October 10, 2013 posted by

“Once Upon A Time” (1936)


“Are you a REAL Driver?”

You have to give Metropolitan life insurance some credit for trying. In 1936, they hired Audio Productions to make an animated film on driver safety, resulting in Once Upon a Time. This theatrical short seems to have been made to promote safety in a soft, friendly message.

It’s really one of my favorite ‘educational’ cartoons, though I have to wonder if it really had any effect on anyone’s choices in driving. Perhaps it’s jingle is the most memorable thing about it. Metlife produced sheet music as well, complete with this safety test on the back (click to enlarge):


How is your score? If you fail and are no longer a ‘real’ driver, than what are you?

Audio Productions has an interesting history, producing mostly educational and advertising films though the late 1930s. I imagine the studio must have folded sometime in the late 30s since there seem to be no further copyright registrations after 1938.

once_clip2_borderPaul Terry had partnered with the studio in the 1929, though it is unclear what their involvement was in the production of the films. My guess is that they may have provided the recording and editing facilities for Terry, who had recently struck on on his own from a partnership with Van Beuren. Terry produced the animation for at least one Audio Cinema educational film, Family Album. Other animated films from Audio Productions own facilities include The Kool Penguins (for Kool cigarettes) and A Desert Dilemma (for Aetna insurance). Live action films by the company have shown up on Ebay from time to time, and a few are available on

Lillian Friedman, the first woman animator in the US studio system, worked at the Fleischer Studios. Historian Bill Lorenzo did a huge favor to history by presenting a program of Friedman’s work around 1990. Her first work in the industry was painting cels for Cy Young’s Mendelssohn’s Spring Song short. It’s just a guess, but it’s possible that this work was done at Audio Productions, since Cy Young animated at least one advertisement for the studio, and likely others.

Once Upon a Time seems to have some work done by experienced animators, and clearly other scenes are not as well timed or drawn. At least one Fleischer artist, John Walworth, worked on the film, between stints at Fleischer and Famous Studios. Interestingly, many years later, Walworth designed toys for Crackerjack and other premiums. It seems like advertising materials were part of his career through many years. Here’s a interesting newspaper article about Walworth from 1991.

Near the end, the film takes a serious turn, presenting the deaths and accidents that happen in the US yearly.

once-clip3_bgI really enjoy some of the odder shots in the film the most, especially the character designs, even though they are not always consistent. I wonder if some of the animation and background work was moonlighted by folks working at Terry, Van Beuren or Fleischer. As with the history of Jam Handy, most of the information seems lost to history. I’m sure the filmmakers would never have imagined this film being written about nearly 80 years later. Despite the oddities of the production, it’s a cute little film, and in some ways always reminded me of the ‘retro’ cartoons from the late 60s and early 70s that try to emulate some of the cartoon style ideas of the 30s. Funny enough, Fred Ladd re-colored the film in Korea in the late 60’s or early 70’s. I have to wonder if they had found a black and white print.

The Telecine transfer (done back in 1989 or 90) is decent, but I hope someday to transfer it in HD. It appears on the Thunderbean DVD Cultoons, Volume 2, along with A Desert Dilemma.


  • Wonderful! Love some of the spongier vehicles and that nasty spat between Cinderella and Prince Charming! Of course, that damn song will be stuck in my head all morning…

  • This print on youtube seems to have more of the original credits at 12 seconds;

    Also I’ve read that this film was also exhibited at the 1939 Worlds Fairs.

    • That’s GREAT! I never saw that before, though I do know the origins of that print… it’s in Super 8 and was for sale in the early 80’s though Steel Vally Film Service. They released various PD films, like Red Fox films did….

  • Now here’s another short I have on DVD and wanted to know more about. Thanks. I have to look up Audio productions.

  • “How is your score? If you fail and are no longer a ‘real’ driver, than what are you?”

    I’m a Drivin’ Wheel… : D

  • Later on, Met Life would come back to animation in the 1980’s where they did a series of commecial featuring the PEanuts gang whitch continues to this day. Not to mention last year’s bizzare cross-over ad featuring Warner and Classic Media (about five months before Dreamworks bought them) owned characters.

    • At least they managed to handle that feat before Classic Media got bought out.

  • When I interviewed Lillian Friedman in 1985, she noted that Cy Young got her and other artists who had worked on Mendelssohn’s Spring Song jobs at Audio in January 1931. She didn’t name the studio that produced Spring Song, but said it was financed by Montrose Newman.

  • What was the original color prosess for this film?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *