Animation Trails
January 19, 2022 posted by Charles Gardner

Flights of Fancy (Part 5): When Pigs Fly

Another batch of aerial toons from the classic thirties. But this time, a rising star gets to really rise, earning his wings in solo flight twice within a matter of a mere four months. It’s none other than Warner Bros’ first true superstar, Porky Pig, finally liberated from the shadow of Beans the Cat, and holding his own in a series of episodes from illustrious directors also on the ascendant, including names that would shake the animated world – Tex Avery and Frank Tashlin. We’ll also see a seasoned sailor venture out of his comfort element, plus a host of miscellaneous fly-bys from the lesser-known studios of Toontown, trying to keep up the pace.

First, however, shame on all of us (me included). I, and all the other animation sleuths blogging in, missed an obvious one last week – Betty Boop’s A Language All My Own (Fleischer/Paramount, 7/19/35 – Dave Fleischer, dir.. Myron Waldman/Hicks Lokey, anim.). Betty’s busy show-biz career keeps her hopping – no sooner does she finish her act here in the States, than she hops out the rear stage door into her streamlined auto, for a dash to the airport to keep schedule for a world tour. Her private plane is waiting, and tips one wing down to allow the car to drive up on top. Betty steps out the car door directly into the plane cockpit, and the plane tips its wings the other way to deposit the car back of the ground. While Beans the Cat had a global locator that indicated what country he was over, Betty’s plane has an automatic pilot, that sets destination for any country with the turn of a knob. Betty sets destination for Japan (others on her destination indicators include Peru, India, Spain, and Italy – she indeed has a busy booking schedule).

The plane takes off with the strides of a track and field runner, plus a bit of wing flapping. Inconsistent with the autopilot gag, Betty flies a few loops around the Statue of Liberty, and asks, “Which way to Japan?” “Thatta way”, responds the statue, pointing the direction with her torch. (However, she appears to be pointing toward the ocean, which would be West instead of East – is she suggesting a polar route?) Betty passes a cloud, where a bird thumbs for a ride as St. Peter did with Willie Whopper. But Betty uncourteously passes him up, denuding him of feathers from the wind force of her passing prop. As the flight continues, Betty’s propeller disconnects from the plane and proceeds on several feet ahead of Betty. “What’s your hurry>”, Boop remarks, and somehow accelerates her craft without a means of propulsion, to catch up with and recover the prop. Approaching her destination, Boop converts her flight goggles into telescopic lenses with the flip of a switch, and spies a three-dimensional panorama of Japan (created with Fleischer’s live-action turntable camera, with the sun depicted with rays matching the Japanese flag. She comes in for a landing right on the rooftop of the Tokyo theater where she is to perform, with a mob of enthusiastic fans waving to her from below and anxious to take their seats inside. After a bravura performance, including a dance in traditional Japanese garments, Boop soars away on the flight home, with the wings of her plane bedecked with presents received from her adoring public.

I briefly met Myron Waldman while attending a festival of his Fleischer shorts at the L.A. County Art Museum. The man, known for his reputation for avoiding more violent humor and presenting gentler storylines, took great pride in this episode, which was the first film on the program, and at the time a fairly unknown Boop title. He informed the audience that this film had come into existence largely in reaction to finding that some of Betty’s biggest fan base outside of the States was from her following in Japan – thus, a direct nod to her foreign audience. Waldman further stated that, as such fan following was of great importance to the studio and of personal interest to the animators, Waldman did considerable study and research of the practices and customs of the subject country while developing the plot and choreography of Betty’s routines, to ensure not only that Japan would be faithfully depicted, but in a manner that would be neither stereotypical nor degrading to the Japanese public. He mentioned his own concern that when Betty dressed in Japanese garments, they be in the style of lady of quality, and not a geisha, and that she also learn to hold a fan in a manner befitting a woman of class rather than a flirtatious plaything. Upon the film’s completion, he was certain he “got it right”, and said that the film received high praise and review in the Japanese market. (Fast forward a few years, and it is amazing to realize that the same personnel who could take such pains to please their Japanese fans could turn upon them so directly during the war, with some of the most outlandish screen stereotypes and portrayals ever created, in such offensive titles as You’re a Sap, Mr, Jap.)

