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Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: December 20, 1941
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Wabbit Twouble © Warner Bros.When Tex Avery left Warner Bros. in 1941, Bob Clampett inherited his unit.

This is best visible in ‘Wabbit Twouble’, which features the same rich oil background art as Avery’s earlier cartoons. The short is Clampett’s only third Merrie Melody (and thus color cartoon), and his first take on Bugs Bunny, who still was only one-and-a-half year and seven cartoons old. Clampett’s take on the rabbit is quite different from his contemporaries. In a way he goes all the way back to Bugs Bunny’s forerunner in ‘Porky’s Hare Hunt‘ (1938), with Bugs Bunny taunting Elmer just for fun.

Elmer comes to ‘Jellostone park’ for rest and relaxation. But as soon as he has installed himself, Bugs starts nagging him. Bugs Bunny’s best trick is giving Elmer glasses which he paints black, making Elmer think it has become night already. Also involved in the routine is a bear, who even replaces Bugs as Elmer’s main problem. This leads to a chase scene, which is very remarkable as it almost consists of poses only, with little to no movement in between. Chuck Jones would expand on this animation on poses in ‘The Dover Boys’, and this animation technique would become more dominant in the postwar era.

‘Wabbit Twouble’ features very unusual opening credits. First Bugs Bunny’s name is photographed using real carrots. Second, the credits are written on a moving landscape, a device that would be used extensively by Chuck Jones in the late 1950s and 1960s, and third, the names of all contributors are written in ‘Elmerfuddese’: thus ‘Wobert Cwampett’, ‘Sid Suthewand’ and ‘Cawl W. Stawwing’. This sequence alone shows how important Arthur Q. Bryan’s voice had become for the Elmer Fudd character, after only six cartoons.

Even more interesting, ‘Wabbit Twouble’ suddenly shows a fatter design of Elmer, which was modeled on Arthur Q. Bryan’s looks, so the animators could also use the actor’s funny movements. Unfortunately, Elmer lost a lot of his appeal with this fatty design, and it was only used in three more cartoons (‘The Wabbit Who Came to Supper‘, ‘The Wacky Wabbit’ and ‘Fresh Hare’, all from 1942). With Friz Freleng’s ‘The Hare-Brained Hypnotist‘ Elmer luckily was his normal self again.

Watch ‘Wabbit Twouble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 7
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: All This and Rabbit Stew
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: The Wabbit Who Came to Supper

‘Wabbit Twouble’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume One’

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Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: May 24, 1941
Stars: a.o. Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Johnny Weismuller, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Harpo Marx, Bing Crosby, Leopold Stokowski, James Stewart, Sonja Henie, Boris Karloff, the Three Stooges, Oliver Hardy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Peter Lorre, Henry Fonda, Buster Keaton, Jerry Colonna, Clark Gable, Groucho Marx
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Hollywood Steps Out © Warner Bros.Caricatures of Hollywood stars have been featured in many animated cartoons since ‘Felix goes Hollywood’ (1923).

With cartoons like ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ (1933), ‘Soda Squirt‘ (1933), ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936). ‘The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos’ (1937) and ‘Mother Goes to Hollywood’ (1938) the caricatures even became the main attraction of the cartoon. This trend reached its climax in Tex Avery’s ‘Hollywood Steps Out’, as this is a spot gag cartoon on nothing but Hollywood stars. After this short Hollywood stars kept popping up in cartoons, but not in such abundance as in this short.

In ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ we watch the stars of the silver screen going out at the Ciro’s nightclub, which had opened in 1940. The gags are actually rather lame, but it’s a sheer joy to see all these caricatures of late 1930s Hollywood stars, some still famous, others forgotten. Among the more familiar names are Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Edward G. Robinson, Johnny Weismuller (as Tarzan), James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Harpo Marx, Bing Crosby, Leopold Stokowski, James Stewart, Sonja Henie, Boris Karloff (as Frankenstein), the Three Stooges, Oliver Hardy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Peter Lorre, Henry Fonda, Buster Keaton and Jerry Colonna.

