Scrappy is Ninety

Charles Mintz, creator of Krazy Kat for the screen, has just produced another cartoon comedy character. The new animated cartoon is called “Scrappy.” Instead of the usual animals featured in the current cartoons, the central figure will be a mischievous little character called “Scrappy.” Most of the comedy will be pantomime, but interpolated dialogue, music and sound effects will play an important part in the short.

—“Star Dust” newspaper column, June 14, 1931

If you went to the movies 90 years ago—on July 16, 1931, to be precise—you might have ended up as one of the first people in the world to see a Scrappy cartoon. That’s the day that the first one, Yelp Wanted, debuted, unleashing Dick Huemer, Sid Marcus, and Art Davis’s creation on the world. Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, here it is again:

It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that Scrappyland is marking Scrappy’s first nine-tenths of a century by sharing his first cartoon. But here’s something you probably woudn’t have anticipated seeing here: a new Scrappy cartoon. As far as I know, it’s the first time anyone has animated Scrappy and Oopy since 1941’s The Little Theater:

Scrappy’s 90th Anniversary was produced by Noah Stone and a bunch of other Scrappy fans, all credited at the short’s end; I think them for relighting the torch after so many decades. I’m sorry that my friend Dr. Richard Huemer isn’t around to see it.

Here’s a Scrappy/Oopy drawing—also made to celebrate the anniversary—by Noah:

When Scrappyland debuted in 2005, Scrappy was a mere 73. Now it seems quite possible that this site will be around to mark his 100th birthday in 2031. Or at least I hope it will: I certainly have enough material to keep going, and it would be sad to think that the world might run out of Scrappyana to rediscover.

It’s been great fun helping to keep Scrappy from being entirely forgotten, and it seems fair to say that he’s at least a little less forgotten than he was when I came up with the odd idea of devoting a website to him. May the great Scrappy resurgence continue unabated.

Oh, and a footnote: It wasn’t until this very night that I realized that my wife was born on the anniversary of Yelp Wanted’s release. That’s right—I married someone who shares Scrappy’s birthday. Now I’m horrified at the thought that it could have been any other way.

Scrappy at Home

Let’s face it: In movie theaters, Scrappy was not particularly stiff competition for Mickey Mouse or Popeye in terms of sheer star power. But the old-time home-movie cartoon business had a curious leveling effect. I’m not sure if it raised the profile of second-stringers or diminished the lustre of iconic characters—maybe both—but anyone who was enough of a name brand to appear on a home-movie box was a star.

And Scrappy beamed from box art for years, long after his cartoon series was history.

Scrappy movie boxes

Oddly enough, even though I’ve owned several Scrappy home movies for years, I’ve never seen any of them, since I don’t have a projector handy. But Friend of Scrappy Jason Fiore (who is, incidentally, 12) has done us all a favor by digitizing two examples, adding Scott Joplin soundtracks, and putting the results on YouTube.

Here’s Excel’s Stage Struck, a cut-down version of The Concert Kid (1934):

And this is Exclusive Movie Studios’ Bucking Horse, better known to you and me as an extract from Scrappy’s Pony (1936):

I never thought of Scrappy cartoons as being overly burdened by complex plots. But both of these silent short-shorts are less than half as long as the theatrical shorts they’re derived from, and in both cases, whoever did the editing accomplished it in part by chopping off roughly the first half, eliminating lengthy set-ups which explain how Oopy came to be onstage with a violin and where Scrappy got his pony. The results still feel like Scrappy cartoons, albeit ones that have been denuded of a fair amount of both coherency and charm. The lack of of dialog, music, and sound effects is also a bigger deal than I might have guessed.

I doubt that the people who watched these in the comfort of their own homes decades ago were overly critical, though. And there was a time in my life, before the advent of home video, when I’d have been pretty pleased by them myself. Actually, I still am. Thanks, Jason.

Merry Christmas (Among Other Holidays) From Scrappy


Over at his wonderful Tralfaz blog, Don Yowp is celebrating Christmas cartoons. He didn’t forget Scrappy–whose 1934 short Holiday Land was the first Color Rhapsody cartoon and an Oscar nominee. (Note from the ad above that Columbia promoted it as a Thanksgiving release–but Santa is part of the festivities.)

