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.
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.
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!