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Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: November 10, 1956
Stars: Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote
Rating:   ★★★★
Review:

There They Go-Go-Go! © Warner BrothersThis ninth Road Runner cartoon has a deviant opening, in which we watch the coyote baking a chicken out of clay.

Of course he rather has real meat, and his attempts to catch the Road Runner include a spear on a chord, a revolver on a spring, a catapult, a bundle of maces, a half-sewn-through ladder, a wheel of dynamite sticks and a rocket.

The best gag is saved for last, in which the coyote has assembled several rocks above the road. When these fail to fall on the Road Runner, the coyote nervously tries to make them fall until he realizes that he succeeds and they will fall on him. He then brings forth a sign saying “In Heaven’s name, what am I doing?”.

‘There they Go-Go-Go’ contains the most abstract backgrounds ever conceived in a Road Runner cartoon – Maurice Noble really pushes the limits here. Nevertheless they were reused the next year in ‘Scrambled Aches’.

Watch ‘There They Go-Go-Go!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: July 6, 1957
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
Rating:   ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

What's Opera, doc © Warner BrothersOne of the most celebrated animated cartoons of all time, ‘What’s Opera, Doc’ places the typical Elmer Fudd-Bugs Bunny chase routine into the world of Wagnerian opera.

The cartoon’s masterstroke is that it uses all the cliches of the chase, which go all the way back to the first Bugs Bunny Cartoon ‘A Wild Hare’ (1941), but that they are carried out in the most serious, Wagnerian fashion. The result is ridiculously pompous, mocking Wagnerian opera, as well as playing homage to it. Milt Franklyn’s score quotes music from five Wagner operas: ‘Der fliegende Holländer’, ‘Die Walküre’, ‘Siegfried’, ‘Rienzi’ and ‘Tannhäuser’.

The cartoon’s operatic character is emphasized not only by operatic singing, but also by featuring Wagnerian magic (a magic helmet), a ballet (a staple of French opera, but only employed by Richard Wagner in his very first operas), and a sad ending, a cliche of 19th century opera in general. Michael Maltese provided new lyrics to Wagner’s pilgrim chorus from ‘Tannhäuser’ and made it into a rather Hollywood musical-like love duet between Elmer and Bugs.

The animation is outstanding throughout, especially in the ballet and love duet between Bugs and Elmer. Indeed, for the ballet sequence the animators studied Tatania Riabouchinska and David Lichine from The Original Ballet Russe, and there’s a genuine seriousness about this scene. Yet, the main attraction of the cartoon lies in Maurice Noble’s extreme background layouts and bold color designs. Especially when Elmer gets furious, there is a startling emotional use of colors that has not been seen on the animated screen since ‘Bambi‘ (1942).

The opening sequence, with Elmer casting a mighty shadow is a straight homage to ‘The Night on Bold Mountain’ sequence from ‘Fantasia’ (1940), while the shots of Bugs being dressed as Brünnhilde and riding an oversized horse are retaken from ‘Herr meets Hare’ from 1945 (which, like ‘What’s Opera, doc?” was also penned by Michael Maltese). In this sense the cartoon is as much a homage to animation history as it is to opera.

‘What’s Opera, doc?’ is a brilliant cartoon of pure grandeur and one of Chuck Jones’s all time masterpieces. What’s most striking is that it was made during the normal grind of a commercial animated cartoon studio. The film took much longer than normal to make, which Jones and his unit could only manage to do by cheating on their schedule, stealing time from a much more ordinary short, the Road Runner cartoon ‘Zoom and Bored’ (1957).

Watch ‘What’s Opera, Doc?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 131
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Piker’s Peak
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Bugsy and Mugsy

Directors: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney
Release Date: October 5, 1949
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow © Walt DisneyThe Legend of Sleepy Hollow, told and sung by Bing Crosby, quite faithfully retells the story by Washington Irving.

