Sunday, 13 April 2014

322. Goofy Groceries (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 321.
Release date: March 29, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Sara Berner (Gorilla's Mother/Cobina Cow), Mel Blanc (Jack Bunny as Rochester/ Gorilla/Dog/Superman/Black boy), Jack Lescoulie (Jack Bunny), Kent Rogers doing "Coming mother" voice?.
Story: Melvin Millar.
Animation: Vive Risto.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Clampett's version of grocery items coming to life one enchanted night, before being terrorised by a gorilla product.

Being the first Bob Clampett cartoon where he *isn't* directing a black-and-white Porky Pig cartoon, you'd expect quite a big change as he has been granted enough creative freedom to work on coloured one-shot cartoons.

Being a very big step in his animation career, he uses his first opportunity on a cartoon which involves a formula which had been repeated numerous times over the previous decade.

A formula which constitutes inanimate objects from a convenience store or a bookshop, springing to life; which were made during the height of the Depression to cheer up audiences as they sing gay popular songs.

A lot of that material is certainly included in the short: such as the popular song numbers, the lame puns that go with merchandising products, and of course a climax involving a monstrous creature. Though Clampett appears to be satirising the formula, with not only dated references, though with a lot more wackier humour where the influence of Tex Avery is quite evident. This was quite unheard of from a Harman-Ising/Frank Tashlin cartoon.

Though being a satire itself of the dated formula, Clampett at times appears to pay homage to the puns which would have been used years earlier: such as a packet of cigarettes being instrumented as organ pipes. Then he appears to go even wackier with the jokes, either succeeding or failing in a comical perspective.

One of the prime characters of the short, is of a dog from a dog food manufacturing box called "Barker". And so, the dog behaves like a carnival barker as he is attracting other local characters of a circus parade.

It's a passable pun, though it only stands out as very corny. One of the worst puns which appears in the short, is the "chicken pie"; where Chicken Reel which is heard in the foreground, and the chicken noises certainly do not make the gag work realistically.

Clampett, however, on occasion appears to even create a pun, considered to be blasphemy for the Production Code and display it on a product in a subtle way. The gag which is most evident is the 'Fulla Bull' product where a bull is listening to the "Contended" cow singing If I Could Be with You.

If I dare say to some who might not know, the term "bull" in this sense is euphemism for "bullshit".

Note the "Brenda and Cobina" cows, which though is certainly rather dated (parodying the, though the animation of the two cows are very well-exaggerated. Here, Sara Berner is voicing the Cobina cow; impersonating Elvia Allman, and the other cow (was it Berner, too?) is impersonating a Blanche Stewart voice in the Brenda cow.

One of the most fulfilling gags in which relating to products, would be the Leopold Stokowski gag. This occurs during Jack Bunny (Benny)'s introduction, and orders him to paly music (What? No Phil Harris?) where the mop changes as a figure of Leopold has certainly been well visualised, as well as adding the tension gesture he makes with his hands. One of the more better gags which appear in the short as a whole.

For a spring-to-life short which is rather lengthy, (clocking in eight minute); the short is really split into two halves. The first part warms up with the gags, as well as musical numbers, whilst the later half is more climatic, but a rather lengthy one.



Moving forward to the popular number sequences: it starts off rather dull. The musical number begins with with the song: By a Waterfall; which is a rather dull sequence by not only the music, but also visually. The sardines in swimming outfits are rather beautifully animated and visualised, though I can't help but compare the angle-shots as well as the scenery to a Esther Williams performance, though she wasn't yet a celebrity by this point.

And so, the barker then makes an announcement on another song performance: which shows a lot of energy to Carl Stalling's music as well as an enthusiastic vibe. The can of tomatoes are seen performing a "can-can" dance (just realised the pun as I was writing it); and they sing I'm Just Wild About Harry; a popular song which is an insufferable ear worm. The tongue sandwich who sing "la-la-la" in rhythm to the song is also very charming, as how can anybody dislike a tongue sandwich gag?

And so, the short then begins to shake up quite early; as high up at the grocery store's ceiling; a supposedly abandoned "Animal Crackers" packet is torn open by a threatening gorilla, who breaks the package open as he continues to make the snarling noises. And so Clampett, who appears to pay homage to Tex's gorilla gag in Circus Today; then responds with a calm, cheery remark: "Gosh, ain't I repulsive?", and then proceeds to cause dangerous events.


Just as the suspense is about to build: Clampett is making the suspense appear artistically in a cinematic perspective. A montage of can-can dancers and a gum packet doing the "hootchy-kootchy dance" is only seen through the gorilla's perspective. Just as he jumps  to the lamp to turn off the lights; the grocery turns to darkness immediately.

Panic and tension is very well staged and frantic, as the frantic is believable through the glowing of the character's eyes. The gorilla who is seen hanging onwards from a lamppost is also staged with a very intriguing camera angle which stands out rather well during the suspense scenes.

