THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
September 22, 2022 posted by Steve Stanchfield

The Essential List

The essential list: A classic cartoon primer of absolute must see films for the unwashed – and of course, what are yours?

I’ve been writing this weekly post quite late lately, and I’ve been so busy that the things I want to take a deeper dive into I haven’t. I really am hoping in these coming few weeks to get a chance to actually catch up with everything, and moreso to have a chance to start writing some of the articles I’ve been wanting to and haven’t made the time to just yet. It’s been a whirlwind few weeks here in preparing things for a colleague, so I’m really happy to get back to Thunderbean stuff myself rather than hearing about who’s doing things!

I’ve been teaching an animation history class for 23 years now at the College for Creative Studies. I guess, by this point, that it’s a career. The course covers animation worldwide, up until recent history. I’ve really loved helping people discover a lot of the films so many of us have loved for many years, making sure that certain specific ones are at least seen in the class. As with all sorts of film lists, we can definitely agree that some things are essential viewing in any film genre, but it doesn’t always mean that *we* personally like all of them. Still, a majority of the films on my ‘essential’ list are pretty entertaining.

So, if I had to boil it down to the absolute five you must see films from each of the majors, it would look something like this. I really picked at my brain on how to keep the list short and include the absolutes!

Please post yours in the comments — I’d love to see what the similarities are and differences.

Warner Brothers:

Feed the Kitty

Coal Black

Kitty Kornered

Dough Ray Meow

Porky Pig’s Feat


Van Beuren:

Sunshine Makers

Gypped in Egypt

Rough on Rats

The Wild Goose Chase

Love’s Labor Won


Disney:

Education for Death

The Old Mill

Donald’s Dream Voice

The Tortoise and the Hare

The Little Whirlwind


UPA:

Rooty Toot Toot

The Brotherhood of Man

Gerald McBoing Boing

Ragtime Bear

Trees and Jamaica Daddy


Iwerks:

Balloonland

Ragtime Romeo

Jack Frost

Funny Face

Hell’s Fire


Columbia:

Chinatown Mystery

Let’s Go!

Scrappy’s Art Gallery

A Boy and His Dog

Fox and the Grapes


Lantz:

Termites from Mars

The Lumberchamp

Apple Andy

Crazy Mixed-Up Pup

Red Riding Hoodlum


Fleischer:

Bimbo’s Initiation

Snow White

Popeye Meets Ali Baba

Superman (1st cartoon in series)

Bedtime


Terrytoons:

Perils of Pearl Pureheart

It’s a Living

Gandy’s Dream Girl

Flebus

Farmer Al Falfa’s Ape Girl

Now — it’s your turn! For now, let’s stick with these categories, and in a future articles we’ll explore further too!

Have a good week everyone!

39 Comments

  • I never took a class in animation history. Such a course would have been considered utterly frivolous back when I was in school. All I learned about the subject when I was growing up was whatever I could figure out by paying attention to cartoon credits. So I always assumed that Max and Dave Fleischer were related somehow, but I was well into my twenties before I found out they were brothers. Over the years a wealth of wonderful books about animation history have become available, and they, along with blogs like this one, continue to feed my interest in the subject.

    So I was wondering: at some point in the future, could you or Jerry post a sample final exam from your animation history class? Not the exact same one you’ll be using at the end of the next term, of course, but maybe one that you’ve used in the past. I think it would be fun to take, and it might also point out some areas of animation history that I could stand to learn more about.

  • Great list!
    Looks like another special disc in the making! 🤓

    Steve’s Top 5’s

  • Have you actually seen “Chinatown Mystery”? I thought it was lost or locked away in the vaults. Can you post a print if you gave access?

    • Yes I’ve seen it- but sadly I can’t put it on one of the sets. I think it’s one of the best Scrappy Cartoon and Columbias (although there is the expected racist imagry throughout). It honestly should be available!

      • Can you disclose any plot synopsis for “Chinatown Mystery”? No one, not even the “Scrappyland” site, seems to have even that.

  • For some reason I have been thinking a lot about best films from different studios myself recently, so I am somewhat prepared. Picking only five is quite a challenge though… but here goes the Tromsø list (all chronological):

    Warner Brothers:
    The Dover Boys; Plane Daffy; Rabbit of Seville; Duck Amuck; What’s Opera, Doc?
    (I was never overexposed to What’s Opera, Doc? in Europe.)

    Van Beuren:
    Gypped in Egypt; A Swiss Trick; Hook and Ladder Hokum; Art for Art’s Sake; The Sunshine Makers

    Disney:
    Three Little Pigs; Der Fuehrer’s Face; Chicken Little; Pigs is Pigs; No Hunting

    UPA:
    Ragtime Bear; Gerald McBoing Boing; Rooty Toot Toot; The Unicorn in the Garden; The Tell-Tale Heart

    Iwerks:
    The Cuckoo Murder Case; Spooks; Room Runners; Funny Face; Balloon Land

    Columbia:
    The Beer Parade; The Fox and the Grapes; Cholly Polly; Professor Small and Mr. Tall; He Can’t Make it Stick
    (I would love to see the Scrappy Chinatown Mystery cartoon some day.)

