THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
September 14, 2017 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Ted Eshbaugh’s “Cap’n Cub” (1945) – and ‘Momotaro’s Sea Eagles’ (1943)

Hi everyone! School has started here, and there’s much to do- but the hardest thing has been balancing between my real work schedule and getting Thunderbean things out the door. The hardest thing about doing any of the Thunderbean projects is that they always have lots of elements, and the ‘fixes’ become a challenge of enough time. It’s a period of getting a few projects finished, but getting there. No exciting news really this week on that front, but some stuff next week for sure!

So – onto this week’s films:

Ted Eshbaugh’s Cap’n Cub (1945) is easily one of the strangest cartoons I’ve ever seen. Eshbaugh made the short most likely sometime in 1943 or 1944, and the film saw a release in early 1945 though Film Classics, a small distributor and re-issues and low budget independent films. A very rare poster for the film calls the short ‘Capn’ Cub Blasts the Japs’. I wish I had a picture to show you – maybe some day!

Eshabaugh’s love for mechanical devices is apparent here, as it is in The Snowman (1931), Sunshine Makers (1935) and Sammy Salvage (1943).

In Cap’n Cub, our hero boasts of his great abilities at the opening of the film. Upon landing, he is a guest of honor at what appears to be some sort of Military Award ceremony parade. After this somewhat bizarre display of disorganized military might, he complains to a general that they need are ‘Planes! Planes! Planes! Planes’ while pounding his angry fist. This in enough to launch a full production line of small, open, round, single seat planes, with an impressive line of Capn’ Cub clones heading to jump into said planes. Sadly, we never see any of those other bears any other time in the film; instead, we’re treated to his air force of funny animals, including a fat Texan dark brown bear who treats his plane like a horse, touting a pistol in each hand.

While patrolling, the plucky crew runs into a large squadron of Japanese planes piloted by Japanese ‘Monkeys’, prompting the Cap’n to say ‘It’s the Japs!”. The Japanese attack first, sending Cap’n Cub’s clearly outmatched plane spinning, landing on a cloud. Although the odds are against them, the Capn’s little air force group manages to take down all the enemy planes in one way or another, with the final plane crash forming the Rising Sun flag.

The second half of the story plays out somewhat like a WW2 Popeye short, but with the sharp gag timing. One would of course expect some bizarre aspects, being an Eshbaugh cartoon, and the short never fails to surprise is this aspect.

I find the stereotypes in this cartoon to be some of the most grotesque of any of the war shorts in their portrayal of the Japanese- and am always surprised it became one of the most widely available propaganda shorts after the war was done.

The major difference between this and so many other Eshbaugh shorts is the varying animation quality. Clearly there were some budget constraints in its production. I find the reuse and inconsistent quality of animation in this film to be jarring at times, but still enjoy the film for what it is.

After the war, the short was sold by Eashbaugh to ‘Official Films’. They marketed it well into the 60s for non-theatrical rentals, television and home movie use. One wonders how the cartoon remained in circulation so long- even leaving in Cap’n Cub’s ‘It’s the Japs’ line. Perhaps they thought children watching the film wouldn’t get it. On a side note, Official films was so named because it was the ‘Official’ film company of the 1939 World’s Fair, having beaten out Castle Films. Both companies released a lot of cartoons in the 8mm and 16mm market, mostly in black and white, from many different studios.

The first time I saw the short was a well-loved 16mm print that was duped from an Official Films print, with silent home made looking titles spliced onto whatever was used to make the print. It was a little too well loved (and too poor of quality) to be used on the ‘Cultoons Volume 1’ set I was putting together for the then new Snappy Video in 1987. Jeff Missinne transferred his print for me back then, and that copy is the copy that appears on many of the dollar DVDs over the years. “Desert Island Films” bootlegged that old VHS of Cultoons 1, often leaving the films in the exact order they appear on our release (and with some of the title cards I made as a 19 year old back then).

The copy here that someone uploaded is from the Thunderbean DVD ‘Cartoons for Victory’:

Here is the ‘Official Films’ print of the film in black and white- the most common copy of the film available.


In contrast:

At 36 minutes, the Japanese film Momotaro’s Sea Eagles (1943) is sometimes referred to as the first Japanese animated feature. I would consider its followup, Momotaro’s Devine Sea Warriors (1945) to be the true first feature at 114 minutes.Now they are both available on youtube, having found a release on DVD. This short featuring Momotaro, the Japanese folk hero born from a Peach, leading a warrior team consisting of Rabbits, Quail, Fox and Monkeys to bomb Pearl Harbor. Among the sailors they attack are Bluto (with dialogue lifted from Fleischer’s Popeye cartoon Ali-Baba and the 40 Thieves. Bluto is drawn pretty cute here, and it’s revealed (with his hat off) that he has an Ogre horn on his head. The portrayal of the Americans and British as Ogres (as in this and the second film) follows the famous story of Momotaro’s legends.

Momotaro’s Sea Eagle

This film is fascinating in it’s often bizarre direction, sometimes funny gags and especially bizarre sound design. As an animated film, I think it’s enjoyable despite it’s dire subject matter. It only took 73 years to make it more widely available (I tried for many years but never managed to get the license to use it).

And Momotaro’s Devine Sea Warriors. As many people did, I had a bootleg of this film for many years on VHS. Nice to see it looking even better now.

