressions, a great voice characterisation from Mel Blanc. But most of all, Draftee Daffy is incredible because it is a wartime cartoon which acknowledges the horror of being called up to serve your country. Daffy starts the cartoon as a flag-waving patriot singing the praises of the American troops fighting fascism. When he receives a call saying that the man from the draft board is coming to see him however, Daffy’s demeanour changes and he falls apart at the prospect of going to war himself. He spends the rest of the cartoon frantically trying to avoid receiving his call-up papers. Only Daffy Duck could have gotten away with such flagrantly unpatriotic behaviour during wartime and still have the audience root for him. While nearly every film, animated or live action, was depicting Americans as willing and eager to serve their country, Draftee Daffy acknowledges the horror of what lay in wait for draftees and the terror they must have felt. Clampett emphasises this by Daffy’s absolute insanity at the prospect of being sent to the hellish battlefields, to the extent that he’s willing to commit murder and is actually relieved when he finds himself in hell at the end of the cartoon, assuming that at least he is safe from the trenches. In many ways, Draftee Daffy is a deadly serious cartoon about real people’s fear of being drafted into the madness of war and this adds a pleasingly dark edge to what is otherwise an absolutely hilarious short. Daffy’s wild bids for freedom are animated to perfection as he literally becomes a blur in his attempts to escape the eerily calm man from the draft board. Draftee Daffy is not only massively entertaining to watch, it is also loaded with subtext and historical significance which make it a genuine landmark film.
31. THRU THE MIRROR
While Mickey Mouse was increasingly being paired with his ever popular co-stars, some of the best Mickey cartoons were his more experimental solo efforts, of which David Hand’s Thru the Mirror is a notably beautiful example. The Lewis Carroll-inspired plot is familiar but merely an excuse for some gorgeous visuals as Mickey gently pokes his way through a fluid mirror and then performs a Fred Astaire style routine with a pack of cards. Disney was very keen on the works of Carroll and planned to make his film version of Alice in Wonderland many years before he actually managed it. In the meantime, he arguably captured the spirit of Carroll more accurately in these eight minutes than he did across a whole feature film.
30. DUCK DODGERS IN THE 24 ½TH CENTURY
Chuck Jones’s Duck Dodgers in the 24th ½ Century has always been the most popular of his Daffy and Porky genre spoofs and it isn’t hard to see why. Aside from a cracking script by Michael Maltese, Duck Dodgers… is one of the most handsome Warner Bros. cartoons ever made. While almost every second of an average Warner cartoon is dedicated to either gags or story development, Duck Dodgers… features moments of visual brilliance that relate to neither. Most memorable is the giant eyeball that watches Daffy as he walks beneath it, an image which has no real comic value but is just beautiful to look at. Once the intrepid duo reach Planet X, however, the cartoon is all about brilliant jokes, my favourite of which is the Acme disintegrating pistol (“Well, whadda you know, it disintegrated”). The extremely on-form Porky’s final deadpan address to camera is also classic. In one of his few appearances which nevertheless afforded him star status, Marvin the Martian proves an amusing adversary for Daffy. He doesn’t get as much chance to shine as in the cartoons that pitted him against Bugs since Porky and Daffy steal all the best moments but he is still a memorable villain whose well documented ineptitude proves more than a match for Daffy’s inadequate heroics. Duck Dodgers in the 24th ½ Century is an undoubted classic which can count among its fans George Lucas, who selected it to be shown before the cinema screenings of his re-released Star Wars.
29. THE TELLTALE HEART
The United Productions of America studio, known as UPA, proved to be something of a gamechanger for the Hollywood cartoon. Established in the late 40s, UPA pioneered the approach of limited animation. In contrast to Disney’s attempts to create something akin to real life, UPA chose instead to create bold, basic character designs, often set against relatively blank backgrounds, proudly owning its artificiality. Though their cartoons are mostly less well-remembered than those of the other studios, their influence was enormous with all the other studios, Disney included, experimenting with their own versions of the limited approach. UPA were also known for their bolder, often cerebral and deliberately adult choices of subject matter. An adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story, Ted Parmelee’s The Tell-Tale Heart is a perfect example. It was the first X-rated cartoon and captures the subtly horrific atmosphere of Poe’s narrative with a characteristically dramatic narration from James Mason. But it is the innovative, minimal animation that really makes The Tell-Tale Heart an unforgettable classic. Small moments of movement are contrasted with lengthy periods of stillness or pitch blackness. In one especially harrowing the darkness is suddenly illuminated by a shaft of light, revealing the horrified face of a character in peril. It’s a terrific adaptation that tells the story with exactly the right level of eeriness.
28. MICKEY’S TRAILER
While Clock Cleaners is usually recognised as the greatest of the Mickey, Donald and Goofy shorts, my vote would go to this absolutely fantastic film. Directed by Ben Sharpsteen, Mickey’s Trailer gives the trio a break from the world of work, instead focusing on their leisure time as they drive around the countryside in a technologically advanced trailer. Part of the joy of this cartoon is sharing in the enjoyment of the three characters in their spare time and the viewer feels as if they too are along for the ride. The gags are funny and inventive and the short picks up the pace at exactly the right moment for its disaster-movie finale. A gem.
27. MAGICAL MAESTRO
Among the many classics of the animation medium that Tex Avery created, Magical Maestro is one of the greatest. Once it has quickly set up its situation (a rejected magician replaces the conductor to take his revenge on an opera singer using his wand for a baton), Magical Maestro limits itself to just the image of a singing dog on a stage, with the onslaught of laughs coming from the numerous transformations he undergoes. The gags here are inventive, unexpected (aside from a few of the era’s typical racial stereotypes) and hilarious. One joke in particular is unique to Tex Avery’s cartoons. Knowing that hairs often got caught in film projectors if they were loaded wrongly, Avery adds in an artificial hair for several frames. After leaving it there just long enough to drive the projectionist crazy, Avery has the main character pluck it out himself and toss it aside. It’s my favourite joke in a cartoon full of contenders.
26. ROOTY TOOT TOOT
Directed by John Hubley who, along with his wife Faith, would go on to become one of the most innovative and acclaimed animation directors of the 60s and 70s, UPA’s Rooty Toot Toot was their most stylised cartoon yet. Based on the ballad ‘Frankie and Johnny’, Rooty Toot Toot is a courtroom drama in verse. The script is good but the animation is the clincher, filling the scenario with a unique energy that could only come from UPA. With daring character design and radical use of colour (dull greys and browns dominate, often set against themselves but also juxtaposed with vibrant reds), Rooty Toot Toot is an astonishing masterpiece which continued to thrust UPA into the critical spotlight.
That’s not all, folks! Join me soon for the final part, where we’ll look at the absolute cream of the crop; the top 25 cartoons.