    Lantz:
    Pantry Panic; The Barber of Seville; Ski for Two; Crazy Mixed up Pup; Sh-h-h-h-h-h

    Fleischer:
    Swing You Sinners; Sweet Jenny Lee; Snow-White; I Heard; Beware of Barnacle Bill

    Terrytoons:
    Pink Elephants; The Nutty Network; The Mouse of Tomorrow; The Last Roundup; Sick, Sick Sidney

  • Great post! My Fleischer essentials are the same as yours. Here’s some of my picks :

    Disney : The Skeleton Dance, The Band Concert, The Ugly Duckling (1939), Der Fuehrer’s Face, Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom

    Van Beuren : Circus Capers, Silvery Moon, The Tuba Tooter, The Sunshine Makers, Neptune Nonsense

    Iwerks : The Village Barber, Spooks, Stratos Fear, Balloon Land, Sinbad the Sailor

    Columbia : Krazy Magic, Scrappy’s Ghost Story, Let’s Go, Woodman Spare That Tree (the most 1940s cartoons in my opinion), Professor Small and Mr Tall

    That’s all I can think of for now. But I’ll keep thinking!

  • Great lists! So many shorts seem “essential” for certain studios, that it’s hard to choose! Nonetheless, here’s what I would pick for Disney at least:

    “Two-Gun Mickey” (1934)
    “Toby Tortoise Returns” (1936)
    “How to Play Football” (1944)
    “Duck Pimples” (1945)
    “All The Cats Join In” (1946, technically not a short, I know, but works as one).

    Heh, now that I look at it, it’s unintentionally 1 short from each major series (Mickey, Goofy, Donald and Silly Symphonies).

  • MGM:
    Magical Maestro
    Red Hot Riding Hood
    Cat Concerto
    King Size Canary
    Dumb Hounded

    Looney Tunes:
    Porky in Wackyland
    A Gruesome Twosome
    Russian Rhapsody
    Fast and Furryous
    A Wild Hare

    Disney:
    Steamboat Willie
    Der Fuehers Face
    Lonesome Ghosts
    Mother Goose goes Hollywood
    Three Orphan Kittens

    Fleischer:
    Minnie the Moocher
    Snow White
    Bimbo’s Initiation
    Popeye the Sailor Man
    Old Kentucky Home

    Walter Lantz:
    Knock Knock
    Barber of Seville
    Pantry Panic
    Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat
    Life Begins for Andy Panda

    Van Beuren
    Land O’ Cotton
    Sunshine Makers
    The Office Boy
    Wot a Night
    Indian Whoopee

    Famous Studios
    We’re on Our Way to Rio
    The Enchanted Square
    Pop Pie a la Mode
    Old Macdonald had a Farm

    Note: Not all these cartoons are amongst my favorites. All these are cartoons that I think are important to watch.

    • I was glad to see “Porky in Wackyland” on someones list. Porky became a secondary character but he was Warner’s breakout star originally. I was also glad to see that Fleisher and Famous Studio’s listed separately.

  • No MGM?

  • Wow! You’ve seen CHINATOWN MYSTERY? Surprised to hear it sounds good, I wonder how the other Huemer Scrappy that’s been stuck in Columbia’s masters, STEPPING STONES, compares as well. For Lantz, I’d add HELL’S HEELS and for Terrytoons, I may replace APE GIRL with FRENCH FRIED, but I’d like to see it first

  • Steve, before I post my picks – if and when I do – how about you explain WHY you consider your picks as “essential.” Also, I thought you were teaching your students actual animation drawing techniques, not just cartoon history?

    • Hi Len!

      *Most* of my classes are animating, but I have one history class once a year in the winter semester. I can explain a lot of ’em though– and if the number of cartoons = length of rope I’d hang myself with most of the Fleischer Popeyes since I think *all* of them are essential in a way…

  • Bob Clampett’s black and white Porky Cartoons; ESPECIALLY those he put out between 1938 thru ’41
    Not a clunker among them. Only Warner’s knew how to make a BLACK AND WHITE cartoon looks so lavish.
    And it was HIS unit that redesigned the pig into the character we know.
    Before that he was morbidly OBESE – but the cartoons themselves were still funny.

  • Well, while I would hardly be the one to consult as to which cartoons to show for essentials for a cartoon history class, I do have some that I think would be interesting viewing for a class. Let’s begin with: CIRCUS DAZE (MGM), THE DANCE OF THE WEED (MGM), SWING WEDDING (MGM), THE BLITZ WOLF ( MGM),LI’L TINKER (MGM).

    BUDDY’S BEARCATS ( Warner Brothers), I’VE GOT TO SING A TORCH SONG ( Warner Brothers), SITTIN’ ON A BACKYARD FENCE (Warner Brothers), GRUESOME TWOSOME (Warner Brothers), AN ITCH IN TIME (Warner Brothers).

