Sunday, 27 January 2013

244. Naughty But Mice (1939)

Warner cartoon no. 243.
Release date: May 20, 1939.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Margaret Hill-Talbot (Sniffles).
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Phil Monroe.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Sniffles already has a cold and goes to the drug store to pick up medicine. Being the medicine contains alcohol: Sniffles ends up in a acid trip where he encounters an inanimate razor.

Chuck Jones' first cartoon and even debut appearance of his new character: Sniffles the Mouse. Between 1939-1941 - Chuck would make a number of Sniffles cartoons where he is meant to be a resemblance towards the cutesy Disney characters, in Chuck's Disney-esque era. Sniffles was a rather bland and unforgettable character in the Looney Tunes franchise, and the cartoons were much too cutesy and slow-paced to enjoy. The character proved to be quite successful in 1939 that he was given his own series until Chuck abandoned him when he was attempting to make funny cartoons, but didn't wipe Sniffles out completely until 1946 when he attempted to make Sniffles rather funny, but failed.

This is also the last cartoon where it appears Chuck's drawing style from the early Clampett cartoons are visible through the animation. Sniffles was designed by Charlie Thorson, who was a previous Disney character designer - and Disney cartoon: The Country Mouse and Sniffles do have a resemblance. The title is a parody of the 1939 musical comedy Naughty But Nice starring Dick Powell. Mostly known as a phrase, it wasn't even popularised until the 1980s where it was mentioned by Salmon Rushdie in his controversial book: The Satanic Verses.

The cartoon starts off with the tower clock as it rings (as already seen in the title card of the cartoon). We pan down towards the streets at night towards Savoy Drug Store. The backgrounds of the streets at night so some delicate details of colour for night time. We truck in closer to the front door of the drug store and pan vertically towards Sniffles who is standing by the mail slot.

He is suffering from a cold and is carrying a piece of paper with him which was recommended by a family doctor. The writing on the paper reads: For Colds: Go to the nearest drug store for a cold remedy. Sniffles enters inside the drug store to search for medicine.

As Sniffles is inside the drug store he is looking for some cold medicines. He manages to spot some where the camera pans horizontally and there is a shelf where some cold remedies are displayed. Sniffles climb up the table to grab some of the cold remedies himself.

After climbing up - he finds a bottle which is called XLNT Cold Cure. The label of the bottle reads that it contains up to 125% of alcohol. 125%?! Jesus - how on earth could they serve remedies: that is stronger than Russian vodka (which goes up to 90% column) - but 125% - that could kill him or perhaps, anyone! Sniffles decides to use the bottle himself as he believes it could help cure his cold. He places the bottle down and pours some into a spoon. He places the cork back into the bottle so it stops filling up and ends up drinking the medicine inside the spoon.

Sniffles drinks up the medicine in the spoon - after a few moments; all the alcohol goes inside his system where he then suddenly hits intoxication. Chuck Jones experiments with animation by going through some pretty wacky takes of how Sniffles hits it, when the medicine goes into his system. Definitely a little extreme for Chuck when making his early cartoons - but the timing is very crisp.

Afterwards - Sniffles finds that he is breathing out fire; and the way Chuck has visualised Sniffles being intoxicated is rather creative. Sniffles dashes out of the scene frantically in search for water. Afterwards - he finds a glass of water which he drinks out of.

Afterwards, Sniffles breathes out with relief, 'Gee' as smoke rises out of his mouth. Sniffles then ends up being engaged to hiccupping - where the timing of the hiccups is presented as rather syrupy. Sniffles walks down very drunk, and the drunk walk is certainly some realistic and generic movement. Sniffles then paces faster and faster, until he is just walking frantically and bumps into a box which contains an electric shaver. Just to bear in mind - what on Earth is an electric shaver doing inside a drug store?!

The cartoon just gets even more bizarre and surreal where it turns out the electric shaver is very much alive, and Sniffles engages in a conversation with it. I guess it's supposed to show Sniffles is having an acid trip and believes the razor is alive and moving, but its rather confusing as to how Chuck Jones has set it out.

They both then engage into conversation. I have to say, the voice effects for the electric razor is very creative and cleverly thought out - probably the pinnacle of one of Treg Brown's sound effects.

