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Bad IdeasClassic

“Smile Darn Ya, Smile”: To Color Or Not To Color a Classic

Way back in 1992, Ted Turner paid to colorized a batch of black and white Merrie Melodies from 1931-33. This was back before computers were employed to add colors, so the cartoons were shipped to South Korea, traced frame-by-frame (well, almost), new cels were inked and painted and shot under the camera – creating a “color” cartoon from a “worthless” black & white print. For more information on 1967-1992 colorized cartoons, click here. To see how well they did (or just to enjoy the tune Smile Darn Ya, Smile), check out the comparison below:

(via Golden Age Cartoons)

  • tim g

    very interesting……i still like the b&w version more :)

    On a side note that’s the first time i’ve seen that short and always thought that song was made especially for Toon Town in Roger Rabbit….i love it hehe

    thanks for sharing!

  • manny

    koreans take the life out of everything,,,, or more precisely,, rich white men who pay over seas so that koreans can take the life out of animation, ruin everything ;(

  • i agree with tim… i like the black n white version more… it has a charm which seems lost in the colored version fr example the take on the poster labled “old” u see the embarrassment with color change on the face which is lacking sorly in the colored version and due to with the expression/animation doent feel as strong as the b/w counterpart :)

  • Isaac

    As expected, the original version’s linework is much better than the traced version’s linework. As hard as they tried, shapes and lines lost much of their definition in the process of tracing.

  • I notice how my attention automatically goes to the black and white version. Something got somehow lost in the colorization process. Like manny says: there’s no life in it anymore.

    It’s an enjoyable cartoon, by the way, but VERY derivative. Walt Disney/Ub Iwerks’ Oswald and Mickey are all over the place… (I know, it’s made by former Disney animators, but still…)

    • Bobby Bickert

      It’s also derivative of Harman-Ising. The cow blocking the tracks and the wild chase that follows were lifted from “Sinkin’ in the Bathtub” (though not exactly the same).

  • This actually is an example of one done well. The backgrounds come off more attractive, and the registration is close to working. Whenever, they stand still, as in all colorized versions, the characters wobble around. And there are a couple of points where the colorized character pops off all together for no more than a frame. But, by and large, this is much better than was done for the Popeye cartoons or the WB cartoons done years earlier, before Turner.

  • Matt


    the opening trolley scene, in the colorized print, uses a different background that goes from right to left. Instead of the front to back of the original. Foxy’s Trolley must be swinging around to achieve that!

  • You can see the cheats. The opening scenes have an animated cycle of poles going by in black and white, but the color version just pans still artwork.

    When Foxy picks up the trolley to chase the wheels, they’ve animated him on twos in the color version instead of ones so the run cycle doesn’t work.

    At the end, with all the animated backgrounds, the color version has the art on twos rather than on ones like the black and white version, which means that the motion of the backgrounds is not as smooth.

    • rnigma

      And at about the 1:58 mark, the hippo disappears in one frame after Foxy deflates her.

  • Tim P

    Hard to define words such as gesture (in line quality) and emphasis using colour and tone become painfully obvious in the side to side comparison. Honestly the perfect teaching tool for these terms. The big problem with colourization I think is the loss of value range.

  • Why stop at just color? Why not 3D? Why not digital animation? Photo-realistic characters and backgrounds?

    And while you’re at it, why not add a new soundtrack with all of the latest and greatest technology? Real streetcar sounds as well as live animal recordings, too! Have the score recorded by one of the great throwback orchestras?


    Just enjoy it for what it was, when it was. Glorious black and white. Mono sound.

  • Russell H

    I remember at the time these came out it was rumored that to save time and money, the colorizers dropped every fifth frame, and that was the reason for the choppiness and discontinuous animation that remained in the colorized versions. Can anybody verify this?

  • Dave O.

    I prefer this color version:

  • The colored version has so little contrast that nothing draws your eye, you just stare at it. Even if the line quality was exact and it was animated on ones like the original was, their color choices are bland and they all blend together, especially when side by side with the black and white.

