Thursday, 7 January 2016

394. Pigs in a Polka (1943)

Warner cartoon no. 393.
Release date: February 6, 1943.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Wolf narrator, 3rd pig), Sara Berner (1st and 2nd pig).
Story credit unknown.
Animation credit unknown.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
(based on the Brahms Hungarian Dances).
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Hilarious parody of the infamous "Three Little Pigs" tale told by the "Hungarian Dances" piece.

Original cartoon titles.
A quote repeated several times before, but worth another mention to fit with the theme of today's review. Friz Freleng explains his love for music in animated cartoons, and why he uses it regularly in Leonard Maltin's Of Mice and Magic:

"I love music. I can't read it, but I can feel it. When I hear it, I see things in my mind. Music inspires my visual thinking. I time my cartoons to music, and I find it helps me. Everything is done rhythmically." After a successful feat in Rhapsody in Rivets (which earned the Studio an Oscar nomination); Friz leaps at another chance in tackling classical Eastern European music: Joannes Brahm's Hungarian Dances - telling it in a form of a well-known fairy tale (and in the public domain). One challenge after the other; Friz's incredible vision takes the opportunity to parody Disney; primarily The Three Little Pigs and not forgetting the then fairly recent Fantasia.

Animation by Dick Bickenbach.
The opening sequence is a direct parody of Fantasia itself - with the staging and art direction similar to the Deems Taylor footage. Replacing Taylor, is a wolf narrator - depicted with a Brooklynese accent. Mel Blanc gives the wolf some added character as he has struggles pronouncing "interpretation" during his narration. It's a clever parody indicating how establishes critics can make mistakes.


Some scenes during the musical show direct references to the popular Silly Symphony short. Released only a decade earlier, Disney's Three Little Pigs was very popular in cinema during the Great Depression as it helped raise spirits during dark times while it revolutionised the standards of character animation.

Friz Freleng takes some iconic moments from the short and pays homage to it as featured the two procrastinating pigs dancing merrily, whilst the smart pig takes no chances by continuing work on his bricked home. It's a funny little parody where it perfectly harmonises with Brahm's musical piece. It recurs a second time later in the cartoon; becoming a motif for the two pigs who ignore the potential peril they're in.

The Hungarian Dance No. 5 perfectly indicates each pig's personality during their introductory scenes. For the first two pigs they have the same theme. Their actions are a cutting match to the music; as their construction of their homes is rushed and inadequate, as depicted within the music. The rushed quality of the house results in the second pig having to reconstruct his collapsed matchstick home.


Friz Freleng nails the timing right down to every frame; as the timing of the rushed construction is conveyed beautifully in animation - such as the first pig frantically raking the hay. It's the only sequence where the rules are violated within the musical classic standards. Each pig has a simple line of dialogue only intended as exposition.

For the practical pig - the pig is given a different theme compared to the first two. The music is much slower and steady; compared to the previous energetic theme, thanks to Friz's remarkable vision. This conveys the pig's meticulous nature wonderfully; as carefully he spreads the cement on layer and stacks the bricks in an assembly line, one-by-one.

It's a fitting motif for the third pig, as it  distinguishes his own personality from the previous two pigs. To close the sequence with a gag - a nested crane oversees the construction of the house roof. Seeking an opportunity of a new residence, unexpectedly he plants his nest on top of it and resides there; much to the annoyance of the smart pig.

The wolf's introduction is a bizarre yet still suitable dance as the dance number goes into a different theme. To capture the dance believably while synchronised accurately to the music; Freleng has the wolf perform a Cossack dance as he travels through the woodlands.

The wolf, who is caricatured and illustrated as a villain; appears to be law-abiding enough to signal a left-turn in traffic - which is a decent, spontaneous touch. To keep with budget constraints; Freleng cuts down on animation footage while maintaining the accurate synchronisation to the piece.

Phil Monroe, the animator on the sequence animates only two poses of the wolf discreetly sneaking up on the tree; and using those poses for consistency. A difficult feat to meet with Freleng's high standards. The gag itself pays off as the wolf unknowingly falls into a pond; but crosses his way through underwater and back onto soil.

