Wednesday, 1 October 2014

355. The Bird Came C.O.D. (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 354.
Release date: January 17, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
No cast.
No story credit.
Animation: Ken Harris.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Conrad Cat attempts to deliver a plant towards an empty stage theatre, which only leads towards chaos and confusion.

During Jones' early years as a director, his own created characters proved to not work as regular characters: Sniffles was a hit-and-miss character, the Two Curious Dogs didn't differ much--Conrad Cat just killed that lineup. This character is perhaps one of Chuck Jones' most confusing and blandest of the short-lived characters that he created.

You don't know if you can interpret him as just a silent goof-ball, or a Goofy rip-off in Conrad the Sailor, but in terms of how he was characterised, it really does backfire--even in this cartoon.

Whether or not this short was written by Chuck Jones himself, it's another prime example of how Chuck appeared to really not be capable of writing his own cartoons. It may not make much difference when he had writers like Rich Hogan writing shorts in that same manner, but even in Chuck's later career he proved to be a lackluster writer, especially in the 1960s.

The short (title parody of the film The Bride Came C.O.D.) consists of Conrad Cat, an employe of Arctic Palm Co. is delivering a piece of a plant towards the backlot of a studio, and consistently sidetracked from recurring accidents, and somehow wounds up towards an empty magic stage show: now that is a very clumsy piece of pacing in a cartoon story, showing no purpose too.

It's the sort of story pacing which just can't be done in animated shorts. It not only flaws validly, but it loses the audience's concentration, which is a serious problem concerning animation, as to create good animation and good gags, it needs to be registered well to the audience; in other words 'readable'.

Not to mention the "gags" that Jones creates for the short also show no inspiration or believability towards it at all, many of them feel forced, and the anticipation just makes the gags look very amateurish and dead. His somewhat goofy personality is also being forced with unfunny gags, and therefore making him unfunny himself.

Gags which lack execution and creativity that come to mind would be the sequence where Conrad attempts to deliver the plant pot through the back of the stage door. He steps out of his van, waters the plant, and then strolls towards the stage door where he finds he can't make his way through the door because of the width of the plants which blocks the entrance to the door.

The fact the gag itself fails is just because of how phoney the gag is, by making the plant feel somewhat human and block the entrance like its a pair of arms holdings its force from entering inside the stage door; its just delivered poorly to be even considered a gag, but the conception of the gag alone is abysmal.

To make matters even worse, the scene itself is riddled with terrible pacing for Conrad's attempts to make his way through the door is repetitive and dry.

Chuck would flirt with gag ideas of having inanimate objects appear alive and human in his earlier cartoons, such as having the door close itself; but for this short it just backfires validly.

And so, Conrad finally finds his way to move the prop tree into the stage door successfully by walking alone towards the stage door and quickly grabbing the plant inside the door as it closes on time. One of the most repetitive and perhaps poorly paced of many of Chuck's earlier shorts, as Chuck appears to struggle to tell a straightforward narrative.

If I were to nominate any signs where Chuck at least achieves a scene in his approach to humour as well as his timing, it would be the scene of Conrad unknowingly walking up a step ladder but drops rapidly to a lower level of the building, with off-screen violent crashes, and thus leading the camera to pan towards an elevator opening for Conrad to exit.

That is the one scene in the short which I'd consider to be the only funny scene. The stupidity of Conrad is nailed to a tee in the scene, especially in his characteristic walk which adds depth to his ignorance, and Chuck's timing for Conrad's drop is solid and well executed. Treg Brown also adds to the touch with his comical and appealing crash effects.

Conrad's walk animation is all animated on ones, and as soon as he doors, Conrad only appears for 3 frames in the drop; and leaving for his hat to float for another few frames before it falls with him. This is the sort of gag and timing which Chuck should have used more and more in the whole short, to make it passable. But just one small funny scene can't be enough to save an entire lackluster short, unfortunately.

Moving further on in the sound stage, Chuck moves the cartoon's plot to a completely different turn: where instead of Conrad delivering a prop tree to a stage show, he now has him spontaneously walking to an empty stage where Conrad attempts to entertain himself by performing magic towards an imaginary audience.

Conrad picks up the top hat where he is setting up for the trick, and in a close-up shot he manages to pull out a rabbit from the magician's hat, which as alone is cliched and dated a trick.

