Sunday, 14 April 2013

268. Sniffles and the Bookworm (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 267.
Release date: December 2, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Margaret Hill-Talboot (Sniffles), Mel Blanc (Piper/Bookworm), William Days (Singing Piper) and Johnnie Davis (1st solo singer).
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Bob McKimson.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Sniffles encounters a bookworm, who mistakens him as a beast--but later finds out who the real beast is.

The first Sniffles cartoon where his side character makes his first appearance: the bookworm; who would appear in two more cartoons such as The Egg Collector and Toy Trouble.

The cartoon begins outside with an exterior shot of an old book shop at night. The streets are covered in snow, and as the scenes fades to interior shots: Sniffles is seen on a bookshelf; resting his back on a book and is snoozing. Whilst he is sleeping, we see a mysterious lump sticking out from the hardcover of the book...afterwards it turns out to be a bookworm who pushed the hole open.

The bookworm watches and observes Sniffles, as he sleeps. The bookworm watches Sniffles, and makes a take at the size of Sniffles, and then zips back inside the book. He then reaches out with his hands in an attempt to grab his glasses which he left on the floor.

Sniffles is already awakened from the noise of the bookworm and watches the bookworm try to pick up his glasses. He accidentally touches Sniffles' tail but Sniffles holds it away. The bookworm pops his face out once more, they stare at each other eye-to-eye, and once again hides back. He grabs his hand out to get his glasses before running away.

The bookworm runs off; and during the horizontal pan: it turns out he's nibbled a tunnel all through a series of books closed in together. After running through the tunnel of books--he escapes back again and then runs over to a Pied Piper book to wake up an actual Pied Piper character. Hang on a minute, what?? What kind of surreal world has Sniffles entered into?

He knocks on the front cover of the book, and it turns out the Pied Piper is inside, sleeping. The Pied Piper stretches his eyelids to wake up a bit more.

 He then whispers to the Pied Piper's ear; where the whispering becomes very vague when watching and listening in the cartoon as it creates suspense. The next scene involves pure acting which was solidly animated by Bob McKimson, as you can tell with his hands moving in perspective. It turns out that the Bookworm is using his hands to demonstrate what he just saw, and describes Sniffles (from his view) as a very big creature. The Pied Piper continues to ask: 'Yeah?'. The Pied Piper then walks out of his own book/bed and charges towards the camera in perspective.

After walking a couple of feet; the Pied Piper slowly charges and realises if the 'size' of Sniffles he is talking about is huge or small. Remember, all this is completely done in without any dialogue; so Chuck is giving it a shot already. The bookworm uses his hands to describe Sniffles being enormous.

Then this follows into more molasses pacing where the Pied Piper uses his hands in a attempt to measure how 'big' Sniffles is. The Pied Piper then believes the size of Sniffles is a bigger size compared to the Piper as he covers his mouth with shock.

The Pied Piper makes a few steps back and rushes over to a Viking book, and whispers to the Viking (inside the book) about the news from the bookworm. Of course, he will ask for a larger figure to help attack the 'beast'.

Meanwhile: the viking, the Pied Piper and the bookworm are all on the lookout to search for Sniffles. Sniffles; however, peeps his head from the spine of the books and he watches them walk on and so, decides to follow them. During the walk; the viking passes on the message to the Pied Piper to 'ssh'; the Piper does so to the bookworm, and the bookworm to Sniffles, not realising his attendance. The bookworm makes a take of Sniffles' presence and makes a run for his life. The viking and the Pied Piper all do the same as they rush to the corner of the bookcases, afraid of the 'beast'.

In a particularly effective shot (where the Piper and viking are painted in silhouette) they watch Sniffles wave; and from perspective..he looks harmless which is a great effect. The Pied Piper and the viking all look at the bookworm with a 'seriously' attitude on their face. A really solid facial expresso by Jones.

The bookworm tries to persuade them Sniffles as big, whereas with their heights--he's just a cutesy mouse. The Pied Piper and the viking all swipe their foreheads with relief.

The Pied Piper then magically grabs out his own pipe where we go into a long, boring song sequence (though a good song) Mutiny on the Nursery. The Pied Piper grabs out his flute and then starts to hum to the song: he even uses his hand motions to form a new flute for Sniffles to jam to.

They both play the flure together to the song, and pass through a Nursery Rhyme book. The piper knocks on the Nursery Rhyme book; and then a teenage-looking boy (I guess is Little Boy Blue) then starts to sing the lyrics to Mutiny on the Nursery. As 'Mother Goose' gets mentioned in the song (in another 'Mother Goose' book) she and her goose step out and jive. Note the reference to the background where there are four volumes of 'Porky Pig' books. What's worth mentioning is..accoriding to Keith Scott: the chorus singers for this sequence is Paul Taylor's Choristers.

