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Charles Thorson’s “Captain and The Kids” model sheets

Once upon a time, way back in 1937… MGM decided to produce its own cartoons and set up a studio on the lot. They ended their arrangement with Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising (and their Happy Harmonies series), bought the rights to popular comic strip The Captain and The Kids, and hired Friz Freleng away from Leon Schlesinger to direct the shorts. A funny thing happened on the way to the big screen – the cartoons were not popular. Here’s an example:

A year later Freleng went back to making Looney Tunes, the studio brought back Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising — and Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had an opportunity to emerge…

Cut to 75 years later… Mike Van Eaton has come into a cache of Captain and The Kids model sheets and has graciously agreed to let me post them here. As best I can tell, these were all drawn by Charles Thorson. Thorson really got around, designing significant characters for Disney, MGM, Screen Gems, Warner Bros., Fleischer, Terrytoons – even George Pal – in the 30s and 40s before settling into a career in advertising and illustrating children’s books. Now everything you need to know about drawing the Captain and the Kids is here for you to enjoy (click on images below, and thumbnails below that, to enlarge).

Here’s a few more (below). The first two – probably not designed by Thorson – are from the short Old Smokey (1938).

And that’s not all, folks. Van Eaton has obtained a whole bunch MGM model sheets from later productions (Tom & Jerry, Avery, etc.). I’ll be posting them later this week…

  • This is really cool. I love looking at the work of the animators and layout artists from back then. I have a bunch of these cartoons on the Golden Collection discs, but I couldn’t really get into them. I can’t wait to see those Tex Avery ones, if you post them!

  • James

    These cartoons are an interesting misfire since they were based on a very popular and well-known franchise in their day.

    They aren’t really that bad, and I wouldn’t mind a home video release somewhere down the line. Probably last in line, but still…

    • Matt

      They already saw a release as an extra on Volume 6 of ‘The Looney Tunes Golden Collection’.

  • Thanks for sharing! The MGM “Captain and the Kids” cartoons didn’t exactly capture the wonderful charm of Rudolph Dirks’ comic strip (the MGM crew were generally too ignorant of the strip’s potential to pull that off), but thse model sheets still look pretty charming. Even though there are some design choices in there that I can’t quite understand… I wish they had stayed closer to the strip designs.

  • Dave Kirwan

    Interesting differences between some of these. Suddenly the boys have a space between the eyes, and a subtle broadening of the face (more ‘cute’, but less personality)

  • Ermy

    These are wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing! :)

  • victoria

    Well these illustrate the drawing fundamentals that 7D was lacking Volumes, drawing through etc.

  • Cartoon Alley showed some of these. I felt they didn’t make use of the characters. One about going camping just had generic gags and made no use of the kid’s penchant for pranks, etc. Nice animation but not engaging or all that entertaining. You wonder why MGM spent money for the rights if they were’t going to make use of the characters. A misfire.

  • I recognized these characters as “The Katzenjammer Kids”.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      It made sense if you know the history obviously, but yes, they’re them!

  • Schultz!!!!!

    Compare the “going to the seaside” story with Hanna Barbara’s “Salt Water Tabby” just 10 years later. Amazing changes in such a short time.

  • The best Katzies cartoons are easily those that involve Long John Silver and the Herring Boys, the pirates from the strip. They force Der Cap and the Kids to act like themselves (uncharacteristically, for this series…)

    As a result BURIED TREASURE and—to a lesser degree—THE WINNING TICKET and HONDURAS HURRICANE, capture the potential in the characters. So does the non-pirate cartoon CLEANING HOUSE.

  • david

    awesome!!! THANKS!!

    i can’t wait for the t&J

  • Gerard de Souza

    The animation is indeed solid and well done. Perhaps that was the problem as studios felt they had to keep up with Disney, they lost their cartooniness. It would be interesting to see what a studio like Fleischer’s would have done with this property a few years earlier, assuming it would have been closer to its print style as the earlier Popeyes were.

