Walt Disney

Chicken in the Rough (1951, Jack Hannah)

Chicken in the Rough is constantly charming. It feels incomplete, but it’s still constantly charming.

Chip ‘n’ Dale are collecting nuts near a farm. On that farm, the rooster is waiting for a hen’s eggs to hatch. Anthropomorphizing roosters and hens is one heck of a thing, incidentally. Just the relationship and the implied expectant mother and father. So Dale, being an idiot, mistakes the soon-to-hatch eggs for walnuts and gets curious. Chip tries to correct him, but fails (and then disappears, another reason the cartoon feels incomplete); basically, it ends up with Dale pretending to be a chick to try to fool the rooster, who’s thrilled he’s a new daddy.

And the hen just assumes Dale is one of her chicks. Even after all the other chicks are born.

It’s a short cartoon, with Dale trying to get away from the rooster–who’s simultaneously wise to the chipmunk not being a chick and yet still hopeful he’s wrong and Dale is his newborn (it’s weird and cute). There’s a great sequence where Dale has to pretend to eat a bug. And Dale trying to convince the actual chick to stick around is excellent too.

Most of the action takes place inside the expecting hen’s hen house (separate from the other hens) and the animation’s good.

It’s too short and doesn’t have anything approaching an ending, but Chicken in the Rough’s many charms–particularly the voice acting (even the hen gets some “lines”)–make up for the cartoon’s foibles.

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Hannah; written by Nick George and Bill Berg; animated by Bob Carlson, Bill Justice, and Judge Whitaker; music by Joseph Dubin; produced by Walt Disney; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dessie Flynn (Dale), James MacDonald (Chip), and Florence Gill (hen).


The B.R.A.T. Patrol (1986, Mollie Miller)

The B.R.A.T. Patrol is about a group of kids on an airforce base who discover one of the MPs is selling military hardware to literal junk yard arms dealers. None of the adults believe them because it’s a “Wonderful World of Disney” movie and there are rules. There are limits and there are rules. B.R.A.T. Patrol frequently bumps into the limits–if director Miller just had wider establishing shots, the movie would have some scale. But it plays well with the rules. Miller and writers Chris “Yes, the ‘X-Files’” Carter and Michael Patrick Goodman never lose track of the main kids, even when some of them get crap duty.

Nia Long gets the most crap duty, but then she gets to be part of the awesome chase sequence at the end. She gets to ride the dirt bikes. She doesn’t get to do anything cool on the dirt bikes, but then neither does Jason Presson, who kind of has the biggest role. He’s the kid who doesn’t just want to go along with what lead kid Sean Astin says. Sean Astin–and his stunt bike rider–are the only ones who get to do cool things during the dirt bike sequence.

There’s probably a lot to unpack in “Wonderful World of Disney” episodes. Let’s just say Astin is the William Shatner of the bunch, only Miller doesn’t direct a performance out of him and so his deliveries are all flat. He’s an Eddie Haskall type, from the era of rehabilitating the trope. He should be funny, but he’s not. He’s not even mean in his callousness. He’s just got a role to play.

At least Presson tries a little. His part’s terribly written–B.R.A.T. Patrol has adults but no parents and Presson gets the subplot about being afraid of punishment. Fail to stop an arms deal? Get stabbed? Presson’s parents might ground him. Without the parents, there’s nothing to back up the fear. And Miller doesn’t even try to help with it. She’s got a hands off approach with the actors, which does work to her favor. Since the teleplay has so little for the other three kids–Long, Dylan Kussman, and Dustin Berkovitz–seeing the kids mug without trying to mug passes the time. It gives them some personality, even if the script doesn’t.

Astin doesn’t have any personality. He’s just supposed to be obnoxious, but adorable obnoxious. Versus Joe Wright as the leader of the base’s Young Marines. He’s just supposed to be obnoxious without being adorable. Watching Astin and Wright bicker is one of the movie’s most frequent irritations. Once it’s established the Young Marines aren’t actual threats, the interactions are increasingly tedious. Wright and Billy Jayne are trying to stop Astin and company from winning a “Youth Service Award,” which Astin and company don’t seem to know anything about.