The scene itself is just a useless showcase, and having Conrad just sidetrack to a different scenario and there is just no purpose in terms of entertainment values which are overlooked in much of the cartoon. It doesn't add an identity towards the dim-witted Conrad, it's just a useless idea of changing the cartoon to a different setting, and its a transition that isn't handled well at all.

Despite its flaws, Conrad in the demonstration scene is very solidly animated, and its likely Ken Harris animated the scene for he's not afraid to change the axis of the character when moving in perspective. It's great to study when you watch the animator attempt to find an angle or attitude to the head to make the acting work better.

To make matters even worse not just for Conrad but the cartoon too, he ends up being confronted by a threatening, postured bird who lives inside the magician's hat. He marches sternly towards Conrad with a threatening glare before walking back to his hat. Note that its the same gag which was used originally in Stage Fright, and not to mention the same music cue.

It's rather unfitting to use an old gag which wasn't even funny to begin with, and yet use that again for a cartoon, and also to make it carry out for the remainder of the cartoon. By saying so, the rest of the cartoon pretty much centers on a battle of wits between Conrad and the bird.

It's a painful sequence to sit through not just in terms of repetition and pacing but because of the lack of sensibilities and charm featured in the sequence. It's unwatchable watching Conrad battling with the bird inside the magician's hat when its already predictable that the bird himself can easily intimidate and beat Conrad every time. The gag itself gets worse when Conrad, who grows sick of the bird tosses away the magician's hat but finds it anonymously returns and jams his face inside it, leading him to struggle to pull the hat off his face. It's just adding insult to injury for the poor quality and gags that Chuck keeps bringing into the short.

To show the sequence itself may not be truly terrible, Chuck at least brings in some emotion and creative expressions for Conrad, a quality that Chuck could use to at least make a lackluster sequence look charming in its own ways. It's pretty brave for Chuck to experiment with crude expressions that could go wrong in drawing, such as in the left screenshot of a perplexed Conrad whose eyes express it all. There he draws one eye contrastingly taller than the other, which itself is pretty gutsy for Chuck to create when creating new poses. Conrad's fuming face itself is a nice touch and is exaggerated to the point where you feel the anger of the character; and its a rare combination which Chuck was excellent at doing, and not to mention his animators who could put Chuck's posing into animation.

Leading towards the cartoon's closure, we sit through a very long pan and not to mention a very long, tiring piece of comic timing. Conrad's fall off the stage is passable enough, but it leads to such a confusing gag delivery to regard as. Conrad's fall leads him to pan horizontally to the left as the orchestra's instruments are left flying upwards, with Conrad unseen but the damage he is making is evident.

It's another poorly conceived gag which can't be perceived as even being entertaining or passable, as for a gag its just total incoherence. Not to mention the camera pan is moving as a slow pace, and henceforth making the speed or anticipation of the gag even unfunnier.

Conrad rises his head from the other edge of the stage, dizzy with flying birds. Conrad, picking up the plant then rushes towards the door to supposedly escapes but crashes towards a door blocked by bricks. After causing such chaos, he finally crashes towards a case with a group of top hats seen on display.

The final gag conclusion ends with each copy of the threatening birds walking out from their own top hats pacing towards Conrad. They pull the top of the hat down towards Conrad's face, before proceeding to walking back to their own hats.

After spending one month away from blogging due to work as well as a brief illness, this hasn't been a welcoming back short to review. As explained throughout the entire review, this is without doubt one of Chuck Jones' all-time worst Warner Bros. cartoons he ever made, as well as one of the worst Warner Bros. shorts in general. It's gag delivery is so poorly conceived and constructed, its confusing to follow through meaning the cartoon is easy to lose your attention span, but on top of all of that: the cartoon is merely just a bore. That's the worst of it, it's just a very boring short with lacks the magic or quality that you associate with Chuck Jones as well as Warner Bros. I'm convinced this might've been the cartoon which caused Leon Schlesinger to provoke Chuck into producing funnier cartoons, and from this point on: you start to see much more broader cartoons which end up living up to the name of 'Looney Tunes'.

Rating: 0.5/5.


  1. What happened to this blog?

  2. Jones seemed to like the idea of a character continually failing to accomplish a task; the whole Roadrunner/Coyote series is based on it. Much like "Good Night Elmer," the slowwwwww early '40s pacing kills this, along with a lead character that, in the end, you don't care about.