From The Dawn Of Talkartooning


I mentioned last week Noah’s Lark, one of the Fleischer Talkartoon series. This one didn’t feature Betty Boop, or even Boop-related characters like Bimbo or Koko the Clown. It’s a stand-alone in a series created to be sound cartoons. Let me share it with you.

The cartoon’s primitive, stylistically. The cartoon is in black-and-white, without grey shades, the way the Fleischers’ silent cartoons would be done. The synchronization of sound is shaky. For much of their 1930s work the Fleischers recorded sound after animating the cartoon. In the Popeye series particularly this encouraged the voice actors to mumble improvisations around the plot. Apparently this early on the voice actors didn’t feel confident enough to do that.

The way the cartoon diverts from jokes about Noah’s Ark at sea over to an amusement park may seem baffling. I suspect it would have been less confusing to audiences when it was released, the 25th of October, 1929. Noah’s Arks would have been familiar to audiences as one of that decade’s popular amusement park attractions. These were built as rocking wooden ark structures. Patrons walk through a series of dark-ride stunts, like shaking floorboards or moving-prop animals and pirates attacking, flimsy-looking paths over lava pits, that sort of thing. You can see how spooky haunted-house attractions and the tale of Noah’s Ark go together to … well, I don’t know why it worked. But it did, and they were popular in the 1920s.

Sadly the only Noah’s Ark that I’m aware of still existing is the one at Kennywood, in Pittsburgh. It’s worth the visit. That was originally built in 1936 and might be the last one ever built. I don’t see why; the ride idea is weird but reliable enough. The cartoon possibly referencing it is similarly weird but reliable.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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