Friday, 11 April 2014
321. Porky's Bear Facts (1941)
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).
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.
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.
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'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.