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Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: November 2, 1940
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

The Sour Puss © Warner Bros.When Porky reads in the paper that fishing season will open the day after, he goes out fishing with his cat next day.

At the pond they encounter a flying fish (actually a marine species), which soon turns out to be as loony as Daffy Duck. The fish has the last laugh, imitating comedian Lew Lehr, saying “pussycats is the craziest people”.

‘The Sour Puss’ is a pretty run of the mill cartoon, and over before you know it. Porky has a modest role in a cartoon that’s actually devoted to his cat. Most interesting is the convincing animation of Porky in his rocking chair: one can see his body shift to move the chair. Also noteworthy are a bizarre shot in which Porky imitates a fish, a mussel with Popeye-like arms, and the cat’s over-joyous reaction to Porky’s promise of a fish dinner: he even kisses a mouse, which prompts a canary on committing suicide, saying ‘Now I’ve seen everything’. This last gag was repeated by a Pete Lorre-like fish in ‘Horton Hatches the Egg‘ (1942), while the Lew Lehr line reappeared in ‘Scaredy Cat‘ (1948).

Watch ‘The Sour Puss’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 79
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Prehistoric Porky
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Hired Hand

‘The Sour Puss’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’.

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Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: April 27, 1940
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating:  ★★½
Review:

Porky's Poor Fish © Warner Bros.Bob Clampett is one of the greatest ‘authors’ of the classic cartoon era, but not every cartoon he made was a winner. For example, ‘Porky’s Poor Fish’ is less than impressive.

‘Porky’s Poor Fish’ revisits a story idea that goes all the way back to the Silly Symphony ‘The Bird Store‘ (1932): a cat enters a pet store and when he catches one specimen, the other animals come to the rescue in a war-like reaction.

In Clampett’s film the bird store has changed in to a fish store, and the war scene involves a squadron of flying fish, a very silly hammerhead shark, and electric eels. There’s nothing special to the story, and the film’s charm and laughs lie exclusively in the abundance of puns, e.g. on holey mackerel and sole.

Watch ‘Porky’s Poor Fish’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 72
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Slap Happy Pappy
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: You Ought to Be in Pictures

‘Porky’s Poor Fish’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’.

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: July 27, 1940
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

A Wild Hare © Warner Bros.‘A Wild Hare’ marks the birth of one of the biggest cartoon stars of all time, Bugs Bunny.

The short had been preceded by four other Warner Bros. cartoons about hunting and rabbits, ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938), ‘Prest-O Chang-O‘ (1939). ‘Hare-Um Scare-Um‘ (1939) and ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera‘ (1940), which all contributed to the formation of the character.

Yet, it’s the character, design and voice the rabbit got in ‘A Wild Hare’ that made the rodent into the Bugs Bunny we all know now, even though he still looks a little different. Nevertheless, the difference between Tex Avery’s Bugs and his predecessors is less marked than sometimes advertised: Jones’s rabbit in ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera’ already was a calm character, and both the rabbits in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ and in ‘Elmer’s Candid Camera’ had performed fake death scenes. Moreover, even in the first half of ‘A Wild Hare’ the rabbit still seems a bit loony, like his predecessors.

Still, the rabbit has become a lot cooler: in his first appearance (which surprisingly only occurs after two and a half minutes!) he calmly addresses his hunter with the first occurrence of that famous line ‘What’s up, doc?‘. And in the second half he kisses Elmer Fudd a few times (another Bugs Bunny trademark) and deliberately invites Elmer to shoot him, only to act out a superb death scene, animated to perfection by Robert McKimson.

Likewise, Elmer Fudd gets his definite design in this cartoon, and it’s here he utters his trademark opening words ‘Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits‘ for the first time. He still has the red nose he had inherited from his predecessor Egghead, but that would soon go, too.

Priceless is the ‘guess who’ scene, in which Elmer guesses several beautiful Hollywood actresses as likely candidates (“Hedy Lamarr? Carole Lombard? Rosemary Lane? Olivia de Havilland?“), before deciding upon ‘that screwy rabbit’. The complete cartoon forms the template for many Bugs Bunny cartoons to come, up to such a late short like ‘What’s Opera, Doc?‘ (1957).

