Arnold Leibovit is a man on a mission.
Arnie, as his friends call him (and of which I’m grateful to be one), has worn many hats in the film industry—producer, writer, and director, to name a few—but over the last few years, he has been devoting his time and energy in the pursuit of finding, restoring, and sharing the short films of George Pal (1908-1980).
Father of Hollywood Sci-Fi
Widely known as the “Father of the Science Fiction and Fantasy” in the Hollywood-produced films of the modern era, George Pal was involved with beloved film classics such as The Time Machine (1960), The War of the Worlds (1953), When Worlds Collide (1951), Destination Moon (1950), Tom Thumb (1958), The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), among others. But long before those Oscar®-winning efforts, Pal was the creator of the influential Puppetoon stop-motion animation shorts.
Being the lucky and talented guy that he is, Arnie was able to meet George Pal before his passing and has remained close to Pal’s family. After a labor of love in creating the compilation film and homage to all things stop-motion animation The Puppetoon Movie in 1987, Arnie has been hard at work locating more of Pal’s shorts from libraries, film repositories, and personal collections from all around the world. His newly compiled set of Pal’s work entitled The Puppetoon Movie Vol. 2 is now available for purchase on Blu-ray/DVD on Arnie’s website at https://puppetoon.net.
“Creative and Prolific Genius”
“There were very few people like Pal,” Arnie told me during a recent phone call. “Everyone who encountered him in the flesh can’t say enough nice things about him. Pal was not only admired but loved by everyone.” Perhaps it was his self-effacing personality, his sense of humor, or his humble approach to his work. But one thing we know for sure about Pal as Arnie told me—he was a “creative and prolific genius.” And genius he was—not only with the shorts and feature films he was involved with, but also by his influence on today’s CGI and stop-motion animators and filmmakers.
Pal was born in Hungary and graduated from the Budapest Academy of the Arts in 1928. He worked in Hungary, Germany, France, former Czechoslovakia, and Holland creating both 2D and stop-motion animated shorts and commercials. Pal emigrated to the United States in 1939 where he eventually became a citizen. Paramount Pictures, impressed with Pal and his animation studios and work in Europe, offered him a deal to make his now world famous Puppetoons shorts for the studio which lasted for nearly a decade. Pal made well over 100 Puppetoon short films in the United States and Europe during the 1930s and 40s and he won an honorary Academy Award®️ in 1944 for his innovative work on the Puppetoons.
What Sets Puppetoons Apart
The Puppetoon shorts are known for Pal’s distinctive artistic aesthetic as well as for the “replacement” parts approach which was used for the filming of the puppets. Rather than using a single, posable puppet and moving it for each frame, Pal and his team used a collection of thousands of wood puppets and parts (particularly heads, arms, and legs) to pose the puppets in each frame. Once you have seen a Puppetoon short, you’ll definitely notice the incomparable fluidity achieved in stop-motion using Pal’s unique style and approach in his filmmaking.
Arnie has added the title of “detective” to his long list of professional roles as he continues to unearth amazing finds—many of which are included in The Puppetoon Movie Vol. 2. All of the shorts in the Vol. 2 set have a story (make sure to read the comprehensive liner notes included in the Blu-ray+DVD written by Arnie himself). Arnie recounted one particularly amazing chain of events to me of how the short Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves came to be included on the Vol. 2 set. The short was last seen by film audiences in 1935. Arnie was able to locate a print of it at the British Film Institute. England has particularly strict copyright laws which required Arnie to get approval from an heir or the trustee of the short’s well known music composer Alexander Slatinay (who passed away many years ago) in order to include it in the set. After months of research and with the help of a German music publisher, they found the composer’s only living daughter Maria Cooper, who was then 90 years old and living in a nursing home in Brightlingsea, a small fishing village in Northern England. The town council graciously helped find where Maria was located as her home phone was not working. Afterwards, her son, who is science professor at the University of Sussex, was contacted and together made it possible to secure the rights to the short. “It was a major miracle,” Arnie told me, “that was meant to be.”
As for the other shorts included in Vol. 2, there are some doozies, including a short with the only licensed use of the “Superman” character outside of Warner Bros. and DC Comics along with a short that has a cameo appearance from Bugs Bunny, again another character closely guarded by its owner, Warner Bros.
As a lover of classic films and animation, I found The Puppetoon Movie Vol. 2 to be another delightful retrospective of George Pal’s innovative and imaginative work. Arnie and his team took great care in getting digital scans for this new volume directly from the negatives. The original title cards are included for each short. The attention to detail and quality really shows, allowing film and animation buffs everywhere to see these shorts in a way never before possible. The prints are pristine and the overall effect is effulgent. Any serious animation fan will enjoy seeing and learning more about the great work of George Pal in this beautifully restored and entertaining collection.
While Pal went on to work on live action feature films and to become the father of the Hollywood special effects industry (which is another amazing story for another day), his work on the Puppetoon shorts lives on, thanks to Arnie Leibovit. Arnie is hard at work on future Puppetoon compilation sets as well as being an in-demand speaker and lecturer for many film schools and film libraries. Post-COVID-19, Arnie is hoping to screen a series of Pal’s shorts at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Billy Wilder Theater, part of the UCLA School of Theatre, Film & Television.
And, on a personal note, I’m hoping Arnie can make a return to my favorite network Turner Classic Movies (TCM) where I first heard him discuss the work of George Pal with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz a few years back (TCM has a write up about Vol. 2 here).
Learn more about George Pal, Arnie Leibovit, and The Puppetoon Movie Vol. 2 as well as purchase your own copy at https://puppetoon.net.
The Puppetoon Movie Vol. 2 Blu-ray/DVD set was made possible by the kind assistance of Paramount Pictures (the original distributor of The Puppetoons) and the astounding discovery of several long-lost George Pal films from Europe. Some of the shorts have not been seen in decades, and some never outside of Europe.
Short Films Included in The Puppetoon Movie Vol. 2
There are 18 short films in the set, including two of rarely-seen Pal-produced cel-animated shorts from the 1930s. All films are have been meticulously restored in high definition (HD) from the original 35mm Nitrate IB Technicolor prints or the original Three-Strip Technicolor successive negatives.
These shorts are all new to home video, except for The Ship of the Ether, which appears for the first time in HD.
- Dipsy Gypsy (1940)
- Radio Valve Revolution (1934)
- Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1935)
- A Hatful of Dreams (1944)
- Rescue Brigade (1937)
- In Lamp Light Land (1935)
- Jasper and the Choo-Choo (1942)
- Love On The Range (1938)
- The Gay Knighties (1941)
- Two Gun Rusty (1944)
- How An Advertising Poster Came About (1938)
- Jasper Goes Hunting (1944)
- Sky Pirates (1938)
- Jasper’s Close Shave (1945)
- The Ship of the Ether (1934)
- Good Night Rusty (1943)
- Wilbur the Lion (1946)
- Jasper Tell (1944)
Bonus Features (Standard Definition)
- This is Oil, No.1: Prospecting for Petroleum (Shell Oil Company Inc., 1946)
- Trailers From Hell: Arnold Leibovit on The Puppetoon Movie
- Trailers From Hell: Arnold Leibovit on The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal
- The Puppetoon Movie Speedy Alka-Seltzer (Miles Laboratory)
- The Puppetoon Movie Montage
- Full Production and Donor Credits
6-Panel Color Booklet, Liner Notes by Arnold Leibovit