Sunday, 9 March 2014

317. The Crackpot Quail (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 316.
Release date: February 15, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Tex Avery (Dumb Hunting Dog), Mel Blanc (Quail).
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Bob McKimson.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A dumb dog is seen hunting after a quail, but finds that the quail outsmarts him too easily.

At this point in Tex's career at Warners; he was definitely trying out new material that hadn't been achieved with animated characters, especially with personality. Having already used the street-smart Bugs Bunny in A Wild Hare or the cunning fox in Of Fox and Hounds, Tex has another turn with an alternate and a queer choice for a potential character: a quail.

Combined, he also creates another slow-witted dog character who represents Willoughby in Of Fox and Hounds, though with an alternate design, whereas previously he was designed big to represent Lennie Small.

One typical viewer would be balked at how the quail could be another incarnation of Bugs Bunny, by using the word, "doc" and sharing the same wits. In the introduction sequence, when the dog and the quail are introduced: the dog is oblivious to his identity which is echoed from the Elmer/Bugs introduction in A Wild Hare.

This causes the quail to remark quietly in the dog's ears, 'You know what doc? YOU'RE RIGHT!'. It is a formula for Bugs Bunnthat has been used over and over again which works well as it creates a very surrealistic and three-dimensional character. I am curious whether an audience suspected of the sequence echoing from Bugs' 1st appearance, especially considering its popularity.

How Tex creates additional personality to the quail (perhaps as a way to not resemble Bugs too much) is he appears to use a lot of creativity as well as personality in giving the quail a continuous problem with the plume above his head. Other parts it pays off from the gags, whilst other times its execution fails. Let's get to the positive side.

Tex, being the expert of takes and reactions gives the quail's plume a spiked reaction when cornered by the snarling dog, prior to the stick throwing sequence. The plume reaction is animated wonderfully as well as beautifully exaggerated that the gag had its own advantage.

Another sequence occurs during the pond sequence where the dog accidentally sniffs his way underwater, and is approached by a fish as well as the quail disguised as one. This leads to the dog and the quail's plume communicating with one another.

Stalling creates a funny melody during the plume pattering in rhythm to The Umbrella Man. The communication is gold, as the plume is given life and realism through personality animation. The plume forms to a question mark, curious of whose identity he is communicating before going into a double take. Then this results in the quail's plume wiping his eyes like a windscreen, which again concludes the sequence well.

As to where the gags do not come to advantage, would be for two prime examples. One of the biggest ones off-hand is seen in the introduction where the quail first appears in the screen in full figure. As though Chuck Jones' molasses timing was enough to endure in a Warners short; Tex appears to fall as a victim in this short where he shows some useless piece of character animation of the quail being distracted of his plume, which is seen to be ruining his image. He licks his mouth to straighten it out, but it keeps flopping on his face, and this just goes on again. It would have worked if it was animated subtler, and also, only seen once, and not at roughly 30 seconds.

You'll notice that the quail also happens to whistle throughout the short, and tends to whistle in dialogue when he notices his plume is about to collapse. It can be seen as very naturalistic, and gives the quail a three-dimensional bit of personality there, but repeating it over and over again doesn't give him more of an identity other than a Bugs Bunny-esque character. For reader's sake, it is worth mentioning that Tex's own vision was to have the quail make a razzing noise each time, and it was used when it was released in theatres, but reissue prints replaced it with a whistling noise. Of course, having the razzing noise would've have shown a lot more of Tex's quirky humour in shorts, though personally I believe the whistle is better off as it is, considering how its more subtle than a razz effect, and notice how the breath effects are seen through his beak; which is what you'd expect in a whistle. Why the razzing noise was omitted in later releases, I don't know.

Watching the short on the animation side, Tex sure does like to let his animators explore the possibilities in animation, by creating very intriguing angles as well as obscure techniques. Note the perspective animation of the dog which shows him sniffing the quail's tracks. It's also a visual gag which is very subtle, as not only does the dog stretch as he sniffs, but note how comparing the size of the quails, that he appears to leave a track which is stretched wide out.

In terms of comic timing; Tex indeed starts to experiment with what he would become the master of, rather than relying on radio references, which is similar to what he did in the previous short. There is a chase scene which shows the dog and the looney quail in rushing from tree-to-tree and spot to spot.

