And you know, what the heck, let’s keep going with the Terry Toons cartoons. Here’s one that brings together Farmer Al Falfa and the other silent or near-silent star, Kiko the Kangaroo, and what’s probably as close to an origin story as Kiko can get. It’s a fairly strongly plotted cartoon for the era, and I am curious whether the people at Paul Terry’s studio knew they were introducing a kangaroo that’d be good for a number of cartoons. The Terry Toons wiki, which of course exists, says Terry Toons introduced the cartoon after drawing inspiration from Mickey’s Kangaroo, a success over at Disney. Apparently only ten Kiko cartoons were made, over the course of two years, and she doesn’t seem to have been adapted into TV shows or comic books, but was merchandised for a while.
If all that isn’t fascinating enough, below should be an embedding of the same cartoon only converted at the wrong speed, allowing you to run an experiment regarding just how the timing of a joke affects the comic value of it.
To continue poking the depths of Terrytoons and their not-necessarily-forgotten characters, here’s a curious 1936 entry starring Kiko the Kangaroo, On The Scent. Unfortunately the only video I can find of it is this experiment in converting a projected film to YouTube, so it’s only got the sound of the projector rattling as its audio (I admit that sound gives me a warm nostalgic feel), and I’m pretty sure the film is being run at about half the correct speed, which is just crushing to the pacing. Be sympathetic; you too might someday be a kangaroo taunted by skunks on a blimp gliding to the North Pole.
Still, it’s the only cartoon I’m aware of that’s explicitly set (at the opening) in Lakehurst, New Jersey. This seems like a weirdly specifically unnecessary detail until you remember (or learn) that Lakehurst was where the United States Navy set up its main facilities for handling airships in that roughly fifteen years between deciding that airships were an interesting idea worth exploring and concluding that the problem with airships is they keep crashing in huge, hugely public catastrophes. Doing a blimp cartoon and starting it in Lakehurst would be much like doing a space cartoon and starting the action in Cape Canaveral.
I feel the need to point out that an airship expedition to the North Pole was seriously considered in the 1920s and 1930s. I would imagine that talk of that partly inspired the cartoon, but I don’t know that. The Navy’s airship expedition never got particularly close to being launched, which is probably for the best; I can’t imagine the project not ending in tragedy.
The plot puts me in mind of Georges Méliès’s 1912 The Conquest of the Pole, his last important film before his film studio’s bankruptcy. That’s not so short a film — it’s about a half-hour long — but it’s got much of the charm of going on a fantastic voyage as A Voyage To The Moon combined with a mass of incidental extra parties and nationalist and political jokes current to a century ago. On The Scent is a lesser cartoon, sure, but it does feature the title card “Those cats made a lobster out of me!”, which is just where you expect a cartoon about a kangaroo taking an airship out of Lakehurst to go. Enjoy!
A mouse scares off some cats by beating up his elephant-shaped scooter. A fish demands a drink of water from the annoyed Farmer Al Falfa. An ostrich or maybe a penguin (I guess a duck is plausible enough?) pops out of trap doors and walks through rooms. The Farmer berates his maid, a mouse, to get back to work cleaning. The mice take to courting. It’s all, really, a peculiar bunch of events, even though the storyline always seems to be making sense at the moment. It’s only in the aggregate you wonder, “the heck did I just watch?”
The Farmer Al Falfa series of cartoons — sometimes called “Farmer Gray”, as the YouTube link’s title does — started in 1915 for Paul Terry. Terry and Terrytoons are known for creating Mighty Mouse, and Heckle and Jeckle, and, truth be told, that’s about it. You can find some people who remember Deputy Dawg (which I watched altogether too much of in my youth) and I’ve heard good things about The Mighty Heroes but dunno about them myself. The studio never had the strongest characters or plots or gags, but, they delivered on time, and sometimes hit pretty solidly.
And a grizzly, cantankerous person isn’t a bad start for a cartoon character, and he’d have a fairly long life. Wikipedia notes he was the person being annoyed by Heckle and Jeckle in their first couple cartoons. I didn’t suspect at the time that I was watching a thirty-year-old cartoon star.