The creative voice effects certainly do feel like it comes from Chuck's inspiration from the Disney cartoons who have even experimented with realistic voice effects. I do wonder if Treg Brown is providing the voice effects of the razor, but I'm not sure. As they greet each other, Sniffles then warns to the razor he has a terrible cold. He sneezes and the cold then catches on the razor - who is feeling rather unwell, sneezes back.

Sniffles then realises that the razor has a cold and decides to head back to bring the remedy for him. This is a suffice example of Chuck's slow pacing where Sniffles takes almost forever to just go and collect the medicine. 'Now you wait right here, old fella. And I'll get ya something' that'll fix ya right up!' He then asks him to wait here, 'You wait right here. Just right here. Right here, see. Right here. Now remember, don't move. Just stay right here. Right exactly here'. As he walks out - he STILL asks him to stay there - and this is just too much; its slowing the cartoon down and the pacing is terrible! Its about as slow as molasses in January.

Sniffles returns back with the medicine. He grabs out a spoonful of the remedy, as the razor is feeling rather unwell. Sniffles places the medicine inside the razor's mouth to help cure him. After a few moments, nothing happens. The razor then finally hits it as he ends up jerking with some really funny animation.

What's more, the sound effects of the razor's reactions is absolutely superb and hilarious. It's been used many times afterwards by Treg Brown, and I find at this point - this is the peak of his sound effects. It's extremely creative and even believable.

After the reaction, the razor is now drunk and rasps; 'Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!'. Sniffles then starts to go into song singing: How Dry I Am. It was a well-known tradition for those who supported prohibition for alcohol - so I suppose the song was included for laughs because they are drunk. Sniffles is balancing on the spoon, and the razor joins in singing the song.

The character animation is top-notch; you can feel Sniffles is drunk with those silly poses as well as the razor. Chuck had the best animators when he started as a director - which must've been a huge advantage. Afterwards; the razor then passes out after the amount of alcohol in his system. Sniffles, still drunk, then tuts at the razor with pity: 'Can't take it anymore, huh? Too bad' and then walks out.

Whilst the animation of the sequences with Sniffles and the razor have been well-animated - the whole pacing of the story has slowed down the entire cartoon - and its ben terribly disjointed. That entire sequence with Sniffles and the razor lasts at least two and a half minutes of film in a 8 minute cartoon. The pacing of it is too damn slow and much of it is padded, including when Sniffles keeps on TELLING him to say 'Stay right there' and that ballard they sing - which is just an ear worm to listen to - but the only highlight I thought of that sequence was the razor's reaction to the remedy - which is just amazing.

After that lengthy sequence - Sniffles walks through the drug store walking very wearily and wobbly. Behind the boxes of toilet soap - we find the evil, mysterious eyes which belong to a black cat. The cat chooses Sniffles as a target to eat, and so he follows Sniffles in the drug store. Sniffles, still having a cold, then starts to sneeze (standing in mid-air) and attempts to run back on the table but falls.

Sniffles ends up caught inside a claw-vending machine. This shows how he is in peril as the cat can catch him out of the claw vending machine. The cat approaches the claw-vending machine, and he pulls out a coin from his pocket. Cats have pockets? Wow. Anyhow; as he uses the claw to attempt to catch Sniffles - Sniffles trips before he catches him.

The cat snaps his fingers and then grabs another coin to try and catch him again. This time Sniffles approaches a container that contains perfume. He holds onto the perfume, and in a drunk manner he hugs it where perfume ends up puffing out. Sniffles hushes the perfume. The claw-vender picks up the perfume in a attempt to catch Sniffles, but fails.

Sniffles believes he has been robbed (in a drunk manner) and he ends up shouting, 'Where'd they go? I've been robbed. Police, police'. It turns out he's standing on top of a camera where it stretches. The cat looks at the vending machine to try and scare Sniffles. Sniffles turns and makes a mild eye-take. Sniffles then makes his attempt to escape by scrambling through the items in the vending machine, but makes his way out through the tip, but as he escapes he is already cornered by the black cat.

The electric razor then manages to regain its conscience and notices that Sniffles is in trouble. The razor charges up towards the black-and-white cat. There is a good use of speed lines during the chase - although the timing is still not very convincing. The razor charges as William Tell is heard in the background. The razor goes straight to the cat where the cat ends up being attacked by the razor.