    I think when you create something for black and white you’re making artistic decisions that lend themselves to that format. It’s like making something made in 16:9 widescreen and trying make it work for 4:3 full screen.

  • uncle wayne

    I have adored this film every since my being a weeeee tot. I have (always) found the “colorizations” to be grotesque, diplorable, and overall subtracting. These b&w films are gems. Leave them the f alone!!

  • Murphy’s Oil

    In this cartoon the Korean studio did a better job than they would in later ones. Here there is but one gag changed overtly, maybe because the original was thought too dated by someone in authority: at 4:05 the colorized version changes the hue of the moist and frothy bovine expectorant from black to white, as chewing tobacco and common cuspidor references were by 1967 no longer common. In later colorized WB cartoons whole gags got dropped or replaced with lame substitutions, ineptly executed. Clampett’s rep suffered most from such filmic butchery, as a good many of his great black and white shorts, like “Porky in Egypt”, got ruined and those who saw only the color versions on television had no idea of the quality of the originals. The opening color title card alone of “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile” boasts enough drawing and perspective errors all by itself to have tipped off any artist as to what was coming. Of course, to a bottom lining suit, this sort of thing looked just fine.

  • The original is better, but the color choices are fairly pleasing and execution is better than most. But the new version is so severely cropped that it ruins the compositions and even loses some gags. The scene inside the trolley has posters on the wall that are soft in the original but sharp and distracting in color. At 3:21 the bird has polka dots on its underwear, but none in the color version. I’m surprised that they bothered to colorize any Foxy cartoons, they aren’t exactly big sellers. And as Gijs Grob points out, it’s very derivative of earlier Disney/Iwerks cartoons particularity the Oswald, Trolley Troubles.

  • All the folks complaining about this second rate cartoon being colorized and altered in the coloring, should think about what Bill Plympton has done in colorizing, adding voice over and reworking the scenes of Winsor McCay’s brilliant film, THE FLYING HOUSE. He’s an Independent; should he be given a pass for the more violent changes he’s done to McCay’s last short in the name of “reconstruction”?

  • Scarabim

    Lord, there’s a HUGE amount of quality loss in the color transfer. Yech. Mass and volume give way to flatness and jello. Terrible!

    I wonder…were some of the early Looney Tunes recolored in a similar fashion? I seem to remember early color Porky Pig cartoons that look just as bad as this colorized Foxy.

  • Brad Constantine

    I worked briefly at American Film Technologies in the early 90’s, and one of my first jobs was restoring and coloring Old BW Warner Bros. and Mickey Mouse Cartoons for Rerun on the Cable Networks. The digital process we used preserved all of the original frames, and just provided a transparent color overlay to the film. We also removed excessive dust, scratches, and damage to original BW negatives. The two companies, WB and Disney, were directly involved with the color selections, as well as the final
    call on the quality. I think those turned out better than the traced versions.what do you think?
    Here’s one of the Mickeys…

    • I’ve seen several of these and I always marveled at the quality. You guys did a great job, but for me these cartoons looked just fine in B&W, at that time Disney had access to full Technicolor but decided to keep making Mickeys in B&W. It was primarily so he could make the big announcement of Mickey in color when he lost exclusive rights to Technicolor. But it’s still true that Disney could have made these in color if he wanted to.

  • Chris Peterson

    I agree that this is one of the better examples of the Korean colorized WB cartoons, but it still pales next to the original, and I’m glad we’ve reached a point where B&W is no longer considered outdated.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Thank GOD!

  • J Lee

    It’s worth noting that Turner had these hand-colorized after he had the B&W Popeyes done between 1987-89. But by the time they got around to the H-I Merrie Melodies, Warner Bros. had already begun running the first of the three series of computer-colorized Looney Tunes, which were done in 1990 and began showing up on the Fox Kids network that year, before most ambled over to Nickelodeon between 1992 and ’95.

