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Directors: Rollin Hamilton & Tom McKinson
Release Date: November 3, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating:
Review:

The Gay Gaucho © Van Beuren‘The Gay Gaucho’ was the second of two Cubby Bear films made by the California-based Harman-Ising studio.

Like the first, ‘Cubby’s World Flight‘, it looks back, not forward, bringing back in mind the first Merrie Melodie, ‘Lady, Play Your Mandolin‘ (1931) and the early Mickey Mouse cartoons ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘ (1928) and ‘The Cactus Kid‘ (1930).

The setting is Argentine, and Cubby (Bosko, but in a different design) is a gaucho. He visits a canteen, where his girlfriend is a dancer. Then a Peg Leg Pete-like character enters, kidnapping the girl, with Cubby pursuing him. This story already was uninspired and routine, but Harman and Ising top its triteness by revealing it was all just a dream.

‘The Gay Gaucho’ is well-animated (by Friz Freleng and Paul Smith), but utterly forgettable, and it only proves that Cubby was so devoid of character, he couldn’t inspire at all. The result is one of the most forgettable films of 1933.

Watch ‘The Gay Gaucho’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Gay Gaucho’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’

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Director: Steve Muffati
Release Date: October 6, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating:
Review:

Cubby's Picnic © Van Beuren‘Cubby’s Picnic’ is a cartoon vaguely set in a park. It starts with Cubby, our bland and practically emotionless hero, directing a bandstand, with all members drinking all the time.

Later we watch Cubby and his girlfriend watching a magician at a festival, later we see them in a loving mood, and going on a boat trip. We watch a school of fish singing, then several mosquitoes attacking our heroes. The cartoon, surprisingly, ends with Cubby returning to the bandstand.

‘Cubby’s Picnic’ is remarkably plotless, even for a Van Beuren cartoon. Things are just happening, without any logic or story arc, resulting in probably the worst cartoon of 1933

‘Cubby’s Picnic’ marks Steve Muffati’s debut as a director. Unfortunately, with this cartoon he only proved that he couldn’t direct at all. Nonetheless, Muffati directed five other cartoons for Van Beuren before the studio closed down. Despite his lack of direction talent, Muffati proved to be a talented animator, and he later turned up at the Fleischer studio/Famous Studio, animating for Superman, Popeye and Little Audrey films. He also drew comic strips featuring Famous characters like Little Audrey and Caspar the Friendly Ghost.

Watch ‘Cubby’s Picnic’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cubby’s Picnic’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’

Director: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Release Date: August 25, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★
Review:

Cubby's World Flight © Van BeurenIn 1933 the Harman and Ising studio had lost their deal with Leon Schlesinger to produce cartoons for Warner Bros. They had not yet got their later deal with MGM, and were in sort of a limbo, doing odds and pieces for several bidders.

One of the most surprising contracts they got was to produce two Cubby the Bear films for the New York-based Van Beuren in 1934. Van Beuren had his own studio making Cubby the Bear films, so what made him contracting Harman and Ising remains a puzzle. What’s clear, however, is that Harman & Ising’s Cubby was a far cry from Van Beuren’s own output.

Harman & Ising’s Cubby was in fact, Bosko but in a different design. His movements and spirit were indistinguishable from Harman & Ising’s former star. Like their cartoons for Warner Bros., Harman & Ising’s two Cubby the Bear films are animated by the same crew who had made the Bosko cartoons (e.g. Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson, before Schlesinger hired them away), resulting in cartoons that are at least well animated.

In the first of the two films, ‘Cubby’s World Flight’, Cubby follows Oswald (‘The Ocean Hop‘, 1927) and Mickey (‘Plane Crazy‘, 1928) in a Charles Lindbergh-inspired aviation film. Cubby starts flying alarmingly low, which leads to gags that go all the way back to ‘Plane Crazy’, he then crosses the United States, only to dive through the earth to reach China at the other side. Undaunted and with seemingly limitless supplies of fuel, Cubby flies over Russia to France, but above the Atlantic his plane is destroyed by a thunderstorm. Luckily our hero lands safely on the statue of liberty.