Also featured are Henry Binder and Leon Schlesinger, the animators’ bosses. The cartoon contains some rotoscoped dance movements, including a rather sexy bubble dance, and a running gag about Clark Gable following a girl who turns out to be Groucho Marx.

The caricatures in ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ were based on drawings by Ben Shankman, whose work was first used by Friz Freleng in ‘Malibu Beach Party’ (1940), and who clearly is a worthy successor of Joe Grant (e.g. ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’) and T. Hee (e.g. ‘Mother Goes to Hollywood’). All Shankman’s caricatures in ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ are pretty good to excellent. Moreover, most of them are well-animated, with the animation of James Stewart as a particular highlight. Like the otherwise very different ‘Old Glory‘ (1939) this short shows that by the turn of the decade the Warner Bros. animators could handle the human figure very well.

The voices, too, are very well done. In ‘The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons’ Keith Scott reveals they were all done by one Kent Rogers, who was not yet 18 when ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ was released. Rogers also voiced e.g. Willoughby, Beaky Buzzard, and ‘Henery Hawk’. Unfortunately, he died in World War II in 1944, cutting short a career that might have become as illustrious as Mae Questel’s or Mel Blanc’s. In a way ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ stands out as his greatest work.

Apart from a celebration of Hollywood stars, ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ is also a testimony of the conga craze that took over the United States in the early forties: the irresistible conga beat sounds in the opening sequence and during the dance scene. Other examples of cartoons prominently featuring conga music are ‘Mickey’s Birthday Party’ (1942), ‘Juke Box Jamboree‘ (1942) and ‘Springtime for Pluto‘ (1944).

Watch ‘Hollywood Steps Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hollywood Steps Out’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Two’

 

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: November 1, 1941
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Porky's Pooch © Warner Bros.In ‘Porky’s Pooch’ a dog tells his Scottish terrier friend how he managed to get a master.

This dog is a clear forerunner of Chuck Jones’s Charlie Dog, who would make his debut six years later in ‘Little Orphan Airedale’ (1947). Like Charlie Dog, this dog, called Rover, is an orphan, forcefully trying to make Porky Pig his master. Rover speaks in a similar way as Charlie, and even introduces the Charlie Dog lines “You ain’t got a dog, and I ain’t got a master’ and ‘and I’m affectionate, too’.

The dog also does a Carmen Miranda impression, most probably the first in an animated film, as the Brazilian actress had become famous only one year earlier, with ‘Down Argentine Way’ (1940). The short is also noteworthy for the use of real photographs as backgrounds, against which the characters read surprisingly well.

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

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 93
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Robinson Crusoe, jr.
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Midnight Matinee

‘Porky’s Pooch’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: May 10, 1941
Rating: ★★
Review:

Farm Frolics © Warner Bros.‘Farm Frolics’ was the second Merrie Melodie directed by Bob Clampett.

In this cartoon Clampett follows Tex Avery with his own spot gag cartoon, this time on farm life, making it strangely similar to the Walter Lantz cartoon ‘Fair Today‘ from only three months earlier.

The Warner Bros.’ spot gag cartoons rarely belonged to the best of their repertoire, and ‘Farm Frolics’, too, is hardly funny. Even the running gag of this forgettable cartoon is trite, and fails to provide a welcome finale. Nevertheless, the animation is very fine. For example, there’s some surprisingly realistic animation on a horse. Thus even this weak short shows that by 1941 the Warner Bros. animators could do almost everything.

Watch ‘Farm Frolics’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Farm Frolics’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: October 12, 1940
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Prehistoric Porky © Warner Bros.In ‘Prehistoric Porky’ Porky Pig follows the footsteps of Daffy Duck, who had started a prehistoric cartoon in ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur‘.

