Animation Trails
September 4, 2019 posted by Charles Gardner

We, Robots! – Part 2: The 30’s – Of Title Bouts and Technocrats

As animation skills progressed, the need for resort to “funny animals” became lessened, and animators gradually found that they could more readily return to utilizing human form – or something at least resembling it, in full animation settings. (Humans, of course, had already been prevalent in animation of the teens and 20’s , but had seemed to develop a rep for moving in stilted fashion – prompting Max Fleisher to attempt to solve the problem for Koko the Clown by using the rotoscope. But even Fleischer’s men had progressed remarkably by the late 20’s – so much so that use of the rotoscope had been virtually abandoned for the Koko series, and the animators given the freedom to draw the character freehand.) Somewhere amidst this atmosphere of increasing sophistication, a move away from the horses and cows which had populated the animated robot world during the 1920’s occurs beginning in the early 1930’s, and the first monstrosities which we might today label “androids” finally begin to appear.

Perhaps the earliest humanoid appears in the Van Buren Aesop’s Fable talkie The Iron Man (Pathe, 1/4/30 John Foster/Harry Bailey, dir.), though WHY he appears is entirely unknown. In this totally forgettable cartoon (which I had blotted out of my memory until shortly before this publication), the Aesop staff (minus Paul Terry, who had left for other pastures) delivers us what amounts to nothing more than the same disjointed slapdash of unrelated vignettes that often met the production quota for the Terry output – with no semblance of a plot. The only clever sight gags are in the first half (involving a cat organ grinder being chased by Farmer Alfalfa), before the title character even shows up. Over halfway through the film, a crate is delivered to the farmer by a delivery wagon. Who sent it is unknown – even to the farmer, who appears to have no idea of its contents. Inside – a life-size metal robot. What is his purpose there? Even the robot doesn’t seem to know. After shaking hands with the farmer, rather than assuming any useful purpose around the place, he begins to dance! Farmer Al, apparently having nothing better to do, joins him in lock step. This goes on for over a full minute, until the robot includes a high kick that connects with the farmer’s rear end. Al retaliates, and the robot somehow goes into a temper tantrum. He grows to astronomical proportions, towering above the Earth, then explodes. Rather than sorting out what has just happened, Farmer Alfalfa merely doubles up with laughter – until the falling debris reassembles itself as the robot and he chases the farmer and his barnyard of animals off into the distance for the iris out. Did we really just see this piece of drivel? Or was it merely the Red King’s dream?

Max Fleischer, ever technically inventive, is next to spearhead this new move, but with a rather primitive effort, in the Bimbo “Talkartoon” titled simply, The Robot (Paramount, 2/5/32 (director and animator credits lost. The date of release of this cartoon seems deceptive. As with a previously-reviewed Talkartoon, “Hide and Seek”, design used of Bimbo here appears antiquated, utilizing the same all-white design (resembling Koko’s dog Fitz) used in Bimbo’s first cartoon, “Hot Dog” (1930) and also in “Silly Scandals” (1931). Also, as in “Hide and Seek”, Bimbo has a different girlfriend (appearing in some respects to resemble a prototype Betty Boop, but markedly varying from the fully developed Boop of “Silly Scandals” except in a mere three shots) – all of which again suggests that this cartoon was held back on the release calendar, and probably actually made in 1930 or ‘31.

Inventor/auto mechanic Bimbo runs a garage in which he tinkers on a jalopy resembling a roofless Ford Model A. Among his garage inventions is an odd inclusion – a sort of radio receiver with screen reading “Bimbo’s Television”. He dials up his girlfriend, whose image miraculously appears on the screen, caught in the bathtub. She modestly attempts to hide behind shower curtains as Bimbo asks for a date, but as she nods yes while holding the curtains close together, her bare rear end is exposed on the other side of the curtain, prompting an embarrassed Bimbo to shut off the picture. She only lives right next door, and Bimbo brings her down to his automobile by use of a telephone extender. They drive through the countryside as Bimbo proposes marriage – but is so busy proposing that he crashes the car into a tree. His girl, with a tire “ringed” around her neck, almost leaves without answering his proposal – but spies a sign on the fence of a county fairgrounds offering a “$5,000 prize to anyone who can lick ‘One Round Mike’”. She tells Bimbo she’ll marry him if he wins the fight. Bimbo replies, “It’s a cinch!”, and signs up for a bout. Inside the tent, the two take ringside seats, and Bimbo’s bravado withers as he watches Mike take on other contenders. His latest victim is knocked cold, and a stretcher is mechanically activated to pick up the poor chump and deposit him in a wing of hospital beds adjacent to the arena, along with numerous other would-be champs already out like a light. Long before Jim Tyer made it his own, Bimbo does a “shrink take”, becoming so small he is swallowed up by his hat. As the champ announces, “You’re next”, Bimbo realizes emergency action is necessary, calls a time out, runs outside to his battered car, and pulls out a pamphlet – “How to Make a Robot”.

As Bimbo appears to use no tools, the details of the process are never revealed to us – but by merely leaping into the passenger seat and “squishing” things around, the car suddenly stands up on its rear wheels as if legs, its hood and radiator become a head, and its front wheels arms, as Bimbo throws a cloak around the contraption with his own head sticking out the top, and marches the vehicle into the arena. His girlfriend is impressed with his apparent increase in size, and at first thinks it’s his manly physique. The bell sounds, and his new guise is revealed, as Bimbo disappears, closing a hatch over the driver’s compartment, and the robot becomes the central character. Being inside a tin shell at first doesn’t help Bimbo much. The champ repeatedly bounces him off the ropes with each punch, launches him into the air with an upper cut, then crashes him outside through a wall with a punishing blow. As Bimbo hangs from a tree limb, his resourceful girlfriend (who must be plenty strong, too) picks up a fire hydrant, and pumps water into the car’s radiator “mouth”. The Robot is rejuvenated, picks up Bimbo from the tree, and climbs back through the hole into the Arena. Conveniently, the bell is sounding for another round (why Mike’s first blow didn’t count as a victory, we’ll never know). Reentering the ring, the robot gives Mike a swift kick, then a series of blows, topped with two long punches as its fists extend on springs. The robot presses a button on its nose area, and eight “arms” appear instead of two.

It systematically rains blows on Mike with each new fist, then lands all eight at once for a knockout punch. A cat referee dispenses with formality, giving the shortest count in history – “Ten!!” The mechanical stretcher takes Mike out this time. A purser declares Bimbo the winner and gives him and the robot the prize. Bimbo pops his head out of the robot’s mouth and declares, “I can lick anybody.” Every tough guy in the audience is insulted, and they all enter the ring and encircle Bimbo. But as they close in in a spiral of whirlwind blows, Bimbo makes good his boast, and lays them all out on the mat in a circle around the robot. The final scene reveals a victory parade, as Bimbo and his girl sit in the robot car, still in the center of the fight ring, while the entire ring itself parades down Main Street, walking on its corner-poles as if feet.

