Animation Trails
July 14, 2021 posted by Charles Gardner

Hit the Beach (Part 3)

Proceeding deeper into the 1930’s, we continue to encounter the occasional visit to a savage cannibal island, and more retellings of the tale of Robinson Crusoe, providing various toons with a beachfront setting. (We’ll continue to highlight some of these, most of which we’ve not encountered before, but avoid several marginal ones we’ve visited in past articles, such as the Avery-style travelogues previously covered last year (including The Isle of Pingo Pongo and Lantz’s Bola Mola Land). We also, by the way, will for the most part avoid anything to do with pirates and buried treasure, and some episodes dealing more with fishing on the water than activities on the shore – such films await a separate series altogether.) But in contrast, animation begins to return to more everyday beach life, with adventure deriving from typical events along the sand, denizens of the deep, etc. Thus, an ever increasing number of titles examine life in a bathing suit (as the 40’s draw on, eventually daring to fill such suits with curves. Rowr rowrr!).

Kannibal Kapers (Charles Mintz/Columbia, Krazy Kat, 10/27/35 – Ben Harrison/Manny Gould, dir.) is the first on today’s chronology, though we’ve visited it before. Briefly recapping, Krazy enjoys a day of sunshine at the beach, floating around with an old life preserver. The preserver gets away and floats at the top of a wave, which Krazy climbs. Suddenly a huge fish appears, getting the preserver stuck around his neck. He takes off for the open sea, dragging Krazy along for the ride in a sea-sickening display of water skiing. With a flip of its tail, the fish casts Krazy into a palm tree on a tropical island. A gorilla protests as Krazy lands on his head, and places Krazy on a palm leaf which serves as an express elevator to the ground. Krazy lands in a pot, while a cannibal chef smacks his lips, placing Krazy on a plate with lid to present to the chief in a cannibal night club – the Cocoanut Grove. A blackface Paul Whiteman strikes up a catchy Harlem-style number, “Ummba Ummba”, which underscores the episode. As the chief lifts the lid off the serving plate, Krazy waves off any effort to eat him with a protest of scat-singing double-talk. The chief’s girlfriend, a Mae West type, takes a liking to Krazy, and finds he’s quite a dancer. She flirtatiously moans, “Big boy, ya got me.” Dancers’ heads bounce on spiraled coils of wire around their necks, and plate-lipped natives quack like ducks. Krazy winds up conducting the band, and doing a brief impersonation of Ted Lewis. The band’s frenzy gets out of hand, bouncing Krazy from one instrument to another, and destroying most of them. The band gang up on Krazy, who waves them a sheepish, “Hi”, then runs. A guitarist grabs Krazy, threads the cat’s feet into the guitar strings, then fires him as if a bow and arrow, off the island and splash into the water at horizon line, for the iris out.

Molly Moo Cow and Robinson Crusoe (Van Buren/RKO, Rainbow Parade, 2/28/36 – Burt Gillett/Tom Palmer, dir.) – Somehow, Molly Moo Cow has wound up the castaway on a raft. Her vessel includes a flag of red flannel underwear. (What farmer went down with the ship for her to snitch these from?) Her skills in carpentry aren’t the greatest, as the raft appears to have included all the requisite parts except nails, resulting in every passing wave tossing its loose boards in helter-skelter fashion into random patterns, often atop Molly’s own head. The tide washes Molly onto a tropical shore. Molly is oblivious to her surroundings from exhaustion, still dog-paddling aimlessly in the sand. The waves play Betty Boop games, first sweeping Molly out to sea again (leaving her cowbell abandoned in the sand), then replacing her on the beach in the next wave, with the bell strap back in place around her neck. Then, the waves form into two watery hands, one of which picks up Molly by the tail, and the other of which socks her in the posterior, landing her further up on shore. There, she spies a puddle of water (thankfully fresh), just out of tongue reach. Defying the laws of physics, she grabs the rim of the puddle with her front hoofs, and drags the hole full of water over to her parched lips to drink her fill. Rejuvenated, Molly begins to explore the island.

Enter Robinson Crusoe, singing a sprightly ditty about loving a life all alone. No job to lose. No wife to nag him when he wants to sleep. Nothing but peace and solitude. That is, until he spots Molly’s hoofprints in the sand. “Cannibals!”, he assumes, and leaps behind a rock, inadvertently dropping an old musket he is carrying. The musket, though obviously built only to contain a single wadded shot, develops the kind of “rapid-fire” magazine capacity that can only exist in a cartoon, and, taking on a life of its own, hops along the sand, firing off shots every which way at random. The weapon reaches Molly’s position on the beach, spooking her. Molly runs for cover behind rocks, as the gun bounces a return to Crusoe’s position, and finally lies at rest near the rock behind which he has taken position. Retrieving the gun, Crusoe moves cautiously forward, while Molly also seeks out the source of the weapon. The two play a creeping game of hide and seek among a field of boulders, finally reversing direction, and colliding right into each other’s rear ends. Crusoe manages to refrain from firing, as gentle Molly becomes somewhat enamored at the sight of her new companion. Wanting to appear friendly, she begins to slurp Crusoe’s face with her tongue in bug, sloppy kisses. He-man Crusoe is humiliated at the realization of being kissed by “a cow”, and tells Molly to shoo and go away (overlooking the obvious positive prospects of free milk every day, or steaks for a month.)

