Jerry Beck and Amin Amidi’s Cartoon Brew is one of my favorite animation sites, so I was delighted that they have added Cartoon Brew TV to their mix, featuring new and old films. Their first offering, Michael Langan’s award-winning Doxology, a student film made at Rhode Island School of Design, was somewhat disappointing; the film, which seems inspired by Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python work, has a few good ideas, but it really does not hold together.
However, their second offering, Tod Polson and Mark Oftedal’s The Pumpkin of Nyefar (2004) is much more assured film. Done in the Fractured Fairy Tale style glommed onto by DreamWorks in its Shrek franchise, it is a charming effort. Interestingly, it was co-authored by Warner Bros. cartoon legend Maurice Noble when he and Polson were at Chuck Jones Film Productions in 1994. The film itself was made at Wang Studios in Taiwan (aka Cuckoo’s Nest), which is best known as a pioneering overseas studio, and narrated by June Foray (another Warner Bros. veteran, best known for voicing Rocky and Natasha in Rocky and Bullwinkle, home of the Fractured Fairy Tales).
But what really led me to write this was the first in their series of
… Cartoon Brew TV’s “Brew Vaults.” Every three weeks [they are] presenting an animated short, movie trailer, vintage TV commercial or some other cartoon rarity and offering an exclusive audio track commentary about its production, historical significance and the artists who made these films. Animation historian Jerry Beck and other guests will provide the commentaries.
And it is the commentary which makes this offering so valuable. The first film in the series is Paul Terry’s Dinner Time (1928), in which Jerry Beck is joined by ace animator and historian Mark Kausler; the duo provide a wonderful analysis of the film, just as you would expect to hear on one of the many first-rate DVD sets Beck has produced over the years.
Dinner Time is a film often referred to in histories of animation, but rarely discussed. Basically, it was the first sound cartoon to get a wide release and was the film Walt Disney worried about when making Steamboat Willie. And sure enough, as Disney and director Ub Iwerks were relieved to find out, it nowhere came close to challenging their first sound offering. (They have also posted a Quicktime version of the film without commentary here.)
(Of course, Max Fleischer was the first to make animated cartoons with sound with his Ko-Ko Car-Tunes series, using the experimental Lee De Forest Phonofilm system; however, the films only played as sound films in a only a few theaters . J.R. Bray claimed to have made an experimental sound cartoon in 1926 using Fox’s Movietone system, though it was apparently never released.)
Beck and Kausler do make one error. Though they clearly state the film was made before Steamboat Willie, they seem to take the Dinner Time‘s December 1928 copyright date as indicating it was probably released after the Disney film, which was not the case. Copyright dates do not always reflect a film’s actual release date, and, as IMDB notes, it was released on October 14, 1928, a month before the Disney film.
But I quibble and can easily and unabashedly recommend Cartoon Brew TV.