Set rather extravagantly ‘one billion, trillion years b.c. (a long time ago)’ the short opens beautifully with several moving silhouettes of dinosaurs. Soon we cut to caveman Porky, who has a pet Brontosaur (erroneously with visible ears) called ‘Rover’. Porky reads in ‘Expire – the magazine for cavemen’, and discovers that his own bearskin is outdated. So he goes out to hunt for one. Unfortunately, he encounters a vicious sabertooth tiger…

Like almost all films set in the prehistory, ‘Prehistoric Porky’ cheerfully mixes all kinds of prehistoric periods together. Unfortunately, the short is rather low on gags, and has a trite ending. Moreover, most dinosaurs look like fantasy dragons, instead of the real thing. Yet, the sabertooth tiger is well animated, and it’s interesting to see Porky in a quasi-urban caveman setting, making the cartoon one of the forerunners of ‘The Flintstones’.

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

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 78
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Calling Dr. Porky
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: The Sour Puss

‘Prehistoric Porky’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

 

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: July 18, 1942
Rating:
Review:

Foney Fables © Warner Bros.‘Foney Fables’ is a spot gag cartoon on fairy tales, very much in the vain of ‘A Gander at Mother Goose‘ (1940), sharing the realistic hand skipping pages of a storybook with the former cartoon.

‘A Gander at Mother Goose’ already was anything but classic, but ‘Foney Fables’ is even worse. Neither writer Michael Maltese nor director Friz Freleng seem inspired, and the often beautiful animation is wasted on all the lame spot gags. Even the running gag is trite and predictable.

The most interesting aspects of the cartoon are the war references: the grasshopper will survive winter, because he has bought war bonds, the wolf in sheep’s clothing is called ‘the fifth columnist of his day’, the goose that lays golden eggs lays normal eggs for national defense, and old mother Hubbard is being accused of hoarding food. These gags cannot rescue the cartoon, however, which remains uninteresting and forgettable.

Watch ‘Foney Fables’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Foney Fables’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 26, 1941
Rating:★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Trial of Mr. Wolf © Warner Bros.‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ stands in a great tradition of fairy tale spoofs, which go all the way back to 1931, with cartoons like Van Beuren’s ‘Red Riding Hood‘ and Max Fleischer’s ‘Dizzy Red Riding Hood‘.

More recent inspirations must have been Disney’s ‘The Big Bad Wolf‘ (1934), and especially Tex Avery’s ‘Cinderella Meets Fella‘ (1938) and ‘The Bear’s Tale‘ (1940).

‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ tops all these cartoons, however, and can be regarded as Warner Bros.’ first mature film: the short fuses Tex Avery’s silliness with Michael Maltese’s inspired story writing, and above all, Friz Freleng’s excellent timing, which at this stage was much better than Avery’s. The result is an outrageously funny cartoon, unlike everything seen before (yes, I’m including ‘A Wild Hare‘ in this!).

The short opens with a court scene, in which the wolf tells his side of the story about Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf portrays himself as an innocent boy from Sunday school, being a hapless victim of a double-crossing Red Riding Hood, and her extremely homicidal grandma, who is only after the wolf’s fur.

Red Riding Hood is a fantastic caricature of Katherine Hepburn, and never has the fairy tale character been so portrayed so vile on the animated screen. But all the characters have an assured, modern, and rubbery design – there’s no trace of the primitivism left that haunted much of Warner Bros.’ earlier output. But moreover, the gags come in fast and plenty, like they never did before. Highlight is the scene in which the wolf opens several doors, only to find grandma behind it, heavier armed every time (by the last door she has mounted a tank). This type of scene would recur in several other cartoons.

The door scene is done very fast, as are all other gags in the cartoon, with the ending being a particular standout: the wolf exclaims that if what he has told weren’t the truth, then he hopes to get run over by a streetcar. And immediately, the vehicle kicks in, taking just a few frames. Such quick timing tops everything Avery had done before, and would be hugely influential, arguably even to Avery himself.

