Sunday, 2 September 2012

204. Katnip Kollege (1938)

Warner cartoon no. 203.
Release date: June 11, 1938.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Cal Howard and Cal Dalton.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Johnnie Davis (Johnny Cat), Mabel Todd (Kitty Bright), George MacFarland, Mel Blanc (Cuckoo) and Poley McClintock (vocal groups).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Joe D'Igalo.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Cats at Katnip Kollege learn to swing - but Johnnie doesn't get the hand of it.

This is the first cartoon where story man Dave Monahan gets story credit. Monahan - who made a couple of funny cartoons in that era. Around the time the cartoon was released, Monahan was only 20 years old (born March 1918) but when working on this cartoon - he was only 19! Keith Scott told to me that there is a theory the cast chosen for this cartoon were performers from a WB musical feature starring Fred Waring and his troupe Varsity Show. Both Johnnie Davis and Mabel Todd were in the film, as well as MacFarland and McClintock. Another interesting story is that Johnnie Davis was in another picture Over the Wall where he sings As Easy as Rolling Off a Log which is sung by him in this cartoon which makes sense to cast him.

The original title exists in Jerry Beck's Original Titles page although the image is very small but I'm afraid that's the largest I'll enlarge this image because it gets rather pixilated when I enlarge it.

The cartoon then starts of as we find the campus as it is built from a barrel; and the columns at the front are made from old tins. A rather odd-looking campus for cats to be residing in. A small box that is standing next door to it is in fact the college's gymnasium but its all made from litter. The cats then start to enter the college after stepping out of their motorcar. If those objects are really small - are those cats really as tall as mice as it looks like it's being shown here? After they sep out of the car; the last cat to look at the fate of the car as we hear the sound of it crashing off-screen. He covers his ears before entering inside.

Inside the college - we find that there is a picture frame of the professor. We then start to PAN through the doors in which it names all various types of objects but that end with the word "-ology". The doors that we pan through identify each class that is going on. The doors that go past read the manes of the classes like physiology, sociology, biology, swingology, zoology -- swingology??? Mmm, looks like another new idea for a subject. Comparing the design of 'Katnip Kollege' from outside in the background - it looks very small but yet inside the hallway they have a lot of rooms - so there must have been a mistake measuring this. As we pan to the Swingology door - the door then starts to beat in rhythm in which it starts moving because of the music going on inside. The door movement is a pretty cool way to be displayed by Cal Dalton/Howard since it shows that the other doors would have other folks studying and not a word would be sound - which would sound boring. The fact that there is a lot of noise going on in the classroom is because of the excitement that is expressing and we know the class is the most interesting in the college - and it eaters the audience to watch.

Inside the classroom we then find a class full of cat students that are clapping in rhythm to the swing that is heard in the background. The only student in that class who isn't getting the hang of it is Johnny who is standing in the middle of the classroom is the only person not getting the hand of joining in the beat as he is standing up not having a clue. I do like that cat who has his tongue sticking out as it makes him kinda dopey and even another cat that wears a beanie hat and has a golden tooth.

As the cats continue to clap at the beginning of their class; we find that the professor is making his way to the classroom. The desk appears to be ascending to the top of the classroom as there appears to be some sort of extending machine at the top in which the professor makes this dance routine with his head that is called "pecking". Notice in the chalkboard behind him there are some swing notes that are written down like "La De Ah" in which there is a rather interesting doodle of the professor. As soon as he arrives at the top - the trumpet playing heard in the background then ends as he hear 'Shave and a Haircut' in the background but then the professor taps the bell at the last two notes. The class then go into song as they greet him good morning;   Good morning to you, dear teacher. They then scat in which the professor also dances - and even the chalkboard doodle dances in rhythm which is pretty cool. They continue in song Good morning to you / We really mean it. Good morning to you / don't mean your sister. A cuckoo then steps out of the cuckoo also going into swing singing a line I mean you're really in the groove before a book then whacks the cuckoo which was a funny scene. It is probably the only line that Mel Blanc records in this cartoon.

