Merrie Melodies (1931)

Categorization

A spin-off from Looney Tunes (1930), focused on the musical genre, allowing Looney Tunes to develop narratives instead.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Lady, Play Your Mandolin!” (1931) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

First of the Merrie Melodies. Well made, anarchic, extending anthropomorphization to the entire building that forms most of the set, and showing alcohol-induced psychosis for comedy. It introduced Foxy, a copy of Mickey Mouse, and Roxy, who combines Betty Boop (launched a year earlier; her vocal flourishes are imitated here) with the redundant markers of femininity that are also applied to Bosko’s girlfriend Honey. The attempt to promote a Warner-owned popular song is more obvious than in the earlier Looney Tunes (1930).

References here: “Bosko’s Fox Hunt” (1931), “Goopy Geer” (1932).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!” (1931) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

Imitative of “Box Car Blues” (1930). Hobos chime in while cooking a living bird, and knocking it out, which seems entirely appropriate to the underlying grimness of the song.

References here: “Goopy Geer” (1932).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“One More Time” (1931) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

Amid violence and urban alienation, it achieves the distinction of being especially nonsensical because the music it promotes is very poorly matched to the action. Perhaps it could be profitably remixed to Daft Punk’s song by the same name.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“You Don’t Know What You’re Doin’!” (1931) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

More hobos, and an amusing advertisement for asbestos on the theater curtain, deliberately comical in the era of escalating concern with the negative health effects. There’s good anarchic energy in a few shots, but the nightmare scene doesn’t quite sustain the right intensity.

References here: “Bosko in Person” (1933).

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Entry:

“Hittin’ the Trail for Hallelujah Land” (1931) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

More hobos, and Uncle Tom; one of the Censored Eleven for its obvious racism. I like the lights from the windows on the boat reflected in the water, Porky’s trick with the propeller, the third-act ripoff of “The Skeleton Dance” (1929), and the extreme (though not graphic) brutality of the melodramatic villain’s comeuppance.

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Entry:

“Red-Headed Baby” (1931) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

References here: “Santa’s Workshop” (1932).

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Entry:

“Pagan Moon” (1932) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

Hawaiian natives.

Commentary

I like the slowly rising sun, and the last shot is fun.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Freddy the Freshman” (1932) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

Good potential for prefiguring the college comedies of a later era, with wild partying verging on the surreal, but it doesn’t live up to its potential.

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Entry:

“Crosby, Columbo, and Vallee” (1932) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

Native Americans complain about popular singers.

Commentary

I initially thought it might be Christopher Columbus in the title, but it really is Russ Columbo, even though the characters are racially caricatured in a 15th-century lifestyle. I suppose the most interesting thing about this short is the relative similarity of the girl and the boy, compared to the previous couples in this series and Looney Tunes (1930): The extreme feminine attributes of Honey, Roxy and Fluffy are absent here.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Goopy Geer” (1932) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

One good detail for ecocriticism: A waiter orders “One soup!” from a plucked chicken in the kitchen. The bird replies “Comin' up!”, leaps from its shelf into a bowl of water on the stove, swims around, rubs its butt in the water a little extra before getting out, and then towels off. The waiter returns and takes a scoop of water from the bowl to serve his customer. Compare “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!” (1931). The scene of the psychotic, drunken horse is repeated from “Lady, Play Your Mandolin!” (1931), but the wild energy of that film is sadly absent here.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“It’s Got Me Again!” (1932) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

Mice defend themselves from a cat using musical instruments, in what appears to be a school.

Commentary

First Warner Bros. Oscar nomination for an animated short. It’s plain to see why: It’s much more European and poetic in its sensibilities than other early Merrie Melodies shorts, and much more sedate. The shot of the cat creeping across the roof in the rain is actually beautiful.

References here: “A Great Big Bunch of You” (1932).

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Entry:

“Moonlight for Two” (1932) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

Worth watching purely for its painfully bad dance animation, which looks like a 1990s parody of this era’s cartoons.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“The Queen Was in the Parlor” (1932) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

Evidently thoughtless faux-medieval romanticism.

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Entry:

“I Love a Parade” (1932) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

A circus.

Commentary

Itchy & Scratchy logic: A lion beats a bass drum too hard, breaking the skin, and pushes it down a dog’s throat to fix the problem. Also a freak show of mostly-ethnic characters.

