October 2, 2015 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #232

Milton and Rita Mouse. With the popularity of Mickey Mouse, animation studios began to produce their own cartoons with characters that looked suspiciously like Walt’s alter ego. One of the more blatant attempts were Milton and Rita (earlier referred to as “Mary”) Mouse produced by Van Beuren for their Aesop’s Fables series who appeared in cartoons including Circus Capers (1930) embed below, Hot Tamale (1930) and The Office Boy (1930).

On March 31, 1931, Disney sued Pathe and Van Beuren.

Amedee J. Van Beuren on April 3, 1931 issued the following statement:

“The only information we have thus far received that such action is pending is contained in articles in the papers. In my judgment the action is entirely without merit or foundation. Aesop’s Fables created the characters Milton and Mary Mouse at the inception of the company in 1921 and the company has been using them.

“If there has been any imitation, it would appear to be at the door of Walt Disney Productions, whose characters of Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are so similar to ours. As soon as we are served with papers we shall be prepared to defend the action.”

Van Beuren forgot to mention that the characters had been recently re-designed by John Foster to significantly resemble the Disney characters. Milton had appeared a year before in The Polo Match (1929) but looked more like a small rat in that film.

micky-notDisney got a temporary court injunction against Van Beuren April 30, 1931 from Federal Judge Cosgrave and a formal decree was issued four months later prohibiting the studio from “employing or using or displaying the pictorial representation of ‘Mickey Mouse’ or any variation thereof so nearly similar as to be calculated to be mistaken for or confused with said pictorial representation of ‘Mickey Mouse’.”

Disney did not ask for any money even though the original suit clearly stated “The petitioner demands an accounting, damages and surrender of all profits made on the alleged imitations”.

In the 1960s, Roy O. Disney in an interview remembered: “We just stopped him. That’s all we were out to do. We didn’t ask any damages. We even let him finish marketing his pictures. We wanted to establish our right. That’s what we were after. To establish a copyright like that is a big thing and that’s an important thing to do.”

vulturesThe Jungle Book Beatles. It is well known that the four vultures in Disney’s animated feature The Jungle Book (1967) were to be based on the popular musical singing group The Beatles, especially with their prominent mop-top haircuts. The official story was that scheduling conflicts prevented the Fab Four from appearing in the final film.

Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein and Walt Disney met in late August 1965 to discuss The Beatles appearing and/or supplying some music for the animated movie. However, “The Beatles” cartoon series was set to premiere on the ABC network in September and John Lennon was especially bitter about the project. When Epstein mentioned the Disney project to him, John exploded. He was probably in no mood to hear of yet another “cartoon” project.

Lennon allegedly screamed, “There’s no way The Beatles are gonna sing for Mickey f*cking Mouse. You can tell Walt Disney to f*ck off. Tell him to get Elvis off his fat arse; he’s into making crap f*cking movies.”

ironGiant-action-ComicComic Books in the Movies. In The Iron Giant (1999), the comic book Hogarth shows the Giant with Superman on the cover is Action Comics #188, released January 1954. The film takes place in 1957. The Superman story in that issue was “The Spectral Superman” where Superman becomes a menace to earth because he has become radioactive and so must leave the earth.

The other stories in that issue featured Tommy Tomorrow and Congo Bill.

During the scene, the theme music in the background is from the Fleischer Superman animated cartoons. Hogarth also shows a copy of “The Spirit” comic book that had not been published for seven years at that point but it was an homage to Bird’s earlier attempt to do Eisner’s iconic character in animation.

The Key to the FH5+2 Success. In a letter to musician Robert Butler dated August 5, 1988, animation legend Ward Kimball explained how he felt the successful formula for his Dixieland jazz band, the Firehouse Five Plus Two was similar to his philosophy of animation: “The band never, repeat never, rehearsed! We never played any of our repertoire twice the same way. I insisted on a simple beat—tuba and bass drum on 1st and 3rd, snare, banjo and piano left-hand accenting 2nd and 4th beats.

“Most of our work was for big dances playing jazz, waltzes and rumbas—you name it! Crazy textures, slide whistle, soprano sax duets, ‘duck call’ choruses and harmonica solos. For concerts, we upped the tempos. I guess you could call it SIMPLICITY. Let ‘em hear the tune. LET ‘EM HEAR THE TUNE!”

jonny-quest-tvRodriquez’s Quest Favorites. For the last twenty years, there have been attempts to develop a live action feature of Hanna-Barbera’s Jonny Quest animated series. At one point, actors Zac Ephron and Dwayne Johnston were announced as starring in a version in 2009 to be directed by Peter Segal.

Turner Pictures signed Donner/Shuler-Donner Productions and Tribeca Productions to produce a live action version in April 1994 with Richard Donner directing. It was just part of a massive relaunch planned for Jonny Quest with an original animated feature for TNT and “re-mastered episodes of that original series as well as a line of books on the characters, more than 500 licensing and merchandising deals worldwide, and ongoing programming festivals and marathons across all the Turner Entertainment outlets” according to the April 25, 1994 edition of Variety.

