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THE TOP TEN CARTOONS OF 1932

This post, the third in our series, covers the best the animation world had to offer in 1932. This was the year that color really came on the scene in a big way with Disney’s Silly Symphony short Flowers and Trees, and the Academy Award for Best Animated Short was also introduced this year (the nominees included Disney’s Flowers and Trees, Warner Bros.’ It’s Got Me Again and Disney’s Mickey’s Orphans, which was actually released in 1931).

Betty Boop gained her own series at the Fleischer studio, leaving the Talkartoons behind, and Goofy, originally known as Dippy Dawg, was introduced in the Disney short Mickey’s Revue, but for the most part it was business as usual at the animation studios this year in regards to new series and characters. Van Beuren continued with their Tom & Jerry and Aesop’s Fables shorts, Terrytoons plugged on with Farmer Al Falfa, Charles Mintz released Scrappy and Krazy Kat cartoons, Ub Iwerks stuck with Flip the Frog and Warner Bros. continued its trend of Bosko-centered Looney Tunes and one-shot Merrie Melodies. Walter Lantz, in addition to the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts, introduced Pooch the Pup, but he never made much of a splash.

Despite the lack of new series, however, some of the finest cartoons ever made were released in 1932, including surrealistic flights of lunacy from the Fleischer Studio and increasingly sophisticated storytelling from Disney. Not to mention various amusing odds and ends from studios like Walter Lantz and Charles Mintz, and even independent producers like Berthold Bartosch and Ted Eshbaugh.

Take a look:

BETTY BOOP M.D.
Directed by Dave Fleischer [Uncredited: Willard Bowsky]; Max Fleischer

If you have a taste for the surreal, Betty Boop, M.D. is the cartoon for you. The plot, such as it is, features Betty Boop, Bimbo and Ko-Ko in a traveling medicine show, trying to get people to buy their all-purpose drug Jippo. This loose framework allows the Fleischer animators to go crazy on a series of strange gags brought to life by the characters’ rubbery movements: Ko-Ko’s limbs get all twisted up as he attempts to perform an acrobatic show (resulting in a fifth arm at one point), an old man’s heart sports a mouth to sing a chorus of Silver Threads Among the Gold and characters marching down the street squash and stretch in a manner that recalls one of the stranger images in Winsor McCay’s comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland.

The short doesn’t even attempt to make sense: the cartoon seems to imply that our three heroes are swindlers, and at one point in the film it is revealed that the Jippo bottles are being filled with water from a fire hydrant. However, as people take the miracle drug, they begin stretching, morphing and bloating in increasingly bizarre ways. Is the cartoon implying that such cures are largely mental, or is the fire hydrant gag just an inconsistency? That’s entirely beside the point, as free-wheeling fun is this short’s only mission.

It has been said that Dave Fleischer demanded his animators stick in some little gag or bit of comic business in every shot of his cartoons, and although he relaxed that standard at some point, it would seem to be true here, as the film feels overstuffed with funny ideas. And like many of the best Fleischer shorts, jazz music fuels the deranged imagination. Towards the film’s climax, Bimbo starts scatting to the tune of the 1924 song Nobody’s Sweetheart Now, giving a burst of energy to an already off-the-wall short.

And some of the film’s invention crosses the line into disturbing territory: seeing an old man turn into a giant baby is amusingly off-putting, and the ending – where an infant drinks Jippo and transforms into a detailed and realistic approximation of Fredric March as Mr. Hyde – is flat-out terrifying (supervising animator Willard Bowsky seemed fond of ending his films on a frightening note; the 1932 Screen Song Popular Melodies concludes with a close-up of Satan’s face saying, “pleasant dreams, children, goodnight”).

Still, despite the creepy strangeness, Betty, Bimbo and Ko-Ko make a likable trio and give the film a sense of good-natured fun. Betty is at her most charming here, terrifically animated and enjoyably voiced by Mae Questel. Her musical advertisement for Jippo (“if you become too solemn, it may affect the spinal column”) successfully increases sales where Ko-Ko’s clowning failed, likely due more to her attractiveness than her medical expertise (Betty’s flirty salesmanship is a running theme in the Betty Boop shorts: her feminine wiles get her elected to lead the country in Betty Boop for President, and she even convinced Bimbo to join a cult in Bimbo’s Initiation).

