Cartoon Reviews

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Minding the Baby (1931)

Way before Baby Herman from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Bimbo's brother, Aloysius, did the smoking baby gag in the Betty Boop Talkartoons short Minding the Baby, which was theatrically released on September 26th, 1931.

What makes this cartoon notable is that on the opening title card Betty Boop gets top billing above Bimbo for the first time in what was essentially his show (if these characters were real would Bimbo be envious?).

The episode itself isn't necessarily the most memorable. Just when it starts getting good the episode ends, with everyone hiding behind the couch from Bimbo's mother, who's furious after having been pulled up off the street and into the apartment with a cartoonishly powerful vacuum by the cigar smoking, newspaper reading baby.

This is also one of the first times Betty and Bimbo are already acquainted, as in most previous episodes it seems to almost always be a love at first sight meeting. Here, Betty calls over to Bimbo from next door and sends him a letter asking him to come over so they can be alone together since her "Ma" is out. This proves to be a problem since Bimbo has the responsibility of babysitting Aloysius. This also establishes the problematic fact that in this episode Betty and Bimbo are, or are at least playing, adolescents, as this seems to be the first time Fleischer Studios decided to age regress Betty from twenty-something to a teenager and still sexualize her. Not sure why since Pre-code Betty had a target adult audience. Fortunately Betty would be aged to an adult again later on, sometime after Minnie the Moocher (1932).

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Bum Bandit (1931)

The Bum Bandit was released eighty seven years ago today. This is an early Talkartoons cartoon in Betty's filmography, during the time when she was more or less a product still in development, but don't let that deter you, because these are still some of the coolest; I'm especially looking at you Mysterious Mose (1930).

The Bum Bandit takes on the nostalgic western mise-en-scène, on a railway, probably some time around the late 19th century on the American frontier. Bimbo is the bum bandit, holding up and robbing a train, and Betty (here named Dangerous Nan McGrew) is the heroic foil, who out-toughs the tough guy, with the punchline joke of sorts being that she is Bimbo's wife looking to drag this bum bandit back home to what looks like their seventeen kids that he is neglecting (although I only counted ten in the photo Betty pulls out).

Betty, er I mean Mrs. McGrew, is all kinds of awesome here, although not necessarily in Betty Boop character yet, which wouldn't really be established until a few Talkartoons episodes later with Silly Scandals (1931). It looks like she's wearing two thigh garters instead of her usual single left one. She still has her spit curls, hanging jowls, poodle ears, and she pelts a couple of mean tunes, a catchy piece called The Hold-Up Rag and the more aggressive Dangerous Nan McGrew. What was most distracting for me though was how different her voice sounds, as this is the only time she is voiced by Harriet Lee, not having the higher voice attributed to her by Mae Questel and Ann Little. It still isn't bad, but she doesn't sound like Betty, and it threw me for a loop the first time I heard it.

Of interesting note is that the character of Dangerous Nan McGrew was originally played by Helen Kane in the film Dangerous Nan McGrew (1930), and her performance of the song, which is different than the one in the cartoon, just made me a Helen Kane fan

Helene Kane - Dangerous Nan McGrew (1930), uploaded by YouTube user Aaron1912

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Bimbo's Express (1931)

Bimbo's Express was released August 22nd, 1931. The incidental plot involves Betty's moving day, although she seems oblivious to it when the movers, among them Bimbo the dog and an anthropomorphic cat who resembles Felix the Cat, arrive to move her and her stuff out of her old, cracked home. When they arrive Betty is relaxing and cutting her toe nails with a pair of scissors, which I thought was a pretty amusing non-glamorous instance.

These were the days when Betty was still a dog and the cartoons were still attempting to establish a love connection between Betty and Bimbo through non-serialized encounters, in that with a lot of these episodes from this period, Bimbo seems to always be laying eyes on Betty for the first time and is almost always titillated (or at least experiencing a more comical version of love at first sight). Bimbo has the confidence to shout "hello beautiful," with all of the charm of a cat-caller. He eventually starts singing "Hello Beautiful" to her, to which Betty responds in song, "I'm not so beautiful; you only think I'm beautiful; you'll only think so for awhile," indicating that she doesn't buy in to his advances right away. Although while she's singing, in one of the more memorable moments (next to when she was clipping her toe nails), Betty strikes a brief but naughty pose, an early instance of a running gag with her famous leg garter (here on the right leg instead of the usual left) accidentally falling down her leg before having to be slid back up to its original position. Bimbo is pretty much here to stay with Betty now, as they depart with all of her stuff loaded into the horse-drawn carriage to eventually reveal that she is apparently only moving around the corner. They sing their way into a happy "HEY!" ending that might make viewers wonder what they just watched. There's at least some continuity in the next episode, Minding the Baby (1931), where Betty and Bimbo already seem to know each other.