Friz never loses focus on the narrative as he builds further on zanier ideas to have the pigs in peril. Spontaneously, the wolf leaps from the rock disguised as a gypsy dancer playing a tambourine, whilst dancing in rhythm to Brahm's dance number. The wolf entices the two pigs to the point where they rotate their bodies; turning their legs in a knot - a very subtle gag thanks to the convincing charade of the wolf.


Enticing the pigs once more with his tambourine, they walk into a trap - creating an obstacle in the story whilst still perfectly blended with the music. Freleng's delivery and timing couldn't be topped any further when he pigs unexpectedly beat up the wolf off-screen and leap out the rock in gypsy costumes and dancing to the music; the faster it becomes.

A very unpredictable move by the pigs, making the sequence itself more entertaining - indicating they were bluffing the entire time. Gerry Chiniquy's animation of the pig dancers features great staging skills and hilarious caricature on their faces. Their fun is almost over when the wolf reveals his true, sinister nature - making the pigs more vulnerable. Cornered, they run from the wolf to hide in the straw home.

Animation by Gerry Chiniquy.
After encountering with the pigs with a plan flawed - the wolf sticks to a different strategy; to mercilessly trap and kill the pigs without further ado. The suspense blends well to the music as the action of the wolf advancing further helps build up the pace to the score.

Freleng takes an alternate approach by finding different ways for the wolf to destroy their homes. Instead of "blowing the house down" as typically told in the story; the gags are much wittier and broad.

For the house full of straw; the wolf lights a match and has the home destroyed in seconds. For the house of matchsticks, the wolf observes the delicate balance it stands and adds another matchstick on top to make it collapse. The gags work greatly even for economical reasons; as the wolf's intensive blow wouldn't have fitted with the music synchronisation; so different strategies make the scenes funnier that way. During the chase; the pigs safely make it into the bricked house.

Friz's extroadinary vision of music and storytelling combine a great result where a string of recurring gags fit appropriately during the No. 6 dance; which features the wolf constantly slamming onto a door, with his head triggering as he faints.

The following scene is a great tour-de-force of Friz's timing and Chiniquy's animation. The wolf attempts to strike the house down with his puffing, but to no avail. Milt Franklyn's orchestration fits the right atmosphere of the wolf's action.

The heavy, suspenseful music adds to the determination and struggles of the wolf. There is even enough time for a hilarious mouthwash gag (in a lame pun known as Lusterine), a subtle insult on the wolf's bad breath. Following that, the wolf stands back quite a distance in hopes of breaking down the door - it couldn't have been timed and synchronised any better, As he makes a run for it; the pigs cunningly open the door to let him in - so he can fall for the old gag routine. The practical pig shuts the back door in time so the wolf smacks right into it; and then gets dumped at the backyard,

Safe inside the bricked house, the two pigs dance and celebrate to Hungarian Dance No. 7 (repeated animation from earlier). The practical pig is annoyed at their own presence as he watches them frustratingly.

The following sequence is a great showcase at where Freleng wisely selects the nature of the music to create a suspenseful sequence. Outside, the pigs hear sad violin music (Hungarian Dance No. 17) and look out the window to find the wolf disguised as a poor, old babushka.

The wolf's disguise is evidently revealing as he is supposedly covered in a storm of fake snow (seen from the pig's POV); when really he has talcum powder dispensed from a contraption attached to his back. Animator on the sequence Phil Monroe gives some added character to the wolf as he shakes the powder to make his disguise more convincing; whilst still successfully timed to the music.

It's a clever scenario choice as the music helps emphasise the pigs' sympathy for the disguised wolf. Ignoring the protest warning of the practical pig; the two pigs push him aside from the door and let the disguised wolf inside for some shelter. The following shot is very ironic for its gag pay-off. The wise brother is suspicious of the disguise; and discreetly lifts the cloak up from back to discover a record player - implying that Brahm's music is being played within the actual dance number. The pig turns the record to the other side to the wolf's motif. The wolf can't help himself but perform the Cossack; which unveils his disguise.

For the final climax; Friz Freleng wisely selects the Hungarian Dance No. 6 to sync with the action scenes, which he uses as a motif for the short. The classical music is played so inventively in the final sequence to the point where the music overlaps the contradiction of the house's architecture.

