Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Alice's Wild West Show

Alice's Wild West Show
Directed by Walt Disney
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures - Disney Rarities

The Alice comedies are the often talked about but rarely seen first big series of shorts created by Walt Disney. They are silent films that combine live action with animation. They are interesting to look at, not just from the standpoint of animation history, but of film history in general.

"Alice's Wild West Show" seems much like a silent Our Gang film as it begins, not just because it's live action, but the look and feel is much like that of Hal Roach's famous rascals. Alice and her pals are putting on a wild west show somewhere in a back alley and a rag tag group of neighborhood kids have gathered for the show. Things are going fine until the local bully and his gang show up and all of Alice's cast runs away in fear. She is forced to continue the show on her own, telling stories of her wild west adventures which are portrayed through animation.

The animation is not very smooth, but remember this is 1924. There are some hints of the greatness that was to come, but most of what makes the Alice shorts fun is the character of Alice herself as she interacts with the toons.

Though we've seen real people in cartoons many times since, the novelty of this effect is still interesting in a film that's 84 years old. Plus, you get to see an art form being born, that's just plain cool.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Beep Beep

Beep Beep

Directed by Chuck Jones (as Charles M. Jones)

The first cartoon on "Cartoon a Day" was a Road Runner short, so it's about time we did another one. "Beep Beep" is one of the earliest Road Runner short and it is a perfect example of what makes these shorts so great.

Really, it doesn't seem quite right to call them "Road Runner shorts." They are much more about the coyote and I think it is that character that makes these films shine. This isn't a character that is defined by voice, and there's not a lot back story to know about him. All you need to know is that he wants to catch the Road Runner. The character comes out in the animation. I think the coyote may be the most expressive character Warner Brothers ever created.

Animators often created model sheets for different characters. They help guide how the character should look when portraying different emotions. I can't imagine what the model sheet must be like on the coyote. It would take several pages just to show the wide range of expressions for "smashed in the face with a boulder."

Every reaction of the coyote is different. And even when his plans blow up in his face, again, he returns to looks of confidence and smugness which could take up several more model sheets. These shorts are all about the timing and the reactions, and their flawless in "Beep Beep."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Devil May Hare

Devil May Hare
Directed by Robert McKimson
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 1

The Tasmanian Devil is a favorite character for many. What many don't realize is that he only appeared in about five of the Looney Tunes theatrical shorts. "Devil May Hare" marks his first appearance.

"Taz," as he would later be called, is a great lesson in character development. While some characters need to be complex, some can be extremely simple. The Tasmanian Devil is a lot like Cookie Monster, he is driven by his hunger and that's about it. If it can fit in his mouth, it's eat now and ask questions later.

As you watch this short you can see Bugs Bunny's mind whirling as he comes up with ways to handle this wild new character. The animators were probably going through the same thing. The Devil is a character without limits, it's a shame the classic animators didn't have more opportunities to explore the character.

The art is worth noting as well. The Devil's whirlwind entrance is perhaps one of the best entrances for any of the Looney Tunes characters. The stylized look of the backgrounds are also fun to look at. They are very simple but with beautiful use of color. They also really fit the wild action of the Tasmanian Devil, not stealing any of his impact.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Monkey Melodies

Monkey Melodies
Directed by Burt Gillett
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures - More Silly Symphonies

Happy Thanksgiving everybody! Today's cartoon has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, but it's got the next best thing...monkeys.

"Monkey Melodies," like most Silly Symphonies, has no real plot, but a lot of interesting animation and visuals. While there are some great moments, this short does have one big problem. The backgrounds, while beautifully drawn, are too busy. In many sequences, the monkey characters seem to be lost in the business of the background art.

There is still a lot to enjoy here, though. One sequence involving dancing crocodiles is interesting to watch considering what would be done with the same sort of characters just ten years later in "Fantasia."

The Silly Symphonies were such a great animation lab, new things were being tried all the time. This one is still fun, despite a few miscalculations.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cartoon a Day: The Big Snooze

The Big Snooze
Directed by Bob Clampett (uncredited)
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 2

"The Big Snooze" is a classic example of the Bob Clampett style of Looney Tunes cartoon...completely crazy!

It begins with Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny...the usual. But, after one particularly funny bit involving running through a hollow log and a cliff edge, Elmer decides he's had it and tears up his Warner Brothers contract.

He sets out to take up fishing, and promptly falls asleep while at the side of a pond. Bugs, figuring that his job is in jeopardy if Elmer isn't on board, takes some sleeping pills to continue the antics in Elmer's dreams. Kind of Freddy Krueger - ish, I guess.

Setting the cartoon in a dream world just gives Clampett license to go totally nuts, not that he ever needed an excuse before. One sequence seems to be a parody of the "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence of Disney's "Dumbo."

Bugs also manages to get Elmer to dress up as a woman and the sequence just gets more and more bizarre from there. Clampett understood that there is no limit to what's possible in a cartoon...probably better than any other director. Everything is taken to the extreme.

