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Freeze Frame Friday 4/9/10: Ripples Of Tiles, Waves of Wheat

9 Apr

Grandpa Mouse "swimming" in a flood of grain

Fantastic effects: A cantankerous old mouse swims desperately against literal "amber waves" of grain, the highlight of the occasionally confusing THE FIELD MOUSE (above); meanwhile, the Wallace Beery-inspired Papa Bear holds his own against a similar "tide" in A RAINY DAY ( below, right)

by Rachel NewsteadPapa Bear fights a "tide" of roofing shingles

If ever there were an argument for the full restoration of the Harman-Ising MGM cartoons, it can be found not only in that favorite of  Kevin and mine, Circus Daze, but in the two cartoons we’ll be discussing this week: The Field Mouse (1941) and A Rainy Day (1940). The grainy images I’ve included here hardly  do them justice; I can’t begin to image how they must have appeared on movie-theater screens. Continue reading

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“Remember…Keep Smiling!”: It’ll Be Hard NOT To In EASTER YEGGS (1947)

4 Apr
Bugs and the sad-eyed rabbit from EASTER YEGGS

If Bugs knew what he was in for, he'd be even more skeptical than he is in this scene from EASTER YEGGS (1947).

by Rachel Newstead

Easter Yeggs

Release Date: June 28, 1947

Director: Bob McKimson

Writer: Warren Foster

In Short: If you sub for the Easter Bunny, make sure you have a good hospital plan and a bullet-proof vest….

Every Easter, I have a tradition.

I do my hair, put on my makeup, select my best outfit and go to the local Radisson for brunch. Then I come home and watch today’s cartoon.

Like most traditions, the roots for this one are long and deep; decades ago, long before I knew enough about animation to dislike Bob McKimson, Easter Yeggs would make me hold my sides with laughter. For me, such a reaction happens rarely enough that I make note of  it when it does;  if a cartoon makes me laugh repeatedly, I mentally enshrine it among the Classics, to be viewed and viewed again. Easter Yeggs has never failed to raise a laugh from me, not even after thirty-five years of viewing. Continue reading

Buddy Says ‘Bye-Bye’: Buddy The Gee Man (1935)

4 Apr
Buddy with false mustache, scowling in mirror

Agent Buddy examines his clever undercover disguise in BUDDY THE GEE MAN

by Rachel Newstead

Buddy The Gee Man

Release Date: Aug. 24, 1935

Director: Jack King

In Short: In his very last appearance, Buddy’s one of the Feds, and investigates a prison warden who hates music. An act, of course, unforgivable in a Buddy cartoon….

Say the name “Buddy” and “Looney Tunes” in the same sentence to an animation fan–try it. I dare you.

But before you do it, I highly recommend a good, solid industrial headset to drown the resulting eardrum-liquefying screech of outrage.

Let’s face it, of all the Looney Tunes characters, Buddy is not only the last one we’re likely to remember, but the one we most want to forget.

But how fair is that, really? It’s something I never really gave much thought, until this recent e-mail question from Kevin:

…do you really think that Buddy is a wholly uninteresting character? I guess I’m getting more out of the soundtracks than you are out of the visuals….

Such a simple question, yet so difficult to answer. Kevin has an annoying way of doing that with his questions, making me ask myself why I like what I like. I mean, there are Buddy cartoons I actually enjoy, but the character….

I suppose the best answer would be “yes”–with qualifications.  I do think Buddy is completely uninteresting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I dislike the cartoons that feature him. They can be quite enjoyable, almost despite themselves. But they would be just as enjoyable, I think, if Buddy weren’t there.

Continue reading

Oh, Magoo, You’ve Won The Oscar™!: WHEN MAGOO FLEW (1954)

10 Mar

Mr. Magoo looking through front window of plane from outside, as shocked pilots look on

by Rachel Newstead

With Oscar season just behind us (though I imagine some acceptance speeches are STILL going on) now is the perfect time to look back on the animated shorts lucky enough to earn that gold statuette in years past–or better still, one cartoon in particular:

WHEN MAGOO FLEW

Academy Award™ Winner, Best Animated Short Subject, 1954

Director: Pete Burness

Release Date:  Jan. 6, 1955

In Short: Magoo goes to the “movies”–and the experience seems strangely…uh,  REALISTIC to our nearsighted friend. Of course, being on an airplane wing thousands of feet up will give you that sensation….

My entire life, I’ve had a sort of roller-coaster relationship with the character of Mr. Magoo. As with Fred Flintstone and company, Magoo was a part of my earliest memories; my introduction to the cranky old nearsighted gent came in the form of the numerous G.E. ads featuring him in the ’60s. Then, to my young and easy-to-please mind, he seemed like just a silly old man doing crazy things, and that was enough–for awhile.

But what might have been amusing when I was four or five proved to be painful to watch when I was thirteen or fourteen, and saw my first actual Magoo cartoons (as opposed to commercials, or specials) courtesy of Los Angeles television. The plots were simple: Magoo, because of his nearsightedness and total obliviousness, would mistake X for Y, and mildly crazy things happened.

