Rabbit Transit (1947)

Director: I. Freleng
Story: Michael Maltese, Tedd Pierce
Animation: Manuel Perez, Ken Champin, Virgil Ross, Gerry Chiniquy
Layouts: Hawley Pratt
Backgrounds: Philip De Guard
Effects Animation: A.C. Gamer
Voice Characterisation: Mel Blanc
Musical Director: Carl Stalling
Cast: Bugs Bunny, Cecil Turtle

The cartoon opens with Bugs having a sauna at the what looks like the Geysers in Yellowstone park. His ears are wrapped in towels and he is reading a book of fables while munching a carrot. He reads allowed a passage that reads “..with the result that the tortoise beats the hare” he turn a page and continues reading, then stops and turns back about 7 pages to re-read the passage again. A continuity error that makes the sequence all the funnier. The set-up is quite similar to the original Tex Avery “Tortoise Beats Hare” because Bugs spits out his carrot and begins to rant and rave about how outrageous the suggestion is. Bugs asks “Who’d ever believe such a zany story?” and the familiar drawl of Cecil Turtle can be heard off camera saying “err I would” Bugs turns to find Cecil also enjoying the steam. His head wrapped in towels and his shell, complete with a pressure gauge serving as a convenient steam box sauna.

It seems a shame that unlike “Tortoise Wins by a Hare”, this cartoon presumes that Bugs and Cecil have never met before so as a result, instead of feeling like another chapter in an ongoing feud it feels like an inferior re-hash of an old idea.

There are some delicious touches. The banter between Bugs and Cecil is brilliant. Especially the starting line where the two come clean about cheating. Bugs, throws out a pair of roller-skates concealed under his boxers robe. He in turn picks up the be-goggled and robes Cecil, turns him upside down and shakes out a pair of roller-skates, a wooden buggy, a cycle and a motorised scooter. When they finally crouch at the line, the familiar finger-walk line encroachment gag seen in Tortoise wins by a hair. Although in the countdown, “One for the money, two for the show, three to make ready and four to go!”, instead of Bugs, shouting “Go!” in the far distance, a telegram rider arrives on a moped a split second after Bugs has gone with a Telegram bearing a single word “GO!”

Then Cecil reveals his secret weapon, under his shell he carries a mean looking Jet Propulsion system under his shell. For me this is the best gag in the cartoon, Cecil runs in mid-air with the same old lolloping gait we’re used to be is carried along on the crest of a comet. When Bugs is passed there is a quick joke that you’d miss if you blinked. Bugs powers round a bend and instead of crossing a Toll bridge he swims over the river instead.

As if in answer to Bugs’ cheeky telegram at the starting line, another motorcycle courier arrives with a letter from Cecil, in Chicago! Bugs is incensed. He opens a letter to discover that it’s a Christmas Card, (the cartoon was released May 10, 1947, so nothing seasonally appropriate about this gag), Bugs spends a moment or two feeling guilty that he never sent anything to Cecil. He’s seized with a bright idea. The next scene we see Cecil in his bathing costume on the Beach with Shell cast aside another moped riding courier arrives with a Parcel containing Bugs who plants a wet kiss on Cecil astonished face.

Bugs managed to steal the jet propelled shell from Cecil’s back, Cecil steals in back when Bugs has a breakdown. Bugs hitches a lift a cooks a hot-dog in the fire from Cecil’s exhaust and pours a bucket of water into the engine. Cecil bails it out and speeds after the Rabbit. What follows is a classic cartoon gag. I’m sure it’s not the first time it was used. Bugs, extends the road markings off the road up-to the side of a thick tree trunk, he then paints an arch in the side of a tree. Instead of crashing into the trunk, Cecil speeds through as if the tunnel where real. When Bugs tries it, “CRASH!” I must thy to track down the original version of this gag.

All in all there doesn’t seem to be much going on in this cartoon aside from the brilliant Jet propelled tortoise shell. The title of this short is a seemingly meaningless pun on the phrase “Rapid Transit”. Not the best gag ever written. Given the effort that goes into a cartoon, it amazes me at how little time appears to go into titles. This 1947 feature, is the last of three appearances of Cecil Turtle and a neat ending it is too. Finally Bugs gets to win the race. Although he gets hauled off by Traffic Police for speeding as a result.

How about a chance of pace? I’m interested to track down more cartoons where Manuel Perez get’s a credit. Oddly I can’t find out anything about him. While all the other animators have a Wikipedia page or some biographical record, there’s virtually nothing about Manuel Perez. We know he worked on this picture, and “Baseball Bugs” in 1946. Let’s go back one picture to “Tweetie Pie” released only a week earlier than “Rabbit Transit”, it too was animated by the mysterious Manuel Perez, among others. In was also to first Warner Bros, cartoon to win an Academy Award.

