Sunday, March 25, 2007

DVD Review - The Little King (R0 US - Thunderbean)

ADDITIONAL (2nd April 2006): Please bear in mind that this review is of a pre-release DVD. Thunderbean's Steve Stanchfield has informed me that there will be a revised version with a "ton of extras" ready for general release. I'll post an updated version of this review in the future, but I've already found some really good things about this preview DVD that may tempt you to consider getting this when it's released. Enjoy!

The Little King was first created by newspaper cartoonist Otto Soglow, which appeared on a New York newspaper in 1931. The comic strip proved to be popular, and it did caught the eye of the Van Beuren studio, who were keen to upgrade their cartoons to compete with other studios. But in order to test out if Soglow’s characters can be transferred smoothly onto the big screen, they made two cartoons using Soglow’s other creation, Sentinel Louey. The cartoons did prove moderately successful, and so the Little King series started with "The Fatal Note" (released 1933). Unfortunately, the series only lasted one year until Burt Gillet arrived, and discarded the series along with the other cartoons/characters in one fell swoop. However, the child-like monarch did reappear in one Betty Boop cartoon, and the comic strip itself lasted right until Soglow’s death in 1975.

I’ve never read any of the Little King comic strips, so I can’t really comment on how successful the Van Beuren studio transferred the characterisations and humour of the comic strip onto the big screen. All I know is that the strips consists of dialogue-free gags, and the cartoons are mostly performed without speech (the main character did speak in two cartoons in this collection). However, the cartoons didn’t leave much of an impression to the viewing public, but they still have the Van Beuren brand of humour, with surrealism aplenty and loads of bizarre gags (watch out for a couple of 'dog-wetting' scenes in "The Fatal Note", like the screenshot below). Also, the animation did start to improve by this point (Jim Tyer’s animation worked well with Soglow’s character design), and a few layouts (including the spiral staircase scenes) are particularly impressive.

If you watched any of the Thunderbean DVD releases, you know that they strive to present these cartoons in the best possible condition, and this release is no exception. According to the on-screen liner notes, they used up to four different source materials per cartoon, and when you take the superior digital transfers of the material into account, you will have a very hard time finding these cartoons in a more superior version than what you will find on this DVD! Thunderbean may not have the luxury of having the same restoration budget as the Disney or Looney Tunes shorts, but the end result is still very impressive – the cartoons look (and sound) sharper and cleaner than what you might expect them to be. However, the Betty Boop cartoon included in this collection has been DVNRed, but I have seen this version on other collections and may be the only best-quality copy available. As always, if any cartoon is only available as a re-titled home-movie version, the original titles are re-created as close as is possible. Oddly enough, the soundtracks of the two Sentinel Louey cartoons and "Sultan Pepper" are presented in a PCM format, while the others are in Dolby Digital, but I can't tell the difference in quality.

What is fascinating to know is that many of the cartoons have been reassembled using the British prints (in which some were edited to remove any gags that may prove tasteless to the British viewers), and in fact one of them had an original Radio Pictures opening ident (it is not known if this was included on domestic prints). This ident appears on the first two Little King cartoons, and a handful of the shorts have their original British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) boards intact (these are more famous worldwide than I thought).

As the cartoons will not be well known to the general public, it will be understandable if this DVD contains hardly any extras. However, we do get fascinating on-screen notes of the recovery & restoration of all the Little King and Sentinel Louey cartoons, and an absorbing essay of Jim Tyer’s animation in these shorts. Excellent stuff!

All in all, Thunderbean has yet again come up with a DVD that will be very hard to beat, and one that is truly essential to any classic animation buff. It is reassuring to know that they (and other similar companies, like Inkwell Images) can produce DVDs of public-domain cartoons with a lot of time & love, rather than treating it as a quick-buck, shoddy product. With every DVD Thunderbean produces, the future of these cruelly-neglected cartoons looks a lot brighter. Recommended.
At the time of writing, no general release date has been confirmed. If you like to find out where or when you can purchase this DVD, I suggest contacting Thunderbean via their website (

