Wednesday, 30 October 2013

308. Porky's Hired Hand (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 307.
Release date: November 30, 1940.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig / Gregory Pig / Fox).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Richard Bickenbach.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Porky fires a dim-witted guard for the henhouse named Gregory. All goes well until he is outwitted by a sly fox.

This time it's Freleng's shot to direct a Porky Pig cartoon, other than than being typically Bob Clampett. Like Clampett, Freleng also uses Porky very rarely in the cartoon, only making an appearance from the beginning and at the end briefly.

The main star of the cartoon, however, is a dim-witted pig named Gregory; and a streetwise fox, who breaks into the henhouse to steal some chickens. Dim-witted characters were already becoming more popular and frequent as the humour Warner cartoons started to become more evident.

Considering that Clampett or Tex are main examples on dim-witted characters of their creation, Friz Freleng and Chuck himself were also as capable as these two. Friz's interpretation of Gregory the dimwitted pig is pulled off rather well. Notice the particular voice put on my Mel Blanc for Gregory? It appears to be the standard dim-witted voice which Friz Freleng preferred when using dim-witted characters. You can hear examples of that in his cartoons in: Foney Fables, High Diving Hare, etc. Just as Porky has hired Gregory for the job, he attempts to ask him on what his assignment is, in which he responds dimly: "You said, uh, keep your eyes open and watch out for that fox. He's been getting too many of my chickens lately, he's a sly devel he is, and uh, and uh--".

Note the reference in the opening sequence of Porky reading the application layer. At the bottom of the 'P.S.' the line reads: Alright, so he ain't neat! Reference, anyone?

Despite Porky's lack of screen appearance. This is one of the many cartoons where Porky's occupation is a farmer. Too many numerous cartoons which base on that theme, that is is possibly the most popular associated occupation for Porky of all the cartoons he's been in.

As spoken, Porky doesn't really get very many opportunities in this cartoon, as the real stars of the cartoon is a quick-witted fox, and a slow-witted fox: an opposite attract pair.

The cartoon, as a whole, feels more or less like a Merrie Melodies entry; except that the short is in black-and-white; and that Porky at least has some screen time, which makes it into a Looney Tunes product. It's evident from almost up to this point that Leon Schlesinger was becoming a lot less strict with the policies between both cartoons; that even by 1941: one-shot cartoons were appearing in the Looney Tunes series; and by 1944: both series had lost their comparisons and differences.

Dave Monahan, and Freleng's interpretation of the fox has been cleverly constructed and satirised. Of course, foxes have a strong reputation for being very cunning and sly; and that's how we see the fox from his introduction in the cartoon. However, towards the end of the short--he had been accidentally outsmarted by the dim-witted Gregory, and even swallowing the key whilst inside the Incubator Room.  Considering that the fox wasn't "smart as a fox" from swallowing the room key...he then finds himself trapped inside the incubator where he then starts to go into a panic attack: "No. It can't be". 

He then searches around his body, to search for the key...realising he has self-digested it. If that were a Clampett joke, you'd expect a little bit of bathroom humour, in a subtle way. Instead, Friz doesn't go down that path and then gets the fox to go into a over-dramatic phase: "Trapped! I gotta get outta here! I'll fry!" and then the fox proceeds to bang on the door. The whole setup was very amusingly built to this climax, as the writers managed to write up about Gregory managing to outsmart the fox by accident. It is a very looney concept where it implies the smart even fail at times.

 The sequence where the fox corresponds with Gregory shows some great manipulation from the personality of the fox (even though he would later be out-smarted); where Gregory can easily be enticed into a hoax.

When the fox breaks into the henhouse stealing the chickens into a large sack; he is then caught by Gregory who is guarding the door and orders him to return the chickens back to where they were positioned.

Realising the character is a dimwit; he then walks away placing the chickens back into the back and even suggesting that both of them could be potential business partners.

Enticed by the whole idea, Gregory then calls over the fox where they discuss the possible idea, "Wait a minute, Mr. Fox, I didn't say I wasn't interested, but what about Porky?". The fox even suggests the name for their new "partnership": Fox & Gregory. Without knowing, Gregory then places the whole poultry into the sack where the fox then walks to where it should be the exit room, but instead walks into the incubator room. Notice how the sequence is constructed rather uniquely; there are several short scenes in that sequence which fade to black and then fade in during dialogue scenes. It's an unusual piece of pacing which is promising and intriguing and even paces the sequence very evenly.

