Thursday, 31 July 2014

337. We, the Animals Squeak! (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 336.
Release date: September 8, 1941.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig/Mice), Sara Berner (Kansas City Kitty), Billy Bletcher (Irish Mouse), Phil Kramer (?) (Gangster Mouse).
Story: Melvin Millar.
Animation: Izzy Ellis.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Kansas City-Kitty shares her unusual story in Porky Pig's radio program, of how her kitten was kidnapped by a group of gangster mice, and how she seemed revenge.

A satire on the 1930s radio program, "We the People", Clampett has his fun where he parodies the popular radio program, where people would share some unusual experiences or stories towards the audience.

So, the radio show would have been evidently popular enough to have been spoofed in the short, which the program is titled, "We the Animals". Hosted by the supposedly fading star, Porky Pig, Clampett once again takes Porky's smaller appearances to his own advantage.

As a host he still shows the blandness from the lack of effort Clampett as well as the writers were giving him in terms of personality. Much like many other smaller appearances he's had, Clampett's crew (Tubby Millar and Warren Foster) are still reliant in giving the other bad puns, such as commenting on the rabbit's "hare-raising story". He goes ahead to introduce a new guest star of the show, 'Kansas-City Kitty', who will talk about her "unusual tail". From the point on, the audience would already know that Kansas-City Kitty is the star of the short, and much less of Porky, suggesting Clampett is craving to break away from black-and-white shorts. She speaks with an Irish brogue, to give her more of an identity, though its likely it could be a reference to the Molly character in the show, Fibber McGee and Molly, as for a brief time the character had a bit of a brogue.

Clampett takes some advantage of adding some of his own little touches of humour in the following montage sequence. Like how the guests started their stories in the original program, its necessary for Kansas-City Kitty to start off with some exposition.

There is a decent contrast of the kitten's shadow which hovers almost the entire wall, and once the kitten approaches, the contrast between size is evident, which is paid off from one of Clampett's animators.

The "growing rapidly" crack is a rather touching sendup from the previous scene. It is as satirical as well how Tex Avery would have interpreted, thus showing the Tex influence. Tubby Millar's use of hyperbole of the word "rapidly" is blended in well when it comes to animation.

Following to the next piece of exposition, Clampett once again challenges the censors with his charming use of subtlety. It is suggested however that when Kansas-City Kitty fell in love with her lover ("Tom Collins", they both conceived before marriage. However, to avoid a scandalous reputation on air, she immediately switches the timeline of events of her marriage before she gave birth. Only Clampett could get away with a bastard gag, as well as express the scene with such subtlety, that the scene itself could easily be missed by audiences as well as the censors themselves.

And so, Clampett once again shows he can be ambitious in terms of animation, where he would make the "impossible things" in animation appear rather realistic in a short. Whilst the other directors relied on rather rich backgrounds which at times overlapped the animation, Clampett keeps a lot of his staging and layout looking very simple. This occurs in a small scene where the mouse is attempting to break into mouse hole, whilst Kansas City Kitty rampages her way to retrieve her kidnapped Patrick.

The walls themselves are animated to add some wacky weight to the wall looking rubbery in order for the kitten to fit inside the mouse hole, and therefore showing a ironic difference with weight. The frantic mouse attempts to break inside the mouse hole, but in terms of avoiding realism, he pushes a part of the wall open to save himself, causing for the cat to frantically bash the wall.

Just as America was slowly beginning to prepare for war with Germany and Japan, Hitler had already reached his peak, having successfully invaded almost all of Europe by the time of the short's release. Around the time of the short's release, Hitler had endorsed 'Operation Barbarossa', in which he attempted to invade the USSR, which proved unsuccessful.

Already well-known for his extreme policies and dictatorship, Clampett makes a brief reference during the plotting sequence from the gangster mice, which is one of the earliest references to Hitler, relating to war (A brief reference appeared earlier in Bosko's Picture Show, though it was prior to the war).

The mice are plotting revenge on Kansas-City Kitty, a strategy to get her out of the way in order to carry on raiding the food in the house.The leaders of the group, points out the coordinations of the mouse, where a doodle of Kansas-City Kitty and her kitten, Patrick are centered in the map.

