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THE TOP TEN CARTOONS OF 1936

For this week’s post, I’ll be covering the ten cartoons of 1936 that I think are the best and/or most notable.

This was a significant year in animation, largely due to the debuts of Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin and Carl Stalling at Warner Bros., with Avery in particular pushing towards a new kind of comedy that hadn’t been seen in animation up to this point.

But Disney was still king of the animation world, and his studio was heavy at work on its first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which would be released towards the end of 1937. As for other studios, Van Beuren and Ub Iwerks both closed their doors in 1936, and there weren’t many significant new characters born (Terrytoons birthed Kiko the Kangaroo and Walter Lantz gave us Meany, Miny and Moe, if you’re interested), but there were still plenty of wonderful films from studios like Disney, Warner Bros., Fleischer and MGM.

Take a look:

BROTHERLY LOVE
Directed by Dave Fleischer [Uncredited: Seymour Kneitel]; Max Fleischer

In the mid-1930s, the Popeye cartoons were the funniest and most inventive animated films around. The series featured great characters, terrific animation and a gritty sense of humor that couldn’t be further from the Disney style.

Moreover, the Fleischer animators refused to settle into predictability, and if you look at Popeye cartoons released around the same time as Brotherly Love, such as Vim, Vigor and Vitaliky (where Bluto dresses in drag to join Popeye’s Women’s Health club), A Clean Shaven Man (where Popeye and Bluto shave each other to impress Olive Oyl) and Bridge Ahoy (where Popeye, Olive and Wimpy attempt to build a bridge), you’ll find that each one is great and totally unique.

Brotherly Love is a classic among classics, however. In the film, Popeye is inspired by Olive Oyl’s campaign for the Women’s Brotherly Love Society, and he starts doing good deeds for everyone he meets. He eventually runs into a brawl between the Gas House Boys and the Boiler Makers Social Club, and he is unable to make them stop fighting.

The fact that Popeye spends the bulk of the film going around helping people rather than fighting people is typical of the Fleischers’ uncanny ability to flip the series on its head. There’s a certain gleefulness to these scenes, which are aided by clever visual jokes and Popeye’s frequent mutterings.

This is only Jack Mercer’s sixth attempt at voicing Popeye, and yet the likability and friendliness in his voice is essential to making this film work (William Costello’s gruffer delivery wouldn’t have fit).

The film reaches its pinnacle when Popeye attempts to break up a crowd of brawlers, and he finally decides to teach them his way by downing a can of spinach and beating some brotherly love into them.

Seeing Popeye take them all down is both exhilarating and hilarious, as a bunch of muscle-bound grunts are knocked into assuming innocent poses and two men greet each other pleasantly while flying through the air, adding a touch of tongue-in-cheek humor to Popeye’s triumph. The film goes out on a high note with a hilarious closeup of Popeye and Olive looking ragged and beaten as they reaffirm their message of peace and love.

Toss in a catchy original tune by Sammy Timberg and Sammy Lerner, which was durable enough to be sampled in numerous Popeye cartoons following this one, and you have one of the sailor man’s greatest shorts.

THE COUNTRY COUSIN
Directed by Wilfred Jackson; Walt Disney

The Country Cousin is a cartoon formed around the Aesop’s Fable The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short of 1936, and seemingly served as the inspiration for Chuck Jones’ Sniffles the Mouse character as well as Jerry of Tom & Jerry fame (the classic Tom & Jerry short Mouse in Manhattan is in many ways quite similar to this one).

The scene where the country mouse gets in a fight with his reflection in Jell-O anticipates a similar encounter with Goofy in the Mickey and the Beanstalk sequence in Fun and Fancy Free, and this film almost certainly gave Tex Avery the inspiration to adapt the Aesop tale for his wildly hilarious Little Rural Riding Hood in 1949. Despite all of this influence, The Country Cousin isn’t especially groundbreaking, but it is a fine demonstration of Disney animators at their best.

The film’s success rests entirely on the winning characterization of the country mouse, who is animated with an excellent grasp of solidity and squash & stretch in addition to very strong personality acting. The mouse goes from cheerful ignorance to belligerent stupidity when he downs too much champagne, and his performance is never anything less than excellent. The short is told entirely in pantomime, and there are very few real gags of the type that would’ve been essential to a film like this only a few years earlier.

At this point, fine animators like Art Babbit and Les Clark could create comedy through funny acting alone and still make a cartoon that is thoroughly entertaining.

