Saturday, 13 December 2014
Release date: May 2, 1942.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Norm McCabe.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Daffy Duck / Wolf).
Story: Don Christensen.
Animation: Vive Risto.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Daffy Duck refuses to fly south for the winter, which leads him to refuge into a winter shack, trapped by a wolf and a weasel.
McCabe's interpretation of the character is wonderful. It's perfectly interpreted from the cartoon's opening, and he successfully carries that throughout the cartoon.In this cartoon, he establishes the fact that Daffy's a duck and not just an actor in a duck suit. His established scenario is in a lake, living like a duck. Daffy doesn't see the reason to travel south for the winter:
"Confidentially folks, I ain't going south for this winter. I'm gonna stick around and check up on this winter business!". The charm to Daffy's taste of lust is icing on the cake, as he reveals the front headline of the newspaper labelled "Snow Carnival" with one of the prime features being the 'Snow Queen'. He sees the advantages of remaining south by inheriting the lake on his own, while the other ducks have migrated south for the winter. This leads to Daffy doing a comedic dance around the lake.
He does maintain gags which would be used from any director, partly in the scene where the group of ducks contradict Daffy's remark about saying south as they quote, "You'll be sorr-ee!"; referencing the game show: Take It or Leave It.
His own style of humour is evident during a blizzard sequence, where he satirises narrative titles which used to be displayed in old live-action movies, mainly in scenic shots. In this short, the title card begins with what audiences would expect: "Thru wind and snow / at thirty below / we find our hero" with each verse written in rhyme. The camera pans back and forth several times, until a narrative appears: "Gosh, we can't find our hero!". This is a greatly executed gag that shows McCabe can create timeless humour in his cartoons.
Just as Daffy is about to take a dive, the scenery of the mountains and lake flicks quickly with the sky turning to darkness, and everything turning into ice; leaving Daffy to crash on top of the lake.
This isn't easy to achieve, and McCabe could be very daring at pulling off aspects of timing like this, and he meets the goal well. During the blizzard sequence, we find that Daffy Duck is stranded in the blizzard unable to be seen.
McCabe relies on a lot of snow effects animation for the shot; so the gag is that Daffy can be unseen, but only heard, facing starvation. He cries out in the blizzard: "I'm starving. Nourishment!", "Oh sustenance! Oh sustenance!". At that point, Daffy breaks the forth wall by having his head break through the storm directing the audience: "What'ya laughing at? I'm really hungry!". This is a funny crack from Daffy, considering that Daffy's sudden appearance and remark is unpredictable. The opaque snow effects adds to the gag to a tee.
The scent then leads him towards a shack where the villains of the short are introduced: a weasel and a fox. Storyman Don Christensen relies on exposition for the two characters, who are fed up of being consumed of only baked beans.
The pan shot of the interior shack is great for creating domestic problems the characters are facing: the house is stored almost entirely of beans. The wolf complains about the consistency of beans being eaten every breakfast, lunch and supper. His alley, the weasel is portrayed as a silent character. Then he begins to crave for a "roast duck". The wolf begins to reminisce with desire: "Oh, for that fowl taste that my mouth wants". At that moment, they hear Daffy's knock on the door and lead him inside the mouth to create a diversion.
The sequence only gets better during the spoof of The Latin Quarter number. The wolf masquerades himself as a maid and pretends to provide some food for Daffy. Unlike many cartoons of that era which featured pointless song numbers for commercialisation, this sequence is all parody, and it's brilliantly executed by McCabe's timing and wit.
This was where the Warner directors actually got it right, by parodying the lyrics of a popular song so it can blend in with the cartoon's activity. McCabe also establishes that he shows skills in creating musical number sequences, and the scene is almost on par with Friz Freleng's great musical sequences.
The wolf's singing and picking up the cans is perfectly synchronised in humour, that it becomes a gag itself. It's also wonderfully executed during the scene where he is cutting the cans into slices, but he does it in sync to the melody. The weasel and the wolf also have to maintain their plan to boil Daffy while singing their song; which isn't easy to achieve in musical sequences: as there's a lot of activity going on.
Midway a chase scene, Daffy breaks the action as he addresses to the wolf: "Just a minute, bub, just a minute!". At that point Daffy socks the wolf's chin and zips out whooping. This is He disposes of the wolf as he pulls the lead from a log, which leads the wolf to slip off the other side, and to fall a long height.
