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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 Apparently their outdated 1920’s title card and uninspired series name had the better of them.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: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date: August 12, 1932
Then we cut to a couple of cats, and when the rain stops a tree magically transfers them on a goose to bring them to a rainbow into the clouds to seek a pot of gold. Once they arrive at the clouds, the castle in the sky from ‘The Family Shoe‘ invites them inside, where they’re treated on several surreal scenes, strange creatures, spooks, skeletons and devils.
These scenes are alternately influenced by Disney and Fleischer, clearly the most distinct studios of the time. This hodgepodge of influences make ‘The Wild Goose Chase’ an uneven and directionless short, as if the studio didn’t know which way to go, let alone being able to find its own voice, which the Van Beuren studio actually never really did.
The cat couple was reused in the similar, but much more successful cartoon ‘Silvery Moon‘ (1933).
Watch ‘The Wild Goose Chase’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Wild Goose Chase’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’
Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: July 5, 1931
‘Making ‘Em Move’ is a surprisingly original cartoon, being about animation itself. It’s astonishing that this early cartoon about its own industry comes from the Van Beuren studio, the least developed American animation studio in business those days.
The film is a strange mix of accuracy and nonsense. We watch a fat lady visiting an animated cartoon studio, where several animals are animating ridiculously fast and as if in an assembly line. Among the less accurate scenes are an animator animating a dancing cat who’s dancing right in front of him, and a humanized camera filming the flip-books animators are running in front of it. Meanwhile a jazz band is playing, whose sound is recorded directly on film.
In the second half of the film we watch a public cartoon screening: “Fable Animals present Little Nell’, a crude animation of a classic melodrama with stick figures, predating Tex Avery’s similar ‘Porky’s Preview’ by eleven years(!).
‘Making ’em Move’ is a remarkable cartoon, being about the cartoon industry itself, which remained a rare feat. Unfortunately, the film is neither very educational nor funny. It’s in fact rather directionless, making it to fall short as a classic.
Watch ‘Making ‘Em Move’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Making ‘Em Move’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’