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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’

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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’

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’

Directors: George Stallings & George Rufle
Release Date:
 March 31, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★
Review:

Happy Hoboes © Van BeurenTom and Jerry are bums living in a slum. When they have to leave, they ride a train as hoboes, with their home and all.

When it starts snowing (in a scene which has to be seen to be believed) the train gets lost and ends in a wood, where a lumberjack is fed on roast chicken by a stereotyped Chinese cook with rather original cooking methods.

Apart from Gene Rodemich’s excellent musical score, there’s little to enjoy in ‘Happy Hoboes’, with its silent era animation, stream-of-consciousness-like string of events, and lack of gags. However, the snowing scene, in which two clouds transform into two winged women having a cushion fight, is so curious and so original, it’s definitely worth watching, even if the rest of the cartoon is not.

Watch ‘Happy Hoboes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 21
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Magic Mummy
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Puzzled Pals

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

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 wandering 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:
 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: John Foster & George Stallings
Release Date:
 February 27, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Rabid Hunters © Van BeurenIn ‘Rabid Hunters’ Tom and Jerry are hunters, who try to catch a rabbit with their semi-anthropomorphized dog and horse.

The rabbit appears to be an early forerunner of Bugs Bunny, outwitting all four characters to a jazzy upbeat score. This soundtrack, by Gene Rodemich, is the absolute highlight of this otherwise erratic, boring and terribly poorly animated short. Also noteworthy is a hallucinatory scene at a tree branch that has to be seen to be believed. Like the Silly Symphony ‘The Fox Hunt‘ from a year earlier, the cartoon ends with a skunk.

Watch ‘Rabid Hunters’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 7
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Rocketeers
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: In the Bag

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

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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