Thursday, 4 April 2013

262. The Little Lion Hunter (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 261.
Release date: October 7, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Story: Robert Givens.
Animation: Phil Monroe.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Whilst hunting through the jungle with his spear. Inki, a shy African boy is on the hunt for a lion but finds he is being followed by a ferocious one.

The first appearance of Chuck Jones' new character which he would create in his particular cutesy-era: Inki, who was a shy non-speaking African boy who was usually caught up in many surreal situations and also drawn with a lack of comic exaggeration. This is also the first appearance of the mynah bird; who of course is very memorable for his syncopated hop to Fingal's Cave by Mendelssohn. Of course, the mynah bird is represented as being mightier than Inki and the only supernatural character of all Warner cartoon characters, and stands out as more memorable than Inki.

This cartoon is another early example of non-dialogue acting: which he was the master of...though this is early days for Chuck, as that trait hanged on with him from very earlier on. Chuck's character is also probably one of the earliest examples of a non-stereotypical Negro. According to Mike Barrier's interview with Chuck Jones in 1969--Chuck considers his Inki cartoons rather a mystery, and in some aspects, hard to analyse. I suppose that's part of the fun in Chuck's notorious animation career.

The cartoon starts off where a parrot is seen focused on flying in the jungle as we hear Fingal's Cave. After the parrot has landed on a limb looking rather stern; a spear appears right at the spot and the parrot reacts. The timing of the parrot's reaction is a little sloppy; but the way the atmosphere of the scene has been delivered certainly adds suspense. Inki arrives at the scene to grab his spear.

After the camera fades to a different scene, a giraffe reaches his neck down to chew on some of the plants rooted in the ground. A spear hits the bark of the tree and continuously vibrates. The giraffe chews on the tree which also causes him to vibrate a little.

Chuck's plain facial expressions for the animals certainly make the anatomy of the animals as appear very realistic. Meanwhile there is also a butterfly flittering around a log. The spear (looks much smaller in scale) hits the spot and the butterfly vanishes out of the scene. Inki arrives at the scene with his spear; and the first thing he notices is mysterious foot-prints coming from a bird. He runs through to track any animal, but slowly runs in a attempt to hunt and track the footprints. The fact there are just footprints definitely create suspense and mystery, which I suppose was what the Inki cartoons were about.

As Inki continues to follow the track - he hears the sounds of rustling coming from a bush. He quickly hides inside a cave. After the rustling - we then meet the mynah bird. Who, notoriously, throughout the 'Inki' series hops along synced to the theme of Fingal's Cave by Mendelssohn.

According to Carl Stalling, in a Mike Barrier interview: 'it went over so well, we had to use it every time'. Meaning Fingal's Cave. Inki looks out and watches the mynah bird hop. The animation of the mynah bird's hop is of course: top notch and of course, is even funny as he only hops around.

The facial expression by Chuck is also very solid, and Chuck was already prestigious with facial expressions (in this era), and the mynah bird's expression really is mysterious, as its the only facial expression we practically ever see of him.

Inki then decides to follow the mynah bird by carrying his spear. Look at the really solid three-dimensional animation of Inki as he follows through; the glossy look really adds the finishing touch.
I also love that little bit of personality animation of Inki also hopping in sync to 'Fingal'. I suspect this was by Bob McKimson.

Inki then finds the the mynah bird has hopped into a hole before Inki could catch him with his spear. In this really slow-paced bit of animation: Inki then reaches his hand inside the hole in a attempt to retrieve the bird. Afterwards; he fins he has pulled out a skunk. After Inki pulls out the skunk; there is a disturbed look on Inki which is a priceless Jones expression. He pulls the skunk back in the hole with a disgusted and unclean look on Inki's face which is extremely expressive for Warners in 1939. Notice the two facial expressions I've screen grabbed.

Meanwhile as Inki continues his hunting; he spots off-screen, before we pan, a tortoise walking along. The tortoise turns arounds, makes a take, and hides inside his shell as a spear rushes through the scene. The tortoise then pops out of his shell as he rushes for his life.

The tortoise makes his hide inside a log...Inki follows the tortoise inside. However, once he runs out the other side of the log. The mynah bird pops back into the cartoon again outwitting him supernaturally.

The mynah bird, once again, hops in sync to the music and trembles on top of Inki before he exits the screen. Inki watches the mynah bird's exits and then grabs out a spear to aim at him -- just as he is about to cross an edge of a cliff. After tossing the spear; it turns out the spear makes a small bridge for the mynah bird to hop across another part; which is very amusing.

The mynah bird then makes his way by hopping up a tree. Inki watches the mynah bird climb up the tree, and so Inki climbs up himself. After the climb, we find Inki on top of the canopy of the tree with the mynah bird standing on top of his head. Inki turns to search for the bird, and occasionally the mynah bird jumps on top of his head.

Inki look up, and attempts to grab him but the bird hops in which Inki forces himself to the ground with off-screen crashes and rustling on top of the canopy. Still a great mystery to me as how the mynah bird is expressionless, really is realistic and expressive in its own subtle form.

After Inki's fall we pan to the left where we find a suspicious-looking lion walking around the jungle. I always have that logical feeling of why lions are in a jungle when they live in savannah areas of Africa.

It turns out that Inki is placing his ears to the ground, listening out for the sounds of footsteps he just heard. He then asks for the lion to 'ssh' (perhaps the only voice in the cartoon?). The lion then uses his hands to pretend the footsteps are approaching and the hand animation was very cleverly animated.