The next sequence; the bookworm is seen wondering around the bookstore whilst there are a few guys in a book holding onto lyric papers; as they sing towards the bookworm, as well as the Bo Beep chorus singers. One of the guys offers the bookworm a trumpet which he jams to. The bookworm already turns to the mood of swing with his trumpet playing to the song.

Meanwhile; over at a really dark side of the bookshop; we find that an abandoned Frankenstein book is living over there.

The front cover of the book then opens with Frankenstein walking out of the cover charging towards the singing characters. He appears in an extreme-close up walking towards the camera. As the song still keeps on going (boy, Chuck really must've got carried away there).

There is a small and random scene (padding) where the Pied Piper hands over a baked pie to the Viking who is holding onto a knife and fork and sitting in a table. The viking cuts the pie in half; and then all of a sudden (as well as having the lyrics singing)--blackbirds jump out of the pie and they all dance. Just as the Frankenstein character arrives nearer and nearer; the Viking, Sniffles, the bookworm and the other Nursery rhyme characters all have a jamboree with their instruments. Some influence from live-action films where the shots are arranged of Frankstenstein approaching closer and closer, whilst the Sniffles and the characters all jam together.

Just as Frankenstein is already approaching closer--all the other book characters appear to take notice of his shadow and they vanish inside their books. The Pied Piper and the Viking also make a run for it, because of his size. Speaking of size, it turns out, by coincidence, this is the bookworm's answer to the 'beast'..Frankenstein.

 Just as Frankenstein's shadow covers Sniffles and the bookworm; Frankstenstein crouches down to scare him, but Sniffles can't resist it and shouts 'STOP!'. Sniffles, risking his own life towards Frankenstein--already catches the monster's attention towards the mouse.

He leaves the bookworm alone and turns towards Sniffles, as he is a rather helpless creature. The shots with Frankenstein approaching and Sniffles backing up all empathise the drama as well as making it effective. Sniffles then hides himself at the side of a book, but at the edge of a bookshelf. Considering how Frankenstein has him cornered, Sniffles then spontaneously trips Frankenstein which turns into a long fall for him. Afterwards; Sniffles then decides to rest on the bookshelf and feels very tired from his effort. The bookworm approaches him once more (by digging a hole through the book) and pecks him on the cheek. Mmm, notice that little goof where the book (before was torn) but isn't torn at the end. Unless he went to a new area to sleep which the hardback just happened to have the exact same colour. Sniffles wakes up and finds his glasses left, which he smiles from.

Overall comments: One of the most weirdest, and even weakest Chuck cartoons he's probably ever directed in his Warners career. A lot of the action and what goes on in this whole cartoon just happens out of the blue. There is hardly a fitting or tight story throughout the cartoon, and to put it at best: the story waffles. The cartoon already starts off with Sniffles' introduction with the bookworm, then it turns to the bookworm convinced he saw a giant: towards the Pied Piper and a viking, then it turns into a jolly song sequence, a Frankenstein sequence, and ending. So, yes, I don't like how the story has been set out. If Chuck has intended this cartoon to be a pantomime; well I don't particularly liked how he arranged it. Sniffles only has one line throughout the cartoon, which does feel a little bit pointless. If this was Chuck Jones' continuous attempts of unique storytelling, then evidently, he hasn't mastered the technique.

It also blows when it completely turns into a song sequence that also takes up half of the cartoon. The song isn't terrible at all, as its a wonderful song, but I don't like how it just pads into the cartoon into incoherency. Nevertheless, the animation in the whole cartoon is absolutely terrific and solid: and from watching the speed lines..the airbrush effect has already been properly developed by now. If I really need to say this: the cartoon's analysis is completely weird. It already starts off with an opening and the bookworm believes Sniffles is a beastly giant, but all of a sudden, the beastly giant known as Frankenstein then appears on an attacking mode...and yet the bookworm doesn't even appear to acknowledge that that was the beastie he was referring to. Overall, I found Chuck's approach to be a really dull and weird Sniffles cartoons. Definitely slow-paced in terms of animation timing as well as story pacing. His pacing in his own cartoons, at this rate, isn't going to improve any further.


  1. The middle part of the cartoon feels like something Terrytoons would have done as a stretch-the-picture plot device during the 1940s. The pantomime was more in the vein of what Disney was doing (and what Jones was trying to do), and having Bob McKimson doing the animation really helped, but the best thing about this short is Chuck would take the Pied Piper's design and modify it a decade later into the Sheriff of Nottingham for "Rabbit Hood".

  2. And of course the song you mentioned "Mutiny in the Nursery" was as I tipped you off on, the song heard at the start of "Pied Piper Porky".By the way, congratulaitons on nearly making it through the whole first decade (the thirties) of Warners and other studio's sound cartoons, almost close to 1940.S.Carras:)

  3. The Sniffles cartoons are really enjoyable kid stuff. However Warner Bros. has decided not to allow viewing of these 70 + year old toons anymore to the public on Youtube. Bunch sorry folks at Warner.

  4. That's a first.....the Pied Piper and a mouse getting along!