BB Cartoon Circus: The Weirdest Cartoon Ever!

Swing You Sinners (Fleischer/1930)

I mentioned Grim Natwick in an earlier post, but here is one of his true masterpieces of animation. It would be hard today to find someone with the imagination and skill to pull off such a brilliant piece of dark surrealism, but Grim dashes off the wildest ideas as if he is dreaming while he's drawing. Read more about this remarkable animator after the jump...

It's hard to believe that the same guy who created Betty Boop also animated Snow White, Woody Woodpecker and stylized UPA cartoons. But Grim Natwick did it- it only took a century to do it all. His first credit was on a silent Krazy Kat cartoon and his last was on Richard Williams' "Thief and the Cobbler". Read the articles in ASIFA-Hollywood's online exhibit, Grim Natwick's Scrapbook and find out why I call him the greatest animator who ever lived.


Grim Natwick in New York


  1. Wow! Glad I didn’t see that as a kid. Could have changed the course of my life. Not necessarily in a good way.
    Amazing stuff though, for the time.

  2. Trippy little piece, he (maybe) would’ve loved “The Wall”… at least based on this cartoon.

  3. Very cool! A lot of the faces towards the end seem to have influenced the low-brow/hot-rod art scene.

    Is there a reason so many characters from this time period seem to be some form of black dog-like creature? Seems the star of this piece is very similar in design to many one off characters from this time period.

  4. ZOMG! I wish I had not been drinking before I saw that one. Great music though! Worth the music to have to deal with tonight’s nightmares.

    I think the people who put together Twilight Zone the Movie watched that cartoon many times as children… reminds me of the part with the girl who could think up whatever she wanted and lived with her freaked out family, when she sent her sister to live in cartoon land.

  5. Just curious, but why is it attributed to Gram Natwick in your post when his name isn’t in the opening credits of the cartoon? In the credits it says Max and Dave Fleisher with Animators Ted Sears and Willard Bowsky.

    Great cartoon either way.

  6. I was lucky enough to know Grim when he was in his late 90s, and he told me stories of his days at Fleischer. He told me that halfway through the production of this film, Roy Disney came to New York to raid the NY studios for talent. He took Ted Sears (who animated the chicken stealing stuff at the beginning) back with him. After the Disney defectors were gone, Grim was left with a crew of inexperienced kids. Bowsky was very young at that time- I think in his late teens. He was tremendously talented though. Grim laid out the ending and supervised. The weirdest scenes are his own animation- the parade of monsters, the chicken dance, etc. This cartoon established the Fleischer “ghost jazz” genre that continued through the Betty Boop series.

    Once, I took Grim to a screening of animation at the LA County Museum of Art. They screened the first Betty Boop cartoon, Dizzy Dishes. I sat next to Grim in the dark watching the film, and every once in a while, he would grumble something under his breath. After the lights came up, I asked him why he was grumbling. He said, “Damn assistants mangled my drawings!”

    It was really amazing to hear him tell stories about things that happened half a century earlier. He remembered everything.

  7. The most disturbing part wasn’t the animation but the white ghosts telling the black dog character that they were going to hang him and cut him.

    Where do you want your bodies at?
    Body? There ain’t gonna be no body.

  8. I was surprised at the line “Your gonna get your face lifted…and a permanent shave” from 1930. Found out, the first facelift was done in 1901, must have been in the public realm by then.
    Also, at 1:33 in, you can see a sign on a fence that reads “Chew Banksy”. Undoubtedly, this was the trigger to the British grafitti artist to adopt the name “Banksy” and set him on his career of making art on public spaces, enabling him to “Chew”, to eat from his labors. Fascinating!

  9. Another great Fleischer cartoon is “Bimbo’s Initiation.” It was mentioned here a short time ago.

  10. Cool cartoon! This was obviously the inspiration for the equally surreal Squirrel Nut Zippers video for Ghost of Stephen Foster.

  11. It was also an inspiration for Richard Elfman’s film, “Forbidden Zone”.

  12. amazing. reminds me of The Old Man and the Mountain cartoon. Memory hazy, there was one with Cab Calloway and another with Louis Armstrong, but they were both pretty spooky and far-out.

  13. Yeah! The only person of the highest level of fame from my hometown gets a post! And what a piece of animation it is.

  14. I have a theory on how to use old cartoons as inspiration for your own work…

    The most important aspect of old cartoons for a modern animator’s study is to discover new techniques. For instance, look at the marching monsters at the end of Swing You Sinners… different parts of the octopus monster’s body are moving in different timings. Or check out how the music is divided into bars in the chicken stealing bit and the gags follow the structure of the music.

    The least important aspect of old cartoons to emulate are the gags and situations. Old cartoons are a product of their times. There’s no point doing a WW2 gas rationing gag today, or to put a bowler hat and cigar on a character because no one can relate to that any more. I’m not a big fan of retro for the sake of retro.

    Bob Dylan had a great quote on influences…

    It’s only natural to pattern yourself after someone. If I wanted to be a painter, I might think about trying to be like Van Gogh, or if I was an actor, act like Laurence Olivier. If I was an architect, there’s Frank Gehry. But you can’t just copy somebody. If you like someone’s work, the important thing is to be exposed to everything that person has been exposed to. Anyone who wants to be a songwriter should listen to as much folk music as they can, study the form and structure of stuff that has been around for 100 years. I go back to Stephen Foster. -Bob Dylan

    It’s not good to simply imitate. You have to break your influence down to its essential elements and understand where it comes from. Then you can reprocess it and create something uniquely yours. If you are going to imitate anything, imitate the technique and emulate the level of skill. The best you can achieve by copying is to be almost as good as the original. Better to “steal” technique and come up with your own characters and situations based on observation of the real world.

    Of course, that’s doing it the hard way…

  15. Is it just me or does the animation style seem off? It’s almost as if someone has “digitally restored” this in a way. The lines are way too crisp, and colors too even. There’s no animation jitter at all. The lighting doesn’t vary from frame to frame, and there’s no camera “shake”, which are all signatures of animation from this period (even Fleischer Studios’ later work from the 30s).

    It’s actually jarring and distracting and I’m not enjoying it as much as I think I would viewing the original. Any idea what happened to this video?

    1. This is a film that was preserved by ASIFA-Hollywood and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. The original camera negative was duped to safety stock and a 35mm projection ready element was struck. THIS is what cartoons originally looked like back in the day, not fuzzy, flickery, grainy dupes of dupes. I’ve seen this print projected on the big screen. It’s mind blowingly beautiful.

      Digital restoration for home video usually creates something restored to the way it never was before. Film preservation is different. It’s all about preserving the cleanest source element. The problem is, most studios have no interest in film preservation. They have no intention of ever projecting these as film on a screen any more. ASIFA-Hollywood, through its “Adopt a Cartoon” program is preserving cartoons in the way they were actually meant to be seen.

      More info on ASIFA’s preservation program here

  16. Sorry, by “colors” I mean “coloring” – and since this was photographed in black+white it case means the “shading”.

  17. Grim Natwick might have been the inspiration for Chester J. Lampwick, the creator of Itchy and Scratchy in the Simpsons episode “The Day the Violence Died.”

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