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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’

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’

Directors: Harry Bailey
Release Date:
 July 14, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Rough on Rats © Van Beuren‘Rough on Rats’ is one of the more extraordinary films to come out of the Van Beuren studio.

No other contemporary studio tried as hard as Van Beuren to emulate Disney’s Silly Symphonies. ‘Rough on Rats’ is rather unique in that it even anticipates a Silly Symphony: its subject of three mischievous kittens makes it the direct ancestor of Disney’s Academy Award winning ‘Three Orphan Kittens‘ (1935), and Fleischer’s ‘We Did It‘ (1936).

In this film we watch three kittens wander through an abandoned grocery store. Then the black kitten gets kidnapped by an outrageously large mean rat. This leads to a battle sequence, reminiscent of the Silly Symphonies ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931), ‘The Bird Store‘ (1932) and ‘Bugs in Love‘ (1932). During this battle the kittens throw almost everything in sight at the vicious creature.

‘Rough on Rats’ is ripe with ambition, and pretty entertaining. Especially Gene Rodemich’s score is enjoyable throughout. Unfortunately, the animation varies between excellent to downright poor, and the designs are erratic, varying greatly between scenes. These shortcomings haunted the Van Beuren studios since its beginning, and it’s depressing to note that by 1933 the animators were still not able to tackle them. Doubtless this was influential to the studio’s lack of success. For example, the ideas in ‘Rough on Rats’ are more interesting than those in most of Warner Bros.’ or Ub Iwerks’s contemporary output, but as the execution is not on par with the ambition, the result is close to failure. And yet one cannot blame the studio trying. Anyhow, it was to Disney-alumnus Burt Gillett to teach the Van Beuren animators the Disney solutions to their problems…

‘Rough on Rats’was the last of the Aesop’s Fables (not including the Cubby the Bear cartoons, which appeared under the same flag). Apparently their outdated 1920’s title card and uninspired series name had the better of them. Nevertheless, one year later they would get a follow-up in the ‘Color Classics’, Van Beuren’s venture into color.

Watch ‘Rough on Rats’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rough on Rats’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date:
 February 24, 1933
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Panicky Pup © Van Beuren‘Panicky Pup’ is one of those very Silly Symphony-like Aesop’s Fables.

It starts unremarkable enough, with several farm animals making music and dancing to it. At one point the cartoon starts to focus on a pup, but the short really gains momentum when the pup chases a cat into a well. Almost immediately, he’s struck by guilt and the complete surroundings turn into a nightmare haunting him. During this sequence the scenery changes frequently around him, as if the pup is transported through time and space, adding to the surreal atmosphere.

‘Panicky Pup’ mixes Disney and Fleischer influences (comparable cartoons are Disney’s ‘The Cat’s Out‘ (1931) and Fleischer’s ‘Swing You Sinners!‘ (1930)), like no other studio did, with surprising, if uneven results. The cartoon is the direct ancestor of other guilt cartoons like ‘Pluto’s Judgement Day‘ (1936), ‘Pudgy Picks a Fight‘ (1937) and ‘Donald’s Crime’ (1945), showing that Van Beuren had a much more interesting and forward-looking outlook than most reviewers grant the ill-fated studio.

Watch ‘Panicky Pup’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Panicky Pup’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date:
 August 26, 1932
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Nursery Scandal © Van Beuren‘Nursery Scandal’ is Van Beuren’s direct answer to Walt Disney’s successful Silly Symphony ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ (1931), if a rather dingy one.

It’s night and the moon personally awakes some gnomes, who in turn awake Mother Goose. Mother Goose courts a scarecrow, much to the chagrin of the goose and the other nursery rhyme characters. At one point four gnomes start to sing nursery rhymes in a swinging close harmony style, leading to a long song-and-dance sequence in which we watch several nursery rhyme characters dancing, much like ‘Mother Goose Melodies’, but way jazzier. Composer Gene Rodemich is in excellent form in this cartoon, providing a highly enjoyable score. Notice the seemingly naked and very human fairy on top of the nursery rhyme book somewhere in the middle of the cartoon.