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Entry:

“You’re Too Careless with Your Kisses!” (1932) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

Drunkenness, domestic quarrels and war among bees.

Commentary

I like the war sequence: From cavalry to modern warfare with an aircraft carrier and a submarine (U-Boot) that is a boot.

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Entry:

“I Wish I Had Wings” (1932) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

Another sack of easy targets for ecocriticism. I like the rooster calling out the marching pace in German, just five months before the Reichstag fire.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“A Great Big Bunch of You” (1932) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

Rather less successful in its European-style gentrification than “It’s Got Me Again!” (1932).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Three’s a Crowd” (1932) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

The atypically realistic character designs for Cleopatra and Tarzan look out of place. The design for Edward Hyde prefigures Kevin O’Neill’s rendition of the character in Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1999). Indeed, Hyde here functions as a villain against the characters from other works.

Sambo and Uncle Tom are both present as literary classics, as would be expected from early Merrie Melodies; they’re the only ones present that would completely drop out of the canon in the 85 years between the production and my viewing. Unexpectedly, Hyde does not morph into a black stereotype like them after being splashed with ink.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives” (1933) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

The design sensibility of the opening shots seems prescient, but it all devolves into a fantasy of wish fulfillment, racism and recycled footage.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“One Step Ahead of My Shadow” (1933) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

Musical pastiche of American stereotypes of East Asian culture: Mostly Chinese but with Japanese torii and stratovolcano etc.

Commentary

No improvement over “The Dragon Painter” (1919). The title song is delivered in broken English. As usual, the WB animation studio likes to mix its racial stereotypes for variety, so there’s a Mandarin version of Amos and Andy in one shot.

References here: “Buddy the Gob” (1934).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Young and Healthy” (1933) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

The opening walk down the stairs is an ambitious effort in manual technical animation, but watch the bad geometry when figures are exchanged.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“The Organ Grinder” (1933) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

Watch the background repeat. The monkey is pretty well animated when its gets going.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Wake Up the Gypsy in Me” (1933) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

The usual casual racism and exoticism dressed up for comedy. The comment on Rasputin is curious in its lack of apparent meaning. He’s just a scheming villain, disloyal to an unseen tzar. He’s not even hard to kill. The amusing figure entering his castle with a bunch of bombs—perhaps a 1910s-style anarchist terrorist vaguely influenced by Khioniya Guseva—is dropped without comment or consequence.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“I Like Mountain Music” (1933) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon” (1933) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

I like the many-eyed anthropomorphic potato crying, the anthropomorphic egg slipping in lard to fall and crack open, revealing an unharmed anthropomorphic chicken, and finally the literal doughboy who gets doped up on yeast and cooked by his enemies. The egg and the doughboy exhibit the kind of queasily comic cartoon mortality you might see in Rick and Morty (2013).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“We’re in the Money” (1933) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

I was reminded of my niece’s 2017 fascination with “Shopkins”, little anthropomorphic representations of consumer goods, a more recent form of imagining inanimate objects of desire as friendly creatures.

References here: “How Do I Know It’s Sunday” (1934), Brewster’s Millions (1985).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song” (1933) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence” (1933) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

Inanimate objects and cats.

Commentary

I like the long johns doing circus acrobatics in the breeze.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Pettin’ in the Park” (1934) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Honeymoon Hotel” (1934) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Categorization

Full color.

Commentary

Catchy. The funniest thing about it is the deliberately broken coy causality. Observe the cut away from the shot of the thermometer, starting with a heart-shaped red bead of mercury and rising to indicate that the honeymooners are schtupping. High pressure breaks the glass (orgasm) and triggers the fire alarm. In isolation, that’s expected in the genre, but it becomes apparent that the same event somehow caused an actual fire too, which is not actually shown and upon which there is no comment whatsoever.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Beauty and the Beast” (1934) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Categorization

Full color, with a gluttonous female protagonist, no less.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Those Were Wonderful Days” (1934) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

Parody of Gay Nineties and turn-of-the-century stereotypes.

Commentary

I like the villain’s well-timed dynamite toss and the damsel’s subversive preference for him.

References here: “Little Dutch Plate” (1935).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Goin’ to Heaven on a Mule” (1934) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

An imp and a cherub get into a brutal fistfight and leave the protagonist to drink his gin. He goes to a casino-themed Heaven where everyone is black. Saint Peter gets rid of a salesman at the gate.

