BAXTER'S BREAKDOWNS
September 9, 2015 posted by

Fleischer’s “Bring Himself Back Alive” (1940)

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.

Fleischer_miami_letter600Slicker, 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.

bring-himselfAnimator 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

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(Thanks to Mark Kausler, Frank Young, Bob Jaques, Thad Komorowski and Mark Langer for their help.)

14 Comments

  • The Fleischer Studio in its waning days did get the hang of infusing West Coast-style gags and pacing into the Popeye series, aided by the forced requirement to speed up the pacing that the World War II-themed stories forced into the series. Efforts like “Kicking the Conga ‘Round” and “Many Tanks” matched the speed and timing of what most of the studios out west were releasing in early 1942.

    But the non-Popeye efforts in Miami between the demise of the Betty Boop series and the start of the Superman cartoons probably had the most unappealing characters and the most forced story lines and gags of any studio (they may have been trying to mimic the developing style at Warners, with Ted Piece, Cal Howard and George Manuel coming on board in the story department, but what the ended up with was cut-rate B&W versions of the type of comedy efforts Hugh Harman was being pushed by Fred Quimby to churn out against his will at MGM). Looking at this cartoon and the others, Paramount wasn’t wrong to force the Superman series on the studio, based on what they were replacing.

    • The inevitable explanation here is due to what happened when Dave Fleischer took over as being in charge of production.
      The bad series of cartoons of 1940 are his responsibility, which prompted the acquisition of SUPERMAN. This profound change came too late, unfortunately.

  • I never found ANY of the Miamis actually funny at all!!

  • I’ve always liked the lion’s little jungle jingle he sings to himself as he walks around. When I was a kid, I recited it over and over on the way to and from school. I liked this cartoon without realizing it was inferior, who knew? Frank Endres did an outstanding job on the lion.

  • The lion was funny. He should have been the main character, not the hunter. The animation had some of the old Fleischer flair, but the story should have been tighter.

    • It did seem like had it been from the lion’s perspective as the main character instead, it might’ve went someplace, it does go by terribly sluggish otherwise.

  • As Fleischer’s early ’40s output goes, not too bad. Still, I tend to think that a lot of the problems Famous Studios had were already firmly in place at Fleischer by the time this cartoon was made.

    • Famous Studios had no “problems” due to this issue, especially since the transition was seamless. In fact the cartoons burst forward with a new vitality in the early years, especially in superior character designs. One of the let downs about the 1940s Fleischer cartoons was the ugly and old fashioned characters. In reference to the STONE AGE series, this was Dave’s concept, replacing a SALLY SWING series that was publicized as going forward in 1940. As a side note, look to the LITTLE LULU cartoon, BORED OF EDUCATION, there is a Sally Swing cameo in the John Alden sequence.

  • I worked with Ben Solomon at Topps (your text should read “Topps Chewing Gum Co.” btw- not candy.) It was like pulling teeth to get Ben to talk about his animation past but a few things: I always heard from other long time Topps folks that Solomon & Gelman were let go because they were involved in trying to unionize, but I could never get Ben to go there. His daughter could be right about losing his job to returning vets, but I have a feeling there is a little more to the story. When Shamus’ book came out I showed it to Ben. He seemed surprised to be included and was obviously very impressed by Shamus in general referring to him as a “top guy” (probably because he was ex-Disney.) But I never got the impression that Ben assisted him.

    • When I spoke to Solomon’s daughter, she said her father didn’t talk about animation so she knew very little about his work other than he was known in the neighbourhood as the guy who drew the Popeye cartoons, and that he had worked on Gulliver’s Travels. (Her mom had worked in the I&P dept. and someone in the family – I don’t recall who – had cels from the feature) His daughter also told me of a video recording her cousin shot of Solomon where she (the cousin) got Ben to talk about his career in animation. I contacted the cousin via email but she never replied.

  • Cal Howard recycled parts of his story for this cartoon for one of Jack Kinney’s TV Popeyes:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgv2EopjwTs

  • I never liked this cartoon for a number of reasons, largely because it’s not that funny. I have used it as an example of some bad animation in the lion when he says “Why aren’t you strong like me? I”m King of the jungle! He is overacted without apparent intent to be amusing. This is an example of a poorly directed and badly animated scene.

  • I thought Disney did a better “Frank Buck” parody (which coincidently also had Pinto Coving) with, “Frank Duck Brings ‘Em Back Alive”, although that has one lack of continuity at the end (in dialogue only though).

    • The problem being that Donald/Frank Duck addresses the wild man as “Goofy” at the end?

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