One of the more obscure yet prolific studios from The Golden Age of Animation, Terrytoons was an animation studio with a close relationship with 20th Century Fox, who handled distribution of the cartoons throughout much of its historynote . It was founded by former Van Beuren employee Paul Terry. It produced classic cartoon serials such as Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle.
Animation historians and modern animators (with occasional exceptions like Leonard Maltin and John Kricfalusi) are hostile towards this studio and its output, writing off these cartoons as cheaply produced garbage only worth a footnote in their books. This is Hilarious in Hindsight because Paul Terry was considered the Dean of Animation in the 20's and 30's period of animation; even Walt Disney looked up to him and hoped to make cartoons as good and funny as his. Also, thanks to an online resurgence of the cartoons, not only on YouTube but many classic animation blogs and websites, the cartoons are slowly gaining a loyal fan following, particularly among modern animators.
The animation was helter skelter, but it had its merits: from the beginning it was cartoony and lively, and the cartoons had good pacing and crisp visual jokes. Jim Tyer and Carlo Vinci in particular made some creative, wild animation in these shorts, which helped contribute to their popularity back when they were popular.
Terry himself didn't care how these cartoons were drawn or animated as long as the animators met their quota. There were and are many, many cartoons from this studio, but most of them (even the good ones) haven't gotten much airtime since the end of The Dark Age of Animation.
This was the debut studio of five major animation stars: Bill Tytla and Art Babbitt of Disney fame, Frank Tashlin before he became a director on Looney Tunes, Joseph Barbera of Hanna-Barbera before he went to MGM, and Ralph Bakshi, who joined the studio in its twilight years.
In 1999, there was an attempt to revive the Terrytoons characters at Nickelodeon—Curbside was a pilot for a proposed animated series which parodied the talk-show genre starring Heckle and Jeckle as the hosts with Dinky Duck as co-host. Due to the fact that it has never seen the light of television, its evidence of existence can only be attributed in an animation highlight right here, but the finished project has been uploaded on YouTube (as an unlisted video) in 2012 which can be viewed here.
These cartoons were also a big influence on anime legend Osamu Tezuka.
Now has a Character Sheet.
Series Made By This Studio:
- Farmer Alfalfa
- Mighty Mouse
- Gandy Goose and Sourpuss
- Heckle and Jeckle
- Tom Terrific
- Dinky Duck
- Nancy (1942-1943): The studio made two shorts based on the classic comic, "School Daze" and "Doing Their Bit".
- Deputy Dawg
- The Hector Heathcote Show
- Sidney the Elephant
- James Hound
- Oil Can Harry
- Sad Cat
Notable Animated Shorts Made By This Studio
- "The Three Bears" (1939)
- "All Out for 'V'" (1942) — wartime propaganda, Oscar nominee
- "Flebus" (1957)
- "My Boy, Johnny" (1944) — Oscar nominee
- "Gypsy Life" (1945) — Oscar nominee, the only Mighty Mouse cartoon ever nominated
- "Sidney's Family Tree" (1959) — Oscar nominee
Tropes Related to This Studio:
- Ambiguously Gay: Gandy Goose, mainly due to his giddy, childish personality and for hanging around with the cantankerous Sourpuss, even sharing the same bed bunk in several cartoons. This element of the duo was recognized enough to be parodied in Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures.
- Animated Actor: Dinky Duck in "It's a Living", where he quits theatrical cartoons to star in TV commercials. It doesn't last.
- Animated Adaptation: In the early 1940's, the studio made two short cartoons based on the Nancy comic strip.
- Animated Anthology: "Mighty Mouse Playhouse" is potentially the Trope Maker for Western Animation clip show re-airings of old cartoons.
- Animation Bump: Scenes animated by Carlo Vinci, Jim Tyer and Bill Tytla tended to have much better, distinct animation than the rest of the cartoons.
- In "An Arrow Escape", there's an impressively staircase sequence, tightly animated in perspective.
- The Gene Deitch retool is perhaps the ultimate example. Suddenly, what were once the worst cartoons on the market became the most artistic and innovative. Sadly, it was Too Good to Last, and once Deitch left the studio once again sank into mediocrity.
- Art Evolution: The studio initially stuck to a drawing and timing style similar to cartoons from the Silent Age of Animation, but by the mid to late 30's, the studio gradually began upgrading its animation, resulting in a peculiar mix of west coast style animation drawing and movement with rough, staccato techniques held over from the Silent Age. The Gene Deitch era took the studios house style into a heavily stylized art direction in tune with the then-hot UPA style of the 50's.
- Big Damn Heroes: Their headlining star, Mighty Mouse, makes this his stock and trade.
- In "Carmen's Veranda", Gandy Goose, of all characters, pulls this!
- Butt-Monkey: Dinky Duck in "It's a Living"; the poor duckling can't catch a break when he's at the butt of the many commercials jokes!
- Cinderella Circumstances: Sad Cat is forced to slave for his two mean brothers, Latimore and Fenimore.
- A Day in the Limelight: Dimwit Dog, antagonist to Heckle and Jeckle, starred in two cartoons of his own, "How to Relax" and "How to Keep Cool". Both of those were patterned after the Disney instructional shorts starring Goofy.
- Dead Horse Trope: The shorts would frequently parody melodramas of the day, a genre that is only remembered because of its many parodies.
- Depending on the Artist: The shorts fast production schedule and low budgets ironically allowed the animators much more leeway in getting their individual styles into the cartoons. Jim Tyer's scenes in particular are so distinct from the other animators that they can be spotted in a heartbeat.
- Deranged Animation: Any scene done by Jim Tyer, arguably Terry's top animator. The other animators could do this do, such as Connie Rasinski, and their work tends to get mistaken for Tyer's own animation as a result.
