Saturday, 6 September 2014

354. Porky's Pastry Pirates (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 353.
Release date: January 17, 1942.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig), Kent Rogers (Jimmy Cagney bee).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Gerry Chiniquy.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A Jimmy Cagney-like bee demonstrates towards the fly how to avoid Porky's flyswatter whilst invading on eating the food inside his bakery store.

From watching the synopsis of the short, it's the sort of plot device you'd wish to see from previous shorts like Porky's Midnight Matinee, but no matter for it's used as a fresh idea in the cartoon. A hungry fly is having troubles of invading the food inside Porky's bakery shop, due to his fear for file. 

This is an establishing dilemma to sum up most of the cartoon: Porky battling against flies. Might sound mundane, but Monahan has some pleasant surprises along the way.

A passing-by bee, whose persona is impersonating Jimmy Cagney, demonstrates towards the fly how it works. The opening scene is a great way to start up the cartoon, for the Cagney-bee has a brash type of personality, who says "it's a cinch" when it comes to raiding bakers. 

The subtle scene of him winking at the audience is a decent piece of character for the cocky bee, suggesting that his specie (being a bee) is far superior than the fly itself. Kent Rogers does a decent impersonation of the Cagney character, with the voice being a duplicate to the Cagney caricature in Hollywood Steps Out.

Porky's role in the cartoon shows him as a passive, vulnerable character...perhaps a little more vulnerable than the other cartoons beforehand. Not to mention, he's always been a victim of vulnerability in his prime, but here..the characterisation is still being experimented in the short, as Porky's too massive a character to be hilarious.

Sure, he expresses his hatred towards flies, and uses his flyswatter as a weapon: but the tricks and gags pulled towards him would be of better use if it were a Elmer Fudd characterisation, not for Porky.

Despite the minor flaw, the contrast of size between the two characters are polar opposites in pompous personalities. Porky discovers that a bee has invaded his bakery shop, and has a fear of bees. This leads him to command and instinctively obeys the bee, such as in the cream puff scene. 

Other instances where his vulnerability becomes amusing in execution would be the scene of Porky pulling a sheepish, timid grin as he attempts to grab the flyswatter, but is prevented from the presence and disturbance of the bee. Porky then attempts to settle the bee with a cherry topping from a piece of cupcake, which he refuses sternly. He storms off, but only to storm back to eat the piece of cherry in his mouth.

From Monahan's writing and gags; he indulges into gags that rely on visual puns, and at least creates puns that are comical and entertaining to that effect. The visual puns consist of several different kinds of cakes, which you'd expect to see on display in a bakery shop.

One of the cakes that the bee invades is the "Marble cake", and as you'd expect: the visual pun is that the cake itself is made out of marble. The animation timing of the bee using his bee sting is ingenious and meticulous, but the gag succeeds.

Other great scenes that create puns themselves would be another shot of the bee who is seen raiding other cakes in display. To begin with, he starts off with a "cheese cake", and as you'd expect there's no visual pun there, but then he gets to the "limburger cheesecake", which turns itself into a pun and a humorous gag itself. From eating the piece of limburger, he spits out the taste from his mouth. Though, its deliberately created for gag purposes, limburger is notorious for its smell and taste which doesn't appeal to a lot of people.

As for Freleng's ingenious comic timing, you'll find that circulating over the cartoon. The scenes that stick to my mind with Friz's timing would be the use of the bee's sting; which has some monument force towards it. He appears to give the bee's sting to appear rather symbolic in terms of what power it can outcome. Note how in the scene where the bee breaks the doorknob to Porky's front door down, and you feel the immensity and power that created the spark. 

Not to mention, Treg Brown adds the right elements to the bee with the sound effect which would later become a more well-known associate to the Tasmanian Devil. Other instances where Freleng's timing comes to great use would the spark effect he gives to Porky's flyswatter. 

