Real name: Carl Padgham
Review Star Average: 2.25/4
Keyframe's Managing Editor, animation critic and researcher (and former videogame critic). I'm stingy with my stars, so don’t expect a lot of high scores from me, a profile has to really work to earn its balls of fire facsimiles.
Presently, I review animation based on how they bear up to the peers in their respective categories - features-to-features, DTVs-to-DTVs, etc - rather than try to unfairly compare a high budget feature film with a low budget direct-to-video. Call it a category concession if you will.
I hope to never let nostalgia affect my reviews, but then nobody’s perfect. My favourite animated cartoons tend to fall between the original "Golden Era" and the late 80s to early 90s. My interest in animation goes back years. I enjoy playing video games but tend to find their animated adaptations range from awful to okay - I could say a similar thing to game adaptations of many animation licences.
While I may prefer traditional animation to CGI, I can watch almost anything and think that the story and characters are more important to a film, etc, than the medium of animation used in it.
For what it's worth, I have Asperger's Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism.
My Star to 10 scale ratio:
4.0 stars = 9-10 - Superb: One of the best films you could hope to see in your lifetime - insofar as I'm concerned, a rare gem in animation achievement.
3.5 stars = 8-9 - Great: That film that entertains all the way through, and never truly flounders, but is still missing the spark that seperates the great from the epic.
3.0 stars = 7-8 - Good: A film, etc, that is good, but not great, something you'd watch again, but might not go hunting down the Blu-ray or DVD - at full price - for.
2.5 stars = 5-6 - Mediocre: Straight down the middle, while it's watchable, you won't call it actually good per sé. On the flip side, neither is it actually bad.
2.0 stars = 3-4 - Poor: Not so bad as you cannot get through it, but you might not care to watch it again anytime soon, or remember anything about it immediately after it finishes.
1.5 stars = 2-3 - Terrible: Maybe there some redeeming factors, but they are few and far in a overwise horrid production.
1.0 stars = 1-2 - Abysmal: Practically unwatchable sludge. or as close to it as makes no odds.
Animation, Drawing, writing, reading (animal novels, fantasy, sci-fi, animation history), videogames, and radio comedies. Not necessarily in that exact order.
Animation that I love:
Theatrical Shorts, Animaniacs, Astro Boy (all versions), Count Duckula, Lilo & Stitch, WALL•E...
Also noteworthy is the fact that a review written around 85 years after the release of the short that it's looking at, is bound to have a large measure of hindsight. Betty appeared in many shorts over the years until the character was retired in the tale end of the Thirties (her last appearance being in Poor Cinderella, her only colour cartoon).
Of course, Betty is mostly known as a human, an oddity in itself in classic era animation for a primary protagonist. Here though she resembles a dog, matching the species of Bimbo, who actually is the main character of this short. While Betty became more human, Bimbo remained a dog, which, given their romantic relationship, did pose some questions, especially to the Hays Office, who had more than a few words to say on the subject of the popular heroine's overt sexuality.
The short itself, like so many debut cartoons, is nothing special, more noteworthy for the character it introduces than anything in itself. Bimbo a black and white dog, little more than a Mickey clone with a slightly elongated body at this point, is both a waiter and cook for a restaurant. Taking a order of roast duck from the large and short-tempered Gus Gorilla.
The canine cooks the duck all right, but finds himself entranced by the sight of Betty singing on stage, and getting up and dancing in tow (along with the duck, because this is a Fleischer Studios cartoon). Meanwhile the customer tries, impatiently, to ask about his duck while eating his cutlery and the table, before chasing Bimbo around.
We get a few gags related to kitchen and restaurant work, a lacklustre finale and, not much else in-between. Yet, as with many shorts that bring a star to prominence, this is more interesting historically, than entertaining. Unless you're intend to watch every Betty Boop for some reason - for me it's a archival thing - then you can happily skip a few of her earlier shorts and start with the later - pre-Hay's Code - ones where she is a human and the world she's living in is brilliantly mad.
This isn't a thing that just happened to Andy Panda alone though. Every studio seemed to create that everyman character that reacted to stuff more than created their own plots. Heck, it could be argued the Disney's own Mickey was as much as a blank slate for stories to be rebounded off of than a character that could be the instigator all his own.
