Cartoon Hell #1: “The Tuba Tooter”

November 28, 2007


Recently I was wandering through the local Wal-Mart that’s positioned just across the street from my apartment when I noticed a fascinating item on their $5 DVD bin. It was a collection called “150 Cartoon Classics” and had terrible drawings of such notable cartoon characters as Casper the Friendly Ghost, Popeye the Sailor, and Betty Boop. Of course when I looked at the titles on the back, I also noticed a lot of cartoons I’d never even heard of, many of which I have to assume are the sort of ancient cartoons where everyone bobs to the music and there’s plenty of dancing.

So I decided I would start a blog that in general would discuss animation, and create a regular feature where I would chronicle my attempt to watch every single short on this entire collection. You’re reading the inaugural installment of “Cartoon Hell”.

“The Tuba Tutor” by RKO was the first installment on the first DVD, and it’s the exact sort of product I was hoping for when I bought this collection.

Now don’t let the title fool you, this isn’t the classic cat and mouse team popularize by Hanna Barbera, but a series of shoddy Van Beuren cartoons produced in the early thirties. I can’t determine which is which since they never refer to each other properly, but for our discussion we’re just going to say that the tall one is Tom and the short one is Jerry.


The first thing that throws me off beyond the name of the characters is that there’s a huge credit on the title screen for “Synchronization”. I don’t even think they use this term for animation anymore, or perhaps it had a much greater importance back in the day, but Chuck Jones didn’t get this big a credit when he was directing.

The cartoon begins and we see a wobbly boat riding up and down bouncy waves in what has to be the cutest perfect storm ever witnessed. The steam whistle blow by turning into a face with lips, and the ship slows to a stop at an unnamed port.


A man with the longest, floppiest tuba I’ve ever seen disembarks with a dog carrier in hand. He meets up with the rest of what I assume is an oompah band full of lovable germans. He demands that they listen to his song, at which point the tuba changes between a pucked sphincter shape and an angry old man’s face. At certain points you can split the difference between the previous two descriptions.


The tuba player separates from his good pals and takes a rest at his apartment in the heart of a thriving downtown metropolis. He then demands that his dachshund treat him to a song. I don’t think this man says “please” a single god damn time during the entire short, but apparently it works, because the dog treats us to a heavenly yodel.


I assume if my cat ever began singing, she’d treat the room to a delightful Billie Holiday standard and I would have no choice but to accompany her on my guitar. In this regard the tuba player and I are alike. He begins blowing away at the least sexy of the brass instruments, and within moments the wiener dog is clicking his heels together in musical ecstasy. Herein begins the madness.


If nothing else, classic cartoons are wonderful at illustrating the wondrous power of music. The swinging melodies of the tuba player awaken the titular characters (stop snickering) who apparently sleep together in their clothes in the middle of the day. This raises the question of whether this complex is a hostel, homeless shelter, or low income housing, but to my knowledge no contextual clues clear this up.

The lovable duo hears the infectious music and immediately run to their piano to provide some accompaniment. Tom begins singing a song whose lyrics are murky at best, though the notes themselves are insidiously catchy.


Tom then proceeds to do a dance that I can only describe as how a drunken scarecrow would dance if he was having a stroke at a Christian Big-Tent Revival. So at this point, we’ve answered out first question: How awesome is music? Answer: Pretty fucking awesome! But don’t stop there, we’re just getting warmed up.


The house cat begins making hootenanny (can you believe that passed the spell-checker?) motions at the mouse-hole, and the mice come out and begin dancing in a circle.


Pretty crazy right? But then everything stumbles over the precipitous edge of madness as a pet bird sings to a plate of sausages, and the sausages first dance in a circle, the exit the building via the window.


I know, I know, still tolerably cartoony. The parallels hold, cats eat mice, birds eat delicious German sausage, but I draw the line at a fish in a bowl singing to the cheese. I have owned fish, and as a man who likes his cheddar, I must inform you that no music, no matter how swinging or jazzy has ever prompted a fish to serenade my cheese or cheese food.


At this point one assumes the Rapture has begun in earnest, as the entire city block is settling up their disputes and preparing for the Four Horseman.


