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Director: Douglas McCarthy
Release Date: August 25, 1995
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Tweety, Laszlo, Penelope Pussycat, Pepe le Pew a.o.
Rating: ★★★
Review:

‘Carrotblanca’, as the title implies, is a parody on the classic feature ‘Casablanca’ (1942) and appears on several DVD releases of that film.

The short, however, originally was shown theatrically, accompanying the live action feature ‘The Amazing Panda Adventure’ in North America and the animated feature ‘The Pebble and the Penguin’ internationally. Thus, the film is a clear product of the cartoon renaissance, reviving many characters from the classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.

The most familiar faces have the starring roles, so we watch Bugs Bunny as Rick Blaine, Daffy Duck as Sam, Yosemite Sam as ‘General Pandemonium’, Tweety as Ugarte, Sylvester as Laszlo, Penelope Pussycat as Ilsa, and Pepe le Pew as Captain Louis. Also visible are e.g. Foghorn Leghorn, Sam Sheepdog, Porky Pig, the Crusher, Beaky Buzzard, Miss Prissy, Giovanni Jones and Pete Puma. Strangely absent are Elmer Fudd on the Looney Tune side, and Signor Ferrari on the Casablanca side.

The short compresses the original movie into a mere eight minutes, and parodies many of its classic scenes, including the flashback scene. As expected, the result is rather silly, but unfortunately not very funny, as somehow most of the gags fall flat (it doesn’t help that Tweety goes into a Peter Lorre impersonation four times). The film remains at its best when parodying the feature, but as soon as the cartoon characters go into their own routines the results get unpleasantly stale. Thus the film is more a product of nostalgia than one breathing new life into the decades old characters.

Thus ‘Carrotblanca’ may not be an essential film, yet it’s still a fun watch, I guess more for Looney Tunes lovers than Casablanca lovers. If anything, the short showed that the characters still had potential to entertain, a notion Warner Bros. cashed on with the feature length ‘Space Jam’ (1996).

Watch ‘Carrotblanca’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Carrotblanca’ is available on several Blu-Ray and DVD editions of ‘Casablanca’

Director: Chuck Russell
Release Date: July 29, 1994
Stars: Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz, Peter Riegert, Peter Greene, Amy Yasbeck, Richard Jeni
Rating: ★★★★½

Based on the comic book series of the same name ‘The Mask’ was originally conceived as a horror film, but was redrawn as a comedy-fantasy, leaving the comic’s violence behind, but retaining some of its dark overtones. The resulting film turned out be a great example of the animation renaissance that were the late 1980s and early 1990s.

‘The Mask’, of course, is a live action movie, but like that other, very influential live action feature, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, ‘The Mask’ takes its inspiration from 1940s classic cartoons. The most obvious influence is Tex Avery: we can see the Avery wolf as a statue in Stanley’s apartment, where our hero Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey) watches an excerpt from Avery’s ‘Red Hot Riding Hood’ (1943). The Mask later mimics the wolf scene at the Coco Bongo Nightclub, when watching his love interest Tina Carlyle (Cameron Diaz) perform. Another Avery reference is the ridiculously long car in which the Mask arrives at the club.

Other influences come from Warner Bros. cartoons: during the transformation scene Stanley turns into a whirlwind, which is clearly inspired by the Tasmanian Devil. To make sure, the film makers show a pillow with Taz’s likeness on Stanley’s couch during this scene. In some scenes The Mask has some character traits in common with the early loony version of Daffy Duck, and in one scene, The Mask behaves and talks like Pepe le Pew, Chuck Jones’s lovesick skunk.

But The Mask has most in common with Bugs Bunny: both characters are very confident, always ready to turn threat into comedy, both kiss their enemies, both have an ability to produce props out of nowhere, and both put on highly dramatic fake death scenes. The Mask’s death scene is a particular highlight of the film, with references thrown in to Aunt Em, Old Yeller, Tiny Tim and Scarlet O’Hara. During this scene even a fake audience stands up – another nod to Tex Avery.

The Mask’s cartoony antics were realized by computer animation, then still in its early stages. The computer animation was in the good hands of Industrial Light & Magic, also responsible for some other early milestones like the CGI in ‘The Abyss’ (1989), ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (1991), ‘Death Becomes Her’ (1992), and of course, ‘Jurassic Park’ (1993). In those days CGI got visibly better with every film, thus back then the computer animation in ‘The Mask’ was spectacular in its novelty. In ‘The Mask ’the computer animation effects are all deliberately cartoony and unreal, and even if not all effects have aged very well, they’re still nice to watch.

Of course, Jim Carrey himself adds a great deal to the cartoony character of The Mask. At the time he was known by most as ‘that crazy white guy’ in the black comedy series ‘In Living Color’, and, indeed, in ‘The Mask’ he can be too much, but he shifts between his more timid Stanley Ipkiss character, and the wild Mask very well. The rest of the cast is in fine shape, too. Cameron Diaz makes her acting debut as the gorgeous Tina Carlyle, and although she’s introduced as a sex bomb in a classic scene, showing off her legs and boobs, Diaz gives her character a remarkable gentleness and depth, beyond the cliche ‘babe’ character. This is a remarkable feat giving the few scenes the character is given. No wonder ‘The Mask’ set her off on a great acting career.