Molly, however, is not an easy one to dismiss overtures of friendship from – and keeps tagging along wherever Crusoe goes, getting in more slurps where the opportunity presents itself. Even when Crusoe barricades himself in his compound, Molly lets out ear-jarring moos through the cracks in the wooden poles to drive Crusoe crazy. “Look, you’re a nice cow. I like you. But this place is only big enough for one of us. So GET OFF THIS ISLAND!”, Crusoe commands, firing at Molly’s tail with the musket, as she is driven off the island to paddle-kick back into the sea on a small log. Crusoe finally feels alone at last – but stumbles right into the spear points of a tribe of cannibals who have landed on the other side of the island. A quartet of them, in vocal harmony closely resembling the Mills Brothers, chant a jazzy war chant while holding Cruesoe in the air on the points of their spears. As Crusoe is placed in a cooking pot before the tribe, he desperately calls for help, in spite of knowing that no one is likely to be there. But Molly is still within earshot. She paddles back to the island, and, passing Crusoe’s compound, gets an idea. Inside the compound, she finds five other loaded muskets, which she scoops up with her tail. Proceeding to where the tribe is, Molly flings the five guns into the air, each landing within the cannibal encampment. As did the original weapon, each gun begins a self-propelled bouncing frenzy of firing shot. Not knowing where to hide to avoid getting blasted, the cannibals frantically take to the sea again – not even worrying in their haste about taking along their canoes. As the shooting dies down, and the fire goes out, Crusoe peers out of the pot at Molly, who gives him a look one would expect from a puppy desiring signs of approval. Happy to be alive, Cruesoe relents and shows a hesitating acceptance of his fellow man – er, animal. “All, right, you can stay. But what’ll I do with you?” Molly shows him that she can assume a fitting role, grabbing some charcoal from under the pot, and blackening up her face in politically incorrect fashion. “Friday!”, shouts Crusoe, understanding her message. The two embrace as fast friends, as we iris out.

Toonerville Picnic (Van Buren/RKO. Rainbow Parade (Toonerville Folks), 10/2/36 – Burt Gillett, dir.). The last film to roll off the production lines at Van Buren, before RKO pulled the rug out from under them by handing its distribution contract over to Walt Disney, leaving the studio without a home (and, according to legend, breaking old man Van Buren’s heart). After all the effort the studio had gone through to hire Burt Gillett from Disney, retrain its staff artists, convert first to Cinecolor and then full Technicolor (the only studio besides MGM to compete with Disney in all Technicolor ptoduction), and to acquire character rights to Felix the Cat and Fontaine Fox’s “Toonerville Folks” comic strip, the abrupt revelation that Disney was moving in (while Disney’s former home, United Artists, apparently had no use for the Van Buren product) had to have felt like one of the most devastating death-knells in the industry’s history – only equaled or surpassed in shock value by Paramount foreclosing on the Fleischers, Disney losing Oswald, or the overnight shutdown order of the MGM studios issued to Hanna and Barbera. Had it continued in existence, Van Buren might never have reached the heights of many of its competitors – but it cannot be denied that they were learning to put out a respectable, competitive product under Gillett – with vibrant color palettes and occasional elaborate sequences (such as the cyclone in Trolley Ahoy), impressive to the eye, and giving the bigger boys a bit of a run for the money. Would Gillett have stayed at the helm instead of moving back to Disney and then to Lantz? If so, would his love for ever-increasing sophistication and big budgets have driven him to make the leap into feature films? (For that matter, would the feature film have come into fruition for the industry at all, had Disney stayed at UA? Would Walt have found his distribution and financing for Snow White in his old quarters, to give Gillett the inspiration to follow suit?) As we know RKO had the bankroll to back a risky feature venture, what if this money had been behind Gillett to produce a rival product to the Disney classic?

Might Gillett’s The Sleeping Princess, later produced for Lantz, somehow have morphed its way into a feature version of “Sleeping Beauty”, long before Disney took a whack at it? Or, would the whole concept have potentially fallen through, given Gillett’s tendency to resist being reined-in and to follow protocol, and his personal tensions that eventually led to a nervous breakdown? Still, the fact that their nearby neighbors, the Fleischers, were the only other studio willing to buck Disney on his own turf might have helped to inspire Gillett to bugger things, simply to save face and “keep up with the Joneses”. Could Gillett have been Disney’s next challenger, and would a longer Gillett product have ever been able to compete on the levels of storytelling sense, drama, and heart? Maybe he wasn’t the perfect man for the position – but it would have made an interesting chapter in animation history to see the results. had he fallen into the path of opportunity.

The “terrible tempered” Mr. Bang is at his doctor’s for a checkup. After giving him the once-over, and listening to the old ticker and everything else inside (which produce an array of sound-effects through the stethoscope), the Doc says nothing is wrong with him except his nerves/ “You must control your temper”, he advises, and, over Bang’s protests (“How can I keep my temper when everything goes wrong”), the doctor recommends a day of peace and quiet at the seashore. The doctor requests his two-dollar fee, seeming to leave Bang on the verge of another verbal blow-up, which he fights to restrain within himself.

