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Western Animation: Puppetoons

George Pal's Puppetoons (also released under the name of Madcap Models) was a series of Stop Motion puppet films, made from 1932 to 1947, with several recurring uses of the name in George Pal's later feature film work. The series was initially made in Europe during the 1930's, but Pal moved to the US in the 1940's (just two months before his native Holland was ravaged by the Nazi regime) and got a contract with Paramount Pictures to produce Puppetoons there.

The films are notable not only for their Art Deco aesthetic, but for their dynamic use of stop motion; usually eschewing articulated limbs used in films like King Kong (barring small amounts of articulation in the limbs), Pal developed his own unique method; each individual movement or expression of a puppet, be it a walk, pose or expression change, required either a new part or an entirely new puppet to be made altogether for the film. As such, a single Puppetoon required thousands of custom made models for each scene. But as a benefit to the expensive, time consuming process, the Puppetoons achieved a cartoon like motion that would have been difficult or flat out impossible to achieve with standard stop motion effects, such as broad Squash and Stretch effects, and this allows the characters to move very expressively and with vigor and vitality, and in very creative ways to boot.

The initial batch of Puppetoons were very experimental fantasy pieces, centered around pop culture of the day or charming fantasy stories, and often featured advertisements for products of the time (such as Horlick's Malted Milk or a Philips Radio) but when Pal moved to the US, the pressure to make the Puppetoons more commercial prompted him to work with more recurring characters (and thus allowing the films to be made somewhat faster and cheaper), such as the recurring African American child named Jasper.

The series concluded on a literal high note with the Tubby the Tuba character (who went on to star in many tie-ins outside of his sole appearance) but the Puppetoon process would find work in other films, such as George Pal's "The Great Rupert" (1949), "Tom Thumb" (1958) and "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" (1963).

The series got back into the limelight again with the release of Arnold Lebovit's "The Puppetoons Movie" (a compilation feature with a framing device guest-starring Gumby) which has been released on VHS, DVD and given a very limited Blu-Ray release in 2014 (the latter including several never before released shorts as extras).

Suffice it to say, the series laid the groundwork for Pal's later film work (such as the esteemed 1953 adaptation of The War of the Worlds), and provided inspiration for many future greats in the field of stop motion animation.

The series is also notable for adapting two of Dr. Seuss' early stories into stop motion (albeit without emulating his trademark art style); "The 500 Hats of Bartholowmew Cubbins" (1943) as well as "And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street" (1944). Several shorts in the franchise have received Academy Award nominations, including "Rhythm in the Ranks" (1941), the anti-Nazi war allegory "Tulips Shall Grow" (1942), "Jasper and the Beanstalk" (1945), "John Henry and the Inky-Poo" (1946) and "Tubby the Tuba" (1947).
     Filmography 

1932

  • Midnight

1934

  • Radio Valve Revolution
  • Ether Ship
  • Philips Cavalcade

1935

  • Sleeping Beauty
  • The Little Broadcast
  • The Magic Atlas
  • World's Greatest Show
  • In Lamp Light Land
  • Sinbad

1936

  • Ether Symphony
  • Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp
  • Ali Baba
  • On Parade!

1937

  • What Ho, She Bumps
  • The Reddingbrigade
  • The Big Broadcast of '38

1938

  • Southseas Sweethearts
  • Hoola Boola
  • The Ballet of Red Radio Valves
  • Sky Pirates

1939

  • Love on the Range

1940

  • Dipsy Gypsy
  • Captain Kidding
  • Date with Duke: Featuring Duke Ellington as himself.
  • Gooseberry Pie
  • Friend in Need

1941

  • Rhythm in the Ranks
  • Western Daze

1942

  • Tulips Shall Grow
  • The Sky Princess
  • Jasper and the Haunted House
  • Jasper and the Watermelons

1943

  • Bravo, Mr. Strauss: A follow-up to "Mr. Struass Takes A Walk", featuring the Johann Strauss puppet leading an army of Screwballs (read: Nazis) to their doom with his music.
  • Goodnight Rusty
  • The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins: Animated adaptation of the classic Dr. Seuss story.
  • Jasper and the Choo Choo
  • Jasper Goes Fishing
  • Jasper's Music Lesson

1944

  • And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street: Another animated adaptation of a classic Dr. Seuss story.
  • A Hatful of Dreams
  • Jasper Goes Hunting: Notable for featuring a brief cameo appearance of Bugs Bunny.
  • Jasper's Paradise
  • Package for Jasper
  • Two-Gun Rusty
  • Little Black Sambo
  • Wilber the Lion