Just look at the above screen capture! When you freeze frame a Clampett cartoon you're just never sure what kind of an odd pose you're going to get. He was a master. Unfortunately, this was one of his last cartoons at Warner Brothers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Mickey's Polo Team

Mickey's Polo Team
Directed by David Hand
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures - Mickey Mouse in Living Color

Mickey Mouse shorts aren't usually laugh-out-loud funny. Don't get me wrong, I love Mickey cartoons, but it's just not the same style as say the Looney Tunes. "Mickey's Polo Team," however, is a very funny short.

Mickey's polo team consists of Donald Duck, Goofy (called "The Goof" here), and the Big Bad Wolf. They are up against four of Hollywood's top comedians of the time, Harpo Marx, Charlie Chaplin, and Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy.

As the short begins, you start to think it's just an exercise in having celebrity caricatures in animation. Many studios featured cartoon versions of celebrities in their shorts at some point. The celebrity caricatures are great, but that's not all there is. This turns into an action packed short.

Donald Duck served as the major source for comedy in many Mickey shorts, and this is no exception. He contends with a mule and Harpo in various scenes. One of the sequences with Harpo is a bit unusual as it's a rare example of somewhat crude humor in a Disney short. Never would you expect to see a joke where a boxing glove seems to pop out of Harpo's rear end and punch Donald in the face under Walt's watchful eye, but it happens here.

Donald has his moments, but I find the Big Bad Wolf to be the most interesting character on Mickey's team. He has some great moments including huffing and puffing and blowing the polo ball across the field.

The animation is excellent. There are several moments where the animators play with perspective to create some really interesting shots. It all contributes to a fun short, even if you don't know how to play polo.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cartoon a Day: The Up-Standing Sitter

The Up-Standing Sitter
Directed by Robert McKimson
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 5

Yesterday was the first day since starting this project that I didn't get to watch a cartoon. So today I'm trying to get in two.

"The Up-Standing Sitter" is an interesting cartoon. It's certainly funny and has some fun animation. What's weird is that it seems like Daffy Duck staring in a Tom and Jerry short.

The premise is that Daffy works for a baby sitting agency. He is called on to sit for a chicken, her child is an egg not yet hatched. The egg hatches soon after Daffy arrives, though. The young chicken eventually realizes that Daffy is not it's mother, father or any other relative, so he is a stranger and strangers aren't to be trusted. The chicken makes a run for it and Daffy must chase him down. So like a Tom and Jerry short, we have the chased playing various tricks on the chaser. There is even large grey bulldog thrown in to the mix who looks a lot like Spike from the Tom and Jerry shorts.

There are some great animation sequences. This frustrated reaction from Daffy after being tripped is a highlight...

It's a fun short, I guess it's just a bit odd to see the Warner Brothers folks seeming to copy a style of another studio.

Cartoon a Day: You Were Never Duckier

You Were Never Duckier
Directed by Chuck Jones (as Charles M. Jones)
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 5

Sorry for the delay in the "Cartoon a Day" posts. I was on the road with a laptop other than my own. I was going to try and catch up on the posts I missed over the weekend today, but today was a bad day of dealing with problems with installation of new TV service. So we're lucky to get in today's cartoon, "You Were Never Duckier."

In this cartoon, Daffy Duck has his eye on a $5,000 prize for the best rooster at a poultry show. Not being a rooster doesn't deter him, though. Using a rubber glove and some stolen feathers attached to a plunger he disguises himself as a rooster and joins the competition.

I love the expressions of both Daffy and the rooster in this frame as he plucks some feathers for his disguise.

Meanwhile, Henery Hawk sets out to nab a chicken for his pop. What better place to go than the poultry show. He winds up getting Daffy to head back to his home, willingly I might add, as Daffy thinks Henery's pop is a judge in the contest. The brief sequence when Daffy realizes his mistake is a classic. Check out these frames...

What fun it is to be able to break down a single reaction show like this. When played at their proper speed you don't notice every little detail, but it has such an effect. When this played it theaters, I'm sure the audience burst with laughter at that moment. Today, with DVD, it has that effect with the added thought to quickly scan back and watch it again!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cartoon a Day Delay

I'm going to be unable to blog on my "Cartoon a Day" adventures for the next few days. I'm on the road with a different computer than normal which leaves me unable to do the articles with pictures like I would like.

I will blog about the next few days cartoons when I return. I'm anxious to share, especially since today I watched "Porky in Wackyland," one of the great cartoons of the 30's!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cartoon a Day: The Mummy Strikes

The Mummy Strikes
Directed by Izzy Sparber (as I. Sparber)
Available on: The Complete Superman Cartoon Collection

The Superman series of cartoons are fun to watch, but "The Mummy Strikes" is not one of the stronger entries in the series. In this short, a scientist is found dead at the foot of a mummy. His assistant finds him and ends up being convicted of his murder. Clark Kent then follows a tip to try and clear the girl's name. Too curious for her own good, Lois Lane follows him.

What ends up following is a long drawn out sequence as another scientist explains an ancient curse to Kent. Eventually, a bunch of mummies are released, which go after Lois and the scientist. Superman then shows up and, in a very brief fight, dispenses with the baddies.

