Friday, 30 March 2012

138. I Love to Singa (1936)

Warner cartoon no. 137.
Release date: July 18, 1936.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Tommy Bond (Owl Jolson speaking), Billy Bletcher (Father Owl/Bird singing 'Laugh Clown Laugh'),  Martha Wentworth (Mother Owl), Lou Fulton (Stuttering Bird), Bernice Hansen (Fat Bird). Ted Pierce (Jack Bunny) and Jackie Morrow (Owl Jolson singing). (Wow! What a cast)
Musical Score: Norman Spencer.
Animation: Charles "Chuck" Jones and Virgil Ross.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: An owl family that only like classical music reject their crooner son, Owl Jolson who loves to swing; until his family change their minds once he's discovered doing auditions on radio.

"I love to singa; about the moon-a, and the June-a and the spring-a". Here is a review that I'm sure many fans would appreciate and this is probably one of the greatest Warner Bros. cartoons of all time. The song is probably the best used for the 'Merrie Melodies' in this period and Tex Avery certainly made a great one.

Once upon a time in the deep woods there lives a tree where the an owl couple live. There are butterflies flickering around the oak tree they live in. The music heard in the background is 'A Great Big Bunch of You'. The owner of  the oak tree is "Professor Fritz Owl" who is the Teacher of "Voice, Piano & Violin" as it's shown on the sign at the top that is carved like a violin. BUT, what Professor Fritz Owl doesn't teach and probably his most hatred ban is jazz; as the sign reads in huge red letters  

I really like that setup with the camera showing us that "jazz" is probably going to be the main part of this cartoon since the owl couple don't teach jazz at all; and the red letters tell us that it's strictly banned and only stick to classical music, ballet or opera since jazz back then is probably like the hip-hop of its time for parents which means their personalities would be cold. This is a pretty long background scene and I do like that huge close-up zooming onto the "No Jazz" sign. As the camera then starts to slide down to the doorknob of where Professor Fritz. Owl lives; we view inside the doorknob to see what is happening; and look at hat lovely perspective shot of the doorknob that is animated to see what is going on inside.

Professor Fritz. Owl is walking up and down nervously inside the living room worrying while his wife is sitting on a nest laying eggs to see if those eggs would be hatching anytime soon. Professor Owl then starts to walk up to the mother wondering if the eggs are hatching but she pulls her skirt up to check but shakes her head "no" showing they're not ready. Some pretty good character animation presented here.

Professor Owl then starts to walk up and down again with the camera angle only focusing on his feet. It appears to be a while later the same position of the carpet he's working on is already worn out since we can see the wood, which is a funny gag with only backgrounds needed to change - a trait of Avery. The husband owl walks up to his wife to check if any luck has happened. The wife looks under her skirt and nods her head since it tells us that the egg hatching is a success.

The wife owl has laid 4 eggs that are ready to hatch. Professor Fritz Owl brings out a conducting stick in which he uses it to test if the eggs will be useful for his home and to teach his children how to play music and sing in it's classical music form.

Professor Fritz Owl then starts to tap on the eggs with his conducting stick in which the first three bells make church bell chimes in which he loves the sound of. He taps on the last egg which turns out to be a sound of some cymbal clash; the parents go into shock as they listen to the sound of it again which is the sound they dislike. This tells us that one of the baby owls would be the odd one out.

The first baby owl is hatched wearing a tuxedo in which it sings opera to the song called 'Chi mi frena in tal momento' written by a composer called Donizetti back in the 19th century. Professor Fritz Owl comments; 'What a fine voice. A Caruso", this is a reference to famous Italian tenor singer from 19th and early 20th century called Enrico Caruso. The second baby owl is also wearing a suit playing the violin to the tune, 'Traumerei' written by Robert Schumann. 'What sweet music; a Fritz Kreisler' comments the father; Kreisler was a well known violinist back in the 20th century. The third baby owl hatches also wearing a tuxedo plays the flute to the Mendelssohn's Spring Song; and the father owl comments; "A lovely melody; a Mendelssohn"; and we all know who Mendelssohn is.

The background pans for the nest sequence with the animation is amazing and the whole animation is about a minute long; Avery liked to use that for his short those pans.

The forth egg to be hatched is something that completely thunderstruck the parents as the baby owl is dressed up in a more modern 1930's fashion; and not a smart suit for classical music. Instead the owl shouts out "Hello, stranger!" the owl then starts to go into a jazz popular song of the title song 'I Love to Singa'.

