These have continued to be busy weeks! The new Blu-ray as well as a new DVD title will both be back in the coming weeks from mastering, finally. New projects have sprouted up, with several of them giving the possible opportunity
to do some animation of old characters. As I thought about it, if I had the chance to bring one of these characters back from the cartoon purgatory, I have a much greater desire to animate one of the lesser known characters rather
than a more popular one, with a few exceptions.
So, that said, here are favorite lesser-known characters, in no particular order, and a cartoon to boot for each. For those that are died-in-the wool among you, this is old hat, but for those who haven’t seen as many of the older films, here are some characters that have never been on a tee shirt most likely. Maybe there should be.
Pooch the Pup!
I think poor Pooch is the least remembered of any of Lantz characters, not even memorable enough to ever even put on one of those Lantz publicity stills where he’s surrounded by other characters you’ve mostly never heard of. Pooch really doesn’t deserve such a bad rap- most of them are pretty great little cartoons. This one is my favorite: The Lumber Champ. It’s a more surreal cartoon than the classic Axe Me Another with Popeye. I find Lantz cartoons to be particually sadistic to their characters. This one has trees being shot, and even a character being painfully ripped in half, all in the name of humor. (thanks to Milton Knight for posting)
Toby the Pup!
Maybe Pooch was really trying to buy some of the fans Toby lost when he decided to take a permanent retirement after his first year and a half of stardom. I always wondered what happened to Toby. At least director Dick Heumer when on to make the Scappy cartoons at the same studio. The Toby cartoons seem to be well-received at the time-it’s a bit of a mystery why they stopped the contract, though there are theories…
Halloween is a really fun one, though this copy isn’t quite as fun as it should be. Maybe someday, someone will have enough love for the Tobys that they track them all down and put them out on a DVD. Who knows, crazier things have happened – someone put out all the Cubby Bear cartoons! Funny enough, whoever put this up stuck that drawing from the title card we did in 1988 on this… if I had known someone would do that we would have done a better job!
Kiko the Kangaroo!
I always get the feeling that studios in the 30s would muddle their way through lists of animals to try and do something different. Kiko the Kangaroo doesn’t seem to have ever taken much of a foothold in the public sphere, though there was at least this nifty doll made (at right). Wish there was a Scrappy or Cubby Bear.
Kiko’s first cartoon has him saving Farmer Al Falfa from going to the poky for keeping a “Kangaroo”. The character is mildly entertaining, as are many of the cartoons.
I get the feeling that the studio didn’t want to over manage expectations in the character’s theme song, even as they’re telling you how likable and fun he is. The song talks about all the things he can do, but never mentions what they are.
By the time you get through the first cartoon, you know he’s good at making Farmer Al Falfa mad and beating up policmen, but that’s about it. No wonder they say kids merely ‘like’ him rather than ‘love’ him…. at least with Casper, they TELL you what he does (“he always says ‘hello’…”).
Waffles and Don!
Still the best names for any cartoon characters. The Van Beuren studio seemed bound and determined to not have us remember who they are- they’re not even named in their own cartoons! Here is my favorite of the handful of Aesop’s Fables that feature them: Gypped in Egypt. By the way, there are Waffles and Don dolls…
ANY cartoon that starts out with ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ in the title music has me already hooked. I think some of the Fleischer inkers must’ve moved across the street to VB- some of the scenes are as beautifully inked as the Fleischer films, others not. When Cubby dresses up to rescue Honey (sorry to spoil that) I feel like he needs to tell us he’s Cubby, not so honey knows, but because the designs are so simple that it would be easy for the audience to not know!
Bubble and Squeak!
The short-lived British cartoon series ‘Bubble and Squeak’ features odd stories about a man and his taxi! They are honestly some of the strangest of any cartoon ever made. They’re directed by former Lantz/ Fleischer animator George Moreno.
Here’s a neat newsreel clip showing the making of a Bubble and Squeak. Only four were made.
Was Bubbles and Squeak truly Britain’s first color cartoon? If true, it should be more remembered for that fact alone.
I dunno if this is the “first” per se but “Fox Hunt” (1936) posted a while back on this blog was clearly an earlier example of a British Technicolor cartoon.
Hard to say really. An earlier Technicolor cartoon that was credited as a first for England was John Halas’ “Music Man” from 1938, here’s a blog about it!
Warner Bros’ Foxy!