Nevertheless, ‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ owes a lot to Avery, with its numerous throwaway gags, like the skunk jury member, and puns, like Red Riding Hood literally having guilt written all over her face. No doubt this cartoon was a great inspiration to the other directors at Warner Bros., who all sped their cartoons up during 1941 and 1942, even Chuck Jones, who had made the slowest cartoons of the lot thus far. The Schlesinger studio could now enter its classic era.

Watch ‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: June 8, 1940
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Tom Thumb in Trouble © Warner Bros.Many of Chuck Jones’s early cartoons of 1938-1941 have a Disney-like character, but ‘Tom Thumb in Trouble’ arguably tops them all in Disney overtones.

The short stars a particularly small Tom Thumb, being indeed the size of his father’s thumb. When the father goes to work and leaves Tom alone to do the dishes, Tom Thumb almost drowns, but he is rescued by a little yellow bird. Unfortunately, his father blames the bird, and Tom Thumb walks away into the woods because of that. In the end all are reunited.

There’s absolutely nothing funny about this sentimental and cloying tale, and one wonders what Jones was thinking. This cartoon would have fit the years 1934-1936, not 1940. The animation, however, is stunning, with the very realistic father being an animation highlight within Warner Bros.’ 1940 output, topping even the realistic humans in ‘Old Glory‘, as he appears to have been animated with more confidence and ease. The staging, too, is nothing but impressive, with its strikingly original and dramatic angles, often turning the father into a towering figure.

But the short owes nothing to the output of Jones’s colleagues, and the only aspect that makes it typically Warner Bros. is Carl Stalling’s music, which makes clever use of classical music, with Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries during Tom Thumb’s flight into the winter woods as a particular highlight.

Watch ‘Tom Thumb in Trouble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Tom Thumb in Trouble’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: May 25, 1940
Rating: ★★½
Review:

A Gander at Mother Goose © Warner Bros.‘A Gander at Mother Goose’ is one of Tex Avery’s numerous spot gag cartoons. This time he sets his teeth in nursery rhymes, providing trite gags on e.g. Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill, and Little Miss Muffet.

Unfortunately, Avery’s spot gag cartoons rarely belong to his best work, and ‘A Gander at Mother Goose’ is no exception. Most surprising are his takes on two tales that have been made famous by Walt Disney: The Three Little Pigs (1933) and Little Hiawatha (1938). Not that his gags are funny, however. Best may be the first gag in which Miss Mary does a Katherine Hepburn imitation.

Friz Freleng directed an all too similar cartoon two years later called ‘Foney Fables‘ (1942), which is even less funny.

Watch ‘A Gander at Mother Goose’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘A Gander at Mother Goose’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

 

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: April 13, 1940
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Bear's Tale © Warner Bros.‘The Bear’s Tale’ opens in Snow White-like fashion, but already the title card gets us ready for some nonsense, as we read that Papa is played by Papa Bear, Mama by Mama Bear, Baby by Baby Bear, and Goldilocks by herself…

‘The Bear’s Tale’ nonetheless seems to retell the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, alright, until suddenly Goldilocks enters grandma’s house from ‘Red Riding Hood’…

‘The Bear’s Tale’ is Tex Avery’s third fairy tale cartoon, after ‘Little Red Walking Hood’ (1937) and ‘Cinderella Meets Fella’ (1938). It’s arguably the best of the three, elaborating on the fairy tale mix up of Walt Disney’s ‘The Big Bad Wolf‘ (1934), which also starred Little Red Riding Hood.

Particularly funny is the silly combination of narration, images and Carl Stalling’s music. Stalling responds to every part of the narration with a specific leitmotiv. This is most clear when the narrator talks about the ‘beautiful forest’, which is invariably accompanied by a forest scene with birds flying through it, and Stalling’s leitmotiv of Felix Mendelssohn’s Spring Song in the background. But all characters have their own leitmotiv, with Little Red Riding Hood’s one being a particularly saucy one, as if she were a woman of the world.

