Tuesday, 31 March 2015

372. Gopher Goofy (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 371.
Release date: June 27, 1942.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Norm McCabe.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Small gopher, Virgil, Farmer).
Story: Don Christensen.
Animation: Izzy Ellis.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A pair of Brooklynese gophers invade and ruin a farmer's garden, with a series of gags along the way.

Gophers are a popular choice for an animated formula, and this resulted in a lot of cartoons. A lot of shorts rely on a cliched formula involving gophers invading a garden. which is very thin and mundane in narrative. Occasionally the thin formula can pay off with solid gags, like in Tex Avery's Garden Gopher (1950)This short however, doesn't.

The short itself has a very straightforward narrative: a farmer is proud to have a beautiful garden, and turns into insanity when two Brooklynese gophers ruin iy. A simple straightforward narrative could allow a chance for some great material.

You could say this is also the first short where they pair up two gophers in a Warner Bros. cartoon, or even a prototype to the Goofy Gopher shorts. Although this short was intended as a one-off, there is little to no comparison between the later Gopher characters, which as characters are much more appealing than how gophers have been portrayed in cartoons.

The short sets up the two gophers, with one being streetwise, and the other dim-witted. Only the dimwitted gopher is named, Virgil, which is likely an in-house reference to animator Virgil Ross. As characters, they hold out rather thin personalities. Their dialect and accent indicates they're from Brooklyn ("Ya don't find eatin' like this in the Bronx"), and that's about it.

Virgil's comment on the garden, "Yeah, but, I like Central Park better" is a recurring quote throughout the short, which is a little amusing: suggesting this garden is only second-best.

The following scene is rather intriguing layout (designed by Dave Hilberman?), featuring the gophers underground, as its presented like a diagram. The farmer, suspicious of the gopher's appearance, places his ear underneath the hole to listen out for gopher. The streetwise gopher walks to the top of the hole. He yells at the farmer's ear, quoting Red Skelton: "Let's not get nosy, bub!". Not a great gag itself but Mel Blanc's delivery adds to the charm.

Despite the fact that the short doesn't hold up well in carrying a thin narrative to produce a fulfilling short, Norm McCabe's direction is definitely competent in the short. McCabe has a sense of timing which at times is comparable to Freleng, except McCabe times his animation a different style of his own.

A great showcase for timing is shown in the scene of the streetwise gopher dodging the weed cutter narrowly. McCabe's timing and Stalling's musical arrangements work well together in achieving good comedy. The gopher interrupts the action, as he remarks to the audience: "Keep your shoits on, folks. I go through dis all the time!", and then returns to the action.

Another great scene to celebrate McCabe's timing is seen during a small chase scene as the gophers journey through the soil, with the farmer following their traces. McCabe relies on good effects animation for good timing, seen in the shot of the gophers rushing through a flowerbed, taking all the flowers with them one by one. The timing of both McCabe and Stalling is juicy and comical, and the hop hers taking the last flower with them adds to the touch.

McCabe's skills as a director show he is not afraid of tackling out daring angles, giving his cartoon some extra spice. In one sequence, the streetwise gopher arises from his hole, and looks around checking the coast is clear: "Okay, the joik's gone." At that moment, he is at gunpoint. Realising his danger, the next shot transitions to a POV shot at a low-eye level angle of the farmer aiming at the gopher. It's scene is solidly staged, considering the careful amount of detail required for the scene. The farmer clenching his teeth is rather menacing as well as nicely executed. As the farmer fires, the gopher finds two giant holes between him, from the result of the shotgun. This is also a daring layout, as the shot displays the contrast of size of the gopher and the holes which could easily have went wrong. The gopher remarks, "Can you imagine that?", and dashes away from the spot.

Some scenes of the gas sequence is a lot of fun, too. The scene starts with the farmer cackling madly as he sets his trap towards the gophers. The posing of the farmer's insanity is hilarious and solid, especially his comment: "I'm not really a bad man, folks. Honest".
As the gas flows through their underground shelter, instead of passing out, they end up inflating and floating in mid-air like balloons.