Plane Dippy (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porky Pig), 4/30/36 – Fred (Tex) Avery, dir.) – Porky Pig (still in his early super-portly sweater-wearing design) has an itch to do his bit in the armed forces. But which division? Passing recruiting stations for the infantry and the navy, Porky breaks into a salute when he sees the offices of the air corps, choosing it as the most desirable. Reporting to the recruiting officer, Porky announces “I w-w-want to learn to f-f-f-f-f….” Unable to get out the word, Porky extends his arms as if plane wings, and imitates the sounds of a prop engine instead of the elusive last word of his sentence. Porky is placed into a series of tests for fitness for duty, beginning with a dizziness test. The recruiting officer winds Porky up in rope, then pulls on the line, spinning Porky like a top. An assistant draws a straight line on the floor in chalk, and Porky is released to see if he can walk it. Instead, Porky resumes his top spinning, tracing a winding path all around the room and up the walls. Next test is target practice (as an intertitle card cleverly depicts, having the letters appear as bullet holes shot in the background). The officer launches a wind-up toy plane within the room, then shoots it down with a machine gun on a tripod base. Launching a second plane, he hands Porky the gun to repeat the feat. Porky has no idea of how to aim the weapon, and pivots it 360 degrees, firing continuously at everything in sight, and obliterating the camera’s view in smoke. When the smoke clears, the entire building has been shot away down to the baseboards – but the toy plane is still flying. A disgusted Porky gives the gun tripod a disdainful kick, causing the gun to fire one more round – for a lucky-shot direct hit on the plane.

The big day comes for assignments to duty. While other troopers receive issue of rifles (strange if they’re going to perform service in a plane), Porky is tossed a feather duster, and sealed orders to deliver to a hangar bearing sign reading, “Robot Plane – Keep Out”. Inside, Porky finds an ape in a lab coat, who opens the letter addressed to himself (Professor Blotz), instructing him that “This helper O.K. for your robot plane tests.” The Professor decides to show off his invention – a pilotless plane, which respond to vocal commands via a microphone and radio transmitter. The Professor tells the plane to “Take off”, and Porky watches in amazement as the plane on command, performs loop-de-loops, climbs, and power dives in the sky. “You try it”, says the Professor, handing Porky the mike. However, the Professor hasn’t figured upon Porky’s stutter, and discovers that the plane responds very differently to Porky, jittering and nearly coming to a stop with every hesitation and massacre of syllables by the pig. Porky is barely able to spit out the word “down” in time to keep the plane from colliding into an observation balloon. The disgruntled Professor grabs the mike back, brings the plane in for a safe landing, and tosses the feather duster at Porky, ordering him to get to work dusting the plane. As Porky proceeds with his feather-waving, the radio transmitter and mike are left on a windowsill by the Professor. Outside, little Kitty (making a cameo appearance from “I Haven’t Got a Hat”) encounters a young boy with a cute puppy. “Does he do tricks?”, she asks. “Sure”, says the boy, and commands the pup to “sit up”. All of this is within hearing range of the Professor’s microphone – and suddenly, Porky, atop the plane, finds the plane sitting up in similar fashion. “Wag your tail”, says the boy. The plane does just that. “Get the balloon”, says Kitty, tossing a toy balloon for the pup to fetch. The plane takes off, and slams right into the observation balloon above, destroying it. Porky, in the plane’s cockpit, begins to whimper – he knows he’s in for a bumpy ride. “Chase your tail”, commands Kitty. The plane spins in circles like a circling pup at play. In its wild spins, the plane collides with and knocks out sections of a tall building topped by a clock tower, until only the clock is left at ground level. From here, the verbal commands are left to out imagination, the camera remaining in tracking mode to follow the frantic flight of Porky. The plane swoops into the entrance of a circus tent – and comes out the other side, having snagged into its landing gear a flying trapeze, upon which two acrobats continue to perform their death-defying feats.