‘World Flight’ is practically indistinguishable from the early Warner Bros. films, and has little to do with Cubby as conceived by the Van Beuren studio itself. However, it’s a rather uninspired film, low on gags, and with an all too episodic story. In the best Warner Bros. tradition it features caricatures of the four Marx Brothers and of Maurice Chevalier.

Watch ‘Cubby’s World Flight’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cubby’s World Flight’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: August 11, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Nut Factory © Van BeurenIn ‘The Nut Factory’ Cubby Bear is a Sherlock Holmes-like detective, with the little cat from ‘Fresh Ham‘ as his Watson.

Our hero soon gets a call to solve a mystery of stolen false teeth. After a completely unnecessary diversion in a ghost house, Cubby discovers the false teeth in a hollow tree, in which squirrels use them to crack nuts. The ghost house sequence feels almost obligatory, placing the cartoon in a long series of pre-code horror cartoons.

‘The Nut Factory’ is a terribly animated and erratic cartoon, and Cubby is as lifeless and bland as ever, but the cartoon shows two gags that foreshadow Tex Avery: when an old lady phones Cubby, she crosses the split screen, and later Cubby opens multiple doors in one door post, a gag that first appeared in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Mad Doctor‘ from earlier that year.

Watch ‘The Nut Factory’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Nut Factory’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’

Director: unknown
Release Date: July 12, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Fresh Ham © Van BeurenIn ‘Fresh Ham’ Cubby sets up a talent agency, looking for a vaudeville act.

Cubby is immediately visited by candidates, although talent is hard to find among them. There’s a lady who mimics a great voice with help of a phonograph, a mother with a baby brat who refuses to perform, and four Chinese duck acrobats. They are all topped, however, by a remarkably persistent duck who cites Shakespeare throughout the picture. This duck is a wonderful character, easily outshining Cubby and his anonymous little cat friend. The duck forms a running gag, elevating this Cubby cartoon to arguably the best short of Cubby’s short-lived career.

Watch ‘Fresh Ham’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A.M. to P.M.’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’

 

Director: James Tyer
Release Date: October 27, 1933
Stars: The Little King
Rating: ★★
Review:

Marching Along © Van BeurenOf all animation films dealing with the Great Depression, the Oswald cartoon ‘Confidence‘ and the Little King short ‘Marching Along’ are the most obvious ones.

‘Marching Along’ opens with the kingdom of the Little King in dire straits. The song describes its miserable state, which we can watch with our own eyes: everybody’s broke, roads and buildings are broken and even the Little King himself is robbed of his furniture and clothes, because he can’t pay his debts.

Then the queen announces the N.R.A., lifting everybody’s spirit. Soon everything works again (composer Gene Rodemich quotes Jack Hylton’s optimistic 1930 hit song ‘Happy Days are here Again’ during this section), and the cartoon closes with the Little King bombarding an angry mob with food.

The N.R.A. stands for National Recovery Act, an important part of fresh president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. It was raised to stop a competitive race to the bottom, and negotiated with the industry to have minimum prizes, minimum wages and maximum weekly working hours. Unfortunately it also endorsed monopolies and cartels, and it was poorly administrated.

The National Recovery Act lasted until 1935, when it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. By 1935 it had achieved little of its promises, and it’s generally viewed as a failure, making its high praise in ‘Marching Along’ extra sour in hindsight.

‘Marching Along’ is even more removed from Otto Soglow’s source material than its predecessor ‘The Fatal Note‘ was. The designs are a mixed bag, sometimes copying Soglow’s style, at other times being genuinely Van Beuren. The Little King himself has only a small part in the story, which is slow and tiring, and in fact only interesting because of its historical value.

