Van Beuren Studios (pronounced Van Burr-en), originally known as the "Fables Studio", was a cartoon studio that lasted from 1928 to 1936. It is the least known cartoon studio of The Golden Age of Animation, yet its brief history is dotted with interesting films and major animation talents.If asked what Van Beuren Studios was famous for, most people today would probably look at you with a blank stare, not knowing that the little known production company also helped lead the pack when it came to classic cartoons of their time.Van Beuren Studios was started by an upstart named Amadee J. Van Beuren. Paul Terry was also involved in the studio’s history, but later left to start his own production company, called Terrytoons. Van Beuren’s most recognized characters were called “Tom and Jerry,” but bear no relation to the cat and mouse characters released by MGM Studios eight years later. Their success was modest, yielding 26 cartoons in all. Aesop’s Fables, the studio’s other front runner gave rise to the now not so recognizable Cubby Bear, one of the series’ stars.Walt Disney Studios had already made a splash with music and sound effects in their early toons, and Van Beuren promised to follow suit and do the same later on. The producers hired Disney veterans Burt Gillett and Tom Palmer to create a new series in hopes of jump-starting the B-list studio’s reputation. The somewhat well-received series was called “Rainbow Parade”, a series of lavish Silly Symphonies clones, also starring licensed characters like "Toonerville Folks" and "Felix the Cat".Despite the studio’s mild successes during its waning years, it was forced to closed its doors when RKO Radio Pictures decided to release Walt Disney cartoons, rather than those produced by Van Beuren.—description cited from Toonjet.Com.Like many non-Disney/Warner Bros. cartoon studios, critics and historians generally tend to give Van Beuren the footnote treatment, writing off the cartoons as cheaply produced drivel—but this isn't quite true. For all the sloppy animation and one-note characters, there are some inspired gags here and there, as well as some very good musical scores provided with each cartoon. Despite this, many of the shorts were scattered and lost for a long time, due to their public domain status and lack of care. The fact that the studio's role in the History of Animation was very minor and tangential compared to the other studios didn't help. Fortunately, thanks to recent DVD collections, especially from Thunderbean, and the fact that all of the studios cartoons are public domain, the bulk of this studio's sound output is available on DVD for viewing, save for some of the sound Fables and the missing Toby the Pup shorts. Research copies of the entire Van Beuren sound output are available for animation historians on Jerry Beck'sCartoon Research website.It is also worth noting that Van Beuren was located directly across the street from one of their competitors, Fleischer Studios!
Works of the studio:
Aesop's Fables, AKA "Aesop's Film Fables" (1929-1933) inherited from the Fables Studio, which was formerly run by Paul Terry. Originally a long running silent cartoon series, it now became a series of sound cartoons which introduced one of the earliest sound cartoons, "Dinnertime", which notably predates Disney's Steamboat Willie by a month. It lasted around 120 shorts, including its sub-series. Paul Terry's Farmer Al Falfa was also a recurring star of the silent shorts, even appearing in a few of the early sound films before Terry, who had left to found his own studio, wrangled back the rights to the character.
The Fables had its own sub-series, "Cubby Bear" (1933-1934), which ran for 16 shorts, with a 17th one being finished, but unreleased until it resurfaced on a Cubby Bear DVD collection decades later. Notably, three shorts in the series, "Gay Gaucho" (1933), "Cubby's World Flight" (1933) and the unreleased "Mischievous Mice" (1934) were outsourced to the Harman-Ising cartoon studio, and they heavily resemble the Bosko cartoons they made.
Van Beuren's Tom and Jerry (1931-1933) Two bungling young men, one short, one tall, which ran for 26 shorts. Absolutely no relation to MGM's Tom and Jerry shorts, but when reissued as home movies, the characters were renamed "Dick & Larry" to prevent confusion.
Amos N' Andy (1934): A short lived attempt at adapting the popular radio show of the 30s. It notably featured their original radio actors reprising their roles, but it only lasted for two shorts.
The Little King (1933-1934): An animated adaptation of the classic Newspaper Comic strip, lasting 10 shorts. Two shorts preceding this series were also based on Little King's companion strip, "Sentinel Louie", but released as part of the Aesop's Fables series.
Toddle Tales (1934); A Roger Rabbit Effect-based series of cartoons made by Burt Gillett to help beef up the quality of Van Beuren's product. It lasted three shorts.
Rainbow Parade (1934-1936); A series of color cartoons that lasted 27 shorts, which includes 13 oneshots, and four sub-series, including an adaptation of the Toonerville Trolley comics, Felix the Cat, and their own in-house series Molly Moo Cow and Parrotville Old Folks. Many of the non-series Rainbow Parades are obvious knockoffs of Disney's Silly Symphonies, typical of the 1930s.