The plane dives low, skimming over the surface of the ocean, towing behind the acrobats, with one riding astride the other’s shoulders as if in a water ski show. A passing swordfish removes the performers’ extra weight by cutting the trapeze rope, and Porky is free again – to face new danger. The plane dives underwater, driving a large fish crazy as it pursues him below the waves in a zig-zagging path. The plane surfaces, copying the jump of a porpoise two times in succession – but on the third jump becomes the pursued, chased in the jump by a whale. Back at the microphone, more kids are gathering, as the puppy trick show continues. A passing cat prompts the boy to command the dog to “sic ‘em”. The plane, in response, rises out of the ocean, just missing a bite from the whale, and launches a series of attacks upon anything in its path. It engages in a vicious dogfight with an autogyro, leaving the pilot without a craft, hanging for his life to the spinning rotor shaft. The plane carves a curbed path through the frame of an advertising dirigible – as if someone had gone through the drawing with an eraser. It pursues a cloud, which develops arms and legs and runs for its life into a house also made of clouds, slamming the door in the plane’s face. The plane descends, plowing through a wagon loaded with hay on a country toad, transforming the cut hay into straw hats. It returns to the sky, soaring through a small squadron of biplanes traveling the other way, causing them to veer out of the plane’s path to let it pass, then just as quickly resume formation. Back on the ground, things have developed into chaos, as a circle of kids are now calling out endless and overlapping commands to the puppy, who is as confused as we are in listening to the din. The plane likewise performs in a daze, turning and spinning every which way but loose, ad even breaking into aerial cartwheels. Finally, the puppy lays exhausted on the ground, and its owner declares, “You’ve had enough. Come on home.” These might be the most welcome words Porky could ever hear – as the plane makes a beeline for its hangar, so anxious to get there that it crashes through the building into the rear wall. Porky is ejected, and seems to be moving forward under the continued force of the plane’s momentum – but in reality, his speed is from sheer determination, to escape through and out the door of the recruiting office, hurry down the street, and enter at the door of the office of the infantry, for the drudgery, but at least more peaceful future, of endless marching. (Peace, my foot. Wait a few years until World War II!)

Cupid Gets His Man (Van Buren/RKO, Rainbow Parade, 7/24/36, Tom Palmer, dir.). Until this cartoon, no one ever suspected Dan Cupid was Canadian. However, this turns out to be the case, as a visit to Dan’s love headquarters reveals that he commands a regiment of crack Mountie-style troops, complete with traditional Mountie hats and red jackets (although no trousers whatsoever). With the motto that “Dan Cupid always gets his man”, Dan runs an efficient operation, with cupid troopers reporting in with certified records of marriages of their “most wanted”, which are processed as cases closed, and immediately forwarded to Doc Stork, who, with the help of a wheel of fortune, determines the number and gender of offspring the couple will receive. However, one pair of prospective mates proves difficult, as one of the troopers reports in on a stretcher, with a black eye to show for his battle wounds, telling Dan, “I didn’t get my man. He got me first.” The uncooperative couple? W,C. Fields and Edna Mae Oliver. Dan decides this case deserves his personal attention. But the pair, engaged in a heated round of neighborly bickering, do not take kindly to an interloper interrupting their private fight – and both turn on Dan, plastering him with a pie and assorted fruits and vegetables from a backyard garden. Dan is forced to shoot a message back to headquarters via carrier arrow, to rally his troops for reinforcement. They respond with an aerial attack, each trooper astride a large candy heart that serves as a fighter plane, from which they engage in a mass strafing mission with a barrage of arrows.

The couple on the ground are far from defenseless. Fields picks up two trash can lids as shields, and wards off more enemy fire than Captain America. Edna is not through with her baking, and finds another pie to down some of the enemy fighters, then lays into more of the swooping fliers with some well-placed swings of a broom. The cupids fight on doggedly, as one has his plane and his bow knocked out from under him, but continues firing by using his hat-band as a substitute bow string. Fields trues a new tactic, setting rows of clothespins on a stretched clothesline, then firing them into the air as if from a slingshot. The pins not only knock the fliers off their mounts, but pin their own personal wings so they can’t fly, resulting in many crashes (including of Dan himself, who winds up dunked in a backyard fountain). Time to bring in the bigger firepower. A heavy fighter plane, in the form of a three-dimensional heart with pusher propeller and pilot’s seat, is flown in by a specialized trooper, carrying ammunition belts for a built=in machine gun, loaded with heart-tipped arrows. .Fields runs for cover through a cellar door into his home basement – but is intercepted by a waiting squad of cupids stationed inside. Edna dives into a rain barrel, but is quickly surrounded and held at arrow point by multiple troopers. The two are bound up in ropes, and placed before an archer firing squad, as Dan gives the command to fire – straight for their hearts. The arrows find their marks, as the couples’ hearts brightly glow, and suddenly, the ropes disappear, and the couple are transformed into classic Shakespearian garb as if Romeo and Juliet, with a new background consisting of a flower-strewn path to a castle on a hill, toward which the two walk arm in arm, with Fields referring to Edna as his “little chickadee” and spouting flowery dialogue about traveling the path of life together, as if in a “calm field of asparagus”. The case is closed, and Doc Stork gives his wheel one final spin – dealing the couple a set of quintuplets!

