Wednesday, 28 August 2013

298. Ceiling Hero (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 297.
Release date: August 24, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Pilot) and Robert C. Bruce (Narrator).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Rod Scribner.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Set in an aircraft over at Mid-west America; a group of aviators mess around with particular gags which is pulled sequence after sequence.

The opening title is a rather decent piece of decorum where a plane flies into the scene during the opening credits. Title parody of the 1936 Warner Bros. film Ceiling Zero, Tex Avery once-again punches out another spot-gag which involves the particular activities in aviation. Tex's spotgag, however, relies on a heavy use of effects animation, mostly of the flying scenes of the plane; with mechanically animated scenes to make the sequences and gags work.

Tex's has already become used to animating meticulously and realistically to Tex's demands, and this time their artistic skills is put to difficult use.

A lot of particular examples are scattered all throughout the cartoon which I will link and explain particular animated sequences, as well as my overall input of the overall short. Considering there is a lack of documentation of animator drafts for the Warner drafts; one might assume the entire aviator and aircraft scenes would have been done by an effects animator; although its plausible to say even his usual animators could have had a shot, even though it's not certain for sure.

There is without doubt the real star of the short is narrator Bob Bruce, himself, who of course is the very popular narrator for the spotgags at Warners. Whilst in a typical spot-gags; a couple of one-liners and punchlines would be provided by Mel Blanc, Bruce's voice dominates the entire cartoon, with only one voice of the test pilot quoting Mr. Kitzel, "Mmm, could be!".

I'm not too sure of the test pilot's voice whilst he directs signals on the plane during the climatic sequence, though it surely can't sound like Mel Blanc, but its certainly used as a satire where the voice is referencing the Calling All Cars radio programme.

Of course, Bruce's voice had a very natural flair when providing these narrations as he could break into all kinds of emotions depending the climax and the mood of the sequence. In the cartoon's fewer funnier moments, the final sequence of where a new plane is tested.

The narrator calls the assignment to be very dangerous with the test pilot being assigned to best the aviation. Robert C. Bruce even naturally adds in a personal comment, 'Good luck, old man' where he knows the right touches. Just as the short reaches its climax and flying higher and higher in the sky, even passing the 'Los Angeles City Limits',  the plane only reaches to the very limit of its speed and distance from the ground the plane crashes. Note the exaggerated figure of the jump from 100,000 to 200,000,000 in the speed limit...thats Tex for ya. Back to Bruce's contributions, just as the plane crashes back to the aviation site; the narrator wonders in panic, believing such unfortunate events have been led so spontaneously; he just cries: 'What happened? He crashed. This is terrible! Is he hurt? Is he killed? Is he killed? Is he??" just before the aviator slips out the Mr. Kitzel reference.

Possibly worth to mention the Test Pilot gag at the back of his shirt; which of course references the movie itself which was directed by Victor Fleming in 1938; who would go on to have a sensational peak the following directing much of The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind; and Test Pilot of course featured the main star of his buddy: Clark Gable. Tex and Clampett at least used a few of those subtle references for the time, which would be plainly obvious...but more obscure to outsiders now.

As spotgags tend to usually work with a lot of particularly dated references; the billboard gag which reads Next Time Take the Train itself is a dated billboard reference of Southern Atlantic; which was particularly notorious in the U.S.; and it is possibly most notably referenced in the 1939 adaptation film Of Mice and Men, distributed by Hal Roach Studios; as well as seen in a promotional image.

Considering how planes were at its very early stages for being used as passenger planes, rather than aviation planes; Tex kicks in a few gags, where of course passenger planes were considered 'new', whereas its very common today.

He kicks in some particularly very corny gags such as a 'cabin cruiser' where Johnny Johnsen designs a canon on top of a plane which makes the concept just look particularly cheesy and lame.

I'm not particularly sure about the 'Joe's Lunch' reference; though it occurs in an advertisement plane; and 50 cents were considered affordable, as well as a good deal to purchase dinner at a restaurant. Tex Avery himself already gets the knack of creating gags which have a lot of restaurant references, which are particularly very dated in today's standards. Another example, asides the advertisement plane is when a firework explodes with the words reading: Eat Tony's Hot Dogs. Of course, it's different from the usual Eat at Joe's running-gag.

To make the plane gags work through the film; Tex goes through particularly challenging assignments in challenging the scenes, which looks rather mechanical looking. He uses a lot of unique film staging, as well as unique animation which shows how he stood out a lot further than than his peers.

Tex times and plans out an established birds-eye view shot of the plane in silhouette travelling through the road. The narrator mentions the plane travels through several highways; which he turns into as a visual pun.

The pilot of the plane is the point of view shot for when the plane travels through the road; and makes a turning point. A particularly challenging job for Johnny Johnsen as well as the layout artist. Animating it would have been particularly tricky; though it might have been controlled by an effects animator; where the plane dodges through the cars. The gag itself isn't particularly very strong at all. It runs like a 'auto-pilot' and it doesn't particularly have a good punchline. So much complicating and hard work technically on a weak gag. It feels more like a animated test on how to animate a plane's manoeuvre.

Tex creates even more mechanically animated sequences which takes a methodical and meticulous approach to animating the scene. In the scenario, there are two stunt pilots as the narrator explains. Both planes are forming a knot through the dust in the cloud. The gag gets exaggerated even further when the knot becomes dimensional, that it comes attached to the plane; leaving it dangling.

It couldn't have worked better in terms of the construction and pacing of the scene. Another example of Tex's mechanical timing is the looping the loop sequence as the plane loops around at a air base.

Just after the loop; the pilot steps out of the base; and then begins to loop around the sky physically. This scene would have been assigned to a character animator of Tex's unit; its still mechanically timed much like how Tex's single shots of the plane flying; as the drawing has to be particularly tight, and it has to be staged right for the gag to be accepted. Sorry if the GIF seems particularly dodgy; but I want you to get the general idea of Tex's approach to timing from that scene.

Following on, Tex creates another create gag visually which requires strong effects animation, but most importantly, the mood of the background paintings which have been painted wonderfully by Johnny Johnsen. Asides from the corny windshield gag from the pilot; the plane then arrives towards the 'Sunny California' is a particularly funny and touching Depression-era gag. Of course, the state was funny but metaphorically during the Depression as California was considered a state full of hope and opportunity amongst migrant workers. The backgrounds showed good emphasis on how it was particularly gloomy from outside California; by splitting the moods of the atmosphere in half; which makes the gag itself appear a little wacky in a subtle way.

In conclusion to Ceiling Hero, despite the gags, the mechanical timing as well as Tex's climax; it is really all what adds up to Tex's approach to spot-gags except this short is just a lot less watchable than his other spot-gags. It is very routined in terms of story: it is just a string of gags with a corny climax and ending punchline, with no occurring gag sequence, just a bunch of aviation gags (hit and miss) just tossed in to make up a 8 minute and 44 second cartoon. It lacks a lot of effort as a cartoon, though artistically a lot of of effort has been put into by his animators as well as in layout and backgrounds. Johnny Johnsen's backgrounds have a particularly glamorous appeal as usual, and the layouts are a delight. The gags, though are mostly very weak; which ranges from very corny like the blind-stick gag; as well as the particularly visually appealing, but very dull gags like the birds-eye view shot of the plane's silhouette flying through the highway. This is a particularly dull Tex Avery effort which shows how in his career for Warners, he's overdoing the travelogues. He saves up a lot of time for the character animation; as much of the short features a lot of effects animation on the plane, background shots and particularly less on the aviators animation. This is a short particularly lacking the Tex Avery charm, a cartoon which I feel was just forced, and effortless.


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