December 7, 2023 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Van Beuren Tom & Jerry in “Piano Tooners” (1932)

Eyvind Earle’s “The Story of Christmas” (1963)

The end of last week and this current one has been packed at the school as we get ready to end the semester. Between the regular work here and preparing for the next semester, time has been at a premium; the good news is that some major issues were resolved this week for next semester, and I’m both relieved and looking forward to a good next semester. As we move forward through the second half of this school year, I’ll always be sure to be properly dressed for each occasion along with making sure each class is both informative and fun. I especially look forward to the Animation History class this semester.

It’s the 24th year I’ve taught the class at the College for Creative Studies, and I’d like to think it’s a pretty good class. It has evolved over this nearly quarter century to include new films every year. I’ve loved watching the students faces light up in seeing things they’ve never seen. I also love reading their papers and the often really good class discussions. I’ve never talked about my own professional work in the class; I enjoy being the presenter and giving them good historical context. It’s always amazing to watch them springboard from what we’ve discussed and do further exploration into different genres, subjects and animation from around the world.

I’d really love to have a special topics class sometime and do a deeper dive into just the 30s or 40s since there’s such a rich history there, but there is really in every era, not just some of my favorite eras. The challenge always is to show great examples throughout the years in the class. Maybe someday we’ll expand it further if the fates allow.

I’ve been thinking a lot about access to harder to find films. Last week, I was asked to prepare a copy of the Eyvind Earle film The Story Of Christmas (1963) for a special showing at Disney Feature in Burbank. The only scan I had on the film we did when we did the 4k restoration of Were You There (1967) from the camera negatives. Sadly, the print of Story of Christmas was pretty red, but I was able to get a pretty good color grade out of the material with some work. I do hope this film and Were You There are available at some point to a wider audience. They are both religious films, but Earle’s work is so beautiful that it deserves to be seen in good quality.

In Thunderbeanland, we’ve just finished The Van Beuren Tom and Jerry Blu-ray. It’s off to replication tomorrow and rushing to get back here to be sent out to all the pre-orders. I’m so excited that we’re through another long-running project.

One of the most important aspects to me of presenting films is to make sure they’re as complete as possible. Knowing we’ve done our best to make sure what the filmmakers did is decently represented is important, and the collector in me knows that the folks buying the Thunderbean collections expect us to have done that work. Having anything less or purposely taking something out of a film seems so counterproductive to me that it’s hard to believe anyone would- especially for a home video release. I’ll continue producing these sets, and thanks to everyone for helping keep us around all these years!

About 20 years or so back, one cartoon historian I know stated to me he thought the Van Beuren shorts were ‘Ugly, badly produced cartoons’- but of course I disagree with that blanket statement. Anyone can see the draftsmanship really does vary in Van Beuren product, but they’re also really entertaining— and we, as a modern audience can for sure get a lot more accurate evaluation of the merits and shortcomings of the films from good copies of them!

Since it seems like a good time to celebrate the finish of this project, I’m sharing the whole Piano Tooners from the original camera negative. It’s one of my favorites from the series and a lovely little film, warts and all. I’m thrilled that the camera material still existed — I only wish *all* of them did and could look this good (heck, I’d settle for all 35mm prints if that was even possible).

This material is courtesy of Sony Archives as well as the Library of Congress. Thad Komorowski did a great job on the brunt of the cleanup work on this one. I tweaked it a little more and color graded. After working on the whole series, I really appreciate great material in great condition. There’s a few scratches that date from when the film was shot, but it’s otherwise amazingly clean and in good condition. I especially love how crisp the sound is as well.

Now that the Van Beuren Tom and Jerry set is done, We’re on to other things. I’d better make sure I’m properly dressed for those too since the animation fashion police are ever dilligent over these last 11 years. I’ll also check my eyes to make sure I have no color perception problems and make sure I have people invite me to events I’m already invited to as part of the process too!

As a finishing touch, I’ve used the classic ‘Markerfelt’ font as the Thunderbean Thursday watermark on Piano Tooners as a tribute to good graphic design ideas; as a font it has a long and well-documented history. I promise I’ll never use it on a Thunderbean package or menu, so don’t worry!

