I’ve been getting more and more text messages and emails these days from longtime readers, as well as students and younger fans – intrigued by all the classic cartoons (from Warner Bros., MGM, Paramount, Columbia, Universal, etc) now showing on MeTV – asking me about the status of the classic “Terrytoon” cartoons.
Where are they? What’s going on? What am I doing about getting them on blu-ray… or even getting them back on some form of television (Streaming? Cable? Broadcast sub-channels?? etc.).
Lord knows I’ve tried.
I decided to do myself a favor and write this post so I can simply send those inquiries this link – and perhaps open the conversation to all in support of preserving a part of an animation’s rich history.
“Rich History?” Terrytoons?
Like them or not – they were part of the larger picture of our favorite medium. Paul Terry was a true pioneer – and his long unseen silent era Aesop’s Fables are more entertaining than many today may realize.
But, this post is essentially about the sound-era Terrytoons library (1930 through the late 1960s). Those of us who grew up in the 1950s, 60s and 70s recall them forever being rerun on CBS, in syndication, and forever present in those little Kiddie projection booths at Shopping Malls and in Department Stores.
Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle, Deputy Dawg, Tom Terrific, Gandy Goose, Clint Clobber, Mighty Heroes, and – God-forbid – Luno….. They were everywhere. And yeah, they have a bad reputation as the cheapest cartoons ever released to theaters.
In 1987, a whole group of my animator friends had hooked up with Ralph Bakshi and were developing projects – most of which never came to fruition. This is when Ralph sold CBS on reviving Mighty Mouse for Saturday morning. This new Mighty Mouse (Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures) was a success – a test of sorts for the young team (which included John Kricfalusi, Bruce Timm, Andrew Stanton, Rich Moore, Mike Kazaleh and many more) that allowed the return of the “unit system”, and permitted for hand drawn layouts with extreme poses, where going off-model was not only allowed but encouraged.
From here I picked up the notion that ANY vintage characters (especially unpopular or less beloved ones) could be revived and rebooted successfully – if you consciously plan to do it well and aim to be truly funny. Sounds obvious… but many reboots before this – think the Filmation Tom & Jerry or DePatie-Freleng’s What’s New Mr. Magoo – were poorly thought out revivals.
After the Bakshi series – which barely scratched the surface in terms of reviving the Terrytoon characters – the Terrytoon library itself could only be seen on the USA Network. USA exclusively licensed them for a ten year period (1985-1995), where they could mainly be found as part of an omnibus series Cartoon Express (which essentially ran only the Mighty Mouse theatricals and the Deputy Dawg shorts).
In 1994 I was interviewed for a brand new position with Nickelodeon – VP of Animation for Nickelodeon Movies. Knowing that Nick was part of Viacom, I brought on my interview the very cool 1950s Deitch era Terrytoon one-sheet (at right). Part of my pitch for getting hired was displaying my knowledge of the company’s animation history, explaining I knew that the company had valuable “classic” IP that could be developed into new films.
It worked. I got the job. And some of the projects we immediately put into development included new takes on Mighty Mouse, Heckle & Jeckle and a faithful revival of Tom Terrific (no need to improve upon perfection). I tried to get the Terrytoon cartoon library back on Nickelodeon. I urged my friends at Nick at Nite to run the old CBS Cartoon Theater episodes on primetime (considering Dick Van Dyke was given the honorary Chairman Of The Network title at that time). Makes perfect sense, right? No dice.
It took three years – my entire contractual term – to clear the legal hurdles to allow us to green light a pilot or get funds to hire more talent. But that clearance did come through within months of my leaving the company in 1997. Mary Harrington was assigned to develop Terrytoons after I left. Long-story-short she hired Robert Taylor (Nine Lives Of Fritz The Cat, Rock Odyssey) to oversee a pilot film (titled Curbside – it never aired… I recommend you don’t watch it). The less said about that, the better.
In 1995 I put Mighty Mouse into active development for a feature film… and as far as I know, the company has kept Mighty Mouse “in development” status for the past 27 years. It’s still officially “in development” today.
Throughout the years, I used my many contacts to try various ways to revive the characters, or unlock the vault to reissue the 900+ Terrytoon library. Here are just a few of my efforts over the last 25 years.In 1999, I worked with Abby Terkule on developing Heckle & Jeckle for MTV Animation. Abby left the company before the development was complete.
In 2004, I pitched Tom Terrific (with SpongeBob’s Tom Kenny as a creative partner). No-go. I came back with a pitch for Sidney The Elephant. After a year of developing the pitch, I was told they would green light the pilot if I changed the character (to anything but “Sidney”). I changed the elephant to a rhinoceros and made a pilot called “Hornswiggle”.
2009 I pitched CBS Home Video – first on the idea of doing a set of Terrytoon classics (in the style of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection). That morphed into the idea of doing a DVD set of Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures. I was further involved with putting together the bonus documentary – and was allowed to select a few older Terrytoons to add to the bonus material. The restored-from-the-original-negative He Dood It Again shows you what the library would look like if we could restore it all.
In 2015, I pitched the idea of a new development track: “Nickelodeon Classics”. The idea would be to have a dedicated department that would lead development of rebooting classic 1990s Nick shows – as well as any characters and IP Paramount/Viacom/MTV/Nickelodeon/CBS owned the rights to. Honey Halfwitch anyone? This idea didn’t sell… but as consolation they hired me to work for a year on this book (a book that was published – but was ultimately never sold to the public).
I’ve practically made a career of trying to revive Terrytoons – every time I walked into Viacom/Paramount I’d walk away with a new job. Not the one I was pitching, mind you – but some sort of book, video or pilot project.
Around this same time I tried another idea – If I can’t get Paramount/Viacom/CBS to restore their library – maybe I could do it myself. In my role as VP (and for six-years President ) of Asifa-Hollywood, we reignited a dormant animation preservation established over 20 years ago. During the last five years, I was able to allocate funds to preserve three 1930s Terrytoons (with the UCLA Film Archive) – including their first release – Caviar.
I have had meetings with CBS and Paramount Home Video (two separate departments), I have spoken to Viacom and CBS Consumer Products, I have had meetings in recent years with the current heads of all the departments within the company that have any connection to producing animated series or features. I have not given up.
For now, the bottom line is this: the Paramount/Viacom/CBS conglomerate sees no financial incentive to reviving the Terrytoon library. There is no one there with an open mind to even try. It doesn’t matter how much we might love these characters or the films – to the company they are simply old children’s fodder – deader than the animated theatricals from the 1960s by Seymour Kneitel, Howard Post and Shamus Culhane – or a one-season Saturday morning series like The Oddball Couple (1975).
So that’s Terrytoons. Much of the above also applies my efforts to retrieve the 1950s Harveytoons, the 1940s Famous Studio Noveltoons and Little Lulu’s; the Columbia Screen Gems library of Scrappy, Krazy Kat, Fox & Crow and Color Rhapsodies; The UPA theatrical shorts (Magoo, etc); the UPA “Boing Boing Show”; Paramount’s 1960s shorts… among many others. My stories to push these forward will be told in a future “things I promised not to tell” postings. Stay tuned.