I guess animation has now become the theme this month as we take a look at a cartoon that has received quite the following with the advent of the internet: The Dover Boys at Pimento University; steed The Rivals of Roquefort Hall (or merely referred to as ” The Dover Boys”) turns 80-years old this month and was something of a turning point in animation and the career of one Chuck Jones. It was one of the first cartoons to make extensive use of limited animation techniques, most notably the use of drybrush smears and shape-heavy designs with minimal movement. Jones himself almost got fired for this as the executives were dissatisfied with the cartoon, but were unable to fire him due to the difficulty of finding a replacement due to labor shortages from World War II.
So what is this cartoon about? Well, it is a parody of popular juvenile fiction books published in the early 20th century, specifically the Rover Boys books. Many elements of those books were lampooned including the names and plot elements. The Dover Boys taking their names (Tom, Dick and Larry) from the Rover Boys’ names (Tom, Sam and Dick); their fiancée Dora Standpipe taking her name from Dora Stanhope; and the villain Dan Backslide taking his name from Rover Boys villain Dan Baxter.
The cartoon also focused on cheese puns for locations, a reference to the Rover Boys’ old school of Colby Hall.
The cartoon’s plot involves the three Dover Boys picking up their fiancée Dora Standpipe (wasn’t expecting to see polyandry in a cartoon from 1942) at Miss Cheddar’s Female Academy. While enjoying an outing in the park, Dora is kidnapped by the villainous former sneak of Roquefort Hall: Dan Backslide, played excellently by Mel Blanc and using his real voice for once (albeit shouting every line at the top of his lungs).
A simple plot, but it is the execution and humor that really sells this cartoon and it is best seen rather than having me explain every joke and visual gag (and there are a lot). It was named #49 of the 50 greatest cartoons of all time by 1000 members of the animation field in 1994.
As one of the few Warner Bros. shorts to enter the public domain, The Dover Boys was on many VHS cartoon collections and can now be watched on YouTube in its entirety.
Its enduring popularity has much to do with the animation style, the non sequitur humor and the short’s satire. The cartoon is so well liked among aspiring animators and internet cartoon communities that for its 76th anniversary in 2018, over 90 artists collaborated to recreate the short scene for scene with each drawing in their own styles.
The cartoon pioneered many styles that would become more common throughout animations of the 1950s and would become the go-to style for the UPA studio.
So do yourself a favor and look this one up and enjoy a piece of cartoon history.
Next week while we’re focused on animation, we take a look at an attempt to adapt a Japanese cartoon for an American audience.