Watch ‘Nursery Scandal’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Nursery Scandal’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date:
 January 13, 1933
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Silvery Moon © Van Beuren‘Silvery Moon’ starts with the song ‘Moonlight bay’ and the two young cats from ‘The Wild Goose Chase‘ (1932) in a canoe on a moonlit lake. Suddenly, the moon invites them over, producing a giant staircase. Once the two have arrived on the moon, a fairy opens a gate, revealing a dreamlike candy land.

The dreamlike atmosphere is enhanced by scenes that change while the two kittens stay in place. In Candyland the two frolic around, and eat all what’s around until they’re sick. Then they’re hunted by a bottle of castor oil and a spoon, until they fall off the moon, next to their own canoe.

‘Silvery Moon’ was one of the last Aesop’s Fables, and one of the best. Sure, the designs and animation are still poor (some of the animation is reused from ‘Toy Time‘), and the film’s subject may be a little childish, it’s a surprisingly inspired cartoon, showing wonderful events with a natural charm. It’s a pity that ‘Silvery Moon’ is in black-and-white, for its dreamlike atmosphere would make perfect subject for color, which in 1933 still was brand new, anyhow (Disney’s first technicolor cartoon, ‘Flowers and Trees‘ had only been released half a year earlier).

Indeed, the cartoon’s content and atmosphere look forward to several color cartoons of the Hayes code era, most notably the Fleischer cartoon ‘Somewhere in Dreamland‘ (1936), which also features two children visiting a candy world. This makes ‘Silvery Moon’ probably the most forward-looking cartoon the Van Beuren studio ever produced, and it certainly has aged much better than most of the cartoons the studio produced in the early 1930’s.

Watch ‘Silvery Moon’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Silvery Moon’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date:
 August 12, 1932
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Wild Goose Chase © Van Beuren‘The Wild Goose Chase’ is a disjointed cartoon, which starts with some loose scenes of frogs, flowers, and water lily fairies dancing in the rain.

Then we cut to a couple of cats, and when the rain stops a tree magically transfers them on a goose to bring them to a rainbow into the clouds to seek a pot of gold. Once they arrive at the clouds, the castle in the sky from ‘The Family Shoe‘ invites them inside, where they’re treated on several surreal scenes, strange creatures, spooks, skeletons and devils.

These scenes are alternately influenced by Disney and Fleischer, clearly the most distinct studios of the time. This hodgepodge of influences make ‘The Wild Goose Chase’ an uneven and directionless short, as if the studio didn’t know which way to go, let alone being able to find its own voice, which the Van Beuren studio actually never really did.

The cat couple was reused in the similar, but much more successful cartoon ‘Silvery Moon‘ (1933).

Watch ‘The Wild Goose Chase’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Wild Goose Chase’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

 

Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date:
 July 23, 1932
Rating: ★★
Review:

Chinese Jinks © Van Beuren‘Chinese Jinks’ tells of a Western sailor, who falls in love with a Chinese girl in an extremely stereotyped China. The girl is forced to marry a rich mandarin, but the sailor rescues her and flees with her on a dragon ship.

‘Chinese Jinks’ contains some elements that seem to be borrowed from Walt Disney’s ‘The China Plate‘ (1931), but Van Beuren’s short never reaches the Silly Symphony’s elegance. The cartoon suffers from erratic animation, sloppy timing, strange interludes and throwaway scenes, like the scene of four Chinese animals ironing and singing, which is reused in its entirety from ‘Laundry Blues‘ (1930).

Watch ‘Chinese Jinks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Chinese Jinks’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date:
 June 28, 1932
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Farmerette © Van BeurenIn ‘The Farmerette’ a sexy kitten applies as ‘farmerette’ at an ailing farm.

The farmer (a goat) asks her if she can get the farm on its feet. And indeed she can, because as soon as she starts singing ‘Some of These Days’, the farm animals start working, and the hens are laying eggs by the dozen, anticipating similar gags in the Warner Bros. cartoon ‘The Swooner Crooner’ (1944).

These scenes are accompanied by Gene Rodemich’s peppy jazz music, showing that he was one of the best cartoon composers of the era. Unfortunately, the embryonic story is soon abandoned, and we witness a donkey, a sheep, a dog and a cow performing a barbershop quartet song.