Peter Greene plays a delightfully scary villain, and Peter Riegert has the unfortunate task to be the only actor to play it straight as Lieutenant Kellaway. But he’s better off than Amy Yasbeck, who is adorable as Peggy Brandt, but this journalist is the least convincing character of the whole movie. Special mention has to go to Max, the dog who plays Stanley’s dog Milo, and who manages to make this side character an entertaining addition to the cast. But even minor characters, like Dorian’s henchmen or the street gang are portrayed by fine actors.

Apart from the cartoon references the film breathes classic cinema, even though the story is set in a contemporary fictive metropolis called ‘Edge City’. First there are the cultural references. For example, the car Stanley Ipkiss loans, is an early 1950s Studebaker, at one point The Mask grasps a Tommy Gun popular with gangsters in the 1920s, he wears a zoot suit to the Coco Bongo Club, where Tina sings 1940s jazz hit ‘Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You’, and as Cuban Pete The Mask makes a complete police force doing the conga, an early 1940s dance craze. Second, the film noir atmosphere is highly enhanced by the lighting, as is the fantasy element with the film’s strong coloring.

Typically nineties are the environmental touches: the opening shot of ‘Edge City’ clearly shows a heavily polluted town, and when Stanley and Tina watch the sunset, this looks more like the Northern Lights, making Ipkiss remark “the methane emissions really pick up the colors”.

True to the source material, The Mask is not an entirely likeable character: he’s too grotesque, too creepy, and too maniacal for that. I don’t think anyone would have chosen a character wearing a bald green skull-like mask, if it had not already been in the original comics. In that respect it’s a puzzle to me that the film was followed by an animated series starring this character. In the film, Carrey mostly rescues the character from becoming appalling by using his comedy talents, but during the ‘love’ scene with Tina at the park he becomes genuinely frightening, despite the comic references, and one is relieved the cops rescue Tina from this all too insistent character.

Nevertheless, Carrey manages to make his nice, but all too timid pushover Stanley Ipkiss likable, and his transformation to a guy with guts believable. Apart from all the cartoon references, celebrating classic cartoon humor, ‘The Mask’ also manages to succeed in delivering its message: Be nice, but stand up for yourself, and don’t let people mess with you.

Watch the trailer for ‘The Mask’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Mask’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: January 5, 1945
Stars: Pepe le Pew
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Odor-able Kitty © Warner Brothers ‘Odor-able Kitty’, marks the debut of that French-speaking, amorous skunk Pepe le Pew.

In his book ‘Chuck Amuck’ Jones reveals that this character was based on story man Tedd Pierce. In any case, Pierce wrote the story, but how much of himself he had put self-knowingly into this smelly Don Juan remains a mystery.

Oddly enough, in his first cartoon Pepe turns out to be a fraud, being married and having two children. Even his voice changes in the end of the cartoon. But before this surprising finale he’s genuinely Pepe, complete with quasi-French accent, strange hop (including Stalling’s typical theme music), and a love for cats that look like skunks.

Only, in ‘Odor-able Kitty’ this is a male cat, who deliberately disguises himself as a skunk to get a happier life. He has one, until Pepe hops along. In the end, the cat washes himself and returns to his former life as victim of maltreatment, exclaiming “this is the life!”.

Pepe le Pew’s character didn’t really develop after this film, and all his films have more or less the same story as his debut film. Nevertheless Pepe would be one of the most successful of the characters conceived by Chuck Jones, second to the Road Runner and the Coyote, only. He lasted until 1962, starring fourteen more cartoons.

Watch ‘Odor-able Kitty’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.220.ro/desene-animate/12-Odor-Able-Kitty/GcMYA69rME/

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: November 12, 1949
Stars: Pepe le Pew
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

For Scent-imental Reasons © Warner Brothers‘For Scent-imental Reasons’ is the fourth Pepe Le Pew cartoon, and one of his best.

In this short a French perfume shop owner discovers Pepe le Pew in his shop and throws in his female cat to chase away our romantic skunk. Of course, she accidentally gets a white stripe on her back and she’s chased by the smelly Latin lover. But when Pepe accidentally falls into a barrel of blue paint, the tables are turned and he’s chased by the cat.

This short features an excellent scene of Pepe arguing with the cat through a glass window in silent pantomime.

Watch ‘For Scent-imental Reasons’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘For Scent-imental Reasons’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’ and ‘Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection: 15 winners’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: January 27, 1965
Stars: Tom & Jerry
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Tom-ic Energy © MGM‘Tom-ic Energy’ is Chuck Jones’s second Tom & Jerry chase cartoon with blackout gags, this time situated in the city streets.

The short contains elements from two of Chuck Jones’ earlier series: Road Runner and Pepe Le Pew. It’s fast, it’s well-animated, its music (by Eugene Poddany) is not bad, and yet, it never becomes really funny. It’s difficult to tell why not.

Watch ‘Tom-ic Energy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 135
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Ah, Sweet Mouse Story of Life
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Bad Day at Cat Rock

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