Friday, September 12, 2014

Little Red Walking Hood: Mojo Once Again In Good Working Order for the Avery Unit

RELEASE DATE: November 6, 1937 (according to the Big Cartoon Database; IMDb says December 23, 1937)
DVD/BLU-RAY AVAILABILITY:
Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. V(Warner Brothers DVD 112172)

You can watch a restored version of this cartoon (with commentary by animator Mark Kausler) HERE. Enjoy!

We've recently examined the brief but painful down period for the Fred Avery unit at Leon Schlesinger's cartoon mill.

The mid-to-late 1930s were not great times for Hollywood animated cartoons. Significant breakthroughs in animation, color and film technique occurred, many of them pushed forward by Walt Disney and his technical staff. These would benefit the artform's decade-long peak in the 1940s. With a focus on improving the visual aspect of animation, the core content of studio releases faltered.

Disney's innovations sent shock waves through the animation industry. Studios indifferent to change, such as Paul Terry's, showed striking improvements in the quality and personality of their animation. Disney's visual improvements over-emphasized technique and de-emphasized content. That negative influence spread like cancer in cartoons of 1934-1940.

The cartoons Leon Schlesinger produced for Warner Brothers particularly suffered. Liminal cartooning, stuck in the Art Deco style of the earlier '30s, with an occasional tiptoe towards a new look, makes these cartoons seem stale and awkward to our 21st-century eyes. Timing, humor and characterization tend on the dull side, despite some forward-thinking flashes.

Tex Avery and Frank Tashlin consciously strove to break through this barrier of mediocrity through clever technique and, most vitally, a focus on the content of their pictures.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I Wanna Be a Sailor: The End of a Dry Streak of Hide-And-Seek

RELEASE DATE: 9/25/1937 (according to the Big Cartoon Database; IMDb concurs)

DVD/BLU-RAY AVAILABILITY: Kid Galahad DVD (part of WHV's Gangsters Collection, v.4)

You can view a fuzzy but acceptable print of this cartoon HERE.

Thanks to our good bud Devon Baxter for hosting this cartoon. Devon has a great collection of classic cartoons online, and a visit to his DailyMotion account will yield hours of enjoyment.

Two weeks after the release of Porky's Garden comes this, the last of the Avery Unit Depression of 1937. After this, Avery's output will become more bold, daring and funny. Even when the cartoon itself isn't so hot (e.g., The Sneezing Weasel), its first attempts at ideas Avery will later perfect at M-G-M make the work more vital and important.

As with Avery's prior Merrie Melodie, A Sunbonnet Blue, I Wanna Be a Sailor lacks the intense commitment that we saw in Avery's 1936/7 pictures, right up to Uncle Tom's Bungalow, and scarcely exhibits its creator's personality. With this the fourth mediocre film in a row, it would appear that Avery was either burned out or prevented, in some unknowable way, from giving his work 110%.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Porky's Garden: "Guinea" Meets Pig In Fond Farewell to Black-and-White for the Avery Unit

RELEASE DATE: 9/11/1937 (according to the Big Cartoon Database; IMDb concurs)

DVD/BLU-RAY AVAILABILITY: NONE

You can view a cruddy but acceptable print of this cartoon HERE.

Thanks to our good bud Devon Baxter for hosting this cartoon. Devon has a great collection of classic cartoons online, and a visit to his YouTube account will yield hours of enjoyment.

The Avery unit has been in free-falling flounder for its past few cartoons. Despite a dearth of great ideas, Avery and his crew have been polishing up their act, as the look and feel of animation--and its increasingly faster pace--ramps up for the 1940s.

Porky's Garden is a fond step backwards, to the more innocent days of 1936. Avery had less front-office pressure as he and his talented crew cranked out lower-budget black-and-white "Looney Tunes."

And while this cartoon is as bankrupt of great ideas as Avery's last few--it is, indeed, the weakest of his black-and-white cartoons, until 1941's The Haunted Mouse--it proceeds in a cheerful, harmless way. It offers glimpses of the coming sophistication to the visual aspect of Hollywood animation.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Sunbonnet Blue: Another Lesser Avery Effort--More Singing Mice, Less Mad Meta-Comedy

RELEASE DATE:
8/21/1937 (according to the Big Cartoon Database; IMDb claims a 12/1/1937 release date)

DVD/BLU-RAY AVAILABILITY:
NONE

You can view a mid-1990s Turner print of this cartoon HERE. Thanks to our good bud Devon Baxter for hosting this cartoon. Devon has a great collection of classic cartoons online, and a visit to his DailyMotion page, or his YouTube account, will yield hours of enjoyment.