Porky, regaining his confidence is in search for the bee; who had squirted cream puff at his face. The Cagney bee, flies towards his flyswatter, and gives the swatter a powerful sting that creates a socket/spark effect that it generates voltage towards Porky. It's a great, powerful piece of timing that's also comedic fun.
Looking more into Friz's timing; you notice that the short shares its great energy and pacing that can be comparable towards Frank Tashlin's use of quick pacing. Once Porky discovers that his shop is being invaded by a bee, he shouts: "Yipe! A bee", and frantically rushes through the back of store in such speed. The use of its staging and effect can be comparable to what Tashlin had some in the 30s, working for Schlesinger; though both directors had their own flair when it came to energy and speed. 

Areas of the cartoon where Dave Monahan contributes gags that can surprise you, you'll find that in scenes such as the Gingerbread man. The bee walks past a box of gingerbread men in display, with a gingerbread man standing. He pulls the lower button of his body, which leads to them dropping down like a pair of pants. The Gingerbread man pops to life and pulls up his shirt with an embarrassed take. It's a great, charming scene which you'd expect from the wacky mindset of Bob Clampett, but Freleng shows how he doesn't mind a cheesy gag to surprise the audience.

After a series of misadventures, the Cagney bee is next seen outside the shop's window sill where he showed all the business to the fly, which he did throughout the short. "See how easy it is, kid?" asks the Cagney bee, and then becomes to plot with the fly to help make the plan work. 

And so, he disguises the fly to resemble the look of a bee. Then he wishes him luck, "You do your stuff and I'll see ya later".

Walking inside the bakery store, the fly walks quietly through the table and finds to his delight a nice piece of cake on display. He jumps on top of the cake and begins to swim around on top of the icing. Some great effects animation to make the icing symbolise like its runny water: and plus emphasising the fly's moment being paradise. And so, he continues to roll around the icing in a blessing moment, until his disguise and plan goes all wrong. He is seen watched by Porky, with a flyswatter in his hand, and the fly ends up cornered. The plan goes all wrong.

This then leads to a chase sequence where the fly runs for his life as Porky shows no mercy by hitting him mercilessly with the flyswatter. Note how Freleng times the sequence in rhythm to the popular song: You Hit My Heart with a Bang, which is a great piece of timing to make the fly swatting scenes appear less cruel and more comical to that effect.

This leads to the following exterior shot of Porky seen from a window view chasing his flyswatter all over his shop, which once again is a more subtle approach to humour, for he is chasing the fly all over the place from that view, making him look a little like a hick. 

But then, Porky opens the door and kicks the fly out, ordering: "Get out and stay out you unsanitary old fly!". Later on, the Cagney bee flies towards the shop wondering, "I wonder how that jerk fly made out". Flying inside the bakery store again, the suspense becomes intense as the flyswatter appears to scene but identified as a silhouette. This leads to him getting beaten up mercilessly in a close-up shot, but the following shot reveals the injured fly beating him up as payback. It's a great sendoff to the short, and thus a good use of justice for the Cagney bee crook.

Overall: it's a pretty decent effort once more in the hands of Friz Freleng. He takes the notion on two bugs attempting to invade a bakery store into account, and does a good job with timing as well as execution in certain scenes. The Cagney bee character is a great one-shot character whose arrogant personality and flamboyant attitude is a great dilemma for Porky, whose intimidated by bees, though justice is done for the bee. Porky acts a bit too vulnerable as a character, though it works well; for his fear of bees explains so, and the set-up of the Cagney bee taking advantage of Porky works well in certain sequences: making it a funny contrast when you compare both character in terms of their size. It is, as I've already explained: an all-round entertaining short, which isn't anything too special or groundbreaking in terms of approach to humour, and its a passable short along the way.

Rating: 3/5.

Monday, 1 September 2014

353. Hop, Skip, and a Chump (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 352.
Release date: January 3, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Grasshopper / Laurel and Hardy Crows).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Cal Dalton.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: The grasshopper, "Hopalong Casserole", once again outwits his long time nemesis: consisting of a pair of Laurel and Hardy crows.

