The golden age of animation spanned from the late 1920’s to the early 1960’s, when sound was added to cartoons. Walt Disney had a strong hold on this area but he was not the only one. Several other major studios also decided they wanted a slice of the pie. Some failed and others gave Disney a run for their money! In this article we’ll looked at the major companies, their creation’s first appearance on film and their attempts to knock Disney off his throne!
Originally known as Inkwell Studios (the name changed in 1929), Fleischer Studios was founded by brothers Max and Dave Fleischer in 1921. They created Betty Boop (1932), Popeye the Sailor (1933) and the first Superman cartoon (1941). They also produced two films, Gulliver’s Travels in 1939 and Mr Bug Goes to Town in 1942. The brothers gave Paramount full ownership of the studio in May 1941 due to all their debts. Paramount kept them as heads of the studio until 1942 when Max decided he could no longer work with his brother after they fell out and refused to talk to each other. Combined with the flop of Mr Bug Goes to Town, Paramount fired the brothers and renamed the studio Famous Studios.
From 1930 to 1934 Ub Iwerks and his studio (Iwerks Studio) was contracted by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer to create cartoons for them to distribute. Originally Ub worked for Disney and co-created Mickey Mouse. However because he felt unable to keep up with Disney’s demands or that he wasn’t getting enough credit for his work and finally after a falling out with Disney, he left to set up his own studio. Ub created Flip the Frog and Willie Whopper. Unfortunately neither of the cartoons took off and Iwerks contract wasn’t renewed. He ended up returning to work for Disney in 1940.
MGM brought in Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising (also former Disney employees) in the hopes that their popular creation Bosko and their new cartoon show Happy Harmonies to take off. They didn’t and in 1939 they were let go. The pair would go on to work for Disney and MGM later on.
Finally in 1940 William Hanna and Joseph Barbera joined MGM, with Tex Avery brought in in 1942. Their first creation Puss Gets the Boot was a success! Spurred on, the duo continued to use a cat and mouse format and soon Tom and Jerry was born. Finally a studio could compete with Disney! Ising made The Milky Way, a feature film which would win an Oscar beating Disney. Tex Avery would end up creating Droopy. This team would go on to work up until 1957 when MGM shut down its animation department due to downsizing.
Mintz/Screen Gems/United Productions of America
After being fired by Universal, Charles Mintz would set up his own studio (Mintz Studio) which would make cartoons for Columbia Pictures. For them he would animate the comic strip Krazy Kat, Scrappy and Color Rhapsodies. Scrappy was Charles’ only success and he sold his studio to Columbia in 1939. It was renamed Screen Gems but unfortunately Charles died after a year of managing it. Columbia brought in Frank Tashlin and John Hubley (former Disney employees too). During their time at Screen Gems, they created The Fox and the Crow which was a moderate success. Still Columbia felt like it could never compete with the other studios and decided to close it down in 1946, although both Tashlin and Hubley had both left by then and it was now being run by Dave Fleischer.
John Hubley along with other former Disney animators formed a studio in 1943. Originally named Industrial Film and Poster Service but by 1946 it would be known by the United Productions of America. The studio joined with Columbia Pictures in 1948. UPA would produce more abstract and experimental styles of animation and created the popular Mr Magoo in 1949.
Walter Lantz Productions
Walter Lantz and his studio replaced Charles Mintz at Universal Studios in 1929. He worked with characters others had created before him (Oswald the Lucky Rabbit created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks) and a few of his own (Jolly Little Elves). It wasn’t till he created Andy Panda in 1939 that his work took off and a new character would be born. Woody Woodpecker!
In 1929 Warner Bros. hired Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising where they first created their Bosko character, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. When Harmon and Ising left, producer Leon Schlesinger created his own studios (Leon Schlesinger Productions) to provide Warner Bros. with cartoons. Along with Friz Freleng and others, he continued with the Merrie Melodies and created a new character named Buddy. In 1935 Porky Pig would be created by Freleng and Bob Clampett. When Tex Avery was brought in, in 1937, he created Daffy Duck and in 1938 Bugs Bunny was born! These creations also put the studio on competing level with Disney.