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David Hand's Animaland  »

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A fascinating glimpse into a nearly forgotten animated world
12 August 1999 | by (From Television City in Hollywood!, no, uh, Rialto, California) – See all my reviews

A film archivist in Burbank, California named Ken Kramer bought several reels of movie film, paying $50 to the guy who was selling them just to get rid of him and struck pure cinematic gold. Four of the reels contained a series of theatrical cartoons that were thought to have been lost forever. The 9 cartoons had the look and of vintage 1940s Disney with a liberal splash of Looney Tunes lunacy. Each was identified as "A David Hand ANIMALAND Cartoon".

A phone call to Leonard Maltin revealed David Hand to be the same David Hand who was Walt Disney's supervising director of the animated features "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Bambi". After progressing as far as he could in the enforced anonymity of the Disney studios, Hand was lured to England by J. Arthur Rank to establish a similar animation studio on the British Isles. The "Animaland" cartoons were released theatrically in Europe but could never find an American distributor, possibly because of pressure from Hand's former employer, one Walter Elias Disney.

When the Rank Organisation closed Hand's studio, the fate of the "Animaland" cartoons remained a mystery for the past 50 years. Hand returned to the USA and spent most of the rest of his career producing industrial training films. In Europe, 4 "Animaland" cartoons eventually turned up and were released on home video overseas. They were thought to be the ONLY extant specimens.

Flash forward to Ken Kramer's incredible find. The 9 cartoons are, to date, the biggest collection from the series. The good news is that David Hand's son, David Hale Hand, agreed to their release on home video in the USA. Since David Hale Hand owns the American rights to his father's work, there are even plans for an animated feature film starring the cast of the "Animaland" cartoons.

Four of the cartoons feature Ginger Nutt, a fiery red squirrel who's easily as cute as Thumper the rabbit from "Bambi" but can be intimidating enough to fend off the 3 forest troublemakers Corny Crow, Dusty Mole and Loopy Hare. Ginger Nutt's love interest is a female squirrel named Hazel. The rest of the cartoons are one-shots with obbligatory production numbers on such species as the cuckoo, the duck-billed platypus, the ostrich, the lion and the house cat.

Anyone who enjoys classic Disney and Warner animation won't be able to stop watching these cartoons. The most fascinating thing about the cartoons is that they offer a glimpse into another cartoon world located somewhere between Disney's unrelenting cuteness and Warner Bros. madness. There's also a sense of sadness over what might have been, had David Hand been able to continue the series. Although they're on the "Just For Kids" home video label, these are still theatrical shorts, just like Disney's "Silly Symphonies" and Warner's "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies".

"Just for Kids"? Cor!

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