Tuesday, 12 August 2014

344. The Bug Parade (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 343.
Release date: October 11, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery (uncredited).
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Insects), Bill Bletcher (Spider), Bob Bruce (Narrator).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Rod Scribner.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A spot-gag parody which is centred on the instinct of bugs and insect life.

From watching Tex's previous cartoon, All This and Rabbit Stew, shows how Tex Avery was taking his own animation timing to another level, and quite rapidly too. You'd get the impression Tex was really right down the frame in finding his own skill at crafting comic animation timing as well as gag deliveries. For the following cartoon, Tex goes right back to producing more uninteresting spot-gag cartoons. Though, I don't know if either short was produced earlier, but for the sake of consistency, I'm going by it through release date.

This short is more of a straightforward gag-to-gag short, without any recurring gags featured that could make the spot-gag at least watchable. Anyhow, let's see what gags Tex has to offer in satirising the life of different insects and species.

As much as what Tex's spot-gag cartoons have to offer, he definitely lets in a couple of flawed, and corny gags in every couple of scenes. In one little scene, the narrator identifies two different types of ant species: simply, the red ant and the black ant.

The gag is they stop facing each other as they greet, "Hello red", and the other replying, "Hello blackie". I'm not too sure if this a dated reference (as the gag has been used several time), but the punchline is just way too lame for a gag, as well as the joke itself being in bad taste.

Another gag which shows Tex at his most juvenile moments, would be a scene almost parallel towards the dog in Cross Country Detours. The narrator identifies a flea character, known in the common tongue as the "common cootie" shows the bug character who is walking with his bindle, until he finds to his amazement the entrance to an army training camp. The bug exclaims, "Millions and millions of soldiers! And they're mine, all mine!". The corniness of the gag, shows how he intends to bite on all the soldiers' skins, rather than more juvenile gags such as a dog who desires to live in a forest full of trees.

Instances where Tex needs trick camera shots in order to make the gag expressed clearly to the audience, would fall to the skills of Smokey Garner. Occurring at the start of the cartoon, the narrator takes a look at a mere housefly who is crawling on top of, how the camera angle interprets it: the floor.

Upon the point where the camera pans towards an oddly-positioned celling lamp, the narrator remarks, "Wait a minute, there's something wrong here!". The camera flips 90 degrees to the correct angle of the fly on top of the ceiling.

It's a great trick camera shot, which is no easy feat when it comes to staging. Areas where Tex shows some lovely pieces of effects animation occur during the firefly sequence. The effects animation, likely done by Ace Gamer, is a charming piece of effects where the colours of the firefly lights are identified in contrast towards the darkness in the background. And so, the gag that follow in the following shot is a nice piece of corniness where one firefly has no light, with the firefly's excuse as "I didn't pay my light bill last month!". Mel's comic delivery on the voice adds to the entertainment and sourness of the firefly to a decent touch.

Areas where Tex shows he is full of surprises, especially when it comes to punchlines (a really great one is at the concluding scene, which I'll get to later). From watching the horsefly sequence, the narrator dictates the remarkable speed the horsefly specie travels at, and it is animated with painstaking realism to capture its instincts.

One horsefly, however, travels at a remarkably slow speed for the specie, with the horsefly looking frail. From the many gags Tex has conceived involving an 'odd-one-out' specie, you'd expect the cliched punchline to be, "Well, I've been sick".

That isn't the case with this gag. Dave Monahan takes emphasis on the "horsefly" specie where the punchline is: "I've been hanging out Bing Crosby's horses too long", which is a passable pun in this gag. Other cases where Tex's gags turn into a surprising punchline would occur in the spiderweb sequence. The narrator explains how the spiderweb can trap the most victims "many times his own size". The victim, however, turns out to be a cow who is caught trapped on top of the spiderweb. This is a wonderful gag which is well executed, as Tex creates a hyperbole to the "many times his own size" line of a cow being the most bizarre victim. The cow, as he squirms and wriggles, breaks into a forth wall one-liner, "This is hard to believe isn't it", before making more squirming noises.

 The grasshopper gag, however, expresses how cynical as well as a dark turn a gag Tex Avery could turn out for a Warner Bros. short. The grasshopper, who is known for jumping at high measures. The grasshopper demonstrates the hopping towards the audience. The first few hops are pretty consistent, as the grasshopper's hops to a minimum height in unison, as well as each hop being an animation cycle. At one hop, however, the grasshopper doesn't return. The camera pans upwards towards a tree, where a suspicious, but casual bird is seen loitering on top of the limb.

