Saturday, 27 April 2013

Cartoonland 1929: Mickey and Bonzo

A headline in The Film Daily said it all: “Flood of talker shorts with fewer silent in prospect.” By 1929, movie theatres had begun making the inevitable transition to sound to try to keep up with the competition.

And so had cartoon studios. Credit Walt Disney and the wonderful synchronisation of music to action in “Steamboat Willie,” released in November 1928. Granted, the Fables studio was the first to take advantage of the talkie craze with “Dinner Time” several months earlier, and Universal announced in mid-November of ’28 that all of the Oswalds produced by Winkler Productions would be in sound. But “Dinner Time” is a mere curiosity and the speaking Oswald never grabbed the public’s attention as Steamboat Mickey Mouse did. So the tale of cartoon studios in the first half of 1929 is that of sound.

Let’s leaf through some cartoon news and reviews for that period. There’s actually very little news. Much of it deals with Pat Powers, who had jumped into the sound game by pitching his Cinephone system to compete with RCA Photophone. Disney signed with Powers to distribute his cartoons and supply him with sound equipment. Until the equipment arrived in Los Angeles, Disney had to record his cartoons in New York City. It’s interesting to note that Bill Garity was originally with Powers; in fact, he’s partly credited with developing Cinephone. Garity would later be employed by the Disney studio and then move on to work for Walter Lantz (he died in 1971).

The interesting news squibs include the distribution of a series of cartoons from England starring Bonzo, the short-lived Kolortone cartoons in Brewster Color, a sound cartoon featuring Mutt and Jeff (a deal in the ‘30s saw sound added to silent Mutt and Jeffs) and the arrival of Les Kline to work for Walter Lantz on Oswald cartoons. Kline’s last credit on a Lantz cartoon was in 1971; he was 90 when he died in 1997. But there’s more to the story than this. Film Daily neglects to mention Lantz was now supervising because Universal had dropped the Winkler studio and its ex-Disney animators like Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising, who now had to find work. And there’s one lonely item about Felix the Cat, but not involving Felix cartoons per se. Educational Pictures had dropped the distribution rights to them in 1928.

You’ll notice not all cartoon series are reviewed; I haven’t a clue why that was.

January 3, 1929
Interchangeability of Cinephone Again Shown
Another demonstration of the interchangeability of a subject recorded by Cinephone, over Western Electric equipment is being given this week at the Strand, New York, with "The Galloping Gaucho," one of the Micky Mouse sound cartoons created by Walt Disney, being shown.

January 11, 1929
First Oswald Ready in Sound
"Hen Fruit," first of the synchronized Oswald comedies, is set for release Feb. 4. Prints are now being sent to Universal exchanges.

January 23, 1929
Roseland Handling Cartoons
Roseland Pictures Corp., New York, is distributing on a state right basis, a series of 26 one reel "Bonzo" cartoon featurettes, the creation of the English artists, G. E. Studdy, which long has been a supplement of Saturday and Sunday feature pages. The first three of the series titled "Bonzolina,” "Detective Bonzo" and "Spooks Bonzo" are ready for release.

February 3, 1929
Walt Disney in New York
Walt Disney creator of the "Micky Mouse" sound cartoons, is in New York from Hollywood with two new subjects in the "Micky Mouse" series, and the first print of a new series of novelty sound cartoons. The Disney pictures are made for sound synchronization, recorded by the Powers Cinephone system of sound-on-film.

February 19, 1929
First Powers Cinephone On Way to West Coast
First Powers Cinephone sound-on-film recording equipment to be installed on the coast and made available to the western producing companies will reach Los Angeles the end of this week. The equipment is on its way west in charge of Walt Disney whose "Mickey Mouse" sound cartoons are synchronized by the Powers Cinephone system. This installation is a portable equipment which may be used for location work as well as studio recording. It will be followed by several other outfits to be mounted in a fleet of Powers Cinephone sound trucks which will the at the service of all producers.

Walt Disney Returning West
Walt Disney, creator of the "Mickey Mouse" sound cartoons, is en route to Hollywood after completing the sound synchronization of "The Opry House." While in New York, Disney also made the sound synchronization of the first of a new series of novelty pen and ink comedies, on the Powers Cinephone system of sound-on-film.

March 7, 1929
Powers Cinephone Studio Planned at Los Angeles
Negotiations are under way for site for a Power's [sic] Cinephone studio at Los Angeles. William N. Garity, chief engineer, leaves New York for Los Angeles March 15 to supervise installation of recording apparatus and to act as technical advisor to Walt Disney who will install a Powers Cinephone recorder in his animated cartoon studio under a license signed last week. In addition to stationary recorders, the new Powers Cinephone studio will have a number of portable equipments mounted in a fleet of sound trucks which will be used for silent studios and location work.

