My Top Ten Early Cartoons

I love old cartoons, and I love YouTube because I use it to find some of my favorite old cartoons. In some cases, the resolution and sound quality of these animation masterpieces leave much to be desired, but I rarely get to see classic cartoons on television anymore, not even on the Cartoon Network. Beggars can’t be choosers.

1) I really love the old Fleischer Brothers cartoons, especially the super-surreal ones featuring early thirties African-American jazz geniuses like Louis Armstrong, Don Redman, and Cab Calloway. According to Fleischer animator Shamus Culhane’s autobiography, “Talking Animals and Other People”, the jazz buff at Fleischer Studios responsible for the jazz cartoons was animator Willard Bowsky. His name is on all of Fleischers’ jazz cartoons.

At the beginning of “Minnie the Moocher”, Cab Calloway’s signature song, Calloway and his band appear in live action. He reappears as an animated walrus; his dance movements captured with Max Fleischer’s pioneering animation process: the rotoscope. And Betty Boop is at her sauciest here.

2) Another favorite Fleischer cartoon, “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You”, stars Koko the Klown and features THE jazz genius of his time, Louis Armstrong. Like the previously mentioned cartoon, Armstrong and his band appear in live action. The biggest downer is the racist depiction of African cannibals and a cartoon Louie in cannibal garb. If you can get past the racism, this cartoon shows Louis Armstrong at peak performance with one of his greatest songs.

3) This last example of classic Fleischer jazz cartoons, “Swing You Sinners”, stars Bimbo the Dog and features the music of Don Redman and his band, in this instance uncredited and unseen. This cartoon is one of the most surreal of the Fleischer Brothers’ work.

4) “A Tale of Two Kitties” is a hilarious example of the great Warner Brothers Looney Tunes. It’s directed by Bob Clampett, later of Beany and Cecil fame. This cartoon features Abbott and Costello as cats and one of the earliest appearances of Tweety Bird, a very psycho Tweety Bird.

5) Chuck Jones was another one of Warner Brothers’ great animation directors; in fact, many believe him to be the greatest. “One Froggy Evening” introduces Michigan J. Frog, an underused character. Many critics claim this to be one of the greatest animated shorts of all time. Note that Jones’ best cartoons, including the Roadrunner cartoons, were written by Michael Maltese.

6) Another animated frog was Ub Iwerks’ Flip the Frog. He created this character after he left Walt Disney Studios. Iwerks was with Disney from his very beginnings in Kansas City, and he’s often been credited with creating the look of the original Mickey Mouse character. In “Movie Mad”, Flip encounters funny animal caricatures of Hollywood stars of the time. As with most early cartoons, there are some ethnic and gay jokes. Also, the resolution isn’t quite up to snuff.

7) And speaking of early Disney, here’s a silent cartoon featuring Oswald the Rabbit, Disney’s first animated star. When Disney left Charles Mintz Studios in Kansas City, the rights to Oswald remained with Mintz.

8) “Inki and the Mynah Bird” is another classic Chuck Jones Warner Brothers cartoon. If you can get past the stereotyping of the little African boy character, this cartoon is pure brilliance.

9) “Munro” is an Academy Award winning cartoon written by the great comics artist Jules Feiffer and directed by Gene Deitch. (A side note: Deitch is the father of sixties underground comix legend Kim Deitch)

10)”The Ant and the Aardvark” is one of the later works of Warner Brothers animation great Friz Freleng, but this series of cartoons has been underappreciated. While the animation is spare, the characters are hilarious, especially the Jackie Mason-like Aardvark character.