The story tells us about the skinny schoolmaster Ichabod Crane who tries to court Katrina van Tassel, the most beautiful girl in town, while ignoring his rival Brom Bones. At Halloween Bones tells a spooky story about a headless horseman, scaring the schoolmaster to death. And when on the way home he really encounters a headless horseman, he’s never seen again…

The animation of Ichabod Crane and Katrina van Tassel both show how familiar the animators had become with the human figure. Ichabod Crane is an awkward, slender figure, but human, nonetheless. Katrina both has a sexy, graceful charm, as well as stylized moves, which make her a little abstract, like an all too beautiful woman can be in the hearts of men. Certainly, in the next feature, ‘Cinderella‘ (1950) the animators were confident enough to let human characters star a feature for the first time since ‘Pinocchio’ (1940).

This film’s highlight, however, are the wonderful backgrounds, which were lacking in the first story, ‘The Wind in the Willows‘. In ‘The legend of Sleepy Hollow’ the backgrounds are stylized, with striking colors, and most of the times clearly inspired by Mary Blair. The background artists’ art reaches its peak in the stunning scary forest scene, an elaboration on the scary forest in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937). This climatic scene, in which Ichabod Crane is confronted with the headless horseman, makes effective use of expressionistic coloring, like the best parts in ‘Fantasia’ (1940) and ‘Bambi‘ (1942).

These positive aspects, however, cannot rescue this film, which is rather slow, and totally devoid of sympathetic characters. In the end one has to conclude that this second part of the feature, like the first, is not particularly interesting or memorable.

Watch ‘The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date:
 August 7, 1950
Stars:
 Porky Pig, Daffy Duck
Rating:
 ★★★★
Review:

Boobs in the Woods © Warner BrothersIn ‘Boobs in the Woods’ Porky wants to paint in a forest, but he’s bothered by a particularly loony Daffy.

This cartoon is a typical example of Warren Foster-penned zaniness. Daffy makes no mistake about his zany character, which is similar to the one in the Foster/McKimson outings, like ‘Daffy Doodles’ (1946), ‘Daffy Duck Slept Here‘ (1948) and ‘Daffy Duck Hunt‘ (1949): in the opening scene he introduces himself in a loony song.

Nevertheless, ‘Boobs in the Woods’ is one of the last cartoons featuring this loony version of Daffy. Two months later Jones would introduce a different type in ‘The Scarlet Pumpernickel‘.

Apart from the excellent gags, ‘Boobs in the Woods’ is noteworthy for its extremely stylized and surprisingly flat backgrounds by Cornett Wood and Richard H. Thomas.

Watch ‘Boobs in the Woods’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Boobs in the Woods’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 129
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Bye, Bye Bluebeard
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: The Scarlet Pumpernickel

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date:
 September 2, 1949
Stars:
 Porky Pig
Rating:
 ★★★★½
Review:

Dough for the Do-Do © Warner Brothers‘Dough for the Do-Do’ is a remake of Bob Clampett’s ‘Porky in Wackyland’ (1938) in color.

The cartoon is more than a recoloring, however. Porky is reanimated throughout, and several scenes are different from the original. Scenes that are omitted are the paperboy appearing on the title card, Porky showing us a picture of the dodo, and the cat-dog attacking itself. Two scenes are altered: the way the guide ‘leads’ Porky to the dodo, and the finale: in the original Porky dresses as a paperboy announcing that Porky has captured the dodo, in ‘Dough for the Do-Do’, Porky dresses like a do-do, making the bird itself think he has caught the last of the do-dos.

The most conspicious difference between ‘Dough for the Do-Do’ and ”Porky in Wackyland’, however, is found in the backgrounds: where the original had rather undefined, a little George Herriman-like backgrounds, the remake uses clearly Salvador Dalí-inspired settings, full of typical Dalí-rocks, sticks and eyes. The title card even shows Dalí’s melted watches, linking cartoon surrealism to high art surrealism. Dalí-inspired scenery would return two years later in the Porky Pig cartoon ‘Wearing of the Grin’ from 1951.

