11
Aug
10

Where Is the Fun?

I usually like to follow-up my blog posts with a post on a related subject.  However, this time, I’m going to break from my routine.   I plan to switch back to my normal pattern in my next post.

I know advertising icons aren’t necessarily considered cartoon characters, but one thing they have in common is that many of the classic advertising icons of the 1950’s through the 1970’s were animated characters.  Some of the most popular advertising icons have been those for various cereals.  Remember these lines from classic cereal commercials?

“Always after me Lucky Charms.  They’re magically delicious!”

“Silly rabbit!  Trix are for kids!”

“Yahoo!  I’m cukoo for Coca Puffs!”

Those are well-known catch phrases that have appeared over the years in ads for the various General Mills cereals referenced in the above quotes.  Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, cereals for which kids were the target market advertised on Saturday morning cartoon shows.  Many of these ads emphasized the fun of consuming various cereals–i.e., the taste and, perhaps most importantly, the sugar rush.

There is an ad for General Mills cereals on TV these days that breaks from the 60’s and 70’s tradition  of advertising kids’ cereals as fun products.  This ad positions the various General Mills cereals as products that help kids succeed in life.  Lucky the Leprechaun gives a “thumbs up” for a young martial artist, who, presumably partly owes her prowess to eating Lucky Charms for breakfast.  The Trix Rabbit’s pride that eating Trix helped a budding track star and a young swimmer achieve their respective athletic goals seems boundless.  Sonny the cukoo bird marvels that eating Cocoa Puffs apparently helped a prospective scientist win a blue ribbon for creating a volcano at a science fair.

The comments above are not meant, in any way, to disparage students from achieving academic and/or athletic success in school.   However, the fact that this ad emphasizes the apparent academic and athletic  benefits of eating the various General Mills cereals over any potential fun kids could derive from the sugary treats  signals a definite change in 50’s-70’s breakfast food marketing strategies as they relate to society’s youngest consumers.  Such a change in marketing strategies may be for the better, but not necessarily so.

The fact that this ad, featuring products traditionally marketed at kids, stresses benefits that may be more appealing to adults than to children may imply that modern childhood should be less about fun and more about achievement.  Perhaps a decline in the quantity and quality of Saturday morning cartoons is partially responsible for the emphasis–at least, in the ad attached–of the usefulness of eating breakfast cereals over any potential enjoyment kids might get from pouring milk on Lucky Charms, Trix or Cocoa Puffs and digging in. 

14
Jun
10

Another Fine Cartoon Larry Harmon’s Gotten Us Into

In my last post, I talked about the “Bozo the Clown” cartoon which Larry Harmon brought to TV and which was based on the live action Bozo the Clown.  This particular cartoon was not the only one with which Harmon had an association.

According to the web site patfullerton.com, “Larry Harmon obtained the rights to the Laurel and Hardy team name in 1960.”  The web site goes on to say that Harmon’s “initial idea was to make Laurel and Hardy film cartoons and sell team-related merchandise.”

Patfullerton.com says that “Harmon brought Laurel & Hardy cartoons to the small screen in 1966.” According to Ron Kurer’s Toon Tracker web site, Harmon obtained approval from this venture from “Stan and Eda Laurel and from Hardy’s widow (Hardy passed away in 1957), Lucille, in 1961.”   Kurer goes on to say that “Harmon’s company began animating ‘The Laurel and Hardy Comedy Show’ around the same time that producer David L. Wolper contracted with Hanna-Barbera to produce another series following Laurel’s death.”  Wolper and Harmon had a legal entanglement over the cartoons, which resulted in a settlement wherein, in Kurer’s words,  “Harmon gave permission to use the characters in exchange for distribution rights.”

According to patfullerton.com,  the legendary comedy team’s “animated likenesses appeared in 156 cartoons.   Larry Harmon himself voiced Stan and Jim MacGeorge provided Oliver’s vocals.”  The characters crossed over into the “hour long ‘The New Scooby Doo Movies’, in the episode entitled ‘The Ghost of Bigfoot.'”

I have attached the Laurel and Hardy cartoon, “Tale of a Sale”, from YouTube.

13
Jun
10

More Animated Clowning Around

In my last post, I talked about how the Fleischer brothers used the rotoscoping technique in the production of the “Out of the Inkwell” cartoons featuring Koko the Clown.  This post talks about another cartoon clown–one based on a human TV clown.