March 13, 1929
Metropolitan Studios, Fort Lee's active studio, has finished scoring "Simba," camera record of the African open spaces. Fifty-two cartoon shorts are now being scored.

March 14, 1929
Publix Students to Visit Studio
John Barry, head of the Publix Managerial School, and 28 of his students will visit the studios of Aesop's Film Fables this afternoon to study the making of animated cartoons. Paul Terry and his staff will give demonstrations for the embryo managers.

March 27, 1929
Cinephone Equipment on Coast
Arrival of the first Powers Cinephone recording apparatus at the Disney studios also marked the occasion of the first sound recording by this method of the initial subject of the Silly Symphonies series titled "The Skeleton Dance."

March 31, 1929
. . . Fox's step in abandoning all silent production is being followed to great extent by short subject producers. Paramount, with the Christie talkers and the many sound shorts being made at the Long Island studio which will number 100 within a few months, only has the Krazy Kat cartoons decided upon for silent product next year. . .

April 15, 1929
Lester Kline, commercial artist and cartoonist, has been added to the staff of "Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit," according to Walter Lantz, production supervisor. The first of the series entitled "Ozzie of the Circus," in complete sound is ready for release, and work on the second, "The Permanent Wave" has already started.

May 1, 1929
WILLIAM J. GARITY, sound engineer for P. A. Powers, who is making a tour of the west coast, has been supervising the recording of Walt Disney's animated cartoons. Disney has now completed his first Mickey Mouse sound opus recording here. In the past it has been added in New York. Seven of the series are ready for release.

May 3, 1929
"Felix" In Song
Educational is popularizing its screen character, "Felix the Cat," through a song by that title, published by the Sam Fox Publishing Co.

May 20, 1929
Van Beuren Sound Shorts Now Recorded on Discs
Van Beuren sound shorts distributed by Pathe are now available on discs as well as on films. Subjects covered are "Topics of the Day," "Aesop's Sound Fables" and "Sportlight."

May 23, 1929
Six Cartoons With Sound Produced By Kolortone
Kolortone Prod. has been formed by Leo F. Britten, formerly with Paramount and Universal, and George S. Jeffrey, formerly with Paramount and Harold Lloyd. The company has produced a series of six all-talking and synchronized Kolortone Kartoons.
The subjects are: "An Egyptian Gyp," "Boney's Boner," "Hectic Hector, "Wanderin's," "A Pikin' Pirate" and "Kriss Krosses." The Brewster color process is used. Scoring of the shorts is by David Broeckman, who has been associated with First National, Columbia and other major companies.
Disc recording is used. The series, available for distribution. Kolortone is opening offices at 236 West 55th St.

June 16, 1929
Kolortone Plans Six More
Kolortone Prod., headed by George Jeffrey and Leo Britton, will make six more cartoons in color and with sound. The first series of six has been completed and is ready for marketing.

June 25, 1929
Mintz Placing Krazy Kat Series Through Columbia
Columbia is slated to handle a series of 26 Krazy Kat cartoons in sound for next season, it is understood. Contracts are now being drawn between Charles B. Mintz, representing Winkler Prod, and Jack Cohn, representing Columbia.


January 6, 1929
"The Gallopin' Gaucho"—Walt Disney—Powers Cinephone
Great Burlesque
Type of production . . . . 1 reel cartoon
This features Mickey Mouse, the demon hero who has his ups and downs trying to rescue his sweetie who has been kidnapped by the villain Cat. In this one he takes a regular Doug Fairbanks part as a hard riding gaucho of the South American pampas. It is good burlesquing all the way, and the cartoon work of Walt Disney is clever in the extreme. It has some neat comedy effects through the addition of sound, which make the film far more enjoyable and laughable than it could possibly be in silent form.

January 13, 1929
"Hold ‘Em Ozzie"—Oswald
Gridiron Fun
Type of production..1 reel cartoon
Oswald the funny rabbit does his bit as the hero on the football team. He gets a great hand from his admirers in the grandstand, where are to be found all the animals rooting for him. Of course Oswald wins the game by scoring the deciding touchdown. He does it by converting his ears into a propeller and flying down the field to the goal. It is cleverly animated in the usual peppy style of this series.