Tortoise Wins By A Hare (1943)

Supervision: Robert Clampett
Animation: Bob McKimson, Rod Scribner
Story: Warren Foster
Musical Direction: Carl Stalling
Voice Characterisations: Mel Blanc
Starring: Bugs Bunny, Cecil Turtle

This 1943 cartoon is the sequel to the Warner Bros. Fred “Tex” Avery cartoon “Tortoise Beats Hare” from 1941.

The feature starts with silhouettes of Bugs and Cecil racing on the spot, I like the way we get into the action with silhouettes even before the credit have disappeared.

The race commentator adds a certain newsreel flashback quality to the race sequence. Everything up until we see Bugs watching the footage on a projector is lifted straight out of the original cartoon from two years earlier.

Boy is Bugs bitter in this cartoon. He looks more feral than I can ever remember him. We regularly see his molars and gums throughout the short. Perhaps nevermore than in his monologue to the audience where he swears he’ll “find out his secret if it’s the last thing I do…” the monologue is a long one. Around 30 seconds of ranting. Some lovely animation too.

Bugs dresses up as an old timer and visits Cecil at his home (which is in the truck of a tree). Cecil obligingly reveals his “secret” via a blueprint that shows how his shell acts as an airflow chassis. “Now take rabbits, they’re built all wrong for racing. Those ridiculous ears.” The animators help the audience to appreciate that Bugs is taking notes by having bugs periodically type away at a typewriter concealed under his voluminous fake beard. The typewriter carriage appears from under his disguise as Bugs reaches the end of each line. He hastily returns the carriage with a “ding!” and is even finally assisted by Cecil.

I couldn;t help but notice when Cecil goes inside his house and talks to his wife. That “Sweety-face” is playing Patience with a deck of cards, as Cecil tells her that another race with Bugs is on, she is moving cards around, and you can clearly see that all the cards are being laid in the correct positions.

“Danger a Twerp at Work”. A lovely matte painting is revealed of Bugs’ ramshackle pottering shed. Sparks fly from the chimney into the night sky to the beat of a hammer on an anvil. Bugs is wearing a home-made metal tortoise shell and is wearing a green swimming hat in an effort to make himself more streamlined.

We see the race being advertised on the cover Chicago Sunday Tribunk along with pictures of Cecil and Bugs, who proceed to argue like prize fighters from within their newspaper columns.

We are then introduced to a delightful gambling ring of rabbits with a diminutive leader, I was reminded of Clyde and the Anthill Mob from Hanna Barbera created 25 years later. They clearly have their money on Bugs to win, they sharpen their knives in readiness.

Phew what a set up! Sadly the race is a bit of an anti-climax. Aside from the delights of Cecil’s lolloping running style and the screwball jalopy music that accompanies him, I felt a desire to get it over with and skip to the end.

The gambling ring re-route the lines into the road and Bugs, now in his turtle suit is mistaken for Cecil. In a classic case of mistaken identify they pounce on him. Meanwhile Cecil has changed into a rabbit costume and is carried to victory by the hoods.

According to Wikipedia the ending, where the gambling ring shoots themselves after realizing that they’ve been trying to sabotage Bugs throughout the cartoon has been cut from many TV prints of this cartoon. The edited version ends with an abrupt fake blackout immediately after the gambling ring members say “Eh, NOW he tells us!”.

All in all an enjoyable sequel to the superior original, which I confess to watching while researching this viewing. I’ll share my thought on “Tortoise Beats Hare” with you tomorrow.

Tortoise Beats Hare (1941)

Supervision: Fred Avery
Animation: Charles McKimson
Story: Dave Monahan
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling
Voice Characterisations: Mel Blanc (uncredited)
Starring: Bugs Bunny, Cecil Turtle

This is my favourite cartoon so far! For me, it’s vastly superior to it’s sequel “Tortoise Wins By a Hare“.

From the start, we know that this cartoon isn’t going to be run of the mill. Tex Avery’s anarchic wit, has Bugs Bunny pacing the credits, reading out the names of the crew (incorrectly) while sardonically munching a carrot. Finally he reads the title “Tortoise Beats Hare”, spits out his carrot and flies into a rage. “…these screwy guys don’t know what they’re talking about.” Bugs rips the credits off the screen to reveal the tree trunk home of Cecil Turtle.  “Where’s that toitle? Let me at ‘im! I’ll shown ‘im!”

