Wednesday, 10 July 2013

283. The Bear's Tale (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 282.
Release date: April 13, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Robert C. Bruce (Narrator), Tex Avery (Papa Bear), Mel Blanc (Wolf), Sara Berner (Mama Bear/Red Riding Hood) and Berniece Hansell (Goldilocks/Baby Bear).
Story: Ben Hardaway.
Animation: Rod Scribner.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Loose-parody between the Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood fairy tales; where the two stories end up in a mix.

An all new review; which is also a real Tex Avery epic: clocking in at 9 minutes long. It's plausible that it was intended to become quite a ambitious cartoon for Warner Bros. in terms of story. Here, Tex, and writer Ben Hardaway combine two fairy-tale classics all into one cartoon: Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Little Red Riding Hood...and turn it all into one new cartoon plot with all sorts of twists and turns.

Also, it's also a complete turn for Tex in terms of character design where in this short; it's a complete new style where the characters look go rich in terms of detail that its a significant improvement.

The book opens up; where the cast of the characters displayed credit the following with a Papa, Mama and Baby played by a Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear. Goldilocks plays herself. A clever little set-up for the cast credits.

There's also a little lame pun at the bottom which reads: Miss Goldilocks appears through the courtesy of The Mervin LeBoy Productions. Of course, the name is a silly pun of Mervin LeRoy, who was a top MGM director of the 1930s (producer of The Wizard of Oz).
The page turns to what looks like a typical fairy tale illustration with rich looking colours as well as details of the landscape. The narrator enters his cue: "Once upon a time long, long ago...". The page turns where we find a beautiful background shot by Johnny Johnsen of a forest. The narrator continues; " the midst of a beautiful, green forest".

Birds fly into the scene whilst Mendelssohn's Spring Song plays in the underscore. Avery himself, is already underplaying the whole Disney opening scenario; and pulls it off rather subtlety, whereas the audience don't yet know what is coming up next. The camera then pans towards the forest; but under the hill; lies a small cottage where the three bears reside. The camera slowly trucks in towards the cottage; where we fade inside the kitchen. "And in this cottage there lived three bears!". The three bears jump onto their seats at the kitchen table, one by one and we get a chance to greet the characters as they are introduced by the narrator.

"The papa bear..."

"the mama bear..."

"..and the baby bear".

After the introduction of the bears; they prepare themselves to eat their porridge for breakfast. The timing for the porridge dropping to the breakfast table one-by-one is such neat timing; and Treg Brown's unique quality for the sound effect dropping is such a perfect touch. The little bear said, "Gee, this stuff's too hot!". The mama bear then sips to try, but gets a reaction, "Ohh, ohh, it IS too hot!".

The papa bear then snorts, "Huh-huh-huh, soup's too hot"...his cocky attitude then encourages him to brag as he takes big scoops of porridge, but then steam rises out of his ears. The father bear then rushes over towards the sink where he drinks from the tap water to cool off.

The papa bear then reacts towards the tap; not realising he drank from the hot tap, in contrast to the cold one. For a deliberate pun intended, the papa bear remarks: "Hot stuff!" and then breaks down into that infectious laughter delivered by Tex, which is the laugh that that really adds appeal towards the character; and his personality stands out a lot more than the Mother and Junior bear. The character animation of the papa bear laughing has so much appeal, and the acting is gold! He really steals the cartoon itself.

The narrator continues on with the story: "Knowing the porridge was too much, the mother bear suggested:", "Come now, let's all go for a ride until the porridge cools". Narrator: "So she picked up her hat". You'll notice Carl Stalling also challenges himself throughout the cartoons where he chooses popular songs to play for the right themes of the action, seen in this short.

An example is this scene where the Mother places her hat on, and the underscore is Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet. The mother bear then turns the mirror around to get a good reflection of her back head in that typical, subtle Avery moment.