McCabe's timing comes in handy when Virgil sniffs the gas, leading him to zip up in air, trapping his head inside his hat as he shouts: "Hey, who turned off the lights?".

They end up rising from their holes ad into mid-air. The scene then abruptly cuts to a drunken crow who watches the two gophers floating like balloons. Believing that he is hallucinating, he attributes this to his liquor, and breaks the glass. The take of the drunken crow is an old gag that dates back to the silent era, but it's still a timeless gag.

They remain floating in mid-air, when the farmer's giant nose enters the scene, creating a visual gag. The streetwise gopher comments on the nose, weary: "Is this one of your eggs, I dare say?". They both double-take when they come face-to-face with the angered farmer. They attempt to change his anger into a smile, into a funny little pose.

The gophers find themselves landing at a tomato patch, but find themselves trapped by the farmer's hat. John Carey creates some really appealing poses of the farmer breathing with madess, and the poses are very daring for a Warner cartoon. The following gag is a nod to a previous Tex Avery effort, The Heckling Hare, where the farmer grabs a tomato, where it squishes, masquerading it as blood. The farmer is under the impression he has killed the gophers. The pose of the farmer's shocked expression is priceless. The spontaneity of the sign gag, "Out to Lunch" is also fitting. Much like Willoughby, the farmer breaks down sobbing, feeling remorseful as well as wailing like a baby.

So, as we reach the final sequence: the gophers create their climax. The farmer decides to set his hose pipe underneath the gopher's hole, where it extends towards the backyard. It's revealed, however, that Virgil is holding onto the pipe, causing it to slowly overflow. The streetwise gopher creates a clever strategy where the hose would backfire towards the farmer.

The pipe overflowing is nicely exaggerated and energetic, although it doesn't exactly pay off too well in timing. Judging by the immensity of the overflowing pipe, it seems mild that the farmer rise from the water, which lacks immensity.

The farmer unintentionally ends up performing cute gags like trick acts performed at the circus. At this point, the farmer loses his senses and wounds up acting goofily, mimicking a gopher's actions and ruining his own garden. The farmer crashes towards a birdbath, where his head reaches the fountain, squirting water. Virgil has the final line, where he quotes Jerry Colonna: "Well what'ya know? Somethin' new has been added!"

It's another cartoon which overshadows Norm McCabe's sense of direction. His timing at times can be edgy, and he isn't afraid to challenge himself with daring angles. There is also a lot of energy in the animation, particularly in John Carey's scenes of the farmer who animates him wildly, and yet convincingly. Despite having some nice direction there, the overall short is still serviceable. McCabe had the chops to be an excellent director, had he got stronger material compered to the likes of Michael Maltese or Warren Foster. He still managed to achieve with what he had, especially in his Daffy Duckc cartoons. The cartoon's plot is rather weak, and there aren't strong enough gags to  save the cartoon. The gophers aren't really characters relatable, and the accents don't give them much character. Some decent gags which pay off would be the gas sequence, the drunken crow, and not to mention the weed cutter sequence, which was timed masterfully by McCabe.

Rating: 2.5/5.


  1. Carl Stalling reuses several music cues from "Elmer's Pet Rabbit" here, as if he also thought it was a rudimentary short and couldn't get excited about scoring completely new music for it.

    While the characters are gophers, their personalities are closer to what Chuck Jones would to with Hubie and Bertie. The problem is they're not as forceful as those two, and as a result, their personalities don't clash all that much for comedic effect (writer Don Christensen did OK with McCabe on his Daffy efforts, but along with Lou Lilly, just didn't seem to fully get the emerging Warner's style on his other cartoons, without that already-developed character).

    1. Oops. Mistake in the first paragraph -- It's "Elmer's Candid Camera" that is the source for some of Stalling's pieces in this cartoon.