Animation Trails
February 2, 2022 posted by Charles Gardner

Flights of Fancy (Part 7): The Calm Before the Storm

Despite Hugh Harman’s dramatic call for peace discussed last week, the dawn of a new decade found the attentions of the nation more and more focused upon the rising hostilities in Europe, and on a growing concern for national defense. The draft would be inaugurated on September 6th, 1940, and within a month, animation studios would begin flashing to the screens their first efforts at joining in the patriotic craze of salutes to servicemen – a precursor to the all-out propaganda that would soon flood the market for the next few years to come. The Army Air Corps, predecessor of the modern Air Force, was receiving widespread attention as a third branch of fighting power, presenting a counterbalance to the increasing use of air weaponry on the European battlefronts – and so would develop into a regularly featured subcategory within animated coverage of the nation’s mounting armament. It was evident that Harman’s pleas were having as little effect upon the situation as Egghead’s call for peace among the hillbillies in A Feud There Was.

With theatre audiences turning more avid attention to the newsreels to keep track of the goings on across the globe, animated parodies of newsreels also developed more prominence as likely places to find items on aviation. News Oddities (Columbia/Screen Gems, Phantasies 7/19/40) is a weak effort to mimic the Tex Avery spot gag style, mildly livened up by Mel Blanc narration. It gets honorable mention for a very brief item on an effort to break all speed records for a round-the-world flight. The plane takes off, and within a matter of seconds is orbiting the globe like a satellite. The spectators at the airport find themselves following the path of the plane with their eyes, first one way to horizon, then back again from the other direction as it completes another pass, then another, then another. Mel comments, “This looks more like a tennis match.”


Ceiling Hero (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 8/24/40 – Fred (Tex) Avery, dir.) – Title is a play upon the Warner Brothers feature film, “Ceiling Zero” (1936), starring James Cagney and Pat O’Brien. Genuine Avery spot-gag style tackles the subject of aviation, head on (with collision imminent). There are far too many incidental gags within the confines of this eight minute cartoon to cover entirely, so for once I’ll let the film speak somewhat for itself, and cover only favorite highlights. A new pilot gets his license, strapped on the rear of his belt like an automobile plate. A powerful six engine plane has more horsepower than the craft can handle, as its wing takes off without the plane itself. The larger the tire, the smoother the landing – so the latest craft features tires three times the height of the mechanic, under a plane on stilts which is barely as large as the tire itself. A stratospheric rocket plane explodes into fireworks advertising “Eat Tony’s Hot Dogs”. A vacationist’s plane inclues a flying trailer in tow. A “cabin cruiser” features a cockpit made of a log cabin. A pilot’s parachute includes an advertising slogan borrowed from Maxwell House coffee – “Good to the last drop.” (Robert McKimson would repeat this gag again, as a sign for a defective elevator in Wild Wild World in the 1950’s.) The shadow of a plane following the path of a highway below dodges out of the way of a car heading in the other direction, then backs up to correct its error in choosing one of two paths at a fork in the road. Two stunt pilots tie a knot in their smoke contrails, and end up dangling from the contrail strands in the sky. Blind flying is demonstrated, as a pilot comes in for a landing by stopping his plane above the runway, and sticking his arm out a hole in the fuselage to tap around on the pavement with a white cane. An extended sequence climaxes the fim, as a new experimental aircraft is taken up by an aviator with jacket reading “Test Pilot – from the picture of the same name”. On his way straight up, he passes a balloon-supported billboard advertising Good Rumor ice cream. He phones in data (on a pay phone) to the control tower: “Altitude, 16. Longitude, 19…USC, 14. Tennessee, nothing.” Ice forms on the wings – complete with an iceberg and a perplexed polar bear. At an astronomical elevation, the plane stalls, and goes into an uncontrollable dive. The pilot calmly reports in just before impact, stating, “I wish to report an accident.” The plane crashes violently upon the runway, as ambukances race to the scene. “Is he hurt? Is he killed? Is he killed? Is He?”, shouts the narrator. The pilot, seemingly well alive, pokes his head out of the wreckage, and utters a favorite Termite Terrace catch-phrase from radio: “Ummm, could be.”


Plane Goofy (Terrytoons/Fox, 10/28/40 – Eddie Donnelly, dir.), marks a milestone in Terrytoons animation. After over twenty years on the screen, the studio’s elder-statesman, Farmer Al Falfa, makes his first appearance in Technicolor. And what an appearance! It seems as if Paul Terry finally dipped into his pocketbook to commemorate the occasion, providing some of the most well-crafted and fluid animation the old farmer ever received in his career It is a little other-worldly – causing one to wonder what the Farmer’s pictures might have looked like if they had been in the hands of MGM or Disney – definitely a cut above the rank and file Terrytoon.