The professor then starts to begin his lesson - he is waving his own stick as he then starts to call for one of students to see if they have done their homework - as they are singing a History session - singing it in swing. "Okay, Mr. Jones, you may recite your History for today". Mr. Jones the cat (sung by George MacFarland) then steps up as he goes into song: Oh, Columbus was the discoverer of America / And he sailed the seas in 1492. There is a rather amusing shot of some of the students pretending to be sailors rowing oars but a cat is on the lookout at sea but still "pecking".

The song then continues as he focus on a scene where there is a bully seated behind a student swinging to the sing. The song continues: But the good Queen Isabella / found a more attractive fella. After reciting that bit of history; the bully cat then starts to pick up a trash bin and stuffs it inside the student's head. He then sings the last part but it is Poley McClintock who sings the last part in a froggy voice - and Columbus wound up in the jugeroo. The voice is pretty funny from the way I hear it. The professor then starts to play percussion using a fountain pen and a ruler as drumsticks and he bangs on items that have silver substances on it like the lid of a trash bin, funnel, sieve, etc. After he bangs on the drums he comments - 'That's a killer, son. That's a killer'. He then moves to the next student to recite the History lesson. "Come now, Miss Kitty Bright, let's see if you did your homework right". The voice of the professor is pretty unknown but admittedly - I'm not very fond of the voice actor for the professor as it sounds very unprofessional and sometimes it's hard to even hear what is coming out from him. The dialect doesn't sound very much like voice acting other than someone in the recording booth mumbling.

The professor then starts to begin the beat in which he starts to play on the drums before Kitty Bright who looks like a typical college girl with a yellow jersey with the letter 'K' and also beanie hat. She then begins her History recital as she also dances: Oh Napoleon was the fighting-est man you ever saw / Everybody that he fought with he subdued. But the King-a and the Queen-a / Sent him off to St. Helena. Just because they didn't like his attitude.


As she is singing the last part of her homework (but substitute lyrics to Let That Be a Lesson to You) - the professor is still standing to the music still satisfied. There is a student's arm that arrives at the spot pulling a rotten trick at the professor as he places a pin on his chair in which the Professor then yells in pain. The character animation there is pretty weak with the professor - but so much of it is weak in the cartoon as well. The class then start to join in the rest of the theme to the song Kitty Bright was singing: Let that me a lesson to you / Everybody meets his Waterloo. There is a timid student who appears to be looking rather unconfident of joining into the rhythm in which he puts his hand up to be excused. The professor then looks at his timid features but gives him that look of encouragement in which the kitten then starts to get the hang of it and skiddles around his desk. That would've required some good character animation but the shot of the professor staring at him is pretty weak. The rest of the lyrics sing: He wasn't too big to end up behind the Azores / And remember, buddy, there's still a lot of room for you. I believe that would've been the class trying to get the nervous student to get the hang of it in which he finally joins in and gets the hang of it.


After the song then concludes to Kitty Bright's poem - it turns out that the least confident of the class and even the most incompetent: Johnny. It is his turn to recite some homework from the professor. The professor then asks him: "Now Johnny, let's hear your sonnets and make 'em sound like Kostelanetz". This is referencing to Andre Kostelanetz who was a popular music conductor at the time, and even one of the pioneers to easy listening music. The shock spark effects popping out of Johnny is a nice way to sum up that take. In the background you hear the song You're an Education.

Johnny then steps up in front of the class as he is terribly not confident and has probably not even done his homework - or even succeeded in doing his homework well. He steps out from his seat in which he then starts to try and sing his sonnets but he completely fails. He starts off with him attempting to scat but continues onwards, "Charleston - razzmatazz and a boo-boo-da-boo" which is slyly referencing to Betty Boop. I quite like that character animation there as he goes through sweat and a lot of scared emotions when standing up to his class in which he ends up improvising his sonnets but then a lot of crap comes out of his mouth in his attempt. And NO, that didn't sound like Kostalenetz. The professor is standing at the front of his class tapping his feet and is certainly not impressed at Johnny's effort. He breaks the forth wall asking the audience, "Boy, is that corny?" He then starts to growl at Johnny and shouts "Come up here!" - see, even that shout doesn't sound very convincing and it doesn't even sound like a shout. Johnny then steps in front of the class but the professor growls at him to sit at the corner.

