Wednesday, 19 December 2012

227. The Mice Will Play (1938)

Warner cartoon no. 226.
Release date: December 31, 1938.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Berneice Hansell (Johnny & Susie Mouse / Mice) and Mel Blanc (Cat).
Story: Jack Miller.
Animation: Sid Sutherland.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: When the cat's away, the mice will play. After some fun, Johnny Mouse rescues his passion Suzy - whilst in threat of a black cat.

The last WB cartoon released in 1938 - as the total output had 40 cartoons released. Next year would consist of 44 cartoons. By around 1939 - there is a little decline in the quality in the cartoons as well as the directors: Avery takes a new and low level of creating spot-gags, whilst Jones is the outcast, Hardaway-Dalton make bland cartoons, and Clampett's Porky cartoons are considerably weak.

According to Joe Adamson, this is the cartoon which Tex Avery was dissatisfied himself, criticising it for being a "cutesy-cutesy...almost a Jones" because of the cute characters added here - but when I review it; we'll see if I agree...

The cartoon begins as we see the door outside which is the laboratory belonging to Dr. I.M. Nutts (Avery having pun with play-on words), his room is a experimental laboratory. As we pan inside - we look through his lab as we see he has many lab containers that spread through the overlay of that shot.

At the corner of the wall; we find a group of mice who open the door of their mouse hole to check if they are allowed out to play. The main mouse, named Johnny remarks, "This is a funny-looking joint".   The mice respond to that as, "Correct. Absolutely correct". They all step out of the mouse hole tiptoeing very carefully and quietly so they don't make a sound.

As Johnny continues to tiptoe very carefully - there is a bar above his shadow; and his shadow has a life and ends up bumping into the bar, then falls. This causes Johnny to jump and he hisses his own shadow. Now that was certainly a very funny gag Avery developed himself which shows he's very original with gags and already pulled one out of his bag.

They continue to whisper until they both shout out in their loud, low voices; "Hey, anybody out here!" until they rush back into their mouse holes; and quickly nibble through which forms the words 'Gone With the Wind' which is a fun pun to use; and a gag reused a few times. That whole gag sequence was originated from 'A Sunbonnet Blue' - perhaps, Avery felt using an old idea would save him time. Johnny Mouse steps out of the letter 'D' which he nibbled, and listens out for any further voices. None. He asks for all the other mice to step out and have fun in the laboratory - so all the mice follow out.

A group of mice then gather together towards a microscope so they can have some fun. A mouse then grabs out a bacteria slide (presumably there are bacteria living there) as they use the microscope to look at them and also to observe.

Their own observations are in fact made a gag out of - the first sighting are a group of germs where they are in an American football field playing a match - one red bug on the wing then grabs the ball and makes a touchdown.

The next group they spot some 'chicken pox germs' where they are germs shaped as chickens and we hear the 'Chicken Reel' in the background. The last gag then features 'whooping cough' germs where those germs cough. They are certainly very cutesy gags; they're the type of gags that are typical of Avery but presented in a cute form - even with the mice giggling at the germs which feels Disney-esque. Meanwhile - on the lookout at the window ceiling - we see a black cat who finds the rodents in the lab and licks his chop as he plans on eating them.

The next sequence we see some fun which I find to be very amusing to watch; gagwise and also animation-wise. We find that Johnny sees a stethoscope lying in the middle of the table. A group of mice then hold onto the bell of the stethoscope where it is placed on one mouse's heart. We see the mouse has some heavy heart beats where Johnny midly reacts to the heart sounds.

To make the gag even more entertaining and fun for the mice - a group grab out a box of heart pills and the mouse swallows them. Johnny, holding onto the stethoscope - then starts to react very wildly that it then combines with some very broad and loose movement in the animation which is very fun to watch. A bit of a innocent gag for sure, but I feel as though Treg Brown certainly has topped it with his creative sound effects. That small sequence with the stethoscope (at least with the wild reaction) is Irv Spence's own animation there.

As the sequence of the mice having fun pass by - we find as that as they are having fun - one white mouse in particular isn't having any fun at all. She is trapped inside a golden cage by the scientist who is planning on digesting her. She screams with tears as she is trying to shout out for help for any mice about to hear.

Mm, the label which labels the white mouse as an experiment - I wonder if that could be referencing Alexander Fleming's 1928 penicillin discovery; even though penicillin wasn't used or even publicised until the Second World War.

