George Pal's Puppetoons were a series of animated puppet films made in Europe in the 1930s and in the United States in the 1940s. They are memorable for their use of replacement animation: using a series of different hand-carved wooden puppets (or puppet heads or limbs) for each frame in which the puppet moves or changes expression, rather than moving a single puppet, as is the case with most stop motion puppet animation.
The series began when Pal made an advertising film using "dancing" cigarettes in 1932, which led to a series of theatrical advertising shorts for Philips Radio in the Netherlands. This was followed by a series for Horlicks Malted Milk in England. These shorts have an art deco design, often reducing characters to simple geometric shapes. A typical Puppetoon required 9,000 individually carved and machined wooden figures or parts.
Pal came to the U.S. in 1940, and produced dozens of Puppetoons for Paramount Pictures, eight of which received Academy Award nominations, including Rhythm in the Ranks (for the year 1941), Tulips Shall Grow (1942), Jasper and the Haunted House (1942), The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (1943), And To Think I Saw it On Mulberry Street (1944), Jasper and the Beanstalk (1945), John Henry and the Inky-Poo (1946), Jasper in a Jam (1946), and Tubby the Tuba (1947). (Info source: AMPAS Animated Short Film Oscar archives.)
The series ended due to rising production costs which had increased from $18,000 per short in 1939 to almost $50,000 following the war. Paramount Pictures, Pal's distributor, objected to the cost. Per their suggestion Pal went to produce sequences for feature films. In 1956, the Puppetoons as well as most of Paramount's shorts, were sold to television distributor U.M. & M. TV Corporation. National Telefilm Associates bought out U.M. & M. and continued to syndicate them in the 1950s and 1960s as "Madcap Models".
Pal also used the Puppetoon name and the general Puppetoon technique for miniature puppet characters in some of his live-action feature films, including The Great Rupert (1949), Tom Thumb (1958), and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1963). In these films, the individual wooden figures were billed as The Puppetoons.
In 1986, film producer-director-archivist Arnold Leibovit, a friend of George Pal, collected several Puppetoons and released them theatrically and to video as The Puppetoon Movie reintroducing them to contemporary audiences. A feature-length documentary on the life and films of George Pal followed.
Some controversy exists in modern times, as the black character, Jasper, star of several Puppetoons in the 1940s, although innocently conceived at the time, is considered a stereotype today. Pal described Jasper as the Huckleberry Finn of American folklore. Already in 1946, an article of the Hollywood Quarterly protested that the Jasper shorts presented a "razor-totin', ghost-haunted, chicken-stealin' concept of the American Negro".
A 1947 article in Ebony pointed that George Pal was a European and not raised on racial prejudice. "To him there is nothing abusive about a Negro boy who likes to eat watermelons or gets scared when he goes past a haunted house". The article, though, pointed that this depiction touched on the stereotypes of Negroes being childish, eating nothing but molasses and watermelons, and being afraid of their own shadows.
- Radio Valve Revolution (2D Animation) - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Philips Cavalcade (a.k.a. Cavalcade of Music) - February 2, 1934
- The Ship of the Ether - March 6, 1934 - Blu-ray Vol 2
- The Magic Atlas - February 2, 1935
- World's Greatest Show
- In Lamp Light Land - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Ali Baba - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Aladdin and the Magic Lamp - February 2, 1936
- Ether Symphony - June 17, 1936
- Vier Asse
- Charlie's World Cruise
- On Parade!
- What Ho, She Bumps (a.k.a. Captain Kidding)
- The Reddingsbrigade (aka resuce Bridge) - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Jasper and the Choo Choo - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Philips Broadcast of 1938 (a.k.a. The Big Broadcast of '38) - November 13, 1938
- South Seas Sweethearts
- The Ballet of Red Radio Valves
- Sky Pirates - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Love on the Range - Blu-ray Vol 2
- How An Advertising Poster Came About - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Gooseberry Pie
- Friend in Need
- Western Daze - January 7, 1941
- Dipsy Gypsy - April 4, 1941 - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Hoola Boola - June 27, 1941
- The Gay Knighties - August 22, 1941 - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Rhythm in the Ranks - December 26, 1941
- Jasper and the Watermelons - February 26, 1942
- The Sky Princess - March 27, 1942
- Mr. Strauss Takes a Walk - May 8, 1942
- Tulips Shall Grow - June 26, 1942
- Jasper and the Haunted House - October 23, 1942
- Bravo, Mr. Strauss - February 26, 1943
- The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins - April 30, 1943
- Jasper's Music Lesson - May 21, 1943
- The Truck That Flew - August 6, 1943
- The Little Broadcast - September 25, 1943
- Jasper Goes Fishing - October 8, 1943
- Goodnight Rusty - December 3, 1943 - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Jasper Goes Hunting - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Jasper Tell - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Package for Jasper - January 28, 1944
- A Hatful of Dreams - January 1944 - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Say Ah, Jasper - March 10, 1944
- And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street - July 28, 1944
- Jasper's Paradise - October 13, 1944
- Two-Gun Rusty - December 1, 1944 - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Jasper's Booby Traps - 1945
- Hot Lips Jasper - January 5, 1945
- Jasper's Minstrels - May 25, 1945
- Jasper's Close Shave - September 28, 1945 - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Jasper and the Beanstalk - October 19, 1945
- My Man Jasper - December 14, 1945
- Jasper's Derby
- Jasper in a Jam
- Olio for Jasper - January 25, 1946
- Together in the Weather - March 22, 1946
- John Henry and the Inky-Poo - September 6, 1946
- Wilbur the Lion - Blu-ray Vol 2
- Shoe Shine Jasper - January 28, 1947
- Tubby the Tuba - July 11, 1947
- Romeow and Julicat (Shown in the film Variety Girl) - August 29, 1947
- Date with Duke - October 31, 1947
- Rhapsody in Wood - December 29, 1947
- Sweet Pacific
- The Tool Box Ballet (broadcast on Curiosity Shop) - September 2, 1971
- Cohen (2004), p. 58
- "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.
- Cohen, Karl F. (2004), "Racism and Resistance:Stereotypes in Animation", Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0786420322
- The George Pal Puppetoon site
- George Pal's Puppetoons at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on August 24, 2016.