With ‘The Farmerette’ the Van Beuren studio apparently tried to copy Max Fleischer’s success with Betty Boop. The kitten sings with a voice very similar to that of Betty, and her main feature is her sexiness. Sadly, the cartoon is troubled by erratic animation and poor staging, so typical for the Van Beuren studio, and the kitten never approaches Betty Boop’s charm.

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

‘The Farmerette’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey, John Foster, Frank Moser & Jerry Shields
Release Date:
 June 2, 1929
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Polo Match © Van Beuren.jpgLong before ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936) or Walt Disney took on playing polo himself, the Van Beuren studio visited the game in the silent short ‘Polo Match’.

The cartoon stars a couple of mice, with the hero being indistinguishable from the others. The mouse plays a polo game with the others on mechanical horses, and most of the gags (even the final one) stem from the horses falling apart. Meanwhile the hero’s sweetheart is harassed and later kidnapped by a mean old cat. Our hero pursuits the cat and saves his sweetheart.

The cartoon is pretty fast and full of action, but none of the gags are interesting enough to keep the viewer’s attention. Nevertheless, the short was re-released in 1932 as ‘Happy Polo’, with an added soundtrack.

It’s pretty likely that the inspiration for the mechanical horses stems from the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon ‘Ozzie of the Mounted‘ (1928) in which Oswald rides a mechanical horse himself. In any case, mechanical horses were clearly much easier to animate than real ones, and one was reused in ‘Hot Tamale’ (1930).

Watch ‘Polo Match’ (or ‘Happy Polo’) yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Polo Match/Happy Polo’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: John Foster & Mannie Davis
Release Date:
 March 26, 1932
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Cat's Canary © Van BeurenIn ‘The Cat’s Canary’ we watch a cat swallowing a bird. Surprisingly the bird remains alive, and makes the cat produce chirping sounds.

The cat goes to a doctor, to no avail, he then joins a quartet of alley cats serenading a kitten. He joins in chirping. But when he gets hit with a cage, the bird escapes. The bird takes revenge on the cat with help from some fellow birds, including a pelican.

After watching such ambitious films by Van Beuren as ‘The Family Shoe‘, ‘Toy Time‘ and ‘Fly Frolic‘, the Aesop Fable ‘The Cat’s Canary’ feels pretty backward. The designs of the cat are highly inconsistent and primitive, looking back to the Waffles and Don films from 1930. The complete short lacks the Silly Symphony-like quality of the preceding Aesop Fables. Moreover, it’s storytelling is weak and inconsistent: there’s a complete throwaway scene, in which the cat is visited by sympathizing birds, and although the cat is the main protagonist throughout the whole film, he suddenly changes into a villain in the end.

The final scene is clearly inspired by the finale of Disney’s ‘Birds of a Feather‘ (1931), and perhaps ‘The Bird Store‘ (1932), but it adds nothing of its own.

Watch ‘The Cat’s Canary’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Cat’s Canary’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: John Foster & Harry Bailey
Release Date:
 March 5, 1932
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Fly Frolic © Van Beuren‘Fly Frolic’ quite shamelessly puts its inspiration from films like Fleischer’s ‘Wise Flies‘ (1930) and Disney’s ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931), visiting exactly the same theme of the spider and the fly.

In Van Beuren’s version, two flies go to the ‘Coffee Pot Cabaret’ for a night out. At one point an old spider enters, scaring the flies to death. He goes into a Cab Calloway routine, singing the bandleader’s 1931 hit ‘Kickin’ The Gong Around’, Calloway’s second song about Minnie the Moocher. Interestingly, this film was released a week before Cab Calloway himself appeared in an animation film in Fleischer’s ‘Minnie the Moocher‘.

After some scatting the spider kidnaps the female fly and takes her to his secret laboratory. At this point the film suddenly changes into a parody of the 1931 horror film ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, with the spider changing into a handsome dandy. This doesn’t fool anyone, however, and the hero fly beats him, joined by his fellow flies.

‘Fly Frolic’ is a quite consistent film with a lot of melodrama. The designs are pretty primitive, however, and the spider changes completely from the nightclub scene to the laboratory scene, even before drinking his potion!

