Tuesday, 20 June 2017

416. Inki and the Minah Bird (1943)

Warner cartoon no. 415.
Release date: November 13, 1943.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Story: ?
Animation: ?
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Inki runs into a hungry lion whilst hunting with a spear. However, the lion has difficulty when he encounters the mynah bird who challenges him.

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
By the time Chuck Jones was achieving better comedy for his animated cartoons; he still hadn't quite withdrawn from his Disney-esque characters which held back his true talents during his first few years as a director. He previously attempted to broaden Sniffles in The Unbearable Bear, which worked fine by underplaying his position and altering his cutesy persona.

Chuck Jones' Inki cartoons remained firmly consistent during his reform - with the exception of his broader timing. Jones would continue to sporadically make Inki cartoons until 1950 - at a time when he was reaching the pinnacle of his powers. Inki is probably the least diverse character from Chuck Jones regarding formula. While the Coyote & Road Runner cartoons feature a great variety of hysterical gags within the same premise - the Inki shorts are restraint from that. The premise is almost entirely centred on Inki hunting a mynah bird whilst endangered by a hungry lion. Only occasionally does the locale change, especially in later cartoons like Inki at the Circus and Caveman Inki. For such differences is for the review to uncover.

The animation is far broader in Inki than Chuck Jones wouldn't dare to do in his earlier cartoons centered on the character. In the opening scene Inki attempts to stab a worm with his spear, but narrowly misses. The spear vibrates vigorously that once Inki grips his hands onto the handle - he begins to shake violently.

In a following close-up; Inki's shaking action is matched by some wild smear animation. By the time the spear relaxes; Inki's hair bun is unloosened with wild long hair falling over his face. For a character we're used to seeing in slower paced cartoons - it's a pretty farfetched gag.

Shortly after, Chuck Jones appears to channel the likes of Tex Avery in a scene of Inki attempting to hunt the mynah bird. Inki's hair bun appears above the water, signalling the bird's location. Upon finding it Inki's hair bun travels its way through soil and digs up the surface. Inki grabs out his spear lying by the ground and proceeds to follow the bird.

The gag itself has been used several times in Avery's cartoons like The Crackpot Quail and The Heckling Hare. It was also used similarly in the Donald Duck cartoon, The Hockey Champ.

The gag standalone might be a throwback to earlier animated shorts, but the action of Inki digging through soil goes up a notch. Inki's hair bun creating wild subtle twists enhances some charm to Jones' timing.

Carl Stalling's music typically requires a lot of direction from Chuck Jones for his Inki shorts. Most evident is the infamous motif for the mynah bird's hopping action synchronised to Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave. Although Stalling took credit for the accompanying motif in an interview; he added, "it went over so well that we had to use it every time." While it's one of the few remaining identities surrounding the character - it magnifies the bird's vague nature.

Other uses of music timing blended into animation is utilised well in the cartoon's opening scene. A green worm hops rhythmically to Stalling's beats - including the worm's wriggling action. The hopping action continues until the worm has a close call to Inki's spear slammed to the ground.

It's a great showcase of how Stalling and Jones were both creative when it came to timing animated action through tempo. The scene itself has great staging and layout work - most likely by Art Heinemann. Keeping the worm the main focus until a spear shoots ahead of him is a nice case of unexpected delivery. The absence of Inki in the shot makes the spear all the more threatening. While the opening operates as a formula to previous Inki shorts - Chuck's pacing and use of dynamics had advanced to that point.

The sequence of Inki and the lion fighting inside a barrel showcases some of Chuck's experimentation with timing. Inki frantically hides inside a barrel after a close encounter with a hungry lion who antagonises Inki throughout the cartoon. The lion lifts the barrel upwards licking his chops, indicating he ate Inki - without realising he's now hiding on top.

This follows by a frenzy attack inside the barrel. The action is interpreted as frantic and wild as indicated by the barrel exaggeratedly twisting and changing volume, pulled off by Chuck's fun timing and the clarity of the cartoony animation.

A very intriguing piece of timing follows immediately afterwards. The mynah bird suddenly hops out of the barrel and zips out of scene - leaving a cloud of dust. Then, Inki and the lion leave their clouds of dust as they zip out of shot.

