Now, it’s your turn.
But first – I have been frequently asked to compile a “top ten” of favorite Paramount cartoons. My problem is I like many more than ten – it would probably be easier to break my choices into three lists: top ten 40s Famous, top ten 50s Harveytoon and top ten 60s Paramount.
I have actually embed video of many of my favorites over the past six months – but for fun, I’ll take on the challenge of creating a top ten, re-running some of those I’d already highlighted before.
These sort of lists are highly subjective. One man’s Noveltoon is another man’s Go-Go Toon. How do you compare a 60s Shamus Culhane to a 40s Bill Tytla Popeye? You can’t.
Here’s my Top Ten in chronologic order – my ‘desert island’ picks, so to speak – though somewhat randomly selected off the top of my head, listed for the fun of it and for debate amongst you in the comments section below. There are another 50 or so I could substitute here without any problem. I most likely forgot a major one I really meant to include. That all said – here’s my list:
She-Sick Sailors (1944)
I flipped a few coins pitting this and Cartoons Ain’t Human, Scrap The Japs, Puppet Love and a dozen other early 40s Popeye cartoons. Could have been any of them, but there’s no denying this one’s a classic – combining the classic Popeye-Olive-Bluto love triangle with the added twist of a Superman tie-in (under license from National Perodical Publications). Sammy Timberg’s Superman theme, Jim Tyer animation, and those great Shane Miller “scenics” make this one a super-duper masterpiece.
Sheep Shape (1946)
Sheep Shape is the closest Famous got to combining the chase-gag aesthetic at Warner Bros. with the Red Hot Riding Hood sensibility of Tex Avery at MGM. Unfortunately it fails on both counts – but nonetheless I find it hilarious fun. Violent and sexy (if your thing is male sheep in drag), Sid Raymond doing a Bert Lahr-esque “Wolfie” with an urgent need for ten thousand bucks; Arnold Stang as wise-guy “Blackie” (“Stop it, Stop it… you’re breakin’ my heart!”); and a load of lecherous wolf gags done in hideously bad taste. Famous Studios at its height.
Butterscotch and Soda (1948)
The first of the Little Audrey series (not counting her role as part of an ensemble in Santa’s Surprise) sets the tone for the rest of the shorts. Essentially a knock-off of the Little Lulu films, Audrey feels like an improvement in character – a Lulu 2.0 – with a lot more charm and a real mischievous side. They pull out the stops to make her appealing here – with a wonderful fantasy-dream sequence and that one-time “swing version” of the Little Audrey theme song – all adding up to make this one of my favorites.
Jitterbug Jive (1950)
I love this one – for all the right and wrong reasons. Popeye comes over to Olive’s with party favors from 1905 (a turn-of-the century taffy pull, a pin-the-tail on the donkey game, classical music 78 rpm records, etc). But Olive is stuck in a similar time-warp: she’s suddenly a 1940s bobby-soxer, and Bluto arrives as a zoot-suited hipster. Luckily his spinach gets Popeye ‘hep to the jive’ (I could swear Popeye kicks Bluto in the nuts at 5:50). Bill Tytla’s great direction/animation and character designs; Jack Mercer skat singing… will stop and watch this one anytime.
Herman The Catoonist (1953)
It’s hard for me to select a “best” Herman and Katnip cartoon. Sometimes it comes down to which one has the most outrageously violent gags. Clearly the studio observed that the ‘hurt gags’ in MGM’s Tom & Jerry cartoons got the big laughs – and Famous was game to out-do them. The problem is that they removed the context those gags appeared in MGM cartoons – and ignored the funny drawings that made the ‘hurt’ more funny and less painful. The slicing, dicing, punching and pounding Katnip endures can be felt – and audiences often react to Herman & Katnip with shock, not laughter. Herman The Catoonist takes a meta-approch to the series – here the characters are pen and ink comic strip characters who “come to life” at night, and what ensues is a wall-to-wall blood fest – Katnip biting his own tongue, Herman amputating (erasing) Katnip’s foot and then beheading him with a pair of scissors – and of course, the cat’s demise, balled up in rubber cement, and drowning in Max Fleischer’s inkwell (where we can assume Koko and Fitz will further abuse him). Ahhh… good clean fun.