Watch ‘Marching Along’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Marching Along’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Otto Soglow’s The Little King’

Director: unknown
Release Date: September 29, 1933
Stars: The Little King
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Fatal Note © Van BeurenAfter two films featuring Sentinel Louey, the Van Beuren studio turned to Otto Soglow’s greatest creation: The Little King.

It was clearly the studio’s intention to cash in on this charming character. But unlike the two Sentinel Louey cartoons, which copied Soglow’s silent comedy style very well, ‘The Fatal Note’ is much less faithful to the source material. For example, it starts with an elaborate song, not unlike Walt Disney’s ‘Father Noah’s Ark’ from earlier that year.

Apart from the Little King it also stars a cloaked terrorist, whose design has nothing to do with Soglow’s style, but which is the Van Beuren studio’s most ambitious attempt at human design, yet – another example of the studio’s attempts to keep up with Disney in human design. The terrorist introduces himself in song, but the rest of the cartoon is done in silent comedy.

The villain tries to kill the Little King, e.g. with a bomb inside a piano, a gag that gives the film its title. Eightteen years later Friz Freleng would use the same gag for the Bugs Bunny film ‘Ballot Box Bunny’ (1951), but with much, much funnier results. In ‘The Fatal Note’ the gag is just one of the terrorist’s numerous attempts to kill the king, which involves numerous bombs, anyway. The chase partly takes place on a spectacularly animated spiral staircase, which must have been the animators’ pride scene, as it is used no less than three times in the cartoon.

Because it lacks the charm of the source material, it is difficult to call ‘The Fatal Note’ a success, but it’s a great testimony of the studio’s ambitions even before Disney-alumnus Burt Gillett came along.

Watch ‘The Fatal Note’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Fatal Note’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Otto Soglow’s The Little King’

Director: Harry Bailey
Release Date: May 5, 1933
Stars: Sentinel Louey
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

A Dizzy Day © Van Beuren‘A Dizzy Day’ was the second of only two animated cartoons featuring Otto Soglow’s lesser known character Sentinel Louey.

Like ‘A.M. to P.M.’ it’s only a string of newspaper comics gags transferred to the movie screen, with an absurd rescue plot being the longest gag of all. Surprisingly, Sentinel Louey is less than sympathetic in this film, knocking down a woman , and later trying to drown a cat.

Like Soglow’s comic strip, there’s only visual comedy. Soglow’s graphic style is copied beautifully, although there’s one bird that looks more like a traditional Van Beuren character than like a Soglow creation.

Like ‘A.M. to P.M.’ ‘A Dizzy Day’ is only mildly funny, but charming. Its real treat, however, lies in its gorgeous score, although it’s very unlikely this score is original. It’s certainly not by Van Beuren’s house composer Gene Rodemich, and very likely it’s not by any American composer, at all. On the contrary, the score sounds genuinely European, and from a later era (ca. late 1940s, early 1950s), cartoonier, but otherwise similar to scores by Matyas Seiber for ‘Magic Canvas’ (1948) and George Auric’s score for ‘Kermesse fantastique’ (1951). So, this lovely score must be of a later date, and has likely been produced for a British post-war release of the film.

Watch ‘A Dizzy Day’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Dizzy Day’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Otto Soglow’s The Little King’

Director: Harry Bailey
Release Date: January 20, 1933
Stars: Sentinel Louey
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

A.M. to P.M. © Van BeurenIn search of new characters The Van Beuren studios signed a contract with Otto Soglow to produce twelve animated cartoons based on his characters.

Ten feature his most famous creation The Little King, but the series starts with two featuring Soglow’s lesser known character Sentinel Louey, a British guard, complete with large bearskin hat. Unlike the Little King films, these first two cartoons are very faithful to the source material. Not only do they contain a string of gags that are undoubtedly directly transferred from the comic strip, they also capture Sloglow’s idiosyncratic graphic style remarkably well. This style is much more appealing and original than anything the studio did before, making both ‘A. M. to P. M.’ and ‘A Dizzy Day’ visually among the most beautiful animated films of the entire 1930s.