    In all honesty, there are many, many more, but when it comes to the other studios, I have not got the titles of cartoons committed to memory. I would have to consult some sort of accessible book or list of filmographies of studios like Terrytoons, Paramount/Famous, Max Fleischer, Van Beuren and all of the other studios to really come out with a decent list of each of those.

    This also is true of Walt Disney cartoons. Thanks to the Walt Disney treasures sets, I have noted some incredible cartoons there that I never even knew about. However, again, for correct titles I would have to consult a filmography of some sort. As for my choices, believe me, from Warner Bros. especially, it was very hard to choose only five! As you all know, there are many other essentials for a good history class on the studios output.

    I choose some more obscure titles, because I’m sure many instructors wouldn’t even think of these. Some are indeed my favorites, but they are my favorites for certain reasons. Music is high on the list, as you might notice. in fact, the first cartoon on my MGM list was chosen not only for its musical accompaniment, so perfect for the visuals that you’re looking at, but because the visuals are unusually fast and busy for this particular cartoon series. The first three titles on my Warner Bros. list were chosen because of the music involved, that they were so perfect in that sense, at least to my ears. You don’t often get to see these, not even at major cartoon festivals, unless some private collector owns a decent print.

  • My essential list is almost identical to Steve’s selects. He has a few I might quibble with. Without posting my entire classroom playlist for each semester I will remind all potential animation history professors of two things – first, you only have limited classroom time. I found the the most I can show, if I push it, is eight cartoons per classroom session. I usually only show six or seven. Second, those 6-8 cartoons have to be carefully chosen. To most of my students, Steamboat Willie and Red Hot Riding Hood are brand new discoveries. There is no point to showing an obscurity – no matter how rare – like Buzzy Boop or Lionel Lion (a Columbia Phantasy). You need to show cartoons they should see.

    I wrote about this in my article of “10 Cartoons Every Animation Student Must Watch” I wrote for Animation Magazine in 2020: https://www.animationmagazine.net/2020/02/10-cartoons-every-animation-student-must-watch/

    I also previously listed my personal favorites here: https://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/my-all-time-top-ten-favorite-cartoons-part-1/

    As for Steve not listing MGM cartoons – I’m sure that was an oversight. To be honest, I don’t run any 1930s MGM cartoons in my class with the exception of a Flip The Frog (usually “Room Runners” to illustrate pre-code; and “Peace On Earth” because… well its an exceptional film). In the 1940s, of course, I show one Tom and Jerry (usually “Kitty Foiled” because its possibly the most generic chase cartoon they made) and several Tex Avery’s usually including Red Hot Riding Hood, Screwball Squirrel, King Size Canary, Señor Droopy.

    • Agreed– there’s only so much time and we have to cover 100 years– MORE at this point.

      Leaving out MGM and Famous isn’t an oversight– just ran out of time last night and figured those could be part of ‘Part 2’….

      • Any chane of doing part 2 for your next post?

  • I’m in agreement with pretty much all of these. I’d add the Hubleys’ “Windy Day”, “The Wrong Trousers”, Plympton’s “One of Those Days”, and likely some Zagreb items.

    Has anybody mentioned “Gertie the Dinosaur”?

  • I have a new Fleischer fave. It’s a Screen Song I wasn’t even aware of until yesterday. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’. It’s incredibly Fleischeristic animation that bookends the live action ho hum singalong. It’s also racist beyond jaw dropping.

  • My Columbia list:
    The Little Match Girl
    Fox and Grapes
    Professor Small and Mr. Tall
    Flora
    Up ‘n Atom

    My Fleischer list:
    Bimbo’s Initiation
    Barnacle Bill
    Swing You Sinners
    Snow White
    Minnie the Moocher

    My Terrytoon list:
    Flebus
    Springtime for Clobber
    Ape Girl
    The Last Round Up
    Topsy TV

    Too many good ones to come up with just five per studio.

  • The Village Smithy is one of my favorite Warners, but I don’t guess many would call it essential. I think Great Piggy Bank Robbery could be an essential, though. For Fleischers, I’d pick Betty Boop Meets the Old Man of the Mountain and Popeye in Goonland, and for Disney, Three Little Pigs and Mickey Through the Looking Glass.

    Good to see some lists of where to start with Lantz and Terrytoons.

  • Whoa, I must be a virgin! I’ve only seen a few of these!

    For the missing, underrated MGM (bias here):
    The Magical Maestro
    Northwest Hounded Police
    Who Killed Who?
    Mouse Cleaning
    Salt Water Tabby
    Tee for Two

    Sure way more than these, but this is what I think of when I hear “hysterical”.

  • I like Matthew Christian’s list the best. But I can’t believe nobody mentioned:
    MGM
    Gallopin’ Gals
    The Lonesome Stranger
    Mouse in Manhattan
    Snowbody Loves Me
    The Dot and the Line
    WARNER BROS.
    Have You Got Any Castles
    Show Biz Bugs
    Nelly’s Folly
    Now Hear This
    FLEISCHER
    Shiver Me Timbers
    Popeye Meets Sindbad the Sailor
    TERRYTOONS
    The Juggler of Our Lady
    Dinky Duck in It’s a Living
    COLUMBIA
    Merry Mannequins
    WALTER LANTZ
    Jolly Little Elves
    The Greatest Man in Siam
    Abu Ben Boogie
    That’s just off the top of my head. I didn’t want to cheat by looking at lists, otherwise this one would be a lot longer.