Ghost Of Honor (1957)
Love this one for many reasons. First off, its set at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre for the “World Premiere” of a new Casper cartoon. Wishful thinking, perhaps… but even more fantastic is the depiction of the luxurious “Paramount Cartoon Studios” in Hollywood! There, in spacious settings not unlike the fabled UPA headquarters in Burbank, Casper observes the various steps involved in creating a cartoon. Keep in mind the actual Paramount cartoons were created in cramped office space in a skyscraper off sleazy Times Square in Manhattan. The art direction is particularly lovely in this film, the character designs of the studio staff are fun, and its a rare Paramount cartoon with crossover appearances by Baby Huey, Herman, Katnip, Spunky, Wolfie, Tommy Tortoise and Moe Hare. Gotta admit it – this one always puts a smile on my face.
Chew Chew Baby (1958)
Political incorrectness aside, this one is a classic. There have been cartoons about pygmy cannibals before – as Donald Duck and George & Junior will attest – but here the joke is really on the “ugly American”, Harry, in urban Cincinnati. And it all works. Again, the modern art direction here is first rate and the animation, character design and – unique for Famous – the timing is just fine. And the voice track by Jackson Beck is perhaps his best. Funn-ny, Funn-ny!
La Petite Parade (1959)
As stated in my earlier post devoted solely to this cartoon, this one remains particularly memorable due to its repetition of Monsieur Renior’s “Grand Procession” song (Ra-ta-ta-ta-tum Army, Ra-ta-ta-ta-tum Navy, Ra-ta-ta-ta-tum, Department Sanitaire…”). It’s also a matter of the limited animation matching perfectly to the style and story of the film. A unique, fun idea well executed. If an original path for the Kneitel Modern Madcaps ever emerged, this film would be the template for it. It’s a shame so few followed up on this potential.
Les Boys (1965)
Howard Post’s reign at the helm of Paramount did yield a few notable films. Of them, I’m particularly fond of Posts ultimate Swifty and Shorty cartoon, Les Boys. Saddled with one more short to fulfill the contract with Paramount, Post wrote and directed this one, sans dialogue, drawn in modern abstract style. Perhaps if anyone was watching, this could have been a way to continue the series. But alas, no one was watching. An interesting experiment – a quintessential 60s cartoon in some ways. All I can say is: I like it.
Marvin Digs (1967)
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, this Bakshi short is our first glimpse of Ralph as social commentator – addressing the counter-culture of 1967 in a way few other animated films did during that era. A snapshot of the ‘generation gap’ issues of the day, the kind of thing All In The Family would do four years later. Beyond that, its funny. Dayton Allen and Corrine Orr do voices, a psychedelic rock bank does the music, a trippy dream sequence introduces the character. It blows my mind every time I see it.
Honorary Mentions: We’re On Our Way To Rio, because it looks like they crammed a two-reeler into nine minutes with all the production bells and whistles (and in gorgeous Technicolor); All the child-drawing films by Jack Mendelsohn and Shamus Culhane; The first five Little Lulu cartoons; Bouncing Benny for its innovative cut-out technique; Herman and Katnip’s Mouseum for the eyeball gag; No If’s And Or Butts for the smoking; Modern Madcaps In The Nicotine and The Plot Sickens – both politically incorrect even in their own day; Howard Post’s The Itch; Howard Beckerman’s The Trip, Shamus Culhane’s The Plumber – and practically everything released in 1957 for the design and modern art direction.
Footnotes: What!? No Baby Huey, No Screen Songs, No Tommy Tortoise and Moe Hare? I love ‘em all, but one has to make sacrifices when one does such a list. There are no Superman cartoons listed either because, let’s face it, the Famous ones can’t hold a candle to the Fleischer masterpieces. That said, I rather like Showdown and The Eleventh Hour – as close to ‘film noir’ as the series ever got.
The many ‘firsts’ in the series – Casper’s The Friendly Ghost, Baby Huey’s Quack-A-Doodle-Do for example – are not great cartoons but are historically significant, so to speak.
That’s it from me – and now its your turn. Please send in your own list – I’m curious to see how you’d rank the Paramount cartoons.
NEXT MONDAY: The first of a new weekly column by animation historian Harvey Deneroff.