Of course, in Toonerville, the only means to get to point A from point B is by way of the Skipper’s old dilapidated trolley. Bang is the morning’s first passenger at the crack of dawn, dressed in striped bathing suit and bringing aboard with him a picnic lunch and a folding beach chair. The chair is too tall to balance well atop the bench-seat of the trolley, and keeps toppling over on Mr. Bang’s head. At the next intersection, the trolley picks up what seems to be half the town’s population (including the massive and powerful Katrinka, who squeezes herself onto the same bench as Mr. Bang, squashing him into a corner). Bang’s blood pressure is already rising – and is assisted in its flight by a companion Katrinka has brought along – a shaggy sheepdog in a straw sun hat. Bang and the dog wind up nose to nose – with the dog developing a somewhat inebriated-feeling case of hiccups. They mist be contagious, as soon, the dog stops his strange symptoms, but Mr. Bang duplicates them right where the dog left off. “I don’t like you”, Bang tells the dog between burps. “I don’t like you, either”, the dog responds between growls.

As the trolley reaches the end of the line at shore’s edge, everyone disembarks except Bang and the Skipper. The Skipper peels out of his usual conductor outfut, revealing a bathing suit worn underneath. “It’s a wonderful day for a swim, Mr. Bang”, he says. He proceeds to repeat the old Oswald/Mickey gag of trying to dive into the waves, but come up short on distance as the water recedes, belly-flopping on the sand. But the next wave pills the Skipper out with the rest of the town. Showing off to Katrinka, the Skipper calls out, “Watch me float.” Lying on his back in the water, the Skipper propels himself backward with his feet, blowing puffs of smoke from his corncob pipe with the sounds of a tugboat whistle. Bang has by now reached the water’s edge, and launches himself with a headlong dive into the wave. He collides head to head with the Skipper, who is still blindly floating backwards. The two are washed back onto the land, as Mr. Banh chews the Skipper out. “Why don’t you look where you’re going. You old turkey-buzzard, you’re always in the way.” Another wave draws the laughing Skipper out to sea again, leaving Bang with his first moment of solitude. But he is not quite alone – as there is the matter of that folding chair, and setting it up. In perhaps one of animations’ first instances of what would become an oft-repeated stock gag (witness its development in the later Donald’s Vacation (1940)), Bang struggles, as the chair transforms into every possible variation of position its component parts can assume – except the position that would make it perform as a chair. “I come down here for peace and quiet, and even the chair won’t let me alone.” As he pants from exhaustion in a hopeless entanglement of wood and canvas, the sheepdog comes along, and gives him the horselaugh. What’s more, the dog won’t go away, pestering Bang as he (resorting to sitting on the bare sand for lack of other seating arrangements) attempts to enjoy the picnic lunch. The dog grabs a chicken drumstick for himself, then, when a wave rolls in and floats the entire picnic blanket and its contents out to sea, winds up in a water race with Mr. Bang to retrieve the floating lunch. Mr. Bang spots an inflated rubber horse in the water, and hops atop it to paddle after the lunch. The dog counters by jumping atop what appears to be a striped beach ball – but instead rises to reveal the head of an exotic striped octopus. While the sea creature ravenously consumes the picnic lunch, the frightened dog leaps on board Mr. Bang’s horse, sinking the floatation device under their combined weight. As the horse bobs again to the surface, the dog commandeers the craft for himself and paddles toward shore, leaving Mr. Bang at the mercy of the waves – and the still hungry octopus, who now, with watery giggles that remind one of Squiddly Diddly, decides Mr. Bang is next item on the menu.

From a safe viewing point on shore, the Skipper tries to arrange help for Mr. Bang, caling upon Katrinka’s strength. “Throw him a life preserver. Throw something!” Finding no life preserver available, Katrinka throws the only other thing she thinks will float – the entire trolley car – into the bay. Bang clims atop the car, but so does the octopus, and the two begin a race along the cab’s external surfaces, the car rotating like a hamster wheel. Bang finds an opportunity to leap inside the car, and races to close the vehicle’s doors and windows while the octopus tries to reach inside every opening with its tentacles. Even with all doors and windows closed, the octopus finds one remaining point of entry – the stovepipe vent through the trolley’s roof. Bang holds on to the cab’s interior to keep from being pulled out by the seat of his pants. The fabric gives way, and the octopus’s arm flies back outside, taking the stovepipe attached with it, which spooks the octopus into retreat. But Bang is still adrift, and it is up to Katrinka’s strength to again save the situation. She grabs a harpoon, and launches it with a mighty throw through the roof of the trolley. Fastening the other end of the harpoon rope to the pole of a beach umbrella, she uses the pole as a winding winch, to drag the trolley back onto the land. Inside the cab, Bang floats neraly motionless, trapped like a goldfish in a tank full of water created by the car’s closed windows and doors. Katrika opens the cab dooor, pouring Mr. Bang out onto the sand. The Skipper and another citizen gently place Mr, Bang into a comfortable resting place – upon his own folding chair, which again contorts into a pretzel knot of wood, trapping Mr. Bang again. The short ends with Mr. Bang paying an evening visit to the doctor’s home, where he breaks into another temper tantrum at what happened upon the doctor’s recommendation. Bang attempts to take a swing with his fist at the doctor’s jaw, but misses his target, his circular blow instead connecting with his own jaw, and knocking Mr. Bang cold in a corner. As the doctor sees a pair of Roger Rabbit-style “tweeting birds” circling the unconscious Bang’s head, he ends the film with the practical solution of placing a bird cage over the transparent visions to make sure they don’t escape, for the iris out.

