Wednesday 30 December 2015

391. Case of the Missing Hare (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 390.
Release date: December 12, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny / Ala
Story: Ted Pierce.
Animation: Ken Harris.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown.
Synopsis: Bugs Bunny vows revenge on magician Ala Bahma for invading his property by nailing show posters on his home.

One of the niceties of John McGrew's layout work is that he doesn't restrict himself to a certain style. In each Chuck Jones cartoon he's always experimenting new boundaries; whether certain styles work together or not - like trial and error. In this cartoon, he takes a completely different approach to the point where he has as little background as possible.

Animation by Ben Washam
The opening sequence is the only piece in the short which requires a little detail - like the multiple posters and the background scenery surrounding Bugs' home. Gene Fleury restraints the colour choices to three: yellow for the sky, pink for the soil, and blue for the shrubs and leaves; with different subtle shades for each colour evidently.

The interior shots of the stage however, limits the background work as much as possible - ranging from blank or crossover colours which vary from shot to shot. Only the hat on a prop table gives any indication that the scenery is on stage. Fleury has an excellent taste of color styling for certain shots where he wisely chooses particular colours for particular sequences to match the right atmosphere - without looking ugly and unfitting.

For the majority of Bugs' cartoons - he was typically portrayed as a menace who took pleasure at bullying his vulnerable opponents. Ted Pierce on the other hand, takes the formula to a different dimension.

The opening status quo establishes the first of a handful of Bugs Bunny cartoons where he vows revenge on the antagonist. As seen in the opening scene, magician Ala Bahma (pretty lame pun on the Southern state) is busy nailing show posters of his upcoming theatrical posters - and nails them at every nook and cranny, including Bugs' home.

Although an uncanny choice to feature Bugs' home in a tree; he responds angrily to the magician's vandalism on his own property: "Look doc, do I go round nailing signs over your house? Do I? There's still such a thing as private property, y'know!"

Not listening to Bugs, Ala Bahma entices him to a blackberry pie and tricks him with the commonplace pie-in-the-face act. Only Blanc could make the dialect sound hilarious at the delivery of: "What a dumb boonie!". Reacting to the pie-face, Bugs utters the infamous words: "Of course you realize, this means war!". This wasn't the first time Bugs said the memorable Groucho Marx quote as it traces back to the first proto-Bugs short, Porky's Hare Hunt. However, it has never been uttered to carry out an entire cartoon - giving Bugs a motive to get even with the magician.

The obstacle starts once the scenario changes to Ala Bahma starting his performance inside a theater. Starting with the old rabbit in hat trick , Bugs immediately sabotages the act by replacing his ears with a carrot which he unveils - much to the audience's laughter.

Then, Bugs crawls up the magician's sleeve and slides his head up to his neck collar. So, he glares right at his face, indicating a threat and breathing heavily with anger - while the magician reacts with slight embarrassment to his presence.

The line "Ya didn't expect to see me again, eh svengali?" which itself is a witty insult toward Ala Bahma. 'Svengali' meaning a person who deliberately controls and manipulates a person, like an actor - which itself is a metaphor on Bugs' career.

In what seems like a an act of threat - Bugs manipulates Ala Bahma into believing he will assist him with his acts. His revenge starts when he sabotages the rabbit trick again - diverting the attention from the magician to himself. He does so by performing the trick himself without any assistance whatsoever - creating an applause from the audience.

Bobe Cannon's masterful animation is put into great use when Bugs' bow to the audience and Ala Bahma paces quicker with an emphasis of smear animation. Reacting angrily to his sabotage; the magician attempts to grab Bugs and rid of him, but to no avail. In a hilarious Bugs Bunny characterization - he responds to that he kissing him on the lips and tying his mustache into a knot.

Frustrated at Bugs' upstaging - Ala Bahma is determined to get him out of the hat. Bugs places a sign on top of him, reading "Why not tempt me with a carrot?". In the following scene, the magician becomes completely distracted from his trick act, as he plants a carrot on the hat while hiding a mallet behind - sadistically intending to strike him.