On a side note, I been researching the BBFC classifications of these cartoons on their website. Although they don't offer much information, I have discovered that "The Fatal Note" & "A Royal Good Time" had some scenes cut in order to get a U classification (it's easy to spot the cut scenes on the former), while "Sultan Pepper" was rejected (the shooting and bedroom scenes must have been considered too much a strong brew)! The cartoons I couldn't find may have been either submitted under alternative titles, lost records, or were never submitted at all. Below are links to each cartoon on the BBFC website:

A.M. to P.M.
A Dizzy Day
The Fatal Note
On The Pan
Sultan Pepper
A Royal Good Time
Cactus King
Betty Boop & The Little King

Images (C) Thunderbean Animation, LLC
Text (C) Lee Glover. Not to be copied without permission.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Rare Columbia Cartoon Titles - Phantasies/Fables

Hi everyone, and welcome to my last Columbia Cartoon Titles post.

When the Krazy Kat and Scrappy cartoons were becoming out of favour with cinemagoers in 1939, the Screen Gems studio decided to bring in two B&W series, the Phantasies and Fables (there weren't much difference between the two), which were initially a mix of one-shot and Krazy/Scrappy cartoons (who both had star billing on the opening titles).

The first Phantasy to be released was Scrappy's The Charm Bracelet (released 1st September 1939), but the following opening title was taken from the one-shot (hence no character billing) The Wallflower (3rd July 1941), the last cartoon to have this title:

The following endcap was used from the The Charm Bracelet, right up until As The Fly Flies (17th November 1944):

The first Fable was Krazy Kat's Little Lost Sheep (6th October 1939), but the following screenshot were taken from Mouse Meets Lion (25th October 1940):

The closing title was used throughout the Fables series, right until its swansong cartoon The Bulldog & The Baby (3rd July 1942):

At the start of 1941, the Proud Lady also appears at the start, and the Phantasies/Fables title cards were slightly amended to reflect this. These series of titles were used right until the end of Frank Tashlin's reign in 1942 (towards the end, the credits were moved to the cartoon title):

When Dave Fleischer took over as producer in 1942, the Fables series was dropped, and a new set of Phantasies opening titles appeared in The Gullible Canary (18th September 1942). The titles, although in B&W, are in the same style as the Color Rhapsodies:

The first handful of shorts have their story titles incorporated into the opening titles, while later ones will have their own individual style:

Later, in 1943, another new set of Phantasies titles was introduced, starting with Dizzy Newsreel (27th August 1943). It is assumed that the Color Rhapsodies had similar-looking titles (no original copies exists to confirm this):

Like the previous set, several of the earlier cartoons have their story titles incorporated into the opening titles:
In 1945, sometime after Dave Fleischer left, the Screen Gems studio decided to scrap the Proud Lady in its opening and closing titles. The first Proud Lady-free Phantasy is Goofy News Views (27th April 1945), in which the cartoon starts immediately with the 1943 Phantasies title, and finishes with a plain-looking endcap below:

Later that year, the last set of new B&W Phantasy titles were introduced. The first to introduce this new opening title is Simple Siren (20th September 1945):
A new end title was introduced a year later, first used on Snap Happy Traps (6th June 1946). It featured the WB-inspired rings (which, I have to admit, are a bit hard to see). This was used until 1947:

In 1947, Screen Gems was the last cartoon studio to fully-switch to colour, but to keep their costs low, they decided to make all their Phantasies in the cheaper two-colour Cinecolor process. A new set of opening titles was introduced, in which the style was the same as the Color Rhapsodies. The screenshots were taken from Leave Us Chase It (15th May 1947):

The endcap:
That's it! Hope you enjoyed seeing these rare Columbia Cartoon titles. If you would like to see some more, be sure to check out Jerry Beck's Columbia page on his Cartoon Research website (click here to go directly onto that page).

And there will be more Columbia cartoon-themed posts very shortly. Stay tooned!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Rare Columbia Cartoon Titles - Color Rhapsodies

Hi, everyone! Apologies for the delay in posting, but my wireless broadband had been acting weird lately - although I could log on onto the internet, I was prevented from uploading or downloading anything! Fortunately, it's all sorted now.