Beach Combers (Lantz/Universal, Oswald Rabbit – 10/5/36). The duckling quintuplets (Fee, Fi, Fo Fum, anf Fooey) are out for a day of frivolity (and mischief) at the beach. Also out for a day of R&R are Oswald, and his dog, Elmer the Great Dane. As was becoming frequently the case when inspiration lagged to find something new for Oswald to do, Ozzie gets hardly any role in this film, wandering away to do a little fishing, and leaving Elmer in charge of guarding the picnic basket. “And if you don’t, I’ll…”, he says to Elmer, making a slashing motion across his throat. From behind a beach umbrella, the ducklings are already eyeing the picnic lunch. Their self-appointed leader, black duckling Fooey, sees Elmer appearing to doze, and tries first the direct method of simply walking up to the basket while Elmer is assumed to be asleep. Bad miscalculation, as Elmer, more alert than we presumed, surprises everyone by whacking Fooey a swift blow across-the tail feathers, knocking the duck out of frame back to his brothers. As Fooey rubs his aching tail, plan B is hatched. With the musical accompaniment of “mess call”, Fooey marches past the nose of the dozing dog, dragging a rope, on the other end of which is tied a large bone.

As the bone passes directly under Elmer’s nose, the aroma is irresistible, and Elmer starts following the duck. This is the other ducklings’ cue to help themselves to the basket’s contents. After luring Elmer halfway down the beach, Fooey performs his own surprise on the dog – grabbing up the bone, and whacking Elmer on the head with it. As Elmer clears his head, he catches sight of the other ducklings, well on their way to devouring the first layer of sandwiches. He returns to the basket at full gallop, causing the ducklings to take cover behind an old inverted rowboat. Fooey joins them, and while they rack their brains for a new idea, Fooey spots an old shoe in the sand, the leater toe of which has separated from the sole, so that the toe opens and flashes a row of pointed nails – much resembling jagged teeth. Fooey uses his imagination – and realizes this could make a wonderful disguise, placed upside down over his head. Wearing this “mask”, he walks over to his brothers, frightening them silly as he flaps the toe leather to “flash” his teeth, while quacking his loudest quack. He tries the same trick on Elmer. Elmer isn’t scared – but curious, as he sniffs the strange intruder. Fooey decides the opportunity is right – and snaps the two “jaws” of shoe nails shut upon Elmer’s tender nose. Elmer takes off, whining in pain with the shoe clamped onto his snout, spilling out Fooey from under his mask. By the time Elmer extricates his snout from the steel trap, Fooey’s brothers are rowing the floating basket out to sea. Elmer remembers Oswald’s warning of the consequences if the lunch isn’t effectively guarded – and casts away all fears of any dangers in the water, diving headfirst into the salty waves to retrieve the foodstuffs.

Still on shore, Fooey spots Elmer heading out after his siblings. He finds a toy sailboat with a black sail, then swims submerged, catching up with the swimming Elmer. Fooey hooks the sailboat over El,er’s submerged tail, which allows just the sail to protrude from the water’s surface – simulating a shark’s fin (a favorite recurring gag for many a studio in years to come).

Fooey then swims under Elmer, coming up in front of him, and signals Elmer that a shark is following. Elmer falls for it (thank goodness he wasn’t happy at the time, or Fooey might have had some explaining to do if Elmer had seen a wagging shark fin). Elmer swims as fast as he can – but can’t escape the ever-following fin. He finally reaches and races back up the beach, where the toy boat, now fully visible, reveals the trick. As the ducklings in the basket laugh hilariously, Elmer does a sort of “Stan Laurel” crying tantrum in the sand at his defeat. But fate will not let the ducklings get off scott free for their pranks, for below the water’s surface, a pair of eyes watches the ducks and their basket. They are the eyes of a giant squid, using one of his arms for the function of a submarine periscope. Within a moment, the ducks are in the slimy grasp of the creature’s tentacles. One by one, hopes of a successful rescue fade. On shore, Mama duck faints. Papa duck races as if about to leap into the sea – but merely gets caught up inside a beach umbrella. Even Oswald, in a small fishing boat, can’t navigate an interception course with the beast, as he forgets his boat is still tied to the pier, and, when he starts the outboard motor, merely has the stern rail break awat from the vessel, dragging Oswald over the water in a looping course like a water skier. This leaves only Elmer (actually, where is Fooey when you need him?).

