by Matthew Hahn

BearManor Media


198pp/$30.00/November 2017

The Animated Marx Brothers

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Over the course of their career, the Marx Brothers only made thirteen surviving films, released between 1929 and 1949. Despite their relatively scant cinematic output, they made an indelible mark on comedy and pop culture. Even people who have never seen one of their films will recognize Groucho's glasses, moustache, and cigar or Harpo's wig, hat, and horn. In addition to the films that immortalized, the brothers began appearing in animated films as early as 1932, showing up in Walt Disney's The Bird Store only four months after their third film, Monkey Business was released. In his new study, The Animated Marx Brothers, Matthew Hahn traces references to the Marx Brothers in animation from that film through television and into modern media.

The book is divided into eight sections, with the majority comprised of the first two, a look at the animated films and television shows which have incorporated the Marx Brothers into them. Each entry opens with a description of the creative team responsible for the cartoon, Marxtoon in Hahn’s parlance, and then provides a description of the entire cartoon, focusing its attention on what role the Marx Brothers (or individual members of the team) play in each cartoon. The final section of the book helpfully provides detailed information about where the reader can find the cartoons and episodes described earlier in the book.

Hahn has done a seemingly thorough job in tracking down Marxian references in animated films, from the well-known to the exceedingly obscure (and it is always possible more will turn up). He includes visual representation of the brothers as well as depictions which use established characters to emulate the brothers in dress or action. Not only does he discuss Chico showing up in Popeye Meets Rip Van Winkle, but he also includes Robin Williams’s Genie doing a Groucho impersonation in Disney’s Aladdin. Occasionally, Hahn includes bits of trivia about the films and shows he discusses and he often attempts to identify the actors who provide voices for the various brothers, including, with a strange frequency, Harpo.

Left unanswered in the book is why so many filmmakers have chosen to recreate the Marx Brothers in animation. Certainly the characters are recognizable, which must have been one aspect of the decision, along with the choice to recreate the image of Joe E. Brown, W.C. Fields, or Charles Chaplin. A discussion of the legality of including their representations would also be interesting, especially given current laws which permit their estates to control the use of their image. While any fan of the Marx Brothers will clamor to find out more about their representation in cartoons (and Hahn includes videogames, on-line videos, and animation in the Marx Brothers movies themselves), he doesn’t explain why a non-fan might be interested in his in depth catalog.

The book includes several pages of stills from the various cartoons Hahn discusses, but in truth the best way to read the book is with an extensive collection of cartoons and a DVD player handy. His descriptions and the stills make the reader want to put the book down every few entries to watch the cartoons he has described, giving additional life to his research which provides a who’s who of cartoon characters, animators, directors, producers, and voice artists. While the book doesn’t answer the question of why it should exists, its existence does provide an intriguing look at cartoons and a group of atypical cartoon characters over the years, which may be reason enough.

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