Cartoon Reviews

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Bimbo, and the king sing in trio is quite catchy, especially the 'AH-AH-AH' part, it still loses points for sorely outdated use of ethnic jokes.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

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.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle (1932)

Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle was one of the first five Betty Boop cartoons I had ever watched, and what I remember most was when, early in the episode, Bimbo crashes his motorboat and gets tossed into Betty's canoe, and she responds with a startled "Holy Smacks." It's the G-rated version of "holy shit," but the way Betty says it is funny and a little coquettish. I also mostly remember the ending, after Betty and Bimbo escape the island tribe in Bimbo's boat, when it would seem Bimbo gets lucky but perhaps only so lucky as getting a big wet kiss from Betty, and not the other thing. She is innocent after all despite her status as a sex symbol.

This episode is of course one of the most iconic episodes due to Betty's rotoscoped hula dance. The dance is impressive and is modeled after the live action dancer from the intro to the cartoon that features The Royal Samoans, who also provide an excellent soundtrack to the episode. The dance is quite sensationally scandalous because Betty is essentially topless with a thin lei just barely censoring her nudity.

Bamboo Isle is a fun, classic, pre-code episode, although sorely dated from Bimbo resorting to a racial gimmick to save himself from the island tribe as well as Betty being appropriated as a dark skinned island native. A time capsule of a bygone era that still holds up as an entertaining, memorable short, Bamboo Isle is a great eight minute diversion.        

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Old Man of the Mountain (1933)

The Old Man of the Mountain is a classic, bizarre, and sexy Betty Boop cartoon with another smoking soundtrack from Cab Calloway and his Orchestra; in fact this one has Cab Calloway throughout the entire episode, voicing all of the characters except for Betty Boop. Like in Minnie the Moocher (1932) and Snow White (1933), Cab's rotoscoped dance and song number come at the climax shortly before everything falls apart with a big chase scene. This one does a good job at building up to the appearance of the Old Man of the Mountain (a recluse residing in the mountain who everyone fears for no clear reason) with a lot of foreboding, as well as a creepy and, if I'm interpreting it right, distasteful joke with Betty meeting an unhappy female walrus anthropomorph coming down the mountain with a baby carriage containing triplets resembling the Old Man of the Mountain.

This cartoon apparently caused the biggest stir among the moralist communities at the time because of the sexuality used. This, as well as Hays Code enforcement, had an unfortunate result of Betty eventually being toned down by 1934. Woefully enough, Jazz music would become excluded from her cartoons too. Boo!   

What I find pretty cool here is that Betty is not as frightened by the Old Man as she was the Spectral Walrus from Minne the Moocher, taking him on in a sing and dance off (that had an influence on The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)), and it is terrific. All in all, the cartoon is a proto-music-video in a similar vein to Minnie the Moocher, although I like to think of Betty as older and more mature by this point, as she's not running away from home this time but working at a tourist center and doesn't act frightened but is rather brave, attempting to ascend the mountain and confront the old man, despite the whole town fleeing in fear.

I also absolutely adore Betty's outfit in this one. Her pointed collar reminds me a little of Vampirella or maybe even Caroline Munro's character from Starcrash (1978).

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Any Rags? (1932)

"♫Stick out your can, here comes the Garbage Man♫." -Betty Boop
The first Talkartoons episode of 1932, Any Rags? was released January 2nd and features an adaptation of the title song Any Rags, a classic Schottische hit, originally composed by Thomas S. Allen and later recorded by Arthur Collins

I'll admit to not knowing anything about the song Any Rags before first seeing this cartoon. I like to believe that Betty's enduring popularity is beneficial to vintage music preservation. A lot of classic music from bygone eras that would otherwise seem forgotten are continual reintroduced to new generations thanks to the timelessness of Betty's cartoons, and I'm grateful for that.

I've listened to the original song Any Rags, and I noticed that it does not have my favorite line from the cartoon: "stick out your can, here comes the garbage man." I love it when Betty (voiced by Ann Little) sings this catchy line. You can hear her distinguished voice among the choir, and it is catchy and memorable.

The cartoon itself works as a short entertaining distraction, when the mood strikes for something from the early phase of the golden age of American animation. Bimbo is the main character, but Betty steals the show. Talkartoons would end that year and virtually be replaced with Betty Boop's own show, with the pre-code trio of Betty, Bimbo, and Koko still intact. It just made much more sense to give the show to Betty. She's the real reason the Talkartoons episodes with her in them still endure.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Betty Boop Clocks

These are a couple of partially broken Betty Boop clocks from an antique store. I'm sure I could probably fix them, but who knows if or when I'll get around to it.

Even though the minute and second hands still work, the hour hand is stuck at six on the wall clock. The shelf clock is missing the hour hand altogether but still works otherwise and has these four jewel-like hearts at the base that rotate around like a carousel. The spinning hearts are my favorite aspect of it and make it extremely charming.

My favorite of the two is the shelf clock. It has a lot of interesting details to it and comes off as antique, although it's pretty cheap and has a 2009 date on the back (so it's no antique). It looks older than the wall clock which has a 1991 date on the back, so the wall clock is a lot older and sadly was working correctly until it fell off the wall one day.

While attempting to Google a Betty Boop cartoon that might be related to 'time' and 'clocks' to tie in to this blog post, I came across an American Screen Songs Fleischer Studios short cartoon from 1932 that has Betty Boop, or at least a Betty Boop-ish character, as a topless mermaid. It's called Time on My Hands and also features Ethel Merman singing the title song to the bouncing ball over the lyric captions. I did not know about this cartoon until now, even as a bonafide Betty Boop fan. So, there you have it. Topless Betty Boop. The rumors were true.