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Stop Motion

Lost animated “Little Rascals” pilot from 1970

Here’s a curio from the early 1970s. In the days before computer colorization, after Fred Ladd found success re-painting and refilming the old black and white Porky Pig cartoons in color, another enterprising producer – Charles King of King-World (the syndicator of the Little Rascals shorts) – decided to re-film the live action Our Gang shorts – in color, using stop-motion clay models and miniature sets. Hal Roach historian Richard Bann tells me that ten (!!) of these were produced by a studio in England. Clearly this idea didn’t work… in fact, its a train wreck. Can you imagine if this had succeeded and someone had the idea to do this to Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin? Here’s a faded copy of one of Rascal re-do’s, Our Gang Follies of 1936 (1935):

For comparison, here is the original short (ironically, a colorized version is all I could find online):

  • Emily Brundige

    I can’t handle how cute Spanky is at that age (in the live action short). This is an intriguing find, but the Little Rascals are already cartoon characters.

  • A treasure.

  • Joe c

    The part with the monkey in the dress is just freaky. Looks like a feral child!

    • James

      You said it.

      How did they turn something so cute into something so creepy?

  • Peter H (an “Our Gang” site) cites a VHS containing 5 of these stop frame films:

    Hearts Are Thumps
    Came The Brawn
    Shiver My Timbers
    Follies Of 1936
    Second Childhood

    That alone would keep a studio very busy, and if Richard Bann is right and they made 10 I’m surprised no-one mentions having worked on them – even if the results are embarrassing the commitment warrants comment. (I would be surprised if all 10 were actually made – I would have expected the enterprise to have been axed after a viewing of the first few films!)

    It’s a bizarre idea, since the animation totally lacks the character of the live actors, and the action becomes rather slow and boring.

    And the models would have been better if they were more exaggerated – bigger heads, stronger caricatures of the original kids – as it is they are so oddly proportioned that you can’t really tell if they are meant to be kids or adults.

    If it WAS made in the UK I would be most interested to learn by whom.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      It would be interesting to find out who was involved in this over there. Still, it’s a shame what color TV did to us back then.

    • James

      Yeah, the claymation models don’t lend themselves to comedy at all. The Our Gang shorts had some sentimental moments, but the character interaction and the Hal Roach gags were the real hallmark.

      Imagine how some of the crazier situations Our Gang situations would have played out on these claymation efforts.

  • Peter H

    The animation reminds me of Bura & Hardwick’s “Camberwick Green” series – was it them, or someone who worked with them?

  • They would have been better off hiring real children to lip synch the original soundtracks.

  • uncle wayne

    well, now, that is THE most flabbergasting thing i have EVER seen. And me who owns EVERY Little R. film ever made. Why, on God’s earth, BOTHER!!??? I never could understand why films just can’t be shown the way they were MADE!!! What a RIOT!!

    • Chris Sobieniak

      We all have asked that question now and then, yet they go ahead and do it anyway.

  • Tory

    I have a number of these on a DVD-R I got off of Ebay a long time ago. I like them for their oddity though I prefer the original. They are cute but I would have preferred them better done but they should be made more widely available. I feel the same about the 80s cartoon series. There are only five on my DVD-R, and they are the same 5 Peter mentioned.

  • top cat james

    Those responsible for this abomination deserve a good beatdown from Butch and Woim (c’mon, they couldn’t even get Alfalfa’s hair right?).

    The reaction shots of the expressionless audience members cracked me up, though.

  • James

    Yeah, this is pretty weak (the claymation). I could only get through a about a few minutes before stopping. The Hal Roach audio track is the only this it has going for it. At least they didn’t last long enough to try such an effort with Laurel & Hardy.

    Sad, because the actual short is one of the best Our Gang comedies despite being musical, mostly because the the best part (the dream sequence) is quite elaborate and imaginative and fits into the Our Gang universe better than later musical efforts. It’s also one of the last shorts to give Spanky a real showcase before being regulated as secondary straight man.

    Its an interesting experiment, but ends up like many adaptations that try to recapture the spirit of the originals. Even MGM failed in later years and they had the original kids!

  • rnigma

    Count me as another Our Gang/Little Rascals fan from way back. I remember Richard Bann’s “Freewheeling” column in the Blackhawk Films catalog, and bought the first edition of the Our Gang book he wrote with Leonard Maltin.
    I was angry enough at King World for the butchery they performed upon the original Our Gang shorts. (I could understand the excision of racist and un-PC material, but they made some truly ludicrous edits: e.g. in “Two Too Young,” Spanky cuts Alfalfa’s cowlick with a sickle. Alfalfa then says “I’m ruined!” That line was cut from the KW prints.) Luckily there was another station in our area that ran the uncensored (except for titles) Monogram/Interstate prints.

    But this … thing… I have no words…

  • Tim

    WOW! that was weird. I am really surprised they made more than one. By the way this is not claymation, but stop motion.