By the way, here’s Foxy in “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!”:
Pure rubber-hosey Harman-Ising fun!
What about Hunky and Spunky?
Great great stuff!!! I always found it funny (or, for that matter, downright odd) that suicide popped up in SO many toons, even in finales!! Of all subjects!!
As far as obscure 1930s characters go, Wiffle Piffle over at the Fleischers is bizarre enough looking and open to enough weird gags to make most of his limited appearances in the Screen Songs and the Betty Boop shorts fun.
I never understood why this ugly character was ever thought to be funny. Relegating him the their third tier product, THE SCREEN SONGS is an indication of his value if you think about it.
Re Scrappy toys, here’s a link to a photo of a rather creepy plastic Scrappy doll:
Also, scroll down on link below to the April 12, 1935 entry regarding licensing of Scrappy-related merchandise to numerous toymakers:
Mom and Pop mouse appeared in only two Charley Bowers puppet animations. They were bizarre but funny. Wild Oysters even has a catchy theme song.
Paramount had King Ross on staff, that helped. WILD OYSTERS was bought by Paramount for release in THE ANIMATED ANTICS series to fill in for some late deliveries from Fleischer Studios.
Bubble and Squeek are brilliant! I watch this one also! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nur0U1Gcs4I
I HATE Hunky and Spunky; Fleischer cartoons were mostly brilliant, but they had some smellers. And H&S were the smelliest of them all.
I’ll put in my vote for Lantz’s Willie Mouse (aka Baby Face Mouse) from the mid-late 30s. I think there were a grand total of 5, maybe 6 entries. I only remember enjoying them via Castle home-movie 8mm — a half century ago. Never on TV that I know of. I’d love to see ’em again, just to see if they still hold up.
“I HATE Hunky and Spunky”
I happened to watch the “Hunky and Spunky” cartoon called “Always Kickin'” yesterday on the “Somewhere in Dreamland” DVD. I found it annoying… but it didn’t have to be that way. The donkeys don’t talk. Instead, they speak an annoying Donkey Hee-Haw Language that grates against my nerves. Maybe they speak in the later cartoons? It would help.
I do like Famous Studios’ “Yankee Doodle Donkey,” and I did think that Spunky had potential. I figured since it was a series (of which I haven’t seen all of them), that somebody must have liked it at the time.
I remember WILLIE MOUSE, too. I’m puzzled as to why so few were made as well.
Warner Bros. – Chuck Jones’ Three Bears
Terrytoons – John Doormat, James Hound
Lantz – Maw & Paw, Maggie & Sam
Famous/Paramount – Tommy Tortoise & Moe Hare
Columbia/Screen Gems – Fox & Crow
“The first British Technicolor cartoon” ; there were other color British cartoons before this one. The qualifier is the system used!
Here’s an excellent blog entry about Geo. Moreno; friends & acquaintances even meet in the comments! http://bearalley.blogspot.com/2011/02/george-moreno.html
Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry seem to embody the very essence of 1930s cartooning. POTS AND PANS, THE TUBA TOOTER, PIANO TOONERS, and DOUGHNUTS come immediately to mind.
Fox and Crow, though the shorts are finally shown on television after being dormant for decades and Blackie the Lamb, which might’ve been a precursor to Herman since both are portrayed by Arnold Stang using the same voice and shared the same mannerisms
Maybe this doesn’t count, but I was surprised to learn how few Tom and Jerry “musketeer” cartoons were made. I remember them having comic books and a Viewmaster set in my childhood (early 60s) and still think the whole concept of swashbuckling cat and mice is incredibly cool.
Inki (& the Myna Bird) !!!!
When are you gonna give us info about Licensed Project No. 3?
I just noticed that other commenters cite earlier British Technicolor cartoons. Oh, well…the blog entry still goes!
Here is Milt’s article on ‘The Shock of the New’ mentioning two British shorts by Hoppin and Gross- one in color from 1936,
Ahhh….licensed project #3! When I can, I will. Promise.
If I MUST give you guys hints, one involves talking to an international corporation who’s currently licensing division had no idea what I was talking about at first- another involves transferring nitrate negs, ANOTHER involves transferring nitrate negs, and another has been a process of tracking down prints from private collectors and archives around the world. How’s that?
If it’s Roy Rogers movies, you will have at least one (possibly exactly one) customer.
Hi, Mr. Stanchfield:
Any information about “A Conversation with Walter and Gracie Lantz (DVD)”?
