The First Talkartoon: Noah’s Lark


I’m feeling in a talk-about-cartoons mood so why not look to the Fleischer Studios’ Talkartoons? These were a string of 42 sound cartoons that the Fleischer Brothers made from 1929 to 1932, and it’s where Betty Boop made her debut. She’s not in this cartoon. It’s easy to suppose the Talkartoons were made in response to Disney’s Silly Symphonies series. I’m not sure that’s the case, though. This installment, for example, doesn’t have any particularly strong song component. There’s music throughout, of course. It was 1929; if you weren’t putting sound into your cartoons you were hopelessly behind the times, or you were Charles Mintz and too cheap to do sound. And I’m not even sure that’s true.

In any case Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice And Magic cites a June 1929 trade advertisement for the series. The first Silly Symphony came out in August 1929, and while every animation studio tried to copy Disney, it’d be a bit ambitious to plan the copying of something that hadn’t come out yet. Here, originally released the 25th of October, 1929, is Noah’s Lark.

So, some thoughts. First is that I think this short predates the use of animation cels. For most of the 20s the Fleischer cartoons were illustrations done on sheets of bright white paper. The advantage of this is that if you only need to move a small part of the scene — like the monkey’s arms in that scene about 1:15 into the short, or the hippopotamus singing while his chest tattoo moves at about 1:35 — you just need to draw that fragment of art and put it over the base. On many silent cartoons you can even see the tear lines of the paper.

Second: the title actually parses. I was thinking through the first half that they’d done the most obvious humorous variant on the common phrase “Noah’s Ark”. But by bringing the action to Coney Island — Wikipedia says Luna Park, but I don’t know how they can pin it down to that, given that there’s no particularly iconic rides on display — they justify calling it a lark. Good, then.

That fun old-style stretchy-squashy-playing with geometry: I like the ship’s portholes bouncing around merging together to let the elephant out. Also the … magpies? Crows? Possibly penguins? … at about 2:22 in that need three of them with bicycle pumps to unflatten their comrade.

The Suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like character enters into this cartoon at about 5:00 in. The Blink-And-You’ll-Miss-It gag with the best laugh was on the carousel at about 4:50 for me.

There’s a recording of The Stars And Stripes Forever in here that I wonder if they didn’t use in the first couple Popeye cartoons as his post-Spinach action music.

Does this short have an ending? … I suppose so. The idea that the animals are out on Shore Leave does contain the implication that Shore Leave has to stop, so there’s a tolerably set-up conclusion to the short and a reason for the final scene to happen. I’ll allow it, but I’ll listen to contrary opinions.

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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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