Mechanical Man (Lantz/Universal, Oswald the Rabbit, 2/15/32 – Walter Lantz/Bill Nolan, dir.) – Only ten days after the delayed release of Fleischer’s creation above, Walter Lantz jumps on the bandwagon, with something of an equally primitive effort. Putrid Pete plays mad inventor here, with a newly invented robot seemingly made all of stove pipes and tin cans. He brings it to life by cranking it in the front like an old automobile. Being distributed by the same studio that brought us “Frankenstein”, Lantz’s robot marks the first to turn upon its maker, as from the very second its ignition kicks in, the robot starts swinging punches at Pete. Pete lands an upper cut that sends the robot flying into a closet, and locks the door on it. He resolves to himself, “It needs a human heart. I’ll get one!” Oswald is meanwhile spending a night of musical frivolity as his home with a new unknown girlfriend, where they play piano duets (accompanied by a pair of mice compressing books between two bookends as if they were accordion pleats), and engage in parlor magic tricks.

Pete happens by the window and pulls the old switcheroo while Ozzie’s girlfriend attempts a sack escape trick, substituting a second sack inside of which is, of all things, a hobo dog playing a fife (????). But a picture on the wall whispers in Oswald’s ear that that wasn’t the intended trick, and points to the real sack and culprit outside. Tex Avery was one of the animators (and no doubt gag contributor) to this cartoon, and it would seem likely that two of the best gags came from his imagination. In the first of them, Oswald spies a thread stuck to a nail in the window frame, and we see further ahead that Pete has caught his trousers on the nail, the thread of which is unraveling as he walks. Oswald takes up the thread and follows it, rolling the excess thread into a ball as he goes. The thread disappears through some bushes, and Oswald shouts “Come out of there”, on;ly to discover two deer “necking” (with their necks wound around each other’s). Pete meanwhile has reached his laboratory, and discovers to his embarassment that his pants have unravelled completely – so he covers his modesty (and shorts) by pulling down from his shirttails a small curtain labeled “Asbestos”, and enters the lab. Oswald ultimately catches up, arriving at the lab door just as he winds the last of the string into his ball. He takes the ball and unfolds it – and it has rewoven itself into Pete’s trousers. Oswald merely reaches into its pocket – and produces a key to the lab!

In the second likely-Avery gag sequence, Pete prepares for the operation, but needs something for anaesthesia. He places Oswald’s girlfriend prisoner in a vice, then walks to a table featuring a small outhouse and a metal support framework in a cylindrical shape beside it. He knocks on the outhouse door, and out comes a skunk. “Get busy!”, commands Pete. Following the order, the skunk returns to the outhouse, closing the door. We know something is happening inside, as “aroma” lines begin seeping through the cracks around the door. Then, amidst the cylindrical framework, the floating roof and walls of a miniature industrial gasoline storage tank rise, obviously holding the skunk’s “by-products”, and causing Pete to hold his nose! The remainder of the film begins to fall apart, as an endless game of hide and seek begins between Oswald and Pete, with the lab somehow transforming into a haunted house, complete with live skeletons, a parrot under a sheet, and a lion in a mousehole – and a complete lack of pacing that never takes a breath between one visual non-sequitur and another. The cops are called – but somehow their tandem bicycle is mostly eaten by a goat – the goat being the only one to arrive at the scene of the crime riding what’s left of the bike as a unicycle. Oswald looks for a bar to use to release the vice on his girlfriend, and grabs the bar that’s bolting the door to the mechanical man (yes, the robot finally gets back into the picture, but oh, so briefly). As the robot emerges and threatens our hero and heroine, the goat arrives too. The robot is instantly frightened of the goat, and cringes in a corner. The goat lowers his horns, and butts the robot – transforming him into a pile of tin cans, which the goat begins to eat. Oswald and his girl smile as the goat, now full, takes his leave and departs – but not before spitting up and leaving behind one automobile piston as a memory of the robot’s passing.

For some unknown reason, Fleischer’s notion of utilizing mechanical means to prevail in the art of pugilism became contagious, and would be revisited twice more during the 30’s. Of course, leave it to Disney to improve drastically upon the mechanized sophistication of the subject contraption. Mickey’s Mechanical Man (Disney, UA. Mickey Mouse, 6/17/33 – Wilfred Jackson, dir,), presents an invention that transcends mere humanized autos or tin can men, with genuine gears, springs, hinges, and stuff-like-that-there that convincingly pulls off the mechanical look of the beast. A poster outside a barn announces the subject matter of this mini-epic – “Battle of the Century – Mickey’s Mechanical Man vs. The Congo Killer”. The latter is a genuine bona fide Gorilla – one of two instances in Disney’s 1933 output where he would make a direct nod to the craze begun by the 1933 box-office colossus for Radio Pictures, “King Kong” (also lampooned in Mickey’s “The Pet Store” the same year, with a “Movie Monk” getting the idea to imitate Kong from a Hollywood Movie magazine). The barn serves as the robot’s training quarters, with warning signs posted all around the door in six languages not to enter (including Chinese, and one simply reading “Scram”). Mickey provides piano accompaniment as the robot practices his footwork, using a suspended steel safe as a punching bag (with a picture of the gorilla pasted on it to provide motivation). Outside, Minnie drives up to the window in her little jalopy, and squeezes the rubber bulb on her old-time auto horn. At the sound of the horn, the robot goes into hysterics, steam shooting out of its head, its eyes popping out at the gorilla’s picture, and delivers a sock that caves in the safe. He then attacks a poster of the ape on the wall, smashing a gaping hole through the wall itself. A third blow delivered to another picture on a telephone pole smashes the pole in two and sends it crashing down on the robot, knocking him cold temporarily. Mickey is upset, and has obviously seen this before. Minnie just laughs – it’s her little practical joke, as it is revealed that the horn is the robot’s one failing – as it causes him to go crazy. She still wants to play, and gives the horn one more toot. The robot pulls itself together and springs to life again, sparring down the street with blood in his eye. Mickey pursues him to the fight arena, where the robot spots another gorilla poster, and tries to sock it – but the arena is built of brick (probably courtesy of Practical Pig), and the robot knocks itself out again when the bricks won’t give. While the crowd laughs, Mickey grabs one arm of his contender and drags him into the fighters’ entrance, the robot’s body clattering along in segments only loosely held together by a few springs. Minnie finally gets in a more serious mood, and sticks her tongue out at the jeering crowd before entering the fighters’ quarters too.