Bozo the Clown was the host of “The Bozo Show” on WGN in Chicago for many years.  There were also various regional Bozos.  Bear with me for a bit and I promise to get to how this applies to animation.

According to Don Markstein’s Toonopedia web site, “Bozo the Clown didn’t start out as a cartoon character. ”  Rather, according to Markstein, “He began in a series of book and record sets, designed so kids could listen to a story and read it at the same time.”  The first of these, Markstein continues, was ‘Bozo at the Circus’, issued in 1946 by Capitol Records.”  The first actor to voice Bozo and portray him in promotional performances “was Pinto Colvig, who also portrayed Disney’s Goofy.”

Toonepedia points out that, in 1956, “Larry Harmon (one of several actors who portrayed Bozo in one venue or another), along with several partners, bought most rights to the character.”

According to the TV Acres web site, Harmon, “in 1959, produced a series called, ‘Bozo the Clown’ (The World’s Most Famous Clown).”  TV Acres says that the Bozo cartoon “featured Harmon voicing both Bozo and his circus sidekick, Butchy Boy.”  Toonepedia says that “there were 20 five-minute shorts made in 1958 by Jayark Films.”  Beyond the original twenty shorts, Jayark created 136 more from 1959-1962.

I usually like to attach one or more YouTube clips to each of my posts, with the posts relating to the topic I am discussing.  However, I was, unfortunately, unable to find any clips from the “Bozo the Clown” cartoon.  If you don’t remember it, you’ll just have to take my word for it that the cartoon existed.  Trust me.

04
Mar
10

Out of the Rotoscope…uh…Inkwell

In my last entry, I mentioned that Walt Disney envisioned “The Alice Comedies”, with their depiction of a live person in an animated world, as a reversal of the Fleischer Studios “Koko the Clown” in the sense that “Koko” featured an animated character in a real-life setting.   This entry is a more in-depth discussion of the two lives of Koko.

Legendary animator Max Fleischer, whose creations for the big screen include the likes of Betty Boop, Popeye and Superman, created Koko with the help of his brother, Dave, and a device called a rotoscope.   NationMaster.com describes rotoscoping as “a technique where animators trace live action movement, frame by frame, for use in animated films.”  The device used in this process is, therefore, a rotoscope. 

Max Fleischer is credited as the inventor of the rotoscope.   Nationmaster.com says that Dave Fleischer assisted his brother in the creation of Koko the Clown by dressing as a clown.  Max would record Dave’s movements in the clown outfit with the rotoscope., using a “frosted glass panel” to capture the movements.

Nationmaster further states the Fleischers began creating their “Out of the Inkwell” series featuring Koko as the main character “around 1914.”  The Fleischer brothers secured a contract from John Bray Studios in 1919 to begin producing their “Out of the Inkwell” series.   Nationmaster points out that Max Fleischer’s creation usually went off on “an adventure of some sort” or would “pull a prank on his human superior” in the animated features.

Nationaster points out that, eventually, the Fleischers introduced a canine sidekick for Koko named Fitz the Dog.  Fitz later assumed the name of “Bimbo.”  After the creation of Fitz/Bimbo, the series took on the new name of “Inkwell Imps.”  The “Inkwell Imps” series, Nationmastet writes, continued from 1927 until 1929.

Koko would periodically come out of retirement until his last public appearance in 1962 in a series titled, “Out of the Inkwell.”  Ron Kurer, on his Toon Tracker web site,  points out that Hal Seeger–the creator of, among other cartoons, “Batfink” and “Milton the Monster” and a former Fleischer Studios  employee–created the 1962 version of “Out of the Inkwell.”   The characters besides Koko in the 1962 version, according to Kurer, were “Koko’s girlfriend, Kokette, his dog, Kookie, his friend Koko-Nut, his nephew Yo-Yo and his arch rival Mean Moe.”  Larry Storch, who is best known for playing Corporal Agarn on the series “F Troop”, was, Kurer says,, the voice of Koko and Mean Moe.    Beverly Arnold,  Hal Seeger’s wife, was the voice of Kokette.   Kurer goes on to say that Norma MacMillan–best known for proving the voice of Sweet Polly Purebred on “Underdog”–provided other voices for the small screen adaption of “Out of the Inkwell.”