This isn’t a great Scrappy cartoon–it’s more interested in being a lush, heartwarming pseudo-Silly Symphony extravaganza than a laugh riot–but is worth your time. You can watch it here after you’ve read Yowp. And somewhere in there, you should find time to enjoy Steve Stanchfield’s 2014 piece on the short.

Scrappy holidays to you!

Weekend at Oopy’s

Thunderbean Animation’s Steve Stanchfield is a friend of fans of vintage animation everywhere. He’s also a friend of Scrappy. For his latest Cartoon Research column, he shared the eighteenth Scrappy cartoon, The Bad Genius (1932). And since he posted it on YouTube, I share it here with you.

This isn’t one of my favorite Scrappys. But I agree with Steve that the animation and posing of Oopy for the film’s vaguely Weekend at Bernie’s-like conceit is pretty nifty. And many thanks to Steve for his kind words about this site.

Scrappy at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair

When the Scrappy series began in 1931, it had a premise. It really was about a little boy doing little-boy things, and cartoons such as Yelp Wanted and The Little Pest, despite their extreme lack of structure, had at least rudimentary plots.

By the time Columbia released The World’s Affair in 1933, however, all that had changed. This cartoon shows multiple telltale signs that a studio has tired of a series: It has a topical hook (it’s set at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair), it’s a spot-gag cartoon, and it’s rife with celebrity caricatures.

The cartoon begins with an elaborate production number featuring Fred Fisher’s song “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)”–which was apparently already a standard even though it was a mere eleven years old at the time. Then a bunch of spot gags involving inventions, technical progress being the theme of this World’s Fair even more than usual.

And then in rush the celebrities: an especially loose-limbed FDR, Mussolini with a bucket of spaghetti, Von Hindenburg with a mug of beer for Scrappy, George V, Chevalier (who gets beer down the trousers), Gandhi and Durante in their diapers, Einstein, and others. They’re all swell folks.

Between this short, Scrappy’s Party, Movie Struck, and Hollywood Babies, an awful lot of the Scrappy cartoons of 1933 were celebfests. (I sort of like old cartoons which are overly dependent on caricatures, such as Mother Goose Goes Hollywood and Hollywood Steps Out, but I feel sheepish admitting it.)

Scrappy and Oopy don’t have all that much to do in The World’s Affair except grin, wear top hats, and tap dance, but they do it well. (Oh, and Oopy gets to smoke a cigar.) The animation of them is pretty darn charming–which is good, since the “story” and gags are so lazy.

Here’s a bit of good news: The Scrappy series eventually got a second wind. Some of the best shorts appeared long after thing one, including The Puppet Murder Case and Let’s Ring Doorbells, both of which were released in 1936. Neither of those ones are on YouTube at the moment, but I hope to be able to share them here someday.

Bonus non-Scrappy footage: Here’s some live-action newsreel footage of the 1933 World’s Fair.

Scrappy Mintz, Master Brewer

Kindly ignore the fact that the cartoon above was obviously shot off a screen during a public performance, and therefore features cameos by the people sitting in front of the videographer. It’s The Beer Parade, by the original Scrappy team of Dick Huemer, Sid Marcus, and Art Davis. This is one of the most amazingly Scrappy-esque of all Scrappy cartoons, and you need to see it. (I learned it was on YouTube when Devon Baxter linked to it in the pre-UPA Columbia cartoon group on Facebook.)

Plot summary: Scrappy and Oopy joyfully serve beer by the barrelful to dozens of drunken elves until Old Man Prohibition shows up. The boys and the little men assault him from the ground and the air–even using explosives–until he chooses to bury himself. Whereupon the good times roll once more.

(I particularly like the moment when Oopy, having rigged up a rope to trip Old Man Prohibition, tugs at it to verify that it’s tight enough to do the job.)

The cartoon is an obvious allegory concerning prohibition and its repeal. But it was released on March 4, 1933, when the federal ban on alcoholic beverages was still in force, so its celebration of unrestrained imbibing was anticipatory.

FDR, who famously made repeal part of his campaign, had taken office in January; a couple of weeks after the cartoon debuted, he signed the Cullen-Harrison act, which permitted the sale of wine and 3.2 percent beer starting the following month. In December, prohibition on the federal level was fully repealed.

