Wednesday, 13 July 2016

405. Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk (1943)

Warner cartoon no. 404.
Release date: June 12, 1943.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Giant).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Jack Bradbury.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Bugs Bunny is confronted with a dim-witted giant, when he attempts to invade his "victory garden".

A cartoon plot involving Bugs Bunny confronting an opponent who is immensely larger than Bugs would make a great parody on the classic Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale. Bugs Bunny has to elude himself against a dim-witted giant--by taking complete advantage of his slow intelligence.

Michael Maltese conceives a great opponent for Bugs by having the giant with the persona of Lennie Small - and extending his opportunities for gag values and comedy. Maltese would, again, use the formula twice, in Lumber Jack-Rabbit and Beanstalk Bunny.

Although the fairy-tale parody is apparent, there's no hiding that the cartoon also contains a WW2 theme. The giant claims to be more powerful and potent than Bugs Bunny due to his size and intimidating appearance, while Bugs uses his wits to have the last laugh. The opening scene of Bugs trespassing the giant's "victory garden" is also a subtle giveaway.

The giant is an allegory on Nazi Germany and their Allies, who were also arrogant about their power - and by the time of the short's release: they were already beginning to lose the war. The giant's portrayal as dim-witted and arrogant is also a reflection on the theme, whereas Bugs Bunny lives up to the "Scientia potentia est" aphorism.

In formulating the giant's stupidity - most of it is carried out via dialogue. Michael Maltese leaps at the chance of conceiving unforced, hilarious dialogue that conveys the giant's ignorance so believably, that it's almost transcended. A lot of Maltese's lines are delivered with a subtle approach: as evident in the line "You think you're pretty C-A-T, smart, don't ya?" when the giant traps Bugs inside the glass.

Animation by Phil Monroe
Maltese's flair with dialogue is better exhibited in the scenes during the aftermath of Bugs' glass cutting act. After Bugs leaves the glass; he places a sign reading: Back in 5 minutes.

Then, the giant looks at his watch (in the form of a grandfather clock) where the hands on the clock fade to fifteen minutes later - the fade in manipulates time emphasising time passing on, and Bugs not intending to return in five minutes. The giant responds in perhaps the funniest quote in the entire short, "Wait a minute! He tried to pull a fast one on me, eh? Duhh, well he can't outsmart me, because I'm a moron!". It's a classic example of Maltese's genius in writing dialogue that deliberately contradicts the said statement. On a plus note, Mel Blanc's voice delivery on the giant feels so natural and effortless that the ignorance feels very human.

Maltese's talent in exploiting character personalities with innovative gags is laid bare in the duel sequence between Bugs and the giant - animated by Dick Bickenbach. Bugs states the rules: "You take twenty paces, toin, and fire!". Owen Fitzgerald's layouts take advantage of the gag as the giant takes huge steps as he counts with the camera pan revealing a distant giant on the horizon.

Bugs tricks the giant as he pretends to walk twenty paces - he chuckles ("So long, joiky! Send me a postcard from Alburqoique!" and comments on his own intelligence and success: "Y'know, I'm so smart, sometimes, it almost frightens me!".

Bugs is prepared to eat those words as the giant returns from the other side - indicating he has walked the entire planet in less than twenty steps. The gag is brilliantly executed with strong emphasis of the giant's size - which is proving to become a potential threat to Bugs Bunny. It's a masterful sequence not only from Maltese's genius; but also Fitzgerald's complex layout planning to achieve such a feat.

Animation by Gil Turner
Bugs' ways of exploiting the giant's intelligence or his own survival is evident in sequences like the glass cutter. The giant is momentarily victorious when he traps Bugs Bunny inside a cup glass. While the giant's scheme was more physical; Bugs' is more calculating and spontaneous. Bugs' streetwise, spontaneous scheme is spotlighted in a ruse as he entices the giant by creating a notion he's seeing a special act - an act that promises the demonstration of an astonishing glass cutter.

Bugs adds more believability to his stunt, with the help of advertisement signs complete with attention grabbing headlines that are fetching enough in taking advantage on the giant's naiveness. And so, Bugs cuts out a perfect outline of his body, and then walks freely out of the glass. The "Back in 5 minutes" sign adds the touch.

