Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cartoon a Day: The Zoot Cat

The Zoot Cat
Directed by William Hanna (as Bill Hanna) and Joseph Barbera
Available on: Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection

This is another memorable Tom and Jerry short. In this one Tom is trying to win the affection of a girl cat, but she thinks he's a square. After seeing her swoon over the mention of a zoot suit on the radio, Tom makes his own out of a hammock.

This is a unique Tom and Jerry short as it actually features a lot of dialogue. Both Tom and Jerry speak in this one and Toots, the girl cat, has a lot of dialogue.

Of course there are the necessary chase sequences, but the best moment of this short is the piano scene. Tom takes on a Charles Boyer type impression as he tells Toots how she "sets his soul on fire." Of course, Jerry is working on giving Tom the hot foot at the same time. The animation of Tom is also great in this sequence with his exaggerated facial expressions.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Confidence

Directed by William Nolan
Available on: Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection

"Confidence" is an interesting cartoon to look at, especially in the difficult economic times we are facing now. This is a cartoon that wasn't made for laughs, but was made to boost spirits during the great depression.

In this short, things are seeming pretty good down on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit's farm, that is until the depression comes, and in the form of a dark ghost-like figure, I might add. To find the cure, Oswald (looking more like Mickey Mouse than ever before) heads to Washington DC to have a chat with President Roosevelt.

In it's first few minutes "Confidence" feels like any other black and white toon from this era. You've got lots of happy animals with big eyes dancing around. But as things move on, this short becomes quite innovative. The scene where depression sweeps over the land combines animation with live action. The effect is uses a globe type object with houses and trees attached to it which turns as the animated hooded figure flies over. It's a pretty ingenius effect for this time period.

Oswald's sort of decent into madess is also not your typical type of imagery for an early cartoon such as this.

The use of charicature in FDR's rah-rah appearance toward the end is also pretty very well done. Plus it does an effective job of turning a pretty dark cartoon completely around for a cheery finish. This is very strong Oswald cartoon from the Walter Lantz era of the character.

Cartoon a Day: Pecos Pest

Pecos Pest
Directed by William Hannah and Joseph Barbera
Available on: Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection

Last night I watched the cartoon that I was most thrilled to find was a part of the collection of Tom and Jerry shorts that I got for Christmas, "Pecos Pest." This is one of those cartoons that we would hope would be shown each day when Tom and Jerry aired on good old Channel 32 in Chicago. It's probably my favorite Tom and Jerry film, and, I think, one of the funniest.

In this film, Jerry is paid a visit by his Uncle Pecos, a singing cowboy on the way to make his big TV debut. While practicing the song he'll be doing on the show, Pecos breaks a guitar string and finds a replacement by plucking one of Tom's whiskers. The rest of the short consists on more guitar strings breaking and Pecos trying to chase down Tom for more replacements. So, for once, Tom is the one on the run.

You could say this is a one joke cartoon, but it's just so funny every time that guitar string breaks. And the final gag is an absolute classic. I love the sound effects of the guitar strings breaking and the plucking of the whiskers, they crack me up every time. The voice of Uncle Pecos (performed by Shug Fisher) is certainly worth noting as well. Most of the Tom and Jerry shorts have little, if any, dialogue. But in this one, the lone voice of Pecos is just so funny as he stutters his way through a version of "Frog Went A-Courtin."

If you ask me, MGM missed out on a new animation star by not giving Uncle Pecos his own series. Sadly this is his only appearance.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cartood a Day: The Abominable Snow Rabbit

The Abominable Snow Rabbit
Directed by Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 5

In "The Abominable Snow Rabbit," Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are on their way to Palm Springs but end up in the Himalayas (having failed to head West at East St. Louis). There they run into an abominable snow man who wants nothing more than a pet rabbit. So Bugs and Daffy spend the rest of the short trying to convince the monster that the other is a rabbit.

This short was made in 1961, so it has a very different feel than earlier Warner Brothers short. Though it has a different look, the art is still great. The backgrounds are more extreme than ever, and there are some slight changes in the character design, especially for Daffy. What's hard to get used to is that the comedy is driven more by dialogue than by action. The late Looney Tunes films always seem a bit talky to me, and sometimes the comedy works and sometimes it doesn't.

The Abominable Snow Man character is fun and has a great design. The character is clearly based on the Lenny character from "Of Mice and Men." Most of the film's funnier moments are driven by the snowman. Though this is a funny short, it just doesn't quite have the manic edge of the earlier Looney Tunes.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Dude Duck

Dude Duck
Directed by Jack Hannah
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures - The Chronological Donald Vol. 4

The fourth volume of "The Chronological Donald" was also under my tree yesterday, so let's take a look at one of the shorts from that collection, "Dude Duck."

