Saturday 22 April 2017

Early Bouquets For George Pal

George Pal had a reputation amongst the cognoscenti when he arrived in North America from Europe in early 1938. His stop-motion films had been well received by critics overseas and he soon made his mark in North American theatres. He animated his Puppetoons for Paramount release until the profit margin disappeared, then turned to feature film work.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times may have been the first critic in the U.S. to write about Pal’s work. In the paper’s March 13, 1938 edition, he said, in part:
Pal has already shown some of his work here privately—and a delighted spectator may be permitted to endorse it enthusiastically. He is a master of vivid color compositions and a slyly inventive humorist, generally in the vein of the more impish European artists. All of his best films have been made as “commercials”—that is, to advertise (though anything but offensively) such products as Horlicks malted milk and Phillips radios—because, he says, the European market for non-commercial shorts is small and is generously supplied from this country. Therefore, he has not yet created a recognizable character around which to build his plots in the manner of the American cartoon animations. When he does so, his creations should be even better than they are now.
And—if a discreet jot of sooth may be permitted herein—it is safe to opine that Pal has what it takes to be just that to the American movie public ere long.
The first lengthy article on Pal’s work I can find is in the Summer 1936 edition of the English publication Sight and Sound. Others in Europe were making puppet films—Starevitch and Réné Bertrand in France, the Diehl Brothers in Germany and Ptushko in the Soviet Union. Pal, however, was the first one profiled by the magazine.
By Marie Seton

IN this country there is still a lingering prejudice against advertisement films; audiences are slightly resentful when they are told they must buy such and such a commodity. Were it not for this conviction that art and entertainment seldom go amicably in hand in hand with commercial propaganda the cartoon and doll films of the young Hungarian, George Pal, would be far better known in England than they are.
Thanks largely to the Dutch firm, Phillips Radio, Pal is making a steady contribution to the cinema. He works at Eindhoven, Holland, where Phillips have given him a studio, and allow him free rein to further the ideas he began developing a few years ago in Berlin where he was an art director for Ufa. His first important film, Midnight, was made in 1932 for a Berlin cigarette firm. It was black and white, and in it Pal animated an army of little puppets made in the form of cigarettes. Since then his dolls and the materials he utilizes have become extremely varied. Of his drawn cartoon films, The Revolution of the Bulb is the most amusing; it seems, however, that the puppet film is becoming his real métier.
Pal’s dolls are of brightly painted wood, and have the appearance of toys; and as in cartoon where each stage of a movement has to be drawn, so in Pal’s films there has to be a number of figures in slightly different positions to develop a single movement. The series of dolls completing such a movement as walking, dancing, or jumping are attached to wooden boards; while the figures which have to give the impression of moving through the air are made in profile and fixed to sheets of glass. The puppets are then arranged in a miniature set built of pasteboard and wood.
Pal’s style of work is fantastic and delicate, and he relies upon individual characters far more than armies of animated objects and crowds of dolls. His humour is subtle. Of his advertising pictures, Ship of the Ether and The Magic Atlas are the most imaginative. Ship of the Ether is an enchanting fantasy of a broadcasting studio in which the doll artistes go through dreamlike antics and ships in twisted glass sail over fantastic seas. Magic Atlas presents a variety programme from important radio stations, showing what you can enjoy if you have a Phillips set. The dolls in this film, as well as some in Ship of the Ether, are often amusing caricatures of celebrities such as Strauss, Henry Hall and Tauber; there is also a delicious tennis tournament broadcast from Paris.
Recently George Pal has been making a series of independent film with English dialogue, based on stories from the Arabian Nights; the first, Ali Baba, is complete. Because it does not have to conform to advertisement, Ali Baba is Pal’s best film. It is a delightfully whimsical version of the old story, and the use of colour (Gasparcolour is used) and the composition of the whole are excellent. He has also just completed a puppet film in England for Horlick’s Malted Milk which is so good that two more may be sponsored by the same firm immediately.
The Los Angeles Times noticed Pal in its March 27, 1938 edition. It explains the incredible amount of work needed to make a Puppetoon.

IMPORTED NOVELTIES screened at the Filmarte recently included a striking puppet play in color, “Ship of the Ether.” Last week a dapper young Hungarian named George Pal, newly arrived in town, told me that this had been his first creation in the puppet medium. He seemed unnecessarily apologetic about it; but since then, he explained eagerly, he has improved the art “200 per cent.”
Pal’s subjects, called “Puppet-toons,” have won unstinted admiration in Europe during the past four years. Oddly enough (to us,) they have all been sponsored by advertisers; but limited distribution channels abroad make the regular production of animated films unprofitable. Here Pal expects to work free of the art-for-art’s-sake basis, and is already negotiating with several of the major concerns with that in view. If he succeeds, you may look forward to something really different.
George Pal was a cartoonist originally, animator in a Budapest studio. Later he became head of the animation department at Germany’s U.F.A. plant. But as holder of an architectural degree he was never quite satisfied with two-dimensional drawings. Two years later he opened his own studio, and developed “the color cartoon in the third dimension”—i.e., with dolls against actual sets.
Although the actors are puppets, there are no strings attached. Nor are there any moving parts. A completely stationary puppet is created for each phase of a “movement.” And where the cartoonist would draw a separate figure for each motion-step, Pat builds a separate doll.
Or part of one. It depends how much of the doll’s body is supposed to “move,” from one frame of film to the next. Thus a “close-up” of the heroine making eyes at the hero would require replacement of the lady’s original head by twenty-eight others—each one advancing the wink until the twenty-eighth had told the story. When you consider that an average one-reeler contains 15,000 frames, Pal’s work would appear to have been cut out for him! But he just smiles and says, “It’s no more difficult than cartoons.”
Indeed a “working cartoon” is made and “shot” before the actual subject—in order, Pal explains, to test the movements of the dolls-to-be. Even earlier, the script has been written, the music scored, and the sets designed. When everything is ready the puppets go into “action.” Held in place by invisible pins, they are about six inches high. But they look as big as life.
Pal maintains a staff at Eindhoven, Holland, although his last subjects have been in English. They include “Philips Broadcast, 1938,” a tabloid revue (music by Ambrose;) “Home on the Range,” with synchronized dialogue; “Sleeping beauty,” and “The Queen Was in the Parlor,” which music by Jack Hylton’s orchestra.
A number of Pal’s stop-motion shorts were compiled into a film called The Puppetoon Movie a number of years ago, exposing his work to a new generation. Some of his shorts can be found on-line, and you should seek them out.


  1. Don, could you contact me at, as I can't get through to you on your email.

  2. George Pal actually moved to the US in 1940, after he made his last short, "Friend in Need", or "Vriend in Nood" in Dutch, which can be found on YouTube.

  3. George Pal actually arrived in America in early December 1939. Vriend in Nood was completed in his absence during March 1940, but wasn't shown theatrically until 1945.