Story is provided by long-time Al Falfa veteran John Foster, and falls back on a few old inspirations. The nameless city slicker, who had appeared periodically throughout the series to con and baffle the farmer, also debuts in his only color appearance to provide the farmer’s foil. The plotline is something of a derivation from an earlier film, “Flying Oil”, although the former film included no aircraft – just a mystery oil that somehow makes anyone touched by it fly. This time, the city slicker, again a travelling salesman, has a more solid product to peddle – a plane, which self-instructs would-be pilots with a built-in gramophone. His enterprise is known as the Fool-Proof Aeroplane Co., and from the skies, he flies by with a series of advertising signs to flash at spectators below, boasting of the plane being “Safe as your own home”, and demonstrating that it “will not tip” by walking out upon and jumping up and down upon one wing. He even puts the plane into a mid-air stall, and performs a short dance step with the plane’s landing gear, to illustrate how easy it is to master. Below, the animals in the Farmer’s barnyard cheer as he zooms overhead. The slicker drops a batch of advertising “fliers” out of his top hat to the crowd, encouraging them to learn to fly, with the additional sales pitch that “All the girls love an aviator.” Taking the salesman’s suggestion, but not his product (presumably because animals don’t have the ready cash for such purchases), the animals set about building their own barnyard squadron. Grabbing every barrel and crate they can get their hands on, they embellish upon them by installing two-by-fours as wings, broomsticks for tails, and the like. Some models are purely gliders, launching with a push. Many others have props, with no explanation provided for the means by which they are made to spin. A bull makes things simpler for himself, by merely charging a wooden fence, picking up a fence board across his horns, and using it as a wing to glide into the sky. The animals amass forces, converting the farmer’s hay-bailer into a receptacle for dumping of random boards, barrel hoops, miscellaneous metal, and nails – and out pops an assembly line of completed planes, with a sign beside the conveyor belt indicating a production capacity of 1,000 a day.

In mass formation, the entire community of animals take off in their newly-manufactured craft into the skies. They loop and swoop around the farmer’s home, some zipping right through the house from one open window to another, and one crashing through and knocking off the chimney. The collision arouses Farmer Al, who runs out of the house and shakes his fist at the flier – as the bricks fall down around him and neatly reassemble themselves as the chimney upon the ground, forcing the farmer to scramble out the top. The chimney is not a safe place even on the ground, as another plane smashes through its lower half while Al is still on top, leaving him sprawled upon the ground amidst the crumbled brick. Al spots a chicken and duck about to launch yet another new plane, and shoos them away, pausing to give the flying machine a swift kick. His foot unfortunately catches in a knothole in the wing board, as the plane takes off, carrying him aloft by the leg. The plane takes a turn past a weather vane on the farmer’s roof, the vane topped with a metal sculpture of a chicken. Al grabs the vane with his hands as he passes, while the plane continues to tug at his leg. The bending of the metal pole he is clutching causes the chicken figure to peck away at Al’s head like a woodpecker. Finally, Al’s foot falls free of the knothole, and Al tumbles like a ball down the shingles of his roof, and flat on the ground in front of his front porch. In a dizzy daze, he barely manages to stumble his way back inside the house and shut the door. But peace and quiet is not the farmer’s lot, as down from the clouds comes the salesman, ready to make a pitch to a potential paying customer. Parking his plane in front of the house, he knocks on Al’s door. “Good afternoon, brother! You too can learn to fly.” “Bah!”, responds Al, slamming the door in his face. But the salesman knows how to entice a hard-sell case. Walking over to his plane, he places on the gramophone a record labeled “Lesson No. 1″, then hides behind a tree, leaving the plane appearing to be unattended. Al peeks his head out the door to see if the stranger has gone, and is surprised to see the plane still there. Cautiously, he wanders over towards it, giving the new-fangled gadget a once-over.

He spots the record on the turntable, and curiously places the phonograph’s tone-arm upon it. “Ah, I see you are interested”, says an all-knowing voice from the disc, startling the farmer. “Don’t be nervous. Isn’t it a beauty?”, says the recording. The farmer nods in secret confudence to the record player. “Come, come, it won’t bite you. Step in and be seated.” Al takes the bait, and seats himself in the cockpit. “Wouldn’t you like to press that little button?” continues the record. With a braver smile, Al eagerly nods again. “Well, go ahead and press it.” The engine instantly roars to life, and the plane begins to gallop down Al’s open field. Sensing he’s getting more than he bargained for, Al steps onto the wing, and cautiously tries to put his foot down on solid earth. Too late for that, as the plane has already leaped skyward, leaving Al’s foot reaching for nothing. He frantically clambers back into the cockpit, as a point of view shot from the nose of his craft looking backwards shows the ground dimensionally distancing itself from the plane and the camera, while the record insists that he is safer in the air than on the ground. The record tells Al to take hold of the control stick, and pull back. Not knowing what else he can do, the farmer obeys. But the record hits a groove-skip, and begins repeating over and over the phrase “Grab the stick and pull it back”. Al’s repetitions of the act soon have the plane bouncing like a jumping jack. When he finally breaks out of it, the plane takes a nose dive, straight into a small pond. It rises from the water, with a cockpit full of fish – and the farmer amidst the pile. The fish problem quickly resolves itself, as the fish are propelled one by one out the plane’s exhauset pipe. The record has managed to get back on track, and begins playing music in waltz tempo, with stick instructions to Al in a 1-2-3 beat. The plane now seems at last under control, and gracefully circles and loops at the farmer’s command. A nice dimensional shot shows the plane alternating between close and distant angles from the camera, with Al finally having a broad smile on his face, actually enjoying himself. “Up, down, and land on the ground” says the record. But Al is still up in the air – as the plane’s propeller shuts off. “If you have followed instructions correctly, you should now be safely on the ground. Wasn’t it wonderful?” concludes the record. Al is inclined not to think so, as he is flailing his arms wildly, trying to reach the stalled propeller. The fuselage dips, as Al takes matters into his own hands, pulling back on the stick, and restarting the plane’s ignition from the dashboard.

