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Director: Paul Terry
Release Date: October 18, 1916
Stars: Farmer Al Falfa
Rating: ★★

Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York © Paul TerryIn 1915 Paul Terry joined the Bray studio and introduced a character of his own called farmer Al Falfa.

Farmer Al Falfa never amounted to something of an interesting character, like for example a Bobby Bumps or Felix the Cat, and I doubt whether he ever had many fans. Yet, the animated farmer lasted until 1937, and even didn’t completely disappear after that.

‘Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York’ is Farmer Al Falfa’s ninth film, and has the farmer visiting the big city, where he’s seduced by a remarkably realistically drawn woman. Later he plays cards with some cheating criminals, only to win after all.

Unlike J.R. Bray, Paul Terry was a rather poor draftsman, as this film clearly shows. The animation is weak and formulaic, and the farmer and the woman don’t inhabit the same cartoon universe. The result is a rather inferior cartoon that nevertheless foreshadows the quality of most animation of the silent era, unlike Bray’s own early high quality films.

Indeed, most of the secret of Terry’s success did not lie in the quality of his work, but in his working speed. Yet, his stay at Bray’s studio was not a happy one, and at the end of 1916 he left, only to get inducted in the army. A few years after World War I, in 1921, Terry would return to the animation business, co-founding a studio with Amedee J. van Beuren, reviving his character Al Falfa, and becoming one of the biggest players in the field.

Watch ‘Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York’ is available on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: John Foster
Release Date:
 January 4, 1930
Stars: Farmer Al Falfa
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Iron Man © Van Beuren‘The Iron Man’ was one of the last of Van Beuren’s Aesop’s Fables to feature Farmer Al Falfa, before Paul Terry claimed this character to be his own.

It takes some time for we watch the title’s iron man itself. First we watch a cat with a hurdy-gurdy, then two fighting roosters with ridiculously large feet, and then some remarkable animation of a large tree falling down. This part is essentially silent, with music seemingly added.

Then Farmer Al Falfa receives a package with the iron man in it. Together they perform a bizarre slow dance, to psychedelic effects. It’s clear the Van Beuren studio was still struggling with rhythmical movement, for in this sequence both Al Falfa and the robot seem to float in air. There’s no weight or gravity involved, at all.

Then, when Farmer Al Falfa kicks the robot, it grows millions of miles tall, towering over the earth, before it explodes. This is a mindblowing piece of animated weirdness. However, the pieces fall together to form the robot again, which chases our hero into the distance. Iris out.

‘The Iron Man’ is in no sense a classic film, but it shows the difficulties of the sound age for the silent era studios. The second part also shows some embryonic weirdness that would become staple for the Van Beuren studio films of the early 1930s. Finally, ‘The Iron Man’ is one of the very first cartoons to feature a human-like robot. Other studios would follow years later, like Walter Lantz’s ‘Mechanical Man’ (1932), Max Fleischer’s ‘The Robot‘ (1932) and Walt Disney’s ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ (1933).

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

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

Director: John Foster
Release Date:
 October 11, 1929
Stars: Farmer Al Falfa
Rating:
Review:

Summer Time © Van BeurenOf all American animation studios from the 1930s the Van Beuren Studio must be the least known.

This is no small wonder, for it was not only short-lived, lasting nine years, it was also the weakest studio of the lot, never reaching the heights of Max Fleischer or Walt Disney, and with only a few great cartoons in its entire catalog.

Thanks to Steve Stanchfield and his Thunderbean company, however, quite a sample of this studio’s output has been made available on DVD, so everybody can enjoy them (and incidentally making the Columbia/Screen Gem studio the least known studio – as its films remain utterly unavailable).

Before 1928 Van Beuren’s cartoons were made by Paul Terry, but in November 1928 the success of Disney’s ‘Steamboat Willie‘ prompted Amadee J. Van Beuren to announce that his studio would make the switch to sound, too. This led to a clash with Terry, who left mid-1929, leaving most of the staff and the studio’s main character, the bland Farmer Al Falfa, until Paul Terry reclaimed him in 1930.

The Van Beuren studio was more or less forced into the area of sound, and its crew totally unprepared, lacking experience. Indeed, ‘Summer Time’, Van Beuren’s 16th sound cartoon, is a strange blend of silent film and sound film: words and sound expressions are still visible on the screen, and while there’s music, there’s no rhythmical movement. Moreover, both design and animation are still firmly rooted in the 1920’s and there’s practically no plot, only three unrelated scenes.

The most interesting aspect of this film is Gene Rodemich’s music score, which still sounds fresh. In fact, Rodemich’s scores turned out to be the only constant quality within Van Beuren’s output, being among the best of all 1930s cartoon scores.

The three scenes of ‘Summer Time’ are 1) a frog and a monkey playing some music, waking up an angry owl. 2) A mouse playing in a fat woman’s shadow, attracting other mice, and scaring the woman away, and 3) Farmer Al Falfa being hot and making himself a drink. This story contains a weird scene in which the sun zooms into the camera to visit farmer Al Falfa at his own doorstep. This is the only interesting piece of animation in the entire film.

The cartoon ends with a moral, like many Aesop’s Fable cartoons before it. However, this practice was soon abandoned in 1930.

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

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

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