This issue’s Beyond Non-Sports looks at perhaps one of the most common boomer era memories: parking your Oreos and milk in front of the tube when the cartoons came on. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone our age who hasn’t shared this pastime, but collecting the cartoons themselves is just getting more interesting. And, it’s a lot more than deranged ducks and wascally wabbits, especially now (heh-heh-heh-heh-heh…!).
While most toonhead’s collections stop at whatever your Target video department’s got from the Disney, Warners or anime offerings, you’ll be surprised how much deeper down that hole you can slip just window shopping on Amazon. Nearly every major and minor cartoon studio from the 1920s-on has at least a handful of titles available from SOMEbody.
Early Bosko’s, Inkwell clowns and deranged woodpeckers? Heh…child’s play. We’re seeing smaller companies diligently restoring characters we don’t even remember from childhood TV (we may not even have living relatives who have seen some of these in theaters). Van Buren studios, Ub Iwerks, Terrytoons, the UPA bunch…this is barely scratching the surface of “lost” animation, except now it’s easily found, cheaply had, and in great condition!
For years, the closest most could get to “owning” a cartoon was buying an actual animation “cel,” the celluloid pages the animators actually drew on, mounted on background art, then shot in sequence for animated film. Hard to believe today, but when Disneyland opened you could buy one for just a few bucks on Main Street USA; the studio thought they were just selling off junk, with no idea they were cheating artists out of a lucrative second income. Significant vintage cels can fetch hundreds to thousands at galleries and auction houses today (and you thought Bambi made you cry?).
Some companies did release shorts in 16mm for school or library, or the occasional high roller who could afford those microwave-oven-sized projectors. When I started collecting animated shorts they were on 8mm home movie film in most camera shops and departments. They were shortened even further, to about 3 minutes, in silent black-and-white, limited to whatever meager selection Castle Films sent them. Maybe you’d find a Three Stooges or Wolf Man title in there as well. By the mid-1970s, mail-order could get you a pretty good selection on Super-8, with color and sound; six or seven minutes worth of animation history on a 200-ft. reel. They were also offering 18-minute edits of major releases by then. Some mail order sources offered complete features in Super-8, over four or five large reels.
But a short (ouch!) time later, home videotape eclipsed all that, with cheap public domain selections leading the way. And for a time, tape was too expensive to buy; the list prices meant usually only video stores could invest in them. Studios eventually stopped, of course, and this helped wrestle control of the home video market away from the real beneficiaries of the industry (whom I shall not discuss here, but as a hint: “Anybody here order a pizza? Bawmp-chick-a-bow-woww!”).
The major studios finally put out legitimately owned (and decent quality) collections of their animated stars to push back from the P.D. houses, who still to this day cover the parts of the marketplace still seeking older, forgotten characters, wartime shorts made for the troops, and some racially sensitive titles the original owners won’t touch.
Now, some of these have seen the light of day; sometimes I’ll see Whoopi Goldberg at the front of a Looney Tunes disc for instance, asking viewers to watch discreetly, and take into account the historical perspective. And you’ll see some of Warner Brothers’ WWII-era Private Snafu shorts collected in a few months from Thunderbean, and I don’t suppose the Japanese caricatures will go over well with everyone.
Surely you know who made Merrie, and who was Looney; some of you may recall it was Disney churning out Silly Symphonies. But just for fun, see if you can match THESE cartoon series to their studios (no Googling, now!):
1) Harveytoons a) MGM, before Tom & Jerry
2) Rainbow Parade b) Famous Pictures (Popeye’s 2nd home)
3) Color Rhapsodies c) George Pal’s stop-motion for Paramount
4) Harveytoons d) Columbia Pictures
5) Puppetoons e) Van Buren
See answers below.
But despite all the different studios and compilations and legit releases and public domain cash grabs AND otherwise, the most holy (wacky?) grails will be found in the Warner Brothers stuff. This is simply because there were about a thousand shorts produced in their heyday, only about 60% of them have come out on video, and despite some toons repeating over their many series in VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray and whatever’s next, it’s just a given that they won’t all come out in one format or one series, or. at. all. The coyote will never eat the roadrunner, Daffy will not shout “whoo!” without the “hoo!” and there’s just too many shorts to consider releasing at once. By the time you’re halfway done, you discover you’ve matured, you have a college degree you don’t remember pursuing, and suddenly you’re wearing a suit for your interview on Wall Street.