Felix the Cat (1936) While Felix was very prominent in the silent era, the rise of sound film ultimately proved to be his downfall. However, he survived as a popular newspaper comic, and did receive a very brief three-cartoon revival via Van Beuren Studios' "Rainbow Parade" series during the 1930s, with a fourth short in the planning stages before the Van Beuren Studio abruptly went belly-up In 1936.
Animated Adaptation: They made three of them, based on Otto Soglow's comic "The Little King" (with two preceding shorts based on its companion strip, "Sentinel Louie"), the radio show "Amos N Andy", and Fontaine Fox's comic "Toonerville Trolley".
An Aesop: Ironically subverted with the Aesop's Fables shorts (which have parody aesops in the silent shorts and abandoned them altogether by the sound era) but played straight in the Toddle Tales and some of the Rainbow Parade shorts. "Spinning Mice" for instance has the moral of "Leave Well Enough Alone".
Animation Bump / Art Evolution: By the late 1933 to 1934 period, the studios animation was considerably improving over their earlier shorts. As early as "Sinister Stuff", the characters become noticeably less flat and more rounded and appealing. Then Burt Gillett got to the studio, and the animation improved even more.
The three Harman-Ising Cubby Bear shorts ("Gay Gaucho", "Cubby's World Flight" and "Mischievous Mice") have much more polished animation than the shorts prior to "Sinister Stuff".
Several shorts, such as "Makin' Em Move", "The Fatal Note" and "Fiddlin' Fun", have shots where the backgrounds are animated in three dimensional perspective.
Art Deco: The Little King shorts have their characters designed like this, in order to match the designs of the original comic.
Art Shift: The three Harman-Ising Cubby Bear shorts are drawn In a very different style than the rest of the series.
The Little King Van Beuren shorts have more of an Art Deco aesthetic to the character designs to match the look of the comic it adapted from.
Animate Inanimate Object: The living clocks in "Grandfather's Clock", and the living kitchen appliances in "Picnic Panic".
A Pirate 400 Years Too Late: Even though most of the Cubby Bear cartoons are clearly set in the 1930's, there are pirates in "Bubbles and Troubles".
Artifact Title: The Aesop's Fables sound films, which abandoned the format of the silent shorts (which were somewhat based on the actual fables and had "Aesops" at the end of each one) in favor of the musical gag cartoon format.
Badass Adorable: Cubby Bear is adorable looking, and as we see in shorts like "Goode Knight", he can kick butt if he needs too.
When one of their brothers is threatened, the other two kittens in "Rough on Rats" give the evil rat one heck of a beatdown during the climax!
Felix the Cat retains this trait in his shorts. He even sword fights the villain of "The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg"!
Asteroids Monster: In "Parrotville Fire Department", one of the parrots tries to take down one of living little flames with an axe, but this just splits them into even smaller little fires.
Baleful Polymorph: In "Spinning Mice", the evil little devils turn the wizard into a giant rabbit by spilling his own potion on him.
Bedsheet Ghost: A group of them briefly pop up to scare Tom and Jerry in "Wot a Night", but they quickly fall through a trapdoor—just to wind up with a group of skeletons instead.
Big Damn Heroes: Subverted in "Jungle Jam"; Tom and Jerry seem like they're going to be rescued from the cannibals cornering them on the beach; but as soon as their leader sees who they're rescuing, he immediately does a 180 with the rest of the navy, leaving Tom and Jerry to wing it and swim for their lives under the fire of the cannibals spears.
In "Rough on Rats", two of the kittens save their third sibling from an evil rat this way.
In "Along Came A Duck", the frog saves the duck he was messing around with from drowning, as his shenanigans got the duck tangled in seaweed underwater in the first place.
Body Horror: In "Swiss Trick", Tom and Jerry are visiting the Swiss Alps, they eat a strange kind of cheese that causes swiss cheese like holes to open up in their body! And then get chased by an army of mice who think they're walking cheese.
In "Wot A Night", they inexplicably get their lower bodies (but not their heads) reduced to bare skeletons.
Boxing Kangaroo: One briefly appears in "A Royal Good Time", and it helps the King escape from the villain of the short.
Brawn Hilda: Katrinka in the Toonerville Trolley series.
Butt Monkey: Mr. Bang in the Toonerville Trolley series.
Captain Ersatz: Milton Mouse, who was an obvious ripoff of Mickey Mouse. Incidentally, by the time of "Hot Tamale", Milton looked identical to another Mickey Mouse clone: Foxy, of Warner Bros. cartoons. As with Foxy, Walt quickly got wind of Van Beuren's ripoff and forced them to never use Milton again. This didn't stop them from creating another, less blatant ersatz of Mickey, called Cubby Bear.