So, the three bears then leave their own doors to go for their walk.  Cleverly handled where the doors are spliced in three parts in order of each of the bear's heights. Great personality of the father bear scratching his backside as he departs the house. "Into the beautiful green forest.." reads the narrator. The birds and Mendellsohn's music play and appear briefly; and then back to the action "...went the three bears". The three bears are seen riding on a family bicycle. Before showing them one-by-one; we see more of their personality through the cycling; where the father and mother let go of their pedals; and poor junior has to peddle harder to keep the cycicle moving. A rather funny, cute moment with a lot of personality!

"The papa bear.."

"..the mama bear.."

"...and the baby bear".

As a sidenote: Carl Stalling contributes in the personality for each of the three bears rather cleverly through the underscores. It shows it's not only the animation or the voices giving them personality, and Stalling really was a genius for that effect. The father bear's cue is What's the Matter with Father?, and the mother bear's is That Wonderful Mother of Mine, whereas the junior bear's is Rock-a-bye Baby. It all works well very appealingly, and adds weight to their identities.

Meanwhile, outside in the forest; the birds and the music are heard and seen again. Tex uses those little bits throughout the cartoon, but the formula was vital in order to make the pacing of the short, as well as its recurring moments, appeal to an audience. The narrator then introduces Goldilocks towards the story; as we believe the 'Three Bears' story is continuing onwards.

Here, Goldilocks then skips gayly through the forest in theme towards (I think) A-Tisket A-Tasket. The narrator says: "Suddenly, she stopped". Notice how the narrator, throughout the cartoon is in rhythm throughout much of the action of the characters in the cartoon.

It's a rather daring approach which isn't usually attempted in cartoons, but Tex really pulls it off rather subtly. As Goldilocks then skips along to another house, and knocks on the house. Here the fairy tale story deliberately goes off track, as a sleeping wolf lies on his bed, waiting for Little Red Riding Hood. The animation of the door knocking really has an issue in terms of weight, whereas Goldilocks lacks weight in animation, whereas the door reacts as though her knock was heavy. The wolf, believing Red Riding Hood is outside, then responds to the knocking: "Come in Little Red...", the wolf coughs and pulls on a falsetto voice: "Come in, Little Red Riding Hood". A funny little line performed hilariously by the one and only Mel.

Goldilocks walks inside the house, where the wolf makes a take. At this time, the story turns into a sham where Goldilocks kills it by accident (perhaps a subtle blonde reference?). The wolf then demands for her identity, rather irritated of Goldilocks' presence.

She asks: "I'm little Goldilocks, is this where the Three Bears live?". The wolf responds mockingly, "Nah, this isn't where the Three Bears live!".

The wolf then gives her directions to the Three Bear's house, and then pushes her out of the door to leave: "Now scram before you'll spoil everything! This is Grandma's house, and I'm waiting for Red Riding Hood!".

Goldilocks bluffs: "What's Red Riding Hood got that I haven't got!". She then walks away politely. The wolf then laughs at her remark, until at her remarks, it then strikes him in his mind. "Say, why didn't I think of that? Yeah!". The wolf walks over towards a shelf of books, and grabs out the Goldilocks and the Three Bears story, and reads a passage of what happens next in the story. He rushes outside and calls out for a taxi cab towards the Three Bear's house: "To the Three Bears' house and step on it. I'll take care of any tickets". The cab then drives off. A few moments later after the fade out, the wolf creeps through the bedroom of the Three Bears, where he dives into one of the beds.

Back to the Three Bears; they are riding back on their family bike on their way home to continue eating their porridge. In a close-up show; we get some fun from the father who then makes obnoxious siren noise. All completely wacky humour which Tex just pokes fun out of, and a lot of fun has been placed in making this sequence.

Tex's infectious laughter is evident in this sequence; and his siren calls are just completely dopey you can't help but crack a smile. The father bear's personality has so much appeal and is completely likeable, that he's one of those characters you could relate to.

