Friday, 11 April 2014

321. Porky's Bear Facts (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 320.
Release date: March 29, 1941.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig / Bear / Mouse / Dog / Bull).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Manuel Perez.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A lazy bear and his hound would rather sit and do no work, whilst Porky does all the harvest work. The laziness doesn't pay off when they go to starvation.

Porky Pig's stardom was already meeting a steady decline, even though ironically he would become a funnier comic personality. Schlesinger's policy for having stars appear in the Looney Tunes series was becoming more relaxed, where a few long-shots would be exceptions, but supposedly enough Porky Pig output would still be required.

Porky's job in this short is as a farmer; which as I said before, appears to be an occupation most featured in Porky cartoons. As you might expect, the cartoon shows Porky significantly less in this short. He only appears briefly as a farmer who is harvesting for the winer, and doesn't return until the film's conclusion.

One could say that with the black-and-white short input becoming relaxed, the short would have worked better as a one-short cartoon, considering how the main focus of the short is of a lazy bear and hound dog.

I suppose that judging on how the story is set as well as its location, Porky is the only suitable candidate then to have worked as a farmer (Elmer Fudd isn't quite  established yet--even though Friz Freleng certainly knew made the character very versatile).

Instead: Michael Matlese being the main writer of the short focuses on satirising the infamous tale of Grasshopper and the Ants. Instead, Maltese would use the same theme but explore further ways of making a great satire. The story mainly focuses on Porky's neighbour, who is a lazy bear who spends all afternoon in his porch playing his guitar, singing a parodied version of the song: Heaven Can Wait, which is replaced with Working Can Wait.

Maltese manages to pull off the laziness into the characters' personality in a exaggerated and charismatic form. The dog itself is very lazy that when a black cat is walking past the porch, the snoozing dog looks up and the only effort he can make is a groaning 'woof' to the cat.

The opening sequence finely establishes the two principal characters of the short, as only the audience are aware their sluggishness will only lead to disadvantages.

Despite being a great set-up for the sequence, you cannot help but make a little fuss over the lame puns Maltese pulls in the short, such as a mouse reading Of Mice and Men, or a bull reading the children's story: Ferdinand the Bull, though they are only brief and Maltese's other greater gags and comical situations later, do pay off the lame puns. Mel Blanc also attributes to the laziness of the bear, as he pulls off a voice of the bear very well. It's not a voice that Blanc rarely had used, and it sounds like the blacksmith from The Village Smithy; that's how far Mel's versatility goes.

Looking at Friz's own comic timing that he pulls off in this short; there are certain pieces of animation timing that have intrigue me.

One part at the beginning of the short, shows a trio of chickens nesting, and it is a egg-laying gag, which is in synchronisation to the xylophone playing from The Girl with the Pigtails in Her Hair. 

The last hen to lay her egg shows a decent form of exaggerated timing is is executed well. Another piece of animation is some effects animation which I find to be rather rich in terms of attention to detail and delicacy, even for a Warners cartoon. I suppose one would make the assumption that the leaves falling is just putting emphasis on the seasons changing drastically towards winter, though I also believe it was Warners going in some small competition towards Disney animation. Let's face it, around 1939-1941; Warners definitely did go through a brief artistic period, where they animated their characters, perhaps a real too realistically, though their style would eventually be settled roughly a year later.

Moving on forward towards the winter sequences; the disadvantages of being lazy during the summer then finally takes its toll on them. The bear and the hound are inside their shelter, as they shiver, with food being bare in the house.

Mike Maltese even makes a nursery rhyme joke amusingly portrayed, as he finds the cupboard empty, but with a note attached reading: "Now you know how I felt - Mother Hubbard", which I suppose is also a great pun which relates to the "cupboard being bare" like the nursery rhyme.

Mike Maltese really establishes the starvation and behaviour effects on the bear and the dog rather well. The bear bellows, "B-O-O-O-OY am I hungry!" which is well-delivered by Mel Blanc.

Whilst the hound and the bear are scattering for food, in search for any possible leftovers; Treg Brown's soundtrack really add to the emphasis of the starvation and desire for food.

The bear finds there is one bean left in the can, in which they plan to share between the dog.  Whilst the two say grace, a mouse rushes at the scene to steal the bean, in which Maltese is already getting up suspense for a mini-climax. The bear then ends up cracking up laughing which results in a near nervous breakdown. Maltese adds a sense of irony, where the dog remarks about the bear: "Say, the guy's out of his head. I wouldn't be surprised if he tried to eat me". Just at that moment, the bear in fact attempts to eat the dog as he slowly approaches him as he's holding cutlery. The suspense then increases as the bear is still approaching the dog, and only to find that in each different shot they reach closer to Porky's home.

Porky, who had worked hard in harvesting for the winter then finds he is disturbed from his meal as the bear and the hound beg. Just as they beg, Porky refuses in which he retorts: "You buttered your bread, now sleep in it", which is wonderfully stuttered. Just then, Maltese then uses creed to play a part of the short's conclusion--in order to create a settling conclusion.

Porky's creed is evident as he has "Love Thy Neighbor" displayed in a picture frame on his wall, next to the door. He relents by accepting the pair into his house for a feast, in which they feast themselves. What appears to be much later; the bear has already been well fed as his proportionate size has increased.

Just at that moment, spring has arrived, and the audience would  believe the bear has learnt a lesson for slack work. In fact, Mike Maltese reverses the cliche by having the two main characters rush from Porky's home.

They go back to their spring/summer ways by sitting lazily on their porch singing Working Can Wait. The ending itself is a rather well-executed reversal, as the bear and dog don't learn from their mistake, and thus taking advantage of Porky's religious beliefs. This reversal ending is what set Warners apart from many other studios.

Overall: I believe the short is a well-executed satire of the Grasshopper and the Ant story--which only Mike Maltese could handle; with the right characters as well as melodramatic gags. The bear character has a lot of appeal thanks to Mel Blanc's great performance of the bear, as well as Maltese's great use of character establishment and comical circumstances. The Warner cartoons are only getting better and better as Mike Maltese is already attempting to revolutionise the humour and wit of the cartoons in the first three of his cartoons, though as we all know this is the beginning. Personally, I find that the Grasshopper and the Ant segment used in Foney Fables (released a year later) a lot more satirical than the short today, though this is still early days for Mike, and his efforts are already recognised. If I had any small issues; it would be that the short could have worked better as a one-shot cartoon, from either colour or black-and-white. By the way, does anyone else think the hound strongly resembles Willoughby? I wouldn't be surprised if Freleng used the same model for this short.

Rating: 3.5/5.

4 comments:

  1. One of the early examples of the 'starvation' theme that Warners would use a number of times in the upcoming two decades. The weakness here in part is no one is threatened by the bear and dog, other than themselves -- fast forward a couple of years to Friz and Mike's "Along Came Daffy" or Jones' "Waikiki Wabbit", and you have the better situation of the two starving characters threatening the main character.

    This one still is worth noting, as the first official Maltese-Freleng collaboration (other than Mike as the studio cop in "You Ought to Be In Pictures"), as well as the debut of Carl Stalling's revised Looney Tunes theme that would run through the middle of the decade.

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  2. The revised Merrie Melodies theme, however, didn't appear until "Toy Trouble."

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  3. The bean sequence is most likely animation by Cal Dalton.

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