Monday, 30 March 2015

371. Hold the Lion, Please (1942)

featuring Bugs Bunny
Warner cartoon no. 370.
Release date: June 6, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodeies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Various voices), Ted Pierce (Leo the Lion), Bob C. Bruce (Hippo) (?)
Story: Ted Pierce.
Animation: Ken Harris.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A worthless lion king, mocked by his kingdom, attempts to prove he can kill a rabbit, but has no luck when he targets Bugs Bunny.

As Chuck has decided to turn more comedic in his approach to directing, he would wound up directing cartoons of the main stars from the Warner studio, like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck. Being his 2nd Bugs Bunny cartoon, you can see that not only does Freleng interpret Bugs' design differently, but Jones, too. Chuck's early take on Bugs Bunny is off model (smaller cheeks and circular eyes), compared to Bob McKimson's design. Of course, the McKimson design has a lot more appeal, but Jones' design still has life and personality.

Not to mention, the background work by John McGrew and background paintings by Gene Fleury really do stand out compared to the other fine layout artists at Schlesinger's. McGrew's designs of a jungle look has a very surreal and yet provincial look to it, that you can identify with a jungle look towards it.

Fleury has the creative freedom to choose unusual colours to match the scenery, particularly painting the ground with a pinkish colour, and giving a jungle atmosphere a different world of its own.

Ted Pierce does a great job in creating the perfect vulnerable personality to be Bugs Bunny's opponent. It's a well-known cliche that lions are often dubbed as the "king of the jungle". Of course, lions don't live in jungles, its supposed to emphasise they're the king of beasts. Pierce creates a great character, who is far from beastly or kingly.

The opening sequence of the animal kingdom mocking their king is a great way to establish the cartoon. The opening is all exposition of the lion's reign. The hippo criticises the lion as being "all washed up", whereas the giraffe mocks his appearance: "A has-been. Nothing but a has-been." The giraffe's dial, suggests he had once been the King of Beasts.

Chuck's design on Leo (as Bugs calls him) is very appealing and accurate in giving him a meek personality. His poses on the lion's sheepish smile is solid, and Chuck gives the lion a pathetic mane to emphasise his weakness as a king. In the close-up of the lion, he nods and misinterprets the animals' sarcastic comments: "The mighty hunter...the killer of the Congo, boy that palooka couldn't kill a rabbit." Not only does he double-takes at the comment, but the cartoon plot has been set up.

Ted Pierce writes some great comedy of Leo's pathetic attempts to impress his kingdom. He anticipates a boxing pose, and mimicking a famous quote by heavyweight boxer Tony Galento, "I'll moider da bum!". He proceeds to make a few manoeuvres, and unintentionally punches his own face from his other arm. Chuck's timing on the punching is solid, proving he lacks a good sense of coordination. As he appears dazed, he yells: "Hey, he fouled me. You seen him."

Ken Harris animated most of the Leo shots, who has a lot of energy in his animation, and understands Chuck's masterful timing. He gives the character some great personality, as the king is tenacious, but fails every time.

Leo attempting to roar and intimidate his kingdom is greatly executed in drawing. Not only is Ken Harris confident in changing the character's axis at complex angles, but his animation pays off from following Chuck's layouts. Leo's teeth are wonderfully designed as they're hardly threatening.

As he attempts to roar, he immediately coughs, as he is also proven to be fragile. The animals stepping back pretending to be scared, is very funny. At this point, Leo attempts to prove he is worthy as he leaves to go on a quest to find and kill a rabbit, evident in the line: "Just let me find a bunny. I'll show ya!" The scene of the animals laughing cross-dissolving to different foliage shapes is rather effective, as the "overlapping graphics" was an early trait of Chuck. Would've been nice if it were experimented a little more.

After a frantic search for a rabbit, Leo discovers Bugs Bunny, after stealing his carrot which he used as bait. Pierce's setup of Bugs' encounter with Leo is interesting. Unlike many cartoons where Bugs encountering his enemies is dialogue heavy, most of this sequence is done through pantomime, with occasional dialogue by Bugs. This is where Chuck's influence kicks in, and it's done very well.

Bobe Cannon animates much of the sequence (minus the claw scene, I'd expect), and does a solid job at it. Bugs wriggling his ears is masterfully timed, as well as the great posing of Leo attempting to mimic Bugs' ear action by clenching his face too hard.

The close-up of the lion pressing his hands to produce a claw features some effective sound effects by Treg Brown, and the faulty claw at the end has a nice touch. Chuck's expressions of the lion's embarrassed grin adds to the touch.

The pantomime breaks as Leo confronts Bugs, revealing his motives: "I'm a lion, see? King of this here jungle, and I'm huntin' a rabbit to show who's king of this here jungle, see?". (Pierce creates some nice touches to Leo's dial, as the lion has grammar issues). As Bugs double-takes during his conversation with Leo, he begins to build the tensity of his "fear" of Leo. He breaks down: "I am scared. I'm terrified. I'm panic-stricken!", before screaming around like a maniac. Mid-way he breaks into sarcasm as he speaks mockingly, "Shriek, shriek. Scream, scream!" until he pretends to act scared. I've written a post about that scene on a different blog some years ago, and I'll say it again. It's a brilliant showcase for character animation: done wonderfully by Bobe Cannon. It has energy, his poses are solid, and his timing is spot-on.

There are certain cases where Chuck's experimentation with comedy doesn't hold up too well. One example is seen during the sequence of Bugs picking in the garden, singing When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano. Leo watches his moves and begins to slowly approach him but Bugs notices his presence, leaving Leo to pause whenever he has an opportunity.

