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Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: January 18, 1931
Stars: Rita Mouse?
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Red Riding Hood © Van Beuren‘Red Riding Hood’ is one of those early 1930s cartoons that have to be seen to be believed.

In this spoof of Red Riding Hood, the ill grandma is visited by a doctor. The doctor’s “jazz tonic’ makes grandma young and handsome, and the wolf starts to fancy her. He plays for her on the harmonium, while ‘grandma’ dances. However, when Red Riding Hood (a Minnie Mouse-copy, see also ‘Circus Capers‘ and ‘The Office Boy‘) enters, the wolf and grandma both flee in the wolf’s car to get married.

Red Riding Hood, meanwhile, warns the wolf’s wife and kids, who hurry to the wedding chapel. They tear the wolf away, leaving grandma crying.

There’s some nice animation on the wolf’s car, but otherwise the animation on this cartoon is wildly inconsistent. However, its story is so weird, it becomes enjoyable.

Watch ‘Red Riding Hood’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Red Riding Hood’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

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Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: November 23, 1930
Stars: Milton Mouse, Rita Mouse
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Office Boy © Van Beuren‘The Office Boy’ is yet another Van Beuren cartoon featuring Milton Mouse and Rita Mouse, Van Beuren’s sloppy copies of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, indirectly showing the mouse’s enormous popularity.

This time Milton is an office boy, where Rita is a secretary. The story involves Milton getting jealous of Rita when the boss flirts with her. So Milton invites the boss’s wife to catch her husband red-handed. In the end we watch Milton and Rita jumping into a painting on a train to sing their end duet.

The designs and animation of Milton and Rita are terrible, but too close for comfort, and some of Mickey’s mannerisms have clearly been copied. As was the case in ‘Circus Capers‘, Milton and Rita are more vulgar than their Disney counterparts, despite the similar looks, and most of the fun of the cartoon lies in the rude behavior of these pseudo-Mickey and Minnie. The cartoon’s best gag, however, is when Rita starts typing frantically even when her boss hasn’t really dictated anything.

But Milton’s and Rita’s days were numbered. In 1931 Disney sued the Van Beuren company, and on April 30, 1931 the federal court prohibited the Van Beuren studio to display any of his Mickey Mouse-lookalikes. The Walt Disney company never asked for money, however. They simply wanted the plagiarism to stop.

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

‘The Office Boy’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: September 28, 1930
Stars: Milton Mouse, Rita Mouse
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Circus Capers © Van Beuren‘Circus Capers’ features Milton Mouse and Rita Mouse, Van Beuren’s Mickey and Minnie-like mice, whose resemblance to Disney’s originals is so striking, it’s pure plagiarism.

The Van Beuren Studio comes nowhere near Walt Disney’s high quality standards, however, and ‘Circus Capers’ can be used as a good counter-example to show how good contemporary Mickey Mouse cartoons (e.g. ‘The Shindig‘, ‘The Chain Gang‘ and ‘The Gorilla Mystery‘) actually were.

In ‘Circus Capers’ Milton (pseudo-Mickey) is a clown, while Rita (pseudo-Minnie) is an acrobat riding a horse. An evil circus master shoots Milton away as a human cannonball, meanwhile courting an all too willing Rita. When Milton discovers this, he’s heartbroken, and sings “Laugh Clown Laugh” from the 1928 musical of the same name. However, when the circus master becomes too insistent, Rita flees from him, back to Milton, who gives her the raspberry, making her pass out.

‘Circus Capers’ is hampered by primitive, crude animation, unsteady designs, and odd staging. Its curious story is enjoyable, however, for the real Mickey and Minnie would never behave like Milton and Rita, who seem to be their cruder cousins.

Watch ‘Circus Capers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Circus Capers’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Harry Bailey
Release Date: December 1, 1929
Stars: Milton Mouse, Rita Mouse
Rating:
Review:

Close Call © Van Beuren‘Close Call’ is one of Van Beuren’s earliest sound cartoons, and it shows. Its visual language is still from the silent era, including the use of words on the screen.

The short unashamedly features two clear ripoffs of Walt Disney’s Mickey and Minnie Mouse. We watch them frolicking in a field, when a large cat kidnaps “Minnie” and takes her to a sawmill. “Mickey” comes to the rescue, only to be tied up by the cat to a sawmill, in a classic scene. As luckily as incomprehensibly the North West Mounted Police rides off to rescue the loving couple. They kill the cat (!), and the two mice are married.

The animation on ‘Close Call’ is terribly primitive, and there’s a lot of squeaking, but apart from the final “I do”‘s, there’s no dialogue. Moreover, there’s more drama to the short than humor, making it a tiring watch. The Mickey and Minnie Mouse characters (which off-screen apparently were christened Milton and Rita) would return in several of Van Beuren’s ‘Aesop’s Fables’ cartoons, e.g. ‘Circus Capers‘ and ‘The Office Boy‘ from 1930.

Watch ‘Close Call’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Close Call’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: John Foster
Release Date: August 3, 1930
Stars: Milton Mouse, Rita Mouse, Waffles
Rating:
Review:

Hot Tamale © Van BeurenIn 1930 practically all American cartoon studios looked at Walt Disney to guide them through the fledgling sound era (the notable exception being Max Fleischer, who went entirely his own path).

None went so far as the Van Beuren studio, which already in 1929 introduced a couple of mice with an all too obvious resemblance to Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Van Beuren’s mice were called Milton and Rita, but I’ve no evidence the studio ever advertized their names on the screen. Why should it? All resemblance to the real Mickey and Minnie clearly was only beneficial to the studio’s output.

‘Hot Tamale’ is one of these films featuring these blatant Mickey and Minnie lookalikes. This time Milton is in Mexico, riding a mechanical horse (why?) to serenade his sweetheart. Rita dances to his music.

There’s still some acting that clearly stems from the silent era, but more disturbingly: Milton looks rather horny and seems more driven by lust than by love. At one point Waffles (who is Pete only but in name) arrives, also craving Rita. Of course, it’s our “hero” who wins her in the end.

In ‘Hot Tamale’ Van Beuren’s pseudo-Mickey and Minnie were nothing like the real thing. But it would become worse. In ‘Circus Capers‘ and ‘The Office Boy‘ both the resemblance and the abject behavior of these Mickey & Minnie-lookalikes was even more striking. It was a question of time before Walt Disney came into action…

Watch ‘Hot Tamale’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

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