"The Farmarette" features a boop oop a doop cat girl that is obviously inspired by Betty Boop; she's even voiced by one of Betty's actresses, Bonnie Poe!
The Little King gets captured by a tribe of them in "On The Pan"; he's even served with Happy Birthday topping written in him!
Tom and Jerry also suffer this fate in "Jungle Jam". They win them over with their music, at least until they try to run away.
Cartoon Bomb: What the villain of "The Fatal Note" tries to kill the King with.
Card-Carrying Villain: The evil gnomes in "Sunshine Makers", who openly call themselves nasty, mean and sad, and hate anything sunny or happy.
Cardboard Prison: Of the lighter variety, the dog catcher in "Dinnertime" unwittingly let's all of his dogs loose while trying to catch the dogs raiding Farmer Al Falfa's meat shop.
The royal prison the King visits in "Jolly Good Felons", which is played for laughs; one of the prisoners even removes one of the bars from his cell window, only to dust it off and put it back. Then the King unwittingly ticks off a prisoner by ruining his chess game, which makes him tear the bars off his cell, steal the keys from the prison guard, and then a lever that releases all of the prisoners!
Catching Some Z's: In the opening of "Dinnertime", the bird is sleeping like this until his alarm clock wakes him up, and the dog catcher in the same shirt is doing this before he's awakened.
Cats Are Mean: The cat in "Dinnertime" and the villainous cat in "Bird Scouts".
Cats Have Nine Lives: The cat in "Dinnertime" almost loses his nine lives from falling, but he climbs back up through the air to get them. A nearby dog who was drinking beer sees this, looks at his bottle, and then drops it and runs off in fear.
Channel Hop: Of the pre-Tv variety; Felix was previously made by the Pat Sullivan studio and distributed by at least five different companies (Paramount, Winkler, Educational, First National and Copley Pictures). By 1936, Van Beuren licensed the character for their studio, and for that brief period they were distributed by RKO pictures.
Downer Ending: While "Jolly Good Felons" ends with the prison riot subdued, the King is mistakenly jailed with all of them, while another prisoner escaped by disguising himself in his stolen regal outfit.
Everything's Nuttier With Squirrels: The ending of "In the Bag"; Tom got his money bag swapped out with walnuts, and when he opens the bag in the forest and finds out he's been duped, a bunch of squirrels swarm him!
The Everyman: Cubby Bear. He can be a good fighter, dancer and singer, but otherwise has little going for him personality wise.
Evil-Detecting Dog: In "Scottie Finds A Home", the eponymous terrier knows right away that the vagrant who arrives at the grandmothers house is up yo no good. After barking at him, the hobo hangs him by his sweater on a nearby tree as he goes off to pester the grandma cat for food.
Expy: Their Tom and Jerry were just human versions of previous Van Beuren characters Waffles the Cat and Don Dog.
In the Harman-Ising Cubby Bear shorts, Cubby looks, moves and acts very similar to Harman-Ising's own Bosko The Talk Ink Kid.
The bird from the ending of "A Little Bird Told Me" says this to the kids after she's done telling her story.
Follow the Leader: This was Van Beuren's greatest weakness as a studio; while their animation was as off the wall as you could get, their cartoons were very derivative of what other studios were doing, and they were clearly handicapped by their inability to create unique characters. Many of their early 30's cartoons take their surreal cues straight from their next door rival Fleischer Studios; "The Farmerette" even has an obvious Betty Boop stand in, even voiced by one of her actresses, Bonnie Poe. One of their sound fables, "Panicky Pup", is an obvious knockoff of Fleischer's "Swing, You Sinners!" Their Tom and Jerry is a flaccid attempt at a Mutt And Jeff-esque duo, and their Milton Mouse and Cubby Bear, as well as their interpretation of Felix the Cat, are obvious Mickey Mouse knockoffs. Their Toddle Tale and some of their Rainbow Parade cartoons ride off the coat of Disney's Silly Symphonies series.
Food Porn: "Pastry Town Wedding" is entirely set in a colorful land of cake and cake decorations.
Framing Device: The Toddle Tales and two of the Rainbow Parade shorts have live action openings and endings, with the cartoon segments inbetween that provide the "morals" of the cartoons.
Nero's champion does this to Cubby upon accepting his challenge to the chariot race in "Fiddlin' Fun".
Jerry does this to a cannibal before running off in "Jungle Jam".
Mad Bomber: The villain of "The Fatal Note", who tries, and fails, to kill the King with a bomb.