Porky’s Poultry Plant (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porky Pig), 8/22/36, Frank Tashlin, dir.) – Just a few months out of the air corps, and Porky is up in the air again, this time in a civilian setting. Owner of a chicken ranch, Porky keeps one wall of a barn as a spot for hanging portraits in memoriam of hens he has lost to the clutches of the farmers’ Public Enemy Number 1, the Hawk. “I’ll get you yet, you old b-b-b-buzzard!”, vows Porky. (An interesting production note is the fact that the photos of the fallen chickens each bear a date of their hawknapping – the most recent being July 8th, 1936. One wonders how closely the animation staff could predict the date of release of the completed film during production, as it would seem unlikely that shooting would still remain in progress only a little over one month before release – suggesting that the shot was actually filmed earlier than the stated date, with expectation of a release date later than the date of the poster. However it occurred, it was a gutsy move, as current-dating the cartoon would guarantee that it would be an unlikely candidate for theatrical re-release, as its own “expiration dates” would give themselves away. A stranger point of note is with regard to the hand-traced, foreign-produced color version that appeared in syndication many years before computer coloring was possible. In that version, the tightly-looped top of one of the “6″s on a poster was mistaken by an artist to be an entirely-closed loop, such that the year on the poster becomes “1938″ – two tears later that the cartoon was made!)

That same day, the hawk soars overhead on another raid. Swooping in, he corners a stray chick between two buildings, and carries it off in his talons. Porky’s rifle shots are out of range, so he turns to advanced technology. What other rancher but Porky would be so conscientious of his hens to keep within his barn a Gee Bee racing plane, equipped with machine gun? (The “Gee Bee – standing for Granville Brothers, was a celebrated superpowered mini-plane that seemed to consist of practically all motor, streamlined with short wings and stubby tail for increased forward speed. It made a successful reputation for itself in pylon races in the air show circuits, and to modern generations is probably best remembered for the outstanding visual simulations of such a race in the opening sequence of Disney’s cult ‘30’s pulp-fiction epic, “The Rocketeer”,) Porky takes to the skies, firing a stream of bullets at the hawk’s tail. A squawk for help calls out an entire flock of the huge birds roosting in the hills, who approach in fliers’ V-formation. Matching speed with Porky’s plane, they descend upon it, one bird seizing Porky’s ears in his talons and lifting him out of the pilot’s seat, while the other birds one by one nip at Porky’s tail. Another “V” of birds passes overhead, dropping from their claws a payload of eggs, with which Porky is pelted below. As the hawks laugh, Porky becomes the pursuer again, chasing the flock into a cloud. The camera tracks back and forth, losing the fliers in the cloudy mist – bit when they reappear, the tables have been turned again, as Porky flees from the birds – who now have his machine gun.

Repeating the action from Mickey Mouse’s “The Mail Pilot”, the birds shoot away the prop from Porky’s plane. In Tashlin rapid-fire editing, with several shots appearing on the screen for only a few frames, Porky plummets, but, as with Mickey, is saved by colliding with a farm windmill, acquiring its rotating blades as a new prop. Now the birds regroup for a mid-air huddle. They emerge in football-play formation, call signals, and begin a game of keep-away with the stolen chick, tossing him back and forth in repeated lateral passes. One bird attempts a long pass, and while a rooster below calls out play-by-play for the hens, the hawk fumbles, leaving the chick falling helplessly to earth. More rapid Tashlin editing has Porky swoop his plane under the chick in the nick of time for a daring rescue, the mother hen below collapsing with a sigh of relief. But the hawks are still not done, and give chase again. Porky resorts to his secret weapon, and, pulling on a control handle, releases a cloud of belching smoke from the plane’s rear exhaust (or is it possibly insect poison for crop dusting?). Flying into the toxic cloud, the hawks drop out from its bottom and fall from the sky. Below, the hens circle the shadow of the falling hawks, and dig with their claws into the ground, producing a large open trench. The hawks fall into the pit, which serves as a mass grave, into which the hens quickly kick back the dirt for a proper burial, topped by a funeral lily placed on the grave by the rooster. Porky lands, returning the chick to its mother. As the mother heads happily back toward their nest, she sees the shadow of a large bird on the ground, and runs in panic, anticipating a new attack. Porky grabs his rifle again and aims upward – but is relieved to find the shadow is only from a rotating weather vane atop the barn, on which note the film irises out.