The score, by Leigh Harline, is very good, as befits a series that primarily focuses on fitting great animation with music (Harline works in some George Gershwin-style elegance in moments featuring the city mouse). There’s also a wonderful sequence towards the end as the country mouse runs through the city, with people nearly stepping on him, cars almost running him over and anthropomorphized horns angrily blaring at him.

There are few twists to this story; it’s just a well-told fable with fantastic animation.

I LOVE TO SINGA
Directed by Tex Avery; Warner Bros.

Tex Avery’s arrival at Warner Bros. was one of the most important events in the history of animation.

Leon Schlesinger set him to work in an old shack affectionately referred to as Termite Terrace, and he was teamed up with a staff that included Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and Virgil Ross. There, Avery started to develop a style of humor that directly contrasted with the Disney norm and pushed the possibilities of the medium to its limits.

Avery had tried some interesting things in cartoons like Gold Diggers of ’49 and Page Miss Glory, but I Love To Singa (his sixth cartoon at Warner Bros.) was his first wholly successful film and also the earliest Warner Bros. short to still exist somewhat in the public consciousness (all cartoon fans know it, and it was referenced in Looney Tunes: Back in Action as well as the first episode of South Park). In the film, a strict German music professor named Fritz Owl throws his son Owl Jolson out of the house for singing jazz, but the young owl’s love of crooning eventually earns him the top prize at Jack Bunny’s Amateur Hour. The plot is a parody of the groundbreaking sound film The Jazz Singer, and the title song was lifted from the 1936 Al Jolson movie The Singing Kid.

Compared to Avery’s later work, this film is very cute and exceptionally tame. The short has soft character designs, generally restrained animation, a good-natured title song and a Disneyesque story where a misunderstood kid faces obstacles but eventually achieves his goal.

But the film tells its story with an endearing confidence that earlier Merrie Melodies lacked, and Avery tosses in some jokes to pepper up the story that show signs of the anarchic directions his work would eventually take. Gags like the radio responding to Momma Owl in her living room and Owl Jolson reopening the iris-out to grab his trophy would seem commonplace in a few years, but at this point such gags were extremely inventive and quite daring.

Avery’s comic instincts really come to life in his depiction of the amateur hour auditions, and scenes like the giant chicken getting stuck in the trap door and the stuttering bird attempting to recite Simple Simon have a comic edge that was totally unfamiliar in mid-‘30s cartoons. The same could be said for a bit where a secretary attempts to read a telegram and stave off the advances of a delivery boy at the same time.

For the most part, though, the film gets by on charm, which it has in abundance. Avery tells his story quite well, but also isn’t afraid to poke fun at it along the way, and the film has a winning blend of tongue-in-cheek humor and a sort of sincerity that Avery never would’ve allowed in one of his MGM cartoons.

It should come as no surprise that this short has remained an eminently quotable fan favorite for over 75 years.

MOVING DAY
Directed by Ben Sharpsteen; Walt Disney

The Mickey Mouse series had been developing a set of amusing supporting characters throughout the 1930s.

Goofy first appeared in a 1932 cartoon Mickey’s Revue as a heckler in the audience with a distinctive laugh, and Donald didn’t appear until the 1934 Silly Symphony cartoon The Wise Little Hen, eventually starring alongside Mickey in films like Orphan’s Benefit and The Dognapper. The three characters were teamed up as a trio in the 1935 cartoon Mickey’s Service Station, one of the mouse’s last black and white cartoons.

Moving Day is the improved version of Mickey’s Service Station, with refined character designs (gone are Goofy’s mask-like face and Donald’s black legs), funnier gags and sharper characterizations. In the film, Sheriff Peg-Leg Pete shows up to dispossess Mickey’s house, and he, Donald and Goofy attempt to sneak as much furniture out before Pete can sell it all. This leads to various comedic pratfalls which are pulled off expertly. Donald has an exceptionally funny bit where he gets a plunger stuck to his rear, a frustrating setup similar to Pluto’s bout with flypaper in Playful Pluto, but the Disney animators push Donald’s predicament into even sillier territory, with Donald’s infuriated reactions adding significantly to the comedy.

The really outstanding sequence in the film, however, is Goofy’s battle with a piano, as animated by Art Babbitt.

