Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Wonder Of Technology. . . In Animated Cartoons

Instead of a brilliant, striking, insightful, penetrating essay for today's post - we don't have one - here are a few musings regarding inventions (a.k.a. The Wonder Of Technology) in animation.

We'll start with a cartoon starring Gandy Goose & Sourpuss, two characters considered guilty pleasures by Robert Crumb, Ralph Bakshi and here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog.

This cartoon-loving blogger has hoped that if an official Terrytoons Blu-ray ever gets released, the following Gandy Goose & Sourpuss opus, Post War Inventions, shall be included.

It is dreamlike, in bad taste and imaginative in the oddest way, somewhat along the lines of Terrytoons storyman's John Foster's crude but funny Van Beuren cartoons of the early 1930's.

Although the wildly imaginative and gleefully off-model animator most associated with Terrytoons, Jim Tyer, was working for Famous Studios at the time Post War Inventions was produced, the talented Carlo Vinci, auteur of Mighty Mouse action sequences, was there and doing excellent work. Vinci's dynamic animation frequently lifted otherwise routine Terrytoons out of the ordinary.

Briefly in the mid-1940's, Vinci would be joined by former Terrytoons animator and Disney ace Vladimir "Bill" Tytla, with, especially in the Mighty Mouse series, splendid results.

While wacky inventions had become an animation sub-genre in the 1933 "technocracy" era and already were the cornerstones of such very funny cartoons as Scrappy in The World's Affair and Betty Boop's Crazy Inventions, the granddaddy of all this was the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Rube Goldberg.

Rube Goldberg, of course, was the originator and master of ingenious inventions, many of which transformed what would be a simple task into something hilariously complex.

Goldberg, whose work is kept alive and celebrated today by his granddaughter Jennifer George, remains the uncrowned king of this genre, as well as the spiritual predecessor of the 21st century Maker Faire. Writer Paul C. Tumey, has devoted a segment of his website, The Masters Of Screwball Comics to the contraption-packed comic strips of Rube Goldberg and one segment entirely to Rube Goldberg's Cartoon Machine Inventions of 1913. Here's a rare glimpse of the cartoonist.

Over 100 years ago, Rube rocked the inventions - invariably extremely complex ways to accomplish simple tasks - with humor and ingenious fun. The concepts still work like a charm - and there's a Rube Goldberg Machine Contest annually.

While Rube Goldberg dabbled in animation, writing and directing a 1916 series, animated by George Stallings at the Barré Studio and based on The Boob Weekly strip, and also worked on live-action films (the wacky 1930 Fox feature Soup To Nuts, starring Ted Healy & His Stooges), it was his newspaper cartoonist contemporary Winsor McCay, who brought futuristic inventions and concepts into animated cartoons. The Flying House in particular is still a stunner 95 years after its production.

As far as inventions in movies go, the illustrator/cartoonist turned stop-motion animation innovator Charley Bowers frequently played an eccentric inventor, that is, when not playing a Baron Munchausen style "tall tale teller," when he starred in 18 "Whirlwind Comedies" produced for FBO and Educational release in 1926-1928.

From the WW1 era days of silents up through the early 1940's, the studio most obsessed with inventions would be that of Max and Dave Fleischer; small wonder, as Max & Dave were inventors themselves and always interested in advancing animation technologies. When it was, after the strict enforcement of the Production Code in July 1934, no longer possible to produce Betty Boop adventures in which the charming gal made of pen and ink (who could win you with a wink) spent her 7 onscreen minutes getting chased around by Harvey Weinstein style lechers, a genial inventor named Professor Grampy was added as one of the series' co-stars. He's a delightful guy who happily devises Rube Goldberg-ish devices from found objects, always enlivening the party in his appearances in Fleischer cartoons.

A favorite of all Fleischer Studio cartoons remains the following 1938 paean to the World's Fair and new technologies. If only, in 2018, robots were a tiny fraction as charming as those in this cartoon. . . as opposed to actual 21st century bots, invariably diabolical, evil and profane and working for the diabolical, evil and profane.

The last series produced by the Fleischer Studio, the successful animated adaptation of Joe Shuster's Superman comic strip, is dominated by both futuristic inventions and stark raving mad scientists.

Never to be outdone on anything, ever, Tex Avery created a series on the "big, bold, beautiful tomorrow" extending for several cartoons, beginning with The House of Tomorrow. A plethora of Avery's patented ingenious sight gags exist alongside a plethora of mother-in-law jokes. TV Of Tomorrow strikes this blogger as the funniest and most prescient of the series.

Disneyland's epic Tomorrowland may have gotten the last word on this "great big beautiful tomorrow" business, but these four gag and invention-filled cartoons by Tex Avery come closest in the 1950's to the antic spirit of Rube Goldberg.

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