Friday, 3 August 2012

181. The Lyin' Mouse (1937)

Warner cartoon no. 180.
Release date: October 16, 1937.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Cat), Billy Bletcher (Lion) and Berniece Hansell (Mouse - both characters).
Story: Ted Pierce.
Animation: Ken Harris.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A mouse talks a cat out of eating him by telling him the story of 'The Lion and the Mouse'.

This is the first WB cartoon in which the screen-credits system changes, so that one story man gets screen credit and one animator gets credit. This is the first given screen-credit for story man Ted Pierce (who later worked with Chuck, Friz again, and McKimson); and also Ken Harris is the first solo credited animator. Of course; the system back then worked as a rotating system which was Schlesinger's policy; but I think a very unfair policy as we deserve to know who fully worked on each production but I guess the credits changed so that the storymen get to have credit. According to Dave Monahan in a Michael Barrier interview; a group of story men used to gather together on a cartoon project and contribute to it; and even the story credits were rotated before story men were assigned to "units" - so I imagine that Ted was first in line for credit.

We are unsure if this is the first cartoon in which it features the orange-yellow coloured rings in the opening credits because original titles haven't been found yet or even displayed to the public; so I'm still going to stick the blue rings 'That's all folks' card at the end since I don't want to guess or assume it's the first cartoon to feature it. I believe the cartoon's title also sort of is a play-on the fable 'The Lion and the Mouse' but not quite.

The cartoon begins where it is taking place downstairs in a basement. We can hear the sounds of some very high-pitch screaming going on. It turns out that the screaming going on is going from a helpless mouse who has its tail (even his own fingers) caught in a mousetrap whilst attempting to catch cheese. We find that the mouse is in fact attempting to break out of the mouse hole. Now trying to release his fingers like that must've hurt. Some very good weight in the animation.

As for fingers are caught on the mousetrap; he then starts to full his fingers violently off the trap so that he can release his own tail on time. The mouse then tries to pull his own tail out the trap by pulling it with two hands but nothing is happening. The poor mouse then starts to jump about shouting for help uselessly knowing that nobody will help or understand the mouse other than the cat lurking in the basement. There is a black cat standing in the basement and the poor mouse realising that his fate would be being eaten by a cat; has the only option but to beg for the cat's life and be spared. As the mouse is still trying to beg to the cat; the black cat then grabs out a napkin and then traps the mouse in a sandwich then salts him.

As the mouse is inside the sandwich, trapped - the cat then grabs out some mustard to spread over the mouse. The mouse then bursts to giggles when he is being spread by mustard as it tickles his body; and I like how that it gives the perspective of a mouse feeling the mustard being spread which would tickle.

The mouse then makes a wide-eye take when he realises that he is going to be eaten by the cat. The cat forgets the fact that the mouse is still attached to the mouse trap. He picks up the sandwich about to eat him but the mouse slides off the sandwich realising that he was only saved by a mouse trap. The mouse then starts to beg:

Mouse: Save me, please something will have you in a good turn.
Cat: Huh, that's rich. A mouse helper cat.
Mouse: Why, didn't you ever hear the story of the 'Lion and the Mouse'?
Cat: No, I didn't never hear no story about no lion and no mouse.

The mouse then hears the cat's word about not knowing the story; in which the mouse comes up with a cunning idea on talking the cat out of eating him. The mouse then begins as she starts off by narrating the story of the famous fable by Aesop, 'The Lion and the Mouse'. The acting scenes are rather juicy as the mouse demonstrates the mouse's tincy wincy voice (like his), but then demonstrates the the low, bold voice of the lion which is funny and appealing. The cat is rather frightened of the load roars that the mouse demonstrates. I hate to guess the animator I.D.s but the acting scenes, particularly the hand movements and head-tilts remind me of the work of McKimson, but I'm not sure, but probably only the scenes of the mouse.

The mouse then continues with the story, "Now this lion was the biggest, meanest, toughest in the whole jungle". Every time I hear about lions being associated to jungles or even dubbed as 'King of the Jungle' all I do is laugh. LIONS DON'T LIVE IN JUNGLES!! They live in hot dry savannahs. But it is a common associate that lions are jungles; as they are considered 'the king of beasts' and since many animals would live in jungles or savannahs; I guess that jungles are just a more interesting place to associate animals.

The cartoon then starts to dissolve into a completely different setting and location which is the jungle, and you could say that we've changed cartoons but it's just the mouse telling the story of 'The Lion and the Mouse' which makes the cartoon much more interesting as we've got two side-stories going on at once. We discover that the lion in fact talking through the trees. He's so tough that when walking through trees; he makes the trees all bend in half.

