WHAT ABOUT THAD?
December 15, 2014 posted by

Entering The Stone Age: Fleischer Promo Art #29

Here’s a rather meaty post for you this round. We’re firmly in the Miami era of the Fleischer Studio, the period when the short cartoons arguably lost their sheen. But Paramount certainly didn’t have an inkling of that at the time.

I was scared briefly while getting all of these that the custom illustrations would be permanently replaced by muddy film still blow ups, but fortunately there were only a few isolated instances. So Does An Automobile (the last Betty Boop made in New York and a personal favorite of mine, though note the clipping erroneously says “from the new Max Fleischer studios in Miami”) got kicked to the curb, and amazingly so did Popeye’s Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp. No mention of its Technicolor glory! For shame.

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One of the true misfires of the Fleischer output was the short-lived Stone Age series. These and the Animated Antics have just about zero to recommend for them (and as you’ll remember from last week, I’m tolerant of Pudgy). They are awkward attempts at the type of spot-gag cartoons popularized by Tex Avery at Leon Schlesinger’s that no one was really able to do well outside that studio. (Proven by the fact that Ted Pierce and Cal Howard, now working for the Fleischers, had worked on those cartoons too!).

Stone-Age-Cartoons250Interesting that they tried to sell the series as “The Stonebroakes” to the salesmen. Perhaps that would have been a better title for the series – it wouldn’t have helped the quality of the cartoons, but it might have been a better draw – as Hanna Barbera (or Dan Gordon) figured out 20 years later with The Flintstones.

According to an interview historian Mark Langer did with Myron Waldman, most of the animators wanted to call it quits as soon as the first few Stone Age cartoons were finished, but Paramount had already sold a season to exhibitors. As the continuous five-month campaign anticipating the turkey’s arrival in Paramount Sales News shows, Waldman’s account was likely not apocryphal.

“With the caveman shorts, we knew right away that they were stinkers. I haven’t the least idea where the idea came from, although I suspect it was Max Fleischer. The old humor magazine Life had a good illustrator called Lawson who drew monkey characters. Max was fascinated with them. When we were still in New York, Max asked me to draw some monkeys. I think that he kept working on this idea and it eventually turned into the caveman films.

“They were horrible. We wanted to discontinue them immediately, but Paramount wouldn’t let us. They had sold an entire year of them to theaters and had to deliver, no matter how bad they made us look. And they looked bad.”

(Waldman also said to Langer, “We didn’t have storyboards until the late 1930s.” Makes you wonder about some statements made on the Internet…)

We’ll be back next week with something big in time for Christmas…

June – October 1939 (click images to enlarge)

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16 Comments

  • These are so awesome!

  • Some of the panel gags for the “Stone Age” series are better than anything I’ve seen in any of those cartoons. Which isn’t saying much, but still…

    • Yeah, no kidding. That male escort panel, the bowling with human skulls, and the football game with a greased pig made me smile and think “these can’t be that bad”

      But I agree on two points: they should have kept the name “The Stonebrokes” and they should have have made them similar to the Popeye shorts in actually having plots with specific characters vs a whole series of pure spotgag. Because the thing with spotgags is that you’re eventually going to run out of gas very quickly if you can’t keep the gags up at either a rapid fire or good enough to maintain interest.

      Yeah, people rag on the Flintstones now, and its not entirely unfounded, but it was definitely the first time a stone-age series spoof really nailed it by focusing more on the characters rather than just the stone-age gimmick. The Fleischer series was an example of having nothing but gimmick. Might have been excusable as a one-off short, but not as a whole series.

    • Yeah, these drawings seem more interesting than what transpired in those cartoons, though the though of bowling with human skulls seems a bit morbid, at least to me. It makes The Stonebrokes come off like grave robbers unless cemeteries haven’t been invented yet in their time. Could you imaging that on The Flintstones instead of their usual rounded-off stones they’d bring to the alley?

      Yeah, people rag on the Flintstones now, and its not entirely unfounded, but it was definitely the first time a stone-age series spoof really nailed it by focusing more on the characters rather than just the stone-age gimmick. The Fleischer series was an example of having nothing but gimmick. Might have been excusable as a one-off short, but not as a whole series.

      I suppose The Fleischers really had nothing to go on besides the spot gag idea they wanted to crib form elsewhere. The Flintstones benefited from sitcoms already being a thing by the time that show was developed. For The Stonebrokes to focus on the family itself than to explore what gags could be mined out of a stone age concept, they would have to ‘invent the wheel’, so to speak. They simply didn’t want to invent something ‘new’ when they could rely on an already established formula.

  • Thanks so much for this! I’d forgotten that Small Fry was a Fleischer cartoon!

  • Sure, Stone Age toons are smellers.

    But they’re still light-years better than those mawkish Hunky & Spunky abominations.

    Meanwhile, the Popeyes just keep getting better and better.

  • “Wedding Belts” has some good gags. 🙂

  • I’d certainly place both SMALL FRY and ALL’S FAIR AT THE FAIR way above the Fleischer average for the era!

    • “All’s Fair At The Fair” is definitely a favorite of mine but I wish there was a sharper print available somewhere. Jerry had a decent copy on his “Somewhere In Dreamland” DVD but a nice fine grain print like the one I’ve seen of “Dancing On The Moon” would be great. I guess that’s probably locked away in a vault somewhere next to the Ark of Covenant and the Holy Grail.

  • It’s a shame that Fleischer couldn’t really get it together like Warner and MGM did. They could’ve been a worthy contender in the forties, but they just kind of fizzled out unmourned.

  • The studio finally got the hang of the ‘west coast’ style of cartoon around the end of 1941 with the Popeye series, but the shorts from the end of 1939 until that time were definitely the weakest ones the Flieschers produced.

    Having to split time between the shorts and finishing up “Gulliver” probably didn’t help with getting any sort of focus on the Stone Age cartoons, nor did the absence of Seymour Kneitel due to his heart attack (Kneitel catches lots of grief for his later work at Famous, but he had a far better track record as defacto director under Dave Fleischer, hemming probably the funniest of the Popeye shorts of the 1930s. The rotating cast of head animators that replaced him over the next two years rarely hit the mark).

  • Thad, I thought maybe SO DOES AN AUTOMOBILE was called a Miami cartoon is because it may have been finished up in Florida (final dubbing?). You make a good point that only Avery could carry off the bad puns and self-mocking of spot gag type cartoons..the ones Hardaway tried at Lantz were weak (FAIR TODAY, etc.), to the point where he even hired Bob Bruce to narrate.

    • That’s very astute, Keith. I was a little flippant in my wording. It may have been one of the final cartoons post-synced, because Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp is notorious for being one of the first pre-synced.

  • “Cops Is Always Right” Try using THAT as a cartoon subject during these times.

    • *troll-face*

  • You know a series is in trouble when the staff even hates it.

    Going off topic, did Disney ever attempted to do a spot-gag cartoon? The closest I can think of were some early Goofy shorts (particularly “Victory Vehicles”) but those felt a little too straight foward to count as spot-gag shorts.

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