Saturday, 28 September 2013

301. Stage Fright (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 300.
Release date: September 28, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
No cast.
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Ken Harris.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Two Curious Dogs wonder around an abandoned arena; where they are fighting over a bone; but they face other problems: especially from a happy seal, and a high-wire stage.

The curious dogs; quite possibly the worst of Chuck's earliest characters, are beginning to be made a lot less, as it is evident Chuck was focusing on his new character: Sniffles...who was modestly popular. In 1939; Chuck had produced three cartoons with the dogs: Dog Gone Modern, Prest-O Change-O and The Curious Puppy. Now, up to the point of Stage Fright; they're only shown in at least one cartoon a year until Chuck finally abandoned the characters by 1943; but of course, the silent personas for the characters never died out; as he would use them much more successfully in his more established career.

Chuck really just relied on the monotonous formula; where the dogs encounter a place which is seen as odd to their point of views: it was done in a futuristic house, an abandoned magician's home, a it is being placed in a theatre.

The sequences and story construction is just the repeated formula for the dogs: they try to retrieve a long on a wire-balance display; the dogs then gets trapped by a seal in its tank, but throughout the cartoon they are being outwitted by a bird whose appearance is shown to be almighty; much similar to the Minah Bird in the Inki cartoons.

The magician's bird walks into the scene in rhythm to a Stalling cue; with a particular angry walk; giving the bone back to the dogs, before walking back into his home; and the action is all repeated throughout the short. The seal is the only character who really has the personality of a seal biologically; whereas the dogs are obviously curious; and the bird has a more disgruntled personality.

Throughout the cartoon as well as the particular encounters the dogs go through in an empty stage set...Chuck Jones appears to come up with the whole bizarre concept where the bone always ends up inside the magician's hat, and an angry bird living in the hat just walks out to toss the bone back to the dogs and walk back into the house.

Whereas Chuck is giving the bird a particular little personality, and the musical walk is the cue for the magician's bird; it really is a disadvantage in terms of the cartoon's pacing. It's the wrong sort of music cue, as well as deliverance in timing to have it somehow appear funnier when shown throughout the entire cartoon.

The action is not funny, the timing is very slow, and the action is just monotonous and its lacking any subtle touches. The bird is used for climatical sequences; whereas in the final scene of the cartoon; his threatening gestures come to a conclusion, where he slaps both bones into the dogs' mouths before walking back into the magician's hat.

Chuck had used that little experiment with minor characters, in a few cartoons: one that comes to mind is in Roughly Squeaking; where an inquisitive bird misinterprets the action, believing he is going nuts. The action, the delivery and the wild takes were all wonderfully conceived in a humorous action; whereas the bird here lacks any form of comedy, and Chuck interpreted the action wrong. It's evident that Chuck was trying to get a kick out of the recurring gag; but still could not master the challenge. The bird's design resembles a tiny fraction of Henery Hawk; except both characters are completely different to one another; whereas Henery was more established, and the bird here just merely interrupts the action of the cartoon, slowing down the entire cartoon, by ruining the pacing. All he does is walk with a threatening posture.

Beginning the cartoon; the two curious dogs are fighting over a bone by wrestling it with their chops in hoping to gain full property of it. This ends up with the small puppy winning the bone; but the big dog chases the puppy towards the streets and then into an empty stage set which is displayed for vaudeville; as shown from the poster outside. Lots of sets back been displayed; particularly scenery made from cardboards; a water tank where a wet seal lives inside; it is all presented as empty, and somewhat shallow.

Just from after the first encounter with the angry bird; the bone is no longer property of the puppy; and end up fighting over the bone; until it reaches their first problem: stuck balancing on high-wire. Chuck creates a motivating point-of-view shot of how high the bone is seen from the high-wire; though a similar angle shot is displayed and laid out more effectively in High Diving Hare.

Up onto the diving board: the first problem with collecting the bone then begins.