However, Mickey at least had the benefit of interesting side-characters and the lush animation afforded to him from high Disney budgets. A character like Andy, from the lower budgeted Lantz studio, did not and often found himself in lowly stuff such as The Wacky Weed.
After a series of silly, and not entirely successful plant related puns as we look around a garden centre, we get to the plot. Andy has brought a flower - though he was more or less coerced into his choice by the narrator - and pretty much as soon as he's planted it, the titular weed - animate, naturally - comes to his garden with the intend of literately chocking the flower to death.
What we get is a few attempts by Andy to separate the weed from the flower which amount to very little. Andy's attempts to get rid of the weed are suspect at times (at one point he buries it, the weed simply digging its way back out again). And the weed's choking of the plant is a tad too laboured - and repetitive - to be funny.
The Wacky Weed almost feels like it was made because the studio had to make something with it's first breakout star. This was something the studio would get over when they simply dropped the panda from their scheduled short output when the studio came back from a year-long hiatus it had in 1950, sans director Dick Lundy, who was figured the only person who could make Andy cartoons work.
Andy's been in better stuff than this, though his persona's not much disproved from other shorts he's been in, such is the dilemma of the purely reaction character that he became. The Wacky Weed is not memorable, the nicest thing I can say is that the animation's okay, consider the time period and studio, but the whole thing is just bland and safe, much like the poor panda himself at times.
Probably why it's not on either of the Woody Woodpecker sets.
They're a few decent gags in here I suppose, but I can't get the feeling out of my head that as a whole, it all feels so routine. That's not to say it's bad, not the bird and feline have been in better shorts.
Not good, but nothing really memorable.
I cannot imagine that animating all those dogs was fun, yeah they're on cycles, but they're also a lot of them on screen at any one time, at a time when you'd have to copy and paste or otherwise rotate an image manually... fun.
I hate to write such a short review for a theatrical short, but I need something to write about and well, to use an analogy that I'm sure Sylvester would like, there just isn't enough meat on this one's bones to chew on.
Before Tex Avery came along, MGM's cartoon output had been just dragged through productions with the help of Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, with especially the former thinking himself at a level on par with Disney as a producer of theatrical shorts. Trouble is, he failed to grasp some of the fundamentals of why people went to see Disney's shorts, making shallow imitations rather that good films in their own right.
The one thing he was good at was spending money, something that MGM was keen on stopping. Expensive, long and often saccharine, at a time when the producer wanted quicker, wittier productions, Quimby long was fed up with the pair. That why he never renewed their contracts, that's why he hired Tex, and that's why he brought Hanna and Barbera to the directors chairs.
Yet the "poisons" he was so keen to be rid of remained, at least for the time being.
I won't delve into the animation and backgrounds, because they're great; as to be expected when MGM's spending on them was second only to Disney. The short has problems, but none of are to do with the art quality.
One the problems with the first few early Tom & Jerry shorts, is that suffer from the same sludge-like pace of those that producer Quimby wanted to get away from. As the cartoons went on they sped up, partly due to friendly competition between their unit and that of Tex. Quimby may not have been the greatest producer - and wasn't well liked by his own production staff - but he did have a point.
The start of Fraidy Cat has the problem that was pandemic of this period, its slow. The first minute and forty seconds gives us a introduction, Tom listening to a radio serial. This may have been interested within living memory of the radio series it was referencing, but today it just sucks up time for a weak payoff.
Soon thereafter, Fraidy Cat just seems content to stay on a vacuum that Jerry uses to frighten Tom for over two minutes, before Tom realises what's up. It crawls the potential gags down just so it can focus on this one, the problem is, that it neither funny nor all that clever in its execution. It was a problem that affected other Tom & Jerry shorts, Puss Gets the Boot is another short that is too long for its material (clocking in at over nine minutes, again brought about by the practises of Hanna and Barbera's predecessor). Then again, for all its length, Puss Gets the Boot is still a faster paced experience and a better short for that.
I don't usually mind Jerry winning in these early shorts*, but Jerry has the advantage here throughout far too much of the cartoon. It's a tad out of character for a series that yo-yos the winner throughout the length before deciding who won. This reversal came about in Millionaire Kitty, where Tom was constantly harassed by Jerry, and came about other times when Jerry was the more obnoxious of the two, at least often enough to give some relief at any rate. Later cartoons would afford Jerry a degree of losses if he became the worst offender of the two, giving the series a kind of moral dimension which separated it from other cat and mouse cartoons.
