Release date: August 16, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Various Voices) / Jim Bannon (Narrator) (unconfirmed).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Gerry Chiniquy.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: An off-focus view of sports with several literal interpretations of what each sport may present.
There is a good connection between sports and animation timing, so this is a pressing advantage for Friz, who can experiment with all sorts of speed and timing that sports require. It's the right casting to go to Friz Freleng, as much of the gags in this short rely on comedic timing, which you wouldn't expect from a typical Tex Avery spot-gag cartoon.
The short itself doesn't have much of Mike Maltese's own approach to humour, and the short feels as though it could've been written by almost anyone who had worked for Tex Avery, or Bob Clampett. There isn't really much narrative in this short at all, its merely just a slideshow, supposedly featuring champions representing their own sports they specialise, with no recurring gags or build-up gags.
The following scene switches to an extreme down-shot of the pool player, supposedly "breaking" the rack, but the balls still remain intact. The rack flows throughout the table, hitting at the edges a couple of times, before they all fall in a side pocket--making it a win for the player.
The comic timing of the sequence is successful, being technically difficult to animate, as well as keeping the scene technical to make the gag work.
The following sequence, occurring after the billiard scene, is a group of players competing in a table tennis game. Treg Brown keeps the sound effect of the ping pong looped for consistency, as well as Friz Freleng timing the scenes of the audience's eyes watching in a cycle, to make the synchronisation accurate as well as entertaining, gag-wise. The extreme close-up of a spectator's pupils moving in synchronisation of the ping-ball table moving back and forth. The pupils watching the ping pong ball proceeding to stop is also a very entertaining touch from the genius of Freleng.
Not only does the gag work that way, but it's a technically difficult sequence to do. It's great for it satirises the technical manoeuvres that is required in American football, for it is one of the most boring sports ever invented, and to watch. It's a gag that could have been interpreted by Tex the same way, but this requires Freleng's meticulous nature. The scene itself is very complex to do in terms of timing and animating, that it's a wonder how Freleng timed that scene, and not to mention how the scene was planned out on exposure sheets.
The height of the chute with the backgrounds, as well as the steepness are enough to make the scene suspenseful.
Notice the low-level figure shot of the skier's legs cowering timidly of the height and steepness of the chute. The angle shot is just wonderful in terms of capturing the feeling of vertigo, as well as the idea of courage for the skier. The camera then pans to the skier who skies all the way down through the chute effortlessly, with the skier moving in perspective, and so making the scene looking very complicated to animate. Supposedly, the gag of the sequence is to emphasise that the slide wasn't as scary as how the narrator envisioned it, thus making the descriptions biased.
During the sequences with the narrator listing out several different strokes for swimming, the 'crawl stroke' is successfully accomplished in animation, as the gag itself is silly through subtle animation. The mermaid gag itself is also a good touch too.
Where some scenes don't work too well would be some of the shots of the swimmers swimming, though they are distorted with effects animation, to make the poor animation look rather unnoticeable. Other scenes with the divers diving are poorly animated in terms of a lot of circumstances. The proportions aren't flexible and the anticipation is weak.
The timing of the dive is also very poorly timed, as the dive is very slow. The scenes are all on 'ones', but the fact they're all in single frames shows how there are too many drawings done for the timing, which explains the slowness of the dive. Nonetheless, the gag itself focuses on several diving techniques, and it's enough for the punchline to perhaps be amusing to some people. The punchline cuts to "everybody's favourite dive", where the shot cuts to an exterior shot of a saloon titled "Sloppy Joe's", which is a very Tex Avery oriented gag.
Maltese mocks the consistency that cycling races consist of, which are consistent laps. Here, the track is purposefully laid out to look short to make the laps quicker to complete.
A group of cyclers go around in laps rather rapidly, and continue to do so until they all pause, and comment on the race with the cliched punchline from a Warners short, "Monotonous, isn't it?", and they proceed to continue racing. Other gags which resemble the Avery punchline also take place during the football slideshow, (before the graph scene). The squad are practicing out their positions, in a leap frog style (also another excellent scene in terms of timing), and then they come to position as they bundle on top of the referee. The narrator exclaims with suspense, "Is it a touchdown? Did he make it?", the ref pops out of the bundle and responds, quoting Mr. Kitzel, "Mmm, Could be".
Of course, the name 'Gabby' is already describing his own personality, as he is consistently speaking without a single breath wasted. "That's the pitching in there old kid," and he continues to speak quickly as well as incoherently.
Another sequence occurring earlier in the short, which is corny in how the gag is approached, but you can't help but admire the corniness in it. In the sequence involving athletics, the athletes are at the starting line about to prepare for their high-hurdles race. Once the gun blasts, the athletes are on. They race rather rapidly, but once they reach the hurdles, instead of jumping over them, they lazily climb on top of them, creating a great contrast between speeding up and slowing down, in terms of timing.
Comparing this spot-gag towards the many others produced at Warners, I'll look at this spot-gag a lot more favourably. I'd give it a pass. Friz really takes advantage of his animation timing in areas there it is required: especially during the football stadium sequences, and the eyes following the ping pong. Other aspects are a tad lame, such as the puns which you could expect from a lousy spot-gag short, or running gags that have appeared in some of Tex's shorts. Nevertheless, this was without doubt, an artistically ambitious short to animate and craft. Animating under Friz Freleng is evidently tough enough, for any animator working on a Bugs Bunny short by Friz, or a Sylvester & Tweety, but the results in this short definitely pay off.