Comes the big event. The fighters are introduced. Congo Killer strains against the manacles his keepers are holding to restrain him before the mauling begins. Mickey’s creation rises to accepts the plaudits of the crowd – and his arm falls off, Mickey hastening to make last minute repairs. The bell sounds. The robot gets in the first blows with piston action alternating left and right arm stretches. But quickly the gorilla counters with head smashes (compressing the robot into a little guy) followed by upper cuts (which stretch him real tall). Set to yet another musical background of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody, the gorilla continues to deliver blows that knock the robot’s hips out of alignment with the rest of his body, and then a head blow that unscrews his head almost to the point of coming off, and leaves him looking backwards, as the gorilla delivers him a blindside blow that knocks him into the ropes and sends various gears spinning around the ring. The gorilla resorts to wrestling tactics, stomping on the robot’s chest, then picking him up for an airplane spin above the gorilla’s head and smashing him to the mat. The robot’s segments all appear loosened from one another, and the robot begins seeing mechanical tweeting birds circling his head, as he lays motionless on the mat. The gorilla engages in some premature victory “showboating”, dancing around doing Tarzan yells on the ropes around the ring. The referee begins to count the robot out, while Mickey pleads for him to pull himself together. But Minnie remembers her secret weapon. She runs out to the parking lot, and rips the horn off her jalopy – then blows it in the robot’s ear. Crazed again, the robot springs to life – and pulls out all the stops with a barrage of its own secret weapons. Two extra gloved hands emerge from its chest to assist in telling blows, followed by a third glove out of the robot’s mouth.

A hammer pops out of the robot’s head and clobbers the gorilla on the konk. The robot bends over – and another gloved hand emerges from the bottom of his torso to smash the gorilla in the kisser – followed by a boot that kicks the Killer across the ring. Then the robot’s upper torso begins rotating with his arms outstretched – and he develops the flight of a helicopter, landing with stomping blows upon the gorilla’s torso. He grabs the fallen gorilla’s arms, and uses the airplane spin maneuver on him – but with more effect, as the robot throws him with such force onto the mat that the gorilla bounces, crashes through the arena ceiling, and falls back through the hole onto the upper rafters – out cold, and seeing little flying gorillas circling his head. The robot, however, cannot be stopped. Amidst a flurry of gloved extender hands giving him the look of an octopus, the robot explodes, leaving debris all around the ring. Nevertheless, the referee raises the one arm that is still connected to portions of the robot’s head and torso, and declares him the winner. Mickey joins the ref in the ring to celebrate. Minnie climbs in too, still holding her auto horn. She embraces Mickey for the traditional kiss, dropping the horn behind him. As the horn hits the floor, it honks again – and all the loose gears, mainsprings, nuts and bolts in the ring quiver and spiral to independent life, making a clatter as Mickey and Minnie continue their embrace for the iris out.

Though one of the lesser-known 30’s Mickeys today, this episode appears to have had significant influence in its day, not only upon the animation industry, but in live action as well. As will be seen below, at least one more robot fighter was produced in its wake years later. More importantly, however, the story concept of a prize fighter with a secret weapon became a stock-in-trade for stories of non-robotic fighters in animation – including, just to name a sample few, “The Little Bantamweight” (MGM, 1938), “The Kangarooo Kid” (Columbia/Charles Mintz, 1938 ), and “The Bongo Punch” (Univeral.Lantz, 1958). Perhaps even more notable was the immediate influence of this film upon a certain up-and-coming Mr. Howard, Fine, and Howard – to be better known as the Three Stooges – who in their inaugural year of star billing at Columbia in 1934 would adapt central elements of Disney’s script into one of their most successful and character-solidifying masterpieces (also one of their only episodes in which the three received script credit) – the boxing comedy, “Punch Drunks”, in which Curley goes equally lunatic in the ring every time he hears the tune, “Pop Goes the Weasel”. Good thing for the Stooges that they arrived at whatever matinee they attended in time to see the Mickey Mouse cartoon!

“Technocracy” is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “government by technicians” or “management of society by technical experts”. During the height of the great depression, a popular craze of discussion was emerging that all the world’s financial problems could be solved somehow by putting machines in charge of manual labor (where the laborers were supposed to earn a living in an already challenged job market was an unanswered question). These radical notions had a somewhat profound effect upon the field of screen comedy, producing live action shorts such as Robert Benchley’s “Your Technocracy and Mine” (1933) and Billy Bevan’s “Techno-Crazy” (1933), and inspiring a trio of animation studios to similar heights of lunacy.

Techno-Cracked (Ub Iwerks/MGM, Flip the Frog, 4/12/33), appears to mark animation’s first foray with this doctrine. While frequently rumored to have been intended as a color subject, the best efforts of Thunderbean animation research have to date only revealed this title in black and white.

Flip lounges in the backyard in a swaying hammock. The swaying is the result of his latest invention – a pulley belt, powered by a treadmill below on which Flip has placed a dog to run, pursuing a sausage suspended from a tree branch. Iwerks’s recurrent “old crone” spinster emerges from the house. While her relationship to Flip in this episode is never made clear, it is apparent she is somehow in command, and that Flip is supposed to be doing chores (possibly as a means of earning his room and board). She discovers Flip loafing in the hammock, and chaes the dog away, then steps on the treadmill herself in attempt to reach him above. But she loses her balance on the thing, and starts running faster and faster. Flip’s hammock likewise gets rocked more and more violently, until Flip himself is “flipping over and over, and finally thrown out of the hammock into the crone’s lap. The crone drags him over to a lawn mower, and insists Flip get busy. Flip obliges, but sticks his tongue out at her when she isn’t looking. He mows a short distance, but the blades get stuck on something and won’t budge. Flip reaches into the blocked blades, and pulls out a magazine, titled “Unpopular Mechanics”. He opens it to an illustrated article – “TECHNOCRACY – Why be a slave? THE MECHANICAL MAN works while you sleep.” Flip tears out the robot illustration, and creeps silently to a cellar door and into a basement.

Inside, he finds raw material for his creation – a pot-bellied stove for a torso, two flat irons for feet, and stove pipes for arms and legs. For a head, Flip mounts an old Halloween Jack-o-lantern, then he tosses into the stove a large battery and an alarm clock. He applies to the robot’s shoulders a pair of battery jumper cables, plugs the wires into an electric socket, and throws the switch. Volts shoot through the robot’s frame, and the pumpkin head glows brightly, as the robot spins, spirals and does somersaults from the impact of the “juice’. He crashes against a wall, and his hollow eye-holes suddenly blink with life. He yawns, rubs his nose-hole as if wiping away the sniffles, and takes his first creaking steps. Flip cautiously approaches him, and is surprised with a spoken inquiry from the robot – “When do we eat?” Flip ponders, then provides a tray of sustenance in the form of nuts, bolts, springs, old bottles, pipes, cans, and another alarm clock. The robot begins to eat, his first mouthful clanking when it lands inside the empty stove chamber. He turns up his nose at an old smelly sock he finds among Flip’s tray – but downs the rest of the tray’s contents in one gulp, with more assorted clanks. He burps, and blushes in embarrassment – then washes it all down with a pail of water – which instantly leaks out the gratings in the side of the pot bellied stove.

