Tuesday, 27 October 2020

A Podcast For Fans of Old Animation

There’s everything right with a podcast that tackles the subjects of
a) The Van Beuren studio that made amateurish, oddly-plotted cartoons.
b) The short-shrifted Art Davis unit at the Warner Bros. studio which made cartoons with their own feel but still came up with top-flight shorts starring Daffy Duck and Porky Pig.

These were the most recent topics at the Cartoon Logic podcast hosted by Thad Komorowski and Bob Jaques. They added Charlie Judkins on the Van Beuren cast to lend his insights about the studio. Listeners got an excellent look at part of the animation situation in New York City in the mid-20s in addition to the (somewhat) rise and fall of Amadee Van Beuren’s cartoon enterprise (he made live-action shorts as well).

The Van Beuren cartoons aren’t funny like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The best of them trot along and then something strange would come out of nowhere. They also have the benefit (well, until he got fired) of music by bandleader Gene Rodemich. There was no attempt to score to the action on the screen. Rodemich would set a mood with popular tunes of the day, with the action taking a breather for a song. Unfortunately, the cartoons simply didn’t compare well to the ones put out by other studios and an attempt at boosting them under new studio head Burt Gillett turned out to be too little, too late. The studio was shut down by R-K-O.

As for Art Davis, he seems to have been given a ragtag group of artists (including Bill Melendez, who later put the Peanuts specials on TV) and, eventually, a couple of rookie story men then told to come up with Warners cartoons. There’s something quirky about Davis’ output, but they created some very enjoyable shorts. The last, Bye Bye Bluebeard, written by Sid Marcus after the rookies were fired (one being Bill Scott of Bullwinkle fame), had some fine visual touches. But the studio decided it could not afford the expense of four units, so Davis’ was shut down. A shame, in the minds of many Davis fans.

Bob and Thad touch on much more than this, and in a far more intelligent way than I just have. You can catch their Van Beuren podcast at this link, which can also direct you to their Patreon page.

Oh, and for those of you who want to hear one of the songs heard in Van Beuren’s Magic Mummy, here’s a 1932 version by the Dorseys.

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