Monday, 2 April 2012

141. Porky's Poultry Plant (1936)

Warner cartoon no. 140.
Release date: August 22, 1936.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Frank Tashlin.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Joe Dougherty (Porky Pig) and Ted Pierce (Rooster Commentator).
Musical Score: Carl W. Stalling.
Animation: Don Williams and Volney White.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Porky owns a poultry farm but the problem is a group of hawks always capture his chickens; which turns into a battle.

This is the first cartoon to be directed by pioneering Warner Bros. animation director Frank Tashlin who was only 23 when this cartoon was made and Frank had the gift with experimenting his animation like the use of camera angles, techniques, animation designs, and speed, the list goes on. He would leave in 1938 and return briefly in 1943 continuing up to 1946 before going into the motion picture business. This is his second tenure at Warners  - his first being an animator and his second tenure being his first career as a director.

 Another important fact about this cartoon as it's the first cartoon to be composed by famous cartoon composer Carl Stalling who is another pioneer in the humour of the Looney Tunes as he would compose great music until his retirement in 1958 in more than 600 cartoons. Stalling around make musical score for cartoons very funny and would adapt music from the Warner Bros. music library and make them broad in his cartoons. His most definite trait is those "cliches" of what movement the character is performing.

The cartoon begins as we pan from the woods as we reach to Porky's poultry farm as the sun is rising high. The flag (of course) tells us that this is Porky's Poultry Plant (the title cartoon) and I like how Tashlin used his design skills with just one huge "P" letter with the other words matching it.

There's a very good camera pan (a Tashlin trait) of the camera pan down but the pan has the backgrounds (like the buildings) animated. A rooster steps out as the new day has begun. The rooster stands on the chicken box (uses it as a conducting box) with the chicken performing a "Revielle" the morning call. A whole group of ducks, birds, chickens, etc. then step out of their hutches for the morning. There's a good pan shown here like all of the birds stepping out where it's a pretty long background (no background animation shown here).

Porky Pig steps out of his house (in the early Porky cartoons around 1936-37) Tashlin tend to make Porky larger and older while Avery tend to make him child looking. Porky is standing at his porch enthusiastically stuttering; "Oh day; what a day" and he bangs his chest for breath or the Tarzan beat but Porky coughs from the banging on his chest that probably shows he's physically weak.

Porky then grabs out a bucket in which he pulls down the robe of a machine in which corn comes out for him to feed his chickens as he flicks them with his hand. He shouts and calls "Here, chick, chick, etc." to call for the chickens. I love that curve movement of Porky swinging the bucket of corn.

All of the chickens then rush out of their hutches as they run out to go and get some corn. There is a tiny chick that is left out of the crowd that would be worth a giggle and a "bless". All of the chickens and geese run up to catch some corn leaving the tiny helpless chick trying to catch up with tiny legs.

You can hear some of Carl Stalling's early cliches here like the footsteps of the chick running; listen carefully and there it is. Of course at the time; Carl Stalling hadn't really adapted his music the way he liked to; and it probably sounds a little like Norman Spencer or Bernard Brown but you can hear it here in this sequence which is pretty cool. I do wonder what had happened to Norman Spencer. I recall Carl Stalling saying in an interview that when he arrived at Leon Schlesinger he had to clear away the "whisky bottles" in his new office from the old cartoon composer [evidently; it's Spencer]. Some sources say he died; while Stalling said he needed to be replaced - does anyone know the real story?

A whole group of Porky's chickens and duck are crowded together nibbling at the corn on the ground. Porky grabs out another handful of corn and tosses them into another area where the whole group of birds run down to catch some corn. Porky repeats that routine but in different areas as the birds will follow him.

There are geese in there that belong to Porky that also run into the scene to grab some corn; but truth is; why would geese want corn? I thought they preferred bread just like what they get in a pond in a park - chickens would eat those.

There is a little sequence going on here where the little chick is trying to grab some of the corn here but all of the chickens then start to rush after the corn once it's dropped the ground as the chick was just about to get started. This is a good example of Tashlin's experiment with timing even though the timing is rather slow; but if this was made ten years later then it would've got the corn in a millisecond.

This causes real confusion for the chick as the chick walks off when the corn is just dropping right next to her but gets stampeded by greedy chickens and geese. Porky feels pity for the chick who isn't getting anything to eat but comes up with a plan to give the chick some corn. He grabs out a handful in which the chickens and geese turn to him. Still gripped with the corn in his hands; he pretends to toss them out of the way for the chickens and geese to scatter as he gives them all to the chick as it quickly scoffs it up turning fat. Now that was a pretty moment there by Tashlin (or a writer) where he pretends to throw the food a way since birds aren't very cunning - or to an extent "birdbrained" ;-).

