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Classic Animation In Prime Time

Classic Animation In Prime Time

When I was growing up, TV was a living museum of animation. Every day I was exposed to everything from silent Terrytoons to Looney Tunes from Warner Bros. I learned the name Ub Iwerks from the main titles of Flip the Frog and Willie Whopper shorts I saw every morning, and became familiar with such now-forgotten characters as Molly Moo Cow. What’s more, Walt Disney and Walter Lantz showed me how animated films were made on their weekly shows.

Today, the only home for vintage animation is DVD, which offers film buffs a vast array of material. But no one is regularly programming these short subjects any more, and young people are coming of age without being exposed to Betty Boop, Bugs Bunny, and Popeye. To my mind this is a cultural crime.

That’s why I’m so glad my friend and colleague Jerry Beck is being featured with Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies this Sunday night, introducing archival prints of Max Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels and Mr. Bug Goes to Town, a selection of UPA cartoons, Lotte Reiniger’s extraordinary silhouette feature The Adventures of Prince Achmed, and a program of New York-produced cartoons from the silent and early-talkie era.

Jerry hosts the invaluable site Cartoon Brew ( with his partner Amid Amidi, and has high hopes that this evening will not be a one-time event. It’s not a matter of ego for Jerry: he is a True Believer who cares deeply about the fate of these films. As he writes on his blog,

“The six hour spotlight on classic animation coming this weekend is a test. Will TCM’s traditional viewers respect and understand these are classic films? I’m betting they will. As far as I’m concerned, animated shorts and features – especially those produced for theatrical showing – from 1906 to umm, let’s say 1970 – are ‘classic film.’ They are not ‘old kids fodder’– which is how they are perceived by their parent companies. They do not get the proper respect they deserve. The TCM broadcast is a rare opportunity for the medium; a great place to expose more people to the art, entertainment and legacy of animation.

“I want to see TCM do this again. In fact, I’d like to see a regular place for vintage animation on the channel. Because TCM doesn’t read ratings, the only way they monitor feedback from their viewers is by response on their forum pages – or in written letters. I guess I’m urging you to send them a note, drop them a line; let TCM know you appreciate the telecast of these rare animation gems – and you’d like to see more.”

For a detailed look at the TCM schedule for Sunday, click HERE. There are first-rate program notes for each segment of the evening.

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