Bugs hammers on the door. We expect a fight. When we discover that the object of Bugs’ enormous rage is in fact a tiny, gentle and self effacing tortoise named Cecil it’s hard not to laugh. When Bugs tries to pick up Cecil, so that they can talk eye to eye, he find himself talking to a shell, while Cecil stands bashful, in his red spotted boxer shorts. We can only imagine how an audience in 1941 would have reacted. Fantastic!

There’s some great sound effects when Bugs sticks his head into Cecil’s shell and Mel Blanc’s voice is put through some kind of a compression. Blanc isn’t credited on this story, and it wasn’t until 1944, three years later that his contract stipulated a credit reading “Voice characterization by Mel Blanc.” Blanc asked for and received this screen credit from studio boss Leon Schlesinger when Leon objected to giving Blanc a raise in pay. (Wikipedia)

The gauntlet is thrown down and Bugs bets Cecil $10 that he’ll beat the tortoise in a race.

Bugs speeds off at the starting line and Cecil amiably trots off with a lolloping soundtrack only to head for the nearest phone (courtesy of the Bell Turtlephone Co.) and ring all his brothers / friends. This sequence is filled with gentle humour as we are introduced to Chester and in turn the other members of Cecil’s clan, who are depicted as very different characters, one is seen fishing when the phone rings, another is interrupted while having a bath. They all charge off to take their places in the scheme.

During the race we are treated to some wonderful backgrounds from an uncredited artist. Tex Avery‘s cartoons at Warner Bros. can be noted for their lush backgrounds. Avery started as a background artist before become a storyboard artist for Walter Lanz so maybe he always had a soft spot for this discipline?

There is a delicious pause when Bugs passed the tortoise for the second time, he stops, looks round, races up to Cecil and gawps at him for about three seconds before leaping back in horror. Brave and very funny, the race is the jewel in the centre of this cartoon is a protracted gag that has Bugs building a barricade only to find Cecil absently watching him, ahead again, Bugs races off, cuts a rope bridge and scampers up a tall tree to look for the tortoise, only to be kissed on the chops by the Cecil look-a-like who is sitting on the crown.

Finally Bugs crosses the line, Mel Blanc delivers the half-crazed-with-relief laughter of Bugs’ victory brilliantly. We know what’s going to happen next but it doesn’t make it any less funny when we finally see Cecil sitting calmly under the shade of a tree. Bugs hurls “abuse” at Cecil calling him a “Blankety Blank Blank Toitle” and pays up the $10.

When the penny drops and Bugs asks himself “I wonder if I’ve been tricked?” he turns to hear the entire Cecil Turtle clan, each of them clutching a $1 bill, say in unison “Er it’s a possibility” and simultaneously plant a huge kiss on Bugs’ astonished face.

The real star of the show is Bugs Bunny, Mel Blanc’s voice work is brilliant on a great script, coupled with some inspired timing and animated reactions from Bugs. Cecil Turtle is an absolute joy, given that Cecil only made three appearances on screen, it seems logical that tomorrow, we visit his final outing in Friz Freleng‘s cartoon, Rabbit Transit, released in 1947

Gorilla My Dreams (1948)

Story: Warren Foster
Director: Robert McKimson
Animation: Charles McKimson, Manny Gould, John Carey
Layouts: Cornett Wood
Backgrounds: Richard H. Thomas
Voice Characterisations: Mel Blanc
Musical Direction: Carl Stalling

This short made in 1948 owes much to the Tarzan movies so popular at this period. Incidentally Tarzan himself even makes a brief appearance at a jungle vine intersection. It features three main characters all voiced by Blanc. Gruesome Gorilla, his broody wife (Mrs. Gruesome Gorilla) and the shipwrecked Bugs Bunny, object of her affection.

We first encounter Bugs singing from the interior of a floating barrel, bobbing on the ocean. I was reminded of the four Marx Brothers stowing away on an ocean liner inside herring barrels singing “Sweet Adeline” in “Monkey Business” (1931).

On the island of ‘Bingzi-Bangzi – Land of the Ferocious Apes’ we meet a community of Gorillas reading books with corny titles like “Apes of Wrath” and “Our Vines have Tender Apes” and Gruesome Gorilla and his broody wife.

Mrs. Gruesome Gorilla wants a child, “Why hasn’t the stork ever visited us Gruesome?” Gruesome Gorilla is having none of it!

A forlorn Mrs Gruesome Gorilla finds Bugs as he floats by in the barrel and adopts him. Bugs goes along with the adoption because “That’s my soft spot – dames crying.” he end up wearing a baby suit throughout, I suppose the ribbons and the bonnet helped with the vine swinging animations but for me the Bugs character was slightly lost as a result.