Seen from the exterior as a one-story house. The action shots of the pigs upstairs indicate the house is somehow larger than it looks. The music and action are synchronised so brilliantly and innovative that one would completely overlook the idea that the house has an elevator; causing the wolf to fall down several floors; leading him supposedly down to the basement.

Once again, Friz Freleng exceeds in mastering in synchronising classical music into gag animation which he achieved in Rhapsody in Rivets - and earning the Schlesinger studio another Oscar nomination. Whereas Rhapsody focused on a construction site followed by a string of gags to blend in with Franz List's Hungarian Rhapsody; this is the first where Friz blends classical music while telling a story altogether. The character personalities are wonderfully depicted with the various choices of music in the dance number. It's a pity the story credit today is now a mystery; due to the cartoon being "Blue Ribboned" and no credits recorded in the copyright category. It's a safe bet that either Ted Pierce or Mike Maltese wrote the short; leaning more towards Maltese. Whoever wrote it deserves praise for an incredible vision in conceiving the appropriate gags and material to the Brahms piece. All in all, a Freleng masterpiece.

Rating: 5/5.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

393. Confusions of a Nutzy Spy (1943)

Warner cartoon no. 392.
Release date: January 23, 1943.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Norm McCabe.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig / Missing Lynx).
Story: Don Christensen.
Animation: Izzy Ellis.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Constable Porky and his dog, Eggbert, are on the lookout for a German spy: Missing Lynx, who aims to blow up a railway bridge.

As competent as Norm McCabe might be in presenting stylish backgrounds with some innovative staging - he never seemed to have played an influential role as far as story goes. As often, he was lumbered with cartoons with dated wartime references and heavy propaganda - much like Confusions of a Nutzy Spy (title parodied from the 1939 film - Confessions of a Nazi Spy). Occasionally, he takes the material together and turns them into a near-masterpiece like The Ducktators. As confident and professional McCabe was in giving the right personality for Daffy Duck - Porky seemed an awkward character in the hands of McCabe, much like how Clampett would interpret him in his weakest cartoons.

The opening pan shot of the interior police station ranges from hit to miss. On the hit side, it is a astonishingly complicated piece of layout of the camera panning back, forth and through the hall of assorted things like various criminal practices and exhibits. Only a strong, experienced layout artist like Dave Hilberman could've designed and coordinated such an ambitious exercise; not forgetting the craftiness of Johnny Burton's camera department.

On the miss side, the gags on the elaborate opening shot is saddled with unfunny visual puns that Tex Avery himself, even on his bad days, would mock at.

Gags like the the finger print department lack any creativity or coherence, as they are literally printed all over the wall; with no impact or pay off whatsoever. Lest not forget exhibit A of a model of the letter "A". Ho-hum. Then, there are a few display gags which is more adult oriented. In one gag, the camera pans to a jar displaying a "sure cure for criminal tendencies" with a hangman's noose attached to it. As sadistic as the gag implies, it's worth the chortle. The wanted posters exhibit has a cheeky pay-off towards it. The camera panning on generic posters, one-by-one on criminals who are wanted for arson and fraud. Then, the camera pans to a wanted poster of an attractive woman posing in a bathing suit - with a tongue-in cheek message by the U.S. Army.

Areas where McCabe could be visionary with his timing is evident in Eggbert's establishing scene. He is snoozing on a box, with the radio on. As he snores, he breathes "z's" literally in and out his mouth - a la comic strips. It's a creative, visual gag combined with graceful timing which is hardly practiced in classic Golden Age animation.

Animation by Art Davis.
Awakened by the radio; Eggbert slowly reaches his paw to turn off the radio causing the announcer to break forth-wall within the short: "Don't touch that dial!", a likely reference to the CBS radio programme, Blondie, based on the comic strip. The paw trigger effect has an effective piece of timing. Afterwards, Eggbert grabs a mallet and smashes the radio.


McCabe's visionary timing is put into good practice in a fine scene of the "Nutzy" spy: Missing Lynx - a lame parody on the description 'missing link'. The lynx, who is voiced hilariously in Mel Blanc's Germanic dialect is discreetly watching Porky and Eggbert's moves.

McCabe takes advantage on a cliched gag of a cartoon villain peeking in and out of a tree at different direction. As the spy's peeking becomes quicker - he unknowingly splits into another pair - with one and the other at a different position of the tree. The lynx double-takes at the surreal gag and both of them collide; morphing back into one figure. It's a clever piece of reverse animation that coincides with the original - which makes an oddball of a gag work effectively. The double-take and the spontaneity of the second figure makes the gag all the more merrier.