The frame (seen on left) is surprisingly wild for Chuck Jones there, and even so in general. Afterwards, the cat is almost completely shaven but the razor continues to shave him even more. Afterwards; the cat then finds he only has a bit of hair left. As the razor is still charging after him - the cat pulls off the last bit of hair off before running out of the window and closing the window.

Afterwards; Sniffles then thanks the razor for saving his life. As he is about to say 'It was swell' he then builds up to sneezing again where he finally ends up caught inside the claw-ending machine.

Overall comments: Being that it is the first Sniffles cartoon - it makes me not wanting to look forward to the future entries of Chuck's cutesy Sniffles cartoons. What really bugs me about the entire cartoon is mostly the pacing of the entire story -- as I have already indicated whilst reviewing: the sequence with Sniffles and the razor almost takes up half of the cartoon that its just padding. The story of this cartoon is rather rather peculiar and odd - its the type of cartoon what I would watch if I was tipsy. The fact that the electric razor comes to life is already enough to confuse you - and even the fact it also talks is just weird. Overall, this is not a very good cartoon at all - as it has been a rather frustrating entry reviewing this cartoon. It's not even a coherent cartoon itself; and I don't know if that is supposed to be the purpose of the cartoon or not. The story construction is just rather poor as Sniffles is just going to look for some medicine, but then starts to goof around with the razor for a long time, and there isn't any climax in the cartoon until the cat turns up. I imagine that the cartoon must have done moderately well in the theatres where it gave Chuck the excuse to use Sniffles as a regular character in the colour cartoons for the next few years - as Chuck has introduced a new star to join Porky, Egghead/Elmer and Daffy.

Probably the only highlight of the cartoon itself: and probably what I find is what catches my attention to the cartoon - is the sound effects of the razor, and the character animation. Well known fact: good animation and techniques don't always make a good film; and it pretty much shows while story wise is probably just have to praise Treg Brown for his magnificent creative ideas for the sounds of the razor. It really sounds like a cartoon razor; and who doesn't love that sound effect of the razor almost exploding - which Treg Brown has used in many other cartoons; it certainly is very wacky and believable. Chuck Jones sure has experimented and focused on some of the exaggeration in the animation which appears to be the main focus animation-wise. There are smears used for when the cat is attacked by the razor, but the reaction shots for Sniffles and the razor are pretty wild that it certainly feels rather believable. It's pretty much the last cartoon where Chuck Jones has used his drawing style that dominates the cartoons which is visible in the early Clampett cartoons. The style he started off with in his own cartoons like The Night Watchman and even timing where he used underdeveloped speed lines. His cartoons then start to look more polished and beautiful in colours, animation in his following cartoon - Old Glory where he shows a really polished, meticulous style through the rest of 1939 and even up to around mid-1940.


  1. Sure you could buy electric razors at pharmacies. Back then they sold all kinds of things, including notions, candy, tobacco, hearing aids... and many also had soda counters from back when "phosphates" were thought to have medicinal qualities like mineral waters.

  2. In the U.S., drug stores like Walgreen's, CVS or Duane-Reade sell electric shavers all the time. They just may not be at the best prices in the world.

    Chuck must have loved the electric-razor-comes-to-life gag, since Bugs would use it 11 years later in "Rabbit of Seville". But unlike the cat in this cartoon, Elmer had a gun (and a rare case of hitting something besides a yellow-billed black duck).

  3. 1.This cartoon's yet another one that has the "Warner Bros" on a sash, though (thankfully for some!) not in that huge "Porky and Teabiscuit"/"Believe it, or ELSE!" font, but almost the same as would be used till the origianl studio's end in the 1960s before the modern graphic open that plagued the final 5 years.

    2."How Dry I am" & "Deep in a Dream" (one of the lesser used WB owned songs) can be heard.

    3.Sniffles (I think) starts using as his go-to catchphrasde the already real-life estabished "Gee Willikers" (it certainly would turn up in latger Sniffles shorts and already had been a popular real life expression).

    4.I'm pretty sure that that's Mel Blanc as the cat, the shaivng razor, and doing the hiccups. '

    5.Even today you can still find those funny prize grabbing claw machines.

    SC, Gumby's horse.

  4. Nice post! I'm planning to give my daughter a looney toy on her incoming birthday next week because that's really one of her favorite!

    Thank you for your informative post!

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