Gruesome Gorilla takes “junior out for a little walk” and is clearly out to do Bugs a mischief. A protracted chase and fight sequence ensues. It seems that the entire premise of the cartoon was an excuse to animate characters swinging on vines. Sadly that’s about all we get by the end.

Richard H. Thomas’ backgrounds are fantastic, lush and detailed with lots of depth and distance. The animators seem to work to this strength in his artwork, because there are a number of really effective vine swing sequences where the characters either disappear off into the distance or come right into the foreground, giving the world of “Bingzi-Bangzi” a tangible realism.

I’m fond of the sequence where Bugs the baby is thrown into the air “Ehh, this kid don’t know his own strength” as Bugs flails about, the sky background moves downwards giving the impression that Bugs is moving upwards, it would have been easy enough the send the background in the opposite direction to simulate the fall and allow Bugs to continue flailing, but the baby’s bonnet rises with the wind giving the sequence an extra charm and realism.

There is a rather poorly timed dance sequence about five minutes in, where Bugs kicks a coconut tree at the end of each line of the song, culminating in a predictable coconut concussion. This momentary lapse of quality is saved by a terrific chase sequence through the jungle with distance to foreground vine swinging, and a lovely shot in silhouette where multiple silhouettes of Bugs and Gruesome are seen teaming over a tree landscape silhouette, to represent their frenzied chase.

Unfortunately this successful scene is thrown away by a poor ending. Bugs is victorious as he blows on the exhausted Gruesome who falls over defeated.

Like Gruesome Gorilla the cartoon runs out of steam. I was left feeling unsatisfied and caring very little about any of the characters. Thanks to Richard H. Thomas and his lovely backgrounds the team had created such a believable little world populated by great characters but the weak plot made it all seem like a waste of time.

Batty Baseball (1944)

Director: Tex Avery
Producer: Fred Quimby (Uncredited)
Animation: Ray Abrams, Preston Blair, Ed Love
Music: Scott Bradley

Following yesterday’s baseball cartoon, we travel back in time 2 years to 1944. According to Wikipedia this Tex Avery MGM short served as a bit of a blueprint for “Baseball Bugs” in 1946; while there are some clear similarities this cartoon suffers from the lack of a central protagonist and is ultimately less engaging.
It’s essentially a series of surreal and risque visual and verbal gags, vintage Tex Avery.

The toon stands out for a couple of interesting features. Apparently this is the only time an MGM feature ever started without the lion roar. We see a brief title with the name of the feature and Tex Avery’s name then go straight into a baseball game. One of the baseball players stops in mid air during a home-run to interrupt the narrator “Hey wait a second, didn’t you forget something? Who made this picture? How about the MGM titles, the lion roar and all that kind of stuff?”
The narrator apologises and we see the lion and the full credits. Followed by a declaimer, a shot of the baseball ground bearing the gag-name of “W.C. Field” and a subtitle that claims: “The Guy who thought of this corny gag – isn’t with us anymore.”

As always, there is a rich fluidity to Tex Avery’s animation.

We appear to be in a world inhabited entirely by dogs. The players and the crowd, all sport canine noses and ears.

There is a cracking gag early on
Announcer: Here comes a long one. It’s going… going… going…
[ball hits a billboard of a red-haired woman’s face, with the advertising catch line of “Use Toothodent – with Delirium. The Smile of Glamour” knocking out one of her teeth]
Announcer: …gone!
A much funnier joke than the later “Baseball Bugs” tobacco ad gag.

One of the few named players, McGrip, reveals that he has a rifle sight built into his shoe, before launching a ball directly between the eyes of his opponent. I love that not only has the animator keenly observed the lifted foot of the pitcher but they have given it a further twist of emphasis by adding the rifle sight for comic effect.

McGrip show us a few of his famous pitches. Such as McGrip’s famous “spit ball”, which really spits! The fast ball which proves so effective it reduces his bruiser of an opponent to a screaming baby and his “beautiful curve” which actually draws a sexy silhouette in the air, at which the male crowd wolf-whistles rapturously.

There is a heckler in the crowd baying for the umpire’s blood, an idea neatly appropriated for the Bugs Bunny character in “Baseball Bugs”, although this particular heckler actually gets his wish as a gunshot rings out and sends him from bright red to an rueful shade of guilty blue.

There is a lovely bit of animation where one of the pitchers throws an iron ball, we see him convincingly struggle with the heavy weight before hurling it down the field. The aftershock of the hitters contact is contagious and spreads back to the gloating McGrip to great effect.

A couple of dolly girls warm up the new hitter by body heat! Very risque!

The end of the film is unusually downbeat when a catcher who continually gets in the way of the hitter, finally gets clobbered. He see him forlornly ascending into heaven with a placard that reads “Sad ending isn’t it?”

All in all this cartoon, has some interesting moments, but fails to deliver on storyline. Admittedly it’s a quality series of animated baseball gags, but without a protagonist it lacks the momentum and the narrative drive to make it as entertaining as the Warner Bros. 1946 version, “Baseball Bugs”.

Duck Amuck (1953)

Director: Charles M Jones
Story: Michael Maltese
Animation: Ben Washam, Lloyd Vaughan, Ken Harris
Layouts: Maurice Noble
Backgrounds: Philip De Guard
Voice Characterisation: Mel Blanc
Musical Director: Carl W Stalling
Cast: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd
Date of release: February 28, 1953
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This superb animation opens to medieval titles and Daffy Duck resplendent in Cavalier costume leaping onto the screen wielding a sword. Almost immediately he parries forwards into an empty space as the background hasn’t been drawn. What ensues, pushes the boundaries of what can be done with a short cartoon to the limit. Chuck Jones and his team create one of the all time greatest animated cartoons.

Essentially the entire short is a dialogue between Daffy and the unseen animator. Who rubs, out, draws and paints right onto the screen, infuriating, taunting and generally torturing the hapless Daffy.

The short is packed with scene changes and Daffy is brought to breaking point before our eyes as he is transformed into a variety of caricatures one by one before our eyes. A farmer, winter skier, Hawaiian Dancer, Cowboy, a marooned Sailor where Daffy utters the immortal phrase “Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin!” (Chuck Jones later credited this line to animator Ben Washam) and a fighter pilot. Daffy is painted in bright colours, rubbed out and transformed into a frog footed, flower headed “Screw Ball” creature.
He wrestles with the black border of the cartoon and the premature closing fanfare and the contracting iris normally reserved for “The End” of a movie. In one scene he even fights with himself from a previous frame of the movie.

Finally as a “buzz boy” in an aeroplane he is forced to crash into a hastily drawn mountain and have his parachute replaced with the ubiquitous anvil. He finds himself beating himself over the head with a hammer in a surreal landscape where the only road is seen zig-zagging impossibly in the distance. The animator draws a huge artillery shell under his failing hammer’s trajectory causing Daffy to be reduced to a sooted shadow of his former self. A furious Daffy calls for an explanation, “enough is enough” he screams as the animator draws a door and closes it in Daffy’s face.

Finally the camera pulls back to reveal that the animator is none other than Bugs Bunny. “Ain’t I a stinker” he giggles.

Chuck Jones claimed that the ending was just a gag and the point of the cartoon was to explorer how far you could stretch the character and still recognise it as Daffy Duck. It’s a hilarious masterpiece, full of exquisite animation and more flourishes of animator talent than an entire season of most animated cartoon’s made today.

In 1994, this cartoon was voted #2 of The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.

In 1999 it become only the second short animated film to be deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Tweetie Pie -1947

Director: I. Freleng
Story: Michael Maltese, Tedd Pierce
Animation: Manuel Perez, Ken Champin, Virgil Ross, Gerry Chiniquy, Don Towsley
Layouts: Hawley Pratt
Backgrounds: Hawley Pratt
Voice Characterisation: Mel Blanc and Bea Benaderet
Musical Director: Carl Stalling
Cast: Thomas (Sylvester in Character), Tweety Pie

Wow! What a fantastic cartoon. The characters of Sylvester (called Thomas here but henceforth called Sylvester for this post) and Tweety Pie are delightful. It’s no wonder that this one Warner Bros. their first Academy Award. This cartoon was re-released in the 1950s as a “Blue Ribbon” release, with all titles and credits replaced. Thanks to Wikipedia for the credits listed above.

The story opens on an areal view of a pretty suburban home in a deep blanket of snow, there is a a snowman in the garden, and as we zoom in closer we see the tiny figure of Tweety Pie warming himself on a discarded cigar butt. Suddenly the snowman has eyes, Sylvester emerged from beneath the snowman’s top hat, taking it with him, and sidles over to a box of tennis racket that he uses as snowshoes. He stalks up to Tweety who, delivers his immortal catch-phrase “I tought I tor a putty cat.” Note the earlier Bugs cartoon “Hare Force” also starts with a snow scene, but is much much colder. This clearly adds emphasis to the central function of the snow, to be very cold. The snow in “Tweetie Pie” is altogether much warmer stuff, the extra emphasis is not required here because we never go outside again.

