Tomorrow evening on TCM, Robert Osborne and animation scholar/historian Jerry Beck will be co-hosting a six-hour block of classic, rare animation in prime-time.
To say this is an extremely welcome night of entertainment is an understatement.
Classic animation gets the short shrift nowadays. Sure, you can find hour-long blocks of Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry cartoons weekdays on Cartoon Network (though these ‘toons tend to derive solely from the 1940s through the 1960s). And sure, there’s Boomerang, the cable channel specifically established as an outlet for classic cartoons, whose schedule sadly now includes only a handful of those classics (and usually late at night). But rarely, if ever, do the cartoons being highlighted Sunday night on TCM get even that relatively minuscule amount of attention. That’s why this move on TCM’s part is so very important. As Beck pointed out in a post on his essential animation site, Cartoon Brew, earlier this week:
“The six hour spotlight on classic animation coming this weekend is a test. Will TCM’s traditional viewers respect and understand these are classic films? I’m betting they will. As far as I’m concerned, animated shorts and features – especially those produced for theatrical showing – from 1906 to umm, let’s say 1970 – are ‘classic film.’ They are not ‘old kids fodder’ – which is how they are perceived by their parent companies. They do not get the proper respect they deserve. The TCM broadcast is a rare opportunity for the medium; a great place to expose more people to the art, entertainment and legacy of animation.”
Tomorrow evening’s #TCMParty on Twitter will be devoted to the animated prime-time lineup, and I am excited to have the opportunity to serve as host! I am no Jerry Beck (far from it!), but I have great love for classic animation, and have spent the last couple of years immersing myself in it through the writing of our “Pioneers of Animation” series here at True Classics. I am looking forward to sharing the tidbits that I’ve learned about these features and the legendary, awe-inspiring animators who created them.
Seriously, I’m going to be a giddy fangirl tomorrow night. Brace yourselves.
Here’s a brief preview of the “coming attractions” Sunday evening (all times cited are EST):
8PM: Gulliver’s Travels (1939)
9:30PM: Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941)
The night kicks off with the two feature-length animated films that the Fleischer brothers produced for Paramount. You can read a bit more about these films–and how their production eventually spelled the end for the Fleischers’ studio–in our profile of Fleischer animation from last month.
11PM–12AM: A selection of UPA “Jolly Frolics” cartoons
This hour features some of the best-known and most beloved shorts from the inventive animators of United Productions of America. The schedule includes:
Fudget’s Budget (1954): In this (deceptively) simply animated short, a couple faces financial difficulty when they find themselves (quite literally) struggling to stay afloat.
The Unicorn in the Garden (1953): An adaptation of James Thurber’s hilarious short story about a man’s strange hallucination–or is it, really?
Gerald McBoing-Boing (1951): The brainchild of children’s author Dr. Seuss, this Academy Award-winning short is the story of a little boy who speaks only in sound effects.
Rooty Toot Toot (1951): A jazzy retelling of the traditional American pop song “Frankie and Johnny.” Will Frankie beat the murder rap for plugging Johnny “rooty toot toot, right in the snoot?”
The Tell-Tale Heart (1953): Narrated by the incomparable James Mason, this short is a striking adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story.
Christopher Crumpet (1953): The fantastical tale of a young boy who, instead of throwing a tantrum when his desires are thwarted, transforms into a chicken instead.
The Ragtime Bear (1949): In this first appearance of the beloved character Mr. Magoo, the severely near-sighted curmudgeon mistakes a banjo-playing bear for his nephew, Waldo.
12AM–1:15AM: A selection of silent film animation from the collection of Tom Stathes
All of these shorts are digitally remastered, and some are accompanied by new or updated musical scores. For more information about the silent film block, check out Stathes’ blog, CartoonsOnFilm, which features a detailed preview of each short on the schedule. [The listings here reflect those on the TCM website, which differ from the order in which Stathes listed them on his blog, so the order of airing may be subject to change.]
Scents and Nonsense (1926): A silent entry in the Krazy Kat cartoon series.
Down on the Phoney Farm (1915): A recently rediscovered cartoon animated by Paul Terry (of Terrytoons fame). featuring his popular “Farmer Al Falfa” character. [Stathes warns that this one is a fragment of the original, but still "may be close to complete."]
Springtime (1923): Another Terry cartoon featuring the antics of Farmer Al.
Out of the Inkwell–Trip to Mars (1924): An episode in Max Fleischer’s imaginative series of the adventures of Koko the Clown. This time, Max (unwillingly) goes on the adventure with his animated pal.
The Artist’s Dream (1913): A live-action/animation short by animator J.R. Bray, founder of Bray Productions, one of the first studios established solely for the production of animated cartoons.
The Farmerette (1932): A parody of the immensely popular Betty Boop, this cartoon was produced as part of the Aesop’s Film Fables series, which had been created in the 1920s by Terry.
Fireman Save My Child (1919): Featuring comic duo Mutt and Jeff.
The Bomb Idea (1920): An adaptation of the popular early twentieth-century comic strip Jerry on the Job. [Stathes notes that this one was "likely animated" by Walter Lantz, later the creator of Woody Woodpecker.]
The Haunted Hotel (1907): A combination live-action/stop-motion short feature, produced by animation pioneer J. Stuart Blackton.
Bobby Bumps Starts for School (1917): One of the many adventures of the mischievous title character, created by legendary animator Earl Hurd, who developed the cel animation process alongside Bray.
Lightning Sketches (1907): The earliest-produced feature on the schedule, this short is one of Blackton’s “chalk talks,” straight out of vaudeville tradition.
1:15AM: The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1927)
The night concludes with German animator/director Lotte Reiniger’s beautiful animated fairy tale feature, which predates Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by more than a decade. Rendered in paper silhouette against lovingly detailed backgrounds, Prince Achmed is nothing less than a treat for the eyes.
Tune in at 8PM to watch this fantastic lineup, and join us on Twitter (hashtag #TCMParty) to discuss and share your reactions to these films! And to echo Beck’s and Stathes’ pleas this week: if you long to see more classic animation featured on Turner Classic Movies, PLEASE share your thoughts on the TCM message boards. Here’s hoping that The Powers That Be at the Best Damn Cable Channel in the Known Universe recognize the importance of presenting these animated rarities much more often!