If there are weak spots as far as characterization goes - look no further than the sequences where the Missing Lynx attempts to fool Porky. While Porky and Eggbert snoop around the woodlands; Eggbert stops at a dead end of a foot blocking way - the Lynx disguised as an elderly dog.


The sequence itself would've been more passable had the lynx been under disguise the entire time - making Porky's gullibility seem more believable. As Porky inquires, "Have you seen a spy around here?". Afterwards, the spy removes his disguises and bluffs, "Does he look like this", maintaining a strikingly similar pose as seen in the poster.

Once Porky nods, in the hope of gaining information - the lynx responds: "Nope, I have not seen him" and zips out of the scene - confusing Porky. Just in time we feature a "Hitler is a stinker" gag as Eggbert pulls a Hitler mask out the spy's suitcase during investigation - until he discreetly retrieves it.

As a sequence, it's very clumsy in its own execution and handling on Porky's personality. Being gullible is one thing, but it's incredibly out of character of Porky to fall for a trick when the spy isn't making any effort to disguise himself. For a Bugs Bunny cartoon, the scenario is different in a significant way; but since the personalities in this short are undeveloped: it flaws.

Proven the previous sequence was weak in execution - the bridge sequence is hardly better. The spy reaches his destination to plot his terrorist act: a railway bridge. Just as he's about to adjust and plant the bomb; Porky has him cornered at gunpoint.

Immediately, the apparent master of disguises slips into a Porky Pig disguise. He interrogates: "Vell, I'm-a not so sure that you're Porky Pig either!" and furthermore mocks his stutter. He moves Porky away from the railway, causing him to ponder: "I'm really gettin' suspicious of that guy!"

This is most likely the weakest spot of the entire cartoon. Porky's personality is incredibly underplayed as he has nothing more to do than feel suspicious and getting interrogated by the spy. It's a completely ridiculous concept at attempting to bluff Porky Pig by disguising as his own self! So many missed opportunities run together.

On a positive note, the bridge scene has some very choice, dynamic staging as well as some rich point-of-view shots which adds to McCabe's reputation as a stylish director. In Missing Lynx's POV shot, he holds out the bomb from his suitcase; and sets the time on it accordingly. For a description of action so simple; the work on the hands is incredibly rich in detail; with an amazing use of perspective.

As far as Eggbert's role plays in this short; his role is mainly used for recurring gags and little of personality. The recurring gag is focused on Eggbert's violent sneezing habits which appear frequently. Some of the gags pay off wonderfully. During their investigation in the park, the dog almost experiences an episode - but spontaneously the spy's arm holds his nose whilst hiding in a tree. The unpredictability of the gag alone, is hilarious.


Other areas the sneezing gags build up tension and suspense; such as when Porky and Eggbert find themselves barely dangling from a root attached to the edge of a cliff. It appears story man Don Christensen intended to use the gag as a plot device; which supposedly becomes key to the flaw in Missing Lynx's terrorist plan.

The recurring gag itself hardly has much pay off at all; as his sneeze only plays a main role when his sneezes forces the spy out from the cave. Not a complete waste of a concept; it could've worked so better as well as a much better payoff which is somewhat lacking for a potential cartoon finale. Once again, another missed opportunity.


Although the action sequences might be the usual standards for a Warner Bros. short; some shots have some outlandish. The lynx's double take upon discovering the bomb-in-a-briefcase has been retrieved by Eggbert has some effective use of smear animation which captures the panic episode he is facing.


The cave sequence is in the style of McCabe's innovative sense of mise-en-scene. Capturing the complete darkness of the cave; only the eyes are seen luminously. A typical style for animated cartoons, McCabe takes the opportunity to plan the action with the panic depicted by their eyes.

Both characters believing they are safe from the bomb-in-a-briefcase; they take at the sound of a ticking noise. Porky lights the match which reveals Eggbert has followed them, retrieving the briefcase again - Porky shouts "Yipe!" creating another panic situation as the characters run frantically around the cave in complete darkness.