This extended comedy scene required much planning, and Babbitt even shot live-action footage of voice actor Pinto Colvig as inspiration. He ended up expanding on what Norm Ferguson had achieved in Playful Pluto two years earlier, giving the genuine sense that Goofy was thinking and reacting to his predicament. Goofy doesn’t say much in the scene, but his stupidity is perfectly demonstrated in his facial expressions and actions. The scene is also ingeniously written, starting off as a frustrating run-in with an inanimate object, only to slowly delve into surreal territory as the piano reveals to have a mind of its own.

Whether the piano develops a personality specifically to annoy Goofy or if he is imagining the whole thing is anyone’s guess.

Having refined Mickey, Donald and Goofy into a wonderful comedy team whose separate struggles were funnier when balanced off of each other, the Disney artists followed this film up with Moose Hunters, Clock Cleaners, Lonesome Ghosts and a score of other great films.

But Moving Day remains one of their best.

POPEYE THE SAILOR MEETS SINBAD THE SAILOR
Directed by Dave Fleischer [Uncredited: Willard Bowsky]; Max Fleischer

Popeye was such a popular character in the 1930s that Paramount allowed for a two-reel special cartoon with the character, shot in Technicolor and making extensive use of Fleischer’s 3-D stereoptical system (i.e. using model sets as cartoon backgrounds). The short was nearly twice the length of a standard cartoon, and it was advertised as the major event of many theater showings, predating Walt Disney’s animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by a year.

The film is bigger and more epic in scale than any of the black & white Popeyes, and yet it sacrifices none of the humor and rough charm of the series, making it the ultimate Popeye cartoon (although its two-reeler follow-up, 1937’s Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s 40 Thieves, is easily as good). The film really looks beautiful, with great use of color and some of the most incredible sets the Fleischers ever designed. The animation of the characters is also wonderfully rubbery and cartoony, with some outstanding close-ups that feature every single wrinkle on Bluto’s face.

While the black & white cartoons mostly rejected the more fantastic aspects of E.C. Segar’s strip (Popeye journeying to exciting locales and battling villains like the Sea Hag) in favor of gritty urban humor, this short is an all-out fantasy, with serpents, monstrous mythological birds and a two headed giant lurking about on an exotic island.

It has been said that the Fleischers originally considered using Popeye in their first feature film Gulliver’s Travels (1939), and this short – along with Ali Baba’s 40 Thieves – demonstrates that a Popeye feature could’ve worked tremendously. It’s a shame that they didn’t make a movie like this, with a flavor distinctive to the Fleischer studio, rather than trying so hard to emulate Disney.

Whatever the case, we should be content that we have Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor, which is a pure masterpiece on every level.

All of the characters are wonderfully distinctive (J. Wellington Wimpy chasing a duck with a meat grinder provides amusing comedy relief to what is already a comedy), the voice actor’s mutterings are top-notch (and even funnier in a more adventurous setting), the effects animation is superb (the giant bird taking down Popeye’s ship is technically perfect) and we even get a thoroughly enjoyable musical number (Bluto’s braggadocio performance of “Sinbad the Sailor”).

Also worth singling out is “Boola”, the two-headed monster whose Italian mutterings and Three Stooges-style antics are funny enough to carry the film on their own. Plus, the battle sequence at the end, using Popeye’s famous “twisker punch” and a nail-biting moment where Popeye’s spinach nearly falls off a cliff, is brilliantly choreographed and wonderfully, cartoonishly violent.

Popeye’s finest hour and the Fleischer Studio at its best.

LITTLE BEAU PORKY
Directed by Frank Tashlin; Warner Bros.

Little Beau Porky marked Frank Tashlin’s second film as a director at Warner Bros., following Porky’s Poultry Plant.

Tashlin, who later became a director of live-action comedies like Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and Son of Paleface, had his eye on feature filmmaking from the beginning, and even his earliest films show a remarkable grasp of cinematic angles and cutting.

Animated films in the 1930s were generally straightforward when it came to film techniques, but Tashlin shows a fluency in the language of film that rivals the best live-action directors of the 1930s and certainly had no precedent in animation (even Walt Disney’s artiest experiments never approached Tashlin in this area).

In Little Beau Porky, Tashlin reveals the legionnaires through shadow before showing them outright, creating a sense of mystery and atmosphere (particularly in the terrific shot of the flag being raised). Another standout sequence features an extreme close-up of a bugle-boy blowing his horn as faded-out shots of the legionnaires marching into battle and grabbing their rifles are layered over top of him.

Tashlin adeptly cuts quickly from shot to shot during the climax, using speed to build excitement, creating a funny and rewarding conclusion to the film. But Tashlin isn’t simply showing off, as he knows when to stick with a shot. He deliberately keeps the “camera” completely motionless during a comedy sequence where Porky attempts to scrub a camel, as any jumping around would’ve distracted from the humor.