Watch ‘Fly Frolic’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fly Frolic’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: John Foster & Harry Bailey
Release Date:
 January 27, 1932
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Toy Time © Van Beuren‘Toy Time’ is another typical Silly Symphony-like short by Van Beuren, trying to beat Disney at his own game.

The cartoon features two mice, Oscar and his girlfriend, who resemble Mickey and Minnie less than Van Beuren’s ill-fated stars Milton and Rita had done (see e.g. ‘Circus Capers‘ and ‘The Office Boy‘).

In fact, the two are portrayed as real mice, having fun in the toy shop at night. This premise comes directly from the Silly Symphony ‘Midnight in a Toy Shop‘, but the Van Beuren studio adds some drama, when a cat appears, and the two mice battle him with help of several toys. Strangely enough the cartoon doesn’t end at that point, but also features a scene in which Oscar serenades his girlfriend on the piano. Only then he earns his sweetheart’s kiss.

Like ‘The Family Shoe‘ (1931), ‘Toy Time’ is highly ambitious. For example, it features a splendid score by Gene Rodemich, and elaborate and quite beautifully painted backgrounds. Unfortunately, the animation is still pretty awkward, and the designs of the two mice primitive and bland. Nevertheless, it shows that the Van Beuren Studio was trying very hard.

Four months later, Warner Bros. would cover similar grounds in ‘It’s Got Me Again!‘, but with much more satisfying results.

Watch ‘Toy Time’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Toy Time’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: John Foster & Mannie Davis
Release Date:
 September 14, 1931
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Family Shoe © Van BeurenBy 1931, Van Beuren’s ‘Aesop’s Fables’ had become the studio’s answer to Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies, being the first studio clearly trying to copy Disney’s format (Warner Bros’ Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were only variations on the Silly Symphonies in name, being very different otherwise).

Given the studio’s animation output up to 1931, ‘The Family Shoe’ is a remarkably consistent and forward-looking product. With its consistent storytelling ‘The Family Shoe’ actually predates Walt Disney’s breakthrough short ‘The Ugly Duckling‘ by three months.

Merging the nursery rhyme of the old woman who lived in a shoe with the fairy tale of Jack and the beanstalk, the film anticipates Mickey’s ‘Giantland’ (1933) by two years, and the cute and childish cartoons of the Hays code era by three years. Also, the opening scenes, with hundreds of brats running around and causing mischief predate similar scenes in Walt Disney’s ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (December 1931) and ‘Mickey Nightmare’ (1932).

The cartoon retells the story of Jack and the beanstalk quite faithfully, and the cartoon may be a little low on gags. Yet, there are some typical Van Beuren throwaways present, like the bean planting itself, and the ending, in which the golden eggs transform the old lady into a classy aristocrat overnight.

Van Beuren is often described as merely an also-run studio, but this short shows that at least in 1931 it was more ambitious and more capable than one would expect.

Watch ‘The Family Shoe’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Family Shoe’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date:
 July 6, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Jungle Jazz © Van Beuren‘Jungle Jazz’ features that unsung duo, Waffles and Don, introduced in three months earlier in ‘The Haunted Ship‘. This time we watch the tall cat and the small dog walking through a jungle.

In this cartoon the duo’s ‘personalities’ are well-established: Waffles is continually scared, while Don remains unimpressed. The film’s highlight is an early scene in which Waffles and Don encounter all kinds of bizarre, psychedelic animals. Waffles and Don hide from these in a cabin, where they find an organ, which Waffles starts to play immediately. This prompts the cartoon’s obligate dance routine, with all kinds of (normal African) animals dancing.

Then, suddenly, they’re surrounded by cannibals! Don even helps them lighting the fire under their cooking pot. But he also somehow manages to scare them away, and the last scene is for four animals forming a barbershop quartet.

‘Jungle Jazz’ is a loosely jointed and erratic short, and it’s a pity the animators didn’t elaborate on the psychedelic animals in the beginning of the cartoon.

Watch ‘Jungle Jazz’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Jungle Jazz’ is available on the DVDs ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’ and ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

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