Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Pat Matthews

One of the most enjoyable pieces of animation that ever appeared in a Walter Lantz cartoon is in ‘The Bandmaster’ (1947) where a drunk with his finger stuck in a jug of moonshine staggers across a high wire and meets some imaginary pink elephants. The timing and poses of the stumbling are perfect, complete with the drunk weaving in perspective at the camera. It must look terrific on a movie screen.

This great little expressive scene was drawn by a former Disney in-betweener, one of greatest unsung animators of the Golden Age—Pat Matthews.

Classical music, dancing and pink elephants invite instant comparisons to Disney (think ‘Fantasia’ meets ‘Dumbo’) but Matthews doesn’t let the audience down with hack work. His terpsichorean sequence is handled with grace and then inventiveness as each of the elephants finds a different way to flow, ghost-like, back into the little opening of the jug. Certainly not all of this would have been on a storyboard (writer Bugs Hardaway specialised in corny puns), leaving Matthews room for his own imagination.

(Yes, the jug disappears on occasion but I’ll accept the dramatic license in this case).

There are a few really unattractive parts in this cartoon (the one with a female aerial artist held aloft by a set of false teeth, for example), but they’re not by Matthews. He also has the task of animating Andy Panda conducting and, again, perfectly times a variety of poses with thrusts in perspective at the viewer. Fred Brunish was responsible for the nice light/highlight effect on the podium in the background drawing.

Lantz remarked that the animation in his musical cartoons had to be to the beat and the animators couldn’t cheat. Matthews does not only a wonderful job here, but an even more astounding job a few years earlier when he animated “Miss X” (as publicity blurbs called her) for Shamus Culhane’s marvellous ‘The Greatest Man in Siam’ and ‘Abou Ben Boogie’ (both 1944).

Matthews career took him to UPA where he worked on the studio’s most critically-acclaimed films, and then to Mexico, where he died in a car accident in 1971. Matthews’ work deserves to be more widely-known by fans of classic animation.


  1. Preach on! Matthews is really one of the most underrated animators of the golden age. Inventive, cartoony and appealing all in one.

  2. Pat Matthews is one of those guys that I'm amazed I never was told about before. I remember analyzing the opening scene in 'Banquet Busters' and the Miss X from 'Abou Ben Boogie...' (which I still consider probably the best sexy dance ever animated) And some scenes of Rooty Toot Toot (particularly about 4:20, that little preening dance (Tip o' the mouse to Mike Barrier for that one).

    His work is the textbook case of how interesting animation can be when you stylize it, despite the cheapness and simplicity.

    (The other ones I demonstrate with are Carlo Vinci's 'Flintstones' animation, some of Tony Bancroft's Mushu (he was the only animator on the whole damn film who could conceive of movement with a simple design, and get appealing flurries with), and John Gentilella. Jim Tyer I would include, but he's a law of his own.)

    He always seemed to like abstract designs in the animation, and I wonder if he approached UPA or they approached him.

    And Shamus Culhane commented that Bugs Hardaway would actually find his own puns funny. The scary thing was that Culhane claims he 'excised the most atrocious' in the way of puns, which makes me worry how terrible Hardaway's sense of humor was, if he was laughing at puns that were WORSE than the ones that ended up in the final film.

    Hey! Back to UPA - anyone commenting who could identify which scenes he animated in Gerald McBoingBoing? There's some scenes with the teasing kids and the scene of his father shaving that have some of his signature collapses, but I can't put a positive Matthews stamp on any one scene. Please Help. (I also have the same problem with Rudy Larriva there...)
    It's so odd! None of Bobe Cannon's cartoons have his signature (very unique) posing style, and he couldn't afford to have someone else do the layouts FOR him; but all his animation looks like all the animators were paying attention to the same character layout artist.

  3. Years ago I asked Pat if he would send me anything he was going to throw out. It is still in a frame today - wonderful opening sketches for a planned animation of Til Eulenspiel (sp?) by Richard Strauss. Amazing artist.