A few of Tashlin’s nifty tricks don’t quite work (one scene where the general leans towards the audience to yell at Porky is effective but feels too dramatic for the lighthearted tone of the short), but what he pulls off is very impressive.

Porky’s Poultry Plant also tackled advanced cinematic techniques with surprising ease, but Little Beau Porky shows a lot of improvement in terms of humor. The film is full of great slapstick comedy, from Porky knocking down a row of legionnaires like dominos to a crank on a well repeatedly slapping a guy in the face, and Tashlin delivers the jokes at breakneck speed. His interest in live-action film didn’t blind him to cartoon possibilities, and Tashlin has the general’s mustache curl up to form glasses so that he can read a letter.

The aforementioned camel-scrubbing scene is masterfully deliberate, and a bit where the nefarious Ali Mode pretends to be Porky’s echo shows the dominating influence of Tex Avery (and also features a funny reference to Disney’s Three Little Pigs). One of the final gags, where Porky’s medals extend off of his chest, is a wonderfully visual joke that seems to anticipate a mind-bending gag in Tashlin’s live-action film Artists and Models, where Jerry Lewis writes a word so long that it extends off of the page. Much of the film’s comedy also comes from the winning characterization of Porky.

Porky Pig made his debut in the 1935 Friz Freleng short I Haven’t Got a Hat, alongside a host of other cute little animal characters (Beans, Kitty, Oliver Owl, Ham & Ex, etc.) Porky was more distinctive than his co-stars thanks to his stutter, and Tex Avery seemed to feel he had potential, giving him a featured part in his debut film Gold Diggers of ’49 and making him the star of shorts like Plane Dippy, The Blow Out and Porky the Rainmaker.

Porky, in his early days, didn’t have much to his personality outside of the stuttering gimmick, but Tashlin gives him a little more to work with in Little Beau Porky, playing him as an enthusiastic but incompetent everyman. This is another step up from Tashlin’s previous short Porky’s Poultry Plant, where Porky plays a blandly altruistic farmer. Joe Dougherty’s vocal delivery as Porky still hurts a bit (Dougherty stuttered in real life and lacked the comedic edge Mel Blanc later brought to the part), but he delivers one of his better performances here, thanks to some frantic desperation in his voice.

Porky also looks better than before in this film, with a more streamlined design and better posing, resembling the rounded elegance of Tashlin’s comic strip character Van Boring.

Another great element of the film is Carl Stalling’s score, one of his first for the studio (his debut film at Warners was, likewise, Porky’s Poultry Plant). His accompaniment gave the Warner Bros. films a brash humor that earlier composers like Bernard Brown and Norman Spencer couldn’t provide, and upon Stalling’s arrival, the Warner Bros. shorts get an extra bolt of energy.

As for Tashlin, he would continue to improve, and his 1940s masterpieces like Porky Pig’s Feat and Nasty Quacks make this short look somewhat primitive. But Little Beau Porky shows a groundbreaking grasp of cinema for its time and is quite funny to boot.

RAINBOW DANCE
Directed by Len Lye

This abstract animated film was Len Lye’s follow-up to the innovative 1935 short A Colour Box, and it shows him pushing his creativity even further.

As opposed to the indistinct shapes and colors of his earlier film, Lye here used a color stock called Gasparcolor that allowed him to shoot live-action footage of dancer Rupert Doone and overlay various color patterns and shapes on top of him.

In traditional animation, relying too closely on the movements of a live actor can hinder the creativity of a performance and produce awkward results, but here the repeated use of the multi-colored dancer gives the short a unity that A Colour Box lacked.

Lye uses the live-action as a springboard for his visual creativity in a way that anticipates Richard Linklater’s critically-acclaimed Waking Life in 2001, and invents a world of spinning asterisks, dots, rainbows and streaks of color that is very appealing and blends well with the upbeat score by Rico’s Creole Band. Some of the ideas here – such as the dancer jumping while his poses remain in the air – seem far ahead of their time.

The short combines live-action and animation in a way that was unprecedented in the ‘30s, and even tosses in some stop-motion animation of coins to add to the mixed media approach. Still, even innovative abstract art pieces need sponsors, and this short – like A Colour Box – concludes with an incongruous advertisement for the General Post Office (although they at least tried to tie it in this time, remarking on how the post office is a pot of gold at the end of your rainbow). Advertising aside, this short, in addition to being a pioneering work of abstract art, is also the closest thing the 1930s have to a music video.