For a director who has a reputation of producing dated, wartime material: this cartoon clearly contradicts his reputation for he was perfectly capable of producing original cartoons in a cartoon world. McCabe is not afraid to explore anything ambitious for animated cartoons, such as a style of comedic timing which is hard to pull off. For a director who is very underrated, he definitely had style. Norm McCabe nailed Daffy Duck's personality to a tee. As a character he is a lot more refined than his previous appearances. This short was made at just the right time, as the writers were producing much more funnier cartoons with energy and character, and this cartoon happens to be an example of what started the trend.
Wednesday, 10 December 2014
Release date: April 25, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Love Birds).
Animation: Phil Monroe.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: The curious pups, once again fighting over a bone, where they end up chasing each other into a city zoo. Once again, they experience more dangerous encounters.
The short begins much like any other cartoon with the dogs: seeking for a bone or running away from trouble. This time they're digging for a bone; and they've dug quite a hole. They listen out for a motorcyclist who rides into the scene, with the dogs narrowly avoiding the vehicle.
This is some pretty edgy, sharp work coming from Chuck Jones--who has the motorcyclist ride in perspective, and the timing of the big dog dodging the vehicle is very slick. A very surprising turn for Chuck, which goes to show that he has already achieved his abilities but he uses it with boring characters. The big dog leaps high up across a wall which leads him trapped inside the city zoo.
The small puppy is seen observing the features of the zoo, and watches the lovebird sanctuary. Up there is a pair of lovebirds, with the male bird embracing the female in the cliched romance style from movies of that generation.
The male lovebird expresses his lust for her by stroking her head, with cheesy dialogue along the lines of: "I love your eyes, your wings, your feathers and your beautiful little claws. I'm madly, deliriously, insanely in love with you." Once the male lovebird notices he's being watched he turns towards the pup irritated: "Ok bub, break it up".
The pup still watches with interest, leading to the lovebird to scream: "Scram, stupid!". As a sequence individually, it's an amusing piece of satire and Mel Blanc's take on the screaming lovebird is the icing on the cake. It most likely got laughs from the audience, and it sure stands out compared to the rest of the cartoon. In the cartoon however, I'm afraid it doesn't fit into the cartoon's setting. Of course, it already has a weak concept: the two curious dogs encounter strange animals in a city zoo. This scene would've worked better in a satirical cartoon, like in one of Tex Avery's travelogue parodies. You've got to give Chuck at least credit for trying to explore the exploring Warner Bros. humour, except it doesn't blend in the cartoon too well.
Ken Harris certainly played a performance in animating a very complex and mechanical scene of the kangaroo hopping around the zoo with the dog stuck inside his pouch. The path of the zoo is laid out at different angles, and this requires the kangaroo to hop in different perspectives and size, judging from distance. Ken Harris was always given the most challenging scenes to animate, and he always did it well.
Not only is he animating a kangaroo hopping from different sizes, but he's also animating the dog dangling inside the pouch. The kangaroo skids to a halt as he pursues to smell some flowers. The big dog quietly escapes from the patch as he uses his tiptoes to avoid the kangaroo.
The big dog then copies the kangaroo's bounces as he begins to hop like one (also animated by Harris). The hopping is fun to watch, although the sequence feels more like an animation experimental scene rather than a sequence itself. There are some gags along the way that goes with it such as the dog hopping his way inside the tunnel, and the tunnel gets narrower until he bumps his head several times. Overall, it feels a little less of a gag sequence, why does the big dog hop like a kangaroo? Anyhow, at least it benefits with some inventive animation by Ken Harris.
Chuck doesn't tend to focus on one sequence and let it drag for a minute or two. Instead he adds more sequences for the characters. Instead of having the puppy chase the turtle to carry on half the cartoon, the puppy encounters several different animals on the way, and surprisingly well-paced. Though, this will be observed later on in the review.
The big dog almost had an encounter with grizzly lions caught in their cages, after an attempt to get his bone back. Their ferocious roars were intimidating enough to scare the dog up the pine tree. He hopelessly barks at the lions until they become quieter and meeker. I suppose Chuck tries to add to the charm by adding a curiosu monkey into the scene, even though the monkey and the dog barely communicate.
