Saturday, 24 November 2012

217. Little Pancho Vanilla (1938)

Warner cartoon no. 216.
Release date: October 8, 1938.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Frank Tashlin.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Little Pancho Vanilla).
Story: Ted Pierce.
Animation: Bob McKimson.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Little Pancho Vanilla aspires to become a bullfighter - but will anyone give Pancho the chance to prove his skills?

We begin as we find Little Pancho Vanilla (the name is obviously a reference to famous outlaw Pancho Villa) is reading a book on how to become a book fighter. Whilst he mumbles through the book as he aspires to become one - he is interrupted by his mother o.s. who calls for his name. Pancho drops and responds, "Si, Mamacitta?" (of course - meaning in English: yes mamma?"

There is a camera pan where we view Pancho's mother in this cartoon and she disapproves of Pancho's dream of being a bullfighter. She speaks: "How many times must I tell you not to read the book of the bullfighting? You will never be a bullfighter. You will always be Mamacitta's good little muchachito. Remember" and she continues with her own washing by a stream. 'Muchachito' is another word to describe a youngster - so she's basically saying she always wants her Pancho to be a mama's boy. There are certainly some very strong poses and drawing through Tashlin's distinctive layouts and drawings like of Pancho and the mother where he  draws curvy cheeks that would be evident in his Van Boring comic strip. That pan was a rather touching effect of Tashlin as the background pan looks rather complicating.

Little Pancho complains and mimics his mother's voice with her exact words as though she's repeated them a hundred times before. He ends up in a grump - whilst at that same moment we find three señoritas as they are carrying a basket of fruit with them from behind the wall Pancho is sitting on top of.

They sing the song - which I believe is an original Stalling cue called 'To Market'. Whilst the animation of the three girls singing along and carrying fruit is pretty decent - the staging and even the camera overlays is a pretty incredible achievement what Tashlin did. This was without the use of a multiplane camera (which Disney occupied) and all done with the directorial skills of Frank, himself. That must've been complicating to shoot as he had to have the film go through the wall and we get a view inside with the girls walking by the rock and then back as the camera then moves back where we pan back to Little Pancho. That was enough to have my head almost explode - how the hell did Tashlin (when he was only about maybe 24 making this cartoon) figure THAT out? You can take a look at the full scene yourself:

After the girls sing their song they then find Pancho is sitting on top of the wall as he is still grumbling about what his mother has spoken to him. The girls then greet Pancho with a 'hello' but Pancho rejects their greetings in a grumpy mood. As he quickly grumbles, he replies back with a 'hello' and continues to grumble.

The girls suspect his mumbling as one girl asks, 'What's the matter with him?' The girl in the red hat replies, 'I don't know'. Then the girl in the green hat replies, 'He has sourpuss like lemon'. To annoy Pancho even more - they then begin to start singing very childishly to anger him. The childish singing appears to be another what Stalling came up with - I suppose. After a few seconds of singing childishly - one of the girls points out to a poster of a matador in a bullfighting poster: "Oh look, look!" the camera then pans along to a toreador who is a caricature of Clark Gable (referencing Gable there since he was considered a hunk back in the '30s). He is called Don Jose in this cartoon and is considered to be the 'greatest toreador in the world'. A really amusing line at the bottom reads: 'well, in Mexico anyhow' as the poster is even honest itself. The camera trucks back with the girls admiring his looks as well as his bullfighting skills.

Pancho eavesdrops at the conversation of the girls who consider him to be the greatest bullfighter in the world. He hears one of the girls say, "He's the greatest in all Mexico". The yellow-hooded girl even states, "He's the greatest in the whole world, I bet you". Pancho laughs at their comments and he states:

Pancho: There is one who is much better.
Girls: Who?

Pancho takes his sombrero off his head and bows to himself declaring he is much better than Don Jose. Watching these scenes with the girls noticing the bullfighting poster is really just dialogue scenes but it gives Tashlin a good chance to show off his camera moves like the truck in on the poster, then a truck back and also the pan up to Pancho on the wall. One of the girls asks, "You are the biggest bullfighter in Mexico?" Pancho responds with an acceptance but the girls laugh as they refuse to believe. Pancho, burning up as the girls mock him for not being the greatest bullfighter but Pancho is determined to prove it. He climbs down the wall and walks over to the girls and he declares, "Alright, I' show you. I fight the bull".

So then becomes the big day where we see a very decent bit of effects animation of the crowd waving out their sombreros and confetti for the big bullfight match where Pancho will be the toreador. We pan along to a wall outside of the stadium where there is a poster that is written in Spanish language but is translated in English (in a rather clever background effect) as the sign reads about all the bullfighters are amateurs. A caption at the bottom even reads: This is our chance to throw the bull!

Afterwards there are a line of amateurs lining up by the door to the entrance - and Pancho is the last in the queue. The man then announces the full is ready to fight as the amateurs march into the stadium. Pancho is too distracted in complaining about the girl's laughs at them, "I'll show those squeaky-voiced females that they can't laugh at me. But I'll show them how a bull should be thrown". Pancho realizes the line has already gone so he begins to march and he zips right through with a good use of early airbrush speedlines which shows that Tashlin is at work. So Pancho then marches over to the entrance for amateurs but only to end up being caught by the guard who tosses him out of the scene and into a bale of haystack. The guard shouts: "Only toreadors allowed in there, not little shrimps like you". The guard slams the door but opens up and quotes Jimmy Fiedler: "And I do mean YOU". Little Pancho - in the haystack quotes back what the guard says and blurts "Phooey!"

