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Cartoon Brew TV #3: Dinner Time by Paul Terry and John Foster

(Alternate commentary-free version: This link will allow you to watch the original cartoon without audio commentary)

Welcome to the first in our series of Cartoon Brew TV’s “Brew Vaults.” Every three weeks we’re presenting an animated short, movie trailer, vintage TV commercial or some other cartoon rarity and offering an exclusive audio track commentary about its production, historical significance and the artists who made these films. Animation historian Jerry Beck and other guests will provide the commentaries.

The first pick from the “Brew Vaults” is one of the earliest sound cartoons ever released. Dinner Time (1928) is perhaps the most significant cartoon in animation history that no one has ever seen. It was one of the few synchronized sound cartoons produced before (though released after) Disney’s Steamboat Willie. It played a small but pivotal part in Walt Disney’s creation of his first Mickey Mouse sound cartoon. It was this film, shown to Walt in New York on the cusp of recording his track for Steamboat Willie, that gave him the confidence to press on with his plans.

Dinner Time was an entry in Paul Terry’s popular series of the era, Aesop’s Film Fables, produced by Amadee J. Van Beuren, and released through RKO Pathé. During the 1920s, Terry produced one Fables cartoon each week through his New York based Fables Studio, and Walt Disney was known to be quite fond of them. But when sound came in, Terry had little interest in adding music, voices or effects to the cartoons, and this led to a disagreement between the animator and his producer. Terry left Van Beuren the following year to start his own company, Terrytoons.

Dinner Time is not a particularly good cartoon. Walt Disney himself called it “one of the rottenest Fables I believe that I ever saw. And I should know, because I have seen almost all of them!” The film, and Walt’s reaction to it, has been noted in every major biography of Disney (Michael Barrier, Bob Thomas, Neal Gabler), yet no one has really seen it in eighty years.

It turns out that Disney was right. The soundtrack is “rotten” and the animation quite primitive (especially compared to Fleischer’s KoKo cartoons or Messmer’s Felix cartoons made the same year), but the early Paul Terry cartoons have an old-school hand-drawn charm that all the technical innovations to come can’t begin to match. There’s an air of chaos in Terry’s cartoon universe, with cats chasing birds, dogs chasing bones, farmers chasing hounds, and plot and character nowhere in sight. And yet, the Fables were fun, popular and a mainstay of the silent era and early days of sound. Terry ultimately had the last laugh on his old boss, Van Beuren. His rival Terrytoons studio thrived for four decades (Van Beuren’s studio closed in 1936 with his passing), and Terry himself never really left Dinner Time behind–he lifted animation from this short to pad his 1931 Terrytoon release, Jazz Mad.

UPDATE: Additional research since the time we first post this cartoon has turned up the missing coda or “Moral”:

Aesop Says: “There is a real need for a tonic for people whose heads are bald on thew inside”

We’d like to thank Mark Kausler for his participation on the audio commentary and locating the source films; Randall Kaplan for editing and restoration services; and Michael Geisler for recording the audio commentary.

  • Jess

    Nice work, Brewmasters! This is what I’d hoped Cartoon Brew TV would turn into… great cartoons with interesting insight.

    I’ll look forward to a little history lesson from Jerry every three weeks!

  • Great stuff! Any chance of a DVD of this kind of thing in the future?

  • amid

    Andrew: It’s not out of the question, but right now our primary focus is on delivering animation over the Internet. Depending on the support we get for Cartoon Brew TV, we’ll then examine the possibilities of producing more content and broadening to other delivery formats like DVD.

  • Stephen Winer

    This was great. Would you consider, in future installments, making the films available both with and without commentary so we can see (and hear) them on their own first?

  • Saturnome

    That was amazing! Yes, not a great cartoon, but that’s superb to be able to see this very obscure cartoon, and with commentary (I watched it first without commentary, as I do with anything on DVD). Great work, this is exactly the kind of thing I love to see. Cartoon Brew TV, so far, is absolutely wonderful.