My thoughts at the end were that this was kind of pointless but so fun and charming. There's not a whole lot to note about this episode though other than that it might be the first time Betty's leg garter falls down as well as a passive risque joke when Bimbo knocks at the door and Betty says she's in her nightie, and Bimbo responds with, "alright, I'll wait until you take it off"... Cute, but not as cute as when Betty's big toe comes to life as a smiley face satisfied with its new haircut after the toenail is trimmed thoroughly.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Red Hot Mamma (1934)

"Hell's Bells, ringing in my ear... It's certainly hot, now isn't that swell; now somebody's got a hold of those bells. They start to ring, they start to sing, and somebody YELLS! It must be Hell's Bells!♫" -Betty Boop
The 1934 Betty Boop episode Red Hot Mamma sees Betty living alone in her own lovely three story rural home trying to sleep during the frigid snowy weather, which seems to me a very cozy setting. Although I've no idea why Betty would leave the windows open, as the icy wind blows over her making it impossible for her to sleep. Perhaps the snow came without warning, but in order to get her beauty sleep in this freezing cold house she closes all the windows, lights a warm fire and curls up under her blanket next to the fireplace. Betty then proceeds to have a fever dream where she enters a portal to Hell through her fireplace. Sounds spooky, but it is really a lighthearted blast through the underworld. No demonic forces can keep this girl down, as she lights the place up with song and dance. A few demons approach her, who are no match for her "cold shoulder," and another demon wearing a crown, who we can only assume is the lord of hell himself, is frozen to the core by the icy cold stare of our fierce and righteous heroine (this has actually made for a good "not today Satan" GIF that has been pretty popular on social media).

Although Red Hot Mamma was still Pre-Code era (the first post-code episode was Betty Boop's Life Guard released on July 13th 1934), the hammer of the morality code was already starting to come down on Betty, with one of the earliest changes being the axing of Bimbo, Betty's anthropomorphic canine boyfriend (Bimbo's last episode was I Heard (1933) from the previous season). Koko the Clown would see his last episode in the cartoon immediately following Red Hot Mamma known as Ha! Ha! Ha! (1934). By this time, the role of Betty's love interest had already been given to the hunky boyfriend caricature Freddy, seen in the previous episode She Wronged Him Right (1934)). I wish Bimbo never had to leave, but one refreshing aspect in an episode like this is that Betty doesn't have to be the damsel in distress, so it was awesome seeing her overpower the demons of hell, literally causing it to freeze over. Portraying a place like Hell in a humorous light did cause the cartoon to be considered blasphemous, and it was banned in the UK as a result. Despite being lighthearted, there is still some impressively imposing demonic artwork featured in the background during Betty's initial walk down the passage to Hell while in a nightgown that is showcased in a way that is reminiscent of the gothic horror heroine.

Red Hot Mamma isn't necessarily a Christmas episode, but the snowy weather and jingling bells heard outside make it appropriate for the holiday season, and it is my recommendation for a holiday related Betty Boop cartoon. It also features the theme to the popular hit song of the time Did You Ever See a Dream Walking and Betty performing a shining version of the 1932 hit Hell's Bells by Art Kassel.      

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Mask-A-Raid (1931)

Um, Bimbo? Betty's eyes aren't down there...
Most noted for being the first Talkartoons episode where Betty Boop is portrayed as a human and not a French poodle (by making the slight adjustment of turning her dog ears into hoop earrings), Mask-A-Raid is a jumbled mess of amusing hijinks that center around Bimbo's effort to court the queen of the masquerade ball, Betty Boop.

Bimbo is conducting the music act at the ball, and while on stage he spots Queen Betty entering. Bimbo's attraction to Betty is so obvious that she notices right away, and in a bout of cartoony coquetry, she exposes a little shoulder and displays her unique talent of making her shoulder dance like a serpent for Bimbo's gaze. This titillation is enough to make him fall in love instantly, giving him the gumption to approach the queen on her throne and take her heart and her hand. Alas, true love is never met without resistance, as the masquerade king vies for Betty's heart as well. With Betty's suggestion and apparent approval, Bimbo and the king must duel for her affections.

I do like the way the battle escalates in to all out chaos between a heap of anthropomorphs; no one knows who's fighting who and for what purpose anymore. It's like a bar fight brawl in a western.      

This is the first instance of a recurring antagonist type for Betty, the lecherous old man (although to be fair, Bimbo is kind of lecherous too). It's done for gags, but it really is in poor taste. At least Betty thwarts the antagonist and ends up saving Bimbo, and she also breaks sexist tradition by asking Bimbo to marry her, an early instance of female empowerment in cartoons. Got to love the Boop.