 Meanwhile there is a goose that is trimming off corn in a line like moving a lawn in a single line; which shows some amusement as it is a gag relating to it's beak. A VERY GOOD EXAMPLE of a "Tashlin technique" is shown here in terms of animation techniques. Porky is throwing corn to the geese and throws the corn to the camera creating perspective animation while the next shot the corn (from the camera) falls to the ground and I think that's called arc animation. The next part goes some good comic timing where the geese scram to each other to grab the corn but crash into each other leaving some smoke lying out but after the smoke drifts away; they're all tied up together with their necks.

Here is the good example of perspective animation used as Tashlin was experimenting with that technique; watch it in full motion to get the idea.

There are a group of chicks running after worms as they scatter off. The animation shows some realism with the chicks tripping which shows us that chicks are helpless birds with some good weight. The worms then dive back into their holes as the chicks start to scrape the holes with the claws on their feet.

The next stage is funny and good cartoon humour where Porky already comes up with a plan as he grabs out a funnel where he starts to use it to play "snake charm" music since worms are the shape of snakes (but are like miniature versions) they step out dancing out of their holes. The chicks then start to move very carefully (look at that movement of the birds creeping up; this is brilliant timing) and then the chicks eat up the birds. Gruesome, isn't it?

After some fun from Porky Pig and the chicks; we move onto a little bit of drama where only the backgrounds and layouts are presenting the drama. Despite Porky enjoying his farm with lots of chickens and ducks; he's had problems in the recent months.

He once had a chicken named "Olga" that was stolen by a hawk on April 6, 1936. "Dorothy" was "Hawknapped" same meaning as stolen but on April 28 only three weeks later.  We ZOOM back to Porky who is looking at the other chickens named "Petunia", "Gertie", and "Rebecca" who are her hens - and they've all been either captured by a hawk or gone missing. Huh, Petunia eh? Interesting; I imagine Frank Tashlin  reused that name for Porky's girlfriend in 'Porky's Romance' who would later become famous in Looney Tunes comics. Porky is weeping at the missing hens he had as he weeps (and stutters) "Poor Petunia, and poor Gertie, my poor little chickens". Porky is leaning against the wall crying. Now that would be sad since they're very likely dead as hawks have deadly claws to catch birds. Porky turns as we PAN to the right of a poster reading PUBLIC CHICKEN ENEMY No. 1 as it shows a hawk who stole Porky's chickens. Porky points at it stuttering and yelling; "I'll get you, you old buzzard!" Notice how Porky's tail goes straight and back to curly numerous times. There are some pretty good camera shots here like the posters of the missing chickens and we zoom back to Porky; thanks to Tashlin.

From that poster view shot of an illustration of a hawk flying; we fade in to the next scene of a deadly hawk flying in the same position as the hawk in the poster which would requite strong staging. The hawk's expressions show greediness as he looks down for more poultry farms. A pretty good point of view shot of the hawk flying as we see the farms and fields underground. I do remember seeing a type of camera shot technique like that in an earlier WB cartoon but my mind is clearly erased as to what cartoon that was - it might've been a Buddy cartoon.
The hawk then notices the same poultry farm that it must've encountered before as it starts the signal as it flies around the farm surrounding it. All of the chickens start to react with fear as though murder is on the loose. A hen is pecking on the ground with her chicks but makes a frightful take as she notices the shadow of hawk and grabs her chicks. The hawk notices the hen afraid as it starts to make a dive bomb with a good camera angle P.O.V. shot of the hawk flying down. 

Porky starts to stutter but yell "The hawk! The hawk!" as he starts to make the hawk alarm call with the sounds of sirens displaying the message. A good use of speed is shown here as the chickens dash off with the hawk zipping past with very little frames shown (I can't get this in slow motion but I figured it's roughly 8 frames).

There is a strange drawing style drawn of the chickens here who seem to have very feathery breasts with so much detail; like that shot of the hen with her chicks dashing inside the hut for safety before the hawk dives in after them. Just look at that brush effects  of the hawk zooming down fast to chase after the chickens; it sort of reminds me of the car chase sequence in 'Gold Diggers of '49' but probably not as quick and strong use of speed here but Tashlin found a way of making characters run in such speed when you see the early cartoons directed by Friz Freleng and Jack King they would have the characters run as the way a human would jog with no exaggeration or re  alism. Although the first cartoon to use proper speed is (probably) Disney's 'Tortoise and the Hare'. But Tex or Tashlin would be the first to use good speed with little drawings for the Warner Bros. cartoons. Some of the running scenes of the chickens to me though; look like there was little inbetweening done - and it's still experimenting here that's why there's the use of volume changing here.