The cartoon itself at least was a success, and nominated for an Academy Award (which it lost to MGM’s ‘The Milky Way‘), and it prompted other cartoon directors to use the character, too. Five months later, Chuck Jones was the first, with ‘Elmer’s Pet Rabbit’. Thus this rabbit had to get a name. And in an era in which virtually all cartoon stars had alliterated names, he was christened Bugs Bunny. In fact, this name that already appeared on a model sheet for ‘Hare-Um Scare-um’ as ‘Bugs’ Bunny’, after director Bugs Hardaway, who had directed that particular cartoon. ‘Elmer’s Pet Rabbit’ has a separate title card to introduce this rabbit and his red-hot name.

With ‘A Wild Hare’ the Leon Schlesinger studio turned a new page. Together with MGM’s ‘Puss Gets The Boot’, Tom & Jerry’s debut film, which had been released five months earlier, the short somehow heralds the wilder and more mature days of the 1940s. And although Elmer and Bugs don’t chase each other in ‘A Wild Hare’, the cartoon helped to shape the format of the chase cartoon, with the comedy played out well with just the two characters, in a clear antagonistic relationship. Now the fun could really begin…

Watch ‘A Wild Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 1
To the last proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Elmer’s Candid Camera
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Elmer’s Pet Rabbit

‘A Wild Hare’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and on the DVD ‘Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Award-Nominated Animation: Cinema Favorites’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: May 11, 1940
Stars: Sniffles
Rating:
Review:

Takes a Trip © Warner Bros.In ‘Sniffles Takes a Trip’ Sniffles goes on a holiday to the country meadows for some peace and quietness.

The short opens with Sniffles walking the rails and singing a tune in his all too childish voice. When he arrives at the meadows, he tries to get some rest in his hammock, but is hindered by a woodpecker. In his next attempt, he hangs his hammock between the legs of a crane, who quickly walks into a pond. Sniffles’s last trial is at night, when he gets so scared, he rushes back to the city.

‘Sniffles Takes a Trip’ is the Sniffles’s fourth film, and in this cartoon the little mouse is even cuter than before. The cartoon is genuinely Disney-like in character: it’s beautifully animated, its backgrounds are lush and artful, and the humor is mild and devoid of conflict.

Unfortunately, the short is also utterly boring, being even much less entertaining than Sniffles’s earlier films. The woodpecker scene mimics a similar one in the Donald Duck cartoon ‘Self Control‘ (1938), another example of the huge Disney influence on Chuck Jones’s earliest efforts as a director.

Watch ‘Sniffles Takes a Trip’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sniffles Takes a Trip’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’ and the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: December 2, 1939
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Sniffles and the Bookworm © Warner Bros.‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ opens with Sniffles taking refuge in a bookshop to escape the winter cold.

Inside Sniffles encounters the bookworm, who’s scared of the little mouse, and asks two book characters, the pied piper and a viking, for help. This first act is acted out completely silently, and is very, very Silly Symphony-like. Its uninteresting comedy is greatly helped by Carl Stalling’s score, who makes excellent use of music from Franz Schubert’s Moment musical no. 3.

When Sniffles turns out to be small, the pied piper suddenly starts playing the clarinet, with Sniffles joining in. Thus starts the second part, in which Sniffles, the bookworm and several nursery rhyme characters play and sing some peppy swing tune. Unfortunately, a particularly angular version of Frankenstein’s monster awakes, too, and soon spoils the fun. This second act is hardly more interesting than the first, but the swing music is nice.

With ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’, the third cartoon starring Sniffles, Chuck Jones gives his own twist on his precursor Frank Tashlin’s books-come-to-life series (e.g. ‘Have You Got any Castles?‘ and ‘You’re an Education‘ from 1938). Despite the paper-thin story about Sniffles and the bookworm itself it’s all there: book characters coming to life at night, characters performing some jazz music, and a threat which ends the fun – this all done with the highest production values possible at Leon Schlesinger’s studio at the time.

It’s hard to call the bookworm a classic character (after all, Sniffles himself isn’t really interesting). Yet, the bookworm would return in two other Sniffles cartoons: ‘The Egg Collector’ (1940) and ‘Toy Trouble’ (1941).

Watch ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: September 2, 1939
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Little Brother Rat © Warner Bros.‘Little Brother Rat’ is the second cartoon featuring that cute little mouse Sniffles.