Have a good week everyone!

11 Comments

  • It’s interesting how they the Imperial Japanese government used a legendary folk tale hero named Momotaro the Peach Boy and turned him into a a propaganda tool for the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) during WWII as the commanding officer and leader of a all animal crew and “kamikaze” pilots flying Mitsubishi Zero aircraft. Truly a unique piece of WWII animated propaganda from the Axis. And how odd that one of the American Navy Sailor on the sinking battleship the “USS Onioasima (?)” looks exactly like Bluto from the Popeye cartoons.

  • I remember a lot of WWII cartoons on TV in the early 60s, mostly in the local Popeye and Loony Tunes shows. In new shows the emphasis was Cold War enemies, so I had a hard time sorting out bad guys until history classes finally got around to the war.

    I vividly remember seeing “Der Fuehrer’s Face” on TV once. Donald Duck on the assembly line, trying to heil the framed portraits of Hitler, followed by the the nightmare of a giant bomb pounding the heads of assembly-line Donalds, lingered in memory; it was a relief to finally see I was remembering an actual cartoon and not hallucinating. Was it ever on the evening show, or the Mickey Mouse Club?

    • It’ll be interesting to know where you might’ve seen “Der Fuehrer’s Face” in. I actually first saw a clip or two of it on a Disney Channel special my mom taped for me in ’84 that was about Donald’s 50th birthday. They included the cartoon towards the end of the special and it was like something I hadn’t seen before, and didn’t know if I’d ever see it again.

  • I remember when animator Kent Butterworth returned from Tokyo in 1983 or 1984 with the first Shochiku VHS video of “Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors”. It was one of the first commercial video releases of anime (before “Dallos”, which was the first video of original animation), and it was the first proof that “Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors” still existed. Up to then, nobody was sure whether or not the American forces occupying Japan during the late 1940s had destroyed all prints of it; it had not been seen since Japan’s surrender in 1945. Butterworth, who was in Tokyo as the liaison to a Japanese studio doing subcontract production for some American TV cartoon series, had bought it for the Japanese equivalent of almost $100. It was priced for video rental stores to buy. Nobody believed yet that there was any market for individual home video sales.

    • It was lucky for him to afford for it at all. Early anime fandom was often hit with those prices as well when it came to wanting to buy anything out of Japan in those days. Today, the domestic BluRay+DVD combo for “Momotaro, Sacred Soldiers” will set you back nearly thirty bucks, and probably looks a heck lot better than what Shochiku could afford for a video transfer in the 1980’s!
      https://www.funimation.com/shop/home-video/the-movie-bld-00499/

  • SEO Mitsuyo’s “Momotaro’s Sea Eagle” has been available on an American DVD since 2008 (Zakka Films’ “The Roots of Japanese Anime”). Seo’s “Momotaro – Divine Sea Warriors” is now available remastered on blu-ray (as “Momotaro: Sacred Sailors” in the US) together with the shorter “Spider and Tulip” by MASAOKA Kenzô. A nice selection of Japanese animated movies from 1917 to 1941 can be found at http://animation.filmarchives.jp/en/index.html.

  • One of the more bizarre aspects of MOMOTARO UMI NO SHINPEI (Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors) is the scene near the end where the British soldiers are pleading with Momotaro for surrender terms. The characters are speaking in clear, British-accented English and do not sound like Japanese voice-actors. It has long been rumored that British POW’s were taken from prison camps and made to perform those characters in the movie, but there is no actual proof of this.

    • What’s more bizarre is the scene where the Bluto like sailor rushes to the flagpole to reach the flag of the United States of America but the flag in question looks more like the flag of the African nation of Liberia which was founded in 1822 but became a free country in 1847.

    • Sometimes I wonder if those incongruities makes it easier to watch this if you don’t stop and think about them more often?

  • I’m STILL waiting news on FLIP THE FROG. Steve, could you give us a heads up on the progress

  • Sadly, we never see any of those other bears any other time in the film; instead, we’re treated to his air force of funny animals, including a fat Texan dark brown bear who treats his plane like a horse, touting a pistol in each hand.

    Could be a budget/time reason if that’s why we have the Texan bear and kangaroo figures highlighted prior to Cub’s final showdown. The “clones” I’m sure was just for decoration, give us the idea of there being a troop along with our titular Cap’n Cub so he wasn’t going at this alone!

    On a side note, Official films was so named because it was the ‘Official’ film company of the 1939 World’s Fair, having beaten out Castle Films. Both companies released a lot of cartoons in the 8mm and 16mm market, mostly in black and white, from many different studios.

    Neat little side history of this company I knew nothing about.

    The copy of the Official Films print you used comes from “Periscope Film, LLC”, who seems to like opening and ending their videos with this sort of ID/slate card deal that tries to mimick the look of what I guess is a snipe or a tag that was edited/spliced right into their prints like the public library systems used to do. I always get a kick out of seeing the different intros of films that would remind you of what college or library that print came from that shows up on a few places like archive(dot)org these days.

    I would consider its followup, Momotaro’s Devine Sea Warriors (1945) to be the true first feature at 114 minutes.Now they are both available on youtube, having found a release on DVD

    I’m still rather impressed Funimation ACTUALLY released these at all! Quite a ballsy title to include in their library.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHJgZa2h5mc

    Still I will say these are probably the BEST we’ll ever see these films in!

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