There are ducks in a pond that also "duck" [no pun intended] underwater from an incoming kestrel. More problems arrive as a chicken runs off to hide inside a teapot and grabs a chick with her arms to protect it. Another chick is cornered by two walls not knowing what to do which is pretty serious since it's very young and helpless.

Porky grabs out his shotgun to shoot any buzzards flying past. He starts to shoot constantly but keeps on flying backwards as they slides back a pond and crashes into a tree; which is what I call a funny gun reaction but I guess years later it would be funnier if it was shot and there were no inbetweens with the next frame it would hit a tree although in the 1930's it hadn't quite been achieved right. After the gunshot sounds are finished; the chickens and ducks pop their eyes out to check and so does the hen and her chickens then step out thinking the coast is clear but counts how many chicks she has but goes into a panic attack when one of the chicks is stolen by one of the hawks - a whole tiny chick for a big hawk to eat? - puny.

The hen then dashes up to Porky who is sitting by the tree after the reaction of pulling the trigger. The hen dashes up telling Porky about her misfortune clucking; "Porky! The hawk stole my baby! Oh Porky, look, look, look, look, look!"

Porky dashes off as he reaches inside the barn (done in very few frames as it's shown). Porky the hen starts to bring out his small jetplane with a gun inside it. The plane takes off in perspective animation before ascending. In fact; some good
 perspective animation of the plane flying here. It's amazing to see that Frank Tashlin was only roughly 23 years old at the time he was directing this cartoon and it's much better than what Friz Freleng (still improving) and Jack King from what they've turned out. If this is a competition between Tashlin and Avery; Avery would be leading as he's got the humour adapted to Looney Tunes; and the use of speed. Tashlin is improving it's animation quality here; and the timing to make it funnier - to it's a tight competition.

The hawk is still flying away with the chick in it's limbs but turns around with a scared reaction as Porky is on the plane with a machine gun aiming right at the  hawk. There is then a chase sequence going on between the buzzard and Porky.

Porky (so far) has only managed  to shoot the buzzard's feathers at the rear end. The buzzard cries or help which shows a whole group of hawks defending the main hawk as they form each other like an airplane and take off at the edge of the cliff. They form each other V-shaped (Gee; they're not flying south for winter - heh heh). The group of hawks decide to play nasty on Porky as they grab him off the plane (and it's still flying - who's controlling the plane?!) as they pull his pig's  tail making a spring sound with a hawk holding tight on his suspenders before Porky lands back on his plane again.

Perspective animation pops up again with the buzzards dropping giant eggs down at Porky as it splats on his head. The hawks laugh in which Porky's plane flies straight at them as they go through inside a cloud as it's opaque. The fight ends with Porky fleeing but the buzzards have the machine gun as they fire directly at Porky.

The propellers have been shot to fragments until Porky starts to fall straight down with a crash prepared. The chickens watch him fall as the hawks are just laughing. A good use of a few frames in single-shots. Porky then starts to crash in a wind turbine as he manages to grab the propellers for it to continue flying on the plane. The buzzards continue to laugh until they  notice Porky has the ability to continue flying as they need to go into a plan.

An off-screen commentator (voiced by Ted Pierce) then reports "They go into a huddle" as the group of hawks huddle together as they gone up with a plan. They routine themselves to race after Porky.

Meanwhile a rooster is doing the commentary of the action scenes on top as though he's the guy doing the commentary on sports. Now that is funny since Tashlin is adapting his humour into this cartoon. The commentator reports "The ball is snapped. He's running back. It's a trick play, etc, etc.". It turns out that the "ball" is the chick that the hawks caught and Porky is trying to catch it; and this fighting sequence is a spoof of an American football game. Porky has to go through many manoeuvres to try and catch the chick. The commentator continues reporting; "He's up, he's down..." This would've been a challenge to animate since I doubt Warner Bros. directors attempted this before coming up with manoeuvres. The commentator then ends the reports "...and he fumbles!" as he missed the baby chick who is about to fall for his death (I'm surprised the chick hasn't died of shock). Good point of view camera shots - once again.

The hen is worrying about the chick about to fall and crash to the ground. Porky sees the chick flying all the way down as he has to do his best to grab him safely.

The hen crouches down covering her eyes with the "I can't bare to look" attitude. In a long-shot that we see - the chick is only a mere spot falling but Porky's plane performs a slide movement as it's managed to grab the chick safely and punctually. The hen is gobsmacked as the chick is safe that she faints with relief. As Porky has managed to grab the chicken in time. The buzzards start to fly after him since they're not over. Porky starts to spread smoke out of the back end with the hawks starting to fall down to hit the ground. The chickens approach the scene to dig the ground quickly so they can fall down properly. The buzzards fall down the dug hole as the chickens bury them.