Back at the tuba players apartment, the dachshund is now performing a table dance, working that ass like the rent is due. That dachshund is so hot n’ flexible he could tie himself into a bow inside his own mouth.


Having successful unraveled the sanity of their own block, the tuba player and his entourage of animals decide to take their show on the road.


Meanwhile Tom and Jerry (to reiterate, still not the cat and mouse) rudely open the door on two half dressed flappers behind a changing curtain and scream…. something. Beyond a few comments by the tuba player most of the dialog in this short is completely fucking incomprehensible. We can draw some inference based on their wall-eyed slack jawed expressions, but I’ll leave the interpretation on that one open. They could be yelling “Repent Harlots!” or “23 Skidoo!” for all I know, but the result is the flappers do a sexy dance across a room roughly the size of a regulation NHL hockey rink.


Everybody is dancing in the streets, and most of them appear to have found beefy women to partner up with. The oompah band along with Tom and Jerry admire their handy-work from afar.


Just gaze at that picture please. Observe the luscious lips, the poached-egg eyes, and the emphatic sausage finger point. What he says here I can’t even truly call words. Something came out of his mouth though.


That something riles the hell out of the children on the fire escapes, and they proceed rhythmically bang whatever cast iron gear is on hand. Not in that catchy “Stomp” fashion, more like one of those shitty Pringles commercial rip-offs made years later in the same style.

The power of their music is so great that buildings begin wobbling in a somewhat phallic fashion. Even buildings can get hot and bothered if the beat is kickin.


A lot of cops are on the case. One assumes they heard immigrants were getting footloose and fancy free, so the hammer has to be dropped and dropped hard. Seriously, that’s a metric buttload of cops, normally when that many police officers are called in at once they’re wearing riot gear.


Everyone runs into the building, engorging its tip nearly to bursting. The cops penetrate the base in an attempt to find some release.


The tuba player is taken alive, but clearly suffering from some sort of gastrointestinal issue. My concern is he still has the tuba, no one has realized its true awful power. Take it from him you accursed Keystone Cops, lest he play the end note and summon the beast of the apocalypse to consume the world!


But no, they merely let him continue to fart out his soulful German notes, unaware of the doom they have wroth upon themselves.


Tom and Jerry! You rapscallions, how did you fit in the tuba, and what in the hell have you been doing? I think they just snuck along because they heard prisons offer three squares a day and free showers! HOT DIGGITY DAMN!

I hope to point out the best in the sort of politically incorrect moments as they happen, and the first is the lovely shot right here:


One of the band members is quite clearly drinking a beer through his flute. Now I know what you’re thinking, “TheKarpuk, that could be rootbeer for pete’s sake!”

No man needs rootbeer so bad he’s going to drink it through a flute! Only liquor helps stoke the fire in his belly that keep the jazzy rhythms alive! Besides, sugar doesn’t typically make most peoples’ eyes roll into the back of their head if you drink it too fast.

Rating: Humorously Bad

Just to explain, the rating system only goes three ways:

Genuinely Good

I don’t know how often the category will be used, but I felt I should at least leave the option there in case on of these cartoons was actually a real treat.

Humorously Bad

Something you can get your ironically, heckling jollies off on. I’m hoping most of the bad ones will fall into this category and not:

Nearly Unwatchable

So painful I’ll rethink my mission statement. Let’s hope I don’t have to whip this out often.

So in closing, beware of high spirited tuba playing, these aren’t the thirties anymore, someone is likely to call Homeland Security on your ass!



  1. Karpuk, your insight into this mind bending toon has enriched my day with it’s hilarity! REPENT HARLOTS!

  2. “I have owned fish, and as a man who likes his cheddar, I must inform you that no music, no matter how swinging or jazzy has ever prompted a fish to serenade my cheese or cheese food.”

    Favorite sentence ever.

  3. One should note that “Synchronization” as credited at the opening of this and other Van Bueren cartoons of the time was due to the new sound medium that came into film, and the attempt made to try to create cartoons that would match the sound of the music, effects and/or voices. Often one method was do post-record the soundtrack after the animation was over, but over time, the need to pre-record these elements became possible through the use of bar sheets and other timing procedures that came into practice.

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