After dinner, Flip sets out to teach the robot his intended task. He shows him the lawn mower, gives it a few short pushes, then turns it over to the robot. The robot mimics the identical couple of pushes, then thinks it is finished. Flip shakes his head no, then pantomimes more pushing. The robot copies him again, pushing only in pantomime. Flip places the robot’s hands on the mower, then gives him a kick in the rear to start him – but the robot turns and simply gives Flip a kick in the rear. Flip finally puts both his own and the robot’s hands on the mower handle, and they both begin pushing – but clever Flip, concealed from the robot’s view under a shower of grass clippings, lets go of the handle and gradually falls back, leaving the robot to work alone, while Flip returns to his hammock. Once started, the robot is tough to stop. Not content with grass, he mows through a flower bed, cuts garden worms in two, rips out the front porch steps, and mows up a welcome mat (whose fibers fall back into place in re-arrayed fashion, changing “Welcome” to read “Nerts”). Inside the house, the robot hits the tail of a lion-skin rug – causing the lion-skin to yelp and run in panic. The skin gets underfoot of the old crone, causing her to fall backwards into the mower blades, which rip off her skirt and reveal her old-fashioned bloomers. She rides the lion skin outside, where she awakens the sleeping Flip. While she hides in the drop-seat of a suit of long flannel underwear on the clothesline, Flip chases the robot to get him to stop.

The robot runs through a chicken coop and de-feathers a rooster with the mower. But this rooster must be an ancestor of Foghorn Leghorn, as his feathers turn out to be sewn into the form of a suit which he merely puts on and rebuttons. Flip finally catches the robot and drags him to a stop, then takes the mower away from him and flings it out of frame. The robot still thinks he’s teaching new tricks, and picks up Flip, then throws him out of frame in the same fashion. Flip returns from the barn with an axe – but a chop at the robot does nothing, as the robot is made of metal too. What it does do is anger the robot, who no longer sees things as a game. In Frankenstein fashion, the robot crushes Flip’s axe, then turns menacingly upon his maker. Flip beats a hasty retreat into the barn, and there discovers a crate of dynamite sticks. As the robot lumbers toward the barn, Flip lights a dynamite stick and tosses it at the robot. The robot catches it, sniffs it, and apparently thinks it’s candy. He swallows it like a peppermint stick. Suddenly, he develops tummy trouble, as, in a creative trick camera shot, six duplicate images of the robot spiral around him on the screen. Not knowing what to do, the robot sees as his only out a quick trip to the backyard outhouse (typical barnyard humor that wouldn’t have passed the censors a year later). But he doesn’t quite make it, trips before reaching the outhouse door, and explodes. The scene dissolves to nighttime. The crone rocks patiently in a chair in her living room, while outside, as a clock tower strikes 2:00 a.m., Flip is still making up for his unfinished lawn mowing. The moon above morphs into the pumpkin head face of the robot, laughing at him. Flip is infuriated , and tosses the lawn mower clear to the moon, smashing the moon into a shower of stars and blackening the screen for the fade out. An original, ingenious, and well plotted Flip episode, marking one of the finest in this long forgotten series.

Technoracket (Charles Mintz/Columbia, Scrappy, 5/20/33) – There is first some discrepancy concerning director credits for this film. Some online sites continue to credit Scrappy creator Dick Huemer. However, chronologically its release appears to post-date Huemer’s leaving the studio, and I believe copyright catalog listings confirm Sid Marcus as actually picking up the reins. Scrappy is again engaged in a career beyond his age abilities – managing a modern farm. The rooster attempts to bring the sun up with his crows, but each crow only eases the sun upwards little by little, then it sinks back behind the horizon. A last utterance from the rooster which sounds more like a hiccup is finally enough to get the sun to stay. Scrappy tilts Oopie’s bed to dump him out of the covers onto the floor, and commands him to “Get to work.” Oopie tries to work efficiently – tying the cow’s tail to a butter churn so it’ll produce during the day; tying a sack of seeds with a hole in it to a clothesline and letting three birds run on the rope, so that the seed is spread across the chicken coop; and washing the pigs (who immediately run back through the mud and come up at the end of the line for another washing). But Scrappy, lounging on the veranda, still isn’t satisfied with all this activity. He reads a headline in the “Daily Blabber” – “TECHNOCRACY – A new age. Mechanical Farm Hands.” Watching Oopie chopping at a log, Scrappy envisions him replaced in action by a robot. Scrappy blows a whistle, and announces to man and animal alike, “Everybody is fired!”

A new day dawns. The rooster’s crow brings the sun up again – except it’s actually a rooster robot, with a large radio antenna sticking out of its head. Scrappy is seen inside the farm house, seated at a massive “Control Board”, resembling a telephone operator’s switchboard, but with many added levers and wheels. By entering a plug into the switch marked “Cow”, a radio signal is sent to a robot milker, who approaches a robot cow. By merely pushing the cow’s tail like a lever, each “udder” ejects an already-filled milk bottle. Another robot appears, looking much like a metal safe with arms and legs and another radio antenna on top. Its task is wood chopping. Approaching a tree, it scoffs at a nearby axe and throws it away. Instead, it grabs a tree and breaks it off at the stump, then opens its front door like a mouth, and swallows the tree whole. Briefly chewing, its left arm begins to rotate like a crank, and its mouth opens again – spitting out a neat pile of fireplace logs. Another robot plants metal nuts and bolts like seeds into the ground, waters them, and produces harvestable vegetables already in cans on the vine. Yet another robot attends to sheep shearing – catching this time a live sheep rather than a robot, and stuffing him into a small compartment in a mechanical gizmo with a conveyor belt. At the pull of a lever, the conveyor belt spits out two socks, a shirt, trousers and a jacket – and the hatch door opens to release the fully sheared, “sheepish” little lamb. That’s enough work for a while, Scrappy thinks, and kissing the newspaper from which he got the idea in the first place, Scrappy curls up on his bed for a leisurely afternoon nap. But revenge is afoot. Oopie and the fired farm animals sneak on tiptoe to the farmhouse door.

Oopie enters, proceeds to the control panel, switches around the positions of a few wires, throws away the control wheel, and pulls a lever. The radio antennae of each of the robots erupt in mini-lightning bolts. The cow stampedes across the barnyard, leaving a trail of milk bottles everywhere she gallops. The wood chopper devours a pig instead of a tree, and starts spitting out hams. The sheep shearer chases the robot rooster instead of a sheep, inserting a bicycle pump in the rooster’s mouth and pumping out about two dozen eggs (from a rooster?), then dives into the eggs, breaking them all for no good reason. The canned vegetables start burying themselves in the ground as fast as they came up. A long shot shows the entire farm in a state of total chaos. As Oopie makes an exit, Scrappy awakens, looks outside at the fracas, and then does an about face and runs, as about a half dozen robots enter the farm house, armed with axes and other dangerous looking farm implements. One robot chases Scrappy in circles around the living room. Another chops up his china cupboard with an axe. Two more use a saw to slice through Scrappy’s piano. The robot pursuing Scrappy raises a sledge hammer to smash him – but the head of the hammer flies off the handle and smashes the robot instead. Another robot dives at Scrappy, but misses, and crumbles into a heap of spare parts on the floor. Scrappy starts tossing the parts at a third robot, whose head is knocked off by a direct hit. The head crashes into the control panel, causing it to erupt in flames. Scrappy wheels in a dolly, picks up the burning control mechanism, and ejects it into the farmyard, where it explodes among the chaotic activities of the other robots. The screen goes black. Another new day dawns, with our original rooster returned. The rising sun reveals a yard full of destroyed robots, fractured farm buildings, and downed radio wires, as the rooster revises his crow to “Cock-a-Doodle-raspberry!” A lively and well-timed cartoon, which should have foretold great things for the new unit rising from the ashes of Huemer’s departure. Ah, if only results of subsequent episodes could have maintained this level of energy and creativity.

