Sunday, 20 April 2014

327. Farm Frolics (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 326.
Release date: May 10, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Sara Berner (Mother Pig/Mother Ant), Cliff Nazarro (Cantor Horse), Mel Blanc (Dog/Weasel/Owl/Mouse/Pig), Robert C. Bruce (Narrator), Kent Rogers (Henry Ant).
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: John Carey & Izzy Ellis.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Spot-gag parody where the narrator takes us to different animals located in farm areas.

Before I begin the review, I'd like to show my appreciation to Thad Komorowski and David Gerstein, who had located a print of the short over a year ago at the Warner Bros. Facebook page, as well as having the generosity of posting beautiful frame grabs of the original nitrate print.

Not only are the original titles a great discovery, but it is indeed the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle after some past debate over whether Tex or Clampett really did direct the short. The short had for a long time existed as a Blue Ribbon print, and its original credits had not been recorded in the copyright catalogue, which for a long time the credits became a mystery. Despite the debate, it was still considered a Clampett product, as despite imitating another style, his drawing style still circulates in some scenes.

Considering how the cartoon itself features a lot of heavy influence from Tex Avery, the most likely theory would be Clampett and his story man Warren Foster would've analysed and studied the spot-gag shorts which had already been an infamous trait from Tex Avery.

 Clampett himself had already created several spot-gags featuring Porky Pig, like Africa Squeaks, and having been given the privilege to create colour one-shot cartoons; Clampett decides to produce a spot-gag in the style of Tex Avery.

Perhaps Clampett was paying homage to his work which he pulls off very well in terms of the similarities this short and most of Tex's spot-gags featured. They are very similar in terms of delivery of their gags, as well as a strong sense of realism and subtly from Clampett's animators, when you watch animation from Clampett, you don't think subtle (unless you count Bob McKimson's animation).

What Clampett managed to capture when he's making a spot-gag short is the sense of realism in the proportions in odd ego for the gag to be effective whilst the gag proceeds. One prime example is evident of the farmer's dog who is seen lying on the rug on the front porch. Being a less productive dog, one of his few errands is fetching the newspaper.

Notice how as soon as the bell off-screen is heard; the dog turns from realism to its cartoony, Clampett fashion. It is a fitting transition in animation which certainly pays off in that sequence. The dog goes to fetch the newspaper from the van with enthusiasm.

Of course, Clampett puts in emphasis on the enthusiasm as it turns out the dog is reading the latest story of Dick Tracy. It is a gag similar to how Tex could have interpreted it, and it is slightly amusing. Mel Blanc also adds to the charm, without any question.

The dog, in one of Mel's dimwitted voices expresses joyfully: "I can hardly wait to see what happened to Dick Tracy". Of course, the gag and concept would later foreshadow one of Clampett's future shorts : The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, where he would take the concept as an entire animated short, as well having its sense of wackiness with far superior results.

Another sequence involving a weasel is almost identical to how Tex Avery would have interpreted the gag: in terms of speed, suspense as well as delivery. The scenery turns to a henhouse where hen is stepping out of her next and covers her egg with hay to keep warm.

However, this turns out to be bad timing to leave the henhouse as a vicious-looking weasel is on the loose. The weasel sneakily walks inside the henhouse, only to slowly approach towards the unhatched eggs; desiring to eat the unhatched chicks.

Just as the weasel is about to make a slow approach; the eggs quickly unhitch before the weasel could catch them on time. Leaving the weasel petrified at the spontaneous piece of action and delivery, the weasel then responds with annoyance: "Don't ever do that!". According to Keith Scott in the commentary, the voice performed by Mel Blanc was how Daffy Duck naturally sounded when his voice was recording (without being sped-up, of course). The gag itself and the suspense is very much similar to Avery, though its punchline is alternate.

Of course: there is a recurring gag which is a trait that Tex had invented for spot-gag shorts; we'll come to that later. Let's see Clampett's own sequences, meaning his own different approaches.

Clampett, though like most other directors, manages to blend in certain celebrity references to the farm animals. To be fair, a lot of those jokes actually pay off in terms of delivery, and the puns are very diverting. One of the funniest jokes in the short (unless you understand the reference), occurs at the beginning with a horse's running technique, starting with a trot, and then the horse transitions to a gallop.

The horse trot is very realistic, though the motion goes back as far as Edward Muybridge. Then the narrator instructs the horse to perform a 'cantor' run. Of course, a canter is faster than a trot, but slower than a gallop. The horse immediately turns into an impersonation of Eddie Cantor who sings: I Am Happy About the Whole Thing.

More puns appear during the owl sequence. First off, we start off with a realistic owl who is hooting inside the bark of a tree. Then the owl turns towards a Jerry Colonna, which is: "Yehoodi". Again, like the canter gag from early on the short: the owl gag is also an excellent combination of an owl hooting, and then this spontaneous delivery.

