September 12, 2013 posted by

A Lantz comparison: ‘My Pal Paul’ and ‘Hot and Cold’

oswald_pooch200Bill Nolan is one of the truly unsung heros of cartoons and character animation, and likely the most influential animator through the 20’s in terms of character animation and design/ drawing. So many of the innovators of character animation
were greatly influenced by Nolan- both people who worked with him as well as those who just saw his work. Animation by Nolan is ever moving, ever alive, with nearly every aspect of every character swimming into the arcs of any action, regardless of bones or structure, often spinning and dancing. Nolan was making cartoons, and he was well aware of the power of making them just that. There is absolutely no pretension in anything he animates.

I think that one of the reasons Nolan isn’t more heralded is that many of the films he animated on are harder to see, or that his name is often not associated as much with them. His redesign of Felix the Cat into a rounder, more appealing
and more flexible character had a huge impact on the direction of animation world-wide. I personally enjoy his animation in the silent Felix cartoons and the early Lantz Oswalds the most.

Here is My Pal Paul from 1930 – a good example of Nolan’s animation around this time. It should also be noted that Paul Whiteman actually isn’t much of a friend to Oswald in that he’s willing to kill him at the turn of a dime. Then again, Oswald is also perfectly willing to destroy Paul’s flivver without the slightest pause. To be fair, Oswald attempted to off himself early on in the cartoon, only to be saved by Paul.

Through 1933 and 1934, Nolan’s great, inventive and often bizarre animation started to tone down as the crazy happiness of the early 30’s cartoons led to a period of refined animation into the mid 30’s in line with the rest of the industry; to me it seems that the mid 30’s Lantz shorts seem to be looking for a solid direction.

The Pooch the Pup cartoons are a little harder to see, and they are some of my favorites, combining the elements of the early 30’s cartoons with some technical and visual refinements (including the camera now being able to truck in and out). This one and The Lumberchamp are my favorites, though a lot of people really love King Klunk too. I always think about Pooch as being the Cubby Bear or Buddy of Lantz’s characters. The poor little guy (and his ever present girlfriend) never really took much a foothold, but at least cartoons he left behind are a lot of fun.


  • There’s an impressive technique in the Pooch cartoon involving superimposition of live-action snowfall over the animation – no doubt Avery took his cues from it and made Porky the Rainmaker with the very same process!

    Love the polar bear’s ad-lib on “Turn on the Heat”!

  • Nolan was also the only head animator/de facto director with the Fleischers in Miami who understood how to make Poopdeck Pappy more annoying to his on-screen adversaries than to the audience, when the studio tried to make Pappy a series regular during the 1940-41 period (hint — give him someone else besides Popeye to annoy and/or give him someone who can fight back, because his son really can’t do much to the cantankerous old coot.)

  • Yeo, Steve’s got that right – indeed, “the crazy happiness of the early 30′s cartoons led to a period of refined animation into the mid 30′s in line with the rest of the industry”. Bill Nolan tones down his wild animation at Lantz in a big way. Disney hires Dick Huemer, Art Babbitt, Bill Tytla and Grim Natwick AND vigorous enforcement of the Production Code starts, with Draconian results (a.k.a. TURN DOWN THE HEAT! WAY DOWN! LOWER!) in July 1934.

  • Thanks Steve; these two titles are new to me.

    I thought Thursday would never get here.

  • Bill Nolan is a pivotal figure in the history of character animation, going all the way back to the “Joys and Glooms” series he animated in the 1920s with T.E. Powers stick figure characters. Bill put more inbetweens in his work than his fellow animators of the time like George Stallings, and discovered arcs and rythym principles that influenced how animated action was defined on screen. He was especially good at comic dances and some Oswald cartoons like “Africa”, devote almost half their screen time to dance. Nolan worked straight ahead, and turned out reams of footage, his speed was another reason he was so highly prized. Lantz usually cast him on the little characters in his cartoons, like Oswald and Pooch, because Bill’s approach conveyed little weight or gravity to the characters. Vet Anderson was usually cast for the “heavies” or villains in Lantz cartoons, because even though Vet’s drawing was ugly, and his action was stiff, he liked to draw big characters with hideous faces and that made them seem to have more weight than they actually did! Eventually Bill Nolan became bored with animation, by the early 1940s, and the reason for that, I think, is that his ACTING abilities were very limited. Bill could move the characters in an attractive pattern, but he had a hard time drawing facial expressions of more than a few kinds. Some times he used big arcs for an action when smaller arcs would have had more force and weight, especially when he animated the Captain in the MGM Captain and the Kids cartoons. Bill’s major contribution was that he loosened the stiff, wooden approach of early animation with his arcs and “Flag Principle”, as he called it, using the concept of delay on things like fabric, whiskers, ears, and other appendages.

    • Mark: Which CAPTAIN & THE KIDS cartoons did Bill Nolan work on? Might he have done work on “BLUE MONDAY”? I ask, because you mentioned his work on “whiskers”, and I immediately recalled the scene in which poor Cap is stuck fast on the ceiling from the suction of the vacuum cleaner run amuck above him, manned by the Inspector…definitely a sequence that, if I could, I’d love to see, frame by frame. Many may say that the CAPTAIN & THE KIDS cartoons were of very little importance when it came to the history of MGM cartoons, including their directors, but there are moments of animation brilliance throughout the series as I dimly recall it.

  • Pooch the Pup cartoons are incredibly hard to find. When doing a YouTube search, I could only find three different titles, The Butcher Boy, King Klunk, and she Done Him Right. A release of this obscure character’s filmography would be much appreciated.

    • Here ya go, Nat:
      The Athlete-1932
      The Butcher Boy-1932
      The Crowd Snores-1932
      The Underdog-1932 (Pooch sings “A Great Big Bunch Of You”)
      Cats and Dogs-1932
      Merry Dog-1933 (Christmas cartoon, Pooch sings scat version of “Jingle Bells”)
      The Terrible Troubador (Pooch sings “Lady of Spain”)
      The Lumber Champ-1933
      Nature’s Workshop-1933
      Hot and Cold-1933 (Song: “Turn On The Heat”, working title was “S.O.S. Icicle”)
      King Klunk-1933 (Cel animation parodies stop motion character King Kong)
      She Done Him Right-1933 (Pooch meets Mae West type dog)
      That makes 13 in all.

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