“Swing Out, Now”: My Take On L’IL OL’ BOSKO AND THE PIRATES (1937)

Review-synopsis by Rachel Newstead

L'il Ol' Bosko and the Pirates

L’il Ol’Bosko and the Pirates

Release Date: May 1, 1937

Director: Hugh Harman

In short: Little Bosko’s imagination runs wild, conjuring up a boatload of musical pirate frogs who show him–and us–just what “wild” means…

There is, I admit, an undeniable advantage to watching cartoons in the internet age.

When I was a child, TV programmers ruled. Cartoons came on when the programmers wanted, however often they wanted–and could be yanked off the air just as arbitrarily, for weeks or even months. Or for that matter, forever.

On the one hand, it made cartoon-watching an event, something to be eagerly anticipated. And yet…

I never knew when a favorite cartoon would reappear. Were I to miss it, I’d have to wait until it came up again in the rotation, however long that may be. Consequently, it could take years of repeat viewing to catch all the subtleties, the inside jokes, the individual “fingerprints” of each animator’s style.

Now, armed with DVDs, YouTube and the ability to instantly view nearly anything I desire, as many times as I desire, that same process can take days or even hours.

“L’il Ol’ Bosko and the Pirates” was not one of those cartoons I was fortunate enough to see in my childhood–it and cartoons like it had pretty much faded from TV by the time my interest in animation reached full flower–but the rule still applies.

I first had the privilege of viewing a copy some two years ago. Then, as too often happens, I misplaced it, and much of its wonderful detail faded from my mind.

When finally able to see it again–and again and again–about a week ago, what I found was a revelation.

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JAMMIN’ AT THE LILY PAD: The Music Comes Full Circle With The “Bosko Trilogy”

by Kevin Wollenweber

Foreword from Rachel

After more than a year, Kevin and I are making a long-overdue return to the MGM incarnation of our favorite character, Bosko–more specifically, the final three cartoons in the series, which we’ve come to refer to as the “Bosko Trilogy.”

Made toward the end of Hugh and Rudy’s tenure as independent producers, the Trilogy stands as a bittersweet foreshadowing of what they might have done had they continued as such. In few other cartoons do a modern, jazzy sensibility and Disney-like innocence come together so well.

These deceptively similar cartoons appeal on enough levels to inspire a book in themselves; a mere review seems inadequate, but that’s what we’re going to attempt to do. Were we to indulge ourselves, we could talk about these cartoons among ourselves forever, as heretofore-unnoticed details crop up with every viewing, but we’ve kept our dear readers waiting long enough. In today’s essay, Kevin’s offers his perspective on the Trilogy in general, with emphasis on the first cartoon in the series, L’il Ol’ Bosko and the Pirates. Mine will follow in a subsequent post.

We’ve told the story so many times, here and there in our ramblings on this blog, about Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising leaving their old boss, Walt Disney, for what they hoped would be far greener and more successful pastures, forming their own animation company and getting distributed by Warner Brothers, and then MGM. Those earliest years, experimenting with their own musical series of cartoons, the Looney Tunes and then the Happy Harmonies, spawned cute little wide-eyed and talented characters like Foxy (at Warner Brothers) and their most successful creation, Bosko, that “talk-ink” kid.

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How’s that again, Sally?

maybe this time I'll get the lyrics right

Swing it again, Sally: maybe this time I'll get the lyrics right

by Rachel Newstead

I’ve often joked that Kevin and I make the perfect team, as I hear about as well as he sees; he’ll pick up subtleties in the sound track of a cartoon that I might have misheard (or missed entirely) while I provide the visual information he can’t. There are, however, some instances in which Kevin can’t save me. I give you Exhibit A below…

Since establishing the new blog, Kevin and I haven’t quite made a clean break from the old, which remains intact. Perhaps it’s just as well, since it looks as if we received a comment on the Sally Swing review I posted in May. A fellow who calls himself “ramapith” left the following comment on the old blog recently:

Hey, guys!

After seeing Sally Swing’s modern-day reappearance on Stephen DeStefano’s blog, I did some looking for more on her and bumped into this page.
What a great review (and Sally is a great character, too… pity no more shorts with her ended up being made).

Don’t wanna mosey around with Mozart,
He wrote a symphony; so what?
Don’t want to beat it out with Beethoven;
I want my music and my biscuits hot…

So we’re no longer rhyming “hot” with itself, and the lyrics more accurately show Sally’s tastes.

