Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Tom-ic Energy

Tom-ic Energy
Directed by Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble
Available on: Tom and Jerry - The Chuck Jones Collection

It might turn out to be a Tom and Jerry week here for Cartoon a Day, since I used some more Father's Day gift card goodness to pick up the recently released "Tom and Jerry - The Chuck Jones Collection" DVD set. The Chuck Jones Tom and Jerry films are going to be interesting to look at. After Warner Brothers got out of the cartoon business, Jones was courted by MGM where he ended up doing a number of projects, including the final 34 Tom and Jerry theatrical shorts. These films represent the final days of the age of animated theatrical short. They are also interesting in that while they are the work of a master, they are generally not considered to be a high point in Jones' career. However, it is interesting to see theatrical animated shorts done in full animation, from a time when animation was heading to a slimmed down television version (being spearheaded, oddly enough, by Tom and Jerry's creators...William Hanna and Joseph Barbera).

The look of these shorts is very different from the Hannah Barbera films. The look of the two main characters changed quite a bit. Jerry had a bigger head and larger eyes. Tom was given thicker eyebrows and longer ears. The color scheme is quite a bit different as well. Plus, the films are widescreen!

This short has the cat and mouse chasing around city streets and rooftops. There are some decent gags, but they just don't quite have the intensity of the HB years. The highlight of the film is when Tom gets caught up in the laundry, ends up dressed in a ladies clothes, and then is mistaken by another cat for a female. The scene is played Pepe le Pew style, complete with Mel Blanc doing the voice of the other cat.

I can remember seeing many of these shorts as a kid, and even then we could tell the difference between the older Tom and Jerry cartoons and these. I can honestly say that my memories back then were that these were not as strong, but it will be fun to revisit them with the eyes of an adult.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cartoon a Day: The Bowling Alley-Cat

The Bowling Alley-Cat
Directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
Available on: Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection Vol. 2

With my Father's Day gift card I managed to pick up Volume 2 of the Tom and Jerry DVD sets. So here is one of the shorts on that collection, and early one called "The Bowling Alley-Cat."

This is an early short for the cat and mouse team. The design of Tom is quite a bit different than what we'd come to know. His head seems rounder, eyes a bit larger and he's a bit more scraggly looking.

You can probably figure out the plot from the title, Tom and Jerry try to kill each other in a bowling alley. It is a great location for them as there are lots of new ways of causing injury to each other.

Actually, the film seems somewhat tame for a Tom and Jerry short, until about halfway through...right about the time Tom gets a bowling ball in caught in his mouth and then is creamed in the face by about half a dozen more. It actually goes to show one of this cartoons greatest strengths, it builds. The level of violence/humor keeps ramping up as the short progresses. Hanna and Barbera are patient with their best bits which shows their skill as directors.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cartoon a Day: A Ham in a Role

A Ham in a Role
Directed by Robert McKimson
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 6

This marks the first time that a Goofy Gophers cartoon has appeared on "Cartoon a Day." The characters were never major stars in the Looney Tunes universe (they only appeared in nine films) but they can be amusing characters.

In this short, a dog is fed up with acting in cartoons so he heads to his country home to practice Shakespeare in order to pursue more dignified roles. Unfortunately, his home has been taken over by gophers who seek their revenge after being tossed out the window.

The gophers lay right into this dog character without much cause, so it's a little hard to cheer for them. Problem is, the dog is portrayed as pompous, but not mean. So it's the gophers that come off looking nasty. The sequence involving a magnet and a suit of armour toward the end of the film is very funny however.

There was one thing that struck me as I watched this short. Now understand, I'm one of those people that can't stand it when people suggest that certain cartoon characters (or Muppets) have certain...shall we say alternative lifestyles. However, as I watched the interaction of the two gophers, which is the funniest part of the film, I began to have memories of a James Bond film, "Diamonds are Forever." Specifically, the two assassins in that movie, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, who are supposed to be gay. Seeing the two gophers plotting things and then walking off arm in arm reminded me of seeing the James Bond villains walking off hand in hand. I did find a little bit of debate out there on the interwebs about whether the gophers were portrayed with a certain stereotype. I don't think they intentionally were, but I could see where one might think so.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cartoon a Day: My Little Duckaroo

My Little Duckaroo
Directed by Chuck Jones (as Charles M. Jones)
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 6

"My Little Duckaroo" features Daffy Duck as a Lone Ranger type hero, with Porky Pig as his sidekick (or "comic relief" as this short calls him). The film has that classic Chuck Jones style to it, but I didn't find this one as out-loud funny as some of Jones' other Daffy shorts.

You may think this sounds silly, but there is a major distraction in this film that kept me from really enjoying the gags. Much of the film takes place inside the hideout of the villain, Nasty Canasta. For some reason, the inside walls are decorated with pages from a book...so you can see words and pictures on the walls. It's an odd choice for background art.

