Tuesday, 28 May 2013

275. Mighty Hunters (1940)


Jimmy Swinnerton's 
CANYON KIDDIES.
'through courtesy of the'
GOOD HOUSEKEEPING MAGAZINE.

Warner cartoon no. 274.
Release date: January 27, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger (uncredited).
Starring: Shepperd Strudwick (Narrator).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Ken Harris.
Backgrounds: Jimmy Swinnerton (uncredited).
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Based on the Canyon Kiddies, a group of children living under the Grand Canyon explore and play around the Canyon.

A animated short where Chuck Jones intended to go ambitious in terms of its artistic style, whereas the comic timing, as well as the story, misadventures, etc. are all the same in terms of Chuck's earlier efforts, although here he is adapting a well-known comic-strip by James Swinnerton. Here, Chuck Jones and Leon Schlesinger travelled to Arizona in early 1939, where Chuck and his unit were on a trip to visit the Canyon in search and to feel inspired for the locations for the cartoon, as indicated on a Exposure Sheet magazine, much thanks to the courtesy of Jerry Beck. Chuck and his unit were also reported to have visited some old Indians who lived in the Canyon areas.

For a cartoon that proved to be ambitious for Warner Bros. artistically, Schlesinger hired Jimmy Swinnerton to help contribute and paint backgrounds for Chuck Jones' cartoon, which Jimmy agreed to do. As reported before, more than 50 backgrounds in this cartoon were painted by Swinnerton. As indicated from the Schlesinger 1939 gag reel, there were also several Indians who were hired to play the canyon drums which were conducted by Carl Stalling himself. Also, this is the only pre-1956 cartoon to be Blue Ribboned with its original titles.

The camera fades in to a beautiful background scenario of the Grand Canyon; I believe this was most likely painted by Jimmy Swinnerton. The narrator then begins his introduction towards the audience, with some minor exposition of the canyon kids, who lived in the caved canyons of Arizona for millions of years.

With that mentioned, this also comes directly from Chuck's Arizona trip experience with old Indian residents of the canyons. The narrator continues onwards, where the Indians were descripted as wild:

'A fierce tribe of wild Indians. So savage were these ferocious warriors. That the very birds and animals of the forest, fled in terror when the deep, throbbing sound of their war drums filled the air'. Just as Carl Stalling's beautiful music score plays in the background, the narrator breaks the forth wall, and directs the audience. '

'I think I can hear the sounds of their drums now. Listen!'. The sounds of the drums playing start off quietly before they are heard much more loudly. Deep down the canyon; some light can be viewed below the distance.

Some great Swinnerton backgrounds, and Chuck uses a beautifully elongated silhouettes which create a illusion in perception of the size; a beautiful technique that Chuck rarely used; even though it greats such suspense, and we are already introduced to the canon kids. The shadows of the canyon kids continue their dance, with the shadows that add suspense--the real canyon kids are a lot smaller in comparison as they dance around the fire.

In the next range of shots; Chuck focuses on each shot, the activities of the canyons, such as the canyon girls tapping on their tom-toms. Chuck's character designs of the canyon girls, appear to stand out like Chinese dolls, judging their facial looks.

Cute, charming gags are in order; particularly with dogs, who also reside at the canyon, with a puppy wagging his tail, which hits each tom-tom to create rhythm--as well as a canyon kid whacking a sleeping dog's belly with a percussion mallet.

A Indian Boy uses a club to whack firmly at a tom-tom; attempting to create rhythm. Chuck's timing in those original scenes are slow, but also syrupy fun, and is paced leisurely. After the individual scenes, Chuck builds up the pace slightly faster by speeding up the original animated shots (minus the puppy scene); and it all finishes when the little Indian boy whacks at the tom-tom; although ends up breaking the top part, and is caught inside the tom-tom.

The kids rush outside for some adventure exploring; as the sun has already risen. As the kids all rush through the homes; an unseen mother raises her hand out of the door to grab the Indian boy, whose given the job to look after his younger brother in a papoose. All of the kids continue to rush deep down the Grand Canyon, including the boy with the papoose, and the kid, still stuck inside the tom-tom.

The canyon boy stuck in the tom-tom, trips and rolls down the path of the canyon. The drum continues to roll, until the tom-tom hits a rock, and brakes.