The plane leaps forward again, but in a downhill dive, landing the plane atop a set of high tension electric wires. The plane skids along the wires from pole to pole, delivering electric shocks to the farmer. It rises again, and goes into a series of uncontrolled loops, ejecting the farmer into the air. Al falls, but the plane dives underneath him, catching him on the axle of the landing gear. Al mops sweat off his brow, and for the moment feels safe in his seat between the wheels – until the landing gear falls entirely off the plane. A passing bird taps Al on the shoulder, pointing his attention upwards to the absence of a plane above him. Al covers his eyes, unable to watch what will be the result of his fall. Only inches from the ground, the plane intercepts him, the landing gear miraculously reattaching itself, and allowing the plane to come in for a safe lading – right back in front of the farmer’s house. “This completes your first lesson – and remember, you are safer in the air than on the ground”, says the record. “Bah!” reacts the surprised farmer, just glad to feel solid earth beneath his toes. But the record proves right, as Al walks right onto the tines of a rake, gets smacked in the head with its handle, stumbles into the post supporting his porch roof, and brings the porch roof and shingles down upon him with a crash. Amidst the rubble, he is greeted by the salesman, stepping out from behind the tree. “Congratulations, brother. A perfect landing!” That’s all Al can stand, and, producing a rifle from nowhere, takes pot shots at the saleman as he disappears over the horizon, for the iris out.


Recruiting Daze (Lantz/Universal, 10/28/40 – Walter Lantz/Alex Lovy, dir.) – With conscription barely under way, Lantz studios hurries to the screen a salute to the servicemen, following typical newsreel format. Animation on this reel is quite loose, even for Lantz standards, suggesting that emphasis was upon getting in early on the topical value of the subject matter, rather than worrying about artistic quality. While most action is on the ground, several bits provide coverage of the Air Corps. First, a demonstration of anti-aircraft tactics. A trooper stands on one end of a teeter-totter, while another slams the opposite end of the board with a heavy sledge-hammer. The first trooper is rocketed by the blow into the sky, landing atop the fuselage of an enemy plane. He politely knocks upon the cockpit glass, and when the pilot opens up, hits him on the head with a mallet. (Very effective – but then who flies the plane back to earth? Does this maneuver insure a casualty with every victory?) The second gag is an early use of one we’ll see revisited – a “dogfight” between planes, with the aircraft growling as they mix it up, and one plane running away with painful yipping when it loses. (The narrator even treats this as a bit of old corn, commenting condescendingly, “Oh, I get it.”) The losing pilot bails out, nit nonchalantly smokes a cigarette as he falls to earth, ignoring his ripcord. As the narrator shouts for him to open his chute, and counts down as the pilot descends to less than a hundred feet from the ground, the pilot repeatedly yawns, “Lotsa time.” An unseen crash offscreen tells us his boast may have been a bit miscalculated. Gag #3 involves a “sausage” balloon attacked by enemy fighters. The balloon for a time maintains an effective defense by swatting at the planes with an emerging giant fly swatter – but one plane evades the defenses, and begins flying in close circles around the balloon, carving meat slices out of the length of it with its propeller! A final gag exhibits the latest bombs (erroneously responded to by a quartet of hoboes, who think the narrator said “bums” instead of “bombs”. Types include a whistling bomb (whistling a tune before it explodes), a screaming bomb (which does just that – a gag Tex Avery would later catalog for reuse), and a bomb which does nothing but land on the ground and strut in stereotype “gay” manner, stating, “I’m just a dud”.


Goofy’s Glider (Disney/RKO, Goofy, 11/22/40 – Jack Kinney, dir.) marks another animation milestone – the first Goofy short to introduce the “How to” formula that would recur through the end of the theatrical series, and even continue into television production. The film might as easily have been titled “How to Fly”, as this is the title of the book Goofy is reading in the opening shot. John McLeish is introduced as the voice of the long-suffering narrator who attempts to lend an air of dignity and decorum to an instructional film, never quite aware of how out of control the situation really is with the likes of Goody in the pilot’s seat. Danny Webb provides nearly imperceptible vocal substitution for an absent Pinto Colvig, then presently working for the competition at Fleischers. It is possible this was not actually the first Goofy instructional film to go into production, as the short How to Ride a Horse, seemingly more simplistic in design, was ultimately sandwiched into the behind-the-scenes “package” quickie feature, The Reluctant Dragon as a featured sequence, and had to await a later release date on the feature calendar. “Horse” would not receive release as a stand-alone short until reissue in the 1950’s, so “Glider” was definitely the public’s first glimpse of the new Goofy format.