Medium Blending: For some odd reason, the opening titles to "Plane Dumb" has a live action waterfall superimposed behind it.
Mickey Mousing; As usual for golden age cartoons, all of the films are timed to musical tempos and beats, with characters often moving directly in synch with the musical tracks.
The Middle Ages: The setting of "Goode Knight", where Cubby Bear plays the role of Robin Hood.
Mordor: The swampy, gnarly and desolate village of the evil gnomes in "Sunshine Makers", at least until the good gnomes bombard it with Sunshine milk, turning it into a colorful, lively land lush with life again.
Mood Whiplash: "Rough on Rats" is mostly a cutesy, happy gag cartoon—but then the rat comes along and kidnaps one of the kittens, trying to cut him in half with a buzz saw as the music and tone takes a dramatic turn as the other two kittens come to his rescue and assault the rat.
Morph Weapon: Of the funny variant; in "Rabid Hunters", Tom corners a rabbit, first pulling out a handgun, but then he turns it Into a hunting rifle on the spot.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: Celebrity caricatures were common in several of the shorts, such as Honey Bear dressing up as Mae West and Gandhi making a cameo in "Croon Crazy", and a bird in "A Little Bird Told Me" being named Walter Finchell, a play on the famous radio star Walter Winchell.
The buzzard who turns his head into that of Jimmy Dirante in "On The Pan".
"Cupid Gets His Man" features a character who is a caricature of W.C. Fields.
No More for Me: In "Dinnertime", a dig with a bottle of beer has this reaction when he sees a cat climb into the air to recollect it's lost nine lives.
No Name Given: The kittens in "Merry Kittens" and "Rag Dog" aren't named, are interchangeable in personality, and are only distinguishable by their colors (white, orange, grey).
Offscreen Teleportation: The rabbit in "Rabid Hunters" uses this when Tom and Jerry are chasing it on a tree branch.
Off with His Head!: Tom briefly gets his head knocked off as a gag in "Swiss Trick". He quickly puts it back on.
Paper-Thin Disguise: Tom and Jerry disguise themselves in blackface makeup (while impersonating Amos N Andy at the same time) when they travel to Africa in "Plane Dumb". The natives aren't fooled.
Poorly Disguised Pilot: Before starting their Little King shorts, Van Beuren made two shorts based on the Little King's companion strip, "Sentinel Louie", which were both released as part of the Aesop's Fables series of shorts.
Psycho Serum: In "Spinning Mice", the wizards magic potion, which normally turns ugly things into beautiful things, becomes this after an extra ingredient accidentally falls into it, turning a batch of mice into little Red Devils.
In "Sunshine Makers", the evil gnomes have a murky spray that can counteract the happy effects of the good gnome sunshine milk.
Public Domain Animation: All 189 of their sound cartoons (as well as their 347 silent cartoons) have fallen into the Public Domain, which made it easy for Thunderbean to re-release them once they found the best source materials available.
Punny Name: Walter Finchell, the bird reporter in "A Little Bird Told Me", a parody of the then famous radio star Walter Winchell.
Random Events Plot: Most of the shorts are strings of gags or musical affairs with no real plot to speak of.
Smelly Skunk: Used for a gag in "Noah Knew His Ark"—the two skunks are stuck in their own private boat tied behind the ark.
The rabbit in "Rabid Hunters" turns out to be a skunk in disguise.
The Sphinx: A monstrous version appears in "Gypped in Egypt".
Space Whale Aesop: The "moral" of "Grandfather's Clock"; don't play around with or smash clocks, because they have hearts and feelings just like you and me!
Spoof Aesop: During the silent era of the series, each cartoon would end with a so-called "Sugar Coated Pill of Wisdom". "Summertime" (1929), for instance, ends with the line "Hairs, brains and skirts are short this season."
Standard Snippet: When the Navy Beans are marching out in "How's Crops?", the staple song "The Sailor's Hornpipe" plays. It's also used briefly in "Polar Pals" when a pelican has a xylophone played in its mouth.
Early in "Wot a Night", the "Volga Boatmen" song plays when a car is wading through flooded waters.
In "Rabid Hunters", the hunting song "A Hunting We Will Go" plays when Tom and Jerry begin hunting.
What Happened to the Mouse?: In "Rough on Rats", the mother cat is present for the first minute, but vanishes for the rest of the cartoon as the kittens play around in the grocery shop, not even appearing when one of her kittens is kidnapped and almost killed by a rat.
When It Rains, It Pours: The opening of "Wot A Night" has Tom and Jerry stuck in a rainstorm so heavy, it floods their car!
Wheel o' Feet: The butterfly catcher runs like this when he's trying to run after the butterflies in "Molly Moo Cow and the Butterflies".