Sunday, 19 August 2012

194. The Sneezing Weasel (1938)

Warner cartoon no. 193.
Release date: March 12, 1938.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Tex Avery (Weasel), Elvia Allman (?) (Mama Hen) and Berneice Hansell (Wilbur).
Story: Cal Howard.
Animation: Sid Sutherland.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A weasel is hungry for a sick chick by disguising himself as a doctor.

I know that this is definitely not the first time where Tex Avery does a voice, but I believe it was probably his first cartoon where you hear that heavy, distinctive laugh of his that he uses later on in his own cartoons.

The cartoon as we find that there is a cockerel that is resting her head in a pillow on top of a gate sleeping as it's still dark outside. The cockerel then wakes up to begin the alarm morning call. As the cockerel then makes the morning call - the moon then quickly shoots straight down and the sun then shoots up. The cockerel then decides to go back to sleep afterwards resting on the pillow. The sun shooting up was some decent 1930s timing work that was done pretty well by Avery himself.

We then start to pan forward to this strange looking house as it is shaped like a barrel with a roof though. The door then opens in which we find that the mother rooster is stepping out carrying with her a spade and some other tools as it looks like that they're out farming today. There are a line of chicks that then step out in a single file line as they are following the cockerel. The line then follows until the last chick out of the house turns out to be the odd one out in terms of colour. All the other chicks have yellow feathers but this chick has brown feathers. I guess that it is supposed to be amusing but I don't see any gag that follows up instead the brown feathered chick speaks to the audience, 'Yes, we're going to eat worms' and of course the chick is voiced by no-one else but Berneice Hansell.

The mother hen then starts to place the grinder to the ground as she is going to feed her chicks some breakfast. She then starts to dig the soil in which she places it on top of the grinder. He pulls the grinder in which she then starts to release worms out of them which is the chick's breakfast. The first worms that come out the other chicks then take but the brown chick misses. When more worms are grinded, the brown bird then tries to collect it but instead the worm wiggling out slaps him in the face.

The worm then starts to escape from the grinder in which the brown chick then starts to chase the word; and I believe that bit of animation was reused from the cartoon Billboard Frolics. Meanwhile as the brown chick is chasing after the worm, the mother chick is still digging some soil to place in the grinder for more food. As she continues doing that, she then suddenly feels a breeze in the wind as he gets rather windy. Suddenly the sunny sky out there then starts to turn grey and cloudy as it covers the sun away. A lightning bolt then appears as there is a storm that is starting; the lightning bolt then forms into words that read 'SCRAM' and of course that was an idea that Avery would come up with. This is probably the first typical Avery gag I've seen so far in this cartoon. The mother hen then starts to get rather afraid of the storm in which she then starts to get her children to hide under her skirt so that they will be okay as they dash back into their own home.

The mother hen then places the chicks back into the house where they will be safe in the house. She then starts to count how many of her chicks are in the house and alright. As she continues to count but she has a hard time counting up her numbers since they all keep moving about and they look the same which means she can't keep it up. She then struggles again The funny gag is that she then grabs out a calculating machine so she knows which chicks she's counted.

We know that Avery is already not following the cartoon rules and instead adds in these gags that will be outrageous for an audience back then watching it. As she has finished calculating, she then reads the results but she goes into a scared take as she finds out that one has gone missing. She dashes to the front door as she grabs out an umbrella to put over her head but it turns out that the umbrella in fact doesn't even have a proper on top and it's broken so it's funny as they still wears it when she's going to get wet from the rain anyway. The brown chick is the odd one out and the mother calls for name and his name in this cartoon is Wilbur; and of course we probably would've guessed it was a girl if it was voiced by Berniece Hansell, right??

Wilbur who was walking around in the rain was just about to walk past a tree where there was a weasel just standing by. The mother hen then runs over as she grabs Wilbur by the arm and takes him home. 'Wilbur you come here this very minute!' The weasel is hiding behind a tree in which he starts to laugh hysterically in one of those infamous Avery chuckles. He comments to the audience, 'I'm the villain of this picture' before chuckling and we know the weasel will be a bad sign later on in the cartoon.

The mother hen then takes him inside the house as he closes the door. Wilbur, still rather cold from being ouside from the weather then speaks to his mother about the worm he saw. 'Oh boy ma, he was a big worm. He was THAT long'. He even demonstrates it bigger than him (as he can't do any higher with his arms) but I guess he could be mistaking the weasel as being the worm since they look alike. The mother hen then starts to tell off Wilbur for being out in the cold, 'Did you know you'd catch your death a cold?' Wilbur then decides to continue to brag about the "worm" he saw and states, 'I'll catch it' but he then proves that he has a cold as he ends up sneezing. The mother hen then carries Wilbur's arm and takes him over to bed as she states, 'Ah I told you so, I told you so!' as she holds him away from the front door.