THRU THE MIRROR
Directed by David Hand; Walt Disney

Lewis Carroll’s books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have proven to be a very fertile source of inspiration for animators, from the Max Fleischer cartoon Betty in Blunderland (1934) to Jan Svankmajer’s live-action/stop-motion feature Alice (1988).

The most famous of these adaptations is, of course, the 1951 Walt Disney feature, but the Disney studio turned to Lewis Carroll fifteen years earlier to create this marvelous and charming Mickey Mouse short that ranks among the studio’s best, as well as being one of the finest interpretations of Wonderland on the screen.

At a point when the Mickey cartoons were frequently relying on supporting players for entertainment, Thru the Mirror is purely Mickey’s show.

Although he was never as inherently funny as Donald or Goofy, he proves here that he is a thoroughly likable and engaging starring character when given the right material. The film’s heavy emphasis on music and fantasy make it feel more like a Silly Symphony than a typical Mickey short, but the Disney artists were at the height of their talents at this point and were frequently trying new and exciting story ideas for the Mickey series, leading to such diverse classics as The Band Concert, Pluto’s Judgment Day and The Worm Turns.

The animation in the film is tremendous, with several incredible showcase sequences like a Busby Berkeley-style musical number with cards and Mickey running on a globe and falling into the ocean.

Animator Johnny Cannon lent some old-style rubberhose motion to scenes like the radio snapping his fingers to the beat and Dick Lundy covered many of the dance sequences, but the bulk of the animation was done by Bob Wickersham, who – on the basis of his work here – is a very underrated talent. His animation of Mickey growing in size, with each of his body parts enlarging separately, is cartooning at its best.

Today, Disney is largely synonymous with safe, formulaic princess movies and pre-teen sitcoms, but there was a time when seeing Walt Disney’s name on the opening credits of a cartoon promised incredible artistic skill put to the service of boundless imagination. Audiences must’ve been thrilled by cartoons like this, which contained the charm of a Fred Astaire musical, the character-based humor of a Laurel & Hardy short and a sense of creative fantasy that had no equivalent in cinema of the time.

I think it’s in mid-‘30s masterpieces like this one that Walt Disney’s legacy as one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century is the most secure.

TO SPRING
Directed by William Hanna; MGM

To Spring is one of the finest of the Happy Harmonies, and it’s the only one that wasn’t directed by Hugh Harman or Rudolf Ising. It was instead the directorial debut of William Hanna, who had previously been running the ink & paint department at MGM and often helped Harman with his bar sheets. As director, Hanna did the timing, music and handed out the the animation, while Lee Blair (brother of animator Preston Blair) drew the character layouts.

Hanna is, of course, best known for his partnership with Joseph Barbera, eventually creating Tom & Jerry, as well as numerous animated TV series like Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones and Yogi Bear. This Disneyesque fantasy film doesn’t bear much resemblance to the audacious, violent cat and mouse chases of Tom and Jerry, but it’s a well-directed film nonetheless.

In the short, a group of underground gnomes attempt to bring color back into the world for the arrival of spring, but they have to fight off Old Man Winter, who still has some snow left in him.

The cartoon in many ways resembles Disney’s The Goddess of Spring (1934) and Van Beuren’s The Sunshine Makers (1935), but even more than those cartoons, the film’s focus is on creating a mood rather than telling a story. The gnomes are mostly interchangeable personalities and humor is limited to a gnome attempting to get his pants on, but what the cartoon does extremely successfully is create an involving fantasy world full of really striking, beautiful images. The overflowing tubes and bubbling vats of color are extremely attractive, and there is a certain poetry to the scenes of winter transforming into spring.

Note: While the scenes of mining gnomes might remind you of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Disney film had not yet been released.

THE VILLAGE SMITHY
Directed by Tex Avery; Warner Bros.

Tex Avery had been pushing the envelope ever since he arrived at the Warner Bros. studio, experimenting with increased speed in his debut film Gold Diggers of ’49, stylized visuals in the art deco-inspired Page Miss Glory and moments of self-aware humor in shorts like I Love to Singa and Porky the Rainmaker. But with The Village Smithy – his eighth film as a director at Warner Bros. – Avery took a dramatic leap forward, busting the fourth wall wide open and creating one of the most sharply comedic animated films yet conceived.