Bosko’s Mechanical Man (Warner/Harman-Ising, Looney Tunes (Bosko), 7/29/33 – “Drawn by” Isadore (Friz) Freleng/Thomas McKimson) – This film opens on a strange (and physically impossible) note. Honey is doing household chores, washing a picture window (with suds on the inside). The silhouette of Bosko is seen outside though the suds, and with his finger he traces the words “I love you” on the window – which somehow miraculously clears the suds on the other side of the glass for Honey to read the message! Well, things get stranger, but in pleasant ways. Honey pulls Bosko in, and promptly recruits him (against his will) to assist in dishwashing. Of course, in carrying the plates, Bosko drops and destroys all the dishes. Apparently realizing he’s no help by himself, Bosko spies a morning headline in the paper: “ROBOT WILL DO WORK OF HUNDRED MEN, SAY TECNOCRATS”. Bosko is inspired, and runs to the garage. In close equivalency to Flip’s creation in “Tecno-Cracked”. Bosko finds two flatirons on the garage floor, sets two pipes on top of them for legs, and a pot-bellied stove atop them for torso, and various and sundry other pipes and gears. Deviating from the Flip model, Bosko installs a metal cylindrical head, a funnel hat plus light bulbs for eyes. He then grabs an old four cylinder auto engine and tosses it in the torso, which he closes in back like a rumble seat. He inserts a Model T crank into the robot’s back, and revs it up. With all the sound effects of a Tommy-gun from a Warner gangster film, the robot bursts into a loud series of engine backfires, then begins to idle in place.

Bosko pulls a button on his back labeled “Free Wheeling”. More backfires erupt, and the robot begins running uncontrollably in circles. Bosko quickly realizes he may have created a monster, as the robot changes course and begins to pursue him. Each of the robot’s arms is mounted on a large gear, and the arms flail wildly in circles in a menacing and marauding manner. Bosko runs for the house, and bolts the door from inside. But the robot (accompanied musically by a reuse by Frank Marsales of a jaunty version of “One Step Ahead Of My Shadow” from a Merrie Melodie of the same name and the feature “Footlight Parade”) crashes right through the door, knocking it off its hinges, and taking Bosko along for a ride, as Bosko gets sandwiched between five more doors the robot knocks off their frames inside. Finally, the six doors and Bosko fall off the robot’s chest, and the robot leaps over all of them, now advancing on Honey. Honey, having no other weapon at the ready, grabs a bottle of perfume from a dresser and squirts it in the robot’s face. In a “gay” gag, the robot instantly turns effeminate, and utters his first line of dialog – “Suh-wishh!!” (Swish, to you.) Continuing on the gay themes, Bosko goes to the piano and starts playing an equally effeminate tune, which the now grinning robot accompanies by reaching into the bathroom, producing a roll of toilet paper, and tearing off sheets to fling about the room as if flower petals from a queen of the May. (Need I say this cartoon was produced pre-code!)

But the effects of the perfume are not lasting. Upon reaching the piano, the robot suddenly reverts to form. In a delightful facial closeup – he “gnashes” his teeth – uppers and lowers of which are mounted on a pair of interlocking rotating gears! Honey tries a new tactic to give the tin man a cheerier disposition – she opens his rear hatch, and inserts a wind-up gramophone (record player) with a disc marked “Kiddie Record” of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. She sets the needle – and the robot begins to cheerily sing the song (in the style of typical overly condescending “kiddie” performers predominant on radio and records of the day). But the plan malfunctions, as the record has a crack in it, and gets stuck at the words “white as – – white as – – white as – -” The robot reverts to its backfiring circular run in repeated animation. Bosko and Honey get while the getting’s good, and race outside, hopping over Bruno the dog, who is sleeping at the foot of the porch. Spotting Bruno, the robot gets an evil idea – he disconnects Honey’s electric doorbell, places one of his fingers in the wiring, and with his other hand delivers an electric shock to Bruno’s tail. Bruno runs for it, but doesn’t have much stamina, and begins to tire quickly. The robot exhibits a new feature we never saw Bosko install – pointing at Bruno while still pursuing him, the robot opens his mouth, and inside is a radio, on which an announcer states “You are now in the hands of the dear old maestro” (a paraphrase of an intro used on radio broadcasts of Ben Bernie and his orchestra). Bruno is about to collapse, and Bosko realizes the only option left is that the robot must be destroyed. Finding a barrel of dynamite at a nearby construction yard (My, how well these construction people guard their high explosives), Bosko grabs a bundle of dynamite sticks and flings them at the robot. The robot meets them “head” on – opening his mouth and swallowing them whole. Ker-Blooey! In the final shot, the robot is rendered a malfunctioning wreck, with mainspring popped out of his head, the record player and an alarm clock we had never seen before gyrating wildly along with several of his limbs also rotating on gears out of control, a newly-seen calendar readout on his chest that changes to random dates every few frames (some of them reading upside down!), and a cuckoo clock bird popping out at intervals from between his teeth! That’s all, folks!

The Wizard of Oz (Ted Eshbaugh/J.R. Booth, prod. , Eshbaugh, dir. – 1933) – Ted Eshbaugh’s unreleased experiment in three-strip Technicolor has been briefly reviewed in my previous article, “The Song Begins…It’s Magic”, this website. Animation is of reasonably high sophistication of the Tin Woodsman, seemingly taking design inspirations both from Mickey’s Mechanical Man and from contemporary costume designs used in the Broadway musical adaptations that had been kicking around for a few decades. With added Technicolor, Eshbaugh scoops Ub Iwerks in being the first to present the silver-blue glint of a metal man to the big screen – if only his film had actually been seen by any contemporary audience! As it was, the public would have to wait for Disney and Fleischer to get their chance with Technicolor in productions of a few years later.

Steve Stanchfield will post this Oz film – and tell the story behind its restoration – tomorrow.

The Mechanical Handy Man (Lantz/Universal, Oswald the Rabbit, 11/8/37 – Charles Bowers, story) – A now redesigned white rabbit, Oswald gets his chance to share in inventing a technological breakthrough. He is accompanied in this endeavor by a rooster who would serve as a short-lived comedy relief sidekick in the series – known simply as the Dumb Cluck, as well as a dachshund who serves as a carrier with a wheel strapped to his belly. Cluck may have in fact been more instrumental than Ozzie in designing their invention – as the robot is not human, but bears striking resemblance to Cluck himself, with a milking stool fastened on where its tail should be, gloves for feet, and a large rotating switch resembling an old Mattel “See and Say” from the 60’s – just point the pointer at the name of a task, and the robot does the rest (we hope!). Ozzie and Cluck offer a demonstration to Farmer Hippo, who requests to see it milk a cow. (No voice credits have been located for this cartoon, but the farmer’s voice sounds for all the world like an unspeeded Joe Dougherty loaning out his stutter fresh from his duties as the original Porky Pig). Cluck turns the selector, but sets it wrong, pointing to “Trim the Whiskers”, causing the farmer to get an unexpected trim of his goatee. Oswald resets the selector, and, carrying a milk pail in its beak, the robot enters the stall of champion milk cow Bessie. Bessie is totally spooked, and a chase ensues for several minutes, with Bessie bursting through barn walls and ceiling with the robot in hot pursuit, climbing a telephone pole and doing a high-wire act (while Dumb Cluck gets her down by turning on the high voltage), sliding down the wires into the city and invading a posh hotel, where an irate woman finally calls the police. Ozzie and Cluck are put on trial.