Johnny then starts to go at the corner in which he then starts to sit at a seat. He pushes the button in which the seat then starts to ascend upwards. Afterwards - there is a dunce hat that then places it from a machine on top of Johnny as he is sitting there humiliated by Johnny. There is a slight ink and painting error where the letters are not coloured but in the next frame - it is coloured black.

The professor is very disappointed at Johnny's attempt and results - even disappointed for having him in his class. As this is the climax for Johnny for which he receives that humiliation - the professor then taps his bell and shouts "Class dismiss" because of Johnny's performance. Poor Johnny. The class then end up walking out of the class walking near him ashamed of him. They then comment to each other - which can he heard: "He swing like a rusty gate", "You ain't got rhythm", "Gee, is that awful?", "What form", etc. After they walk out mocking his performance - at least one person in his class shows some sympathy to Johnny. Kitty Bright is walking out of the class and she passes over to Johnny a fraternity ring. "Here's your old frat pin", she adds - "You can look me up when you learn how to swing". She then concludes to Johnny by singing the lyrics Why it's easy - as rolling off a log which is the main song that we hear later called As Easy as Rolling Off a Log. I really am not too sure what the use of a fraternity ring is for when she hands it over to him - I guess maybe it means that if she gave him the frat ring - he'll be able to get back properly once he knows how to swing.

After that sad scene of Johnny's humiliation; we then fade to night fall where there are a couple of cats by a backyard fence about to sing. There is a description as part of the story that reads That Night - in which the moon then starts to bounce up and shines. The cats then start to beat it as they are playing their swing music and are also with their girlfriends.

As they then start to go into song they start off the lyrics with the three cat vocalists with the microphone sing - It was on the college campus that the kitties had a session / All the cats were there / 'Twas a swinging congregation. Some had took to talking' / While the cats had beat out a rhythm. They are standing by a log in a field in which they are with their girlfriends and they enjoy their swing. Then there is another shot with the cats then pecking in which the lyrics sing: And others picked out some pecking / 'Cause the rhythm bug had bit em. More shots of the cats dancing continues with the vocalists in which one of the cats then tap their feet whilst dancing. They never had a lesson in their lives - the lyrics went. In the next  shot - we find the vocal cats again but they are holding the microphone and the shortest guy is just standing their with his back turned back them scowling at them - the expression is amusing enough. The lyrics continue: But rhythm swaped their teasing / But when it comes to swinging their thing / It's as natural to them as sleeping or eating.

There is a background PAN In which the cats are swinging with their own instruments or with their girlfriends pecking. As they continue to PAN through the scene - there is a statue of a professor but the statue is carved as reading "Prof. Dalton - 1908". Of course - the statue of the professor is referencing the director of the cartoon: Cal Dalton. As for the year carved - I wonder if that was the year he was born? I tried finding it on California Death Records but couldn't find results. Funny how one of the students is wrapped around it pecking at it.

The lyrics then continue to sing the rest of the song: There's a rumpus on the campus / They are really in the groove. Each and every paw has a natural urge to move. The thing this horn is known as horn / They wish someone could stop it / They only use the horn when you pop it. As the lyrics were being sung there was a pan through the field as they were just standing outside not far from the headquarters of Katnip Kollege. Inside - Katnip Kollege; we find the same classroom where Johnny is still wearing the dummy and is very isolated. After staying in there for hours - all we can hear is the sound of the clock ticking. Suddenly, Johnny can properly feel some rhythm for the first time ever - by following the sounds of a tick tock. Even those simple sounds produce some rhythm to influence Johnny.

Johnny then starts to realise that he finally has learnt how to swing as he then becomes engaged to pecking, "I got it. I got it. The rhythm bug bit me. La de ah". Johnny then steps out of his own seat and even not wearing the dunce hat. He then starts to put is usual hat on as he is his nerd self but with the rhythm. As the pendulum continues to swing - Johnny then starts to make an exit out of the classroom.