I thought you might like to see some original Color Rhapsodies titles, all taken from my own personal collection. Sadly, many of these cartoons have re-issue titles, but most still retain their original endcap. Also, a substantial amount of cartoons I have are taken from the recent Columbia programme "Totally Tuned In", where many of the Mintz-era cartoons were given the incorrect endcap (presumably to obscure any reference to Charles Mintz). To make matters worse, a handful of cartoons are missing from the Columbia archives! So, I have decided to show these titles in the order where they appear the earliest in my collection, except for one special set of titles which I will save for last.

The first set of opening titles were taken from the very first Color Rhapsody, the Scrappy cartoon Holiday Land (released 9th November 1934). Bizzarely, these set of titles were only used once:

And the end titles appear as so (again, only used once):

The next cartoon, Babes At Sea (30th November 1934) uses the following set of titles. These titles were used until the studio switched from two-strip Technicolor to the three-strip version, in 1935:

The endcap:

Below is an endcap taken from Little Rover (June 1935), with the title superimposed on a city backdrop (where the story takes place):

These titles were first used in 1936. The earliest cartoon in my collection that features these titles (in full) is Merry Mutineers (2nd October 1936):

The endcap:

Later in 1937, the endcap was amended to feature an updated Columbia logo. The earliest to feature this endcap is Spring Festival (6th August 1937):

A new endcap was introduced, and this time it is the colour version of the Proud Lady logo used on the Columbia feature films. This version was only used at the end of Window Shopping (3rd June 1938), and was the last time it mentioned that it was "A Charles Mintz Production" - on the endcap, at least (apologies for the grotty-looking image):

The next Color Rhapsody, Poor Little Butterfly (4th July 1938), has this endcap, which no longer mentions Mintz. This version lasted until towards the end of the Tashlin era - in 1942:

In 1938, a new set of opening titles (with the "castles in the sky" motif) was introduced. The following are taken from Nell's Yells (30th June 1939):

When Scappy's popularity declined badly (thanks to Allen Rose), his name was removed from the titles, and was replaced by a Columbia tagline. The earliest cartoon in my archives to feature this is Blackboard Revue (15th March 1940), and was also used throughout the Tashlin era:

The Frank Tashlin cartoon, Cinderella Goes To A Party (3rd May 1942), features this closing title. It's the same as the previous endcap, except for the additional "The End" tag. This was only used on this cartoon:

The following Rhapsody, the Fox & Crow's Woodsman Spare That Tree (2nd July 1942) features this closing title. This time, the Proud Lady now sports a light-blue shroud. Like the previous version, this endcap was only used on one cartoon:

The next Rhapsody, Song Of Victory (4th September 1942), features an updated version of the previous title, with an additional "The End" tag. This was used until mid-1945:

When Dave Fleischer took over as producer in 1942, the following set of titles were introduced. The Proud Lady now features in the opening titles as well as the closing titles. The follwing are taken from the only-known surviving Color Rhapsody that features these original titles, the Fox & Crow's Slay It With Flowers (8th January 1943). It is believed that these titles lasted until towards the end of 1943:

In 1945, the Proud Lady endcap was replaced by the following version, which I find rather boring. The earliest cartoon I have which features this is Hot Footlights (2nd August 1945):

The endcap was later replaced by this version, featured on Loco Lobo (9th January 1947). You will notice that this title is obviously influenced by the Warner Bros cartoon titles, which is hardly surprising as around this time, ex-Schlesinger associates Henry Binder and Raymond Katz both took over as producers:

This set of opening titles are taken from Cockatoos For Two (13th February 1947). Sadly, this only exists in the collectors'/traders' circuit in B&W, and is the only-known cartoon to feature this title version:

Later in 1947 (until the final cartoon in 1949), the following set of opening/closing titles were introduced. Again, the Warner Bros influence is clear, with the Color Rhapsody title zooming towards the viewer. The earliest cartoon I have to feature this full-set of titles is The Coo-Coo Bird Dog (3rd February 1949), but for reasons of picture quality, these screenshots are taken from the Fox & Crow's Grape Nutty (14th April 1949) instead:

The endcap:

And I will finish this post with a special set of titles. The following are taken from Song Of Victory (4th September 1942), which was made during Frank Tashlin's exit and Dave Fleischer's arrival:

The credits were shown at the end of this cartoon, rather than at the beginning:

Phew, that was a long post (and a lot of images, too)! Hope you enjoyed them. If you do, watch out for my next post very shortly, which will feature the Phantasies/Fables titles.