Friday, 6 September 2013

300. Calling Dr. Porky (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 299.
Release date: September 21, 1940.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig/Drunk/Patient with Headache/Elephants) and Sara Berner (Receptionist).
Story: Jack Miller.
Animation: Herman Cohen.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Porky works as a doctor; and one of his patients happens to have a particular symptom seeing 'pink elephants'.

When watching animated cartoons, and a particular sequence associating with 'pink elephants' appear; you'd really associate the concept to the Disney film Dumbo due to its surrealism, as well as beauty. This concept appears earlier than the film, though the pink elephants are played around as particularly humorous characters, and are almighty to the drunken man's mind.

For those who may not know; "pink elephants' is quite a well known bit of euphemism which is mainly a hallucination from when you are either delirious or drunk, but it is mostly associated with the latter. It was a very popular phrase for its time; having being referenced in the Philip Marlowe book: The Lady in the Lake, as well as Action Comics (issue 7).

Whereas the Pink Elephants on Parade sequence in Dumbo may have been particularly believable and surreal, the pink elephants in this cartoon are just gag-like characters, which shows how the Warner writers would come up with some crafty sequences to freak out the patient.

The elephants, however are particularly absolute in terms of the drunk patient's mind, their instincts are sort of similar to the Mynah bird in the Inki cartoons. Except, the minah hard was more almighty by just repeating the exact same actions without being provoked or dangered. Instead of hopping in tune to Fingal's Cave, Stalling puts the appropriate touch as they hop in sync to Stalling's own music cue which is was notoriously first heard in Mighty Hunters.

The elephants, however, have a more crafty, obnoxious personality which isn't a far cry from Daffy's early years, as well as for the newly-created Bugs Bunny. They are particularly very mocking towards him, as well as particularly off-the-wall. This is particularly evident when the drunken patient is sitting in Porky's office, and the pink elephants surround him, and attempt to treat his symptoms. They check his reflexes where one of the elephants hits him on the knee, but gets a bad vibrating alert.

When they have finished checking his symptoms and reflexes; he is then questioned on his chair by a group of pink elephants and the gag then runs like a trial. In that sequence their personalities are just presented as menaces who pester the patient's mind.

The whole sequence itself is played around like a trial, where the elephants pose as an attorney asking multiple questions: "Where do you live?  Married? Single? How old are you? Answer 'yes' or 'no'!".

The delivery and interruption makes his personality particularly amateurish by not giving the patient a second's worth to respond to his questions. The patient responds harshly, 'I object!', and which the attorney-like elephant responds 'Objection overruled'. He hiccups. 'That'll be all. Your witness!'.

The other elephant, however, is much more broader and is capricious in his delivery and spontaneous, personal questions: "Who was that woman you were with last night?", "Who did you vote for?". etc. Wonderful Warners-like humour which shows how Freleng and Jack Miller really did lead the Warners humour and personalities into a clearer daylight. They mock him when he cries, "Now take it easy fellas, I'm a sick man!" with the prosecuting elephant mocking him. Demanding many orders; the drunken patient is driven to chaos as he is about to banish at the door.

Jack Miller's story construction is really particularly satisfying when its climax has reached its breaking point. The patient attempts to escape Porky's office, but Dr. Porky approaches him and cures him with a drink to help sober him up. After guzzling; he's all cured and thanks patient. "I feel better. They're gone, etc!". Just as he proceeds to walk outside; he spots a parade of real elephants walking; though the pink elephants, turning out to be a reality, then join in the parade. Amazed at the immense size of the pachyderms; the patient spots the elephants again, rushing back to the hospital believing he isn't cured. Jumping back onto the patient's bed, he is tossed off by the pink elephants; who continue to hide.

It's a particularly very incoherent ending but it has a very funny charm which you would expect in a typical Warner cartoon; and you can tell the type of formula in a cartoon story is already kicking in around just this era; which is certainly a breakthrough from the monotonous spot-gags; as well as particularly out-dated plot cycles; which involve battle climax. The conclusion to the short as well as the story itself is one of the key moments which shows how Freleng's return really did get the cartoons back on track.

Porky, again, doesn't particularly play a big role other than those supporting roles where Freleng treats him as a character who's supposed to be there. It's also particularly disappointing to find that he is also particularly used for very weak spots of the film, which is evident when he deals with a patient with 'dizzy spells' with his head spinning continuously which is in reality a lame pun.

