Tuesday, 5 August 2014

340. Snowtime for Comedy (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 339.
Release date: August 30, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
No cast.
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Bobe Cannon.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: The two curious dogs are seen sliding along a frozen river, attempting to retrieve a bone, but it all ends up causing havoc.

What appears to be evident in the short, despite my hatred for the two Curious Dogs, the animation as well as the character designs are beginning to look a lot more slicker than how Chuck had really interpreted them previously. Previously, they were drawn just as realistically as how Chuck Jones preferred to have had the style.

Around this time, Chuck had already started to become more liberal with his drawing style, as the likes of loose animators like Bobe Cannon joined his studio, and thus the animation in his shorts were becoming a lot looser and sketchier, and this is noticeable with the dogs in the shorts.

The stories and circumstances are still mundane and monotonous, and here in the short it doesn't change anything from the formula that Chuck had given them. Chuck is still relying on experimenting several sequences, with the dogs having Pluto-like mannerisms. Whereas previously, they've encountered surrealistic experiences involving secluded areas like a futuristic house, a hollow stage theatre or an amusement park, here; their misadventures occur at a secluded lake area during winter, where the entire lake is frozen, and the entire short is spent on the dogs dealing and struggling with the ice.

From watching the opening of the short, the establishing shot of the two curious dogs shows potential from an artistic perspective. It's a more visually fulfilling opening than any of the short the two dogs have appeared in. It begins with a very complex layout and scenery of the village, with the large dog chasing the pup all in perspective. A very complex scene to layout, and it looks intriguing on screen.

The entire opening sequence in the short starts off rather artistically with again, more complex and intriguing camera angles and pacing. The puppy comes to a stop, when he reaches dead end: an ice chute. From the puppy's perspective, the chute is steep and dangerous.

The clumsiness of the large dog results in, indeed, slow pacing with weak anticipation of the dogs soaring in mid-air, but these noteworthy camera angles and camera pans definitely make up for the poor timing.

A favourite shot of mine in particular would be the extreme down shot of the puppy soaring after the bone. The perspective and anticipation of the scene is wonderfully executed in terms of animation, and the unique camera shot really stands out wonderfully. Admittedly, the use of colour for the sky in the short really sticks out like a sore thumb, and this is putting it bluntly. The colours for the snow effect are indeed decent, but the colour code of the clouds matching the wintertime slush is all wrong. It looks rather polluted, and for a short which the background theme is winter, you'd expect a more suitable combination between the snow and the sky.

What tends to be noticeable in the Curious Dogs shorts would feature an incoherent running gag that would consistently leave audiences confused for the gag showed no purpose, such as the canary bird living in a magician's hat in Stage Fright, or even a magician's bunny in Prest-O Change-O.

Here however, there does appear to be an actual gag which isn't left to ambiguity, though the fact they re-occur throughout the entire short makes the recurring gags flaw somehow.

During the business the big dog is dealing with, such as slipping through ice, the dog would either crash through a completed constructed dam built by a beaver, or the dog would crash through some snow, hitting a tree, and thus causing the squirrel to take from the crash effect.

Whereas the recurring gags to pay off to an extent in the ending scenes, there doesn't appear to be any bigger build-ups in terms of gag anticipations. Meaning, there doesn't appear to be a gag topping on top of the previous gag, meaning the same gag routine is just repeated, and therefore: the charm and humorous opportunities, unseen by Rich Hogan, are wasted.

And so, much like you'd expect from a dog featuring the dogs, each of them encounter a separate dilemma which would clock in for a majority of the short, with Jones' molasses timing, and constant padding. The puppy's first dilemma is with the pup standing on small pieces of ice patches centered around the frozen lake. The animation of the pup struggling to survive standing on an isolated ice patch is rather enjoyable as well as well-crafted.

