The Puppetoon Movie Volume 3

by Charlie Largent Aug 19, 2023

The Puppetoon Movie Volume 3
Blu-ray – Region Free
Puppetoon™ Productions
1936-70 / 1.37:1
Starring Duke Ellington, Woody Herman
Directed by George Pal

Though separated by 73 years, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and George Pal’s Puppetoons were each created with stop-motion animation—an arcane process developed in the 19th century and requiring the obsessive dedication of a Victor Frankenstein. While Del Toro’s gravely beautiful fairy tale is more James Whale than Walt Disney, Pal’s Puppetoons are Technicolor toylands bursting with the energy of a hyperactive six year-old.

Born in Cegléd, Hungary in 1908, Pal’s interest in animation would flourish at UFA in Germany where he was quickly promoted to lead the animation department. In 1932, Pal left the company to set up his own independent studio where a commercial for a cigarette company provided a singular inspiration; instead of relying on animated drawings, Pal decided to utilize the actual cigarettes. Puppetoons—ancestors to Speedy Alka Selzer and the Pillsbury Doughboy—were born.

A number of those commercials, along with a selection of Pal’s most popular Puppetoons, are part of a new Blu ray release called The Puppetoon Movie Volume 3, the latest in a series of high definition celebrations produced by Pal’s unofficial keeper of the flame, Arnold Leibovit. Like the recent Soundies release, The Puppetoon Movie is a tribute to some of America’s greatest artists and a bracing reminder of the country’s never ending growing pains.

There are no dancing cigarettes in 1940’s The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, and though it’s well-crafted with a parodic sense of humor, it’s indiscernible from the Disney and Harman/Ising cartoons that crowded theaters at the time. The product being plugged was Rinso Soap, a laundry detergent famous for its sponsorship of radio shows, and the plot revolves around the misfortunes of a shoe-bound mom whose landlord is lowering the boom. The short, one of Pal’s earliest cel animations, is never mawkish thanks to Jack Hylton’s swinging score, the first indication that Pal understood the power of a popular tune.

More interesting is a short advertisement produced in Paris in 1934, A Fairy Tale About A Melancholic King—a dialog-free short designed in the geometric style of Otto Soglow’s Little King. An Oliver Hardy-like chef is charged with perking up his morose king and does so with a rich—in every sense of the word—banquet (the toon was a promo for Van den Bergh’s Sana Margarine).

Pal’s cozy European sensibility was tempered by a freewheeling American rhythm, and if any one Puppetoon character embodies that approach, it’s surely Jasper, an elfin African-American child that Pal likened to Huck Finn. Five of Jasper’s adventures were spread over the first two volumes in the Puppetoon series and in Volume 3 the little fellow, for better and for worse, rules the roost.

There are seven Jasper shorts in this new edition and the character proves to be a resilient protagonist, whether in a bluesy take on a classic fairy tale like Jasper and the Beanstalk (the harp is played by a torch-singing chanteuse) or an action packed satire like Jasper’s Derby. The racial stereotyping of the era is baked into the character but the overriding atmosphere is sunny—Jasper’s adventures are presented in the even-handed manner of Marc Conneley’s Green Pastures (whose star Rex Ingram would appear in his own Puppetoon) and Andrew Stone’s Stormy Weather, where the talents of the black performers triumph over the racism that plagues the production.

The Jasper shorts gave Pal the opportunity to explore jazz and swing music and he took full advantage. In 1945’s Hotlip Jasper, the child comes into possession of Louis “Strongarm’s” trumpet and heads to Hollywood for a career in the movies. It’s hard not to be charmed by the Puppetoon version of the Paramount lot; the beautiful miniature models of the Melrose gates, the studio’s side streets and shooting stages. Shoeshine Jasper, as problematic as that title sounds, is a footloose escapade featuring Jasper in a jitterbug contest. Rex Ingram and Victor Jory star and the super-charged music is by Clarence Wheeler, composer for Walter Lantz’s Woody Woodpecker cartoons.

Orchestral jazz rules Date with Duke with a live action Duke Ellington performing his Perfume Suite for a crowd of anthropomorphised perfume bottles whose caps resemble jewel-clustered crowns… but the only real royalty on display is Duke himself who seems amused to star alongside animated glassware. The jazz melody lingers on in 1947’s Rhapsody in Wood, one of the wittiest—and most peculiar—Puppetoon shorts in the bunch with a live action Woody Herman reminiscing about his grandpa, a musically inclined lumberjack who chopped the wood that made Herman’s clarinet. Oscar-winning cinematographer Winston Hoch handled the lighting and the great jazz pianist Ralph Burns provided the musical score (his other credits included Caberet, All That Jazz, and Woody Allen’s Bananas).

Music plays a big part in 1942’s Sky Princess but this time it’s classical—Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty waltz buoys a high-flying fantasy about a prince who uses his airborne sailboat to rescue a comatose princess. The character designs are offbeat, and in the case of the story’s villainous wicked witch, nearly futuristic. Flintstones connoisseurs may recognize Bea Benaderet as one of the voices on the soundtrack.

As the mythical “Dr. Seuss” (he has at least attained mythological status with some young readers), Theodor Geisel reinvented what a children’s story could be just as Pal had transformed the cartoon landscape. In 1943 the two artists began a short-lived collaboration when Geisel adapted two of his classics for Pal’s workshop; The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. In Mulberry Street a boy dreams up an increasingly outlandish street scene to please his father, while in Cubbins, a child is faced with a unique curse—whenever he removes his hat, it’s magically replaced by another. Pal chose to forego Seuss’s whimsical drawing style and stick with the standard Puppetoon character design for these adaptations—and while the shorts are amusing in and of themselves, they only shine a light on how essential Seuss’s drawing was to his storytelling.

In 1946 Pal took an abrupt left turn from Dr. Seuss’s playgrounds and moved closer to Hef’s grotto with Together In The Weather, one of the most memorable Puppetoons in the series—as well the most dynamic—the Technicolor is so vivid it seems like 3D. The story’s heroine is a curvaceous kewpie doll named Judy who lives in a clock. Equal parts Brigitte Bardot and Little Bo-Peep, Judy seems perfectly contoured for 3D too (she was created by Disney animator Fred Moore). Judy’s would-be paramour is Punchy—a shrinking violet who lives up to his name; no matter which tantalizing costume Judy wears to win his heart, Punchy remains unmoved by the spectacle. The short, with its teasing sexuality, brightly colored environment, and clueless nerd, is reminiscent of Russ Meyer’s Eastman Color nudie-cuties.

Together In the Weather is one of the newly restored Puppetoons in the set and with the benefits of high definition they are a dazzling assortment of candy-colored dreams indeed. It’s notable that the Blu ray is dual layer which allows for over five hours of content with no loss in quality. There are several extra added attractions including 1947’s Sweet Pacific, a Mounds chocolate commercial that accompanied George Marshall’s Variety Girl in theaters, a previously unreleased interview with George Pal from 1970 and expanded interviews from the 1985 documentary The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal featuring Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, and Joe Dante. Included in the keep case is a 20-Panel Color Collector’s Booklet with liner notes by Mr. Leibovit.

A complete list of the Puppetoons and extras can be found at

And here’s a special trailer created for the release:

5 4 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x