I’m writing this week’s blog while taking a break from cleaning/ coating prints for tomorrow’s film scans. These days you can’t have the chemicals for a ‘wet-gate’ to hid abrasions, so I do a thin coat of Film-Guard, a good coating/ cleaner that isn’t so chemically. It does a great job and also relaxes the base of the film, making everything more pliable.
It was great to see folks at Cinevent this year, and to catch up with everyone. It was so nice to see so many of the Thunderbean discs fans and to show some of the stuff in progress. I also managed to make some deals to borrow some really cool things.
I’m enjoying the accelerated abilities of this time with extra help; it’s really allowing me to get back to finishing so many things. Maybe we’ll be able to grow this little thing big enough to be able to have more than a one-room office, with lots more in progress. But, that’s later—the current goal of the summer is to complete *at least* 16 of the in progress projects, and probably more. Four will *hopefully* be done by this time next week. Most are special discs, but most the long in progress stuff is getting the most attention. Anyone reading this blog weekly knows the stuff that’s in progress, so today I thought I’d step away from that for a minute and concentrate on some other cartoons!
So, in that spirit, some thoughts on Cubby’s Picnic:
I have a special affection for the Van Beuren Cubby series. It’s probably partially because Van Beuren just always seems like the ‘Underdog’ studio, just struggling (and sometimes not struggling) to get the cartoons done, and on occasion, pretty good. I’m the first to admit this isn’t one of the greatest cartoons the studio ever did, but I like a lot of things about the Cubbys from this period; I especially enjoy their attempts to be a little off-color and racy. They’re New York cartoons through and through. This one is helmed by one of the better animators at the studio at the time, Steve Muffati (with lead animation by Eddie Donnelly).
The cartoon starts out with Cubby leading a band of musicians, who are getting drunk (and pass out!) in the process of entertaining the meager crowd. Cubby leaves his position as bandleader to hang out with Honey Bear and get entertained by a magician, who inexplicably changes some drunk patrons into Russians for a cheap gag. After that, Cubby and Honey attempt to find somewhere to make out, except all the secluded places they travel to already have a couple making out in them. Even places that seem innocent enough are already occupied (including some bugs on a bench and who knowns what in some bushes.
This leads Cubby and Honey to steal a boat. It’s clear Cubby has never used one before, and he manages to find a tough worm that likes beating up fish. In another throwaway gag, a hasidic Jewish fish complains that the sandwich being used for bait has ham in it. From there, we’re transported under water for a ‘school of fish’ sequence, focusing on one fish needing to relieve himself.
The teacher won’t dismiss him, leading him finally to announce “Sacco and Vinzetti- I gotta gotta go!” (The Sacco and Vanzetti trial / execution was an infamous event. It was largely believed that Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti had been given and unfair murder trial, largely based on the largely anti-Italian bias at the time. By the early 30’s, it was a popular curse-replacement, as was ‘Jiminy Crickets’ for ‘Jesus Christ’).
After their boat is toppled by a smiling whale, Cubby slaps a mosquito, leading to a massive Mosquito attack, seemingly voiced by two people making buzzing noises. The attack leads Cubby to (by accident) leads the band into playing ‘The Storm’ (William Tell Overture, part 2) leading to ruin of everything. The film end with Cubby and Honey kissing inside a broken drum.
While Cubby’s Picnic is an overall uneven cartoon, it does accomplish what it was probably trying to do: make an enjoyable seven minutes of cartoon entertainment. I especially like the score/ soundtrack of this cartoon, including the song ‘Love is a Popular Pastime’ (I’m really not sure if this is a real song outside of this cartoon, or written for it). The inking is especially good for Van Beuren on some of these shorts from this period as well, including this one. Chances are there’s a lot of former Fleischer inkers working there at this time. This was also one of the first cartoons I managed to get on 16mm as a teenager.
It is odd that so many elements of this little short seem to show up a few years later in the much more extravagant and skillful Disney short ‘The Band Concert’ but, then again, some of these elements seem as if they would be obvious to anyone that attended an outdoor concert in a park. While there isn’t any animation here that will knock anyone’s socks off, it’s still pretty fun, and I can imagine that audiences liked the film. I wonder if any reviews exist from that time?
One recent review of the film called this the worst cartoon of 1933. I really don’t want to curse this little short, so let’s just say it’s a fun bit of entertainment and forget about any loftier goals than that. Within a year, this studio’s output would be drastically different, leaving Cubby adventure-less from that point on. I’m sure there isn’t an episode of ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force’ that approached the ambition of this film, so they are what they are.
Here’s the version of the short that we cleaned up for the Cubby Blu-ray. It’s made up from a 16mm Official Films prints, with the title being recreated. I do wish I had steadied all the films on the set, in hindsight.
Have a good week everyone!