January 27, 1929
"Sweet Adeline"

The Usual
Type of production..1 reel animated
This follows the usual line of Fables, with Milton Mouse and his sweetie who are on the vaudeville bill at the neighborhood playhouse. After the show the villain cat kidnaps the heroine, is chased up and down skyscrapers, and finally the hero catches the cat and rescues his sweetie. It's about time the artist on this cartoon dug up a new idea that gets away from this continuous kidnapping stunt. We have seen it in at least a dozen Fables lately.

February 17, 1929
"The Barn Dance"—Walt Disney
Powers Cinephone
Mouse Comics
Type of production. . .1 reel animated
This is another of the adventure of Mickey Mouse and his sweetie. The villain cat tries to take the gal driving in his auto, which is wrecked. So she goes to the barn dance with Mickey who is driving his carriage drawn by the old plug. This horse is one of the funniest cartoon characters seen in the animateds. Later at the dance the cat shows up and tries to take the gal away again, but Mickey fools him. The sound effects are funny, and this number enhances the usual cartoon subject easily 100 per cent.

"Grandma's House"—Fables
Mouse Antics
Type of production. . 1 reel animated
This is just a cartoon version of the Little Red Riding Hood fable with Little Rita the Mouse substituted for Red Riding Hood. The bad cat plays the part of the wolf and poses in bed as grandma when Riding Hood comes to the cabin in the woods. She is saved from the crafty cat by the arrival of her sweetie, Milt. Up to the standard.

March 10, 1929
"Alpine Antics"—Oswald
Type of production. . .1 reel animated
The usual line of Oswald antics, pepped up with funny sounds that help this type of short subject immensely. Oswald starts out to rescue his gal who sends an S O S by a big St. Bernard. So Oswald rides on the dog's back to rescue his sweetie. The cartoon gags are very ingenious and comical, showing how the funny rabbit helps the poor exhausted dog to complete his record making run to save the girl. The synchronized animal noises will make the kids laugh.

"Old Black Joe"
Paramount Sound Novelty
Type of production . . cartoon
We get a kick out of the Inkwell cartoons. Everybody, of course, knows the strains of "Old Black Joe" if not the words. This cartoon supplies the words and invites you to sing them while the unseen, mechanical orchestra plays. This subject is best when the cartoon master of ceremonies, so to speak, does his funny antics and drops when the words only appear on the screen. Diverting. Time, 6 mins.

March 10, 1929
"The Suicide Sheik"
Oswald Cartoon
Type of production.. 1 reel animated
Oswald, the funny rabbit gets turned down by his gal and steps out to commit suicide. The tale recounts his various efforts, trying to get himself bumped off by a falling safe, and then a cannon. But the cannon shoots him back to the gal's house which has caught on fire. He is just in time to save her, and she falls in love with him all over again.

March 24, 1929
"Plane Crazy"—Walt Disney
Powers Cinephone
Type of production. . . .Animated cartoon
Mickey Mouse does his animal antics in the latest mode via aeroplane. The cartoonist has employed his usual ingenuity to extract a volume of laughs that are by no means confined to the juveniles. The sound effects are particularly appropriate on this type of film, and certainly add greatly to the comedy angle with the absurd squeaks, yawps and goofy noises.

March 31, 1929
"Fishing Fools"
Oswald Novelty—Universal
Clever Antics
Type of production...1 reel cartoon
This is a fish story, with Oswald as the fisherman who falls asleep, what ensues is a fish dream. The fish relish his bait but not his hook so finally he uses a stork for a fish-catching device. Later he tries to lure the innocent fish through phonograph music and nearly lands a small member of the family when along comes papa (or maybe, mama) fish and ruins his plans. Finally when he does catch a fish, a thief steals it for the fadeout. This is a fine piece of cartoonist ingenuity, with the sound effects helping a lot.

"Presto Chango"
Type of production . . . Animated comedy
Paul Terry and Frank Moser combined their cartoon talents in turning out a clever animated that is placed definitely in the real laugh numbers by the comedy sound effects. Hero Cat takes his gal for an auto ride, and finally lands up in a Chinese joint. Here the chinks get busy and kidnap the gal, and after some hair-raising adventures the hero succeeds in vanquishing the horde of pig-tailed villains single handed. A good laugh number for grown-ups as well as the kids. Time, 8 mins.

April 7, 1929
Mutt and Jeff in "Ghosts"
Fox Movietone
Very Amusing
Type of production . . . Cartoon
The famous cartoon characters take animated form, aided by clever sound effects and a smattering of dialogue to help along. This is what is found here. To begin with a well-executed cartoon with amusing gags. Secondly, music and sound effects applied with a discerning hand. The result is a sound short that never causes outbursts of laughter but induces chuckles in more than sufficient number to slide it over.

