On November 13, 2010, one of the liveliest Saturday afternoon crowds that I’ve ever seen at the Redford Theatre enjoyed what many hoped was the first annual Animation Rarities Festival at the Redford.
Instead of the regular feature, visitors enjoyed such cartoons as Cubby Bear and Droopy, from a wide variety of studios including Columbia and RKO. It was a journey back in time to when cartoons were a regular part of visit to the movies, including the Saturday afternoon Kiddie Cartoon Parties put on by the Redford in the 1950s.
This day of fun, which was repeated for the Saturday evening crowd, was made possible by the generosity of Steve Stanchfield, an educator and animator from Ann Arbor who provided about a dozen cartoons from his private collection for a big screen presentation. He also spoke from the stage about the history behind each of the cartoons, and a display case in the concession lobby showed off fun items from his collection of cartoon figures and other memorabilia.
Before Stanchfield spoke to the crowd, Detroit Free Press movie writer John Monaghan’s introduction included the hope that this would be the first of many animation rarities presentations at the Redford. The exuberant, often vocal, applause of the crowd throughout the afternoon left little doubt that this would be the last such presentation.
The audience included many children, and it was a delight to see parents and children reading together the program that listed all the titles in the program. During the screenings of the cartoons, you’d often hear isolated exclamations from children, which added to the youthful fun of the occasion. I saw a man carry his infant child up near organist John Lauter, and the child seemed amazed at the music and glowing colors of the Redford auditorium.
The audience was both educated and entertained by the cartoons. You saw many examples of how cartoons often use animals with human characteristics to tell their story. You got to enjoy the witty, creative ways that cartoonists stretch reality to help their characters deal with situations. You saw the evolution of cartoons from the fairly simple designs of the silent era to the colorful, motion-filled animation of the 1930s, and returning to the more simple designs of the 1950s.
That history has played out through the years at area movie houses. In the early 1930s, you might find the Terrytoon Bluebeard’s Brother in support of the feature film New Morals for Old at the Wuerth in Ann Arbor, or you might enjoy a holiday treat of a Mickey Mouse Christmas cartoon when you went to see Under 18 at the Fisher in Detroit. In 1956, the Michigan in Ann Arbor hosted a Thanksgiving Morning Cartoon and Comedy Festival that included Tom & Jerry and Popeye.
During the first decade of sound, the 1930s, cartoons were influential both financially and artistically.
An article in the May 9, 1932 issue of The Detroit Free Press noted that cartoons cost much more per foot of film than features. They cost $15,000 to $20,000 for about 800 feet of film (less than a full reel), but “they earn much more than the average supplementary film, grossing close to $100,000 each,” wrote James S. Pooler.
In the 1939 book The Rise of the American Film, Lewis Jacobs wrote that Walt “Disney has made his animated cartoon perhaps the finest expression of motion picture art in contemporary America: this despite the fact that so far only one of the hundreds of Disney cartoons has been of considerable length.”
Copyright © 2010 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.