The mouse draws out a little Hitler moustache, plus his hair, thus making Hitler a negative connotation, as well as suggesting the support and hatred the U.S. felt of the dictator, though not yet having declared war. The rest of the sequence is a little tedious in terms of suspense and satire, though I'll give it credit for the Mel Blanc delivery on the concerned cat bellowing "Why? It's moider!". Carl Stalling's usage of Shave and a Haircut is nicely synchronised to the hands clapping over the mouse's mouth.

And so, Tubby Millar builds up to a great sense of irony where the mouse leader confronts Kansas-City Kitty. Occurring right after the kidnapping of Patrick, the mother bangs on the mouse hole, who happens to be reliant towards her mother. Some great use of deliveries are used from the leader who threatens to kill her kitten if Kansas-City Kitty dares to move forward towards the mouse. The leader pantomimes a "throat-cut" sound to make the threatening appear more dangerous ("Listen, Mother Macree. One more move out of you, and your kitten--(throat-cut panto)".

Whilst I find the use of strategy to be inventive and established, the pacing just sidetracks with more, with more pointless ideas of how the mice will kill the cat. The reaction shots of the cat freaking out is rather is very bouncy when looking at Clampett's standards. It is enjoyable and loose, as well as a sense of sympathy for the mother cat.

This follows through a dull song sequence of the song Iola which holds out no merit. The song occurs while the mice are having fun raiding the kitchen, as well as bullying Kansas-City Kitty.
The song sequence feels very forced, it lacks a lot of Clampett's charm and quality, especially the corny and uncharming scenes of the cat crying in rhythm to the song.

The string of gags are also unfunny. A striking example in particular would be the group of mice carrying blocks of cheese, and impersonate cannibals.

Enough time passes, a mouse guarding the trapped kitten, finds that she has set herself free, with some amusing comic timing. Seeing this as an advantage, Kansas City Kitty seeks her revenge on the mice upon discovering little Patrick free.

It's a real oddball and incoherent turn watching the leader mouse making a take on little Patrick set loose, perhaps to suggest that it makes him feel powerless. Though, from how it was staged and written, the cat could have easily killed the leader anytime, having staring at him face-to-face. Kansas therefore begins to threaten the mouse leader, "T'Aint funny, McGrab(McGee)". This then leads to her revenge, as he halts all of the mice, and spins the mouse leader around with her feet.

And so, this short then concludes towards one of the lamest endings of a animated short possible. Kansas City Kitty finishes her story, of how she won the battle. The audience applause, and Porky congratulates her for winning top prize for the best story of tonight's program.

Porky hands on over Kansas City Kitty a present. She unwraps it but finds an Irish mouse, as she takes at the mouse, as she stands on top of a chair, scared out of her wits. The Irish mouse, perplexed, remarks: "Well, faith 'n me jabbers", as the cartoon ends with a shamrock iris.

The gag itself is very incoherent that there isn't really a purpose for it at all, it ends at a very bad closure. Kansas City Kitty has already expressed in her story of how she got her revenge from the mice, and throughout the story she appears to appear fearless of mice. What was the gag purpose for the conclusion? Though, the shamrock iris out is a rather subtle send off for the short, but I suppose its what Clampett had in mind.

Whilst Clampett once again was having an average streak with the black-and-white shorts he was outputting, with most of them didn't really hold up too well--this short killed it. Whilst some of Clampett's subtle humour and comic timing are fitting in some places here and there, I find the cartoon to be one of the more confusing, bizarrely put-together short that Clampett has directed. Bear in mind, it is a decent idea to satirise the then radio show, but there doesn't appear to be much satire at all in there. The pacing for the short is rather lengthy and slow where the dialogue between the mouse leader and Kansas-City Kitty is just plodded with too much unneeded dialogue, that the short already clocks in longer than normal. The ending itself was a lame send-off which wasn't expressed at all clearly, if it was meant to at all. One of Clampett's weaker shorts this year, as well as his directorial career.

Rating: 1.5/5.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

336. Aviation Vacation (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 335.
Release date: August 2, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: William Day (Singer), Mel Blanc (Voices), Robert C. Bruce (Narrator).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Sid Sutherland.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: During a flight to the Darkest Africa, along the way they experience some barmy encounters along the way.