Having an affable starring character to anchor the short allows the animators to indulge in their craziest fantasies without restraint. Oftentimes, when people watch cartoons from the early ‘30s, they ask something along the lines of, “what kind of drugs were these guys taking when they made these?” Now you know what to tell them: JIPPO!

CARNIVAL CAPERS
Directed by Walter Lantz & Bill Nolan; Walter Lantz

Carnival Capers is not a particularly well-known short, and the setup is about as generic as it could possibly be: Oswald and his girlfriend go to the carnival, where a peg-legged adversary kidnaps the girl and Oswald has to save her. However, Tex Avery served as an animator and gag writer on the film, and it offers a tantalizing glimpse of the direction he would go in his directorial efforts later in the 1930s.

Cheerfully impossible gags were all the rage in the pre-code era, but they started going out of fashion in the mid-‘30s until Avery brought them back again at Warner Bros. However, Avery’s humor differed from most cartoons of the early ‘30s in that it had a wiseguy edge to it; whereas the Fleischers sprinkled tons of arbitrary gags all throughout their films to create a surreal, dreamlike concoction, Avery would tackle a silly idea with brute force, and Carnival Capers is somewhere between a typically absurd early ‘30s cartoons and a slapstick-oriented Looney Tune. Of course, it’s impossible to say how many of the gags here actually originated with Avery, but the stylistic similarities to his later work are unmistakable (another Oswald short released in 1932, Grandma’s Pet, parodies the story of Little Red Riding Hood and concludes with a magic wand showdown in a way that suggests later Avery classics like Red Hot Riding Hood and Magical Maestro).

This film’s emphasis on cartoon violence (Oswald lands on a porcupine, the villain gets flattened like a pancake behind a swinging door) as well as comic surprise (Oswald gets snapped with a mousetrap, a raging gorilla suddenly bursts out of a house) are pure Avery, and we’ve also got a gag involving scantily-clad women (the pig dancer’s swerving hips are used to shake up milkshakes), comic dismemberment (the top half of the villain gets knocked off and the two halves run around separately for a while) and reality-bending (a drawing of a mouse flies off of the surface it was drawn on). The bit where the spots fall off of the giraffe and have to run back up would be right at home as one of the jungle gags in The Slap-Happy Lion or Half-Pint Pygmy, and the Test Your Punch sequence, where the machine swings back and crashes through the villain’s head, could’ve easily been played out by Droopy and Spike in The Chump Champ or Daredevil Droopy (the timing of the gag is also Averyesque, whether or not he actually animated the scene; the blow has some real snap to it, whereas many ‘30s cartoons feature more even timing). Speaking of Droopy, the milkshake seller resembles him in many respects, particularly given that deadpan characters were not all that common in cartoons at this point.

Another Avery earmark is allowing a gag to build; most early ‘30s cartoons will toss out a crazy gag and move on to the next one, but Avery’s specialty was stretching a silly idea to its breaking point, a talent that really came to fruition in masterpieces like King-Size Canary (1947) and Bad Luck Blackie (1949). Here we only see only a germ of that kind of comic resilience, but it’s there: the sequence where the villain gets his head stuck in a fence goes from bad to worse in increasingly unlikely ways (ten years later, Avery might’ve given a final punch to the gag by having an airplane come out of nowhere and smash into the villain’s rear, but one can’t expect too much from this 1932 release).

Anyway, I’ve mainly been preaching to the Avery buffs here, but – if I haven’t already mentioned – the film is hilarious and a great example of the crazy humor of the Oswald cartoons before they toned down somewhat in the mid-‘30s. Bill Nolan’s animation had been softened a bit since the early days of The Hash Shop (1930), but his style is still all over this cartoon and he gives his characters rubbery appeal. It’s a really great cartoon that reflects the era in which it was made, but it also hints at things to come.