The animation is still the great style the Superman shorts are known for, but the story just doesn't work. Too much silly plot exposition and not enough action.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Thru the Mirror

Thru the Mirror
Directed by David Hand
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures - Mickey Mouse in Living Color

"Thru the Mirror" is probably one of the best of the Mickey Mouse color shorts. This extremely creative short has obviously had influence on several other Disney films over the years.

As the film begins, Mickey has fallen asleep while reading "Through the Looking Glass." Mickey dreams that he has a sort of out-of-body experience as he gets up and walks away from his sleeping self. He then heads over to a mirror and walks right through. On the other side, he encounters various household items come to life. This sequence obviously influenced the Disney animated feature "Beauty and the Beast" many decades later. In fact, a foot stool that acts like a dog turns up in both films. Mickey ends up eating a nut and being shrunk, just like what happens to Alice in Lewis Carroll's stories. Oddly enough, this means Mickey ends up being the size of a real mouse. He doesn't seem to fazed by this, however, and ends up dancing with a pair of gloves in one famous sequence..

This film also influenced Disney's feature version of "Alice in Wonderland." Mickey dances with a bunch of walking cards, which eventually turns into a giant battle with the cards. Some of the shots that involve streams of cards jumping through the air are very similar to sequences done years later for "Alice." In both cases, the animation is brilliant.

This is a fun, playful short. Mickey has never been known for being uproariously funny, but his playful spirit is what has made him such a popular character. This short is a perfect example of that.

What I've Learned from the Muppets: Rapunzel

Recently I blogged about how Hulu now has several classic Sesame Street clips available for viewing on their website. Since these clips can also be embedded on other sites, I thought it was a cool new opportunity to do some "What I've Learned from the Muppets" posts with the full videos available for viewing in the post. So, here is the Sesame Street News Flash segment "Rapunzel" along with an analysis done via web cam...sometimes it's just easier to talk it than write it. Enjoy...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Conrad the Sailor

Conrad the Sailor
Directed by Chuck Jones (as Charles M. Jones)
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 4

"Conrad the Sailor" is an interesting little short. It seems pretty simple on first viewing but it's actually pretty experimental in many ways.

The short features the character Conrad the Cat, who only appeared in a handful of shorts. Here he is a sailor cleaning the deck of a ship, which is realized beautifully by an uncredited background artist named John McGrew, who, according to the DVD commentary track, left Warner Brothers and joined the Navy shortly after this short was made.

For some unknown reason, Daffy Duck is hanging out on the deck of the ship and proceeds to cause all kinds of trouble for Conrad, who by the way is voiced by the voice of Goofy, Pinto Colvig. The gags are pretty simple, but there are many little things that show the experimental nature of this film. The sequence toward the end with Daffy riding a missile is a great example as there are many unique angles and changes in point of view used to great comic effect.

The best gag of the film is a recurring one where Conrad and Daffy always stop and salute as the admiral passes by. This happens several times in the film, but the best is the last time where the two characters not only stop and salute, but so does the missile which is chasing them.

This isn't a bust-your-gut hilarious short, but it is highly original and shows the innovation that was continuously going on at Warner Brothers.

I-Fest Ventriloquist on Oprah

Apparently Oprah has been searching for the world's "smartest and most talented kids." Well I just received word this morning that a show about this will be airing today, and one of the people that will appear is ventriloquist Megan Piphus who has been a regular attender at the International Festival of Christian Puppetry and Ventriloquism. Megan has been a part of the Ventriloquist Dream Team at I-Fest several times and she is an awesome ventriloquist.

Part of the video she submitted is online at Oprah's website here. Congratulations Megan!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Deputy Droopy

Deputy Droopy
Directed by Tex Avery and Michael Lah
Available on: Tex Avery's Droopy - The Complete Theatrical Collection

Let's finish off the weekend with some Droopy. Thing is, this hilarious short actually has very little to do with the character of Droopy. His role could've been played by anybody in this short which gets it's humor from one basic gag repeated over and over in slightly different forms.

Droopy is deputy to a pistol packin' sheriff and they are given the task of guarding a shipment of gold. Two crooks have their eyes on that gold and see Droopy as an easy obstacle to gettin' their hands on the loot. The sheriff tells Droopy that he'll be in the next room and if there's any trouble just make any sort of noise and he'll come in shootin'. So the crooks need to be as quiet as they can to keep the sheriff from catching them.

As the short progresses, the crooks get injured in various ways, sometimes by Droopy and sometimes by their own stupidity. Each time they get hurt, they quickly run to the outskirts of town to scream in pain, safely out of earshot of the sheriff. This happens over and over and over again. There are slight variations (the one where the crooks screams into a milk bottle and then the other one takes it outside to release the sounds is a favorite of mine), but it is pretty much the same gag...and it works!

The animation style is a bit different than some of the earlier Droopy shorts. Droopy doesn't looks as...well, Droopy in this one. There are a lot more straight lines in his design than the round, kind of frumpy look he started with. The design of the crooks also feature a lot unique curves and angles which are used to great comic effect in some of their reactions.

This is a cartoon with a simple premise taken to hilarious extremes!