Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sidney's Family Tree (1958)

(original title card)

Released December 1958

Directed by Art Bartsch
Supervising Director: Gene Deitch
Story Director: Tom Morrison
Voices: Lionel Wilson
Design: Eli Bauer
Backgrounds: Bill Hilliker
Music Composed and Conducted by Phil Scheib
Animation: Johnny Gent, Vinnie Bell, Mannie Davis, Bob Kuwahara, Ed Donnelly, Jim Tyer, Larry Silverman
Storyboard: Larz Bourne, Eli Bauer
Production Manager: Sparky Schudde
Executive Producer: Bill Weiss

This was the second of the Sidney the Elephant series produced by Terrytoons, and also the last one that had Gene Deitch's involvement (the rest were made after he left to Prague). It was also one of the few Terrytoons to get Oscar nomination (lost to a Bugs Bunny cartoon Knighty Knight Bugs).

Its funny how Sidney was the only Deitch character to continue after his departure. Considering that Bill Weiss wanted kiddy fare for the ever-growing Saturday Morning lineup you'd think he'd use something like Gaston Le Crayon, which featured rather typical cartoon antics not far off from Heckle and Jeckle. Sidney was probably the most psychotic of the cartoon characters, an elephant that suffers from severe neurosis and acts like a kid (or wants to act like a kid). Despite being a talking animal series I wonder if any kids ever got the humor in, say, Sick, Sick Sidney (1958). Nontheless, while Sidney's neurosis was toned down after Deitch's departure, they were still more entertaining than the rather dull Hector Heathcote or Hashimoto cartoons that would eventually came out.

Sidney's Family Tree depicts our hero trying to be adopted by a mother; it was explained in the theme song (edited out in television airing) that Sidney's parents joined the circus and abandoned him. After few unsuccessful tries a caring monkey wife adopts him. Unfortunately her husband doesn't approve and decides to lead him to a trail that would cause his death. As comedy logic explains, his attempts are unsuccessful.

Jim Tyer's animations are, as usual, wonderful and fun to look at. The animation of the girl elephant walking by, and Sidney's reaction upon seeing her, is also nicely done (Anyone know who did that? Johnny Gent?). However, note that the animation of the mother saying "you know how we always wanted a baby" is choppy, while the husband's reaction immediately after is played out smoothly. This is a problem I've noticed in many Terry shorts produced at the time, where there is at least one piece of animation done in choppy fashion. I have no idea if they simply forgot (or ran out of time) to do inbetweens or it was the work of a careless animator.

The film's Oscar-nomination status would later become a plot-point in a Tiny Toons episode called Who Bopped Bugs Bunny, where a jealous Smedley the Elephant get revenge on Bugs for winning the Shloscar.

As per usual, the video below is pan-and-scan television print. To make up for it I included a couple of screenshots from the original CinemaScope print.


Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Nice cartoon, and nice analysis! Sydney's a great character and the Tyer animation is terrific. The plot's kind of thin, and the music is sort of...depressing, but it's still worth seeing. Sydney would have been a powerful character in commercials. Did anyone ever use him for that?

Brubaker said...

I never thought of the music being depressing, although it's pretty out there for a Terrytoon (and to think it's done by Phil Scheib, who worked a Terry's for practically forever)

Terrytoons did do some commercials around this time, mostly featuring Mighty Mouse and Bert & Harry Piels (carried over from the NY branch of UPA), but I've never seen any with Sidney. Who knows, tho...