THE FLOP HOUSE
Directed by Dick Huemer; Charles Mintz

While there are a couple of cartoons that directly acknowledge the Depression (Columbia’s Prosperity Blues, Walter Lantz’s Confidence) and a few that focus on characters in utter poverty (Ub Iwerks’ What a Life, Disney’s Mickey’s Good Deed), cartoons of the early ‘30s were more likely to either ignore the Depression altogether, or accept its hardships as a fact of life and mine humor out of it.

The Flop House falls into the latter category, forming a zany cartoon comedy around a shack where homeless tramps can sleep for twenty-five cents. The gritty, hard-boiled humor, which owes a lot to the urban sensibilities of the Fleischer studio, makes it one of the ultimate examples of Depression-era cartooning. Although Scrappy is ostensibly a child, the animators have long since given up putting him in semi-realistic situations, and here we find him running a business in which the primary clients are dirty and potentially dangerous bums (one of the best gags involves a goat who has to use a hammer to get his socks off). The animators have also given up on populating Scrappy’s universe with other humans, and Scrappy and Oopy are the lone humans in this world of cartoons animals.

In case you have somehow gone through life not knowing who Oopy is, he’s Scrappy’s obnoxious little brother, and he absolutely steals the show here. After trying to retrieve his quarter using a giant magnet strapped to his back, he proceeds to bother every single person in the flop house. The sequence where he keeps inadvertently making noise while the animals are attempting to sleep is one of the all-time funniest scenes in ‘30s animation. As Oopy gargles some water, knocks things over and attempts to shut the blinds, the camera remains totally motionless, masterfully trusting the audience to infer how annoyed the other flop house patrons are getting without showing them. The comic timing in the sequence is absolutely perfect, and each of Oopy’s mannerisms perfectly conveys his naivety about how much of a pest he’s being.

The climax of the short takes the film into somewhat gross territory when Oopy discovers bugs in his bed and he and Scrappy attempt to defeat the army of insects with bug spray. It’s hard to imagine a cartoon about kids made today where one of them almost sleeps in a bed crawling with insects, or ends with the insects triumphing over the boys by spraying them with poisonous bug spray (luckily it only seems to daze them), but the world of old cartoons is a strange and dangerous place. Anyway, The Flop House is some weird kind of masterpiece.

FLOWERS AND TREES
Directed by Burt Gillett; Walt Disney

This short is notable for a few reasons; it was the first cartoon to be released in three-strip Technicolor (that is, a full range of color rather than the reds and greens seen in early experiments like Ub Iwerks’ Fiddlesticks and Walter Lantz’s animated sequence in King of Jazz), and it was also the first winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Short. The film actually began life as a black & white cartoon, but Walt Disney thought it would be a good test subject for the new color process and he had the whites and grays wiped off of the backs of the cels to be re-photographed with color. It proved to be so popular that the Silly Symphonies series was exclusively shot in color by the end of the year (the Mickey Mouse series was popular enough on its own to persist in black & white until 1935).

But even though this film marked the birth of color at the Disney studio, in some ways it feels like a farewell. The short, with its focus on nature, feels like an update of early Silly Symphonies like Springtime and Summer, and the simple plot, culminating in a fire, brings to mind similar climaxes of natural disaster in Playful Pan and The Ugly Duckling.

To some extent, Flowers and Trees takes the early Silly Symphonies formula as far as it can go; following the film, Walt Disney turned to fables and fairy tales for story material, leaving behind cartoons featuring bugs and flowers cavorting around in the forest. But the film certainly doesn’t feel unsophisticated, boasting lavish animation (the recent switch from Columbia to United Artists gave Disney some higher budgets to work with) and a masterful use of color (the film effectively shows off its full rainbow of color without becoming garish).

