Choice Golden Age Animation for the Season – 12 Days of Anime(tion)

The festive winter season has long been established as one of the finest times of the year to watch funny cartoons. It’s far too cold to be outside, so being inside to watch your favorite cartoons is a nicer time to be had.

We at Cartoon Milk have picked our favorite seasonal cartoons to present to you and in three upcoming articles we will present you with holiday cartoons from all over the world. For this first article, we are warming up with some picks from the American “Golden Age of Animation.”

You can look forward to similar articles exploring seasonal cartoons from the world of anime, international animation and even our favorite TV specials.

MGM Tom And Jerry – Night before Christmas

Nobaddy: A fun holiday cartoon featuring Tom and Jerry. It’s one of the earliest Tom and Jerries, and the only one set on christmas. The lush, Harman-Ising esque animation and the stronger sentimental values found in the early Tom And Jerry’s fit well with the christmas season.

animegolem: Haven’t seen this since I was maybe 10. MGM cartoons from this era always feel so opulent from movement to backgrounds.The dopey baby cheek Jerry pug nosed Tom are probably my favorite era of their designs. The cartoon is pretty straightforward cat and mouse chases with a dose of holiday sentimentalism but honestly, what more do you want? I think I prefer my Tom and Jerry with a bit of pathos.

ibcf: A Christmas classic. It doesn’t have the speed and violence of the later Tom & Jerry films but there is plenty of fun personality animation. There’s a great bit where Jerry coaxes Tom to kiss him under the mistletoe, and each character is given a charming musical theme to reflect their attitudes. Also pay attention to the timing and expressions when Tom lays down on the pillow in apparent carefree bliss, only to suffer a crisis of conscience. Beautiful cartoony acting by Irv Spence!

Famous Screen Songs- Toys will be Toys

Nobaddy: From the Famous studios reboot of the “Screen Songs” series, in which a cartoon is merged with a sing-a-long. In the fleischer days, this series introduced “The Bouncing Ball” which would help you sing the song. As for the cartoon, it’s a Warner-style “Store Comes to Life” cartoon, featuring some fun gags and animation. (Long after the Warner studio did these sort of cartoons, admittedly.)  The downfall of this cartoon is the karaoke gimmick of the screen song series, a large part of this cartoon is just white text on black with song lyrics, with the only animation being the bouncing ball. A grim reminder that these cartoons were meant to be seen in a theatre with hundreds of folks and not alone in your study.

animegolem: First time seeing this one. The movement has a bit of a strain in it and it alternates between mechanical toy like movement and and a more standard Disney-esque style. In this cartoon Humpty Dumpty can be put back together his life is an unending nightmare of death and rebirth. Lots of simple visual gags that are a bit too straightforward but it’s fun enough.

I don’t mind the screen song idea but once the music starts it basically stops being a cartoon for an extended period which is hard to not see as a pretty fatal flaw. Some of the transforming words in the last few seconds is actually quite well done but leaves you wondering why it was only done at the very end.

ibcf: I’d always associated the “bouncing ball” cartoons with the early Fleischer era, so I was surprised to see this one dated 1949. It turns out Famous Studios revived the Screen Songs and produced them all the way into the early 50’s. In any case this film feels old-fashioned overall, both in premise and animation. Several familiar faces like Popeye and Bob Hope show up in the toy parade. I suppose the bouncing ball bit would be more entertaining in a theater with a participative audience than watching alone on a computer screen.

Disney – Toy Tinkers

Nobaddy: A beloved christmas favorite, and as far as I’m considered the superior “Disney Christmas Cartoon Involving Chip ‘n’ Dale”. The chipmunks break into Donald Duck’s house, and end up having a war. Donald works well against mundane foes like Chip and Dale, which is why Disney re-used the setup so much. This is one of the better uses of that set-up, and the christmas setting is used to great advantage. While I do not think this is one of the better Donald Ducks (I prefer the pre-Chip ‘n’ Dale Donalds), this is one of the better cartoons featuring the chipmunks.

animegolem: First time viewing? I’m not certain. For as much as Disney has the reputation as the most lavish studio this cartoon immediately feels more restrained than the 1940’s Tom and Jerry’s. The strut at around 2:20 is really nice and the music in the cartoon generally adds a lot even if it’s mostly mickey mousing. Both a christmas cartoon and a bit of a post war cartoon.