The sequence drags a bit when the dog slides down the pine tree and gets jabbed by the porcupine. More barking continues. It's not a minor complaint, though it would've worked better if Chuck finished the sequence with the dog zooming up the pine tree.
The puppy faces another dilemma by trying to retrieve his bone which passed onto several animals. First an ostrich, then a turtle; and then a sleeping hippopotamus. The dog rushes inside the hippo's gut before being cautioned. We are displayed with an unseen gag which is reliant on Treg Brown to provide sound, in making the gag work. Treg meets the challenge well, in which the dog takes by rushing outside the hippo's mouth quickly before the hippo closes his jaws.
Another recurring gag which doesn't have a conclusion is a stork who always meets collision whenever the dogs run past the standing stork. The stork has trouble keeping his legs adjust, and it doesn't help when he is knocked over by one of the dogs.
In one of the scenes of the big dog hopping like a kangaroo, he encounters the stork and the stork reacts to the dog's hopping. This leads to ruining the stork's image, and once more adjusting himself to the right position. It doesn't have a conclusion, and it's only used to help carry laughs in the short. Sometimes the scenes of the stork is amusing, but other than that; it doesn't have much purpose.
This cartoon is a lot more evenly-paced than any of the other cartoons starring the dogs. Most of the scenes don't tend to drag on for too long, and some of the gags created for the cartoon are more coherent than what Chuck attempted to do before. For some the highlight of the cartoon might be the lovebird scene, but for me it's the kangaroo hopping. This is partly because Chuck was always so daring to experiment with animation, and to pull a scene which is difficult shows what Chuck Jones and his crew were able to pull off, and how he could get the best out of his artists. As the cartoon marks the last time he produces a cartoon in a Disney style, he would move on to greater things; and by making the household of Warner Bros. animation a great name.
Tuesday, 9 December 2014
Warner cartoon no. 362.
Release date: April 11, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Frank Graham (Narrator/Hunter), Kent Rogers (Horton/Lorre Fish/Giraffe), Sara Berner (Maisy Bird, elephant bird), Mel Blanc (Various Voices - sneeze + small hunter), Bob Clampett (3rd hunter). (Thanks Keith Scott).
Story: Michael Maltese, Rich Hogan (uncredited). (Layouts: Nic Gibson).
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: In this charming Seuss adaptation of the book, Maisy bird is restless of nesting her egg, and asks for Horton the elephant to nest the egg, "of all silly things" while she is away. Little does Horton realise is how long will Maisy will arrive, as well as what will determine Horton.
Being the first proper Bob Clampett cartoon with the previous Avery unit, he is already bringing in his esteemed talent which was lacking in the last years he made black and white Porky cartoons. Clampett was evidently hungry to switch to directing colour cartoons, and to celebrate his new position: he takes on the job to adapt the infamous Dr. Seuss story to the screen.
They're movies that horribly interpret the books by modernising them in such a sluggish way by bringing in popular actors of a certain generation, as well as pop-culture references in it make the movies dated; and losing the spirit and charm from Dr. Seuss's writing. Only a fool or an amateur would think they can do justice to Dr. Seuss by modernising it into terrible tastes.
Of all adaptations, the Warner staff appeared to be the only crew who understood the spirit of the books by making it look alive from an animation perspective. Prime example are this cartoon, more obvious choices would be Chuck Jones' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or Hawley Pratt's The Cat in the Hat. They're all very fine adaptations, but I find that this cartoon alone is the best Dr. Seuss adaptation ever done. Not only is it faithful to the source material, but Bob Clampett blends in the contemporary Warner Bros. humour beautifully too, as well as making the movie artistically fulfilling.
The backgrounds in these shorts were done by Mike Sasanoff who considered the colours in his backgrounds splendidly. Considering that many of Seuss' illustrations contain only a very limited use of colours, this was an ambition which had to be met in order for it to look visually appealing for an audience.
Not only is the use of colours explored wonderfully in the backgrounds, but also on the characters too: such as the pink colour tone on Horton, and blue for Maisy bird. These are all odd but elaborate tastes of colour which fits in the right place.
