Tuesday, 31 March 2015

372. Gopher Goofy (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 371.
Release date: June 27, 1942.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Norm McCabe.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Small gopher, Virgil, Farmer).
Story: Don Christensen.
Animation: Izzy Ellis.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A pair of Brooklynese gophers invade and ruin a farmer's garden, with a series of gags along the way.

Gophers are a popular choice for an animated formula, and this resulted in a lot of cartoons. A lot of shorts rely on a cliched formula involving gophers invading a garden. which is very thin and mundane in narrative. Occasionally the thin formula can pay off with solid gags, like in Tex Avery's Garden Gopher (1950)This short however, doesn't.

The short itself has a very straightforward narrative: a farmer is proud to have a beautiful garden, and turns into insanity when two Brooklynese gophers ruin iy. A simple straightforward narrative could allow a chance for some great material.

You could say this is also the first short where they pair up two gophers in a Warner Bros. cartoon, or even a prototype to the Goofy Gopher shorts. Although this short was intended as a one-off, there is little to no comparison between the later Gopher characters, which as characters are much more appealing than how gophers have been portrayed in cartoons.

The short sets up the two gophers, with one being streetwise, and the other dim-witted. Only the dimwitted gopher is named, Virgil, which is likely an in-house reference to animator Virgil Ross. As characters, they hold out rather thin personalities. Their dialect and accent indicates they're from Brooklyn ("Ya don't find eatin' like this in the Bronx"), and that's about it.

Virgil's comment on the garden, "Yeah, but, I like Central Park better" is a recurring quote throughout the short, which is a little amusing: suggesting this garden is only second-best.

The following scene is rather intriguing layout (designed by Dave Hilberman?), featuring the gophers underground, as its presented like a diagram. The farmer, suspicious of the gopher's appearance, places his ear underneath the hole to listen out for gopher. The streetwise gopher walks to the top of the hole. He yells at the farmer's ear, quoting Red Skelton: "Let's not get nosy, bub!". Not a great gag itself but Mel Blanc's delivery adds to the charm.

Despite the fact that the short doesn't hold up well in carrying a thin narrative to produce a fulfilling short, Norm McCabe's direction is definitely competent in the short. McCabe has a sense of timing which at times is comparable to Freleng, except McCabe times his animation a different style of his own.

A great showcase for timing is shown in the scene of the streetwise gopher dodging the weed cutter narrowly. McCabe's timing and Stalling's musical arrangements work well together in achieving good comedy. The gopher interrupts the action, as he remarks to the audience: "Keep your shoits on, folks. I go through dis all the time!", and then returns to the action.

Another great scene to celebrate McCabe's timing is seen during a small chase scene as the gophers journey through the soil, with the farmer following their traces. McCabe relies on good effects animation for good timing, seen in the shot of the gophers rushing through a flowerbed, taking all the flowers with them one by one. The timing of both McCabe and Stalling is juicy and comical, and the hop hers taking the last flower with them adds to the touch.

McCabe's skills as a director show he is not afraid of tackling out daring angles, giving his cartoon some extra spice. In one sequence, the streetwise gopher arises from his hole, and looks around checking the coast is clear: "Okay, the joik's gone." At that moment, he is at gunpoint. Realising his danger, the next shot transitions to a POV shot at a low-eye level angle of the farmer aiming at the gopher. It's scene is solidly staged, considering the careful amount of detail required for the scene. The farmer clenching his teeth is rather menacing as well as nicely executed. As the farmer fires, the gopher finds two giant holes between him, from the result of the shotgun. This is also a daring layout, as the shot displays the contrast of size of the gopher and the holes which could easily have went wrong. The gopher remarks, "Can you imagine that?", and dashes away from the spot.

Some scenes of the gas sequence is a lot of fun, too. The scene starts with the farmer cackling madly as he sets his trap towards the gophers. The posing of the farmer's insanity is hilarious and solid, especially his comment: "I'm not really a bad man, folks. Honest".
As the gas flows through their underground shelter, instead of passing out, they end up inflating and floating in mid-air like balloons.

McCabe's timing comes in handy when Virgil sniffs the gas, leading him to zip up in air, trapping his head inside his hat as he shouts: "Hey, who turned off the lights?".

