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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:

‘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:

‘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:

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

Directors: John Foster & 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:

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

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 January 6, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★
Review:

Tight Rope Tricks © Van BeurenTight Rope Tricks’ is a pretty plotless film in which Tom and Jerry visit a circus. They even perform themselves, dressed as acrobats.

The short consists mostly of unrelated gags, but the finale gives the short a nice twist, reusing a lion and an elephant from earlier gags. Also featured is a girl singing with a very Betty Boop-like voice on the tightrope. According to Tralfaz this voice was done by Margie Hines, who had previously voiced Betty Boop. In the end we watch Tom and Jerry flooding the lions, and escaping on the elephant, with the girl on their side.

As always in Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry films, the animation is terrible: part is still a relic from the silent era (it doesn’t help that some animation is recycled from cartoons from 1930), and all animation is completely devoid of weight. The designs, too, are unappealing and inconsistent. Especially the animal designs are downright poor. Tom and Jerry were anything but on a winning streak.

Watch ‘Tight Rope Tricks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 November 11, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★½
Review

The Piano Tooners © Van Beuren‘Piano Tooners’ opens with Tom and Jerry performing the 1920 hit song ‘Margie’ in their piano shop, which is simply filled with mice. We also watch them tuning pianos, with the best gag being Jerry flushing a bad note through the toilet.

Suddenly we cut to a concert hall, where one Mlle. Pflop will perform. She appears to be a fat woman, and some of the lesser refined humor in this cartoon stems from watching her getting dressed, in rather risque scenes. At the concert Mll. Pflop sings and plays the piano at the same time, until she hits a flat note. Piano tuners Tom and Jerry come to the rescue, pulling the bad key from the piano as if it were a sore tooth. Tom immediately starts playing ‘Doin’ The New Low-Down’, a song Don Redman would turn into a hit (featuring  Cab Calloway  and the Mills Brothers) more than a month after the release of ‘Piano Tooners’. Also featured is a maid, who is most probably a caricature, but of whom? She joins in, singing along, but it’s Mlle. Pflop who has the last note.

Like the other Tom and Jerry cartoons, ‘Piano Tooners’ is hopelessly primitive, featuring erratic designs and bad animation. However, the piano tuning gags are entertaining, and it’s hard not to enjoy the short’s weird atmosphere.

Watch ‘Piano Tooners’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 September 16, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating:
Review

Barnyard Bunk © Van BeurenBarnyard Bunk’ opens with a farmer at sleep at a farm, which falls apart. It’s soon clear the farm is destroyed by numerous cheeky mice.

Enter Tom and Jerry playing saxophones. Their music makes a hen laying eggs, a cow producing tons of milk, and two woodpeckers producing a pile of wood. At one point all the lifeless objects of the farm start dancing. In the end the farmer pays the duo for the saxophones, but the moneybag turns out to be filled with mice.

It’s quite shocking to see that in ‘Barnyard Bunk’, a film made well into 1932, still features animation language of the silent era. The short features no dialogue, and the gestures of Tom, Jerry and the farmer are still of the 1920s. The designs of the farmer and the mice do not fare better, and the whole cartoon exudes from archaism. Its only modern feature is the dressed cow, which shows that already by 1932 the Hays code was getting hold of the cartoon industry.

Watch ‘Barnyard Bunk’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 June 25, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating:
Review

Plane Dumb © Van Beuren‘Plane Dumb’ opens with Tom & Jerry on a non-stop flight to Africa.

Jerry is worried they’ll not be safe in Africa, so, to be sure, they change themselves into blackface. But immediately afterwards their plane crashes into the sea, as if the blackface took away their ability to fly! At sea Tom & Jerry are bothered by an equally blackfaced octopus, some sharks and a large whale, which throws them onto the African shore. There they encounter some fantasy monsters (recalling the Waffles & Don short ‘Jungle Jazz‘ from 1930), a gospel quartet of black skeletons, and finally. several cannibals, who chase them away. Iris out.