I was unable to find a clip of the Hal Seeger version of “Koko the Clown”, but I have attached a clip from YouTube of the Fleischer Koko short, “Koko’s Earth Control”, from 1928.

13
Feb
10

Yes. Virginia, there is an Alice

It occurrs to me that I’ve been neglecting to mention Disney cartoons in my blog. It’s time I remedied that.

When you think of Alice and Disney, “Alice in Wonderland” probably immediately comes to mind. Yet there is another Alice associated with Disney–a real-life Alice that predated her animated namesake and even predated the debut of some celebrated rodent with an alliterative name.

The “Alice” that is the subject of this post is the star of Disney’s 1920’s creation, “The Alice Comedies.” These were a series of silent shorts featuring a live juvenile actress who interacted with animated characters.

The actress in question was Virginia Davis McGhee, who passed away at the age of 90 in 2009. Disney released the films featuring Virginia under the general title, “Alice in Cartoonland.”

Walt Disney had seen the “Out of the Inkwell” cartoons of Max and Dave Fleischer, which featured animated characters interacting in the real world. The Fleischer brothers’ cartoons gave Disney the idea to create a series of cartoons which reversed the idea behind the “Out of the Inkwell” series by placing a real person in animated settings.

Disney filmed the short “Alice’s Wonderland” featuring Virginia performing in front of a billboard with a white cloth draped over it in a vacant lot. Often, Disney would recruit neighborhood children and other passersby to participate in the productions. The cast and crew often had to hide if the police approached because Disney had no permit to film the features. Disney told Virginia, who had previous modeling and acting experience, which expressions to project in the various scenes. Cartoon artists added animated characters to the scenes after the cameras filmed Virginia’s performances.

Disney originally filmed “The Alice Comedies” in Kansas City, MO, where he was based at the time and where the Davis family lived. Due to financial difficulties he faced in Kansas City, Disney was forced to leave for California and ended up in Hollywood. As it turned out, Virginia Davis faced health problems and doctors advised her parents that she needed to be in a climate warmer and drier than the one in Kansas City. The “warmer, drier climate” in this case turned out to be Hollywood, CA and when the Davises arrived there, Disney continued filming “The Alice Comedies.” An animated cat named Julius started appearing in the shorts with Virginia and the cat proved to be more popular than Virginia. Disney thus proposed a cut in pay for Virginia, which her mother rejected, so Virginia ended her involvement in the cartoons in 1924. It was not until 1928 that Mickey Mouse would make his debut.

Three other actresses played the role of Alice after Virginia’s departure and there were a total of 56 “Alice” shorts. McGhee appeared as Alice in over a dozen of these films. The end of her association with “The Alice Comedies” did not signal the end of Virginia’s involvement with Disney cartoons, however. In 1940, McGhee did voice over work for the film, “Pinocchio.”

I have attached a link to the short, “Alice Gets in Dutch” from Youtube. My reference information comes from an article about Alice Davis McGhee which appeared in the August 21, 2009 edition of The New York Times.

11
Feb
10

Of (Animated) Mice and Cats

Throughout animation history, there have been cartoons which played on the theme of cats and mice being natural adversaries. Animation also gives us at least two examples of cats and mice peacefully coexisting.  Some cartoons featuring cats and mice as enemies had the mice as protagonists and the cats as antagonists, while others reversed the relationship.

Some of the earliest examples of the  feline/rodent conflict in cartoons come in the form of the “Tom and Jerry” shorts. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera created, wrote and directed “Tom and Jerry” cartoons for Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) from 1940 to 1958. In the 1960’s, MGM had outside studios that produced the “Tom and Jerry” cartoons. These included Rembrandt Films (Gene Dietch) from 1961 until 1962 and Sib Tower (Chuck Jones) from 1963 until 1967. Hanna  Barbera produced “Tom and Jerry” cartoons from 1975 until 1977 and from 1990 until 1993, with Filmation Studios handling production  from 1980 until 1982. “Tom and Jerry” cartoons all had one main theme–Tom trying desperately to end Jerry’s existence and the chaos that resulted from the hapless cat’s pursuit of his sworn enemy. Tom was never successful in carrying out his mission due to Jerry’s superior intellect and resourcefulness. Tom and Jerry were usually mute, although Tom spoke on very rare occasions. The duo also accomplished the feat of  winning more Oscars than any other cartoon not a part of the Disney franchise.

