Steve Stanchfield was 19 when he began his Snappy Video label, his means of creating compilations of obscure animated films in the public domain and making them available to fans and collectors. It evolved into a more elaborate operation years later, Thunderbean Animation, a kind of renowned label in animation circles for its high quality restorations of hard-to-find and previously lost shorts on DVD.
“What drives me to do this, is that you can look at the history of anything, and every important field has a large crack between every important event,” Stanchfield said. “Those large cracks are filled with little films that have fallen into them. That’s what I want to fill up.”
Stanchfield has just released his first Blu-Ray, an all-new restoration of the Fleischer Studio’s feature film Gulliver’s Travels, marking a very successful crossover to the world of high-definition technology. He’s already sold out of his initial pressing of 1,000 copies and needs to replicate more.
Stanchfield said he isn’t an “egotist” about what he’s doing – Gulliver’s Travels isn’t even a favorite film of his.
“I am so sick of Gulliver, I can’t even tell you at this point, just because I watched every goddamn frame of the thing,” he said. “But, to me it’s kind of exciting people seeing it looking like it hadn’t look. Seeing it look like a really good 35mm Technicolor print of Gulliver in a theater would.”
His devotion to film preservation is one that few others can boast. Thunderbean essentially consists of one employee: Stanchfield himself. He’s an animator by profession and teaches animation at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. But files at his workstation in his house in Ann Arbor seem to consistently find their way to his office computer at school.
“It’s really getting too big for me to manage alone, I even had one offer from Shout Factory [another DVD sub-licensing company] to buy me out, and that was before the Blu-Ray,” Stanchfield said. “But that only says that I’ve got something really good going.”
It goes without saying that Gulliver’s Travels isn’t regarded as being in the same league as Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Nor are the Flip the Frog shorts the animator Ub Iwerks produced after co-creating Mickey Mouse with Disney, which Thunderbean will be releasing to Blu-Ray, considered as groundbreaking as the earlier Disney shorts.
It’s not so much whether the cartoons themselves are any good, Stanchfield said. Rather, it’s the stories behind the films that Thunderbean’s preservation and distribution are aiding, so that if people want to see decent copies of Iwerks’ post-Disney follies or the Fleischers’ foray into feature animation, they’ll be able to.
“It makes some sense to me that the important films will always be remembered and be preserved,” Stanchfield explained. “But the unimportant ones, all of the other things, are sort of the missing links of animation, full of people’s careers, people’s lives. I feel like it’s important to preserve that even if it’s not that important. When someone’s searching later to get a more complete history of what happened, that’s what’s driving me. And the fact that I’m not going broke doing it.”