In this short Sniffles has to perform tasks at a party. The cartoon opens with Sniffles plucking a whisker from a cat. His second task is stealing an owl’s egg. The egg soon hatches into a little, far from life-like baby owl. The owl appears to be a precursor of the Minah-Bird, Jones’s famous dimension-defying bird, or even Droopy in ‘Northwest Hounded Police‘, as it is as capable of being in unexpected places.

‘Little Brother Rat’ is far from funny, but the night scenes are very beautiful, and Carl Stalling’s score is excellent.

Watch ‘Little Brother Rat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Little Brother Rat’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: May 20, 1939
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Naughty But Mice © Warner Bros.‘Naughty But Mice’ introduces Chuck Jones’s very first regular cartoon star, the infamous mouse Sniffles.

Sniffles’ first appearance immediately explains his name, for he has a cold, and visits a drug store for medicine. He finds one with a lot of alcohol, and is drunk almost immediately. Then follows a rather curious scene in which Sniffles talks and even sings with a humanized electric razor, in an all too slow scene. After this strange scene the second act starts, in which Sniffles is threatened by a cat, and rescued by the razor.

Like many of Jones’s earliest cartoons, ‘Naughty But Mice’ is a clear attempt to emulate Walt Disney. Sniffles even vaguely resembles the country mouse from ‘The Country Cousin‘ (1936), which also gets drunk. The result is a slow and cute cartoon. The short is saved, however, by gorgeous art deco-inspired background paintings and by Carl Stalling’s beautiful score.

Sniffles is far from an interesting character, and out of league with Daffy or even Porky. Nevertheless, the little mouse would star ten more cartoons, lasting even until 1946.

Watch ‘Naughty But Mice’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Naughty But Mice’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: July 15, 1939
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Dangerous Dan McFoo © Warner Bros.This Tex Avery cartoon is a rather zany retelling of the poem ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’ by Robert Service.

Dangerous Dan McFoo appears to be a small, timid dog with the meek Elmer Fudd voice of Arthur Q. Bryan. His love interest, Sue, talks like Katharine Hepburn, but the villain, an early version of Avery’s wolf, images her as Bette Davis.

In this cartoon Tex Avery’s zany style is in full operation: in the opening shot of the Malibu Saloon, which stands in cold Alaska, we watch it advertise with ‘A 90 degrees cooler inside’. There are no less than two embryonic door gags, which would be expanded upon in ‘Señor Droopy‘ and ‘Little Rural Riding Hood’ (both 1949), and a first draft of the horse-in-the-glove gag, reused with gusto in ‘Lonesome Lenny’ (1946). There’s also an old reuse of the gag featuring a chorus stopping in mid-verse to make some weird faces, earlier used in ‘Penguin Parade’ (1938). And then there’s someone in the audience interrupting and dropping the two fighters two guns. The best gag, however, must be the streetcar coming out of nowhere to signal the rounds of the fights between the hero and the villain.

‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ is delightful nonsense, but it still suffers from mediocre designs and sloppy timing. Its end too, is anything but fitting. Avery knew he could do better and he would return to the same material six years later with ‘The Shooting of Dan McGoo‘ (1945), starring Droopy as the hero.

Watch ‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Dangerous Dan McFoo’ is available on the French DVD box set ‘Tex Avery’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: July 1, 1939
Stars: Porky Pig, Uncle Sam
Rating: ★★
Review:

Old Glory © Warner Bros.‘Old Glory’ starts with Old Glory itself, i.e. the American Flag. Below it we watch Porky Pig trying to memorize the pledge of alliance to no avail.

In frustration, Porky throws away his history book, and falls asleep. In his dream Uncle Sam materializes from Porky’s history book and he tells Porky what the pledge of alliance is all about, with images of the declaration of independence, Paul revere’s midnight ride, the war of independence, the signing of the constitution, the trek to the West, and finally the statue of Abraham Lincoln, while we listen to an excerpt of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. After this Porky awakes and salutes the flag with enthusiasm.

‘Old Glory’ was Chuck Jones’s first cartoon starring Porky Pig. It’s also the character’s first full color cartoon (after his debut in the two-color cartoon ‘I Haven’t Got A Hat’ Porky had remained a black and white character). Chuck Jones makes him genuinely juvenile, and perfect fodder for patronizing material, just like Frank Tashlin’s ‘Wholly Smoke‘ (1938) had been, which also stars a child version of Porky.