The lion then walks out of the trees in which he shows about how bold and tough he is. Although I find the characteristic walk very clumsily animated. The lion then walks around exclaiming about himself, 'I'm the ripsnortenest, etc. etc. lion in the whole world". Even he describes about himself listing about how tough he is (ending the words with "-est") he kind of reminds me of the early characteristic arrogance of Yosemite Sam. I wonder if the lion was ever meant to be modelled after Friz Freleng; but although he wasn't looked by people as a tough, scary person - just grumpy and angry which was why he was modelled after Sam. The lion then starts to sniff up to built up his chest to built up his roar. He sniffs up so intensely that even the trees and plants are sucking towards him. The lion then begins his mighty roar which is incredibly intense.

The roaring becomes so intense that even the grass start to roll up like a rug on the floor which makes it a very animated gag. After his face turns purple and back to normal; he stops roaring and walks on thudding.

Meanwhile there is an ostrich in the savannah walking along minding its own business. The ostrich then starts to hear some loud roars in which the ostrich turns its head around to listen out. The ostrich feels threatened and afraid, then starts to run away (Gee, this ostrich doesn't look like it's running away and I though they were the fastest running birds). The ostrich then stops at a hole and dunks it's head in and of course in reality; ostriches don't do that. The ostrich pops out of the hole after hearing another roar; smears around and then dashes off very quickly which shows some very good speed timing by Freleng. Freleng I feel was already a better director by the end of the year. I don't know why but I feel that the ostrich sequence was probably done by Ken Harris; when I see it smear but I'm not sure. After that sequence with the first animal scared off; the next sequence focuses on the other animals by the lake as they are standing there quietly but they run off very quickly after the approach and roar of the lion. The lion walks past very fiercely and boldly. Once the lion has walked away; the animals dash back to their spots. The animator of that shot looks like a very conservative one.

Meanwhile there is a mischievous mouse that pops out of the hole to cause some trouble. The brown mouse is holding onto a piece of shell to blow into a sound on what would sound like a lion's roar to scare the other animals. The noise doesn't even sound like a lion but the animals are ignorant enough to think it is and run off. The brown mouse is having fun and laughs.

The brown mouse then spots a turtle couple, and the mouse then blows into a noise in which the female turtle jumps over into the male's shell and run off; which is also a funny gag; but remind me of the milder gags that Avery would exaggerate ten years later in Slap Happy Lion. The brown mischievous mouse is still having fun by teasing the other animals and scaring them off. As the brown mouse is still scaring off the others; he doesn't realise that right behind him is in fact that the fierce, roaring lion is standing right behind him. tapping his arm by his paw waiting for him to turn. The mouse then makes a turn around but stretches out and screams. Now that take is rather exaggerated but very funny too. The mouse realises that the jokes on him (which is rather funny on him) in which he has that funny look on his nice that say she needs to dash there which is some very good personality animation. The mouse then dashes off trying to run for his life away from the lion. As the mouse is still running away; the lion's paw then lands on the mouse's tail in which he stretches but zips back hitting the ground.

The brown mouse then realises he's going to get eaten by the lion; in which he begs, "Oh please; let me go. I'm just a skinny little mouse. I'm all bone, and I couldn't taste good anyhow". As the mouse continues to beg, there is some smoke that dashes into the scene in which it captures the lion's sense of smell. The lion turns to find the smell in which he finds it's a freshly cooked roast turkey but it's placed in a bear trap.

Since the lion is more interested in beating a delicious turkey than a puny mouse; he decides to give the mouse a chance and let him off. "Oh ok, you're too puny to bother with. Beat it!" The mouse then zips off feeling lucky his life was spared by the toughest lion. The mouse then quickly zips back thanking the lion and back. The mouse zips back again to ask the lion in which he feels he owes the lion, "If you ever need help. Call on me". I find it interesting that Berneice Hansell actually gets to voice both the mice characters since she's typecast. The lion doesn't take too much notice on what the mouse has said but moves over to the trap to try and catch the chicken. There is a sign on top of the bear trap that is reading in red letters, FRANK CLUCK EXPEDITION which is the name of the expedition team that the hunters have placed. The name 'Frank Cluck' is of course a reference to a famous animal collector called Frank Buck.

The lion is about to grab the turkey rather peckish but on the first time the bear trap drops in which the lion quickly swings his arm away avoiding to be trapped. The lion then makes a second attempt but the bear trap makes a snap. The lion then realises that is a trap; until he stands thinking of an idea patiently. The lion comes up with a plan as he stands around whistling happy minding his own business, but very quickly and successfully he grabs the turkey and dashes off. The timing of that shows some excellent fast-pacing.