They end up rising from their holes ad into mid-air. The scene then abruptly cuts to a drunken crow who watches the two gophers floating like balloons. Believing that he is hallucinating, he attributes this to his liquor, and breaks the glass. The take of the drunken crow is an old gag that dates back to the silent era, but it's still a timeless gag.

They remain floating in mid-air, when the farmer's giant nose enters the scene, creating a visual gag. The streetwise gopher comments on the nose, weary: "Is this one of your eggs, I dare say?". They both double-take when they come face-to-face with the angered farmer. They attempt to change his anger into a smile, into a funny little pose.

The gophers find themselves landing at a tomato patch, but find themselves trapped by the farmer's hat. John Carey creates some really appealing poses of the farmer breathing with madess, and the poses are very daring for a Warner cartoon. The following gag is a nod to a previous Tex Avery effort, The Heckling Hare, where the farmer grabs a tomato, where it squishes, masquerading it as blood. The farmer is under the impression he has killed the gophers. The pose of the farmer's shocked expression is priceless. The spontaneity of the sign gag, "Out to Lunch" is also fitting. Much like Willoughby, the farmer breaks down sobbing, feeling remorseful as well as wailing like a baby.

So, as we reach the final sequence: the gophers create their climax. The farmer decides to set his hose pipe underneath the gopher's hole, where it extends towards the backyard. It's revealed, however, that Virgil is holding onto the pipe, causing it to slowly overflow. The streetwise gopher creates a clever strategy where the hose would backfire towards the farmer.

The pipe overflowing is nicely exaggerated and energetic, although it doesn't exactly pay off too well in timing. Judging by the immensity of the overflowing pipe, it seems mild that the farmer rise from the water, which lacks immensity.

The farmer unintentionally ends up performing cute gags like trick acts performed at the circus. At this point, the farmer loses his senses and wounds up acting goofily, mimicking a gopher's actions and ruining his own garden. The farmer crashes towards a birdbath, where his head reaches the fountain, squirting water. Virgil has the final line, where he quotes Jerry Colonna: "Well what'ya know? Somethin' new has been added!"

It's another cartoon which overshadows Norm McCabe's sense of direction. His timing at times can be edgy, and he isn't afraid to challenge himself with daring angles. There is also a lot of energy in the animation, particularly in John Carey's scenes of the farmer who animates him wildly, and yet convincingly. Despite having some nice direction there, the overall short is still serviceable. McCabe had the chops to be an excellent director, had he got stronger material compered to the likes of Michael Maltese or Warren Foster. He still managed to achieve with what he had, especially in his Daffy Duckc cartoons. The cartoon's plot is rather weak, and there aren't strong enough gags to  save the cartoon. The gophers aren't really characters relatable, and the accents don't give them much character. Some decent gags which pay off would be the gas sequence, the drunken crow, and not to mention the weed cutter sequence, which was timed masterfully by McCabe.

Rating: 2.5/5.

Monday, 30 March 2015

371. Hold the Lion, Please (1942)

featuring Bugs Bunny
Warner cartoon no. 370.
Release date: June 6, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodeies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Various voices), Ted Pierce (Leo the Lion), Bob C. Bruce (Hippo) (?)
Story: Ted Pierce.
Animation: Ken Harris.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A worthless lion king, mocked by his kingdom, attempts to prove he can kill a rabbit, but has no luck when he targets Bugs Bunny.

As Chuck has decided to turn more comedic in his approach to directing, he would wound up directing cartoons of the main stars from the Warner studio, like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck. Being his 2nd Bugs Bunny cartoon, you can see that not only does Freleng interpret Bugs' design differently, but Jones, too. Chuck's early take on Bugs Bunny is off model (smaller cheeks and circular eyes), compared to Bob McKimson's design. Of course, the McKimson design has a lot more appeal, but Jones' design still has life and personality.

Not to mention, the background work by John McGrew and background paintings by Gene Fleury really do stand out compared to the other fine layout artists at Schlesinger's. McGrew's designs of a jungle look has a very surreal and yet provincial look to it, that you can identify with a jungle look towards it.

Fleury has the creative freedom to choose unusual colours to match the scenery, particularly painting the ground with a pinkish colour, and giving a jungle atmosphere a different world of its own.