Of course, let's not forget to mention some of comic timing which was timed by the one and only Friz Freleng, in this cartoon.

Even though this may not be one of Friz's most notable shorts in terms of timing; there is no doubt elements will appear in the short. A great sequence occurs when the fox has broken inside the henhouse and starts to steal some of the chickens. The chicken then begins to start sleepwalking; with his arm raised and his legs taking big steps--am I the only person who misinterprets this as the goose walk? Of course, this wouldn't have been intentional.

The fox then dashes at the scene with the chicken landing in the sack; which shows Friz's genius of timing is evident. Also, Freleng takes advantage of Treg Brown's timing on the sound effect. It all blends in nicely in one sequence. Gregory is snoring in the farm, and as they snore: the chickens snore one-by-one separately and Gregory snores at the last note. You've got to love Friz's creative timing, as well as the ludicrous albeit charming gag by Monahan.

Then going down to the cartoon's climatical ending; Gregory then attempts to break down the door to the Incubator door; and just then; Porky arrives at the scene with a shotgun, after hearing the noise of the commotion. As he manages to open up the door with a spare key to the door: he then asks for anybody in there. Typically, you would expect the cartoon to probably end with a typical catchphrase from a radio show or a celebrity; but at least it ends rather cleverly when the fox has been affected from the incubator that he has shrunk, and then begins to berate at Porky with his "now" size and high-pitched voice. "You'll hear from my lawyer about this!"...a great line to end a particularly amusing cartoon.

Overall, as mentioned earlier, the cartoons in the Looney Tunes series were slowly beginning to take liberties once the strict policies (i.e. Porky Pig appearing in every Looney Tune) started to mellow. It would not be shortly after until the series would be converted to colour. Porky cartoons would begin to appear less frequently to make way for other big shots like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. In 1940, Porky Pig was established with an everyman persona, which was established since his creation. It wasn't until a few years later when his character was revitalised to become more accustomed to broader characters like Bugs and Daffy. The short itself shows some great personality from the characters like the Fox as well as Gregory; despite the lack of Porky's appearance. The short itself is paced and executed thoroughly, indicating that the cartoons were building more promise and potential into cranking out hilarious cartoons, thanks to Friz Freleng--who has so far been the only director of the year turning out really funny cartoons, a tad more so than Tex Avery.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

307. Bedtime for Sniffles (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 306.
Release date: November 23, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Margaret Hill-Talbot (Sniffles).
Story: Rich Hogan.
Animation: Robert Cannon.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: It's Christmas Eve and Sniffles tries to stay up all night to watch Father Christmas arrive, but will he stay up in time to watch?

Christmas is a rather rare theme when you associate a Warner Bros. cartoon. They hadn't done too many Christmas related cartoons; even if there had been little scenes or parodies; but rarely for the entire cartoon. It seems appropriate for the time the cartoon was made to be given to Chuck Jones when directing it.

There is without doubt, Chuck is intimidating Disney in this sequence, like he usually did in his early cartoons. However, much of his cartoons, at times required a lot of character animation, and were even a visual experience.

Here, however, it is a very kid friendly cartoon. Sniffles is feeling the Christmas spirit on the eve of the day; and is planning on celebrating by staying up through the night to see Father Christmas.

When watching the opening of the cartoon; it feels like a very gentle, mushy cartoon where it feels a little less Jone-esque. The opening sequence features a group of carollers (painted in the background) singing Joy to the World; as we pan vertically across a white, snowy street. A very beautiful, and illustrative view from, possibly, Paul Julian. Then, we hear Sniffles humming from his mouse home where he sweeps up the snow from his doorstep singing Dashing Thru the Snow. He looks through his house, with excitement, and looks forward to the arrival of Santa Claus. Note the little Xmas note pinned where he wants all kinds of cultural cheese.

Then, the remainder of the cartoon feels a lot more like a Jones effort. A Jones effort meaning his choice for strong, bold expressions, as well as several realistic situations which Sniffles attempts to confronts. Of course, he aims to watch Father Christmas all through the night, he has to battle by managing to keep up late.