Despite moments of weaknesses evident in the short - Christensen finishes the cartoon with a sense of cruel irony. At the cartoon's climax, the cornered Nutzy is quivering scaredly as he awaits the moment for the bomb to detonate. As depicted in a close-up shot, the bomb distinguishes; creating no effect whatsoever.


Enraged, the spy complains: "I knew it! I knew it! Oh, this goldarn imitation ersatz ding. It never vorks!". He bangs the bomb to the ground with frustration, when at the wrong moment: it explodes.

A lot about the final shot is depicted with cruel irony. The Nutzy is dancing happily around the clouds of heaven, under the impression his plan had worked after all - and without realizing he is dead. And another thing, it seems very ironic for a terrorist spy to spend eternally in heaven. The cartoon draws to a fade as the spy salutes, "Sieg Hiel" and faints onto the clouds.

For a director who proved capable of turning out some occasionally very good cartoons; this short ranges in the 'hit-and-miss' category. McCabe seemed uncomfortable in giving further character personality on Porky Pig; which Chuck Jones achieved brilliantly in My Favourite Duck. Instead, he is given the persona of a clueless idiot who is gullible and vulnerable, which seems a no brainer to that effect. While this short is war-themed; it surprisingly holds very little wartime references; excluding the Nazi parody and the Hitler mask reference - and instead functions like a generic Porky short. Had McCabe continued to direct after the end of the war, it's almost impossible to determine whether he could've really established himself as "one of the greats".

Rating: 2.5/5.

Monday, 4 January 2016

392. Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943)

"Well, hallelujah!"

Warner cartoon no. 391.
Release date: January 16, 1943.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Dwarfs, Worm), Leo "Zoot" Watson (Prince Chawmin'), Vivian Dandridge (So White), Danny Webb (Queen), Lillian Randolph (Mammy, Honeychil').
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: Rod Scribner.
Musical Score: Carl W. Stalling. (Additional scoring by Eddie Beal Trio - uncredited).
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Charming parody on the Grimm brothers fairy-tale; where So White flees from the
Wicked Queen and enlists in the U.S. army as a squad
cook.

One of the most controversial shorts ever made to the point where Bob Clampett refused to screen the film in recent years, at the cost of his own life - as witnessed by Milt Gray. Despite the current age where "political correctness" had taken its toll; it still remains one of Clampett's true masterpieces.

In no way does Clampett intend to discredit or ridicule the African-American race. By all means, he intends to celebrate their culture after being inspired by Duke Ellington's musical revue, Jump for Joy.

He celebrates their jazz culture and camaraderie spirit to the extent of hiring black performers to contribute to the cartoon to play an integral part. Schlesinger brought them to the studio to consult on story and character development, and not forgetting Eddie Beale and his orchestra to provide additional music for the cartoon's significant climax.

The only trace of the stereotypes that might be considered unsettling are the character designs themselves and some of the dialect; which was itself an animation cliche of the time. It's intelligible as to why it might offend some viewers - distinctly seen on another principal character: the zoot-suited Prince Chawmin', who wears "pair o'dice" on his frontal teeth, and the remainder of his teeth adorned in gold.


Michael Barrier writes it best the 100 Greatest Looney Tunes book, "Clampett uses those stereotypes so inventively, though, that the cartoon almost transcends them." A case of Clampett and Warren Foster inventively portraying the stereotypes is evident in the poisoned apple scene.

In an iconic part of the tale, the Queen pumps the apple with poison; morphing in a fetid effect. A group of stereotyped worms escape from the rotten worm, complaining it "smelt like Limburger cheese." As they escape, one carries a sign reading "refoogies", written in dialect. For a gag behind a creative drive like Clampett or Foster; the stereotypes are surpassed by Clampett's genius timing on the apple effect and Mel Blanc's hysterical delivery on the worms.

What makes Coal Black a delightful cartoon is not just the excitement and celebration of the African-American culture; but the wonderful parody of the Grimm brothers fairy tale; which itself hilariously executed - all in a seven-minute cartoon.

Solid character personalities also play an integral part, including the heroine herself, So White. It's an incredible feat for any professional animator to handle a character with realistic human proportions; and animate her with monument energy and edginess all under one roof.

So White is stereotyped not because of her race, but because of her sexuality; which plays a plot device throughout the short - including how she cheated death, won the heart of the seven dwarfs and how she was revived from her state of unconsciousness. 

