1/9/1937 (according to the Grand Cartoon Database, IMDb and most other Internet sources)
Porky Pig 101 (WHV 5-DVD set)
An as-good-as-it-gets version of this cartoon can be seen HERE (thanks for providing this, Devon Baxter!)
Avery and his unit continue to coast (but do so well) in this unaccountably rare and fairly minor cartoon. One deeply inspired sequence, worthy of a Jacques Tati, and an early vocal appearance by Mel Blanc--soon to finalize the Termite Terrace Dream Team with his great voice work and wit--makes this cartoon worthy of the name of Fred Avery.
This is one of the earlier Schlesinger cartoons to have been censored. One scene, or shot, was removed sometime in the 1940s. No one knows exactly why. Popular speculations include racial material (which seems unlikely, as racial stereotypes were vibrantly alive in the '40s) and a topical celebrity or sports caricature that no longer made sense, when and if this cartoon was reissued.
Sports cartoons are, by and large, the bane of the classic era of American studio animation. Aside from Friz Freleng's Baseball Bugs (1946), and the psychotic energy of Jack Kinney's 1945 Hockey Homicide, it's hard to think of a genuinely great cartoon with a sports theme.
Certainly, some of Avery's least interesting and successful cartoons (1939's Screwball Football and the 1944 MGM Batty Baseball) are sports-related.
Given the inherent absurdity of sports, to this non-sports person, there ought to be bushels of rich comedy in the topic. Perhaps the genre was--and is--held in too high reverence by the American masses to make outright mockery feasible.
Avery does see pockets of silliness in wrestling, and finds transcendent inspiration in one brief moment that saves this cartoon.
Another superimposition reveals why all the hoo-hah:
"Where ya going, sonny?"
Still voiced by Joe Dougherty, Porky forces out that he's goin' to the "rasslin' match."
"So am I."
So far, the cartoon has provided its audience with screwball smart-assery, which is just fine. Now the plot literally drives into the picture, with its own subtitle:
Frank Tashlin is most often hailed as the director who brought live-action techniques into Warner Brothers cartoons. Avery had already achieved this several times before Tashlin made his first short for Schlesinger.
"Hey Joe. Peek opp dees leetle fallah."
To Avery's credit, he keeps an eye on the potential for anarchy, and doesn't subject Porky to much harm...
Porky sees Man-Mountain and does a nice early Avery shock-take.
In the surviving print, a clean scene change occurs between an insert shot of the live locomotive and the passive passenger of one of Avery's most inspired WTF?!? moments:
That music is no more in the print shown by the Cartoon Network in the 1990s and 2000s. Kausler's print reveals a snippet of what's missing. It's not enough to know what the trimmed material was, or what might have caused it to be cut. A grain of information such as this is helpful, although the result is still baffling. Thank you, Mark, for this addition to animation history--one of so many Mark has made over the years.
Back to our magic moment: the slightly worried-looking canine is compelled to lift the shade. He sees passing scenery (which includes railroad SFX and animated passing telegraph poles).
By now, the spell is dimming, and as Porky gets out of sync with the train shtick, reality returns with a literal collision.
We end on a lame sight-gag that anticipates the similar daft finales of Dick Lundy-directed Walter Lantz cartoons, a decade later.
The Avery-at-Schlesinger dream team is now fully assembled, save for animator Irv Spence. The Avery unit was clearly capable of making better films than this, as they'd soon prove. Of its dismal genre, this is among the better sports-themed cartoons. In comparison to the 1938 Ben Hardaway-Cal Dalton directed Merrie Melodie, Count Me Out, this seems like a mini-masterpiece.
Avery and unit are on the verge of a major breakthrough--one that probably hasn't yet dawned on them. Watch this space for further revelations!
NEXT UP: bull-fighting "fun" with Picador Porky.