Ted Pierce does a great job in creating the perfect vulnerable personality to be Bugs Bunny's opponent. It's a well-known cliche that lions are often dubbed as the "king of the jungle". Of course, lions don't live in jungles, its supposed to emphasise they're the king of beasts. Pierce creates a great character, who is far from beastly or kingly.

The opening sequence of the animal kingdom mocking their king is a great way to establish the cartoon. The opening is all exposition of the lion's reign. The hippo criticises the lion as being "all washed up", whereas the giraffe mocks his appearance: "A has-been. Nothing but a has-been." The giraffe's dial, suggests he had once been the King of Beasts.

Chuck's design on Leo (as Bugs calls him) is very appealing and accurate in giving him a meek personality. His poses on the lion's sheepish smile is solid, and Chuck gives the lion a pathetic mane to emphasise his weakness as a king. In the close-up of the lion, he nods and misinterprets the animals' sarcastic comments: "The mighty hunter...the killer of the Congo, boy that palooka couldn't kill a rabbit." Not only does he double-takes at the comment, but the cartoon plot has been set up.

Ted Pierce writes some great comedy of Leo's pathetic attempts to impress his kingdom. He anticipates a boxing pose, and mimicking a famous quote by heavyweight boxer Tony Galento, "I'll moider da bum!". He proceeds to make a few manoeuvres, and unintentionally punches his own face from his other arm. Chuck's timing on the punching is solid, proving he lacks a good sense of coordination. As he appears dazed, he yells: "Hey, he fouled me. You seen him."

Ken Harris animated most of the Leo shots, who has a lot of energy in his animation, and understands Chuck's masterful timing. He gives the character some great personality, as the king is tenacious, but fails every time.

Leo attempting to roar and intimidate his kingdom is greatly executed in drawing. Not only is Ken Harris confident in changing the character's axis at complex angles, but his animation pays off from following Chuck's layouts. Leo's teeth are wonderfully designed as they're hardly threatening.

As he attempts to roar, he immediately coughs, as he is also proven to be fragile. The animals stepping back pretending to be scared, is very funny. At this point, Leo attempts to prove he is worthy as he leaves to go on a quest to find and kill a rabbit, evident in the line: "Just let me find a bunny. I'll show ya!" The scene of the animals laughing cross-dissolving to different foliage shapes is rather effective, as the "overlapping graphics" was an early trait of Chuck. Would've been nice if it were experimented a little more.

After a frantic search for a rabbit, Leo discovers Bugs Bunny, after stealing his carrot which he used as bait. Pierce's setup of Bugs' encounter with Leo is interesting. Unlike many cartoons where Bugs encountering his enemies is dialogue heavy, most of this sequence is done through pantomime, with occasional dialogue by Bugs. This is where Chuck's influence kicks in, and it's done very well.

Bobe Cannon animates much of the sequence (minus the claw scene, I'd expect), and does a solid job at it. Bugs wriggling his ears is masterfully timed, as well as the great posing of Leo attempting to mimic Bugs' ear action by clenching his face too hard.

The close-up of the lion pressing his hands to produce a claw features some effective sound effects by Treg Brown, and the faulty claw at the end has a nice touch. Chuck's expressions of the lion's embarrassed grin adds to the touch.

The pantomime breaks as Leo confronts Bugs, revealing his motives: "I'm a lion, see? King of this here jungle, and I'm huntin' a rabbit to show who's king of this here jungle, see?". (Pierce creates some nice touches to Leo's dial, as the lion has grammar issues). As Bugs double-takes during his conversation with Leo, he begins to build the tensity of his "fear" of Leo. He breaks down: "I am scared. I'm terrified. I'm panic-stricken!", before screaming around like a maniac. Mid-way he breaks into sarcasm as he speaks mockingly, "Shriek, shriek. Scream, scream!" until he pretends to act scared. I've written a post about that scene on a different blog some years ago, and I'll say it again. It's a brilliant showcase for character animation: done wonderfully by Bobe Cannon. It has energy, his poses are solid, and his timing is spot-on.

There are certain cases where Chuck's experimentation with comedy doesn't hold up too well. One example is seen during the sequence of Bugs picking in the garden, singing When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano. Leo watches his moves and begins to slowly approach him but Bugs notices his presence, leaving Leo to pause whenever he has an opportunity.

