Tuesday 20 June 2023

Gaston, Il N'est Pas Magnifique

Gene Deitch bewailed the old-fashioned cartoons being pumped out at Terrytoons when he arrived there in mid-1956 and decided he wanted something modern. In the process, he went back to an idea from 1932.

Pencil Mania was a Van Beuren cartoon where Jerry’s pencil drew things that came to life. Deitch and his writing team decided, almost 25 years later, to do the same thing in a new character called Gaston Le Crayon.

Five Gaston shorts were made, the first being Gaston is Here (copyright May 29, 1957). In this scene, the skinny-limbed Gaston draws a coffee pot and then paints coffee in it, all in jerky limited animation.

Gaston lays down to rest and sip his coffee, and sighs “Zat’s a cigarette.” A cigarette? No, it’s coffee.

“Ze coffee blake” (as a cuckoo watch calls it) is interrupted by construction of a movie studio on top of the hill he lives inside.

Gaston complains to either the construction company or the studio executives about the destruction of his home. But next thing we see, is Gaston cheerfully helping people enacting scenes in movies. Why? Does he think these are real people in distress? Who knows. I honestly can’t figure out this cartoon. All I know is he’s an annoying chatterbox.

In one scene, he draws something to help an actor who is playing a thirsty man in a desert. The best part of this is the irony that he’s drinking water as the Hitchcock-ish director is describing the scene.

The gag-topper is he draws a fire hydrant after all the water came out of it. Uh, okay.

Perhaps he’s exacting revenge in the next scene as Gaston draws a rocket on the director, lights a fuse, and sends him into the air with more irony, as the director says to an actor “One of us must go.” Gaston shouts upward: “Don’t forget to send packages.”

Next is an actor on the set of “Arctic Peril,” bemoaning his “frozen fate.” Gaston rushes in and draws a toaster around him. He runs out of the scene, then comes down on a sandbag from the top of the stage. This, somehow, pops the actor out of the toaster. The actor is now the shape of toast, which the director, chasing Gaston, runs through.

None of this makes a lot of sense, and I can only conclude that Deitch and his writers (three of them worked on this cartoon) decided to come up with an early Daffy Duck or Screwy Squirrel-type character. In other words, Gaston Le Crayon is nuts. On top of this, we have the “run-through-to-create-hole” gag that Tex Avery used in a bunch of his cartoons, such as Garden Gopher (1950).

At least the early Daffy was funny. Screwy wasn’t likeable, but the gags were good. Gaston just doesn’t do it for me. Sorry Gene. I’d rather watch Pencil Mania, bad draughtsmanship and all.

Phil Scheib has a Tom Terrific-type score with lots of solo instruments and dissonant sounds. Allen Swift supplies all the voices.


  1. The Terry Studio had already done a exact remake of PENCIL MANIA in 1940: THE MAGIC PENCIL.

  2. Gene Deitch was an incompetent hack with no talent. He had no business being allowed anywhere near a cartoon studio, let alone running one. Everything he ever did is all ugly drawings, obnoxious characters and terrible music. I can’t stand to watch them, it’s like sticking needles in my eyes. People complain about Paul Terry, but when it comes to making cartoons he was a million times better than Gene Deitch.

    1. Umm… Huh? I honestly have to disagree with this. At least Gene had set vision to what his cartoons wanted to be, and I like a his Terrytoon shorts, like the “Juggler of Our Lady” or the last Dinky short, which was a clever satire of Dinky’s previous outings. It felt very UPA-ish.

      You got to understand that Terry made cartoons strictly in a business perspective rather then a artistic perspective. Animators had limited creative resources and Scheib struggled to compose original scored without the use of licensed music. Say all you want about Gene but at least he had more original ideas. I can’t count the many times the “fairytale” idea was reused in Paul’s tenure.

  3. Apparently. The last of Carlo Vinci’s Terry animation can be seen in this short and Clint Clobber’s Cat (The Tiger King, while released in 1960, was mainly produced during Paul Terry’s tenure and has some Tyer & Vinci animation in it, albeit both of them are uncredited because they already left by 1960)

    Other animators include the usual gang of Terry animators that worked on the cartoons for years (Tyer, Silverman, Davis, & Donnelly) alongside guys like Al Chiarito and George Bakes