THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
October 6, 2022 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Restoring Fleischer Cartoons Panel at the New York Comic Con

I really love fall here in Michigan. It’s beautifully warm many of the days, somewhat chilly at night, and change happens every day as the leaves turn brilliant colors and start to fall. Even though things have been pretty hectic here, it has started to feel like the pieces of all the various projects are falling into place just as they should. It’s never quite in the order I’d like, but I’ll take it.

Dave Gerstein, the tireless researcher, has handed in nearly all the Flip the Frog bonus materials for the Blu-ray. The work of finishing the discs off has been happening slowly through these weeks, closer and closer to completion. I won’t be able to believe it when it’s over soon— but so happy it’s near the finish line.

I’m be driving to New York tomorrow to go to the New York Comic-Con. If you’re there and see me come say hi! Bill Leff ( from Me TV’s Toon In with Me) will be leading a discussion on restoring cartoons from the Fleischer Studio. I’ll be on the panel along with Jane (Fleischer) Reid, the granddaughter of Max, Mauricio Alvarado, Ray Pointer, Thad Komorowski and Brandon Adams. Jane has asked Thunderbean to join in the effort, and I’m happy to be working on evaluating several right now. I’m looking forward to discussing the current efforts and progress- but most excited that, in the near future, more films will be available for everyone to see as they should have been seen all these years. The event is in room 408 at Noon on Friday. Here is the poster for the event, by Shawn Dickinson, who did a wonderful Job on the Rainbow Parades V1 Blu-ray cover last year for Thunderbean. Click here for more info.

Speaking of the Fleischer Studios, I feel like Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941) is one of the most taken for granted features- but also one of the harder ones to see in a decent copy. It’s been one of my favorites since I was a kid. I first saw it just after Christmas, on a tiny black and white TV as WGPR broadcast it as part of their ‘Auction Movie’. I remember writing thank-you notes to my relatives for Christmas gifts as I watched, and wished it was on again as soon as it ended.

I was lucky enough to recently scan some 35mm IB Technicolor reels from this feature. Mark Kausler was kind enough to lend this particular reel for scanning. I was thrilled to see the footage, but especially loved *hearing* the music in full fidelity, so I thought I’d share a piece of the soundtrack (along with the picture of course).

For those who haven’t seen the film, this is a sequence where Mr. Beetle (the bad guy) has kicked a lit cigar down a hill and right onto the “Honey Shop”, owned by Mr. Bumble (the bee). Hoppity, after a failed attempt to move the cigar, is still looking for a solution as this clip starts.

There’s a lovely soundtrack on this feature, by Leigh Harline, who scored Snow White and Pinocchio previously. He went on to score 31 more features after Mr. Bug, all live action, working into the mid-60s. Harline’s ability to create wonderful little themes works so well for animation that it’s a surprise that Mr. Bug was his last score he did for anything animated.

There are several themes running throughout the score for different characters, with each effortlessly intertwined with other themes in each sequence. In this scene, Hoppity’s theme is featured predominately, reprised from just a little earlier when he is introduced. Similar themes are present in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse (1948) a whimsical comedy with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. Here’s a short clip that features many of the same scoring ideas:

Mr. Bug has, easily, one of my favorite scores – and it’s hard to pick one sequence that I enjoy most. The cleverness of the varied themes mixed with the rise in tempo through this sequence is so thoughtful and well done here that it seemed like a good one to share- and timed so beautifully to the animation.

This print has a hard 1:33 matte around some of the footage, no matte around other parts, but it’s a bit see-through, revealing some of the extra shot image as well as the peg bars and top of the cels in many scenes. I’ve left it viewable here since it’s otherwise hidden – and fun to see.

Have a good week all!

27 Comments

  • GREAT news. I hope!

    I hope those early Betty Boops will be made available on DVD, like “Barnacle Bill,” Mysterious Mose,” “The Bum Bandit,” etc.

    I’d also like to see the early Screen Songs and Talkartoons with Bimbo and/or Betty. ANY of ’em. I’d like to see _all_ of the Talkartoons released on DVD.

