Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Buckaroo Bugs

Buckaroo Bugs
Directed by Robert Clampett
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol 5

There is no mistaking a Bob Clampett cartoon. Everything is taken to the extreme, and "Buckaroo Bugs" is no exception. In this short, Bugs Bunny is cast as the Masked Marauder who has been stealing carrots from an old west town. To catch him, the locals call in Red Hot Ryder, who could be considered an early version of Yosemite Sam. So, Bugs Bunny is actually the villain.

DVD's are great for viewing Clampett cartoons. Being able to freeze frame the images can give you a real appreciation for the various poses used in the animation. This is perhaps best demonstrated in Red Hot Ryder's horse. He's a minor character in the cartoon, but from an animation standpoint he's the highlight. The character combines modern elements along with qualities of a rubber band like character right out of the early days of animation. This one sequence where Red Hot Ryder and the horse jump off the edge of the Grand Canyon is evidence enough. When the horse realizes what he's done, he actually turns back through himself to turn around. It's brilliant animation!

Animation at it's best when it explores the limits of what the art form is capable of. This cartoon is a great example of that.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cartoon a Day: El Terrible Toreador

El Terrible Toreador
Directed by Walt Disney
Available on: Walt Disney Treasures - More Silly Symphonies

Many of the early Silly Symphonies cartoons used different cultures as the inspiration for many of the visuals. Not all of these depictions are what we would now consider politically correct, so they are often regulated to the "from the vault" sections of the Walt Disney Treasures releases. "El Terrible Toreador," however, I think was sent to the vault section because the characters drink beer.

Like most Silly Symphonies, there is not much story here. The gags are pretty simple, though you can see a progression taking place here as the sight gags are not repeated over and over as they are in many early cartoons. A few gags seem quite imaginative for this time period, especially when we think the bull and the toreador are fighting but when the smoke clears we see that they are playing patty cake.

The bullfight arena is a classic setting for golden age cartoons. Almost every major character has been a toreador at some point, so it is interesting to see what is probably one of the earliest examples of a bullfight cartoon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Mouse in Manhattan

Mouse in Manhatan
Directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
Available on: Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection Vol. 2

"Mouse in Manhattan" is not your typical Tom and Jerry film. First of all, Tom pretty much just makes a cameo. This one is all about Jerry. He decides he's had enough of country life and decides to head off to the big city. Now you'd think some city alley cat just fills in for Tom for the rest of the picture. While some cats do come in to play briefly, this is not a chase film. This film is mainly about the city as seen through Jerry's eyes.

This scenario leads to some absolutely beautiful background art. Several New York City landmarks are portrayed in some very rich and detailed paintings. There are plenty of good gags, but most of the fun of this cartoon just comes in watching Jerry taking the city in.

It's interesting to note some of the differences in Jerry's appearance in this short. Tom and Jerry have gone through many design changes over the years. In this film, Jerry's nose seems to be a bit more round and bulbous and his whiskers seem longer. He also wears a somewhat dumb expression much of the time, which is not your typical Jerry look.

I'm not sure if this film still runs on TV or not. There are a few moments that would keep it off the Cartoon Network rotation, including a blackface gag and one bizarre moment when it could be interpreted that Jerry is looking up the skirts of some of the ladies of New York. Still this is a great cartoon. Oh and I almost forgot to mention the wonderful music! It is obviously inspired by Gershwin (perfect for the New York setting) and compliments the on screen action beat per beat.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Mexican Boarders

Mexican Boarders
Directed by Friz Freleng & Hawley Pratt
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 4

We've talked before about how Speedy Gonzalez cartoons were left off the Cartoon Network rotation for years, a casualty of political correctness run wild. Yet, it eventually came out that Mexicans didn't see the character as negative, but saw him as a national hero. I sometimes wonder if the true controversial character in the world of Speedy Gonzalez is one who appeared only of those times is today's cartoon. Tonight we experience the one and only Slowpoke Rodriguez.

In this cartoon, Sylvester has barely any energy left to chase the fastest mouse in all Mexico. But when Speedy's cousin Slowpoke comes for a visit, the putty tat is re-energized. Both Speedy and Sylvester are soon overshadowed by the scene stealing Slowpoke.

