February 23, 2017 posted by

Animation In Universal Trailers


Another brief one today, so I owe the Cartoon Research universe something bigger soon….

I’m usually excited about working on these various Thunderbean projects, but this week is an exception! A catastrophic computer drive crash, and failed subsequent attempts to save the contents of that drive have left me less-than enthusiastic about the infernal devices that we all use, and in technology in general- but since they’re here to stay I’ll have to just sigh and put up with it. It’s the worst technology disaster I’ve had up to this date, so I guess I was due, and at least it didn’t involve only copies of some film transfers! Happily, everything that was lost was backed up in one form or another somewhere else, so all is not lost… and the projects march on! There are some exciting announcements in the coming weeks, and those give me something to look forward to as well.

Funny enough, one of the projects was finished and just about to get output when the drive died. There were only two projects on the drive, with ‘final’ Mpegs and files to author the final Blu-ray. The only choice was to leave it alone for several days, hard to do after working around the clock to finish. In some ways though, the step away from the project is welcome. When I’m near finishing any of these projects, I often find it difficult to look at the material for its entertainment value or artistic qualities. I’ve found this to be true while working on animation for a spot or a game- really almost any project that has aspects that require technical adjustment. The step away, and step back made me smile, and actually enjoy watching rather than working.

In the coming weeks we’ll be looking at some of the in progress on various projects a little further.. but this week let’s look at some Universal animated sequences in trailers (and a title you’ve likely seen).


Of course, the most immediately recognizable sequence here, below, is from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). This Cartoon Research post from 2014 post by Jim Korkis, quotes our own Jerry Beck stating some useful information.

Dave Fleischer likely had a hand in these various Universal sequences, as well as the animation for various trailers. Jerry himself wrote about Dave’s Fleischer’s work at Universal, on titles and trailers, here. Howard Swift’s small studio was employed to do some work on trailers and titles for Universal, so there is a chance his studio was hired to do at least some if not all of these titles. They certainly seem to share similar design and production qualities.

First, here is a home-made filming of the Frankenstein title on youtube- not the best quality but somewhat watchable:

Here’s the trailer for Francis (1950) with a fun animated introduction. By the way, this is a fun movie as well if you like movies where an animal opens it’s mouth and speaks. A friend who owns a small town theatre told me movies that have that one quality do best for him. I wonder how many trailers have this little guy in them- the same character appears at the beginning of the Abbott and Costello meets the Keystone Cops trailer as well, below. I thought at first he was supposed to be Lou Costello, but I don’t think so after looking and listening closer:

Here is the trailer for Lost in Alaska (1952) (from the new A&C Rarities set, in HD). Universal seems to be the only studio that favors a lot of original animation in it’s trailers:

Here’s the trailer for Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation (1953). Some simple stuff in a similar style:

There’s a cute little bit of animation the trailer for ‘Francis in the Navy’ (1955):

And a short sequence at the beginning of the trailer for Abbott and Costello Meets the Keystone Cops (1955) in 1:85 aspect ratio – also from the new A&C Rarities set:

Does anyone else know of any other animated sequences in 50’s Universal trailers?

Have a good week everyone!


  • Harvey (trailer #1) from 1950 comes to mind, where a animated rabbit’s head pops up and the two ears were crossed by a bar forming the letter H.

  • Fingers crossed for a full recovery of data, and for the project pipelines at Thunderbean, Steve. Something to keep in mind for any preservation with today’s technology: Cellulose nitrate stock can turn into explosive gun cotton over the decades – but memory drives can turn into scrap metal within years.

  • I know that Universal-International and Walter Lantz parted ways for a brief time during the late ’40s, but aside from that, I wonder why U-I, during the rest of Lantz’s affiliation with the company, didn’t hire his animation studio to do these sequences?

  • The first part of the trailer for Francis was posted before. According to Mike Kazaleh the animation was by Don Williams.

  • As Jerry Beck mentions in his referenced article, Dave had many of his shorts and trailers filmed at the camera service run by Sid Glenar. Sid had worked at Fleischer’s studio in Florida before moving to California. Many of Sid’s records and equipment were donated to ASIFA-Hollywood and there are invoices for many of the above trailers and shorts. When Max Fleischer died, the board of ASIFA-Hollywood was lamenting that the brother’s contributions to animation were forgotten. They created the Annie Awards for this purpose and awarded Max and Dave (then still living) the first one.

  • I’d like a little history on that Preview Pete character.

  • Universal wasn’t the only studio that did animated trailers for live films.

    MGM had a tuxedoed Leo the Lion (voiced by Billy Bletcher, and animated by Bill Nolan) introduce a trailer for “No More Ladies” in 1936. In the 50s, Leo appeared again in an animated teaser for “Scaramouche”, this time animated at MGM’s own cartoon outfit (by the Hanna-Barbera unit, I believe).

    Plus, DePatie-Freleng did new animation for the original “Pink Panther” trailer.

    • Recall the “Scaramouche” teaser being on the DVD. It has a dashing Leo in costume, dueling villains and presenting drawn portraits of the movie’s stars while an offscreen narrator made the pitch. Production values look higher than some of the last-gasp theatricals from various studios. Was it made because the film was too far from completion, or a decision not to tip reveal any lavish visuals that far out? And how early WAS the teaser released?

  • Walter Lantz did trailer for Universal’s 1947 The Egg and I feature film. The trailer itself seems to be lost.

    • I wonder if this led to Lantz doing the “Ma & Pa” cartoons loosely based on the Kettle films?

  • staffers who likely worked on these included Paul Sommer, Marie Harvey Cornell, Izzie Ellis, Norm McCabe, Jeanne Thorpe, Ed Love, Tony Love, and Bill Hutton contribute to swifts as well.

  • Always wondered who animated the snake who sinuously slithers through the opening titles of the Preston Sturges Paramount classic THE LADY EVE.

    “Snakes are my life.” Henry Fonda

    “What a life.” Barbara Stanwyck

    • The animated titles for The Lady Eve were produced by Leon Schlesinger! I mention this in my 1989 Looney Tunes book.

    • Did Paramount arrange it through Schlesinger’s Pacific Art & Title company? Or did they go directly to him via Warners?

    • Until 1944, Leon Schlesinger’s studio was independent of Warner Bros and regularly did titles and animated bits for other studios. Warners had no say when Leon provided animation for films at Republic, Paramount, United Artists and others – including lending Bugs Bunny to a George Pal Puppetoon.

  • This is not related but I would like to know what studio made this spot.

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