From a character design standpoint, the designs have a great blend of Seuss' style as well as Warners. Bob Clampett recalled this in an interview with Mike Barrier and Milt Gray: "As of a Friday Night, I told my animators, who were all struggling to draw Bugs Bunny alike, 'Guess what, boys? First thing Monday morning I want you to all draw like Dr. Seuss." Recreating Seuss's designs and illustrations to the screen isn't an easy challenge, and it's been flawed a lot in live-action movies. This goes to slow how they met the goal wonderfully and comically.
She is seen sitting on her nest, laying her egg complaining about having to sit on her egg with no activity whatsoever to keep her motivated. She complains in Seuss' classic rhyme trait, "I'd much rather play. If I could find someone, I'd fly away, free."
As for Horton's introduction, he comes across as a carefree elephant who is a little dimwitted but loveable. He first appears from behind a bush singing merrily to The Hut Hut Song. Midpoint during his singing, he interrupts by breaking the forth wall, "I still can't get the words of that song".
This was a nod to the popular tune of its time, and it's brilliantly satirised in this sequence for its nonsensical lyrics matches Horton's personality greatly. Horton's little dance is animated very strangely, he doesn't move so fluidly nor does he look connected: but it goes to show that the Warner crew were able to animate personality, without making the elephant's walk looking too noticeable. Rod Scribner's scene on Mayzie attempting to entice Horton with her lustful appearance is brilliant in establishing how manipulative and indeed "mean" Mayzie could be. The use of squash and stretch on Maisy's belly is brilliant to add emphasis on her not-so good figure. Horton watches her appearance and immediately turns his attention to her.
The interaction between Horton and Mayzie is great in setting the story into gear. Whilst Horton pays attention to Mayzie's appearance, she starts off her dialogue: "You've nothing to do and I do need a rest. Would you like to sit on the egg in my nest?". Horton's line following implies that Horton is no fool, he has attitude but still kindhearted. He starts off bulking at Mayzie's request: "Why, of all silly things. I haven't feathers, and I haven't wings. Me on your egg? Why, it doesn't make sense. Your egg is so small ma'am, and I'm so immense.
Since the scene is dialogue-heavy, animator Bob McKimson had to invent some animation for the characters to still make the scene engaging for the audience. An example is shown when Horton turns his backside to Mayzie in the "I'm so immense" line, so emphasise his size. Visual puns is also added to that effect to keep the cartoon fresh with ideas.
This is evident in the following dialogue by Mayzie: "I've gotta get off for a rest, otherwise I'll never get rid of these bags neath my eyes". The metaphorical phrase is added splendidly as a visual puns, displaying that Mayzie indeed has bags under her eyes. Treg Brown adds to the gag by adding the train whistle sound.
Mayzie assures Horton that she won't be away for long; leaving Horton to surrender to her request: "Very well. Since you insist. I'll stay and be faithful. I mean what I say". Maisy flies away for her vacation, leaving Horton to climb on top of the small tree to hatch her egg. Horton's repeated piece of dialogue: "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful 100 per cent." as faithfulness is the theme and moral of the story.
Like a lot of Seuss's adaptations which feature a lot of modernised humour in bad tastes, this short is one of the rarest adaptations where the contemporary Warners humour actually fits in the right places. Mainly because the cartoon understands the source material and focuses primarily on Horton's faithfulness, but adding in their own humour in scenes here and there. In scenes of Mayzie relaxing in an exotic beach, she is having too much of a good time that she insists, "I think I'll never go back to my nest", at that moment she impersonates Katherine Hepburn, "Really I won't." That is a great, funny reference which fits in perfectly from Mayzie's statement about her not returning. This is a gag in the right place.
Another example is the seen in the famous scene featuring the Peter Lorre fish. Horton has been captured by the hunters and is seen sailing through some choppy scenes. From a reality standpoint, Horton looks extremely ridiculous, sitting on top of an egg, on top of a ship sailing past. A fish swims up to the surface, and to his astonishments he spots Horton in that silly position. The Lorre fish then states, "Well, now I've seen everything" and immediately commits suicide. Of course, it's a controversial scene because it doesn't set the harmless tone in the Dr. Seuss books, but as a gag it's hilariously executed that it works very well as an addition.
As the rain floods up Horton's entire body, Horton speaks with hhis trunk peaking at the surface. The added gag of Horton speaking with his trunk is so subtle and bizarre in a gag approach, by adding a tongue at the end of his tuba, but then again, only Clampett could make such a wild gag appear subtle.