Johnny then makes his exit through the college and even zips through the fields and then reaches to his peers. The timing of him zipping along is pretty reasonable timing of the 1930s. Johnny then skids in which he approaches the log where all his other peers from class are. He finally has the confidence - and Kitty Bright is standing beside him in that log. He steps on top of the log and he begins the song which is the whole finale of this cartoon - and a great finale. He sings his version of As Easy As Rolling Off a Log sung by Johnnie Davis who is singing it again as he sung it before. He begins his lyrics: As easy as rolling off a log / I found it easy, baby - to fall in love with you. All of his other peers are completely surprised as they look at each other with these shock sparks coming out as they have the impression on their face "My goodness, he really knows how to swing!" as though they never would've expected that. Even a couple then step out as they open up the leaves of a tree (presumably making out) as they watch him swing and continue the lyrics (more cats watch): As easy as rolling cigarettes / If that ain't easy, maybe / There's simpler things to do.

Johnny is walking up and down his log in which he starts to show some actions from his arms pretending as though he is hugging - he sings ("For instance let's cuddle. I love to cuddle") - Kitty Bright is looking at him with amazement in which she is awed as she would've never expected that. Even it is very believable to the audience as we feel sympathy for Johnny and glad he got the bang of it.

Even all of the other cats then start to join in to the song hugging their girlfriends as they are impressed with his swinging, too. Johnny's singing continues: Get in a huddle / It's easy with you. As easy as rolling off the log / I'm really tumbled, baby / But what else could I do? It's so easy to fall in love with you). Johnny then picks up Kitty Bright as they both then perform a singing duel together for song in which she sings her part of the song. In my opinion, this is probably the most notorious part of the cartoon. That sequence really brings up a lot of atmosphere and I find it memorable. She sings: I know that it is as easy - as rolling off a log / It's awful easy, baby / You lie the way you do. We then find a close-up of Kitty Bright continuing to engage into the song: It's as easy, baby / as rolling off a log.

The ironic part of the sequence is that whilst singing the song - they are in fact standing on top of a log. She continues her singing: It's awful easy, baby - to make me think if... At that point she then is about to fall off the log repeatedly singing "You make me" three times because of her about to slip before she then stays back on. She continues to sing: ...to think that it's you. 'Cos I've heard a few say the things that you say.

The song appears to be engaging with singing but also flirting at the same time as Kitty Bright believes that Johnny is just one of the guys that are trying to fall in love with her. Johnny sings to it; But if I do say "I love you" I do / So help me its true. Kitty Bright thens starts to sing her part: This love stuff has got me in a fog / The boys all say they love me / I wonder why they do. There is then a fog effect that appears by her which is as decent effect that is shown her as well as a type of visual gag, too. Although the lyrics aren't really heard very well - but some might think that the fog just turned out of nowhere but thank god for subtitles so I can understand it pretty well. Johnny then explains again as he sings: It's so easy to fall in love with you.

Johnny then grabs out a trumpet in which he then starts so play. As he plays the trumpet - he is standing right by the moonlight as he plays it. I'm not sure what he is playing exactly to the song but it sure attracts the crowd. I like the part where that Johnny is playing the trumpet rather wildly that his glasses then start to flip which I think is a pretty fun animated part but it could've timed better. In that shot; Kitty Bright sure looks rather ugly.

As he continues to play the trumpet - the band also play to the music as well as dancers, too. In the final shot where it features Johnny, Kitty Bright and the rest of the group. Johnny sings the final part of the song - as well as the supposed conclusion. "Now what else could I do...It's so easy to fall in love with you". As soon as he finishes singing the last part of the song - he and Kitty Bright end up slipping from the log in which they then end up slipping and falling to the ground. Johnny is unconscious from that fall - but Kitty Bright is turned on with his swinging in which Johnny ends up winning the girl at the end of the cartoon and is the hero at the end. Kitty Bright then ends up smooching his face off with kisses as he has kiss marks all over his face. The ending scene where Kitty Bright then kisses his face is a very cute way to end the cartoon.

Overall comments: This cartoon is what sort of reminds me of those Fleischer cartoons that was made in the 1930s. The animation in that cartoon is really substandard - it's really below the quality when everyone else at least showed their quality to be fairly decent. The characters voice actors were really not a very good pairing - especially on the professor who sounded awful. However; I think that you got to give credit that the directors and story guys (like Monahan) have created a really appealing formula of this cartoon - even in the 1930s. Swing was really big back then - so it makes sense to include it in this cartoon to show its popularity. This cartoon may not be a very favourable cartoon in the Warners catalogue - fans might dub this cartoon as "average at best". The music that is shown here is just terribly catchy and very appealing. I think that this is one of the fewest WB cartoons of the 1930s where they have successfully combined popular songs into cartoons.