Though the short is a mockumentary of air travel, and vacation documentaries; the short itself feels like it has been split into two halves. The first half of the short centers primarily on the airplane travelling towards its intended destination, although it stops at certain places along the way. The first part feels like much like in the style of  Ceiling Hero.

It contains very little character animation, and only technical animation such as shots of the plane as well as a reliant on effects animation for gag purposes. Tex uses a lot of effects animation for the first part, as thats what the gag requires: particularly in the train gag sequence.

The plane is seem from an extreme down-shot as a silhouette, and a locomotive steam-train speeds through the railway tracks, and the plane dodges on the incoming train, which is a bizarre gag blended in with Tex's humour.

The second part of the short feels like a completely different short in terms of scenery, story direction as well as subject change. Once the plane arrives in "Darkest Africa", the rest of the short feels as though these were leftover gags from Tex's previous effort The Isle of Pingo Pongo, a short which primarily satirised civilisation as well as the scenic nature of African provinces. The sequences which cut to animals such as the ostriches, as well as the native tribes certainly suggest as though the short had turned to a new subject.

Starting off with the first part of the whole sequence; Tex mostly focuses on satirising geographical locations which are familiar in the United States like California, Mount Rushmore, as well as gags involving the planes. Most of his gags relying on geographical locations are as corny as he would have interpreted them, such as the "Sunny California" sequence.

The sun looks blazing warm form the beams and the brightness of the sky, but the camera trucks back towards the rest of California looking glum and grey. Of course, the gag is suggesting otherwise, contrasting California's reputation of warm weather.

Other uses of geographical visual puns would be evident in the "Darkest Africa" scene, just before the cartoon switches over to a different subject.

The gag itself was mostly well-known for being in Porky in Wackyland, though in this short it is a more visually ambitious shot. Whether this was inspired by the Clampett classic, I don't know, but likely. Most of the shots featuring the airplane is shown as a held cel that travels through overlays. Reasonable to have it held as the held cel was all that the animation required. For gags, the technical animation has elements of Tex's charms. One methodical scene, of the plane travelling is straight towards the moonlight. The moon zips rapidly upwards for the plane to travel past, before the moon lies back down. This is a fine example of how the technical animation coming form Warners had already been accomplished by this point. Whether this was done by one of his animators in his unit, or an effects animator, I'm not sure.

One of the more dated gags would appear in the Mount Rushmore sequence. Upon the time of the short's production, as well as the release date for the short: Mount Rushmore was very much near completion, as the presidents' faces were constructed throughout the mid-to-late 1930s. Funding for the construction ended in October of that year, when they hadn't enough in funding to construct the remainder of the original designs' depiction: carving each president form head to waist. The camera fades into a close-up of the famous American presidents, as the narrator identifies their faces one-by-one, through a camera pan. 

After the appearances of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, the camera then pans towards a satirised constructed piece of the 1940 U.S. presidential election. For the Republicans, the face carved is Wendell Wilkie, and for the Democrats: Franklin Roosevelt, who of course, had already won the election by the time the short was released, and possibly during the short's production. This makes the gag somewhat dated, even upon the short's release, as Roosevelt was already re-elected.

As the plane stops at the Emerald Isle (Ireland), the next sequence is revolutionary in terms of humour. Tex takes satire to a whole new level, and thus making the delivery an un-prediction for its audience.

It really doesn't belong to the short at all, though it only works to a small extent as planes would used to stop at various places, considering how they couldn't travel as far as today's standards.

The sequence, in which the passengers visit Ireland temporarily, watch an Irish folk singer sing: When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. The animation, probably done by Bob McKimson, is animated very realistically in order to make the gag appear more unpredictable, as well as making the approach more amusing.