All of Chuck Jones’s early cartoons have a high quality look, matching the production values of Walt Disney and Harman-Ising’s cartoons for MGM. None more so than ‘Old Glory, a commission by Warner Bros. in a series of patriotic shorts about American history (all the others were live action shorts). Unlike any other Leon Schlesinger film, ‘Old Glory’ relies heavily on rotoscope, and features a multitude of realistic people. Moreover, there’s some careful and very convincing shading on the characters, and Uncle Sam, in particular, is animated with great care, even if his eyes become spooky at times.

‘Old Glory’ thus is a well made cartoon, with high production values. But let’s face it, the short also is a sickeningly patriotic and nationalistic cartoon, which has very little to offer to all those outside the U.S. In a way it looks forward to some of the propaganda from World War II, for example the finale of ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face‘ (1943). Unlike the latter cartoon, however, ‘Old Glory’ is completely devoid of humor. Luckily, it remained highly atypical for the Warner Bros. studio’s output.

Watch ‘Old Glory’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 59
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Scalp Trouble
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Picnic

‘Old Glory’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Ben Hardaway & Cal Dalton
Release Date: August 12, 1939
Stars: proto-Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Hare-Um Scare-Um © Warner BrosIn 1939 Ben Hardaway revisited the rabbit he had introduced in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938).

The rabbit was completely redesigned, and received the colors that would make Bugs Bunny. However, the rabbit retained his loony character and Woody Woodpecker laugh, and is a far cry from the cool guy Bugs Bunny would become. But as he was Ben “Bugs” Hardaway’s bunny, it was this character that gave Tex Avery’s later star his name.

‘Hare-Um Scare-Um’ stars an anonymous red-nosed man who goes hunting when meat prices soar. In the forest he encounters the loony rabbit, who at one point even sings a song about how crazy he is.

There’s remarkably little to enjoy in ‘Hare-um Scare-um’, as neither hunter nor rabbit are sympathetic, and one doesn’t care for either. However, the short introduces cross-dressing, when the rabbit disguises himself as a female dog to attract the hunter’s pooch. This cross-dressing would become a popular feature of the later Bugs Bunny.

Watch ‘Hare-Um Scare-Um’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hare-Um Scare-Um’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’

This is the third of four cartoons featuring a Bugs Bunny forerunner
To the first proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Prest-O Change-O
To the next proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Elmer’s Candid Camera

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: March 25, 1939
Stars: Two Curious Dogs, proto-Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Chuck Jones uses the silly rabbit from Ben Hardaway’s ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938) and makes it a magician’s rabbit in a cartoon featuring his earliest stars, the “Two Curious Dogs”, which had made their debut in January in ‘Dog Gone Modern’.

In ‘Prest-O Change-O” the two dogs flee from a dog catcher into a magician’s house, where the tall dog meets the rabbit, while the small dog struggles with a “hindu rope”.

Jones’s handling of the material is very Disney-like, slow in action and with much attention for situation comedy. Unfortunately, his two dog characters are anything but funny, and the complete film fails to impress. The rabbit, a forerunner of Bugs Bunny, is as unsympathetic as he was in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ and rightfully gets punched in the end. He doesn’t talk, however, but shows the weird laugh he got in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’.

‘Prest-O Change-O’ doesn’t add anything, however, and the rabbit remains unappealing. So, after this film this particular rabbit was transformed into another design, making its debut in ‘Hare-um Scare-um’ of five months later.

Watch ‘Prest-O Change-O’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Prest-O Change-O’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’

This is the second of four cartoons featuring a Bugs Bunny forerunner
To the first proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Porky’s Hare Hunt
To the next proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hare-um Scare-um

Director: Ben Hardaway
Release Date: April 30, 1938
Stars: Porky Pig, proto-Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Porky's Hare Hunt © Warner Bros.‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ was Ben Hardaway’s last solo cartoon before he teamed up with story artist Cal Dalton to co-direct fourteen shorts.

The film is a clear attempt to duplicate Tex Avery’s ‘Porky’s Duck Hunt’ (1937). Now Porky is hunting rabbits, and Daffy’s loony character is now transferred to a rabbit, which even jumps and whoo-hoos like Daffy does. However, the rabbit has got a unique, weird laugh, which at several occasions is clearly Woody Woodpecker-like. Although this rabbit appears three years before the woodpecker himself, this is no coincidence, as both this rabbit and Woody Woodpecker were conceived By Ben Hardaway, and voiced by Mel Blanc.

