First – Some short Thunderbean news:
The Rainbow Parades V1 set is quickly rounding the corner from *being in progress forever’ to ‘off to replication’. We’re getting closer on finishing the animated titles, and I’m finally at a point where I can actually sit down and finish animating my own parts. I’m looking at ways to get the duplication of special sets down faster (with one BDR duplicator stepping in to help) and shipping is now almost entirely being taken over by my small staff.
I was thinking about the various ‘home movie’ distributors of cartoons over the years and their influence on the things we’ve been able to see- and the ones I was able to see, and thought it might be fun to put together a list of some of the companies that released films for home use. Some of these catered directly to collectors, some licensed things from various studios, and some just distributed things that were (as far as they knew) in the public domain. I’ve talked about some of these companies here and there in the past, but here’s a sort of ‘short list’ = part 1- of ones that you’ll likely find if you’ve been collecting film or video over the years. All of these are notable in that they released classic animation over the years. Let’s dig in:
Castle Films: Castle films is, in my mind, one of the kings of home movie and non-theatrical release of classic animation on 8mm and 16mm. The company, started by Eugene Castle, distributed 8mm and 16mm films for home use starting in the early 30s. They made deals with many big and small distributors over the years, most notably Universal, who bought the company in the late 40s. They’re one of the most fun to collect in that there’s lots of titles, colorful boxes and some really good prints. Classic animation titles they released include cartoons from the Lantz studio, Terrytoons and Ub Iwerks.
Official Films is the second largest of the distributors of 8mm and 16mm Home Movie versions of films from 1939 through the mid-60s. The company’s name, ‘Official Films’ stems from being the ‘Official’ company to distribute films about the 1939 World’s Fair. One the years, they distributed cartoons from all sorts of studios, including a pretty good chunk of the Van Beuren cartoons, some Iwerks’ Flip the Frog cartoons, independent animated shorts including Ted Eshbaugh’s ‘The Snowman’ Capn’ Cub and ‘Goofy Goat Antics’. Official later released a lot of their licensed films to Televison, eventually becoming more active in TV distribution. Select Film Library attained some of Official’s negatives in later years, releasing them on 8mm and 16mm into the 60s.
Pictoreels is a really interesting little company. They’re especially of note because of their distribution of Harman-Ising cartoons from the 30s, in both Black and White and Kodachrome. Cartoonist Mark Kausler noted that Hugh Harman had a litigation battle with MGM for years about the sale of their films to Pictoreels, but, oddly enough, they kept selling them for many years. Pictoreels also distributed Harman’s Winky the Watchman, and black and white and color versions of some of George Pal’s early Puppetoons.
Hollywood Film Enterprises was a small company that was the exclusive distributor of home movie versions of Disney cartoons through 1950. They distributed a few other series of cartoons as well- notably the three ‘Gran’ Pop’ Monkey Cartoons from Cartoon Films, Limited.
Exclusive Movies distributed short home movie versions of Fleischer Cartoons (Betty Boop and Popeye) in the 30s as well as lots of different silent series, including Krazy Kat and a lot of rare stop motion shorts from the 20s. This small company was started right at the beginning of 16mm as a format and seems to have folded sometime in the late 40s. Without them, some entries in early series of animated films may have been lost.
Keystone Films, a division of the Keystone Camera Company in Boston, released quite a few rare silent films in 8mm and 16mm through the mid-40s, including Jerry on the Job shorts, US Fellers, Krazy Kat and Mutt and Jeff Cartoons..Keystone’s boxes from the 30s are especially cool and fun collectables. I would love to have seen a display of these films next to Keystone’s Camera’s projectors and cameras.
Excel Home Movies distributed silent home movie versions in 16mm of Columbia’s Krazy Kat, Scrappy and Barney Google cartoons. Excel also seems to have distributed quite a few silent shorts.
This ad is especially fun, showing one of Excel’s little ‘Toy’ projectors from the late 30s.
Canterbury Films, named after the street it was started on, was a small company run by Les Brooks in the 70s into the 80s. They distributed public domain films from various studios on super 8mm and 16mm, including some of the Fleischer Color Classics and even the feature Gulliver’s Travels. Les’ prints were generally pretty good, and some of the first super 8 prints of cartoons I bought myself. I’m not sure if Les still runs his company ‘Mice, Ducks and Wabbits’ that specialized in original animation art. I was greatly inspired by this small company, and some of the other small super 8mm and 16mm distributors.
Thunderbird Films. Thunderbird films has no relation to Thunderbean, although similar in name (The Thunderbean name actually has its origins in a puppet character my brother and I came up with in the 70s. We eventually named one of our cats Thunderbean as well- before I had heard of Thunderbird films). Thunderbird was run by Tom Dunnahoo, a real character who distributed films in super 8mm and 16mm. I’ve heard that Thunderbird went out of business in the late 70s, although I managed to get a catalog in the early 80s from them; I have to wonder if the company by that point was still operating but not being run by Dunnahoo. They distributed a lot of public domain animation, including Fleischer cartoons and shorts from Van Beuren and really anything else they managed to make a print of. I’m sure there’s folks here who have stories about Thunderbird.
Red Fox Films was another small company that released films in super 8mm and 16mm. They were, I think, the second catalog I ever got, and I pined for some of the cartoons they had listed! Later I would borrow ‘Mr. Bug (Happily) Goes to Town’ on super 8 from the local library here, and their print was pretty good, coming from a 35mm Ib tech print!
I’ll continue the list in the coming weeks – there’s many more to note! Have a good week everyone!