It is striking to see how different this cartoon is from its contemporaries. ‘Porky in Wackyland’ was a milestone in surrealism, a move forward in wackiness, an innovative cartoon stirring up the childish make-belief world of the 1930s cartoons. However, eleven years later its remake ‘Dough for the Do-do’ feels old-fashioned: its animation is crude, its characters are unrefined, and its zaniness seems to come from another era.

And it does: in the late 1940s, the wild surrealism of the early Warner Bros. cartoons had toned down. It survived in cartoon conventions, which always contained a twist of surrealism, but the outlandishness had disappeared. Now, more emphasis was played on character humor and dialogue, something the Warner Bros. studio excelled at with its numerous stars. Only at MGM and Walter Lantz some of the original zany vibe was retained, but at large the wild era of studio cartoons was clearly over.

Watch ‘Dough for the Do-Do’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.220.ro/desene-animate/16-Porky-Dough-For-The-Do-Do-1949/mL0EVmznKK/

‘Dough for the Do-Do’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 127
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Often an Orphan
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Bye, Bye Bluebeard

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: June 12, 1943
Stars: Hubie and Bertie
Rating:
 ★★½
Review:

The Aristo-Cat © Warner BrothersThe aristo-cat is the pet of a rich lady. He nags the butler so much that the latter quits. Not knowing how to get food himself, the cat panics, until he learns from a book titled ‘the behavior of cats’ that cats eat mice.

He immediately sets out to get one, but when he encounters one (Hubie) he doesn’t recognize it and he’s scared to death. Hubie and Bertie take advantage of the situation to convince the cat that Rover, a vicious bulldog next door, is a mouse. This leads to several chase routines, until it is revealed that it was all a dream.

‘The Aristo-Cat’ is only moderately funny, and the aristo-cat has a rather ugly voice. But the cartoon’s highly stylized backgrounds are beautiful and an attraction on their own. They are based on layouts by John McGrew, who did some innovative work in a couple of Chuck Jones cartoons from 1942 and 1943, e.g. ‘Conrad the Sailor‘, ‘The Dover Boys‘, and ‘Flop Goes The Weasel’. The backgrounds in ‘The Aristo-Cat’ arguably form the apex of McGrew’s art with their expressionistic angles and patterns, supporting the cat’s agony and fear. In fact, such daring designs would not be seen again before the advent of UPA.

‘The Aristo-Cat’ marks the debut of the mischievous mouse duo Hubie and Bertie. Strangely enough, they were shelved for five years, only to return in 1948 to star four more cartoons: ‘House Hunting Mice’ (1948), ‘The Hypo-Chondri-Cat’ (1950), ‘Cheese Chasers’ (1951) and the greatest of them all, ‘Mouse Wreckers‘ (1949).

Watch ‘The Aristo-Cat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: February 14, 1942
Stars: Conrad Cat, Daffy Duck
Rating:
 ★★½
Review:

Conrad the Sailor © Warner Brothers‘Conrad the Sailor’ is the third and last cartoon featuring the early Chuck Jones character Conrad Cat, who also starred ‘Porky’s Cafe’ and ‘The Bird Came C.O.D.’, all from early 1942.

Conrad’s most distinctive trait was his voice, provided by Pinto Colvig, who also voiced Goofy. Indeed, Conrad’s and Goofy’s voices are very similar. However, in ‘Conrad the Sailor’ his voice is rarely heard, as most of the comedy is silent.

In ‘Conrad the Sailor’ Conrad Cat works as a sailor on a battle cruiser (a setting reflecting the war time), where he is nagged by Daffy Duck. Their chase is stopped several times by a small captain who pops up at unexpected moments, a type of gag typical for early Chuck Jones cartoons (see e.g. ‘Inki and the Minah bird’ from 1941 and ‘The Dover Boys‘ from 1942).