But, the dust unveils to reveal the trio standing in their same positions - except this time the lion is ready to eat up Inki. The timing is wonderfully innovative in its presentation of speed. Very few directors like Chuck Jones could time a gag that requires so much subtlety surrounding the mystery of the mynah bird.

In previous Inki shorts, a hungry lion played an antagonist role. As a personality the lion was always intended to be fearsome and dangerous - likely a past attempt to make audiences take the lion seriously. For this cartoon, the lion is portrayed with a foolish characterisation; much in vein to the rest of the Warner Bros. product.

In one scene, the lion skids broadly to a halt upon seeing a juicy steak Inki holds. However, the mynah bird swallows the steak whilst hiding inside the jaws of the lion's mouth. Upon realisation that his steak is gone; the lion ends up bawling his eyes out, banging on the ground like a child.

Chuck Jones adds a hilarious touch by having the lion eyeing towards the audience - and quickly returns to his fearsome image - which is already tarnished. The gag works fine in creating an obvious contrast between size and behaviour.

Such characterisation remembered fondly by animator Shamus Culhane - a veteran animator who briefly worked at Schlesinger during this time. He recalls in his autobiography: "I especially working on the lion because he was a dumb, raggedy coot who didn't remember that he was supposed to be the king of beasts." Culhane's descriptions perfectly matches with the scene. Culhane also wrote that the majority of the animation was split between himself and Bobe Cannon. Cannon's animation adorns this cartoon but whatever animated scenes Culhane worked on, I'm not certain.

In several sequences; Chuck Jones' character layouts come to advantage - notably when Inki first encounters the lion. Animating pantomime is challenging enough in terms of capturing clarity, but in the hands of Chuck Jones it's put to good use. Chuck's posing works effectively during Inki's double-take when he glares directly into the lion's eyes.

Beautiful touches are added when the lion drums his fingers which delays Inki's take comedically. Inki's hair bun forming a question mark wonderfully communicates through pantomime. As the lion roars menacingly at Inki; he zips out of the shot - causing the lion to bump his head on the ground - adding character to his clumsy persona.

In a later sequence, the lion pounds furiously at a palm tree with child-like behaviour after failing to eat both Inki and the mynah bird. Coconuts drop from the tree but one drops in the lion's hands which morphs back to Inki's proportions.

Inki looks at the lion bashfully by which the lion responds with an even goofier grin. Inki leaves the scene - leaving the lion's hands empty. Chuck's expressions are fitting towards the lion's inept personality.

The mystery of the mynah bird typically becomes repetitive when the character sporadically hops into scene with the same Mendelssohn music and bringing curiosity towards Inki and the lion. In some cases; the mystery of the mynah bird actually becomes intriguing and ambiguous.

In one scene; the mynah bird hops inside a clump of hay whilst the lion anticipates a pouncing action towards it. As the lion follows the bird - the straw gradually reduces in size until it completely vanishes into thin air.

Later on, the lion encounters a single piece of straw hopping into scene, but gradually grows larger and larger until the mynah bird reemerges. It's an intriguing piece of ambiguity surrounding the character - indicating a supernatural force in a cartoon environment. Jones' cartoons never reveals the mynah bird's true nature - perhaps a deliberate suggestion that the mynah bird is an unknown power towards mankind that can't be understood. The greater the mystery the more illuminating.

The mynah bird soon plays a more active part at the cartoon's climax when the bird challenges the lion. Earlier cartoons never featured the mynah bird's actions when defeating a lion; as it took place entirely off-screen. In this occasion, we are blessed to see the mynah bird engage in an effortless fight with the lion.

He picks up the jungle giant by the tail and whirls him around until the lion falls inside a lump of hay - which dwindles until it vanishes out of sight. Soon afterwards; the lion reappears when the mynah bird gives Inki a few pieces of straws.

The cartoon's ending commences once the mynah bird takes down the lion again - but this only, interpreted by some elaborate drybrush work and Treg Brown's use of comical sound effects. Inki quietly exits the scene during the brawl.

Once the drybrush whirlpool wears off; the lion discovers his jaws are missing from his mouth. He turns his eyes towards the mynah bird furiously - who then reveals to be wearing the lion's teeth inside its mouth.