Jerry just looks like a bit of a jerk in this short, in the pre-mentioned short Jerry is clearly being tormented by the feline, which gives him some justification for his later actions. Here, there's no context for Jerry's actions beyond malice and it makes me long to see a reversal of fortunes. Maybe part of this is that I'm watching these decades after they were made, and have the benefit of seeing the later, faster shorts alongside the earlier ones, but these shorts do not exist in a vacuum and I refuse to review them as if they did.
*Spoiler: And no, him getting covered in flour and scaring himself with his reflection is not good enough.
The majority of these, where centred around the "How to..." series, that started with "How to Ride a Horse", itself a segment of The Reluctant Dragon, a documentary film that depicted the Disney Studio as a happy, productive place right in the midst of the bitter Disney Strike.* The "How to..." is the more interesting bulk of Goofy's outpoint, but that's a matter for another review.
It hard to comprehend why it took Disney so long to give Goofy his own standalone series, after all the younger Donald Duck got his own series not long after his debut, so what happened to Goofy to keep him from standing alone? Did the animators simply not care?
Maybe part of the reason is that Goofy had always been around, appearing in cartoons since the early-30's as a side-character to Mickey no less (known as Dippy Dawg). He was part of the background noise, an extra that was felt as someone who should stay an extra. Yet he was popular, certainly more so than the likes of Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow, two incidental characters that really had little going for them.
The other thing was getting his personality down pat, and thus limit any confusion about the character among the studio staff and giving them something concrete to work with. This was a time when a character might have a basic outline to describe everything about them, barely a sheet of office paper. Goofy owes much of his development to animator Art Babbit, who - in 1935 - gave a lecture to his fellow Disney team members that defined Goofy's character.
With his personality fully figured out, "The Goof" - the animator's called him this while he was still Dippy, eventually the name was fully adopted - went on to become a major theatrical star, although not to the extent that Pluto and especially Donald became. Mickey was soon lost in the dust by these much stronger characters that could achieve things he - as a reaction-based character - could not.
Goofy and Wilbur is the first cartoon to have Goofy's face in the titles, and it a cute cartoon, though I cannot say that I wholeheartedly think it's a great one, the plot is simply and maybe a bit thin, not a lot really happens that of real interest, the short doesn't do much with the premise and the ending is overly sentimental for my personal taste.
Goofy is of fishing - unable to read or just ignoring a sign that prohibits the practise - with his grasshopper Wilbur, who looks a tad more like a his namesake insect than his fellow insect Jiminy looked like a cricket. The grasshopper is acting as a sort of live bait, leading fish to Goofy's waiting net, with the bug evidently seeing it as a sort of game of wits between him and the fish, some of which are more wily than others.
For the majority of the film, the animation and backgrounds are top notch, but then Disney often spent more on one cartoon's story than other studios did entire cartoons. so the resultant lusciousness is expected as far as I'm concerned.
The animation of Wilbur shows what cocky bug he is, while still never getting to the point where you are still reminded that he is still technically would-be lunch to the fish, if he loses his head.
There one bit that hasn't aged too well, note a section where a fish goes to swallow Wilbur before retreating back as the grasshopper looks back, the scene is latter repeated, albeit mirrored soon after. Today, the take feels far too slow paced a take to really hit home. However this is more a product of the time, born in the fairly early days of animation, maybe I've grown more attuned to the sheer speed of post Avery and Tashlin cartoons.
There's some nice gags here, Goofy using a fish like a old-fashioned phone and Wilbur uses Goofy's glove as if he training to be a prize-fighter are two highlights. Goofy himself gets a few good opportunities to show off his physical brand of comedy, like in the beginning which features some wonderful animation of Goofy as he moves along with his boat on his way to the lake.
As noted, I think that it's a good short, a fair start and has wonderful animation. Then again, there really isn't much to it beyond the visual loveliness and though it's never boring, I can think of a dozen other shorts from Disney that I'd rather watch, Goofy ones included.
*The difference between the film's depiction of studio life and the reality of the strike stopped "The Reluctant Dragon" from redeeming even it costs back.