A number of times the gag of Bugs locating the carrot of his fingers has been featured - and this time Chuck attempts to refresh the gag by making it surreal but believable. This feat is left to the animator whose job is to give Bugs' hand the mannerisms of a dog with the middle finger tracking the scent.

Bluffing, Bugs unexpectedly grabs the mallet off Ala Bahma and strikes him with it - creating a remarkable effect. To give the smash more attention and prominence; the background shaped colours (yellow-and-blue) immediately reverse. Chuck couldn't go wrong when making an anticipation look comical and artistic together.

With Bugs Bunny nailed and trapped inside the rabbit hat - Ala Bahma can proceed with his performance without further ado - the basket trick act. Little does he realize that that Bugs Bunny is disguised as a little boy when the magician calls out for volunteers.

The sequence is an excellent showcase in ridiculing Ala Bahma at the expense of damaging his reputation and career - fooling the off screen audience that he enjoys murdering innocent children.

As he starts the basket trick act, he forces the knife inside the basket trick - with an unseen Bugs making gagging, agonizing noises. Chuck Jones' master use of expressions and posing on the magician reacting to the gagging noises is priceless; and yet very human. The poses alone speak for themselves. It's a top-rate piece of personality animation which captures the intensity and anxiety of Ala Bahma perfectly.

In what looks like a suspenseful, doomed moment for Bugs - the camera pans to the rabbit who is standing at the right corner of the stage making the noise. This builds up the rising action as Bugs can't escape inside the sealed magician's hat - calling for further strategies.

The magician has been humiliated to the point of insanity - where he takes his full drive in murdering Bugs Bunny as he advances towards him. At the climax of Bugs' dilemma - he quickly takes advantage of the situation with more trickery. As a direct parody of a popular school-game, he tricks the magician into playing "red-light".

Bugs quickens the pace of the game by counting faster - which adds even more intensity to the speed and energy of the magician's anticipation.

Chuck's direction and Bobe Cannon's animation work wonderfully to create such effect. Once again, Cannon uses smear animation for Bugs to hit the accent as he shouts "red-light". On one occasion Ala Bahma freezes in mid-air - making the scenario even more hilarious.

Manipulating him completely - Bugs disguises himself as a fencer as he attempts to participate in the activity. Ala Bahma frantically swings his sword around in a duel - where Jones creates an elaborate, distortion effect of the magician fighting on different levels - to make the duel panicky.

Bugs shouts on top of the balcony, "What a performance!" and laughing at him to the point where Ala Bahma is fuming red and ready to finish him  - by grabbing his shotgun and firing at him.

The final gag is a great pay-off and vengeance on Bugs' behalf. Engaging him with an explosive cigar, Bugs finally has the last laugh as he smacks him with a pie - echoing an earlier action by Ala Bahma. Bug' innocent pose, mimicking the Mean Widdle Kid features some hilarious posing animated masterfully by Ken Harris. At anticipation he  says, "If I dood it, I'd get a whippin'. I'll dood it!" - and henceforth striking him.

It's another decent change at giving Bugs more motive and reason to perform his mischievous antics which otherwise would make him brash and cocky. As a "This means war" story, it's an excellent bracer for what lies in store...such as the likes of Bully for Bugs and Hair-Raising Hare. McGrew and Fleury's background work as usual work right down to the frame. Their good judgement in colour styling and innovative ideas of scenery prevent the cartoon from being distracting, allowing the short to flow normally. Chuck keeps his timing and pace to the standard of a hilarious Warner Bros. short while getting away with his use of experimentation.

As this short wraps up 1942; and even though it has taken me almost forever to get there: the progress made throughout the entire from the Warner crew is extroadinary - especially in Chuck's case. From the start all directors turned out hit-and-miss entires - Clampett was filling in loose ends for unfinished Tex Avery shorts, Friz Freleng was still keeping to the standards of everyone else, and of course, Chuck went from green to professional. By the end of the year, they all proved themselves professional cartoon directors by pushing the boundaries further and further. 1943 should be off to an excellent start...

