February 8, 2024 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Why This Is a Golden Age of Film (and Cartoon) Restoration

Now, I know I’ve touched on this stuff before but I thought it was a good time to think about some of these things since this year may prove to be a pretty good one in the world of old cartoons.

First, briefly, on the Thunderbean front:

We’re putting the finishing touches on Mid-Century Modern 3 Blu-ray right now, and I’m pretty thrilled with how it’s looking. I showed a small piece to one of my colleagues at the college today. Something I do rarely, and was really smiling seeing how nice they look. We’ll send the set to replication as soon as we can (so we can spend all our time on the Rainbow Parade 2 and Lou Bunin sets). We’re trying to get to the point of a new title being released each month, and we’re off to a good start. Lots of special discs are getting shipped this month, with more next— it’s nice to catch up. There’s also a new set at the

Who would have thought that digital-age technology would actually be the thing that makes older things that had long been considered obsolete and not worth spending anything on more popular?

I remember the TV repairman that would come to our house, pull our not-very-old console Television out and do another tube replacement or other repair. It wasn’t that log in-between visits, and I especially liked his Popeye tattoo. He had served in Vietnam in the late 60s, specializing in communications. He had a Popeye Tattoo on his upper arm (that famous punching pose), and one of the times he repaired the TV (when I was probably about four) he turned the TV on and a Fleischer Popeye was on, my favorite.

In 2004, I was sitting in Ottawa during the Ottawa Animation Festival, with Jerry Beck after a book signing event, getting burgers or something, and he told me the Fleischer Popeyes were finally going to get a DVD release. There had been a long-standing problem with rights related to the cartoons between Warners and King Features that had finally been hammered out at that point, and I was excited that, soon after, I was going to be able to lend a hand to the project. I remember thinking how funny it was that something so seemingly little had prevented a good release of these cartoons.

Now we’re nearly twenty years past that time. A lot of things have changed, but some things have stayed pretty similar in terms of how the system works related to certain films or series of films (like cartoons) being released in physical media. Quite honestly, if you would have told me back then that 20 years later this film or that *still* wouldn’t have a proper release, I wouldn’t be that surprised. But, I wouldn’t have guessed that streaming would actually allow an even better shot at physical media releases of things that couldn’t get released when physical media was much, much more popular with the general public. The mix of technology, streaming possibilities for restored material, the increase in the quality and availability of scanning and the increased niche market is a pretty special mix that is allowing for both new players in the field as well as a reconsideration of how to find value in the older libraries.

Without looking a gift horse in the mouth at this point in the timeline of all this, I still don’t think it’s happening fast enough. Part of it is the general organization and historical distribution and broadcasting models. Some is the lack of imagination of what could actually work verses both the owner’s and archives usual business models.

One of the brightest things that has happened in this period is an increase in boutique film restoration and releasing companies. I’m happy to have been among these (going back a bunch of years now) but even happier when other small producers find success by loving what they do and putting all the quality they are able to get into often small releases. Some of these small companies have been able to grow into bigger entities through long associations, like Shout! Factory or Kino. My little venture is bigger than I ever really thought it could be, honestly, and now much of my concentration is continual thoughts on what is next.

Eric Grayson, a small DVD/Blu-ray producer, presenter, writer and film historian (plus a wizard of odd techniques in film restoration!) shared a great article about boutique distributors this week, from IndieWire. After spending many years on, I wonder why it took them a while to notice — but it’s also neat to see these niche market get more attention.

Speaking of boutique projects, Eric is also nearly done with his biggest project to date, the restoration of the 1929 serial King of the Kongo. He’s having a showing (with star Boris Karloff’s daughter, Sara) in Indianapolis, Indiana on March 9th. Information is here.

So, what does this mean for the future of so many of these cartoon series we all *still* want to see in good quality? It means there is a market, beyond the small but mighty group that sees the things here- and that group makes up enough of a market share to keep some of these tiny companies around, but more so, it shows other small companies as well as the larger studios that there is some interest in at least entertaining licensing films even to smaller distributors.

Since streaming has allowed less of a footprint for each channel compared to cable, it’s made a smaller market for each ‘channel’ more acceptable, allowing for additional diversity. So, while it’s limited some of the cable market for older materials, in some ways it has also increased that market by helping increase the popularity of things like MeTV and other broadcasting and streaming outlets. The success of cartoons on MeTV is certainly a nice development.

My great hope is, that as the sound era of films start to be in the public domain, that we’ll have an increase in streaming *and* physical media from the studios since some market, even small, may still be worth the effort in the aggregate. We’ll see of course, but I’ve never been more hopeful.

Even though we are, collectively, a small group, what we do or say is often seen by others outside the small group. So, spread the word when there’s news, review things that are shown, and let others know about all this stuff. We all have a lot of power in doing a few small things. Often these small reviews are seen by the bigger companies and have real world implications. That said, thanks everyone for your mentions of the stuff we’ve done, and spread the word on all the cool things you see.

Have a good week everyone!


  • Some readers will wander around in a perpetual daze this week without a youtube cartoon referral.

    When DVD first emerged in Australia, the major studios held onto their product, while the independent labels had to focus primarily on public domain.

    As the studios began to lose interest, more and more of their product began to be distributed by the independent labels.