    Accordion Joe Accordion Joe Accordion Joe Accordion Joe…

    • Some were on DVD/Blu-Ray by Olive Films, but they were the old DVNR TV Prints from the Republic videos tapes and laser discs. She dereveres better.

      • The Olive Blu-rays didn’t use materials from the old video tape and laserdisc sets. They were new high-definition transfers from 35mm film elements with no DVNR applied. The problem with them was that most of the titles on the first two volumes were somewhat stretched horizontally to one degree or another.

        • I thought they were a mixed bag. Some high quality, some low. They certainly didn’t pop like you’d expect on a Blu Ray release. That’s why I stopped buying the Olive releases on Blu Ray since there was no difference in the ‘quality’. Plus they cheaped out on the boxes, and stopped making them to look like the matching Republic VHS release.

  • I don’t think it’s at all surprising that Leigh Harline never looked back after he started scoring live-action films. The animated features he worked on had music going on practically all the time, and it had to be painstakingly timed to the animation. Live-action movies, on the other hand, have long stretches of dialogue where background music is neither necessary nor especially desirable. So it was a career move that meant less work for more money. Who could blame him?

    All the best for New York Comic-Con. Give my regards to Broadway!

  • I couldn’t have wished for a better post today! I love that scene too!

  • That’s a great poster Shawn did.

    Good luck with the panel, Steve!

  • I see Leff is continuing to pass himself off as some sort of animation expert / historian. The misinformation he regularly passes on to those who don’t know better and accept as fact (folks who don’t read Cartoon Research) is truly shameful (Gabby Goat appeared in fourteen cartoons? News to me). Most of his trivia is gleaned from the particular cartoon’s Wikipedia entry, and sometimes even quoted verbatim. And also, just my opinion, he’s also spectacularly unfunny.

    Just to double the fun, the organizers should also invite that Fleischer family member who co-hosted a night of that studio’s cartoons a few years back on TCM. I don’t know if this guy was purposefully disingenuous or just woefully ignorant, but he certainly gave “Cartoon Curator”‘-type responses to Ben Mankiewicz’ queries (“Why did the Fleischers move their studio to Miami?” “They needed the extra room.”) .Yeesh.

    • Okay, what TCM broadcast are you referring to and which Fleischer family member? You seem to be loosing me here with your original comment.

    • First off, Leiff is there because the MetTV crew is there (partly because of the “Spawn of Svengoolie” campaign/compitation). Plus, Bill is a friend of Jerry’s.

      Second there was a TCM “Father and Son” evening programing for one month a few years ago and one of night had projects of Max and Richard Fleischer’s. Max’s grandson co-host (and I didn’t think he was bad).

      • I’ve wondered about Bill Leff’s age. He looks to be in his 50’s There is no info anywhere on the internet on that.
        Anybody know?

      • If Leff is there solely because of MeTV’s presence, they might as well just get Lisa “Collector’s Call” Whelchel to moderate–She knows about as much as Bill does regarding animation (and that’s whatever’s on the teleprompter at the moment). Besides, she’s a lot easier on the eyes. Jerry isn’t on the panel, so I don’t know what being “friends” has to do with anything.

        I think it’s obvious grandson didn’t want to discuss Max’s union-thwarting, and I can’t really blame him–But, jeez louise, come up with a better answer than that. Even “I don’t know” would have been preferable.

        • At least he’s a better host than one of those in there face “reviewers” that rants and seem to need physcological help.

          • Plus at a time when most of these reviewers go so far off the rails, Bill has a far more pleasant demeanor, which is a rare trait these days. Also he sounds like he genuinely respects the fans.

    • I suggested the Father/Son Film Festival to TCM eight years ago when this aired. It was a challenge since we had to work with only those films that TCM owned through Time-Warner. So 20,000 LEAGUES was out, as was FANTASTIC VOYAGE and THE HAPPY TIME. I was expecting that they would have shown the restored Popeye two-reelers, but they showed the TV versions, which disappointed everyone.