In this short we visit a dude ranch where the horses are bored, that is until a bus load of beautiful girls wanting to ride pulls up. Unfortunately for one horse, Donald Duck also happens to be with the group. The horse that gets assigned to Donald would much rather have one of the beautiful young ladies on his back, so he proceeds to do everything he can to keep Donald off his back.

The first shot of this film really tell you that you're in for some great animation. The shots of the western buttes are beautiful artwork. Completely different than what you might see in a Warner Brothers Road Runner short.

Donald, of course, is always a great character, but the horse really ends up being the star of this short. He has a wonderfully expressive face and a great range of body movement as well. The gags go back and forth, with Donald and the horse each getting the best of each other at times. It was kind of funny to see that this short features a very similar gag to one in yesterday's Tom and Jerry cartoon "Texas Tom." Both shorts feature one character lassoing the other, only to have that character switch places with an angry bull. One of the classic gags of animation, I guess.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Texas Tom

Texas Tom
Directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
Available on: Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection

Merry Christmas everybody! There were some cartoon collections under the tree for me this year, so tonight we get to sample a cartoon from some characters we have yet to look at for a "Cartoon a Day" feature, Tom and Jerry.

Tom and Jerry seem to be under appreciated at times. Perhaps it's that in the last 20 years we've been exposed to an extreme parody of theme in the form of the Simpson family's favorite cat and mouse team, Itchy and Scratchy. That particular duo gets downright gruesome, but that's not to say that they don't take some cues from MGM's cat and mouse team. Tom and Jerry are pretty violent. Other classic characters are too, but I think with Tom and Jerry it all seems much more painful. I mean, these characters actually seem to be in pain when Tom kicks Jerry with a spur, or when Jerry slams Tom in the face with a cactus, as happens in this short.

I've certainly been guilty of downplaying the significance of these shorts, but shame on me. Violent as it is, this is great animation. In this short I especially noticed what a well designed character Tom is. He has a great range of movement and reactions. When he pretends to be a swaggering cowboy singer in this short the animators show great range.

I guess these characters are kind of like the Three Stooges of animation. You wince a bit when you watch them, but sure are funny.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Penn Gets a Bible

I ran across this video yesterday and I just had to share it. Penn Jillette, of the magic comedy act Penn & Teller, does a pretty regular video blog called "Penn Says." In this particular episode he talks about an individual who approached him after a performance and presented him with a copy of scripture. Now Penn is a pretty outspoken atheist, but his reaction to this gift and the attitude of the person who presented to him is quite amazing. His view on "proselytizing" is also interesting. He's and atheist, but he says that he doesn't respect people who don't proselytize. Watch the video and let his quote sink in a bit..."How much do you have to hate somebody to NOT proselytize them? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?" Kind of an interesting challenge about sharing what you believe...from an atheist!

Cartoon a Day: The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas
Directed by Wilfred Jackson (uncredited)
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies

Sorry for the lag in "Cartoon a Day" blog posts lately. It's been crazy the last few weeks and I've been too exhausted to blog. Though I have been watching my cartoons, I hope to do a catch up report soon. Well, the Disney Silly Symphony "The Night Before Christmas" seemed like the best choice of cartoon for this Christmas Eve.

In this short, Santa Claus visits a home on Christmas Eve and with the help of a bunch of toys come to life he decorates the house. This depiction of Santa Claus is really a classic, not just from an animation standpoint. This is a jolly, plump, funny St. Nick and I'm sure that many other film depictions of Santa have drawn on this cartoon for inspiration. His design is similar to other plump characters that have appeared in other Silly Symphonies such as King Midas and Noah, but this is probably the best use of that character style in this series of shorts.

Sure this is that sort of cutesy style of animation that is often associated with Disney, but it is the appropriate style for this film. Santa Claus and a bunch of toys setting up a Christmas tree is supposed to be cute! The fun of Christmas is alive and well in this classic short! Merry Christmas everybody!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Felix Dopes it Out

Felix Dopes it Out
Directed by Otto Messmer
Available on: Youtube

There are so many stars of cartoons that we've looked at in the "Cartoon a Day" posts, but we've yet to look at one of the earliest stars of animation...Felix the Cat. Like Betty Boop, Felix's cartoons are in the public domain, so here it is direct from Youtube.

This short is a bit uneven but still enjoyable. A lot of work seems to be put into the animation of Felix. His movements are pretty smooth for such an early cartoon. However, the other characters, like the clown at the beginning, seem a bit jerky. There are some clever gags as well. Felix grabbing the question mark and straightening it to make the ship's mast was a favorite.