The lion skids down to the edge of the grass as he has managed to grab the turkey successfully. He takes a sniff out of the turkey and is about to take a bite. What the hunters and animal collectors did which was very clever was that they even made the turkey a booby trap. The lion then manages to pull the mousetrap off his nose but covers his nose to feel the pain. I liked how that was a clever idea even for the story man (and I guess if that was contributed to the known story man Ted Pierce on this cartoon) considering that animals would never even think once that the food would even be a booby trap. After that incident; the lion then hears the sounds of a lamb in which the lion walks over to the lamb.

The lamb is seen as a real life lamb but is tied to a tree. There is a sign standing next to the lamb reading 'Take me home free!'. The lion then thinks of having the mutton for supper but as he is about to pick up the lion; he realises that the display he read is also another lion trap set up so he pauses and thinks. The lion then insists on leaving but the lamb pulls his tail convincing him to stay.

The lamb starts to change cards that show these convincing persuasions to the lion; the title cards in order read: MUTTON AS BODY BUILDING VITAMINS, WILL POSITIVELY MELT IN YOUR MOUTH, EAT LEG OF LAMB SAYS DR. KNOWIT. The lamb even starts to slide the wool from its leg to show the leg of lamb; which I imagine is a part of the gag. This then starts to convince the lion to change his mind and completely forget about the booby trap. The lion picks up the lion in which the box that reads 'lion trap' opens with a boxing glove popping out and boxing the lion in the face. The lion then falls to the ground rather dazed. At the same time the hunters arrive at the spot in this evenly-paced sequence where he is tied up. The animal collector (Frank Cluck in this short) then has a quick photo display for the press and then the scene fades out.

Going back to reality in this story; we find that the mouse is in the basement still telling the story to the black cat who is seated and very interested in listening to the story. The mouse continues to narrate, "and that was the poor old lion all tied up". The black cat is very eager to learn about what happens next "Yeah, yeah. Go on, go on. Then what happened?" The mouse then continues the story; and we go back to the side-plot.

We find out that the lion has already been captured and is how used to be in the circus. The ringmaster is already inside the lion's cage whipping the lion as part of the show. The ringmaster continues to crack a whip at the lion in which the lion then starts to sit at his stand. The lion has his mouth open as part of the show in which the ringmaster places his head by the lion's mouth being the finale. The funny part is that even the ringmaster opens his mouth and the lion leans on his mouth - very interesting trick indeed. The lion and the ringmaster then bow to the audience after the show has ended. The sequence then fades back to the mouse in the basement still telling of the story as he continues on, "and then, one night...". I do wonder if there was a specific animator assigned to animate all of the basement scenes; but I'm not so sure about that.

The 'Lion and the Mouse' story is then faded back into the short as we find the lion is sitting inside the lion's cage rather glum and miserable wishing to be back in Africa again. The lion then starts to hear for some whisper sounds coming from under the cage; which was the brown mouse who came all the way from Africa to who knows where to rescue the lion. The brown mouse then walks to the back of the cage where he finds a slide-open wooden door.

The music played in the background for the mouse climbing on top is Old King Coal in which he will chew the door so that the lion can escape. The first time the mouth chews; he spits a piece out. Then the mouse starts to chew the outline of the lion's body so that the lion can escape in that exact pose. The brown mouse then starts to whisper the lion for the escape in which the lion steps out of the lion cage in the same position which is an appealing type gag that has been seen in cartoons loads of times.

After the lion has managed to escape again; the lion and the mouse then begin their own escape in which they run away from the circus and they run away into the distance. That is now the end of the story featured in this cartoon. We fade back into the basement where the mouse concludes the story of the fable; 'The Lion and the Mouse'.

After the story has finished; we find that the cat is in fact sobbing about the ending; but the mouse then asks the black cat kindly if he could be let go, the black cat still sniffling then replies with an 'Ok'. The cat then starts to feel some guilt as though the mouse really wanted to be spared and the mouse was just a weakling. The cat then releases the mouse from the mouse trap in which he releases the mouse trap and gives the mouse the cheese. The mouse then zips back and as we could expect a nice, Disney-ish ending - instead the mouse looks around and then shouts out 'SUCKER!' which is basically the gist of the entire story; the mouse is meant to full the black cat by explaining the entire story to change the cat's mind. The black cat charges straight at the mouse but crashes into a mouse hole, and turns to the audience asking; 'Well can you imagine that?' which he breaks the forth wall.