The owl then starts to go into song singing; I love to sing-a, about the moon-a, and the June-a and the Spring-a. I love to sing-a, about a sky, or blue-a, or tea for two-a-- The singing is interrupted by Professor Owl's comments which turns negative "A jazz singer! A crooner. Stop! Stop! Stop!!" Professor Owl almost rips off his hair in which the mother faints over listening to jazz music since they can't  take the sound of it. Brilliant character personalities here. The father tries to wake up the mother waving his hand suggesting; "Listen Mama, if he must sing; we will teach him to sing the way we want him to".

This definitely would've gotten a laugh since since the first three baby owls showed serious singing and instrument playing; while Owl Jolson (the name is an obvious reference to entertainer Al Jolson) is more lively and cheerful with his performances which is complete opposite personalities to his parents. I imagine that this scene required strong character animation in it too in order to make the gag funny. I wish I knew who animated that scene since it was probably hard to do; but since Chuck Jones got screen credit and one of the more ambitious animators - could it be him? I'm not going to go anymore since it could've been anyone. The parents' reactions are pretty funny since it went from positive comments to almost thunderstruck as though it's a huge disaster. This entire sequence there is so subtle that it's sort of hard to analyse but it's a very good sequence where it went from serious, classical music to jazzy, lively music in which the parents have an opposition to.

So; as the title card says itself - Owl Jolson is seen inside the piano room with the mother playing the piano and the young girl is singing off-key to 'Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes' and this would be Tommy Bond doing the off-key singing while a different performer is doing the singing jazzy songs. Keith Scott has identified the voice actor for the singing jazzy Owl Jolson as Jackie Morrow.

Owl Jolson is certainly not enjoying himself singing the song which is very boring and not what he can sing. Every time Mama Owl turns the page for the next part of the song; Owl Jolson sings 'I Love to Singa' without Ma noticing as he only has some few seconds to sing it. It's pretty weak character animation but we know what is happening; as it's still enjoyable watching Owl Jolson sing with a great facial expressions of the young owl looking very disgusted. Owl Jolson continues to sing 'I Love to Singa' briefly every time Mama turns the page around; and gets caught during Professor Owl's account. The take of the Professor listening to jazz again is so funny and even his personality is so funny as he's as shock as though someone has committed a crime.

Professor Fritz Owl then grabs Owl Jolson with his hands shouting:

Professor Owl: Enough is too much; out of my house you hotcha. You crooner! You falsetto! You jazz singer! (Slams door; opens it again) Phooey.

That was a pretty funny scene that's typical Avery with the Owl shouting at the door with rage as his face turns red of anger but opens the door calmly shouting "Phooey" but still has the red face. Owl Jolson turns to the audience saying "That's my pop!" as he walks down the woods not caring about his parents as he sings 'I Love to Singa' again. Papa storms out of the door fuming as Mama looks out of the window unhappy of Owl Jolson tossed out of the house weeping; "Papa, I think you were a bit too hasty". A bit? More like very hasty.

Owl Jolson walks down the path in the woods as he is whistling to the famous tune before going into song again - 'I love to sing-a; about a sky or blue-a; or a tea for two-a...

Meanwhile back at home Mama is on the phone to the police asking about her missing child. Why didn't she just run after her child and not beat her husband for tossing their child out of the house abandoning him. The Mama describes to one of the officers about what Owl Jolson looks like; "Yeah, Mr. Officer - just a little fellow with big eyes and a little red coat". This cartoon so far has proved to be very fun to me as this is just fun from the very start; and definitely one of Avery's best.

Owl Jolson continues to walk down the path whistling to his favourite song that he sings throughout the cartoon until he stops to see what amazes him; a tree that is a radio station called "G-O-N-G". He joins in a huge queue in the auditions which a type of talent contest. I love that scene with the reject section that shows the rejected contestants slide out of the tree and to the count; it's good comic timing and the sound effects. Owl Jolson joins the queue.

Inside the radio station shows a line of birds queueing and the judge of his "amateur hour" is called Jack Bunny (a reference to comedian Jack Benny). The Jack Bunny judge seems to be such a stickler for talent that he rejects everyone who is close to it. A bird plays the saxophone to "Nola" but gets rejected as Jack Bunny hits the gong with the mallet and pulls down the rope leaving with a trap door. A bird with an accordion plays "Turkey in the Straw" but is also rejected as we zoom in to the trap door with the accordion finishing. A bird with a deep voice then sings his version of 'Laugh, Clown, Laugh' but is also rejected. The next part shows a fat bird voiced by Bernice Hansen singing 'I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles' but gets rejected but her fat body is jammed on the trap door but gets whacked down by a mallet - a funny Avery gag.