‘Porky’s Rabbit Hunt’ is an uneven and only moderately funny cartoon that contains a few typical Warner Bros. gags, like a sniffing gun and ‘hare remover’, which makes the rabbit disappear completely (in cartoons rabbits and hares are completely interchangeable).

More importantly, it is the first of three cartoons featuring rabbits that anticipate the coming of Bugs Bunny. This rabbit has little in common with the world famous hare: he’s far from sympathetic, even heckling Porky in the hospital. Moreover, he’s a clear loon, like Daffy, not the cool hero Bugs Bunny would become. However, this rabbit already does perform a fake death scene, something that would become a Bugs Bunny trademark, and he quotes Groucho Marx from ‘A Night at the Opera’ (1935), saying ‘Of course you know that this means war’, which would become a Bugs Bunny catchphrase.

Watch ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 39
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Five and Ten
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Injun Trouble

This is the first of four cartoons featuring a Bugs Bunny forerunner
To the next proto-Bugs Bunny cartoon: Prest-o Change-o

‘Porky’s Hare Hunt’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and on the DVD-set ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: March 29, 1941
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Goofy Groceries © Warner Bros.‘Goofy Groceries’ was the first Merrie Melodie directed by Bob Clampett, and thus his first color film.

In this film Clampett made a follow up to Frank Tashlin’s cartoons, ‘Have You Got any Castles?‘ and ‘You’re and Education‘ (both 1938), in which things come alive at night, featuring Hollywood caricatures. Moreover, he maintains Tashlin’s high production standards and original cinematography. Thus, ‘Goofy Groceries’ is a beautiful and well-made picture, even though it makes little sense.

As the title implies, now things come to life in a grocery store, including caricatures of Ned Sparks, Jack Benny and Leopold Stokowski. The best parts are a Busby Berkeley ballet of some feminine sardines, and Tomato cans dancing a can-can. The musical number is interrupted by a King Kong-like gorilla, which prompts the stock battle scene, until he’s called home by his mother.

‘Goofy Groceries’ is far from a classic, but it shows that the Leon Schlesinger studio was capable to incorporate the innovations by one director, in this case Frank Tashlin, into other directors’ films, making the studio improve with a remarkably speed.

Watch ‘Goofy Groceries’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Goofy Groceries’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: December 16, 1939
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Film Fan © Warner Bros.‘The Film Fan’ is one of those cartoons on cinema itself.

In this short Porky Pig is still a kid, sent to the grocery store by his mother. But when he passes a cinema with free admittance for kids, he rushes inside. What follows are some typical cinema annoyances, and advertisements for films like ‘Gone with the Breeze’. However, when an employee interrupts the program to say that “if there’s a little boy in this theater, that was sent to the store by his mother, he’d better go home right away’, Porky leaves the theater, together with all other kids…

There’s little to enjoy in ‘The Film Fan’, which is remarkably low on gags, most of them trite, and the film can’t stand the comparison with the similar ‘She Was An Acrobat’s Daughter‘ (1937).

Watch ‘The Film Fan’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 66
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky the Giant Killer
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Last Stand

‘The Film Fan’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: May 6, 1939
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Thugs with Dirty Mugs © Warner Bros.The title ‘Thugs with Dirty Mugs’ is a parody of the 1938 Warner Bros. gangster picture ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’, and the short is indeed a gangster picture itself.

Starring ‘Edward G. Robesome’ as Killer Diller, the cartoon tells the story of a notorious bank robber, mostly by newspaper headlines.

However, much more than a story, ‘Thugs with Dirty Mugs’ is a genuine gag cartoon. Its arguably the first Tex Avery film to show his mature style from start to end. It’s simply packed with the director’s unique gag style: cars can contract like harmonicas, a safe can become a caravan or a radio, and a bank can turn into a slot machine. Meanwhile the police can cross a split screen, and cigars and guns can hang in mid-air only to be picked up again. And finally, the crooks are betrayed by a man in the audience, who has seen the picture twice. With this film Tex Avery definitely proved to be a unique voice in the cartoon world, and his influence can hardly be overstated.

The pin gag was reused by Bob Clampett in ‘The Great Piggy Bank Robbery’ (1946).