During his song sequence, Tex's gag appears where he mocks the technical problems that make film reels faced in the time period: pieces of hair on film prints. In this case, the piece of hair is animated so the audience are under the impression the piece of hair is stuck on the film projector. The hair is largely noticable when animated, and the emphasis of the silhouette is evident. The animation itself has to be done meticulously and technically so the realism of the gag can meet great results. The folk singer, during his song, interrupts due to his distraction as he bellows: "Hey you up there, get that hair out of here!". From William Day's singing vocals, to Mel Blanc's yells are contrasted brilliantly when it comes to delivery. Once the projector's hand pulls out the piece of hair, the Irish folk singer finishes off his song, and ends the brilliantly, inventive sequence.

The following sequence, the short enters of how I will interpret it as "Cartoon #2". Set in the Darkest Africa, the short now focuses more on civilisation for the native tribes, as well as the animals that reside there. The narrator narrates a sequence of a form of communication that tribes use when sending out messages: through the beat of tom-toms.

The scene starts with a long-shot of a realistic-looking tribe sending a message through the tom-toms, in which the camera pans towards another tribe member in the far distance messaging out the same rhythm. The camera pan as well as the layout of the scenery looks rather complex in terms of how the gag ought to be interpreted.

The following shot, animated by Rod Scribner, features the tribe leader asks his squire: "Err, what do he say?". The squire therefore responds back be scatting out the rhythm of the tom-toms, without any sort of translation that the audience may be expecting. This is one of the sequences which Tex was attempting to invent more original gag deliveries, and this one is an exception.

The other gag sequences in the other shorts, are not much spectacular and are rather cliched from how Tex constructs his gag. The sequence involving a tribal hunter slowly approaching himself with a dart shooter is treated with suspense. We suspect he is capturing a target, once he blows out his shooter, it turns out he's playing a game of darts. His "target" responds, "Terrible shot, Joe".

Another sequence that stands out with repeated gags, as well as a very cliched delivery, would be the scene involving butterflies. The narrator narrates a brief analysis of the tropical butterflies in Africa. We find a cocoon wrapped inside, as the narrator describes with enthusiasm of the cocoon's transformation into a butterfly.

This follows into a pan where each cocoon spits out beautifully transformed butterflies with individual wing patterns. The last  cocoon, however, only spits out the butterfly, who in close-up looks rather frail. The narrator asks, "Say, what in the world happened to you?", as the butterfly responds, "Well, I've been sick". From watching a lot of Tex's spot-gag shorts, this is Tex using the delivery as a recurring gag, though it doesn't exactly hold up well in the sequence, compared to the sick alligator in Wacky Wildlife.

 And so, the short comes towards an end as the plane departs Africa heading back towards USA. The shot itself is also as cliched as how Tex would end journey spot-gag shorts. The dazzling sunset background by Johnny Johnson, as well as the "reluctant farewell" narration are all parallel to the previous shorts, for the sake of consistency. As the plane dances in rhythm towards Aloha Oe. That's funny, I thought this was set in "Darkest Africa". Perhaps not the best choice Carl Stalling has chosen for a departure scene set in a different geographical location.

Just as the plane is approaching towards New York City, the plane is distorted by the heavy fog which "makes visibility poor and landing difficult". As the plane appears only translucent during the heavy fog, the pilot makes an announcement of the "circle of field coming in". As the fog clears away, the plane turns out to be caught in a carousel in a theme park somewhere in New York. For the right gag delivery, the Merry-Go-Round Broke Down is heard from the carousel, as the cartoon ends.

And so, we bid a reluctant farewell on this cartoon review. This is a typical mess that Tex has made from his many spot-gags he made at Warners. Time to time, he would make some exceptionally good spot-gags like Cross Country Detours as well as a handful of MGM shorts, but this short seems a lot more cluttered than a lot of the spot-gags he was making. It doesn't appear to be completely focused, and the concept seems a tad lazy, as well as repeated. The first part of the short is very much in the style of Ceiling Hero, whereas the second part is just another of Tex's nature mockumentaries. It's two already used travelogue elements compiled into one. Though, the Irish folk singer sequence is an exception as it stands out as the funniest sequence in the whole short, and personally, the funniest gag in all of Tex's spot-gag Warner shorts. From the time of the short's production, Tex was already at the brink of leaving the Schlesinger Studio, and this short alone is the last short where Tex Avery is given 'supervision' credit, as his other shorts wiped out his time, having already left the Studio.

Rating: 2/5.