Animation History
April 13, 2013 posted by

Theatrical Cartoons 1953-54

Continuing our survey of theatrical cartoons, this time we take a look at the pivotal 1953-54 season. 3-D, CinemaScope, the year before Disney severely cuts back on shorts production – a time of change, and perhaps the first year that the animators saw the handwriting on the wall. TV commercials were beginning to use animation, TV cartoons were only a few years away. And yet some great cartoons were released this season – including UPA’s Tell-Tale Heart and A Unicorn In The Garden, Disney’s Melody and Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom (above). Lantz introduces Chilly Willy, Warners debuts Ralph Phillips and Duck Dodgers, Famous brings us Popeye and Casper in 3-D, Terry starts releasing wide screen cartoons in ‘scope…

Below are the pages of the November 28th 1953 issue of Boxoffice Magazine, its annual shorts issue. Click thumbnails below to enlarge and read. Interesting to note: The 20th Century Fox ad mentions that Terrytoon reissues are labeled as “Terrytoon Toppers”; The Paramount ad proudly touts its new comic book line (this was the year Paramount hooked up with Harvey Comics – though the publisher is not mentioned); “Walt Disney” supposedly writes the article boasting of its new line of True-Life Adventure shorts; The Warner ad promotes the Bugs Bunny All-Star Revues – three feature-length packages of Looney Tunes shorts; Several mentions of The Tell Tale Heart in the Columbia ads and articles, but no mention of the film being in 3D; Republic publicizes its new idea in serials, complete 30 minute adventures of Commando Cody without cliffhangers. all self contained. In other words, a TV show; and all kinds of fun stuff to be found in the small print. Enjoy!

boxoffice53-1 boxoffice53-2 boxoffice53-3 boxoffice53-4
boxoffice53-6 boxoffice53-8 boxoffice53-9 boxoffice53-10
boxoffice53-11 boxoffice53-13 boxoffice53-13a boxoffice53-15
boxoffice53-15a boxoffice53-15b boxoffice53-18 boxoffice53-16
boxoffice53-17 boxoffice53-19 boxoffice53-20

Note: If you are in Southern California on Sunday September 8th 2013, the World 3D Film Expo will be screening all the 1953-54 3D Cartoons on the big screen at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. I would not miss this rare screening if I were you. More details here.


  • This two years were indeed good for cartoons! My personal favorites being Duck Amuck and The Tell Tale Heart.

  • Strange about some DIsney releases on the chart.

    It says that an Adventures in Music short called “Motor Rhythm” was also to be released in 3D. I think that would become “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom”, which would be released in CinemaScope.

    Also, some of the titles on the list were “The Social Error” and “Chips Ahoy”. I never heard of the former and the latter would have a title like that in 1956.

    • Actually… and you will love this one…

      MOTOR RHYTHM was a reissue of a 3-D film shown at the New York World’s Fair in 1940. RKO was feeling pretty cheap at this stage, with their comedy unit closed a year earlier, and needed SOMETHING in 3-D to rush release to theaters at his time.

      You can watch it here:

    • Then why is is listed under “Adventures in Music” if it wasn’t even made by Disney?

    • MOTOR RHYTHM is listed under “Adventures In Music” the same reason “The Door” was listed as a Merrie Melodies in 1967 – it was easier to group the shorts together under a package title for the exhibitors, rather than to explain the details of them being separate entities.

      BTW, you can see MELODY and MOTOR RHYTHM and all the 3D cartoon shorts if you can make it to LA on September 8th at the World 3D Film Expo:

  • Not sure if this is covered in the scans above or not, but I read this in one of the BoxOffice articles…

    TOOT, WHISTLE, PLUNK AND BOOM was first shown with HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (20th Century Fox with Marilyn Monroe) and a Fox CinemaScope special covering Elizabeth’s coronation held earlier that year (titled CORONATION PARADE). Therefore, it was among the early Buena Vista releases, despite RKO still handling many other Disney films. The Terrytoons (which Fox normally distributed) were pretty slow converting to the wide screen and I guess Darryl Zanuck was getting impatient… and he and Disney were somewhat chummy. Didn’t 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA use some of the Fox facilities shortly later? Can’t remember, but the experts here can chime in.

  • It’s interesting to see Paramount’s Morgan assuring theater owners the new cartoon will play properly in the wider aspect ratios, especially since the studio (and Warners, which also never licensed CinemaScope for it cartoons) wouldn’t ‘tighten up’ their opening and closing titles to fit on the wider screens until the following release season.

    • I believe it was Warner Bros. who eventually took to claiming in trade listings that their cartoons could be played at any aspect ratio. Truth was, shorts typically got shown in whatever aspect ratio the feature was in, simply because the projectionist didn’t want to be bothered about changing about lenses. Articles can be found in trade journals of the period with studios complaining about this.

    • That’s probably the reason for Warners’ change in their opening/closing concentric circles in 1954-55, along with Paramount’s scuttling of their jack-in-the-box Noveltoon opening in ’55. You could say the cartoons played in an aspect ratio, but the fact the opening titles and animation credits were getting cut off at the top and bottom of the screen due to the need to expand the width of the image gave the game away to theater patrons. Tightening up the titles meant customers didn’t have to know they were simply watching a blown-up version of a standard aspect ratio cartoon.

  • Terrytoons was Planning on Those Cinemascopes that time.

  • That’s certainly one of the best Famous Studio Color Popeye’s. Any chance the Famous Studio Color Popeye’s will ever be released on DVD? Things fizzled out after the 3 black and white Popeye releases on DVD. I know that a lot of the Famous Studio ones are formulaic and pretty lame but there are a few gems amongst them.

    • From what I’ve read, it seems Warner Bros. is working on the first volume of color Famous Studios Popeye cartoons for release in 2014, to coincide with the release of Sony’s CGI Popeye movie. Jerry’s FAQ page (look under the “More Cartoon Research” column on the right) certainly says they’re working on it.

  • Ah, I remember “POPEYE, THE ACE OF SPACE” mainly because of the creatures that talk backwards. Sure would be interesting to take their bits of dialogue and reverse ’em so we all can hear what the space creatures were trying to say, or whether the reversed dialogues were just samples from movies or other bits of audio from radio days…and, yes, I would buy volumes of POPEYE Famous Studio toons if these were restored and released. There were indeed a few gems there, even though the series changed the face of the original character. Olive Oyle actually had shapely legs and looked good in high heels!!

    • Regarding Popeye, the Ace of Space, check out the older, bigger version of Jerry’s Paramount Original Titles page, here.

      I would buy volumes of ANY Famous Studios cartoons if the cartoons were treated properly (unlike the Harveytoons: The Complete Collection release by Classic Media, which contains the butchered 1990s Harveytoons Show versions of the Famous Studios cartoons in the Harvey library).

    • Funny you should mention “Popeye the Ace of Space” –
      A page from this site’s old format details how it seems Sid Raymond could have done the Martian voices, plus reversed speech, etc….

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