However, in some scenes he is particularly used in some of Freleng's best comic timing in THIS cartoon. Watch the particular scene where he hears the knock on the door. He approaches towards it, and all of a sudden, the drunken patient slams the door hitting Porky to the door all in about 13 frames which is less than one feet of animation.

Friz's timing was really put to great use, where you can feel the energy for the panic-stricken patient, even even bringing on the pain for poor Porky. It's all so sudden, so fast, and paced in such a hilarious form that Friz is really the master of timing.

The patient then breaks up into a couple of over-dramatic breakdowns about pink elephants following him. Whilst it was possibly intended to be funnier; Porky being slammed on the door really does steal the sequence because of how it occurs as quick as a flash.

Friz also plans out some particularly very funny comic performances such as the reflex scene, as well as one particular scene; which was quite a common use of comic timing for the Warner shorts of the 40s. The patient rushes back into the hospital; stampeding Porky. Porky turns around, and discovers that dust is fading away and the sliding doors are moving from his rush. It makes the staging a lot more complex to design, and his timing is a great bracer for what will become of much later. Treg Brown and Carl Stalling also contribute to great timing; particularly when Stalling syncs his music cue for the pink elephant's walk cycle; and Treg Brown, once again, creates such cartoony and wonderful effects during when the pink elephants are treating the patient.

Mel Blanc, however, puts on a superb performance of the drunken patient who is seeing pink elephants. He creates such frustrated emotions into the character, and yet put a comic touch into it; which is why Mel is the go-to guy to put on a great performance. He also contributes to some of the funnier voices of the Pink Elephants, though it was sped up.

One of the Pink Elephants voice, however in particular, I'm unsure of is the one that acts as an attorney towards the patient, and has a childlike voice.

I'm not certain whether it was a different voice actor/actress; or just sped up to a great extent...but either way, it is a particularly convincing performance. Sara Berner, however, contributes to a small voice towards the hospital receptionist towards the beginning. Though she contributions much smaller than Blanc' dominant characters; as always; she knows how to put on a show with whatever voice she is given..of course, the receptionist nurse slips out a 'Dr. Kildare' reference when working on the operator.

To conclude, Calling Dr. Porky is a cartoon where you can see the Warner humour really about to kick off into such greater use. This is a key short to where the stories are in fact improving a great deal, the climaxes are a lot more broader and exciting, and it's definitely a notch away from the average-at-best cartoons the Warner directors were mostly used to producing. The story climax is very convincing and enjoyable which is when the patient is cured, but 'double-takes' when the pink elephants turn out to be real. The looney humour is real evident in the writing. The 'pink elephants' characters are particular concepts similar to the personalties what Bugs Bunny as given, though I'd say they were just particularly more loonier and menacing, even though they are almighty to the patient's mind.


  1. It's also interesting to contrast this cartoon -- where it's obvious Friz is more interested in the other characters besides Porky -- with Clampett's cartoons of 1940 where he's more interested in the supporting characters, because it goes to what made Clampett's cartoons of the 40s so great, and why Freleng's return to Leon's studio was important.

    Bob's cartoons of the period where the supporting characters end up handling the main work are wilder, but the story construction's unfocused and all over the place -- i.e., we get a lot of gags, but we never care about the supporting characters. Here, Friz keeps the story tightly focused on the drunk and his interplay with the pink elephants. There may not be as many gags as in Clampett's cartoons, but you care about the one-shot character more than the ones Bob came up with.

    Clampett will spend much of 1941 working on developing the kind of personality animation Friz was already skilled at here, and it was the mix of the personality animation with the faster pacing Bob already had shown by 1938 that made the 40s WB shorts so great.

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  3. I've always thought that this one was pretty funny, the pill "gumball" dispenser, the spinning-head bear, and of course the main guest characters (the doggy patient and the elephants). The abovementioned
    "Dumbo" was just a year and a half away and in fact was already in production (famously later went down in history as the easiest Disney animated flick to do, and to make money which it was the only early 40s one to do-Pinnochio, Bambi and Fantasia were lesser hits in their first releases compared to their respective rereleases unlike Dumbo.

    Of course Disney had the foreseight to exclude any reference to those pink pachyderms in his merchandise of Dumbo or the storybook of the 12 inch 33-1/3 RPM childrens Disneyland record despite that one's including an edited version of the five minute plus (formerly mistyped "plug", ergo my new post.:-)) long Pink Elephant
    song.Steve C.