- Fake-Out Opening: "It's a Living", a Cinema Scope Dinky Duck short, starts out as a typical Dinky Duck short with a chase scene (complete with standard theatrical cartoon ratio aspect), but then Dinky gets tired of working in these kind of cartoons and stops the film, leaving the theater in a huff to get a job on tv as the film as the film switches to Cinema Scope. When his tv career doesn't turn out well for him, he runs back to the theater and resumes the film where it left off.
- Grass Is Greener: In "It's a Living", Dinky Duck gets tired of working in the same theatrical cartoons over and over, quits by jumping out of his cartoon and walks off to get a job working in TV commercials. He quickly finds out that it's not all that it's cracked up to he, so he quickly returns back to his theatrical cartoon career.
- High on Catnip: One oneshot short, "Catnip Capers", is about a cat who goes through a Disney Acid Sequence after sniffing some catnip.
- Informed Flaw: The titular tiger in "The Tiger King" is repeatedly referred to as silly for his aspirations, but his efforts and reactions all seemed pretty reasonable. After claiming a vacated throne, he was immediately mocked without being given a chance, leading to his outburst. He strove to give his son a good education and was respectful to the teachers, only for the devious cub to eat his classmates. The mother treated this as a minor misdeed and was nonchalant when the cub later attacked her husband's guests, while the "silly" tiger himself was horrified on both occasions and tried his best to contain the situation and discipline his son.
- Limited Animation: Their made for tv cartoons.
- Long Runner: Despite the low budgets, total reliance on formula, and rushed animation, the Terrytoons enjoyed a very long, healthy lifespan, lasting from 1929 all the way up to 1968, where they were finally forced to close up shop on account of theatrical cartoons becoming all but completely unprofitable by that point—only the Walter Lantz cartoon studio was able to outlast Terrytoons with their shorts, by four measly years. And even that wasn't enough to kill them—the Terrytoons enjoyed an equally healthy lifespan on TV for decades, with Mighty Mouse Playhouse pioneering the concept of recycling old theatrical cartoons for reairing on TV.
- Even by the standards of Terrytoons, Farmer Al Falfa had an especially long run; his first cartoon short was released in 1916, his last in 1954.
- Meaningful Name: Mighty Mouse, who name matches his prowess, Heckle the Magpie, who is unmistakably a heckler (although it's not clear if the same applies to Jeckle the Magpie), and Sourpuss, a grumpy, cantankerous feline. Subverted with Gandy, whose name ironically contrasts his childish personality.
- Off-Model: Terrytoons turned this into an art form, especially when Jim Tyer was at the studio. The characters rarely stayed consistent in appearance and movement. Fortunately, this ends up adding to the eccentric, fun nature of the cartoons.
- Retool: After Paul Terry sold the studio to CBS they hired Gene Deitch to take over as the creative director. Deitch, who himself had very low opinion of Terry's outputs, proceeded to change everything, from getting rid of the old characters in favor of the new (removing the likes of Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle in favor of Clint Clobber and Sidney the Elephant), changing the design style to a more contemporary UPA style, hiring new personnel (WITHOUT firing old ones, amazingly enough), and more. It's agreed that the cartoons produced during this era are genuinely good.
- It didn't last long. Bill Weiss took over the studio after Terry sold it to CBS, and he wasn't warm to the idea of Terrytoons becoming a renaissance animation house. It was said he wanted Deitch fired from day one, so after Deitch did leave, Weiss chose to fall back on the same old same old, only on TV budgets.
- After the studio shut its doors, Bill Weiss commissioned two pilots for CBS: Sally Sargent and The Ruby Eye Of The Monkey God, both farmed out to the Fred Calvert studio. Neither pilot sold, but the Calvert studio did animate two commercials with Mighty Mouse hawking Zestabs children's vitamins.
- Scenery Porn: Terrytoons, surprisingly, have some of the most beautiful background art of all the Golden Age cartoons, with gorgeous composition, and beautiful rendering and color styling. Even their B&W films have slick, attractive looking backdrops, but the stunning backgrounds really become obvious once the studio started making color cartoons ("String Bean Jack", their first color cartoon in 1938, perfectly demonstrates this, with very atmospheric, rich backdrops, and amazing perspective work).
- Shout-Out: The name of the short "Busted Blossoms" is a reference to the D.W. Griffith film Broken Blossoms.
- Stock Footage: As early as their 1933 Robin Hood short, there is an impressively animated staircase moving in perspective that was reusued several times throughout the series, even popping up in at least one of the 1940's shorts.
- Strictly Formula: Paul Terry was the kind of guy who liked to play it safe and cared little to nothing for innovation, with his shorts often relying on plots, jokes and formulas long after other cartoons had stopped using them. One short with Gandy and Sourpuss even had a plot very similar to "Mickey's Trailer," a full decade after that cartoon had been aired in theaters! Worse yet, he waited till 1938 to switch to color, and if it hadn't been for Fox forcing him to raise the quality of his cartoons in the late 30s and 40s, he would have stuck to making cartoons as simple as early 30s cartoons.
- As Ralph Bakshi once quipped: "Why do you need another Terrytoons, with a cat chasing a mouse, in 1956?"
- Wartime Cartoon: The paring of Gandy Goose and Sourpuss came from a series of these, where the two were paired up as bunkmates in the Army
- With Friends Like These...: The relationship between Gandy Goose and Sourpuss the Cat. Animator John Kricfalusi claimed that their relationship was part of what inspired the relationship between Ren & Stimpy.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: The Sad Cat cartoons directed by Ralph Bakshi - every time it looks like Sad Cat is going to get a happy ending, he ends up in a worse situation than before. Luckily, when Bashki left Terrytoons, this trope was averted.