THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
May 7, 2020 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Ub Iwerks “Baby Checkers” (1940)

As the last days of the school year are wrapping up, I find myself not buying the usual pizzas for a whole class; instead, I’m hauled away in my basement, next to a rack of films, trying to be at least somewhat enthusiastic! The best of the student work is still pretty wonderful this year, so that’s helped. This semester has been difficult and exhausting just the same. At least I’ve been appropriately dressed for all occasions.

Apparently the GRANPOP cartoons were released theatrically “day-and-date” with the home movie releases. Note this poster has the Monogram Pictures logo affixed to it. (click to enlarge)

Getting close to the last pieces on many Thunderbean projects at the same time helps my enthusiasm. It’s been a long journey of progress on many of the things on deck right now, but a decent one. Getting out of the holding pattern waiting for one thing or the other is the biggest goal, and clearing the plate of other projects that I’ve been helping with for other producers. With some resources still limited (I can’t replicate anything currently), I hope to get as many things though production as possible in the coming weeks. Looking forward to sharing as each is finished. There are some things to share soon that are truly eye opening. I’m excited to write those articles in the coming weeks.

And now, a cartoon you may have not have seen!

I’ve been looking at some of the older Thunderbean DVD releases and enjoying watching a film or two each night. The Iwerks ‘Gran’ Pop Monkey’ cartoons are included on Cultoons, Volume 3. I was never able to find all three in color, although we managed to get two out of the three almost complete in color. I posted Beauty Shoppe here. The third, Baby Checkers, may be the least seen of these rarely screened shorts.

Gran’ Pop was of course an already established character in a series of beautiful Illustrations by British artist Lawson Wood. The cartoons seem to try and capture the raw charm of his work, but that’s a tall order, honestly. Gran’ Pop’s mild personality and lumbering movement make him an unlikely star, so all the characters around him have to carry the overall plot and action, leaving Gran’ Pop to react to the craziness around him.

While it’s not earth shattering in any way, it’s pretty cute and has some nicely executed animation at times. The other two are pretty similar in tone and content, but look especially nice in color. As far as I know, a color print has yet to show up on this title, although it does appear that 16mm prints were made in the mid-40s. This print is courtesy of the preservation efforts of Mark Kausler.

Have a great week everyone!

8 Comments

  • I have seen this cartoon before — thanks to Thunderbean! I hope that a colour print of it can be found someday. Some of the gags — for example, where the baby seal pours bluing into the tub and the baby hippo, presumably, turns blue — simply don’t come across in black and white. However, I have a theory as to why “Baby Checkers” is, frankly, a rather dull cartoon — and it has everything to do with the music.

    From the opening to the scene where the baby elephant sucks up all the milk, the tempo of the music plods along at 80 beats per minute; from there until the end of the cartoon, it goes at a rate of 120 beats per minute. The standard (one might even say ideal) tempo for cartoon music is 144 beats per minute. Think of “Merrily We Roll Along”, or “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down”, or “Flintstones! Meet the Flintstones!” or “Meet George Jetson”, or Winston Sharples’s arrangement of “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man” — all of them go at a rate of 144 beats per minute. Because this is a livelier tempo, it enables the action of the cartoon to be timed with greater precision. The synchrony between music and action isn’t obvious in “Baby Checkers”, but it’s there; there’s even some mickey-mousing, for example when the baby seal dives off the shelf into the tub.

    More importantly, at the standard film speed of 24 frames per second and with animation on twos, the tempo of 144 beats per minute works out to five drawings per beat. 120 equals six drawings per beat, and 80 equals eight drawings per beat. With an even number of drawings per beat, the in-betweeners can work out intermediate poses with a great degree of accuracy, and thus the motion proceeds at a steady pace. But with a prime number like five beats per minute, every gesture is accelerated into, and is thus more clearly defined. One sees this clearly when studying cartoons frame by frame; the animation of Jim Tyer is especially instructive. While the animation in “Baby Checkers” is very fluid, it lacks punch; a snappier musical score might have given it that.

    In any case, I’m glad to see these rare cartoons from the thirties being preserved for a new generation of enthusiasts. I love Gran’pop Monkey, and Marty the Monk — and Turp and Tine!

  • This is a crazy question, but I’m going to ask it anyway/1 If all you have is a black-and-white print of a cartoon, is there a way to get a good idea of what the color SHOULD be by the various shadings of gray on the image – so that you could possibly (gasp) use a computer to “see” the proper colors based on the gray- scale and then (gasp, again( “colorize it, so that you could at least attempt to make a “proper” color version?

    • Other than going for the obvious like blue skies and green grass, it is IMPOSSIBLE to determine color based on a black and white image since certain colors photograph as the same gray. Red and Green of the same Chroma Level produce the same gray. The same problem lies with the saturation, tints, or shades of hues.

  • There is a big reference to the Joe Penner radio show here. When the baby elephant squirts the baby beaver, the beaver replies in an impression of Joe Penner’s voice, cries, and says “I’m snubbin’ you” and “Izzat so?” These were two of Joe Penner’s lesser known catch phrases, not like his most famous one, “You Wanna Buy A Duck?” The baby elephant’s voice sounds a lot like Candy Candido’s to me. It might be Sara Berner, or one of her contemporaries doing mother Elephant’s voice.

  • When will the mgm flip the frog on blu-ray will be released?

  • Actually it sounded more like Bearnce Hanson. Actually, I’m curious on who voiced Gran’ Pop himself. In the “Beauty Parlor”, I thought at time it was Mel Blanc. However, other times, it didn’t sound quite like him.

  • Do Baby Checkers grow up to be chess pieces?

    Asking for a friend.

    • Only if they’ve been kinged!

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