Carefully and impulsively stepping onto the high-wire; hoping to get some balance...the big dog's balance has a very sloppy piece of control. The vibrating, wobbly effect is presented with some missing touches.

Of course, you can see some of Chuck's attempted bit of comic timing, but it's really missing Treg Brown's touches, and the music cue by Stalling overlaps the action of the animation which doesn't take advantage of the animation; and so the action is just a little dull.

The action with the weight board is a little humorous in terms of timing, though this then creates more useless dilemmas whereas the big dog is seen caught on top of the high-wire; and the little puppy scampers off to find the bone. Though; the camera angle shots are a little intriguing which saves from the poor action of the cartoon; and that Chuck was at least trying several attempts in punching it up..when it is already flawed.

The bone then ends up in another part of the stage set; the water tank which it is home of a seal. This follows on with the typical mushy-paced piece of character animation of the puppy and the bone interacting. Though, it may have been animated realistically, it shows Chuck is trying too hard in terms of pacing and interactions.

The seal, therefore, has the bone. The seal, though, has the instincts of the animal but nothing else. There is no personality for him, whereas the dogs are evidently curious (as its shown in their names); the magician's bird has an annoyed attitude; whereas the seal is just a happy-like creature having fun by using the dogs as objects to perform some skills.

The seal sequence really is key to the cartoon's poor pacing; and the whole sequence almost takes up the entire cartoon: except with fillers of the angry bird approaching the big dog with angry gestures.

The big dog, somehow, makes it down the high-wire act by crossing it; but finds his companion is swimming under the water tank for an efficient bit of time. Whereas the seal appears as a mimic through the window of the tank.

This then turns into a padded sequence where the seal tosses the fish into the dog's mouth, and then the dog's bone being retrieved...oh, and the magician's angry bird approaching the dog.

Then towards the end of the cartoon; the seal uses the dog for generic tricks such as spinning them like a beach ball on the tip of its nose. Though, the airbrush effect on the swirl shows some appeal, even though the timing isn't so crisp.

No matter how slow Chuck's timing is in the cartoon, and how bland the two dogs are: one great scene shows a staggering puppy, with a dizzy spell after his activity with the seal. A great little walk; which shows some great methodical working well as a three-dimensional feel in the works. After a great little staggering walk; his confusion then leads to extra 'padding' where he barks and growls at the bare bone he is facing towards. Ho-hum. Then this ends in a fight, the bird walking past to give back the bone: snapping them, so they get the share of the bone until he walks back into his hat.

Overall, Stage Fright was a pretty terribly paced cartoon, and twice as slow as even the poorly-paced Pluto cartoon would be. I'd nominate this short as quite possibly one of Chuck's most poorly-timed and padded shorts he has ever produced; as there is very little sequences of action taking place, and the action never gets to a point. The bird really lacked any form of appeal or even its similar manner like the Mynah Bird; being almighty, and even having his music theme (anyone know if this is a Stalling cue or song?). The cartoon itself indicates that Chuck still hasn't mastered the pantomime effect on character animation, and most importantly: his timing.


  1. Jones would reuse that little bird in "The Bird Came C.O.D." (1942) with another no-talking character, Conrad the Cat, who had just as much shades of Claude as the little bird here had to Henery Hawk (and I gotta agree on that percentage of resemblance, and, in fact, Jones HIMSELF created Henery also in 1942 for "The Squawkin' Hawk"...). Incidentally, the little theme for the "Henery" bird is rather catchy...Steve

  2. The Mynah Bird's theme is a rather good rendition of the classic music by Felix Mendelssohn, his 1830 Overture, "The Hebrides Overture" also known as "Fingal's Cave". Although I have quite a few copies of the piece, I have never been able to get a copy of the version used in the Cartoons. The original tends toward the dark, and can be a bit gloomy, where-as the Mynah Bird version is upbeat while still keeping a light menace to it. I wish that WB would release a full version of it on one of their sountracks.