The short begins with a narrator (Earle Hodgins) reading Longfellow’s poem The Village Blacksmith, and as he recites, the characters onscreen react to the narration.

In the second half of the film, we’re introduced to the blacksmith’s assistant Porky, who accidentally tosses a heated horseshoe onto a horse’s rear and sends the blacksmith on a wild ride. Avery had already used an offscreen narrator in his previous film Porky the Rainmaker (which is, as far as I know, the first sound cartoon to ever use a narrator), but here we find him already mocking the device; the narrator starts insisting that the visuals properly match his descriptions and the characters talk back.

Furthermore, the blacksmith speaks directly to the audience and even acknowledges that this is an animated cartoon. Avery had experimented with a character addressing the audience in The Blow-Out (“now I’ll fix the little pest so he’ll be blown to pieces, whether you people like it or not”) and Owl Jolson reopens the iris-out in I Love to Singa, but this sustained and intrusive sort of meta-comedy was startlingly groundbreaking in 1936.

Now, to be clear, Avery was not the first to play with the conventions of animation.

In the silent era, characters like Ko-Ko the Clown and Felix the Cat frequently interacted with the animators drawing them, using question marks appearing above their heads as props and other such impossibilities. But Ko-Ko and Felix existed in totally abstract cartoon worlds, where Ko-Ko squirting his creator with ink or Felix using a bunch of exclamation marks to create a handcar seemed just as natural as anything else.

These sorts of gags started to diminish in the 1930s, and while characters like Flip the Frog and Bosko would still occasionally wink at the camera or address the audience, these asides didn’t shatter the illusion of their existence any more than Oliver Hardy’s annoyed glances at the audience in the Laurel & Hardy films.

In live-action/animated shorts like Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame (1934) and The Adventures of Popeye (1935), the fact that Betty and Popeye are cartoon characters is simply a part of their reality, and in A Cartoonist’s Nightmare (1935) – a Warner short released before Avery arrived at the studio – the fact that Beans is an animated character is an unquestioned plot point rather than a self-referential joke.

Tex Avery was different.

He would disrupt the flow of the cartoon to have the characters comment on it, and he seemed to be constantly trying to poke holes in the reality of his films in ways that would probably be considered avant-garde if they weren’t so funny. In this film, Avery finds numerous comedic methods of defying the narration, with the blacksmith’s supposedly strong arms turning out to be thin and scrawny (he has to blow them up like balloons) and an animal described as a horse turning out to be a camel from “our foreign legion picture” (for the record, a foreign legion picture – Little Beau Porky – was released at about the same time as this one, and did feature a camel).

Plus, the narrator demands some kids get out of the scene because they bother him, the blacksmith comments on the cartoon’s running time, a high-speed chase is suddenly halted so that a character can comment on it and when the blacksmith and the horse are sent back where they came from, Avery puts the entire chase in reverse (he even has the blacksmith repeat his comment backwards)! Schlesinger’s current cartoon star is also mocked: Porky is announced as “the hero” and Carl Stalling pitches in with an ironically triumphant chord upon his introduction (this was Stalling’s first assignment for Avery, by the way), but Porky does nothing to justify the title and only ends up making things worse.

Unlike previous Avery shorts like I Love to Singa and I’d Love to Take Orders From You, this isn’t a Disney-style story with some crazy gags thrown in, it’s a flat-out gag-oriented comedy. The Village Smithy shows Avery learning the difference between creating a film with some funny standalone moments and crafting a relentless series of fast-paced gags that add up to a distinct comic vision. Avery’s style of humor was a real innovation, and it didn’t go unnoticed in the animation community.

Suddenly meta-jokes started popping up in the Fleischer cartoons, as when Popeye’s battle with goons rips the film strip in Goonland (1938) and Popeye asks the theater audience for a can of spinach in A Date to Skate (1938).

Even Disney took Avery’s cue by using a narrator in Little Hiawatha (1937) and an iris-out gag in Mickey’s Amateurs (1937), eventually leading to the wild, Avery-inspired Mother Goose Goes Hollywood in 1938.

But it was Avery who really expanded on his early successes, using each successive experiment to refine his approach to comedy, finally creating what are perhaps the funniest animated films ever produced. What a buggy ride!

Note: Unfortunately, the original version of The Village Smithy is not online, but I did find a computer-colorized version in fairly low quality. It’s more than a little annoying that Warner Bros. would pull copies of this cartoon off of the internet since the film isn’t even available for purchase on DVD, but this is what I have to work with right now:

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