The story, about a clumsy tree who has to save his beloved from a villainous, crusty old stump, is told very effectively, with charm to spare and lots of clever ideas (I like the way the birds poke through a cloud to make it rain, and whoever came up with having a lizard serve as the evil tree’s tongue was a genius). There’s also a broader range of tone here than in earlier films, going from broad comedy to a moment of grim quiet as buzzards circle around the dead tree. The short tells a story, but it’s really more of a mood piece, and it features the increasingly skilled Disney artists breaking new ground once again.

L’IDEE (THE IDEA)
Directed by Berthold Bartosch

For a little change of pace from the lighthearted cartoon comedies that dominated the Hollywood and New York schools of animation, here’s The Idea, a 25-minute tragedy animated with paper cutouts. The film was based on a 1920 wordless novel by Flemish artist Frans Masereel (creator of the first wordless novel, 25 Images of a Man’s Passion, published in 1918), who illustrated the story using woodcuts. Hungarian artist Berthold Bartosch, who previously collaborated with Lotte Reininger on her groundbreaking animated feature The Adventures of Prince Achmed, was commissioned by the book’s publisher Kurt Wolff to create a film based on the story. Bartosch moved to Paris in 1930, where he worked on the film in isolation for two years. He animated his cutout characters on multiple levels of glass, and some of the effects were created by spreading soap on the glass and lighting from behind.

The story concerns a thinking man who comes up with a pure idea, represented by a naked woman, no bigger than a doll. He tries to share his idea with the world, but the authorities attempt to clothe her. They can’t hold the idea down, however, and she spreads throughout the working class, starting a revolution. Unfortunately, the businessmen slaughter the followers of the idea and suppress the revolution, causing the idea to grow old and fade away, joining the stars in the sky.

The film has been called the first serious, tragic animated film, and while Winsor McCay’s The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918) has it beat in that regard, Lusitania is made in the style of a documentary, while The Idea is more lyrical and poetic. The story is told very powerfully, and although the vagueness of the concept allows for viewers to plug in whatever they feel the idea represents, the film never feels like it’s pulling it’s punches. Distilling the idea down to a physical representation of purity works much better than if the film had hinted what sort of idea this was. Without any such hint, the short suggests that the specifics of the idea don’t really matter; as long as it’s pure and new, small-minded bureaucrats will try to snuff it out.

The cutout animation is startlingly good, and some of the characters’ movements are nuanced in a way that most hand-drawn characters in 1932 were not. The effects are equally impressive, with quite a few cinematic tricks that were ahead of their time (the transparent soldiers marching in front of a close-up of a man’s face is quite striking). And although the film’s message is a somber one, Bartosch is confident enough in his story to inject some mild humor into the short, particularly in the highly caricatured designs and quirky movements of the businessmen who attempt to clothe the idea.

Sadly, after all of the work Bartosch did on the short, it was never really properly distributed. But you might say that this is one idea that lived on, and the film is now considered a classic. One more bit of a trivia: the film’s electronic score, by Arthur Honegger, is quite likely the first electronic score ever committed to film.

 

THE KLONDIKE KID
Directed by Wilfred Jackson; Walt Disney

For a good example of Disney’s supremacy in the early ‘30s, you could do no better than The Klondike Kid, a near-perfect blend of adventure and comedy. Obviously inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925), the film involves Mickey Mouse attempting to save Minnie from “Pierre” (one of Peg-Leg Pete’s alter-egos) in the frozen north.

Many of the best cartoons of the early ‘30s are dependent on haphazard gags and imagination, with offbeat and frequently accidental results; even the Mickey Mouse cartoons of the previous year, like Traffic Troubles and The Castaway, are mostly just a series of amusing gags surrounding a general theme, with narrative taking a back seat. But Disney was always trying to improve his product, and by the time he released The Klondike Kid, his films were carefully constructed and highly intentional. This short has a real beginning-middle-end structure, and it’s funny, touching and suspenseful all in the right moments.

Compare Mickey’s exchange with Minnie when she comes in from the cold to the Mickey & Minnie conversation in the previous year’s The Delivery Boy, and it’s clear that the dialogue in the earlier film is charmingly stilted, whereas the dialogue in The Klondike Kid is much more believable, despite it’s simplicity. Or compare the treatment of villain Peg-Leg Pete to 1930’s The Cactus Kid: Pete in the earlier cartoon is a cartoonishly evil plot function, but here he has some real menace, particularly in a scene where he intimidates Minnie by asking, “maybe you don’t like Pierre, yes?” (the scene is wonderfully animated by the great Norm Ferguson).

