Wednesday, 2 January 2013

237. Prest-O Change-O (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 236.
Release date: March 25, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (proto-Bugs / Clock / Voice effects for dogs).
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Ken Harris.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown.
Synopsis: One night during a bad storm - the Two Curious dogs enter a house where they find a magician's rabbit who plays tricks on the dogs.

This is the second cartoon where it features the prototype Bugs Bunny before he made his own first official appearance in A Wild Hare. In a way - both Chuck Jones and Ben Hardaway pioneered the rabbit before Tex Avery created him. Chuck Jones uses the Hardaway rabbit from Porky's Hare Hunt - as its been considered that the cartoon was a success and they wanted more rabbit cartoons. So, Chuck Jones directed one cartoon - and then Hardaway-Dalton went with the same screwball rabbit but with a different design by Charlie Thorson. Chuck uses his first set of characters: the Two Curious dogs again for this cartoon as well as the proto Bugs.

The cartoon begins as we find the dog catcher van on the chase where the two curious dog have either been caught or have escaped. I sure wonder what the original music cue is for the opening sequence - its been heard in You Ought to Be in Pictures and the opening titles of Guided Muscle - perhaps its an original Stalling piece? The dog then leads to another part where the dog catcher van leads to a different direction.

It turns out that the hiding place for the two dogs is a house which appears to be residence of the magician of Sham Fu. The two dogs. are standing outside of the front porch sweating. Somehow they appear to slide through the door by magic or whatever I don't know. They slide through the house and they both crash to the wall wondering where on earth they have ended up.

The cuckoo clock then reveals a mysterious figure and looks around. Then reveals the time is 12 o'clock at midnight. And appears to laugh rather mysteriously. Even if the cloak figure was probably reference - that part with the cuckoo clock was just...nuts.

The two dogs then walk around the house as they look around. The white dog ends up walking into a magical trap through the door but the big dog bumps at the door believing the house is bewitched. The big dog then hears the sounds of a 'psst' call and it turns out to be Happy Rabbit. I mean, um, the magician's rabbit (or proto-Bugs) whichever you prefer.

The rabbit jumps out of a cloak in a hatstand then begins a trick to the dog by holding a vase. In this sequence; at least with the scenes of the rabbit - you can hear Stalling using the cue to the popular song The Umbrella Man.

Let me remind you -- he uses it over and over again. The rabbit then spins it, and then flicks it with his finger and continues spinning it. Afterwards he then grabs it between both hands and it then disappears as he pushes it. The dog is stumped by the trick and even looks through the rabbit to try and find it. The rabbit then uses his own fingers to release the vase and it drops on the dog and he laughs heartily - that same Hardaway laugh from 'Hare Hunt'. Now that gag there was just stupid - yeah, magic I guess - but how did he somehow end up with superpowers on his fingers? Notice the screenshot - even if it is a slow-paced cartoon but at least Chuck has a go with a wild take that even Tex didn't pull off until his MGM years. Anyway, the dog gets angry and looks through the jacket where the rabbit is. The dog ends up yelping as there is a crab that has snapped at the dog's nose.

The next dog - we see that the little white dog appears to have got back on track again and then stumps across a box that reads 'Hindu Rope Trick'. The trick then starts as the box magically opens and there is a rope that moves like a snake and the dog is a little afraid and curious.

It begins as the rope meets the dog and tries to shake hand with the dog - as the dog is about to the rope just uses his hand to make a 'beat it' gesture. That was rather pantomimed well, I'll admit.

The dog then looks at the hope as it gives the gesture before the rope's hand then socks the dog to the ground. After feeling rather weary, the dog then sits there where the eyes appear to wobble which is certainly exaggerated for a early Chuck Jones picture but it certainly captures the mood of after being hit. The dog then gets back up and growls at the rope before walking out of the scene. A scene with hardly any gags other communication with magic - the rope is definitely rather cleverly animated. Anyway - the music cue for that sequence is Red Coffee during that sequence - because in the rabbit scenes it would just play The Umbrella Man.

Afterwards - the big dog is still struggling with the lobster on his nose he manages to toss it away inside the urn. After a throbbing moment of the dog's nose - the rabbit then pops out of the urn. The music cue is you guessed it ---- Umbrella Man. What I am curious to know is what has happened to that lobster? Did the rabbit just destroy him with his magical fingers?

