Toby the Pup: Lost Cartoons Still Lost

tobybluWhile a release of any pre-code sound animation should be worth celebrating, Toby the Pup from Ray Pointer’s Inkwell Images should be approached with caution.

The basic background: these are cartoons made in 1930-31 by the three-way partnership of animators Dick Huemer, Sid Marcus (whom Huemer credited with creating Toby, despite what this release implies), and Art Davis for producer Charles Mintz and distributed by RKO. The series was a failure and ended after twelve cartoons, all of which are considered “lost.”

Four of them resurfaced in modern times by way of 35mm French release prints from Lobster Films and Serge Bromberg (not “Bomberg” as the release’s credits have it), and that’s mostly what’s included here; Circus Time is from UCLA Film & Television Archive (not “UCLA & Television Archives”, as seen, again, in the credits). Other Toby cartoons have been found, though I’m not at liberty to say how many (mainly because I’m not sure myself).

It should be telling that three errors seen on the Inkwell release needed to be corrected right off the bat, but even historical inaccuracies and embarrassing typos can be forgiven if the films’ presentation is satisfactory. Such is not the case, by a long shot.

As someone who does film restoration on a daily basis, I sympathize with those who have to work with a meager budget on material that has suffered to this degree. Bearing in mind the Toby cartoons’ history, raw transfers would’ve been just fine. Sadly, as is typical of an Inkwell Images release, Pointer seeks to “improve” the cartoons to the best of his technical abilities, which seem as ancient as the cartoons. Poor title recreations with generic fonts and fake irises pepper the set. Whoever mastered the Blu-Ray (BD-R, not a replicated disc) has no idea how to do so, since the 50 minutes of material is far more compressed than it needs to be, with a botched frame rate to boot (6o fps as opposed to the correct 24fps). The accompanying DVD-R actually looks far better.

TOP: The Milkman as seen on the Inkwell Images release. BOTTOM: As seen on Cartoon Roots.

TOP: The Milkman as seen on the Inkwell Images release.
BOTTOM: As seen on Cartoon Roots.

What’s left of the material that is. Another Inkwell trademark is unnecessary censorship, pointed out in the feature-length audio commentary by Mark Kausler. He kindly alludes that cuts in Circus Time may be some long-dead besotted censor’s work, when in fact these were edits made specifically for this release. Compare the version of The Milkman seen here to the one on Tom Stathes’ Cartoon Roots. It’s over a minute shorter! True, the Stathes release reinstates some previously lost footage (taken from a 16mm print), but the Inkwell release is even missing more than that. The random censorship is a long-standing problem that Pointer has never adequately explained, if an explanation is even possible.

Dig that full 1080p resolution!

Dig that full 1080p resolution!

Unsurprisingly, the sole saving grace of this collection is that 30-minute audio commentary by Mark. It captures any afternoon spent with this animation treasure for those not lucky enough to experience one personally: tons of fascinating insight, little-known history, and laughter. It’s just a shame he had his time wasted.

While the Toby cartoons themselves are as hit-and-miss as the Scrappy cartoons the Huemer-Marcus-Davis did for Columbia, there’s also a wonderful charm and life to them. Halloween in particular matches anything done by the Fleischers at their off-the-wall pre-code peak. They deserve better than Inkwell Images has provided. Fortunately the films and character are public domain (the “trademark” information is erroneous—you can’t trademark a public domain property, especially when you haven’t created any new content with said character), so someone can do a better job in the future with what survives. Let’s hope.

11 Comments

Filed under classic animation, crap

11 Responses to Toby the Pup: Lost Cartoons Still Lost

  1. This project was on hold for eight years. We were in contact with Lobster about their Toby collection, and had been awaiting the soundtrack for THE MUSEUM. What we received from Lobster and UCLA were exactly what was used. And “censorship” had already been done to the film sources at the time of transfer. There were no censorship “edits” made specifically for this release. There was no interest in altering what had already been abused over time, and working with these films in this condition was a challenge. What was done in a couple of spots was to smooth over a really bad splice which may have been caused by a previous censorship edit. But that was all. No additional censorship was done on these cartoons. And that is the truth! In a couple of other cases, missing sections of soundtrack were cloned and blended to fill in those gaps.

    The comments about the re-created Main and End titles are false. These are not “generic fonts.” Every effort was made to match the original fonts based on the survival of two examples. The Cartoons on Film version is straight off the French version from Lobster, which substituted a less attractive “generic” font on the MTs in French and no authentic ET. This was the case with CIRCUS TIME as well. having no End Title. An effort was made to re-create the “End” title in the spirit of the era since we had no source for one. (Such things have been done for releases such as the SOMEWHERE IN DREAMLAND DVD set at that time.)