Unfortunately, because ‘A.M. to P.M.’ is a compilation of newspaper comics gags, there’s no story whatsoever. Moreover, Soglow’s humor is one of charm and wonder, not one for loud laughs, and as a result ‘A.M. to P.M.’ moves past at a leisurely speed without leaving much impression besides the extraordinarily beautiful images.

Watch ‘A.M. to P.M.’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A.M. to P.M.’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Otto Soglow’s The Little King’

Directors: Frank Sherman & George Rufle
Release Date: July 31, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Phantom Rocket © Van Beuren‘The Phantom Rocket’ starts with a stereotype homosexual announcer announcing that Tom and Jerry will man a dangerous flight on a new rocket.

Unfortunately, an escaped convict climbs along. While the convict holds up Tom and Jerry inside the machine, the rocket goes haywire, creating havoc in the whole neighborhood, before diving into the sea. It finally crashes on top of a prison, and the cartoon ends with Tom and Jerry earning the reward.

With ‘The Phantom Rocket’ the Van Beuren studio joined the Walt Disney studio in its operetta phase. Following the Silly Symphony ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ and the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Mail Pilot‘ in particular, the short opens with several people singing an introduction song, including engineers, scientists, photographers and Tom and Jerry themselves. Gene Rodemich’s score is very lively throughout, and the gags come in fast and plenty.

Nevertheless ‘The Phantom Rocket’ was the merry duo’s very last cartoon. Since then they’ve gone into oblivion, and it’s true that only a few of their 26 cartoons are enjoyable enough to justify resurrection (to me ‘Wot a Night‘, ‘Pots and Pans‘, ‘Jolly Fish’ and ‘Pencil Mania‘ are the best candidates). The Van Beuren studio replaced Tom and Jerry with new, but equally unsuccessful stars like Cubby the Bear and The Little King.

Although the rocket itself is nicely animated, Tom and Jerry’s last stand suffers the same problems as their earlier outings: sloppy designs, erratic animation and a total lack of character. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to compare ‘The Phantom Rocket’ to the earlier ‘Rocketeers‘ (1932), which covers similar grounds. It shows that even this sloppy studio had grown with the years.

Watch ‘The Phantom Rocket’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 26th and last Tom & Jerry cartoon
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Doughnuts

‘The Phantom Rocket’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: Frank Sherman & George Rufle
Release Date: July 10, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Doughnuts © Van Beuren‘Doughnuts’ takes place at a bakers’ convention.

Tom and Jerry are doughnut bakers, competing with a.o. two stereotypical Jewish matzos bakers, and two stereotypical gays, baking ‘pansy cakes’. Unfortunately, the public isn’t interested in any of them, and head right to the beer stand (since the end of March 1933, it was allowed to sell low alcohol beer again, after thirteen years of prohibition). Only when a drunken sailor accidentally enriches Tom and Jerry’s dough with his liquor, the crowd storms their stand, and in the end we watch the duo marching with the first prize.

‘Doughnuts’ is an interesting cartoon as it comments on the repeal of the prohibition. The cartoon is only moderately funny, but it’s enjoyable for its cheerful mood, helped by Gene Rodemich’s wonderful and lively score.

Watch ‘Doughnuts’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 25
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: In the Park
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Phantom Rocket

‘Doughnuts’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: Frank Sherman & George Rufle
Release Date: May 26, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating:
Review:

In the Park © Van Beuren‘In the Park’ takes place in a park, literally.

The short opens with Tom and Jerry reading the newspaper on a park bench. Somewhere else, a policeman seduces a sexy babysitter. Of course, the baby escapes, following a plot all too similar to the Fleischer Screen Song ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart‘ (1932). Tom and Jerry more or less adopt the little brat, going at lengths in trying to comfort the little kid. In the end the baby is restored to its baby-sitter, and the cop kisses its behind. The cartoon ends with Tom and Jerry laughing at the policeman.