Both Red and Goldilocks are pictured as child characters, yet behave in a surprisingly adult way. For example, when the wolf rejects Goldilocks, because he had been waiting for Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks exclaims “what’s Red Riding Hood got what I haven’t got?”. There’s also a great split screen gag, which is an elaboration on the one in ‘Cross Country Detours’ of only one month earlier.

The fairy tale setting is greatly helped by great production values: the backgrounds are very evocative, and Avery’s characters now have a solidity that they never had before. Papa Bear especially is a round character of a caliber rarely seen outside Disney. It’s clear that by 1940 the Warner Bros. had fully mastered character animation. This combination of great character animation and deliberate nonsense would make their cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s so irresistible.

In ‘The Bear’s Tale’ Avery’s timing is still rather slow, and not all the gags are winners (the gag in which Papa Bear’s imitating a siren is completely superfluous, for example), but this is a very funny cartoon, nonetheless, and an early Warner Bros. classic.

Watch ‘The Bear’s Tale’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Bear’s Tale’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: December 7, 1940
Stars: Willoughby
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Of Fox and Hounds © Warner Bros.‘Of Fox and Hounds’ introduces Willoughby, that dumb dog that was the first of many cartoon parodies on Lon Chaney jr.’s portrayal of Lennie Small in the movie ‘Of Mice and Men’ (1939).

In this cartoon he’s a rather fat hunting dog too dumb to recognize a fox when he sees one. Worse, the fox makes him fall for the same gag twice, in an extraordinarily long gag, which Avery plays out full. The fox is a clear variation on the wise guy type Avery introduced with Bugs Bunny in ‘A Wild Hare‘ four months earlier, without adding anything new, and he was never seen again. Willoughby, on the other hand, would encounter the hare himself in his next cartoon, ‘The Heckling Hare’, and another variation on this character type in ‘The Crackpot Quail’ (both 1941). In all, he would star in seven cartoons, the last one being Friz Freleng’s ‘Hare Force’ (1944).

In his next cartoon Willoughby would become less fat, but not smarter. Luckily not, for his all too late insights, which he shares with the audience, absolutely form the character’s main attraction. At MGM Avery would more or less return to the character in ‘Lonesome Lenny’ (1946). Willoughby’s “Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?” would become a catch phrase, and was also used by Lenny in that latter cartoon.

‘Of Fox and Hounds’ features high production values. It opens with a very realistic image of a hunter, followed by a beautiful shot of horses and hounds silhouetted against the morning sun. The cartoon also features remarkable oil paintings that provide great realistic backgrounds in the best academic tradition, which make all the nonsense staged in front of it more believable.

Unfortunately, the cartoon is a little too slow to be an all time winner. Avery clearly was still experimenting with timing, and in this cartoon in particular he juxtaposes slow scenes to lightning fast action, especially in the parts featuring the bear. ‘Of Fox and Hounds’ may be no classic, it’s an important entry in the evolution of Tex Avery’s films, the Warner Bros. style, and the chase cartoon in general.

Watch ‘Of Fox and Hounds’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Of Fox and Hounds’ is available on the French DVD set ‘Tex Avery’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: April 12, 1941
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★
Review:

Toy Trouble © Warner Bros.‘Toy Trouble’ marks the return of Sniffles’s friend the bookworm, from ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ (1939) and ‘The Egg Collector’ (1940).

This time the two friends snoop around in the toy collection of a department store. All goes well until the duo encounters a cat.

Like Sniffles himself, the bookworm is more cute than funny, and like most Sniffles cartoons this short suffers from a terrible slowness. The result is a rather tiresome watch. Nevertheless, it contains a nice scene in which Sniffles hides in a row of Porky Pig dolls, predating a similar scene in the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Night Before Christmas’ by eight months. There’s also a mechanical duck, which accounts for some gags that look all the way forward to the elaborate gags of Chuck Jones’s Roadrunner and Tom & Jerry cartoons.