    • Is it too late to switch “Snowbody Loves Me” with “Swing Wedding”?

  • I’ll put in my two cents on some alternates for some of the studio lists above, as well as add some reasons for the choices:

    Disney

    Music Land – Epitome of an “other world” fantasy, abounding in clever sight gags implementing the Instruments both in the action and the elaborate backgrounds. Characteristic of early 30’s style.

    Thru the Mirror – Undoubtedly Mickey’s best solo short (though “Two Gun-Mickey” and “Mickey’s Man Friday” are runners-up for their elaborate action). Wonderful “Alice” parody as well as a terrific tribute to Fred Astaire musicals.

    Clock Cleaners – Just about the perfection of the “trio” format (though the earlier “Mickey’s Fire Brigade” also has its lasting charm). Imaginative gags on a huge clock tower, coupled with hair-raising perils for sleepwalking Goofy at every turn.

    The Old Mill – What can you say? It’s practically a Disney feature in miniature. (The same might actually be said of “The Ugly Duckling”). All the spectacle, character, charm, and drama, in a neat eight-minute package.

    How To Play Football – Everyone seems to have forgotten the impact of the Kinney Goofys, which moved the studio into competition with the zaniness of WB and Avery. This one’s definitely one of the best (only barely edging out “Hockey Homicide” because of the broader appeal of the sport parodied).

    Lantz

    King Klunk – Brilliant movie parody, practically giving away the entire plot of the feature in the process. Expensive and elaborate at nearly nine-minutes long, really giving you your money’s worth.

    Wild and Woody – Terrific representative pair-up with Buzz Buzzard, and exhibiting Lundy’s full-blown wackiness at its best. One of the classiest-looking Woodys ever produced.

    The Playful Pelican – Again, Lundy at his zenith. While “Apple Andy” is a strong entry in the Andy Panda series, its plot is definitely derivative, and its animation a bit rough around the edges in places. This one, however, looks about as close to Disney as Lantz ever got.

    Dig That Dog – An overlooked gem, demonstrating how the influence of Avery was being felt throughout the studio in the 1950’s, even in non-Avery productions. Terrific concept building and building on a simple premise, with a great pay-off.

    The Legend of Rockabye Point – What is a Lantz survey without Chilly Willy? Of Avery’s two, the timing on this one is split-second fine and masterful, and tells an interesting story to boot.

    Warner

    Dough For the Do-Do – There are all kinds of great Porkys from many great directors, but the “Wackyland” setting has provided one of the most lasting and surreal memories – even spawning a junior generation for “Tiny Toon Adventures”. This film receives no director credit – largely for its wholesale reuse of substantial footage created by Bob Clampett, with the added benefit of Technicolor and Salvador Dali-style backgrounds. It also does a good job of smoothing over a few rough spots in the original black and white production, adding a few nice gags where needed (such as Porky seeming to fall through space, only to reveal he is merely suspended stationary in mid-air, while a character rolls a scrolling background vertically behind him – and a trick falling brick that slows with a parachute, then releases the brick at full speed again by way of fall-away fake side panels). A near perfect film from end to end.

    Fast and Furry-ous – I’m amazed no one seems to have yet suggested a Road Runner for inclusion – a series that is about as iconic as the studio itself. Chuck’s first is a revelation as to how fast the series got up and off the ground – and even features one of the only times in the series where seeing the empty packing crates of Wile E’s purchases didn’t instantly tip off what the invention was going to be – making the laugh even louder when it is finally revealed what ridiculous device the coyote has concocted out of them. About as strong a starting point as any series got in the studio’s broad output.

    Bad Ol’ Putty Tat – Maybe some will think me out on a limb for choosing this over the Clampetts, or Freleng’s original “Tweetie Pie”, but it avoids the ugliness of Clampett’s original model and the overly-baby-talk delivery of lines during Clampett’s period, plus refines and broadens the relationship between him and Sylvester to a point where we are now ready to accept that these two can take their level of pursuit and outwitting-games into just about any arena – particularly where Sylvester resorts to disguise and athletic prowess while pursuing Tweety as a substitute “badminton bird” at the local raquet club. Clever and entertaining throughout.

    Show Biz Bugs – I can’t believe Steve’s list and others included no Bugs Bunnys! I’ve always thought one of the high-points in the series was the establishment of the rivalry between Bugs and Daffy – and this one showcases that angle delightfully. It is, admittedly, an occasion for borrowing heavily from the past – but it seems to achieve a wonderful job of culling the best of the best together without appearing old or tiresome – in fact improving on some old routines such as the “exploding man” gag from “Curtain Razor” – so much more perfect when Daffy does it. Add to this the iconic images of Bugs and Daffy performing precision dance steps together, which became the model for generations of viewers tuning in to the later “Bugs Bunny Show”, and it seems that necessity for seeing this film becomes downright unavoidable.