Cluck attempts to demonstrate what they were attempting to do by switching the robot on once more – and Bessie goes nuts again and leaps out the courtroom window. The judge orders them to bring the cow back or he’ll sentence them to jail for life. But Bessie has been chased out of sight. Cluck gets an idea for a substitution, in the form of a nearby costume shop. Oswald returns to the courtroom leading a “cow” on a rope – but when the skeptical framer asks “Bessie” to moo, she lets out dog barks – its Cluck and the dachschund inside the costume. The jig is up, and they run for it. Meanwhile, Bessie is heading back in their direction, and hides by jumping into a window awning. The farmer intercepts the robot searching for Bessie, and removes its threat temporarily by dumping it into a trash can. Knowing Bessie must be nearby, he calls for her – and the cow jumps from the awning above into the farmer’s arms. He starts to take her home, while Ozzie and the fake cow arrive on the scene. The robot pops out of the trash can, and seeing the costume, figures a cow’s a cow, so grabs the costume’s tail as a new victim, only to rip the whole thing off, revealing Cluck riding atop the dachshund walking on stilts. That’s no cow, assumes the robot, and his attention returns to Bessie. He pursues the farmer, who is still carrying Bessie in his arms, and delivers a flying tackle. When the dust clears, Bessie is suspended from a tree branch around which her tail has been tied in a knot, and the farmer has been lashed to a tree trunk. The robot settles down to finally perform its intended labor. But the farmer is able to free the fingers of one hand, and manages to turn the robot’s selector arrow to a new task – “Kill the Rooster”. The robot abandons its interest in Bessie, and grabs the Dumb Cluck, who screams for help as the robot attempts to get Cluck’s head down on a tree stump to chop it with an axe. Oswald races to the rescue just in time with a sledge hammer, and when the dust clears again, the robot is nothing but a heap of loose springs and shrapnel, with the robot’s milking stool balanced atop a dazed Oswald’s head like a bonnet.

Modern Inventions (Disney, UA, Mickey Mouse (in series name only, as Mickey does not appear – actually billed in original release as “Presenting” Donald Duck, since the Duck did not yet have an official series banner of his own), 6/19/37 – Jack King, dir.) – United Artists was of course founded by several major screen notables – among them a certain independent producer used to wearing baggy pants, ragged shoes pointing in opposite directions, and a cane – Charlie Chaplin. One of Chaplin’s most well-known successes of the 1930’s was his semi-talkie breakthrough film, “Modern Times” (1936), featuring the little tramp in a famous sequence lost in a maze of giant gears in search of bolts to tighten. The themes of said film may have provided the script inspiration for Donald’s futuristic adventure – at least, it seems apparent that a last-minute decision to alter the title of this cartoon from the working title “Donald’s Inventions”, appearing on some preliminary poster art, to “Modern Inventions”, was a backhanded tip-of-the-cap to the studio founder.

Over a half-century before Disneyland itself would attempt to present a somewhat similarly-themed exhibition hall in Tomorrowland, Donald visits an art-deco “Museum of Modern Marvels” (saving himself the price of admission by getting through the turnstile with a coin tied to a string for easy retrieval). Well, as the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. Donald’s free admission turns into something of a non-stop nightmare, as he encounters the various helpful gadgets that inhabit this palace of progress. Nearly all of them are robotic in whole or in part – from mechanical hands to full bodied robots, such as the robot butler who greets Donald at the door. Insisting on protocol, the robot (a looming barrel-chested amalgam of copper and tin with a cyclops electric eye, voiced by Billy Bletcher) engages in a running gag of removing Donald’s hat upon entering – whether Donald likes it or not (and he doesn’t!) Donald, however, seems to have as endless a supply of replacement hats as Bartholomew Cubbins, in a myriad of styles – always providing the butler with another target. A suitcase marked “Hitch Hiker’s Aid” is tested by Donald walking past making sounds like a honking auto horn. Out pops a green tin-can man robot with a neon light flashing “STOP” where his mouth should be, and thumbing for a ride. When the aid realizes Donald is not a car, it pokes Donald in the eye for his troubles. Donald next ignores the “Do Not Touch” sign on a mechanical bundle wrapper – and gets neatly wrapped in cellophane and tied with a bright red ribbon. A robot nurse maid (Patent 99/66 and seven-eighths) consists of a baby carriage with robot arms, which won’t let Donald out once he’s in, and insists on force-feeding him baby formula and putting him in a diaper. But the final straw is a robot barber’s chair. Donald again pushes his luck by paying for a haircut with his retractable coin on a string – and gets what’s coming to him. The machine malfunctions, uncontrollably bucks, and flips Donald upside down, as manacles grab hold of his hands and feet – leaving his face where his feet should be to receive a complete shoe shine and polish, while his tail receives “the works” of a hot towel and haircut. The elaborate sequence eats up a full two minutes of the cartoon, finally depositing the blackfaced Donald back on the ground with a part down the middle of his tail and a bowler derby on top of that – which the robot butler again seizes, leaving Donald in a tirade as the cartoon irises out.

All’s Fair At the Fair (Fleischer/Paramount, Color Classic, 8/26/38 – Dave Fleischer, dir., Myron Waldman, Graham Place, anim.) – Taking direct inspiration from the forthcoming World’s Fair being constructed in New York, Fleischer presents his own Fair to end all Fairs (with no specific locale disclosed). A old rural couple (arriving in horse-drawn carriage) are brought up-to-date with exhibits of modern technology rivaling Donald’s Museum of Modern Marvels. While many gadgets are more of the assembly-line variety (another automatic sheep -shearing machine similar to Scrappy’s, turning out finished sweaters; a wood-cutting machine that grinds a log down to a clothespin; and self-building homes that merely require pouring wood and nails into a house-shaped mold, shake well, and out comes the completed structure), robots play a part in an imposing structure with neon sign announcing “Shave – Haircut – Dining – Dancing”. Paw chooses the shave and haircut – all administered step by step by female robot attendants, while Maw undergoes an assembly line makeover, including a figure-mold that compresses her like an iron maiden to put curves back into her physique. The seemingly rejuvenated couple next enter a dance hall.