Although the music Betty, Bimbo, and the king sing in trio is quite catchy, especially the 'AH-AH-AH' part, it still loses points for sorely outdated use of ethnic jokes.

Betty would go one more round as a poodle in the next Talkartoons episode Jack and the Beanstalk before staying in human form for good starting with Dizzy Red Riding Hood.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Silly Scandals (1931)

"I'm burning like a flame dear, well, I'll never be the same dear; I'll always place the blame dear on nobody but you. Yes, you-ou-ou-ou, you're driving me crazy. What did I do? What did I do?" -Betty Boop
Bimbo is broke and cannot get into Betty's show, so he resorts to various shenanigans and eventually gets into the theater to enjoy Betty's sensational performance singing "You're Driving Me Crazy" before an illusionist takes the stage to deliver a comeuppance to the mischievous Bimbo.

This episode is noted for being the first time Betty (here voiced by Mae Questel) is named Betty, although she is not yet ever referred to by her first and last name, Betty Boop, in the cartoon. Just like in her first appearance in Dizzy Dishes (1930), Betty is emphasized as a stage performer, which would essentially become her primary element to this day. I personally always envision the 'noirish' smoke filled night club when thinking of Betty Boop, which might be because the first time I ever saw her was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) selling cigarettes in a nightclub, where she was also voiced by Mae Questel.

Of course, these were the days when the show mostly belonged to Bimbo, but it becomes obvious in this episode that Betty should always be the headline. It loses steam after Betty's performance before the illusionist takes the stage. The performance order should've been flipped. How could anyone perform after Betty?

Early Talkartoons episodes like this one offer an interesting look at Betty becoming Betty Boop, an evolution of sorts. She's starting to look a little more on the human side despite still having her dog ears, and her physique was starting to take on a more slender but still hourglass shape. The seed had been planted in Dizzy Dishes, and here she is really starting to sprout and show more promise, which would continue with every episode she was featured in. Bimbo was also evolving too, and he would take on his most recognized form in the next episode The Herring Murder Case (1931), where Koko the Clown would come out of retirement. Betty's next episode with Bimbo would be Bimbo's Initiation (1931), one of my favorites from the Pre-code Talkartoons era next to Mysterious Mose (1930).

 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dizzy Red Riding Hood (1931)

I have such warm memories of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, most particularly because when I was in Kindergarten we put on a classroom play about the story, and I remember that I got to play The Huntsman. I basically stood by and waited for my cue to save the day by coming out on the stage and cutting the big bad wolf's head off, feeling like a hero. Strange that I had such a lucid dream only a couple years ago about that Kindergarten play, where I was a kid again and was oblivious to the life I led after that, as if my whole adult life was a dream and returning to my childhood self was the real reality.

The pre-code Betty Boop cartoon Dizzy Red Riding Hood is a playful spin on the Brothers Grimm tale Little Red Riding Hood that stars our favorite classic cartoon leading lady Betty Boop (voiced by Ann Little) in the role of Little Red Riding Hood. Sadly, my childhood heroic alter ego, The Huntsman, is absent, but in a way Bimbo sort of plays him, as he disposes of The Big Bad Wolf early on, saving Betty's life in the process, unbeknownst to her. Mischievous Bimbo skins the wolf and uses the skin to pose as the wolf. Bimbo also rushes off to Grandma's house while Betty is distracted in the woods, and since Grandma is away finding herself a young stud at The Fire-men's Ball, Bimbo also dresses up as Betty's Grandma, while also still dressed as the wolf. Once the gig is up, Betty and Bimbo seem happy to see one another and they are magically whisked away to the moon, and they start to get swung around by the living trees in a celebratory manner while an enchanting Disney-like castle looms in the background. It's a rather pointless ending that I kind of like for some reason.

The musical numbers have a certain nursery rhyme feel that kids will easily pick up on and start humming and singing along to, making this seem very kid-like on the outside but rife with sexual content clearly visible just barely below the surface, giving it that cartoony but risque classic Talkartoons vibe. It's a mildly entertaining diversion that isn't really all that funny, just weird and surreal, with gags like a walking, talking forest planting itself around Betty's path, which had previously been straight and clear-cut, making the conflicts along the way to Grandma's seem like obligatory yet trivial story elements. The animation is so technically impressive for its time and is really quite charming, most particularly the 3-D landscapes with the Wolf following Betty as Bimbo watches from behind the trees. The scene with Betty and Bimbo in the bed at the end is so sexually suggestive that I pretty much assume the rocking moon scene is basically telling us that Bimbo took Betty to the moon with the erect phallic symbols making up the castle in the background saying the rest.