But be aware, you can think you’ve found all the series:
VHS – Golden Jubilee 24-Karat Collection
VHS – MGM Cartoon Moviestars one-character-per-tape series
DVD – Golden Collection (all six volumes of four-disc sets)
DVD – Looney Tunes Super Stars character-centric two-disc sets
Blu-ray – Platinum Collection (three volumes of two-disc sets)
…you’ll find other, smaller sets with one, maybe two the bigger sets lacked:
VHS – Cartoon Cavalcade collection
VHS – Time Life’s AND Columbia House mail-order series
DVD – Spotlight Collection
DVD – Academy Award Animation Collection
DVD – “Essential” two-disc sets for Bugs and Daffy
DVD & Blu-ray – Mouse Chronicles of Chuck Jones-directed shorts
…and you STILL won’t have everything, because some cartoons only appear in special editions of Warner classic films, as a bonus, just like they were in their theatrical runs. Some titles only ran in special feature length compilations as released in theaters during the 1980s. And some other budget-priced series contain titles that were ALL in the major video series already, so you have to keep track.
Here are some resources to help you:
Dohtem.com has a multi-page guide that starts with Bugs and just goes deeper down the rabbit hole: dohtem.com/bugs/index.htm.
GoldenAgeCartoons.com claims to be “the ultimate Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies website”—this is just part of their sprawling web home: looney.goldenagecartoons.com/DVDvideo.
Then, for ALL the Golden Era toons, whatever YOUR Golden Era was, it doesn’t get bigger then The Big Cartoon Database: bcdb.com.
Oh, and if you’re a fan of the amazingly crucial WB soundtracks, there are also two volumes of The Carl Stalling Project on CD, as well as more recent orchestral productions, and several collections of Mel Blanc’s voice work, both for the cartoons, and his own recorded output!
One often requested recording you’ll never find from him though, is Porky singing/stammering Blue Christmas…because as it turns out…that’s not Mel! It was a comedian appearing on the syndicated John Boy and Billy morning radio show by the name of Denny Brownlee. As unaware fans circulated the tape, the performance got attributed to Seymore Swine & the Squealers.
I hope you can see how confusing, complicated, and collectible this all can be.
I hope you’re up to the challenge….
In a better world, there would be time to follow cartoon history into the Television Age; children of the 1970s onward don’t tend to make a distinction from what was made for kids watching the tube, and cartoons made for all ages in theaters. But real quick, I’ll tell ya:
—The first major cartoon series for TV was the syndicated Crusader Rabbit, co-produced by Jay (Bullwinkle) Ward.
—The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Johnny Quest aired in prime time, the first three cartoon series to air past the dinner hour.
—Hanna-Barbera actually had several dogs with identical traits, such as the wheezing usually attributed to Wacky Races‘ Mutley, and the treat-thing where the dog would jump up in the air and drift down. According to the fanzine, Mindrot, there were seven different dogs created with these traits. See: The Dog that Snickers in the TV Flickers
—When they started animating A Charlie Brown Christmas, the producers had no faith in it whatsoever, primarily for the things that made it special: the kids’ and parents’ voices.
—Thunderbean released a collection of animation you never see anymore: cartoon commercials, mostly sponsored show segments (yes, Fred & Barney DID agree, “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should”), and cereal commercials (hello, Quisp and Quake!).
—When Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Top Cat and other H-B Saturday morning stars finally got DVD releases, Turner Home video assembled entire show episodes including the backup stars as well, such as Pixie & Dixie, Quick-Draw McGraw, etc, as well as those ear worm theme songs and intro segments. Seem, seem sala bim, baby!
—And of course, these are just the cartoon shorts. So, what about the feature length animated film? Can’t have been too many of them besides the Disney films, at least before computer animation came along, right…? Well, let me say I’ve seen what I’ve considered to be A LOT of animated features…but I’m not sure even with an unlimited credit card there would be time enough left in my life to catch-up! Here, take five minutes to watch this, and just try to do it without grabbing for a notepad…vimeo.com/78178051.
Ya know? All of a sudden, collecting cards seems like…child’s play…!
For more information on this subject, toon in to the current issue Aug/Sep 2015 issue of Non-Sport Update.
Answers to above cartoon/series quiz: 1/b; 2/e; 3/d; 4/b; 5/c.