    Seeing the hand-colored Turner ones show up after the computer colorized versions of the LT shorts arrived really made Ted’s efforts look cheap compared to what Warners had paid for (even if the 1990 ones tend to have a few too many inappropriate color choices compared to the ones released in 1992 and 1995).

    • I can’t understand why on earth Turner would have done it this way even while computer coloring was available. In 1968 it was one thing, but still using the extremely clunky, error-prone hand tracing process when a much better option was available? I don’t get it. The colorized Popeyes just look awful, only marginally better than the worst of the Looney Tunes ones that had been done bye Color Systems 20 years earlier.
      This one, at least, actually looks competently done, but why was it done that way at all?

      (Of course the real question is why was it DONE at all, but I’m letting that go. =)

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Fred Grandinetti grappled with the same question in his book on Popeye that came out back in the 90’s. I think it came down to the cost of doing the job where it was still cheaper to go the old route than to use computers and do it more effectively.

      • Retro00064

        @Chris: I guess it could be compared to the way companies think about manufacturing today: “Rather than making a quality product right here in the U. S. A., let’s make it cheaply in China and make bigger profits.”

        Just like with manufacturing, it seems that “Made in U. S. A.” was the norm for animation here in the U. S. many decades ago.

  • Oscar Grillo

    If they did this to a Fra Angelico painting they’ll put then in jail…………….

  • Retro00064

    This cartoon’s colorized version is indeed better than the colorized Fleischer Popeye cartoons, which are rubbish. Still, the fact that they animated the colorized version on twos shows. For what it’s worth, some of the colorized Famous Studios Popeye cartoons aren’t too bad, but the originals are still better.

    By the way, I wish Boomerang would stop airing the colorized Popeye cartoons and start airing the original black-and-white versions. And preferably they should keep the a.a.p. titles or use the restored Popeye Show versions rather than butchering the cartoons’ titles by removing the end titles and the a.a.p. logo opening titles just to remove any references to a.a.p.

    We should teach kids that these black-and-white cartoons were made a long time ago when making them in color was expensive or impractical, and to appreciate and enjoy them the way they are.

    All in my humble opinion, of course.

    • xevo

      I recall when “Adventures of Popeye” was colorized – only the cartoon segments were redone in color, and the live action sequences remained in black & white.
      While growing up back in the 70s, the first 24-hour TV station in our area (we had no cable) ran Warner Bros. movies and cartoons late at night, and they included those color-redrawn Looney Tunes. (Plus occasional oddities like a French dubbed print of “Rabbit’s Kin.”) I could not understand why they looked relatively crude till I learned about the colorizing in Leonard Maltin’s “Of Mice and Magic.” I still remember in “Daffy Duckaroo” during the scene where the Indian chief is wooing Daffy-in-drag, one frame of the film was just a white card with the inscription “3cm N.G.” (I recall “NG” being an industry abbreviation for “no good,” which the redrawn animation certainly was!)

      • Doz Hewson

        That’s the same damn problem I had with the spurious
        LOONEY TUNES. I’m in the same damn boat – it took reading “OMAM” to discover what was up.
        I was 18yo, in Spring 1987, when I first read “OMAM”.

      • xevo

        I bought the first paperback edition of OMAM around 1980 (when I was in my late teens), and re-read it so much the spine split. I bought Maltin’s book on Our Gang in hardcover around ’78.

      • Bobby Bickert

        My first exposure to the redrawn Porkys was on Miami’s WCIX in the late 1970’s. I also didn’t know until I read OMAM that these were color versions of B & W cartoons, but even at that young age I wondered why the ghost in “Jeepers Creepers” was yellow, and why the clothes worn by the Jekyll/Hyde villain in “The Case of the Stuttering Pig” were pink!

      • Retro00064

        @xevo: I’ve heard of the live-action scenes in the Adventures of Popeye colorization still being black-and-white. Kinda makes the colorization of the cartoon portions seem unnecessary, eh? ;-) Did they colorize the scenes where Popeye was in front of his book against the live-action background showing the boy his adventures?