‘Conrad the Sailor’ is not a very funny cartoon: neither Conrad nor Daffy behave sympathetically, and the origin of their conflict remains unknown. The Daffy-Conrad-encounters appear to be nothing more than a string of unrelated events. Moreover, Jones’s pacing is still rather slow at times, wearing the comedy down. Conrad’s personality is rather undefined, and after this cartoon he was shelved.

Notwithstanding its weaknesses, the cartoon is noteworthy for its remarkably stylized and surprisingly angled backgrounds, courtesy of lay-out artist John McGrew, who collaborated with Jones on a number of cartoons, before joining the navy himself in 1942. The backgrounds in these cartoons are often the real highlight of the short, and look all the way forward to UPA’s cartoon modern style of the early fifties. McGrew would push the limits even further in ‘The Aristo-Cat‘ (1943).

Director: Charles Nichols
Release Date: June 23, 1944
Stars: Pluto
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Springtime for Pluto © Walt DisneyAn updated version of Pan from ‘Fantasia’ (1940), now wearing a boiler hat, creates spring.

Pluto enjoys it for a while, e.g. discovering a caterpillar who transforms into a very sexy butterfly. The butterfly is designed as a miniature pin-up girl, who dances to a conga beat. After this encounter, Pluto juggles with a wasps’ nest, angering the wasps who sting him in the form of a Lockheed Lightning and a V2 rocket. These two sequences make ‘Springtime for Pluto’ a typical war era cartoon, even though it’s not about war, at all.

After Pluto gets stung, he’s caught in the rain, and even in a hailstorm. In the end he’s not enjoying spring anymore, and angrily he chases Pan into the distance.

‘Springtime for Pluto’ is the first cartoon directed by Charles Nichols, who would direct all Pluto and Mickey cartoons (save one) from now on until their retirement in 1953. Nichols is famous for his mild-mannered humor, but his debut consists of very enjoyable utter nonsense from the beginning to the end. It’s full of the exuberant spirit of the war time era.

Even the oil backgrounds, painted by Lenard Kester (1917-1997), have more vivid colors than before. These are flatter than in most Disney films, and during the butterfly sequence one can even see the paper texture. They form an early example of a more graphic style of backgrounds within a Disney film, and look forward to the fifties. Perhaps Kester had been inspired by similar experiments by Chuck Jones’ unit at Warner Brothers (e.g. ‘The Dover Boys‘ from 1942). In any case, the result contributes to the surreal atmosphere of the film.

Kester has been credited for backgrounds of only one other Disney cartoon, ‘How To Play Football’ from a few months later. In this short the backgrounds are effective, but unremarkable. Had he been toned down by the studio? Fact is that Kester soon moved on to devote his life to oil painting…

Watch ‘Springtime for Pluto’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Pluto cartoon No. 11
To the previous Pluto cartoon: Private Pluto
To the next Pluto cartoon: First Aiders

Director: Winsor McCay
Creation Date: ca. 1918-1921
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Still from 'The Centaurs' featuring a male centaur courting a female centaurAfter completing four masterpieces, Winsor McCay produced three unfinished films, ‘The Centaurs’, ‘Gertie on Tour‘ and ‘Flip’s Circus‘ (all animated about ca. 1918-1921). ‘The Centaurs’ is the most interesting of the three.

This short film feels like a study. We see a female and a male centaur meeting each other, then we see the male centaur introduce his future wife to his parents, and then suddenly their baby jumps into the scene, frolicking around.

This film once again contains superb animation, rendering totally convincing centaurs. They indeed stand comparison to those of ‘Fantasia’, which were animated about twenty years later. In this short McCay also experiments with his creations moving behind his elaborate backgrounds, creating a great feel of depth.

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

This is Winsor McCay’s fifth film
To Winsor McCay’s fourth film: The Sinking of the Lusitania
To Winsor McCay’s sixth, unfinished film: Gertie on Tour

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