Friday, December 01, 2006

Truly Obscure Animated Cartoons #5

DISCLAIMER: From the view here, this cartoon looks terribly racially offensive; however, this shot only represents a few brief moments in the film. These character designs are demeaning. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a 1930's cartoon - including the ones made by animators who adored black artists - that does not portray African-Americans in this grotesque way. That was 1939. This (well, for 28 more days) is 2006.

Disclaimer said, this is a brilliant and hilarious cartoon. Jitterbug Follies, originally released on February 25, 1939, is among two "Count Screwloose and J.R. The Wonder Dog" cartoons made for MGM by legendary comic artist Milt Gross. Ace animators Bill Littlejohn, Ken Muse, Emery Hawkins, Irv Spence and others did a masterful job of transforming the energy, humor and spirit of Gross' drawings into expressive movement.

Jitterbug Follies was originally to be just one in a series of Milt Gross cartoons. Fred Quimby, the de facto executive producer, called the whole thing off after two films. The now infamous response, attributed to either the notoriously humorless Quimby or mega-mogul (with an iron fist) Louis B. Mayer, was that the Milt Gross cartoons were "beneath the dignity of MGM." Too bad - clearly, Milt would have given Bob Clampett, then the unchallenged master of black and white cartoons (Fleischer, the former champ, having abdicated by that time) a run for his money. Besides, Otto and Blotto, the penguin duo in Jitterbug Follies, richly deserved their own starring series.

For more info on Milt Gross' brief stint at MGM, check out Joe Barbera's enjoyable memoir My Life In Toons. And thanks to Kevin Langley (whose animation art blog rocks) for uploading this.


Kevin Langley said...

Thanks so much for the nice words Paul. You've got quite an informative blog yourself. I'll be linking to it and checking back often.

paul etcheverry said...

Thanks - love your blog. Keep up the good work.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival did a program of 35mm Silly Symphonies cartoons on Saturday, hosted by Russ Merritt, the UC Berkeley professor who wrote the new book on this series. Wonderful stuff, especially EGYPTIAN MELODIES (1931) and MUSIC LAND (1935). . . although I still much prefer Fleischer to Disney; their "anything can happen and there NEVER has to be a reason" approach is more my cup of tea.