Monday, 20 September 2010

Ub Iwerks, Gran'pop Monkey and Cartoon Films Ltd.

While leafing through John Grant's book Masters of Animation I came across this tidbit in the chapter on Ub Iwerks:

Iwerks then [after leaving Columbia] made a brief sojourn to the United Kingdom, about which not much is known save that he produced there a couple of short-lived and extremely obscure cartoon series: the Way-Out shorts, which were probably parody travelogues, and the Gran'pop Monkey shorts. There were at least three of the latter: A Busy Day (1940), Baby Checkers (1940) and Beauty Shoppe (1940). The central character was a wise and wily old chimp who had been created for a popular series of postcards by the prolific British illustrator (Clarence) Lawson Wood.

Some of Lawson Wood's illustrations can be seen at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive website. I knew that Iwerks had been involved with the British animation industry - he directed the 1935 Boots advert See How They Won, which was scripted in the UK and animated in America - but I didn't realise that he had actually set up shop in Britain.

All three Gran'pop Monkey cartoons can be found on the DVD compilation Cultoons volume 3. Unfortunately, the films themselves shed little light on their history as only one person is named in the credits: producer David Biedermann. Denis Gifford's comprehensive British animation filmography says nothing about either the Gran'pop Monkey or Way-Out series; however, the Gran'pop cartoons are listed in Graham Webb's book The Animated Film Encyclopedia: A Complete Guide to American Shorts, Features and Sequences, 1900-1979. Here are the complete credits for them (Iwerks is conspicuously absent):

Cartoon Films Ltd. for Mono
Producers: David Biedermann, Lawson Haris
Director: Paul Fennell
Editor: Almon Teeter
Voice: Danny Webb, Bernice Hansel (Hansel is only credited for Beauty Shoppe)
Music: Clarence Wheeler
Photography: Richard M. Ising

I'm not sure exactly what involvement the British industry had with these cartoons, if indeed it had any. The few sources covering the Gran'pop series that I know of are inconsistent: some claim that Iwerks made them in the UK, others indicate that the only British contribution was Wood's source material. I can find very little information about Cartoon Films Ltd. (this old issue of Business Screen is one source), but it was definitely not a British studio.


  1. Cartoon Films Limited was founded by Ub Iwerks in 1936 after the collapse of his previous company, Celebrity Productions. Brian Lemay's website [] suggests that in the same year: 'Leon Schlesinger bails out Iwerks by subcontracting him to do a short-lived British-financed series called "Gran' Pop"'

    Perhaps the only Iwerks connection was that it was his company [until 1940? when he returned to Disney], and the only British connection was the source and some financial backing. Like you I doubt Iwerks worked on the films in the UK - all the credited names are US.

    Are the films any good?

  2. It's one of those myths that the internet compounds so rapidly. Someone says Iwerks made some films for Britain, someone else assumes that meant IN Britain and puts it online - and then it is circulated by all those info search engines. I don't think there is any question of Iwerks even visiting the UK at this time, let alone setting up a studio here. People from the UK went to Hollywood to set up deals like this.

  3. Jez -
    The films aren't anything special, but they're inoffensive enough and have a somewhat kitschy charm. I'd say their strongest element is the range of "if-Rube-Goldberg-got-shipwrecked" contraptions that Gran'pop keeps around his home, such as the monkey-powered car seen above.

  4. In addition, despite the huge popularity of his work in the US I've seen nothing to suggest that Lawson Wood ever visited America. I presume agents traded artwork across the Atlantic.

  5. Broken Treaties from Cartoon Films Ltd, from Columbia Pictures (now Sony Pictures), is in Dunninngcolor.

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  7. If you are still wondering about wther these Ub Iwerks shorts are British cartoons or USA cartoons, I think its save to say that they are the later. Since after all UB was American, and if he went over to UK to produce them I would assume that he took with him pre existing US staff he had at the time rather than hire British animators. Which would be weird thing to do, as it would have been easier to get the funding in and do it in America. But I'm of course not 100% sure. But the man I think would be your best regarding these cartoons is Steve Stancfield the producer of the cultoons DVDs. He often has information that are not easily accesible about various obsecure titles.