Thursday, 17 November 2011

Van Beuren’s Barnyard Bunk

Perhaps there’s some kind of perversity in the make-up of human beings that they like theatrical cartoons that really aren’t that great. There are actually fans of the Gene Deitch Tom and Jerrys. There are people who willing watch Cool Cat. In my case, I enjoy some of the old Van Beuren cartoons.

Yes, they’re pretty third-rate compared to what the people were doing across the street from Van Beuren at the Fleischer studio. Some of the drawing is downright ugly. Many of the cartoons are still written like they were stuck in the silent era—next to no dialogue, just music and sound/vocal effects. And they’re downright strange, either in terms of gags or a story that’s all over the place. But there’s something I like about them, at least the best of them.

Van Beuren’s big stars in the early part of the 1930s were named Tom and Jerry, one tall, one short. Neither had a fleshed-out personality; they just kind of went about their business and occasionally reacted. But several of their cartoons are innocent fun. One of them is ‘Barnyard Bunk,’ released in September 1932.

How can you hate a cartoon with an apron-wearing cow that dances? Or a chicken that lays eggs as it somersaults (and the eggs hatch into ducks)? Or farmhouse-wrecking mice that put up a ‘Danger’ sign before part of the home collapses? Or how a hoe, shovel, wheelbarrows and bail of hay sprout faces and limbs, then begin to dance to new hit song “Corn-Fed Cal” in a big finale?

You’ll notice how the dancing cow has her legs joined together. The drawing was used a couple of times in the sequence but the artists didn’t draw some Hanna-Barbaric eight-drawing cycle on twos. The dance was mainly on ones and the drawing above was used again after 59 other drawings.

Leonard Maltin dug into the bowels of obscurity in Of Mice and Magic to bring the history of the Van Beuren Studio to light in those pre-internet days, and it’s from his research our knowledge of All Things Van Beuren grew. If you want to know all about Tom and Jerry (and their predecessors Don and Waffles), go to the Cartoon Research site.

Van Beuren fans owe a lot to Steve Stanchfield at Thunderbean Animation, who did what no major company would ever do—restore the battered old Tom and Jerrys. It wasn’t an easy task for a variety of reasons but the results are just great. You can go to Thunderbean’s site here and see what they have, though I don’t believe the page has been updated for awhile. If you want to own some of the lesser-known cartoons of the ‘30s, this is the place to go.

(P.S: If you’re just new to cartoons, the cat and mouse Tom and Jerry weren’t invented until 1940, a number of years after the human Tom and Jerry vanished from theatre screens and the Van Beuren studio closed. One of Van Beuren’s employees worked on the cat and mouse Tom and Jerrys. You may have heard of him. Joe Barbera).


  1. At least there's some love for Van Beuren here!

  2. Loved the Van Beuren T&Js since discovering some 16mm prints in the early 70s. Even wrote one of the first articles on them for PRIVATE SCREENINGS #1 (1975). My fave would be PIANO TOONERS.

  3. I didn't mention it in the post but Gene Rodemich's scores are pretty nice. And there are lots of combined cycles in the last Tom and Jerry cartoon, 'The Phantom Rocket.' The timing and the character design (little noses and solid eyes) reminds me a lot of the Fleischer studio. It's a shame the series didn't carry on.

  4. I find Don and Waffles had more distinct personality/character animation than Tom and Jerry which is odd.