In the next scene we find that the mother hen is tugging Wilbur to sleep as he isn't feeling very well. She then asks for Wilbur to stay in bed, 'Now right in bed you stay, I'll go send Dr. Quack right away'. By the window on his bedside is the weasel who we saw earlier on in the cartoon. She then starts to run out the house and grabs the useless umbrella until she leaves the house to find a doctor.

The weasel then enters the scene in which he starts to chuckle broadly. 'When the weasel will play...' the weasel chuckles, 'now you folks pardon me just a minute, and I'll make a quick change' in which he exits the scene still chuckling. The weasel then starts to pull down the curtain as to show that he is getting changed but he pulls it back up when we discover that he is in fact wearing a doctor's outfit. We know what his dirty plan is as he plans on eating the chick while pretending to treat him. He then comments to the audience wanting an opinion, 'Not a bad disguise, huh?' He then starts off his plan, 'Now for a meal' as he walks over and knocks on the door. The scene of the weasel in the doctor's outfit is of course Irv Spence's recognisable animation. After hearing the knock on the door, the other chicks then comment when they answer the door, 'Who's there?' the other chicks are standing on top looking after Wilbur. The weasel (disguised as a doctor) then responds pretending he is Dr. Quack in which the ducks then respond to that but I can't make out what they are saying there.

The chicks then walk over to the door as they are about to open the handle but they stand on top of one another to open the door. As they open the door - the weasel disguised as a doctor then enters the room. The weasel then approaches Wilbur's bedside where all the other chicks are standing by. Before he then performs some operations or anything, he just starts to burst out in laughter as it appears to be a trademark for laughing Avery characters voiced by himself. I wonder if that was based on Tex at all - where he can't control his laugh?

It's Irv Spence animation again as the weasel enters the bed scene still pretending to be Dr. Quack. The weasel is then starting to plan his evil trick as he is about to ask Wilbur, 'Open up your mouth and say 'Ahh!'' Wilbur then starts to open his mouth but then starts to get ready for some sneezing in which he sneezes and blows off the whiskers off the weasels disguise in which the other chicks start to get frightened. The chicks then start to go in a state of panic as they shout, 'It's Willie the Weasel!' as they scamper off and the weasel then starts to chase after them. The chicks then go to war with the weasel as one of the chicks holds out a funnel and plays the theme to 'Reveille'.

 As the chicks then go to war; we see that there are a bunch of chicks in which they then get their heads stamped with bottle caps which is meant to be a disguise like army helmets. One of the chicks having their bottle caps stamped then starts to complain, "This is too small" in which it is taken off and replaced with one that is too big on the chick which is slightly amusing.

Wilbur then tries to make an escape by climbing up a pair of blinds, but the weasel then shuts them which causes Wilbur to slide down and get grabbed by the weasel. A pair of chicks then place some popcorn inside the boiling pot in which the popcorn then starts to shoot out like a cannonball shooting straight out of the weasel which is a pretty cool gag idea as they are in war. The weasel is then being distracted by being shot from the amount of popcorn. Wilbur then starts to hide under a floor hole so that the Weasel won't be able to find him. The weasel notices his escape in which he peeps his long nose under to check but instead Wilbur comes up with the cunning idea in which he pops the weasel's nose as though it is like a boxing bag. The weasel then pulls his face out as he feels his nose rather weirdly from being boxed (which was pretty cool as well) but then the weasel starts to reach his hand under there to try and find Wilbur and then finally grabs him successfully.

After the weasel has managed to capture Wilbur, a group of chicks then help save his brother in which they use a type of nutcracker to splat olives out in which the liquid splats on the weasel's face. As the olives splat on his face it causes him to release Wilbur and then Wilbur runs off.

Wilbur then tries to run off until he discovers that he is cornered (whilst attempting to run up a hill but fails so when he is trapped by the weasel). The weasel then remarks to Wilbur, 'Now I've trapped you behind the 8-ball' which I believe is a saying but in fact a visualised gag appears where an actual 8-ball appears as the chick is hiding beneath it; I guess that it is a reference meaning as though it is a fortune-telling his chances of being eaten by the weasel is likely and that's why it appears. Just a theory but I'm sure someone has a better answer than me. The '8-ball' scene looks like Irv did it; at least the weasel looks like his posing. Wilbur then ends up sneezing in which he starts to sneeze on the weasel. The 'sneezing' weasel however then catches the cold as he starts to sneeze back rather violently. He sneezes back so much that he causes the carpet rug to roll over and even carry up the stairs where the chicks are caught inside the rug but they end up sliding back down the stairs as normal.