The boy steps out of the broken tom-tom, and steps out of the tom-tom, although tipping it over. Although this is Chuck going at his syrupy pace, he takes what he can with the sequence, where he uses some personality animation of the boy tipping the tom-tom over, and tripping. Then the Indian boy rushes over in a attempt to catch up with the other canyon kids, who are rushing down with excitement. He makes a complete top, at a edge of the canyon, knowing he could fall to his death. Watching the kids run deeper down the canyon, the boy looks around; and with glee: he finds a donkey chewing on some cactus. Before any fandom readers raise any eyebrows, do donkeys eat cactus? Yes, wild donkeys in the desert do.

The boy rushes over towards the donkey eating cactus, and makes an attempt to ride the donkey, by using cowboy manoeuvres, which creates some charming, personality animation. The boy makes an attempt to push the donkey's behind to make the mule move, as Chuck and Monahan underplays the whole 'stubborn as a mule' simile.

After a big step back, the boy's attempt to push the donkey fails, and finds himself being sat on by the mule, and the mule's tail wriggles around the boy's face. Considering how the character designs are delicately drawn, Chuck appears to have a hard time with the expressions on the boy's face, as they're drawn rather conservatively.

Slow-paced sequence? Sure. Chuck already shows an attempt to charm the audience with a Disney-esque sequence as, of course, they were a hit from audiences watching Disney shorts, but Chuck just hasn't learned the ropes of comic timing yet, as 1940 was too early a year for when fast-action came to be.

Carl Stalling's music for the sequence stands out far better than Chuck's timing, as well as the gag development of the scene. Whenever, a sequence such as this being tepid, Stalling still manages to bring charm in the music, by developing that music cue which is underscored throughout the donkey sequences in the cartoon. Familiar amongst fans? Of-course; being Stalling's own music cue: he used it several more times in cartoons like Calling Dr. Porky, Kiss Me Cat and Cheese Chasers.

The next sequence, two other canyon kids climb on top of a cliff located elsewhere in the canyon; as they climb up in search for hunting for animals. Jimmy Swinnerton paints a beautiful pictorial shot of the canyon kids on top of the edge, where the backgrounds of  the Grand Canyon (as well as the horizon) show a beautiful effect on it.

Chuck also uses some unique staging to spice up the sequence, and save it from boring an audience with its pacing. One kid spots a squirrel up in a tree, and makes an attempt to shoot towards it with a bow & arrow. The squirrel notices he is being spotted, and gulps with fright.

The facial expression on the squirrel's face is pure Chuck, and juices it in animation wonderfully. The squirrel runs towards the other side from the hole of the tree trunk, and ends up cornered from the other Indian boy.

The squirrel pulls out another priceless expression on his face, where it registers nerves, and it looks completely human in a cartoony way. The squirrel dashes inside the hole, and the Indian boy places his bow & arrow closer inside the tree; however the squirrel finds himself standing on top of the arrow. The Indian boy lets go of the arrow with a surprise, and the arrow shoots towards a branch, vibrating. The squirrel looks at the boys, and scampers off. Chuck shows a good sense of emotions in the sequences, particularly the facial expressions, which still charm the viewer from watching the padding.

Back to the sequence with the donkey and the boy, the donkey is still seated on top of the boy, although the donkey stands back up and continues to eat the cactus. The Indian boy, then walks over in front, attempting to think of an idea of how to move the donkey. Continuing to waste his time, other than continue climbing down the canyon; he think of an idea.

He continues with his attempts and thinking thoroughly, just like what Pluto or an early Goofy would do. He pretty much uses the same plan which he used the first time, by jumping on top of the donkey's back again, except he slides off.

The attempt happens again, where the boy jumps back onto the donkey's back, although ends up clinging onto the donkey's neck. The result ends up with the donkey happily licking the boy's face.

Meanwhile, climbing up the paths of the canyon: an Indian boy carrying his brother in a papoose is walking upwards for some adventures. Again, Chuck also focuses on some much more unique staging in terms of layout; as well as animation-wise. As the bear sniffs out for a intruder, Chuck goes ahead with a point of view shot, animated in perspective, and its rather effective, where the baby is carrying a candy stick. The bear looks at the candy with delight.

Already back to the donkey and boy sequence, it has already reached its position where it gets too repetitive, although this sequence is showing an attempt in causing the donkey to move.

Just like the Mynah bird, Chuck uses the donkey in that sequence where he is supernatural, and its promising for Chuck in that period, as he would go on to create Road Runner, who is his most famous supernatural creation.

