THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
April 10, 2014 posted by Steve Stanchfield

The Cult of “Noveltoons”

noveltoonjack

There seems to be a special place in animation fan circles for Paramount’s Noveltoons cartoons, produced by Famous Studios. One of the things that always amazed me was how much people love the Famous Studios cartoons in general. I know I’ve talked a little bit about this before..perhaps there should actually be a book on the cult following of these cartoons. These cartoons were never my favorites as a child – in fact, it’s safe to say that I didn’t become a big fan of them until I started working on the Noveltoons DVD. At some point we’ll work on another set if I can get good enough material, since there’s some great ones I just couldn’t find.

What is especially interesting to me is that the people that really seem to love them (and I’m sure many of you are included in that) do so because of the things that are really good about them (animation and slick production values) AND the things that are not so good about them (weak stories, bad puns, exceedingly violent gags and behavior).

They seem to have found a new cult following among a younger generation now, who mostly saw these films on PD VHS tapes or even DVDs. It makes me wonder if the obsession with this particular series has more to do with them being more assessable or because they are somehow designed to be especially interesting to people who like Winston Sharples scores, or some other aspect.

Noveltoon-posters3

There’s also an obsession with original title sequences related to these films in particular. Now, a lot of us really do love to see the original titles on an old film but, with certain circles, finding original Paramount titles is nearly a full time obsession.

A few good examples are these title card re-creations, Hand drawn. Now, that’s love:

Perhaps the obsession with finding original titles is because they’re so hard to see. I can sort of relate; sometimes I think I’m really hunting things down just to see the titles.

For many years, it was nearly impossible to see very many Paramount cartoons with their original title sequences. UM&M (later, NTA) had the TV package for Noveltoons, the Talkartoons and Betty Boops, while AAP had the Popeye cartoons. Both companies did a pretty complete job in replacing the original logos on these films.

Producing one of these cartoons sets always reveals some surprises. As I was gathering prints, the thing that amazed me most is just how colorful the series was. From viewing the terrible color on NTA’s prints you get the impression that these cartoons were never so colorful in the first place.

We transferred quite a few from 35mm Technicolor prints; a few more were transferred from old UM&M 16mm printing negatives. Suddenly it’s Spring (1944) had a surprisingly beautiful negative from 1962, still containing a full spectrum of colors. My guess is that somehow this particular printing material was left out of the television package at some point, perhaps because of its racial stereotype.

Some of the ones I really wanted of course were the hardest to find, like No Mutton for Nuttin (here taped off a French TV broadcast:)

I really like the early ones the best I think…

Thad Kommorowski was kind enough to lend his 16mm Kodachrome print of Cilly Goose for the set. This is one I’d love to find in 35mm. This print also has an unusual “Paramount Champion” reissue logo.

And, finally, here is one that I’d love to see with it’s original titles and with good color:

NEXT WEEK: Some big news on upcoming Thunderbean sets!

33 Comments

  • Steve :
    If I saw these in their initial form (original titles,good color prints(!) etc) I’d be a big fan too,Unfortunately all I can remember watching these growing up is in the dreaded Harveytoons form (generic titles,awful washed out color prints) and so forth.I especially enjoyed Suddenly It’s Spring. I never realized that a Noveltoon could work in so much drama.It”s too bad it wasn’t included because of political correctness in the syndicated package.And I do agree with you on the G.I.Johnny short.I’d give anyhthing to see at least a decent print with original titles!

  • Really, the one-shot Noveltoons are pretty good all the way through the 1950s, and the Irving Spector-Eddie Lawrence collaborations after that (some as Modern Madcaps), are still able to make up for the animation budgets falling apart in 1958 with clever stories and dialogue.

    The problem seemed to be when Paramount took characters from the one-shots and tried to turn them into continuing series, especially after 1948-49, that’s when the weakness of the story department — which suffered some key losses in the late 1940s — became apparent (and it also was something the top people at Famous grasped, based on the 1952 letter found in Art Davis’ archives from Izzy Sparber, asking Davis if he knew where Sid Marcus was so he could offer him a writing job).

