Thursday, 27 December 2012

232. Robin Hood Makes Good (1939)

Warner  cartoon no. 231.
Release date: February 11, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Berneice Hansell (Squirrels) and Mel Blanc (Fox).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Bob McKimson.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Synopsis: Three squirrels decide to play and act as 'Robin Hood' characters and it turns out a cunning fox notices their fun as they are in peril.

Here - Chuck Jones already attempts to make a cartoon based on a famous legend, and its the first time that Chuck tries out something based on reality. The title itself sounds like a title of what Tex Avery would try out for a Robin Hood satire - but is THIS going to be a Robin Hood satire? In a early Jones cartoon, of course not. But years later he would satirise the Robin Hood tale in Rabbit Hood wonderfully, and then again with Robin Hood Daffy.

The cartoon begins as we see the canopy of the forest and we vertically pan down, then fade in to find a group of squirrels reading a book of the legend of Robin Hood. All I can question is, where and how did they get a book? Did they steal it or something? I don't know.

One of the squirrels pops out - who is the youngest of the three and is rather enthusiastic of the story, 'Boy oh boy'. Of course Berneice Hansell provides the voices for the squirrels which certainly helps as I'm going to be sitting through this cutesy cartoon.

The younger squirrel thens reps out and suggests of playing Robin Hood and wanting to play the lead character. The older and bigger squirrel gets up and then asks rather sternly, 'Who's going to be Robin Hood?' with the younger squirrel acting rather meekly and backs down and responds, 'You're going to be Robin Hood'. Then it comes to the older and bigger squirrel who responds the exact same question, and then he backs down and is now Robin Hood. Ahh yes, I'm sure you have all come across these games where everyone wants to play the hero but the big guys are always selfish and demands for the role. In fact, I'm unsure if the biggest squirrel is Hansell or not.

Afterwards - the two squirrels decide amongst themselves and decide that the big squirrel will be the hero and the middle one will play Little John; his sidekick. Then they come to decide who shall play the villain as they think in their heads. The little squirrel thinks to himself until the bigger squirrels make their decision and they look directly towards him.

The little squirrel realises that he is the victim who has to play the villain as of course - little and weak people were always given the characters or villains that nobody else wanted to play. As he is the chosen victim - he attempts to run away in a coward way but the medium squirrel picks him up.

In a close-up scene which I suspect is Bob McKimson's animation for the glossy look it has, and also the head-bobs it has. The squirrel then threatens, "Don't get so excited. All you gotta do is march through the forest with your treasure, and we'll rob ya and give it to the poor". He glares at him in a threatening mode, "Won't that be fun?" as the little squirrel quickly gives up and nods to avoid being hurt.

He then places him down as he remarks, 'He WANTS to be the villain' and glares at him again in a threatening tone, 'Don't ya?' and the little squirrel. Geez, Berneice Hansell's voice acting here isn't even convincing enough; as she can't make a threatening effect. At least they show about how kids can be so cruel. Just at that moment the little squirrel tries to escape again but the big squirrel holds his tail so he can't escape. They then place an outfit for the little squirrel like a wooden sword, the bag of money and a pot on top of his head.

Afterwards, the little squirrel then walks out complaining of his role. "I don't know why I have to be the bad guy. I'd like to be the good guy once in a while". He is caught by the big squirrel who is playing Robin Hood and they have a sword fight and we find that the little squirrel is already suffering as he keeps on tripping. He is singing a crappy version of the revised lyrics in the tune of For You singing about Robin Hood.

During the play fight - they are playing rather violently for him as his pot hat then falls out and the bag falls out. Although it certainly is very slow-paced which makes the animation not believable at all; and it all sticks out like a sore thumb - especially on the male squirrel who is struggling to fight.

Meanwhile a fox in silhouette suspects of the squirrels that are playing and having some fun (well the bigger ones anyway). He then suspects as he grabs out the Robin Hood book and reads through so he can understand what is going on. The effect from silhouette to colour was rather decent - as we have identified it is a fox. After quickly reading through the book - there is that cool facial expression which is pure Jones. It shows he was even using that technique in his early days.