A tin-can styled robot is seated at a piano, with a coin slot in back. Paw deposits a coin, and not only does the robot play, but multiple unmanned instruments connected to air hoses and hydraulics mounted around the piano begin an accompaniment, amounting to a Latin number resembling the Carioca made famous by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. (The arrangement sounds familiar, and may be a borrow from earlier Popeye musicals such as “The Dance Contest” and “Morning, Noon, and Night Club”.) Spying a pair of doors with sign above reading “Dancing Partners”, the couple deposit more coins in the doors, and out sway a shapely female robot and an tall suave male robot, who each partner up with the couple for an extended and well choreographed dance number. (One move in the number briefly resembles the “trucking” craze then current (see, for example, Walt Disney’s “The Woodland Café” (1937)), and Paw ad libs a lyric playing on another then-current hit, “The Flat Foot Floogie”. repeating, “Flat foot farmer and a plow plow” instead of “Flat foot floogie with a floy floy”.) Time runs out on the dancing partners, who return to their respective cabinets – but Paw and Maw now know the new step, and dance entirely well on their own. As they exit the exhibit, they happen upon a coin operated machine at the gate, labeled, “Autos”. Paw inserts another coin, and a small package about the size of the palm of his hand pops out of the vending machine. Paw unfolds it – into a full size automobile, complete with rumble seat to accommodate their horse, and the three happily speed off down the road toward home.

Dog-Gone Modern (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 1/14/39 – Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.) – an early entry in Jones’s periodic mini-series featuring a pair of little and big curious puppies. The curiosity is piqued this time by an all-electric model home open for inspection. (Thank heavens for our purposes that no pesky real estate salesman stands watch to keep the pooches out!) After being briefly perplexed by an electric-eye door, the pups begin to try out various push button appliances. A flashing sign beckons them to try the automatic sweeper. A push of a button, and a demonstration device lights a cigar, inhales on it, and flicks ashes on the carpet. Out of a closet pops a robotic contraption, built on a central pole with a metal knob for a head, robotic arm attachments carrying a broom, wheels, and a large dustpan at its foot. The dogs dart out of the way as the gizmo, with mechanical beeps, rapidly sweeps the mess into the dustpan and returns to the closet. The sweeper causes complications when the small pup discovers a dog-bone dispenser – but as soon as a bone is dispensed, the sweeper gathers it up like so much trash and disappears. Big pup spends most of the cartoon getting caught in an automatic dishwasher contrivance, where he is repeatedly soaked and dried. Little pup is distracted by a music machine featuring even more attachments that Fleischer’s World’s Fair robotic orchestra – a white grand piano, which self-plays with robotic hands, opens an abundance of panels to add accompaniment by trumpet, trombone, bass fiddle, flute, and even a tuba, and with an additional panel revealing three mannequin heads on spring necks who deliver a singing vocal.

Finally, little pup discovers the sweeper’s closet door open and the bone inside, and snatches it. The sweeper robot returns, peers around the pup to see what he’s hiding behind his back, and ultimately gives chase. The little pup encounters a throw rug and lands on it, causing it to slide and flap out like a flying wing. He soars around the house, swooping in and also picking up the exhausted big pup, and they both fly into the opening of a garbage chute and out of the building (the sweeping robot snapping his fingers as if to say, “Shucks, just missed.”) Outside, the dogs land in a pair of trash cans, and hide under their lids. The sweeping robot appears, carefully examining the cans – but the little pup crowns him with the trash can lid, knocking the robot cold. Little pup holds up his bone to the audience and happily points to it – but big dog grabs the bone and clamps the trash can lid down on the little pup, keeping the bone for himself. After spending the entire afternoon in the dishwasher, big pup figures he deserves it! (Many sequences of this film were later remade and embellished, complete with the sweeping robot, for Jones’s 1940’s Hubie and Bertie classic, “House Hunting Mice”. The robot sweeper would long stay in the memory of cartoon fans, and would also make a surprise cameo comeback in an episode of “The Drew Carey Show” featuring an animated job interview of Daffy Duck.)

Man of Tin (Columbia/Screen Gems, Phantasy (featuring Scrappy), 2/23/40, no director credit, Allen Rose, story, Harry Love, anim. ) – While release date extends just outside the time scope of this article, it is safe to presume production of this cartoon occurred in 1939 – and as its themes ring more akin to the 1930’s than to robot films which followed, it provides a fitting closing to this article.

The once mighty Scrappy, who had previously knocked studio mainstay Krazy Kat out of lead for popularity, and been able to rate “Scrappy Presents” headings on the studio’s Color Rhapsodies series (in the same manner as Mickey Mouse would “present” Silly Symphonies”), has now lost even his own series banner, being relegated to occasional appearances where his name only appears in small type amidst the credits, and with no identifying picture. A burnt-out story department seems most likely to blame for this downfall – coupled with the fact that for some reason, despite at least four appearances in Technicolor, Scrappy just didn’t seem to glean much attention a a color character – making him a harder-sell in a market increasingly populated with prestige color cartoons. Scrappy’s role in this one nearly mirrors the tendency by this time to place him in a “back seat” capacity. In a setting closely resembling the laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein, Scrappy plays the “Igor” role to a scientist who is attempting to activate a giant robot. After applying the juice, the professor lifts the robot’s arm – and it falls limp against the robot’s side. “It won’t work”, bemoans the Professor, breaking into tears in a corner. Scrappy opens a hatch in the robot’s body, and decides to take a look inside to see what went wrong. He climbs inside the robot’s body chamber. Through an eyepiece, he still sees the Professor crying, and gets an idea to boost his spirits. He begins to monkey with various switches and buttons inside, and manually brings the robot to “life”, making him sit up and stretch as if just awakening. The Professor is so happy he does cartwheels. However, the Professor makes a minor adjustment, tightening a bolt in the robot’s side – which seals the hatch Scrappy entered through. Scrappy yells for the Professor to let him out, but for some reason hollow tin doesn’t seem conducive to sound reverberations, because the Professor never hears him. Nor does the Professor ever seem to wonder where his lab assistant got off to! Scrappy accidentally leans against a convenient lever inside the robot, labeled “wrestling”. Immediately, the robot picks up the Professor over his head, gives him an airplane spin, and throws him across the room. There, the Professor spies a fallen magazine, with advertisement for a wrestling contest with $5,000 prize. The Professor, to Scrappy’s dismay, announces that wrestling will be the robot’s new career. In desperation, Scrappy pulls a lever marked “voice”. A record player plays inside the robot’s head, conveniently including the words “I won’t wrestle”. But his words are of no avail.

