Thursday, 31 July 2014

337. We, the Animals Squeak! (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 336.
Release date: September 8, 1941.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig/Mice), Sara Berner (Kansas City Kitty), Billy Bletcher (Irish Mouse), Phil Kramer (?) (Gangster Mouse).
Story: Melvin Millar.
Animation: Izzy Ellis.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Kansas City-Kitty shares her unusual story in Porky Pig's radio program, of how her kitten was kidnapped by a group of gangster mice, and how she seemed revenge.

A satire on the 1930s radio program, "We the People", Clampett has his fun where he parodies the popular radio program, where people would share some unusual experiences or stories towards the audience.

So, the radio show would have been evidently popular enough to have been spoofed in the short, which the program is titled, "We the Animals". Hosted by the supposedly fading star, Porky Pig, Clampett once again takes Porky's smaller appearances to his own advantage.

As a host he still shows the blandness from the lack of effort Clampett as well as the writers were giving him in terms of personality. Much like many other smaller appearances he's had, Clampett's crew (Tubby Millar and Warren Foster) are still reliant in giving the other bad puns, such as commenting on the rabbit's "hare-raising story". He goes ahead to introduce a new guest star of the show, 'Kansas-City Kitty', who will talk about her "unusual tail". From the point on, the audience would already know that Kansas-City Kitty is the star of the short, and much less of Porky, suggesting Clampett is craving to break away from black-and-white shorts. She speaks with an Irish brogue, to give her more of an identity, though its likely it could be a reference to the Molly character in the show, Fibber McGee and Molly, as for a brief time the character had a bit of a brogue.

Clampett takes some advantage of adding some of his own little touches of humour in the following montage sequence. Like how the guests started their stories in the original program, its necessary for Kansas-City Kitty to start off with some exposition.


There is a decent contrast of the kitten's shadow which hovers almost the entire wall, and once the kitten approaches, the contrast between size is evident, which is paid off from one of Clampett's animators.


The "growing rapidly" crack is a rather touching sendup from the previous scene. It is as satirical as well how Tex Avery would have interpreted, thus showing the Tex influence. Tubby Millar's use of hyperbole of the word "rapidly" is blended in well when it comes to animation.

Following to the next piece of exposition, Clampett once again challenges the censors with his charming use of subtlety. It is suggested however that when Kansas-City Kitty fell in love with her lover ("Tom Collins", they both conceived before marriage. However, to avoid a scandalous reputation on air, she immediately switches the timeline of events of her marriage before she gave birth. Only Clampett could get away with a bastard gag, as well as express the scene with such subtlety, that the scene itself could easily be missed by audiences as well as the censors themselves.


And so, Clampett once again shows he can be ambitious in terms of animation, where he would make the "impossible things" in animation appear rather realistic in a short. Whilst the other directors relied on rather rich backgrounds which at times overlapped the animation, Clampett keeps a lot of his staging and layout looking very simple. This occurs in a small scene where the mouse is attempting to break into mouse hole, whilst Kansas City Kitty rampages her way to retrieve her kidnapped Patrick.

The walls themselves are animated to add some wacky weight to the wall looking rubbery in order for the kitten to fit inside the mouse hole, and therefore showing a ironic difference with weight. The frantic mouse attempts to break inside the mouse hole, but in terms of avoiding realism, he pushes a part of the wall open to save himself, causing for the cat to frantically bash the wall.

Just as America was slowly beginning to prepare for war with Germany and Japan, Hitler had already reached his peak, having successfully invaded almost all of Europe by the time of the short's release. Around the time of the short's release, Hitler had endorsed 'Operation Barbarossa', in which he attempted to invade the USSR, which proved unsuccessful.


Already well-known for his extreme policies and dictatorship, Clampett makes a brief reference during the plotting sequence from the gangster mice, which is one of the earliest references to Hitler, relating to war (A brief reference appeared earlier in Bosko's Picture Show, though it was prior to the war).

The mice are plotting revenge on Kansas-City Kitty, a strategy to get her out of the way in order to carry on raiding the food in the house.The leaders of the group, points out the coordinations of the mouse, where a doodle of Kansas-City Kitty and her kitten, Patrick are centered in the map.

The mouse draws out a little Hitler moustache, plus his hair, thus making Hitler a negative connotation, as well as suggesting the support and hatred the U.S. felt of the dictator, though not yet having declared war. The rest of the sequence is a little tedious in terms of suspense and satire, though I'll give it credit for the Mel Blanc delivery on the concerned cat bellowing "Why? It's moider!". Carl Stalling's usage of Shave and a Haircut is nicely synchronised to the hands clapping over the mouse's mouth.