Watch ‘Thugs with Dirty Mugs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Thugs with Dirty Mugs’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: December 12, 1938
Stars: Daffy Duck
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Daffy Duck in Hollywood © Warner Bros.In ‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood’ Daffy visits ‘Wonder Pictures’ only to sabotage the shooting of a film by a pig director with an irritating accent.

Halfway Daffy edits a film of his own, which is eventually shown to the studio’s boss, and which consists of unrelated spot gags on live action news reels, with the visuals totally out of tune with the soundtrack.

‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood’ is disappointingly unfunny. Avery’s timing is remarkably sloppy and Daffy Duck is, if anything, utterly annoying. The short’s best gags do not involve the duck, and are the opening shot of Wonder Pictures, with its slogan ‘If it’s a good picture, it’s a wonder‘ and the studio boss’s reaction to Daffy’s film. Indeed, after this film Avery never worked with the duck again, and it was left to other directors to transform the annoying duck into a likable character.

Watch ‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Daffy Duck cartoon no. 5
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: The Daffy Doc
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur

‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: November 26, 1938
Stars: Daffy Duck, Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Daffy Doc © Warner Bros.Bob Clampett had animated Daffy Duck in his first appearance in’Porky’s Duck Hunt’ (1937), most notably the duck’s absolutely zany exit scene. Indeed, in Clampett’s view the duck was a real loon, and nowhere such a dangerous one as in ‘The Daffy Doc’.

In his first scene, Daffy is depicted as an absolute nut, comparable with other Clampett lunatics, like the loony goose in ‘Porky’s Party‘. In ‘Porky and Daffy’, Clampett had been the first director to take Daffy out of his natural habitat, and in ‘The Daffy Doc’ Clampett places him in a medical center.

Here Daffy is an assistant to Dr. Quack, but he’s thrown out when he shows some really insane behavior. Because of Dr. Quack’s kick Daffy’s head gets stuck in an iron lung, which leads to a nonsensical gag, in which different body parts inflate in succession. Undaunted, Daffy seeks out to find his own patient, and knocks down Porky Pig in order to ‘treat’ him. When Daffy wants to operate Porky with a saw and without any anesthetics, Porky naturally flees. The chase scene is short, however, and the cartoon ends with the same iron lung gag.

In ‘The Daffy Doc’ Daffy is more strange than really funny, and he suffers from the all too loony design and occasionally primitive animation. For example, there’s no lip synchronization to his dialogue. Worse, the best gag goes to Dr. Quack, whose operation turns out to be the repair of a football, which immediately prompts the operation audience into a game watching one.

Porky would have to stand a loony doctor once again in ‘Patient Porky’ (1940).

Watch ‘The Daffy Doc’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

This is Daffy Duck cartoon no. 4
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: Porky and Daffy
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: Daffy Duck in Hollywood

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 49
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky in Egypt
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky the Gob

‘The Daffy Doc’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Five’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: November 19, 1938
Rating: ★★½
Review:

In ‘A Night Watchman’ a young kitten has to replace his sick father to be the night watchman in a kitchen.

The kitten soon encounters some large tough mice led by a real gangster type, and they bully him, until the kitten’s conscience gets the better of him, and makes him fighting back. Soon he clobbers all the mice one by one, and back into their hole.

‘The Night Watchman’ was the very first cartoon directed by Chuck Jones, who took over Frank Tashlin’s unit when Tashlin left Schlesinger. In his first short Jones clearly continues the rather Disneyesque style of Frank Tashlin’s Merrie Melodies. The short even contains a clear Tashlin-like montage scene.

Despite the detectable Disney-influence, ‘The Night Watchman’ is a clear Warner Bros. product, thanks to Stallings’ peppy music, Treg Brown’s idiosyncratic sound effects, and a fast gag scene in which we watch the mice eating in ridiculous ways.

Nevertheless, in true mid-1930s fashion, the kitten is cute, not funny, and the action is hold up by a catchy jazz number on the 1905 hit song ‘In the Shade of the Apple Tree’, including a vocal trio and a big band take. This number shows the Merrie Melodies’ raison d’être: to showcase songs from the Warner Bros. publicity catalog.

