Quick Thunderbean News: Lots in progress – That’s All I’ll Say!
Stories with genuine heart are quite rare in commercial production. Perhaps the success of the Disney films is more related to the audience finding that ‘heart’ more than any other factor. Certainly the other qualities of the films were contributing factors, but the consistency of characters that we can both feel sympathy and empathy for is fairly unique- and missing in any continuous way among all the other studios for the most part, with some exceptions. Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo and Bambi carried on this same tradition in the feature films.
The attempts though are plentiful by the other studios, with varied results. If I’m being honest, these little moments of heart that actually work in other studio’s films are one of the main things that attract me to them. The Mintz Scrappy’s are immediately interesting to me. Scrappy and Oopy, in nearly every cartoon, are portrayed as innocents against a harsh and uncaring world. These qualities nearly leave the series after the departure of Dick Huemer, so it’s clear that both his driving force in gag timing and, with it, character development, made the series what it was. While other qualities make the Krazy Kat series from Mintz good, but ‘heart’ generally isn’t one of those factors.
The Mickey Mouse cartoons establish these basic character ideas over and over, and the series serves as an example of strong personality-driven character direction being used successfully in different stories. In the Mickeys, it is often the little moments that capture his personality the best, with fast paced gags and destruction of property taking the lion’s share of the action. Perhaps more things are destroyed in 30s Mickey Mouse cartoons than in any other series, with Fleischer’s Popeye as a close second.
Speaking of Popeye, the heart in the Flesicehr series is a wonderful translation of the much gruffer heart that appears in Segar’s original comic strip. After the first year and a half or so of Popeye cartoons, the character starts to get noticeably more empathetic and gentler, with guidance in both story and voice characterization (by Jack Mercer of course). Mercer (as Popeye) and Disney (as Mickey) both have a unique role in greatly helping to create characters that have genuine care for others as a driving force of their existence.
The attempts to have aspects of these qualities in other series from various studios through the 30s are fascinating. They usually get one thing right, only to be undone by other factors. While Disney often manages to hit the mark in the Silly Symphonies, the Fleischer’s attempts in the Color Classics almost never do, or somehow misfire in consistency. Song of the Birds (1934) perhaps tries harder than any of the other cartoons in the Color Classic series, and fails to ever make the little boy a character we care about. I think it succeeds in making us care about the birds though, and the ‘death’ scene of the baby is especially haunting in action, music and design. Harman/Ising’s animation perhaps comes closest to the same possibilities in character acting, but often misses badly in storytelling. Bottles (1936) has great design and story ideas that seem to lend themselves to having a more heartfelt connection to the characters, but missing in acting and, ultimately, story work.
Chuck Jones’ later work at Warner Brothers, and of course Hanna/Barbara’s Tom and Jerry shorts capture some of the same heartfelt ideas in story and character acting, but often gag cartoons could survive quite well on funny timing and story ideas without strong character development ideas. The Lantz shorts sadly seem to never have these particular qualities, but I love many of them for other reasons!
It’s clear that Burt Gillett had learned some of these lessons in story work, and attempted to bring them to Van Beuren’s cartoons. Parrotville Old Folks (1935) is one of the few examples of truly genuine heart in this series, and is wonderfully sweet in its execution. It’s always been a favorite of mine in a series, and, since I’m working on this project right now, is one that I wish 35mm would show up on sooner than later for the upcoming Rainbow Parades Blu-ray. If anyone knows of a source in 35 on this title, it’s the right time to say so! Please!
Here is the standard definition version of the film from the Thunderbean DVD of the first half of the Rainbow Parade series. I’ll reserve my comments for now, and ask you to try to look at this unusually written short with an eye toward character development and interaction- I’d love to see people’s thoughts about those aspects of the film.
Have a good week everyone!