Technically, Goofy’s aircraft does not qualify as powered flight, having no motor of its own. Bur power is definitely the central theme of this film, as Goofy’s struggle is to find some means of quick propulsion to get him up in the air with the thing. The glider is definitely of compact size, and today might almost be referred to as a hang glider, as it is of unique construction – having no wheels or landing equipment whatsoever. Instead, the user barely sits upon a seat at all, with his legs sticking out from a square hole in the bottom of the craft, allowing for use of the only landing gear nature provided him – his feet. The whole affair is worn like a garment around the waist, held up by suspenders over Goofy’s shoulders. There are no elevator panels on the wings, making questionable how the craft is supposed to steer. Watch for some interesting animation inconsistencies (somewhat rare for a Disney production), where visible fabric patches on the wings of Goofy’s craft shift from one wing to another from time to time. There is a subtle gag worked in while we are busy getting anticlimated to Goofy’s strange device, as the narrator instructs, “First, test the prevailing winds by means of the wind sock.” Goofy produces one of his old stockings (with patches on both heel and toe) on a pole. However, instead of seeing which way the wind blows the fabric around, Goofy merely blows into the sock himself – providing him with absolutely no useful information! Then Goofy opens wide the gate to the barnyard, backs up to the barn itself, and makes a running start with all his might in hopes to attain flight speed. He never rises more than a few inches, and, just as he runs out of barnyard space, the gate door blows closed, trapping the glider inside, but leaving Goofy to smash right through it. “Gawrsh”, remarks our low-key hero, as the thumbs through his book for some other method to get airborne.

The “Good Housekeeping” page – click to enlarge

Let’s take our act on the road. If the barnyard isn’t big enough for running distance, how about the nearest rural thoroughfare? And this time, no more taking chances until the craft is ready to take to the air. Thus, Goofy becomes the equivalent of a one-man tow-plane, running down the road hauling a rope tied under the belly of the glider into the cockpit hole, as if trying to fly a kite. At first, it looks like Goofy’s been taking kite lessons from Charlie Brown, with the glider repeatedly slamming nose-first into the ground. But to the Goof’s surprise, the rope behind him elevates in angle, and rises to a point where it begins to lift Goofy off the ground. The glider is finally in the air – but without him at the helm. Goofy believes he has the solution for this, as he begins to climb the tow rope, hoping to reach the cockpit from underneath. He hasn’t counted upon the effect of his body weight, as every shimmy upward on the rope correspondingly lowers the elevation of the glider – so that when he finally reaches the seat, he is only a few inches above the ground – and sailing over the surface of a local pond. The glider sinks beneath the water’s surface, with Goofy oblivious to the situation, continuing to sing in bubbly fashion as he sinks to the bottom of the pond. Air supply is not a concern to the Goof, as, upon becoming aware of his location, he merely flips to another page of his water-logged instruction book, while a community of fish read over his shoulder the words, “Keep cool – try more speed.” The narrator adds his own words of encouragement: “Don’t let minor mishaps dampen your spirits.”

Feet proving insufficient, Goofy advances to “mechanical” means – riding a bicycle while wearing the glider. However, as the narrator emphasizes, this method “can become involved.” It does, as the glider develops lift – but since Goofy is sitting on the bicycle seat instead of the glider seat, the craft rises off of Goofy’s shoulders, leaving him and the bicycle still on the ground. The confused Goof crashes the bicycle into a fence, but continues on foot, trying to catch up with the glider. Craft and pilot make several trips around the barn. On a repeat pass, Goofy rounds the back of the barn, but the glider delays in a detour through the barn doors, eluding him. It appears behind the Goof, its wooden bottom catching Goofy’s suspenders. The Goof is hauled into the air just as the glider runs out of steam, and both aircraft and pilot make identical side-by-side nosedives into the ground.

Shall we think medieval? What was good for the ancients is good for the Goof, as the dunderhead constructs out of old girdles, garters, rubber gloves, boots, hot water bottles, and anything else that will stretch sewn together, a giant rubber band to use as a slingshot catapult. Tethering down the stretched items with a taut rope, Goofy places his glider on top. But even the Goof isn’t that much of an outright daredevil. Repeating a motto he first uttered in “Lonesome Ghosts’ (1937), Goofy tells the audience, “I’m brave – – but I’m careful”, as he fastens on a parachute. He checks an instruction tab, reading “Count to ten and pull string”, and is ready. Climbing into the cockpit seat, he produces an axe and severs the rope behind him. The craft shoots forward – only Goofy never thought to compare the distance between the two tree limbs to which he has tied the rubber band against the wingspan of the glider. Of course, the glider is considerably wider than the limb spacing – so the craft is stopped cold in the tree, while Goofy and the pilot seat crash through the front of the fuselage and sail freely into the sky. “I made it! I made it!”, shouts Goofy triumphantly. Pulling out a pair of binoculars, Goofy gazes around at the countryside below, only to view through his lenses a close-up of his glider, still pinned in the tree. Feeling around himself to be sure that he is really without his aircraft, Goofy swallows a nervous “Gulp”, and realizes it’s time to bail out. With nothing around him but his seat, a smarter dog would merely allow himself to fall. Instead, Goofy goes through the effort of climbing and balancing upon his pilot’s seat, so that he can formally jump off toward the ground. The Goof begins counting, but hesitates in his recollection of the numbers, so that he is only at seven when he hits the ground. Impervious to the pain of an impact to his rear end that shakes the scenery, the Goof calmly completes his count to ten and pulls the string, allowing the billowing chute to uselessly drape around his neck and fall to the ground. (A gag we will see remembered in the early days of television by Hanna-Barbera in a subsequent article.)