Elmer’s first instinct is to race into the surf. But, just shy of the water’s edge, he recalls the ducks brouht all this on by pulling mean pranks on him, and waves off the thought of rescue as preposterous – leave them to their fate. But, in clever imitation of Pluto pantomime, Elmer is torn between practicality and heroism – and just can’t bring himself to let the chips fall where they may. While the squid places the ducks inside a giant clam for safekeeping, Elmer confronts the beast underwater, leading it a merry chase. Near a sunken ship on the ocean floor, Elmer swims through an old mattress, poking a hole in it. The octopus follows, but gets his tentacles caught fast in the bedsprings. Elmer returns, and gives the squid a sock in the jaw, leaving the squid bouncing between the bedsprings and an overhanging rock, on which the squid keeps bashing its head with every bounce. Elmer returns to the shore, towing in the ducklings aboard the picnic basket. Oswald and the duck parents cheer the dog’s bravery, and Oswald declares a celebration by deciding to share the picnic lunch with everyone. However, as he flips open the basket lid, all he finds inside is Fooey, with an overstuffed belly, and the last portions of a chicken drumstick in his hand. “Where’s the lunch?” asks Oswald. Quoting an old radio byline (someone tell me whose), Fooey asks, “You want to know?”, then asks the audience, “Shall I tell him?”, patting his full belly for the fade out.

Hawaiian Holiday (Disney/RKO, Mickey Mouse 9/24/37 – Ben Sharpsteen, dir.) – Strange, that RKO thought the acquisition of the Disney distribution rights such a plum prize, it was willing to axe the Van Buren contract early and leave itself without new product to release for cartoons for nearly a year before the first Disney footage was ready for delivery. This was the film that signaled the entry of the new regime. How strange also, that Van Buren’s last and Disney’s first would both be about the beach! Disney would hardly have needed to do this to prove the point that it could pick up where Van Buren left off.

We’ve visited this film once on a previous cartoon train, “Toons Trip Our”, last year. So we’ll cover it with a brief recap. One of Disney’s few “all star” specials, extending beyond the Mickey/Donald/Goofy trio formula to add Minnie and Pluto. (No Horace Horsecollar or Clarabelle Cow here – they for some reason would be given a hiatus of a few years (with the exception of a distant group shot in “The Fox Hunt”) from appearance in any RKO product – you might say, put out to pasture.) The gang vacations in the exotic land of the palms, which still would not become an official state of the union for over twenty years. Minnie wears flower leis and grass skirt, perfotming a graceful hula to the ukelele and guitar rhythms of Donald and Mickey. Pluto explores the seashore, while Goofy takes up his latest sport – surfing, with the usual hilarious results. Mickey does little but strum guitar (his white gloves becoming performers in their own right, appearing to dance upon the guitar strings like little four-limbed humanoids). Donald tries on a grass skirt for a lark, but lives to regret it, when he dances too close to the fire under a native stewpot, and sets his foliage ablaze. Pluto has painful encounters with a starfish and then a crab, both of which result in him being buried up to his neck in the sand by a crashing wave, then tweaked or nipped on the nose by his present adversary. (The crab design is notable, fashioning the crab’s upper half-shell to resemble a “tough guy” hat, with only a pair of eyes visible from inside the shell. The design would be utterly ripped off by such films as MGM’s The Little Goldfish and The Cat and the Mermouse, and by Walter Lantz’s Jungle Jive.)

Most remembered about the film is Goofy’s surfing sequences, with a wave that appears to have a mind of its own, outwitting the Goof at every turn. Whether getting whacked about by the whitecps, or searching for his board underwater, the Goof risks life and limb to hang ten, and ends up inhabiting a sandy grave – at least for a few moments, until his head pops out to receive a flower lei playfully tossed upon the grave by Minnie, leading to the Goof’s inevitble “Gawsh”, for the iris out. The film is said to be Wolfgang Reitherman’s first unbilled animation credit for the studio, and was remembered by him as a personal favorite.

Robinson Crusoe’s Broadcast (Terrytoons/Educational (Phoney Baloney), 4/15/38, John Foster, dir.) – This may have been the introduction of Terry’s Irish-brogued tall tale teller, Phoney Baloney – a recirring character who would appear to good comedic advantage in several episodes, including some Technicolor comebacks in the 1950’s. I believe the voice for the character may have been provided by Dayton Allen, in some of his earliest work for the studio (accounting for the availability of the same voice during the comeback period in the 1950’s).

Current prints from CBS origin are missing the opening moments of the film, in which the not-yet-named Baloney is introduced by an announcer to the radio audience as Robinson Crusoe, to provide an account about his daring voyage. The film picks up with Crusoe struggling with the ship’s wheel during a storm, (the steering mechanism is literally coiled lie a braid). Mice abandon ship, as Crusoe, a parrot and a cat shimmy up the mast of the submerging ship. “Eight bells and all is well” habitually intones the parrot. “Shut up”, says Crusoe. As the ship sinks out from under them, Crusoe, the cat and parrot are left thumbing for a ride amidst the waves. A goat from the ship has somehow managed to construct a raft, and is oblivious as the trio slip on board behind him. Figuring the goat is just one unnecessary mouth to feed, Crusoe saws off the small piece of planking upon which the goat is sitting, leaving him to float away on his own mini-raft while Crusoe and crew take the big one. The raft washes ashore upon an island. Crusoe’s narration indicates that his first thought was to build a house. In reality, the raft merely crashes into a tree trunk, disassembling, with the lumber falling into place around Crusoe in the new form of a small shack, complete with a roof sign reading “Villa Crusoe”. Surprised and satisfied, Crusoe shuts its front door – causing everything behind the door to collapse once again. A rain shower briefly hits, and Crusor seeks the shelter of his abode, merely running behind and closing the front door, though there is no roof or structure behind it. When the clouds clear, Crusoe beds down for the night, pulling the fallen raft boards up over him for a blanket, as “night falls” (lifting a gag from Disney’s Gulliver Mickey with a black backdrop literally falling to cover the scene).