The Pups’ Christmas (Harman-Ising, MGM, Happy Harmonies, 12/12/36), presents another opportunity for use of a toy plane, together with another tribute to World War 1 themes. One in a series of films beginning with “Two Little Pups”, the lush animation follows the events of a Christmas morning from a dogs’-eye view. As two children open their present on the big day, the pups find themselves pursued by a cleverly-designed wind-up toy WWI tank, which clanks along to the tune of “Over There”, and shoots streams of sparks out of its gun turret. The pups seem powerless to fight off this reappearing pest, until one of them backs into a toy airport hangar, activating from within a motorized toy plane. The tank, sighting the diving, swooping craft, senses a more worthy adversary, and starts shooting its sparks skyward, assuming the role of an anti-aircraft gun. The plane takes a few dives at the tank, causing it to briefly retreat, but then assumes a defensive mode, attempting to stay out of the tank’s range but following a circling path behind the branches of the Christmas tree. The tank calculates the plane’s speed, anticipating when it will reappear around the other side of the tree, builds up its own inner firepower, and belches out one large shot of sparks at a calculated instant. The sparks hit the plane straight on in its belly, and the plane, assuming human mannerisms, clutches where its heart should be, its gestures indicating “You got me”. Developing flames (is this gasoline, or pure engine friction from the wind-up gears?), the plane swerves through the sky out of control. Below, the tank hopelessly attempts to dodge the falling plane’s zig-zag path, but is too late, and is at ground zero when the plane crashes, leaving a hopeless pile of twisted metal and gears where the two toys had once been. The pups reappear to make a curious sniff of the wreckage – but are startled when the tank’s gun turret reappears on a spring, letting fly a last burst of fiery sparks. Retreating to their new doghouse received for the holiday, the pips end the film as they often do – with defiant but meaningless barks to prove that they’re not afraid – through everyone knows they really are.

Let’s Go (Charles Mintz/Columbia, Color Rhapsody, 4/10/37 Ben Harrison/Manny Gould, dir.) – One of those recurring types of pictures to bring solace to a nation weary of the Great Depression, based upon the premise that your troubles will just disappear with a smile, a song, and pretense that everything will be all right. Oswald Rabbit, for one, had sparked this kind of film with 1933’s “Confidence”, the magic ingredient he receives in a Flit can straight from F.D.R. (His film, by the way, features an incidental air gag, as he converts the huge powdered wig off a George Washington statue into a plane, using the statue’s bow tie as a propeller, for the ride back to his home town.) With less direct reference to the economic situation, Van Buren’s “The Sunshine Makers” follows the same sort of cheer-up theme, allowing joyful gnomes to bombard the territory of the silk-hatted glooms with milk bottles of liquid sunshine, from squadrons of flying dragonflies. In Columbia’s entry, a queen bee presides over the land of Prosperity, where business and enterprise are literally “buzzing”, but notices in the square below her castle tower a visiting grasshopper, dressed in ragged clothes and attempting to earn coins by playing a somber tune on an old violin. The grasshopper tells a tale of his neighboring community, where everyone is equally destitute, and even the slot machines pay off in lemons. The queen is moved to tears, and pulls the handle on a whistle, calling her community into action on a relief mission. She is carried to and enters a gondola under their beehive, and takes over the controls, launching the hive as a flying airship/dirigible. Another squad of aviators waits at the Busy Bee Airport, aboard a fleet of planes built out of the shafts of fountain pens, their fuselages capable of sucking up liquid cargo in the same manner as ink. Each plane juices up from a vat of honey, labeled as “Honey Bombs”, and the combined flying force takes off at the Queen’s command. Just as the Joys had done with the Glooms in Van Buren’s epic, the bees bombard the grasshoppers’ “Gloomytown” with honey. (Maybe they should have joined forces with the joyful gnomes – then they could really make a land of “milk and honey”!) Rather than be angered at getting gooped by the sticky mess, each grasshopper hit suddenly becomes full of cheer, labors productively, and even finds the community slot machine paying off in gold coin. That’s pretty much it, and, mission accomplished, the bee air force returns to home territory, amidst the whistles and puffs of smoke of productive grasshopper factories, for the iris out.