Problem was, all the plots were “Magoo mistakes X for Y, etc. etc.”, and Magoo seemed more of a menace than a source of humor, creating wanton destruction wherever he went. Then, as now, I failed to find destructiveness funny (whether deliberate or not), and after about the 10th or 15th such cartoon, I’d squirm and look to see what else was on.

As far as I was concerned, that was it between me and Magoo. Until, that is, I happened upon a segment of the wonderful Wonderama…

If you were fortunate enough to receive WNEW in New York–or KTTV in Los Angeles–in the seventies or before, you probably remember Wonderama. For those who weren’t so fortunate, it was a three-hour Sunday kids’ extravaganza (calling it a “kids’ show” seems too limiting) with a little bit of everything–music, games, cartoons, and most importantly of all, interviews, all presided over during the ’70s by the genial Bob McAllister. I happened one Sunday morning to tune in Wonderama just in time for an interview with the inimitable Jim Backus–voice of you-know-who.

Backus spoke about his early work in show business, and of course, his years as the voice of  Magoo. He put on the fake rubber nose he always claimed he needed in order to get just the right vocal quality, did a few brief lines, then McAllister cut to a clip of a Magoo cartoon: the very one I’ll be discussing today, the Academy Award-winning When Magoo Flew. Continue reading

Bosko In The Big Top: CIRCUS DAZE (1937)

4 Mar

Elephant on hind legs, scratching at fleas

A circus elephant battles a swarm of fleas in a startling--and funny--break from Disney-style realism. From CIRCUS DAZE.

by Rachel Newstead

Perfection is an elusive goal, and particularly hard to define in the medium of animation. There are so many factors to consider: character design, the storyboard, the timing, the gags (if the cartoon is meant to be funny), the music, the voice work. It’s an often delicate balancing act, combining all of the aforementioned elements in exactly the right proportions, in order to make something that’s not only enjoyable to watch, but which stands the test of time.

By those criteria, Hugh Harman’s Circus Daze, released near the end of his and Rudy Ising’s stint as independent producers, is as perfect a cartoon as any I’ve seen. Continue reading

Self-Defense The Flintstones Way (That’s For Very DANG Sure!): “The Prowler”

2 Mar
Prowler sits atop a pile of rubble as Wilma looks up and Fred comes up from underneath

Both Fred and a poor schlub of a prowler underestimate Wilma’s mastery of the art of self-defense in “The Prowler”

by Rachel Newstead

The Prowler

Episode P-3

Original Airdate:  Dec. 30, 1960

Writer: Joe Barbera

In short:  Fred poses as a prowler to scare Wilma, but doesn’t count on a real one showing up…

Having already utilized the “dueling neighbors” and “battle of the sexes” plots, it’s perhaps inevitable that today’s episode, “The Prowler,” would make use of the next item in the Stock Sitcom Situations Handbook, the “wounded male pride” plot.

That’s not a criticism–every sitcom works its way through these, sooner or later. The good ones burn them off quickly and get them out of the way before moving on to more original material. The great ones take these stock situations and still make a brilliant episode. “The Prowler”‘s use of this particular standard situation reinforces this series’ position as one of the great ones.

“The Prowler” very nearly subverts the standard plot structure it’s placed in. Fred objects to Wilma’s taking up judo to defend herself not so much because he’s the man of the house (or cave), but because he’s too darned cheap to pay for the lessons. Pride matters to him, but not as much as money.

The male characters in this sort of plotline often sulk for days before something happens either to convince them they really are big strong he-men after all, or (more common these days) show them they don’t have to be.

Not Fred–he’s too full of misplaced confidence (and too stubborn) to go the “sulking” route. He takes a unique approach by posing as a prowler himself, to prove first that Wilma really needs him, and second (and most importantly, to Fred) that they don’t need the expense of lessons. But as we’ll soon see, the best-laid plans of Fred Flintstone often turn catastrophic. Continue reading

Virtual Dumpster-Diving: My Review of HUSH MY MOUSE

26 Feb
"Artie" and "Filligan" from Hush My Mouse

Dumb and dumber: "Filligan" and "Artie" from "Hush My Mouse"

by Rachel Newstead

It doesn’t happen very often, but I will occasionally resurrect post ideas I’d once rejected for whatever reason, should I find myself stuck for material.   The Avery series was one of those, something I’d knocked around in the back of my mind for two years before committing it to print. What follows is another: an abandoned, unpublished 2007 entry from the old Orphan Toons blog–my review of the 1946 Chuck Jones Looney Tune,  Hush My Mouse.

I quit this abruptly after writing the introduction, but exactly why is lost to time. Perhaps I felt there was too much research involved; perhaps another subject began to occupy my time, or I just plain lost interest.  Whatever my reasons may have been, after looking at it again a few days ago, it seemed too promising a piece to keep in a dusty corner of the internet any longer.

So for today, I’m temporarily setting aside the Flintstones review series to take you back to Jan. 6, 2007 and my review of Hush My Mouse, complete and slightly revised.

Continue reading