The Seventeenth Talkartoon: Teacher’s Pest


So there’s no lost-or-good-as-lost cartoons or, as best I can tell, misnumbered entries or any other weirdness. Last week I talked about the Bimbo cartoon “Tree Saps”. This week, “Teacher’s Pest”. The one odd thing about this: it was released the 7th of February, 1931. That’s four days after “Teacher’s Pest”. I’d like to say that obviously Bimbo-mania was sweeping the country. But the next Talkartoon after this wouldn’t come out for a full month. They must’ve just had a slot that needed filling. This is a cartoon animated by Grim Natwick and Seymore Kneitel and who knows if anyone uncredited was in there too.

The action gets a bit out of synch with the animation. I’d think that’s an error of how the short was digitized and uploaded. But these were still very early days for sound-synchronized cartoons, and I can’t rule out that the animators just misjudged the timing. It’s striking to me that in the bit of singing about “who’s the greatest man in history” the students’ responses are perfectly timed but one answer off.

This short features a Young Bimbo. At least, one who’s a kid young enough to go to school and have an off-screen mother and all that. I think this is the first time he’s been shown in a variation from the generic young adult who could work in a lumber mill or get hauled into court for harassing women. There’s also a girl who looks, to me, plausibly like a Young Betty Boop. This isn’t normally listed as a Betty Boop cartoon, and I’m not at all sure they meant the girl Bimbo meets in the hallway to be anyone particular. I’m not sure the knew yet that Betty Boop was going to be anybody either; she wouldn’t be named until “Silly Scandals”, released in late May 1931.

One thing I like in old cartoons, and that the Fleischer studios were prone to doing, is basic stuff made complicated. So I’m tickled that Bimbo gets out of bed by climbing through the footer. Or that he travels the last couple feet into school by going up the see-saw and using that to propel himself, and then his books, into the building. This is an era that didn’t tend to have strong narratives or much of any dialogue. Doing things in roundabout ways is not yet worn out. I also appreciate that a lot of Bimbo’s motion is in perspective, approaching or receding the camera. It makes walking across the screen something more.

The song that the teacher leads everyone in, after “Good Morning To You”, is a folk tune named “Bulldog on the Bank” or “Pharaoh’s Daughter” that I never heard of either. Here’s a transcription of at least one version of the lyrics, and a recording of date unknown to me. It’s a shame the cartoon’s recording is bad because I couldn’t understand the joke in the verse just by listening to it.

A pair of mice pop in, quickly, at about 2:16 in. A monstrously large one shows up at 6:56 in the dance. I’m tickled by the early joke of Bimbo setting his alarm clock back an hour, and by the quick moment of the clock’s retaliation. I have to call that the best blink-and-you-miss-it joke; there’s not a lot of competition in this short. Arguably competition: Bimbo stopping in to feed the pet frogs in the lowest stair-step. (Also, did anyone ever keep frogs in a stair-step? It seems ridiculous but not impossible.) Their first pair of names, Max and Dave, are funny if you are the kind of person who remembers the names of the Fleischer Brothers. Their second pair of names, Amos and Andy, are of course a reference to radio’s long-running contemporary examination of the effects the Great Migration on the American experience.

I have no idea why the short ends in a string of musical instruments morphing into one another as Bimbo plays them. Nor have I got an idea why it should end in a string of letters and arithmetic problems and stuff dancing around the background. Possibly they didn’t have a better way to conclude the short. I sympathize with the problem.

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

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