April 14, 1929
"Stage Stunts"
Type of production. .1 reel animated
Pepped up with some clever cartoon ideas, and the sound effects are goofy and funny. Oswald, the lucky rabbit, turns actor and does a snake charmer trick with a cat's tail as the snake and the cat concealed in a jar. Then Oswald gets a skinny horse for a xylophone and plays on the animal's ribs till the horse swallows a bomb that somebody throws. Then the usual wild chase and unexpected finish. Directed by Hugh Harman.

SILENT [sic]
Type of production. .1 reel animated
Oswald the funny little rabbit, gets a job as a lumberjack, and when he chops down a big tree discovers a bag of gold. But the villain bear grabs it, and Oswald starts hotfoot after him. The bear escapes in a canoe, so Oswald gets two logs and rides them down the stream. Good gags are worked by having the hero use his tail as a wind-propeller and then as an outboard motor. Finally Oswald has passed the bear, and diverts the stream over a cliff. As the bear passes they go into a clinch, with Oswald victorious. The sound effects are ridiculously funny, and will certainly amuse the kids. Directed by Ben Clopton.

May 5, 1929
"The Faithful Pup"—Aesop
Type of production.. 1 reel animated
Old Al Falfa and his dog Danny start off on a hunting expedition to Africa. There things start to happen fast and plenty to poor Al, and sometimes the bow-wow helps him, but more often he makes matters worse. All the wild animals of the jungle take turns giving Al the time of his life, but all ends happily. The sound effects are funny, and build up the comedy highlights of the reel immensely.

May 12, 1929
"Stripes and Stars"
Type of production. . .1 reel animated
Oswald is the porter in the police station when all the cops are murdered by the gangster Bear. So the captain appoints him a special officer to round up the terror, which he does after some very clever work on the part of the animator. But they really should be told (whoever is responsible) that there is nothing funny for intelligent patrons, even if they are kids, in having shots of the Bear sentenced to do porter work, swabbing up the expectorations of the Captain behind the desk. This may be a big laugh-producer in Poland. But this picture was presumably made for American audiences. Outside of that it's good. Walter Lantz did the cartoon work.

May 19, 1929
"Screen Songs"
Max Fleischer—Paramount
Novelty Cartoon
Type of production . .Animated song
Max Fleischer gets a big break on the sound angle, for it gives him a chance to show something in the way of a real novelty with his clever cartoon stuff. He has a college cheer leader putting his gang through some of the old tunes. Then the words are flashed on the screen, with a variety of comedy manipulations of the letters and animated figures such as autos, dancing balls and college boys sliding over the letters in harmony with the tune. A fine male quartet is used on the one number, and the popular melodies had a Broadway audience humming out loud—which is quite a record in itself. Will click in any type of house. Time, 9 mins.

Type of production..1 reel animated
Farmer Al Falfa and the animals go in for the study of concentration. They work it on an old hen to increase its egg laying, with very funny and disastrous results. Then the other animals start studying the book on concentration, and before the reel is over the cartoonist has succeeded in developing some really comic situations that will get laughs without any trouble.

June 9, 1929
"Daisy Bells"
Paramount Screen Song
Very Clever
In the days of B. S.—before sound—Max Fleischer's song cartoons always provided diversion. Now that the ear hears while the eye sees, the entertainment qualities of this series is considerably enhanced. The cartoon work is clever and the sound effects fine. Sure-fire for any type of audience. Time, about 6 mins.

June 9, 1929
Fleischer Cartoon—Paramount
Great Fun
Proof that it isn't so much what you do as how you do it. The melody of "Chinatown" can trace its beginnings a number of years. Certainly there is little distinction about the song, yet Max Fleischer so cleverly handles his animation and so adroitly injects novelty into his treatment that the result is a corking piece of entertainment. Difficult to see how it can miss anyway. Time, 5 mins.

June 30, 1929
"April Showers"
Aesop Fables—Pathe
Has A Kick
Al Falfa has his troubles when a violent rainstorm starts. He tries to salvage some of his household effects and drive off in a wagon. But he loses everything when crossing a stream—everything but the fish bowl with one gold fish. The animal antics are amusing, the cartoon work clever, and the idea very well worked out for the laughs, which the kids especially will enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. Only one Brewster Color cartoon, An Egyptian Gyp is only available in an silent and tinted print, but modern copies of Kolortone cartoons are lost.