Well, that’s what comes of rushing to put content up, I suppose. This was a cartoon with which Kevin was unfamiliar–I hadn’t even heard of it until a day or two before posting the review–so he didn’t have the luxury of teasing out those dodgy areas on the somewhat muddy sound track. Thus, I was flying blind–or deaf, as it were.

Perhaps the most mortifying thing for me is in thinking that a musician the caliber of Sammy Timberg would have done something so amateurish as rhyme “hot” with itself. Of course he wouldn’t.

I’d like to thank “ramapith” for commenting, and I encourage any other loyal readers to do the same. My ears will thank you.

“NOW JUST A DARN MIN-NUT!!”, The True Essence of Bob Clampett’s “Beany and Cecil”

Our red-blooded "sea sur-pent" in puppet form (1949, above) and animated (1962, above right)

Our red-blooded "sea sur-pent" in puppet form (1949, above) and animated (1962, below right)

by Kevin Wollenweber

I was listening to the commentary tracks found on disk four of LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION, VOL. 3, especially John Kricfalusi’s enthusiastic talks
during some of his favorite Bob Clampett cartoons included in that program, like “GRUESOME TWOSOME” and “FALLING HARE”, noting the overall work of Bob
Clampett as a major influence for many facets of his own “REN & STIMPY”series and his ways of approaching characters that are not his own. It must
have, therefore, been a blast for John K. to have had a shot at directing and writing his own “BEANY & CECIL” series as his tribute to the man who was his artistic hero.

In the commentaries, John K. says that Bob Clampett was the king of mischief, of the double entendre, the gag that could mean something other than what you might have thought it meant as a kid viewing it for the first
time, and there are indeed times this is true. There was that gag that apparently was often cut from TV airings of “AN ITCH IN TIME” in which the dog gets bitten by the flea and  goes rolling from one corner of the room to the other, dragging his bitten posterior on the ground and yowling, pausing only for enough time to pant and say, as an aside to the audience, “Hey, I’d better cut this out. I might
get to like it!”

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Orphan Toon Musings–“Follow The Ball”: Max Fleischer’s Forgotten Sound Cartoons

review by Rachel Newstead

For the animated cartoon, sound arrived not with a bang, or a whimper, but a bark.

The scene: a movie palace of decades ago. The lights go down. On a grainy black-and-white screen, the audience sees a black cartoon dog in an iris shot a la the MGM lion. Several barks issue forth from the screen.

from "My Old Kentucky Home"

The bark that changed the history of animation: from "My Old Kentucky Home"

A series of mildly amusing gags follow: the dog enters his home, where he removes his coat and hat. Cartoon magic transforms a statue in the corner into a water pump, while the dog’s hat becomes a washbasin. His coat, which he has thrown over a chair, does double duty as a towel, then a tablecloth as he prepares to eat his meal. While sharpening his dentures, the dog pauses to replace a loosened tooth, knocking it back in place with a mallet to the tune of “The Anvil Chorus.”

Disdaining the meat he’s selected for his evening meal for the juicy bone inside, our canine friend doesn’t consume it, but pulls and stretches it like putty, until the soup bone resembles a trombone. (OK, you try coming up with a better pun in the wee hours of the morning.) He plays a few notes of a familiar tune–“My Old Kentucky Home”. Turning to the audience, with a voice not quite in synch with the mouth movements, he says, “Follow the ball, and join in, everybody!”

That audience didn’t know it then, but they’d just witnessed cinema history. The cartoon they saw–with sight and sound gags so typical of the “wide-eyed ’30s”–premiered not in the thirties, but 1926.

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The Life Ani-Matic

by Kevin Wollenweber

Well, hello, again, folks.

Here I am at last, this being my first contribution here, as we’ve changed domains, finding a new and better home–carrying most of our dialogue to this new spot on the dial, so to speak. Continuously talking about these animated “orphans”, and even supporting their finding a unique place among those who have already found homes numerous times on our video shelves: redressed and restored for much future viewings by those who like and even prefer the history to what is now out there, today, broadcast on airwaves as if history doesn’t matter.

First of all, let me reintroduce myself to you all.

I am a 54-year-old blind man who still retains a fair memory of many of these classic cartoons from watching and rewatching them so often growing up and in butchered, syndicated reruns on local East Coast airwaves in years before I finally lost all vision to glaucoma in 1976 (just before Christmas).

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