Saturday, February 21, 2015

Antarctic Creatures Frolic in Art-Deco Style in Pleasantly Plot-free Penguin Parade


RELEASE DATE: April 23, 1938 (according to the Big Cartoon Database)
DVD/BLU-RAY AVAILABILITY:
none at presentAn adequate version of this cartoon may be viewed HERE.

The cartoons of the Fred Avery unit at Leon Schlesinger's studio were, by 1938, among the plottiest animated shorts in Hollywood. Avery's rejection of the Walt Disney ethos included a strong belief in the power of a persuasive narrative.


Not for him was the plotless pageantry of Disney's Silly Symphonies, which did stress narratives, as the 1930s progressed, but often lost themselves in an ooh-aah tableaux format. (They will begin to show an Avery influence in this year--irony duly noted.)

As we've often groused here before, Disney's high-gloss, all-technique-no-soul policy had a negative effect on the American animated cartoon--particularly after 1935, when most animation studios produced upscale color films. With the emphasis away from character, story and, of course, HUMOR, mid-'30s American animation is a dismal low point for the popular art form.

Avery was the Disney Way's fiercest, most vocal opponent. Unlike many critics, he had a counter-offer that he took into action. Through the two dozen cartoons we've perused here, to date, we see Avery's persistent vision sometimes compromised by the front office, but always in evidence. In the weakest of his early cartoons, as in his milestone films, Avery strives to cram as much narrative as coherence will allow. They may have often been dumb storylines, but they followed through, and left the viewer with the sense that they'd seen SOMETHING, no matter how ill-advised.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Sneezing Weasel: Takin' Care of Business, Cartoon-Style


RELEASE DATE: March 12, 1938 (according to the Big Cartoon Database)
DVD/BLU-RAY AVAILABILITY:
none at present

You can watch this cartoon  HERE. Enjoy!


1938 is the year Warner Brothers' cartoons begin to feel like Warner Brothers cartoons. All the key players were present--including some who would depart (Friz Freleng, Frank Tashlin) then return in stronger form.

In the meantime, cartoons had to be made, and a yearly schedule fulfilled. Our hero, Fred "Tex" Avery, continues his pattern of a breakthrough cartoon followed by several misfires/near misses. The Sneezing Weasel is one of those also-rans: a warehouse for half-developed concepts that its creator would refine, uplift and transcend in his more acclaimed M-G-M period.

The tentative feel of the mid-1930s Warner cartoons is almost gone. In its place is a brash, cheerful strut. This confidence was sufficient to create the illusion of entertainment, regardless of the content and quality of an individual cartoon. In this same manner, the live-action Warner features bluffed their way into audience's hearts, masking weak narratives and wafer-thin characters with a hearty howzitgoin, mac?

Still coasting on the buzz of Little Red Walking Hood, Avery fashions another minor attack on the wishy-washy cartoons of the day. This film's storyline could have been a Hugh Harman/Rudolph Ising M-G-M animated melodrama. It follows a tiresome cookie-cutter narrative that all the cartoon studios, on both coasts, told to sickening excess in the last half of the decade.

Avery isn't phoning it in here, but he is subsumed by the very weakness he satirizes.

Anyhow, he starts with a reminder that this is NOT a Walt Disney production: 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

This Has Nothing To Do With Tex Avery, But...

Frank M. Young, creator and author of this blog, has just published a three volume bibliography of the comics work of John Stanley, the mastermind of Dell Comics' Little Lulu series from 1945 to 1959. These volumes offer a total of 470 pages of information and images.

Based on years of research, these three volumes purport to chronicle every comic book story John Stanley wrote (and sometimes drew). The cover of every comic book listed is reproduced in color, as are sample pages from stories, in-house ads and original art.

Here are some sample spreads from the three volumes:


Click on each image to enlarge it. Each book is 8 x 10 inches, professionally printed and bound in matte-finish softcover. Each book offers bonus materials. The 1940s and '60s books contain a selection of rare John Stanley stories--none of them ever presented on our companion blog, Stanley Stories. Large images of Stanley's distinctive cover drawings grace the 1940s and 1950s books.

These books are the definitive resource for a study and appreciation of the work of John Stanley. They can be purchased from amazon.com.

For the 1940s edition, click HERE.

For the 1950s edition, click HERE.

For the 1960s edition, click HERE.

You can look inside all three books on amazon, where they're affordably priced. Take a look! These could make a perfect holiday gift for the comics lover in your life--or for yourself!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Daffy Duck and Egghead: One The Hardaway (or, 'Bugs' Bugs Me*)

RELEASE DATE: January 1, 1938 (according to the Big Cartoon Database and IMDb)
DVD/BLU-RAY AVAILABILITY:
Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. III (Warner Brothers DVD 68890)

You can watch this cartoon  HERE. Enjoy!

J. B. Hardaway, known to his colleagues as "Bugs," is a pivotal but problematic figure in classic animation history. He helped nudge Hollywood animation away from bland, nice-guy characters. Perhaps the most appealing studio cartoon character of them all bears his nickname.

Bugs Bunny, in a primitive first draft, was of his hand. He also helped develop Walter Lantz's Woody Woodpecker (for whom he did the voice in the 1940s). As such, he should be considered as great a force as Tex Avery and Bob Clampett in the fight against curdling Disneyfication in later 1930s/early '40s animation.

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.