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Director: Tom Palmer
Release Date: September 9, 1933
Rating: ★★
Review:

Buddy's Day Out © Warner Bros.Early 1933 Hugh Harman demanded more money for their cartoons, but Leon Schlesinger refused it. This led to a break between the two, and Harman & Ising quit in June 1933.

This event left Schlesinger with a contract with Warner Bros. to deliver cartoons, but without a studio to make them. Moreover, he was without a cartoon star, as Harman & Ising had taken Bosko with them. Schlesinger quickly set up a studio of his own, at the old Warner Bros. lot at Sunset BLvd. He quickly signed several people to man his brand new studio, including Jack King from Disney, and Bob Clampett from Harman & Ising.

However, somehow he first trusted his new studio into the hands of a guy called Tom Palmer, tipped by his sound engineer, Bernard Brown. Palmer and his associate quickly came up with a brand new star called Buddy, whom Bob Clampett described as “Bosko in whiteface”. This is not entirely true, however, for where Bosko was devoid of personality, he was at least cheerful, and nicely drawn. Buddy, on the other hand, had an ugly design, and was bland as hell.

In ‘Buddy’s Day Out’, Buddy’s first film, even his makers were not sure what to make of him. He’s obviously drawn like a boy, but he drives a car, and has an all too clearly erotic relationship with his girlfriend Cookie. Added to these ‘stars’ are a little baby brother called Elmer and a dog called Happy, which is almost a copy of Terry from Disney’s ‘Just Dogs‘ (1932). As you may notice Buddy, Cookie and even Elmer follow a trend that had existed since the dawn of the sound era of creating a star and giving him a girlfriend. Obnoxious baby brothers are nothing new either, and appear in e.g. Fleischer’s ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart‘ (1932), Van Beuren’s ‘In the Park‘ (1932), and in Columbia’s complete Scrappy series.

In their very first adventure the quartet go on a picnic, but problems soon start when Elmer runs away with the car. This part is absolutely action rich, but the complete cartoon lacks anything that resembles a gag. Palmer was not much of a gag man, let alone a director, and after ‘Buddy’s Day Out’ he directed only one more cartoon (‘I’ve Got To Sing A Torch Song‘) before Schlesinger fired him.

‘Buddy’s Day Out’ thus was the first cartoon of Leon Schlesinger’s very own studio, and it shows. Compared to the Harman & Ising Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, ‘Buddy’s Day Out’ is clearly of a lesser quality. Especially the thin lining of the characters is subpar, as is the rather erratic animation on them. That said, the animation on ‘Buddy’s Day Out’ is still far better than practically any animation at Paul Terry or Van Beuren, and the short at least showcases a nicely animated train. However, the cliched blandness of Buddy and friends, and the lack of anything resembling humor make ‘Buddy’s Day Out’ a far from promising start for Schlesinger’s new star.

Nevertheless, Buddy was a child of his time, for in 1933/1934 cartoons moved away from the world of sex, booze and horror to a more childish world of fairy tales, nursery rhymes etc. It was Disney who had made the first move, but also Iwerks and Van Beuren had already drifted into that direction. Thus at Warner Bros. the supposedly black, somehow mature Bosko was replaced by the white, somewhat childish Buddy. The Hays code sealed the trend by banning sex, drugs etc. By 1934 cinema had entered its most infantile stage. And it was Buddy who would be Warner Brother’s epitome of this low point in early cartoon history, which would last until the end of 1935, when a guy called Tex Avery came along…

Watch ‘Buddy’s Day Out’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Buddy’s Day Out’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’

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Director: Bernard Brown
Release Date: January 27, 1934
Rating: ★★
Review:

Pettin' in the Park © Warner Bros.Mid-1933 Harman and Ising had quit with Leon Schlesinger after a dispute over money, leaving Schlesinger without a studio.

So Schlesinger quickly set up one at Sunset Boulevard, initially with help from sound engineer Bernard Brown and his friends. Brown even himself directed two cartoons during the studio’s chaotic starting months, of which ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ is the first.

Brown was no animator himself, and judging from this cartoon he was not much of a director, either: ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ just makes no sense. The first half is just an illustration of the song from the Warner Bros. musical ‘Gold Diggers from 1933’, featuring the familiar theme of a cop courting a babysitter (see also Fleischer’s ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart‘ and Van Beuren’s ‘In the Park‘ (1933). The second half suddenly reports a diving contest and a swimming race between birds. Bridging the action is a cheeky little penguin – what he does in a park no-one will ever know.

