George Pal's Puppetoons were a series of animated puppet films made in Europe in the 1930s and in the United States in the 1940s. They are memorable for their use of replacement animation: using a series of different hand-carved wooden puppets (or puppet heads or limbs) for each frame in which the puppet moves or changes expression, rather than moving a single puppet, as is the case with most stop motion puppet animation.
The series began when Pal made an advertising film using "dancing" cigarettes in 1932, which led to a series of theatrical advertising shorts for Philips Radio in the Netherlands. This was followed by a series for Horlicks Malted Milk in England. These shorts have an art deco design, often reducing characters to simple geometric shapes. A typical Puppetoon required 9,000 individually carved and machined wooden figures or parts.
Seven Puppetoons received Academy Award nominations, including Rhythm in the Ranks (for the year 1941), Tulips Shall Grow (1942), The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (1943), And To Think I Saw it On Mulberry Street (1944), Jasper and the Beanstalk (1945), John Henry and the Inky-Poo (1946) and Tubby the Tuba (1947). (Info source: AMPAS Animated Short Film Oscar archives.)
The series ended due to rising production costs which had increased from $18,000 per short in 1939 to almost $50,000 following the war. Paramount Pictures, Pal's distributor, objected to the cost. Per their suggestion Pal went to produce sequences for feature films. In 1956, the Puppetoons as well as most of Paramount's shorts, were sold to television distributor U.M. & M. TV Corporation. National Telefilm Associates bought out U.M. & M. and continued to syndicate them in the 1950s and 1960s as "Madcap Models".
Pal also used the Puppetoon name and the general Puppetoon technique for miniature puppet characters in some of his live-action feature films, including The Great Rupert (1949), Tom Thumb (1958), and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1963). In these films, the individual wooden figures were billed as The Puppetoons.
In 1987, film producer-director-archivist Arnold Leibovit, a friend of George Pal, collected several Puppetoons and released them theatrically and to video as The Puppetoon Movie reintroducing them to contemporary audiences. A feature-length documentary on the life and films of George Pal followed. In 2020, The Puppetoon Movie Volume 2 was released on Blu-ray and DVD, featuring 17 shorts not included on any of the Puppetoon Movie releases and The Ship of the Ether.
Some controversy exists in modern times, as the black character, Jasper, star of several Puppetoons in the 1940s is considered a stereotype today. The Jasper series of shorts relied on a small, consistent cast. The titular character was a playful pickaninny, his mother a protective mammy, Professor Scarecrow being a black scam artist, and the Blackbird serving as his fast-talking partner-in-crime. Pal described Jasper as the Huckleberry Finn of American folklore. Already in 1946, an article of the Hollywood Quarterly protested that the Jasper shorts presented a "razor-totin', ghost-haunted, chicken-stealin' concept of the American Negro".
A 1947 article in Ebony pointed out that George Pal was a European and not raised on racial prejudice. "To him there is nothing abusive about a Negro boy who likes to eat watermelons or gets scared when he goes past a haunted house". The article, though, pointed that this depiction touched on the stereotypes of Negroes being childish, eating nothing but molasses and watermelons, and being afraid of their own shadows.
Jasper's full name is Jasper Jefferson Lincoln Washington Hawkins.
- Tale of the Gloomy King
- Radio Valve Revolution
- The Ship of the Ether
- The Magic Atlas
- World's Greatest Show
- In Lamp Light Land
- Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves
- Ether Symphony
- Charlie's World Cruise
- On Parade!
- What Ho, She Bumps
- The Reddingsbrigade
- Philips Broadcast of 1938
- South Seas Sweethearts
- The Ballet of Red Radio Valves
- Sky Pirates
- How An Advertising Poster Came About
- Aladdin and the Magic Lamp
- The Sleeping Beauty
- Love on the Range
- Philips Cavalcade (a.k.a. Cavalcade of Music)
- The Queen Was In The Parlour
- Friend in Need
- The Good Bear and The Bad Bear
- The Old Woman Who Lived in A Shoe
- Western Daze
- Dipsy Gypsy
- Hoola Boola
- The Gay Knighties
- Rhythm in the Ranks
- The Sky Princess
- Jasper and the Choo-Choo
- Bravo, Mr. Strauss
- The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins
- Jasper's Music Lesson
- The Truck That Flew
- The Little Broadcast
- Jasper Goes Fishing
- Goodnight Rusty
- Package for Jasper
- A Hatful of Dreams
- Say Ah, Jasper
- Jasper Goes Hunting
- And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street
- Jasper's Paradise
- Two-Gun Rusty
- Jasper's Booby Traps
- Hot Lips Jasper
- Jasper Tell
- Jasper's Minstrels
- Jasper's Close Shave
- Jasper and the Beanstalk
- My Man Jasper
- Jasper's Derby
- Jasper in a Jam
- Olio for Jasper
- Together in the Weather
- John Henry and the Inky-Poo
- Wilbur the Lion
- Shoe Shine Jasper
- Date with Duke (featuring Duke Ellington) - October 31, 1947
- Rhapsody in Wood (featuring Woody Herman)
- Tubby the Tuba
- Romeow and Julicat (Shown in the film Variety Girl)
- Sweet Pacific
- The Tool Box (broadcast on Curiosity Shop) - September 2, 1971
- Lenburg, Jeff (1999). The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons. Checkmark Books. pp. 85–86. ISBN 0-8160-3831-7. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
- Cohen (2004), p. 58
- "'The Puppetoon Movie Volume 2' Now Available on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack". AWN. December 1, 2020.
- Cripps (1977), p. 230
- Christopher P. Lehman (December 1, 2018). "Jasper and the Puppetoons - Part 3". CR.
- Vidette-Messenger of Porter County. "Hollywood Film Shop". United Press. 13 April 1944. Valparaiso, page 4. https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/333163964/?terms=%22jasper%22%20%22mickey%20mouse%22%20%22donald%20duck%22&match=1 (login needed)
- "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.
- Sampson, Henry T. (1998). That's Enough, Folks: Black Images in Animated Cartoons, 1900-1960. Scarecrow Press. pp. 166–167. ISBN 978-0810832503.
- Arnold Leibovit Facebook Post, May 12, 2018
- Chico Record. "Hollywood". Virginia McPherson. 25 October 1945. Chico, page 2. https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/681104846/?terms=inkypooh&match=1 (login needed)
- The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. "Ellen Drew Named For Film Comedy". 13 April 1946. Brooklyn, page 14. https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/686223057/?terms=%22john%20henry%20and%20the%20inky%22&match=1 (login needed)
- Cohen, Karl F. (2004), "Racism and Resistance:Stereotypes in Animation", Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0786420322
- The George Pal Puppetoon site
- George Pal's Puppetoons at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on August 24, 2016.