1945

  • Jasper and the Beanstalk
  • Jasper's Booby Trap
  • Jasper's Close Shave
  • Jasper's Minstrels
  • Jasper Tell

1946

  • Jasper's Derby
  • Jasper in a Jam
  • Together in the Weather
  • John Henry and the Inky Poo

1947

  • Tubby the Tuba: The last short of the series.
  • Variety Girl (cameo)

1971

  • The Tool Box Ballet (broadcast on Curiosity Shop)

1987

  • The Puppetoon Movie


Tropes In This Series Include:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: "Tubby the Tuba" is centered on this, as the eponymous Tuba is ostrachized by his orchestra for wanting to play a melody outside of his typical "Oompah oompah" sounds. Eventually he wins them over, once he learns a song from a frog that catches on with the rest of the orchestra.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Screwballs from "Tulips Shall Grow".
  • Animated Adaptation: The series adapted two Dr. Seuss stories into Puppetoons shorts.
  • Bittersweet Ending: "John Henry"; the eponymous character succeeds in beating the Inky-Poo (a railroad Power Hammer) in a race, but literally dies on the spot from the extreme stress and exhaustion.
  • The Cameo: "Jasper Goes Hunting" features an authorized cameo of Bugs Bunny (complete with Mel Blanc voicing him for two lines) for several seconds when the Scarecrow aims his gun down a rabbit hole, which prompts Bugs' famous "What's up, doc?" line. It's justified due to the whole thing being part of a Dream Sequence.
    Bugs: "Hey, I'm in the wrong picture!" (dives back into hole)
  • The Can Can Song: Featured in "Philips Calvacade".
  • Color Failure: The Scarecrow has this reaction to an elephant stalking behind him in "Jasper Goes Hunting".
  • Comic Book Adaptation: The Puppetoons recieved a short lived comic tie-in during the 40's. It also gave the Scarecrow and Crow from the Jasper subseries names; Professor and Blackberry, respectively.
  • Crossover: Besides Bugs Bunny's appearance in "Jasper Goes Hunting", The Puppetoons Movie prominently features Gumby as a character, and there are cameo appearances of many iconic stop motion puppets during the ending, including the original Alka-Seltzer mascot, the Philsbery Doughboy, and even a Gremlin!
  • Darker and Edgier: "Tulips Shall Grow", due to it being an allegory of the Nazis conquering Holland.
    • The John Henry adaptation in contrast to the otherwise cartoony Puppetoons shorts. The designs are very naturalistic and the story is treated completely serious. The protagonist even dies at the end!
  • Deus ex Machina: The Rainstorm in "Tulips Shall Grow", which quickly disposes of the evil Screwballs.
  • Drop the Hammer: During his race against the Inky Poo, John Henry dual-wields two hammers in his hands, which he uses to drive the railroad track spikes into the ground, with one blow each, while running.
  • Dual Wielding: As mentioned above, John Henry is strong enough to use two very heavy hammers at once.
  • Eastern Animation: Initially, until Pal moved to the US.
  • Former Child Star: "Jasper's Derby" features Jasper befriending High Octane, an old racing horse who was a racing star as young as being a filly.
  • Framing Device: The Puppetoons Movie involves a veteran puppet dinosaur named Arnie showing Gumby many of George Pal's old Puppetoons shorts, to show him why he was such an influential filmmaker.
  • Gentle Giant: Arnie the T-Rex in the opening of The Puppetoons Movie. He doesn't even have the desire to act scary in a movie after working with George Pal in the past.
  • The Golden Age of Animation
  • Haunted House: Featured in the short "Jasper and the Haunted House".
  • Harmless Villain: The Scarecrow, who is a manipulative nuisance to Jasper, but isn't actively malicious and never tries to actually harm Jasper (other than going loony from telling a story and starts chasing Jasper at the end of one short).
  • Historical-Domain Character: The Johann Strauss II puppet character, who appeared in at least three shorts in the series.
  • Irony: The companion of the Scarecrow is a crow who is almost perpetually mounted on his shoulder.
  • Karmic Death: The Screwballs suffer this fate in "Tulips Shall Grow", when the subsequent rainstorm literally rusts them all to death before they can escape.
  • Kill It with Water: How the Screwballs are defeated in "Tulips Shall Grow"; a rainstorm abruptly comes along, and rusts them all to death (with their glass airplanes being struck down by lightning instead).
  • Killer Robot: The Screwballs from "Tulips Shall Grow" and "Bravo, Mr. Strauss".
  • Medium Blending: The shorts occasionally used hand-drawn animation alongside the stop motion in sporadic circumstances (i.e. effects animation of a cannon firing or a character smearing, a close-up of Jasper's hand "walking" across his violin in "Jasper's Derby", a painting falling asleep in the "Sleeping Beauty" short, Bugs Bunny's cameo in "Jasper Goes Hunting").