There’s a surprising lack of continuity and consistency rarely seen outside the Van Beuren studio output, and the cartoon is of an appalling low quality, especially when compared to the earlier Harman and Ising output. Even worse, few of the gags come off, and none is anything near funny.

Nevertheless, even a terrible film like ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ shows that the typical Warner Bros. animation style, developed at Harman & Ising, had not been lost. It certainly helped that Schlesinger had managed to hire away some crew from his former associates. Bob Clampett, for example, who gets his first billing as an animator here. Clampett and Jack King (hired away from Disney) are clearly trying to put some pepper into the hopeless scenes. Thus despite its story atrocities, even ‘Pettin’in the Park’ displays Warner Bros. own distinct animation style, which, in 1933 was second to Disney only in quality.

Watch ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Pettin’ in the Park’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Busby Berkeley Collection’

Director: Neil McGuire
Release Date:
 December 1930
Rating:
Review:

Cryin' for the Carolines © Warner Bros.‘Cryin’ for the Carolines’ was the first of the so-called Spooney Melodies, a short-lived series, produced by Leon Schlesinger, using semi-abstract images set to organ music.

Only five are known, and only this one has survived. The short features Milton Charles, ‘the singing organist’, singing and playing the sugary tune. Neil McGuire provides the classy, but static art deco art, e.g. of a sailing ship and a city skyline.

There’s practically no animation involved, although there is some movement on the screen. The images have an avant-garde quality, but as almost nothing happens, the complete film fails to satisfy. Schlesinger followed the series with the much more successful Merrie Melodies.

Watch ‘Cryin’ for the Carolines’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cryin’ for the Carolines’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’ and the Blu-Ray ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’

Directors: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Production Date:
May 1929
Stars: Bosko, Rudolf Ising
Rating:
★★★
Review:

Bosko the Talk-ink Kid © Warner Bros.In 1928 Charles Mintz had hired away virtually Walt Disney’s complete staff and main cartoon character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. These animators now came to work for a studio, set up by George and Margaret Winkler to produce more Oswald cartoons. However, ca. one year later Universal, who owned Oswald, broke with the Winklers, gave Oswald to Walter Lantz, and left the former Disney animators out of work. 

Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising now tried to set up a studio of their own, and following the overnight success of ‘Steamboat Willie‘, they knew they had to come up with a character fit for sound. This new star was Bosko, a little negro, who, in his first appearance, had a remarkably low voice, provided by animator Max Maxwell. Bosko is introduced in ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’, Harman and Ising’s pilot film, made to sell their new studio.

The film starts with Rudolf Ising drawing Bosko and talking with him. Then Bosko performs a little dance, imitates a stereotypical Jew, and plays the piano. He then starts to sing ‘Sonny Boy’, but unfortunately with an awful voice, which prompts Ising to put the cartoon character back into the pen and the ink pot. But Bosko returns from the inkwell to say the very first version of that famous Warner Bros. line: “So long folks!“.

Bosko is not really an endearing character and the film is a little bit slow, yet it’s easy to see why this pilot film sold: the interplay between the animator and the cartoon character, although by 1929 far from new, still looks fresh, and the dialogue adds a new dimension to the trick. This dialogue is way more sophisticated than anything made at Disney at the time. Bosko jabbers along, with a lot of lip-synchronization, which is not always perfect, but mesmerizing, nonetheless. Mickey would go lip-synch only two months later, in ‘The Karnival Kid‘, but even then his facial expressions were to be less natural than Bosko’s in this little short. Thus ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’ is an absolute milestone in animation history, and a rare film in which Harman and Ising were in fact ahead of their former employer.

The animation on Bosko, on the other hand, looks very, very Disney-like and is almost an exact copy of Ub Iwerks’s animation style. This would become a Harman-Ising trademark: combining sophistication with copycatting. This unfortunately would often prevent their films from being entirely new or original.

Anyhow, ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’ raised the interest of Leon Schlesinger, a newcomer in the animation field, who sold the idea of a new cartoon series to Warner Bros., with the argument that the animated shorts could be used to promote Warner Bros. songs. Thus, the famous Warner Bros. animation studio was born!

Watch ‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bosko the Talk-ink Kid’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’ and the Blu-Ray ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’

Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: July 5, 1941
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Willoughby
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Heckling Hare © Warner Bros.The dumb dog Willoughby was a minor Warner Brothers character, created by Tex Avery, and starring a few cartoons in the early 1940s.

The dog kept changing names, and that’s probably one of the reasons he never got famous. ‘The Heckling Hare’ was his third cartoon, and in it he remains nameless. Tex Avery puts him against his much more famous creation, Bugs Bunny. Penned by Michael Maltese, the result is an inspired cartoon, full of gags.

Willoughby swaps places with Elmer Fudd in hunting rabbits. He’s of course no more successful than Elmer, and Bugs tricks him a lot. The best scene is when Bugs makes the dumb dog making faces, while he puts forward a sign to the audience reading “Silly, isn’t he?”.

However, the cartoon is most famous for its finale: for it ends with a lengthy fall from a cliff by both characters. This scene is obviously cut short in the final version. Producer Leon Schlesinger didn’t like the original ending, which apparently involved no less than two other falls, and ordered the cut. Rumors have it that this was the reason for Tex Avery to leave Warner Bros. This isn’t true. Tex Avery wanted to do a series combining live action animals with animated mouths. Schlesinger wasn’t interested, so Avery ended up doing this series, Christened ‘Speaking of the Animals’ at Paramount. However, this was not a success, and by September 1941 Schlesinger was making cartoons again, now at MGM, where he would direct his greatest shorts.

In his book ‘Chuck Amuck’ Chuck Jones argues that ‘The Heckling Hare’ was the cartoon that re-established Bugs Bunny’s character, after three somewhat misguided cartoons by himself, Tex Avery and Friz Freleng. Bugs Bunny certainly is much more himself and in any of the previous cartoons. In any case, he would meet Willoughby again in the dog’s very last cartoon, ‘Hare Force’ (1944), directed by Friz Freleng, in which the dog is called ‘Sylvester’.

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

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 5
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: All This and Rabbit Stew

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: April 27, 1940
Stars: Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Leon Schlesinger
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

You Oughta Be in Pictures © Warner Bros.‘You Ought To Be In Pictures’ is the very first cartoon to bridge two ideas of animation film figures being ‘real’.

First, the idea that cartoon figures can come alive from the drawing board into the real world, an idea that hauls all the way back to Max Fleischer’s first ‘Out of the Inkwell’ cartoons (1915). The second idea is that of cartoon figures being real Hollywood stars, explored in cartoons such as ‘Felix in Hollywood’ (1923), ‘Movie Mad‘ (1931), ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier‘ (1933) and especially ‘The Autograph Hound’ (1939), with which ‘You Ought To Be In Pictures’ has most in common. ‘You Ought To Be In Pictures’ synthesizes these two ideas, making it a direct ancestor of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit‘ (1987).

‘You Ought To Be In Pictures’ was one of the first films director Friz Freleng made after his return from an ill-fortuned move to MGM, and as Jerry Beck points out in the audio commentary track, one can see this film somehow as autobiographical.

In any case, this short marks is Freleng’s first take on Daffy Duck, and he places him firmly as Porky’s rival. In this cartoon Daffy is not necessarily zany, like in Tex Avery’s and Bob Clampett’s cartoons, but overconfident and sneaky, with a tendency to show off; character treats that would be explored more from 1950 on, especially by Chuck Jones. However, by then the relation between Porky and Daffy would be changed completely.

In ‘You Ought To Be In Pictures’ Porky is still an innocent, cute and Boyish character. In the opening scene we watch him being drawn by animator Fred Jones on the drawing board. When all animators have rushed off to lunch (reused footage from a Leon Schlesinger Christmas Party film), Daffy, framed on the wall, addresses the Porky drawing. He convinces Porky to leave Leon Schlesinger’s studio to get a real job in the business of feature films. Leon Schlesinger lets Porky go, saying into the camera “he’ll be back!”. While Porky has a hard time in the neighboring live action studio, Daffy tries to get his plays at Warner Bros. But Porky returns and beats the hell out of the double-crosser.

‘You Ougt to Be In Pictures’ is a lovely cartoon. It mixes animation and live action, partly from other Warner Bros. features, to great effects. The scene in which Porky talks to Leon Schlesinger is very convincing, and Porky’s drive back no less than breathtaking. Besides Leon Schlesinger, the film stars writer Michael Maltese as a guard, animator Gerry Chiniquy as a director, and executive producer Henry Binder as a sound man. However, as the live action footage was shot silently, all are voiced by Mel Blanc, except for Leon Schlesinger who does his own voice.

Watch ‘You Ought To Be In Pictures’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon No. 71
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Slap Happy Pappy
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Poor Fish

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