There’s little to enjoy in the rather run-of-the-mill ‘In the Park’, except for Gene Rodemich’s lively score. The designs are remarkably heterogeneous: the baby-sitter is remarkably well-drawn, Tom, Jerry and the policeman have generic early 1930’s designs, while the brat seems stuck in the 1920’s era.

Watch ‘In the Park’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 24
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Hook & Ladder Hokum
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Doughnuts

‘In the Park’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: George Stallings & Frank Tashlin
Release Date: April 28, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating:
Review:

ook & Ladder Hokum © Van BeurenIn ‘Hook & Ladder Hokum’ Tom and Jerry are fire fighters.

The cartoon opens with the two playing checkers and preparing for bed. As soon as they’ve lain down, the fire alarm rings, and the two rush to the burning house. However, Tom, Jerry and their horse are remarkably incompetent in extinguishing the fire, and the horse even manages to destroy the house completely.

‘Hook & Ladder Hokum’ marks Frank Tashlin’s first and only direction billing at Van Beuren. Tashlin had been an animator and story man at the studio. Tashlin later would improve cartoon directing at Warner Bros., and would become a successful live action director for e.g. Jane Mansfield, and Martin and Lewis comedies. It’s very difficult to detect any of his talent in this cartoon, as most of the action is still silent as if it had been made in the silent era. For example, there’s a scene in which Tom & Jerry gesture the horse to hurry, and later the flames spell the words ‘help’ and ‘hurry’.

In some of the close-ups the duo look better designed than normal, however. This just may be Frank Tashlin’s influence, but who knows? In any case, ‘Hook & Ladder Hokum’ compares unfavorably to the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Fire Fighters‘, even though the Disney short is three years older.

Watch ‘Hook & Ladder Hokum’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 23
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Puzzled Pals
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: In the Park

‘Hook & Ladder Hokum’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: July 7, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★
Review:

Indian Whoopee © Van BeurenIn ‘Indian Whoopee’ Cubby reads about Captain John Smith and Pocahontas before falling asleep.

Our hero soon dreams he’s John Smith himself, camping in the woods. He’s soon discovered by an Indian, however, and threatened by the whole tribe, including a pretty funny gay one. After a chase scene, Cubby is captured and about to be executed, despite the pleas of the little Pocahontas girl. Then, of course, he awakes.

‘Indian Whoopee’ is pretty boring, especially the chase scene is surprisingly low on gags, and lasts way too long. The best gag may be the little Fleischer-like gag of tent pegs pulling Cubby’s tent down, when he almost snores it away.

Watch ‘Indian Whoopee’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Indian Whoopee’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’, the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and the Blu-Ray/DVD ‘ Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares’

Directors: John Foster & George Stallings
Release Date: February 7, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Magic Mummy © Van Beuren‘The Magic Mummy’ is one of those typical nightmarish cartoons of the early 1930s.

It opens happily enough, when Tom and Jerry, as policemen, listen to the police radio, which broadcasts two rather gay officers singing and playing the piano. The merry song is soon interrupted, however, when a mummy has been stolen from the museum. Tom and Jerry soon discover the thief and follow him into the graveyard and into a grave. There the thief, a magician, unwinds the mummy, revealing it to be a woman whom he orders to sing and to perform for a skeleton audience. She does so with a Betty Boop-like voice, which starts a jazzy score. In the end Jerry runs off with the mummy’s coffin, only to discover it contains Tom inside.

‘The Magic Mummy’ is one of the more enjoyable of the Tom and Jerry cartoons in its delightful lack of pretense, its rather surreal images, and joyful atmosphere.

Watch ‘The Magic Mummy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 20
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Tight Rope Tricks

To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Happy Hoboes

‘The Magic Mummy’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’ and the Blu-Ray/DVD-set ‘Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares’

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: May 18, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear, Honey
Rating: ★★
Review:

Barking Dogs © Van Beuren‘Barking Dogs’ is one of those 1930’s cartoons with a clear Great Depression theme.

