Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Portfolio

I created a second blog for the purpose of showcasing my cartoon portfolio. Nothing much, but if you're interested...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Bridge Grows in Brooklyn

Alot of the Paramount cartoons made under Culhane reflected the 1960s counter-culture movement in some ways. To give an example, one of the Honey Halfwitch cartoons made under his reign featured Honey and Cousin Maggie having to disguise themselves as humans so they can go to the city and have their magic broom repaired. They do so by dressing up as hippies!

Then there's this: A Bridge Grows in Brooklyn (1967). A construction worker that keeps getting distracted by a flower and falls in love with it? Yep, it's a 1960s cartoon alright.

And it's one of my favorites.

It was directed by Chuck Harriton, who has his own directorial quirks. Cartoons by him tend to have faster-pacing, giving energy to the otherwise limited animation. Doug Crane and Nick Tafuri did a wonderful job animating under his direction.

Sorry about the video quality. This was captured from my 16mm print being projected on the wall.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Nudnik

Paramount, in need of a new cartoon star, decided to distribute the Nudnik films alongside their own studio's cartoons in the 1965-67 period.

Nudnik, produced by Rembrandt Films and directed by Gene Deitch in Prague, was a pantomime cartoon about a scrappy hobo who tries to do good, only for his extreme bad luck to backfire on him. The series in a way is a callback to the silent comedies, complete with slapstick action not far off from Charlie Chaplin's Tramp character and the rag-time music playing in the background (in the pilot Here's Nudnik a jazz music was used instead).

Deitch had high hopes for Nudnik, considering them to be his favorite of all the characters he created. Unfortunately they came out at a bad time, literally right when Paramount decided to stop distributing cartoons to theaters. 13 cartoons were produced and that was it...

...until the early 1990s, when the cartoons were packaged into a half-hour show (mixed in with other cartoons Rembrandt Films owned) and syndicated worldwide by Sunbow as Gene Deitch presents The Nudnik Show.

The theme song is "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" by Harry Barris, Ted Koehler, and Billy Moll.



Thursday, September 23, 2010

Honey Halfwitch

I have a soft spot for the Honey Halfwitch cartoons. The main character is bland and a strong reminiscent of the 1940s kiddy cartoon characters with limited 1960s animation. On the other hand they did have Stanley the Sorcerer, probably the only character in the series with actual personality. The later re-imagining by Chuck Harriton and Shamus Culhane (with the new design by Howard Beckerman) are actually pretty funny.


Before and After

Not surprising, considering Howard Post's background in comic books, Honey Halfwitch feels like it was originally written for Harvey Comics. I'm surprised they didn't buy the rights like they did with all the other Famous Studios characters.

From Nags to Witches (1966)


Trick or Cheat (1966)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Swifty and Shorty

When it comes to the cartoons produced under Seymour Kneitel's reign at Paramount's animation studio, the best were either the Irv Spector-penned cartoons or Swifty and Shorty, created and voiced by comedian Eddie Lawrence (aka "The Old Philosopher"). The funny voice acting and clever writing made the series stand out from others, and it's a darn shame that its so obscure.

12 shorts were made under Kneitel, all released in 1964; Howard Post made four more in the following year. By then Lawrence had stopped doing the voices and was replaced by Bradley Bolke and Jack Mercer, voicing Swifty and Shorty respectively.

These two are from Post's reign. (Click here for the Kneitel/Lawrence short)

Ocean Bruise (1965)
This one has some similarities to the Gene Deitch Tom and Jerry short Dickie Moe. Not much of a coincidence, since both cartoons are written by Eli Bauer.



Getting Ahead (1965)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sick Transit (1966)

One thing I find interesting about the 1960s Paramount cartoons are the writers involved. In an attempt to find new ideas they got just about anyone from standup comedians (Eddie Lawrence) to print cartoonists to contribute stories for the struggling animation studio. So you have a lot of freelance writers walking in at the time.

Sick Transit, one of those "chase" cartoons, featured three (!) writers credited: the film's director, Howard Post, Frank Ridgeway and Bud Sagendorf. William B. Pattengill animated it.

Bud Sagendorf made his mark as an assistant to Elzie Segar on Popeye, eventually taking over the strip in the 1960s. As far as I know, this is Bud's only animation work.

Frank Ridgeway did a strip called Mr. Abernathy for King Features, which ran from 1957 until his death in 1994. Ridgeway did have some animation experience after this short; he was a writer in several Saturday Morning shows produced by Hanna-Barbera and DiC in the '70s and '80s.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Looka Me

Jerry Beck sent some 1960s Paramount cartoons to me this week. Lots of neat finds there, so expect some highlights on this blog.