To make the sequence appear more suspenseful for the pup, the ice patch begins to break apart in two, leaving an awkward position for the pup whose feet are standing each on the ice patch, and this is another dilemma for the pup, making the suspense more intriguing. The pacing is slow in terms of Chuck's standards, though I do find however the suspense and the cliffhangers being built up to be rather enjoyable in how the pup will get out of the patch alive. Though I find that most of the circumstantial situations pointless in how Chuck plans them out for his characters, I find this sequence however, an exception for it does build-up, whereas in previous situations, they are poorly padded and unwatchable.

 The sequences involving the bigger dog, however, is unwatchable for its poor padding, as well as making the circumstances appear anti-climatic. The bigger dog, who is already experiencing problems with the slippery ice, accidentally knocks his head onto the tree stump, covered in snow.

Once he exits the foot of snow, the sequence turns to nonsense involving the dog acting very weary from the head damage. He discovers the dog bone, but struggles to retrieve it cue to the weariness suffering in his head. Some of Chuck's comic expressions for the weary dog are passable.

The sequence shows some very beautiful character animation of the weary dog (likely animated by Ken Harris), but the continuous padding is already off-putting, as it just doesn't let the scene play, or at least move onto to another climax.

And so, the climax heightens, but with another dilemma, making the next dilemma anti-climax. The dog has the rear half of his body blocked by a chunk of ice, and the dog attempts to think of solutions to fight his way out of the chunk of ice. This once again ends up with another uninspired Pluto-like sequence, with the outcomes looking flat and unfunny.

Once the puppy makes it out alive from the dilemma he faced with the ice patch, he encounters more circumstances, and thus this DOES lead up to a climax, unlike the padded sequence with the dog and the chunk of ice. Once the puppy lands back onto slippery ice, he encounters a new problem.

The ice is beginning to crack, meaning the dilemma is already building up towards a bigger problem than the previous issue the puppy had. This leads to the puppy running away from the ice frantically.

This is rich material for the puppy, who without doubt is the character given the juiciest sequences in the short, despite having identical personalities with the larger dog.

Note when the puppy breaks the beaver's dam, the gag involves into a gag which is likely inspired from a Donald Duck short, The Hockey Champ. In that short, Donald frantically crashes through a wall of snow, which covers him completely, but covering him is a steam-locomotive gag to emphasise the speed he is racing. The gag in this short is almost parallel, except the puppy is sprinting in the style of a steamboat, disguised by the dam logs. This time, after crashing a tree, the build-up finally arrives for the squirrel, who encounters a new problem: the tree is splitting.

Just as the climax is going to build up, the pup chases the bone which ascends its way up the ski lifts. Once the bone drops from one of the lifts, it lands upon a very steep hill which becomes perilous for the pup once he retrieves the bone.

In a long shot pan, the dog trips slightly, but as he rolls down the hill, he transfigures into a giant snowball in the shape of a dog. The other dog, who is still struggling with the ice, watches the snowball and mistakes it as a monster figure.

And so, the dog runs off frantically: resulting in a action chase sequence. And so, the recurring gag of the beaver's dam pays off when the snowball figure crashes the dam, but transfigures into a snow-built dam. With the havoc over, the puppy and the dog stick their heads out from the snow, though the bigger dog finds the chunk of ice caught in his head: meaning he has more problems, as the cartoon ends.

Comparing this short to the other cartoons featuring the Curious Dogs, I'd consider this short to be one of the more better shorts, but only a little better. I'd say this short is at least close to being 'passable', but it still hasn't quite merit that level. The unique staging and camera angles were rather effective to start off as a camera opening, that as a rarity, it caught my attention, especially from an early Chuck Jones cartoon, whose shorts I tend to struggle to keep my attention-span focused. The dilemma with the puppy was also great stuff, as it built up with more suspense as well as some good action which did pay off. Nevertheless, there was still a lot of flaws which makes the short still not a passable short, the situations with the older dog was very clumsily paced and uninspiring, the recurring gags weren't inventive or creative, and it felt wasted. It's saying a lot to say this is a short I'm tolerant of watching, as to say the least, the Two Curious Dogs have produced some of the my least favourite shorts ever made. Perhaps, this could be foretelling Chuck Jones' developing and improving on true talents he would later on master.

Rating: 2/5.

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