This week, we look into a Fleischer Animated Antic!
After the release of the studio’s first feature, Gulliver’s Travels, on December 1939, plans began for a second feature, eventually titled Mr. Bug Goes to Town, When the rights from Maurice Materlinck’s “The Life of a Bee” couldn’t be secured, an original story loosely based on the source material was developed. The Fleischer studio’s productivity might’ve taken a slight increase during this period, but the spontaneity of their cartoons, so fundamental to their vividness/appeal, would evaporate during their time in Miami.
Slicker, Disney-esque drawing and animation marked an improvement in draftsmanship, but the studio’s former tendency for clever gags only flourished in spots, instead of their unconstrained execution in the earlier work. Animator Myron Waldman stated this occurred once the studio regularly used storyboards after the move from New York. The decision to plan their cartoons so thoroughly affected their knack for probable stories and characterization during the early ‘40s. For instance, the Popeye series ran out of steam when Popeye evolved into a comic foil in very routine situations (I’ll Never Crow Again and Flies Ain’t Human, in particular). While the series still maintained its energy (unlike Betty Boop), these digressions would hamper the series, up until the early Famous Studios entries.
With Mr. Bug in production, the Fleischer studio experimented with several new animated series that were necessary in order to keep the studio afloat. The town crier Gabby from Gulliver’s Travels was given his own series, which only lasted eight cartoons. The impractically macabre King for a Day and the beautifully drawn Two for the Zoo are serviceable entries, but the series’ attempts at frustration comedy are more tiresome than amusing. The Stone Age cartoons weren’t novel in concept and execution; Chaplin, Keaton and Laurel and Hardy portrayed prehistoric cavemen in their live-action short comedies. The series lasted for a dozen cartoons, all throughout 1940. As par the course, the cartoons had a predilection towards technology using primitive materials. Coincidentally, story artist Dan Gordon immortalized the basic concept of the Stone Age series 20 years later, with Joe Barbera, for The Flintstones.
The Animated Antics served as an extension of the Color Classics series ─ which would end in early 1941 ─ where the Gulliver cast inherited their own cartoon series, including Twinkletoes the pigeon and Sneak, Snoop and Snitch, the three spies who serve King Bombo. Like Gabby, these minor characters couldn’t maintain a lasting period. Bring Himself Back Alive, released December 1940, is a “one-off” entry, featuring fur trapper Hyde Skinner and a boastful lion, voiced by Pinto Colvig. It’s difficult to become invested in its two particularly obnoxious, one-note characters, so the film’s climax and cynical end gag only seem too fitting.
Animator Ben Solomon animates most of the scenes of Hyde Skinner’s turtle carrier/companion. During his time as an in-betweener, he suggested they create Fleischer’s Animated News, the studio newsletter first published December 1934. According to a tintype bio from the December 1935 issue, Solomon received advertising art training at Cooper Union in New York City and became a sign painter before entering the animation business at Fleischer’s.
He transitioned to animator in October 1936, but it is speculated that Solomon served as an assistant, since Shamus Culhane claimed him as his subordinate on Gulliver’s Travels. He wasn’t given screen credit until 1940’s Shakespearian Spinach. He made the transition to Famous Studios. During that time, moonlighted on “funny animal” comics for such companies as American Comics Group (“Giggle” and “Ha-Ha”) and Hillman Periodicals (“Punch & Judy”).
Solomon suffered nerve damage in his right arm and could only use his left hand, which earned him an exemption from serving in World War II ─ and would later affect his animation career. He was laid off from Famous Studios to make room for animators returning from the service, according to his daughter. Solomon left on October 26, 1945, ending his animation career. Later, he and fellow Famous artist Woody Gelman opened an art studio, contracting work from the Topps Candy Company. They eventually closed their studio and ended up working for Topps’ internal art department.
Graham Place, the second animator credited for this cartoon, shifted around various crews, based on his screen credits at Fleischer. He animated for Seymour Kneitel, then switched to Myron Waldman, primarily on the Color Classics, and later moved to Tom Johnson’s crew. On the Superman series, Place is credited with three different head animators (Orestes Calpini for Bulleteers, Steve Muffati for Showdown, and Myron Waldman for The Mummy Strikes).
He might’ve been assigned to the series based on his ability to draw women, and used these facets in his drawing/inking duties for a DC Comics’ A Date with Judy, based on the popular NBC radio series (1941-50). Place became a ‘head animator’ starting with the ’43 Famous releases up until the ’47 cartoons, handling wonderful entries such as Happy Birthdaze, Cilly Goose and The Stupidstitious Cat. His Famous credits disappear until 1960’s Bouncing Benny for Paramount; he later emerged as an animator for Hal Seeger’s Milton the Monster.
The identified work of the animators comes from a rough storyboard that bears minor differences from the finished cartoon. For instance, scenes 22-23 (the gag with the skunk) don’t appear in the cartoon at all, and the lion’s introduction occurred earlier in the board. There are added sequences, noted in the draft by tiny panels above or between the initial drawings (i.e. sc. 30A, 32, and 41A, in particular). It should also be noted that the names “Jake” and “Ozark” are credited in the board, indicating that Jack Ozark worked on the cartoon. (He’s credited “Jake” on boards for two other early ‘40s Fleischer cartoons from the Johnson unit, previously posted here and here.)
Enjoy this week’s breakdown video!
Click boards below to enlarge
(Thanks to Mark Kausler, Frank Young, Bob Jaques, Thad Komorowski and Mark Langer for their help.)