I’m sitting down, just now, one project lighter: the final, final versions of Puppetoons 2 is finished for Arnold Leibovit productions. I’ll be on to a few tweaks to a special Tommy Stathes project, then very happily to compositing animation for the titles on Rainbow Parade. We’re updating the galleries for that set with new material that I’m really excited about as well.
But— it’s nearly Halloween, and I’d be careless if we didn’t show at least *one* sort of Halloween cartoon. This is one of my favorites- and the print this week is courtesy of Jerry Beck, or, Jerry and his amazing garage of animation wonders.
I was last out to LA nearly a year ago now, and during the trip our fearless leader in animation archeology was kind enough to enthusiastically pull out some boxes of Famous studios cartoons gathered over the last, well, lifetime. Among these was an Ansco color print of The Friendly Ghost. It’s a pretty rare NTA print of the film – most were just in (now pinkish) Eastman color. This one retained a little more color, but not perfect by any means. We did a scan of it and color corrected a bit for one of the ‘special’ sets, and since it’s Halloween, here it is!
Fleischer animators Joe Oriolo and Seymour Reit created “The Friendly Ghost” as a children’s story in 1939. Joe Oriolo, of course, later co-formed Felix the Cat productions, producing the famous TV cartoon series, along with many other projects. Here’s a nice little article from our own Jim Korkis about Seymour Reit.
Casper’s personality is pretty simple in this first entry, but (arguably) just as so many of the other cartoons Famous was doing in this period, it’s charming and sweet without being too saccharine. I especially like his design here in the first cartoon—it might be the cutest starring character the studio ever produced. His action and poses are simple and charming throughout in a sort of Little Lulu way. Even his attempt at suicide is played as a cute gag, perhaps owing something to Popeye’s similar attempt in For Better or Nurse (1944). Oddly, the gag reinforces the idea that Casper doesn’t understand that being a ghost means he’s actually dead- an idea that could have furthered Casper’s development, but is perhaps a little too morbid even for Famous. The story does, however, manage to pull off something here that rarely happens in any Caspers, or, honestly, any of their cartoons: empathy for a character’s situation.
Casper’s ability to change things going through him or not doesn’t make a lot of sense, but heck- it’s a cartoon. Concentrating no more than a few moments on Casper’s plight would become standard after the first three cartoons, and its one of the things I like best about these first entries. I always wondered what awful thing Casper must have done after the last cartoon ended that now caused him to lose all the friends he had made! Of course, the landlord situation at the end is the stuff of later Casper cartoons to a tee, but works better surrounded by the other story elements to balance out the short. Herman the Mouse makes an un-announced momentary appearance at one point as well. Perhaps my favorite part of the film is Casper wearing his cute school outfit at the end; I sort of wish he had that getup on though whole films, only being naked when necessary. As with many of the Famous shorts, Winston Sharples score is lovely throughout- and I think the title card (presumably by designer Shane Miller) is one of the strongest of any Famous Studio cartoons.
For such a well-known character, it’s hard to believe that a good copy of the first cartoon still isn’t really available. I had heard a story at one point that a beautiful 35mm print was under someone’s bed for a while; I wish I had been doing this Thunderbean stuff at that time! For now, we have this freshly scanned one- a little better copy than most of what I’ve seen on the title.
I like the first three cartoons in the series best, with The Friendly Ghost being my favorite. They’re based on the three stories by Oriolo and Reit. I’d love to find copies of those someday.
Happy Halloween or other spooky time- enjoy these first adventures of Casper courtesy of Famous Studios- and have a good week!