It's a hilarious parody directed that fairy tale heroine, Snow White. In the original fairy tale, Snow White was admired for her apparent beauty; including a hired assassin who couldn't find it in his heart to kill her. Clampett takes this sequence by pushing the boundaries. In the sequence where the hired "Murder, Inc." capture So White - her freedom is earned by sexual overtones. The establishing shot features the company van parking discreetly in an isolated woodland. Mike Sasanoff nails the layout to a tee - stipulating that So White has been murdered as they prepare to "set the body down easy." Only Clampett's abrupt pacing could make such a gag work.


Fittingly, some shots in the cartoon are a direct ode to the popular Walt Disney feature. In it's original run, Snow White was a smash hit and remarkably influential amongst moviegoers and especially the animation industry. Clampett, who strongly admired the feature, without doubt pays homage to some iconic scenes; but sets the tone and atmosphere very differently.

A striking example occurs in the wishing-well reflection shot, which in both versions symbolise the heroine's dreams of a handsome prince. Like the Disney film, the prince arrives unexpectedly albeit vigilantly. In the Clampett short, the tone and pacing is much more wilder: making Prince Chawmin's presence more boisterous.

Snow White's escape through the spooky forest was remembered for its sharp and scary atmosphere; which reportedly frightened young children in its initial run.

A sequence which indicated Snow White's vulnerable moments; the atmosphere in Coal Black is once again toned down and somewhat rushed. The most revealing reference in the scene are the luminous eyes appearing in the bleak eyes - which momentarily scares So White. The delivery of the owl noises themselves has a hammy effect, that the scene itself succeeds in  keeping with the right tone for an animated short.

Without any intent to accuse Clampett for borrowing visuals - his crew create some really innovative arrangements of mise-en-scene and tackling pieces of staging which is seldom explored. So White and the prince's wild jitterbug is lush with its strong silhouette and innovative art direction which sets the chemistry beautifully.

Bob McKimson's animation on the sequence reads beautifully. His posing features a beautiful line of action and read clearly in silhouette. McKimson keeps the arms away from the character's bodies as much as possible to avoid confusion on the posing - showing he has a strong sense of graphic clarity.

Other small shots which are difficult to pull off as far as accents and mechanics goes is the extreme-close up of Prince uttering "Rosebud". A direct reference to the infamous "Rosebud" quote from Orson Welles' then highly controversial Citizen Kane - it's a feat to pull off the lip-syncing accurately as in that camera angle; it's accurate lip sync that is the prime goal to achieve successful animation.

The opening and closing shot of the film of a Aunt Jemina-like woman narrating the story to her child by a nicely lit fireplace is lovely abstract visual. It is a beautiful perception of cinematography which is uncanny for a Warner Bros. cartoon to tackle, let alone Clampett's. To keep within the studio's budget constraints, the animation has a graceful use of follow-through action on the "mammy".

In creating hilarious personalities out of the iconic fairy tale villains; Warren Foster succeeds in making a hilarious and sometimes dangerous personality on the Wicked Queen. Instead of the vanity side of the queen in the Grimm story - Foster adapts a different motive for her. She wished to her magic mirror for a "prince abou' six feet tall!", only to discover the Prince has the hots for So White instead.

As indicated by the narrator; "she was just as rich as she was mean: she had everything!" which is ironically evil from a different point of view. The pan shot of her treasure collection quickly panned on delivery to reveal she literally had everything - like hoarding car tyres, sugar, coffee, which was heavily rationed during the war. Sweets too, were heavily rationed in the war as she Indulges herself with "Chattanooga Chew-Chews", which itself is direct pun on the popular song: Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Upon her discovery of seeing the Prince and So White dancing outside the castle; she reacts angrily: "The gal, and the Prince! What a sickenin' sight!". Immediately she dials the phone to hire an organised crime group Murder Inc. to "Blackout So White!" where the words visually rise out on delivery - creating a comical and potent effect on the Queen's wrath. If the racial stereotypes are considered offensive - take a gander at the advertisement of the company van.

If there was a man who could adapt the spirit and excitement of the African-American jazz culture into Clampett's cartoon believably - it's no surprise that Carl Stalling was fit to the task. Although more comfortable with adapting popular music into animated cartoons - Stalling's versatile talent of giving We're in the Army Now a jazz vibe towards it.