Time passes. The robot lifts weights (is this supposed to develop muscle mass? Or just waste a lot of axle grease?), bouts with sparring partners, and leaves a pyramid of defeated partners on the floor. Meanwhile, long suffering Scrappy is still inside. (Let’s hope additional features of the robot not shown include rest room facilities, and a few changes of clothes.) Not even a call from his mama to the missing persons’ bureau! The big fight arrives. The champ grimaces menacingly at the robot while Scrappy peers out through a periscope. The champ sticks his tongue out with a “Nyahhhh!” The robot’s knees knock, and his feet form ice blocks around themselves. The bell sounds. The champ lets out with a “Curley” woo-woo sounding like it was lifted straight from “Punch Drunks”. Scrappy activates a “Knee-action” lever which first sends the robot running – then turns him around to jab a knee right into the champ’s chest. The champ forces the robot into a corner, and socks him in the head. The robot’s head extends on stretched exaggerated neck well outside the ring, as the champ runs around the ring as if circling the bases on a baseball field, and is called “safe” by the referee. But the robot’s head springs back into position, and whaps the champ in the chops. The robot steps hard on a floorboard of the ring, causing a board to come loose and upper-cut the champ in the chin. The champ picks up the robot and tosses him out of the ring as the bell sounds. An electromagnetic crane boom retrieves the robot from the bleachers and replaces him into his proper corner. A crew of repairmen work over the robot during the break, while inside mechanical hands are somehow activated to fan an exhausted Scrappy and revive him with a fresh sip of water. Round 2 begins. The champ tries again his throwing aim to toss the robot out of the ring. But as the robot flips over and over as it whizzes through the air, Scrappy grabs a random lever, reading “Floating Power”. The robot’s path stabilizes as his arms and feet sprout wing surfaces and a tail. He dives and buzzes the champ again and again, and finally crashes on top of him, largely reducing the robot to spare parts, but also knocking out the champ. Similar to “Mickey’s Mechanical Man”, the referee holds up a disconnected arm as “the winner!” In the impact, the hatch to the robot’s interior bursts open, and Scrappy finally crawls out. The Professor, seeing Scrappy reappear and his robot in pieces, puts the blame for the whole affair on Scrappy: “Look what you’ve done to my robot!” As dazed as he is, Scrappy’s not going to take this guff. He picks up the Professor in a wrestling hold, and tosses him out of the ring. He then collapses back against the wreckage, catching again the lever to the robot’s voice box. The robot’s head begins endlessly repeating, “I won’t wrestle”, while, in identical fashion to “Mickey’s Mechanical Man”, his loose parts independently gyrate on the floor all around Scrappy.

The Halloween season will be soon approaching, and we’re planning a few surprising “treats” themed to the season over the next few months – including an early exploration of the superstitious and supernatural set to commemorate the upcoming week of Friday the 13th. So we’ll be departing from the subject of robots for the time being. I anticipate we’ll revisit the topic into the 1940’s and beyond in future posts, at some future time. Till then, be patient, and keep your gears well oiled.


  • The first time I was aware that I saw “Modern Inventions” was when I saw it airing as the Mousekartoon on “The New Mickey Mouse Club”.

    I was literally rolling on the floor with laughter, and I have only done that about 5 times in my life.

    Sadly it was rarely played on the Sunday night Disney show.

  • One of my favorite robot cartoons is “The Auto Clinic” with Krazy Kat. The story’s not the best, but animation and art-deco artwork is a lot of fun!

  • Too bad Grampy never tried his hand at robotics. If any cartoon character of the thirties could have built a robot that wouldn’t turn on its creator or disintegrate when subjected to random stimuli, he was that man.

    But such is the lot of a great inventor. Even Edison’s first robot was a failure. He built it using 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, and consequently it was too slippery to hold on to anything.

  • “Animation is of reasonably high sophistication of the Tin Woodsman, seemingly taking design inspirations both from Mickey’s Mechanical Man and from contemporary costume designs used in the Broadway musical adaptations that had been kicking around for a few decades…”

    Eshbaugh’s Tin Woodman is very closely based on W. W. Denslow’s illustrations for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) down to the high collar, flaring legs and metal spats.

  • “Man of Tin” made a profound impression on me as a kid. The idea of sitting inside a big robot and making it do stuff struck me as incredibly cool. The puzzlement was that the inventor clearly built it to be operated by somebody inside, but somehow forgot that detail. I had it in my head that the goofy “scary” trees in Disney’s “Babes in Toyland” operated on the same principle. It was a disappointment to realize they were essentially costumes.

    Crazy thing about the girl in the Bimbo toon: In the fire hydrant scene she’s a finished Betty Boop, somehow skipping past her first appearances as a jowly dog. Is it possible that the cartoon was not only held back, but had a scene replaced before release? And that replacement scene used a current Betty model sheet?

  • I should point out that the barber chair sequence in “Modern Inventions” was written by future Donald master Carl Barks. This was actual his first written credit which might be why this climatic sequence was two minutes long (in other words, Barks was showing off what he writing talent was capable of).

  • You’re right, Van Buren’s “The Iron Man” isn’t much, but it does have what I believe is the earliest example of the old “saw off the branch, tree falls down” gag I have ever seen.

  • Technocracy was actually A Thing that gained enough adherents and publicity in the 1930s that audiences of the Scrappy cartoon would recognize the reference. I first heard of it as a kid in the 1950s, as for some reason there were some Technocracy pamphlets and decals of their yin/yang-like symbol in the the attic, though nobody in the family was into it at all.

    Wikipedia talks:

  • Another great article as usual. Enjoyed the FLIP cartoon as it and others here reminded me of the similar GUMBY episode in the television age, and the BOSKO cartoon was also very well done. You mentioned “LITTLE BANTAM-WEIGHT” as a cartoon in which the main character has a “trick” up his sleeve? I don’t quite remember what that trick was as I thought I remembered the climactic scene being where the young rooster is knocked unconscious with memories of his parents training him as the referee does the ominous counting. We get the impression that the rooster doesn’t want to let his parents down and, suddenly, springs back to life as if high voltage was sent through his veins, and he shoots like a lightning bolt back into center ring to deal out the same amount of blows and more to the champ, winning the fight in true underdog fashion…or, should I say, “undercock?” Sorry for my choice of words, but you get the idea. This could automatically morph into a series of posts on boxing cartoons with MGM leading the list with at least three beyond “BANTAM-WEIGHT” , two of them being from the CAPTAIN AND THE KIDS series, but I digress, as usual.

    • If you’re from the Los Angeles area and saw “Bantamweight” on Channel 11 (or another station that felt it had to guard the tender eyes of the kiddies), it sounds like you saw the film after the local station made a censorship cut. When Bantam is knocked cold, he collides with the stool in his corner, on which is an open bottle of liniment. The whole bottle pours into his open mouth. This is where the print probably cut back in, as Bantam’s face develops a neon glow, and he suddenly springs to life and fights like a demon. This was his “secret weapon”.

    • From your description, I’m guessing you saw “Bantamweight” on an old Channel 11 broadcast in the late years of its run, or on some other station that also felt it had to guard the eyes of the tiny tots by way of a censorship edit. In the original, when Bantam gets knocked into his corner, he strikes the stool therein, on which is a bottle of liniment, which topples and pours into his open mouth. The print you saw probably resumed with his face developing a fiery neon glow, as he zips back into the ring and fights like a demon. That was his “secret weapon”.

  • For further discussion of robots as well as other science fiction themes in animation, you might take a look at my Animating the Science Fiction Imagination (Oxford University Press, 2018). And I might note that Dbenson is right on target about Betty Boop in The Robot. It was a cartoon that was unfinished and then completed later with a different-looking Betty.

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