Here we have a cartoon where the animators are cast by character. I don't know if this was Wilfred Jackson's standard approach as a director, but he almost never deviates from it here except for Don Patterson's crowd shots and Stokes and Kimball sharing Fats Waller and Stepin Fetchit. Every time Katharine Hepburn is on screen, it's Bob Stokes. Every time Laurel and Hardy are on screen, it's Izzy Klein. Grim Natwick always gets Charles Laughton, W.C. Fields and Charlie McCarthy. Ward Kimball gets the Marx Brothers and and Jackson knows that Kimball is going to give him energetic animation for the climax.
Jackson was a very highly respected director at Disney. He was famous for planning things down to the smallest detail. His filmography includes The Tortoise and the Hare, The Grasshopper and the Ants, The Band Concert, Music Land, The Country Cousin, Woodland Cafe, The Old Mill and during the '50's co-directing Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp. This cartoon is slick as a whistle, with the likenesses of the stars being beautifully maintained and each one given an identifiable piece of business.
1938 was not considered a particularly great year for Hollywood, especially compared to 1939. Had this film been made a year later, I suspect the cast would have been very different. With films like The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Stagecoach, we would have seen caricatures of Judy Garland, Vivien Leigh, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne and maybe even Andy Devine.
T. Hee's designs are generally great, but there are some weaker ones. I don't think that he captured Eddie Cantor all that well. I also don't think that Hee or anybody else ever really caricatured Fats Waller properly. The stereotypical approach to black characters gets in the way; the lower half of Waller's face was all cheeks, not lips. And Waller's eyes are treated generically, when they were probably his most interesting facial feature.
One of the striking things is how simple the layouts are. The backgrounds are relatively spare and the staging is very straightforward. It's clear that this is an animator's cartoon and the crew really pulled out the stops. More on the animation in a future post.