I hope you enjoy Piano Tooners (make sure to watch in the full resolution on YouTube!) and have a great week!


  • Man, that is one beautiful Tom and Jerry cartoon, the freaky rubber-hose maid notwithstanding. I love the clarity of the soundtrack, and these films really gain a lot when seen in the original aspect ratio. The bit where the three trumpeters merge into one recalls the beginning of “Pink Elephants on Parade”.

    Twenty-four years at CCS is impressive. I never set foot inside, but I walked past the building every day when I was a student at Wayne State; I used to park nearby on Frederick Street. Long before that, my grandfather took art classes there and later became a professional portrait painter. So I’m glad the school is still going strong after all these years.

    Your mention of the Eyvind Earle films reminds me that when I was growing up, our church sometimes screened animated religious films on biblical subjects at the Wednesday evening services during Lent. (I didn’t kick about having to go to church in the middle of the week if I got to watch cartoons there.) Evidently there were many such films made in the 1960s, and possibly whole studios dedicated to producing them. The ones I saw were quite beautiful and moving, with dramatic music. I remember a film in which the voice of God, like those of the offscreen adults in the Peanuts films, was represented by a trombone — not a jazzy muted one, but with a beautiful strong tone that lent the voice greater authority than any actor could have given it. These are some rare animated films that deserve to be preserved, and I would love to see them again.

  • Will the set be a single or two disc set?

    • It’ll be two discs.

  • You can sometimes see evidence of George Rufle’s baton bouncing up and down on the left side of the screen.

  • I’ve always felt “Piano Tooners” was one of the better entries in the series to begin with, and this print has very crisp sound, with a lot of effects not really audible in p.d. collections. So, nice job!

  • Another wonderful cartoon, as usual. It is so nice that the music is front and center in this cartoon, like most of the Van Buren “Tom and Jerry” cartoons. I very much look forward to receiving my copy of this set. I’m sure it will be Amazing! I wish you well in your future endeavors, and hope to hear more projects given your own greenlight real soon. Also glad to hear that you are reaching your students with some of these cartoons. They’re always such a hoot at animation festivals. When I started going to those in the mid 1980s, that was my way of discovering animation that I wasn’t able to discover on television. I’m sure your students are amazed and curious to see some of their favorite characters in situations that they never would’ve seen on television themselves, not even in the 1980s or 1990s cable. And I am especially delighted to hear the clarity in the print of this cartoon that you have put up here today. Thank you so much as usual!

  • Wow. That looks better than most of us have ever seen it. The level of background detail is incredible. The sharpness is fantastic. This was a really good find, Steve.

  • Something I’ve always wondered every time you’ve mentioned it; Why are the Van Beuren negatives (or at least what’s left of them) in the Sony archives? Did the Van Beuren library somehow get into the hands of Columbia at some point? I always figured the last company that owned them (that ultimately let them all go PD) was Official Films.

  • Sony Archives having this raises some questions. How much of the Van Bueren library might they have? For that matter, I wonder if this implies good things for their cartoon library, should they be persuaded to do more with it? [Sony is one of the better studios in regards to home media, behind Paramount’s sudden ’20s push for new Blu-Rays. Then again, their video game consoles can play all those movies…]

    • My belief as to why there might be a sudden push for 20s material is that almost all published works from the 1920s are in the public domain. Steamboat Willie and all other 1928 works will be joining in just a few weeks on January 1. So that just leaves 1929. They’re probably trying to create newer editions to gain some copyright claims on restorative work before the originals are public domain.

  • They have a fraction of what Screen Gems purchased. I think it’s just PICANINNY BLUES, MARCHING ALONG and PIANO TOONERS. That’s it, from what I recall. Miraculous that a fraction of this survived.

  • I like how you can faintly hear someone shouting, “Action!” before the music starts on the soundtrack.

    Congrats on finally finishing the Van Beuren Tom and Jerry Blu-Ray!