Maybe these characters are a natural fit because no one has a normal voice. There isn’t a ton of dialogue in the cartoon and the broad acting plays to its strength. It’s not a very memorable toon for me but it works well enough.

ibcf: Chip ’n’ Dale cartoons generally aren’t my cup of tea, due to their tendency to go overboard in both cutesiness and cruelty, but this film largely manages to avoid that. The chipmunks’ antics are entertaining enough, and Donald’s abuse is tempered by the energetic animation and his creative use of the toys. There’s some pretty fast-paced gag timing here; it definitely feels like Disney was taking cues from the rowdier Warner Bros. and MGM cartoons. I like the minimalist look of Donald’s house, where the only visible features are often the Christmas goodies strewn around the floor. Very efficient and low-key backgrounds that allow plenty of space for duck vs. chipmunk action.

MGM – Peace on Earth 

Nobaddy: A unique cartoon for the 1930s, this cartoon has cartoon squirrels introduce moody, realistic war-time visuals explaining humanity’s decline in war. The realistic, gritty look reminds me a lot of 80s Anime OVAs. The scenes with the squirrels contrast interestingly with the war scenes, successfully delivering Hugh Hermans anti-war message. Hugh Harman’s most personal film, and possibly his best work. Hugh Herman, as a director often stuck close to Disney-like cartoons and current trends in a way that often created good cartoons but not cartoons that stick to your mind in a meaningful way, which is why as a director he is not as well remembered as a director, despite the objective importance of his cartoons. (Hugh Harman was together with Rudolph Ising worked with Disney on his earliest cartoons, and kickstarted the Warner and MGM studios) This cartoon shows that Hugh Harman could successfully go off the beaten path and deliver a cartoon that delivers his feelings in a meaningful way and that if he had perhaps a different mindset when creating his cartoons, he could have been a director more often mentioned alongside his MGM, Warner and Disney peers instead of being relegated as a footnote as “director of the first looney tunes”.

animegolem: “There ain’t no more men in the world sonny’s, nope no more men. But as I remember the critters, they was like monsters.”  This is an achingly sincere cartoon and while that could be said as criticism that’s not how I intend it. While the cartoon is undeniably preaching its sincerity is what saves it from drowning in sugar. Undeniably heavy handed. The rare cartoon antics almost feel out of place. The animation makes the wise choice of having a clear gap between the traditional cartooning for the animals and the much more realistic scenes of war.

ibcf: A decidedly strange animated film for late 1930’s MGM, and slightly discomfiting given what we now know came soon after. Cutesy Disney-type animals inhabit a pleasant post-apocalyptic world, interspersed with scenes of realistic human war. Some of the effects and atmosphere in the war scenes are quite lavish and impressive; the bleak look is something of a novelty for American animation of the decade. The cause of the conflict that drives humanity to extinction is portrayed as simplistic and ridiculous (“meat eaters vs. vegetarians”), though a nuanced look at 30’s ideologies and geopolitics is probably a bit much to expect from an 8-minute Hollywood cartoon. It sure does get the message across, if rather bluntly.

Fleischer – Christmas Comes but Once A Year

Nobaddy: One of the Fleischer’s color classics, this cartoon features Betty Boop’s grandpa making the holidays nicer for the orphans by making them toys. Fleishcer style animation is often fun, and watching the eccentric grandpa make eccentric toys from whatever he can find makes for an amusing cartoon. I enjoy the ending where the screen fades to black and you only see the lights of the trees shining. I usually enjoy when action and movement are only hinted at through the interactions of lights. The largest issue is that I think the children featured in this cartoon look pretty weird, and all of them seem to have the same hair.

animegolem: The panning 3D sets are so extravagant and frankly unneeded but it’s a cool effect. The teddy bear losing its stuffing and shriveling up is suitably horrific.

The grandpa often has only the barest attempts at lipsync. Despite everyone looking a bit dumpy I like the character design and mechanical design. The improvised toys are well considered and stay a mishmash of identifiable household items instead of suddenly being perfect toys. The tree at the end looks ridiculous with all the dumpy kids dancing around it and I’m into it.

ibcf: Tragedy befalls an orphanage on Christmas, and it’s up to Professor Grampy to set things right. The features of most interest here are the technical aspects and mechanical animation. The cartoon takes pains to show off the various toys and gadgets, inventively cobbled together from common household objects. In contrast, the kids are literally all the same design, with animation repeated wherever possible. Grampy at least gets some fun business with his frenetic leg movements and nutty enthusiasm. Like many Fleischer cartoons, the overall effect is odd but certainly distinctive and charming.

During the non-festive times of the year we will also be sharing our quick impressions of cartoons in the Cartoon Notes section of the website as well. 

See you tomorrow as the 12 Days of Anime(tion) continues!

-Cartoon Milk Editors

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