The atmosphere of Horton's tired expression adds to the effect, making the gag work. Clampett adds to the faithfulness of Horton as well as the hardship he is facing through the passage of time. In one sequence, Horton is still seen sitting on top of the nest during a snowy night--not moving once from his position.
The season's have changed suggesting Horton has sat on the spot for an extensive amount of time. He is shivering from the snow, wearing earmuffs to hopelessly keep him warm: but the faithfulness remains. Gags are added along the way where Horton anticipates a giant sneeze (sneeze done comically by Blanc) resulting in a disgruntled Horton to tie his trunk into a knot to prevent any more.
The scene with Horton being displayed as a freak at the circus is another great addition to the humiliation that Horton suffers. What makes the story and character so powerful in its subtle ways is how Horton remains faithful despite suffering ultimate humiliation which starts to make him feel grieved.
To shake up the story a little, Horton faces a foe which he must defend without abandoning his nest: hunters. The three hunters (all different in size), are seen sneaking through the foliage, all holding onto a very long elephant gun. The walk cycle by Bob McKimson (who animates a majority of the hunters sequence), is very comedic and successful in animating their different sizes and mannerisms.
Realising he is at risk, Horton stays firm to his faithfulness by defending himself to the hunters: "Shoot if you must, but I won't run away." At this point, the hunters lower the gun with the little hunter suggesting: "We'll take 'im away. Why, he's terribly funny!", and they settle on taking him to the circus.
Still faithful to Mayzie's request, Horton defends himself to the hunters as he responds: "You can't make me go", in which the hunters respond excitedly: "Oh yes we can!"
Horton is assertive enough to refuse the hunters' request, and he continued to argue their case until the hunters had the last laugh by taking Horton with them the hard way. They place the tree into a plant pot, on top of a cart as the hunters carry him off. Clampett shows some great timing in changing the staging from the previous scene to the next scene: starting from Horton's defence of "Oh no you can't", to a dejected Horton replying, "Oh yes they can". He builds up the shots of their argument really well, by making the close-up shots closer in each shot.
Just at the point, the egg which he "sat on for fifty-one weeks" begins to wriggle vigorously on top of the nest. Horton looks at the egg with astonishment: "My egg, why it's hatching!".
The selfish Mayzie screams: "But it's my egg!". Her inner cruelty is evident in her forth-wall crack as she whispers to the audience behind Horton's back, "The work is all done now I want it back. Ha hah!".
The sequence of Mayzie arguing with Horton shows how Rod Scribner is also breaking loose with his true animated talent. At that point, the egg hatches, and the baby is revealed.
Much to the circus audience's surprise ("My goodness", "My gracious", "It's somethin' brand new!"); the baby revealed happens to be an "elephant-boid": with a strong resemblance to an elephant like Horton, and the wings of a bird like Mayzie. The elephant-bird identifies the mother as Horton, as it snuggles up to Horton's cheek. This leaves the angry Mayzie with nothing. Horton's hardship has finally paid off, and is rewarded by being sent back to his home along with his baby elephant-bird. Back at home, and with a happy ending, the father and child they sing The Hut-Hut Song, with the baby singing back-up.
This is quite possibly the longest Warner Bros. cartoon made (it clocks in at almost ten minutes), and the cartoon uses up its 10 minutes sufficiently and brilliantly. There is not a dull moment in the cartoon, and every scene is a treat. Bob Clampett understands the source material to the charming Seuss story, and shows his ability to add him his esteemed talent as well as staying true to the spirit of the book. Clampett's crew like Mike Sasanoff or Bob McKimson help add to surrealistic designs of Dr. Seuss in making the imaginary world and characters look believable and bizarre. It's also a funny Clampett cartoon which shows that Clampett is starting to build up at a better pace he should've done back in 1938. The cartoon doesn't show much edginess in terms of timing, as this is a Dr. Seuss adaptation, but elements of Bob Clampett's use of exaggeration is blended in many subtle ways, to show that Clampett is revolutionising his style. The use of cultural references is executed not just hilariously but beautifully too, because unlike many latter Seuss adaptations; this cartoon isn't reliant on references. In all, it's a delightful cartoon with great characters, great gags, and it's definitely an immortal addition to the Warner Bros. cartoon legacy.