Volume 2 of a celebration of the pioneering solo cartoon work of Ub Iwerks, Walt Disney's foremost animator/collaborator in the formative early years. The first fully animated color cartoon version of "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp" (1934)...the legendary Flip the Frog in the slapstick masterpiece "The New Car" (1931)...the original cartoon adaptation of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," "The Headless Horseman" (1934)...the little-known animation star Willie Whopper in the surrealistic sci-fi classic "Stratos Fear" (1933)...and a famous "lost" film, a full-color cartoonization of "Don Quixote" (1934). These are just a few of the 58 cartoons captured on these two DVDs (available separately) of rediscovered masterworks from the very beginnings of the Golden Age of American Animation.
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Ub Iwerks was one of the greatest animators of the silent and early sound eras: he animated "Steamboat Willie" and other early Disney shorts virtually by himself. But the films he produced at his own studio after breaking with Walt Disney in 1930 lack the vitality of his earlier work. During the '30s, the animators with Disney, the Fleischers, Warner Bros., and MGM developed a new style of cartoon humor that centered on characters with strong, recognizable personalities. Iwerks's first recurring character, Flip the Frog, who appears in more than half the cartoons in this collection, never developed into a wholesome good guy or a sarcastic antihero. He remained an observer, rather than someone who initiated the action, as Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny did. The rambling plots further weaken these films. Flip stumbles into a haunted house in "Spooks" (1932), but the artists can't decide if they're trying to be funny or scary, and the film falls between two chairs. The garish colors and bizarre designs in "Balloon Land" (1935) have a camp appeal, but the inflatable hero and heroine and the spiny villain simply aren't very interesting. Iwerks's cartoons unfortunately remain less than the sum of their parts, but this disc (in unison with Vol. 1) offers an interesting historical perspective on the development of popular animation. --Charles Solomon
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