It is interesting to see a silent cartoon that approaches the dialogue like a comic strip, with the words appearing above the characters heads. This is really the first Felix cartoon I've really looked at, we'll have to check some more out soon.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company "B"

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company "B"
Directed by Walter Lantz (uncredited)
Available on: Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection

This is the first cartoon I've tackled for "Cartoon a Day" that is a big example of the different attitudes about racial stereotypes that existed in the days of the animated theatrical shorts. From an animation standpoint this is a fine cartoon, but it's depiction of African-Americans ends up being a distraction.

The film uses the famous song that inspired the title as the basis. A young jazz trumpeter is drafted and he ends up getting the whole army swinging by the time the short is done.

Things actually start off well. The scenes in the jazz club don't seem to come across as negative. The interesting style of the characters and other elements is illustrated well in the above shot of the drummer.

Unfortunately, as we move on to the army scenes, there is a lot of the negative stereotypes. But that doesn't change the fact that there is some skillful animation here. The characters display a great range of movement, especially as they really get into the music. We do need to be sensitive about how these type of cartoons are presented, but pretending they never existed is just as bad. It is possible to appreciate the artistic elements of these films, while recognizing that we've come a long way in our attitudes in the time since these films were made.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Catch Up

I've been watching my cartoons, but have been a bit behind blogging on them. I'd like to do indepth reviews on all three of these I've missed, but just don't have the time. So here's just an update of my last three cartoons...all three are directed by Dick Lundy, all three are Woody Woodpecker shorts, and all three are available on Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection.

Wet Blanket Policy

Wild and Woody

Drooler's Delight

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Puss N' Booty

Puss N' Booty
Directed by Frank Tashlin
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 4

"Puss N' Booty" is a cartoon of unique historical significance. First of all, it is the final black and white Looney Tunes cartoon produced. In some ways you do feel like you're watching one of the color cartoons on a black and white TV. The film is also significant since this is pretty much a Tweety and Sylvester cartoon before those two characters existed.

In this cartoon, Rudolph the cat has his owner believing that her last several canaries have been escape artists. Rudolph's feather filled hiccup tells those of us in the audience different. There are some great poses during this sequence when the cat tries to gather up the feathers.

A new canary is ordered and Rudolph wait anxiously for the delivery truck. This is another great sequence which features some great poses for the cat. Especially funny is the moment where he tears a chunk of a brick wall out in order to make sure the approaching delivery truck sees the address sign.

Director Frank Tashlin eventually moved on to a career directing live action films. His great sense of comic timing is certainly on display in this short. It's kind of surprising that it took a little while for this cat vs. bird premise to catch on. Sylvester and Tweety would turn it into a classic premise a little while later.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Poor Cinderella

Poor Cinderella
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Available on: YouTube

Once again, thanks to the lovely Miss Betty Boop's cartoons being in the public domain, we can embed the entire cartoon right from YouTube. So enjoy!

"Poor Cinderella" may be the most ambitious of the Betty Boop cartoons and it is her only color cartoon. And, as odd as it may seem to us today, she is made a redhead. Though this cartoon clearly shows some Disney influence, it's also very possible that this film had some influence on Disney when they made their version of Cinderella 16 years later.

You can really see what made Betty such a likable character, and I'm not just talking about her physical features, though the animators don't exactly hide those qualities in this cartoon.

The sequences at the ball are the real highlight of this short. The backgrounds are really beautiful and the dance between Betty and the prince is so graceful. It's probably rotoscoped, but it's so well done it made me think of the dance in "Beauty and the Beast."

Cartoon a Day: Snow-White

Directed by Dave Fleischer
Available on: YouTube

Well, I'm behind again on Cartoon a Day after a late night out last night seeing "High School Musical: The Ice Tour." It was a long way from the Ice Capades I saw growing up. Anyhow, we're playing catch up today. Now earlier today I saw and episode of the show "Biography" that was about Betty Boop. So I felt like doing some Betty Boop cartoons, however, I don't own any Betty Boop DVD's. But, since the Betty Boop cartoons are pretty much all in the public domain, it is legally available on YouTube. So we'll just embed the whole cartoon below and you can watch it yourself.

Betty Boop seems to be often ignored in the grand history of animation. Her film career wasn't that long, 1932-39, and all but one of her cartoons were in black and white. Yet Max and Dave Fleischer (her creators) were incredibly innovative and her cartoons do have great historical significance. Not to mention that they are a lot fun to watch. This short is considered by many to be the best Betty Boop film.