I don't consider myself a fan of the Inki cartoons, primarily based on its stale, repetitive formula. The cartoon's title itself doesn't strike me as anything different in comparison to The Little Lion Hunter or Inki and the Lion as those cartoons have a primarily similar structure. Although this cartoon might be another replica, it's much more engaging than the previous instalments. Chuck Jones' pacing and innovative use of timing makes the short a more intriguing viewing. It's evident that Chuck was attempting to utilise comedy for the Inki shorts; and to some extent it worked well for the lion characterisation. The minah bird's role in this cartoon adds some depth to the mysterious nature, and he's a lot more active than beforehand. This short doesn't represent the very best of Chuck Jones by all means, but it's certainly a step up from Jones' painfully slower cartoons.

Rating: 2.5/5.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Tom Palmer revisited

You can find rewritten reviews of Buddy's Day Out and I've Got to Sing a Torch Song, directed by the short-lived Tom Palmer, here.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

415. Falling Hare (1943)

Warner cartoon no. 414.
Release date: October 30, 1943.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny / Gremlin), Bob Clampett (Vocal effects) (Thanks Keith Scott).
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: Rod Scribner.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Bugs Bunny becomes tormented by a war-time gremlin who attempts to sabotage an aircraft.

How do a lot of people perceive Bugs Bunny generally? A carefree rabbit with a trickster personality. A cartoon involving Bugs Bunny becoming a victim would be entirely out of the question. In the hands of Bob Clampett, it is so the case - and how he approaches it.

Making Bugs Bunny a victim of another foil is an extremely dangerous feat; as it depends entirely on who Bugs' opponent is - based on potency and wit. Bob Clampett's choice of candidate is much more amusing and in context of his cartoon style - by having Bugs run afoul of an unseen power - a fictitious gremlin.

The origin of gremlins go back to the myths of airmen from the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the United Kingdom - the myth that gremlins are impish creatures who have the ability to sabotage aircrafts. In 1943, Welsh author Roald Dahl (best known today for a highlighted career writing children's books) was perhaps first attributed for making the myth known worldwide, by writing his first children's book for the Walt Disney Studios simply titled The Gremlins.

Roald Dahl had served in the RAF during World War II, explaining his awareness of the myth amongst airmen. For what it's worth, Dahl himself was involved in a plane crash during his post at Libya in September 1940.

Reportedly, the concept created a lot of superstition amongst many airmen. And so, it enhanced further possibilities for wartime animated cartoons. By placing Bugs Bunny in that environment, Clampett and Warren Foster don't shy away from limiting the possible consequences Bugs would face once he encounters a gremlin.

Bob Clampett must've taken a liking to the Dahl story, as well as the gremlins concept - enough so, it warranted another directed-cartoon, Russian Rhapsody which was released shortly after this cartoon.

The opening sequence has a very satisfying yet unpredictable tone. From any first-viewing experience, it's difficult to determine what Clampett has lied in store. For much of the short's first minute of running time; it's animation free - which is possibly attributed by Clampett's careless management skills.

A Clampett-esque sign gag is featured as the cartoon's establishing shot which is followed by a slow pan shot of an air base, whilst Carl Stalling plays We're in to Win in the background.

The lack of new animation is soon compensated in the following scene - which features some of the most beautiful character animation ever conceived by the studio. Bob McKimson's work of Bugs' introduction is usually hailed as a tour de force piece of animation - and rightfully so. Not only is Bugs drawn very appealingly in proportions; but he feels very human. It also serves as a welcoming opening for what's yet to appear.

Bugs is seen as his standard self - sitting on top of a blockbuster bomb, eating his carrot and reading a book which title plays on Alexander P. Seversky's book, Victory Through Air Power. Bugs chuckles over a page he's reading on gremlins - followed by a point of view shot, featuring an illustration of the creatures, along with their descriptions.

Mel Blanc adds some wonderful touches to Bugs' delivery as he reads the text, such as Bugs' misreading on "dia-boo-lickal saa-boh-tay-jee". Bugs laughs mockingly over the notions about gremlins - utilised beautifully by McKimson's acting. Bugs' mocking gesture from his line, "Oh, murder" reads beautifully.