Sylvester’s unseen female owner rescues Tweety from the cat. There is a lovely moment where Sylvester hides the bird behind his back in is asked by the woman to show each of his paws in turn. When the second hand is revealed as empty is transpires that Sylvester has used his tail to secure his trophy. The owner retrieves and pets Tweety, and reprimands Sylvester. Tweety is a piece of work. Purely from an animation point of view, I actually think Tweety is the funniest Warner Bros. cartoon characters ever created. His range of expressions is both cute and crafty. A combination of sickeningly sweet and brutal calculation. As Tweety’s new owner pets the bird, his expression of smug appreciation is hilarious!

When asked to kiss the bird, Sylvester can’t resist closing his mouth around the bird with a snap and is beaten.

Tweety is now safely tucked away inside his new cage. Swinging happily in his new home. Sylvester, still unpopular with his mistress reminding him angrily “No tricks!” However as soon as her back is turned, Sylvester piles the furniture and just as he gets up to Tweety’s cage, he discovers it’s empty. He hears sawing from below and looks down to see Tweety sawing through the table leg far below. Everything comes crashing down and the lady owners high heels are seen stomping down stairs. Sylvester, hastily rearranges the room and feigns sleep on the rug. He’s rumbled by his owner and beaten with a broom!

The next scene Sylvester tries it again with metal legged furniture only to find Tweety with an oxy-asthetaline blow torch and visor cutting through the metal. The cat ends up getting beaten again.

Syvester tries using a desk fan to carry him up to the empty cage. He looks down and sees Tweety by the plug-socket. There is a beautiful silent exchange between the two where Sylvester appeals to the merciless Tweety for clemency. Crash!

Essentially the Cat wants to eat the bird, a simple premise, full of great visual gags. The Oscar winning scene for me is the construction and deployment of a fantastic W Heath Robinson contraption involving a toaster, an ironing board, a cuckoo clock and a bowling ball! Crash!

The final straw for Sylvester is a Buster Keaton style gag that shows Sylvester sawing a ring in the ceiling around the hook from which the bird cage is swinging. Unfortunately it appears that the entire ceiling is support by a joist directly above the bird cage. Crash!

So it is that the luckless Sylvester breaks up his mistresses broom and burns it only to be beaten on last time with a metal coal pan.

Brilliant! Let’s visit the first ever Tweety Pie cartoon tomorrow. “A Tale of Two Kitties” from 1942

Hare Force (1944)

Director: I. Freleng
Story: Ted Pierce
Animation: Manuel Perez
Voice Characterisation: Mel Blanc
Musical Director: Carl W. Stalling
Cast: Bugs, Sylvester the hound dog, Old Lady.
Date of release: February 22, 1944
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This 1944 short was apparently the first Friz Freleng-directed Bugs Bunny cartoon to use the modern design.

From the opening shot of a house in winter snow and the sound of clarinets climbing a scale as the wind whips snow across the scene, we can guess that someone is going to end up out in the cold.

Inside a snug living room a spoiled hound dog, Sylvester, is being tucked up by an old lady by the light of a roaring open fire. There is a knock at the door and the old lady (voiced by Bea Benaderet who went on to find fame as the voice of Betty Rubble in the Flintstones!) is horrified to find a “poor little rabbit out in the cold”. She carries Bugs to the fire and Sylvester is promptly displaced.

A green rug beneath the dog, seems a bit of a problem. It vanishes reappears and shifts colour throughout the cartoon as it is sometimes on the character cell and at others drawn onto the background.

There is a sequence early on where the jealous Sylvester imagines all the dastardly ways that he could get rid of the unwelcome visitor. The rudely drawn contents of Sylvester’s thought bubble are our first indication that he rather a simple character. This is reinforced by the hound’s simpleton voice characterisation, by writer Ted Peirce as Sylvester throws Bugs out into the cold for the first time.

So the set up of the entire cartoon is established here after 1 minute 45 seconds.

While Bugs is building a frozen likeness of himself to trick his way back into the house he launches into a timelessly funny monologue.  During this scene a peculiar discrepancy in the Sylvester design can be noted. As the dogs listens to Bug catching “pneumonia” his head becomes huge. Presumably to emphasise the wide eyes as Sylvester becomes wracked with guilt at Bugs’ “demise”.

According to Wikipedia the version of this cartoon that aired on TBS cut the part where as Sylvester the Dog is sobbing over melting the snowman likeness of Bugs, believing he killed him. Bugs says to Sylvester, “You’re really in a jam now, Doc. It’s the hot seat for you, sure.”

The rest of the cartoon is filled with various pranks and gags centering around Sylvester and Bugs’ frantic struggle for domestic supremacy. A couple of highlights for me were the scene when Bugs places the frozen stiff Sylvester in front of the fire and hastily pretends to draw him. The old lady is fooled into thinking Sylvester is posing for the artistic rabbit (who is drawing his thumb) and tiptoes back up stairs leaving the now thawed out Sylvester to continue his battle with Bugs.