        Interesting information about one of the frames in the Daffy Duckaroo colorization being an “N.G.” (“no good”) card. Just more evidence that the colorization is cheap. ;-)

      • Chris Sobieniak

        I think in the case of that one episode, they had the live-action sequences in sepia-tone to match part of the animation as they had those backgrounds of Popeye outside the book appear rather brown-ish.

    • rnigma

      A.A.P. and Seven Arts were owned by Eliot Hyman- I read somewhere that his son ran the company responsible for the color traced Looney Tunes, the ones reanimated in South Korea.
      I think the earliest instance of reanimating B&W cartoons in color was those Mutt & Jeff cartoons in the ’30s.
      Clarifications are welcomed.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        I think so too. At least by the 1950’s some of those Mutt & Jeff’s were offered to the 16mm home market I saw in print ads during that time.

        I think the studio in Korea that handled both the Looney Tunes and later NTA’s Betty Boop stuff was called “International Art Production.” Their output was quite consistently awful to the say the least, often resulting in mis-timed animation or even sequences left out for any number of reasons (hard to animate I’m sure) leading to headaches for the editors (and some of us) back home. International Art also did work for another company based on material previously used in earlier TV distribution of the 50’s called “Radio & TV Packages, Inc.” composed mostly of silent cartoons of the 1920’s with some 30’s material with sound either left in or removed altogether for an eclectic mix of needle-drop tunes from the KPM library.

        The best info I could find of this studio (and the history of sending animation to Korea) could be found here.

      • Russell H

        In the colorized version of GOONLAND, the live-action hands splicing the film back together are removed entirely–the film just magically re-assembles itself and goes on, thereby wrecking the whole fourth-wall gag.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Similarly, the later cartoon “Cartoons Ain’t Human” also had a situation where a hand comes out to stamp “Censored” on a drawing Popeye just did.

        It’s if they simply couldn’t replicate a simple thing as asking someone to stand there and put his hands underneath the camera frame by frame during those shoots. Not that we need it, but it would’ve been interesting comparing hands in both version I think!

        The very first Popeye cartoon that was redrawn did include the live-action clip of the newspapers running down the line before going to the headline where the B&W photo dissolves into color and the mayhem ensued.

      • Bobby Bickert

        Somehow the live-action Groucho made it into the redrawn version of “Popeye Meets William Tell”, wiggling eyebrows and all. (And the background was in color.)

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Wouldn’t be surprised if it was a simple cut ‘n paste of the film frames blown up to do so.

  • Dario

    Ugly! That obsession in the nineties with purple-red, purple-blue, purple, purple… The original cartoons kept that magic. I could imagine colors. I prefer that, actually rather than seeing this Warner Bros. purple obsession.

  • Mike Johnson

    Black & white FTW.

    That being said, I once read that it was hoped that colorization would get more young people to watch films that they normally might not seek out because black & white was too old fashioned or boring. For this one reason I don’t mind the effort if it introduces people to the old classic films, especially if after a time they come to enjoy them and seek out the original black & white versions to fully appreciate the artistry that went in to making them.

    • Jon

      That was one of the arguments in favor of colorization, that audiences who wouldn’t watch anything in black and white would watch old movies and TV shows if they were in color. Problem is, it didn’t work. At least with live action, people who didn’t like old movies or old TV shows were no more inclined to watch them when they had a coat of computerized color laid over the original black and white image. It wasn’t that people wouldn’t watch the stuff because it was black and white, but that people wouldn’t watch because it was “old.” Now, with animation, it may well have been different. I know that my own two daughters have no patience with anything in black and white, live action or animated, with the exceptions of I LOVE LUCY and THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW.

