Friday, January 02, 2009

Craig's Cartoon Corner

On the day after Christmas what to my wondering did appear, but 3 brand new cartoon DVDs from my friend, Steve Stanchfield over at Thunderbean Animation!

The first of the group was a pre-release copy of "UNCENSORED ANIMATION FROM THE VAN BEUREN STUDIO." This collection compiles a bunch of "pre-code" cartoons from one of the most minor of the major animation studios of the 'twenties and 'thirties.

Here are some comments on my favorites from the bunch.

Laundry Blues (1930) One of the hallmarks of this set of cartoons is their liberal use of cartoon stereotypes; here this concept is pushed beyond the breaking point. Sure, we're treated to scores of "chinamen" animals singing and working in a Chinese laundry. When an English butler shows up to serve tea even he has a shaved head, long braided pony tail and slanty eyes. Then things get really skewed when a Jewish Chinaman shows up to get his beard laundered. Of course the cartoon concludes with a Chinatown tong war. Just for laughs, you understand.

The Office Boy (1930) Walt Disney admitted that he was trying to copy the Aesop Fables cartoons when he was coming up in the nineteen-twenties. Here, Van Beuren returns the favor by plagiarizing Mickey Mouse. (Disney eventually sued Van Beuren for their troubles. Ah, mentors!) Ersatz Mickey is the titular office boy, whose main jobs are playing the harmonica, flirting with the secretary and keeping people away from his boss's office. See, Mr. Dunkwasser likes to screw off even more than his office boy, what with the toy trains, and the putting practice. He puts the moves on Ersatz Minnie, though, so Ersatz Mickey allows Mrs. Dunkwasser to catch him in the act.

Red Riding Hood (1931) Another Minnie Mouse wannabe plays R. R. Hood who is on her way to Grandma’s house. Granny, it appears, is on death’s doorstep until she ODs on “Jazz Tonic” medicine, which transforms her into a hot, cigarette-smoking hootchie mama. The big bad wolf makes the scene and exclaims, “Some Grandma!” Wolfie and Grandma decide to elope, but their plans are ruined when Red alerts Mrs. Big Bad about her husband’s bigamist ways. This is one of my favorites in the set.

Panicky Pup (1933) What starts out as a "fun on the farm" cartoon turns very dark when a dog throws a cat down the well. (He keeps a check-list of all the different way he has murdered cats. Aw, cute!) He freaks out, Fleischer-style (e.g. "Swing You Sinners") but all ends reasonably well when the cat is pulled from his watery grave.

Doughnuts (1933) Yay! It’s a new-to-me Tom and Jerry cartoon. They are pretty much in the background as they try to sell doughnuts at a prohibition-era bakers' convention. Hey, gang, look! The stereotypes are back. A pair of bearded, derby-wearing, hooked-nose Jews tries to sell matzos at "fire sale" prices. A pair of gay guys is pushing cream puffs. The big attraction is the pretzel tent where 3.2 beer is being served. Tom and Jerry eventually win the day when a drunken sailor inadvertently spikes their doughnuts with a gallon of rot-gut.

Rough On Rats (1933) A trio of cute li'l kittens cavort in an old full-service mom-and-pop grocery store. Things go horribly wrong when they cross paths with a big ol' rat that lives in the crawl space. Ratty grabs one of the kittens and ties him to a spinning deli-slicer! (All the better to cut your head off with, my dear.) The other kittens affect a rescue and then beat the rat to death.

The Rasslin' Match (1933) and The Lion Tamer (1934) are a couple of curios. These are two cartoons that Van Beuren produced featuring the adventures of the wildly popular radio characters Amos and Andy. On the commentary track animation historian Jerry Beck puts forth that RKO had Gosden and Correll under contract and that making these two cartoons might have been a way to use it up. Chuck Jones made a famous statement that TV cartoons were nothing more than illustrated radio. Well, the roots of that idea were sewn 35 or forty years earlier with these two cartoons!

As usual, Steve & company have put a lot of care into stitching together the best possible versions of these cartoons. There are a couple of guest commentary tracks and an essay on the Van Beuren studio. As this is a “pre-release” copy it is possible there might be more bonus features on the finalized version.

All in all, this is a fun collection of rarely-seen cartoons from a mostly-forgotten animation studio. Thanks, again, Thunderbean!



Blogger furiousBall said...

i'm gonna OD on Jazz Tonic medicine tomorrow night

January 03, 2009 5:16 PM  
Blogger Craig D said...

f-ball: Why wait until tomorrow?

January 03, 2009 6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I checked out an old Disney cartoon from out libbrary once and was startled by some of the same stereoptypes. I guess they must have been prety commen in cartoons back then?

And hey, where can I get some of that Jazz Tonic medicine?

January 03, 2009 7:51 PM  
Blogger Duck Dodgers said...

Great review, O Craigg-o one!

January 04, 2009 4:58 AM  
Blogger whimsical brainpan said...

LOL! Some of those are just too much!

Do you think that Jazz Tonic would help with the flu?

January 04, 2009 3:17 PM  

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