A month after its prior Merrie Melodie, Egghead Rides Again, the Avery unit reverts to front-office-pleasing pabulum, spiced with stolen moments of inspiration and humor.

In 2014, with knowledge of Avery's career, and of what he could do, left to his own devices, A Sunbonnet Blue is merely an annoyance. Having thrown down several gauntlets of challenge to animation conformity, this and similar cartoons are little more than a waste of Avery's time.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Egghead Rides Again: A Meh Cartoon Enlivened by Irvin [sic] Spence Animation

RELEASE DATE:
7/17/1937 (according to the Big Cartoon Database; IMDb claims a 11/29/1937 release date)

DVD/BLU-RAY AVAILABILITY:
Kid Galahad DVD (part of WHV's Gangsters Collection, v.4)

You can view a mid-1990s Turner print of this cartoon HERE.

The Avery pattern of major film/minor effort rides again! After the game-changing meta-slap of Uncle Tom's Bungalow, this cartoon seems tame and unexceptional. Cheerful, yes. Mildly amusing, for certain. But it's unworthy of Avery and his unit.

The chief joy of Egghead Rides Again is Irv Spence's charming, eccentric animation. His work both looks back and ahead. His drawing style is redolent of the spiky, kinetic look of Ub Iwerks' mid-1930s cartoons. The apparent influence of Grim Natwick informs Spence's way of drawing.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Uncle Tom's Bungalow: Brief Bursts of Brilliance in a Controversial Cartoon

RELEASE DATE:
6/5/1937 (according to the Big Cartoon Database; IMDb claims a 7/12/1937 release date)

DVD/BLU-RAY AVAILABILITY:
NONE

You can watch a nice, crisp version of this rare, censored cartoon HERE, thanks to our good bud, Devon Baxter. Thanks, Devon!

The first of two Avery cartoons banned from television airing by the late 1960s, Uncle Tom's Bungalow is part of a group of cartoons animation scholars (and fans) refer to as "The Censored 11."

These cartoons were suppressed mostly for racial stereotypes that were too much for post-civil rights America. Aside from prints hoarded by collectors, these cartoons were often difficult to see, pre-Internet—and are still often encountered in faded, lo-rez versions that do the originals no favors.

Arguably, only three of the "Censored 11" are great cartoons. Bob Clampett's exuberant mini-masterpiece Coal Black And De Sebben Dwarfs (1943), Friz Freleng's solid, funny musical Goldilocks and The Jivin' Bears (1944) and this Avery cartoon are the real keepers of this clandestine subset.

Appreciation of these cartoons requires the viewer's understanding of the era and circumstances in which they were made. In Avery's case, they raise larger concerns and ask bigger questions.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Tex Avery Terrytoon? Almost--Ain't We Got Fun

RELEASE DATE:
5/1/1937 (according to the Big Cartoon Database; IMDb claims a 7/2/1937 release date)

DVD/BLU-RAY AVAILABILITY:
The Life of Emile Zola DVD (Warners Home Video)

Thanks to the always-awesome Devon Baxter, you can view a mid-1990s Turner print of this cartoon HERE. You're a brick, Devon!

After the epochal effort and game-changing effect of Porky's Duck Hunt, Avery's next cartoon is an inevitable letdown.

This is a Tex Avery pattern: a masterpiece followed by a "meh." Avery's lesser cartoons still have redeeming moments, and this Merrie Melodie, which chooses the road less traveled of prudence and restraint, is a minor moment in a major filmography. By the standards of any of the other units in Leon Schlesinger's studio, this would be a good-to-average cartoon. It might have been Jack King's masterpiece.

It's also Avery's first cartoon to deviate from his way of drawing. I'll get into this topic more later, but the majority of the characters in Ain't We Got Fun don't appear to be of his design.

Perhaps this film was a trade-off for the Avery unit being allowed to make Porky's Duck Hunt, which was previously covered in depth here. "You made a cartoon your way; now you gotta make one for the front office." (This is only an educated guess.) Where Duck Hunt is infused with comedic passion, Ain't We Got Fun is phoned in with gritted teeth. One recalls Oliver Owl, from Avery's I Love To Singa, forcing out his pinched rendition of "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes."