Sunday, 26 October 2014
Release date: March 28, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny / Various voices), Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Richard Bickenbach.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Bugs Bunny begins to take advantage of Elmer Fudd, once he learns about Elmer's $3 million inheritance, which he must agree on condition he harms no animals--especially rabbits.
In this cartoon, Bugs is evidently off-model compared to other cartoons. His quick wits are interpreted correctly thanks to writer Mike Maltese, but design-wise he is pretty far off. In scenes by animators Gil Turner or Cal Dalton, Bugs looks grotesque in design. Since it's a Freleng short, it's inevitable.
This shows how McKimson's model hadn't yet fully evolved around the other directors directing Bugs Bunny cartoons; and for a few years Bugs' design would be inconsistent in each cartoon. Bugs' design didn't fully evolve until around 1944 when Bob McKimson oversaw the entire animation department, in keeping the work on-model. Not to mention, notice how Elmer's fat design became standard temporarily, as not only does he keep the fat design for a few cartoons, but other directors like Friz adapted to the change.
Setting up the cartoon; it starts with Bugs on the run by a group of hunting hounds. He pants and wheezes, "I'm trapped. Gotta get out of this. I gotta think fast. Trapped". After being spotted by Elmer, and his hounds, he attempts to disguise himself as a hound barking.
Spared from death, Mike Maltese uses a delivery boy travelling in the forest form out of nowhere as a plot device to set the cartoon. It's a fitting gag to just have the delivery boy to know where Elmer is located, especially in pivotal scenes.
Elmer opens up the telegram which reads he has inherited $3 million from his Uncle Louie. Not only is Elmer rich, but he will only inherit his fortune on condition he harms no animals..especially wabbits. In reaction to that, Elmer spares Bugs' life, letting him free: "You're fwee now, little wabbit, go and womb and fwolic awound the fowest". As he continues to repeat: "Oh boy, I'm wich!". This is a great establishment in setting up the whole cartoon: Bugs can now test and manipulate Elmer Fudd without getting himself harmed. A unique turn for the relationship between Bugs and Elmer, for Bugs can still act and wind-up Elmer as he usually does, but Elmer naturally can't provoke, concerned he'll inherit nothing.
Bugs steps out of the shower covering himself with a towel as he plays some piano notes to catch the pitch in his singing voice. That little scene itself is just hilarious, adding emphasis to Bugs' irritating habits, and thus angering Elmer.
The bathroom scene is also great in controlling Elmer's motivations. Elmer brings out his shotgun, and prepares to fire at Bugs Bunny, threatening: "Come on out, or I'll blow your head off!".
Bugs responds by carrying a sign to Elmer reading: "What would Uncle Louie say?", forcing Elmer to retreat from his actions. The sign gag is also great as its the sort of communication that can intimidate or discourage anyone. Bugs then steps out of the shower, and proceeds over to the mirror. If I get any comments from fanboys saying 'Bugs Bunny's bollocks let slip from the towel' still believing such tosh, please don't bother reading further my review. The shaving scene is also fun to watch in how much of a slob Bugs can be presented. He starts out by shaving under normal areas such as his muzzle, but he becomes even more ill-mannered by shaving under his armpits.
Another great dilemma for Elmer as not only is Bugs a blackmailer, but also deliberately obnoxious in these scenes, teasing Elmer's mind. He picks up the phone, demanding for the operator to place a call to Uncle Louie.
Note how Elmer gives Bugs the nickel when Bugs asks for one; its always fun watching poor Elmer being his naive self. Note the dated reference when Bugs breaks from dialogue into, "Oh, is dat you, Myrt?"; which was based on the popular radio show: Fibber McGee and Molly.
And so, after Bugs quits his phone call after Elmer's apology; he manipulates Bugs out of the house. This calls for another drastic measure for Bugs; in which he can entice Elmer into feeling guilt and shame, as well as the chance of losing his fortune. Bugs starts out by banging loudly at the door, demanding to be let in; until he realises his advantage and fakes his own death. Mel Blanc's delivery on Bugs' fake death is well interpreted, especially in Bugs' speech impediment on the line "I'll get pneumonia", which he mispronounces for comedic purposes. It's a scene that's been done several times in Bugs shorts, so its a predictable; knowing that Elmer will react and feel shame; which he does, but its a sequence that needs to be built up from the previous sequence.
After Elmer rocks Bugs' supposedly dead body, Elmer received another special delivery at his door. This is where Mike begins to stir up the cartoon a little. We already explored enough aspects of Bugs' blackmailing, and this time there needs to be a new edge in the plot, by being given bad news.
Instead, Elmer is informed from Uncle Louie's lawyer that he's died. The irony of that bad news is that the letter shows that after taxes and fees, that he hasn't enough money to spend or keep to himself. It declares that he owes $1.98 to Uncle Louie's attorney. This is another dilemma built up, as Elmer realises even if he fulfills the will, he won't receive any spending money anyway. Not only does Elmer fulfil the money, but feels he can restore himself to harming rabbits again.
Both of Bugs' ears appear separately in each urn, with one of Bugs' ears communicating to one another, with one ear slapping Elmer inside the urn before he zips out. This is a complex scene to stage and animate, especially when it needs to be presented in a gag approach similar to Tex Avery. Friz was great in making such technically complex gags flow nicely.
The sequence following shows a lot of energy in the characters; especially on Bugs Bunny. His improvisation on the clock chiming midnight during a frantic night is really well executed, not just in animation but story too. The gag and improvisation comes out of nowhere, including the confetti. Mike Maltese creates a cleverly conceived gag where Bugs cons Elmer into believing it's New Years Day. After throwing confetti in the air, chanting "Happy New Year", and enticing Elmer into singing Auld Lang Syne, until he double-takes looking at the calendar realising it's only July. Not to mention it's a beautifully paced scene too, it lasts long enough for Elmer to realise he's been tricked and then the short proceeds to more fun action.
Not only is it a hilarious scene, but one would question why Elmer has a woman's powder room in his house. As the chase continues, Bugs finally exits the house where Elmer slams the door, wiping his hands with dignity: "Good widdance to bad wubbish!". Then the door buzzes which Elmer anticipates to open.
Another postman walks by and greets Elmer, "Easter Greetings" by handing him a giant Easter Egg. Ending as the final gag in the short, the Easter Egg opens and reveals a bunch of multiple, baby Bugs Bunnies who all cry in unison, "Eh, what's up doc?". Not only is it a funny scene on Elmer's burden, but it's quite possibly one of the most cutest, sentimental scenes in a Warner Bros. cartoon. The bunnies scrambling out of the Easter Egg, with one scrambling over Elmer's face, is every definition of the word 'cute'.
With design issues on Bugs Bunny aside, this is alone an entertaining Bugs Bunny to watch. Mike Maltese writes up a clever formula where Bugs and Elmer's relationship meet at a unlikely situation. This is one of the story formulas, which itself is cliched and overused, but this uses the formula well, as Mike is create in pacing his scenes smoothly; and knows when to add another edge to the plot in making the short more innovative along the way. Though it has some great scenes, some of Freleng's input feels its missing in the first half of the cartoon. I suppose because that with the story sequences constructed by Maltese, there wasn't much left for Freleng to create anything special timing-wise, and the first-half was paced like a Tex Avery short. The latter half on the other hand is a lot more appealing in pace and energy.
Saturday, 25 October 2014
Release date: March 14, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Bob Clampett, Tex Avery (uncredited).
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Robert C. Bruce (Narrator), Mel Blanc (Various voices / Bugs Bunny).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Rod Scribner.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: This travelogue parody takes us to a crazy journey from a cruise liner.
This is another cartoon which is missing a supervision credit, even though it's another short that Tex started, and supposedly finished by Clampett. Though both director's style clash in the short, this marks the end of Tex Avery's official tenure at Warners. The man who helped revolutionise the wit and humour into these cartoons, a very venturesome director.
Since his departure from the studio; this proved to not be a heavy loss for the Schlesinger Studio. Everyone else learnt from Tex, and managed to produce some brilliant input that is on par with Tex's work, and it only gets better from then on. Tex's last official Warners cartoon ends with another typical spot-gag cartoon, set in a cruise liner; complete with recycled formulas, and the liner takes the viewer to random scenic locations of the world; which sounds in perspective unfocused even as a travelogue parody. At first, you see the cruise liner in the Caribbean, then you see the liner across the Alps, the Sahara Desert, etc. This parody sure lives up to the cartoon's title.
The ship stops to the "world's famous Sloppy Joe's" bar which is based on the Florida bar, famous for regular customers like Ernest Hemingway. As portrayed on the map, its clear everyone (inc. the captain) went to the bar before embarking back on the ship.
The next part features the uncoordinated paths the cruise liner follows emphasising that the sea crew are drunk, such as sailing in swirls (before stopping with the cruise liner hiccuping). This is a beautifully executed and exaggerated gag that shows great dynamics in the crazy route they are travelling. Not to mention this would have required a lot of careful attention for an effects animator in handling the scene, as not only does it need to be laid out and planned precisely; but not to mention comical timing-wise. Stalling adds to the comedic touch as he plays How Dry I Am while the cruise drunkenly sails.
The sequence in the Egyptian desert is a striking example of continuous humour elements that you'd expect in Tex Avery's cartoons. After a camera pan of the outback in the desert, the scene takes the viewer to the Sphinx. The stone rendition of the Trylon and Perisphere, (displayed in the 1939 New York World's Fair) is wonderfully referenced and parodied in that shot.
As the narrator describes it, the Sphinx has been standing for many centuries: "Year in, year out", as well as standing there "motionless, silent, quiet". The Sphinx kills the narrator's commentary by speaking: "Monotonous, isn't it?". This is a regular gag punchline which works well in that sequence, contradicting the narrator's commentary to a tee.
Other aspects of Tex's own humour appears in the camouflage sequence. As reported by the narrator, due to "unconditioned world conditions" (supposedly referencing World War II), all ships were to be camouflaged. The ship sailing past is S.S. Yehoodi, a direct reference to Jerry Colonna. The gag itself showing the camouflage, though corny in perspective, but as a layout it looks painstaking to make the gag as realistic as it could go.
Whether it was Tex or Clampett who worked on both the scene, its uncertain; though the cutout hand holding the microphone has a unique and blessing touch to it. The microphone is described to be "super-sensitive" that viewers would be able to listen to the bugs for the first time.
Of course, the gag is that the bug responds by satirising the fast-speech patter of the tobacco auctioneer from the Lucky Strike cigarette commercials heard in Your Hit Parade.) Another great scene which appears to share some of the wackiness and spirit in animation is evident in the insect-eating plant sequence.
The 'victim', being a bumblebee, flies at the scene, and ends up caught in the trap from the plant. The bee flies over the plant causing it to spit out shouting "OUCH!" in agony. Such sharp delivery on voice as well as timing.
Other scenes which show some great aspects of delivery and gag punchline are also evident in some scenes. A scene that sticks to my mind fondly, with an unpredictable punchline would be during the oil field scene. In this scene, the narrator looks at the ground rumbling, and remarks with amazement: "Oh, here comes a gusher for them now".
Just as the ground rumbles, one would expect the oil to strike immensely, but the irony of the gag is that it doesn't. Instead only a small drop of oil falls out from the field, landing on a spittoon. This was a great gag which can pleasantly surprise you.
Another scene with a pleasant sendoff would occur during the Alps sequence, featuring the mountain goat. The narrator explains of how the goat enjoy the dangers of leaping peak-to-peak in the alps. During the leap scene, Stalling adds to the right touches: matching the timing precisely by playing London Bridge is Falling Down in the underscore. And then, the goat falls to the ground after leaping all the peaks. Nevertheless, the goat continues to leap in rhythm to the rhyme until at the last note, the goat falls off the cliff by continuous leaping. Another great scene which is entertaining gag-wise, as well as becoming a n advantage for Stalling to make the sequence work.
In the Africa sequence, another corny gag features a line of animals; which at first are seen lining up with alertness and patience. As it turns out, the camera pans to the right revealing a mother zebra aiding its child by a 'water hole'. As you know, its a rancid pun on 'water holes' which are popular for animals to bathe in the wild lands of Africa.
The next scene features a pair of famous, experienced hunters who are caricatures of Friz Freleng and Ted Perice, follow the pgymy into the deep canopy of the dangerous territory. As the narrator says, "They plan to capture a couple of these giants alive!".
After a clattering off-screen sound, the pygmy rushes out gibbering in his native language. In a close-up scene animated by Bob McKimson, he continues to speak in that gibberish tone; until he converts to English, "Look, they got them! They got them!". "They" is revealed in the next shot that the two giants have indeed caught hold of the hunters, but they are compressed between the giant's fingers, resembling rollup cigarettes, leading to the humorous "King Size" lineup from one of the giants.
At the height of World War II, it seemed the right way to stereotype the Japanese by caricaturing them as a vulture, a metaphor on the enemy. Just as the vulture dive-bombs towards the bunnies, they immediately respond by hiding behind some weeds, and reveal some aircraft artily they use to fire at the vulture.
Note however that during the gag, you will find one rabbit facing its back away from the camera, whilst the other two are facing front as they play. It's a difficult challenge to animate, in not revealing the rabbit's face before the gag can be revealed. Much of that sequence was given to Rod Scribner, who met the challenge greatly. And so, the bunny who was hiding behind this time was Bugs Bunny, seen wearing his Civil Defence helmet. He has the last line, "Eh, thumbs up, doc! Thumbs up!". Just at the iris-out, Bugs' ears form to a "V for Victory" sign, whilst the underscore heard is We Did It Before (And We Can Do It Again). Thus, this ends the cartoon on a patriotic note.
While it's a shame that the blog will no longer be reviewing shorts directed by Tex Avery, it is without doubt for the greater good. As a cartoon, this wasn't much of a great sendoff to a brilliant legacy Tex brought to Warner Bros., though this was unintentionally the last Warner short he worked on. Not to mention, Tex gets a fresh start, a better start once he hops over to MGM Studios, making himself an even bigger name. As a spot-gag cartoon, this was average at best. It had some charming, innovative moments like the navigation map sequence, which to say the least was original. Bugs Bunny's little cameo at the end was also a pleasant surprise to end the cartoon, for his popularity was only growing rapidly in the beginning of his career. In all, it was an average short; which doesn't have too many exciting moments but for the sequences I've given good comments about, I'd suggest you'd take a look.
Friday, 24 October 2014
Release date: February 28, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Daffy Duck), Pinto Colvig (Conrad Cat).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Ben Washam.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Conrad Cat is busy cleaning the deck, but gets distracted by his duties when he becomes a target of bullying from Daffy Duck.
It's worth to mention before we review the cartoon that what really stands out greatly about the cartoon; is not just Chuck Jones' drastic change in direction, or that Conrad Cat represents Goofy; but it's the art direction of the cartoon. Chuck's layout artist from this era, was John McGrew who designed a lot of unique and ambitious backgrounds for classic animated shorts. It was unusual for McGrew's work to appear in such cartoons, as many audiences were used to seeing watercolored, oiled backgrounds seen from Disney as well as other studios. McGrew and Jones both helped revolutionise the look of classic animation, as well as making the cartoons a lot of fun at the same time.
