Monday, 14 April 2014

323. Toy Trouble (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 322.
Release date: April 12, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Margaret Hill-Talbot (Sniffles).
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Robert Cannon.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Sniffles and the bookworm encounter a closed toy shop during the night, where they encounter strange sightings, as well as a perilous cat.

Sniffles once again makes a return to the screen for another short. This time, he is being accompanied with his friend: the Bookworm; who appears to be a supporting character for the short-lived series.

This time, Sniffles' latest encounter is at a toy store, which the store, Lacy's Department Store (a pun for Macy's) has been closed for the night. The entire short as a whole has all the encounters that you may expect from Sniffles; such as perilous encounters with inanimate objects.

This time Chuck Jones appears to stir things around a little where he uses the cat from Sniffles Bells the Cat the chief antagonist of the short. The plot itself is mainly split into halves, where Sniffles and the bookworm are on quests at their own will as they wander around the toyshop. Then it reaches the second act, once the cat enters the picture and is the reason for the molasses timing that is frequently seen in the short.

When you are viewing the first act of the sequence; the sequences themselves are actually paced quite evenly. Sniffles and the bookworm first encounter an African-American rubber band music box, a novelty duck, and a high striker set. One of the scenes which was cut in television prints of the short was the rubber-band music box.

The bookworm turns on the music box with excitement, and the band play broadly to It Looks Like a Big Night Tonight. Sniffles turns off the music box, and warns the Bookworm; "Now listen here, you stick with me and don't touch anything else, or you'll get into trouble". Cut from most prints, the scene itself gives a bit more coherence, to a not-very coherent cartoon.

Interestingly, the short itself has a lot of intriguing pieces of animation. Of course, this was Chuck Jones who was more ambitious artistically than the Warners directors. During the chase sequence with the novelty duck, Chuck shows some great, bizarre camera angles from Sniffles' perspective with unusual but effective choices of colour.

One of the highlights, in my opinion, is Sniffles' eyes synchronised to the rhythmic movement of the high striker set. He watches the set of a novelty figurine who is seen striking with a mallet as it hits the bell.

The close-up shot of Sniffles' pupils watching the ball rise and fall is so appealingly animated, and Stalling's music synchronisation fits in perfectly that it makes the animation itself very appealing and juicy. This is a great example of how squash-and-stretch animation is accomplished, as it is perfected for the eye movement. Is also works as a nice point-of-view scenario which is displayed in the short.
For the weaker elements in the short, and as I'm speaking humbly: there are a lot of flaws in this short like a majority of Jones' shorts from that time period. One of the weaker parts dominate the first act, and this is on the technical side which is, the sound effect of the novelty duck.

Without question, the sound effect by Treg Brown is very creative and comical; though it is the wrong sort of sound effect to be played as a loop; and it grows increasingly irritating and tiresome to put up with.

It's heard frequently during a chase sequence; when the bookworm encounters the novelty duck, who somehow comes to life by chasing the bookworm, and then Sniffles. Then, the chase transcends into hiding behind a pair of books. Sniffles peaks his head out, and likewise the duck - where the audience get a break from the irritating quacking noises. The assistant work on those scenes are rather subpar, especially when Sniffles and the duck's head peek out. And so, the chase continues; while the bookworm can be seen following through a train set.

As soon as the cat steps into the fray; the short's timing becomes more bloated, by constantly padding a lot of valuable time. The poor-pacing is already hampered when Sniffles spends almost a minute of the cat observing Sniffles, who masquerades as a stuffed toy. It looks like the sequence was animated by Bobe Cannon, judging by the poor lip-sync movement.

Sniffles then remarks slowly, "Golly, he does sound like a cat, does he?", and more nonsense follows until he eventually scrams.

Attempting to disguise himself as a stuffed toy; this is a good opportunity for character animation, though the pacing again is still sluggish, even if you enjoy Sniffles' attempts of trying to hide his disguise.

Whilst he is hiding from the Porky Pig stuffed toys, the cat presses each individual stuffed toy to hear it squeak, but Sniffles almost kills the moment as he shouts "ma ma". Has anybody noticed or felt peculiar of hearing Porky Pig squeak as a stuff toy? I suppose it was used to capture the believability and sound of a stuffed toy, but for Porky? It sounds rather unfitting.

The slow-pace atmosphere wanes on as the bookworm arrives standing on top of the cat's head. Sniffles, realising the perilous danger the bookworm has involved himself in; attempts to mime "the cat" to Sniffles as a sign of warning. The bookworm doesn't recognise his message, in which Sniffles attempts to alert him cautiously but silently.

I'll admit I feel the sequence hasn't been handled or directed very well. The character animation is rather weak, and by having weak character animation, Carl Stalling's music overlaps a lot of the animation which means it isn't taking advantage of the animation.

Sniffles, unable to resist then shouts "The Cat!" until be clasps his mouth. The slow-pacing continues even further, especially as it is not necessary. This should have resulted in a chase sequence, but instead it builds up into even more further suspense; when Sniffles' outburst was already climatic enough to create a chase. The bookworm, still standing on the cat's head, then looks at the cat straight in the eye until he makes a double take by smiling sheepishly making a pathetic attempt to wave at him. The cat then slowly picks up the bookworm by the hand, so drops in a test-tube. Mmm, all the lighting, electricity as well as trees that could have been saved, if it hadn't been for sluggish pacing and unneeded scenes.

Just as the chase sequence is about to begin, the suspense is building as Sniffles is being cornered by the approaching cat. Just then, the novelty duck just arrives out of nowhere and chases after the cat, who is curious and afraid. And so, the toys and sets that appeared earlier in the short reappear, during the cat's chase.

Also, Chuck also shows some very creative and inventive gags which show a very unique quality of his which you wouldn't expect from Chuck before.

The cat has crashed through some building blocks; there are four which land on his head, that spell "Help".

As he rushes away from the approaching duck toy, he crashes through another set which then spells out as "Zoom!". The airbrush effect of the cat and the duck zipping past in what looks like a 3/4 front view shot (correct if I'm wrong); and here it is appeared as a gif. And so, after the cat's disposal; Sniffles is safe from the toy shop; and finds the bookworm safe, though with the test-tube still stuck inside him.

To conclude this review; Toy Trouble is artistically fulfilling and daring, as analysed in the short: particularly of the squash-and-stretch of Sniffles' eyes and the angle shots. I prefer the first half of the short where Sniffles and the bookworm are seen exploring the various toys. Though the sound-effects are a tad irritating, I always felt Chuck had evenly paced those scenes. Perhaps this was a sign of Chuck slowly getting his groove. However, when the short moves to the second act; this is where it all runs down together. The cat's appearance in a toy shop at night is never explained, except perhaps the cat was on guard for mice. The pacing is just a snail pace; where a lot of the sequences feel extended at Chuck's own pace. Overall it's a very tepid and unorganised short which needs reworking.

Rating: 2/5.


  1. That damn duck used to scare the crap out of me.

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