    A contrast correction was made on the credits frame of CIRCUS TIME, bringing the RCA Photophone logo into detail. It is too “burned” out with brightness on the UCLA transfer. This is corrected, and not mentioned in your review.

    I am unaware of so-called “fake irises” peppering the set. Irises were used in the originals. So you agree that the straight transfers lacking digital cleaning and restoration are acceptable. That is what is represent given the problems with what survives.

    When I was active in Los Angeles, I personally supervised the film transfers, which were acclaimed by others. I did not supervise these films transfers so I have no responsibility here. All other complaints, should be directed to the Executive Producer since I have not been the director of Inkwell Images since April 2015. Accordingly, my requests for digital restoration were overruled. And post was done without my presence and direct supervision. In spite of the short comings noted in exhaustive detail, this is a start. But most of all, it is selling I understand it.

    • We can debate the recreated titles, but given there’s barely a half-hour of actual content, the cartoons shouldn’t be “smoothed out”, however “judiciously.” Leave them as is. Yes, it may be the “Executive Producer”‘s problem, but your name is on the product as producer too, and you are the one associated most with the Inkwell Images brand. You should’ve noticed the compression and mastering issues, and other sloppy issues like misspelling Bromberg’s name. Either correct the problems or suffer the consequences.

  2. Jon

    Thanks for the review, Thad. I’ll still pick up the set, but it’s good to get a review that warns of some of the set’s failings. It’s nice to have an honest look at what we’re getting. I think sometimes the desire folks have to see classic cartoons DVDs and Blu-Ray sell well results in reviewers’ tendency to gloss over a set’s weaknesses. I don’t think that does anyone any good.

  3. I just got my copy the other day, and the issues “pointed out” will be addressed. Thank you for bringing this to my attnetion.

    • In the name of being “honest,”it’s crucial be accurate and objective in the reporting. A personal agenda is quite clear in this review, aside from the right to expressing an “opinion.” As a point of reference, compare the images originally posted by Jerry Beck on December 5th Notice also there was no mention of the documentary, HUEMERESQUE, which is a Bonus Feature. http://www.animationscoop.com/inkwell-images-revives-toby-the-pup-on-blu-ray-and-dvd/. This is worth considering as well.

      • So are you saying that I’ve made the images seen here look worse than the Blu-Ray actually is? That’s pretty dishonest, Mr. Pointer, just like reviewing your own product on Amazon. I posted them at the full Blu-Ray high resolution, 1920×1080. Of course the low resolution on Jerry’s site is going to look OK – because it’s not at full-size, showing the full extent of the bad compression. It’d be poor reporting not to point these issues out, just as it’d be poor reporting not to praise Mark’s excellent commentaries. Had you done the mastering properly, I’d have no qualms giving this a better review, despite the censorship. I’d also have no problem revising the review if you fix the issues and send out replacements.

        • This was a test, as indicated. A revision is in the works. As for sending out “replacements,” no customers have complained, and we are not sending out replacements for what was a Christmas Special DVD/Blu-ray combo of 25 units available for 12 days. We met that goal. Again no other customers than you have made such an over-the-top fuss over this release. There has been nothing dishonest or unethical done on this side. The product is what it is. And with respect to the implied “demand” for replacements, it is our decision to do this should we choose to do so, not yours. This does not imply that we will be issuing replacements and we have no plans to do so simply because you demand it.

          Your rhetorical agenda was anticipated when you ordered, especially since this is the first time you ever ordered any of our product. And for the record, TOBY THE PUP is more than just the five cartoons, which you continue to focus on. There is the HUMERESQUE documentary in Hi-def with two bonus cartoons, which you continue to ignore, making this an hour presentation. Since you are so dissatisfied, you may return if for a full refund (even though it has been over 30 days since your purchase) and let others enjoy it for what it is.

          • Ray, enough. Stop. STOP. There was NO indication this was a limited edition or test run. Don’t lie. Why would you sell a TEST RUN to the public? Either way, do you think this is a good business model to put out a badly mastered Blu-Ray? Just like when you reviewed your own product on Amazon?

            I didn’t mention the documentary, which is not truly in high-def, because I didn’t want to be even harsher in this review. The bad frame-rate issue made it most distracting and unwatchable on the Blu-Ray, but it does look to be a solid effort from the DVD version.

            I am entitled to my opinion and my opinion is that this is a piss-poor presentation of the cartoons, which is the main attraction, but I do thank you for the offer of a refund.

    • Why have you not seen a copy of your own release before the consumers? That’s confusing.

  4. Rodney

    Why haven’t you seen your own release? Shouldn’t you have looked at all of these issues BEFORE it went out to the general public? I’m not trying to be a dick, I’m just genuinely confused. This is like writing a book and saying that you’ll proofread it after it’s published.

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