Friday, 31 May 2013

277. Busy Bakers (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 276.
Release date: February 10, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Eldery Elf/Cross-Eyed Elf).
Story: Jack Miller.
Animation: Richard Bickenbach.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A baker is already near bankrupt and is facing closure, although with the help of elves, the bakery is back to business.

Last cartoon which was directed by Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton, prior Freleng's return in April 1939, who took over their unit, and the pair given demotions: Cal Dalton returning to animation, and Ben Hardaway given the Head of Story Department position, although didn't hold that position for very long.

Cartoon begins with a local village set at night. Ironically, not one light seems to be off in every window that shows the village from the Art Loomer backgrounds. The shot features some brief sign gags contributed from Ben Hardaway, which appears to be a trait of his--with one sign that shows the bakery is facing closure: 'We Can't Complain About Business--There Ain't None!!'.

Meanwhile inside the bakery; the main baker: The baker, Swenson is pacing around the shop. He appears to take out a measurement for the barrels, where the camera trucks in to already indicate to the audience, through communication it's empty.

He walks over towards the cashier to check for any profits the bakery has made. To make it appear gag-wise; a tin of canned tomatoes indicate his 'profits' aren't shown as real money (i.e. bottle cap, button, etc), which is a dark for a gag, since Melancholy Mood is  the music cue. Meanwhile; a elderly blind man walks into a store, where the baker believes he has a customer. He asks for any dimes to spare; although the baker could only offer him a doughnut. After almost a whole minute of just drama with no gags, we get a rather odd blessing from the blind man, as he leaves.

Meanwhile, the supposed elderly blind man then leaves the store, as he rushes back towards his headquarters. He dashes all the way towards a windmill, where he changes out of his disguise, and warns the other elves, sleeping in bed--one of the elves is a Henry Binder caricature. He starts off with the basic warning, that is store is facing closure.

Jack Miller, probably directed from Hardaway/Dalton is engaged with some rhyming couplets, that feel Disney-ish. An example is shown where the main elf warns: 'The store is empty, he hasn't a crust / we must work fast, or he'll go bust!'.

All the other elves then scamper out of their beds to get changes as they are to head over towards Swenson's Bakery. One of the elderly elves then looks over towards a sleepy Swenson where he is lying on his desk, which means the coast is clear.

As Swenson is asleep and they enter inside the bakery shop; the elderly elf reminds the others: 'Must work fast before he wakes / and fill his store with pies and cakes!'. The elves then begin with the bakery, and as if the cartoon could get any worse--the elves start to sing the song The Happy, Slappy Little Baker Man. The chorus singers are terribly irritating to listen to, its insufferable, and painfully unentertaining.

During the song sequence; the voices from the elves singing (as well as making the recipes) really do not entertain the sequences, and the baking gags are certainly not funny. The cross-eyed baker where he has his head by a frying pan is only just obnoxious, though I believe that's Blanc's voice really sped up there, and the comic timing is very sloppy in these Hardaway-Dalton cartoons.

Not too sure who is providing much of the voices of the other elves, although it sounds like much of them were sped up, especially the Colonna elf; whose voice impersonation just sounds off-key. The elderly elf is also seen a shot where he puts all the ingredients together to help bake the recipe.

After the sequence, it's all just gag-after-gag; where you will find virtually no surprises coming up whatsoever, and it all just runs down together. A Harpo Marx-type elf runs into the scene, dropping the cake; and flips the other side. To add to a really corny gag, he pins a sign on top reading 'Upside down cake'. The gag itself has no charm, and just unfocused.

Meanwhile, there is a elf baker who pulls out a can which contains the pumpkin. Whilst the gag is similar to that of Avery's Cinderella Meets Fella where the Fairy Godmother pulls out a pumpkin from a can, you still just got to admire the sound effects by Treg Brown, who just knew how to add weight to a physical gag, even if it was very gag.

Obvious to the fact he has pulled out an enormous, rounded pumpkin; it takes him a while to know the pumpkin isn't flat or squished to be prepared for a pumpkin pie. To solve the problem, he grabs a mallet where the pumpkin splats and also splatters on his clothes and face.

Whilst it could work as a gag, the comic timing for that part is just flat. More baking scenes appear where there is a baker making some doughnuts and uses a pumper to pump up the flattened doughnuts, and another elf just sprays chocolate icing over the doughnuts. Seriously, these gag sequences are just extremely weak. In fact, even 8 years olds have a better understanding on how a good gag work, and would even criticise such poor pacing in this cartoon.

The next sequence does so happens to be one of those slow-paced pointless gags where a character comes in a sticky situation, and attempt to figure out how to solve the problem, but still come to failure. This results where a cross-eyed baker is rolling the dough with his rolling pin..the rolling pin ends up stuck on the dough.

The rolling pin is very sticky, and he attempts to pull it out physically, although the weight is trapped inside the dough that it is too strong to pull off. However, this does work except he falls off the table with the rolling pin clashing on top of his head.

It gets extremely even more pointless where the baker just attempts to whack the dole; and yet the dough retaliates. For such a crappy cartoon, this sort of exaggeration just doesn't work in that environment. The dough then forms into a hand and prods the baker in the eye, and then they battle one another on top of the table. Virtually humourless, and also known as padding in that cartoon.