The short opens with Honey worrying as she will be displaced because she didn’t pay her mortgage (a story idea anticipating Disney’s ‘Moving Day‘ by three years). Cubby comes along, and offers her to help. His help is hardly convincing, as he immediately runs off in a feeble attempt to pawn his pocket knife. Meanwhile, the evil land owner, A. Wolf, comes along to take all Honey’s furniture away, and incidentally, her house, too. Meanwhile, two metal dogs (?!) warn Cubby who returns to the scene, finding Honey crying on the doorstep. “It’s too late” she sobs, at which he replies “Nothing is too late for Cubby!”, and together they ride the two metal dogs to A. Wolf’s house. Strangely, it’s the two dogs who fight and dispose of the evil land owner, leaving Cubby as a completely idle bystander.

The complete cartoon makes little sense and is difficult to enjoy as none of the animation is interesting or any of the gags funny. But once again, Gene Rodemich’s score is delightful and on a complete different level than all other aspects of the cartoon. The two metal dogs are elegantly designed and much more appealing than Cubby and his girlfriend.

Watch ‘Barking Dogs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Barking Dogs’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: April 28, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear, Honey
Rating: ★★
Review:

Bubbles and Troubles © Van BeurenCubby the Bear’s fourth cartoon, ‘Bubbles and Troubles’, has quite a bizarre story.

The short starts when Cubby starts blowing bubbles with Honey’s soap water. He accidentally blows himself up, and takes the air immediately. He’s shot out of the air by a bunch of pirates, and he falls to the ground. While he’s unconsciousness, the mean pirates kidnap Honey and take her to their ship. The absurdity of the Van Beuren studio’s story-telling style is perfectly illustrated by a scene in which the captain grabs some money, saying ‘money’, than grabbing some more, saying ‘more money!’. When Buddy awakes, he places himself inside a bubble and takes flight to the pirate ship, where he disposes of all the pirates all too easily.

In ‘Bubbles and Troubles’ Cubby approaches Mickey’s character as much as apparently possible, and the short could have been a great adventure cartoon if it were better told and less loony. It’s highly recommended nevertheless, not so much to watch, but to listen to, for Gene Rodemich’s score is no less than wonderful.

Watch ‘Bubbles and Troubles’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bubbles and Troubles’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: March 24, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear, Honey
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Last Mail © Van BeurenThe Last Mail’ is the first Cubby the Bear cartoon to place him in a Mickey Mouse-like hero role.

It’s interesting to compare this cartoon to Mickey’s ‘The Mail Pilot‘, which was released two months later. It immediately becomes clear why Mickey has remained famous, while Cubby fell into oblivion. In all aspects Cubby’s cartoon is the lesser product: in design, in animation, and in storytelling. Nevertheless, it is one of Cubby’s most entertaining cartoons, as it features a straight-forward story, which is surprisingly consistent for the Van Beuren studio.

In ‘The Last Mail’ Cubby is a mailman riding a squirrel-led sleigh through a wintery landscape. In the village where he delivers the mail he dances with Honey to a jig. When he leaves again, Honey comes along, sneaking into Cubby’s mail bag. The two are held up by an evil raccoon, who kidnaps Honey. But Cubby saves her with help from an American Eagle.

Composer Gene Rodemich is in good shape here, weaving ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ into the dancing scene (see also Mickey’s ‘The Shindig‘ from 1930) , and using ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ in the eagle scenes. ‘The Last Mail’ is the first Cubby the Bear cartoon in which director Mannie Davis is credited on the opening titles.

Watch ‘The Last Mail’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Last Mail’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: March 10, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear, Honey
Rating:
Review:

Love's Labor Won © Van Beuren‘Love’s Labor Won’, Cubby the Bear’s second cartoon, is the most musical short featuring Van Beuren’s poor man’s Mickey Mouse.