They’re stopping the arms dealers for the right reasons, not to get any awards.

Tim Thomerson is the MP who secretly thinks Astin and the gang are all right. Brian Keith is the base commander who’s flummoxed by children’s behavior. Keith’s fine. Thomerson’s almost better; the first act implies he might get an actual part, but he doesn’t.

And Stephen Lee is good at as the dirty MP. You believe he wants to harm Astin, making him an actual threat. Same goes for junk yard arms dealer John Quade. B.R.A.T. Patrol’s thriller thread is pretty darn effective.

Good photography from Fred J. Koenekamp, even if Miller needs to open up the establishing shots more. It’s a Disney TV movie, it only has to look so good but Koenekamp is far above the bare minimum. Fine editing from Barbara Palmer Dixon and Glenn Farr. The editing gets good for the last third, even if the script dawdles.

The B.R.A.T. Patrol is sort of racing with itself. Can the movie end before Astin hits critical mass and becomes too obnoxious. No. But it does acknowledge Astin’s too obnoxious. That acknowledgement is something.

Wait, can’t forget the production design. Ray Storey’s production design is outstanding. Since Miller’s establishing shots are so problematic, the locations never get established. But the way Storey’s able to match the actual air base exteriors with the plot set pieces? Outstanding.

But, yeah, B.R.A.T. Patrol is fine. Enough.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mollie Miller; written by Chris Carter and Michael Patrick Goodman; “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” created by Walt Disney; director of photography, Fred J. Koenekamp; edited by Barbara Palmer Dixon and Glenn Farr; music by Jonathan Tunick; production designer, Ray Storey; produced by Mark H. Ovitz; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Sean Astin (Leonard), Jason Presson (McGeorge), Nia Long (Darla), Dylan Kussman (Bug), Dustin Berkovitz (Squeak), Joe Wright (Newmeyer), Billy Jayne (Whittle), Tim Thomerson (Maj. Hackett), Stephen Lee (Phillips), John Quade (Knife), and Brian Keith (Gen. Newmeyer).


Alice’s Wonderland (1923, Walt Disney)

Depending on the process director Disney used to marry live action with animation, Alice’s Wonderland is either mediocre or just plain bad. If it’s the latter, Disney has no concept of perspective or, you know, shadows.

The first three minutes are awesome. A little kid (Virginia Davis, in an awful performance–it’s probably Disney’s fault) visits an animation studio and is amazed at how the cartoon characters come alive on the animators’ panels. Disney’s conception of the studio is something technology still hasn’t produced (and probably never will). It’s spellbinding.

Then it becomes about Davis and gets bad. All the little cartoon animals love her and applaud her lame, poorly directed dance. The technical wonders of the first few minutes become lame and cheap tricks, a couple of shocking incompetence.

The animation’s mostly lame with occasional exceptions. Unfortunately, a couple great gags can’t make up for all of Alice‘s failings.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written, directed and produced by Walt Disney; directors of photography, Rudolf Ising and Ub Iwerks; animated by Hugh Harman, Ising, Iwerks and Carman Maxwell; released by Margaret J. Winkler.


The Saga of Windwagon Smith (1961, Charles A. Nichols)

There’s nothing good about The Saga of Windwagon Smith. The best thing about it is the extended opening titles, which eat up some of the runtime and lessen the cartoon’s awfulness.

The animation happily plays at the nexus of lazy, incompetent and bad. Director Nichols–who cowrote–at least could’ve come up with an interesting visualization for his dumb story.

Instead, he relies on singing narration. It, and the dialogue, all rhymes. Except they’re bad rhymes, which makes one wonder how much time anyone spent on Windwagon. It’s like they wrote the dialogue first and the couplet at some later point.