Rating: 4.5/5.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

390. Ding Dog Daddy (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 389.
Release date: December 5, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Friz Freleng.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Pinto Colvig (Goofy Dog), Mel Blanc (Birds), Sara Berner (Female dog).
Story: Ted Pierce.
Animation: Gerry Chiniquy.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A dim-witted, lonesome dog falls in love with a greyhound statue - but has to avoid a guarding bulldog.

Perhaps what made Friz Freleng the director he is today was his reliance to sticking to typical animated cliches and taking advantage of it in creating an effective and funny animated cartoon. In this case, he uses a dimwitted personality for the protagonist, and a mute bulldog which he has used numerous times in animated cartoons. With that combined, it has the elements of a classic Warner Bros. cartoon.

For a story so absurd, the casting and team fit perfectly. Pinto Colvig provides the main voice for the dim-witted dog - giving it a Goofy persona which is standard casting. Ted Pierce's uncanny ability to conceive a preposterous idea for a story and making it work is all the more evident here, thus giving Freleng and his animators a lot of opportunities.

As far as character personalities go, they're almost entirely reused. The dog bearing some resemblance to Willoughby the dog, despite a different character design. The bulldog design also bears a lot of similarities to the dog in Double Chaser. With the two personalities coinciding, it's bound to create some great conflict.

The opening sequence is a great case for the audience to sympathise with the protagonist. It is mating season at the park, and the dimwitted dog is feeling the love as he nosily watches two lovebirds on a limb about to mate. One lovebird turns back disturbed and snubs him, "Let's not get nosey, bud!".

Embarrassed, the dog turns his eyes on an elegant looking greyhound who promenades through the park. The dog cuts her path and hopelessly asks her out, chuckling sheepishly and foolishly. The female dog snubs him again by mocking his laugh and responding bluntly: "Nah, I wouldn't like to be your girl!".

The following dissolve shot creates a fitting pathetic fallacy to fit with the character's emotions. From the opening shots, the background skylight is bright and handsome. In the next scene of the dog walking away dejectedly - the sky is bleak and melancholy. Stalling's cue of Blues in the Night fits the scenario well.

Just as he walks past a well-formed estate he finds the match he is looking for - an inanimate greyhound statue. With his heart metaphorically ticking, he immediately falls in love. As a dimwitted personality, it's impossible to not feel sorry for the character: whose loneliness outcasts him, and how his only match happens to be inanimate.

Freleng's comedic timing is put to excellent use as the story gets more wacky. As though falling in love with a greyhound statue wasn't enough; lightning strikes the statue the moment he kisses it - creating an electrifying and erotic effect for the dog. The timing of the dog's electric shock has a very jerky feel - though the swiftness makes it believable.

The erotic behaviour of the dog afterwards creates a hilarious, cringeworthy piece of character animation that gives the dog some added character. The dog bounces with a lot of enthusiastic energy, and then lands on the flower beds freely throwing the flowers out with joy. It's a amusingly-conceived gag that recurs several times in the short.

Freleng and Stalling's timing of the flowers to Mendelssohn sets the carefree spirit and mood of the dog wonderfully. Alerted by the dog's presence, a vicious bulldog runs to the spot. Not taking notice of the bulldog, the guard dog plants a beware sign next to him to get the hint. The dimwitted dog double-takes and flees from the estate. For a story that seems to centre on the dog's hopeless romance, this creates an all-new dilemma: to outwit the guarding bulldog.

Animated by Phil Monroe
In an attempt to get back into the estate, the dog conceives his first plan. He attempts to pull off a stunt by placing a newspaper between at bottom of the gate. Then he attempts to remove the locked key from the other side of the doorknob with a pencil, hoping it would land on the newspaper; so he can open the gate.

The dog brags about how he "seen this done in a feature picture once." It's a funny bit of satire on individuals being easily influenced by stunts in motion picture that isn't liable to work - making it even more ironic for an animated character.