  • Marvin

    There is a strange perspective choice in the 3/4 view of the long fire engine, when compared with the side view of the same vehicle. Why would the horizontal space in front of the driver’s door suddenly be one third longer when foreshortened, when it should be shorter, contrasted against the profile view? They didn’t know everything in the Golden Age!

    • John A

      Oh Marvin, I can’t believe you’re being so nit picky over such a beautiful drawing. There’s any number of reasons why they cheated the drawing for the 3/4 view; they might have wanted the truck to look longer, or they might have wanted to make it easier to animate a character getting in or getting out of the driver’s seat. Maybe they cropped in tight on this particular view and the perspective would have been different than if it had been viewed from a medium shot or further away. I think these people were amazing draftsmen, and you should feel humbled by the amount of skill they brought to the drawing table, armed with nothing more than a simple pencil. 70 years later, people holding college degrees in animation, using hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment can’t achieve anything near this charming.

    • ShouldBeWorkin’

      Remember, it’s not a 3D model. I doubt very much they would inbetween it from the side to 3/4. They could “get away” with cheating small things like this and the audience would not know. It’s all about making it look good for the shot and story.

      Today preproduction is so rigid because info has to be shared internationally for consistencies. Having different drawn animation trucks for different shots may cause confusion.
      But I can imagine in the old days, working under one roof, with guys you’ve known for years, one could just visit their designer colleague and ask their intent for the model sheet.

  • The Gee

    “A Day at the Beach” is way too long.

    It is over 9 minutes. I’m not sure if that was typical for these MGM cartoons or for this particular run on the Katzenjammer kids but the length spread out the cartoon too much.

    I know Disney’s “Hawaiian Holiday” spread the focus across Donald, Mickey and did running gags with Goofy. And, Disney shorts focused on multiple characters without specifically, deftly intertwining the predicaments of each character (until maybe the payoff at the end).

    But, for that one….if it was typical…probably should have focused on the kids more and the side gags less. So, the sand castle/wave bit could have been axed. The kids as antagonizing pranksters probably should have been the focus.

    If the kids were the focus thenHeckle and Jeckyll styled antagonizing would have been a good way of adapting the strip. But, the Captain gets his share of love here and, I presume from the model sheets, in the other cartoons, too. So, I wonder if Popeye’s transition to animation was a bad influence on these.

    The kids should have been everything here and it could have been done in about 7 minutes.

    (i know. that’s a lot of pairs of pennies I’m throwing but I do like the original strip a lot and I think the animation/design seems to work really well here. But, over all, it could have been done differently and perhaps that could have helped in making it a bit more popular. I don’t want to go on much about particulars that could be mentioned but I will say this as a strip adaptation is years beyond Mutt and Jeff and Krazy Kat ones from before the 1930s. Those silent ones are a kicker…in the head).

    • ShouldBeWorkin’

      Yes Hawaiian Holiday is what it reminded me of.
      Lonesome Ghosts and Moving Day as well as a multitude of Disney shorts has this lack of interpersonal interaction among the cast that this cartoon imitates. There’s the cast and then we get to see these series of, not even gags, but little pieces of business with each character. I cannot watch a half hour of these type without falling to sleep.

      Thank God for Fleischer, Clampett and Avery.

      My favourite thing beside the character animation in the above example was the sun and shadow fx in the business with Captain. That must’ve taken alot of work! No After Effects back then, kiddies. All camera!

      • The Gee

        Very good point about the sun/shadow.

        Thanks for reminding me that I was kind of impressed by the effects work in it.

        Maybe we look for how water moves and how waves crash but I did find myself watching the effects. The sand castle gags had some interesting stuff, too.
        Maybe it is simple now but for a B&W, it is pretty cool.

        The series of gags at the end…
        it is a nice selection but I couldn’t help but think “Padding!” It really did seem like they were stretching out the cartoon at that point. But, maybe I was long gone on the boredom express by then.

        (and believe me, the boredom express takes a while to get going and to stop. wheeeeew! Woooooooooo.
        But, when it gets going, you just want it to end.)