There a sublimely well placed punch to Sylvester’s rear that illustrates brilliantly the animation principle of “Squash and Stretch”.

The short ends superbly as the action ratchets up with a simple repetition of Bugs and Sylvester taking it in turns to be ejected through the open doorway, finally culminating in the ejection of the old lady herself. We are treated to a final short of the reconciled Sylvester and Bugs relaxing, undisturbed in front of the open fire. Bugs gets the last laugh by breaking down the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly with “Ain’t I a stinker!”

Aside from the rather random title (the cartoon has nothing to do with the Air Force) it is filled with some really nice Bugs Bunny characterisation. While Sylvester the dog is a likable boob it is hard to believe that he would ever manage to get one over on Bugs.

Red Hot Riding Hood (1943)

Director: Tex Avery
Producer: Fred Quimby
Animation: Preston Blair
Music: Scott Bradley
Voice Characterisation: Frank Graham and Bea Benaderet
Cast: Little Red Riding Hood / Red Hot Riding Hood, Grandma and the Wolf
Date of release: May 08, 1943
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In 1994 Red Hot Rising Hood was voted #7 of The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field and is considered by many to be not only Tex Avery‘s finest cartoon but one of the best ever made. It has influenced cartoons and movies ever since; pastiches and tributes to it crop up everywhere from Who Framed Roger Rabbit to The Mask.

As soon as it starts we are in familiar Tex Avery territory, we have a false start. The stuffy narrator proceeds to tell the traditional Little Red Riding Hood fable, but the three central characters, Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf and Grandma rebel; threatening to quit. “…every cartoon studio in Hollywood has done it this way” moans Red in a hard boiled Brooklyn accent.

Immediately the cartoon re-boots to the bright lights of glamorous Manhattan. The narrator now adopts a more clipped modern style. The Wolf, now dressed in top hat and tails is whistling at female pedestrians from an open-top stretch limousine as he drives across town. We meet the next of our next re-booted character; Grandma! She is seen as a cocktail swigging socialite operating out of a penthouse apartment in a salubrious downtown district.

What follows is probably one of the most iconic scenes in cartoon history. The Wolf arrives at “Sunset Strip” a nightclub boasting “30 gorgeous girls”, one of whom is Red Hot Riding Hood a cabaret singer. Red appears to be an amalgamation of Betty Grable, Lena Horne and Katherine Hepburn. The Wolf settles at a table to watch her act. She arrives on stage in a sexy hood and picnic basket; both are immediately tossed aside to reveal the scantily clad siren of the stage beneath. She sings the wonderfully ribald “Daddy” written by Bobby Troup in 1941. The Wolf, whistles, bangs the table, hits himself repeatedly over the head with and enormous mallet and generally shows his lurid appreciation for Red’s performance; in every way imaginable. Even today this scene seems racy.

Red, refuses the Wolf’s advances and after hailing a Yellow cab, is pursued across town by the Wolf. There is a moment when the Wolf instructs another cab to “Follow that car” only to be left behind on the sidewalk by the overzealous cabbie. Very reminiscent of the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, made ten years earlier. The Wolf arrives at what he believes to be Red’s apartment block. We see the elevator light rushing up the building, both vertically and horizontally, even skipping from one apartment block to another. Finally the Wolf arrives at the top floor but instead of the curvaceous Red, he is confronted by a sex crazed Grandma, hell bent on having her way with the hapless Wolf. “At last a Wolf, Yahoo!” she whistles.

Grandma chases the Wolf around the apartment and in one fabulous sequence we see a shrinking Wolf, with his back to the wall, wringing his hands as Grandma launches herself and her freshly painted lips across the room, like a rocket. We get a glimpse of Tex Avery’s genius and his attention to details during this sequence and I advise anyone to skip through Grandma’s “leap-of-affection” frame by frame. At first, Grandma is a blur of grey and red, the Wolf ducks and Grandma plants a kiss on the wall behind him. Grandma concertinas to a flat high heeled pancake then recoils, unwrapping and rebounding, whilst her lips are still stuck to the wall. Grandma exits the frame but her lips remain stuck to the wall via an elastic tendril of wrinkled skin, which finally pops free and whips off screen to follow Grandma in her trajectory across the room. A huge lipstick mark is left on the wall, behind a much-relieved Wolf.

Brilliant!

