In the days of VHS tapes, it was common for my parents to buy videos for us with a small selection of public domain cartoons. Usually they’d find one from a prominent character like Mickey Mouse or Daffy Duck, and then round out the rest with cartoons that time forgot. I watched these tapes to death, memorizing every beat and line of dialog. About six months ago, I was inspired to watch one that I used to have on such a tape: “The Dover Boys of Pimento University,” directed by the legendary Chuck Jones. Watch it for yourself here. It’s something wonderful.
This is now one of my very favorite cartoon shorts of any kind. It parodies a line of books from the 1920s called The Rover Boys, all but forgotten today. Parodies are often only as fresh as what they’re spoofing, but despite the relative obscurity of the original source material, this cartoon is still fantastic. I’m a big fan of corny melodrama played to the hilt this way. It reminds me of something I would have watched in college with my drama friends. The timing is lightning quick, as if it was racing to fit as much in as it could. The best part to me is the vocal performance of the peerless Mel Blanc as Dan Backslide. I love how he yells for no reason, especially when he steals the runabout.
After rediscovering this cartoon I did a little bit of research, by which I mean I tooled around on its Wikipedia page. It turns out that it’s regarded as something of a classic, not only because it’s hilarious, but because it was one of the first cartoons to utilize techniques that are now common. It was one of the first cartoons to utilize stylized animation, shape-heavy designs that don’t move very much, like the opening sequence with the boys biking across the screen. It also was one of the first cartoons to utilize smear animation. Don’t know what that is? It’s when the cartoons stretch to fit in a lot of action in just a couple of frames. Here’s a picture of one of the frames from when the boys get Dora’s telegram:
It’s a very common technique these days, and apparently this particular short is one of the textbook examples for aspiring animators. This fascinating article from Cartoon Brew gives a little more background on this tool. Once you know what to look for, you start to see it everywhere.
It’s been a treat to enjoy this particular cartoon again, and the best part has been sharing it. Little quotes have started working their way into everyday conversation in our household. You see, for whatever reason, I thought I’d share this cartoon with my son, and he loves it. He quotes “No one will ever know!” to me now and then, and he often asks to watch it on my phone while he’s riding in the back seat. If I have any animation hounds in my audience, they’ll already be well familiar with The Dover Boys. Everyone else deserves to enjoy it along with them. It’s not only a very important piece of animation history, it’s really funny too.