Commentary

There is no implication that whites go to a segregated Heaven elsewhere. As a satire of Christian belief it’s pretty funny. It would have been less funny with a white Saint Peter, and funnier without the racial stereotypes.

References here: “Those Beautiful Dames” (1934), “Fish Tales” (1936).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“How Do I Know It’s Sunday” (1934) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

Another short about what happens in a store when there are no people around; this time a grocery store.

Commentary

No doubt the result of bored animators using their imagination in everyday life, hence more pleasant than “We’re in the Money” (1933).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Why Do I Dream Those Dreams” (1934) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

Rip Van Winkle.

Commentary

Surprisingly pedestrian. Three years earlier the animators would probably have done wilder things with the legend.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“The Girl at the Ironing Board” (1934) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“The Miller’s Daughter” (1934) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Shake Your Powder Puff” (1934) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

Joyful. I particularly enjoyed the careful characterization of individual band members, whereas collectives are undifferentiated in e.g. “Buddy’s Circus” (1934).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Rhythm in the Bow” (1934) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

A Depression hobo utopia.

Commentary

Pretty well composed.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Those Beautiful Dames” (1934) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Categorization

Cognitive dissonance.

Subject

A poor girl, possibly an orphan, freezes in the winter. When she falls asleep, toys come by to give her an extreme home makeover. Unlike “Goin’ to Heaven on a Mule” (1934), there is nothing here to indicate that the fantastic event is only a dream.

Commentary

Colour. It is a curious reversal of the several previous Merrie Melodies where toys party by themselves. See it for the implication that what destitute children need is the appearance of a middle-class lifestyle, not attentive parents, friends, money, education, talent, effort etc.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Pop Goes Your Heart” (1934) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

Colour and no real theme, plot or energy.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Mr. and Mrs. Is the Name” (1935) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Categorization

Colour.

Commentary

Observe the lobster, alive and well in the sea, yet red.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Country Boy” (1935) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

The sole highlight is the rhyming conversation between bad-boy Peter Rabbit—whether licensed or a knock-off I don’t know—and his classmates, who warn him not to steal from the farmer, because the teacher will find out. Also, the farmer is a human who will kill Peter and eat him “in a pot”; I like how the funny-animal setting makes this bogeyman threat uncommonly credible. The speaking, anthropomorphic prey animals wear (some) clothes, unlike the farmer’s mute cow.

References here: Charlotte’s Web (1973).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“I Haven’t Got a Hat” (1935) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

A jump forward in character design and planning, including the thoughtful use of colour.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Along Flirtation Walk” (1935) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

Hens, with apparently male coaches, compete at laying eggs. Viable eggs are cause for a penalty.

Commentary

Poorly put together, but recommended for ecocritical thinking. The animal glee club sings, but none of the animals talk.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“My Green Fedora” (1935) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Into Your Dance” (1935) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“The Country Mouse” (1935) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“The Merry Old Soul” (1935) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“The Lady in Red” (1935) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

Roaches in a Spanish kitchen and a parrot villain.

Commentary

A minor graphical upgrade on the recurring motif of small creatures running the show and repurposing everyday objects when there are no people around.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Little Dutch Plate” (1935) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

The twist ending is that of “Those Were Wonderful Days” (1934).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Billboard Frolics” (1935) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Categorization

Yet another animist Warner Bros. short about environments coming to life without people around.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Flowers for Madame” (1935) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Categorization

The first 3-strip Technicolor cartoon in the series.

Subject

Flowers in a garden have a parade and put out a living fire.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“I Wanna Play House” (1936) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

Bear cubs at play.

Commentary

A marked improvement in the use of shot length and Technicolor. The plot is not yet clever and the characters are weak, but the basic technical building blocks are in place for the golden age.

References here: “Mickey’s Trailer” (1938).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“I’m a Big Shot Now” (1936) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Let It Be Me” (1936) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

I like the rural boyfriend getting up the nerve to head out in the winter storm and being blown through several rooms of his house and out the back.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“I’d Love to Take Orders from You” (1936) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

A family of scarecrows.