    The other problem was the desire by the end of the 40s for ‘polished’ animation over ‘funny’ animation. No one would ever thing the 1940s Noveltoons were all drawn by one hand, especially the ones supervised by Sparber, who allowed the head animators far more leeway in design and timing, whether it was Dave Tendlar or Jim Tyer doing the work. That’s gone by the end of the decade, apparently due to Seymour Kneitel’s influence, so that every Famous short looks more alike, but the timing has been blanded out to the point visual gags no longer have much clout, and if the story’s weak, there’s no way to save the cartoon (Al Eugster’s UPA-ization of his characters in key pose reaction mode in the 50s at least tried to get around that problem, but once the animation budgets were slashed all the characters looked that way).

  • Some of those Noveltoons could be disturbing, eh? That image of Gilly Goose with her head in the wringer while the crowd was being gleeful about it is going to haunt me all day!

  • This was my first viewing, ever, of SUDDENLY IT’S SPRING. What a lovely and beautifully executed cartoon! The production values are certainly right up there with the best of what the Fleischer team in the years just before the studio was reorganized. I do tend to think you may be right, Steve, about why this was never shown on TV.

    Isn’t that Joan Alexander’s voice as the little girl’s mom? Sure sounds like Lois Lane to me!

    • “This was my first viewing, ever, of SUDDENLY IT’S SPRING. What a lovely and beautifully executed cartoon! The production values are certainly right up there with the best of what the Fleischer team in the years just before the studio was reorganized. I do tend to think you may be right, Steve, about why this was never shown on TV.”

      At least “Breezy” gets to be an invisible entity than a concrete human caricature like the rest. :-P

    • “Suddenly It’s Spring” also has that horror-movie shot of the snowman melting in the middle of the happy ending.

      The term I keep thinking of is “tone deaf”. They had a bizarre knack for hitting the wrong tone and not noticing — making a gag unintentionally grim, or a charm moment stupid. Not all the time, but often enough.

  • I really like these Noveltoons, especially their theme music. I’d love to see another Noveltoons set.

  • Man! I actually LIKE that Raggedy film (as opposed to the 2-reeler, i do NOT!) And the Richard Williams film is wonnnderful! Thanks for sharing these. What a joy to see thier original titles….instead of that grotesque “black bar” “covering up” things!!

    • Or the U.M. & M. title card variants that cover up those gorgeous visuals in favor of generic white text over a red background. I think “Suddenly It’s Spring” got that type when it was in brief circulation.

  • When I was a little kid, I liked the Noveltoons that served as the “Funny Part” of the Caspar Cartoon Show, as I liked “Funny” cartoons more than Caspar.

  • I don’t know of any background artist who painted clouds like Shane Miller did; look at both of the Raggedy Ann Noveltoons and the Fleischer-Jam Handy “Rudolph” and see what I mean.

  • It makes me wonder if the obsession with this particular series has more to do with them being more assessable or because they are somehow designed to be especially interesting to people who like Winston Sharples scores, or some other aspect.

    I don’t suppose the fact these were produced by those at the height of their prime is ever a factor (where the 1940′s are concerned).

    For many years, it was nearly impossible to see very many Paramount cartoons with their original title sequences. UM&M (later, NTA) had the TV package for Noveltoons, the Talkartoons and Betty Boops, while AAP had the Popeye cartoons. Both companies did a pretty complete job in replacing the original logos on these films.

    At least unlike NTA or Harvey Films, AAP didn’t try to block out the Paramount copyrights on the cartoon titles themselves or retroactively re-copyright those cartoons to themselves, but still a hatchet job none the less in regards to the logos and intros of those films.

    • Well, in defense of UM&M, when they bought those cartoons they were required as part of the sales agreement to remove all references to Paramount and Paramount Pictures, as well as studio logos and indicia. That’s in the Copyright Reassignment Documents for these films at the U.S. Copyright Office. Keep in mind that there was still a great deal of stigma attacked to major studio involvement in television distribution of their film libraries and that requirement to remove all references to the originating studio was a standard one in the early-mid ’50s. Companies like UM&M didn’t do it because they wanted to. Having to refilm all those main title sequences was just added expense to them.

      Paramount similarly required Associated Artists Productions to do the same to the Popeye cartoons.

      Where UM&M can be faulted is the graceless way they chose to do it. Those black bars blocking key portions of the screen are just ugly by any standards. The completely refilmed titles aren’t elegant, but they’re definitely preferable to those black bars.