With this, Leo attempts to improvise his movement as he swims in soil, in sync to Strauss' Blue Danube. He swims backstroke on the soil and squirts water out of his mouth to mimic a swimming action. I'm not so keen on the staging, and the gag doesn't have the comedic values which you'd associate with Chuck.

It was a good attempt by Chuck, but the gag itself didn't work out. Leo then makes a run for it, chasing Bugs away from the garden, leaving the hat floating in mid-air. Leo zips through the scene, with the hat following him. A lot of the short's actions are nicely paced, and the energy is right down to the frame. Inventive run cycles take form, particularly in Leo's run where all legs move simultaneously.

The door sequence is a good showcase, as it caters to good taste. The scene starts with Bugs placing a door in front of his hole. The lion knocks on the door, unaware he is wearing a garden hat. Bugs answers the knock and watches Leo, who looks ridiculous in his appearance. He starts to laugh at Leo, and the effective laughter rebound over to Leo, who ends up cackling. It's a fun little scene which is great to show the lion's simple foolishness. The scene of Bugs pulling a blind with a sign pointing towards Leo, "Silly, Isn't He?" is a nod to the previous Bugs Bunny short, The Heckling Hare, which works as well in this sequence. At this moment, Bugs slams the door - leaving Leo to bang the door, demanding to be let in. Bugs then refuses to give the key to Leo, leading to a big climax.

Chuck's energetic timing comes to great advantage in the climax, when Leo starts to build up the pace by zipping towards the door: anticipating a crash action. Bugs casually loiters by the door, humming to himself. As the scenes pace back and forth, the gag is paid off as Bugs opens the door: leading Leo to crash off-site.

At this moment, Leo has reached the height of his dominance and powers: cornering Bugs. Chuck's timing is solid where Leo strikes Bugs, ready to break him. As he anticipates a strike pose, the telephone rings; interrupting the perfect moment.

The telephone is a great as well as bizarre plot device that becomes Leo's defeat. Bugs crawls over to the phone, interrupting the scene: "Hold it, doc. Don't go away." He answers the phone, "Hello. Yeah? Oh, just a moment. It's for you, Leo", and he passes the phone towards the lion.

 As Leo answers the phone, the caller is revealed to be his wife, Hortense, through Leo's submissive dialogue towards her. His attitude merely changes back into a weaker personality, as he answers: "But listen Hortense! Yeah but, but Hortense, yeah but...alright, I'll be right home. Goodbye, dear". I'm not sure who the animator on the scene is, (probably Cannon), but the poses on the passvelion's face are readable and well executed in draftsman.

It's a great way to end the character's defeat comedically, as his wife is his own weakness. He then begins to part with Bugs as he prepares to leave, "Gee, I gotta go home, see. I'm sorry I can't stay here and kill ya. I'll see ya again, sometime. So long", and dashes away.

Ted Pierce finishes the cartoon on a good note, and the irony is awesome. Bugs Bunny mocks Leo's submissiveness to his wife, "The guy wants to be the king of the jungle, and he ain't even master in his own home. As for me, I wear the pants in my family."

At that moment, we get a special, one-off appearance of Mrs. Bugs Bunny, who stands by him. It's revealed that Bugs is just as submissive, as he quietly and swiftly returns to his hole. Pierce ends the gag with a metaphor, as Mrs. Bugs Bunny asks, "Who wears the pants in this family?". She reveals her blouse, where she "literally" wears pants.

Compared to Chuck's previous attempt of directing Bugs Bunny in Elmer's Pet Rabbit, this short is milestones ahead. He has already given Bugs a tamer and more cunning personality, compared to the wackier personality seen in Wabbit Twouble or The Wacky Wabbit. It's a wonderful cartoon to watch when analysing character personality. Leo is a wonderful showcase for Bugs to bully, and the concept of a weak lion ruling a kingdom is great conception. Fleury and McGrew's surreal backgrounds gives the environment a world of its own, and its overall a great short with funny characterisation. Admittedly, some scenes fall rather flat: particularly in the garden scene but otherwise its a solid entry for Chuck Jones, who now shows confidence in using the Warner Bros. as well as his crisp timing.

Rating: 4/5