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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’ even these basic character traits evaporated. Yet, with their cheerful looks, the duo was more sympathetic than Waffles and Don ever had been.

Tom & Jerry lasted until 1933, starring 27 cartoons, but ‘Wot a Night’ remains their finest film. The cartoon 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.

Tom & Jerry are taxi drivers at the station, picking up a couple of strange bearded men, whom they drop at a castle. When the bearded men don’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 that of other Van Beuren cartoons, 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. Most extraordinary is the ending in which 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:

This is the 1st Tom & Jerry cartoon
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Polar Pals

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

 

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date:
 July 6, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Jungle Jazz © Van Beuren‘Jungle Jazz’ features that unsung duo, Waffles and Don, introduced in three months earlier in ‘The Haunted Ship‘. This time we watch the tall cat and the small dog walking through a jungle.

In this cartoon the duo’s ‘personalities’ are well-established: Waffles is continually scared, while Don remains unimpressed. The film’s highlight is an early scene in which Waffles and Don encounter all kinds of bizarre, psychedelic animals. Waffles and Don hide from these in a cabin, where they find an organ, which Waffles starts to play immediately. This prompts the cartoon’s obligate dance routine, with all kinds of (normal African) animals dancing.

Then, suddenly, they’re surrounded by cannibals! Don even helps them lighting the fire under their cooking pot. But he also somehow manages to scare them away, and the last scene is for four animals forming a barbershop quartet.

‘Jungle Jazz’ is a loosely jointed and erratic short, and it’s a pity the animators didn’t elaborate on the psychedelic animals in the beginning of the cartoon.

Watch ‘Jungle Jazz’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Jungle Jazz’ is available on the DVDs ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’ and ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: August 31, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
Rating:
Review:

Frozen Frolics © Van Beuren‘Frozen Frolics’ is the third of four cartoons featuring the obscure duo Waffles & Don. In this short they are on their way to the North Pole to steal the pole, which looks like a barber’s pole.

After they lose their sled due to an obstinate rabbit, we suddenly cut to arctic animals dancing, much like Walt Disney’s ‘Arctic Antics‘ from two months earlier. Only after a while we return to the duo, whom we watch being exhausted, and trudging through a snow storm. When Don seems to be dead, Waffles steals his money, and eats his shoe. Luckily, Don is alive after all. But later Waffles doesn’t hesitate to throw his little friend to an angry bear. Don beats him up for that, with which the cartoons ends.

The animation in ‘Frozen Frolics’ is wildly uneven, and more often than not rather out of sync with the music.

Watch ‘Frozen Frolics’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date: November 9, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
Rating: ★★
Review:

Gypped in Egypt © Van Beuren‘Gypped in Egypt’ is a cartoon set in Egypt. It predates Disney’s ‘Egyptian Melodies‘, which covers similar grounds, by nine months.

This cartoon was the last of four to feature Waffles and Don. The duo had finally reached distinct personalities in this short: Waffles, the tall cat, is constantly afraid, while Don, the small dog, keeps calm and unimpressed.

In the opening shot we watch the duo traveling through the desert on a camel. When the camel dies, a nightmarish scene starts, featuring a sphinx, pyramids and more camels. This brings our heroes inside an Egyptian tomb, where they encounter dancing skeletons and hieroglyphs. Suddenly, there are skeletons everywhere, and Don plays the piano with one of them. The cartoon ends abruptly with Waffles and Don running from a giant hypnotizing sphinx face.

‘Gypped in Egypt’ features several elements that were reused in Disney’s ‘Egyptian Melodies’: dancing hieroglyphs, nightmarish scenes, and even a corridor scene. However, Van Beuren’s cartoon is much cruder and more disjointed than Disney’s latter cartoon. Its greatest feature is it hallucinating character. Unfortunately, it is not retained throughout the picture, and the whole cartoon suffers from all too sloppy storytelling and ditto timing.

Watch ‘Gypped in Egypt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Gypped in Egypt’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date:
 April 27, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Haunted Ship © Van Beuren StudioWhen the Van Beuren studio lost their main character, Farmer Al Falfa to Paul Terry, they had to come up with new stars. Their first attempt was the animal duo Waffles and Don, a tall cat and a small dog who are the precursors of Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry.

In their first film we watch them flying a plane before lightning strikes them down deep into the ocean. Here they meet an opera-singing walrus (probably inspired by Walt Disney’s ‘Wild Waves‘ (1929), which also features one). Then they enter the shipwreck ‘Davy Jones’, which is full of monsters swooping into the camera, and a skeleton. The skeleton orders Waffles and Don to play the piano and xylophone, which starts the song-and-dance-routine-part of this cartoon.

Most interesting are four drunken tortoises singing ‘Sweet Adeline’ (probably inspired by ‘The Karnival Kid‘ (1929) in which two cats sing exactly the same song). The dance routine ends when Davy Jones himself appears and chases Waffles and Don away. However, the last shot is for the singing turtles.

‘The Haunted Ship’ clearly shows Walt Disney’s influence on other studios. It’s obvious that The Van Beuren studio tried its best to copy Walt Disney’s formulas and standards. Indeed, the cartoon is a great improvement on ‘The Iron Man‘ from three months earlier. There’s song and there’s dance, and music and animation now are closely intertwined. The Van Beuren studio would never reach Walt Disney’s sophistication, but in these early years they were at least able to come somewhere near.

Waffles and Don’s career, however, proved to be short-lived. They only starred in three other 1930 cartoons: ‘Jungle Jazz‘, ‘Frozen Frolics‘ and ‘Gypped in Egypt‘.

Watch ‘The Haunted Ship’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘The Haunted Ship’ is available on the DVDs ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’ and ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

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