I first saw this superb 10 minute animation more than 20 years ago when watching Rolf’s Cartoon Time en famille. Displaying all the crassness for which he was so famous, Rolf droned over the opening sequence with his own banal observations and at the end the credits were amputated so that all the audience knew was the title. But what came in between was sheer delight – a small masterpiece of visual invention all contained within an enclosed penumbral space typical of early animation. A little research in Leonard Maltin’s book revealed it to be the work of Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising who worked as a team for almost every animation studio, having started in the 1920s at Disney when it was located in Kansas City. Bottles was produced for MGM by their own production company that went by the name of Harman-ising. Their cartoons were branded as Happy Harmonies.
The action takes place in an old pharmacy on a dark and stormy night. When the ancient pharmacist falls victim to a poison of his own devising his body is shrunk to the dimensions of the thousands of bottles that reside shoulder to shoulder on the towering shelves. The bottles and containers come to life in a frantic parade of singing and dancing. The gallery of characters includes rubber gloves, a hot water bottle, a soda siphon and cocktail shaker plus a wide range of cosmetics and medication. The mood develops from cute and whimsical through zany to the predictable but essential, macabre. The skeleton bottle takes charge and the diminutive pharmacist is propelled at speed through a jungle of chemical apparatus to his ultimate indignity when his hapless form is squeezed through an enormous garlic press to emerge in 8 tiny replicas of his former self. The colours are rich and gorgeous and the energy is irresistible.
To obtain this gem I had to buy a Region 1 dvd of the W S Van Dyke movie, San Francisco, that includes it as an extra, presumably because both first appeared in 1936. The following year MGM would dispense with the services of Harman and Ising on the grounds that their perfectionist tendencies made them unaffordable. There is a very blurry upload on YouTube that conveys some of what makes this cartoon so special.