Compared to what he had written previously, such as The Cagey Canary, Maltese goes ahead with the same formula: but consisting on a grasshopper and a pair of crows, but all intended as a one-shot purpose. The grasshopper here is named, "Hopalong Casserole", which is a lame pun on the fictional cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy. The crows, being his nemeses are a Laurel and Hardy caricature, with the theatrical personalities matching the birds.

The opening sequence introducing Hopalong is well established, thanks to the witty dialogue by Michael Maltese. He establishes the character with a bit of an ego, calling him the "hoppinest, skippenist, jumpenist grasshopper in this here cornbread."

This is a great use of play-on words which Maltese would use more infamously when creating Yosemite Sam. After the grasshopper introduces himself, Maltese once again teases the censors, with forth-wall material, such as the grasshopper turning from the audience and spitting no the censors cannot see.

The grasshopper there more explains, "Expectorating is censored, ya know". It's a great, charming little line-up from Maltese who makes the grasshopper appear much more humour. Thus, it also emphasises how much cartoons have changed since the Pre-Code days, where characters would spit out tobacco juice. Though, it had been used several times in the Production Code, it was still frowned upon. Maltese also establishes the grasshopper with a more human personality, making him very interactive with the audience with the use of forth-wall gags, such the camera trucking in closer, when he calls for the audience's attention. Then, he goes into a bit of exposition about the birds watching him: "The jerks have been trying to catch me for years. But I'm too fast for 'em. I just think I'll have a lil' fun with 'em".

 So, following after the grasshopper's introduction come the two crows. The Hardy crow explains to the Laurel bird of the scene, and orders him to do the physical task of knocking the grasshopper with his club.

As the sequence establishes the two crows: it's evident on how their personalities are, for the characters are satirising the Laurel and Hardy characters, with Laurel being the clumsy character, and Hardy being the schemer.

The Laurel crow stands behind the tree looking out for the grasshopper. Hopalong stands behind him casually. The Laurel bird turns towards him as he speaks in a cretinous, slow voice: "We're going to catch a grass-hopper". Hopalong, who has the Laurel crow on the gag, responds "Yeah?". Believing foolishly he has caught the grasshopper he hits the Hardy bird who he mistakened as Hopalong. Removing the club off the Laurel crow's hands and looking at him sternly, he speaks to him directly: "That - was a grasshopper!".

Following the first failure the crows made in the cartoon, the Hardy crow orders the Laurel crow to capture Hopalong in a bag, and is ordered to "not let him get away". In the following scene where it is suggested that the Laurel crow has captured Hopalong, from all the rustling and all, the Laurel crow returns with the bag claiming, "Got him".

To his ignorance and failure, what he managed to capture was an angry bee who is revealed inside the bag. Afraid, they both make a run for as they are getting stung by a bee, who in the long-shot scenes can't be seen stinging the crows. As they jump inside the water, the bee arrives at the moment but signals a "darn it" motion with his arm and flies off.

Believing the coast is clear, they raise their heads from underwater but find they are still in danger from the angry bee who finds them, and stops at nothing to get justice. The Hardy bird gets stung once more by the bee and ducks under.

The Laurel bird displays his ignorance by raising his head up: showing no indication of alertness. He gets stung once more by the bee. A great gag of the bee feeling fatigued from a hard hit on the Laurel crow's head, emphasising his "bonehead" structure. Some pretty decent effects animation and timing on the stinging effect. The socket effect to emphasise the sting is effective, and comical and overall the sequence is somewhat amusing: particularly the little to no effect the Laurel crow has when the bee dive-bombs his head.

Speaking of Freleng's timing: here I will talk briefly of some pieces of timing that sticks out well in his style as well as the cartoon itself. It's not just Friz's timing that has a punchy and appealing feel to it, but he also appears to be attempting to explore different aspects of it: either comical, subtle or other aspects--which is a rare skill to have as a director.

A great scene that come to mind would be the opening shot. Already, the audience are engaged of a scene with the grasshopper hopping. To make the hopping somewhat effective and motivating: the camera hops to the movement of Hopalong.

