Bright Lights Film Journal

Classics of Modernist Animation – Flebus (Ernest Pintoff 1957)

In celebration of having just received via mail a copy of Amid Amidi’s marvelously illustrated book, Cartoon Modern, I am posting one of the defining classics of modernist animation, Flebus (1957), directed and scored by Ernest Pintoff for the Terrytoons studio under the supervision of genius animator/designer, Gene Deitch.

The abstract “cartoon modern” style practiced in the 1950s by animators at UPA and Terrytoons, by Chuck Jones at Warner Brothers, and by Ward Kimball and others at the Disney studio, did not just appeal to adults. As a kid, I was absolutely enthralled by this minimalist style. ONE COULD ACTUALLY DRAW THESE CHARACTERS.

Flebus is a simple character, simply drawn, yet extraordinarily expressive. Like Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Flebus just wants to be liked. When Flebus meets someone who refuses to like him – no matter how hard Flebus tries – Flebus does what everyone was supposed to do in the 1950s, he consults (gasp) a psychiatrist.

Note the solid color backgrounds in this 6-minute short – even simpler than the character designs. And for more concerning all things animated, check out Amidi’s blog, Cartoon Brew.