    • “Where UM&M can be faulted is the graceless way they chose to do it. Those black bars blocking key portions of the screen are just ugly by any standards. The completely refilmed titles aren’t elegant, but they’re definitely preferable to those black bars.”

      That is true. I was just thinking of one of the Puppetoons, “Jasper and the Watermelons” and how much of a challenge that was for them to block out the namesake, copyrights and “Technicolor” the way that intro was handled. Such a mess really.

    • In addition to Paramount, there was also Technicolor to deal with. Though I suppose there were some contract variations; in general, Technicolor’s contracts with the major studios required their name to be removed from (reissue) prints made in any other color process or b/w. I’ve seen the Technicolor credit on some feature films airbrushed out on remade title cards or matted out. This may also account for Castle Films’ chopping the intros short on 50′s-60′s Woody Woodpecker cartoons or “wallpapering” it with their own version of the Walter Lantz logo; and I’ve seen a matte over the color credits on AAP’s 8mm home-movie prints of the Warner cartoons; though oddly not on the 16mm TV and rental prints.

    • “In addition to Paramount, there was also Technicolor to deal with. Though I suppose there were some contract variations; in general, Technicolor’s contracts with the major studios required their name to be removed from (reissue) prints made in any other color process or b/w. I’ve seen the Technicolor credit on some feature films airbrushed out on remade title cards or matted out.”

      MGM’s use to look rather pathetic the way it appeared as if someone took a Sharpie on every frame to blot out the namesake on those Happy Harmonies prints.

  • Hey, not everything is lost here! Let’s assume all Harveytoons that are owned by Dreamworks (Shrek & Madagascar) could be re-released with the original displays, assuming they are still in possession of the original prints from Paramount’s Famous Studios. Even if the originals where re-edited, I still assume they own the original prints, unless those where probably destroyed, like the Filmation (He-Man & She-Ra) original prints, when ownership was transferred from L’oreal cosmetics to Hallmark Entertainment.

    • In the case of the Harvey Films titles (released between 1950-59 with a 1960-62 extension later on), Paramount technically still has those original negatives themselves as they sold Harvey Comics the TV/character rights but kept theatrical rights for themselves if that’s what I recall Jerry Beck once said about it.

    • Chris (above) is correct.

    • Thanks Jerry, it’s nice to keep that information in mind.

  • I think one of the things that made the famous Studios cartoons so interesting is the inability to define the cartoons towards any kind of an audience. WB obviously were made for adults; Disney obviously for family audiences; MGM again for more families. But the Noveltoons often seemed to be too simplistic for older audiences yet there were often many violent and adult references found within. John Lee, I think you can confirm this, didn’t Irv Spector outright say that he wanted the Casper, Audrey, Huey, H&K etc to be written intentionally directed towards children? Yet their production values, colour palettes, lavish designs were much further above what most children cared about.

    As a child watching these on TV, for some reason I was obsessed with them. Maybe it was the repetitive, naive scripts; or the comic book and merchandising tie-ins; or the use of songs and folk music; maybe even the Harvey titles with that giant “H” hypnotizing me into sitting still for 6 minutes and watch the ‘good guy’ come out on top, who knows. All I know is that there was something about them that myself, with a young and innocent mind, could tap into, and I couldn’t get enough of them.

    Looking at them as an adult now I really see a lot about them to appreciate beyond the first impressions- These really need restoration and re-distribution for a new generation of viewers :)

    • Yep — Paramount never seemed to completely shake the original Color Classics mantra from the Fleischer Studio to mimic Disney, at the same time they had a new goal to mimic Warner Bros. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — there’s something to be said for the Raggedy Ann efforts, the Red Lantern/”Land of the Lost” cartoons and several others that focused on story above comedy. But the downside was they never really mastered either, so their more serious cartoons were weaker Disney and their comedy efforts had fewer funny gags than Warners and (mainly in the Tendlar unit’s efforts) more painful ones than MGM’s Tom & Jerry efforts (the studio also maintained the Willard Bowsky “creep out the kiddies” factor in some of their cartoons all the way up to the late 1950s that made some of the Noveltoons disturbingly memorable to the yutes who grew up watching them on TV).