The dwarfs have little personality in the short (excluding the "Dopey" persona dwarf), they recruit her in the army as their squad cook as So White is turned on by their uniform in her swing-style voice ("I'm wacky over khaki now!").

The morning bootcamp sequence perfectly captures the enthusiastic jazz spirit; thanks to Stalling and Clampett's collaborations who really have a ball celebrating and worshipping the jazz culture. The sun rise jiving shot adds a real hip vibe to it. So White's cooking scene while singing Five O'Clock Whistle is altogether fitting - and spoilt in animation riches in an elaborate piece of effects of a bacon strip cooking in rhythm to the song's melody.

Clampett's innovative imagination and inventive timing all appear at the right moments. One early scene in particular is a Clampett mini masterpiece alone. At the arrival of Prince Chawmin's car - the wheel breaks to a halt - with the wheel rapidly circulating and morphing into five different sneakers, tapping the car to a rhythmic beat.


The imagination and rhythmic beat alone is a perfect warmup for what lies in store for the cartoon. As far-out and outlandish Clampett's directorial work is on it; some areas feel somewhat clumsy.

Building up to the short's suspense; So White has eaten the poisoned apple by the barely disguised 'Durante' Queen. The scenes of So White's collapse has a rather abrupt and strange edit which suggests a continuity clip. I'd nominate the "buck-buck-bucket" hen-cackle scene as the funniest piece of dialogue in this short.

The action scenes of the dwarfs pursuing the Queen follows some of the wildest, frantic pieces of animation in any cartoon. Gags within the sequence are superfluous in a remarkable way where everything moves, indicating panic and order. So many gags are fired altogether like the "Jeep, Beep, Peep" gag and the likes of a "rear end" gag just as the cannon is loaded - which results in the "Dopey" dwarf knocking the Queen out-cold with a mallet.

The dwarves walk over to So White's dead body - remarking that only Prince Chawmin's "dynamite kiss" can revive her. At that moment, the prince arrives at the spot and boasts: "I'll give 'er a kiss and it don't be a dud, I'll bring 'er to life with ma special: rosebud!".

The Prince attempts to revive So White with his kiss, but to no avail. He tries with all his drive and force to the point where he rapidly ages. Praise must go to Eddie Beale, who provided the music for the sequence. Beale's trumpet solo provides the right motivation for the character; and yet maintaining it's jazzy, catchy rhythm. [Correction: It was Leo Watson who played the trumpet solo, while Beale leaded the jazz trio, playing piano and contributing to the score with Milt Frankyln. Thanks to Keith Scott for the information.]

For the remainder of the cartoon, Rod Scribner takes control on a real tour-de-force of character animation that has yet to be matched. As exaggerated and over-animated it is, the scene is still believable, breathtaking and astounding. The Prince's determination to bring So White to life has incredible monument weight to it - comparable to the great talents like Bill Tytla.

Once the prince has failed, the "Dopey" dwarf takes his chance and lays a kiss on So White where she wakes up so dynamically and broadly she bursts wildly in mid-air. As wild as Scribner could animate on So White's awakening; it's remarkable at how solid his drawing maintained - by drawing the dwarf's head in a difficult angle so believably.

Perplexed, the aged prince asks the dwarf: "Man, what you got that makes So White think you're so hot!". The dwarf responds in another hinted sexual overtone: "Well, dat is a military secret!" and lays another kiss on So White - causing her pigtails to sail and turn into American flags.

Coal Black has all the elements what every animated cartoon should have: top-notch direction, excellent story, outlandish animation and gags - not forgetting: believable characterisation. This is perhaps the short where Clampett was the most visionary, with an excellent combination of lap lyrics and tropical parody. Now considered taboo for public showing - the short does everything to honour and dedicate the African-American jazz culture. It even strifes for its recognition by hiring African-American performers like Watson and Beale to put their talents to excellent use - making it the masterpiece it always was. As subtle and cheeky Clampett's humour is, his parody on the fairy tale is still in fine taste. Suppressed as it may be, the short remains a beacon for animation scholars and enthusiasts, including Bob Clampett who would move on to many greater shorts.

Rating: 5/5.