I just couldn't pull my brain away from trying to read the print on the walls. I suppose that shows that I'm easily distracted, but I just couldn't stop looking at those stupid walls. So I guess there's some cool animation here, but bad choices for backgrounds.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Defense Against Invasion

Defense Against Invasion
Directed by ?
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures - On the Front Lines

Today I felt like watching a Disney wartime educational short. "Defense Against Invasion" seems by it's title like it would be about defending your home from enemy attack, but it's really about vaccination.

Part of the film is live action, with a cast of boys who were probably picked to try and resemble the Our Gang kids visiting a doctors office. Animation kicks in as the doctor explains how vaccination works to fight diseases.

This is an interesting short as the character and scenery design seem somewhat ahead of their time. The modern look of the "factories" inside the body seems more like something out of a 1950's cartoon.

The highlight of this short for me is the animation of the germs. The movements of these black, spider-like creatures reminds me somewhat of cartoonist Gerald Scarfe's contribution to the film "Pink Floyd - The Wall." It's some creepy stuff, especially for a film that, unlike some of the other propaganda shorts, was intended for kids.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Mississippi Hare

Mississippi Hare
Directed by Chuck Jones (as Charles M. Jones)
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 4

I've been away from "Cartoon a Day" for awhile, but let's get back on track with a cartoon that isn't in the TV rotation much anymore, "Mississippi Hare."

The very first scene is the primary reason this cartoon isn't shown much. We begin by seeing workers in a southern cotton field. Bugs' tail is mistaken for some cotton, and he's picked and bailed. He then ends up on a paddle boat where he faces a riverboat gambler called Colonel Shuffle.

Shuffle is pretty much Yosemite Sam. The voice is different, but the look, and certainly his stature, is similar. Part of me thinks that the short would've been even better with Sam as the bad guy, but it's still a great cartoon.

The pacing of this short is one of the most interesting parts. Some of the gags are very quick, while others build and build. The sequence in which Shuffle chases Bugs through the ship and they take turns opening doors for each other has a great payoff when Bugs opens the door of the furnace for the Colonel. But then, it keeps going as the short gambler tries to douse his burning pants with water. Watching Bugs slowly counting out change so that Shuffle can get water from a coin operated cooler as his pants burn is hilarious.

It's a shame that this one is out of the TV rotation. It's pretty tame compared to some.

Tim Burton's "Batman"...20 years ago.

Do you remember what you were doing 20 years ago this evening? I do. I had a date! I know it probably doesn't seem that big of a deal to you, but you don't realize how rare of an occasion that was. A good friend took pity on me and accompanied me to a late evening showing of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," which I had already seen once. As we exited the theater around 11:00 that evening, we passed by the line that had formed for the midnight showing of the summer of 89's most anticipated movie..."Batman." The June 23rd release date had been stamped on our brains many months before, and now the day was upon us. Part of me wanted to suggest to my date that we just turn around and make the night a double feature, but I ended up waiting for the first showing the next day. My movie pals and I lined up early and we had such a great time. The movie was worth the wait. It's hard to believe it's been 20 years.

With all the excitement, deservedly so, over Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" last year, I fear that many have forgotten what a great movie Burton's "Batman" is. This was only Burton's third feature. With only the bizarre fun of "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" and "Beetlejuice" under his belt, he seemed an odd choice for such a potentially big franchise. But Burton's take on the material was spot on. Jack Nicholson was an inspired choice to play the Joker and Michael Keaton gave the fanboys who whined about his casting a swift batkick to the pants. Mix it with the incredible production design and what is still one of Danny Elfman's best scores, and you've got a classic.

Happy 20th to Tim Burton's "Batman!" You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

Sorry for the Blogging Break

Greetings all. Sorry for the delay in blog posts here. A combination of craziness of work, a wedding trip, and then vacation with spotty internet service in the hotels I was at made it pretty much impossible to blog. But I'm back...hopefully

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Songs with a Girls' Name in the Title #19

19. Rosanna - Toto

Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro was dating a girl by the name of Rosanna. Supposedly she often visited the recording studio and brought the band food. She inspired the band’s leader, David Paich, to write the song that bears her name. That Rosanna was actually actress Rosanna Arquette, and legend has it that she now hates the song.

Songs with a Girls' Name in Title #20

20. Donna - Richie Valens

So the question always seems to come up when playing Trivial Pursuit…who are the three performers killed in a plane crash on “the day the music died?” Answer: Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and our next artist, Richie Valens. This song is about Valens’ actual girlfriend, Donna Ludwig. Turns out the B-side of this single was a hit for Valens also…”La Bamba.”