Saturday, May 15, 2021

Released Theatrically on This Day. . .

Today's post spotlights animated cartoons that were released theatrically on May 15. We'll start with just one of 26 Terrytoons cranked out by the New Rochelle studio in 1932. It's not the aforementioned 2000 B.C. (produced in 1931) but the Mickey Rat and gangster cat-packed Romance, directed by "the fastest pencil in the East," animator Frank Moser.

Paul Terry’s Aesop’s Fables cartoons were, we kid you not, inspirations to Walt Disney and other young animators in the early 1920’s. Especially in the Alice In Cartoonland series, the Disney studio's character designs emulated Terrytoons. Since Disney was driven to improve the quality of animation with each film, his studio, featuring such animators as Ub Iwerks, Hugh Harman, Rudy Ising and Friz Freleng, would ultimately leave the funny but crude Aesop's Fables in the dust with his 1927 Oswald The Lucky Rabbit series.

It was in conquering the challenges of synchronized sound and music and fitting soundtrack to image, as opposed to just slapping any old tune on a silent cartoon (as Paul Terry and Otto Messmer did), that Walt Disney Productions got the jump on everyone else in the industry in 1928 and soon became the studio to beat.

Here's the star of Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse, in The Cactus Kid, released on May 15, 1930.

Featuring ace voice artist Jack Mercer as a most diabolical spider, The Cobweb Hotel, directed by Dave Tendlar, is among the most memorable entries from the Max Fleischer Color Classics series.

The May 15 theatrical release of The Cobweb Hotel strikes this writer as ??????? since it is definitely more of a Halloween-themed cartoon and nothing along similarly macabre lines emerged from Fleischer's Popeye and Betty Boop series in the October releases of 1936. As a piece with a gruesome sensibility, it's right up there with the 1933 Max Fleischer Screen Song cartoon Boo, Boo Theme Song.

A more celebrated series from Fleischer than the Color Classics was the studio’s animated version of Superman. On May 15, 1942, the action-packed Man Of Steel opus Electrical Earthquake was released theatrically.

The plot features a Native American high-tech genius who wants Manhattan Island back for his people and plans to induce devastating natural disasters to get the job done. Can't imagine the reception this cartoon would get, then and now, from an Native American audience - handing cartons of eggs for the crowd to throw at the screen might be prudent - but at least the super-villain antagonist is a nattily dressed cutting edge scientist with an underwater lair, not a dummy, a doof or a dolt. Unfortunately, we don't hear the voice of Allen Jenkins as a Daily Planet reporter whose one line is "you sure you WANT Manhattan back?"

Less spectacular but enjoyable is the following Porky Pig cartoon, released on May 15, 1937. We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog have a soft spot for the cartoons produced by the Ub Iwerks Studio and this was one of four Looney Tunes, along with Porky's Super Service, Porky's Badtime Story and Get Rick Quick Porky, that Leon Schlesinger farmed out to Ub's studio. Since Porky Pig's co-star Gabby Goat is as irascible, grating and obnoxious as the Fleischer Studios' town crier character from Gulliver's Travels and a subsequent (rather un-memorable) short subject series, the star of Porky & Gabby is the peppy soundtrack music by Carl W. Stalling.

While Iwerks is credited as the director of Porky and Gabby, the Warner Brothers/Schlesinger animators Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones and Irv Spence were loaned out to the Iwerks studio to work on these cartoons. Clampett and Jones co-directed the last two.

Warner Brothers released two cartoons on May 15, 1943. One is Greetings Bait, a Friz Freleng opus starring a worm based on Jerry Collonna, the popular and wacky comedian from Bob Hope's radio show.

The second May 15, 1943 release is Tokio Jokio, a black & white Looney Tune which remains notorious as a particularly grotesque and excessive World War II propaganda cartoon. Frankly, it has lots of competition among WW2 cartoons, especially from Paramount Pictures (both Superman and Popeye the spinach-swilling sailor) and an equally notorious Bugs Bunny opus set in the Pacific.

This writer's opinion is that Mr. McCabe's directorial efforts have overall received a bit of a bad rap because of this one cartoon, so today's post will close with an episode of the excellent Anthony's Animation Talk YouTube series devoted to Norm's work as Looney Tunes director in the early 1940's.

For more info on Norm McCabe, who worked in animation for seven decades, check out Devon Baxter’s excellent profile, posted in May 2018 on Cartoon

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