    • The "Mulberry Street" adaptation notably features a live action opening and ending.
  • Meaningful Name: High Octane, an old racing horse who was once a champion, but has long since retired and is not in top shape. Jasper's violin unintentionally allows him to regain his old speed when it's playing.
  • Motion Blur: In another rarity for stop motion, the animation sometimes employed the use of drybrush smears when a character moved particularly fast.
  • The Movie: The Puppetoons Movie, which is really just a feature length anthology of some of the series best shorts, all wrapped in a Framing Device involving Gumby learning why George Pal was such an important figure in the history of stop motion animation.
  • No Name Given: The Scarecrow and his companion Crow, a pesky recurring foe in the Jasper cartoons. However, a short-lived comic book adaptation of Puppetoons named them Professor and Blackberry.
  • Product Placement: The 30's Puppetoons would often feature these, such as ads for Horlick's Malted Milk or Philips brand radios.
  • Public Domain Animation: Several of the shorts have fallen into the public domain.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: "Mr. Strauss Takes A Walk" is based entirely around Johann Strauss II's "Tales of the Vienna Woods".
  • Random Events Plot: Shorts like "Philips Broadcast" had no plot to speak of, and were basically showcases for music and ads for the Philips Radios of the day.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: Used in the short "A Date With Duke", so the perfume puppets can interact with Duke Ellington.
  • Rubberhose Limbs: Many of the Puppets featured these in addition to more naturalistic limbs. And unlike the otherwise wood-carved puppets, the limbs were often literally made out of rubber, with articulated joints..
  • Shoulder Pet: The crow that always sits on the Scarecrows shoulder.
  • Silence Is Golden: Many of the Puppetoons are quite minimal in dialogue, using the music and visuals to carry the action. "Tubby the Tuba" notably uses a narrator to speak for the characters, who otherwise only "speak" with their respective instrumental sounds.
  • Stop Motion
  • Super Speed: High Octane the horse, from "Jasper's Derby", can reach impressive racing speeds that would otherwise be impossible for a horse of his old age, whenever Jasper plays his violin.
    • Jasper sometimes pulls this off, although it's obviously for comic effect.
  • Super Strength: John Henry in the eponymous short. He could dual wield two large hammers at once, and drive steel spikes into a railroad track with one blow, all while running at the same time! He managed to outrun and outdo the work of a power hammer.
    • Deconstructed / Reality Ensues: Predictably, the extreme strain of pulling off such a herculean feat is what ends up killing him just after he won the race.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The Screwballs from "Tulips Shall Grow" and "Bravo, Mr. Strauss" are a very unsubtle jab at the Nazis, portraying them as mindless, robotic tools that carelessly destroy anything in their path.
  • The Twelve Principles of Animation: Due to the unique (but laborious) method of using individually carved puppets per frame, this allowed to the series to use principles like Squash and Stretch to great (and hilarious) effect.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: Some of the shorts are heavily rooted in 30's and 40's pop culture, especially in regards to shorts like "Philips Calvacade", which is very much a time capsule of 30's Radio Culture.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Nobody in the "Jasper" shorts finds a walking, sentient scarecrow odd.
  • Wartime Cartoon: "Tulips Shall Grow" is a blatant allegory for the Nazis taking over Holland during World War II.
    • "Bravo, Mr. Strauss" features Johann Strauss taking on the Screwballs and leading them to their doom with his music.
  • Western Animation: Became this when Pal moved to the US.
  • Wicked Witch: The villain of the "Sleeping Beauty" short.
  • Woodland Creatures: The animals that accompany Johann Strauss in "Mr. Strauss Takes A Walk".
  • Villainy-Free Villain: The Inky-Poo from "John Henry", with the only threat it poses being robbing the local workers of their jobs, due to it being able to easily hammer down railroad spikes at a fast speed.
  • Visual Pun / Punny Name: The Screwballs, portrayed as literal walking balls with a screw winding up and down in their heads. And while their leader is goose-stepping, the camera cuts to a duck following right behind it doing the same thing.
    • The titles for "Jasper in a Jam" (which has Jasper getting caught up in a ghostly jazz jam session) feature Jasper popping his head out of a jar of Jam.
National Film Board Of CanadaThe Golden Age of AnimationWartime Cartoon

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