For anyone that has seen these Thursday posts, it’s clear that the oddities that come from collecting cartoons are favorites to this writer; since you all can’t come over for a show, and since it’s likely been many, many, many years since this film was shown to children in a classroom, it’s back to the virtual living room approach.
Tom Thumb in King Arthur’s Court (1963) is an interesting if not bizarre entry in the history of educational films. It was made by Chicago-based Coronet films, arguably the king of the ‘Hygiene’ films of the late 40s through the late 60s. Coronet produced film strips, educational records and printed materials for use in grade schools and high schools. Coronet wasn’t the only company in the windy city making educational materials; there was a small industry of companies there that created materials for the thousands of public schools in the United States, with the industry growing larger to meet the demands of the increasing number of new schools educating the baby boomers.
Former Fleischer animator Gordon Sheehan recalled working on this particular film, and I asked him a little about the production in 1991. He explained that the majority of the work in the art department was not animation, but stills for educational filmstrips. Most of Coronet’s in-house artists had little animation experience, so films of this nature were generally produced outside the studio, often with most of the pre-animation production done in house to some extent.
Hugh Harman productions started the production work on the film for Coronet. They had produced several films for Coronet already in the late 50s, including a limited animation version of ‘The Littlest Angel’ (1960). Gordon said that he was unaware of this particular production at first, and wasn’t sure if Coronet proposed it or not originally or had bought an idea from Harman’s studio. Harman did have a special interest in the King Arthur stories, and even shopped around a treatment for a King Arthur Feature for many years.
Gordon said that for reasons that were not entirely clear (or perhaps for reasons that Gordon didn’t want to talk about) Hugh Harman couldn’t complete the production of the film, and the largely in progress work was shipped entirely to Coronet. Sheehan ended up taking over direction on the film, working with the material already completed at Harman’s studio. Gordon said that he remembered storyboarding sequences quickly to make a working reel of the film.
The final film is quite bizarre in many ways, but also fun. I find Gordon’s tendency to let his previous Fleischer and Famous Studio’s work influence the design to be really fun and charming at times. The changing design of Tom Thumb speaks to the disjointed nature of the production. It’s also clear that there are animators with varying degrees of experience working on the film.
When we were watching the film, Gordon made the comment that much of the beginning of the film, the sequence with Tom being chased by a cat and many of the sequences with the spider were completely layed out and at least partially animated by Harman’s studio. Gordon and the staff at Coronet animated much of the sequence with Tom meeting the thief. Gordan pointed out a sequence where Tom fights a spoon as being one of his as well. I was happy that he smiled and laughed a little seeing it, but sadly didn’t stay through the end, having been pulled away from the 16mm I was projecting at Cinevent.
I do wish I had a list of the artists that worked on this production; perhaps it lies in either Harman’s papers or Coronet’s records, if they exist.
I’m not so sure of the actual educational value of this particular production, but it is entertaining. At nearly 20 minutes, it’s one of the longest of the animated films Coronet made, and probably the most fully animated. I hope you enjoy it too.
Have a good week everyone!