With Dreamworks’ The Croods topping the box office, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at the original “modern stone-age” cartoons. No, not The Flintstones. Twenty years before that – Max Fleischer’s Stone Age Cartoons.
Never heard of them? You’re not alone. The clipping above is from The Miami News on June 9th 1939. I don’t think the series received much more publicity than this. I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate a bit about the circumstances of this obscure group of cartoons which came-and-went during the calendar year 1940.
The Fleischer’s had moved to Miami. The Betty Boop cartoons were losing favor. Mae Questel (Betty’s voice) decided to remain in New York. My guess is that the exhibitors didn’t want the Boop’s anymore. They ran their course. By 1939 Betty represented another era. Betty’s final “season” included cartoons in which she played second fiddle to monkeys, hillbillies, Pudgy and Sally Swing. To fulfill their contract, the Fleischer’s actually released a Betty Boop cartoon without Betty Boop (Yip, Yip, Yippee). And no one noticed!
I believe that wherever the idea for this Stone Age series came from, it as decided in haste to make it a series. I believe the first one was intended as a one-shot (like Yip Yip Yippee) and it was decided afterward to keep making ones like it – hence no regular starring character. The production numbers for the Stone Age series carried the “B” designation, held over from the Betty Boop productions. (Popeye’s were “P”, Color Classics were “C”, Superman were “S” and so on).
The Fleischer’s had a 1939-40 contract for 12
Boop’s Stone Age films to be delivered before September 1940. Because of the last minute switch from Betty to the Stone Age cartoons, the first one debut in February 1940 – and the last one reached the screen in late September 1940.
They didn’t catch on, they never had a chance. The following season (1940-41) the black and white series became the generic Animated Antics. In addition to several lackluster original cartoons, Fleischer used that series to give solo shots to some the Gulliver’s Travels cast – Twinkletoes (the pigeon) and Snoop, Sneak and Snitch (the spies). Max even made for lost time by picking up a bizarre Charley Bowers short (Pop and Mom in Wild Oysters) and I believe the first “Speaking Of Animals” (Down On The Farm) was released under this series umbrella.
Back to the Stone Age: These were produced when Charles Thorson was in house, and you can see his circle based character designs all over the production. (You can see some of his Stone Age model sheets at Michael Sporn’s Splog). Dan Gordon, who animated on several of these pictures, would recall them twenty years later to help concoct The Flintstones for Hanna-Barbera.
Below is one of those storyboards (or beat sheets or “director’s rough layout”) for the last Stone Age short, Way Back When Women Had Their Weigh (9/26/40). You’ll note the original title was the punny, “Man About Ton”. The film was directed by Tom Johnson and among the animators in his unit were Harold Walker, Ben Solomon, Jack Ozark, Frank Endres and Graham Place. If you look close (click on each to enlarge image) you can see which animator animated which scene. Below the boards is the final cartoon for comparison. Margie Hines is the cave girl, Pinto Colvig voices the heavy set man.