The cartoon starts with Cubby riding a dachshund to his girlfriend’s house. This anonymous girl, only called Honey by Cubby, is yet another variation on Oswald’s Honey, Flip’s Honey, or Mickey’s Minnie and fails to be distinct in any sense. The two make music together. At one point Cubby takes his gloves off to play the piano four hands with them, incidentally revealing to have nails. Cubby’s and Honey’s duet causes a lot of singing and dancing by forest animals. It’s startling to watch the Van Beuren studio embracing the song-and-dance-routine so passionately in 1933, when other studios were already abandoning them. But then suddenly some kind of story resolves when the routine is disturbed by a mean old wolf. Cubby fights him, and the cartoon ends with his triumph.

Despite the joyful setting, there’s little to enjoy in ‘Love’s Labor Won’. The animation is sloppy, and Cubby is frustratingly bland, not even emulating Mickey’s persistent optimism. In this cartoon he has a ridiculous crooner voice, which would not return in subsequent cartoons.

Watch ‘Love’s Labor Won’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Love’s Labor Won’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’

Director: Mannie Davis
Release Date: February 10, 1933
Stars: Cubby the Bear
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Opening Night © Van BeurenIn 1933 the Van Beuren studio was struggling. Their Tom & Jerry series failed to match the successes of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse or the Fleischers’ ‘Betty Boop’, which is not really surprising, as the duo was as bland as possible, and their cartoons highly inconsistent. So, Van Beuren invited about eight of his animators to dinner and told them to come up with some new ideas. Mannie Davis sketched a new character called Cubby the Bear, and this character was to be the studio’s new star.

Being vaguely Mickey Mouse-like Cubby was a hero character, saving his girlfriend in many melodramatic situations. Unfortunately, Cubby was as bland as Tom & Jerry had been, and he did not even last two years. Many people would attribute Cubby’s misfortune to a lack of character, but this cannot be true: the character of the much more successful Betty Boop didn’t go beyond ‘sexy girl’, and even top star Mickey’s character could be summarized as ‘optimistic’. Other stars of the time, like Bosko and Flip the Frog, were as generic as possible. In fact, the first real characters to hit the animated screen were Popeye (later in 1933) and Donald Duck (1934).

No, Cubby’s main problem was that he was so terribly animated. Whereas we could easily follow the emotions of say Oswald, Bimbo, Flip or Mickey, Cubby is almost expressionless in this cartoon, his wide eyes staring into nothingness most of the time, as if he weren’t alive at all. Moreover, the animators often forgot to give him a motivation. This becomes clear when one compares the opening scene of Cubby’s debut film ‘Opening Night’ to a similar one in the much older, yet much better animated Oswald cartoon ‘Bright Lights‘ (1928). In the Oswald cartoon we clearly watch Oswald being in love with Mlle. Zulu, who performs at the theater. So when we watch Oswald trying to get in, we immediately understand why. Moreover, we can watch his emotions while doing so. Not so in ‘Opening Night’: in a very similar scene Cubby is given no motivation whatsoever. Even worse, we watch him from the back, which shuts us from his emotions. Mistakes like these are all over the Cubby the Bear cartoons, and that’s the main reason why he is forgotten, while his contemporaries Mickey, Betty and to an extent even Bosko and Flip have lived on.

‘Opening Night’ was made for the occasion of the opening of the RKO Roxy theater, which opened on December 29, 1932. Like subsequent Cubby the Bear cartoons, ‘Opening Night’ is still part of the Aesop Fables series, but Cubby is introduced immediately on the title card. The cartoon starts with Santa Claus spraying some dust which forms the letters ROXY. Then we get the scene in which Cubby tries to get into the theater. When he finally manages to do so, he ends up at the conductor stand, where he conducts the orchestra in an opera scene.

There’s quite some strangeness going on in this cartoon, especially in a couple of bizarre gags featuring audience seats.  Later, during a fighting scene the Romeo-like opera character beheads(!) his opponent. Composer Gene Rodemich, as often, is Van Beuren’s only inspired employee, making a great score out of Italian opera snippets.

Watch ‘Opening Night’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Opening Night’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Adventures of Cubby Bear’ and the Blu-Ray ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear’

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