    Eventually studios like Paramount will decide (unless it affects their tax writeoffs) that a few nickels and dimes coming in from leasing out their Terrytoons library to the smaller labels will assist in offsetting the loss of some of their other ventures.

  • I am happy that so many of my favorite cartoons are now in my collection, thanks to the big companies that own them, or in very few cases, to those who have taken over and are releasing them privately or publicly.

    Some in my collection are bootlegs, but I stress to anyone who is worried, if items were legitimately released, I would be the first one to purchase with glee! The problem with things falling into the public domain is only this: there will be people fighting over the legal right to put out good quality videos. I don’t know if there’s actually illegal right when it comes to the public domain, but anyone who puts out something in high-quality, I highly support, and Steve, you are definitely one of those! I wish you and your tiny staff a great deal of good luck and high, regarded progress on many of our classic favorites.

    I also look forward to more of those special disks, and I have put in my pre-orders for many of them. These are getting better and better and better with each new year. Thank you so much for everything you do. I also look forward to stuff that the big companies that own major product are going to issue this year. I hope other video companies left (and we know who these are) change their mind about never releasing physical product again on their classic libraries.

    There is always a market out there; even though people like me have been collecting for years, I look forward to future releases around the same films in hopes, that the new addition is even better! Here’s to the future!

    • If something is in the public domain, by definition anyone can put it out in any quality they choose. The only legal battles I can think of would involve trademarked characters.

  • Just got the Flip the Frog and Van Beuren Tom & Jerry sets – THANK YOU, Steve and staff at Thunderbean!

  • Keeping my fingers crossed that one of these boutique labels will restore and/or release Gerald Potterton’s “Tiki Tiki” (1970).

  • Fingers crossed on the Bunin Alice in Wonderland. I have anxiety thinking my pre-order was misplaced or something.

  • Steve, according to the description on your new special set “Public Domain Mouse Adventures”, the lost cartoon “Uncle Walt” is set to be featured. Is really going to be or do you actually mean “Mickey Mouse in Vietnam” and you accidently wrote “Uncle Walt”. If it’s true, then that means that’s a big find us Lost Media enthusiasts

    Also, what happened to your “Buster Bear” original camera negative scan? I remember that you posted about it 7 years ago and said that you would have more details about it soon, but I haven’t seen any updates from it since then.

  • On question 1: Yes. It is.

    On question 2: Buster has been coming up a lot lately. Sorry to not follow through on him better. Maybe sometime soon to end the mystery.

  • Steve is a very, very busy man. Sometimes it can take MONTHS – if not more – for him to respond to e-mails or phone calls … if not longer! Be patient, be patient! I’ve known him for over 35 years … he’s got a “lot on his plate”!

  • On a serious note, I agree SOMEWHAT with Steve that this is a “Golden Age of Film (and Cartoon) Restoration” – but so many films have been lost due to nitrate film decomposition or “vinegar rot” – or (almost as bad) locked into film vaults and not shown because of “Political Correctness” from a liberal “woke” mindset and – sometimes” from the “Right Wing” as well. Heck, Mark Twain was battling censorship of his books well over a hundred years ago!

    For better or for worse, we live in a “Capitalistic System.” It’s better than complete “Socialism,” “Marxism” or “Facism,” but we know that this so-called “Golden Age” of cartoon restoration is fueled by how much MONEY can be made from people who want to see this material made public – or continue to be enjoyed by the public. Hopefully, there will be enough of “Us” out there to work like crazy to keep animation history alive for new fans to enjoy!

  • Jerry Beck and others have written here many times about how Paramount has been sitting on the Fox Terrytoons (Mighty Mouse, Heckle & Jeckle among others) for, literally, dozens of years now. It’s sickening. But other studios are still bringing out old classic cartoon stuff on DVD, such as, thank goodness, Warner Bros.

    Folks like Stanchfield, Komorowski, and Stathes et al. can only do so much. But, oh! Some of the wonderful stuff they do and will do!

    I’m just glad McKimson’s cartoon “Corn Plastered” was released on DVD. Hah!

  • You’d think that the studios would have learned their lesson after having disposed of their content hastily to TV distributors in the 1950s rather than keeping tabs on their own product and making lease deals which would have made them more money in the long run while maintaining the print quality of the films themselves. Instead, three generations grew up watching cheap TV prints until even those disappeared as the distributors went out of business.

    It makes little to no sense for the studios, who in recent decades managed to acquire or re-acquire rights to the product (the way Universal got Harveytoons, Paramount Terrytoons, and Warner Bros. Ted Turner’s plunder), to sit on it, particularly when there are entities like Thunderbean that will happily restore items like the old cartoons, and a waiting audience. Eventually it will work itself out a few decades from now as the films enter public domain; then it’s open season, and Thunderbean will be right there. But if only the studios could be persuaded to make a deal now.

  • International individual participation in this movement is crucial. I mean, what are the odds of finding the lost original title cards for a Tom and Jerry cartoon, in CHILE! And I even found posts of someone picking up some obscure Looney Tunes film strips in a remote old refinery in CHINA! The preservation of a region’s cartoon heritage might just be possible thanks to a random find in the opposite corner of the world!

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