Bugs' demonstration of palm-reading to the giant also presents a good case in Bugs' quicks wits outmanoeuvring the giant's beefiness. The giant has grabbed Bugs and intends to crush him with his bare hands. Spontaneously, Bugs deceives the giant into thinking he's got an absorbing palm with hidden personality qualities of the giant.

Bugs showers the giant with compliments, like, "I'll bet you're a regular Don Juan with the ladies!" - making the giant bashful and coy. Bugs masquerades his sympathies with a flair as he whisper's into the giant's ears with some tips and advice.

The shot of the giant's ear blushing as Bugs whispers inside it is a subtle innuendo where Bugs' few pointers can be left open to interpretation.

Friz Freleng's comedic timing is put to great use for when certain gags meet. A meticulous director, Friz would add subtle little touches in whatever piece of action was given to him. For instance, the shot of the giant slamming the glass cup on Bugs Bunny is very attractive - as a gag of Bugs jiggling side to side, which is enhanced by Treg Brown's marvellous use of sound.

Animation by Gerry Chiniquy
Moreover, Freleng's comic timing is especially called for in a scene involving the giant's eardrums. Bugs Bunny notices the giant's eardrums inside his ear; and proceeds to have a "jam session" inside. It's a funny gag of Bugs producing some jazz-like rhythm; which is boosted with Freleng's direction of the giant's face aligned with the rhythm.

Gerry Chiniquy, the animator on the scene, captures the crispness of Freleng's timing, as well as the accentuation and emphasis of the beat beautifully.

Some of the dynamics in Owen Fitzgerald's layouts are elaborate in its detail - especially on the shading around the giant's face. In the scenes that follow of Bugs hiding in the giant's scalp - the size and scale give the area a world of its own. Bugs explores and goes through the giant's hair like jungle vines.

As the giant places the hat on top of his head - the atmosphere definitely has a dark vibe towards it. The war-related gags seem like an appropriate touch as Bugs walks around the dark scalp, startled: "Hey! What is this, a blackout? I didn't hear no si-reen!".

So, Bugs strikes a match inside the scalp to observe a way out. A POV shot reveals the hat size to be "107 1/2". An off-screen voice yelling: "Put out that light!" is spontaneous and charming in its delivery. Bugs reacts to the yelling and accidentally releases the match - creating a cloud of smoke underneath the giant's hat.

After a series of gags and comical situations between Bugs and the giant - it all breaks out into a climatic chase. Stalling uses Raymond Scott's Twilight in Turkey inventively along with Friz Freleng's innovative timing. It's perhaps one of the earliest uses of Scott's music (the earliest, I think, is Greetings Bait); whose music was connected and immortalised in the studio's most successful years.

Bugs finds a way out as he approaches a beanstalk complete with an elevator; which he acknowledges as "modern design". He disguises himself as a bellboy and tricks the giant from entering the elevator by ordering to: "take stairway to the left".

The giant's fall is a possible homage to the cinematic experience of the iconic falling sequence in Tex Avery's The Heckling Hare. While it's certainly not as long - there are several dynamic shots used to emphasise the fall.

Bugs reaches to the bottom of the beanstalk where he witnesses the giant's crash. From the outlook of Bugs' take - the crash is interpreted as somewhat horrific. The camera pan reveals the giant has created a large hole in the form of a canyon, based on the impact of his fall. He gets up and warns Bugs, "Look out for that foist step! It's a lu-lu!" - ending the cartoon with a laugh.

Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk is primarily an underrated Bugs Bunny entry, which is usually overlooked amongst fans. This needs to change. The short features an excellent representation of strength vs. wits turned into an enjoyable viewing experience. Although the short has war themes - it's kept really subtle, and blending it as a fairy tale parody works effectively to the point where the cartoon hasn't dated much. It also adds some insight into Bugs' character as he occasionally becomes vulnerable against the giant's strength, and his quick wits and spontaneity are portrayed believably. Michael Maltese has a strong flair for character development and gag sense which blend together wonderfully - and his take on the giant is perhaps one of the funniest characters, with a dim-witted persona, ever! Friz Freleng shines at the opportunity by utilising his knowledge of music that are put to effective use on gags like the giant's eardrums.

Rating: 5/5.


  1. Great cartoon!

  2. Bugs would eventually start "making wrong toins at at Alburqoique" in later cartoons, starting with "Herr meets Hare"(also directed by Freleng).