Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Frenkel brothers and Mish-Mish Effendi

"The small Egyptian animation production was mainly due to the Frenkel brothers", says Giannalberto Bendazzi's Cartoons (2006 edition) in its overview of 1930s animation. Most of the information in this post is lifted from Bendazzi and this comprehensive article, courtesy of the Historical Society of Jews from Egypt.

Herschel, Shlomo (Anglicised as "Salomon" in Bendazzi's book) and David Frenkel were born in Jaffa, Palestine, to parents named Betzalel and Gnissa. The HSJE article gives an account of the family's flight from Jaffa to Cairo:

Betzalel created there a bookshop and tried to live of trading, printing and binding books until the Turks came into the First World War. In November 27th 1914, the Turkish expelled from Tel Aviv the Russian Jews suspected to become enemy spies. Compelled at another exile, Betzalel and his family counting then six children were deported to Alexandria, Egypt.

The brothers were inspired to become animators after watching Felix the Cat cartoons, and they came up with a series star of their own: a fez-wearing character named Mish-Mish Effendi. The character made his debut in the 1936 short Mafish Fayda (Nothing to Do); later shorts starring the character include National Defence (1940) and Bilhana Oushefa (Enjoy your Food or Bon App├ętit, 1947).

According to the article linked to above, the character got his name because a skeptical producer said that he would back the brothers' work "bukra fil mishmash" Literally meaning something along the lines of "tomorrow, there will be apricots", this phrase is apparently equivalent to "when pigs fly".

These publicity images for Bilhana Oushefa place a lot of emphasis on the character of the dancer; judging by the (very low-quality) stills below, she was live action for at least part of the film.

David Frenkel later moved to France and made cartoons about a character called Mimiche - essentially Mish-Mish in a different hat.

Some of the Mish-Mish cartoons were posted on YouTube, but removed after a copyright claim from the Frenkel family. Writing on one of the shorts, Milton Knight notes that is is partially pirated from a pair of Van Beuren cartoons, while Jerry Beck comments on "the crude animation, which I find entertaining; strangely hypnotic and bizarre, in a good way."

Jerry Beck would comment again on the series:
The character was the star of a popular Egyptian cartoon series of the 1930s by the Frenkel Bros. – who apparently were so taken with American cartoons they literally traced animation, character designs and ideas directly from them. This one, National Defense, is a World War II epic presented in two parts. In the musical first half, the animators borrow from Bosko and Buddy, mix belly dancers and dancing hooka’s, and possibly the worst caricatures of Laurel and Hardy, Eddie Cantor and Charlie Chaplin you’ll ever see. The second half takes place on the battlefield and it’s probably the funkiest animated propaganda ever made. The crude animation only adds to the charm. No matter what you think of Mish Mish, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore! 


  1. Thank you for your blog- Years ago on the I came across an Arabic documentary with clips of cartoons and could not find any information about cartoons of the middle east till I came across this blog...Now I have to find the cartoons. Have a good day.

  2. MISH-MISH EFFENDI sounds like fruit-salad?? Mishmish=Apricote+Effendi=Clementine/Mandarin<(citric fruit),or some kind of Turkish delight flavour??..W..R..O..N..G !!Mish-Mish was a funny Egyptian character ,or Effendi=Sir, created by such tough circumstances,much painful than giving birth to a child..i assume!!FRANKELS, let alone being Jews and guests in the Kingdom of Egypt//then!! also coming from U.S.S.R(Russia)..Exhausted already >morally< to think of such Venture..making cartoons & Moving ones..too,? a thought & something out of this world..especially in the East while Late/Great genius Mr.Walt DISNEY was in his early days of Mickey Mouse^s Black & White reels..Frankels were taking GIANT steps in the unknown,with their TIME+MONEY+SWEAT,A gamble that might have cost them their future in Egypt..they^ve struggled and done it work,in terrible circumstances world war 2 commencing,the atmosphere was shrouded with dark clouds..nothing to cheer about..populations worried.. everywhere!!..still they never gave up..making National defense linked short reels + other adverts^ & commercial too? But things didn^t go far/especially for them/as another conflict began looming in the region.. that for them was THE LAST STRAW?? and to move to Europe?!..a forced or better>IMPOSED BRAIN DRAIN<,as much as they wanted to carry on,but the winds were blowing against their sails,BUT their work(s) will always be regarded not just as Egypt^s cartoon PIONEERS but the whole M-East^s..a phenomenon venture that will never be forgotten for generations to come,and a school for future talents in this or any other,,fields!! From:Is-hak BARSOUMIAN/London/

  3. Just to mention few trivial facts concerning MISH-MISH EFFENDI that occurred to me..while watching some of them, it came to me,those cartoons had in them few recognizable characters such as Laurel & Hardy in Arabic clothing sitting in a restaurant??also a FEZ(Arabic RED HAT) worn by Late Egyptian great actor Mr.NAGUIB to mention ALSO the Belly-Dancing lady reminded me of/ Madam BADEEA MASSABNI/ SHE was a real casino owner and stars maker and also HERSELF a dancer too???BUT what really caught my attention was MISH-MISH EFFENDI himself had STRONG impact and EVEN too much INFLUENCE on a future bones+flesh Arab cinema character famed by the name of LATE Mr.MOUNIR the same thing happened in the 1950s America with TOP CAT cartoon cat charactristic copied by Sergent BILKO series played by Late PHIL SILVERS??..Mr. MOURAD >HIMSELF as well -a Jew- and music composer too a singer and acting star like HIS infamous singing/Acting film star The Late/Lady LAYLA MOURADNat King Cole sang: Someone UNFORGETTABLE like you makes me UNFORGETTABLE..TOO!this goes for all mentioned above!! bless *em all GOD/From:i.Barsoumian/London/