The narrator asks, "You haven't seen a grasshopper, have you?". The bird responds, speaking smugly by impersonating Jerry Colonna, "It's a possibility". The gag is extended where the grasshopper hops inside the bird's stomach, which is well executed because of its beautiful animation timing on the hopping. Though  a tad dark a gag, the hopping gag makes the overall sequence expressed more lighthearted.

Caterpillar related gags appear more than once in this spot-gag short, as Tex felt he had a couple of advantages of executing some gags that they both appear in the cartoon anyhow. One gag features Tex making an unrealistic gag appear believable, whereas the other gag is more of a corny, dialogue-related gag.

The gag where Tex explores further of the "impossible things" in animation is of a caterpillar, whose body metaphorically marches in position of the caterpillar's front body, emphasising he is the leader of the pack.

Of course, one leg that isn't in match of the "perfect marching unison" is the bottom pair of legs. So, the caterpillar grounds to a halt where his upper body marches out of his own body, and kicks his own behind, and dismisses the body from the march.

It's a charming little wacky gag that is pulled off well in a believable sense. The other caterpillar gag, however is a little more mundane than the previous gag, though it does pay off with some jocular character animation. Two green caterpillars greet one another as they are both each crossing at different directions. The gag situations occurs they greet each other several times, with each pair of hands shaking a pair each at a time. It's an amusing little scene which in terms of animating is no straightforward piece of animation.

 Great gag sequences where Tex merely mocks the instincts as well as the appearances of certain insects is evident in the wasp sequence. From the realism of the walk cycle, the narrator points out the slender appearance of the wasp as well as the attractive figure. This is metaphorically turned into a corny pun where the wasp does a catwalk posing as a young model.

The catwalk pose is animated with some serene realism, until the figure falls flat on the wasp's body, revealing an overweight figure of the wasp which its exaggerated transformation was done wonderfully by Rod Scribner.

Another scene in a similar texture, of Tex satirising what would be opposite personalities for specific insects. As we all know, it is accustomed for moths to be attracted to flames and light, in this sequence: a sour moth despises flame. The moth jumps into the scene, stomping out the fire and complaining to the narrator: "Hey stupid! What'ya trying to do, start a fire?". Wonderfully expressed by the genius of Mel Blanc, this is wonderful satire which suggests perhaps not all moths are attracted to the sight of flames, and thus making the moth appear human. The flame effect features some nice dry brushing effects, which can't be done today's standards.

As I promised earlier, here is a sequence which perfectly explains how Tex Avery is full of surprises when you look at gag deliveries as well as execution. From how the gag is staged, it's another old gag device from Tex Avery where he mocks suspense setups, involving a villainous, dangerous creature overpowering more vulnerable creatures.

In this situation, a giant spider, who has the villainous archetype with the twirled moustache. The spider, animated mainly by Scribner as well, crawls down carefully towards a meek, cute little fly. The spider crawls down with a menacingly attitude. The spider speaks and cackles metaphorically: "I just LOVE little flies", suggesting he loves to eat insects.

However, the punchline ends with a pleasant surprising as the spider embraces the fly with a romantic gesture. He double-assures towards the audience, "I told you that I love flies", before the cartoon iris out. A gag which is as corny as Tex could get, but it's just wonderfully executed that it easily beats the other gags in the cartoon alone.

Though, this may have been just another spot gag cartoon Tex Avery made which didn't really have to much to offer except a string of gags, this short showed some truty special moments. Moments which showed Tex Avery nailing it. The spider gag in the concluding sequence of the cartoon is a fine example of how Tex could still make his gags unpredictable, even if most of his gags in many spot-gags were predictable, depending on how many times he repeated them.  Dave Monahan also played his part too by helping Tex conceive some new gag material which hadn't been experimented before, such as the caterpillar marching sequence. In all fairness, there isn't too much to discuss about the short, except it has a couple of charming moments, and it is one of the more passable spot-gag cartoons.

Rating: 2.5/5.

1 comment:

  1. https://archive.org/download/ClassicRareAndCensoredCartoons/101141BugParadeMmBr.mpg