With this, Leo attempts to improvise his movement as he swims in soil, in sync to Strauss' Blue Danube. He swims backstroke on the soil and squirts water out of his mouth to mimic a swimming action. I'm not so keen on the staging, and the gag doesn't have the comedic values which you'd associate with Chuck.

It was a good attempt by Chuck, but the gag itself didn't work out. Leo then makes a run for it, chasing Bugs away from the garden, leaving the hat floating in mid-air. Leo zips through the scene, with the hat following him. A lot of the short's actions are nicely paced, and the energy is right down to the frame. Inventive run cycles take form, particularly in Leo's run where all legs move simultaneously.

The door sequence is a good showcase, as it caters to good taste. The scene starts with Bugs placing a door in front of his hole. The lion knocks on the door, unaware he is wearing a garden hat. Bugs answers the knock and watches Leo, who looks ridiculous in his appearance. He starts to laugh at Leo, and the effective laughter rebound over to Leo, who ends up cackling. It's a fun little scene which is great to show the lion's simple foolishness. The scene of Bugs pulling a blind with a sign pointing towards Leo, "Silly, Isn't He?" is a nod to the previous Bugs Bunny short, The Heckling Hare, which works as well in this sequence. At this moment, Bugs slams the door - leaving Leo to bang the door, demanding to be let in. Bugs then refuses to give the key to Leo, leading to a big climax.

Chuck's energetic timing comes to great advantage in the climax, when Leo starts to build up the pace by zipping towards the door: anticipating a crash action. Bugs casually loiters by the door, humming to himself. As the scenes pace back and forth, the gag is paid off as Bugs opens the door: leading Leo to crash off-site.

At this moment, Leo has reached the height of his dominance and powers: cornering Bugs. Chuck's timing is solid where Leo strikes Bugs, ready to break him. As he anticipates a strike pose, the telephone rings; interrupting the perfect moment.

The telephone is a great as well as bizarre plot device that becomes Leo's defeat. Bugs crawls over to the phone, interrupting the scene: "Hold it, doc. Don't go away." He answers the phone, "Hello. Yeah? Oh, just a moment. It's for you, Leo", and he passes the phone towards the lion.

 As Leo answers the phone, the caller is revealed to be his wife, Hortense, through Leo's submissive dialogue towards her. His attitude merely changes back into a weaker personality, as he answers: "But listen Hortense! Yeah but, but Hortense, yeah but...alright, I'll be right home. Goodbye, dear". I'm not sure who the animator on the scene is, (probably Cannon), but the poses on the passvelion's face are readable and well executed in draftsman.

It's a great way to end the character's defeat comedically, as his wife is his own weakness. He then begins to part with Bugs as he prepares to leave, "Gee, I gotta go home, see. I'm sorry I can't stay here and kill ya. I'll see ya again, sometime. So long", and dashes away.

Ted Pierce finishes the cartoon on a good note, and the irony is awesome. Bugs Bunny mocks Leo's submissiveness to his wife, "The guy wants to be the king of the jungle, and he ain't even master in his own home. As for me, I wear the pants in my family."

At that moment, we get a special, one-off appearance of Mrs. Bugs Bunny, who stands by him. It's revealed that Bugs is just as submissive, as he quietly and swiftly returns to his hole. Pierce ends the gag with a metaphor, as Mrs. Bugs Bunny asks, "Who wears the pants in this family?". She reveals her blouse, where she "literally" wears pants.

Compared to Chuck's previous attempt of directing Bugs Bunny in Elmer's Pet Rabbit, this short is milestones ahead. He has already given Bugs a tamer and more cunning personality, compared to the wackier personality seen in Wabbit Twouble or The Wacky Wabbit. It's a wonderful cartoon to watch when analysing character personality. Leo is a wonderful showcase for Bugs to bully, and the concept of a weak lion ruling a kingdom is great conception. Fleury and McGrew's surreal backgrounds gives the environment a world of its own, and its overall a great short with funny characterisation. Admittedly, some scenes fall rather flat: particularly in the garden scene but otherwise its a solid entry for Chuck Jones, who now shows confidence in using the Warner Bros. as well as his crisp timing.

Rating: 4/5


  1. Actually, the hippo is Tex Avery (in one of his last roles for a Warner's cartoon...).

  2. It sounds like a Bruce character voice to me.
    Avery would have been gone by the time the voice track for this was cut.

  3. Rudy Larriva animates the hippo in his robe -- meticulous work, but in a way the antithesis of Ken Harris. Ben Washam, not yet in his teeth-chiseling phase, handles the scene with the Mrs.

  4. Warners' writers and directors were kind of getting comfortable with the basic rules for Bugs by now -- i.e. he could be triumphant, as long as he didn't brag to the audience by acting too cocky and denigrating his opponent. That's the denouncement here -- once Bugs starts putting Leo down for being henpecked, the cartoon gods demand their revenge in the form of his own wife showing up (the studio would, for the most part, move the rabbit's shows of ego to the middle of the cartoon in later outings, but not always, so that Bugs would still get something of a comeuppance but emerge triumphant at the iris-out).

  5. The lion's claw isn't faulty, the joke is it's like a Swiss army knife with different blades
    like corkscrews, nail files, etc.

  6. Specifically a corkscrew, which suggests the lion imbibes from time to time...

  7. When Bugs Bunny performs the tune (which I will call here "When the Swallows Return to Capistrano"), I wonder if he is mimmicking the performance of someone in a WB live action film; not at all sure where the song comes from, although we've heard it parodied in WB cartoons. One of Bugs Bunny's funniest takes in this cartoon is when he's giggling to himself at the outcome of the makeshift doorway gag after the lion's offscreen crash, only to turn and find the lion glaring angrily. The change of his facial expression extends to his ears drooping when he finds out his dilemma, along with Mel's voicing him with a weak "yipe!" Beautifully timed.