Whilst in the middle of the siren calls; the father then remarks: "Sounds kinda like a police car, don't it?". He then continues to crack out siren calls until he gets slapped in the face by his wife. The camera then pans towards the wife whose seen with an annoyed attitude on her face, which is just a wonderful animated expression which is expressed wonderfully. The father bear also peeking his eyes through his fingers is also wonderfully subtle and human, animation-wise.

Back towards Goldilocks; she skips towards the bear's house as she skips in rhythm to her music cue. She opens the small door; but waiting upstairs is the wolf; whose seen with a believable, impatient attitude as he drums his fingers rigidly impatiently.

"Meanwhile in another section of the beautiful green forest" reads the Narrator. Birds and Mendellsohn's music appear once more, and then the narrator reads: "Came Red Riding Hood". Red Riding Hood then walks into the scene where Stalling plays The Lady in Red as an underscore. Very clever, as well as funny music arrangement which fits into whole 'red' theme perfectly.

Red Riding Hood walks over towards Grandma's house where she opens the door (actions also narrated). She then walks in and calls out Grandma's name. She then discovers a note pinned on Grandma's bed.

Red then picks up the letter and reads it. In a point of view shot; you'll find that the header at the top which reads: READING TIME - 1 MINUTE 20 SECONDS. The heading used to be used on top of articles from Liberty Magazine; which I suppose is meant to be parodied in this letter. The letter then reads the following: "Dear Red:- Got tired of waiting, Have gone to Three Bears' House to eat up little Goldilocks. Love--the Wolf". Red then rushes over towards a telephone operator where he dials the number to the Three Bear's house. Just as Goldilocks is walking up the stairs to take a nap, the phone rings as Goldilocks rushes down to answer it.

Goldilocks then answers the phone; and in this sequence; the screen splits where we get a good angle of the conversation between Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood. Red then answers: "Oh hello, Goldie. This is Red Riding Hood. Say, kid, I just found a note on my Grandma's pillow from that skunk, the wolf".

Tex, immediately breaks the rules for fun, where he hands over the letter towards Goldilocks. "Here, take a look". They then shake each over's hand where Goldilocks realises she almost found herself in trouble. "Well, gee, thanks a lot Red. See ya later". They both then hang up the phone. A coin then rattles in which Goldilocks places her finger to check if the coin has landed, but makes a take, realising nothing was there.

Back towards the Three Bears; they then rush back towards home where they plan on finishing off their porridges. They rush inside the house and back to their positions in the table to proceed eating their meal. The Papa bear looks down at his bowl, makes a take where he finds the bowl are empty. The mama makes the same reaction, as well as Junior.

Junior then cries out, 'And they ate mine all up'. Meanwhile upstairs, the wolf then suddenly starts sneezing, he tries to hold it in with his finger but then loudly sneezes "Ah-choo!!". Downstairs, the three bears shout out "Robbers?" with suspense. They duck under the table.

Notice that little appealing use of perspective animation of the kitchen table moving downward; as the camera pans towards the family hiding under the table. A very difficult assignment to do, but for a director like Tex who wanted to make funny pictures; here he shows a little bit of ambition in terms of animation techniques. Under the table, Papa bear speaks: "Now ma, you and Junior stay right here. I'll go upstairs and take care of that crook!".

After what is intended as a serious part of drama from the father; as soon as he starts walking up the stairs, he breaks down into his dopey self laughing uncontrollably. As he walks upstairs, he breaks the forth wall: "I know there ain't no robber up there, just a little tiny girl named Goldilocks. I read the story last week in Reader's Digest".

The Reader's Digest dig is extremely amusingly put, and quite possibly the best quote all through the film. It's completely full of charm and Tex was completely ahead of his time when creating fairy tale spoofs; where in contrast the Silly Symphony cartoons wouldn't turn out anything like that. The animation of the father laughing upstairs is full of weight, appeal as well as solidity. It's no secret of the fact the animator of that scene is Virgil Ross...who makes the laughter from the father look alive and real.