In this film, Betty plays the role of Snow White while her frequent co-stars, Koko the Clown and Bimbo, play two of the queen's guards. It's not quite the Snow White story we're used to, but that's ok.

The Fleischers were somewhat known for having cartoons that featured regular everyday objects come to live, that is certainly present here. The use of rotoscoping is also worth noting here. In the second half of the film, Koko launches into a Cab Calloway song, which was rotoscoped, and beautifully so, using footage of Calloway himself. I'm usually not a fan of rotoscoping (like in Ralph Bakshi's "The Lord of the Rings") but here it works really well. The Fleischers invented the technique, so I guess they knew how to use it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Cock O' The Walk

Cock O' The Walk
Directed by Ben Sharpsteen (uncredited)
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures - More Silly Symphonies

You may have noticed that I missed yesterdays "Cartoon a Day" entry. I did watch a cartoon but had trouble getting the images, so I waited to post until today.

Years ago, I reviewed this short on the Internet Movie Database. I described it as "Busby Berkeley meets Colonel Sanders." In this short, the "Cock O' the Walk" comes to town and woos a chicken away from another rooster. All the other adoring fans of the cock launch into a big musical number and eventually a fight between the two roosters occurs.

This short is a lot of fun. Very colorful and detailed. It is especially worth noting the great range in design of the various chickens and other birds. Just a few years earlier, the black and white Silly Symphonies tended to feature animals that all looked alike. But here we see great advances in character design being made. This is another example of the great achievements made in the Silly Symphonies series.

Cartoon a Day: Hare Force

Hare Force
Directed by Friz Freleng (as I. Freleng)
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 3

The title "Hare Force" has absolutely nothing to do with the plot of this cartoon. You'd think it had something to do with the military, but it's just an unrelated pun. The plot concerns Bugs Bunny battling with a dog named Sylvester over who gets locked outside on a cold winter night.

You kind of feel sorry for Sylvester as Bugs tricks him out of his spot by the fire. Maybe that's why he wasn't used as an ongoing nemesis for Bugs. However, Sylvester does get a few jabs in himself.

The best sequence comes toward the end of the film...the "oh no, out you go once and for all" sequence. The two characters go back and forth trying to push the other out the door. There are some great poses if you freeze frame when the two switch places.

Though this short takes a little while to find it's rhythm, it is pretty funny and ends strong.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cartoon a Day: Arctic Antics

Arctic Antics
Directed by Ub Iwerks
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures - More Silly Symphonies

With the weather we had here in Denver today, "Arctic Antics" seemed like an appropriate choice of cartoon.

It's a Silly Symphony, so as is often the case there is no real plot to speak of. This one features a bunch of arctic creatures playing and dancing about. The animation is good, it is directed by Ub Iwerks after all, but it is a bit uneven.

I guess it was hard to think up a bunch of fun situations that take place in sub zero temperatures. The first half of the film is just kind of there, and unfortunately features one of the most annoying sound effects trax ever. Who knew that baby polar bears squeaked like doggie toys?!?

The second half of the film is a lot more fun, featuring a troop of military marching penguins. A bit of comic touch is added by a short penguin who can't quite keep up with the group that seems somewhat like an early version of the little mushroom that can't keep up with others in the Nutcracker Suite section of "Fantasia."

Monday, December 08, 2008

Christmas Playlist

I love Christmas music, especially strange Christmas music. So, if you have the courage to experience my musical taste, try out my Christmas playlist from Project Playlist. Among the songs are a Porky Pig version of "Blue Christmas," The Ramones with "Merry Christmas, I don't Want to Fight," and the Cheech and Chong classic "Santa Claus and His Old Lady."

Click here for the tunes.

Cartoon a Day: Northwest Hounded Police

Northwest Hounded Police
Directed by Tex Avery
Available on: Tex Avery's Droopy - The Complete Theatrical Collection

Ah, Droopy, the perfect start for the week. "Northwest Hounded Police" is one of the earliest Droopy shorts. The premise is simple, the wolf has escaped from prison and is hiding out in the great white north of Canada. So the mounties are called in and they send out their finest...Droopy. For the rest of the short, no matter where the wolf runs, Droopy is there.

This short is all about the classic Tex Avery style reactions. Things actually start pretty calm as the wolf reacts to Droopy's constant presence. But thing build in intensity as the short continues.

I'm not quite sure what it is that keeps Tex Avery's cartoons so funny even after repeated viewings. I've seen this cartoon many times, but I was laughing out loud, and very loudly, again tonight. My wife told me to quiet down because I was keeping the kids up.

Perhaps it's just that Avery seems to be pulling out all the stops with each reaction of the wolf, yet the next one is even more extreme. You just can't help but burst out in laughter.