Next morning, Crusoe finds footprints, which, like Farmer Al Falfa’s before him, rise and travel along the sand as if they were feet themselves. These prints are even more tricky than Farmer Al’s, as they sneak under an oncoming wave to avoid detection, then crawl back out from under the surf again. The tracks reach and move directly under the feet of a black native, who is “combing the beack” with a hair comb (a gag Tex Avery would remember about 13 years later for “Symphony in Slang”.) Crusoe joins him with his own comb, and declares that there was something fishy about this native – so he named him Friday. Finding something, Friday digs deep into the sand – and comes up with an Atlantic City boardwalk-style “blue car” – a pushcart conveyance with seat in front, and manpowered by foot or pedal by a driver from the rear, traditionally providing low-paid, rickshaw-style work for black workers of the day. Crusoe hops into the car, while Friday pushes. “I was about to caution Friday on his speed”, narrates Crusoe. With good reason, as Friday’s place has been taken by a gorilla, who pushes Crusoe up a tree and off a limb. Monkeys begin tossing Crusoe through the trees, as Crusoe’s narration states, “I let them have their fling.” When Crusoe trods wearily homeward, he us “greeted by heathen music.” A tribe of savages is assembled in decidedly civilized fashion, playing traditional instruments like a street “oompah” band in a rendition of “Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” Their leader shakes Crusoe’s hand, and states, “Mister Crusoe, the boys would like to have you for dinner.”

“Flattered by this invitation”, Crusoe accepts. The chief shows Crusoe off to the tribe, then asks Crusoe how much meat he thinks is required to feed all these people. “Crusoe, responds, ‘Oh, about 176 pounds.” You is right” says the chief, but adds a follow-up question. “Now tell me, how much does you-all weigh?” Crusoe is “escorted” to a ladder and platform that has been set up above a huge pot. He assumes this is a speaker’s platform, and mounts it to give a speech, failing to notice that his audience is carrying forks, knives, and plates. As his speech comes to a conclusion, a pin is pilled from the platform floor, and Crusoe is dumped into the pot. Crusoe’s narration adds that his suspicions were becoming aroused. “Was I mad? I was boiling.” Back in the present at the radio broadcast, an announcer asks, “Tell me, Mr, Crusoe, what did you so then?” Crusoe scratches his head, and realizes his narrative has painted himself into a corner. “What could I do? They ate me,” he concludes. The announcer slaps his own forehead, realizing the story has all been a hoax, but the audience applauds anyway, and Crusoe takes a bow, removing his hat, under which is his parrot to comment “Cuckoo”, for the iris out.

A Day at the Beach (MGM, The Captain and the Kids, 6/25/38 – Isadore (Friz) Freleng, dir.), is sort of four short films in one, following the various misadventures of the series regulars at the seashore in alternating random order. Plot number 1: The Captain sets down a beach umbrella, to enjoy an afternoon of sleep in the shade – but the sun (with brilliant effects animation to generate a luminescent glow versus deep and darkeed shadows) keeps changing position to peer around the umbrella fringe, casting the Captain into the hot rays all over again, no matter how many times the umbrella is repositioned. Plot no. 2: The inspector attempts to build a sand castle, but repeatedly has it knocked down by waves or other characters. Plot no. 3: Mama, in the manner of Minnie Mouse in “Wild Waves”, tries to gently wade in shallow puddles, but keeps getting swamped by incoming waves. Plot no. 4. Hans and Fritz try to snitch food from the picnic basket before lunchtime, then remove a boat bottom to use as a surfboard, sabotaging a rescue of Mama from the waves by the Captain, and leaving the Captain in need of artificial respiration.

Things kind of happen in a steam of consciousness, without much plot or overlap of stories, and the overall effect comes out less than memorable. A few notable gags iclude a lobster intruding into the picnic basket, using its claws to open a can which also happens to be labeled, “Lobster”. A second such shellfish emerges from the can, shaking the first one’s claw with a salute of “Thanks, pal.” Hans and Fritz further try to get at the lunch by sending over to the basket a pelican with a rope tied around his neck. The pelican scoops up all the food into its lower bill, then the boys drag the bird back to them. However, the bird plants its feet between some rocks, causing the rope to break. Once the rope is loose around its neck, the pelican swallows the whole lunch from his bill pouch himself, which lands with a crash into his stomach, and produces a loud burp. The film ends in the middle of the night, with the Captain still searching for Hans and Fritz to give them a licking for removing the botom of the boat, and the Inspector constructing one more sand castle. This time, the Inspctor knocks the castle down himself to prevent the ave from hitting – but the wave finally stops short of the point of impact, then recedes, leaving the Inspector to yell and grumble at his own needless destruction, for the fade out.