The rabbit pops out as he magically brings out a toy-gun and shoots it with the cork hitting the dog's face. The dog approaches the urn and growls at it. Then there is a tree plant that grows on top and flowers popping out which is some lovely timing. The pistil of the flower sticks out like a party blower and wriggles it at the dog's nose.

The sound effect was funny and that gag there was cute. Afterwards the dog then realises the tree is a rabbit (and I wouldn't) and it turns out the tree was the rabbit in disguise. Gee, who would have thought the rabbit had magical powers to transform? I thought he only grew and zapped objects to fall. The rabbit then kisses the dog as the dog was growling at him. The 'kiss' part certainly would be a trait of Bugs Bunny for years to come. The dog then spits, as the rabbit shows him another trick. He uses both hands - one for the top and one for the bottom and makes himself disappear. All of these tricks are just mostly typical ones you see in a magician's show. How about some awesome magic!

Afterwards - the sequence with the white dog appears as he is following the rope who appears to have the movement of a worm. And no - the sequences with the dog and the rope are not played by that other song. The dog then follows as the rope hides behind a box of Sham Fu's magic box. The rope and the dog both look at each other as there is just a tedious and repetitive sequence where they just look at each other in different positions and hide back.

Thus speaking; I'm suspecting that the sequence with the dog and rope here were animated by Ken Harris as the rope appears to smear. Look at the part where the rope grabs the magic stick and produces the glass - its the type of smears that he would draw.

Anyhow, the magic stick produces a vase where it drops on top of the dog where it is rather well animated.The magic stick and produces a jug and the jug just tips and lets the water splash on top of the dog. Poor dogs having to suffer through this. The dog now ends up having his head caught in the jug as it ends up running around yelping for help, and keeps on crashing.

The dog manages to pull the jug off his head as it flies up in the sky. He spots the jug falling and then runs out and lets the jug break. The magic stick then grabs out a magic stick where the pieces form into twittering birds. The magic stick then creates a magical balloon and pops to frighten the puppy.

The puppy then growls and starts to attack the magic stick and the rope just swings the dog around. The dog just ends up hiccuping and the birds just fly out of his mouth. Mmm, that magic stick sure is full of wits and it sure is a cute sequence. The dog even hiccups an egg out of his mouth by accident and he blushes and continues to hiccup. The sequence lasts longer than a minute which is more than a 100 feet of screen footage that is seen. For the animator (most likely Ken Harris) that's three weeks work of animation there.

The next sequence follows as we find the rabbit and the big dog again - usual tune, usual antics. The rabbit then grabs out a red cape and he places it over his head. The trick is that he places his hand on top of the cape and unveils it as you can see he is invisible - save for the hands. The hands then dig the cape into one clenched hand. After revealing it - its gone; much to the dog's surprise.

The dog then makes a take and then the hand grabs out another cape from the dog's ear - the rabbit flips the cape around and the rabbit is seen sitting on an armchair. The dog sniffs to get the scent of the rabbit but the rabbit just pinches the dog and dashes out.

The rabbit just hops out rather happily and in a screwy way. The rabbit then just hops over to the door as he closes it in this bad use of slow pacing. After the door closes - the door walks over to try and open it. It turns out that the 'door' has a chest of draws and then he slaps the dog out of the way. He even tickles the dog where the big dog ends up laughing historically for a while. The rabbit continues acting screwy by trucking him more by calling him over - and his head bumps from lifting the head up. The rabbit then laughs heartily afterwards.

The small dog not only continues to hiccup but now ends up hiccupping balloons as he is now cursed by the magic stick's tricks. The dog thinks real hard and tries to hold his breath to stop hiccupping. It's rather broad and even amusing where he ends up hiccupping his own balloon inside and his body is the shape of one.

Meanwhile the rabbit his still laughing at him and he kisses the dog before closing the chest of draws. The dog gets back up and tries to break open the door but has a hard time doing so. The dog continues to hiccup terribly until he ends up flying around like a bursting balloon.