Meanwhile back at home Mama and Papa are sitting in the lounge with Papa walking up and down worried about his son for the first time. Mama is weeping on the armchair listening to the radio on what's happening.

Police officer: Calling all cars. Calling all cars. Report to your stations for further instructions. That is all.
Mama: I wonder if they've found my little boy.
Police officer: No we didn't, lady.

Definitely an Avery gag/line that he would use for these type of gags since it really makes no sense but it's so appealing and funny in its context that it would count as a great gag since it shows Avery is having a lot of fun making these cartoons. I like the take when the Mama and Papa look at each other as though "Did that radio just speak to us?!".

Back at the radio station; a stuttering bird (voiced by Lou Fulton; not Dougherty - let's not get mixed up here) is reciting the poetry of "Simple Simon" but struggles while stuttering it but gives up "Aw, shucks" before hitting the gong and falling down the trap door himself.

A telegraph boy then hands a secretary bird a telegram who announces via radio, "We just received another telegram. Station G-O-N-G. Stop. Your program is coming in great. Stop. Think it's fine. Stop. Like to hear your amateurs. Stop..." we pan towards Owl Jolson who is standing on stage as Jack Bunny watches them but we pan back where she reads the telegram becomes a type of subtle pun where every time she reads the letters at the end of a short sentence saying "Stop"; she tells the telegraph boy to "STOP" in his attempt to seduce her until she pushes him out of the way. In telegrams they would read out "Stops" for end of sentences; and that's the gag being presented here. Here is the rest of the quote after the PAN back from Owl Jolson and Jack Bunny; "They're all very funny. Stop. Keep up the good work. Stop! Good luck. Stop! The Gang. STOP!" then smacks the telegraph boy.

Jack Bunny asks Owl Jolson; "What's your name, son?" The young owl pulls out the card as it shows us his name "Owl Jolson" - the Al Jolson parody name. Owl Jolson then starts to go into song singing the whole song of 'I Love to Singa'. The finale of this cartoon begins and this is probably my favourite of this entire cartoon.

The song is brilliant and a brilliant choice made by Avery who turned it into a great cartoon. I love the animation of Jack Bunny about to smack the gong until he realises that he likes Owl Jolson's singing and turns into a grin. Meanwhile back at home, Mama hears Owl Jolson on radio singing immediately recognising him since he sings the song regularly shouts out "Come Papa, come children it's him at the radio station!" Mama grabs Pa with the three little owls that they accepted when hatched. I love how they rush out of the door with the baby owls dangling. Cute.

Owl Jolson continues to sing the great song until Jack Bunny picks up the First Prize trophy and waves his hands enjoying the song. You'll have noticed the animation error when the trophy is placed behind the mallet but the next scene the mallet is placed in front without any movement. The owl family then run inside the radio station looking at Owl Jolson inside the studio recording session singing.

Owl Jolson continues to sing his favourite song until he looks out the window and almost flies out of his skin to find his parents. Knowing about how strict his parents are with music; he  thinks that he is doing singing lessons with Mama as he starts to switch song to 'Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes' singing horribly that puts off Jack Bunny as he places the trophy on the floor. The family notice that Jack Bunny is about to reject Owl Jolson and for the child's benefit; they rush inside the studio stopping from Jack Bunny banging the gong.

Professor Owl then runs in shouting "Stop! Stop! Stop! Enough is too much"; Papa then encourages his son Owl Jolson to finish off the rest of the song he was singing to help change Jack Bunny's mind as he sings a part of it; giving Owl Jolson the idea - "Go and sing-a; about your moon-a and your June-a. What a swinger! Go on and swing-a". Papa has immediately changed his mind as he seems to like jazz now. He then goes back into song with the owl family dancing behind him. Jack Bunny is glad to see he's back on tract as he grabs out the trophy.

Jack Bunny walks up to Owl Jolson as he hands him the First Prize trophy to him; and walks off satisfied. The cartoon finishes with Owl Jolson singing off the last verse of the song with the family doing the dance routines backwards. They all finish altogether singing "We loves to sing". We iris out; but only the trophy is left on the black screen; Owl Jolson opens up the iris to fetch his trophy.