Unlike any other Van Beuren film, ‘Plane Dumb’ is extremely dialogue-rich. In fact, it’s quite possibly the most dialogue-rich cartoon of the early 1930s. As soon as they’re blackfaced, Tom & Jerry start to talk in fake negro speak. Of course, as the duo is heading to Africa, this makes no sense at all – it only adds to the ignorant racism that completely fills this short. Moreover, one soon forgets that these characters had been Tom & Jerry in the first place.

Tom & Jerry’s dialogue is very reminiscent of Amos ‘n’ Andy, the popular fake black radio stars of the time. The cartoon stars’ trite conversation was supposed to be the sole source of the humor in the cartoon, making ‘Plane Dumb’ the first animated cartoon ever to rely on dialogue. Rarely there was such a strange combination of innovation and backward thinking.

The dependence on dialogue makes the short a failure by all means, as none of it is remotely funny; not only by today’s standards, but also by those of 1932 itself, and the short only got a lukewarm welcome.

Nevertheless, in 1934 Van Beuren produced two cartoons featuring the “real” Amos ‘n’ Andy. Neither of the two were a success. Van Beuren might have known, if he had remembered ‘Plane Dumb’ well…

‘Plane Dumb’ arguably one of the most racist cartoon ever released. It’s so full of severe racial stereotypes, it’s practically unwatchable, today. Its only highlight may be in the animation of the whale, which has some menacing quality.

Watch ‘Plane Dumb’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 May 14, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Pots and Pans © Van BeurenIn ‘Pots and Pans’ Tom & Jerry own a mobile canteen.

The cartoon is completely plotless, but very spirited and gag rich, making it one of the best of the Van Beuren Tom & Jerries. It uses a jazzy score, around a close harmony quartet of soup eating customers. Everything joins in, even many objects like kettles and sausages – for this is one of those early 1930’s cartoons in which everything can grow hands and feet. At the end, the wagon suddenly takes off, ends on the rails and clashes with a train.

The cartoon is reminiscent of contemporary Fleischer cartoons, and anticipates their ‘Betty Boop Bizzy Bee‘ from three months later, which covers similar grounds.

Watch ‘Pots and Pans’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 March 26, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating:
Review:

In the Bag © Van Beuren‘In the Bag’ opens the same way as the Waffles and Don short ‘The Haunted Ship‘ (1930): with the two main protagonists flying a plane that soon crashes.

This time the plane crashes into some Western setting, where Tom and Jerry meet a villain. We can also watch Jerry performing some impossible lasso tricks. Then the two go to a saloon where they perform a Mills Brothers-like song. Unfortunately, the villain appears, robbing everybody, but Jerry saves the day, bringing him back and earning a $1000 reward. Tom then steals the money, or does he?

From beginning to end, ‘In the Bag’ makes little sense at all. The film is surprisingly low on gags, and the action is devoid of any timing. The result is one of the weakest of Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry films.

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

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

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 January 30, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Rocketeers © Van BeurenWhile Van Beuren’s Aesop’s Fables gained some quality, the Tom and Jerry series remained downright poor in terms of storytelling, staging and animation.

For example, the opening scenes of ‘Rocketeers’ are so deeply drenched in the 1920’s comic tradition that the scene’s silent acting feels terribly old-fashioned. In it, Tom and Jerry are members of the Royal Experimental Society, firing themselves to the moon in an over-sized sky-rocket. Then the cartoon takes quite an unexpected turn: instead of flying to the moon, the rocket plummets immediately and falls into the ocean, reaching the sea floor, where Tom and Jerry encounter some sea monsters and some skeletons (looking back to the Waffles and Don cartoon ‘The Haunted Ship‘ from 1930). But just when one starts to prepare for yet another horror-inspired cartoon, the duo hits on some sexy mermaids. Tom & Jerry perform a song, while the mermaids dance.

The designs of the mermaids are halfway those of Fleischer’s ‘Barnacle Bill‘ (1930) and Disney’s later ‘King Neptune‘ from September 1932. Their stylized, pretty human designs contrast greatly with Tom & Jerry’s own primitive features, and are without doubt the highlight of the cartoon.