With Little Dutch Plate played in the background; the baker then folds the piece of dough as he has already swept it with jelly. He then folds it up like folding a piece of carpet. However, the carpet then unrolls itself, once he has reached the top and then ends up being flattened from the jam roll. Just by watching that scene, these are gags that Disney would even laugh at.

After just an entire string of gags, that I couldn't take any longer, Swenson finally wakes up from the rumpus, thank God, as he walks over to investigate the activity occurring in his kitchen. The elves discover he has approached the kitchen and then rush out of the scene.

Swenson is completely baffled from all the activity occurring his kitchen, but moments later, a doorbell rings where the entire village see all different kinds of bakery in display which persuades to purchase the food.

In a conversative looking crowd shot, the whole crowd are waving their money in the shop, desperate to purchase some of the bakes. Hardaway and Dalton, whose never been very daring in their film techniques, use the following shots as a montage success for Swenson; which is relevant at best for the sequence, despite the atrocity the directors have already given us.

After a series of montage from the success of Swenson on that night, he finds the amount of cash that have poured on his desk and he piles up the money with glee. Meanwhile the same elderly blind man (disguised as the elderly elf) walks into the bakery store, and asks: 'Could you spare a poor, hungry man a few crumbs of bread?'. He hands over the pie towards the elderly man where he thanks him.

Just as the elderly man walks out of the bakery store, closes the door and then walks away. Swenson then steps out of his own store, where he shouts out towards the elderly man: "Hey, mister! I forgot to tell you there's a five-cent deposit on the pie tin!".

Love the fact that he is trying to use his hand for the 'five-cents' gesture, when in the cartoon world: he only has four fingers. Doesn't see work out too well when it comes to personality animation. The pie is then tossed straight towards his face, where he finishes with the closing line "That's gratitude for ya!", as the cartoon ends.

Overall comments: Which much of my comments mentioned throughout the review, this is a particular cartoon from the era prior Friz Freleng's return to the studio that I love to hate. The gags are just extremely flat, and the bakery sequences extremely run together badly. This short is a great example for poor structure as well as pacing. It has a terrible build up, where we find in the opening--the baker is bankrupt, and then the elves make a attempt to save the store: which follows by a lame sequence of baking the food; then success for the baker: and concludes with that ridiculous one-liner gag at the end. Shows how the cartoon, itself, wasn't worth it. Being the final Hardaway/Dalton cartoon, I suppose that the two directors weren't expecting it to be their by the time Friz Freleng returned to the Studio in April 1939.

As already mentioned, Dalton was still working in the same unit, but as a animator; and according to the 'Exposure Sheet' issue 5--it was a position he already loved...whilst Ben Hardaway took the demotion pretty hardly, at least according to Martha Sigall. He was, however, given the position as Head of the Story department, where he would work on a few shorts, before his departure in January 1940 for Lantz. Nevertheless, it was evidently all for the greater good. With Freleng's return to the Studio, the cartoons released from the previous year finally pick up the pace again, and the Studio desperately needed Friz Freleng back to help reform the WB cartoons, in terms of comic timing, as well as humour...which Freleng does.


  1. I need to confess that this is my favourite cartoon. I love how beautifully it is drawn, I love the music in this cartoon. There is a lot of very funny Merrie Melodies cartoons, so it is not boring at all for me to watch one that is not too funny, but so beautiful.

  2. Disney director Jack Hannah, in his late 80s book "Walt & Other Assorted Characters" noted that "Pinnochio" (from the same year as "Busy Bakers",1940)'s "Geppeto", Christian Rub, did Geppeto like voices for Warner Bros.cartoons, which would to me imply that it would be the very similiarly sounding and voiced regular size human baker, but that may be Mel Blanc doing one of his elderly voices (he had one that was a take-off of later Jones head legend animator Ken Harris that you'd hear as an old man in Jones's 1951 "Chow Hound" or Freleng's
    1952 "Ain't She Tweet"(it's the one with the many bulldogs.). There's also (getting back to "Bakers") an original song, much like Jones's "Tom Thumb in Trouble" from that year!

  3. I recently did a search for this cartoon, which I have not probably watched on TV in 40+ years--but it always stayed with me. Perhaps it does have imperfections from a technical or production point of view. For me, these are not at issue. This cartoon, like so many from this time, conveyed an important message to me as a little kid: that a genuine act of charity, especially when it means a potential loss to self--and shown to someone who is in dire straits--is precious. These are the important life lessons that MM so often conveyed to children (and grown-ups...). I hope it is still running on some local stations for the "Homeland" Generation (born after 2002).

  4. Carl Stalling interpolated "In An Old Dutch Garden (By An Old Dutch Mill)", which was a popular song at the beginning of 1940, in the middle of the cartoon, as the bakers are trying to make their "creations". WONDERFUL scoring!!!!!!

  5. Just hearing the title makes 'Melancholy Mood' start playing in my head, and The Happy Sappy Little Baker Men is one of my favorite bits, especially the Jerry Colonna take-off "push 'em into the oven until a quarter past ten". A magnificent cartoon.

  6. One of the bakers is a caricature of Leon Schlesinger's production manager, Henry Binder (the one with the wavy hair). Some of Hardaway & Dalton's other animators may be caricatured as well.