Bugs continues to laugh skeptically about gremlins ("Gremlin! What a fairy tale! Little man. Oh brother!") - until one passes by him. And so, Bugs feels an unusual strike coming from the nose of the blockbuster bomb, causing his body to vibrate broadly. He timidly laughs until he feels another strike.

After a surprisingly calm opening sequence for Bob Clampett - the cartoon effortlessly moves forward.

So, Bugs watches the gremlin attempting to strike the nose of the bomb with his large mallet - in synchronisation to I've Been Working on the Railroad. Bugs is completely unaware of who he's conversing with. The gremlin reveals to Bugs, "The blockbuster bombs don't go off 'til you hit 'em just right!" - broadening Bugs' entranced amazement.

And so, Bugs Bunny is deceived by the gremlin into testing the blockbuster bomb, by borrowing the mallet: "Hey, Mac. Let me take a whack at it". McKimson animates Bugs with an extreme anticipation - causing Bugs to twist his body several times; until he violently halts, hollering "What am I DOING?!".

Clampett's sheer energy begins to kick in a close-up of Bugs Bunny animated by Rod Scribner. Bugs stutters and speculates, "Hey, I bet that was a -- Say, do you think that--? Hey, could that have been a...gremlin?". The gremlin, standing on top of Bugs' whiskers yells in Bugs' ears: "It ain't Wendell Willkie!".

Scribner's timing of Bugs reacting to the holler is excellent in its frantic delivery. The use of layouts and colour styling in Clampett cartoons is always intriguing. Note how in the close-up; Mike Sasanoff only uses one colour to signify suspense. It's quite a risk in changing backgrounds very drastically; but it works well effectively.

Bob Clampett conceives some of the most surrealistic gags surrounding Bugs Bunny ever turned out by the studio. Clampett's energetic gags are typically far too broad for Bugs Bunny - and yet, he experiments with it with surprisingly great results.

Once Bugs Bunny chases after the gremlin, he strikes Bugs on the head with a monkey wrench. After an assembly line of inventive smear animation by Virgil Ross, Bugs momentarily alters his persona to dim-witted Lennie from John Steinbeck's novella, Of Mice and Men.

He dimly asks the Gremlin, "Which way did we go, George?" before collapsing frontwards. Mel Blanc provides a dim-witted voice for Bugs Bunny, to enhance the absurdity of the scene. In the following close-up animated by Rod Scribner, Bugs' posing and expressions are outrageously broad and hysterical as drawings.

The Gremlin pulls open Bugs' eyelids, checking to see if he's fine. Bugs responds, quoting Lou Costello "I'm only three-and-a-half years old" (Correction: See Yowp's comment below), and then flaps his lips in a screwball fashion. Typically, such a scene like this would be completely out of character for Bugs Bunny. Bugs' typically suave disposition would normally deprive from such boundaries. Only Clampett's boyish charm and Scribner's wild animation could bring make a feat pass. The sequence still has shock value today, taking into consideration that Clampett's perilous take on Bugs Bunny hasn't been paralleled.

Clampett's broadness and dangerous experimentation don't end there. Extensive exaggeration is highlighted in a scene of a vertigo Bugs Bunny, whose heart pumps out a 4F rating. Following that, the cartoonish energy is topped as Bugs slams into the wall of the plane. His body compresses into a flat penny - and gracefully shimmers.

Animation by Phil Monroe.
Once the gremlin boards an aircraft to sabotage it; Bugs ambushes him - in a desperate plea for retribution. Bugs, unaware that the gremlin has already started the plane, looks out for the creature by deceivingly calling after him whilst holding onto a monkey wrench. The gremlin appears but kicks Bugs' rear end; whilst hiding behind the aircraft door - laughing the the first few notes of Yankee Doodle. Typical piece of added character from Clampett.

Angered, Bugs attempts to strike the gremlin with the monkey wrench - only breaking the window. This follows in a wonderfully timed, suspenseful piece of action featuring Bugs attempting to run into the aircraft doors - taking a step back farther each time, hoping for greater impact.

The action gets broader to the point where Bugs begins to violate the laws of physics. His feet start up with great anticipation, to the point were the weight of his feet causes the aircraft walls to tilt back. Phil Monroe's animation shows a great use of weight that makes a seemingly preposterous gag look believable from impact.