The father bear walks into the bedroom where he already plans on waking up Goldilocks. He shakes the bed the wolf is sleeping on, "You come out of that bed you cute, little curly-headed rascal". Rather whimsical and warming the line is, from the father. He then pulls out the wolf out of the bed, laughing heartily...believing its all a joke.

After realising, the father bear then stares straight towards the wolf's eyes. He then goes into a range of different expressions where he is rather hesitant and fearful. This is a great character animated scene, and of course, animated by the great Rod Scribner. Scribner makes the father go through so much fearful expressions, that the acting is real gold; and its great to see how Scribner could really be when controlled. The teeth showing from the papa bear during his 'takes' are also wonderfully drawn. Here on the blog; the first GIF to be posted of the father bear's reaction.

The father bear scrams out of the bedroom frantically, as he then carries Mama bear and junior with him, and he crashes through the door, running for his life. In the final shot; over the hills where the sunset reflects, the three bears then scurry over the hills one-by-one. The final part of the 'Baby bear behind' must've been a silly pun by Ben Hardaway, but its character animation of Junior struggling to keep up is solid. "So over the hill went the Three Bears...".

"...the papa bear..."

"..the mama bear.."

"..and the little  bear behind".

Overall comments: A real Tex Avery epic; as I have mentioned earlier. Ben Hardaway made a good contribution in construction of the story; but of course, would have worked with Tex on it, gags and all.   A very ambitious short for Tex in many different levels. The story, for one, is rather ambitious, but more of a story ambition, not technically. Examples include when Tex plays around with the whole Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood tales into the whole short. The short was deliberately intended to be a 'Three Bears' parody, but it all clashes with the Red Riding Hood story, and the whole plot backfires. To me, THAT is what I call a fairy-tale parody. Tex's own use of timing is also ambitious, too. Towards some fans, the cartoon may be slow-paced because it clocks in at 9 minutes. Watching this short and analysing it, Tex really knew what he wanted. All the extra scenes just had to be there, particularly with the narrator's short touches on the opening sequences "and this section of the beautiful green forest", with the birds and the music playing past. It just adds weight and suspense throughout the short, and having it used more than once brings in a much more humorous and intriguing quality to the cartoon itself. 

Of course; other ambitions Tex was going through was timing. You'll notice all throughout the cartoon; the narrator is really in sync towards the action of the characters in the animation. e.g. "She stops" (Goldilocks stops in the forest); all those little bits of detail shine a unique appeal. The cartoon's pacing is very patterned, which was what Tex was striving for, and he knew it would turn out to be constructed very well. Onto the character; there is no doubt that the highlight of the short is the Father bear, himself. The character has so much personality, as he's a hilarious, wacky father who is immediately likeable. Strong character animation was also required for the father bear; and with the likes of Virgil Ross and Rod Scribner all throughout the cartoon, they make the Father bear full of life. Moving onto the music; Carl Stalling does a great job where he has a great taste in bribing the right songs for the right personalities as well as the theme of the sequences which match well as using them, humorously. All in all, a very good Tex Avery short for Warner Bros. in 1940; and certainly beats from the repeated spot-gag shorts Tex was making.


  1. Excellent! Congrats!

  2. I just watched this rerun over lunch and was utterly charmed by it.

  3. The "Mervyn Leboy" gag was a Jack Benny reference, interestingly enough. When Kenny Baker was the featured vocalist on Benny's show, he was under contract to LeRoy, so Don Wilson announced at the show's closing: "Kenny Baker appears on this program through the courtesy of Mervyn LeRoy."

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. When Goldilocks enters the Wolf's house, as soon as the Wolf knows she's not Little Red Riding Hood, he says: "Say, what is this? A frame-up?!"

    That line was quoted from the 1936 film The Ex-Mrs. Bradford.