After finishing off their song - the squirrels then hear the sounds of the fox pulling on a falsetto voice as he cries, "Help! Help!" - and the squirrels rush out of the scene leaving out their swords and hats tied to the ground which is cute.

After they hide out in the tree - the biggest squirrel pops out and asks, 'Who's there?'. The fox replies, 'It's me - Maid Marian'. He then sniggers to himself as they are falling into a trap.

The two oldest squirrels look towards each other as the biggest one responds, 'Now who could Maid Marian be?'. Seriously? All three are fans of the Robin Hood tale as they read the book and they don't even know who is Maid Marian? These squirrels must have brains that require 16 bits.

The little squirrel then follows on. As the fox is hiding under a bush at the bottom of the tree - the two squirrels notice the book, and they ask the little squirrel to get the book. The little squirrel refuses and then the two toss him down leaving the little squirrel hanging on a branch before climbing back up. The little squirrel then dashes down to grab the book very briskly and the fox manages to miss him by grabbing the flowers. The pacing there is rather neat on the dash. The fox then notices he is holding onto the flowers and he spits them out.

The two squirrels then look through the book to research on Maid Marian. From what they are looking at; she is a rather gorgeous sweetheart as the illustration shows. The biggest squirrel comments, "Gee, she's my sweetheart. We've gotta save her!" They agree and they call out for 'Maid Marian' asking for her 'whereabouts'.

As they are easily falling into the fox's trap - the fox listens to the calls for 'Where are you, Maid Marian?'. He hides behind the tree and continues his plan. He replies with a 'Here I am' in his normal voice before coughing up in a falsetto voice, 'Here I am'.

This is Blanc's impressions that are really unfunny as he had a funnier falsetto impression which Bugs Bunny would use whenever in drags - but then again he could be taking orders from Chuck. The squirrels then go out on the search for her as they continue to call for 'her'. The fox then peeks out from a tree and yells, 'Help, help! Here I am!'. The little squirrel has been left out of the situation and then runs over to try and catch up with the two squirrels. The two squirrels continue to run over as they continue to call for help to where Maid Marian's voice is and continue to follow the trap.

The fox then leads the trail by running inside a shed and then making calls outside the shed to confuse the squirrels that they the calling is coming from there. The two squirrels looking at each other determined to hurry and they end up going inside the shed. As they are inside, the big squirrel asks 'Where are you, Maid Marian?'

The fox then laughs rather evilly as he replies in a falsetto, 'Here I am, Robin Hood'. He walks over to the squirrels as he stares at them with hunger, 'And I like little squirrels. Very, very much!'. The shot of the squirrel's back turned behind them with the fox staring that them is a rather good shot as we see measurements of them in comparison towards the fox.

The little squirrel then runs over to the shed where the big squirrels are located and as he opens the door - he finds that they have been captured by the fox. We find that they are all tied up in a rope ready to be eaten by the squirrels. The fox continues to entice himself by scaring the squirrels, 'And I love little squirrels. Big, fat, juicy squirrels. Especially with carrots, potatoes, and um...onions! Doesn't that just make your mouth water?".

Is there a breeze? I could swear I heard wind. That fox is as scary as oven mittens. The little squirrel sees that his friends - or bothers (whichever you prefer) and he runs off to try and find out how to save them. He then bumps into a French horn which appears to be as small as him and yet lying in the middle of the woods. Annnnd, who hasn't seen a small French horn in the middle of the woods?

The little squirrel walks out with the French horn as he obviously has a plan to save those two squirrels.

Meanwhile the fox is inside the cabin and he already plans on cooking the squirrels as brings out a pot (but its not boiling) and he pours some gravy (looks awfully yellow for it) with a ladle. He then hears the sounds of the French horn playing, A-Haunting We Will Go and is rather afraid as he hears the sounds of the squirrel making fake sounds of hounds entering the area as the fox is tricked to being hunted.

