Tuesday, 9 December 2014

363. Horton Hatches the Egg (1942)

adapted from the book by Dr. Seuss
Warner cartoon no. 362.
Release date: April 11, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Frank Graham (Narrator/Hunter), Kent Rogers (Horton/Lorre Fish/Giraffe), Sara Berner (Maisy Bird, elephant bird), Mel Blanc (Various Voices - sneeze + small hunter), Bob Clampett (3rd hunter). (Thanks Keith Scott).
Story: Michael Maltese, Rich Hogan (uncredited). (Layouts: Nic Gibson).
Animation: ?
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: In this charming Seuss adaptation of the book, Maisy bird is restless of nesting her egg, and asks for Horton the elephant to nest the egg, "of all silly things" while she is away. Little does Horton realise is how long will Maisy will arrive, as well as what will determine Horton.

Being the first proper Bob Clampett cartoon with the previous Avery unit, he is already bringing in his esteemed talent which was lacking in the last years he made black and white Porky cartoons. Clampett was evidently hungry to switch to directing colour cartoons, and to celebrate his new position: he takes on the job to adapt the infamous Dr. Seuss story to the screen.

Horrible.
Despite having a brilliant legacy in his classic children's stories, it's unfortunate that Dr. Seuss also has had a legacy of his stories being adapted horribly into family movies. I'm talking about Hollywood's interpretation of the Seuss books made from the past 15 years: Watch The Cat in the Hat starring Mike Myers, or Jim Carrey in The Grinch; if you happen to make it out alive: Try the recent animated adaptation of The Lorax, starring Danny DeVito.

They're movies that horribly interpret the books by modernising them in such a sluggish way by bringing in popular actors of a certain generation, as well as pop-culture references in it make the movies dated; and losing the spirit and charm from Dr. Seuss's writing. Only a fool or an amateur would think they can do justice to Dr. Seuss by modernising it into terrible tastes.

Of all adaptations, the Warner staff appeared to be the only crew who understood the spirit of the books by making it look alive from an animation perspective. Prime example are this cartoon, more obvious choices would be Chuck Jones' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or Hawley Pratt's The Cat in the Hat. They're all very fine adaptations, but I find that this cartoon alone is the best Dr. Seuss adaptation ever done. Not only is it faithful to the source material, but Bob Clampett blends in the contemporary Warner Bros. humour beautifully too, as well as making the movie artistically fulfilling.

Watching the cartoon from an artistic standpoint, you can't deny that the cartoon has allowed the background artists to explore with whatever colours they can use to make the surreal Dr. Seuss fantasy world believable. The opening scene is set up similar to an Tex Avery cartoon, with an opening narrative spoken during a long pan of the scenery. Not to mention, the opening shot is filmed on two camera panes to create a realistic illusion.

The backgrounds in these shorts were done by Mike Sasanoff who considered the colours in his backgrounds splendidly. Considering that many of Seuss' illustrations contain only a very limited use of colours, this was an ambition which had to be met in order for it to look visually appealing for an audience.

Not only is the use of colours explored wonderfully in the backgrounds, but also on the characters too: such as the pink colour tone on Horton, and blue for Maisy bird. These are all odd but elaborate tastes of colour which fits in the right place.

From a character design standpoint, the designs have a great blend of Seuss' style as well as Warners. Bob Clampett recalled this in an interview with Mike Barrier and Milt Gray: "As of a Friday Night, I told my animators, who were all struggling to draw Bugs Bunny alike, 'Guess what, boys? First thing Monday morning I want you to all draw like Dr. Seuss." Recreating Seuss's designs and illustrations to the screen isn't an easy challenge, and it's been flawed a lot in live-action movies. This goes to slow how they met the goal wonderfully and comically.

The way the characters are established in the opening scenes is also very faithful. They are already given very clear, distinctive personalities just by a single scene, which is a great way to set them up for the entire cartoon. The short begins with Mayzie bird, who is known to be "mean as can be".


She is seen sitting on her nest, laying her egg complaining about having to sit on her egg with no activity whatsoever to keep her motivated. She complains in Seuss' classic rhyme trait, "I'd much rather play. If I could find someone, I'd fly away, free."

As for Horton's introduction, he comes across as a carefree elephant who is a little dimwitted but loveable. He first appears from behind a bush singing merrily to The Hut Hut Song. Midpoint during his singing, he interrupts by breaking the forth wall, "I still can't get the words of that song".

This was a nod to the popular tune of its time, and it's brilliantly satirised in this sequence for its nonsensical lyrics matches Horton's personality greatly. Horton's little dance is animated very strangely, he doesn't move so fluidly nor does he look connected: but it goes to show that the Warner crew were able to animate personality, without making the elephant's walk looking too noticeable. Rod Scribner's scene on Mayzie attempting to entice Horton with her lustful appearance is brilliant in establishing how manipulative and indeed "mean" Mayzie could be. The use of squash and stretch on Maisy's belly is brilliant to add emphasis on her not-so good figure. Horton watches her appearance and immediately turns his attention to her.