It really does feel unusual for a Warner Bros. cartoon being made in the 1930s for a reason: well, around this time the evolution of the Warner's humour was still increasing featuring more improvements but this cartoon really shies away from the humour Tex Avery wanted and the other directors following his steps. Cal Dalton and Cal Howard have really approached something different in which they featured a clever idea to feature a college but adding cats for no reason, but I guess it makes it slightly more interesting - and yet combining swing into it. One of the nits I find in this cartoon is that if they're including cats into the cast then why is there basically no gags that relate to cats? They may as well be humans if you ask me and much of the scenes don't even show the cats having tails. Truth is, I particularly don't care for the WB musical cartoons made in the 1930s as they are just tedious, and usually the same but this cartoon is just one of the fewest in that era that I can actually watch more than once (inc. I Love to Singa) but I actually really enjoy the music and even the story of it as well. Despite the weak character animation, and a weak plot - I find that the characters were appealing to me, too. Johnny is obviously the most interesting character but I like how he begins off as a loser but ends up being the man of the hour at the end, no question.

10 comments:

  1. “Boop-oop-a-doop” was actually a Helen Kane trademark in the 1929-30 period with songs such as “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” but Betty Boop WAS modeled after her.

    The year on the Prof. Dalton statue is 1908, not 1903.

    The close-up of Johnny Cat singing, “But if I do say...” looks like some early Rod Scribner animation. I've heard Greg Duffell is good with picking out his scenes in the Hardaway/Dalton cartoons.

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    1. According to Greg Duffell, Rod Scribner was actually in the Tashlin unit back then. Chuck Jones later inherited Tashlin's unit when he was given the director's chair. He took everybody in that unit (Harris, Monroe, McKimson) but minus Scribner because he thought his work was too wild and didn't want Scribner so Rod transferred over to Hardaway/Dalton's unit.

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  2. One other correction -- you've got David Monahans's birth as in 1938. Getting a story credit as a 19-year-old is impressive enough, but I don't think even Dave could churn one out as a newborn. ;)

    This is probably the best 'pure' all-music cartoon Warners ever made using contemporary tunes (Jones and Freleng would do great work with classical pieces and Friz and Shorty Rogers would combine on "Three Little Bops", with all-new jazz for the short. But this is the best effort that relies from start to finish on songs from the Warners music library). It's also the middle of the three Howard-Dalton cartoons. The Cals' limited output was overall better than the Hardaway-Dalton efforts, though I guess that rabbit they kind of modified in 1939 justified Leon's opting to go with that team instead of with Howard (who he'd then lose to the Fleischer studio).

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  3. J.Lee beat me to the punch:Dave Monahan was born around 1918. Andre Kostalenetz, as a master of easy lisatening classics, would have been the OPPOSITE of swing..The professor is a take off on kay Kyser who was starting his humorous radio show KJollege of Musical Knowledge and the voice is borrowed from Bing Crosby..Swing was big bakc then and morte recently but I don't think the moe reent revival, more a 60s thing, got the hang of 1930sx swing..it IS, as Kitty Bright sang.."as Easy...as rolling off a log":(thank you, Mabel Todd.) BTW George McFaraldn was SPANKYT of the Little Rascals!!Steve C

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    1. That's not the same George McFarland. It's a different actor who appeared on VARSITY SHOW. Weird co-inky-dink, I know.

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  4. In answer to your question about Kitty's use of the frat pin- When a fraternity man "pins" his girlfriend, it is basically the step before becoming engaged to be married.

    This is one of my favorite WB cartoons of this era-I don't find it "average" or consider the animation weak at all. Terrific songs and lots of charm.

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    1. Totsally agreed...enjoying it..SCwas as easy as rollin' off a log.(Kitty Bright, Johnny).

      Only if I roll off a log, I become mashed clay.:)

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  5. Thanks for the errors about the dates - corrected that. Monahan's was just a typo and I probably misread the date on the Dalton statue.

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  6. Coincidentally, time to wish you good luck in yoru own College, Katnip or Not.Steve C.

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  7. wrong closing its the 1945 BR reissue but I have to say the 1938 #2 is nicer than the older #1 with the lowercase f.

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