As the mice are having fun; it feels as though there were a few scenes jumbled in together (like the X-Ray sequence which could have came before or after the stethoscope sequence). One mouse is visioned through X-Ray. Inside his stomach we see he has almost an entire block of cheese in his stomach - while up in his head we see his brain is working mechanically. Barely a gag, really. Meanwhile - as the mice continue to have fun; we appear to see shots of the cat entering the kitchen of the mouse in search for the white female mouse who is trapped inside the cage.

Meanwhile, Johnny continues to have some fun in the laboratory as he finds a bottle of neon fluid. After gulping the bottle of neon acid - he walks out feeling rather dandy - but the outlines of his body appear with flashing neon static around him. It's a rather cool effect; also animated by Spence.

Meanwhile - a mouse then approaches at an eye testing board. He grabs out a pair of glasses that is already standing in front of him. He sees the board where he already sees some selected random letters; (although the 'IOU' row at the top appeared to have been added as a joke).

As he grabs out the glasses - his vision is rather blurry but then the lettering fades as it reads: "$30 Every Thursday" which might be some reference to a diner, perhaps? The mouse makes a take from reading that and then quickly dashes off. Meanwhile, Susie Mouse is screaming from inside the golden cage for help but nobody is answering. In the following sequence - we find a pair of mice as find Johnny minding his own business. It appears that Johnny is almost the butt of these pranks. As they are about to jab him with an injection needle - after the count to '3' an audience pops out and bellows, 'DON'T DO THAT!' and they walk out with disgust, 'Aww, we never have any fun!' Now that scene with the audience is just pure comedy - and definitely pure Avery, if he considers that cutesy.

As the cat (already holding onto cutlery) is about to approach Susie Mouse for dinner. Susie is seen in the golden cage writing a rescue message to whichever mice finds the message. The message reads: I'm in the next room Save Me! signed Susie Mouse.

She folds the paper as a paper plane and the message even flies and feels controlled like a plane. The paper plane halts near the spot where Johnny is standing; and he reads the message. He reads out the letter through cursive writing and then he announces, "Gosh - she must be in trouble!" which is pretty obvious.

The funny part is just after that remark - some writing on the paper magically appears with a P.S. message, 'You said it! Big Boy!' so Johnny Mouse then does the honourable thing by saving her. That P.S. message was surely very amusing and even spontaneous. Johnny dashes out of the scene as he nibbles through the door to save Susie Mouse through that very short bit of action.

Johnny Mouse opens the cage like curtain blinds, as Susie Mouse steps out of her, immediately it is love at first sight for her.

Susie Mouse: My hero.
Johnny Mouse: Lay off the love stuff, lady. Let's get outta here.

He lets go of Susie Mouse as they both leave the scene before they are chased by the black cat. As they leave the mousehole - Johnny dashes back to place a cork through so the cat or any other mice couldn't get through. Meanwhile - the cat approaches at the scene where he is looking out for some mice to eat.

Meanwhile, Susie Mouse tries to convince Johnny and grab his attention. His response to that is, "What's eatin' ya anyway?" Her response to that is, 'Can't you see that I love you'. She turns on the X-Ray where she fully expresses her feelings and emotions as her heart is pounding with 'I love you' written on it. Cool lifework on the heart. Johnny has immediately fallen for her as they have not both fallen in love. "Aww, gee, Susie. Why didn't you tell me?" he responds flattered. Its a rather unappealing bit of dialogue spoken by Berniece Hansell as it feels like listening to puppy love in a cartoon through her child voices.

The next sequence appears to fade to even later, where there is a host of mice all dressed formally in tuxedos. There is a shot where we see a group of mice performing music through items in the laboratory (like a grand piano (formed from a cigar box) and the xylophone performed by using matchsticks and test tubes. I'm not so sure what the music they're playing to but I think its to Garden of the Moon but there is a repeated, catchy rhythm that is played by each mouse.

Then it turns over to a singing mice group as they appear to be singing the popular song version of 'Here Comes the Bride'. There is a song sequence which goes on for roughly a minute, and of course - it turns out that it is the wedding of Johnny and Susie Mouse. There has literally been no story going on in this cartoon; and the relationship between those two (earlier on) is really the only climax of the whole cartoon.

As the song continues - the priest plays the clarinet to Johnny and Susie Mouse and both of them take their turn playing the tune. I really wonder what got Tex to create such a song squence which is just tepid and a way to promote popular songs? I thought he was off that by then - unless it was writer's suggestions.