Then it turns to a gag, involving a faster pace to the camera, faster timing as well as Carl Stalling to make the gag work. Hopalong hops in sync to a popular song of its time: Organ Grinder's Swing.

Another great piece of timing with the geniuses of Freleng and Carl Stalling combined would occur in the scene of the Hardy crow attempting to hop like the grasshopper in hopes of catching him. The scene takes place right after the lake episode, featuring the bee. The timing of the sequence is very punchy, and the music captures the frustration the crow is feeling in his hopes of capturing Hopalong. This leads him to a junkyard, where once again: this leads to another of Hopalong's victories.

To make the sequences to a bigger edge from the previous shorts: Michael Maltese uses the junkyard location for another scheme for the Hardy crow to use in an attempt to make Hopalong vulnerable. Noticing the bedsprings in the junkyard, he uses them to help him hop on the same level as Hopalong. To the grasshopper's surprise, it makes to work a while and this makes Hopalong appear vulnerable. The Hardy crow greets him smugly, "Hello".

The hopping action continues when they both cross to the edge of a cliff. Hopalong manages to escape back to the edge safely, whilst the Hardy crow falls, we hear no crash but another spring effect to show he is rising upwards. Just his luck, Hopalong removes the springs off the crow, leading him to fall once more. Once again another victory for the grasshopper, it's a great little scene to make the sequence edgier than the previous ones: and plus, a caution to Hopalong's egotistical remarks earlier in the short.

The following scene is a treat from Mike Maltese's inventive gag sequences, and plus Friz's timing to combine with classical music to go along with it. The sequence begins with Hopalong hopping casually through the junkyard, as the crows are hiding underneath an abandoned piano: in another attempt to capturing the grasshopper.

The Hardy crow entices the grasshopper with a piece of corn hanging from a stick, but Hopalong fails to catch the corn: leading to a sequence where the grasshopper is on top of the piano trying to catch the corn whilst playing the Poet and Peasant Overture.

It's a popular piece of music for animated cartoons, especially in action and climatical scenes, and here it works wonderfully as a gag. Inside the piano shows the Laurel and Hardy crows being beaten up by the piano felts, and pounding them in rhythm to the overture. It's a great little sequence which expresses Freleng and Stalling's abilities in creating great cartoon comedy. This ends as the grasshopper bounces on the piano, leaving the crows to fall out from the piano.

Leading up to the finale of the cartoon: the grasshopper hides once more inside an abandoned cuckoo clock. This leads to Hopalong who quickly attempts to masquerade himself as a clock figurine who appear on the hour. The Hardy crow, changing the time further to the hour, watches Hopalong walk; acting like a mechanical figurine, tapping the bell. The crow fails to catch him this round.

The following round, Hopalong finds he is face-to-face with the crow: but escapes from the clock with luck. Leading to a brief chase scene of the crows failing to catch Hopalong; he makes it out in time just as the cartoon irises out. Another great plot device by Maltese, who is seen breaking the rules of what would appear in animate cartoons.

He escapes through the iris, panting and wheezing, "Well, just as I was telling you folks, I'm too fast for 'em. They'll never catch me. Never". But, his remark contradicts otherwise as the Hardy bird opens up the iris-out and grabs the grasshopper's turtleneck taking him back to the cartoon to his fate. A sadistic gag yes, but also an unpredictable, funny sendoff to contradict Hopalong's line. Not to mention, it ends with the moral, for its unwise to be overconfident and brash: thus ending with what the grasshopper deserved.

From writing in the cat-mouse formula, Mike Maltese does a decent effort in turning out this short. The grasshopper is a very big-heated, self-centred character that Maltese manages to make the character unlikable throughout the entire cartoons, thus ending him with good justice. The use of forth-wall material makes the characters appear believable and human from their interactions, and all the characters show three-dimensional personalities. From a viewer's perspective, the short shows some great character development. Freleng's timing is also fun and inventive in the cartoon; with the cliched 'Poet and Peasant Overture' sequence being witty and humorous. Overall, its got some great sequences, great characters that add up to a great cartoon. A very underrated Freleng effort.

Rating: 3.5/5.