    One Froggy Evening – To my way of thinking, the most delightful one-shot ever produced by the studio, with an amazing O. Henry storytelling quality that makes the film a model parable on the avarice of greed, for the ages. The music score for Michigan J. Frog alone could carry the day, but the expressive and energetic pantomime storytelling behind it truly launches the overall effect to immortality.

    Columbia

    I cheat a little here by including six, so lop off one where you choose, but here goes:

    Katnips of 1940 – No one has seen fit to represent the studio by inclusion of its original mainstay, Krazy Kat. True, many of his episodes were irregular in quality. But there were also exceptions. Though a close contender to compete with this selection might be the musically curious “Birth of Jazz”, I select this title for more lasting appeal as an on-target parody of the big budget backstage musical, particularly the productions of Busby Berkeley such as “42nd Street” that had the industry in a meteoric clamor for the nearly-defunct medium of staged musicals. Krazy and Kitty get their chance to put on one of their own, with the usual backstage drama of having to substitute for the intended star, and the hard-boiled harried director making his new “discovery”. The stage production numbers are elaborate for Columbia’s budget, and feature (in uncut prints) some good sight gags, not only spotlighting depression-era topics such as the NRA and repeal of prohibition, but even lampooning a Sally Rand fan dance! A film that seems to continue to score with modern audiences as a representative sample of nostalgia for the good-old 30’s, and simply entertaining on any level.

    The Beer Parade – Having not seen Steve’s choice of a Scrappy, I’d call this the most outlandish and astounding Scrappy I know. Kids serving as bartenders for drunken elves? Wild battle scenes with aerial bombardments from gnomes on flying daisies, battling the daylights out of an ogre-like Old Man Prohibition? It’s to be seen to be believed. I once screened a copy of this to the “last call for alcohol” group at a Moose lodge just before closing. It scored big laughs and was quite broadly appreciated – though I wonder if a few patrons might have wondered if they hallucinated the whole thing when they woke up with a hangover in the morning.

    “Horse On the Merry Go Round” – A sterling and curious early chance for Ub Iwerks to make excellent use of three-strop Technicolor, shortly following the demise of his independent productions for Celebrity Pictures. Color choices are quite dazzling in this surrealistic tale of a Merry Go Round horse who goes exploring through an amusement park after closing, running afoul of a Keystone-style security cop and a gang of robbers come to life from a wax works. Some terrific effects work on a POV chase sequence on a roller-coaster, and imaginative transforming rooms in a fun house, provide added visual spark. It all appears to have been a dream, but it’s enough to make the horse happy to stay on the pole, right where he is.

    Swing, Monkey, Swing – This film comes so close to matching the style and mood of another studio’s output, that you’d almost swear it came from the MGM of a parallel universe. (The same might also be said of an earlier production “The Novelty Shop”, almost a cross between MGM, Warner, and Disney). Its all-musicale jungle production numbers, half set to original Joe De Nat scoring recycled expertly from “Cannibal Capers”, and half set to “St Louis Blues”, rival the best of Harman-Ising’s Happy Harmonies with their all-frog jazz casts. The music is infectious, and the animation smooth and produced with precision. A class act in any setting, capable of holding its own against any competitor.

    Toll Bridge Troubles – While others have listed “Fox and Grapes” and “Woodman, Spare That Tree” as their choices to represent the Fox and Crow series, I have always utilized this title as proper introduction to the characters. Why? “Fox and Grapes”, utilizing different voices supplied by Mel Blanc, and animation not yet quite capturing the models that the characters would adhere to throughout most of the decade, doesn’t to me quite fairly represent what the characters would become, nor come close to exploring the range of their later relationship and the dynamic of how they would play-off one another to attempt to obtain that elusive goal of keeping one jump ahead. While “Woodman” comes closer, using the proper voices and personalities, it still to me feels like a work in progress, both visually and in storytelling style. “Toll-Bridge”, however, to me encapsulates the full fruition of the two personalities, allowing the two to calculatingly think things through, size up their adversary, and plot a checkered course of action and retaliation that scores clean laughs at every turn. Animation is delightfully fluid and on-model, providing a visual textbook for anyone who truly cares to learn how the characters should look. As with “Woodman”, it’s also a classic example of how closely matched this duo was in their deviousness and resourcefulness – with both characters taking a fall in achieving their intended goals by the end of the picture – having both truly “out-foxed” each other. See this one film, and the personalities are well-enough established in your head to open the doors to ready acceptance of nearly anything else in the series, and to bring life to a read of any of their many comic-book adventures over the years.