Rex Allen is equally obnoxious as the protagonist and narrator.

The most striking thing about the cartoon, however, is the rampant racism. There are multiple Native American jokes, a Chinese one, but it also mocks the Kansas townspeople as moronic rednecks.

Windwagon‘s a dreadful way to spend twelve minutes.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Charles A. Nichols; written by Lance Nolley and Nichols; animated by Julius Svendsen and Art Stevens; music by George Bruns; production designer, Ernie Nordli; produced by Walt Disney; released by Buena Vista Releasing Company.

Starring Rex Allen (Windwagon Smith) and J. Pat O’Malley (Mayor Crum); narrated by Allen.


Working for Peanuts (1953, Jack Hannah)

As if Donald Duck couldn’t get weirder, he’s apparently got the hots for a female elephant in Working for Peanuts. But it’s not actually a Donald cartoon, it’s a Chip and Dale cartoon. The boys are after the peanuts–a delicacy they’ve just discovered–and the zoo has them.

Donald’s the zookeeper, the elephant’s got the peanuts. Chaos ensues.

Director Hannah and his animators must have either been on a tight deadline or completely disinterested, because Peanuts is terrible work. The animation on Donald and the chipmunks is fine, but on the elephant and the other zoo animals it’s awful. There’s one shot of a group of people standing around with the same face and expression. The zoo itself has no personality (or cages).

As for the gags… they’re tepid. The final one’s kind of funny, but the dumb elephant’s in the scene; she ruins it.

These Peanuts are stale.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Hannah; written by Nick George and Roy Williams; animated by Volus Jones, Bill Justice and George Kreisl; music by Oliver Wallace; produced by Walt Disney; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dessie Flynn (Dale), James MacDonald (Chip) and Clarence Nash (Donald Duck).


Susie the Little Blue Coupe (1952, Clyde Geronimi)

Bill Peet, who came up with the story for Susie the Little Blue Coupe and co-wrote the final script, must have thought American kids didn’t have enough depressing classic Russian literature in their lives. It’s a seriously disturbed, if fantastic, cartoon.

Susie tells the story of a happy little car named, you guessed it, Susie. Some guy buys her and she lives a happy life, or so she thinks… because it turns out the guy doesn’t do maintenance until its too late and then abandons her.

She suffers in a used car lot, then ends up in the possession of a small-time drunk. She suffers even worse in his care before the climax–a junkyard.

Director Geronimi showcases the suffering, one upping it every time.

The animation’s great, the pacing’s great, it’s just a disquieting cartoon. Geronimi and Peet introduce a lovable character only to make her suffer.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Clyde Geronimi; screenplay by Bill Peet and Don DaGradi, based on a story by Peet; animated by Bob Carlson, Ollie Johnston, Hal King and Cliff Nordberg; music by Paul J. Smith; produced by Walt Disney; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Stan Freberg (Junkyard owner); narrated by Sterling Holloway.


Paul Bunyan (1958, Les Clark)

The beginning of Paul Bunyan is cute. It’s little Paul Bunyan (though a giant) growing up in Maine. Very cute. The song, which later becomes annoying, is well-used. Director Clark’s direction is pretty good throughout, though once Paul’s enormous ox, Babe, enters the picture, Clark loses control of the perspective.

But that slip isn’t the interesting part about Bunyan. No, it’s the middle section. The cartoon explains how Paul and Babe are responsible for the North American landscape (not billions of years of tectonic shifts). If one were a conspiracy theorist, he or she could use Bunyan as a case of popular entertainment indoctrinating children to be unquestioning morons.

The final part, featuring Paul versus evil city folk, continues that thread.

Thurl Ravenscroft gives a lousy performance as Paul, which–in addition to the willful stupidity–drags down the cartoon.

And the animation’s never on par with Clark’s direction.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Les Clark; written by Lance Nolley and Ted Berman; animated by George Goepper, Jerry Hathcock, Ken Hultgren, Fred Kopietz, George Nicholas, Jack Parr, John Sibley and Robert W. Youngquist; music by George Bruns; produced by Walt Disney; released by Buena Vista Pictures.

