Warner cartoon no. 293.
Release date: July 20, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Margaret Hill-Talbot (Sniffles) and Mel Blanc (Owl).
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Rudy Larriva.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Sniffles participates in his hobby for collecting eggs, and sets on an ambitious task to collect an owl's egg.
The short itself, sort of feels like an established series produced by Chuck as past events appear to occur back into the novel. For one, Sniffles has a hobby of collecting eggs in this cartoon, and this follows up from Little Brother Rat. A side character, the bookworm also makes another appearance from Sniffles and the Bookworm. This is rather a rarity for animated cartoons to appear as continuous follow-ups; which it appears Chuck Jones was particularly aiming for, as well as building up possible new stars for the Schlesinger studio.
Also Rudy Larriva's first animation credit for Warners, who was famous for his early animated for Chuck Jones, as well as considered to be his favourite animator during the Sniffles period. As noted, his departure to Disney had hit Chuck pretty hard, due to Rudy's dislike for working with Chuck..but his future career wouldn't turn out great by reputation. He would leave Chuck to go on to work on the sluggish-paced Road Runner cartoons which were subcontracted and made at Filmation/Format Films, and also spent much of his career there, well into the 80s.
Sniffles looks at the egg in the illustration and comments, 'Gee Willikers, that certainly is a lovely egg, isn't it?'. The camera pans in towards the bookworm; a side character who was introduced in 1939 in Sniffles and the Bookworm.
At this point, he feels as a particular established side character for Sniffles. The next point of view shot focuses on Sniffles reading a passage of the owl's locations, which reads about owls mostly living in barns, church lofts, etc. just like it is written in the book.
Sniffles reads it aloud, and the part where Sniffles struggles to pronounce, 'etcetera' is a rather touching little sentiment in terms of acting. After Sniffles reads about the owls generally eat small rodents; clueless of the work he asks the bookworm for the definition.
He then shakes his head as a suggestion to not collect eggs. Sniffles, clueless, suggests: "Probably some kind of a flower or somethin'". He continues to read briefly, and wishes with a great felling: 'Golly, I'd certainly like to amateur collect one of those beautiful eggs. Golly, if only I knew where one of those old barn owls lived'. Chuck organises the series of close-ups of Sniffles and the bookworm; into a dialogue sequence, where the bookworm then indicates through sign language he knows where to collect owl eggs for Sniffles. Sniffles then leads the way, 'Come on, what are we waiting for? Maybe we can find a real owl's egg'. The introduction itself was paced a little evenly, even though the dialogue may have been slowly paced, as well as the many filled pauses..but it does the job.
The following shots have a very live-action influence towards it in terms of staging which creates mysteries.
The point-of-view shot of Sniffles and the bookworm looking upwards to the church loft, from a far distance is what sticks out with a influence of live-action staging..which is evident in Chuck's approach for realistic, Disney-esque suspense. The bookworm gulps so Sniffles proceeds to climb up the pole, and the bookworm follows. Up the top; Sniffles and the bookworm have made it to the church loft, but the bookworm turns afraid and rushes towards Sniffles; clinging onto him, afraid. Sniffles struggles to take him off, and asks: 'What's the matter with you anyhow? You're not scared, are you?'. At first the bookworm nods, admitting his scared, but already intimidated by Sniffles, changes his mind and shakes his head.
Just then, Sniffles takes the situation as settled; and gives the bookworm and himself different coordinates to find owl's egg. As Sniffles walks to the left, the bookworm walks behind him, but to his left..too scared.
Meanwhile; as Sniffles has already walked to a extent, but manages to find an owl's egg, sitting on a cradle labelled 'Junior'. In a close up, he looks at the owl's egg with glee, 'Gee willikers! A real owl's egg'.