    Imagination – A bonus extra I felt was worth including. It is both generally entertaining and of historic importance in chronicling some of the last meaningful contributions to animation provided by Dave Fleischer. Though lower budget hurts the film’s opening sequences with a little girl wondering what he dolls have been up to all afternoon (looking like the shots needed considerably more inbetweener contribution), things liven up markedly when we delve into a flashback of the dollies’ busy day. The story premise combines elements of the Victorian melodrama with aspects lifted from Fleischer’s early work, “Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy”, but does so with a new and charming 40’s vibe that is quite appealing. The film’s historical importance as one of the studio’s few Academy-Award nominees qualifies it further as worthy of mention in these lists.

    Terrytoons

    A whole new list here from anyone’s previous suggestions. I for one do not choose to include the Gene Deitch or New Terrytoons styles as qualifying for an “essential” list, because I do not feel these looks are generally what the studio is remembered for, nor representative of its founder. I thus make my selections from the pre Deitch era, looking for items that closer personify the true house-styles of the original studio.

    The Villain Still Pursued Her – Some (including Steve) have included on their lists stray representatives of the Mighty Mouse/Pearl Pureheart/Oil Can Harry trio films, which are of course representative of a sizable output of the studio, and worthy of consideration. But I thought it more educational and revealing to disclose to students that the format had originated in full bloom in the black and white era, with Fannie Zilch and Strongheart in the mouse roles, and Oil Can a human villain. This entry, during the comeback period for the original trio when animation and writing had advanced considerably in sophistication, provides a classic example, with lunatic doings in the Lost Hope Mine involving gunpowder, hypnosis, and even Fannie getting a rare chance to draw a pistol upon her pursuer. The characters have verve and personality, and the gags regularly ignite as easily as the powder kegs. All the elements of what would later be are aptly represented here, and provide a fine historical point of reference for the uninitiated as well as fine nostalgia for those who remember the early trio.

    Doomsday – Historically important as the first Technicolor appearance of a series character (Gandy Goose) in a Terry production, as well as providing a highly-appealing visual palette and a well-crafted spoof on the old “Chicken little” tale of the sky falling. A long-time personal favorite, and a great introduction to Terry’s first new star at the approach of the decade of the 1940’s.

    Plane Goofy – There are any number of possible Farmer Al Falfa titles to choose from as representative of the aged icon’s longstanding output and rural personality, but this one I have always found myself coming back to as the classiest act in which the farmer ever appeared. His debut in Technicolor, the animation is by Terry standards downright lavish, paying a due homage to the geezer who had served as the face of Terry productions for over two decades. It is again a production that feels like it came from a parallel universe, allowing one to nearly envision what Al Falfa might have been if animated by the likes of the staff at (gasp) Disney. If only Terry could have committed to these production values for more than one film. Oh, well, that’s the stuff dreams are made of. The script is also unusually strong, allowing Al to take center stage throughout nearly all of the picture, rather than a back seat to his animals or an “Ape Girl”, and further features Al in a classic setting of once again being duped by a city slicker. A memorable outing, indeed.

    Mighty Mouse in Krakatoa – Yes, maybe this is not what one could call representative of the rank and file Mighty episodes – but it is so far above the norm as to be unforgettable, and a feast to the eye. For once, Mighty faces a task worthy of his rival Superman in stopping the fury of a raging volcano. Seductive spice is provided by the undulating sways of Krakatoa Katie, and a theme song that should have been a swing hit, performed by The Satisfiers, who became the new hep “sound” of the Terrytoon for the decade that followed. Gorgeous special effects that seem far above any possible Terry budget. And a general feeling of true menace and terror rarely approached in any other entries of the series. A standout must-see, possibly the best work in the series’ history – and perhaps in the studio’s history.

    The Power of Thought – An entire cartoon built upon an inventive premise that might have been the operating motto of the studio’s second-biggest stars, Heckle and Jeckle – “We’re cartoon characters. We can do anything that we think of.” This self-awareness would become a recurring anthem in the birds’ viewpoint upon their world, and in their approach to escaping from any precarious situation, that represents a key aspect of their unique personalities and one that would endear them to the memory of audiences looking for wild and unrestrained humor. Another milestone providing essential character insight, setting the magpies apart from any other comparable wise-guy birds of the day.

  • Disturbing that in all this there has not been one mention of Monkey Doodle.

    • Whoa Thad. Where you been?

  • Okay, Here’s my list (and this was rather hard to limit to five in most cases):

    Warners:
    Smile, Darn Ya, Smile
    I Love to Singa
    A Wild Hare
    The Great Piggy Bank Robbery
    What’s Opera Doc?

