I’m happy to say that the The Complete Animated Adventures of Cubby Bear Blu-ray set arrived back here today, and packing all the pre-orders will be happening in these coming days.
The set is now available on Amazon here as well.
The Cubby Bear cartoons are my favorite Van Beuren series. I always felt that there should be a really good set of them available, so the new set is an attempt to improve on the older sets. Maybe I can now put Cubby to rest and concentrate on stuff we’ve never seen available!
When I started ‘Snappy Video’ as a teenager in 1988, one of the first sets produced was called ‘Cubby Bear and Comi-Color’ featuring four Cubby Bears and four Iwerks’ Comi-Color Cartoons. The last sets I produced as Snappy Video was two Volumes of the Complete Cubby Bear, finished in 1993. I advertised it briefly, and I think it sold about 12 copies- if that! I have to admit that by that point I was a little half hearted in putting together VHS collections, and the Cubby set had been ongoing for years trying to gather all the films, much less good prints of all. For dubbing, I had a ragtag group of VHS recorders stacked together, some bought from a local pawnshop since I was always on a tight budget. Doug Ranny’s Whole Toon Catalog was my main customer back in those days, and I’d scramble to get the four or five copies of this or that copied as fast as he ordered them!
Most everything that Snappy Video released was mastered on 3/4” ‘Umatic’ format tape, a popular format for broadcast, and probably the best choice for a low-budget producer. I did an ‘insert edit’ from the master tape to make a dubbing master. The quality looked really nice on a standard def monitor back then- especially since I was trying to get mostly ‘Rank’ transfers- although I did get some done in Superior Wisconsin as well (see past TB Thursdays for details on that!)
Late 1993/ early1994 saw my first professional job in in animation, and the ‘sort of’ end of Snappy Video. I still thought about the sets a little here and there, and the idea of doing some others, but there was very little time that I wasn’t animating.
In 2004, the website “Golden Age Cartoons” caught my attention, especially since DVD was a booming format. My thought was to do a “Popeye” DVD with the best quality I could find – and lots of extras. A lot of those extras ended up having an after life bigger than the little PD set I did, finding a home on the official Warner Brothers Popeye DVD sets.
The second DVD Thunderbean produced was Cubby Bear, consisting almost entirely of the 1991 through 1993 transfers done on 3/4” tape. I remember Jerry Beck making a comment back then that Thunderbean would be the only company that would bother to do such a set – and maybe that’s still right. Looking back at that set now, I see how primitive my menus were- so there was room to improve all around- I was happy to revisit these cartoons in all new transfers.
Revisiting the Cubby cartoons in HD has been a big part of the last six months here. Most of the set was together many months ago, and then we ended up getting a little into the weeds in attempting to find the best possible material for as many as possible. At one point, we attempted to go back to the 16mm negs that Modern Sound Pictures had made in the late 40s or early 50s. They had changed hands recently, and attempts to get them were unfruitful.
Note: This part is a little tech heavy, so forgive me for that- but if you’re interested, follow along:
This promoted me to pull out my notes from the mid 80s, and I’m glad I had kept them. Keith Smith of Modern Sound gave me a quick history on the material, and all these years later what he said now made sense to me, having now more experience with dealing with original materials. Smith had made the first runs of the Cubby Cartoons in 16mm as print downs, having used 35mm *negatives* given to him by the seller (Gutohn (or Guttloan in my notes!). These were fine grain negs – and he said these “lavenders” were unusual in that they were negs rather than positives, so he used them to make direct reduction prints into 16mm. My notes say he made about 400 prints that way ( I don’t know if that means 400 of each or 400 all together), and in fact, still had some of those 1948 prints- and even sold a few to me. He said he complied with the new law to destroy or properly store nitrate after 1948 and had all the nitrate at the lab had incinerated, except for one negative (the materials for ‘King of Kings’). He told me the later prints he made were from a 16mm dupe negative, but since he didn’t have the nitrate any more, they made composite 16mm negs (picture and sound) for each from the 1948 prints. This is why some of the Cubby Bear cartoons looked pretty dupey, while others were just beautiful when you’d find a print. In many ways, not having access to those 16mm negatives (likely all dupes) was fine since they would be lower quality than the older materials.
Now, the next problem was finding as many in “print downs” as possible. The collecting community has never let me down, and I was able to borrow multiple prints of each title I needed from different collectors. I had managed to find better prints of many of the cartoons from both eBay hunting and finding some at Cinevent and other conventions over the years. Mark Kausler and Tom Stathes lent the best copies I’ve seen of several titles. Dennis Atkinson lent several Official films prints in beautiful condition. We were able to use absolutely mint 1948 prints that Chris Buchman had, bought from Keith Smith in the late 70s or early 80s. Many original title sequences were now available that hadn’t been before, including the one for ‘Gay Gaucho’ lent from what may be a unique print owned by collector Ralph Celentano. Milton Knight created a nice piece that’s being used for the cover of the booklet.
One of the cooler things I found in putting together the set was a tiny piece of the RKO ‘Radio Pictures’ logo, almost entirely faded out, at the very beginning of a very beat up print of ‘The Last Mail’. I had seen the RKO logo one other time, at the head of the first Little King Cartoon. Since it was likely on the front of at least the Radio Pictures Cubbys, I included the logo at the head of the first ones in the series.
John McElwee of Greenbriar Picture Shows lent great support near the end of the project in replication. His blog, full of rare photos and publicity items impeccably presented, is a wonderful read. If you’re a old movie fan, what John presents and writes is a invaluable, and he’s been instrumental in both convincing me to start doing Blu-rays as well as helping with production support.
Overall, I’m very happy with the quality of the set. For extras, Mark Newgarden and Todd Federman lent amazing original materials for the extras, including this amazing puzzle game:
Here’s a little preview of what the Cubbys look like. If you’ve pre-ordered, thanks much for truly helping to support the set.
Thanks again everyone!