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 night...it 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.


  1. Looneytooneyfanpl1 November 2013 at 02:23

    Supervision: Chuck Jones, not Merrie Melodies

  2. Father Christmas? Why don't you simply name him Santa Claus?

    1. The United Kingdom calls Santa Father Christmas. It's different saying that there than in the U.S.