Commentary

Looks and feels like a conservative Disney production.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Bingo Crosbyana” (1936) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

An awkward combination of several of Freleng’s most common tropes: Musical bugs repurposing a domestic scene in the absence of people, melodramatic villainy threatening the women, and gentle, conventionally moral parody of a pop star.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Page Miss Glory” (1936) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

A Hicksville bellhop fantasizes about meeting a star.

Commentary

The Art Deco, with echoes of Fritz Lang, suggests Tex Avery’s talent and bright future.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“When I Yoo Hoo” (1936) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

The final shot, of non-funny-animal cocks on the bleachers when their funny-animal owners and trainers fight, is no punchline. It is more interesting, ecocritically, that the two feuding hillbilly clans are both represented as biologically similar to one another and internally diverse.

References here: “The Martins and the Coys” (1946).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“I Love to Singa” (1936) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

The Jazz Singer (1927) according to Tex Avery.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Sunday Go to Meetin’ Time” (1936) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“At Your Service Madame” (1936) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Subject

Anthropomorphic piglets are taught to eat gracefully out of individual troughs. One hyperactive piglet who fails at this task is the only one with the initiative to stop a con man.

Commentary

Neatly contained, without anyone thinking too hard about the contents.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Toy Town Hall” (1936) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“The CooCoo Nut Grove” (1936) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Categorization

Caricature.

Subject

Cartoon caricatures of real contemporary celebrities at a glamorous night club, patterned after the Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Commentary

Wikipedia names over 20 celebrities, many more than I could recognize. For something so extremely heavy on reference humour for its time and medium, it is surprisingly well put together; there is even a restored version where the colour looks lovely. Though it alludes to the various celebrities rather than naming them, it is a more direct form of reference humour than the mere idioms of “Bosko in Person” (1933).

References here: “Porky’s Road Race” (1937), “Speaking of the Weather” (1937), “The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos” (1937), “Bambi Meets Godzilla” (1974).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Don’t Look Now” (1936) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Cupid and a devil.

Commentary

The two turtles dancing inside the male’s shell are cute.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“He Was Her Man” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Pigs Is Pigs” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A gluttonous pig–not Porky–is force-fed but learns nothing.

References here: The Simpsons (1989).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“The Fella with the Fiddle” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A beggar living in luxury is menaced by a tax collector.

Commentary

While the premise is offensive, the execution is not bad.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

A brief Hitler cameo is used to illustrate the uselessness of seats crammed in very close to the movie-theatre screen, as was common at the time.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“I Only Have Eyes for You” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

Pun title, misuse of Blanc. The only good part is the love interest’s ambition to marry any radio crooner.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Clean Pastures” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Streamlined Greta Green” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Anthropomorphic cars.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Sweet Sioux” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Native Americans.

Commentary

As in “Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid” (1929), there is not much going on here except ethnicity viewed from the outside. Like Bosko, the Americans dance the czardas to mix things up. The individual jokes all fail, which leads me to believe that this game of ethnicities was itself considered a selling point.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Egghead Rides Again” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A weak Wild West fanboy gets to try being a cowboy.

Commentary

Egghead looks a bit like a proboscis monkey.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Plenty of Money and You” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Ain’t We Got Fun” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

Neatly condensed plotting.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Speaking of the Weather” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Commentary

There is a direct textual reference to “The CooCoo Nut Grove” (1936) in it, and I like the concept of magazines coming to life as a variation of the perennial series motif, but it it isn’t developed.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Dog Daze” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A pedigree dog show.

Commentary

Some of the individual acts are short enough for the Vine video sharing service of 80 years later.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“I Wanna Be a Sailor” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

A fledgling parrot and a duckling team up as pirates.

Commentary

Avery switching fluidly between miniature musical numbers, pop-culture allusions and a thin plot, but the characters are weak.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“The Lyin' Mouse” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“A Sunbonnet Blue” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Subject

Mice in a hat shop.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Categorization

Caricature. A collection of celebrity impressions similar in style and concept to “The CooCoo Nut Grove” (1936).

Subject

Stars of radio and music.

Commentary

Comparatively poor, perhaps because I recognize even fewer celebrities, but it doesn’t seem to have the same verve.

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Little Red Walking Hood” (1937) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

References here: “Red Hot Riding Hood” (1943).

animation fiction moving picture

Entry:

“Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs” (1943) IMDb

Commentary

The censors should have had more sense than to martyr this crap.

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