Porky’s Naughty Nephew (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porky Pig),10/15/38 – Robert Clampett, dir.) – Proclaiming self-awareness of their own medium (in the manner which would later becoe a custom for Heckle and Jeckle), a public sign announces the big event of the “Cartoon Animals’ Outing”, featured event of which is a swim race. Elephants are specifically cautioned that they “must wear trunks while swimming!” (After all, this is a family show – although it’s still perfectly fine for Porky Pig to normally not wear pants.) Actually, Porky is a little overdressed today, as he wears a one-piece bathing suit that actually covers his usually protruding bottom (except in a couple of shock takes, where he stretches out of his suot to reveal virtually a full bare torso). A line of animals parades non-stop through a “bath house” serving as a beach locker, which is no bigger than the average outhouse – marching into one door in their street clothes, and immediately out the other in their bathing suit. Just beyond the changing room is a device marked “bathing suit fitter”. It is merely an overhead shower, which the user activates by turning a valve handle. This makes a whole lot of sense – only to a cartoon character. Who would purchase a bathing suit made of a material that shrinks in water?

Nevertheless, a first user, who is a little guy in an oversize suit applies the water until his suit has reduced to a perfect fit. A large dog follows, in a suit visibly much too small for him. He tries the same device – and himself shrinks under the water instead of the suit, again producing a perfect match! (Maybe there’s more than mere water in that miraculous device.)

Appearing for the first of only two times in animated form in the studio’s original history, Porky’s nephew Pinky accompanies him to the seashore. (Comic book history would at some point place Porky in charge of a nephew named Cicero – who was referred to at least once in a Mel Blanc track for the Capitol recording, “Bugs Bunny in Storyland” – but Cicero would never appear in animated form in the classic cartoons.) Pinky is a non-stop talker, asking about everything at once: “Can I go swimming? Buy me an ice cream cone. When’s Christmas?” Porky finally has to turn to hush him up, stating “K-k-keep your p – p – diapers on!” Pinky pretends to be briefly chagrined, but demonstrates to the audience that the feeling is not sincere, by sticking his tongue out at Porky when his back is turned. Porky walks ahead, finding an open mound of sand that looks like the perfect spot to plant his beach umbrella. “YEOW”, bellows a voice from below the sand, as the point of the umbrella pole encounters the belly of a huge bulldog who has buried himself. A sock from the billdog sends Porky and the umbrella flying backwards to where he left Pinky, planting the umbrella pole right next to the spot where Pinky is sitting, and giving Porky a brief case of the vibrating jitters. Oh, well, this spot is as good as any – so Porky falls asleep beneath the umbrella. (Recalling the Korean “redrawn” colorization of this film. I always noted just how inept one could get, from the fact that the tracers couldn’t even get the drawings right for a simple repeated cycle of Porky deep breathing while asleep – by having his chest inflate, then immediately drop in a jump to deflated, over and over again.)

Seemingly harmless, Pinky plays in the sand with a pail and sand shovel. While Porky snoozes, Pinky reveals he has more devilish plans in mind, by creeping up on Porky, and whacking him in the face with the shovel – then resuming his original position on Porky’s opposite side. Porky’s eyes pop open, but finding Pinky on the wrong side from where the blow was felt, Porky merely swats at the air, then attributes the blow to “flies”. While the orchestra plays the cue of “Japanese Sandman”, Pinky creeps forward to try it again. Porky pops his eyes open unexpectedly for a double check, but Pinky is too fast for him, again resuming his original position. Pinky successfully performs the face whack once more, adding extra swats delivered in the rhythm of the old “shave and a haircut” music cue. When Porky opens his eyes again, all he sees before him is a miniature buck-toothed cartoon dog on the next sand dune, also using a small pail and shovel. “Hey, s-sonny! You musn’t d-d-do—Stop it!”, says Porky, grabbing the little one’s shovel away. But the kid comes fully prepared for such a situation, producing from nowhere bigger and bigger shovels every time Porky snatches one, and finally whacking Porky a resounding blow with a ditch-digger’s full size model.

Apparently upset at someone else invading his pranking territory, Pinky confronts the newcomer. “Hey you, lay off my uncle Porky!” Pinky grabs the shovel, and takes a swing at the toddler, but misses as the kid ducks, the shovel instead hitting Porky yet again. Maybe better to leave well enough alone, so Pinky replaces the shovel in the kid’s hand, then disappears out of frame. Reaching the shoreline, Pinky gets a new idea. Although the water is only three inches deep, he wades in, and calls for help, pretending he’s drowning. A heroic Porky dives in for a rescue – but lands face first in the sandy bottom, to Pinky’s laughing delight. Porky comes out of the water with a starfish stuck to his face. Pinky pretends to help, seemingly attempting to ease the fish off of Porky’s face – then rips it away with a sudden pull, causing Porky to scream, “YEOWWW!” Next, we find the pair back at the beach umbrella, with Porky wearing a band-aid on his head. Pinky meekly apologizes for his behavior, promising that he’ll be a good boy “forever and ever” – then quickly asks if he can cover Porky with sand. Convinced that his nephew has reformed, Porky says okay. Within seconds, Pinky has backed-up a dump truck behind Porky, and poured its entire load of sand to bury Porky completely. (This gag would appear again in a color Merrie Melodie only a few seasons later.)

