Friday, June 09, 2023


Toppers (Large Economy Size Edition): Funny Films and Mickey Mouse Movies





In 1933 toppers started getting out of hand. Once competing newspapers had decided that advertising a huge number of features in their Sunday sections would attract customers, the pressure was on for the syndicates to go a little bonkers with toppers. That's when King Features asked their creators to go beyond the now-standard one topper and produce two or occasionally even more. In many cases these bonus toppers were panels, either activity panels or gags, because, after all, there's only so much real estate, right? (Little did they know just how much we would eventually manage to shoehorn onto a page!).

Either one of the strip creators, or more likely someone at King Features, came up with a one-size-fits-all solution for an activity panel. On August 13 1933 four of the King Features Sunday pages added a feature called Funny Films, an activity panel where you were to cut out two thin strips of pictures, then thread them through a second picture and, voila, a movie of your favorite comics character in action! Or rather, in fact, a series of stills that do not in any way translate into an illusion of motion. 

Some creators tried to make the lame idea into something at least slightly worthwhile -- of the above samples Thimble Theatre and Little Jimmy at least put some effort into making a meaningful series of 'cels'. But most are just characters turning their heads, or changing expressions or whatever, and even the most activity-starved kid probably didn't bother to go through the motions of cutting out and viewing these utterly pointless 'movies'.  

The initial four features to sign on were Felix, Pete the Tramp, Thimble Theatre and Tim Tyler's Luck. Little Jimmy got on the bandwagon late on October 8 and Just Kids brought up the rear on October 15. Although there were only these six 'official' Funny Films, the folks over at Disney were evidently expected to sign on as well. Instead they tried to create something a little better. Mickey Mouse Movies debuted on August 13 1933, along with the other four early adopters. This feature offered a much more realistic attempt at the illusion of movement, but the amount of work a kid had to do to achieve this feeble miracle was substantial:

King Features evidently hoped that Funny Films would really catch on, but for obvious reasons it did not. Creators started coming up with better replacements for the activity panel pretty quickly. The first to deep six the feature was Tim Tyler's Luck which ran Funny Films for a mere three weeks before reverting to paper dolls. Thimble Theatre dropped Funny Films after April 1 1934, switching over to Popeye's Cartoon Club. Pete the Tramp soon followed on May 13 1934, eliminating the second topper altogether. 

Just Kids gave the feature over a year before bailing on December 24 1934, and Felix dropped it after February 17 1935. Little Jimmy gave it another month, finally bailing after March 17 1935. Fittingly, the last feature to drop it was the one that tried to make it a better feature; Mickey Mouse Movies ended on March 24 1935.


Segar's use of the format was at least consistently funny. In the above example, I love how Popeye shifts his pipe into his ear to make way for Olive's kiss, not to mention the strained attempts at puckering and the completely incongruous smile at the end. Good stuff.
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