May 9, 2024 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Terrytoons “Sink or Swim” (1952)

Today was the last day of ‘reviews’ at CCS, where I teach, and it involves full days of looking at student work and giving feedback. I’m pretty exhausted writing this— so what’s better than relaxing with a classic Terrytoon. Or, better, one that isn’t!

Sometimes I’m happy when I’ve found a batch of Terrytoons since there’s a pretty good chance that at least some of them with trigger some memory of watching it decades earlier; then again, there’s been times I’ve found a 16mm print of one of them, and after a few minutes I’m wondering why I was so excited. Still, I do enjoy *most of them* when the mood is right.

This particular cartoon, Sink or Swim (1952), is for the die-hards only I think, because the best way to enjoy it is to view it without a critical eye, but rather for fun things about the animation.

Sometimes I wonder if story points were not considered beyond the first idea that came to mind at times. In this one, as in others, rather than have Dinky’s plight (of not being able to swim) be shown visually, our merry band of Terrytoons singers explains this important story point while Dinky sits on the shore, dipping his foot in the water, watching other fowl swimming by. This is the first moment it’s hard to feel bad for our hero since he seems, well, just not willing to even try to do the basics. After some failed attempt, the singers explain he lacks self confidence. It’s a lightbulb moment, because you know from this point on it’s a cartoon with a message!

Dinky visits the wise owl, who gives him a sky hook so he won’t sink any more. It seems to work pretty well until an alligator sees the yellow siblings of Dinky and thinks of making them into Turkey Dinner. Dinky gets chased around by the alligator who gets stuck in a log and falls off a waterfall, turning into luggage (with price tags). In all the commotion, Dinky doesn’t realize he’s dropped his sky hook and is swimming on his own. The give him an award… for doing something they all learned how to do without getting a reward.

This cartoon’s cloying message that you can do anything you try never really lands very well, and it’s hard to even have any empathy for Dinky since he’s so annoying and self-centered. At one point early on he sings his ‘poor me’ song- and that’s especially grating since Dinky seems so unwilling to make any effort to improve his life. The Sky Hook as a magic feather idea works ok, but the shades of Dumbo are all over this story.

When I was first rewatching this cartoon I remembered seeing it, but little else. My favorite animation in the film are separate shots that are all odd. Dinky climbing the stairs at the owl’s house and looking literally insane is the best shot in the film I think. There’s some really fun shots of during the alligator chase as well.

The scan of this golden film classic is from a 16mm print. Enjoy it and please leave a good comment, or a snarky one, since Dinky does deserve it this week. From watching this and other Dinky cartoons, it’s pretty clear why the classic ‘It’s a Living’ was made.

Have a good week everyone!

An comics adaptation of this film was in DINKY DUCK #4 (1952)


  • Charming little short! Good for a family audience.

    Dinky’s main problem appears to be fear of the water, which he overcomes by splashing around in it fearlessly. The chorus only mentions that he can’t swim, not that he is afraid of the water, yet the visuals seem to sustain the latter idea. I remember being a big fan of Dinky Duck when I was a child, but I don’t recall this specific cartoon. Still, I don’t find him as annoying as you describe. Seems like a delightful and pleasant outing. I for one enjoyed this. Thanks for posting!

  • If I close my eyes, it sounds kind of like one of those Bozo-approved Capitol children’s records.

    I wonder if the sped-up voices were done using acetate disks; there certainly is a lot of clicks and pops during those segments.

  • An interesting watch. Sometimes it feels like the Terrytoons staff tried to up their animation game to keep the characters on model and go for some real emotion.

    These reissues typically cut at least one or two scenes to get the shorts at 6 minutes or less, right? I wonder if that sequence shown in that comic page where Dinky uses the ‘skyhook’ to stick open the croc’s mouth was originally in the short.

  • What intrigued me is the design of the alligator. It has human teeth and a line of long spikes down its back, looking more like a dragon. Also, it’s clearly a crocodile due to its narrow snout, whereas gators have broad snouts. But then that’s a mistake most Golden Age animators seem to make, even at Disney.

  • I *think* Dinky’s deranged expression while crawling awkwardly up those books was meant to convey wide-eyed, childlike wonder, but something clearly went wrong somewhere along the line.

  • Yeah. I think it’s safe to say the reveal of MeTV Toons made for a better article than this week’s subject.

    In fact, if I wanted to watch a cartoon about a duckling who’s afraid to swim, I’d just watch Tom and Jerry’s “Just Ducky” instead. The MGM series, to be specific.

  • All I can say is I remember seeing this short on television, possibly as part of one of the Saturday morning Terry Toon shows like “mighty mouse Playhouse“ or one of those. However, that’s the only thing I have to say about it. Unlike you, however, I want to see Terry tunes more often on Blu-ray and even on television. Maybe MeTV Toons Will take care of some of that desire. Otherwise, I like the entries you’ve put on certain Blu-ray lately.

  • You won’t get any snarking from me about Dinky. I love this cartoon. In fact, the only Dinky cartoon that I really dislike is the so-called classic “It’s a Living”, which is just too self-consciously hip for my taste, like the comedy of Steve Allen.

    At least the alligator in the comic book has the pointed, conical teeth typical of a reptilian predator. The one in the cartoon, with its long rows of enormous, perfectly even, gleaming white choppers, could pass for one of the Osmonds.

    Most of the postwar Dinky cartoons follow a formula where the vocal quartet introduces the character and a problem he has, which he then sets out to overcome. And how did he manage to overcome his problem in “Sink or Swim”? As Elvis Presley sang in “Clambake”:

    “…‘Cause he had CONFIDENCE!
    A little thing called CONFIDENCE!
    There’s no job too immense
    When you’ve got CONFIDENCE!
    With a C, and an O, and an N, and an F, and an I, and a D, and an ENCE!
    Put ‘em all together, what have you got?

    If you want a musical number with a cloying message, look no further!

  • Watched about a minute. The only Terrytoons that have ever interested me were the very few ‘Golden Age’ Mighty Mouse cartoons they would show rarely on Saturday morning, and of course, the underappreciated and overlooked Gandy Goose. (Which I don’t remember ever seeing as a kid in the early 60s.) This is 1952? The soundtrack and look says 1942. I know there must be some decent Terrytoons out there. (Other than Gandy and early Mighty Mouse). But I haven’t seen them yet.

  • A poor man’s 6 minute Dumbo. The stick serves the same purpose as the magic feather. Oh well, its a good watch once and once only

  • That’s Bob Kuwahara’s artwork on the comic book page, thanks for this post, Steve!

  • What’s baffling is that the Dinky shorts uploaded on the unofficial Terrytoons channel on Youtube have more than a million views on several of them.

  • There’s no reason to be snarky! It’s a high quality animated short

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