Famous Studios came up with their own cat-and-mouse team in 1947 in the form of “Herman and Katnip.” Herman and Katnip made most of their appearances together. Unlike the usually silent Tom and Jerry, Herman and Katnip had the power of speech. Arnold Stang, who would later be the voice of the title character in Hanna Barbera’s “Top Cat”, was the voice of Herman, while Syd Raymond, who voiced Famous Studio characters such as Baby Huey and Buzzy the Crow, was the voice of Katnip. Like their predecessors, Tom and Jerry, Herman and Katnip followed the theme of Katnip constantly pursuing Herman with the intent to maim and exterminate  his rodent co-star.  Much like Tom, Katnip never successfully captured Herman because Herman was always able to outsmart Katnip. To the extent that either Herman or Katnip could be considered a protagonist, the nod would definitely have to go to Herman.

Leonardo Productions got into the cat-and-mouse act in 1963 with their “Klondike Kat” shorts, which were filler cartoons for several other cartoons, most notably “Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales.”  Klondike, in contrast to Tom and Katnip, was the protagonist in his cartoons.  His nemesis was the cheese-stealing mouse Savoir Faire who, according to his catch phrase (which he always uttered in a French accent), was “everywhere.”  Klondike,  stationed at Fort Frazzle, had Major Minor as his commanding officer.  The other main cast member of “Klondike Kat” was Savoir Faire’s canine sidekick, Malemutt.   The vocal cast for “Klondike Kat” included Mort Marshall (Klondike), Sandy Becker (Savoir Faire), and Kenny Delmar (Major Minor).  Malemutt was Male-mute. 

Marshall’s other vocal credits included The Trix Rabbit and Stanley Livingstone in “Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales.”  Becker was a well-known local children’s show host in the New York City area whose other vocal credits included Ruffled Feathers and Sgt. Okey Homa on “Go Go Gophers” (the former was the gopher who spoke in a “language” made up primarily of random sounds) and Mr. Wizard the Lizard from the “Tooter Turtle” shorts on “The King and Odie” (a.k.a., “King Leonardo and His Short Subjects”).   While Delmar was not the voice of Warner Brothers’ Foghorn Leghorn character, his Senator Claghorn character was the inspiration for Foghorn’s voice.  Cartoon characters whom Delmar voiced included Colonel Kit Coyote from “Go Go Gophers” and various characters who appeared on “Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales”,  such as Baldy Eagle, Yakety Yak, The Hunter (a bloodhound who was a detective), Flunky (the aforementioned Stanley Livingstone’s hired hand) and Commander McBragg.

No discussion of the cats-and-mice-as-adversaries theme in cartoons would be complete without mentioning the relationship between Hanna Barbera’s Pixie and Dixie and their feline tormentor, Mr. Jinks.  The three characters were  part of TV’s first successful animated program, “The Huckelberry Hound Show”, in 1958.  Pixie, Dixie, and Mr. Jinks were, obviously, similar to Tom and Jerry, who Hanna and Barbera had created for MGM.  Mr. Jinks hated those meeses to pieces and they often got the better of Mr. Jinks by thinking one step ahead of him.  A couple of voice artist legends, Don Messick and Daws Butler, provided the voices for the characters in this cartoon.  Messick was the voice of Pixie, while Butler voiced both Dixie and Mr. Jinks.

I mentioned earlier that there are two examples of cartoons where mice did not constantly have to defend themselves from cats attacking them.  I should point out it’s possible there are  other cartoons which feature harmonious relationships between cats and mice, but the ones I am going to discuss are the ones that immediately come to mind.  The first of these is “Snooper (the cat) and Blabber (the mouse, sometimes called, “Blabber Mouse”).”  Snooper and Blabber had a detective agency and always wore trench coats and hats.  Daws Butler voiced both characters.  “Snooper and Blabber” was one of the segments on “The Quick Draw McGraw Show” (which also had “Auggie Doggie and Doggie Daddy” as a segment).