Under Howard Post's reign, the only character to take off, and I use that term loosely, was Honey Halfwitch, which continued into Shamus Culhane's reign the following year (with some changes, of course).

The following is a song from the pilot film Poor Little Witch Girl (1965), which was released as a Modern Madcap and the character being simply known as Halfwitch.

The copyright database lists the song as "Looka Me" with credits to Howard Post (words) and Winston Sharples (music) under the Famous Music Corporation label. Shari Lewis does the voice and singing, with the character having a stronger British accent than in subsequent cartoons.

If you thought the theme song was horrible, then wait 'til you hear this!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cagey Business (1965)

Seymour Kneitel was a producer and creative director of Famous Studios (later Paramount Cartoon Studio) until he suddenly died from heart attack in 1964 at the age of 56. Comic book cartoonist Howard Post, despite having very little animation experience, was hired as his replacement.

The 1960s was an interesting time for Paramount's cartoon division because by then they sold off all their star characters (Casper, Little Audrey, Herman and Katnip) to Harvey Comics, meaning that they had no characters to go to in the sixties. Basically just about anything they produced in the sixties starred nothing but one-shot characters. There were a few recurring characters at that time, such as The Cat, Swifty & Shorty, and Sir Blur, but all were short-lived and didn't leave a lasting mark.

Paramount was desperate to find a new star cartoon character and Howard Post tried many during his short tenure. Among the characters he created were Boobie Baboon, Honey Halfwitch (continued into the Culhane era), and Quacky Whack (a blatent Daffy Duck ripoff). Alas, Post's cartoons didn't leave any mark although there were some good attempts such as The Itch and the Swifty & Shorty cartoon Les Boys (both 1965).

Cagey Business (1965), written and animated by long-time staff Isadore Klein, features a character named Hilarie the Lion. It's not particularly a good cartoon, and not the most well-drawn, but there's some charm to it. I like the Zookeeper's limited-animation walk cycle and the neurotic-sounding narrator gives it a nice touch. I think Bob McFadden did all the voices here.


Cagey Business (Paramount, 1965)
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bakshi continued

When I was in LA I met some artists who worked on Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Mouse show. One of them described Bakshi's own animation to me as "strange".

This is Bakshi's animation from the Sad Cat cartoon I posted below. Needless to say, he's not off the mark on the strangeness part.



Ralph's no Jim Tyer, but I find this funny anyway.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ralph Bakshi and Sad Cat

Ralph Bakshi is an animation icon known for adult-oriented cartoons he directed in the 1970s such as Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic. Of course, like all great cartoonists one has to start somewhere in a lowly position. In Bakshi's case he entered the field at Terrytoons as a cel painter. Within 10 years Bakshi was promoted assistant animator, then animator, and finally a director.

Bakshi dipped his toe in directing on the made-for-TV Deputy Dawg but his first major work as a director was on a forgotten character called Sad Cat.

Leonard Maltin described Sad Cat in Of Mice and Magic as "the dreariest character ever created." Can't say he's far off; the character's name is very fitting. The premise of the series is that he's in a Cinderella situation where Sad Cat has to take care of his two mean brothers Letimore and Fenimore. Like Cinderella, he has a godmother-like figure. In the first five cartoons (directed by Bakshi) that character was Gadmouse, the apprentice fairy. However, on the final eight cartoons (directed by Art Bartsch, as Bakshi had left the studio), Sad Cat was instead aided by his "Super Ego", a musculer, tougher version of himself. Bob McFadden voiced all the characters.

Bakshi was never satisfied with how the director function was done at Terrytoons. By then directors had little control over the storyboards and voice tracks (Tom Morrison handled both). According to Maltin, the Terry directors would not even know what the cartoon is about until after the voices were recorded. Bakshi, wanting to leave a mark on his cartoons, would re-cut the soundtrack and retime it. This may have something to do with the rather off-beat timing style the cartoons he directed for the studio had.

Below is the first Sad Cat cartoon, Gadmouse the Apprentice Good Fairy, directed and animated by Bakshi.


Gadmouse the Apprentice Good Fairy (Terrytoons, 1965)
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The following is a much later entry, directed by Art Bartsch, featuring Sad Cat's super ego.


All Teed Off
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Little Boa Peep (1974)

With the subject on Blue Racer, I'd thought I write about another one. This one has an interesting history.

