Saturday, 20 July 2013

288. A Gander at Mother Goose (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 287.
Release date: May 25, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Robert C. Bruce (Narrator), Sara Berner (Contrary Mary/Hiawatha), Mel Blanc (Humpty Dumpty/Both Jacks/Wolf/Dog/Eagle),
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Charles McKimson.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Spot-gag parody of infamous nursery rhymes which lead to gag-after-gag.

Beginning with its title card as Mutiny on the Nursery plays as the underscore; the title card then switches over towards another contribution; which Tex used for a gag where 'Technical Advisor' is attributed to Mother Goose. The camera pans through a lovely illustration of a boy's dreams being visualised of several nursery rhyme characters up in a cloud.

The backgrounds are rich in detail, and have a 18/19th century look to what most nursery rhymes appeared like.

The narrator then enters his cue as the cartoon rolls: "Good evening, ladies and gentleman. Now, sit back and make yourselves comfortable, for tonight we turn back the pages of time to relive those cherished memories of your childhood days; when you dwelt in a land of make-believe with the loveable characters of Mother Goose". The page then turns over on a particular memorable nursery rhyme: Mary, Mary Quite Contrary. The narrator then narrates the first two lines of the nursery rhyme: "Mary, Mary quite contrary--how does your garden grow?". She then responds in a Katherine Hepburn accent: "I'm terribly sorry, but confidentially, it stinks". She reveals the rest of her garden which is covered with litter..which is just a little corny itself.

Turning over towards the next page; Humpty Dumpty is another focus of the short segment where the narrator, again narrates: "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall". Humpty Dumpty then ends up falling; but instead of breaking apart; he giggles "Didn't even hit me". He walks by the wall where his buttocks are revealed to be cracked.

A very crude and childish gag, but has such a charming, immature feel towards it. Turning over the page of the nursery rhyme book; Jack and Jill have their spot. So they are running up the hill, to fetch a pail of water. Of course; they are seen portrayed as a teenage couple holding hands up the hill.

Just as we watch them rush up towards the hill; and the narrator narrates the infamous lines from the rhyme; they disappear from the horizon of the hill. The narrator then is about to narrate the next part: "Jack came down...".

Believing that there has been a screwup with the music cue; he then narrates the lines again before any action can be taken any further. Nothing happens; so the narrator shouts out the lines once again. Jack then rushes down as he grabs the bucket but tosses it away. In close-up; he's covered in kiss marks from Jill; completely turned on and remarks: "The heck with the water" which is a little dirty joke from Tex, as well as its scenario. He rushes back towards the hill where he continues his "business" with Jill.

Over at the next sequence; the page turns towards the Little Miss Muffet poem. The narrator reads the following: "Little Miss Muffet, sat on her tuffet; eating her curds and whey". At this point where a spider then appears through the scene, which would scare Miss Muffet.

However, Tex staged Miss Muffet's position cleverly so her face could not be seen, and for the gag to work: her ugly face then frightens the spider as she greets "Hello!" to the spider. The spider climbs back on top of the web, afraid.

Miss Muffet then shrugs; not knowing what's going on, but continues to eat her cottage cheese. Moving over towards another section; we get the three little pigs being chased by the Big Bad Wolf. Hang on a minute; why the hell is the fairy tale included in this nursery-rhyme parodied short?

The Wolf's line, "I'll huff and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in" are the only indications of it rhyming, but as we all know, we all accept it as a fairy tale. The wolf then makes an attempt in blowing down the pig's house; but the pigs manage to keep the door in control from opening.

A pig then releases a truce flag, and hands over a Histerine bottle; of course being a parody of Listerine. Realising the results aren't working; he bellows "Why don't some of my best friends tell me these things!" which is of course another reference from a Listerine commercial. He opens the bottle and puts on the mouthwash. Moving on from the pig sequence (which I think, doesn't belong there); where we focus on the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. Instead of narrating the lines from the rhyme; the narrator instead commentates on the accurate marching of the soldiers. As the camera trucks back, the legs are all dangly and wobbly; which is a rather funnily animated effect which was taken from Detouring America.