      Because my book had come out, they asked me to co-host. I declined since this was to be a Father/Son festival, and I suggested Mark Fleischer, CEO of Fleischer Studios, son of Director, Richard Fleischer, and grandson of Max Fleischer. He had wonderful anecdotes that I would never have had. As for his seeming “disingenuous,” perhaps that a bit harsh due to the fact that talking about this subject is very complicated and due to time, a simplified answer was necessary. Going into the details of moving to Miami would require a documentary, which is in the process of being completed.

  • I would love to have a restored print of “Mr. Bug Goes to Town” on Blu-Ray. Such a fun, beautifully designed movie.

  • That Dickinson poster is FINE!

  • Wow! That’s the best picture & soundtrack I’ve seen of this feature. Paramount’s photochemical restoration from a decade or two ago did not have as good color or sound (all the high & low end was missing). Paramount said they were working from the best materials they had. I hope by now better elements have been discovered.

  • Have a good time in the big city Steve! This reminds me, super excited to see Fleischer content in HD. I can’t wait for Cartoons on Films’ Back to the Inkwell set, the sneak peek on the TCM show was very exciting, and it holds the usual high standard of yours and Tommy’s releases! Can’t wait to see it next year!

  • Old enough to remember how whenever the NTA logo appeared on TV, there was a hope of Fleischer animation — Popeye, Betty Boop, or one of the features. It feels like Hoppity and Gulliver were on a lot, but maybe they just made that strong an impression.

    Hoping “Hoppity Goes to Town” finally gets a proper release. Odd twist of fate: “Gulliver’s Travels” was a hit and played in theaters into the 60s even as it became a television staple, and then achieved even broader reach as a PD title. Meanwhile, the superior “Hoppity Goes to Town” failed (victim of WWII or Paramount?), eventually vanished from TV, and was locked away.

  • A shame that such a beautifully animated feature should be so neglected in the public’s mind. Maybe no one could beat Disney at that point, but it’s still right up there in stature with the best. Yes, there was the drama with the war and Paramount scheming to take over Fleischer Studios, but the feature itself shouldn’t be punished. And neither should we by its rare screenings, or lack of commercial BluRay release.

  • Sounds cool! I’d like to see all cartoons in their original glory.

  • The cleanest print of “Mr Bug/Hoppity” I’ve ever seen is the Laser Disc version. The Library of Congress print (original title) that’s been shown on Turner Classic Movies is too dark and not sharp enough. It’s a charming film, the first animated feature with a more or less original story, though not a patch on what Disney was doing, and probably would have been a success marketed properly, if only as the equivalent of a B (or in this case, bee) movie. In the late ’60s and early ’70s they could have used a frame of the scene where an electrified Hoppity glows like neon as poster art for psychedelic midnight screenings (back when college students were rediscovering campy old movies their mothers watched on TV). It even could have become a television perennial if given enough of a build-up. At any rate, gee weeds, but Hoppity deserves an afterlife.

  • No one’s mentioned it outright, so I’m a little worried…

    The “1941 Animated Feature (Special Blu-Ray BD-R)” that I bought from Steve a year ago… that’s “Mr. Bug”… right?

    Lots of comments about wishing for a Blu-ray release and no details from Steve in the post makes me wonder if I ordered what I thought I did!

  • The Japanese DVD by Disney / Studio Ghibli from 2011 was the best home video presentation I’ve seen so far, though it was Region 2 locked. Great image quality from an NTA print (though the color seemed a bit green to me)

  • I haven’t watched it in years, but I always disliked that they named the grasshopper hero “Hoppity”. Not original in the least, and every time someone says his name I cringe.

  • Steve, your remarks about the Hard Matte and Peg Bars showing on the print is something common on many 35mm prints of cartoons. Having been a Projectionist while in college gives me this insight. What you are not considering is that the aperture plates cropped these things. They knew this then. And the fact that the frame lines were widened when the standard returned to 1.33:1 in 1931, a.k.a. “Academy Aperture” allowed for clean butt splices in the negative since the splice overlaps fell outside of the the intended projected picture area. Anything scanned outside of the established Aspect area was never meant to be seen. This may include the beveled corners which I find a distraction on contemporary TV screens with squared corners.

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