  • I wondered about that, too! I know that Columbia’s “Screen Gems” TV divsiion in the ’50s got a lot of material from Nat Levine (some Mascot Pictures serials, etc.), Universal (horror films under the “Shock Theatre” package, etc.), but I didn’t know they had copies of these cartoons at the Library of Congress. I thought Commonwealth Pictures got a lot of the RKO Van Beuren stuff! What gives?

    I ask this because I know of a company that is trying to restore the Bela Lugosi Univesal serial, THE PHANTOM CREEPS. What exists at Universal isn’t great – as a number of the chapters suffer from nitrate decomposition. Supposedly, “Screen Gems” got negatvies from Universal on THE PHANTOM CREEPS to be used – possibly – for the “Shock Theatre” package (the serial and perhaps the “feature version” edited for a TV distributor in 1949. There have been many delays in borrowing the film footage through Sony Pictures (which, of course owns the Columbia film library).

    Steve, do you have any contacts with Sony Pictures (or Sony Archives) to help “speed up” the process of getting the restored version of THE PHANTOM CREEPS completed? As you know, that serial is a “guilty pleasure” of mine!

    As for PIANO TOONERS, it’s a delight in seeing it look – and sound – so good. When I heard the Disney-like mice play “Chopsticks” I immediately thought of RKO’s “Average Man” comedies with Edgar Kennedy – made at the same time as the Van Beuren cartoons. I haven’t seen really good prints of THOSE comedies – who owns the rights to those? Anyway, it’s wonderful that sometimes you get superb material to work with, isn’t it? Keep up the great work at Thunderbean!

  • Seeing “Piano Tooners” in such great quality is a real treat! Looking forward to the Blu-Ray!

  • The best of the T&J series. Period.

  • Congrats on finishing the T&J set, Steve – and thanks for your excellent work! I’m among those who finds “ugly, badly produced cartoons” hilarious; as far as Pre-Code cartoons by the Mintz, Lantz, Iwerks, Van Beuren and independents (Ted Eshbaugh) go, IMHO, the weirder the better.

  • Good work Steve I’m a big supporter from the big rotten apple, lol!

    Back then I was a kid seeing these cartoons on TV I had no idea they were already old news and also had no idea it could be a preservation problem !!

    After that some of my college buddies got hold of a 16M.M. Projector and some old used prints from Willowby’s camera shop.Stuff was CHEEP. Official Movies renamed the characters Dick and Larry and that’s how we saw them again in the 70s. Those old Van Buren cartoons were rough around the edges but they had what Walt’s cartoons didn’t have,, raw HONESTY and Charm! No pretensions!’

    Well as the saying goes What is old is new again , and people want to see these things again thanks to people like Steve and never thought they would look brand new again. Better than we saw them on the little screens with the rabbit ears, lol!!

    Saw STEVE for my first time in person on the Flescher Car-Toons panel at the NY Comic Con a couple seasons ago, they brought him in for talking about the restoration projects. They also had one of Uncle Max’s grand nieces for a blood line connection and Ray Pinter who is the one who goes around Saying he discovered the fleicher cartoons before anyone else did. Now that older guy is with the grand niece on all the show stages to promote the fundraiser for Cartoon restoration. The guy who makes the pins and shirts for money works now together that Ren and Stimpy book guy to restore more and more of the older cartoons. The old cartoons made one big happy family with all this but they still have a separation between the Thunderbean company and the Fleischer Cartoons projects I think

    Just wish we could know more about the ACTUAL ARTISTS who work on the original films more than the crappy stuff they sell to make more money like the shirt business. Because yes we had some cartoon character toys and stuff as kids but now all overboard, everything has to be a PRODUCT and make money money money, what ever happen to enjoying the cartoons and calling it a day?? I miss that when life was simpler we cared more about friends than buying junk to wind up in the landfills

    I like how Steve puts all the attention on the FILMS not all the other cash grabs, you have to aknowlege good taste like that because that is hard to come by in todays world of sellouts and “influencers” on the social media,, it even entered this good world of the cartoon restorations so THX STEVE from Bob. R. out in NY

  • That’s probably the cleanest copy I ever saw for this short. Great job.

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