Freeze Frame Friday 3/12/10: You Can’t Keep A Good Animator Down….

12 Mar

Bugs Bunny registers extreme fear while standing at edge of cliff in Gorilla My Dreams

Wild poses like this one show that however much Robert McKimson may have wanted to calm down his animators, in the early years he didn't (or perhaps couldn't) restrain them that much. From Gorilla My Dreams (1948)

by Rachel Newstead

Fans and historians alike usually classify Robert McKimson–unfairly, I Gorilla landing on top of Bugs Bunny--frame 1 think–as a superb animator, but a poor director. Granted, his cartoons don’t appear to contain even a fraction of the insanity of those of the man for whom he once animated, Bob Clampett;  still, the cartoons of his earliest years as a director (1946-1950) rank as some of the funniest to ever come out of the studio.  Easter Yeggs, Daffy Doodles, Boobs In The WoodsHillbilly Hare–theseImage 2 in the sequence made me hold my sides with laughter when I first saw them, something even the funniest Bob Clampett cartoons never quite managed to do.

Much of this, certainly, comes from the slightly cockeyed writing of Warren Foster, with whom McKimson worked almost exclusively in those years.3rd in the sequence Foster especially liked putting Bugs Bunny through all manner of loopy or humiliating situations, be it subbing for a sad-sack Easter rabbit or allowing himself to be babied by an overly maternal gorilla. The sheer incongruity of it is funny enough.

Writing. to be sure, can do much to redeem whatNext in the sequence would otherwise be a very dull cartoon–we’ve seen that in enough of the early Hanna-Barberas–but combine good animators with good writing, and you have a cartoon that’ll bring people laughter for generations.  The McKimson cartoons of this period accomplish exactly that.Next in the sequence

Like John Kricfalusi, I hated (at least, I once did) that animators–like Manny Gould and the manic Rod Scribner–who had been so wild, so unfettered underNext in the sequence Clampett were so “inhibited” under McKimson.  Of Scribner specifically, John K. said that under McKimson, Scribner’s characters acted as if they were restrained by an “invisible force field”:

…when you watch Scribner’s characters twitch and agitate, it looks like they are trying to bustNext in the sequence their limbs through but never quite can…. ( From the blog “John K. Stuff”, July 9, 2007)

As recently as a year ago, I might have agreed with him. But on closer examination, one begins to wonder exactly how much restraintNext in the sequence McKimson actually did impose on his animators, at least at first. The answer, from what I’ve seen, is “not much.”

John K. almost has it right–at this stage, there’s a certain tension bubbling just beneath the surface of every McKimson cartoon that threatens to erupt any

Last in the sequence

Bugs takes one heck of a beating from one Gruesome Gorilla (above); truly menacing images alternate with the extremely cartoony, making it funny on a subconscious level rather than disturbing. (Click to enlarge).

moment. However, I’m going to risk universal censure by the animation community by suggesting McKimson’s cartoons are as funny as they are because of that partial restraint.

Yes, Clampett’s characters were funny. But they were funny because in his cartoons, they were an extension of his personality: neurotic, insecure, emotionally on edge. He needed an animation style to match his conception of Bugs, Daffy et. al., and his animators delivered. Boy, did they deliver.

That style, funny as it was, would not have worked once McKimson took over; the comparatively reserved McKimson’s approach to humor was far more subtle.  As is evident in Bugs skidding to a stop in front of a cliffthese stills from Gorilla My Dreams, there’s just enough tension in these still frames to convey Bugs’ fear as he runs from Gruesome Gorilla, only to find himself at the edge of a cliff. The scene strikes a perfect balance: too cartoony, and the sense of menace would have been Next image in the serieslost; not cartoony enough, and the scene would have been disturbing.  Frames done by Scribner, Gould and others alternate with those by McKimson himself, giving us a sense that something funny is happening without our understanding why.

Next in the seriesIn other words, the styles of McKimson and his animators completed each other; they, in a sense, put the brakes on him (by preventing him from bring Next in the seriestoo literal) as much as he did with them.  Very possibly, more than he did with them.

As I once said about Circus Daze, a perfect cartoon is a combination of the right elements in the right proportion. In this stage of McKimson’s career, the Next in the seriesscale had not yet tipped too far.

Next in the series

Next in the series

With the combination of his animator's exaggeration and McKimson's restraint, a danger-filled moment becomes a funny one, as we can see in these frames above.

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One Response to “Freeze Frame Friday 3/12/10: You Can’t Keep A Good Animator Down….”

  1. 2leep March 13, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    Im a big bugs bunny fan!!!!!!thanks for the article n the pics

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