Archive for Van Beuren

Those Awful Cartoons

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on March 7, 2018 by dcairns

Actually, I like even the really bad, charmless, disturbing thirties cartoons, though not as much as I like the genuinely charming but still creepy Fleischer masterworks. This one is somewhere in between.

CANDY LAND is a Van Beuren job from 1933. Typically incoherent and riddled with wrong. Two cats in a boat are transported to the moon, which seems to be made of comestibles. But you enter it through its grinning maw. Inside the lunar domain, there are chocolate soldiers emerging from giant cakes, and the cat lovers (why cats?) gorge themselves on everything. Thankfully, they don’t eat the characters MADE of food, like the candy cane halberdiers. (Not a phrase one sees often, “candy cane halberdiers,” but one I now plan to work into everything I write. Too late to use it in my OLD DARK HOUSE video essay, but maybe I can find a way to slip it into my text piece on Joseph H. Lewis’s SO DARK THE NIGHT.)

One interesting thing is the transitions — our cat duo get transported from scene to scene by dissolves, their figures occupying roughly the same screen space in each setting, sort of like the way Buster Keaton is teleported by edit in SHERLOCK JR. The inside of the moon is a dream, a movie, and a deli. They COULD have made the optical match perfect by simply recycling the same cels so the figures maintain their exact position, but either they didn’t think of it or they worried that would be confusing.

Confusing? In THIS cartoon?

And then the catagonists are chased by a giant sentient (or anyhow ambulatory) bottle of castor oil and accompanying spoon. Maybe it’s the same spoon who ran away with a dish after the cow jumped over this deli-planetoid. At any rate, he’s all flooby, urigellering all over the shop as he joins the insane chase.

One more thing. I like the way the moon follows the cats in their rowboat. When I was a little kid, driving in the car at night (as a passenger, I hasten to add) I was amazed at the effortless way the moon seemed to keep pace with the family Ford Cortina. Now, try as I might, I can’t be astounded by that anymore, but this toon returns some of the strangeness to our celestial stalker.

Please accept my humble Egyptologies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 23, 2013 by dcairns

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Van Beuren was an animation studio in Hollywood in the thirties — Frank Tashlin worked there for a bit (he worked everywhere) and created a comic strip character called Van Boring. Until now, what I’d seen of the studio’s output, which lacked the jazzy energy and character of the Fleischer Bros work, seemed to confirm the implied criticism in Tashlin’s choice of name.

But this one, MAGIC MUMMY, is kind of nice. It begins with two cops in a patrol car — they’re rather bland stick figures with smiley-face heads, their design seemingly based solely on ease of reproduction rather than upon any desire to suggest character or humour. But then things get weird as they listen to a musical number over the radio, and we discover it’s being broadcast from their very gay headquarters. Having just watched Mark Rapport’s entertaining documentary THE SILVER SCREEN: COLOR ME LAVENDER, loaned to us by David WIngrove, I was primed to appreciate this material in all its resplendent campery.

But more weirdness is to follow.

The song is then interrupted by an announcement that another mummy has been stolen from the museum. Another mummy? I’m intrigued. But we’re never going to learn about any of those previous stolen mummies, and the ultimate fate of this one will remain a total mystery too…

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The patrol car now turns into a sniffer dog, because this is a cartoon, and leads the intrepid but unnamed constables (I’m going to call them Larry and Kelton*) into a deserted graveyard overlooked by a ruined building. It’s all very PLAN 9, but twenty-six years earlier. And now we meet the black-robed figure lugging a small sarcophagus. This proves to be a witch, in traditional garb but with the less usual head of a skeletal cow, or possibly dog. I’m picturing Billy Drago for the part in my live action remake. Magicking open a fresh grave, Billy the Dead Cow Witch enters the bowels of the earth — the rest of this cartoon will be a series of descents ever further into Stygian terror, like Lovecraft’s The Color Out Of Space mixed with a Scopitone musical.

In his/her PHANTOM OF THE OPERA style lair, Billy Drago telekinetically extracts a bandaged bundle from the casket, and zaps the bandages off to reveal a shapely female in a VERY low-cut gown. Sitting at a piano which appears by the magic of bad continuity, Billy the Witch commands the somnolent lady to “BREATHE!” and breathe she does, bosoms expanding. It’s interesting to see elements of PHANTOM, THE MUMMY and witchcraft all bundled together like this, as early as this — the Karloff movie was brand new, but already the iconography had been crammed into a trunk marked “spooky Halloween stuff.” And interesting, now that I think of it, that Hollywood in the thirties did very little to do with witchcraft, as if the implications were too upsetting to religious sensibilities, even though the carnivalesque side of sorcery was celebrated every October 31st with little real controversy.

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Larry and Kelton , having crept into the crypt, now decide to bust the witch, but are blasted with a cruciato curse which threatens to pull the ink from their bones. Then they’re knocked through a hatch and the witch and mummy descend still further into the subterranean depths, to what turns out to be a theatre. Excellent image of the witch winding up a disintegrating curtain to reveal an audience of skeletons. At a stroke of his/her baton/wand, a skeletal orchestra rises from the earth like the children of the hydra.

Now Billy Drago’s darker purpose manifests itself, as he compels his mesmerized mummy companion to take part in a Betty Boop style musical number, interrupted by Larry & Kelton again who have extricated themselves from a drain pipe and snuck onstage. Strange image of Kelton raising the witch’s skirt — for why? — and looking aghast at her tibia and fibula.

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The cops announce a raid and the skeleton audience flees as if caught at a speakeasy. Then there’s a chase into still deeper depths of the earth, a place of stalactites and Clangers-type potholes leading, presumably, to Hell itself. One of those scuffles in the dark that’s so cheap to animate follows, and Kelton, alone and apparently unconcerned as to his friend’s fate, emerges from the graveyard entertainment complex clutching the hard-won sarcophagus and speeds back to police headquarters to show his homosexual cartoon policeman friends.

But — oh horror! — when he opens the case it is his buddy Larry who staggers out, his once-circular eyes replaced by the unseeing X’s of Death. Iris in. The End.

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The moral: don’t pursue bovine skeleton witch’s to underground musical theatres no matter what your sniffer dog car suggests.

*But apparently they are called Tom & Jerry. They are the original cartoon T&J, long before that cat and mouse act.

Valley of the Things

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 8, 2012 by dcairns

The Van Beuren company and its boss, Mr Van Beuren, was lampooned by Frank Tashlin as “Van Boring,” but there’s nothing dull about their AESOP’S FABLES series. There’s also no resemblance to Aesop or his fables or fables in general — these are pure early 1930s free-associative lunacy.

In GYPPED IN EQYPT, a comedy double act (seeming to anticipate Abbott and Costello and their meeting with the mummy) murders a camel and is then plunged into a hallucinogenic nightmare of guilt and torment — with musical interludes. Lots of anatomically incorrect/incomplete skeletons in the Disney manner, in a pleasing variety of designs.

The principle characters were apparently called Waffles and Don, and were apparently a cat and dog, though none of this was really apparent to me. Don Dog looks a bit Lou Costello-like to me, but he’s less flappable, more cool and collected, while the gangling cat is a panic-stricken specimen of the sub-genus scaredy.

The giant menacing Sphinx driving out of the desert like a monolithic Duesenberg is a favourite moment, somewhat echoed at the end by the vast, world-obliterating pair of malevolent eyes peering over the horizon like a kosmic Kilroy, or something out of Olaf Stapledon. And then we fade out, with no resolution or explanation. I am genuinely reminded of the apocalyptic finale of Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

“Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!”