  • TheDirtyVicar

    Sorry, but I have to chime in here – because someone (perhaps unintentionally) made the obligatory “racist material” comment regarding the original films. The silent OUR GANG comedies, which began in 1922, were among the first, if not THE first Hollywood films ever made showing integrated American schoolrooms, and portraying black and white characters as friends AND equals. It was decades before the rest of the film industry followed suit, and in that regard these films were absolutely ahead of their time. In point of fact, Hal Roach was criticized for the gang’s non-segregated schoolhouse, and received pressure from his southern distributors for years, but to his credit he refused to knuckle under and change it. Please keep that in mind next time someone feels compelled to make that kneejerk “racism” criticism about OUR GANG.

    • Carl Russo

      True. In this short, all the kids in the audience happily greet Buckwheat when he steps onto the stage.

    • rnigma

      I agree. The Our Gang shorts were by and large benign in matters of race. (The silent short “Lodge Night” had the gang starting their own Klan-like group, which was far more enlightened than the real KKK – they did not exclude the black kids.)

      My complaint was with King World’s editing of what they felt was racist material, and superfluous cuts such as that “I’m ruined” line. One short had so many omissions that its running time was almost halved. Also, KW got some of the titles wrong (“Bouncing Babies” was changed to “Bounding Babies”).
      I guess they justified the editing to keep stations from banning the films.

  • Scarabim

    It’s painful to watch that stop-motion Our Gang stuff, not just because it’s such a bad idea, but because so much work went into that bad idea. What a waste!

  • Jon

    I’ve never liked those Our Gang shorts, but I’d rather sit through the live-action originals than the stop-motion remakes. The point eludes me. As to Our Gang, I dunno, those films have just never done anything for me. Maybe it helped to grow up with them. I first saw them on some videocassettes I rented. Despite Leonard Maltin having orgasms over them in his introductions, the shorts occasionally amused, but mostly just bored me.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      It certainly is a thing where you had to have been at the right place and time to see ’em. For me, probably Sunday mornings on a local station some 30 years ago.

    • James

      Well, the Our Gang shorts aren’t all gems and don’t have the consistent quality that the Laurel & Hardy series had (what did?). Still, I personally find them quite good for what they are as a whole–and this is coming from someone who fist watched them in the past 10 years.

      Though, like most things, they aren’t for everybody.

  • Why? Just…why?

    The best of the original shorts are fantastic, wonderful in every way.

  • I remember seeing this on WYAH TV back in the mid ’70s when I was a kid. That was the station owned by Pat Robertson which started CBN and later his Family Channel empire. That station ran a lot of classic animation. Also a live local kid’s show with Jim and Tammy-Faye Baker.

    • TheDirtyVicar

      Ah yes, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Now THAT I’d like to see in claymation.

  • Ben

    I love Our Gang/Little Rascals, and I had never heard of this before. It’s also been a long time since I had seen the original. I made it through the entire stop-motion version, and didn’t laugh once. It was just so stiff and awkward. The kids didn’t look like their live-action counterparts at all. The facial expressions were just nonexistent. It ended up sucking all life out of the source material. “Why bother?” indeed!

    I then watched the original short, and laughed quite a few times. Everything just works so much better, and the gags are more clear. Plus, the kid’s facial expressions add so much. I loved the difference between the audience during the skeleton dance. Deadpan expressions in the stop-motion version, and scared kids in the live-action. It was so different.

  • Stop motion is like magic!

    I had fun doing this one.

  • mbm

    is this Art Clokey’s animation? looks very Gumby/Davey and Goliath…

    • Peter H

      Richard Bann says they were made by in the UK.
      The plodding walks, head moves and hand gestures are very like the work of Bura & Hardwick (Camberwick Green etc) and the models a little similar to the ones in this Road Safety film animated by Pasquale Ferrari, who worked with Bura & Hardwick.
      Bura & Hardwick set up a company (Stop Motion Films) to make films for Gordon Murray, Producer of puppet shows for the BBC. I think a contract with King may have been a way of keeping the studio open between productions. Unfortunately the simple dumbshow nods and gestures that worked so well against the narration in the Trumptonshire series were not enough to provide the personality performance necessary to work with real dialogue and situational comedy!

  • WhurdsDeRodan

    Wow! they sure thought they could get away with murder! What a colossal waste of time!

  • Izzardfan

    Interesting to note that the chalkboard sign advertising 6 Acts of Swell Actin is written correctly in the original but some of the letters are reversed in the King World version.

  • PalJoyer

    I didn’t think anything could give me more nightmares than those 3 redheaded farmgirls in the original short singing that creepy “Rubin Rubin” song. Now that i’ve seen this stop motion remake of those farmgirls, I stand corrected. Watching this whole thing is probably the equivlent of the third level of hell and something I never want to re-live again.