Flip the Frog

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Fiddlesticks (1930)

Flip the Frog is an animated cartoon character created by American animator Ub Iwerks. He starred in a series of cartoons produced by Celebrity Pictures and distributed through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1930 to 1933. The series had many recurring characters besides Flip; including Flip's dog, the mule Orace, and a dizzy neighborhood spinster.

History[edit]

Flip was created by Ub Iwerks, animator for the Walt Disney Studios and a personal friend of Walt Disney in 1930, at the Iwerks Studios. After a series of disputes between the two, Iwerks left Disney and went on to accept an offer from Pat Powers to open a cartoon studio of his own and receive a salary of $300 a week, an offer that Disney couldn't match at the time. Iwerks was to produce new cartoons under Powers's Celebrity Pictures auspices and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The first series he was to produce was to feature a character called Tony the Frog, but Iwerks disliked the name and it was subsequently changed to Flip.

Flip's debut short was Fiddlesticks (released on August 16, 1930). Although the short looks to be very much like one of Iwerks's Silly Symphony endeavors, it attracted public attention by being the first color sound cartoon ever produced. The short was produced in two-color Technicolor and is the only Flip cartoon known to have been processed in color. However, some evidence indicates that the second Flip short, Flying Fists, may have been produced in Technicolor as well, and some have speculated that the later Techno-Cracked (1933) may have been photographed in Cinecolor. The Cinecolor process was a new two-strip color process that came out in 1932 and was considered superior to the two-strip Technicolor process. Iwerks would go on to make extensive use of this process with his ComiColor Cartoon series.

Iwerks studio quickly began accumulating new talent, such as animators Fred Kopietz, Irv Spence, Grim Natwick, and Chuck Jones (who worked at the Iwerks studio as a cel-washer before going on to inbetweening and then animating at the Leon Schlesinger studio). After the first two cartoons, the appearance of Flip the Frog gradually became less froglike. This was done under the encouragement of MGM, who thought that the series would sell better if the character were more humanized. Flip's major redesign is attributed to Grim Natwick, who made a name for himself at the Fleischer Studios with the creation of Betty Boop. Natwick also had a hand in changing Flip's girlfriend. In earlier films, she was consistently a cat, but Natwick made Flip's new girlfriend, Fifi, a human who shared distinct similarities with Betty (even down to her spit curls).

The frog's personality also began to develop. As the series progressed, Flip became more of a down-and-out, Chaplin-esque character who always found himself in everyday conflicts surrounding the poverty-stricken atmosphere of the Great Depression. Owing to the influx of New York City animators to Iwerks's studio, such as Natwick, the shorts became increasingly risqué. In Room Runners (1932), Flip, out of cash and luck, attempts to sneak out of his hotel in order to avoid paying his past-due rent. Another gag has Flip watch a girl taking a shower through a keyhole. In The Office Boy, released the same year, Flip tries to secure a low-level office job and meets a shapely secretary. At one point in the short, a mischievous mouse that Flip tries to apprehend scoots up the secretary's skirt. In A Chinaman's Chance (1933), Flip and his dog track down the notorious Chinese criminal Chow Mein. While investigating in a Chinese laundry, Flip stumbles into an opium den, inhales the stuff via opium pipe, and begins hallucinating.

The character eventually wore out his welcome at MGM. His final short was Soda Squirt, released on October 12, 1933. Subsequently, Iwerks replaced the series with a new one starring an imaginative liar named Willie Whopper. Flip became largely forgotten by the public in the coming years. However, the character would make a small comeback when animation enthusiasts and historians began digging up the old Iwerks shorts. Most of the Flip cartoons are now available on DVD, in particular on the Cartoons That Time Forgot series.

A character resembling Flip can be seen in one of the pictures in R.K. Maroon's office in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Flip the Frog Annual[edit]

In 1932, a Flip The Frog Annual was issued in England by Dean & Son Ltd. Published "by exclusive arrangement with Ub Iwerks, The Originator of The Film Character, Flip The Frog", it was drawn by Wilfred Haughton, who also drew the early Mickey Mouse Annuals for Deans. The Annual only ran for one edition, based on Flip's ending in 1933 and the lack of success with it. The earlier, more froglike character was used rather than the later version. The book contains 11 full cartoon strip stories, 4 colour plates and other one-page items that are not derived from any of his cartoons. All the adventures take place outside, unlike the cartoons, and feature additional characters, including a fox, a policeman, a girlfriend (Flap), an Uncle Flop (mentioned only), and others not shown in the cartoon films.

Filmography[edit]

1930[edit]

Film Original release date Availability
Fiddlesticks in Technicolor (2-strip) August 16, 1930 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1
Flying Fists1 September 6 ?
The Village Barber September 27 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1
Little Orphan Willie October 18 Return of the 30's Characters
The Cuckoo Murder Case October 18 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
Puddle Pranks December Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1

1Surviving prints are black and white, but animation and design elements suggest the cartoon was originally painted and filmed in color, like its predecessor Fiddlesticks.

1931[edit]

Film Original release date
The Village Smitty January 31, 1931 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1
The Soup Song January 31 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1
Laughing Gas March 14 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
Ragtime Romeo May 2 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
The New Car July 25 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
Movie Mad August 29 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
The Village Specialist September 12 ?
Jail Birds September 26 ?
Africa Squeaks October 17 ?
Spooks December 21 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2

1932[edit]

Film Original release date
The Milkman February 20, 1932 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
Fire! Fire! March 5 ?
What a Life! March 26 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
Puppy Love April 30 ?
School Days May 14 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
The Bully June 18 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
The Office Boy July 16 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
Room Runners August 13 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
Stormy Seas August 22 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
Circus August 27 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
The Goal Rush October 3 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
The Pony Express October 27 ?
The Music Lesson October 29 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1
Nurse Maid November 26 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
Funny Face December 24 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2

1933[edit]

Film Original release date
Coo Coo the Magician January 21, 1933 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
Flip's Lunch Room April 3 ?
Techno-Cracked 1 May 8 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
Bulloney May 30 ?
A Chinaman's Chance June 24 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2
Pale-Face August 12 ?
Soda Squirt October 12 Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2

1 Filmed in two-strip Technicolor

Availability[edit]

Twenty-seven of Flip's cartoons are included in the two DVD collections "Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1 and 2." Another early Flip short, "Little Orphan Willie", while not included on either of those DVDs, is included on the budget DVD collection "Return of the 30's Characters" from Thunderbean.

References[edit]

Further reading
  • Iwerks, Leslie and Kenworthy, John. (2001): The Hand Behind the Mouse. Disney Editions.
  • Maltin, Leonard (1987): Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. Penguin Books.
  • Lenburg, Jeff (1993): The Great Cartoon Directors. Da Capo Press.
  • Flip The Frog Annual (1932). Dean & Son, London.
  • Flip The Frog Monthly (1935). Nat & Co., London.

See also[edit]


The Ub Iwerks Studio (19301936)
         Flip the Frog | Willie Whopper | ComiColor Cartoons