The interaction between Horton and Mayzie is great in setting the story into gear. Whilst Horton pays attention to Mayzie's appearance, she starts off her dialogue: "You've nothing to do and I do need a rest. Would you like to sit on the egg in my nest?". Horton's line following implies that Horton is no fool, he has attitude but still kindhearted. He starts off bulking at Mayzie's request: "Why, of all silly things. I haven't feathers, and I haven't wings. Me on your egg? Why, it doesn't make sense. Your egg is so small ma'am, and I'm so immense.

Since the scene is dialogue-heavy, animator Bob McKimson had to invent some animation for the characters to still make the scene engaging for the audience. An example is shown when Horton turns his backside to Mayzie in the "I'm so immense" line, so emphasise his size. Visual puns is also added to that effect to keep the cartoon fresh with ideas.

This is evident in the following dialogue by Mayzie: "I've gotta get off for a rest, otherwise I'll never get rid of these bags neath my eyes". The metaphorical phrase is added splendidly as a visual puns, displaying that Mayzie indeed has bags under her eyes. Treg Brown adds to the gag by adding the train whistle sound.

Mayzie assures Horton that she won't be away for long; leaving Horton to surrender to her request: "Very well. Since you insist. I'll stay and be faithful. I mean what I say". Maisy flies away for her vacation, leaving Horton to climb on top of the small tree to hatch her egg. Horton's repeated piece of dialogue: "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful 100 per cent." as faithfulness is the theme and moral of the story.

This is a very strong moral of the story as it shows being faithful can require a lot of effort and dedication, especially if you go through hardship. This makes Horton a very strong character to identify with because not only does his ass get grilled in situations like being persecuted by his friends, or being deported from his own lands; he still remains true to his word to the lazy Mayzie. You can experience the amount of distress he feels while he repeats his phrase throughout the cartoon. Each time he says it, the more intense he feels: such as in great character animated scenes of Horton attempting to disguise the huge ears pouring down his eyes. Much like the ending of the story, Horton's faithfulness to an unfair favour has rewarded him, whereas Mayzie is punished for her laziness by not receiving anything.

Like a lot of Seuss's adaptations which feature a lot of modernised humour in bad tastes, this short is one of the rarest adaptations where the contemporary Warners humour actually fits in the right places. Mainly because the cartoon understands the source material and focuses primarily on Horton's faithfulness, but adding in their own humour in scenes here and there. In scenes of Mayzie relaxing in an exotic beach, she is having too much of a good time that she insists, "I think I'll never go back to my nest", at that moment she impersonates Katherine Hepburn, "Really I won't." That is a great, funny reference which fits in perfectly from Mayzie's statement about her not returning. This is a gag in the right place.

Another example is the seen in the famous scene featuring the Peter Lorre fish. Horton has been captured by the hunters and is seen sailing through some choppy scenes. From a reality standpoint, Horton looks extremely ridiculous, sitting on top of an egg, on top of a ship sailing past. A fish swims up to the surface, and to his astonishments he spots Horton in that silly position. The Lorre fish then states, "Well, now I've seen everything" and immediately commits suicide. Of course, it's a controversial scene because it doesn't set the harmless tone in the Dr. Seuss books, but as a gag it's hilariously executed that it works very well as an addition.

Storymen like Mike Maltese as well as Clampett himself have an advantage to create some fresh sequences to help add to how uncomfortable Horton is feeling, but yet still retaining his faithfulness. The first sequence centers on a flood in the spot where Horton is hatching the egg. Horton, looking depressed, speaks: "I wish she'd come back, cos I'm cold and I'm wet. I hope that the Mayzie bird doesn't forget."

As the rain floods up Horton's entire body, Horton speaks with hhis trunk peaking at the surface. The added gag of Horton speaking with his trunk is so subtle and bizarre in a gag approach, by adding a tongue at the end of his tuba, but then again, only Clampett could make such a wild gag appear subtle.

The atmosphere of Horton's tired expression adds to the effect, making the gag work. Clampett adds to the faithfulness of Horton as well as the hardship he is facing through the passage of time. In one sequence, Horton is still seen sitting on top of the nest during a snowy night--not moving once from his position.

The season's have changed suggesting Horton has sat on the spot for an extensive amount of time. He is shivering from the snow, wearing earmuffs to hopelessly keep him warm: but the faithfulness remains. Gags are added along the way where Horton anticipates a giant sneeze (sneeze done comically by Blanc) resulting in a disgruntled Horton to tie his trunk into a knot to prevent any more.

