MGM Studios Shorts & Films - 1934 - 2017 Blu Ray!
To promote their films and attract larger theater audiences, motion picture chains in the 1930s provided many features to supplement the main feature, including travelogues, serials, short comedy subjects, newsreels and cartoons. During the late 1920s, Walt Disney Productions had achieved huge popular and critical success with their Mickey Mouse cartoons for Pat Powers' Celebrity Pictures (distributing for Columbia Pictures). Several other studios, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer among them, took note of Disney's success and began to look for ways to get Disney or compete.
MGM's first foray into animation was the Flip the Frog cartoon series, starring an anthropomorphic talking and singing frog. The series was produced independently for Celebrity Pictures by Ub Iwerks, formerly the head animator at the Disney studio. Celebrity Pictures' Pat Powers had hired Iwerks away from Disney with the promise of giving Iwerks his own studio, and was able to secure a distribution deal with MGM for the Flip the Frog cartoons. The first Flip the Frog cartoon, Fiddlesticks, was released in August 1930, and over two-dozen other Flip cartoons followed during the next three years. In 1933, the Flip character was dropped in favor of Willie Whopper, a new series featuring a lie-telling little boy. Willie Whopper failed to catch on, and MGM terminated its distribution deal with Iwerks and Powers, who had already begun distributing their Comi-Color cartoons on their own.
In February 1934 MGM signed a new deal with the Harman-Ising studio, which had just broken ties with producer Leon Schlesinger and the Warner Bros. studio over budget concerns, to work on a new series of high-budget color cartoons. The director team brought with them much of their staff from their time with Schlesinger, including animators and storymen such as Carmen "Max" Maxwell, William Hanna, and brothers Robert and Tom McKimson. (The McKimsons would later return to Schlesinger.) Also following Harman and Ising from Schlesinger was Bosko, a successful character the duo had created for the Warner cartoons.
The first entry in MGM's new Happy Harmonies cartoon series, The Discontented Canary, was completed in June 1934 and released in September. The series continued for three years, moving from two-strip to three-strip Technicolor in 1935. The Happy Harmonies canon included a handful of entries starring Bosko, who by 1935 had been redesigned from an ambiguous "inkspot" character into a discernible little African-American boy. The directors worked separately on their own films, although both strived to create intricate films that would compete with Disney's award-winning Silly Symphonies.
However, budget problems threatened to plague Harman and Ising a second time: Happy Harmonies cartoons regularly ran over budget, and Hugh Harman paid no heed to MGM's demands that he reduce the costs of the shorts. MGM retaliated in February 1937 by deciding to open their own cartoon studio, and hired away most of the Harman-Ising staff to do so. The final Happy Harmonies short, The Little Bantamweight, was released in March 1938, and Harman and Ising went on to establish a new studio to do freelance animation work for Walt Disney, only to come back.
For the 1934 MGM musical film Hollywood Party, Walt Disney Productions created an animated sequence in Technicolor called The Hot Choc-Late Soldiers, and is one of a few examples where Disney produced animation for other studios. The movie also contained a sequence with Jimmy Durante interacting with an animated Mickey Mouse. In 1936, Disney's animators were overworked with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the Harman-Ising studio provided artists to work on the feature and the Silly Symphonies short Merbabies in exchange to artist training.