This cartoon came close to the end of the golden era of cartoons, yet this is a strong cartoon. Slowpoke is a hilarious character, it's a shame he was only used twice. Some might see him as a Mexican stereotype, but really he's simply the opposite of the leading man...a classic comedic situation. Like the slow wolf from some Droopy cartoons, I love the way Slowpoke moves and minimal amount of animation used to bring him to life.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Slingshot 6 7/8

Slingshot 6 7/8
Directed by Walter Lantz
Available on: The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection

It's been awhile since we've done a Woody Woodpecker short. This particular one has a few interesting things to note. First there is not dialogue in the movie except for Woody's signature laugh. Second is that there is no director credited for the film. There is the usual "A Walter Lantz Cartune" credit screen. While Wikipedia credits Lantz for directing (based on his own claim), the Internet Movie Database does not. It's hard to know what to believe.

In this short, Woody is in the old west and ends up participating in a shooting contest. The competitors can choose their weapons, so Woody uses a slingshot while his top rival, Buzz Buzzard as an Indian, uses a bow and arrow.

There's nothing wrong with a silent cartoon comedy, but the animation has to really excel. While this short has some good moments, mostly early in the film, many sequences are lacking that extra punch that is needed. Had Buzz and Woody been given some Tex Avery style reaction shots this could've been a much more memorable film.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Cartoon a Day: Blackboard Jumble

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

Droopy is one of my favorite classic animated characters. So it's really strange that I never saw this cartoon until today. It was not a part of the rotation of Droopy shorts that aired on Chicago television as I was growing up. The only reason I can see for it being pulled from TV is one gag involving a confederate flag. But now, thanks to DVD, not only can we see this short but we can also experience it in it's widescreen form.

This Droopy short actually does not feature Droopy. Rather there are three kid versions of Droopy who terrorize a small schoolhouse. The Wolf, voice by the brilliant Daws Butler, is recruited to be their latest teacher.

The voice and animation of the slow-moving, whistling wolf are a perfect combination. I love his strange posture when he walks. The feet lead as the rest of the body seems to move much slower behind. The wolf is the real star of the short. Even though this is not directed by Tex Avery, his influence is still there. Some would say too much so as several gags are lifted straight out of Avery's "The Three Little Pups," which also features Butler's Wolf character. But even with recycled gags, it's still laugh-out-loud funny

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Cartoon a Day: To Beep or Not to Beep

To Beep or Not to Beep
Directed by Chuck Jones & Maurice Noble
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 3

Today's cartoon is a late entry in the Road Runner series. The plot is the same as any other film in this series...Coyote chases Road Runner...but the film have a very different feel than earlier films in the series.

Many of the early Road Runner shorts depend on a series of very short gags. As the series progressed, director Chuck Jones started to go for longer gags. Whereas many Road Runner gags would last a few seconds at longest, some of the gags in this film last several minutes. And it is with mixed results.

One gage which involves a giant spring seems way too labored and just doesn't flow well. On the other hand, the catapult sequence is skillfully paced and plays more like a series of short gags with a big payoff at the end.

The early Road Runner films are stronger but this is a worthy entry in the series. It is actually the final Road Runner short directed by it's creator, Chuck Jones.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Cartoon a Day: My Favorite Duck

My Favorite Duck
Directed by Chuck Jones
Available on: Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 6

Well it's been a crazy summer. There's been a lot of travel and internet problems at home that has made doing "Cartoon a Day" tough. Plus, the fact that I just got lazy. But with it being September 1, here we go again.

"My Favorite Duck" is the first cartoon to team director Chuck Jones and writer Michael Maltese. That team would produce some of the greatest cartoons of all time. In this short, Porky Pig is on a camping trip where he is annoyed by Daffy Duck who continues to point out that it is not duck season so you can't harm a duck in any way.

Not all of the gags work, but some are classics. The fishing sequence in which Porky ends up floating on the wrong side of the water is very original as is the ending where the film breaks and Daffy has to describe the end of the film to the audience.

From an animation standpoint, the highlight of the film is some of the unique angles used. There is an obsession with low camera angles here like what you might expect to see in a student film. In this film it works well, especially in the final moments of the film when Daffy's plan has backfired on him.