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Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date: March 31, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
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:
‘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
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: August 26, 1932
‘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
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:
‘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
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’