He then runs over to the door and attempts to open it - from the pacing and timing I'm seeing the pulling on the doorknob is just useless. The squirrel then continues to make fake voices of a hunter, and then acts out, "Guess we better break down the door". He uses the French horn to beat firmly at the door as the fox is about to go into hysteria.

The fox keeps changing colours as he turns yellow with fright and he then begs for the squirrels to set him free and he tries to break open the door. He hears the sounds of the squirrel as a hunter suggesting, "Guess we're having fox stew tonight, boys". He runs over to the squirrels and shouts, "Look fellas. I'm young, strong and healthy. Don't let 'em kill me!" he runs over to the back door banging like mad as he screams.

The animation there of the fox freaking out and banging on the door is just some of the very sloppy animation you will find - the banging on the door looks very unreal as it feels like a softie is punching, and it all lacks weight. The fox breaks open the door running away as he shouts out 'Lemme out! I'm afraid to die!'. Its pointless adding those speed lines since it does not look like fast animation. The squirrels then dash out as they are free. They try to find the 'hunters' who saved them. The young squirrel is leaning by the barrel as he clears his throat and asks in a very wise-guy tone, 'Who's going to be Robin Hood?' as he managed to save their lives.

Overall comments: Gad, this cartoon was certainly a slow one to follow. If you call that a satire to Robin Hood then you clearly don't know what you are saying. This cartoon is about as funny as a brick. There are no gags in this carton whatsoever, well - no funny gags. The animation at the beginning is probably the only highlight of the actual cartoon as we see some very solid acting of the squirrels suggesting to be who. Only Ken Harris or Bob McKimson would've animated those scenes as the rest of the cartoon just had some horrible animation pacing and timing that just sticks out as very sloppy. In fact, the cartoon's story construction is just a mess. The French horn was just added into the script as they couldn't have been more imaginative and they add it as an item just lying in the middle of the forest. The backgrounds of this cartoon are just very plain with colours (although I'm probably being biased as I may be comparing it to poor TV print quality). But the overall outlook and even art direction of the cartoon is very boring and dull. I'd rather watch paint dry than see this cartoon. The voices for those characters for the squirrels is also poor. Berneice Hansell is just not funny. I don't understand the appeal of her baby voices as they are just utterly annoying.

Mel Blanc's voice of the fox is alright - but average at best. The fox in this cartoon feels like an attempt to add some comedy or vaudeville into the cartoon with Blanc's voice but if anything, the comedy of the fox was an utter failure. The sequence at the end with the fox freaking out is just not even funny as I am only distracted at the weakness of the animation and the pacing of the story, and to just how the French horn turned up? Of course, it ended up in the public domain - luckily I was never plagued into growing up with the cartoon as it never existed in my PD tapes. Before that, (and only knowing the title) I thought it was going to be a parody of the Robin Hood legend but forgetting it was an early Jones cartoon showed I was wrong. The only part of the cartoon which I thought was rather convincing or gained my interest was the beginning of the cartoon where the squirrels decide whose characters will be who. Mainly because it comes from experience where everyone would be cast to play characters they don't want to play. Hell, my drama teacher at one point casted me to play 'Demetrius' in A Midsummer's Night Dream and who on earth would want to play a lover?! I suppose Chuck wanted the audience's sympathy to rely on the little sympathy - but since those squirrels are so obnoxious how are we supposed to rely on them.

1 comment:

  1. WHAAAAT?! I love this cartoon! My friends and I sing the song all the time, and demand of each other, "Whoooooo's gonna be Robin Hood?" We joke about "loving little squirrels, especially with carrots, and potatoes, and ONIONS!" True, the voices leave something wanting, and the color is a little lack-luster, but I find this cartoon hilarious. Maybe it's just because it's been a part of my childhood since, like, the dawning of my life. Maybe it's because I have an immature taste in humor. But I couldn't read your review and let this slide. This cartoon is one of my favorites, say what you will about me. I love it.