In order to wait at least "1 hour, 33 minutes and 47 seconds", he engages in several activities to help pass the time, but a lot of the time he fails. First, he makes himself a cup of coffee, and whilst waiting he waltzes to some music heard over the radio (note the NBC chimes heard twice in the cartoon).

He washes his face to help keep him awake as he is in the stages of falling asleep. To show this cartoon isn't even 100% kid-friendly, even in the most subtle parts, he uses cigarette paper as a towel to wipe his face. Just then as his coffee is ready, progress on keeping awake just deteriorates; and as the radio station are shutting down for the night, Sniffles almost falls asleep, with his coffee spilt, and attempts to read a magazine, parodying Good Housekeeping; which is horribly punned as Good Mousekeeping. Then he spends the rest of the cartoon keeping himself awake as much as possible, until he surrenders from his persuasive conscience.

Chuck Jones actually visualises the tiredness and the struggle to keep awake very beautifully and realistically. It requires some very strong character animation as well as a lot of weight on the eyelids to give the impression how Sniffles is struggling to keep awake.

Chuck puts in a lot of dilemmas where Sniffles almost falls asleep. During the radio sequence, when the song switches to a very slow ballad. The smoothness of the song played called Sleep, Baby, Sleep. With the sequence being padded; Sniffles prior that was checking himself out in the mirror but already attempts to fall asleep on top of the powder puff. A lot of believability appears in these Sniffles scenes where you get the impression he is sleepy, but very determined to see Father Christmas.

During the gentle climax of the cartoon, in the Christmas theme of the cartoon, it's safe to say Chuck handles the last sequence greatly. Considering this is a Christmas cartoon, it is appropriate for the short to end rather sweetly.

Even though Sniffles does fail to stay up all shows how Chuck is avoiding cliches on what the audience would expect to see.

His target was to watch the arrival of Father Christmas, but with the bother of his own conscience, he fails and ends up having a peaceful sleep. It is a great sequence as Sniffles' ghost is what finally surrenders Sniffles into going into his peaceful sleep.

This gives his conscience a stronger personality and a negative connotation towards his ambition. Visually, it is very believable and appealing; the backgrounds are very colourful and give the right interpretation of how the bed looks warm and comfortable to sleep in. All acted and planned from his own point-of-view. A great point of view shot appears after Sniffles rinses his face where he watches himself supposedly sleeping. This is what the gentle climax is about to become of, and it is a wonderfully established shot; not just artistically but also for its purpose for Sniffles to give in peacefully.

As Sniffles sits down to read his magazine, after NBC have announced their closure for the night. He decides to read through an issue of Good Housekeeping, I mean, Good Mousekeeping. The use of tiredness appears as a symbolism in the articles themselves, and even from when Sniffles refuses to glare towards his bed.

When he watches his own bed, looking comfortable, he turns away refusing to even look at it, and most of all--attempting to avoid temptation. As he turns around, and peeps his eyes, he finds the shadow of the bed.

Chuck displays some great visual shots where the bed is presented as personification visually, and furthermore encourages Sniffles to procrastinate and go to sleep.

Jones also stages and plans out a small scene very cleverly and splendidly. After Sniffles has gone over to collect his coffee after the kettle boil--he then proceeds to sip down and to drink his coffee to help perk up Sniffles.

As the camera then pans horizontally to the clock ticking its way to twenty minutes later, it pans horizontally to the left where Sniffles was seated. Sniffles is now slouched on the chair, snoozing away with his coffee spilt to the floor, not having a chance to take a sip. Some great little bit of personality animation with Sniffles' pupils in sync to the clock ticking away as he almost falls asleep.

This isn't a sequence which I intended to go through into analysis; but here is the dance sequence where Sniffles waltz to the classical song: Kunstlerleben (Artist's Life), Op. 316 on the radio. The animation timing of Sniffles waltzing show some very smooth animation as well as giving Sniffles a very three-dimensional look. The animator who is responsible for the sequence is Phil Monroe, who remembered it was the best animation he did in the opinion of Chuck. Knowing Phil's style, who had a very loose (and sometimes sloppy) style of animation, this is quite possibly Phil's finest performance. He keeps the animation dance in sync to the music, and hits the beat very nicely and solidly.