The visuals are extremely sophisticated throughout the film, particularly the evocative use of shadows in the scene where Peg-Leg Pete fires his guns in the darkness, and there’s some impressive animation of the furniture toppling around as the cottage rolls down a hill. But the merits of the visuals aren’t all so technical, and the steady-stream of visual gags are just as effectively achieved (some of the best include the cold wind blowing everyone to one side of the bar, Pete repeatedly whipping the tiny sled-dog between two larger ones and the owls who stay in place even when the tree they’re perching on is pulled down). These visual gags reach a crescendo in the film’s climax, where Pete and Mickey battle it out in a cottage that is sliding down a snowy hill. The action is fantastically orchestrated to be both funny and exciting, and it’s hard not to be entertained as Mickey and Pete try to battle with bedsprings stuck on their limbs.

The film has a seedier edge than one might expect from Disney, with its barroom setting, drinking, tobacco chewing, gunfire and scantily clad pig dancers, but there’s also the welcome familiarity of some major Disney characters in early appearances, such as Pluto (who stops the exciting chase to sniff a tree) and Goofy (who has an amusing cameo singing a line from Frankie and Johnny). Disney would continue to refine his films, but this remains one of Mickey’s greatest appearances.

 

MICKEY’S GOOD DEED
Directed by Burt Gillett; Walt Disney

This Christmas-themed cartoon features Mickey and Pluto begging out in the snow, until a rich young pig decides that he wants to buy Mickey’s dog from him. Like The Klondike Kid, this film shows the Disney staff moving towards more sophisticated storytelling, giving us a real narrative with ups and downs rather than a series of gags set to a general theme.

But Mickey’s Good Deed shows progress in other ways, too. This short is the first to mix real heart with the laughs, in a way that makes you actually care what happens to the characters as opposed to just being amused by them. Disney had flirted with pathos in the past in films like The Ugly Duckling (1931) and The Mad Dog (1932), but he was never entirely successful. The sad bits in The Ugly Duckling are a bit too simplistic and plot-driven to elicit any real emotions, and Mickey’s speech where he begs Peg-Leg Pete not to shoot Pluto in The Mad Dog is over-the-top to the point of being humorous.

However, in this film, you really feel for Mickey when the handouts he receives turn out to be a lot of bolts and screws, and it’s very dispiriting when a horse-drawn sleigh tramples over Mickey’s cello (when the kids on the sleigh wish Mickey and Pluto a Merry Christmas, it’s just salt on the wound). By contrast, when Mickey and Pluto are reunited at the end, it’s a genuinely affecting moment. Mickey Mouse has an inherent likability, of course, but this short smartly generates sympathy for him by showing his commitment to his dog (he refuses to sell Pluto for all of the money in the world), only to have him give up his best pal to help out a poor woman and her kids.

But that’s not to suggest that this short gets so buried in sentiment it forgets to be funny; gags are plentiful, and even some of the sadder moments are exaggerated for comic effect (in the poor woman’s house, there’s a framed portrait of “father” in prison, and a goldfish skeleton is swimming around in a fishbowl). Much of the humor comes from the rich pig and his bratty son, whose fits of rage are exceptionally funny (whoever did the voicework for the kid deserved a raise). The slapstick mayhem the child unleashes when he finally gets his dog is enjoyably chaotic, and when the pig boy is finally spanked, it couldn’t be more satisfying (not to mention that Ben Sharpsteen’s animation of the flustered pig father demanding Pluto be thrown out is terrific).

Despite Disney’s reputation for happily-ever-after endings, this short hardly ends on a fairy tale note. Mickey and Pluto are no better off at the end of the cartoon than they were at the beginning, other than having a roasted chicken to eat, but it’s enough that they’re back together. Despite its age, the film still strikes an emotional chord. It’s hard to imagine what kind of chord it must’ve struck during the height of the Great Depression.