Stalling's music cliches certainly add the touch, but in terms of timing and animation, the airbrush effects create an effective piece of movement where you cannot see the quail's legs as well as even the dog's.

It wouldn't be enough for Tex as he also creates a personality run cycle for the character, which he would love to exaggerate. Here, the dog pretty much has the exact same cycle as Willoughby in Of Fox and Hounds, where he was running in the most bizarre case. This shows how Tex appears to be desperate to have a change as well as a desire to create some wacky timing and animation.

Personally, one of Tex's more flawed gags in his career happens to be a recurring gag which happens throughout the entire short. At the beginning, when the dog looks at the advertisement for Barko's Dog Food (reference or just a corny pun?).

Desiring to catch a quail, he rushes and foolishly crashes into a tree, which leads the camera to pan beyond his appearance, and then back to the dog, who points: "A tree" in a cretinous voice.

The first time the gag actually is worth a laugh, especially for the timing as well as the delivery of the retardation of the dog. But, being a continuous gag, he doesn't hit the tree one, twice or thrice--but a total of four times.

To achieve great comedy, one must understand the patience as well as the pacing/construction of a sequence before slapstick could be achieved. Having been hit four times just kills the moments or the opportunities the short could have had. Though, one could say that it pays off well to the climatic chase sequence, which it does to an extent; and it can't make it totally flawed. The chase sequence is quite possibly the most visually fulfilling Tex has achieved up to this point in his Warner career; and he is showing great uses of speed where only the dog's head is visible. This then results in quite possibly one of the longest crashes in animated history.

The camera pans to a very long path with the crashes still creating, in which we expect an incredible amount of damage was caused. The crash as well as how the scene is setup is very entertaining and well-executed, especially how the dog reacts to it in the end, with the ending line: "Lots of trees!".

It is evident how Tex had deliberately set up the recurring gag to create one big laugh for the audience. It does pay off well, but the fact of having it just been a repeat earlier on bothers me a little, even though I'm sure it was a hoot for the audience of its time.

As all reviews must come to an end, I felt this short showed Tex Avery having a desire to try and experiment what he would master. It is clear he has been experimenting a lot more comic timing, than he was trying to make corny punchlines or corny puns. Whilst a part of the short at least steals some of A Wild Hare, it goes beyond what the former had, as the short appears to go a lot faster and comical. The quail/Bugs Bunny comparison is a little erratic, though no harm was obviously done as Tex already appeared to be in love with a street smart personality, which at the time was pretty much unheard of in animated cartoons. Overall, the short at times is quite enjoyable in terms of personality animation, as well as what Tex had to other, but its's already been mentioned.

Rating: 3/5.


  1. The major difference between this cartoon and "Of Fox and Hounds" compared to "A Wild Hare" is that in that cartoon, Tex set it up so your sympathy is with the rabbit against Elmer; in this cartoon and in "Hounds" your sympathy is with Willoughby. The difference between the audience wanting to see the wise-guy character fool his adversary and feeling sorry for the adversary for being fooled is why Bugs has made billions for Warner Brothers and why a fox and a quail with almost the same personalities are virtually unknown today.

    As for why a quail, back in Avery's native Texas, quail hunting season is one of the major seasons of the year for bird hunters, just behind dove season; that's likely why Tex chose the character (also, the bob white quail does whistle, so the edited razz gag wasn't repeatedly used in the cartoon -- the audio edit was only the first time the dog tries to imitate the quail and lets out with the razz and the animated spittle flying into the quail's face. That's what the censor apparently objected to; changing it to a loud whistle made it less obvious Willoughby was spitting in the quail's face.)

  2. 1.I'd always wondered why "QUACKPOT Quail", a better (read: "paraphrase and alliterative" title) wasn't the one used (one which after all, had this bobwhite partridge really got his own series would probably be his name..)

    2.Willoughby is first seen looking at Barko Dog Food, a real life Barker Dog Food reference (I very seriously doubt that this isstill being made.) We'll encounter Barker dog food a few weeks later when Bob Clampett does "Goofy Groceriers", his debut color Merrie Melodie.

    3.Among the best parts is the closing, Willoughby saying "Lots of trees..":)