A personal note at this point in the film: After years of owning a print of this cartoon in Super 8, I became familiar with virtually every frame of animation – and was, as Roger Rabbit might have put it, “morally outraged” in the course of researching this article to discover that recent prints of this film have materially doctored the original animation of this sequence. The original film was one of the few instances where the Disney ink and paint department pulled what I would refer to as a “Hanna-Barbera” painting error, by forgetting to paint in the nose of Goofy on one cel intended for repeated use during an eye-blink cycle, leaving only a black ink outline around where the nose should be. The result was that Goofy’s nose appeared to flash on and off about four or five times just after the parachute has opened – a problem I remember Hanna-Barbera painters often repeating, such as in a bicycling sequence with Snooper and Blabber in the early 1960’s. Current print of the shot, however, has digitally colored-in Goofy’s nose to remove the blinking effect. While Disney’s quality control personnel no doubt wished they had done this originally, the fact that they let it slip is such a rarity for the studio that it remains of historical interest, and demonstrates just how difficult it really was to produce a “perfect” cartoon before digital technology. These small defects should be preserved for posterity, and it is unfair to historians that the perfectionists of today now see fit to cover up such blemishes. (Don’t get me started on the number of similar, needless removals of original visual artifacts taken away from current digital restorations of “Bambi”!)

Another chapter, another invention. This film is becoming a precursor to the kind of inventive “genius” we would come to associate with Wile E. Coyote – although Chuck Jones, who could easily have remembered several sequences of this film as inspiration for his “Road Runner” series, instead recalled being influenced by seeing reuse of similar gags by Columbia’s “Fox and Crow” shortly thereafter. This time, Goofy resorts to a pair of roller skates, and a mile high ramp devised as a roller-coaster/ski jump to leap into the skies. The device surprisingly works – sort of. The narrator recites, “And now, the thrill only birds can know. The sky above, the earth below.” His read of the last line is a bit tremulous, as Goof has not lived up to the introduction. Oh, he’s taken off all right. But the upward curve at the foot of his ramp has been slightly mismeasured, giving the glider an unexpected flip – so that Goofy is flying upside down. The camera performs an unusual 180 degree flip also, to give us Goofy’s point of view on the world. The Goof sails along, happily singing a song about being up high like the birds in the sky. He passes through a flock of them – all appearing to him to be flying upside down. A mother duck and three young ducklings nearly collide with his head, also seeming to be wrongside-up. “Somethin’ wrong here”, says the Goof, focusing his binoculars on what he believes is “down”. He finds himself staring at the sun and clouds. As his hat flies off in surprise, Goof turns the binoculars toward what he believes is up. His binocular view shows him “rising” toward an upside-down barn door. Letting loose with one of his signature “Yeowww!”s, the Goof covers his eyes, as his craft engages in the fine art of barnstorming, chasing several fowl and a cow out the rear barn door. The glider finally hits ground, performing multiple somersaults. Goof is thrown free, and continues to somersault himself – right into the shaft of a deep open well, landing at the bottom with a watery splash.

“Should any of the aforementioned methods fail, through some unforeseen quirk of fate, use your own ideas”, states the narrator. Goof does have one of his own – a cannon, loaded chock full of black powder and TNT. How Wile E. Coyote can you get? He almost misses the launch, slipping on the cannon barrel when trying to climb into the cockpit of his glider stuffed in the gun muzzle. But as the narrator quips, “Truly, you can’t keep a good man down.” BLAM!! Goofy and the craft are propelled into the air at last. But will they ever come down? While Wile E. was once rocketed into the stars and exploded to form a constellation in “Beep Prepared”, the Goof has to settle for being thrust into a perpetual orbit around the earth, but continues to happily sing his glider song – and the narrator, borrowing a leaf from Fleischer, encourages the audience to sing along, as a choral rendition of the tune rises in response to the call, for a generally happy iris out.


Porky’s Snooze Reel (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porjy Pig), 1/11/41 – Robert Clampett/Norman McCabe, dir.), provides yet another newsreel spoof, with Porky Pig providing brief introductions, including a topical review of national defense, on land, on sea, and in the air. The air sequence consists of three brief gags. A squadron of planes is shown in flying formation, with a narrator stating “Listen to those motors hum.” The planes thus break into a hummed rendition of “Aloha Oe”. The narrator then claims the planes fly effortlessly through the sky – except for one small one, that seems to be expending considerable effort flapping its wings to stay aloft, while the orchestra plats “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.” Finally, a gag stolen straight out of Walter Lantz’s “Recruiting Daze” – another aerial “dogfight”, with nearly identical sound effects as those of Lantz’s. Perhaps Lantz wagered right to get his film out ahead of the Warner boys.