I do really like that "Death March" part (Carl Stalling's contribution) with the rooster placing the flower on top of the buried patch. Porky starts to land back on his poultry farm safely and securely. She hands the chick to the hen "Here's your baby, Henrietta. All safe and sound". Henrietta the hen grabs the baby chick with her relieved clucking "My little baby" acting motherly. The mother then starts to scream as she thinks she sees a shadow figure of a hawk from the sky.

Porky grabs out his gun as he thinks he sees the hawk but stops to find that the "visual gag" shown here turns out to be the shadow of a weathervane with a bird on top that would look like a hawk figure. Porky looks at the weathervane as he laughs at the trick as though "jokes on him"; and to the chickens.

Overall comments: This is Frank Tashlin's second tenure here at the Studio - the first being briefly in 1933 animating on 'Buddy's Beer Garden' and the other earliest cartoons produced by Leon. This is also his first tenure at the studio of being a director; although some claim he directed those cartoons in 1934 that are credited to Bernard Brown. This is a pretty damn good cartoon for 1936 in my opinion. Warner Bros. cartoons needed to boost up their skills, humour in order to compete with other studios and Frank Tashlin is one of those pioneers with Avery as well as many others. He has shown some complete visual ideas here as well as an abundance of amazing animation techniques like perspective shots, background animated shots; as well as camera shots of the character's point of view. He is very talented.

Porky Pig is portrayed as an adult in this short since this is Tashlin's adaptation (although Tashlin made Porky a child in some cartoons) but Avery made him younger looking while Tashlin altered it. They are both fine in some ways but just treated differently. I love the animation in the short; this is definitely an improvement to the cartoons and even to Avery's cartoons. Some loose; fluid animation is presented here as well as a great use of good timing and speed with little drawings needed. This would've been an unusual job for a Warner animator back then since they were used to slow timing and the boring way of timing speed. This is also Carl Stalling's first cartoon and there's a definite improvement on the musical scores here while Norman Spencer tended to tell the stories of his shorts while Stalling uses some of his famous music "cliches" which he was known for. Tashlin has used some good gags even with good comic timing. Well; this was a pretty good cartoon and even a good start for Frank Tashlin's tenures at Warners directing many great cartoons.


  1. If you want to get technical, Tashlin definitely left before March 1938, because Jones started directing then. He actually returned in September 1942 as a story editor (hence the story credit in 'A Corny Concerto'), and had replaced Norm McCabe after a few weeks when he joined the army. He left in September 1944, to make stop-motion puppet films for John Sutherland (has anybody found those?)

    This is all from Barrier's Hollywood Cartoons.

  2. Stalling's scores for this and "Toy Town Hall" both feel a lot like Spencer's work, which makes me wonder if Spencer departed Schlesinger's suddenly if Carl didn't come in with a musical score already partially completed, in the same way that Milt Franklyn's score for "The Jet Cage" was obviously finished off by William Lava after Franklyn's death.

    Tashlin's facial design for Porky in his first cartoon ironically is closer to the final design than he'd get through his entire first stay as director, to the point that Clampett could reuse the 'worm charmer' animation with only minur adjustments in "Chicken Jitters". Frank's Porky would go through 12 stages of ugly before he finally slimmed him down, while keeping the big apple cheecks that made his pig look younger than the one the Clampett/Jones unit was using by 1983.

    1. Yes; I mentioned that it felt a lot like Spencer but I do wonder if Spencer did some parts of the score before leaving. However, I did say that some of Stalling's pieces can be heard like the chick running - which definitely sounds like Stalling's part. He didn't really adapt the music the way he liked it until about a few years later - which is probably why it sounds different.

    2. Let's see what Frank Tashlin has to say...

      "There used to be another musician there, when the first picture I made [was scored]—the first Porky Pig—a fellow by the name of Norman Spencer."

  3. The only person who claimed Spencer died was Blanc and that was only in later TV interviews when he realised he could get a big laugh with it.
    Seems to me I found a Spencer composing credit from around 1938 but I'd have to check again.

  4. Thanks Yowp,

    Looks like Blanc made this story up for attention; I'll try and ask some experts if they know about Spencer - perhaps maybe Joe Campana or Sogturtle.

  5. There's no signs of a Norman Spencer dead in 1936. Namesakes abound, but all the Norm Spencers born around 1895-1900 (assuming the real one was about the same age as his associate Bernie Brown) have died at 68+.

  6. This is prerry good debut for Tashlin. I'm agree that Tashlin have some ambitions in terms of gags and camera angles, but in terms of speed it's nothing new - it was already pioneered in Disney's "Tortoise and the Hare", sorry.

    I'm really like that Warners finally decided to use more shadows under characters. Yes, it was expensive, but it have great effect!
    I think that in some ways Clampett was infuenced by that cartoon for his farm cartoons.