Compare his work to some of the cartoons he worked on like: The Dover Boys, Case of the Missing Hare, etc. All of his work in those shorts show how very versatile he was in terms of designing as well as providing the right atmosphere for cartoons. In this cartoon, not only does his layout work in all scenic locations of a navy ship look modern in art direction, but pleasantly realistic too. These screen grabs were borrowed from the late Michael Sporn's ever-so-inpsiring Splog; for more of McGrew's artwork on the short. Mike writes a great analysis here, complete with breathtaking frame grabs.
You can tell how risky and complex, both Jones and McGrew wanted to be artistically; they were willing to use their artistic abilities to the point where it could sometimes sidetrack from story purposes, as well as the animation itself; which to itself is a disadvantage in animation. A real shame he never received screen credit for his great work at Warners, much like the many other background and layout artists working in that era.
Chuck's approach to humour has also drastically changed in the course of this cartoon, compared to what we're used to his approach. His pacing and timing has lived up to the Warner Bros. standards, as well as the gags.
The gags work coherently, and have that looney sensibility that lives up to the series' name. Perhaps this can be attributed to Dave Monahan, who had written shorts mostly for Tex Avery and Friz Freleng, who were the funniest directors Warner's had in 1940-1941.
From the start of the cartoon, it's clearly established that Conrad is working as a sailor for a navy ship, cleaning the decks. While the navy crew sing Anchors Aweigh together, Conrad sings the song alone; and it's clear he's established as an outcast.
Conrad's introduction scene is 45 feet of animation (30 seconds), and the action mostly consists of Conrad singing and cleaning. This was a real challenge approached to animator Ken Harris, who animated the scene. He had to create some inventive animation as well as gags to not lose the audience's attention, especially as the scene shows little descriptive action. So, he adds some decent touches like Conrad swinging the mop, and positioning his hand for the mop to hand neatly.
He becomes an instant menace to Conrad once he discovers Daffy's footprints on the floor, and finds Daffy loitering on top of a mast. There, Daffy mocks Conrad's singing by singing in a mockery voice: "We're shoving right off, again", before leaving a forth-wall remark to Conrad, "Phew, is that guy awful? Gee, it makes me sick."
As Conrad is scrubbing firmly of the deck singing angrily: "We're shoving right off for home!", Daffy replaces the water bucket with a bucket of paint; to make Conrad's navy life a living hell. Conrad sweeps the deck, not realising at first he is using red paint.
Daffy responds to this by disapproving Conrad sarcastically, "Very sloppy, Roscoe. You're a slovenly housekeeper". Conrad reacts to the criticism harshly and aims the mop directly to Daffy's face. Daffy grabs the mop, leading to a brilliant scene with Daffy grabs the mop and improvises by performing a short act in the style of vaudeville. The dry-brush effect on that scene is just delightful.
Daffy tosses the mop up in the air, and shouts to Conrad: "Catch! Catch!". The 3/4 up shots from Conrad's POV of the mop falling is another brilliant angle, as well as another great reason to admire how gutsy McGrew and Jones were in laying out the angle.
The mop falling in perspective is very complex to animate, and it would require only the ambitions of Jones' unit to accomplish it well. The next shot of Conrad's mini eye-take is just a brilliant showcase of timing. Chuck was never afraid to exaggerate poses, especially with eye-takes; and he used some of the most subtle kinds such as in shorts like Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur or Prest-O Change-O. After the mop smacks Conrad's face, the camera pans to Daffy sitting on top of the mop once again taunting Conrad; "Very petite, Betsy. Very, very petite". Once again, its a brilliant showcase in representing the potential of what the rest of the cartoon.
Daffy acts looney like he'd usually behave in any other Warners cartoon, but its his looney energy that makes him somewhat tamer in this cartoon. Not to mention, in the latter half of the cartoon; both Conrad and Daffy remain silent a lot of the time, occasionally speaking a line of dialogue, and since the mop gag; the energy and characterisation just faded.