A Good Time For a Dime (Disney/RKO, Donald Duck, 5/9/41 – Dick Lundy, dir.) – Donald’s visit to a penny arcade climaxes with a ride on an indoor contrivance resembling a plane, reading “Experience the thrill of aviation – 5 cents”. The device is a mechanical marvel attached to a long pole inserted into a hole in the floor (the pole allowing for elevation clear to the tall ceiling when extended), mounted on an axle between the uprights of a U-shaped bracket at the end of the pole (allowing the plane to pivot upside down in a 360 degree flip, or rotate around on the pole 360 degrees), and further features a pivot where the motor section meets the fuselage, allowing the plane to tip from side to side or do a complete barrel roll. The device seems too impossibly crazy to be true – yet it appears to have actually existed, as there is footage of one in a penny arcade in Wheeler and Woolsey’s last feature for RKO, “High Flyers”.

Who in their right mind would have ridden in such a thing, and how many personal injury lawsuits it may have spawned, remains a mystery. But when have such risks ever stopped Donald Duck? Donald steps in, inserts his nickel, and a voice from a built-in speaker instructs him to grasp the control handle. “We’re off”., says the voice, as the craft rises nearly to the ceiling. Donald levels off with the handle, and gently bobs along in the breeze of the spinning propeller, humming happily to himself – when suddenly the motor shuts off, and the ship abruptly returns to its landing base. Donald wonders what gives, until the machine instructs him to deposit another coin. Donald believes this is a gyp, and insists that the plane continue his ride. Detaching the control stick, Donald tells the voice, “Don’t argue with me”, and hits the prop with the handle, starting the engine again.

The machine returns to starting mode, repeating the instruction to “grasp the control handle”. Realizing that he’s just detached the handle from the plane, Donald can only react, “Uh oh”, and brace for the worst. “We’re off”, repeats the plane. Once again, Donald finds himself just under the ceiling, but with no means to control what comes next. He pulls out a handkerchief to wipe nervous perspiration from his brow – but the plane body pivots upside down, dropping Donald out of the cockpit. Grasping the corners of the handkerchief, Donald converts it into a mini-parachute. However, the plane, without a pilot, zooms downward past him, then rises again, its whirling prop aimed straight at Donald’s rear. By sheer will, Donald rises, as if climbing an invisible rope through the air, one jump ahead of the propeller. At its maximum height, the plane begins to spin around on its nose-axle, doing cartwheels under Donald’s feet. It flips Donald upwards, forcing him to land on the fuselage, then begins spinning the fuselage to give Donald a lesson in log rolling. The fuselage stops revolving, but tips downward, while Donald begins to pray, “Now I lay me down to…” He never finishes, sliding tail-first toward the whirling propeller blades. Donald screams his loudest “Waaak” as his tail feathers begin to be chewed, and finds himself clinging to the plane’s tail. The plane makes a dizzying dive to the ground, then just as sudden a rise to the ceiling again. Donald is finally flung back into the pilot’s seat, as the plane does full circle loops, barrel rolls, and spins, then finally runs out of steam and lands with a thud back at its landing base. Donald’s eyeballs continue to roll in his head, and a point of view shot reveals the whole world seeming to spin in Donald’s vision. Turning noticeably green, Donald stumbles his way to the exit door of the arcade, hearing the continuing cries of a barker outside, “A good time for a dime”. “Oh, phooey”, weakly comments Donald, concluding his day with an iris out.


Meet John Doughboy (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porky Pig), 6/5/41 – Robert Clampett, dir.) – Another newsreel-style study, introduced at a local movie house by Porky in army uniform, making a personal appearance as “that famous star of stage, screen, and radio, Draftee #158 and three-quarters.” Porky tells the audience that the reel they are about to see is chock full of military secrets, so if there are any fifth-columnists about, will they please leave the theater for this performance. After a pause for their compliance, he says “Thank you”, and the film begins. An aircraft factory building is humming with activity – and so is the building, its windows forming into a face happily humming a tune (a minor variation on the gag from “Porky’s Snooze Reel”). Inside, proven RAF fighters are studied by American engineers to be improved upon, one of them being an English Spitfire. The plane lives up to its name, spitting out balls of flame as if drops of tobacco juice to a spittoon, only pausing momentarily to clear a brief choking mis-swallow. The final shot shows an imaginary scenario, with squads of enemy planes penetrating our defenses. “Why isn’t something being done?”, calls out the narrator, as the planes approach New York harbor, and the Statue of Liberty. Returning to a variation of the closing gag from Bosko’s Dumb Patrol, the Statue pulls out a giant “Flit” insecticide gun, squirting the oncoming squadron, leaving them to drop like flies harmlessly into the bay, for the fade out.

We’ll continue next time, up to the dawn of hostilities.