Here, Phil remembered his experience with the waltz sequence from the 1987 interview by Michael Barrier: I only worked for Chuck for seven years at the most, and during that seven years, the Sniffles dance was one that he liked, and it was a waltz that I had to choreograph myself, because he couldn't even dance. He could not dance; he didn't have a sense of timing. It sounds funny, doesn't it, because he made so many musicals?

To conclude, Bedtime for Sniffles has a Christmas feel towards the cartoon, and it isn't the typical-cliched story with a Christmas theme. Chuck plays along with the idea of Sniffles struggling to sleep very realistically as well as visually as there are numerous problems which Sniffles struggles to overcome, that it sort of becomes supernatural to him. The way the beds and the glowing candle light being presented as a symbol of surrender really display some excellent dilemma, and the climax being all gentle. The short itself doesn't feel terribly poorly paced, and it is a very well constructed short in story. It is an artistically well-animated short in its form, and this is one of the few Chuck Jones shorts from that particular era which I actually see as a advantage, and not as a crappy poor-paced short.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

306. Wacky Wildlife (1940)

Warner cartoon no. 305.
Release date: November 9, 1940.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Robert C. Bruce (Narrator); Mel Blanc (Various Voices); Berneice Hansell (Baby Bird).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Virgil Ross.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Travelogue cartoon where the narrator analyses on different species from around the globe, as well as their instincts.

From the many travelogue cartoons that have been directed by Tex so far (and also including Africa Squeaks); this is one cartoon which doesn't appear to associate with a theme too much. No doubt the theme of this spot-gag is based on wildlife; but at times there are certain aspects which some sequences could have belonged in other spot-gag cartoons that Tex had directed.

Several examples of that is evident where the cowboy is seen riding in Texas with his horse. The horse and the cowboy appear to be riding in close-up but as the camera trucks back it turns out the horse is impersonating with his hoofs faking a horse ride.

Whereas the whole gag setup is amusingly done; the scenery looks as though it doesn't really belong to the theme of wildlife; especially since there is a cowboy at the scene. You could say it would fit in to Detouring America, or some of his other spot gags. Also, a lot of his previous spot-gags had featured previous scenes which showed wildlife creatures: (i.e. The Isle of Pingo Pongo, Cross Country Detours, etc). It feels as if there some leftover wildlife gags that weren't used previously and were all crammed into this one cartoon; considering the cartoon lacks any form of narrative.

Also, Tex also has the tendency to recycle a lot of elements that he has used in his previous cartoons. Some of them are recurring gags; whereas others are just recycled. A great example occurs towards the end where we find the dog towards the end acting incredibly wacky with frustration. It is clear he is very angry by tearing out parts of his own hair. The narrator questions about his wildness, in which he breaks out: "What makes me wild? What makes me WILD? LOOK!" Camera then pans towards a group of lumberjacks cutting off the last standing tree after what was once a whole area full of them. It is an odd gag which appears to have appealed to Tex; but this is quite possibly the most subtle version of all his dog gags. The acting of the furious dog by Mel Blanc is top-notch as well as the whole pacing and comic deliverance.

Not to mention, other recurred gags are seen only briefly in the brief sequence featuring a field of lambs. One of the lambs, however is noticed by a narrator who comments: "Ahh, there's nothing like a good leg of lamb." Of course, Tex is pushing the boundaries--the lamb then reveals her leg which is proportioned like a human. The lamb is wearing a stocking with the music cue It Had to Be You played in the background. Watching a dirty joke involving animals is just beyond creepy; but luckily here it only lasted a matter of seconds, unlike in Cross Country Detours it had lasted over a minute.

 If I were to pick point my favourite scenes in the cartoon; it would have to be the first two sequences. To me, they're excellent in terms of its setup and satire. They are both very hard animated scenes to do in different aspects.

The first sequence with the timid fawn is difficult to animate in order to achieve realism and the correct anatomy of the deer. The following sequence with the snake and the deer are also difficult in bringing suspense and also realism.

The first sequence is far more broader than the latter. You get a very shy looking deer who is approaching the lake shyly, and "sips quietly". Of course, the gag is...the deer is drinking like a slob in the lake; and Tex's timing could have not been more perfect. Carl Stalling also blends in greatly, too; he  brings some great, quiet music which reflects on the timidness of the deer, and then cuts straight to the music cue of (I think) How Dry I Am--when the deer drinks like a slob. Mel Blanc puts in a very pleasing touch of the deer's embarrassed burp; "Excuse me."

