Monday, 8 May 2017

414. Fin 'N Catty (1943)

Warner cartoon no. 413.
Release date: October 23, 1943.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Robert C. Bruce (Narrator).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Ben Washam.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A goldfish loves his water. But, a cat who wants to eat the fish hates water and exhausts several attempts to retrieve it.

Michael Maltese was very fond of exploring cartoon stories based on animal nature and their instincts. His shorts range from the Coyote and Road Runner, or one-shot masterpieces like Much Ado About Nutting. For the most part, Maltese took advantage of the mannerisms of domestic animals for endless story and gag opportunities. Easier to access and observe in comparison to a zoo visit.

For Fin 'n Catty, Maltese plays around with animal nature and logic - by portraying the natural enemies surrounding a domestic cat and a pet goldfish. As indicated by Bob Bruce's narration, "goldfish must have water in order to exist", but "cats hate water, but must have goldfish in order to exist." Maltese's use of exposition sets up an entire cartoon effortlessly.

The concept of how cats "must eat goldfish in order to exist" is quite perplexing, especially when taking into account that fish isn't a natural diet for cats. An alternate line, "cats must eat in order to exist", would've been more justified, if more obvious. A minor flaw, but either way the cartoon premise is firmly established - with Maltese's creativity and character driven gags to benefit the short.

Chuck Jones' vision and attention to detail would also carry out the cartoon. An example of that is featured on interior scenes of the fish bowl, of a distortion effect achieved by Johnny Burton's camera department to create the illusion of underwater.

Although Michael Maltese used cliched formulas; they were always character driven and unconventional. Maltese creates a funny personality of the cat, based on his extreme dislike of water. In an early scene, the feline dips his claw on top of the fishbowl but turns horrified at the slightest touch of water.

This results in a recurring gag of the cat frantically running towards a toilet paper holder to dry himself. This is accompanied by Chuck's fast-cutting and wonderful facial expressions that gives the cat some added character.

Although the cat's extreme phobia of water is comedically executed for the most part, sometimes it's flawed. In a later sequence of the goldfish outside his fishbowl looking for water, he finds a sink tap dripping with water.

The goldfish leaps over to rinse himself, but finds the faucet completely plugged by the cat's finger. Despite having a dislike of his claw touching water - the cat still would've gotten wet from the tip of his finger. A minor flaw, but earlier scenes highlighting the cat's fear of water, work broadly through Maltese's knack for creating humorous characters and Chuck's posing combined.

Animation by Ben Washam.
Besides a brief bit of narration, the rest of the cartoon is presented through pantomime - which I'm sure Chuck greatly enjoyed. Chuck Jones' use of strong character animation and comedy blend together wonderfully during a sequence of the cat attempting to siphon the fish's water with a hose. On the cat's first attempt, he watches the water siphon through another bowl - but finds the goldfish missing from his original bowl.

Frustrated, the cat attempts to siphon the water back the other way; without realising that the goldfish has plugged its finger on the hose. The fish responds back by blowing the water through hose, drenching the cat's face.

Ben Washam's animation throughout the sequence is wonderfully executed in portraying determination of a tenacious cat. Washam enhances Chuck's posing hilariously during the cat's reaction to water splashed on his face.

Jones' timing is put to great use in the following scenes, of the cat sucking in and blowing through the hose. The air ascends through the hose to the fish's end, causing the goldfish to blow up to the shape of the fishbowl, all puffed up. It's beautifully subtle in execution, that's not overdone whatsoever. The gag is topped once the fish blows back - causing the cat to blow up like helium, and then exhale like a balloon.

Character animation is further showcased in visual gags - as seen earlier when the cat attempts to trick the goldfish with a rubber glove. The cat uses his hands to create an unconvincing human figure representing a Fuller brush man. Some clever posing is conceived in order for the animator to animate a challenging hand walk.

Some of Chuck's most hilarious comic timing appears in a frustration gag sequence involving flypaper. The conniving goldfish has replaced towel paper with flypaper; resulting in an episode of the cat's struggle to remove it.

Flypaper gags in cartoons are perhaps best remembered in the Disney short, Playful Pluto, featuring a sequence with Pluto battling with one. Although it's celebrated for taking character animation to a new level; the sequence lasted over a minute and the gags were fairly conservative for Warners' standards.

By the early 40s, many animations studios had developed a fast-paced style for gags. In the case of flypaper, Chuck times it so broadly and rapidly; it creates an opportunity for more outlandish gags - like a Turban hat, and even more bizarrely, a piece of luggage. Bobe Cannon's animation in the sequence demonstrates great weight on the character's struggle, as well as an inventiveness in broad animation to interpret such far-out gags.