At this point, when Sniffles has already said 'Gee willikers' numerous times, it feels Chuck is attempting to establish that as a possible catchphrase for Sniffles. Sniffles then proceeds to pick up the egg, (which is cracked) but only picks up the first half of the shell. On the bottom half, still sitting, a baby owl pops up hooting. As Sniffles staggers from the hooting, he turns round and looks at it with more amazement: 'Gee willikers, a real owl too'..which is seen as a bonus for Sniffles.
The bookworm; standing by the owl's stomach then pulls out his feather, in which the owl winces. The bookworm finds he is placing himself in such a deadly position that he is almost risking his own life as he pulls out another feather from the owl's stomach.
As he drops the feather to the floor, he discovers he is pulling them off a gigantic owl which the bookworm would be seen as bait. The bookworm, sweating with fear, sheepishly and hopelessly places the feather back inside the owl's stomach, as he attempts to place it back inside. Chuck uses a wonderful facial expression on the owl's face where it reads a lot of emotions the bookworm is going through: frightened, timid, guilty and hopeless.
Once again, the series of close-ups become relevant through dialogue sequences. Sniffles responds, 'Yeah, there's an owl in it?'. The owl responds ironically, 'There is? Hmm, isn't that interesting?'. Sniffles, not realising his risky situation responds:
'Yeah, and I just walked right in and took it right out from under the nose of that stupid old owl'. Smugly, the owl responds; 'Stupid old owl?!'. Sniffles already pushes his luck foolishly going further on to comment: 'Yeah. A big, fat, stupid, old, dumb nincompoop. That's what he is'.
The facial expression of Sniffles, afterwards is such a priceless look that Jones is already at the top of his game with these expressions of fear and panic. After a subtle double-take, he realises the bookworm can't talk and explains that to bookworm.
The bookworm nervously points upwards towards the giant owl who was speaking to Sniffles, and then faints. The owl responds, questioning Sniffles to intimidate him: 'A big, fat, stupid, dumb nincompoop, eh? That's a nice healthy way for a rodent to talk?'. Through these gentle dialogues; Sniffles realises the meaning of a rodent, 'You mean I'm a rodent?'. The owl responds ironically, 'What do you think you are, sonny, a cow?'. Just then, Sniffles realises that owls eat rodents, as explained earlier in the book. The book from earlier becomes important for the climax of the sequence. What's worse; the owl also adds that he eats worms..making it a double whammy for Sniffles and the worm.
Just then, as Sniffles attempts to quietly exit the scene, the mother owl admires the baby owl with affection. After a moment of affection, he turns his attention back to the child: 'And now, my little friends..' he turns towards them but finds they've vanished.
Sniffles picks up the bookworm and runs off frantically. They exit the church loft and back towards the bookshop in these quick paced shots; which you could say would be inspired from Frank Tashlin's fast-paced shorts except without the energy.
Just then, Sniffles retrieves his breath; whereas the bookworm then manages to regain his consciousness. He wakes up, blurry-eyed; where in his POV; the illustration of the gigantic owl in the book looks directly towards him. He makes a 'take' as he exits the spot, and jumps of Sniffles which causes the action to swirl. As they turn towards one another, realising it was only an illustration; Sniffles' hat and the worm's glasses jump back to them; except they are mismatched. With Sniffles wearing the worm's glasses, vice versa. They then stare at each other, with supposed joy as the cartoon ends.
The bookworm sequence where he pulls out the owl's feather has been acted rather greatly, without any dialogue which Chuck was the master of; in pantomiming characters without dialogues. Some of the facial expressions on Sniffles, as well as the bookworm are rather evident in this short; and they are very expressive in terms of fear..even though not as hilariously and exaggerated as Chuck would use it. Despite the many, wonderful wacky expressions he loved; he is very capable of bringing expressions that looked so human, so subtle. The animation, as usual is top notch in those early Chuck Jones cartoons, and it would be one of the last shorts which have McKimson's touch before his transition to the Avery unit in the next cartoon, as well as the following review on the blog: A Wild Hare.