MINNIE THE MOOCHER
Directed by Dave Fleischer (Willard Bowsky); Max Fleischer

The first of three collaborations between jazz legend Cab Calloway and the Max Fleischer studio, this film takes on Calloway’s most iconic song and imbues it with the Fleischers’ distinctive brand of nightmare fuel.

After a wonderful live-action clip of Cab Calloway and his orchestra (the earliest known footage of Calloway), the film begins with a rare glimpse of Betty Boop’s home life, as her strict Jewish parents demand she eat her hasenpfeffer (both the Fleischers and voice artist Mae Questel were Jewish, so this heritage should come as no surprise). It’s an unusually normal situation for Betty – other cartoons set her in an African jungle, on a chess board and in Mother Goose Land – and, truth be told, the film has a more typical story structure than the Fleischer norm: much like The Wizard of Oz, Betty is unsatisfied with her home life and she decides to run away, only to find the outside world to be frightening and dangerous, causing her to return home with a new appreciation.

However, the presentation of said story is anything but normal. Even before Betty enlists Bimbo on her quest to find the real world, her father’s head has turned into phonograph (Mrs. Boop switches out the record, changing his nagging to some pleasant music), flowers and statues have come alive to comfort Betty as she sings the 1911 tune They Always Pick On Me and Ko-Ko the Clown has made a cameo appearance popping out of Betty’s inkwell. But when Betty and Bimbo enter a mysterious cave, the cartoon really goes crazy, launching into the title tune as sung by a ghostly walrus (why a walrus? Who knows?). The movements of the walrus were rotoscoped (that is, traced over live-action footage), and they effectively capture Cab Calloway’s distinctive movements without losing the cartoony element.

The short treats us to many strange images: we’ve got a quartet of skeletons who die from drink, a bunch of ghosts who are sentenced to the electric chair and an empty-eyed mother cat who is sucked dry by her children (grim stuff, although the presentation of these ideas is more dark comedy than tragedy). It’s unclear if the title song’s drug references (i.e. terms like “cokey” and “kick the gong around”) were at the forefront of the animators’ minds when they made this cartoon, but it certainly feels like a hallucinatory head trip, particularly the constantly changing backgrounds that fade into each other.

Once the song is over, Calloway and his Orchestra switch to playing Vine Street Blues as wild, fantastic creatures pop out of the darkness and chase Bimbo and Betty back home. The teaming of Betty Boop and Cab Calloway turned out to be a match made in heaven, and the Fleischers followed it up with Snow White and The Old Man of the Mountain the following year.

ROOM RUNNERS
Directed by Ub Iwerks; Ub Iwerks

For those who aren’t aware, the Motion Picture Production Code (referred to in the industry as the Hays Code, after chief censor Will H. Hays) was a set of guidelines Hollywood obeyed in the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s to keep the movies from becoming too vulgar or risqué. This was a self-imposed restriction the industry adopted in order to stave off interference from the government, and the code not only ruled out bad language, sexual references, gory violence and nudity, but also insisted that filmmakers be respectful towards law enforcement officials and avoid such lewd material as showing married couples in bed together.

The code was created in 1930, but it wasn’t really put into practice until 1934, when the notoriously strict Joseph Breen took over for Hays. The period between the creation of the code and enforcement of it (1930-1934) is referred to as the Pre-Code era, and the movies released in that time are full of racy content and loose morality. The cartoons were no exception to this, as evidenced by the crude gags in Van Beuren’s Tom & Jerry shorts and the sensuality present in Fleischer’s Betty Boop shorts. But it was Ub Iwerks’ studio that had the raunchiest material (which is ironic given his background at the famously clean-cut Disney studio). For example: in Iwerks’ The Office Boy (1932), a mouse runs up an attractive female secretary’s skirt and it eventually gets ripped off entirely by an electric fan. In The Milkman (1932), a horse interrupts a performance of Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here to brashly ask, “what the hell do we care?” And in The Air Race (1933), a hitchhiking angel gives a passing airplane the finger (twice!).