The most famous element is the musical scene where Red performs and “Wolfie”, as she calls him, reacts in highly lustful wild takes. Those reactions were considered so energetic that the censors at the time demanded cuts in this scene and others.
The film’s original conclusion had Grandma marrying the wolf at a shotgun wedding (with a caricature of Tex Avery as the Justice of the Peace who marries them), and having the unhappy couple and their half-human half-wolf children attend Red’s show[citation needed]. This ending, deleted for reasons of implied bestiality and how it made light of marriage (something that was considered taboo back in the days of the Hays Office Code), was replaced with one (that, ironically, has also been edited, but only on television) where The Wolf is back at the nightclub and tells the audience that he’s through with chasing women and if he ever even looks at a woman again, he’s going to kill himself. When Red soon appears onstage to perform again, the Wolf takes out two pistols and blasts himself in the head. The Wolf then drops dead, but his ghost appears and begins to howl and whistle at Red same as before.
Prints with the original ending (where the Wolf is forced to marry the lusty Grandma) and the Wolf’s racier reactions to Red are rumored to have been shown to military audiences overseas during World War II, though it is not known if this print still exists. Source: Wikipedia

The influence of this cartoon is such that it’s iconography permeates pretty pervasively throughout modern culture. Red Hot Riding Hood is a short, colourful gem, full of animated jokes and visual flair. Tex Avery at his best! I strongly recommend the readers, indulge themselves in an immediate viewing. It would be seven minutes well spent.

Blitz Wolf (1942)

Director: Tex Avery
Story: Rich Hogan
Animation: Ray AbramsIrvin SpencePreston BlairEd Love
Music: Scott Bradley
Voice Characterisation: Pinto Colvig as ‘Practical Pig’ and Bill Thompson as Adolph Wolf.
Cast: The Three Little Pig and Adolph Wolf
Date of release: August 22, 1942

This Academy Award nominated animation was Tex Avery‘s first cartoon for MGM after his split from Warner Bros. Blitz Wolf is considered to be on of the earliest World War II propaganda cartoons. The cartton is essentially a re-telling of the Three Little Pigs story, in which the pigs are cast as soldiers fighting the invading Adolph Wolf (apparently featuring the uncredited vocal talents of Droopy himself Bill Thompson).

It could be argued that the pigs actually represent the attitudes of the American public before Japan bombed Pearl Harbour in 1941. The ‘Practical Pig’ (voiced by Goofy himself Pinto Colvig) is ridiculed by his lack-a-daisical brothers for over-zealous preparations for the coming conflict, which they believe will never arrive.

The ‘Practical Pig’ is laughed at and a peace treaty is waved in front of his face.

“Why this isn’t worth the paper it’s written on…”

These days this cartoon, is rarely broadcast; certainly not in its original form. Many of the jokes are too strong for modern audiences, especially the cartoon’s many racial slurs against Germans and the Japanese.

The cartoon itself is stuffed full of typical Tex Avery gags. Virtually everything in the short is anthropomorphic: bombs, tanks, bullets, war machines and even the central cast. There are also a lot of signposts. It seems as if typographic conventions used in traditional newspaper cartoons are very much alive in this new medium.

Writers during this period would think nothing of having a character produce a sign from behind their back or from their inside breast pocket to impart some witty remark using plain old fashioned type. When the invading Wolf blows down the house of straw with the magnificent “Der Mechanized Huffer und Puffer” a signpost is revealed that reads “Gone With The Wind” quickly followed by another pointing out “Corny gag isn’t it?” Personally I find these textual jokes quite charming, but I wonder how often we see text used in this way in animations today?

One of the censored scenes is the payoff of delicious gag which follows the Three Little Pigs standing on each others shoulders in order to aim and fire an enormous cannon. The camera pans up the length of the barrel for a whopping thirty seconds; through clouds and past the ubiquitous signpost reading “Darn long thing – Isn’t it?” before firing its shell at the Pagoda strewn, Red-sun-bathed, Japan.

When broadcast on Cartoon Network recently this scene was re-edited so that the target was replaced by the Wolf. I roll my eyes with despair. The Second World War happened! Although I have heard that producer Fred Quimby cautioned Tex Avery to be careful during production, “After all, we don’t know who’s going to win the war.”

Following the detonation of the Pigs’ secret weapon “Defence Bonds” we follow the vanquished Adolph Wolf down an impossibly deep crater to hell. “Where am I? Have I been blown to…” he asks, whereupon he is interrupted by a troop of trident-wielding demons who reply “Errr, it’s a possibility!” The catchphrase of a popular comedian on the day, Jerry Colonna.

A great example of Tex Avery at work. The lush (oddly World War I) backgrounds are wonderful, the ‘karkee’ colour grading gives the cartoon a fittingly unhealthy hue and the inventive animation mark it as a classic, albeit a controversial one.