Overall comments: This is an even more improvement to Avery's 'Page Miss Glory' and this is probably the greatest Merrie Melody cartoon of the 1930's - my favourite Merry Melody of that decade.  This is the first Warner Bros. cartoon that I (chronologically reviewing) has made me smile while watching from beginning to end. It was just a charming cartoon; and this is probably the first Warner Bros. cartoon to have such appealing character personalities. I love the concept of how two, cold parents want their children to sing and perform the classical way but not Owl Jolson who was born to swing. The animation was very appealing with strong character animation from animators like Chuck Jones and Virgil Ross who both got screen credits. The gags are pretty amusing even though I think the appeal of the cartoon was sort of the theme. I guess that Owl Jolson could've sung a different song that is jazz in the cartoon but the song 'I Love to Singa' is an important key song for this short so it makes sense. The parents (particularly the father) was probably too harsh on Owl Jolson earlier on and takes jazz too seriously but I'm glad he changed his name. I guess there's a moral in the cartoon; "Respect people's talent/passion even if it won't appeal to you".

I think what's important is that Avery and his crew enjoyed what they were making and got to do what they like with this short as it showed the more they enjoyed and had fun with them it would appeal to an audience; while for Friz Freleng with his Merry Melodies he doesn't seem to enjoy making them or even changing anything. This cartoon sort of displays the real world in a way; since it shows a father abandoning his child by kicking him out of the house, and even a judge with cigars tell us that. The sexual harassment gag was amusing to look at even though it's probably dated. The greatest Warner Bros. made so far from this standpoint - no question. Even one of Tex Avery's greatest cartoons, as well as one of the greatest Warner Bros. cartoons of all time. Back then when the 'Merrie Melodies' were just a series to promote new songs coming out; Friz Freleng had to do a lot of it and most of them flawed; but Tex Avery certainly made it work! This is what we should've seen a long time ago in the Harman-Isings or 1934-1935 Merrie Melodies - Avery and the writers found a way to make an appealing story, with great characters combined with the song that is sung throughout the entire cartoon since that song is the theme of the cartoon. I liked the long pan of the nest sequence very much which appealed to me. The story I think was well written and planned and it's a shame the writer is unknown (probably Avery or Tubby Millar). Well; what can I say? This is a big breakthrough for Warner Bros. cartoon and definitely the best cartoon of 1936.


  1. As you say a great memorable and very hummable tune..also funny..
    Tex at his best...

  2. I should point out that the first occurrence ever of the "radio talking back to character" gag goes back to Lantz's 1933 celebrityfest The Merry Old Soul with Oswald; likely another gag pitched by Tex Avery yet he wasn't working at Lantz's unit at this time. The way the radio speaks in that cartoon is eerily similar to the one in I Love to Singa
    "Calling all cars. Old King Cole has the blues. Something must be done. That is all."
    "Old King Cole has the blues!?"
    "Yes, the blues."

  3. I assume Keith Scott was the one who iden tifiedall the voices..he's almost rarely wrong. The sexually harrased [a MUCH more big issue with big movmeents in womanhood]'s voice apparently goes unidentified. This with some othersd are a use of Joe Doughtery stuttering without being sped up. And thanks to Keith Scott for the voice ID.s The "That's all folks" is speedy [like a later WB mouse!] a la "Sunday, Go To Meetin' Time" and "I Wanna Play House"].Steve

  4. This is very good cartoons for Warners in 1936, but in fact, a little bit overrated as a breakthrough. Gags was hardly different in their effect from previous Avery's cartoons, and repetive singing makes some bad sense. Things wasn't really changed until "Porky's Duck Hunt". WB still can't be compared with grand Disney and unnecessary lavissh MGM productions.

  5. I'd say this is a breakthrough for character personalities; although 'I Haven't Got a Hat' was probably the first short to show character personalities but this short here has appealing ones. There were still Avery gags here but the repetitive singing may have been much but don't forget that this was the main song that the Owl was singing throughout the cartoon as it's the focus so it's fair enough; and besides it's a great song so I don't find it annoying at all. Yes; Disney was the grand studio but even THEY had bad animation in some cartoons back then like "King Neptune" (1932).

  6. Also I wonder who voiced Jack Bunny, probaly the same one who voiced the Country Mouse for the ttle caroton and minor parts in the last short reviwed, Porky's Pet.THe character sure doesn't sound LIKE Jack Benny, who was imitated by the late 30s by future Today Show host [US, NBC-TV], Jack L:scoulie.Steve C.

  7. great review! wonderful cartoon.

  8. I love old cartoons like this, they bring me such nostalgia! Thanks for the detailed summary!

  9. Thank you so much for this site!