      So there were a lot of misses, but Paramount still hit the target enough to make people care about the cartoons — more than, say Terrytoons, even as the two studios periodically swapped staff, or the Lantz efforts after the mid-1950s (and I still think Shamus Culhane’s 1967 effort, “The Plumber” makes better use of the same story line than Chuck Jones’ “Nellie’s Folly” did six years earlier, so you can take Paramount all the way up to their final year of operation and find something worth caring about in the output).

    • Larry, here’s how the indented audience was:
      WB, MGM, UPA, Terrytoons, Lantz before the 1960s, Jay Ward, most early Hanna-Barbera, Fleischer: Adults. (Actually teen or later teen years, oir full grown adults, or anyone but kids).

      Disney, Famous (both gernerally, not always), kids, if not families.

      An important problem occuredthe aiming just at kids (the audience that replaced adults once these magical gems got to TV when it was decided the adults were too “non-friendly to advertisers”-even more so when the original audiences from the golden 1930s-1940s adult cinema era, that saw many of the older rival cartoons (and predecessor Fleischer Popeyes) as original viewers, died off by the late 70s-80s .which by 1971 would take hold entirely on all TV)

      That problem was, Famous’s ying and yang (John Lee’s one of those who cited this before, and some others like Leonard Maltin have) was: Herman and Katnip and Buzzy for the more adult “Tom and Jerry” fan and Casper for the key kid audience that Famous wanted.

      But the violence and the “Mammy’ characters eventually by the late 60s were decided un-PC AND demographically too old even though Famous-Harveytoons franchises were ALWAYS generally just for kids!! That’s why a lot of these, once the original adult audience for half the competition like WB, and MGM, got more heat…
      Meanwhile other studios, even some Disney, were regarded as more adult or at least family based, not just kids…(And J.Lee, I like your use of “yute”, btw.:))

  • The 40s era cartoons are definitely the best ones and make for very entertaining cartoons that size up pretty well with the WB and MGM product of they day. They aren’t all winners, but that’s to be expected.

    However, the Noveltoons/Famous Studios series really ran into issues in the 1950s. The animation wasn’t as good, the plots and gags aren’t as fresh and they just seem to be very poor substitutes overall. Sadly, they make up the bulk of the Harveytoons package and that’s most of what people got to gauge the whole studio output with for decades before Youtube and Thunderbean’s DVD shed a new light on it.

    Any chance for a Vol 2 of Noveltoons, Steve?

  • In general, I must say that the reason we fans obsess over any cartoons from any of the theatrical studios being fully and uncompromisingly restored is that, in so many cases, you get to see and hear the film with its original score from beginning to end, as you pointed out in some cases. Remember how jarring it is to hear the 1940′s and beyond scoring opening up a blue ribbon print of a mid-to-late 1930′s MERRIE MELODIES title? The scoring instrumentation was almost completely different on the original, as was the pace of the cartoons.

    After the dawn of the 1940′s, there were certain arrangements that marked the decades and, sometimes, the ear is distracted when it hears the brassiness of the 1940′s and then you hear the splice and you’re listening to a slightly more subdued arrangement. This is not only true of Warner Brothers or even MGM, but it is true of Famous Studios cartoons. The first few color cartoons mirrored the work of the last black and white toons, so the earliest LITTLE LULU scores are really quite interesting, especially when there is a lot of quick little bits of action going on. The scores tried to keep up with those.

    A good example of this is the score in one POPEYE cartoon in which Popeye, in drag, “paints” Bluto’s tongue with something hot, and Bluto goes racing around, in a beautifully executed moment, yelling for “water!…water!”, with black smoke billowing out of his mouth with each syllable, and the score also moving at top speed, playing Rossini’s “Storm”. As the decades moved on, the Paramount color cartoons began merely sampling score segments, until you couldn’t tell the difference between a theatrical cartoon and the TV cartoons done for King Features which sampled some of the same bits of scoring.

    Hearing a Paramount/Famous cartoon with its original score defines, from beginning to end, the decade in which that cartoon was made, and this is true of all studios. It is the primary reason why I’d love to see a treasury of restored Terrytoons as well. I think our enjoyment of same is greatly marred because we only saw so many cut-up prints either in syndication or as part of network Saturday morning revivals. I don’t think there were many Terrytoons in the public domain, because I never caught a lot of these on PD VHS tapes or DVD collections.