An example can appear in the crow's nest scene, where Conrad holds out his telescope on the lookout for Daffy. After placing the telescope back and supposedly grabbing hold of it again, he grabs Daffy's neck mistaking him as a scope. This leads to Daffy's sarcastic remark at Conrad, "Swell view, eh doc?".
Much of that sequence is performed in pantomime, and by doing that; you feel you are losing the personality already established from the characters. It just doesn't work in a cartoon which has a lot of fast-paced action. Note another scene which shows characteristics but lacks energy and motivation. Daffy has slider down a very long chute, but lands from the threatening hands of Conrad. Just as his hands get cleansed, Daffy licks Conrad's lips; unintentionally freeing him. It would've been more motivating a gag if Daffy's hyperactivity was there, such as his 'hoo-hoos'.
You'll notice Chuck certainly expressed a keen eye on dry-brush effect to help gain weight and anticipation into the action, and a lot of the time it's beautiful to look at frame-by-frame.
A clear example of that is seen in the cannon cleaning sequence. Conrad believes he is rid from Daffy, but finds Daffy is only standing right by the cannon. This leads to a childish game where Conrad's and Daffy's hands both overlap one another, and Daffy swirls Conrad's arms to get them into a sticky tangle.
Conrad manages to unfree himself easily by swirling into a frantic motion, which is seen in the screen shot. Another scene with some great, loose animation is the scene where Daffy plays the nursery rhyme clapping game Pease Porridge Hot with a perplexed Conrad. Note how Chuck's animators at that point were already very liberal in animation, and had this sense of freedom that you'd be under the impression that Chuck's allowing them to go loose. Daffy's little hitch dance in that scene is wonderfully loose and expressive.
It doesn't have much of a sendoff in the cartoon's ending, either. A scene with the captain passing by that does really stand out is the scene of Daffy and Conrad both sliding into the scene to salute. Watch how layers of Daffy and Conrad slide into the scene, with the characters starting out as transparent to opaque. It's difficult to create in terms of ink and painting, as the lighting has to be slightly different each layer. This is also another prime example of just how inventive Chuck's pacing is, and to pull it off takes a lot of ambition.
He shouts, "Look at me, hoo-hoo-hoo, I'm a dive-bomber!". Once again, it's another great sequence which has the right pacing for an action-filled sequence. Daffy's attempts to dodge the bullet are very fluid in movement as well as impossible in action.
Believing that he has disposed of Daffy for good, Conrad walks among the deck with his mop to resume to his duties. To his surprise, he finds that the bullet has backfired leading to the bullet chasing Daffy. Realising the bullet and Daffy is leading directly to him, he expresses a "Here we go again" pose. Such a rich expression, too. This leads to the final gag where the trio (inc. the bullet) both stop at the presence of the sea captain as they salute before the bullet continues to chase them.
After almost four years of Chuck Jones directing almost consistent, tepid cartoons; this is the cartoon where he has finally broken out of the habit and started to pick up the pace much like what Friz Freleng or Bob Clampett were doing. It's got some great pacing, and not to mention even some coherent gags which in Chuck's earlier cartoons were not. Daffy Duck and Conrad in the opening scenes were great characters who created some good comedic situations, mainly in the mopping sequence; but then for a while the energy goes for a while. Though many do consider Chuck's real breakthrough in creating good comedy to be The Draft Horse, they to some extent correct. If there was a cartoon which Chuck Jones finally started to make his pacing slicker, and that none of his scenes dragged: it's definitely this short. However, in making an all-round fast-paced and great all-round entertainment: he's only so close. Like I said, the only lacklustre in the short is centred in the middle of the short, where you get long scenes of time of little to no dialogue, which doesn't quite combine well into the earlier sequences. I would personally attribute the problem to Conrad, who as a character just isn't adaptable as a character to match Daffy Duck, especially if Chuck prefers to have him silent much of the time. All in all, this was certainly an entertaining short, and from then on in his long career at Warners, Chuck could do no wrong.