I Never Changes My Altitude (Fleischer/Paramount, Popeye, 8/20/37 – Dave Fleischer, dir., Willard Bowsky/Orestes Calpini, anim.) – Olive Oyl runs a diner at the Hott Air-Port, where she spends most of her time making google-eyes at the romantic and dashing pilots. Her advertising sign, aimed skyward upon her roof, reads, “Come Down and See Me Sometime.”. However, this day finds her establishment shuttered and closed, and a letter delivered to Popeye, reading that she is crazy about aviators, and is flying away with one. The one, of course, is Bluto, who, now that he has Olive up in the air, feels free to display his usual total lack of charm. Instead of Olive riding in comfort in the passenger seat, Bluto heartlessly has put her to work, re-painting the plane in mid-air. Olive balances on the plane’s tail elevators, hopelessly attempting to paint the sides of the rudder, but only getting paint blown into her face from the brush bristles. “Aw, you’re no help at all”, blasts Bluto. Olive begins to slip, and clings by her hands to the pivoting elevators, finally voicing her thoughts out loud that she wants to go back to Popeye. This suits Bluto fine, and he turns back over the airport. But he’s not about to break schedule with an unplanned landing, and instead announces, “End of the line” in mid-flight, turning the rudder panel back and forth in attempt to knock Olive off the tail without a parachute. As the plane soars overhead, Popeye, sitting of the front steps of the diner, catches sight of the turmoil above. What to do, and how to get up there? Commandeering the nearest plane (we’re supposed to forget our hero is niw guilty of the aerial equivalent of grand theft auto), Popeye puts his own unique “spin” upon starting the engine. Instead of spinning the prop, he picks up the whole plane off the ground by the nose, and socks one of the wings, spinning the fuselage to get the engine going. As he takes off, Olive finally loses her grip above. Popeye could just effect a rescue and be done with the cartoon, but his eyes are lit by a fire for revenge against Bluto – so, as Olive falls by, Popeye simply hands her an umbrella to use as a parachute, telling her he’ll be back later. The umbrella works part of the way down, but turns inside-out, leaving as her only “chute” Olive’s billowing skirt, which catches by the hem on the arrow of a weather vane below. Olive this spends most of the film hanging there, still believing she needs to do something to keep from falling – so she performs a swimming crawl-stroke while continuing to complain verbally about her predicament.

It’s time to do battle. Popeye pulls up alongside Bluto’s plane, and the usuual cross words are exchaged as to how to treat a lady. Bluto smacks Popeye’s wing, sending his plane Into a spin. His plane levels off, but is flying sideways, tipped to one side at a 90 degree angle to the ground. Popeye clings to the fabric of the lower wing, which begins to peel away. “This is terrible, this is TEAR-able”, Popeye mutters. As the last fabric rips away, Popeye climbs back to the cockpit, using the wing framework as a ladder. He states that he needs ‘more mucilage on that fuselage”, then swears an oath at Bluto, “Brother, you’re headin’ for the last crack-up.” The two planes reach parallel height again, where Popeye says he doesn’t like Bluto’s “altitude”. To get at each other, the boys step out onto their respective wings to meet in the middle, but their planes keep tipping from their weight, leaving them to scramble back to their cockpits. Bluto removes Popeye’s battling arena, by yanking on Popeye’s wing, pulling it entirely out of the plane. The uncontrollable craft goes into a steep dive, and to complete the destruction, Bluto is right on his tail, sawing the fuselage to bits with his prop, then socking Popeye off the remaining engine. (So now who pays for the stolen plane?) Falling helplessly, Popeye grasps for anything that may come along, and luckily encounters the feet of a passing duck. But the duck is not strong enough to support his weight, and the two fall together. Well, if strength is needed, Popeye knows just where to get it. He pours a can of spinach into the duck’s bill, The duck begins to spin like a plane prop, with wings outstretched as a propeller, and Popeye states this is “just ducky”. “Thanks for the lift, young fella”, says the sailor, as he reaches and grabs hold of Bluto’s landing gear. Chomping down a quick dose of spinach himself, Popeye climbs atop the wing, delivers a sock to Bluto’s jaw, and flips him out of the pilot seat onto the wing, Popeye takes over the controls, and performs some fancy and painful maneuvers upon his rival. First, he performs a game of aerial ping pong, bouncing Bluro back and forth from one wing to the other, Next, he puts the plane into a sideways spin, letting the spinning wing tips deliver a paddlewheel paddling upon Bluto’s rear. He knocks Bluto onto the plane’s tail, with legs straddled over the fuselage, then engages in several dives, allowing Bluto to slide forward into the whirling propeller, then back to the tail. Popeye gives Bluto a final sock upwards, then says, “I guesses I’ll save his life for him.” Popeye pulls an assembly of gears out of the motor compartment, and pills the propeller off the craft, fastening them together like a giant eggbeater, then hands the assembly to Bluto as he falls past the plane. Bluto finds that the gears work as a hand-crack mechanism to spin the propeller, only enough to slow his fall but nor stop it. He lands on a blade of a farmhouse windmill, with a rain bucket reservoir just below. Each turn of the windmill leaves Bluto helplessly taking a ducking into the bucket- a process which will in all likelihood continue indefinitely. Meanwhile Popeye neatly glides his motorless craft back to Olive’s weather vane, picking her up, then soars down into the side of Olive’s diner, crashing through it. The front of the building bursts open, including a sign reading ‘Open for Business”, as the plane settles in place as a most unique piece of restaurant decor, with each wing serving as a lunch counter for the patrons. Popeye dons an apron and begins polishing one of the counters (wouldn’t you be more helpful repairing the rear wall?), while Olive declares him the best aviator of all, for the iris out.