    • I think our enjoyment of same is greatly marred because we only saw so many cut-up prints either in syndication or as part of network Saturday morning revivals. I don’t think there were many Terrytoons in the public domain, because I never caught a lot of these on PD VHS tapes or DVD collections.

      You can probably thank Viacom/Paramount for having renewed copyrights for most of those, besides the few that slipped by like “Wolf! Wolf!” or “The Talking Magpies”.

    • My 16mm print of Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives is an AAP…I have to admit, I completely love the idea of a b/w AAP title intro with 40s score leading up to an early Harmon-Ising Merrie Melodie. I’m all for original title restorations, but reissues can be fascinating and have their rightful context within animation history as well.

  • Getting to see Technicolor Noveltoons prints really makes the 1940′s animation as well as the backgrounds stand out as first class work. They could rival Disney, IMO. The prints I saw on tv as a kid were so washed out, you could not see much of the backgrounds. With good prints or restored prints you can really see the fine details in the backgrounds and I’ve developed a real appreciation for the work of Shane Miller and Bob Little. In fact, I think I could say Shane Miller is the Jim Tyer of backgrounds (“scenics” in the credits).
    Oh yes, and I also enjoy the Winston Sharples music scores.

    • Share shares story credit on the final Raggedy Ann cartoon, “The Enchanted Square” and when you look at Steve’s restored version on the Noveltoons DVD you can see why — with the backgrounds there, it really is as much Miller’s cartoon as anyone else’s, in the same way Maurice Noble’s backgrounds defined so many for Chuck Jones’ late 1950s and early ’60s cartoons.

    • “Enchanted Square” is a favorite. In description it’s cringeworthy, but onscreen it’s beautifully done and unironically enjoyable.

  • Paramount had trouble making up its mind what to do with its “Champions” reissue series. At first it was a mix of Noveltoons and live-action shorts. Then those were ditched in favor of all-Popeye reissues. Then the Popeye reissues were dropped (and eventually revived as a separate reissue series called “Popeye Champions”), while the “Paramount Champions” series proper went to an all-Noveltoons (well, and Casper, Herman and Katnip, et al) format. The Popeye Champions continued into the mid-1960s. The Paramount Champions series was dropped in the early ’60s, around the time Harvey put the cartoons they’d bought on television.

    I get the impression that the guys who made up the story department at Famous saw that other studios — Warner and MGM in particular — were getting big laughs (and big box office) by ramping up the violence content of their cartoons, and decided to take the same approach in many of their own stories, and while they learned to imitate the kind of cartoon violence other studios were doing, I don’t feel like they ever really understood WHY those other studios were able to get laughs out of violence, in terms of story and characterization. They never really seemed to grasp that violent acts perpetrated on hapless cats weren’t inherently funny in and of themselves. It’s easy to see why Herman and Katnip were models for Itchy and Scratchy on The Simpsons. Unlike Tom and Jerry, who seemed more evenly matched in that Tom could be a genuine threat to Jerry’s health and well-being, Katnip tends to come off as just this side of mentally disabled, to the point that you almost wish Herman would stop being such a bully and stop picking on the poor, stupid schmuck.

    The stodgy timing of the Famous cartoons, always a bit too literal and on the nose, certainly didn’t help.

    It seems a little unfair that Famous’s best output is invariably compared, understandably unfavorably, to the Fleischer Brothers’ best output. After all, by the early 1940s, even the Fleischers themselves were having trouble making good Fleischer cartoons.

  • Hi, Steve! I have two questions for you (one is on-topic and the other is off-topic):
    1. Can you tell me what are the cartoons on Thunderbean’s Noveltoons: Original Classics DVD?
    And 2. Who directed the Private Snafu cartoon ”The Chow Hound” (1944), Frank Tashlin (sources claim he directed it) or Friz Freleng (it looks more like a Freleng cartoon than Tashlin)?

    • Please disregard the first question as I just found out what cartoons are featured on the DVD, however I still want to know who directed the Private Snafu cartoon ”The Chow Hound”.

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