Afterwards; Inki then uses his hands in a attempt to feel the lion, and uses his hands to feel the identity of him. It's a rather Disney-esque sequence where you would find innocent characters repeating the motion Inki is doing. As soon as Inki feels the lion's face; we see an excellent facial expression on Inki's face where he already looks afraid, and walks out of the scene scared stiff. Of course, according to Culhane in his book, Jones still had trouble with his designs of the lion...even until 1943.

Afterwards; Inki finds that he is still being followed by the fierce-looking lion...and so Inki speeds up the pace as well as the lion. After speeding up the pace, Inki manages to hide under the burrow of a tree, where the lion pauses and looks through inside. Being how cunning the lion is, he turns around to watch Inki escape from the other side.

The lion then turns to watch the lion make an attempt of escaping. The lion then places his finger on top of Inki's behind so he can be trapped from escaping. Inki realises he is being touched, and so he uses his hand to try and feel what is touching him.

In a close-up shot: we find Inki stretching out his hands to try and feel what is touching him. He squeezes the lion's finger and the nail is a little bit squished out; which is some really juicy timing on the animation. Inki realises it is the lion, and so he slots the nail straight back inside his finger. Inki steps out from under the tree, realising he is in danger of the lion. After he paces a few steps, he dashes out of the scene and the lion follows.

The lion is still chasing after Inki and so is on the lookout for his whereabouts. It turns out that Inki is seen hiding inside a tree stump. He even picks up the tree stump to move the stump a few feet. The way he is able to pick up the stump is probably one of the few indications in this cartoon of comic exaggeration: which much of the Inki cartoons lack.

Watching this sequence; you can certainly tell from looking at the lion that he already looks rather underdeveloped through character design and isn't as pinched or constructed properly.

Wonder if this design is attributed to Charlie Thorson (who also designed Inki). As the lion doesn't realise where on earth Inki is, he then is about to lean on the tree stump--but Inki makes an escape that causes the lion to trip to the ground with his elbow. Inki continues to hide holding onto the tree stump. The lion follows Inki and so makes sure he can't escape any further. Inki looks out from the stump to check if the lion has disappeared. After he turns his head, he finds that he is face-to-face with the lion. He grabs his skin and sinks inside the tree-stump.

At that moment, as the lion is about to get all grizzly with Inki; the mynah bird's cue enters again and he jumps out of the tree stump. As the mynah bird hops away; the lion turns towards the bird and roars at it. As they exit off-screen; we watch off-screen violence where there trees are falling as well as the camera shaking.

After the eruption; the mynah bird walks out completely harmless, and we discover that the lion is in fact is completely tied to a tree (tail tied up on a limb). Now that is a funny scene in its own natural ways.

The fact that the mynah bird's supernaturals can harm any brawny animal. This is really Chuck's new way of exploring subtle off-stage comedy. I guess this is supposed to be an exaggerated way of 'brain over brawn'...except it doesn't take the mynah bird any skill to defeat his enemies. Afterwards; the mynah bird walks out of the scene, and he notices Inki's eye peeping through the hole of the tree stump. The mynah bird uses his finger motion to entire Inki. Inki steps out and wishes to shake his hands for saving his skin. The mynah bird orders for Inki to turn, just to kick him in the behind--refusing to accept anything.

Overall comments: Being how Chuck still hasn't established himself yet--I feel as though this cartoon was finally the turning point where he was more than the average director. It's a complete unique cartoon in terms of the Warner cartoons. Watching the Warner cartoons of the 1930s: they're main focus was parodying jokes from the radio, movies, celebrities, etc. as well as creating wacky stories. In some aspects, I would interpret that Chuck was probably proud of his unique talent than the other directors, and the ego is already there. I guess the fact that Chuck was given complete freedom of what cartoons to make really gave him a shine to show off his talent. Chuck's use for facial expression really do feel revolutionary, for a Warners cartoon in 1939. Its Chuck's amazing talent which combines wonderful personality animation here. I do feel this is one of the earliest examples of one of Chuck's many impressions, and to even show that the facial expressions show Chuck has guts! The Inki cartoons are an early example of his talents. Though being Disney-esque, it's all performed through pantomime--a trait which Chuck was the master of; though Chuck managed to present comedy through pantomime. The cartoon is completely voice free; and yet, the cartoon really does have a subtle appeal to it. I'll admit, I find some of the Inki cartoons to be rather boring and uninteresting, but the first cartoon Chuck made is pretty striking.

It really does not have much of a story at all, but the subtle charm I guess is the fact the cartoon in its own ways creates suspense and mystery. The mynah bird, itself, is a mystery. The bird always has an expressionless face, and the only action he does is to either provoke or just hop in sync to Fingal's Cave. I always like the anecdote from Chuck hearing about how Leon Schlesinger and Warners were always completely baffled about the mynah bird, but of the time of the cartoon's had an impact with the audience. I guess, the fact the staff being baffled is exactly the point--we're not supposed to know more about the mynah bird, creating the bird as a rather mysterious bird. You've just got to accept that his supernaturals are really funny--funny in a way that is too complicated to analyse. Of course, the cartoon is rarely seen on US television because of the caricature of the Negro, and definitely not because of being a stereotype. As for my overall views on the cartoon: I really do understand the appeal through the audiences, and I will admit I find many of the Inki cartoons very interesting--though personally, I do find the atmosphere of the cartoons to be a little boring. They're the type of pantomime cartoons that really haven't been performed before. As Chuck has put it, a little like Little Hiawatha but replaced with an African boy.

1 comment:

  1. I love cute little Inki, he's so awesome!