15 Comments

  • When I bought the Walt Disney Treasures collection of early Mickey Mouse cartoons, I was struck by how many ink, paint and layout errors they contained. The funniest one is in “The Plowboy”, where the background pans in the wrong direction as a cow is walking along, giving the impression of a Michael Jackson moonwalk! Most of these errors are sins of omission; Mickey’s tail, or the branch of a tree, or even a whole set of background characters will disappear for a frame or more. It occurred to me at the time that modern digital technology could correct all of these errors. It also occurred to me that this would never happen, as it would entail considerable trouble and expense for no conceivable financial gain. Guess I was wrong about that.

    I’m seeing “Goofy’s Glider” for the first time today, so I didn’t miss Goofy’s blinking nose and wouldn’t be aware of it if you hadn’t mentioned it. It’s hard to believe that Walt Disney, had he noticed this paint error in 1941, would have regarded it with equanimity. At best he might have shrugged and said with resignation, “Too late to do anything about it now.” Only it’s not too late after all, is it? It may be a bit presumptuous, but it’s not at all unreasonable, to justify such corrections as being totally in line with Walt Disney’s artistic vision and commitment to excellence.

    From the standpoint of historical research, however, I agree with you completely. An analysis of the errata in early Disney cartoons, correlated with the personnel changes at the studio and other factors, would be an excellent topic for research, giving great insight into the studio’s quality control and artistic development in general. But researchers would need to be able to see the films exactly as they were first released.

    I did, however, notice an error in “Goofy’s Glider” that was not corrected in this print. At about 6:07, a calf runs out of the barn, makes its way to the right side of the frame — and then abruptly disappears. A few seconds earlier, the same animation is used (combined with some other animals), and there the calf continues running all the way offscreen. Obviously the final cels in that sequence went unpainted, or unphotographed, for the animal’s second appearance. But, given your familiarity with the film, you probably already noticed that.

    • You guessed right. I had noticed the disappearing calf shot. It is also interesting that Kinney took considerable artistic license, in having Goofy looking down through spyglasses while hurtling through the air, and seeing an absolutely still shot of his glider in the tree, not even pulling back with a camera zoom.

      I am more forgiving of the early animation errors of the black and white period, as this was a time when every studio in Hollywood seemed to be guilty of the same sins. But it’s particularly fun to spot errors in a more modern film that you know was meticulously checked. Like, for example, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, where the dwarfs, while selecting who should investigate the stranger in the bedroom, experience an “illuminating” error, as Doc lowers his hand holding the candle, but the airbrushed cel representing the candle glow stays in place in mid-air for several frames before descending in a jump to join its flame.

      • Never caught that one, but I always get a chuckle out of Geppetto’s disappearing and reappearing nightcap in “Pinocchio”.

        • Why would the current Disney administration worry about correcting past animation errors ? –

          They are far too busy “creating” errors to past animation – .e.g. the cartoons which appear on “Celebrating MIckey” Blu Ray, and are now the official Blu Ray versions.

          In Thru The Mirror there is a sequence where Mickey Mouse dances on a top hat, and later with a playing card. The background continually loses clarity and goes blank as the animation characters pass over it

          Wrong title cards are used for cartoons.-
          “The Simple Things” (1952) was apparently released way back in 1940 –

          Because the same Mickey Mouse title card (complete with Certificate 5521 and MCMXL) heads Boat Builders (1938), Tugboat Mickey (1940), Little Whirlwind (1941) & The Simple Things (1952).

          Which would be fine if the original title cards were lost.
          But they’re not –
          e.g. The Simple Things has the title card containing the year 1952 on the Mickey Mouse Treasures DVD set .

          • Actually the original titles for “The Simple Things” may be technically “lost” in Disney’s own studio holdings, meaning no 35mm negative due to cutting into the master for reissue purposes. The version on the Disney Treasures set is from a reissue, with the proper tear and certificate number, nut missing the RKO Radio Pictures credit on the opening – also missing “A Walt Disney Mickey Mouse” and “Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures” on the end card. Disney seems to think these days that if they slap any ran’s credits that still say “RKO” on a cartoon, people will think it’s restored, but rarely bother to refilm titles to either recreate the proper indicia or lettering style. The real titles for “The Simple Things”, however, do exist in the hands of private collectors. They not only include the RKO credits, but muck larger typeset for the director and animator credits, with particularly large lettering for Charles Nichols. I direct you to a Youtube channel called “Erik”, which contains the largest collection to date of little-known Disney title cards, both from originals and from curious reissues, including 1950’s reissues of feature segments as separate ‘toons. Educational division versions, foreign language prints, and miscellaneous odd theatrical recreations. It is a treasure trove of “lost” images, ranging in sources from rare 35mm to home movie editions, and in a few instances even to rare images preserved only by filmstrips (including original title to “The Grasshopper and the Ants”. There you’ll find “The Simple Things” intact, along with seemingly hundreds of other goodies. Enjoy.