And so, this then follows a sequence where the characters fight for revenge as the gorilla is attempting to kidnap one of the dancers. At this point, Jack Bunny steps into the story, as previously the audience would have assumed the dog barker was one of the main focuses; as he certainly had a bigger personality than the other one-shot characters. Here in this short, there doesn't appear to be a main character: which is a very encouraging idea from Clampett.

After some mundane gags during the attack on the monstrous gorilla, Jack Bunny then appears to take action on the gorilla personally, in which this results in more comical gags. As he rides past, a group of chicks hatch as they cheerlead on him. Just as he faces the gorilla with an axe; Clampett then draws inspiration of one of Jones' poses, where Jack Bunny grins sheepishly.

One of my favourite references, which everybody can relate to is the Superman gag. Could this be perhaps one of the earliest Superman references appeared in film?

At the time the short was released, Superman only existed as a comic-book character and hadn't yet made his first screen appearance until a few months later by Fleischer - (he was also a radio adaptation in 1940 in The Adventures of Superman, where his actor was Bud Collyer). Here, he is called Superguy who tries to challenge the gorilla, though the foe is even beyond "Superman"'s skill. The gorilla's roar which petrifies Superman ends up terrifying him to the extend where he shrinks and ages back as a baby. This is purely a Clampett gag who would only create such a gag with looniness, as well as using that gag several times (see Wagon Heels).

Just then as Jack Bunny is about to meet his fate with the dynamite, he is only spared at the very last second of a humorous interruption. The gorilla is called "Henry" by his mother off-screen.

The sequence is a great satire of the then-popuar radio series: The Aldrich Family, where the introduction to the series began with the mother calling, "Hen-ree! Henry Aldrich!", and Henry would respond: "Coming mother".

Just then, the mother gorilla then takes the gorilla by the ear as a punishment where Jack Benny is safe. Is that Kent Rogers who voices the gorilla shouting "Coming mother"? Relieved from the near-death experience, Jack Bunny double-takes "Yipe!" on the dynamite which then explodes at the last second. The cartoon concludes with a comical caricature of Rochester, from The Jack Benny Show; as he quotes: "My oh my. Tattletale grey!".

In conclusion, Goofy Groceries is a rather daring attempt to help modernise the stories-come-to life formula, as Clampett is engaged with using radio references as well as creating wacky gags, in which wackiness adds to his name. However, with a few problems: by modernising the dated-formula with radio references, it makes the short even more dated. Do not get me wrong, as I believe the short works well on some cases: the Superman gag as well as the subtle pun jokes Clampett adds in are rather ftimeless, and the radio references are fine, though the fact the gags don't age very well over time, is a little issue. With that said, I will say this is one of Clampett's most fulfilling shorts he has created in quite a long time. Having been tormented of making nothing but Porky Pig cartoons, the short itself is a breath of fresh air for Clampett.

Rating: 2.5/5.

5 comments:

  1. Norm McCabe's co-director credit on a couple of Bob's Looney Tunes around this time tends to indicate he and his unit spent a lot of extra time on this effort -- they used the tried-and-true idea of things coming to life, but you can see both the sharper gags than some of the earlier ones, including Freleng's Blabbermouse cartoons of less than a year earlier. The drawing style here is also sharper, as the 'fourth unit' crew stepped up their game for the color Merrie Melodies.

    Plus while the cartoon does divide into two parts, the story structure is much tighter here than what Clampett had been doing for the past 12-18 months in most of his B&W cartoons -- compared to those, the pacing here's kind of slow for a Bob Clampett cartoon, and would remain that way for the rest of the year. But as his cartoons' story structure improved so that gags in the cartoon felt more tied to the narrative, Bob was able to start speeding his work back up by late 1942 to the wild cartoons he's best known for.

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  2. While most syndicated prints edit out the final gag altogether, on KOFY-TV 5 in San Francisco, as usual the "tattletale gray" gag video is missing but the audio of it remains, being played under a slowed-down (very uncommon practice) "That's All, Folks!" end title card. This according to this section from Eric Costello's Looney Tunes fan page:
    http://looney.goldenagecartoons.com/ltcuts/g/

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  3. The gorilla/Superman gag was also used a year earlier in "Porky's Poor Fish".

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  4. Contrary to the reviewer, I always liked the "Aquakade" segment. The "By a Waterfall" segment was the perfect lead-in. I even remember seeing a waterfall picture on the "Nabisco Shredded Wheat" package when I was a small boy. The song following "Waterfall," when the sardines were swimming, captivated my imagination and gave me a highly idealistic idea of what life in Los Angeles and Hollywood must be like. (I wish I knew the title of that song, but I can't find it anywhere.) All in all, it was a thoroughly delightful cartoon.

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  5. Contrary to the reviewer, I always liked the "Aquakade" segment. The "By a Waterfall" segment was the perfect lead-in. I even remember seeing a waterfall picture on the "Nabisco Shredded Wheat" package when I was a small boy. The song following "Waterfall," when the sardines were swimming, captivated my imagination and gave me a highly idealistic idea of what life in Los Angeles and Hollywood must be like. (I wish I knew the title of that song, but I can't find it anywhere.) All in all, it was a thoroughly delightful cartoon.

    ReplyDelete