Monday, 11 August 2014

343. The Brave Little Bat (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 342.
Release date: September 27, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Margaret Hill-Tabot (Sniffles), Marjorie Tarlton (Batty).
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Rudy Larriva.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Sniffles' car breaks down in the middle of the country, and he is left stranded. Sheltering beside a mill, he encounters a little bat, who is by the name of "Batty".

The last of what was likely the original run of the cutesy, Sniffles cartoons, before the character ended up appearing sporadically until 1946. Just as Chuck Jones is very gradually attempting to keep up with the style and humour of the Warner Bros. shorts, as well as blending him his own style of agenda, the results don't meet well.

It appears this time he is inspired by the blabbermouth characters which were used on several occasions by all the directors: mostly Ben Hardaway and Bob Clampett, but also Tex and Friz had their share. Chuck attempts to have a blabbermouth character appealing and entertaining, but it proves to not work, as blabbermouth characters are more annoying than likeable, as they slow down almost the entire cartoon.

The "blabbermouth" characters never fully died down after about 1940, and Chuck Jones at least attempted to chatterbox persona even as far as 1946, by turning Sniffles into an obnoxious, blabbermouth character. It is rather ironic for Sniffles, who is encountering a chatterbox bat-like character, and yet Sniffles would become of that personality in his last few cartoons (The Unbearable Bear, Hush My Mouse), and suffice to say: Marjorie Tarlton voiced Sniffles in the last two cartoons.


Watching the start of the cartoon, Sniffles is seen driving in his little motorcar, singing In a Little Dutch Kindergarden. The following scene shows Chuck Jones' attempt at comic timing, but it really doesn't hold up well in this cartoon, and it feels somewhat uncanny and not well executed.

Sniffles' car breaks down in the middle of the countryside, which is presentable in terms of opening up a cartoon plot, but the gag execution wasn't well conceived, and plus slowing the scene down, too.

Sniffles' car wobbles vigorously several times, until Sniffles loses control of the car. It feels like there is an unnecessary number of filler for that gag, that it would have been more coherent if Chuck made the comic timing for a single motorcar explosion to work. Instead, the small car just breaks down into single pieces. The engine springs out, the body and wheels of the car also break down, and the car seat itself even breaks down, leaving Sniffles in a swirling effect. In all, it wasn't a well delivered gag as it didn't flow so smoothly and, it goes to show how Jones wasn't quite as ready to leave the slow timing from his cartoons behind.

The following scenes afterwards do make up for the poor gag delivery as Jones presents an intriguing atmosphere in the short. Already from the start of the short, there is a rather mystic atmosphere in the backgrounds that makes the countryside look rich in the sunset view.

The overlay of the clouds joining together is also a glamorous effect, right down to the frame. The clouds part together, and it rains throughout the countryside. Sniffles covers himself slightly, and attempts to seek for some shelter, "I better get out of this".

From Sniffles' point of view, he spots a remote-looking mill, which to Sniffles' advantage is the right place for shelter and comfort. From the Jones unit, the effects animation which, to an extent competes with the rich effects animation which was being experimented at Disney, precisely at this era.

Sniffles wriggling some of the rain off his hat and his clothes is rich in texture and painstaking realism. The interior scenes of the mill are well-established layouts, and the use of colour is in the right place to emphasise on the darkness of an isolated mill. Sniffles also lighting the match expresses a decent piece of decent fire effects animation, which in terms of texture is no easy feat.

The main problems with the short all appear during Sniffles' confrontation with the bat character. From the ambiguous introductory scene of the character, the bat character looks somewhat daring in his mannerisms. The darkness overshadows the character to hide his identity for the sake of ambiguity and suspense. After the established silhouette of the bat, the outcome is a little disappointing. As I expressed, the bat character, "Batty", who has a striking resemblance to Sniffles, is just another blabbermouth character who lacks appeal and taste.

The whole sequence merely are shots cutting back and forth of the meeting of Sniffles and Batty. The blabbermouth is merely just annoying, and the character does anything his way to make the cartoon unwatchable. He slows down the whole short, and the obnoxious, chatterbox dialogue just refuses to let a scene play, or just useless filler.

Useless pieces of dialogue centers when Batty exclaims about Sniffles' appearance and name, "That's a funny name. Why is your name Sniffles? What's a mouse? I'm not a mouse, am I? I'm a bat, aren't I?, etc., etc." It just gets ridiculous to the point where the character will ruin the rest of the short with just nonsense. Despite such nonsense, the sequence sort of pays off with a wonderful, suspenseful piece of timing from when a suspecting cat enters its cue, and almost catches Sniffles and the bat. The timing for the cat's arrival was right on the beam, and thus emphasises on the cat's dangerous instinct.