Starring Thurl Ravenscroft (Paul Bunyan), Parley Baer (Chris Crosshaul) and Dal McKennon (Cal McNab).


Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952, Jack Hannah)

Pluto’s Christmas Tree gets off to a somewhat rocky start; it turns out, the animators spend more time on one nut than they do on Mickey Mouse. Besides looking perpetually hung over, Mickey’s also very loosely drawn.

However, Tree soon picks up because Hannah’s direction is inspired and the animators excel on everything (except Mickey). Chip and Dale are hiding in Mickey and Pluto’s Christmas tree, annoying Pluto, but also giving the viewer a look at a Christmas tree from inside out.

Hannah creates, in six minutes or so, a truly lovely little Christmas cartoon. Besides the lovely tree interiors, there are a bunch of great gags for the chipmunks and Pluto.

Even the sappy ending works out well, maybe because Hannah ends Tree with a gag (and starts the sappy ending with one).

I remembered it immediately, once the tree interiors started; the visuals are incredibly striking, incredibly memorable.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Hannah; written by Bill Berg and Milt Schaffer; animated by Volus Jones, Bill Justice, George Kreisl and Fred Moore; music by Joseph Dubin; produced by Walt Disney; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Ruth Clifford (Minnie Mouse), Pinto Colvig (Pluto / Goofy), Dessie Flynn (Dale), James MacDonald (Mickey Mouse / Chip) and Clarence Nash (Donald Duck).


Social Lion (1954, Jack Kinney)

Social Lion is such a truly awful cartoon, one would need to sit with pencil and paper to make notes on every moronic detail in its six minutes.

Director Jack Kinney–brother to co-writer Dick Kinney, who, with Milt Schaffer, writes a lousy story–doesn’t have bad ideas, particularly during the Africa scenes. The animation is bad, but Kinney’s direction shows some promise. Sadly, once the story moves–along with the titular captive Lion–to New York City, Kinney gets wrapped up in the moronic social commentary.

Writer Kinney and his co-culprit Schaffer come up with a plot too heady for kids and too stupid for adults. They also can’t figure out how to put any action in a cartoon about a lion being loose in New York City. They’re inept.

Actually, Lion‘s only adept feature is the uncredited narrator. Sure, the writing’s bad, but the performance isn’t.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Kinney; written by Milt Schaffer and Dick Kinney; animated by Norman Ferguson; music by Oliver Wallace; produced by Walt Disney; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Paul Frees (Lions Club President / Drunks / Clothing salesman).


The Story of Anyburg U.S.A. (1957, Clyde Geronimi)

The Story of Anyburg U.S.A. is an odd one. A small town decides to sue cars–personified here as cute, the windshields as big eyes–for all the auto accidents.

Sadly, Anyburg opens with a lot more energy–the narrator goes on and on about homicides on the highway and such and it doesn’t seem Disney at all.

A lengthy courtroom sequence, with some really bad rhyming dialogue, takes up the rest of the cartoon. As the prosecutor brings up witless witnesses, Anyburg‘s point is clear–people are responsible, not the cars.

Well, duh.

But were Americans in the fifties really willing to take responsibility for themselves? Anyburg makes it seem possible, if not probable.

The animation is fantastic–the courtroom scene’s dynamic, as are the car sequences–but it’s hard to get enthusiastic about the cartoon. Geronimi doesn’t bring any entertainment to the public service announcement.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Clyde Geronimi; written by Dick Huemer; animated by Bob Carlson, George Kreisl and John Sibley; music by Joseph Dubin; produced by Walt Disney; released by Buena Vista Film Distribution Co.

Starring Hans Conried (Prosecutor), Thurl Ravenscroft (Cyrus P. Sliderule) and Bill Thompson (Defense Attorney).


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