Large Association of Movie Blogs
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Saturday, June 25, 2022

And This Blog Loves Animation by Fleischer Studios

Today, the would-be masterminds of this blog, yearning to live in less "interesting" times and (yet again) needing levity, have been taking a deep dive into the incredible cartoons of the animation studio led by Max & Dave Fleischer.

Shall spend some quality time with Out Of The Inkwell, starring the one, the only Koko the Clown.

The inspired work of Fleischer Studios remains, over a century after its first films for J.R. Bray were distributed to movie theaters, revered among animators, filmmakers and classic movie aficionados. As it's feeling more like 1933 than 2022 these days, MUST watch the splendid Screen Song cartoon BOILESK, released theatrically on June 9, 1933.

In between Broadway triumphs, Ethel Merman appeared in a slew of Fleischer Screen Songs.

The 16mm negatives on many of the Screen Songs were cut - you can see this on the existing NTA 16mm prints - so I hope that 35mm materials on all the Fleischer Screen Songs exist.

Fortunately, many Screen Songs currently on YouTube are uncut. The following, Ain't She Sweet (1933), is complete - and the great Lillian Roth is an added plus!

There are excellent books about the studio that created Koko and Betty Boop, beginning with one by Max Fleischer's son Richard. We are big fans of Richard Fleischer's top-notch feature films, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and The Narrow Margin especially, and got a big kick out of this book.

Also highly recommend Ray Pointer's tome covering the filmmaking career, art and technological innovations of Max Fleischer.

The first documentary I recall seeing about the Fleischer Brothers was the following 1992 film, Cartoon Madness: The Fantastic Animation of Fleischer Studios, hosted by Leonard Maltin.

Another terrific documentary about the Fleischer brothers and their studio is the following, found on the outstanding Daily Motion channel of animation historian Devon Baxter.

As preparation for last weekend's post, the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog watched a slew of Ub Iwerks cartoons - and, as a fair number of Iwerks Studio animators (Grim Natwick, Berny Wolf, James "Shamus" Culhane, Al Eugster) previously worked for the Fleischer brothers, this led directly to a binge-watch of Kokos and Talkartoons.

In particular, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog love the Talkartoons, some featuring the imaginative work of ace animators Grim Natwick and Shamus Culhane.

From the Talkartoons, the nonsense song in Mask-A-Raid (1931), starting at 1:43, is among my all-time favorite scenes from over a century of cinema history.

One of the Fleischer Studio's numerous attempts to transition from the rough and tumble world of Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko and Popeye to a more Disney-esque approach in the Silly Symphony department is the first Max Fleischer Color Classic, POOR CINDERELLA (1934).

While the near-irrepressible Betty swaps her pre-Code cocktail dress for a decidedly more modest post-Production Code outfit in Poor Cinderella, those distinctively bizarre Fleischer moments - such as the following singing pumpkin - still turn up. The Fleischer Studio animators could never quite eliminate the unabashedly cartoony approach.

The following bit from DANCING ON THE MOON (1935) incorporates the Fleischer Studio's 3-D tabletop sets and sci-fi elements - two elements we love - into the Color Classics format.

James Parten’s Needle Drop Notes feature on the terrific Cartoon Research website has been giving the Fleischers lots of love for quite awhile and most recently delved into the Color Classics series. The following, from the Max Fleischer Cartoons YouTube channel is definitely the best quality transfer I've seen of any entry from the Color Classics series.

In closing, we note that the YouTube channels of Not An Animation Historian, along with bumbumdbear, Xavier Bunkley, Cartoons On Film, Craig's Cartoon Capers, Ling Bing Productions, Lyric J, Old Classic Cartoons and Matt Skwarek have been posting a mind-blowing motherlode of cool animation rarities, many produced by the Fleischer Studio.

Many thanks to all of you, and, from the Cartoon Research website, Jerry Beck and Steve Stanchfield.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Back From Hiatus - with Ub Iwerks and Flip The Frog

Returning from a calamitous and illness-filled hiatus, this blogger yearns for good cheer and levity. Thankfully, the 2022 NBA champion Golden State Warriors have brought a heaping helping of the former; extending big time kudos, bravos and huzzahs to the W's on winning four championships in eight years with joy, hard work and style. As far as the latter goes, IT'S SHOWTIME and nothing creates levity like BIG SCREEN FUN!

And, invariably, movie fun accompanied by unhealthy food!

Since SHOWTIME means plenty of quality time spent with classic cartoons, the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog is thrilled to hear that Steve Stanchfield and Thunderbean Animation have been making excellent progress on the upcoming Blu-ray release featuring the Ub Iwerks Studio's rowdy Flip The Frog.

Making his froggy silver screen debut a decade before Tom & Jerry, Flip was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's first entry in the cartoon universe.

All 38 Flip cartoons will be on the Blu-ray.

No doubt a certain factor we 21st century audiences love about the series - the unabashedly randy pre-Code part of the equation - displeased the MGM brass no end.