The trick indeed goes wrong when he pulls back the newspaper, to find the bulldog on top of it - glaring at him. The dog double takes and runs to another side and finds another gate. He peeps through another keyhole - but finds further trouble. The POV shot of the dog staring into the bulldog's eye is an incredibly dynamic and beautiful layout; adding depth to the peril.

For the following sequences, Freleng takes full advantage with comic timing and staging for potentially funny gags. The comedic timing of the two dogs accidentally kissing each other on the lips has a perfect and spontaneous pace to it. The following shot of the bulldog snarling and anticipating an attack, however, is awkwardly sluggish.

Not long after, this follows into a complex piece of staging and layout, as the dog buries himself underground and revealing himself as a mould of dirt as he flees around the garden.

Animated by Gerry Chiniquy
The dog momentarily digs his way through the water fountain, until he realises the possible consequences and escapes. Quiet a feat to make a gag effect like that work with a heavy reliance of effects animation.

The dog's dimwittedness takes its toll in an old cliched gag when he unknowingly has the bulldog sitting on top of him as he tiptoes through the garden inconspicuously. To add to the dog's stupidity, when the bulldog gets knocked out from a tree limb, the dog pulls him back up and continues to tiptoe. Upon realising the bulldog is on top of him, he goes into a quiet state of shock which is captured effectively and hilariously in a close-up of his head ticking, courtesy of the masters of Freleng and Stalling at work. He takes some aspirin pills to decrease the effect.

After outwitting the dog and reuniting with the greyhound statue, he discovers it is being carted away for scrap metal (it was the war, y'know). This follows by an incredibly effective montage sequence of the factory. If Freleng exceeded in comic timing and cartoon formulas, he also did brilliantly at creating elaborate, dynamic shots for automated factories.

For a sequence that's supposed to be largely mechanical and repetitive, Freleng takes no slack at all to give it a rich, unique feel. He evens adds the occasional gag for a cartoon's sake; such as the timing of the factory's chimney smoke synchronised to Beethoven.

For a director who is criticised by Clampett fanboys for being "bland"..this sequence has clearly been overlooked. On the other hand, it creates a suspenseful sequence for the dimwitted dog as he shouts out "Daisy" all over the factory. The layout shot of the dog overlooking the mass load of bullets is a beautiful portrayal to his struggle and anxiety of finding the statue.

In a climatical scene, the dimwitted dog mournfully cries of the apparent loss of "Daisy".  He blubbers, "I guessed I lost ya, Daisy! I'll never see you again!" At that moment, a bullet slides down and lands on the dog's arms - with Daisy's name engraved on it. .

The following scene the dog is astonished and upset of the apparent changed appearance, but is still in love, making up for a bittersweet reunion. Just as he kisses the bullet - it detonates.

The final gag is a decent pay off to the recurring gag that occurred during the cartoon featuring the dog's wild erotic reactions. The dog reaction makes him bellow: "She hasn't changed a bit" as he bounces around with excitement as the cartoon irises out.

As funny as the one-hit character might be, the dim-witted personality still feels somewhat more tragic rather than comedy relief. The opening scenes of the dog receiving rejection is surprisingly poignant. It's also hard to not feel sorry for the character whose love is hopeless and easily falls for a greyhound statue, making his ignorance more pitiful than charming. With little issues asides, it results in a fun Ted Pierce story which may be episodic, but all ties together. Friz sticks to certain cliches as far as gags go but has the ability to refine them to make it more innovative and less amateurish.

Rating: 3.5/5.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

389. My Favorite Duck (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 388.
Release date: December 5, 1942.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Eagle).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: Rudy Larriva.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Porky Pig tries to enjoy his holiday in the countryside, but gets disturbed by the silly antics of Daffy Duck.

Although this isn't the first pairing of Porky and Daffy, but it is the first where the two personalities are established well to render many more wonderful pairings in the near future. Previously Michael Maltese had created a different persona for Porky Pig a year previously in Notes to You..where he comes across as cynical and temperamental - here he uses it again.