The Air Express (Lantz/Universal, Meany, Miney, and Moe, 9/20/37 – Walter Lantz, dir.) – At Apetown Airport, Lantz’s trio of simians engage in their latest occupation – hauling cargo via plane. Little Moe serves as pilot and mechanic, while Miney provides service as baggage man, and Meany works the front office. Miney loads aboard the plane a bounding cargo crate, containing a live ostrich. Meanwhile, Meany arrives on the field inside an armored car, and excitedly reveals to Moe that they have been entrusted with their biggest cargo yet, a sack containing a million dollars in diamonds. “If anything happens to this, it’ll be just too bad for ya”, threatens Meany.

Moe attempts to fire up the engine with a prop turn. The prop disconnects and chases Moe around the field like a flying buzzsaw, then doubles back, landing with a smack back on the plane’s nose. With some flapping wing effort, takeoff is achieved. But behind Moe’s seat rests the crate with the ostrich. The ostrich pops his head out intermittently, gobbling up everything within reach, and finally nibbling on Moe’s tail, and swallowing his hat. Then the ostrich spies the diamond sack, kept for safekeeping in Moe’s trousers. The ostrich repeatedly attempts to swallow the sack, but it is just a bit too wide to pass through the hole in the bird’s holding crate, and thus gets stck in the ostrich’s neck, allowing Moe to retrieve it by squeezing it out of the bird. The ostrich bursts out of the crate, and begins to chase Moe around the plane, while the pilotless controls have the plane performing hopscotch over the tops of clouds. Moe holds onto the handle of the exit door as the bird tugs at his tail. When the bird loses his grip, the door swings open, and Moe is thrown outside, dangling below from the landing gear. The axle breaks loose from one wheel, leaving Moe clinging to the pole vertically, and scrambling his way back upwards, hand over hand. The ostrich has by now found a new pastime – swallowing wires from the plane’s instrument panel. The plane begins to flip from side to side wildly, tossing Moe upwards onto one wing, while the ostrich receives an electric shock, and is thrown outside onto the other wing. The two engage in a balancing act, while the plane continues to tip, allowing the wing, somehow loosened from its moorings, to slide through the ship from one side to the other, until it finally falls out. With no surface for lift, the plane crashes – but Moe is saved by his suspenders, caught in the branches of a tree below, still with the diamond sack in his possession. The ostrich also survives, and , appetite unappeased, begins swallowing cylinders from the plane’s engine. As the bird starts to devour the propeller and shaft for dessert, Moe presses an ignition button on the remains of the instrument panel. A spark travels down the ignition wire to the motor parts inside the bird, causing the pistons to rise and fall within his belly, and the prop in his mouth to spin, resulting in a hasty exit for the bird as he becomes a living plane, taking off into the horizon for the iris out.

