‘Greatest Cartoons Ever!’ boings, zings into Alex Theatre in Glendale
Back in 1932, Ben Bernie and All the Lads scored a hit with the novelty song “What! No Mickey Mouse?,” asking what kind of a party it was without him.
So where’s that tricky mouse?
That slicky, wacki, wicki, bolsheviki Mickey Mouse?
Irving Caesar penned the catchy ditty based on movie audiences’ reactions if there was no Mickey Mouse cartoon before a feature film.
Cartoon shorts were a novelty in the silent era, but that all changed with the tremendous success of Walt Disney’s 1928 animated Mickey Mouse sound short “Steamboat Willie.” Soon animation departments began to spring up in major and even some minor studios.
These days, animated shorts usually travel the festival route or appear as a curtain raiser for the latest Pixar, Disney or DreamWorks animated film. But during the golden age of Hollywood, cartoons were an integral part of the movie program.
“Movies generally ran between 90 to 100 minutes,” said animator-director Frank Gladstone. “You would get a short, a newsreel, a cartoon, a coming attraction and the movie. Studios like Warner Bros. would probably make 30 to 35 cartoons a year to go out with their features.”
These shorts were made to entertain both adults and children, said animation historian Jerry Beck. “They play to all audiences. They are timeless. Things later changed with television and TV animation. It was there the perception of animation changes to a kids’ medium.”
On Saturday, Beck and Gladstone will be presenting the fourth installment of Alex Film Society’s “The Greatest Cartoons Ever!” at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. The program is a rare opportunity for audiences to see these classic animated shorts on the big screen.
The duo will introduce classics from Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount and MGM that feature such animated superstars as Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Popeye, Tom and Jerry and Woody Woodpecker. Such renowned animated directors as Dave Fleischer, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson, Bill Hanna & Joe Barbera, Tex Avery and Friz Freleng are represented in the program.
Gladstone said that each studio had a different personality.
“The Fleischer cartoons were kind of rough and tumble East Coast,” he said. “Disney cartoons, generally speaking, were Middle America. The Warner cartoons were the wiseguy cartoons, much like the studio. They made references to political stuff and popular culture. That’s one of the reasons why the Warners at the end of the day seem to hold up the best in today’s world.”
Saturday’s program features shorts that made life-changing impressions on Beck and Gladstone when they saw them as youngsters.
McKimson’s 1950 Warner Bros. cartoon “It’s Hummer Time,” featuring a hummingbird, a cat and a very large dog, “is the weirdest cartoon we are showing,” said Beck.
“There are no starring characters in it. It’s a miscellaneous cartoon. For me, every single cartoon we are showing here is great, but ‘It’s Hummer Time’ is the one that sent me off on everything else I have done. It was in the middle of that cartoon I said to myself, ‘I love this cartoon.’ There were no reference books, no way to find out the name of the cartoon. I realized I wanted to know about it, and that just set me off doing my cartoon research.”
Gladstone loves Popeye cartoons — “I try to live my life a little bit like ‘I yam what I yam’” — so included in the show is the 1934 Popeye title “A Dream Walking.”
But the short that really affected him in Saturday’s program was George Pal’s 1947 Puppetoon classic “Tubby the Tuba,” a gentle stop-frame animated film with music about a sensitive tuba in an orchestra.
“Tubby,” he said, “introduced me to symphonic music, which is a big part of my life, so much so that one of my kids is a concert musician. When I started wanting to be an animator, I wanted to be a stop-frame animator because I had seen it as a kid.”
‘The Greatest Cartoons Ever!’
Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale
2 and 7 p.m. Saturday
For more information go to alexfilmsociety.org
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