  • Well IMO, I think there is nothing wrong with ‘updating’ old films. Just so long as the producers do two things:

    1- Don’t bury or destroy the original (looking at you George Lucas)
    2- Do a good job, just don’t crank out junk, just wasting money and viewers time

    That said, this piece, as mentioned above has some nice background paintings, but that’s about it.

  • Rufus

    Maybe if someone knew what the hell they were doing, it might look better. The original has great linework, and even the b&w has a lot of depth. What would’ve needed to happen is coloring frame by frame using a method that only adds color, but doesn’t touch the lights and darks.

  • Kristjan B

    I think that the color version feels to me like that I’m watching a train wreck, happening at slo-mo.

  • Michel Van

    This is most worst piece of koreans animation i ever see !
    not only they badly traced frame-by-frame like they used toddler for that
    the incredibly ugly animation is lightyears aside of original
    I hope they stop this form of atrocities…

  • DCollard

    They even took out the eye notch.

    Bad tracing. Bad animation that awkwardly tries to imitate the original without employing all the frames.
    Totally not worth the effort. Color choices are alright though, but I still prefer the B&W for the designs.

  • Murphy’s Oil

    It has been said that these late 1960 WB color traceovers were done from 16mm black and white copies because the original exposure sheets no longer existed. Such a lack of institutional memory paved the way for much to be dropped through the cracks.

    • rnigma

      This is almost certainly true – one of them even had color-redrawn Sunset/Guild titles.

  • If you take into account that Rai-due showed the short in a cropped format, and probably at a different frame-rate to the black and white original, I felt that the old engineering saying should have been applied; ‘If it Ain’t broke, don’t fix it’!
    The garish colour scheme is an artist’s nightmare of how to avoid any kind of colour theory at all, making some aspects of the background completely stand out, like those adverts on top of the tram whilst the two characters are singing. There was also no need to colour the eyes as solid dots, as that not only destroys that character design cliché, from that age in animated shorts, but also gives them a startled look throughout the picture. They should have avoided this, particularly when the animators in the original short gave them solid dot eyes for the scenes of peril.
    So, to avoid making a visual essay of all the differences of each version, I will conclude by saying that at least I saw two versions of an early Warner Brothers short in one go.

  • I was at the Academy Of Arts & Sciences Tribute to Grim Natwick in Los Angeles. Chuck Jones was there. The fellow responsible for colorizing these films tried to squeeze a positive comment from Jones who was not about to give him one. “We designed them for black and white,” he said.

    Yes, they did.

    Leave them alone.

  • uncle wayne

    I always thought, “why is it such a SIN to watch a b&w film!?” EsPESH a b&w TOON!

  • Sgt King

    I love classic animation and have over a thousand 30’s, 40’s and 50’s cartoons. I also have about 100 colorized ones and, to me, most look pretty decent. Since these are controversial, unique and rare I would like to have more. If you have colorized cartoons for trade contact me at – [email protected]
    Thank you.

  • John Semper

    The one big upside to colorization, frequently overlooked, was that it suddenly made these old films seem “valuable” to money-hungry producers who then went about RESTORING their old BW films and negatives so that they could be colorized.

    For instance, Ted Turner used to re-release to theaters new BW restored prints of his old movies prior to colorizing them for TV. The whole colorization craze led to a tsunami of restoration well before DVDs arrived on the scene to make such efforts seem financially worthwhile.

    One has to wonder how many old cartoons were actually restored and saved in preparation for their eventual colorization.

  • Greg

    Actually, computer colorization began in the 1980’s and for some reason, Turner had the black-and-white cartoon library he owned redrawn colorized in South Korea even though at the same time he had the black-and-white live-action library computer colorized and that in 1990, 1992, and 1995, Warner Bros. had most of the black-and-white Looney Tunes computer colorized and it’s kind of weird that even after black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoons got computer colorized in the late-1980’s/early-1990’s and black-and-white Looney Tunes got computer colorized in 1990, 1992, and 1995, Turner still had the Harman-Ising Merrie Melodies redrawn colorized in 1992.