Daffy Duck on the other hand, still carries out his wacky personality but also has carries out more added character; such as being quick-witted and a slight cynic which Norm McCabe nailed in his more recent Daffy Duck cartoons.

The opening sequence is a great establishment for the two personalities coinciding one another. Porky finds some rest and relaxation in an isolated area: complete with mountains and lakes. In a boat he peacefully sings Moonlight Bay, but only to have his piece ruined when Daffy enters into the fray and sings in chorus. Confused, Porky remarks: "Gosh, what a scr-screwy duck!" and at that moment Daffy enters and argues back: "That my little cherub is strictly a matter of an opinion." Porky watches Daffy whoop around the lake with slight confusion. With Daffy being considered a threat to Porky's peaceful holiday, this sums up how the rest of the short will turn out.

The tent pole gag is a great exercise for Jones to experiment with his timing. Porky attempts to find relaxation elsewhere by pitching a tent, but gets prevented several times by a loitering Daffy who is sitting on a basket filing his nails. He responds smugly, "Sorry, Daniel Boone. But first come, first serve, y'know."

The following close-up of Porky's frustrated expression is beautifully caricatures to capture Porky's cynical, and sometimes sadistic personality. He attempts to use the tent pole to harm Daffy, but only to stops to protect himself from the law.

The sign gag, "Don't even molest a duck!" would nowadays be taken completely out of context, being a dated definition to "harrass (someone) in an aggressive or persistent manner." The following wide shot, Jones takes advantage of the timing and staging.

Gene Fleury paints a light shade of green on the field to add some restrictions and limitations to where Porky could pitch a tent. All through the scenery, Daffy slides into every corner Porky finds, preventing him from claiming a spot. The faster and more frustrated Porky grows, the more rapid and jerky the timing becomes; creating a great comic effect.

A couple of gags centering on the lake create a funny portrayal of Porky's gullible moments. Daffy has invaded every corner in an open field possible to the point where Porky uncontrollably leads underwater and pitches a spot. The gag works to a tee when Porky goes back and forth from the lake to get his camping gear, while Daffy casually watches him, pretending to play no part of it.

Chuck Jones' use of expressions execute the gag wonderfully when Porky makes a double-take at only realizing he is underwater. The timing of the fish swimming past is the icing of the cake to emphasize Porky's foolishness.

In another sequence, Porky is snoozing whilst fishing in his little boat. Once again, Daffy decides to stir things up by turning the boat upside down in an attempt to trick Porky by catching a fish in open air. It's a remarkably complicated piece of staging as the camera turns around 180 degrees of Porky sleeping underwater.

Once he feels a reaction from his fishing rod (caused by Daffy), the camera turns back to its normal angle as the boat flips back over - causing Porky to swim upwards in mid-air. Floating in mid-air, Maltese takes one of the oldest animation gags and revamps it into Warner's standard humour. Porky finds Daffy sitting on top of a tree branch and asks, "What are you doing down here?". Daffy's response, "Down here, heh-heh!" is a classic delivery as he is completely on the gag. Daffy points Porky's head downwards, looking at the lake. The camera pans back to Porky, who silently double-takes and falls. Chuck's posing on Porky's "I'm screwed" expression speaks for itself, like with make Jones takes.

Porky refuses to be enticed to Daffy 's
song. Animation by Ben Washam.
The concept where Porky and Daffy battle over singing different tunes is another believable portrayal of their feuding relationship. Throughout the short, Daffy's theme is Blues in the Night while Porky's is Moonlight Bay.

During the eagle scene, Porky momentarily is succumbed to Daffy's song as he sings it. Upon realization, he grunts and sings his ideal song instead. It's a solid piece of character personality, as Daffy has ruined Porky's liking to Blues, reminding it of him.