Now, Richard Robert Rodriquez, responsible for the popular Spy Kids’ movies among other credits will be co-writing and directing a Jonny Quest live action movie.

Here are Rodriquez’s top six favorite episodes of the original Jonny Quest series in no particular order: MYSTERY OF THE LIZARD MEN, SEA HAUNT, DRAGONS OF ASHIDA, ROBOT SPY, TREASURE OF THE TEMPLE, INVISIBLE MONSTER

Iwerks Cameo. In the ACG (American Comics Group) comic book, Cookie #16 (Dec. 1948/Jan. 1949), cartoonist Bob Wickersham drew a story called “Our Kid Sister” and in one panel showed a mustached proprietor of a camera shop standing by his outdoor window that stated “U.B. Iwerks Distinctive Photography”.



  • I had always found it a kick to see The Vultures be Beatles-esque….but only in accent and hairdo. With the musical grain of the whole film being Dixieland jazz
    , it IZ far more fitting to have them do barbershop! Whew!!

  • …..and I am dying to hear the story (speaking of Mickey-izings) of WB’s “Foxy!” I always that (even as a child) quite that to be “startling” to see the “resemblance,” lol.

  • I believe you are referring to Robert Rodríguez, not Richard Rodriquez.

    • You are absolutely correct. Spell Check and Auto Correct have never been my friends and regardless of this error and the other occasional obvious ones I make, I do indeed check over the material several times before sending it to Jerry and Jerry has saved my rear end some times by catching the gremlin before it appears in print.

      The fact that I cover so many different things and the fact that I concentrate much more on getting the oddball information never before in print correct means that sometimes I am exposed as much too human when I stumble over the “easy” mistake. Writing this column every week for over two years now is not as seamless as I make it seem but I am committed to doing it as long as I can.

      I ALWAYS appreciate errors being pointed out and additions to the anecdotes! I much prefer correct information getting in print for people to use than my ego being stroked.

  • Whats weird is that Elvis Presley was parodied in several Looney Tunes cartoons in the 1950’s both by name (Apes of Wrath & The Dixie Fryer) and by character as a Hound Dog in Waggin Tales

    • Elvis also makes a cameo in the Bugs Bunny cartoon HARE-ABIAN NIGHTS (1959) as El-Viz Prizly.

    • There’s also that “Bugs Bunny Show” bumper where Bugs introduces his guitar solo with something to the effect of “Now I will do my imitation of Frankie imitating Ricky doing Elvis.”

    • Not to forget “Backwoods Bunny”, using the same roosters from “The Dixie Fryer’.

  • “Let ’em hear the tune”. That pretty much summed up Louis Armstrong’s ideas on music as well. He always said, “where’s the melody? Let them hear the melody!” I have a copy of Armstrong’s Pasadena concert from 1949. At the end The Firehouse Five come on stage and they jam with Louis’ All-Stars on the tune Muskrat Ramble. It was amusing hearing Ward ask Armstrong “what key do you play this in?” But they got it together in the end.

  • This is a minor point, Jim, but THE POLO MATCH, copyrighted 6-2-1929 is part of the silent Aesop’s Film Fables series, directed by Paul Terry and John Foster, made before Van Beuren took over the studio and Terry, Moser and Coffman was formed to make sound cartoons for Educational. The mouse character in THE POLO MATCH would be more of a piece with the Terry mice in the Aesop’s Film Fables of the early twenties. The Mickey type mice in the Aesop SOUND Fables series were John Foster, Harry Bailey and Manny Davis’s invention. Van Beuren added sound to THE POLO MATCH and re-issued it as HAPPY POLO, copyrighted 5-14-1932.

    • Again, I appreciate any and all corrections and additions. I especially liked the additional information you supplied last week on Millar’s Talking Komics. I wonder how many people raced to eBay to see if they could get copies.

    • THE POLO MATCH was animated entirely or almost entirely by Frank Moser, so it would reflect his way of drawing mice more than anyone else’s. Up until Fables Studio became the Van Beuren Studio in the summer of 1929 pretty much every animator there drew Milton Mouse a little differently. Also, Art Babbitt once claimed “The Mickey Mouse in “Steamboat Willie” was an almost exact replica of Paul Terry’s mouse – which in turn stemmed from Jerry Shields’ mouse”. So I always considered it a little obnoxious of Disney to sue Van Beuren, considering he’d taken so much influence from the Fables series.

  • I’m trying to imagine Walt and the Sherman Brothers trying to convince John Lennon to sing “That’s What Friends Are For”.

    • Hah, that would make a great SNL skit.
      Now that you brought it up, I’ve got this in my head:
      “Imagine there’s no Shere Khan… It’s easy if you try-y…”

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