Tom and Jerry would fly a rocket again in their last cartoon ‘The Phantom Rocket‘ (1933), which also plummets into the sea.

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

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

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 September 5, 1931
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★
Review:

Polar Pals © Van BeurenIn the opening scene of ‘Polar Pals’, Tom & Jerry’s second cartoon, the duo is apparently shipwrecked at sea.

Fortunately they land at a Pole (which one never becomes clear), where they encounter a walrus and a penguin. Then four creatures order Tom to play some music on a piano, which he does in jazzy fashion, making all animals dance.

But somehow they provoke the animals’ anger, and in the end we watch them fleeing on a polar bear’s belly. This final scene sets the tone for several Tom & Jerry cartoons to come: Jungle Jam’ and ‘A Swiss Trick’ end with them fleeing, too.

Apart from the jazz-scene ‘Polar Pals’ is far from interesting. It’s less elaborate than ‘Wot a Night‘, its designs are poor and the animation often terrible. Van Beuren clearly hadn’t hit its stride, yet…

Watch ‘Polar Pals’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Directors: John Foster & George Stallings
Release Date:
 August 1, 1931
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Wot A Night © Van BeurenIn 1931 the Van Beuren studio was strengthened by two new staff members, both veterans of the New York animation scene: George Stallings (1891-1963) and George Rufle (1901-1974).

The two transformed Waffles and Don into two new characters that became Van Beuren’s first real stars: Tom & Jerry (not to be confused with the later, much more famous cat and mouse duo). Unfortunately, Tom & Jerry are as bland as their models, sharing with the cat and dog their only character traits: in ‘Wot a Night’ Tom clearly has inherited Waffles’s fear, while Jerry remains calm. However, already after ‘Wot a Night’ these basic character traits evaporated. Yet, with their cheerful looks, the duo was more sympathetic than Waffles and Don ever were.

Tom & Jerry lasted until 1933, starring 27 cartoons, but ‘Wot a Night’ remains their finest film. It borrows a good dose of surrealism from the neighboring Max Fleischer studio, and it’s much better animated than any Van Beuren cartoon before the coming of Burt Gillett. Already in the opening scene there’s a lot of flexible animation when we watch a train coming in at a station. Moreover, there’s a great deal of rain and water effect animation not seen before at Van Beuren.

At the station Tom & Jerry are taxi drivers, picking up a couple of strange bearded men, whom they drop at a castle. Because the bearded men didn’t pay the ride, Tom & Jerry follow them inside the castle. Inside the two have a typical horror cartoon experience, similar to  ‘The Haunted House‘ (Mickey Mouse, 1929) and ‘The Haunted Ship‘ (Waffles and Don, 1930).  The story is not any more consistent than other Van Beuren cartoon, but there’s much to marvel at, like a cloud playing organ on the battlements of the castle, a skeleton taking a bath, while whistling, and another skeleton painting piano keys, on which it starts to play. There’s also a shot of four black skeletons singing a gospel song. The ending is extraordinary, when Tom and Jerry discover they’re nothing but skeletons under their clothes, themselves…

‘Wot a Night’ is a marvelous cartoon, one of the best of the surreal movement of the early 1930s. Unfortunately, only a few of Tom & Jerry’s lived up to the premise of their debut cartoon (‘Pencil Mania’ from 1932 arguably is the best contender). Their future cartoons were quaint at best, to downright poorly animated. It is as if ‘Wot a Night’ was given some extra effort that was not put into the subsequent cartoons.

Stallings stayed at Van Beuren until 1935, when he joined Walt Disney to work on the stories of the studio’s animated features. Rufle’s career is more unclear: he seemed to have left Van Beuren in 1933, but only pops up at Famous Studios in 1948. He animated until his death, working on several television series in the 1960’s and 1970’s. But what did he do between 1933 and 1948? I haven’t got a clue…

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

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

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