While he gets ready to cook some eggs, Daffy sneakily replaces a smaller egg with a larger egg. Porky unknowingly mistakes it for "some mountain air that makes things grow." He cracks it open, which reveals a newly-hatched baby eagle.

He responds with astonishment, "Gosh it looks just like a baby eagle!". Pan to an older, meaner eagle; he answers angrily, "For your information, it IS a baby eagle!" To poke fun at the censor's depicting off-screen violence, the camera pans to Daffy who interprets the action by looking intently, "Ooh! Brutal!". It is then revealed afterwards the father eagle struck Porky with his own frying pan.

Although he has already proven himself as a director capable of producing funny cartoons, Jones isn't afraid of pulling off some ambitious filmic procedures. For the firecrackers sequence, Jones uses some cross-cutting for the shots of Porky unknowingly using the firecrackers to make fire, and to the shots of Daffy hiding underneath a rock, waiting for the dynamite to detonate any second.

The more dynamic the angles become, the most suspenseful the music and timing becomes. A moment later, the camping gear and the tree are sitting completely in mid-air. To defy the laws of gravity in the most preposterous way, only Porky falls from the effect.

An extreme-close up of Daffy's pupils watching Porky falling is a beautiful visual look as the pupils evidently represent Porky in silhouette. As though the explosion and falling wasn't enough to make the sequence visually appealing, a visual metaphor is added. Tired of the bullying and pranks from Daffy, Porky evolves into an elaborate "burning" take (probably by effects animator Ace Gamer), as he burns into ashes but morphs back into his usual proportions.

A master at conceiving sign gags for comedic purposes, this is one of Chuck's earliest practices of it - especially where the comedic values work. Earlier, Daffy uses signs to take advantage of Porky. He holds a caution sign, warning Porky he'd be fined for hurting a duck. He uses this advantage to strike Porky back, and whoop around the lake freely.

Chuck's most significant use of sign gags in the cartoon occur during the suspenseful build up to its climax. At this point,the signs appear to have a mind of its own, as Daffy offers Porky a gun - but pulls out an unwanted sign announcing the opening of duck season.

During the build up, Daffy pulls out several more signs, but not the kind he expects - this emphasizes the signs have betrayed him; making him more vulnerable. More crosscutting action between Porky and Daffy occurs to give the buildup more intensity. More dynamic angles are set on Porky to create an intimidating effect, like a low-angle shot. After a very promising and suspenseful buildup, the climax becomes more rapid.

To an unusual twist to end a great cartoon, Michael Maltese pays homage that channels a little Tex Avery - one of the founding fathers of the Warner Bros. legacy. The footage of Porky and Daffy looping around a tree goes out-of-action from an unseen projector, and the film strips break apart.

Daffy, who finds that he's apparently alone, steps into the empty background to tell his version of the ending. Daffy's arrogance and enthusiasm over his self-performance is brilliantly executed by animator Bobe Cannon who understands the essence of acting and performance.

At the height of his boasting, a hook yanks Daffy out of the screen; creating an off-screen crash. Porky walks into the empty background, holding Daffy by the scruff of his neck. Already defeated, Daffy continues the ending hopelessly as he pants: "He's pleading for mercy, I'm killin'..umph!". For an unusual ending, Maltese had observed the uniqueness and innovative gag-master Tex Avery, and Maltese pulls it off wonderfully to make the cartoon ending seem even less predictable.

For its standard running time, Jones and Maltese certainly have a lot to show for. They finally establish the character relationships between Porky and Daffy perfectly - which leads to some great, believable conflict. McGrew's layouts and Fleury's background, as often play an integral role in creating a unique style which fit with the character designs. It's a strange thought to take in that only that very year, Jones produced some all-time low shorts in his career and yet here; he is advancing the established Warner humour by pulling off gags Tex hadn't yet conceived. The film strip scene is a classic example of its innovative and edgy humour that fits well for an ending. Always an ambitious director, Jones pulls off some great techniques wonderfully which is a great ode to the working style of Frank Tashlin, even if he never went quite as far as that.

Rating: 4.5/5.