This gag alone also explains how Warners stood out from the rest. One of the less diverting references which is displayed in the short is the ant sequence. Though, as great the animation and drawing is; the delivery shows little effort, and sort of lacks charm.

The mother ant calls out towards her son, by what else, a reference from the then popular The Aldrich Family series. The little ant turns up, quoting "Coming mother". Compared to the radio series where Henry Aldrich was a teenager, it seems a little bizarre to have the ant presented as a child, quoting the reference. This shows how the reference and gag doesn't exactly work.

One of most unique concepts for a spot-gag sequence, is the cat-and-mouse sequence. The narrator describes the scenery following: "Here is one of the strangest friendships that has ever been known. Natural enemies, yet living together as friends: a cat and a mouse".

The cat is seen perfectly content as he is sleeping next to the mouse, all snuggled up. The narrator asks the mouse, whether he is taken care of and is happy with the cat, in which the mouse nods with a face looking content and relaxed.

At this point, the narrator asks for his insight, only for the mouse to outburst: "Get me outta here!". This turns to a small chase scene, where the cat quickly retrieves the mouse to snuggle back to sleep again. One of the more bizarre showcases which is a great sense of irony for a spot-gag short, though it could easily be under the influence of Tex's work.

Notice how Clampett also appears to have a unique stylistic approach in this short. When you compare the background work in Tex Avery's spot-gag cartoons, they grow a strong sense of verism imagery, thanks to the geniuses of Johnny Johnsen. Here, the realism of the backgrounds is certainly there: but Clampett's own taste is unique. Notice the backgrounds (probably done by Richard Thomas) certainly show some very intriguing use of colours for the skies, with the brush effects showing a lot of appeal. Also, notice the swipe effect which occurs at the beginning of the short. An artist's hand is seen sketching a barnyard layout drawing, and the camera swipes the sketch to a completed background.

Originally, the original titles had the artist's hand over the titles, which is supposedly where the short begins from. Very fulfilling.

Moving towards the final part of the review, and as promised here is the running-gag of the spot-gag. Much like how Tex would interpret his own recurring gags; Clampett shows his version though this easily reflects of what Tex could have done.

A group of piglets are seen starring at the clock in their home, eagerly watching. The narrator is rather puzzled of their eager watch as well as standing there for hours, taking no interest in any daytime activity.

The sequence itself appears several times briefly throughout the sequence. As soon as the short draws to a close, the bell rings and one of the piglets bellows: "Dinner time" in which a swarm of piglets come rushing out of the scene.

The mother pig, eating from a trough, looks at the piglets with a double-take, until a group of piglets arrive charging at the mother's teats as they're ready for weaning. Though, the emphasis on their appetite going with their name is a little corny, the delivery and wackiness of the gag is without doubt amusing and bizarre in Clampett's nature. The mother pig, looking fed-up responds with a ZaSu Pitts impression: "Oh dear, every day it's the same thing!".

For a short where Clampett attempts to turn out an all spot-gag short, he manages to do a decent job out of it. Most of the jokes in the short do pay off, even though some of them may still be as lame as Tex's other jokes in his spot-gags. From how Clampett had studied and analysed the shorts by Tex, he certainly manages to adapt his version very closely to Tex's interpretation. Perhaps too close where it got so a couple of people debated over who directed the short when the short existed as a Blue Ribbon print, with credits missing (being in the public domain and all). Clampett certainly managed to follow Tex's timing, his style or choice of gags very well as well as faithfully, though it feels though some of Clampett's own bit of talent is lacking, as he is impersonating one's style in this short. Overall, the short itself is a typical spot-gag, much like any other. Some jokes pay-off, while others don't.

Rating: 2.5/5.


  1. The weasel's giggly voice was actually Mel's first voice for Daffy Duck for PORKY'S DUCK HUNT before his voice became refined.

  2. I find it puzzling that some of Clampett's biggest supporters can't see how Bob slowed his timing down in the 1941-early '42 period, in order to concentrate on improving his shorts' story structure and drawing style to match those of the other units already doing color cartoons. Even Bob's B&W efforts of the period are more deliberate, but for those who think he somehow jumped straight from 1939 to 1943, the attitude towards this cartoon before the credits were found was "Oh, it's too slow -- it must have been a cartoon Avery started"

    Bob's original unit did two color cartoons -- this was the second, and then there's a big gap before Clampett's third cartoon, "Wabbit Twouble" which was done after Tex left the studio and Bob took over his unit, with Norm McCabe inheriting the Clampett crew (which was then banished back to the B&W Looney Tunes). "Farm Frolics" may just be a spot gag effort, but the set up/pay off pacing focuses on eliminating anything that doesn't drive the story, which was the problem with some of Bob's 1939-40 efforts.