Overall comments: What I like about this cartoon is that I like how the synopsis of the cartoon was structured and I feel it was the first cartoon where the WB writers would've have a narrative story going on told by the characters of this cartoon. Of course the mouse realises that he is going to be eaten but thinks of a cunning idea to talk the black cat out of it by telling the entire Aesop fable. Even though much of the cartoon ended up being the 'Lion and the Mouse' being told and it probably felt like a waste of the actual cartoon...until the very end when we found out that was the cartoon's basic message which arrived at the end and I think it's a very fun ending. 

Friz Freleng was already a better director by the end of the year and he's already very good with timing in which he had already became a better director within the past year. The animation of the cartoon was very fun to look at; with the speed of it and even with some of the animals smearing like the ostrich and the turtles; but I don't know who the animator was that smeared for Freleng but I thought it could've been Ken Harris but I wasn't sure. I liked Bletcher's role as the lion as he's good at portraying heavy characters; and I guess that Hansell's voice of the mice was serviceable but there could've been a funnier voice actor though. We're still unsure if this is the first cartoon to feature the orange-yellow rings but we know for sure the next Merrie Melody (Little Red Walking Hood) features it.

8 comments:

  1. The line "Well can you imagine that" appeared roughly a year earlier in Tex Avery's "Porky the Rainmaker".

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  2. Interesting hybrid -- the drawing style and some of the expository narrative is held over from Friz's 1936-early '37 style cartoon, but there are gags like the "Sucker!" line or the lamb's use of the cards to tout his own detectability that show the direction away from mimicking Disney that Warners' cartoons were evolving, and would show up again going into the 1940s (and the 1937-38 season is when the studio finally finds its voice, even if it still takes three more years for the animation to catch up with the gag sensibilities).

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. This is actually the second cartoon to use the then-new 1937-38 arrangement of the "Merrily We Roll Along" ending theme (the first being "I Wanna Be a Sailor" released September 25th, 1937 and directed by Tex Avery), so the yellow-orange burst rings (the opening title would have the blue WB shield) would indeed be the correct rings for this episode.

    "I Wanna Be a Sailor" was, again, the first Merrie Melodies to use the yellow-orange burst rings titles and with all-new opening/closing music - but the last short to use the old-style production credits (director, two animators and musical director). I know, because I've seen both years ago and the ending music is in a different arrangement than was used on "Plenty of Money and You," "Speaking of the Weather" and "Dog Daze."

    But... what we still do not know is whether these two episodes used the same opening music arrangement as is heard on "Little Red Walking Hood" (fully restored in 2007), "The Woods are Full of Cuckoos," "September in the Rain" and "Daffy Duck and Egghead" (fully restored in 2005).

    ~Ben

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    1. "This is actually the second cartoon to use the then-new 1937-38 arrangement of the "Merrily We Roll Along" ending theme (the first being "I Wanna Be a Sailor" released September 25th, 1937 and directed by Tex Avery), so the yellow-orange burst rings (the opening title would have the blue WB shield) would indeed be the correct rings for this episode."

      Proof?

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    2. I think based on this cartoon, This WILL have been the last one to contain the old Merrie Melodies logo w/ blue rings combination.

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  5. And "We know that 'Little Red Walking Hood'" has ornage/yellow ring.s.Watching it always ONLY with 1940s blue rings/big saucer like hole and 1943-47 Merrie Melodies rings, I sure enver knew of "Little Red Walking Hood"'s closing titles until I saaw your post. I guess it was restorted for DVD unlike "Lyin
    ' Mouse". "I wanna Be Sailor" as J.Lee mentioned, was the first use to use the new end music. Incindientlaly, the lower case "f" in folks disappeared entirely in 1938, BEFORE the change in theme music..:)SC

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  6. Pokey (SC),

    Yes, the restored "Little Red Walking Hood" (November 6, 1937) is available on Volume 5 of the LT Golden Collection series. It is cartoon #8 on disc 2. The Blue Ribbon opening rings were orange/red BG, not blue/red/red BG (it was reissued August 17, 1946).

    "Katnip Kollege" (June 11, 1938) is the first cartoon to use the revised end title lettering (both for the "That's all, Folks!" script as well as the Merrie Melodies/Produced by Leon Schlesinger text), but as of May 4, 1946 it was a Blue Ribbon issue and it is that version that is also on DVD, unfortunately.

    Ditto for "Have You Got Any Castles" (June 25, 1938), a Blue Ribbon as of February 1, 1947, even though the missing Alex Woollcott scenes were successfully restored for the DVD release.

    ~Ben

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