The song already reaches its conclusion through these fast-pacing shots as the mice finish the song sequence (as well as the instrument players) and the black cat is about to approach. Just as the song finishes; and the curtains close - it is already the moment where "you may now kiss the bride".

After the couple both share their own kiss; Susie already talks about the future for both of them. She speaks: "Now we're married. By and by, maybe they'll be lots and lots and lots of little fat mice". At that exact spot - the black cat is has already got his own knife and fork - ready to eat the pair (which would be their fate). The cat then stops as he thinks to himself, "Lots of little fat mice? Hmm, I think I'll wait!" Now that is definitely a funny but rather dark conclusion to the cartoon - and at least that tone was made funny through the art of Mel Blanc.

Overall comments: Now to decide whether I agree with Avery's own opinions on his view of the cartoon. Whilst I see his point about the cartoon being all to cutesy, certainly but to state that it was "almost a Jones" is in fact a little bit of a stretch there. The mice are certainly very cutesy looking; but they are definitely Avery character designs. The fact that what probably makes then very cutesy is the added elements of the voices done by Berneice Hansell - when back then the directors didn't properly know how to cast funny voice actors well (like Mel Blanc was still fairly new and Sara Berner only started her voice acting for Warners). Apart from only a few gags where they looked rather cute and innocent - there were certainly some Avery gags that were pure and off-the wall. Like the cinema audience halting the action of an animated cartoon is certainly something - as well as the shadow being knocked down from a bar. With that said - I partly agree with Avery's statement of this cartoon; it certainly isn't a masterpiece and it sure lacks some of the charm he adds in his own cartoons.

Aside from that, my biggest concern of that cartoon is the quality of the cartoon's story. I find the storytelling for this cartoon to be very poor. The cartoon has a very thin narrative but there is really no story or hardly a climax that is going on in the cartoon. The main aspect of this cartoon's story are a group of mice having fun in a laboratory - sort of feels like a Harman-Ising or early Disney story. The dilemma of Susie Mouse is probably the only one in that whole cartoon; and yet it feels like an added element to the cartoon that really came out of nowhere. After the rescue of Susie, the sequence immediately fades over to the wedding day - which is really just a messed up storyline of that cartoon; as there is no climax, or even adventurous. The cat is really the only character who appears to try and make the cartoon rather exciting but even he did literally nothing until his comment at the very end (which is the only funny line of that cartoon). The song sequence was also rather pointless, as well as its story (even though the cartoon is rather short at length compared to most cartoons) and a lot of the screen in the film feels a little wasted. No wonder Tex wasn't satisfied with the result.

Now with 1938 all reviewed and published - the next step is 1939 as it will be 44 cartoons that year to review - and thus it will mean I would nearly complete the decade. I feel that 1938 (this year) has easily been the strongest year so far for the Warner Bros. cartoons. Tex Avery has turned out some very satisfying results, and even funny satires - Bob Clampett has had a perfect streak of very funny Porky Pig cartoons he has been making. Tashlin has been very unique and interesting that year - while we have newcomers of directors such as Hardaway-Dalton and Chuck Jones. Of course; 1939 is a year where Friz Freleng has no cartoons released (as he didn't return until around mid or late-1939) and of course the humour starts to deteriorate slightly. That is the year where the crew desperately needed Friz Freleng. Probably my favourite cartoon of that year is a toss-up between Cinderella Meets Fella and Porky and Daffy.

Have my sympathies when I will be reviewing a year - which I believe is going to be tough. Since I've reviewed a few cartoons which I've considered tough (I'll name a few: A Feud There Was, and some of the Hardaway-Dalton efforts) - then 1939 is going to be even tougher.


  1. This is kind of the last cartoon of Avery's 'cute mouse' trilogy, but "Ain't We Got Fun?" came early enough in the game so that's what people were expecting from the Merrie Melodies series, and "I Haven't Got a Hat" has Irv Spence's memorable Rats Brothers sequence to lift it above this cartoon.

    As for 1939 -- and a lot of 1941 and even early 1941 -- just consider it in part as "The Schlesinger Studio Goes to Art School." The 1937-38 release season was when the studio figured out how to do funny cartoons, while the next 2-3 years was spent more on figuring out how to draw them like Disney already was drawing their characters, and then use those learned drawing techniques to make the gags come across even better. That doesn't make some of the 1939 cartoons less of a slog to watch, but at least you can justify some of the things like Jones' really slow pacing because of the direction the studio would successfully go between '39 and the end of 1941.

  2. This can be found on the Bette David "Jezebel" DVD released in 2006.