Carl Stalling's use of the Russian folk song, Dark Eyes fits effectively to build suspense whilst timed accordingly to Monroe's animation - which is now considered a dead art. At the right moment, the gremlin opens the aircraft door - but Bugs' impact is too great as he zips out to an open sky.

One of the short's highlights, asides from observing Bugs Bunny getting tortured, is the animation itself. Arguably some of the most inventive, outlandish pieces of animation ever cranked out by the studio. A scene worthy for analysis is seen in Virgil Ross' animation of Bugs' visual concussion from the monkey wrench that struck his head.

Smear animation dominates a large chunk of the cartoon. Some of them are more conventional, like the smear frame of Bugs, as indicated from the frame grab. Others are more far-out and brave. It's astounding how animators and assistants were able to creatively invent new kinds of smear animation - by still keeping the cartoon action maintained. At times, the stars truly have aligned when it comes to an artistic venture. From a casual viewing experience, the smear work doesn't scream for attention - but it evidently shows the enjoyment and endless possibilities of animation.

From a cartoon standpoint, a lot of the gags conceived are fairly standard - but Clampett's animators enforce so much energy to make results more effective than what would be typically acquired. In a repeated gag of the gremlin striking Bugs with the monkey wrench on his foot - another inventive smear is thrown into the action.

The cartoon even features one of the oldest, and most cliched of slapstick gags - the banana peel. It's one of the rarest of occasions when a banana skin gag is actually inventive and hilariously executed.

Bugs Bunny zips back inside the plane after his exposure towards an open skylight. As he reenters the aircraft, he slips on several banana skins planted by the gremlin as sabotage. The action is very quick and energetic. The staging shows some strong dynamics that blends with Clampett's brisk timing. Notice how very daring the animator is on moving perspective within a a couple of frames. Both scenes provide an excellent showcase on how broad animation can improve generic gags.

For the cartoon's climax - Clampett builds up the suspense as Bugs and the gremlin race towards the earth in a diving bomber. Not only is the sequence a masterpiece in dynamics and ambitious staging - but also in comic delivery.

A speed meter that channels
Tex Avery.
The climax is kept exciting and nail-biting. Bugs Bunny has been terrorised by a gremlin throughout this short. It gets to the point where Bugs' fate becomes unpredictable based on Clampett's uncanny handling of the character.

The layout staging and fast cutting are potent in execution. The shots cut back from a diving aircraft, that's animated beautifully as its body begins to strip apart from impact. Hilarious shots cut back to a nauseating Bugs - burdened by fate and sickness.

The pacing and suspense feels like a throwback to Tex Avery's cartoon The Heckling Hare; except in Clampett's cartoon, the pacing and camera staging has far advanced.

Once the moment of impact is present - the aircraft engine sputters; causing the plane to completely halt in mid-air, barely just above the earth. The unpredictable delivery and absurdness of the punchline makes its payoff the more hysterical. In the closing shot, the gremlin reveals that the plane has run out of gas. Bugs confidently eats his carrot whilst confiding to the audience, "You know how it is with these 'A' (gasoline ration) cards" - revealing an 'A' card next to him. Although the gag itself has aged over time, there's no denying that Clampett's hilarious punchline couldn't have been outmatched.

Perhaps my favourite Clampett-directed Bugs Bunny cartoon - Falling Hare is a home run! It's wonderfully thrilling and inspiring, and yet downright hilarious. Admittedly, I'm not a fan of the savage-like persona Bob Clampett later gave Bugs in Hare Ribbin' or Buckaroo Bugs; but his experimenting on characterisation remains unparalleled. Admiration for Clampett continues to escalate by astonishingly observing the risks he took and his fearlessness. Other cartoon directors would shy away from such an ambitious experiment, but Clampett's confidence shines. As a director, he took great pride by the creative freedom he was blessed with. It remains a wonderful insight in seeing somebody outwit Bugs Bunny to terrorising levels. At the same time, Clampett remains faithful to its source material - by restoring Bugs' charisma at the cartoon's end. Overall, an excellent cartoon that holds a testament to why Warner Bros. cartoons are exciting to watch. They're original and spontaneous.

Rating: 5/5.