As per usual, one of the key highlights of Chuck's wartime cartoons is the 'avant-garde' layout styling of John McGrew, which varied from short to short. Sometimes they're either colourful, like in The Aristo-Cat or graphical like in Dover Boys. For this short, the stylistic approach is almost entirely abstract.

The background work for the house, like as the floor or ceiling, are entirely interpreted through shapes. In many shots, the backgrounds lack constructed lines to graphically clarify the locations. It's a very similar background style used previously in Jones' The Case of the Missing Hare.

McGrew and background artist Gene Fleury (was he still employed at Schlesinger by this point?), compose very daring angles in an attempt to create clarity of that style. The colour styling of the backgrounds are deliberately kept inconsistent in order to convey mood, which is more forgiving.

The simplistic, abstract approach works well enough to the point where background interference isn't an issue. Chuck Jones was blessed with having solid animators like Ken Harris and Bobe Cannon, whose animated performances kept the audience's attention.

Parts of the abstract layout styling are best highlighted in a series of fast-cutting shots of the cat exhaling from the siphon gag.

After a string of gags focusing on the cat's failure to catch the goldfish - the plot then takes a different spin. At one point after the fish's antics; he hops back into his fishbowl - only to discover the hole is blocked by a dinner plate. The fish realises he's finally being outwitted. This soon follows through several attempts to find water - only to be blocked by the cat's presence.

Some intriguing dynamics and staging are explored; showcasing the fish's struggle to survive without water. A scene dissolves to the fish supposedly stranded in the middle of a canyon; but the poster trucks back to reveal a poster of the Ace Insurance Co.

It's then revealed that the cat is manipulating the scenario, by holding a lamp on top of the fish and moving the beams as the fish crawls. Soon afterwards, the fish starts to experience hallucinations.

The fish spots a swimming pool outdoor location. Once he climbs the ladder and jumps off the diving board - the board match dissolves to the cat's claw, whilst the swimming pool dissolves to the cat's mouth. After a close call - the fish zips out of the cat's body. It's a creative portrayal of hallucination that serves as a compelling piece of suspense as well as a sinister portrayal of the cat.

Animation by Ken Harris
Following the cartoon's climax - the goldfish hides inside a shower, and desperately turning on the taps - which soon overfills with water. The cat, unknowingly aware he is under water - watches the goldfish smugly as he swallows the key. After the cat watches the bubbles arise from his fingers - he double-takes and realises the predicament he's in. The bubble effects spelling "Water?" from his mouth is a beautiful touch, and yet it doesn't violate the pantomime effect.

Desperately, the cat attempts to break away from the overfilled shower - kicking and screaming. Soon, he completely overcomes his dislike for water, as he starts to swim like a fish inside the shower room.

This is soon followed by the closing shot - revealing a twist to end the cartoon. The narrator concludes, "As we were saying, cats hate -- er, (clears throat) cats love water!", as the shot reveals the cat happily snoozing inside a fishbowl - whilst the fishbowl scowls inside a claustrophobic glass cup.

It's an amusing twist to the entire concept of "cats hating people", but admittedly, I feel the overall cartoon ending is a little unjustified. Call me sadistic, but personally I feel the payoff would've worked better with a darker ending - with explanation to WHY cats hate water. After all, the cat was certainly the antagonist of this cartoon.

An ending like that might've been too dark for Chuck Jones; but it's certainly not unheard of (i.e. Angel Puss) - and there could always a light-hearted approach to it. A morbid ending might've been too predictable for Michael Maltese; but either way, the twist works fine for how it is - making it less upsetting.

Fin 'n Catty remains a fine effort from both Michael Maltese and Chuck Jones; despite the fact I feel some elements could've been more justified. Maltese takes on what could be a formulaic plot, which eventually leads to an unpredictable yet humorous twist ending. Jones takes full advantage of Maltese's character personalities through his believable facial expressions that read clearly. Occasionally, characterisation is sometimes flawed within the cat; as analysed earlier. Asides from that, the short features enough gag material and strong visualisation which makes up for some of the cartoon's faults.

Rating: 3/5.


  1. The title is a pun on the Scottish dish "finnan haddie."

  2. That toilet paper roll is placed in kind of an inconvenient spot, ain't it? :)

    They're paper towels.

  3. Jones did a lot of experimentation in the 1940s with pantomime cartoons and/or characters that had periods of extreme quiet to focus on personality animation -- this one's part of that group, along with parts of "The Eager Beaver", "Joe Glow the Firefly" and a few others. Interesting experiments, but they do come across today as a little slow, compared to Chuck's dialogueless efforts with the Road Runner and Coyote that would follow.