Despite the problems with the blabbermouth characterisations centred on the bat character, there is some great contrast expressed in subtle ways that contradict Sniffles and Batty. It mostly appears in the scenes of Sniffles and Batty on top of the rafter. There is some great differences in identifying their instants that the characterisation works well in those scenes. Batty on the other hand, has no trouble on top of the rafters, and he walks freely. Sniffles, however, struggles.

Another great use of subtle character animation in contrasting the two characters appear in another where they reach an end of the rafter, and they have to cross towards another. Batty expresses no trouble and flies smoothly over to the edge. Sniffles, on the other hand, is crawling and holding onto the rafter, and has to struggle his way to cross the rafter. If there were more charming moments in the shorts, by cutting out the blabber mouse material, I would have considered the cartoon  passable.

And so, a plot device which Chuck Jones used frequently in his early days, was a device involving vulnerable characters standing on top of danger, before going onto a double take. Just as Sniffles and Batty are about to jump down to another edge of the rafter, the cat manages to climb on top of the rafter, and corners the vulnerable Sniffles.


Batty, steps down on the cat's head without realising, but goes into a double take before discovering that he is dealing with a dangerous cat, and therefore steps back meekly. Sniffles, on the other hand is more naive and foolish, and the cat makes the situation more perilous for him.

By opening with mouth, with teeth and other textures looking powerful and striking, Sniffles is still oblivious to learning he is confronting a cat. Upon realising he is dealing with a cat, he looks at Batty for help, who ends up walking back hesitantly. The beautiful, POV angle shot of Batty walking back is wonderfully staged and it surely has a "cornered" atmosphere towards it. Batty makes up excuses such as, "Well, goodbye Sniff. I gotta be going now. I got a very important engagement at the dentist." He meekly laughs before flying away, not giving any thought in sparing Sniffles.

Just as Sniffles tries to escape for his life, the suspense becomes more lethal for Sniffles, as the cat lifts up the piece of plank Sniffles is standing on. The bat character, realising Sniffles is in trouble, has a change of heart and saves his friend from the cat.

Though, the suspense still ticks as the cat inspects the piece of plank by tuning it on its axis, in finding more intriguing ways of eating Sniffles, thus giving the cat some personality.

The action scenes that follow feature some frantic pacing where the shots go back and forth between the cat, who is at the edge  of eating the mouse, and Batty who is flying for Sniffles' life. Saving Sniffles, who was just spared, they rush back on top of Batty's small home, as they watch the cat's fate. The cat walks away from the mice and falls off the rafters clumsily. The camera pans vertically downwards, where the cat is caught stuck on a piece of glass, and thus this finishes the cartoon. The eery expression on the cat's face, is as rich and striking an expression as Chuck could have created anywhere.

Chuck's slow pacing didn't exactly help out the cartoon, and Sniffles' misadventures was still all-round consistent as like his other cartoons. Attempting to perhaps blend in humour with blabbermouth characters? This is no exception. The blabbermouth personality just ruins the cartoon, and deliberately created to assault the audience's patience. The dialogue sequence with Sniffles and Batty communicating back-and-forth really sidetracked the short, that this ruins perhaps more opportunities that weren't included because of running time, and thus not creating more charming little subtle characteristics of the bat character, such as in the scenes with the pair on top of the rafter.

Being the last of the Sniffles in its original run (not the LAST Sniffles short, mind you), before appearing sporadically, as well as an altered personality, my overall thoughts on the character mostly ranges from hit-and-miss. The character was a tad too cutesy for me, though admittedly the shorts themselves appear to have an indescribable effect towards me, and I don't believe they're as bad as how they're interpreted. Despite being slow and cutesy, they have a divine, subtle quality towards them that make the shorts special. A short that I find striking and attractive would be Sniffles Takes a Trip, as it has a quality that feels unlike a Warners short or even Chuck Jones, in terms of scenery, atmosphere and its nature. Indeed, they're worth watching for Chuck's work was personified differently compared to his greater works.
However, I find that the Sniffles cartoons were rather much Jones' style personally, despite having lengthy filler sequences. Comparing them to years later where he only directed very great cartoons, but Jones had writers like Mike Maltese or Ted Pierce, who provided the Warner Bros. humour for him, and thus Jones kept up the pace. Those shorts, I felt, expressed Chuck's personal side of animation.

Rating: 2/5.

4 comments:

  1. Oh, so? You really want to know what happened to Sniffles?

    Perhaps the answer lies HERE!

    Oh, the amazing things you can learn while watching DVDs!

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  2. I love that Batty's house is upside down!

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  3. Sorry pal, but your review of this cartoon is way off. The little blabbermouth bat made the cartoon an endearing memory. I've wanted to watch it again for 50 years. Thanks for that.

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  4. This was Rich Hogan's last cartoon for Warner Bros. Tedd Pierce had by this time returned from Fleischer Studios.

    ReplyDelete