    Van Bueren:
    Sunshine Makers
    Pencil Mania
    Croon Crazy
    The Tuba Tooter
    Wot a Night

    Disney:
    The Barn Dance
    Cookie Carnival
    The Pointer
    Hockey Homicide
    Grand Canyonscope

    UPA:
    Ragtime Bear
    Rooty Toot Toot
    The Magic Fluke
    The Tall Tale Heart
    When Magoo Flew

    Iwerks:
    Balloonland
    Funny Face
    Soda Squirt
    Room Runners
    Jack Frost

    Columbia:
    The Flop House
    The Little Match Girl
    The Fox and the Grapes
    Wolf Chases Pigs
    Up ‘N’ Atom

    Lantz:
    The Fowl Ball
    Barber of Seville
    Musical Moments From Chopin
    Crazy Mixed-Up Pup
    Half-Baked Alaska

    Puppetoons (Had to include it):
    Tulips Shall Grow
    And To Think That I Saw It On Mulburry Street
    John Henery and The Inky Poo
    Jasper Goes Hunting
    Tubby the Tuba

    Fleischer:
    Modeling
    Swing Your Sinners
    Snow White
    Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His 40 Thieves
    Superman

    Terrytoons:
    It’s A Living
    Mouse of Tomorrow
    All Out For V
    Jugglar of Our Lady
    Barnyard Actor

    Famous:
    Me Musical Nephews
    Cartoons Ain’t Human
    The Friendly Ghost
    Le Pette Parade
    Bouncing Benny

    MGM:
    Peace on Earth
    The Night Before Christmas
    Red Hot Riding Hood
    Mouse Trouble
    King Sized Canary

  • Five from each of the majors?

    DISNEY
    Steamboat Willie, The Tortoise and the Hare, Lonesome Ghosts, Education For Death, Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom

    FLEISCHER
    Cartoon Factory, Dizzy Dishes, Snow White, Popeye Meets Sindbad, Superman (The Mad Scientist)

    VAN BEUREN
    Jolly Rounders, Office Boy, Silvery Moon, Magic Mummy, Sunshine Makers

    TERRY
    Club Sandwich, Sham-Battle Shenanigans, The Power of Thought, The Perils of Pearl Pureheart, Sick Sick Sidney

    IWERKS
    Fiddlesticks, Room Runners, Soda Squirt, Hell’s Fire, Balloonland

    MINTZ/COLUMBIA
    Yelp Wanted, Katnips of 1940, The Little Match Girl, The Fox and the Grapes, Flora

    WARNER
    I Love to Singa, Porky in Wackyland, Baseball Bugs, Duck Amuck, One Froggy Evening

    MGM
    Pipe Dreams, Red Hot Riding Hood, Solid Serenade, King-Size Canary, The Two Mouseketeers

    UPA
    Ragtime Bear, Gerald McBoing-Boing, Rooty-Toot-Toot, Hotsy Footsy, Unicorn in the Garden

    OTHER
    Bobby Bumps’ Fly Swatter (Bray), Fireman Save My Child (Mutt and Jeff), Comicalamities (Sullivan), Halloween (Mintz/RKO), Monkeydoodle (Elton)

    The cartoons I think everyone needs to see are, often, by no means my favorites, especially at Disney.

  • LANTZ
    Spooks, Ski for Two, The Greatest Man in Siam, Crazy Mixed-Up Pup, Niagara Fools

    FAMOUS
    The Hungry Goat, I’m Just Curious, There’s Good Boos Tonight, Santa’s Surprise, Mouseum
    (…there are no Famous cartoons anyone really needs to see…)

    • Pretty much agree abaout Famous. I almost considered of not mentioning them on my list.

    • Most of the first Popeye Blu-Ray, No Mutton Fer Nuttin’, Cilly Goose, Cheese Burglar, Grateful Gus, and Chew-Chew Baby are all exceptional standouts worth seeing. The studio made at least two dozen or so cartoons that are really great – only problem is they made them all in two all-too brief periods that suffer from a lack of quality availability (fortunately no longer the case with the wartime Popeyes, overall their best stuff).

  • LIttle love for Famous (I didn’t produce a list for that studio), but “The Enchanted Square” is a charming cartoon. Very Disney-like.

  • I’m not really a fan of “choosing it because it’s the best that era gave us”, as I prefer “choosing it because it’s about what you’d expect if you lived in that era”, meaning a certain level of quality from the cartoons that’s not outstanding, but still a great experience you could walk away from satisfied.
    So to list by series without much of an order… And it may never be complete with my small reference pools

    MGM Tom & Jerry: (Pre-War) The Midnight Snack, (Wartime) The Zoot Cat, (late 40s) Mouse Cleaning, (50s cost-cutting) Downhearted Duckling, (Cinemascope) Muscle Beach Tom

    MGM Tex Avery: (Wartime) The Screwy Truant, (late 40s) The Cat That Hated People, (50s cost-cutting) Cellbound

    Fleischer Popeye: (Pre-Code) Can You Take It?, (Technicolor Special) Alibaba’s Fourty Thieves, (Streamlined) Goonland, Onion Pacific, (Wartime-ish) The Mighty Navy

    Fleischer Betty Boop (Pre-Code) Penthouse, Rise to Fame, (Streamlined) House-Cleaning Blues, Service with A Smile

    Looney Tunes: (Early Termite Terrace) Page Miss Glory, Porky’s Moving Day, (Late 30s through wartime) The Daffy Doc, Cross Country Detours, Scrap-Happy Daffy, Tortoise Wins By A Hare, (Mid-to-late 40s) Hare Tonic, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, Tweetie Pie, Fast and Furry-ous, (50s cost-cutting) The Hole Idea, The High and The Flighty, Guided Muscle, (60s twilight) Wet Hare, The Jet Cage, To Beep or Not to Beep