The scenes surrounding on Horton being humiliated by society is also great in adding depth to the hardship of Horton's situation. Being an absurd sight - naturally all of his friends begin to laugh at him. This is evident in the scene with the animals who all laugh at Horton sitting on top of a nest. A big-eared mouse (almost parallel to the mouse in Farm Frolics), calls out "Hey look, Horton the elephant's up in a tree". A giraffe calls out, "Blimey, Horton the elephant thinks he's a bird!". This is probably my favourite line in the short. The addition to the giraffe having a Cockney accent is so bizarre in delivery and concept, that the voice matches perfectly with the giraffe's design--making the line hilarious.

The scene with Horton being displayed as a freak at the circus is another great addition to the humiliation that Horton suffers. What makes the story and character so powerful in its subtle ways is how Horton remains faithful despite suffering ultimate humiliation which starts to make him feel grieved.

To shake up the story a little, Horton faces a foe which he must defend without abandoning his nest: hunters. The three hunters (all different in size), are seen sneaking through the foliage, all holding onto a very long elephant gun. The walk cycle by Bob McKimson (who animates a majority of the hunters sequence), is very comedic and successful in animating their different sizes and mannerisms.


Realising he is at risk, Horton stays firm to his faithfulness by defending himself to the hunters: "Shoot if you must, but I won't run away." At this point, the hunters lower the gun with the little hunter suggesting: "We'll take 'im away. Why, he's terribly funny!", and they settle on taking him to the circus.

Still faithful to Mayzie's request, Horton defends himself to the hunters as he responds: "You can't make me go", in which the hunters respond excitedly: "Oh yes we can!"

Horton is assertive enough to refuse the hunters' request, and he continued to argue their case until the hunters had the last laugh by taking Horton with them the hard way. They place the tree into a plant pot, on top of a cart as the hunters carry him off. Clampett shows some great timing in changing the staging from the previous scene to the next scene: starting from Horton's defence of "Oh no you can't", to a dejected Horton replying, "Oh yes they can". He builds up the shots of their argument really well, by making the close-up shots closer in each shot.

Then we reach the cartoon's climax: the sudden encounter between Mayzie and Horton. Horton has reached the peak of humiliation, and there is no signs of Mayzie ever intending to return to her nest. High in the sky, Mayzie is seen flying with her ice-cream and flies down to the circus for some entertainment. At that point, she encounters Horton.


Just at the point, the egg which he "sat on for fifty-one weeks" begins to wriggle vigorously on top of the nest. Horton looks at the egg with astonishment: "My egg, why it's hatching!".

The selfish Mayzie screams: "But it's my egg!". Her inner cruelty is evident in her forth-wall crack as she whispers to the audience behind Horton's back, "The work is all done now I want it back. Ha hah!".

The sequence of Mayzie arguing with Horton shows how Rod Scribner is also breaking loose with his true animated talent. At that point, the egg hatches, and the baby is revealed.

Much to the circus audience's surprise ("My goodness", "My gracious", "It's somethin' brand new!"); the baby revealed happens to be an "elephant-boid": with a strong resemblance to an elephant like Horton, and the wings of a bird like Mayzie. The elephant-bird identifies the mother as Horton, as it snuggles up to Horton's cheek. This leaves the angry Mayzie with nothing. Horton's hardship has finally paid off, and is rewarded by being sent back to his home along with his baby elephant-bird. Back at home, and with a happy ending, the father and child they sing The Hut-Hut Song, with the baby singing back-up.

This is quite possibly the longest Warner Bros. cartoon made (it clocks in at almost ten minutes), and the cartoon uses up its 10 minutes sufficiently and brilliantly. There is not a dull moment in the cartoon, and every scene is a treat. Bob Clampett understands the source material to the charming Seuss story, and shows his ability to add him his esteemed talent as well as staying true to the spirit of the book. Clampett's crew like Mike Sasanoff or Bob McKimson help add to surrealistic designs of Dr. Seuss in making the imaginary world and characters look believable and bizarre. It's also a funny Clampett cartoon which shows that Clampett is starting to build up at a better pace he should've done back in 1938. The cartoon doesn't show much edginess in terms of timing, as this is a Dr. Seuss adaptation, but elements of Bob Clampett's use of exaggeration is blended in many subtle ways, to show that Clampett is revolutionising his style. The use of cultural references is executed not just hilariously but beautifully too, because unlike many latter Seuss adaptations; this cartoon isn't reliant on references. In all, it's a delightful cartoon with great characters, great gags, and it's definitely an immortal addition to the Warner Bros. cartoon legacy.

Rating: 4.5/5.

2 comments:

  1. You could say that Mayzie's attempts to sexually entice Horton into hatching her egg foreshadow Tina Louise's performances as Ginger Grant in Gilligan's Island almost twenty years later.

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  2. I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An Elephant's faithful, 100 percent.

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