Over the holiday break between semesters each year I attempt to move some of the Thunderbean projects forward in one way or another. This year, I’ve had the chance to work on some of the master materials on Fleischer cartoons, wrapping up the Flip the Frog set and other Thunderbean stuff. The small freelance staff has been helping a lot as well, with the Little King set taking a surprising front seat through these last handful of weeks.
The very first 16mm film print I owned was Christmas Night. That’s the Official Films retitle of Pals (1933). There’s a lot of prints of this particular film out there, and Official Films heavily advertised this short for many years with their other Christmas films for sale from the 40s into the 60s. I got mine when I was still in High School, used (for $5) from an ad in “The Big Reel” – the best of the film collector magazines/ newspapers. I remember first running the print in the small A/V closet at my High School after convincing the librarian to let me do so. I had seen the film before that on the PBS show “Matinee at the Bijou” and was charmed by the simple characters- and especially the Little King’s silent motivation in taking in a couple of bums to spend Christmas (and a bath) with him. I had never made it a goal to get all the Little Kings, but since so many were released by Official Films, over the years I ended up with more than one print of some of them and always found them silly and entertaining.
Celebrated animator Jim Tyer takes the lead in this series and gets the sole credit in all the prints that we’ve found that include original titles. His work can be noted in each of them, and I wonder if he was given the credit for his ability to adapt ideas from the strip so successfully. It would be wonderful to know what other animators worked on the films overall, who did layout, story and other aspects as well.
The Little King DVD set was a fun one to assemble back in 2006. With the help of Chris Buchman, Mark Kaulser and Mark Mayfield we ended up with pretty decent prints on most of the cartoons. In-between then and now we did a ‘special’ blu-ray set of some good and some just fair prints of the Kings with a goal to someday put together a set from the best we could find. Now, at the beginning of 2023, we’re three films away from that goal, plus some small pieces and scanning a few more title sequences. Prints for the set are from my collection, Mark Kausler’s and Scott Christy as well as Tommy Stathes. Thad, Becca, Ciara and myself have managed to get through cleanup on nearly all the films now. Today the final tweaks were finished for “On the Pan” except for the titles. As I’m tweaking things technically, I’m really enjoying revisiting this series as it turns 90 years old. Each cartoon has a bit of a different flavor, and even with the many added elements to what was a very simple comic strip, they maintain a lot of feel and charm of the source material.
One of the best finds has been locating the original camera negative on “Marching Along”, perhaps the hardest to find of the series. The master material for this film is in beautiful condition, while all the others are missing entirely. It’s pretty clear at this point that a lot of variance between materials will exist on this set, but all are still looking pretty good! Being able to use a print that has the best quality we know to exist gets us the best possible set for now. Who knows, maybe someday the rest of the negs will show up!
Chris Buchman did some great bonus material for the set back in 2006. As I’m looking at those I’m so happy to have them port up to Blu-ray as well as they have been..it helps that he worked a little bigger on many of them.
Here’s the work-in-progress on A Royal Good Time (1934). By this point in the series the stylization ideas were working well, and the design of the king stayed much closer to his look in the strip. While this particular short sort of evolves into a chase scene (as more than one of them do) there’s clever ideas throughout. I really love some of the animation in this one, especially some of the scenes where the king is a little awkward as situations unfold. The ending finds him playing cards inside the mouth of a Hippo. He breaks the forth wall and notices us watching him, attempting to look casual as he scoots out of the scene. I love these little personality moments throughout this and others in the series. Around this time it’s pretty clear that some Fleischer inkers had started working at the studio, with some of the shorts being beautifully inked.
This scan is from a silent 16mm print that we’re still working on a little bit. We’ve cleaned up the body of the film and are working on finishing some issues with steadying as well as finishing the clean up on the titles and pulling the best soundtracks we have on it. It’s getting closer to being finished for the set but not quite there. If you watch the sprockets on the scan you can see them moving around a lot since the picture has been overall steadied. We’ll crop this eventually and fix the other handful of alignment issues. So, here’s a little sneak peak at some of the progress.
Have a good week everyone!