    Disney Donald Duck: (Early) Self Control, (40s peak) Chef Donald, Donald’s Crime, (Associated foils) Soup’s On, Donald Applecore, (50s cost-cutting and Cinemascope) No Hunting, How to Have an Accident in the Home

    Universal’s Woody Woodpecker: (Early) The Screwball, (Culhane-inspired) The Loose Nut, Smoked Hams, (50s cost-cutting) …

  • My first reply on Cartoons Research and my personal selection from ALL the 13 Studios:

    Warner Bros.
    – Porky Pig’s Feat
    – Russian Rhapsody
    – Walky Talky Hawky
    – Three Little Bobs
    – Transylvania 6-5000

    MGM
    – Art Gallery
    – Red Hot Riding Hood
    – Kitty Foiled
    – Magical Maestro
    – Downbeat Bear

    Harman-Ising
    – Bosko the Doughboy
    – The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon
    – The Calico Dragon
    – The Old Mill Pond
    – To Spring

    Walt Disney
    – Hell’s Bells
    – The Mad Doctor
    – Clock Cleaners
    – The Old Mill
    – Commando Duck

    Ub Iwerks
    – The Cuckoo Murder Case
    – Spooks
    – Davy Jones’ Locker
    – Sinbad the Sailor
    – Balloon Land

    Fleisher Studios
    – Swing You Sinners!
    – Snow-White
    – Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor
    – The Fresh Vegetable Mystery
    – Superman (1st cartoon)

    Famous Studios
    – You’re a Sap Mr. Jap
    – Jungle Drums
    – We’re on our Way to Rio
    – The Wee Man
    – The Plumber

    Van Beuren
    – The Haunted Ship
    – Redskin Blues
    – Rough on Rats
    – On the Pan
    – The Sunshine Makers

    Terrytoons
    – Night Life in the Army
    – Gypsy Life
    – How to Relax
    – The Juggler of Our Lady
    – Sydney’s Family Tree

    Walter Lantz
    – Hollywood Bowl
    – The Barber of Seville
    – Abou Ben Boogie
    – Convict Concerto
    – The Legend of Rockabye Point

    Screen Gems
    – The Little Match Girl
    – Song of Victory
    – King Midas Jr.
    – The Vitamin G Man
    – Flora

    UPA
    – Robin Hoodlum
    – Rooty Toot Toot
    – The Tell-Tale Heart
    – When Magoo Flew
    – Trees and Jamaica Daddy

    DePatie-Freleng
    – The Pink Phink
    – Dial P for Pink
    – The Great De Gaulle Stone Operation
    – Psychedelic Pink
    – Hurts and Flowers

    Top 5 from these 65 cartoons:
    5. Screen Gems – Song of Victory
    4. Warner Bros. – Walky Talky Hawky
    3. Walt Disney – The Old Mill
    2. MGM – Magical Maestro
    1. Fleisher Studios – Swing You Sinners!

  • It’s almost impossible for me to come up with such a short list for each studio! I think one thing you really ought to consider is that what seems to be “old hat” or “been there, done that” for so many of us – is exciting and BRAND NEW (in a way) to your students, who didn’t grow up seeing endless re-runs of these cartoons on TV or film retrospectives. Many of them probably have never heard of – let alone, see – cartoons like THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, THE OLD MILL, PEACE ON EARTH, A WILD HARE, THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, DUCK AMUCK, etc. – which were considered “must sees” when I was a younger animated cartoon fan. A restored print of GERTIE THE DINOSAUR (with a nice musical score) is still awsome to behold – especially by kids who have never seen it before.

    As so many have said, some personal favorites may not necessarily be “essential” for your students – which of course, makes it tougher to choose. For instance, in terms of sheer inventiveness and for the obvious fun that the Fleischer artists were having, I’d have to say that THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE, A DREAM WALKING, GOONLAND, POPEYE MEETS SINDBAD, POPEYE MEETS 40 THIEVES would be essential viewing. As much as I love the POPEYE version of ALADDIN, that was not a ground-breaking cartoon – but I’d want to include it anyway. There are loads of other POPEYE cartoons that I’d want to show, of course. WE’RE ON OUR WAY TO RIO is a masterpiece of timing and furious animation by Famous Studio’s normal standards. If you did a class devoted to POPEYE cartoons, I’d want all those shown, please!

    If you do a class strictly on history, you’d have to pick the best – and in one or two cases, what many of us might pick as the worst (things like TOKIO JOKIO or BUGS BUNNY NIPS THE NIPS, etc.) but you’d have to explain WHY these cartoons were made. It’s too easy to attack them for racial caricatures and propaganda and not explain why this was done in time of war. I’d still like to see the legendary Japanese animated cartoon where a version of “Bluto” is depicted as the “typical” American. Have any German propaganda WWII cartoons come to light? That might make an interesting class topic – showing these types of cartoons from various “sides” of countries involved in World War Ii!

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