Meanwhile, moving on to another nursery rhyme; the narrator then mentions the infamous poem: Star Light, Star Bright. A dog is sitting on top of a hill at night towards a wishing star. The dog then rhymes: "Star light, star bright...first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight".

As the dog wishes silently in his thoughts; a tree then fades into the scene where his wish has already come true. He then states towards the tree with amazement and hugs it with affection.

Of course; you all know the crude it is a very popular one for his cartoons. Moving on to the Jack Be Nimble nursery rhyme; Jack then jacks across the candlestick just like the nursery thyme. Jack then stops as he brags:

"Aww, there's nothin' to it. Just fast. Speedy, that's me. Flames didn't even touch me". Just as Jack then walks out of the scene, his rear end is burning up because of the candlestick which is a rather amusing result. Moving on towards another nursery rhyme is the infamous nursery rhyme of The Old Mother Who Lived in a Shoe. Discovering that she has already too much children to look after; and the shoe home isn't very spacey---it turns out the problem for the mother is her husband. The camera pans towards the father whose seen just relaxing on his armchair reading the newspaper. Of course; it could be considered sexist for men not doing the work, though the gag itself certainly has realistic tendencies.

The next segment moves towards Hiawatha; which is really another example who isn't a nursery rhyme character at all; but instead quotes what would be considered nursery rhyme-esque: "I shot an arrow into the air, it fell to earth, I knew not where". An eagle then flies down at the scene who then tells off Hiawatha:

"Listen, doc. Be a little more careful when you shoot these things!" He pulls the arrow off his rear end and then gives it back to Hiawatha.

Watching the sequence; no matter how much big Tex was in his contributions in giving the unique humour that would be associated with Warners; it feels though it gets to the point where a sequence like this is completely normal that it is hard to laugh at.

 Moving on to what is the last sequence of the short; it is set at Christmas Eve; and the final nursery in the short is 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. As the camera pans to a White Christmas around the neighbourhood; a particular house is faded in what looks like a beautiful Christmas scenario. The narrator narrates the famous lines: "Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house; not a creature was stirring..not even a mouse".

Two little mice then pop out of their holes as they look towards one another. One little mouse then greets: "Merry Christmas" in a very tiny, mouse voice. The other mouse then ends up shouting "QUIET!", but cores his mouth, much surprise to the noise he's made. During the iris out; Stalling gives it a rathe suspense and silent feel where no music is heard until the 'That's All, Folks' credits.

Overall comments: For this spot gag cartoon; in contrast to Cross Country Detours which ran for a huge amount of time; this short clocks in at a very short length in contrast to what would usually be in a 1940 WB cartoon. It clocks in at roughly  minutes and 19 seconds; which would be about a average two minutes shorter than what the Warners output was throughout 1940; as well as a minute shorter than a average cartoon length. A part of it, although feels rather strangely padded: particularly with the Three Little Pigs sequence, and the Hiawatha segment which are segments that aren't a part of the Mother Goose pack. Perhaps, its reasons for its shorter length of screen time would be the exclusion of a particular recurring gag which would generally appear frequently in Tex's spot-gag cartoons; although here its just a string of different nursery rhyme and all we see is gag-after-gag; and with much of the jokes being rather weak. The pacing of the segments was also rather quickly paced; even though it did not feel rather short considering how there was already quite a number of sequences, though most of them were rather small. Tex uses quite a number of immature as well as cheeky gags; particularly the Humpty Dumpty and the 'Jack and Jill' gag which is just a little subtle dirty joke though the satire of it all is amusing; considering how we generally would acknowledge Jack & Jill in the nursery rhyme being married, siblings, or (to unnecessarily put it) kissing cousins. Overall, the short itself was a little slim which didn't have any particular special moments, other than being a spot-gag which Tex felt he has to make.


  1. I wonder how long the short said that it's shorter than typical 40s Merrie Melodies..
    I presume 6-7 minutes


  2. Humpty Dumpty's butt cheeks and the Mouse on the Night Before Christmas are hilarious!

  3. I remember when Cartoon Network aired this Cartoon they chopped out the "Hiawatha" scene from TV airings.