Prohibition was never enforced all that rigorously in cartoon land. The 1929 Silly Symphony The Merry Dwarfs presaged The Beer Parade by showing its title characters quaffing beer; 1931’s Lady Play Your Mandolin, the first Merrie Melody, takes place in a saloon and is full of tippling animals, although it’s possible that it’s set in Mexico. But the sheer quantity of beer in The Beer Parade–served by two small boys without any adult supervision–remains startling. It’s unimaginable that anyone would have made a cartoon with this theme a few years later. Or today.

(Scrappy and Oopy aren’t shown drinking in the cartoon, but they are depicted brandishing foamy mugs themselves, and do seem to be in an awfully exuberant good mood.)

Bonus: Here’s the excellent original poster for The Beer Parade, which is preserved at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library. (Thanks to Nick Richie for alerting me to it.)

The Beer Parade

“The Ultimate Depression-Era Cartoon”

It’s been far too long since we watched a Scrappy cartoon together. And what a Scrappy cartoon to watch: The Flop House (1932), the one which Paul Etcheverry and Will Friedwald’s pioneering article on Scrappy rightly called “perhaps the ultimate depression-era cartoon.”

The flop house in question is operated by Scrappy, and all the customers are down-on-their-luck animals — except for Scrappy’s brother Oopy. This is the Scrappyverse, so the premise is no odder than those of numerous other cartoons in the series. I’ve watched this probably fifty times and never get tired of it — but if you’re about to be entertained by it for the first time, I’m jealous.

Time for Another Scrappy Cartoon

This one’s Sunday Clothes, and it’s the third Scrappy film, released on September 15th, 1931. Like the first two, it’s a stream-of-consciousness assemblage of gags about a given topic, and simply ends rather than reaching any sort of crescendo. But some of the drawings are funny: Scrappy gamboling along in his fancy duds remains amusing in exactly the way it must have been eighty-one years ago.

Here’s Uncle John’s perceptive writeup of the short.

I’m blessed to own a nice animation drawing from this cartoon. Actually, it’s the only Scrappy animation drawing I’ve ever seen. (But oh, how I hope that there’s a large supply of them safely stashed somewhere.) Here’s mine…

Scrappy Sunday clothes

Let’s Watch The Little Pest

This is the second Scrappy cartoon. It was released on August 15, 1931, and it’s still pretty crude. It looks like it was made up as the animators went alone, and that nobody cared much about consistency. Which makes sense, because that’s all true.

The best part of the short is the first bit, in which Oopy cheerfully irritates his big brother, Scrappy, by tagging after him and singing. It’s character-based comedy of a sort that was unusual in the early 1930s, when most every new cartoon character was a Mickey Mouse knockoff. And the drawing, though crude, is funny: I love how Oopy belts his tune.

In the first Scrappy cartoon, Scrappy thinks that Yippy is deathly ill. In this one, he thinks Oopy is dead. Fortunately for everyone involved, the melodramatic plots didn’t continue on forever.

Look, the First Scrappy Cartoon!

It’s difficult to imagine now, but when Scrappyland first appeared, there was no YouTube, and therefore no easy way to bring you any actual Scrappy cartoons. Today…well, there still aren’t as many Scrappy cartoons on YouTube as you or I would hope for. Which isn’t surprising given that most of them haven’t been shown anywhere in decades.

But let’s not look free Scrappy in the mouth. In the weeks to come, I’m going to embed the Scrappy shorts I can find on YouTube. Starting with the very first one, Yelp Wanted, which was released slightly over 81 years ago.

This isn’t one of the best Scrappy cartoons, but it does represent the debuts of Scrappy, Yippy, and either Oopy or an Oopy-like little kid who appears in one scene. In this one, Scrappy has an enormous head and a dog-like black nose; as the years wore on, he became more and more conventionally kidlike.

As Paul Etcheverry and Will Friedwald have written, this is a strikingly Fleischeresque cartoon, with a healthy dose of questionable taste and bizarre gags. Dick Huemer, Sid Marcus and Art Davis had all been Fleischer employees before moving west, and they brought their former employer’s sense of humor and casual attitutude towards story construction and on-model drawing with them.

Yelp Wanted ends with a shocking revelation which, as far as I know, was never addressed again.