Thank you! (THUNDERBEAN rules!!)
I liked ”The Hat” series about a homely little guy who finds &dons a hat which gives him super strength.his name was”Abner”,I think.haven’t seen it since childhood.
That would be Willoughby Wren, from Columbia Screen Gems, whose hat was made from Samson’s hair. They also did some Lil’ Abner cartoons, which may explain your confusion.
We’re scheduled to pick up the finished ‘Conversation with Walter and Gracie’ dvds on Wednesday of next week. If all is well, next Thursday’s column will be about the set. It will preimere at Cinevent in Columbus Ohio the weekend after this one….
Thank you, Mr. Stanchfield!!
I think Tommy Cod from “Educated Fish” and “Small Fry would be a good one. And what about MGM’s Little Cheeser from the Happy Harmonies series?
Aside from a few titles Blackhawk put out on laserdisc and DVD years ago , no one has seen much of Willie Whopper. That might change in the future… Caveman Willie and Jungle Jitters are particularly good. Davy Jones’ Locker is also pretty weird…
Steve – Your next project should be to digitally remaster Bubble and Squeak.
It would be cool if someone could release a “Classic British Animation” set, using materials preserved by the BFI since they clearly have many obscure British cartoon series and films in their collection that haven’t seen the light of day on home video (Sam Small, G-B’s Musical Paintbox, Bonzo, Halas and Batchelor’s wartime Abu propaganda, etc.).
Okay, I’m a little late to the party here, but I had to jump in to say A. how much I enjoy all these suggestions for obscure characters and B. to counter the Hunky and Spunky bashing. A little. It always interests me to see how irritating some fans find these two, as I’ve always thought they were pretty inoffensive and a couple of the better things to come out of the Color Classic series. The ooffy-goofy ‘donkey speak’ and that little theme music always appealed to me, but my favorite aspect is the very eccentric character design Spunky has in some scenes. His head looks bigger than his body! And since he is a quadruped, his head is often seen jutting away rather than on top of his body, giving him a weird unbalanced look. BARNYARD BRAT would be my vote for their very best entry: that one boasts some of that slightly off-kilter Fleischer moralizing (The kid is learning a lesson, right? Or is he?)
Oh. And BUBBLES AND SQUEAK? Just effin’ wackado! Love it!
I have to agree that the HUNKY AND SPUNKY cartoons are certainly a mystery. The mystery is why they made eight of them? What’s more puzzling is how Paramount offered the first HUNKY AND SPUNKY for Oscar nomination up against Disney when Fleischer Studios had better cartoons that this one that year.
Adam, I liked YANKEE DOODLE DONKEY much better than the HUNKY AND SPUNKY parings. Spunky had more potential as a cute, sympathetic character and became that after Famous refashioned him. I know what you mean about the annoying “braying” in ALWAYS KICKIN’. It’s especially annoying when Spunky tries to “sing.” What makes this cartoon more listenable is the musical score. It sounds to me as one of the first done by Winston Sharples. It resembles his Van Beuren arrangements and makes a greater use of orchestra where the Timberg arrangements have more of a smaller band quality.
I meant to add, my thoughts on why the Hunky and Spunky cartoons were made may have been because they appealed more to a rural and Southwestern audience, especially since Paramount did not make westerns as a rule.
Never made westerns as a rule, huh?
I’m the person who posted Bubble and Squeek (the correct spelling) on YouTube, sourced from a sub-marginal VHS compilation of all five British Animation Productions cartoons (four Bubbles and one starring Colonel Rat). You can find them all up there, and recently someone else posted a redrawn (ie. traced in Korea in the 70s) version of one title, “Big City” – which I find pretty astonishing that anyone would bother to do such a thing.
Every so often I check the viewing stats, and the thing I don’t understand is, while the US, UK, Canada and the rest of the English-speaking world account for a lot of hits, almost nobody in Ireland seems to care – do they really hate cartoons on the Emerald Isle? I mean, Malaysia beats them handily!
What about the one-shot WB character Goopy Gear? He only appeared once in his self-titled cartoon in 1932.
How about Beans the Cat and Miss Kitty – and Buddy and Cookie?
In case if some one is wondering what the titles of four Bubble and Squeek cartoons are:
bcdb.com has the following:
The Big City – 1947
Fun Fair – 1947 (posted by Steve above)
Old Manor House – 1948
Home Sweet Home – 1948