The dog continues to bang the door rather loudly but the rabbit just walks out. The rabbit and the dog then collide to each other and they end up crashing the door open. That really lacks a lot of weight and even a lack of force with the animation. The rabbit is now caught in a piece of rope and the dog then walks over to pick him up and he places him inside a box and closes it. He carries the box to place it in a treasure chest, and then carries the treasure chest inside a locker box. After that use of weight of carrying - the dog finally rests.

As they rest - the big dog then notices the small dog ends up hiccupping a balloon out of his mouth. The dog watches the balloon float up and then suddenly the balloon bursts and the magic rabbit pops out again. That burst is some great comic timing there. The rabbit makes himself disappear and even shoots a toy gun at him. And again...in the theme of The Umbrella Man.

The dog gets rathe angry and he ends up pulling the rabbit's hands back so we can see his body - look at the weight of that there. The dog then grabs him and finally gets even with the rabbit as he bops the rabbit straight out of the scene where we hear some off-screen crashing.

The dog covers himself so he doesn't see the crash and looks over completely satisfied with what has happened. That is certainly rather sadistic and mean by punching the rabbit - but at least for the dog it satisfied him, but then again it would have been much funnier if the victim still lost and not win. Well, not in Chuck's case. We pan through and find that the rabbit had suffered from a black eye, caught in a fishbowl and has a lampshade caught in his ears.

Overall comments: My overall impression of this cartoon is that its just completely nuts. The gags are all just all over the place as well as the pacing of the cartoon - where it does from the big dog to the rabbit, and then antics with the small dogs. The fact that this is magic being the small dog's enemy in the cartoon is all crazy as it just feels like we have entered a fantasy when watching it. Chuck Jones' version of the screwball rabbit is certainly a much more tamed version and Chuck sees him in a different view. Hardaway's view on the rabbit shows a lot of resemblance of Daffy Duck - basically in a rabbit's costume. Chuck's version here shows the rabbit is merely just a pest and also a muted character (except for the laughs) whereas Chuck wanted to express those early stories without dialogue. But still, I prefer Hardaway's rabbit - even if it is more annoying. The laugh and design in his cartoon is there but other than that, there is no other resemblance other than a cutesy Jones character.

Chuck has already given his dogs a 2nd appearance in his forth cartoon he has directed, and of course he would use those characters much less afterwards - appearing in about one cartoon a year before abandoning them in 1942 - I guess he wanted to concentrate on making Sniffles a star. With much of the lackluster of the cartoon brings, I have to at least mention about Carl Stalling's contributions towards this cartoon. I have no disrespect towards Stalling, as he is certainly one of the leading and most influential film composers of all time - but what was HE thinking when composing this cartoon! He overuses the  song The Umbrella Man in all the scenes of the dog and the rabbit -- way too much! It's the dominant music cue of the cartoon for sure. Not to mention, Stalling had used cues to dominate the music of cartoons (like using Powerhouse in Baby Bottleneck) but here - The Umbrella Man is just an earworm to listen to that its just sufferance to hear. The cartoon overall just follows through a Disney-esque story routine where it is sequence after sequence of dogs going through trouble.

3 comments:

  1. The cuckoo bird is imitating The Shadow.

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  2. Were it not for Mel's 'Woody' laugh coming from the rabbit, he'd be generic enough not to even be part of Bugs' genealogical tree (and he would basically go over the same grounds a year later in "Stage Fright", replacing the rabbit with a bird who borrows some of the magic and Stalling's "Fingal's Cave" from Chuck's own Minah Bird creation, while adding in a touch of aggressiveness he'd later transfer over to Henery Hawk).

    Also, Jones' early leisurely pacing just kills the final gag's effectiveness, since the rabbit's compressed hands just hold there in mid-air for almost two seconds, just waiting for the dog to s-l-o-w-l-y build his anger and only then reach over and pull them apart (why don't the hands disappear faster, like they did earlier in the cartoon? Because Chuck wanted to get a little bit more personality animation out of the dog). Even if he had done this cartoon just two years later, the building anger would have been condensed and the movement to grab the hands before they disappeared quickened to make the (literal) impact of the final gag work far better.

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  3. And not only is "Umbrella Man" used throughout this one, but the dog's earlier [and first], "Dog Gone Modern" had similiarly "At Your Service Madame" playout over and over. Steve C.

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