Jones’s earliest output is often regarded as slow and rather boring. Indeed, it’s hard to call ‘The Night Watchman’ a classic, and nowhere Jones’s signature can be detected. Moreover, when compared to contemporary cartoons by Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, the short seems to belong to another world. Yet, the cartoon is nicely animated, and in fact much more enjoyable than other Disney imitations of the time, e.g. Fleischer’s Color Classics.

Watch ‘The Night Watchman’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Captain’s Christmas’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Four’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: November 5, 1938
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Porky in Egypt © Warner Bros.This cartoon starts with the call for morning prayer in a dream Egypt, which has more in common with 1001 Arabian nights than with the real state during the 1930’s.

We watch three Arabs rolling dice, a sexy veiled woman, who turns out to be hideously ugly, and the antics a fakir. Then we cut to some tourists taking a tour on a multi-bumped camel into a desert.

Porky Pig is a little too late to join them, and follows the group on his own camel, called Humpty Dumpty. Unfortunately, once they’re in the desert, the burning sun hits the camel with desert madness. In a wonderful scene, the camel loses grip and starts to hallucinate. The hallucinating effect is greatly added by twirling background images. In this scene the acting of the camel is no less than superb. The sheer manic power of this acting is unprecedented in any animated cartoon, and a subtle milestone of animation.

Unfortunately, the complete cartoon is more strange than funny. Notice the multi-door gag, which is halfway between the ones in ‘The Mad Doctor‘ (1932) and ‘The Northwest Hounded Police‘ (1946).

Watch ‘Porky in Egypt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 48
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Naughty Nephew
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: The Daffy Doc

‘Porky in Egypt’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’, and on the DVD-sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: September 24, 1938
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Porky in Wackyland © Warner BrosIn ‘darkest Africa’ lies Wackyland, a wacky land indeed, defying all logic and laws of nature.

The importance of ‘Porky in Wackyland’ can hardly be overstated. This classic cartoon reintroduced complete nonsense back into the cartoon world, after a virtual absence of about five years – and with a vengeance. Interestingly, in ‘Porky in Wackyland’ seems to build on some promising ideas of some Van Beuren cartoons that never really matured in that studio, most notably ‘Jungle Jazz‘ (1930), with its surreal African creatures, and ‘Pencil Mania‘ (1932), with its characters drawing things in mid air, like the Do-Do does in Clampett’s cartoon.

However, ‘Porky in Wackyland’ mostly is the product of an evolution at the Warner Bros. studio itself, which started in 1935, when Tex Avery arrived. Since then Avery, Frank Tashlin and Bob Clampett had already experienced with natural law-defying and dimension-breaking cartoon scenes, but in ‘Porky in Wackyland’ these are unleashed full throttle. Anti-realism starts immediately, when the newspaper boy enters the title card, but it goes totally bezerk in Wackyland.  Indeed, a sign says (with voice over): “It CAN happen here!”. What follows is a string of totally surreal and loony scenes, like a rabbit swinging on his own ears, which somehow hang in empty air, or a dog-cat-hybrid attacking itself.

The scenes with the Do-Do are even more outlandish. The Do-Do is a.o. able to pull a giant brick wall out of nothing, to sit behind a window, which floats in empty space, and he even appears on the WB logo, which suddenly appears from the horizon with the sole reason to make the Do-Do knock out Porky. The list is endless, and most of the action has to be seen to be believed.

All this weirdness is greatly enhanced by Stalling’s intoxicating score, a multitude of strange sounds and voices, and outlandish background paintings, which are sometimes reminiscent of the work of George Herriman and Cliff Sterrett (there are three simultaneous moons in one scene), and sometimes completely abstract, like the one in the scene in which Porky meets the Do-Do. All this makes ‘Porky in Wackyland’ the most surreal cartoon since Max Fleischer’s ‘Snow-White‘ (1933). In fact, Porky in Wackyland is more surreal even than most cartoons following it, and stands in a league of its own. Even if Bob Clampett would not have made any other cartoon, he would have been glorified just for this masterpiece of genuine silliness and imagination.

‘Porky in Wackyland’ was remade in 1949 in color as ‘Dough for the Do-Do‘, but now with totally different backgrounds, connecting its surreal aspects to fine art surrealism, most obviously Salvador Dalí.

Watch ‘Porky in Wackyland’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 46
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Wholly Smoke
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Naughty Nephew

‘Porky’s Double Trouble’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’, and on the DVD-sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume One’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

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