And so, Tubby Millar builds up to a great sense of irony where the mouse leader confronts Kansas-City Kitty. Occurring right after the kidnapping of Patrick, the mother bangs on the mouse hole, who happens to be reliant towards her mother. Some great use of deliveries are used from the leader who threatens to kill her kitten if Kansas-City Kitty dares to move forward towards the mouse. The leader pantomimes a "throat-cut" sound to make the threatening appear more dangerous ("Listen, Mother Macree. One more move out of you, and your kitten--(throat-cut panto)".

Whilst I find the use of strategy to be inventive and established, the pacing just sidetracks with more, with more pointless ideas of how the mice will kill the cat. The reaction shots of the cat freaking out is rather is very bouncy when looking at Clampett's standards. It is enjoyable and loose, as well as a sense of sympathy for the mother cat.

This follows through a dull song sequence of the song Iola which holds out no merit. The song occurs while the mice are having fun raiding the kitchen, as well as bullying Kansas-City Kitty.
The song sequence feels very forced, it lacks a lot of Clampett's charm and quality, especially the corny and uncharming scenes of the cat crying in rhythm to the song.

The string of gags are also unfunny. A striking example in particular would be the group of mice carrying blocks of cheese, and impersonate cannibals.

Enough time passes, a mouse guarding the trapped kitten, finds that she has set herself free, with some amusing comic timing. Seeing this as an advantage, Kansas City Kitty seeks her revenge on the mice upon discovering little Patrick free.

It's a real oddball and incoherent turn watching the leader mouse making a take on little Patrick set loose, perhaps to suggest that it makes him feel powerless. Though, from how it was staged and written, the cat could have easily killed the leader anytime, having staring at him face-to-face. Kansas therefore begins to threaten the mouse leader, "T'Aint funny, McGrab(McGee)". This then leads to her revenge, as he halts all of the mice, and spins the mouse leader around with her feet.

And so, this short then concludes towards one of the lamest endings of a animated short possible. Kansas City Kitty finishes her story, of how she won the battle. The audience applause, and Porky congratulates her for winning top prize for the best story of tonight's program.


Porky hands on over Kansas City Kitty a present. She unwraps it but finds an Irish mouse, as she takes at the mouse, as she stands on top of a chair, scared out of her wits. The Irish mouse, perplexed, remarks: "Well, faith 'n me jabbers", as the cartoon ends with a shamrock iris.

The gag itself is very incoherent that there isn't really a purpose for it at all, it ends at a very bad closure. Kansas City Kitty has already expressed in her story of how she got her revenge from the mice, and throughout the story she appears to appear fearless of mice. What was the gag purpose for the conclusion? Though, the shamrock iris out is a rather subtle send off for the short, but I suppose its what Clampett had in mind.

Whilst Clampett once again was having an average streak with the black-and-white shorts he was outputting, with most of them didn't really hold up too well--this short killed it. Whilst some of Clampett's subtle humour and comic timing are fitting in some places here and there, I find the cartoon to be one of the more confusing, bizarrely put-together short that Clampett has directed. Bear in mind, it is a decent idea to satirise the then radio show, but there doesn't appear to be much satire at all in there. The pacing for the short is rather lengthy and slow where the dialogue between the mouse leader and Kansas-City Kitty is just plodded with too much unneeded dialogue, that the short already clocks in longer than normal. The ending itself was a lame send-off which wasn't expressed at all clearly, if it was meant to at all. One of Clampett's weaker shorts this year, as well as his directorial career.

Rating: 1.5/5.

4 comments:

  1. The final gag is supposed to be ironic. Here's this cat who claims she can kick mouse butt, but when an actual mouse appears, she panics in fear (and behaves like the usual housewife-mouse cliche of the day).
    I love Sara Berner but her shouting gets annoying after a while.

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  2. This is the last in Clampett's series of "I'd rather do a one-shot cartoon, but I've got to stick Porky in it somewhere" efforts from the 1939-41 time span, where we see the cartoon's star only at the beginning and the end of the short -- None are really all that successful. Bob did the same thing with Porky during that time period in a few cartoons with Daffy as well, and those hold up far better, because it's a personality we care about, and one better suited to Bob's desire for wild gags (and his last of that group, "The Henpecked Duck" would really test the censors' limits on risque gags).

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  3. I saw one website that credited the Gangster Mouse to Michael Maltese, but it could be wrong. I mean, Phil Kramer is a good guess, but both are undetermined.
    I love the end line by Billy Bletcher. "Well, faith n' be jaffeled!" (Just a good guess of how it's spelled.)

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  4. Highlights are that Sara Berner "Marian Jordan/Molly McGee" Kansas City Kitty and the song's actually the 1940 Kay Kyser ditty "Playmate". It also shows up in 1942's Daffy short "Daffy Duckeroo".

    JC

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