Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Funny Business of Mighty Mouse

Say what you will about his cartoons, but Paul Terry had a long and successful career in the animation business.

It wasn’t until the 1940s that Terry finally had some A-list characters. No matter that Heckle and Jeckle had personalities borrowed from Woody Woodpecker, or that Mighty Mouse was a rodent derivative of Superman. Kids liked them and once TV came along, their cartoons ran for ages. And, to be honest, I’d rather watch Heckle and Jeckle sing and wreck a house than some piece of “art” like UPA’s Baby Boogie.

A columnist with the Toronto Globe and Mail came up with this piece on Terry and his studio for the paper’s edition of December 10, 1945. It doesn’t look like he interviewed Terry. The column reads like it was re-written from a news release from 20th Century-Fox about their coming attractions. Still, it’s nice to see the Terry studio getting a bit of publicity.

Rambling With Roly By ROLY YOUNG
If you have a small son who likes to do nothing better than draw amusing animals, don’t stop him. And, above all, don’t tell him that it is an impractical way to spend his time.
Paul Terry, who is grown up in years and business ability, but who takes a child’s delight in watching over the Terrytoon animated cartoons that issue from his organization to thousands of theatres every week in the year, has proved that sort of thing eminently practical. By keeping at it for 30 years, he has made it pay, both in the financial sense and in the rewarding pleasure of working at a job he likes.
Terry is one of the true pioneers of “this funny business,” as he has named it, and he is currently celebrating the 30th anniversary of his advent in screen cartooning. It is also the thirtieth year for 20th Century-Fox, distributors of Terrytoon cartoons, and by mutual agreement they are making it a joint celebration.
Starting out in 1915 with a little boy character whom he called “Little Herman,” Terry has brought to life hundreds of humanized animals in the course of releasing such tremendously popular series as his “Aesop’s Fables,” and through the creation of such heroes as “Gandy Goose,” “Smoky Joe,” the horse, innumerable cats, lions, wolves and mythical beasts. Perhaps the most influential and popular character he has ever invented, and the current Terry preoccupation, is a muscular combination of chivalry and derring-do, “Mighty Mouse.”
“Mighty Mouse’s” popular appeal is no doubt predicated on his willingness to sniff out nefarious characters and to set evil-doers to beating their way to the nearest exits, without regard to the size or prowess of his antagonist. Within the current year the “Mouse” has bested rampaging lions in a short called “The Circus”; traded sabre blows with buccaneers in “The Pirates”; thwarted a gang of Oriental thieves in “The Sultan’s Birthday,” and done an off-hand job on assorted cats in “The Port of Missing Mice” and “The Kilkenny Cats.” The above are a small instalment on the “Mighty Mouse’s” adventures for the year and only a portion of Paul Terry’s animated cartoon output.
Terry took his initial step in the field of screen cartooning in 1915. At that time he was moderately successful at newspaper cartooning; but pushed by an urge to find a job he would really enjoy doing. A chance invitation to a cartoonists’ dinner, where the famous Winsor McKay demonstrated one of the earliest cartoons, planted the seed in Terry’s brain and determined his future success.
The first Terry Cartoon featured a character named “Little Herman,” and consisted of thousands of drawings, all laboriously pencilled and photographed by Terry himself. It required a half-year of his time for production. Since that time the art has progressed so rapidly with the introduction of cartooning inventions, devices and processes (many of which were perfected by Terry himself) that the same “Little Herman” would require hardly more than a week in the modern Terrytoon plant located at New Rochelle, N.Y.
The present-day Terrytoon is the product of the work of hundreds of individual pairs of hands and dozens of brains.
A Terrytoon idea springs up “in the raw” somewhere about the beginning of the chain of processes. It goes to a story department, where a scenario is provided. Then follows a session with expert cartoonists, who provide expression, detail and incidental factors that point up the humor of the new personality. Assembly line production begins with animators, cartooners, backgrounders. As the final cartoon emerges, it obtains the services of the sound department, where noises and voices are dubbed in, and of the musical division, which is often called upon to provide original music as well as classical and popular tunes.
The Terrytoon studios are already at work on the first half-dozen of the “Mighty Mouse” productions for the coming season. Endowed by his creator with a perpetual dislike for bullies who tweak little boys’ ears, villains who molest pretty maidens, cats who pick on mice who try to lord over their own kind, and a lot of other assorted malefactors of the human and jungle society, the “Mighty Mouse” will travel to many strange countries and locales in search of malefactors for his new series of pictures. He is going international in a big way in the 1945-46 program of Terrytoons.
On hand for the “Mouse” is a Spanish adventure, under the title of “Throwing the Bull,” and one which will enable him to mingle with senoritas, matadors and “El Toro.” For his adventure in “Krakatoa,” the mouse will be taken to a South Sea setting, where he will perform no less amazing a feat than the harnessing of the power of a volcano, to save the existence of a colony of peaceful little mice.
One further extension of the mouse’s adventures carries him to the Blue Grass country in a feature entitled “My Old Kentucky Home,” with “Mighty Mouse’s” arrival coming in the nick of time to forestall a “wolf’s” foreclosing the mortgage on an aging colonel and his lovely daughter.
Still others of the “Mighty Mouse’s” adventures take him to the Far West in a picture called “Mighty Mouse Meets Bad Bill Bunion”; on a carefree adventure in “Gypsy Life,” and face-to-face with his lifetime enemies in a particularly charming and clever picture titled “Svengali’s Cat.”

My thanks to Devon Baxter for the screen grabs.

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