You may be aware that cartoons made for television today are animated overseas, usually in places like South Korea. Well, the idea of outsourcing animation is as old as TV cartoons itself. The first major cartoon to be subcontracted is probably Rocky & Bullwinkle from Jay Ward, which was farmed out to Mexico. As the years went by other studios followed pursuit, including King Features, which farmed out animation to various studios, some in the States.

Well, even theatrical cartoons (or what was left at the time) also went through the same thing, although not as extreme as in television. Many are aware of the Tom and Jerry cartoons directed by Gene Deitch in Prague. In addition, DePatie-Freleng decided to give it a shot in the '70s.

By then, DFE was one of the three studios making cartoons for Saturday Morning (alongside Filmation and Hanna-Barbera). Unlike the other two they were also producing theatrical cartoons at the same time. No doubt additional help was needed to compensate the big workload, so the idea of outsourcing attracted attention to David DePatie.

DFE have subcontracted before. When the studio was making new Looney Tunes shorts for Warner Bros. they farmed out eleven Road Runner cartoons to Format Films, another Hollywood-based studio. In the 1970s they decided to farm out production again, this time to overseas. For some reason, however, they decided to outsource their theatrical products instead, while the TV shows were being produced in-house.

In the end two Blue Racers and four Hoot Kloots were animated overseas. Most of those cartoons were done by Pegbar Productions in Spain, under Bob Balser. Filmgraphics in Australia handled the Blue Racer cartoon Aches and Snakes and one unknown studio did Hoot Kloot's Strange on the Range.

Its apparent that the low-quality animation of these cartoons led to DFE shutting down future outsourcing plans. David Deneen, who directed Aches in Australia, said there were plans to have his studio do some Pink Panther shorts but the idea was canceled after the domestic producers saw the resulting cartoon he did. Art Leonardi claims that United Artists forced DFE to never outsource again.

I think there's some truth to the above claims. Bob Balser's lone Blue Racer short (and ultimately the final cartoon featuring the character), Little Boa Peep, has some of the ugliest animation ever produced, making the cookie-cutter Saturday Morning cartoons made at the time look like masterpieces. The fact that this was theatrically distributed makes it even more outrageous. Well, if you can stomach it here it is.

Oh, and that's Paul Winchell doing uncredited voices of the owl, an ant, and the caterpillar.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Freeze a Jolly Good Fellow (1973)

The Blue Racer is something of a guilty pleasure for me. It was a series produced by DePatie-Freleng that was theatrically released from 1972 to '74, long after television became the dominant medium for cartoons. In fact, after Walter Lantz shut down in 1972 DFE became the only major studio making theatrical cartoons.

While they made late in the theatrical era (really, it was pretty much over by then) Blue Racer never had much TV airtime in the States, although its a different story with international broadcasts. This may stem from the fact that early shorts featured the snake chasing after the Japanese Beetle, whose face is a rather politically-incorrect Japanese caricature seen in many World War II cartoons.

Halfway through the series the Beetle was dropped from the films. Later cartoons had the Racer in situations like trying to win back his girlfriend, encountering a pair of leprechauns, and adopting a baby dragon. In two cartoons they tried to get the snake back to his roots by having him chase a bee instead.

Despite being a minor part of the studio's history David H. DePatie once said in an interview that The Blue Racer was one of his favorites, alongside the Pink Panther, The Ant and the Aardvark, and the Tijuana Toads.

This is one of those later cartoons, where the Racer encounters a bear who talks like W.C. Fields. Fields (1880-1946) was caricatured in cartoons even into the sixties, with the likes of Merlin the Magic Mouse from Warner Bros. and Stanley the Sorcerer from Paramount's Honey Halfwitch. In addition, Larsen E. Pettifogger still appears in comic strip Wizard of Id.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Candlestick


One thing I notice in old cartoons is that whenever a character is using a phone, it's always a candlestick phone. You may be familiar with it, the kind where its upright, with the speaker on top of the stand and a separate receiver connected only by the wire.

Apparently animators really loved these phones, because they continued to appear in cartoons all the way into the early 1970s and sometimes beyond. The real-life phones, meanwhile, became obsolete in the early 1930s (modern "retro" phones are still being made with push-button dials).

Why is it that they appeared to be the cartoon symbol for phones several decades after they were discontinued? Hard to say. One could speculate that they're just plain funny looking. They can be useful for some visual gags; there were a few cartoons where a character hides a stick of dynamite in one of these phones. One person suggested to me that they're just easier to draw (I never found that to be the case, alas. Thank god for cell phones).

Whatever the reason, candlestick phones, we salute you.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Note

My 16mm lists have been updated. See links on the side.