Still, Room Runners remains Iwerks’ most ribald film, and could easily be referred to as the ultimate pre-code cartoon. The short features Flip the Frog attempting to sneak out of an apartment building without paying his rent, repeatedly dodging a stuffy old landlady and a clueless cop. Over the course of the film, we get an expletive (Flip spouts “damn!” after falling down the stairs), an obscene gesture (in one of the film’s more subtle jokes, Flip “flips off” the cop during a magic trick), several raunchy visual gags (when a lady gets kicked from behind, the excess weight in her rear is transferred to her bust) and even full-frontal nudity (the old bitty gets her head stuck through a painting of a nude woman). The short is anything but respectful to policemen, and a running gag features Flip repeatedly bursting in on one of Grim Natwick’s patented sexy cartoon women in various states of undress (she is shown in a see-through slip, in the shower, in a towel and wearing lingerie).

Lest you think this short is only on the list for shock value, however, I should point out that this film is cartooning at its very best, with goofy, energetic poses and expressions (some of the looks of cross-eyed giddiness here are reminiscent of cartoonist Milt Gross), loopy, tilted backgrounds that feel like a cartoonish take on German Expressionism, and one funny gag after another (the film is loaded with joyously impossible jokes, and the scene where the cat gets between Flip’s legs and trips him up is brilliant comedy by any standard).

Flip comes across as a mischievous self-preservationist here, in some ways resembling cartoon tricksters of the ‘40s like Bugs Bunny and Screwy Squirrel more than his peers Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Plus, the short is unusually well-thought-out amid the zaniness, tying together its two running gags (the woman getting dressed and the man who is attempting to pull out his own tooth) in a funny and satisfying way. Some historians paint it as a mistake for Iwerks to have left Disney, but if he hadn’t, we certainly wouldn’t have gotten a masterpiece like this one.

THE SNOW MAN
Directed by Ted Eshbaugh

Ted Eshbaugh is an underrated figure in animation. He is possibly best known for his work at the Van Beuren studio, where he co-directed The Sunshine Makers (1935) with Burt Gillett, but prior to this he was an independent producer who was commissioned by Technicolor to make test films using their 2-strip and 3-strip processes. His 1931 film Goofy Goat (also known as Goofy Goat Antics) was possibly the first cartoon made in 2-strip Technicolor, and his adaptation of The Wizard of Oz was a 3-strip Technicolor short that was in production while Disney was working on Flowers and Trees (it’s interesting to speculate that Disney may have been inspired by the footage he saw of that film, and the way the short opens in black & white Kansas only to switch to color when Dorothy reaches Oz predates the MGM movie by six years).

The Snow Man was released between those two shorts, and it was originally released in 2-strip color, although unfortunately a black & white copy is all we have right now. Eshbaugh was fond of blending the happy and upbeat with the strange and disturbing, and The Snow Man may be his weirdest, creepiest film. It starts off like a Bosko cartoon set in the North Pole, with cheerfully silly gags like an alarm clock with months on it instead of numbers and a polar bear blanket that blows out our hero’s candle. The happy attitude of the short is infectious, and the appealing visuals give the big studio films of the time a run for their money.

However, when our eskimo friend and his animal pals make a snowman and it comes to life, the result is closer to Frankenstein than Frosty the Snowman. No explanation is given for why the snowman is born evil, but it’s piercing eyes and disturbingly realistic fingers tell you all you really need to know, and the creature cruelly wreaks havoc on the penguins, walruses and polar bears of the frozen north.

The short blends it’s horrific content with goofy humor (the snowman at one point plays a church organ and imitates Jimmy Durante), until our eskimo friend finally turns on the Northern Lights with a crank (in a scene that must’ve been incredible in color), causing the snow demon to melt. Still, the short doesn’t let you off that easy, and the ending gag is both funny and sinister. Pleasant dreams, everybody!

Any comments or suggestions for this post? What are your favorite cartoons of 1932? Let me know in the comments below.

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