  • amid

    Stephen: The cartoon IS available both with and without commentary. To see it without commentary, just click on the link below the video below that says “Alternate Commentary-Free Version.”

  • Bugsmer

    That was an entertaining cartoon. The animation was very lively. As always, your commentary, Jerry and Mark, was informative and interesting. Is the independent stuff you’re going to show on Brew TV going to have commentary as well?

  • Steve

    Great work guys! History can be fun. Any chance of featuring Ub Iwerks one of these days? Would be great to hear about his work for Walt in the early days – unless that stuff is all copyrighted. If so, I suppose we could find it on youtube and do our own sync with your commentary. Interactive Cartoon Brew. Ready folks… hit play now!

  • J. J. Hunsecker

    I hope you guys continue with this idea! It’s great to see rare cartoons like this from Cartoon Brew TV.

  • Keith Paynter

    For me, this is an introduction to early Paul Terry, and the animation, while primitive, is charming. The soundtrack, well, “speaks” for itself. This is “classic” animation in its most literal sense. Keep it up, gentlemen!

  • With regards to “one of the first” sound cartoons, this one is significant on the impression it made on Walt Disney. But historically, it comes four years late since Max Flesicher was in a business relationship with The Red Seal Pictures Corporation that was partnered with Dr. Lee deForest, who had been producing films using his sound-on-film process, Phonofilms as early as 1919, with the first public displays in 1923. The following year, Fleischer’s “Bouncing Ball” KO-KO SONG CAR-TUNES were released using this sound-on-film process. While there were 36 song films produced, 19 were made in sound between 1924 and 1927. The irony is that the deForest process was the same principle employed when Western Electric abaondoned the sound-on-disc process that they gave away to Warner’s as “Vitaphone.” While limited in the application of sound at first, some of the later entries came very close to matching what Disney accomplished with STEAMBOAT WILLIE. Having recently seen a complete version of BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILVERY MOON (1927) has proven that for me, since there is an elaborate prolog, or setup of an animated gag bit of an old astonomer looking up to the moon and exclaiming he will be right up. This even includes an application of dialog as well.

    The Red Seal Company had 36 theaters on the east coast and had not expanded far enough west when the company went bankrupt just
    months before the sensation caused by THE JAZZ SINGER. Had fate been different, this history would have been different as well.

  • jukebox johnny

    I sure as hell hope that someone has the good sense to release a HUGE box of Paul Terry ‘toons. His stuff is SADLY missing from the mainstream – Television AND retail!

  • Great work! However, your commentary relies on the film’s December copyright date to indicate it might have been released after Steamboat Willie. It was released in October, a month before the Disney film. (Copyright dates are not always an accurate indicator of a movie’s release date.)

  • peter

    How could this have been released through RKO if RKO came into existence in 1929 (1 year before this was released.)?

  • Peter – You are correct. RKO came into existence in 1929. DINNER TIME was actually released by Pathé. Pathé was absorbed by RKO in 1931, and from then on all Van Beuren Aesop’s Fables were released through RKO. Thanks for catching my boo-boo.

  • Zane

    Awesome Job on BrewTV and want to chime in that I love the commentary! For me I think this makes BrewTV have a very unique presence on the web. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and looking forward to more.

  • Kevin Butler

    I wonder if this cartoon was ever shown on TV?

    It could have been screened on”Junior Frollics”/

    “Junior Town Frollics!”hosted by the late “Uncle Fred”

    Sayles on WATV/WNTA TV Ch.13 in The Newark,N.J./

    NYC viewing area from 1946 to 1961?


    I can’t be sure?

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I wouldn’t be surprise if it did, assuming the Van Beuren library of the 1920’s was sold to TV stations during that point in time.

  • Tina Tozzi

    Loved it, thank you!


  • Andrew Kazinec

    Thank you… I’m doing a research paper on music videos and its brought me as far back as this. Definitely fascinating history. And thank you Ray Pointer for your info too.

  • Andrew Kazinec

    just found your documentary on Max Fleischer what a surprise.