Watch ‘Toy Trouble’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Toy Trouble’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: February 1, 1941
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Sniffles Bells the Cat © Warner Bros.In the seventh of twelve Sniffles cartoons Sniffles suddenly has a number of lookalikes, who are as annoying as the title character himself.

In the opening scene we watch them all fleeing from a cat. When Sniffles wishes out loud that the cat should have a bell, the others immediately put him on the job.

Like other Sniffles cartoons, ‘Sniffles Bells the Cat’ is slow and pretty unfunny. Yet the chase scenes show some beautiful background art, emphasizing the vastness of the house for a little mouse like Sniffles. Moreover, Carl Stalling’s music is extraordinarily beautiful in this cartoon.

However, the cartoon is most important in the development of Jones’s mature style. Like in ‘Bedtime for Sniffles’ Jones excels in giving the cute little character a surprisingly broad range of emotions, especially when Sniffles realizes he has to tie the bell to the cat himself. This scene is the undisputed highlight of the cartoon and shows that even at this early stage Jones knew hardly an equal in handling facial expressions. The cat, too, is animated delightfully when he performs the old shell game with considerable deftness. These two scenes contain the seeds of more to come, and make the cartoon one of Sniffles’s best, despite its slugged pace.

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

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

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: November 23, 1940
Stars: Sniffles
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Bedtime for Sniffles © Warner Bros.This Christmas cartoon opens with a stunning scene in which the camera zooms over a winter village scene. ‘Bedtime for Sniffles’ may not be a ‘Pinocchio’, this is still a very atmospheric opening intro to the Christmas spirited cartoon.

Cut to Sniffles, who wants to stay awake until Santa comes. Unfortunately the radio plays a lullaby, drowsing our cute little hero.

Because this is a cartoon about the familiar problem of trying to stay awake despite a desire to sleep, this is a more entertaining short than most other Sniffles cartoons, and a great antecedent to the classic Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘Sleepy Time Tom’ (1951), which covers similar grounds. The animation of Sniffles’s eyes when he tries to stay awake, is priceless, and is an early showcase of Jones’s upcoming mastery of facial expressions. Sniffles’s reluctant walk into bed, too, points forward to Jones’s mature style.

Apart from this, ‘Bedtime for Sniffles’ excels in great background art, and lovely lay-outs, with delightful details, like a walnut functioning as a waste basket, and cigarette paper substituting for a towel.

Watch ‘Bedtime for Sniffles’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: July 20, 1940
Stars: Sniffles
Rating:
Review:

The Egg Collector © Warner Bros.In the 1930s Frank Tashlin had made the most beautiful cartoons at Warner Bros. When Chuck Jones inherited his unit at the end of 1938, he too made the most beautiful shorts of all.

‘The Egg Collector’ is a prime example, with stunning background art, original camera angles (a clear Tashlin influence), great shading and excellent animation. However, unlike Tashlin’s cartoons, Jones’s were extremely slow. ‘The Egg Collector’, for example , moves at such a sluggish speed, one almost falls asleep while watching it.

The short stars the little mouse Sniffles, Jones’s very first returning character, and his friend, the bookworm from ‘Sniffles and the Bookworm’ (1939). They read in a book about egg collecting, and wish to collect an owl’s egg, not realizing that the fact that eats small rodents means it can possibly eat them. Thus they are on their way to a church nearby, where they soon discover the real nature of the barn owl. There’s little humor in this cute and boring cartoon, although the little owl’s hoots are very charming. The design of the little owl is exactly the same as the one in ‘Little Brother Rat‘.

Carl Stalling accompanies the church scenes with particularly solemn music, based on Felix Mendelssohn’s stage music for A Midsummernight’s Dream. His score rarely sounded so German as it does in this particular short.

Watch ‘The Egg Collector’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Egg Collector’ is available on the Blu-Ray set ‘Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection’

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’.

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’

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