More sneezing then continues from the weasel as one of the gags appear where he sneezes near a chair and we see the chair has a blouse under there but I don't see how we're supposed to find it funny. The weasel then sneezes violently again that he ends up blowing the pages off an open book, and even the front cover closes as the book is called Gone with the Wind. Now that is a very funny gag as the title explains it all. Gone with the Wind was a bestseller around this time the cartoon was made, and I'm actually currently reading the book to tell the truth.

The weasel has got the cold rather badly that when Wilbur runs up towards the weasel he tries to whack him with a mallet but in fact what happens is that we find that the weasel sneezes him away before Wilbur even tries. Wilbur then gets caught inside a pair of match sticks but once he gets up - we find that the front part of the packet read 'Eat at Sloppy Joe's'. Ahh, another cartoon where we have spotted the Eat at Joe's gag. More violent sneezing then continues from the weasel that he even sneezes one chick out of the way and even gets caught through a type of plug hole that takes the chick all the way up and trapped inside a light bulb. The weasel is still sneezing pretty badly but Wilbur is standing on top of a cuckoo clock and whacks him on the spot where he lands on the bed. Wilbur then walks over to the sneezing weasel where he then grabs out a bottle of smelling salts. The funny part of the gag is that we find that Wilbur has managed to wake up the weasel but only to find that he just whacks him unconscious again which was pretty amusing.

 Meanwhile with the mother hen, we find that she has managed to grab hold of Dr. Quack as she is dragging him through the rain to her home where he can treat Wilbur. She continues to worry, 'It's Wilbur, doctor. He has a terrible cold. Hurry'. The chicks and Wilbur then look out the window and find that she is coming home. Wilbur then makes a fake sneeze and realises that he is feeling much better, he suggests, 'Let's fool him'.

Wilbur then climbs up on top of the bed where the weasel is about to wake up but taps him on the head once where he can fall back to sleep again. Wilbur and the chicks then cover up the blanket over him and they then hide in the closet to fool her mother and Dr. Quack. Dr. Quack and the mother arrive at the spot at the bed where the weasel is laying there. Dr. Quack was about to originally treat Wilbur with some castor oil as he grabs out a spoonful. That makes it even terrible news for the weasel since castor oil has got a really horrible taste that make children feel ill. The weasel then wakes up in which he realises that he is about to have some castor oil as he makes a scared take. He jumps out of bed and jumps out of the window running away in the distance. That was a rather funny scene since even the weasel was set up so he wouldn't return to the house.

The other chicks and Wilbur then run out of the closet that they run out to laugh at the prank they fooled on him successfully. As Wilbur then continues to laugh at the weasel's runaway; Dr. Quack then finds the real weasel and he gives Wilbur a spoonful of castor oil for him and he swallows it down his throat. Wilbur then suddenly starts to feel rather unwell at the spot in which he runs into the bathroom. We then find that the weasel is standing by the windowsill laughing to what has happened to Wilbur when he feels sick from the castor oil. It turns out that Wilbur is hiding from the cuckoo clock again and combats the weasel by outwitting him one last time by whacking him with a mallet.

Overall comments: With this cartoon I do find that Tex in fact was in fact going at different levels by that point. The hysterical laugh that comes from the weasel and a very notorious Avery laugh is heard here and we could even use it again in other cartoons but the laugh does get a bit annoying as it sounds like he can't control his laughter but I see that Avery here was focusing on the weasel by giving it some personality and a distinctive one. My overall impression of this cartoon was that it started off (in my opinion) as it felt like it was Freleng-esque as it felt like the quality of his pictures but then when the arrival of the weasel came - that was the quality of Avery that arrived here.

Notice how that this is the second cartoon in a row so far that in fact features war going on, previously we saw chickens and ducks in What Price Porky going to war and we find here again where there was a war going on between the weasels. The 'Gone with the Wind' gag I thought was very funny and of course that gag has been around a few times. Around the time of the release, the very famous movie was in the works (but still in the early stages). I do feel as though Avery is in fact rather underrated for his voice work that he does for his own cartoons since we all know him as the comic-timing expert but not too much is spoken about for his voice work I have to admit.


  1. This is a follow-up to Avery's "Little Red Walking Hood" and Clampett's "Porky's Hero Agency" in coming up with a villain who is purely there for gag purposes, instead of some actual danger.

    The story is basically any standard Disney/Harman-Ising/Freleng plot of the decade, with the little guys ganging up to defeat the bad guy. But Tex didn't go out and give him the standard Billy Bletcher menacing voice -- he used his own voice with that infectious laugh and complete self-awareness that this whole thing is something of a joke. It's not a lampooning of a fairy tale or Greek myth, but it takes what even by 1938 had become a standard plot and plays it completely against type.

  2. The Hansell chicks say "Boy! That's service!"
    Elvia Allman is the mom.
    Cal Howard steals from Sis on Fibber McGee and Molly by having the little chick say "I'll be-tcha."

  3. "Behind the eight ball": in trouble; in a weak or losing position.