DVD/BLU-RAY AVAILABILITY: Porky Pig 101 (WHV 5-DVD set; the version there is butchered)
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.
The cartoon's opening bit harks back to the Avery unit's debut film, Gold Diggers of '49. This may seem intentional to our modern eyes:
This cartoon is an oddity in the Avery canon. Avery was not one given to fond looks back. Later in life, he was reluctant to discuss "the old stuff" with younger animators. In his career, Avery zealously re-used ideas, characters and gags, but never with a sense of nostalgia.
The most jarring broken link to forward movement, here, is the complete absence of Avery's new star animator Irv Spence. We have nothing but guesstimates, beyond a few fragments of interview memoirs, as to why things happened at the Schlesinger studio.
The lack of Spence's more dynamic, energetic animation suggests a conscious attempt to NOT make this look like a modern cartoon. Only its staging and cutting occasionally brands the film as Avery's 1937 work. Its look and feel often coasts back to the nine earlier black and white Porky Pigs of 1936.
Back to the play-by-play. In many classic cartoons, sign=chance for income tax gag. In cartoons from the late 1930s, it means killing about 40 seconds while holding on the sign for dear life.
An overhead shot recalls similar scenes in the earlier black-and-white pictures.
It's right back to "Guinea," and his nutritional cheekin feed-a.
The expression in the frame below is spot-on. This smacks heavily of Avery's hand as a cartoonist. His personal touch has gone missing since Uncle Tom's Bungalow, his last cartoon of any real note or worth. It's nice to see his drawing style back in his own pictures.
So much for doing things the legal way.
Back to Porky. To the tune of "Carolina in the Morning," he uses hair-growth tonic to stimulate his veggies:
One injection of hair tonic brings seismic shifts and remarkable results. The ghost of Porky the Rainmaker is in this scene:
This animator's take on "Guinea" has rich, expressive acting. Having such a great voice track inspired better work from Avery's staff. In this scene, the look and feel leans heavily towards the future of animation.
The old loose board routine...
Reasonably funny: tomato vine becomes straw, as luscious fruit are sucked dry.
Lame: belabored set-up for dull pea-shotgun bit.
Stick-figure chick whines about the inequity of life...
...encounters spinach (from the Jones Garden company, BTW)...
Chick regains possession of watermelon.
It's almost all downhill from here, but let's keep going. Here's a favorite Avery gag, scored to another Stalling bugaboo, "In The Shade of the Old Apple Tree."
We fade to black--then back up to a pig's eye view of garden chaos.
Pig is not pleased by poultry's plunder!
Ineffective shooing commences.
Pissed pig stands up for his garden's rights. "Guinea" denies all accusations.
Cutaway demonstrates that the chickens aren't even aware "Guinea" is talking to them.
As can be intuited in these screen-grabs, Porky is overwhelmed by "Guinea"'s motor-mouthing. He's too stupefied to be angry, sad or proactive.
"Guinea" is pleased with the outcome. "At'za too bad..."
"but not... too bad!"
Stunned, Porky finds a last thread of hope... more like an umbilical cord!
Here's this edition's pasted-together pan shot, as Porky traces the vine to a wondrous sight...
A p-p-p-perfect pumpkin!
At least there's something to show for all this chaos.
The naturally occurring goal post is a clever touch.
"Guinea" gathers his hefty hens.
Porky and pumpkin arrive first, followed by his arch-rival/poultry.
Carnival banners=opportunity for staff caricatures/some racy stuff. Who is the Living Skeleton supposed to be, I wonder?
"The reducing pill to end all reducing ills!"
Fleischer-esque "moving holds" are always welcome in cartoons.
Poetic transformation, with beautifully bemused facial expression from pachyderm:
Whoever animated this scene gave it his all.
The sped-up soundtrack is inspired. (See 6:24-6:36 in video, please.)
The effeminate "woo!" is a perfect finale for this brief dip into cartoon madness.
Judge is about to award Porky the prize.
Fickle judge rescinds award.
"Guinea"'s chickens seem destined to take the gold. They have that distinctive over-stuffed look that is a tell of Avery's hand as cartoonist. Again, a modern viewer might flash on the grotesquely overgrown animals of King-Size Canary in this moment.
Enter poetic justice.
Iris out--or is it? Porky's pissed expression tells us all is not signed, sealed or delivered.
Twin portholes open. Porky leans up out of his to reclaim that $ sack.
"Guinea" exhibits temporary hubris. Irises out!
In the interest of clearing up bad Internet information, I quote Mr. Scott now. "The neighbor voice was done by Italian character actor George Humbert. Avery hired him from his movie roles (Clampett said Tex would would go to movies and listen to radio for voice ideas). The salesman voice is Earle Hodgins, and he WAS on the radio doing that patent medicine character."
George Humbert was in many classic Hollywood films of the 1930s and '40s, including one of its most sublime comedies, Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 Trouble in Paradise, in which he shares an opening scene with star Herbert Marshall. Like Fortunio Bonanova, Humbert specialized in comic/sentimental Italian characters. He can be seen in more significant roles in 1931's Street Scene, 1933's The Mayor of Hell and 1937's Heidi and Dead End.
Most often, he played easily vexed waiters, barbers, chefs and other subservient roles. His performance as the nameless neighbor is a highlight of Porky's Garden. His voice work has real charm and authority, He gave Avery's animators something truly special to bring to life. It's too bad the cartoon is so mild and uneventful.
Humbert's presence is proof that Avery closely studied Hollywood's live-action output, with an eye for ideas and potential talent. To better turn film-making inside out, Avery had to first know and embrace its foundations and limitations. His seems a fan's familiarity at times--until he turns on that seeming charm and guts it, as often happens in his best work.
If Porky's Garden doesn't amount to much, it is a quick, amiable walk down recent memory lane. It helps clear the deck for bigger and better cartoons in 1938. We have one more weak Merrie Melodie ahead, and then we'll have the luxury to explore a string of bright-to-brilliant Avery pictures.
UP NEXT: A So-So Sequel to "I Love To Singa," "I Wanna Be a Sailor"