September 30, 2015 posted by

Terrytoons’ “The Explorer” (1931)


Today, we look into a Terrytoon featuring Farmer Al Falfa!

Paul Terry began his career in animation when he had two animated films released through the Thanhouser Film Corporation in 1915. His first, Little Herman, remains a lost film. Down on the Phoney Farm has resurfaced in recent years (thanks to Dave Gerstein and Tom Stathes, naturally). The latter production was the first to feature an old hayseed farmer character later christened Farmer Al Falfa. Terry worked for a brief period in 1916 at the Bray Studios, where he directed 11 Al Falfa cartoons. After he left Bray, he produced a few titles under Paramount Magazine before he formed Fables Pictures in 1921. Terry and his staff produced a great amount of Aesop’s Fables, released once every week that often featured the character.

western11After producer Amadee Van Beuren fired Terry from Fables Pictures, shortly after their pioneering synchronized-sound cartoon, Dinner Time (1928), he continued to use Farmer Al Falfa in several sound entries — including Summertime (1929), Custard Pies (1929) and The Iron Man (1930) -– before Terry took the character with him at his new studio. His first official Terry-toon, French Fried (released September 1930) wasn’t part of the television package in the 1950s; hence, the title hasn’t been shown since its theatrical release. The Explorer became part of the library, but this television copy is missing a key component in which Farmer Al Falfa negotiates to buy the North Pole; scenes 1, 2 and 4 are repeated at the end of the cartoon instead. Viewers may want to notice Al Falfa’s new purchase, which is placed behind his plane in the background. The draft makes light of what the network excised, but this abrupt change in scenery, without any indication, makes the cartoon seem bewildering upon viewing.

Frank Moser, Jerry Shields, Bill Tytla and Art Babbitt are the main animators of this cartoon, with assistant artists “Sarka” (still unidentified as of this post), Connie Rasinski, Jose Carreon, Jay Allen Klein, George Gordon, and another unidentified artist credited as “King.”

FarmerAlfalfaBoxBorn in Nebraska, Klein was an assistant at Terry-toons in the early ‘30s and later became a print cartoonist, credited as “Alan Klein” (his WWII-related illustrations are at this link). It’s unclear who “King” is; it couldn’t be Jack King, since he migrated to the West Coast at Disney’s by 1929. Could it be someone related to him? Many animators had siblings who were in the business on the same or opposite coasts — for example, Art and Mannie Davis — but “King” is a difficult surname to distinguish, so it might be too ambiguous to solve.

Tytla’s scenes in The Explorer have an appealing pliability — one of the few dynamics kept alive by the studio, and used by future full-fledged animators there. These reflect a small progression from Tytla’s fine arts training during his trip to Europe from 1929-30. Scenes 5-7 are fluid and graceful, in contrast to Moser’s angular drawing style and Shields’ vestigial movement.

George Gordon, known for his work as an animator/director for MGM, started at Terry-toons in 1930 and later became a director at the studio by the mid-30s; he left in 1937. Scene 23 is a standout in the cartoon, where Gordon assists Frank Moser on amusing depth effects when a bear ice skates, using bars of soap, far away into the horizon and back again.

Enjoy this week’s breakdown video!


(Thanks to Mark Kausler and Charlie Judkins for their help.)


  • The copyright notice reads “Terry, Moser and Coffman”. Who’s the third one?

    • Joseph Coffman.

  • Ah, so Paul Terry’s career, heading an animation studio didn’t begin until the early sound era! I remember actually seeing Terry silent on our local airwaves, and I would assume that copies of those cartoons are still easily located? But it is the sound material that I’m obviously interested in. Great stuff as always!

  • Well this is timely. In a mere two weeks, more or less, it will be 100 years since Farmer Al Falfa first hit the theater screens. (Depending on what source you believe, it was either Oct. 12 or Oct. 16, 1915.) Already, telegrams are pouring in from well-wishers around the world, and a statue will be unveiled in New Rochelle, the Farmer’s home town, which will henceforth be renamed Falfaville.

    My own modest tribute, a YouTube compilation of Al’s greatest hits (and nobody could take a hit like Al) will be dedicated at the appropriate moment, so stay tuned, and be sure to stock plenty of Old Crow, an essential component of Al’s Mule Kick Tea Party Punch.

  • Farmer Al’s longevity is surprising. He’s the straight man to a generation of comic animals.

  • These early Terrytoons are interesting to see. They had long since been relegated to the vaults by the time I came along. Any idea what percentage of the early Terrytoons library was edited for television by CBS? Unfortunately, it does not appear to have been an unusual thing for them to do.

  • It’s odd that you notice the absence of the Terrytoons stock sound effects library. I guess it was still early in the sound era for the studio to have amassed their splash, thump, and squealing brakes effects that were used endlessly later on. Everything in THE EXPLORER sounds like it was recorded fresh for the production.

    • It probably was. Most of the sounds heard in a typical cartoon – cymbal crashes, bells, wooden blocks, slide whistles and other noisemakers were the sorts of things that you could do live during a recording session, so no need to build a library.

      One canned effect that you couldn’t fail to notice was a “splash” sound that got used a lot, because no Terrytoon would be complete without somebody falling in the water. (I keep my ears open for “clean” instances of sounds like that, and am saving them up for the day when I draw my own Terrytoon. Because otherwise, what’s the point of my existence?)

  • The reason CBS censored “The Explorer” is because the bear that Al Falfa buys the north pole from is a Jewish caricature. The bear is a peddler who obviously doesn’t legally have the right to sell the pole, but does so anyway, with a wink and a nod. I have a 35mm nitrate print of this subject that Steve Stanchfield copied to digital format. Steve, how about posting the complete version of this cartoon on one of your Thursday outings? Too bad UCLA sits on the unedited Terrytoons prints they received from Viacom. Like dogs in the manger (Aesop) they refuse to run them, so we cartoon scholars are left to grope in the dark about what was originally in the Terrytoons that were cut by CBS.

    • Thanks, Mark! I was wondering why they censored this bit.
      Now I’m ANXIOUS to see the original version (as most of us are, I’d wager)…

    • According to Steve Stanchfield himself, while I was asking if he included the print in his latest special release, he never digitized your print at all. Now we got two sides of the story here…

  • Out of curiosity, what was Farmer Al Falfa’s final appearance in a Terrytoon?

    • Possibly “Uranium Blues” (1956) or not. The character made sporadic appearances after his series ended.

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