          • By the way, although also possibly “lost” in Disney’s vault, recreation of the accurate titles for “The Little Whirlwind” would be a snap (I’ve already done it myself). 1941 releases changed format, to remove the certificate number from the “Mickey Mouse” card, and place it on the illustrated card bearing the cartoon’s title. The RKO “Mickey” card is thus the same for all cartoons released in that year. A surviving card already exists on “Orphan’s Benefit”, so it’s easy to obtain. The title art for “Whirlwind” was never altered, still showing the certificate number, so it’s just a matter of transitioning from the “Mickey” card to the “Whirlwind” card. The only trick is that during that year, several cartoons did not just dissolve from card to card, but included an unusual fade out on the “Mickey” card and fade in on the title. I suspect this was the case on “Whirlwind” due to the shorter than usual screen time for the title card when the current print jump cuts to the original title footage (clipping the footage short to cover up the fade in in the original). So, that change is the only thing needed to be customized through standard optical process – digitally, it took me all of 5 minutes to do.

          • Thanks Charles for your comments below.

            That is a sobering thought If what Erik says is true about Disney dumping the original footage in the 1970’s.

            This is even stranger because Disney only reissued a small number of titles to theaters at that time. which would warrant changing RKO to Buena Vista etc.

            Most cartoons were only used as either being :

            a) edited into “Disneyland/World of Color” etc or the 1955 “Mickey Mouse Club” (no credits or title cards)
            b) 1977 “New Mickey Mouse Club” (title card only)
            c) feature length cartoon compilations (primarily for outside US) eg Donald Duck Goes West (no title card)
            d) featurette cartoon compilations eg Cartoon-A-Roonies (cartoons start from star head shot)
            e) some released on the Educational catalogue
            OR
            f) available for 16mm rental –
            Having rented about 100 of them in the 1980’s I do not recall seeing RKO – all Buena Vista cards.
            Surely the 16mm rental market was not the main reason for changes.

    • Maybe you noted it, but -if I remember it correctly- the main issue of Goofy’s Glider is the change of the four fingers hand (or Woolie’s hand) in the Art Babbit’s five fingers hand. His realistic Goofy doesn’t work very well…

  • There’s a hidden reference in that “USC 14, Tennesee 0” gag in “Ceiling Hero.” That was the score of the 1940 Rose Bowl game, played on January 1, 1940, which gives you some idea of the lead time for production at that juncture.

    Draft number 158 was the first number pulled from the famous fishbowl by the Secretary of War (and announced by FDR) in October, 1940.

    The longer-than-yours cigarette gag is a spoof of then-current ads for Pall Mall cigarettes, many of which featured soldiers.

    Note the brief “J E L L…O” musical sting at the end of the Jack Benny/Maxwell gag; Jell-O, of course, was Benny’s sponsor at the time.

    Interesting “Artie Pshaw” gag with the bugler. Hardaway, it should not be forgotten, was a combat veteran of World War I, having served directly under Harry Truman in a Missouri National Guard unit.

  • “The nameless city slicker, who had appeared periodically throughout the series to con and baffle the farmer…”

    Farmer Al Falfa’s city slicker rival is named Slippery Slim in older publicity, though Terry later called him Slippery Sam in an interview or two. Nevertheless, he absolutely had a name.

  • A running gag in “Syncopated Sioux” (Lantz/Universal, Swing Symphonies, 30/12/40 — Walter Lantz, dir.) shows an Indian with a bow and arrow reciting Longfellow (“I shot an arrow into the air”), but getting his head caught in the bow with every attempt. In the final scene, now wearing a metal helmet, he manages to launch the arrow successfully. Then an airplane lands, and an angry pilot gets out, with the arrow protruding from the seat of his pants. He opens the faceplate of the Indian’s helmet, pulls the arrow out of his rear and spins it in his hand like a propeller, and then shoves it in the Indian’s face so that it coils around his nose like a tightly wound spring. The pilot then punches the Indian in the face for good measure, leaving him in a googly-eyed daze for the iris out.

  • I wonder if many viewers in 1940, seeing a cartoon titled “Plane Goofy,” would have expected it to be a Disney cartoon along the lines of “Goofy’s Glider” which is also discussed in this post. Are there any other cartoons whose titles seem to imply that they feature a different character from a different studio?

    • There were the Terrytoons “Peg Leg Pete” (1932) and “Peg Leg Pete the Pirate” (1935), both titles suggestive of Disney’s most enduring villain. Terrytoons also had a cartoon called “Sherman Was Right” (1932), which, if you didn’t check the date, might lead you to believe it was a rare Jay Ward cartoon in which Mr. Peabody was uncharacteristically proven wrong.

  • The 1941 Popeye cartoon “Pest Pilot” recalls “Plane Goofy,” just as Poopdeck Pappy resembles Farmer Al Falfa more than a little. Coincidence?

    As for Goofy, the worst mistake made with him was cutting off his ears in the 1950s.

  • Barely worth a mention, but I’ll mention it anyway: In the “Body Beautiful” segment of “Puttin’ on the Act” (Fleischer/Paramount, 30/8/40 — Dave Fleischer, dir.; Dave Tendlar and Thomas Golden, anim.), strongman Popeye expands his bare chest until his butterfly tattoo turns into a four-engine airplane.

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