Don’t get sore, but we’ll soar some more, next time.


  • (Sigh.) You overlooked “Skunked Again” (Terrytoons/Educational, 25/12/36 — Mannie Davis and George Gordon, dir.) in your series on skiing cartoons, again in your series on courtroom cartoons, and now for a third time in this series on aviation in animation. I know most people don’t enjoy early Terrytoons as much as I do, but this is a good one, featuring all three of the studio’s stars from this period: Farmer Al Falfa, Kiko the Kangaroo, and Puddy the Pup!

    To recapitulate briefly: As four airplanes circle overhead, a large dirigible carrying a group of winter sports enthusiasts takes off from Lakehurst Airport (site of the Hindenburg tragedy just months later). A separate compartment for skunks is towed behind, but when they scamper up the towline into the airship and start to stink up the place, Farmer Al chases them back and cuts the cable with a hatchet. (It’s OK — the skunks have parachutes.) Upon arriving at the North Pole, the passengers disembark for some fun in the snow. But Farmer Al and Kiko run afoul of the locals, are arrested and put on trial. Just when things are looking bleak, who should drop in but the parachuting skunks! Court is adjourned as everyone races back to the airship. Skunked again! Oh, the humanity!

    The Japanese translation of the song in “A Language All My Own” is quite good, and Mae Questel’s diction is excellent. Contrary to a longstanding rumour, there’s nothing risque about it. Betty’s kimono is rather matronly; a girl her age could get away with wearing one that had a bit of a pattern to it. But that would have been a lot more trouble to animate.

    “Plane Dippy” is one of the first cartoons Tex Avery directed, yet already he was showing a penchant for developing an absurd premise to its logical extreme, as we would later see in “King-Size Canary”, “Bad Luck Blackie”, “Ventriloquist Cat”, and other classics.

    I had to laugh at your use of the phrase “aerial ping pong” in describing the Popeye cartoon. “Aerial ping pong” is a derisive nickname for Australian Rules football, which is wildly popular in the southern states but not in Queensland or New South Wales, where it’s also known as “cross country basketball”. All I know about it is, there are eighteen men on a side; there are four sets of goalposts; and you can kick the ball, run with it, or hit it with your fist, but you can’t throw it. To my knowledge it’s never been the subject of a cartoon.

  • Speaking of Tex Avery classics, in “Porky’s Duck Hunt” (17/4/37), a cross-eyed hunter fires his double-barreled shotgun at a duck — but shoots down two airplanes instead.

  • You can see that the seeds were about to sprout for Schlengers to be put on the cartoon map in the two Porky cartoons. The only piece missing was a new voice for not only Porky, but the studio itself.

  • Such a great group of cartoons neatly described as usual, and I thank you for that. I know I’d seen “THE PUPPS’ CHRISTMAS” so many years ago, but I remember little detail from it. It is a cartoon that didn’t show up on ME TV’s Holiday cartoon extravaganza. I can onlly hope it is fully restored someday and issued in a stunning collection of the early MGM cartoons.

  • Two more of the newsreel parodies in the Fleischer Screen Songs series feature airplanes — and parachutes!

    “It’s Easy to Remember” (29/11/35) contains the “Fashion Note: Skirts will be worn longer — about two years longer.” An attractive woman in an old-fashioned crinoline skirt boards an airplane, which immediately takes off. The lascivious pilot, seated next to her in the cockpit, keeps glancing at her until he works up the nerve to steal a kiss. She punches him in the face, giving him a black eye, and jumps out of the airplane forthwith. As she falls, her skirt rises above her and functions as a parachute, leaving her dangling from its straps in her bodice. (Nice legs.) If Olive Oyl had been wearing one of those when she ran off with flyboy Bluto, she could have saved herself and Popeye a lot of trouble.

    And in “You Came to My Rescue” (30/7/37), “Prof. Nosedive proves that airplane crashes are not what they’re cracked up to be.” An airborne biplane, its engine emitting ominous clunking noises, successively loses its landing gear, wings and tail before catching fire. The pilot ejects himself from the burning plane — not in a seat, but lying supine in a bed. After counting to three, he pulls a cord that releases four parachutes from the corners of the bed, bringing him to a gentle landing on the ground. He then pulls a blanket over himself, rolls over, and begins to snore. Good night!

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