In particular, Soda Squirt is not just one of the ruder, nastier Hollywood cartoons of 1933, but the only one to feature both a way over-the-top caricature of way over-the-top character actor Tyrell Davis and a sight gag involving a melting, dripping ice cream cone.

Is there any joke or storyline the Ub Iwerks Studio crew won't do because it's in incredibly bad taste? No - absolutely not.

The completed Flip restorations that have been posted on YouTube thus far look fantastic.

You know you're a diehard classic movie buff when you actually watch YouTube to see original theatrical titles from 1930's movies; not the complete films - the titles.

Since the Flip cartoons were largely seen on 16mm film via prints by Blackhawk Films, Commonwealth Films and Official Films, these original MGM titles are brand new to us in 2022.

Love these cool titles, seen by 21st century classic movie fans for the first time, featuring the fabulous MGM Lion.

Steve and Thunderbean Animation are among the few who love and relish Great Depression-era animated cartoons as much as we at this blog do.

Enjoyed Thunderbean Video's last plunge into the Ub Iwerks Studio catalog, into the series that followed Flip the Frog.

That was the 2015 Willie Whopper set, chock full of incredble cartoons.

Alas, Willie, the tell-tale tellin' Baron Munchausen kid, would not take the moviegoing public by storm, as Felix and Mickey did.

Nonetheless, Willie Whopper, the kid with the wild and unfettered imagination a la Charley Bowers, is the central figure in a bunch of highly inventive and enjoyable cartoons.

As is the case with Flip, the Willie vehicles are unabashedly wacky, undeniably randy and closer to the cartoon universe of the Fleischer Studio than to Disney, partly due to the wildly imaginative animation of ex-Fleischer (and future Disney) animator Grim Natwick.

The Flip The Frog and Willie Whopper cartoons were lots of fun, but not interested in "cuteness" in any way, shape or form and this may have sunk them with 1930's movie audiences that wanted something at least somewhat cuddly and adorable.

The suits at MGM couldn't have been pleased.

Again, nine decades later, the weird, wacky and surreal qualities of the Willie Whopper and Flip the Frog adventures endear them to animation fans and classic movie buffs. . . as much as the irreverent cartoons became anathema to those at MGM who signed the contract with Ub and Pat Powers.

To a lesser degree, this sensibility would extend to the Iwerks Studio's Comicolor Fairytales series.

The Iwerks studio would hold on for a few more years after the Flip the Frog and Willie Whopper series (and, most importantly, the contract for theatrical distribution by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) ended.

None of the other major studios offered to distribute the Ub Iwerks Studio's ComiColor cartoons, so P.A. Powers' Celebrity Productions marketed the series using the state’s rights system of selling to regional distributors.

The Comicolor Fairytale series would not have the advantage of big studio distribution and, thus, could not be booked into anywhere near as many movie theaters as the Flips and Willies did.

With the lion's share of the Comicolor Fairytale series being in the public domain, animation presenters, film collectors and archivists have frequently featured these cartoons in screenings.

Many in the series possess originality and a fair share of clever and inventive moments.

Some Comicolors, such as Summertime (1935), revisit the Silly Symphony format quite successfully, presenting more a tribute and homage to the 1929 Disney cartoons Iwerks, with music director Carl W. Stalling, did so much to create and develop than an out-and-out imitation (a la the mid-1930's Merrie Melodies and Happy Harmonies, made by Ub's ex-Disney mates, Friz Freleng, Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising).

The following, one of the very best of the Comicolor series, The Brave Tin Soldier, manages to combine a genuine fairytale with a surprisingly adult storyline.

How adult? See 6:40 - 6:42, two seconds which always elicit gasps whenever this cartoon is screened.

The penultimate entry from the Comicolor series would be the otherworldly and dreamlike - no, make that downright nightmarish - BALLOON LAND a.k.a. THE PIN CUSHION MAN.

Happily for animation buffs, a Blu-ray collection of the Comicolor Fairytale series is forthcoming.

Even the frequently maligned and overlooked Iwerks Columbia cartoons from late in his studio's ten year run have their charms and in this animation aficionado's opinion rank among the very best of the Columbia Color Rhapsodies.

Yes, they can at times be in pre-1950 style bad taste, but not nearly to the degree that the pre-Code Flip the Frog cartoons are.

An added plus: stellar contributions from Mel Blanc and other ace voice artists.

One noteworthy Ub Iwerks Columbia cartoon that is quite striking and imaginative is THE HORSE ON THE MERRY GO ROUND (1938). Again, the aforementioned edge, weirdness and utter lack of cuteness that made these not a hit with 1930's moviegoers ends up a factor in the Iwerks cartoons' favor in the 21st century.

After over a month spent unhappily "adulting" in hospitals and doctors' offices, along with such not-fun experiences as insurance disenrollment, count this blogmeister happy to be back posting, hopefully every week to ten days.

Topic of the next post: a YouTube channel, which appears to be spearheaded by historian and author Jane Fleischer, devoted to the terrific cartoons of the Fleischer Studio.