It is, perhaps, no accident that “Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse” bore a resemblance to Batman and Robin.  The resemblance likely comes about because cartoonist Bob Kane created both sets of superheroes.  Kane created “Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse” for Trans-Artist Productions in 1960.  Both Courageous and Minute and Batman and Robin had cities they defended (the former kept Empire City safe while the latter kept the peace in Gotham City).  Batman and Robin had the Batmobile and the Batcave; Courageous and Minute had the Catmobile and the Catcave.    Courageous, unlike Batman, did not have a utility belt with a variety of weapons.  However, Courageous had a Catgun which could produce anything he needed to do his duty.   The same person provided the voices of both Courageous and Minute, but just who that person was is speculative.  Some sources say it was Bob McFadden, who provided the voice of both Milton the Monster and Frankenberry.  Others say it was Dal McKennon who, among other characters, was at one time the voice of Gumby.

I have attached clips from YouTube of some of the cartoons mentioned here.  Unfortunately, I could not find a clip of “Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse”–you’ll just have to take my word for it that it existed.  Sources of information for this entry were Don Markstein’s Toonopedia web site and The Internet Movie Database.

26
Dec
09

The One With The Miser Brothers

I admit that “The Year Without a Santa Claus” is my second-favorite animated Christmas special behind “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”   My partiality toward this particular cartoon has everything to do with the presence of the Miser Brothers, the Heat Miser and the Snow Miser. ABC first showed this Rankin-Bass production in 1974,

In the vein of the animated “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, “The Year Without a Santa Claus” follows the theme of Christmas being in jeopardy and someone having to save it.   In this case, it’s up to Mrs. Santa Claus and Santa’s two main elves, Jingle and Jangle, to try to rescue the Yuletide holiday when Santa falls ill and, under the advice of his doctor, issues a press release saying that Christmas has been cancelled for the year.  This suits Santa just fine since he thinks no one cares about Christmas anymore, anyway.

After Santa’s press release, Mrs. Claus asks Jingle and Jangle to travel from the North Pole to a town where they can find some Christmas cheer.  Jingle and Jangle, along with Santa’s reindeer Vixen, happen upon Southtown USA where  a young boy named Ignatius Thistlewhite is trying to revive a Christmas festival.    Jingle and Jangle encounter various problems in their efforts, not the least of which is the presence of the Heat Miser and the Heat Miser’s half-brother, the Snow Miser.

Santa eventually travels to Southtown to try and help Jingle, Jangle and Vixen (who, by now, is imprisoned in the dog pound and sick due to exposure to the heat of Southtown).  While in Southtown, Santa comes across Ignatius and his parents, who invite him into their home for some tea in an effort to help Santa get over his cold.   The Thistlewhites don’t know the man at their door is Santa Claus because he uses an assumed name.  Ignatius tells Santa that he has come across Jingle, Jangle and Vixen.   Santa is able to track down Jingle and Jangle, who have been unable to get Vixen out of the dog pound.  Santa, Jingle and Jangle  travel to the office of Southtown’s mayor and tell him their story.  The mayor says  he will believe their story only if they can make it snow in Southtown.   When Santa leaves Southtown to return Vixen to the North Pole, Jingle and Jangle call Mrs. Claus  and tell her what’s going on.  Mrs. Claus, Jingle, Jangle and Ignatius travel to see the Snow Miser, who agrees to making it snow in Southtown if his half-brother, the Heat Miser, will allow it.

Mrs. Claus and the others travel to Southtown to discuss their proposal with the Heat Miser.   Although he doesn’t want to, the Heat Miser goes along with the idea–if the Snow Miser will, in turn, allow the North Pole to experience one warm day. 

In an effort to secure the cooperation of the Misers with one another, Mrs. Claus calls on their mother, Mother Nature, who uses her influence to get her sons to cooperate so that Christmas can resume.   When it snows in Southtown, Santa decides to declare the resumption of Christmas.

Among the voice artists in “The Year Without a Santa Claus” were Shirley Booth (Mrs. Claus), Mickey Rooney (Santa Claus), Dick Shawn (The Snow Miser), George S. Irving (The Heat Miser) and Rhoda Mann (Mother Nature).  I have attached a YouTube video which features the musical performances of the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser.  The sources of my information for this entry were the Big Cartoon Database and the Christmas Specials Wiki.