After Pancho got rejected - a group of toreadors enter the arena in front of the crowd where they plan to fight the bull. As we pan along - we find the bull hasn't finished as he is using chalk for snooker to sharpen his own horns. After sharpening, he breaks the forth wall: "Hey, watch this, the eighth ball on the side pocket".

We then go into action where the ball begins charging straight towards the toreadors and it's all arranged from a bird-eye view shot. The toreadors are standing like a triangle of snooker balls and as the bull charges at them - they even scatter around the arena like snooker balls and the gag has been cleverly timed and even planned. After that scene - a toreador flies out the stadium and lands on a cartwheel of hay where Pancho is sitting at. This leads to Pancho flying out of the scene and floating in air still complaining about not being able to fight. He may as well stop bitching and moaning until he makes a take as he realises that he is floating and falling in mid-air. There were some good shot pacing of the POV shots of Pancho looking down as the bull watches his fall. Pancho then lands in the stadium as his chance to get the bull.

Pancho lands at the spot where he manages to knock-out the bull in rhythm of 'Shave and a Haircut' but his feet are caught inside the sombrero which is some good comedy movement. The crowd cheer as they throw their sombreros in the air which form 'Viva Pancho'. Even the girls inside the stadium watching the fight all cheer as Pancho had the last laugh. Some really great perspective animation of the sombreros flying at the scenes to go from shot to shot. Pancho realises that he has got fame from beating the bull in the fight where he stands on top of the bull as a pepperazzi group take pictures.

A really great Frank Tashlin manoeuvre appears where the three girls throw roses towards Pancho and the camera trucks in on the roses flying in mid-air but they fall as they land right in front of Pancho in that really great angle. That must've been difficult to tackle out and it clearly shows Tashlin's determinations to direct live-action.

As Pancho picks up the rose - he notices the snorting bull has regained consciousness and Pancho makes a great take as the bull charges straight towards him. Pancho zips out as the bull crashes into the wall rather dazed. In a point of view shot of the bull - there is a great blur effect where he sees multiples of Pancho waving the red left. The bull wakes back up - and notices the red flag - to try and get the bull into action. The bull manages to get his consciousness back as he charges towards Pancho and then we are followed on with some action.

The action scenes are rather impressive and it makes the climax, the intense staging rather exciting to watch. What I consider to be great animation is the part where the bull starts to reload with his tail (like a vehicle) and then starts to race around the arena like a sports car and charges towards Pancho.

This then leads to Pancho falling straight up on air - and this gives Tashlin the excuse to reuse some of the animation like where Pancho is in mid-air and he is falling. Also reused is the exact 'Shave and a Haircut' rhythm animation of the bull's knockout - with new animation of the referee counting out the knockouts. The girls also join in on the knockout as they are impressed with his fighting. After the knockout - Pancho is declared the winner of the match as the crowd cheer and Pancho received first prize.

So - Pancho returns home safely as he is sitting on his mother's lap explaining about the bullfight and he certainly has had the last laugh and has proved he had the ability to fight. Pancho's mother gets concerned and explains he could've been hurt - of course trying to be the whimsical mother.

The girls (and it turns out that they are Pancho's sisters - and it was only shown until the very end) assure the mother he was a very good fighter as they have shown a great admiration towards him. We pan along afterwards as it appears Pancho was rich from the fight they have already bought a new pair of a washing machine to wash the clothes - I guess if that's the ending gag.

Overall comments: This is a rather Disney-esque type story for the 1930s back then where it would involve a character who would aspire or has an ambition that particular characters disapprove of. It's been used before in some of the 'Silly Symphonies' off the top of my head and I believe some of the influence has been used for the story of Pancho. Mel Blanc's voice for Pancho in that cartoon - wasn't been particularly very appealing for the whole cartoon but at least it would be the most appropriate voice for Pancho. It may not have seem such an original story but the animation there is really great - where Frank had Ken Harris or Bob McKimson animating his cartoons and that must've been a treat for Frank in that era by having the two most solid animators. Disney already made another 'bullfighting' cartoon the exact same year in 1938 called 'Ferdinand the Bull' which was based from a children's book - and of course, won the Academy Award but I'm not sure if Frank had the idea of that cartoon into his - as he claimed everything was stolen by Disney.

With that aside; you can see Frank Tashlin hard at work with figuring out camera pans, staging, overlays, etc. as those techniques are very dominant and he's used those a lot from his bag of tricks. This cartoon has some of the most amazing camera techniques in animation and it's very highly overlooked - and it amazes me that a man in his 20s really had skills for directing and you can see that Frank Tashlin was very versatile. The one which I believe stands out the most is the shot of the entrance of Pancho's sisters as they enter singing their song - and this was just one shot as it was an overlay of backgrounds - I would have no idea how much work that could have been done. The flower scene was also a very touching technique as this would've had to have done to a mechanical animator that would be great at figuring out camera pans. Well, with this Frank Tashlin cartoon reviewed - we have one more to go before he leaves the second time and leaves for Disney.


  1. Check out the bottom of the washing machine -- the end gag is that instead of mama washing the clothes in the creek, the washing machine has no bottom, and simply washing the clothes in the same creek bed.

    Frank really does move the camera around a bunch in this cartoon (reusing the shot-and-reaction of Pancho falling and landing on the bull's head probably helped cut a few $$$ off the budget).

  2. What visual in this cartoon allows us to realize that the taunting girls were really Pancho's sisters?