Thursday, April 26, 2012

Short Animation Blogathon: Aesop's Fables

This week is the Short Animation Blogathon over at Pussy Goes Grrr. I will be discussing the silent short film series, Aesop's Film Fables.

I first discovered this series while doing research for my Tales from the Archives series of posts, which is currently on hiatus. While helping out at an archives last summer one of my projects was to go through old parish monthly calendars, which are essentially church bulletins, to catalog them so that researchers could find them online. While surveying these calendars I came across some from a church that showed movies in the 1920s and used the calendars to list what movies they were showing and when. The church would often show a short or two along with their feature film, and they apparently loved the Aesop's Fables series and they would show up in the listings quite often.

The Aesop's Fables animated shorts were created by American cartoonist Paul Terry. Terry's first work was on a series of animated shorts starring Farmer Al Falfa (pictured above). These cartoons were produced at John R. Bray Studios. Terry later left Bray Studios but was able to retain the Al Falfa character. In 1920 Terry partnered up with Amadee J. Van Beuren to start "Fables Studios." The first short Terry and Van Beuren produced was "The Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs" which was released on May 13th, 1921. Although the early short films in the series were about the actual Aesop's fables, they later dropped that gimmick but kept humorous morals which often had nothing to do with the story. The Aesop's Fables series was extremely popular in the 1920s. Walt Disney even said that Paul Terry was an influence on his own work which is interesting as the two would later have their works be in direct competition with each other.

One Aesop's Fables short that the church showed was called "Small Town Sheriff." The cartoon is pictured above and dates from 1927. This is also the only cartoon from the series shown by the Church (so far, as I still have more calendars to get through in the project) that is on YouTube! You can watch it here.

"Small Town Sheriff" features good ol' Farmer Al Falfa as he deals with animals who have opened a speakeasy, although they sell soda! Keep in mind that this short was made during the Prohibition era. Wacky hijinks ensue such as a cat throwing a bottle at an elephant in a top hat, a fish stealing Al Falfa's car, and a blind pig (another name for a speakeasy was a "blind pig") running around with a barrel strapped to its back! The feline bartender has saved a bottle of booze for Al Falfa, who then drinks it and goes on a surreal journey into space. Al Falfa meets an invisible man on the moon, gets poured out of the Big Dipper, and flies through space in a rowboat being driven by a cat! Of course it turns out that none of this really happens as he was under the influence of alcohol (seems more like LSD to me!). The animals of the town all make fun of him so Al Falfa responds by reminding them him is the sheriff and pulls out his gun and starts firing to scare them away. Overall I think the cartoon holds up pretty well, especially considering its age. There are even some nice meta jokes like the Aesop's Fables film delivery truck and Alfalfa moving a question mark over his head! "Small Town Sheriff" is silly, a lot of fun, and only six minutes long so check it out now!

In 1928 Fables Studios released "Dinner Time," the first cartoon released to the public with a synchronized soundtrack. Unfortunately for Terry and Van Beuren it was overshadowed by the release of Disney's "Steamboat Willie" one month later. Fables Studios closed in 1933 but Paul Terry then started the successful animation studio Terrytoons. The Terrytoons cartoons were distributed by 20th Century Fox. Who is the most famous Terrytoons character you ask? Why it's none other than Mighty Mouse!

Thanks for reading and please check out the other entries in the Short Animation Blogathon!


  1. It doesn't get as blatantly insane as 1920s animation...great entry!

  2. Thanks for the comment Nate! Yeah, this was a crazy but fun discovery!