Then, to focus on the following sequence: which is also great on its setup. Snakes are infamous for their hypnotic powers, as told by the narrator. Here, the snake hypnotises the bird. Some great effects animation of the hypnosis bolt; probably by Ace Gamer. Just then, the bird slowly begins to approach and walk inside his death as the snake has his mouth wide open. Carl Stalling's cue enters as the sound of death drums brings in the suspense. Just then, as the hypnotised bird is about to walk inside the snake's mouth, he immediately tricks the audience responding: "If ya think I'm goin' in there! You're crazy!", and turns the other way around instead.

Then, there are examples from Tex's gags which are more generic and a little exaggerated. The skunk gag, however, is described as a specie which every mammal or person would want to avoid. The gag is even the shadow is covering its scent which is incredibly exaggerated in its subtle way. Then, there is a swamp which is infested with a group of hungry alligators. One of the alligators is swimming out of the river, with a very small body but the head proportions being accurate. The narrator asks: "Say, what in the world happened to you?"; with the alligator responding: "Well, I've been sick". A little weak gag which really lacks a funny conclusion to it. Anyone know whether the 'I've been sick' remark references anything, or if it was just a funny quote written for the short?

Then, despite the thin narrative and the weaker gags; Tex has already exerted his animators to realism. The animation of the animal animation looks very well (at least, a little too real); whereas the backgrounds by Johnny Johnsen show some great detail and arcs.

A great example of how the animation has shown some rapid improvement is seen during the camel walking.

The narrator describes how the camel can spend days in the desert without drinking but interrupts, "I don't care what you think, I'm thirsty". The cameral shows some great weight, which is one of the key techniques that animators struggle in animation. Johnny Johnsen's backgrounds show some great backgrounds; as well as some great airbrush work. Note the reflection in the water at the very beginning of the cartoon; which is very colourful and glamorous artistically. Also, Johnny creates a great illusion for the night scene for the wolf crying at night. Wheras the wolf shouts: 'Hey Mabel, come on out!' (reference, anyone?).

Now to reach some final pieces to analyse particular sequences. Both the sequence with the field mouse and the birds have a particularly lengthy sequence with a monotonous piece of action where you wait for the gag to appear. Both punchlines are just unfunny and pointless. The field mouse approaches an egg and keeps on replacing it with a chestnut, vice versa.

The action appears for about 30 seconds; where the mouse picks up the egg to the other side, picking up the chestnut to the other side...and it all repeats.  You are already at the point where you are bored of the gag, but then the mouse pauses the action and remarks, "Monotonous, isn't it?" and proceeds to carry on with the action. A pretty poorly paced gag which didn't really take much advantage to its punchline.

A gag similar to the field mouse gag was used for the birds berating towards his mother. Of course, you can hear nothing but the twittering of a bird; and communication is difficult to make out what it is. After berating the baby bird on the nest, he responds in a tough attitude, "Aww, lay off the bird talk, ma. What's on ya mind?" and spits in anticipation. One of the last voices to have ever been voiced by Berneice Hansell whose childlike voice was just turning out of fashion for the Warner cartoons, and even cartoons in general. The punchline and even the voice by Hansell didn't take advantage of the sequence as well.

Wacky Wildlife is presented as a rather fragmental spot-gag by Tex. There are elements which feel rather disconnected to the theme of 'wacky wildlife' whereas there are also gags which feel abstract, albeit some very good ones at the opening of the cartoon. Much of the gags had recycled elements from previous cartoons or just recurring-stringed gags which doesn't make the notion of the cartoon appear very original at all. Though, Blanc's voice work was very top-notch as he managed to save and take advantages for certain sequences which were flat in terms of its timing. Nevertheless, it is a very rich Warners short artistically, even if it is a far cry from the ambitious Disney Studio, who were expanding their talent; but it appears even the unit had a flair for studying and animating the anatomy of the animals with such realism, including the fawn. It's just a very straightforward spot-gag cartoon which lacks any basic construction but only has some moments of charm and true satire.