Chuck also uses the Indian boy, in comparison towards other assiduous, though unsuccessful characters such as the Coyote and Inki. Back to the boy with the papoose; the bear follows their track as the bear is mostly eager in licking the candy stick from the baby. The baby whacks the bear in the nose with the candy stick as a result. The Indian boy tells the baby to hush whilst on a hunting adventure.

Already from the start of the introduction of the bear sequence; Chuck shows some arrangements of all the characters, but paced quickly before reaching the pinnacle of its climax in the story. The climax already arrives, when the two Indian hunters scurry behind a rock; as a bear is following the Indian boy with the papoose.

Through a series of close-up shots; the two Indian boys, and the other indian boy communicate towards each other..all without dialogue. Chuck knew exactly what he was doing, whereas hand gestures are absolutely key in the character animation of the Indian kids.

 The two Indian boys point towards the Indian boy of a bear behind him. The boy turns and notices the bear behind him. In a long-shot; Chuck displays tenseness where they slowly walk backwards from the approaching bear.

Up to the point where they reach the end of the cliff: the climax is already at its peak; as the two indian boys hang on to each other as well as the edge of the cliff.

The point of view shot of the Grand Canyon at the bottom; presents a good case in how the kids are at peril with the bear, and the likeliness of falling. With the Indian boy with the papoose in trouble, the bear makes an attempt to grab the candy stick; that Chuck displays in a point of view, the struggles of reaching the candy. In what is supposed to temporarily shock the audience, the bear falls off the edge of the cliff; believing he has fallen to his death. However, it turns out the bear has landed safely on a tree branch licking the candy stick from the baby, and enjoying the taste of it.

The canyon kids climbs back on top of the edge of the cliff, where they flee back from underneath, and back to their homes. In the concluding shots, the backgrounds, most likely painted by Swinnerton, display a beautiful atmosphere of the kids running away, and the backgrounds also give a sense of beauty of the canyon; as to what it looks like in real life.

As the evening dusk gets pinker, the narrator arrives back in to conclude the cartoon. The sky is then saturated and adjusted to pink clouds, and then to darkness.

The narrator narrates the conclusion of the day, whereas we view a shot of the canyon kids asleep in their homes, and the animals are safe for the night, and the canyon at peace. In the final shot, we see the last throwback of the donkey gag, where it shows the kid is still bothered and tugs the donkey, and still fails.

Overall comments: For a typical Warner Bros. fan, this may not occur to you as a cartoon with many merits, or just the same pattern as many of Jones' early cartoons. In terms of the plotless cartoon, which focus on the Canyon kids out on their adventures, and leading themselves into danger--this is no breakthrough for Jones, when it comes to story, and will agree it is just as similar to his other earlier efforts. Artistically, this is a new level for Jones. To begin with, Chuck Jones shies away from his typical drawing style which is extremely noticeable in his cartoons from 1939; that looked rather similar to the character layouts he drew for Clampett. Chuck goes for a different approach, similar to what he used for Old Glory--although his character designs, that are strongly influenced by Swinnerston's Canyon Kiddies comic strips are extremely relevant for this cartoon. Swinnerton's own contributions towards the cartoon are also vital for the cartoon's rustic output; where he paints a sense of absolute beauty of the Canyon, that it stands out a lot more than the sequences of the film, and is able to paint a background of the canyon, almost as beautifully as though it was a photograph.

As for how the cartoon flows through, the cartoon pacing of the cartoon may be rather spotty in some parts, particularly the donkey scenes, although being clocked in at 8 and a half minutes: much of what was featured had to be included: (i.e.) the narrator's preface; as well as the introduction towards the canyon kids, and the epilogue scenes. The donkey and the boy sequences really do slow down the picture, and is featured a lot more throughout the other sequences, that the hunting characters aren't as important or displayed as often. However, Stalling uses the music cue as a remedy to help bring charm towards the sequence, as well as personality into the music. Nevertheless, Stalling's musical direction throughout the cartoon really add weight to the cartoon. Overall, this cartoon deserves a pass in my book. Other opinions of the cartoon may differ from my point of view, but this to me, shows a rare example of how delightful the Warner Bros. cartoons were wonderfully artistic in their early days; and how Chuck Jones already showed a lot of promise of being a sensational director. The artistic side of the cartoon also brings a nostalgic feel of the Golden-Age animation, and what isn't with us any longer.

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