A trumpet sounds a “call to the post” – well, not really a trumpet, but notes blown out the bill of who appears to be Daffy Duck (but is drawn in a slightly lighter shade of grey). “Daffy” holds up a sign announcing the swim race. “When?” chant in unison the offscreen voices of the other animals. Daffy turns his tail feathers to an extreme close-up at the camera, upon which he has written in bug letters, “NOW!” A stampede of contestants flattens Daffy like a pancake in their haste to get to the starting line. Porky hears the call too, and is eager to get into the race. As the firing gun is shot (without a bullet, but with a mechanical traffic signal inside the gun barrel that lights up and displays a green light and the flag signal, “Go”), Porky dives into the water – but curiously, all the other contenders turn away from the water in the opposite direction, and briefly disappear from the scene. They reappear momentarily, each of them having retrieved a “secret weapon” for their own personal means to cheat. Daffy passes Porky with a paddlewheel attached to his stern, the paddles whapping Porky in the snout as he passes. A long-legged crane rides a submerged bicycle along the ocean bottom, but falls out of sight when the bike encounters a drop-off into the sea. An ostrich uses his equally-long legs to run on the ocean floor, but stumbles into a submerged chest of drawers, which he wears upon him the rest of the way.

Though not previously seen at the starting line, a race horse and jockey appear among the contestants, then sink below the water. They come up again, and the horse inquires of his jockey, “This can’t be Santa Anita.” A goose, who also seems to have started the race without a secret weapon, is tiring, but finds himself a weapon anyway, in the form of a quintet of small chicks, passing the goose while rowing in a racing scull. The goose merely swallows the chicks and their craft whole, letting the shapes of the oars protrude from his lower belly, providing him with automatic, effortless propulsion. The racers reach a halfway-point floating pylon, amd round the turn for the last leg of the race – all except one surprise contestant, who smashes into the pylon – Eddie Cantor. Known as the target of many jokes in Hollywood for having five children – all girls – Eddie is amazingly pleased at the unexpected impact. “At last. A buoy!”, he shouts, cradling the pylon in his arms. As Daffy passes another lagging racer (an elk), the elk enlists his secret weapon. With a pull of a string, a set of sails reveals itself strung between his antlers, and the elk sails gracefully past Daffy. Leagues behind the other racers, Porky finally clears the halfway marker. (Where did Eddie Cantor go? Did he realize his mistake?) From inside the buoy pops Pinky out of a hatch, who has decided it’s time his uncle had a secret weapon, too. Copying the gag of Fooey from Beach Combers, Pinky winds up a spring-wound toy sailboat with a dark gray sail. Sending it sailing after Potky, Pinky calls out “A shark! A shark!”. The fright is all the incentive that Porky needs, to zoom past all the other racers, through the finish line, and up on the shore, backed up against a tree trunk, cowering in fear. Pinky appears, and tells uncle not to worry, that it’s just a “little toy sailboat – – See?” Pinky reaches down to lift the “fin” out of the water, but to everyone’s surprise, it is now attached to a real shark, sending Porky and Pinky running frantically toward the horizon for the iris out.

We hate to end this post with excerpts from a Korean colorized print… but that’s all we got. And besides, you just read the description above. So here you go, land-lubbers!

More island hopping and 40’s beaches, next time.


  • That’s very interesting that Van Beuren’s last RKO-distributed cartoon, and Disney’s first, both feature beach settings. Similarly, the first cartoon made at the Ub Iwerks studio, and the first Disney made after Iwerks left, both feature a mouse playing a violin recital. Outdoing the competition wasn’t enough for Walt — he had to kick sand in their faces!

    I don’t blame you for avoiding pirate cartoons in this series, as they tend to take place largely at sea with only brief incidental landings. However, I think “Sinbad the Sailor” (Celebrity Productions, ComiColor Cartoons, 30/7/35 — Ub Iwerks, dir.) deserves mention here, if only for the trio of topless hula dancers whom Sinbad hallucinates after washing ashore on the beach.

    I got a chuckle out of those Van Beuren character designs. “Stinkey Davis” — could that have been a dig at Mannie?

    I happen to be quite fond of certain critically disparaged cartoon series: the Rainbow Parades, the Fleischer Color Classics, the Columbia Color Rhapsodies, the entire Terrytoons output. But… the Captain and the Kids? No, they’re every bit as dismal and unfunny as everyone says they are. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single one that I enjoyed at all.

    Too bad there’s only a colorized fragment of “Porky’s Naughty Nephew” on YouTube. Fortunately, I own the complete Porky Pig 101 collection. I’m going to pop it in right now and end this stretch of the Animation Trail on a high note!

  • Here’s a fairly decent copy of Porky’s naughty nephew.

  • “Please Keep Me in Your Dreams” (Fleischer/Paramount, Screen Songs, 28/5/37 — Dave Fleischer, dir.; Roland Crandall, animator) is one of the newsreel parodies in the Screen Songs series with an emphasis on the latest inventions, and it includes a scene at the beach. An intertitle gives the dateline “Oola, La. New style ladies’ dresser with modernistic drawers.” “Every bathing beach should have one of these,” intones the narrator. “This is the latest innovation for beachcombers.” An attractive brunette in a swimsuit approaches the dresser, removes her bathing cap, combs her hair, powders her face, and spritzes herself with perfume. “But wait, that isn’t all!” She proceeds to wrap the lower part of the dresser around her lower body to wear like a skirt, wrap the upper part around her upper body to wear like a bodice, and turn the mirror on its side to wear like a hat. “Now she’s all wrapped up in her own vanity!”

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