Random semiconscious musings

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Don Williams

In my last post I mentioned that I was going to focus my next few entries on one of my favourite animators from the Golden Age of animation: Don Williams.

In doing so, there is another bonus.... I get to present one of the most beautifully-animated, magnificent cartoons of all time, bar none.

OK, where to start- Mr. Williams had quite a history of roving between workplaces during the entire span of the Golden and Silver Ages of Animation. He has had a presence at pretty much every major studio in Hollywood- some accounts say he never stayed anywhere very long because he bored easily of animating characters with designs that were too simple and inexpressive. Other accounts say he had trouble holding a position anywhere due to his excessive drinking and nonconformist attitude. It's most likely a combination of the two, but the end result is that his career can be tracked by spotting his distinctive style on many famous characters in dozens of great cartoons.

In his early years Mr. Williams did what most young artists wanting to break into the business did, which was freelance on newspaper illustrations and advertisements. The earliest credit I've seen of his was at Warner Brothers Studios in 1933 on the Merrie Melodie cartoon, "Sittin' On A Backyard Fence"... so I have no idea if he actually animated anywhere else prior to that since his style was not yet discernible. It's quite likely that this was his break into the business because in the 30s when film and animation were exploding industries, almost anyone who could manipulate a pencil could get a job rather easily due to industry demands. He was apparently in his mid-teens.

Don's film credit at Warner's continues until 1936 in the film, "At Your Service Madam", when he suddenly disappears. There has been speculation and testimony by his grandson, Darrin Walter that he did a brief stint at Disney from 1937 - 1939, and has animation in several cartoons including Lonesome Ghosts and The Brave Little Tailor. I will watch these cartoons soon see if I can recognize his developing penmanship in either one of them, especially on the scenes he is attested on doing. (By these dates Don's animation must be a little more obvious because the 1941 MGM cartoon in today's entry, only two years after leaving Disney, showcases his inimitable style and timing which lasted for several years afterward, and it's very unlikely that his exceedingly distinctive talent suddenly developed in two years.
That would be like saying your own handwriting completely changes within a matter of a few months). In my previous post featuring the Buddy cartoon "Buddy The Detective", the scenes I am aware that Williams did still do not quite resemble that which we've come to recognize, although there are brief glimpses of his timing skill here and there.

Don Williams has screen credit and animation in a few MGM cartoons up to 1942. Today's focus is on the magnificent Hugh Harman cartoon, "The Field Mouse".

From the cue Sheets for this production, the other animators listed include Irv Spence, Ray Abrams, Paul Sommer, Leonard Sebring, and David Treffman. I've broken down this cartoon with the animators that I know did the specific marked scenes, keeping in mind that cue sheets are not always the last word on who contributed what.

Enjoy the cartoon. This is a prime example of what can be done WITHOUT sh!tty computer-generated graphics replacing raw artistic talent. The layout is superb, the action fast-paced, and the storytelling is A-1. Some of the best names in the industry worked on this production, and it is a first-class representation of a spectacular Hollywood animated cartoon.

Oh yeah, and enjoy Don's wonderfully quirky style... more on that in my next post.

BTW, that old guy moves pretty good for someone with the gout.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On a dark and stormy night.....

It's that time of year again (when I need to update this blog) and pull a spooky cartoon out of my collection for Hallowe'en.

And my pick for frightening, eerie spooky cartoon features....


WOOOOOOO... Now that's scary!!

OK, I chose this cartoon for two reasons: firstly, part of it lends towards a Hallowe'en theme, and secondly it features animation from an artist I am going to focus on in the next few blog posts because he is one of my favourites: Don Williams.

Though not as obvious as his later stuff in the 40s and up, there's some cool Williams animation in this short. He did the scene at the beginning where the tree comes in and plays the piano ("Bahhh!!! Jazz Music!!!). Another scene in particular he did is where Cookie is on the telephone and the Mad Musician is trying to hypnotize her (one of the first on-screen appearances of a telemarketer, no doubt). It's the scene when Cookie says, "no, no, no" and finally drops the phone and gives in, walking out the door.

One of Williams' strongest points is how sturdy all his characters appear. He was a master of character acting and whenever he was given a facial closeup, there are subtleties in the expressions that not every animator could capture. His animation has an imperfect, quirky quality to it, which is why I enjoy it so much. And all action is nicely exaggerated.

Even though this cartoon is one of Buddy's better outings, as some of the gags are funny, especially with the skeletons- the potential is there for something better but never quite reaches it.... the problem with this short is that it doesn't really know where it wants to go. It begins as a somewhat macabre thriller, introducing the psychotic musician who wants inspiration for a masterpiece. It then turns into a crime-mystery, where Cookie disappears and Buddy becomes a Sherlock Holmes-type gumshoe. Once in the house, it becomes rather surreal, bordering on becoming a spooky, fantasy ghost story of weirdness and curiosity. And finally, it finishes as a humourous romp with Buddy and Cookie doing what they do best, cheery jazz music.

Would it be fair to assume that Jack King was not the only director, which is what caused this confused plotline? Or maybe he had so many ideas, and the story just unfolded as they were incorporated into the cartoon? Nobody really knows... that's spooky in itself.

Either way though, there is some great atmosphere in this cartoon...

Enjoy... and Happy Halloween.....!!


Monday, September 01, 2008

Revisiting the Future

I've been on a binge lately. I've been indulging in watching exceptionally bad cartoons.

Call it an absurd curiosity if you will, but my focus is not to view these to see how bad the cartoon really is, but it's more like examining the thought process of what the person who created it might be thinking when they believed what they were doing would actually be considered funny.

This is a problem with many films these days- even as open-minded as I can be, there are just some things out there in the entertainment venue where no matter what angle I try to understand the creation / execution process, the final result just plain stinks.... even the most uncultured person still wouldn't find these funny (like any film featuring Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell, which are just plain embarrassing...).

So this takes me to today's post.

I admire Chuck Jones and the huge contributions he gave to the animation industry. He's a man that you can look back at his animation career and pretty much try to understand where he was mentally during each phase of his lifetime achievements...
the Pre-Disney days,
the "I wanna be like Disney" days,
the "I wanna be anything but Disney" days,
the "I've got lots of great ideas" phase,
the "but I want Tom and Jerry to be more refined and emphatic" phase,
the "I'm much more creative than you're making me out to be" phase,
the "I'm ready to sell out" phase... you get the picture.

Even up to his final creations, Jones' cartoons are at best watchable. At times he reminds me of a frustrated artist trying to evoke some response to his work but just never hitting the mark, so he tries again using the same tools and character devices in a repeated process. He gets very close with many of his fantastic directions.... but then there's still a sign of unsatisfaction and the next production ensues.

The following film is an example of Jones' fondness for his creations. Even though it's not all that funny in itself, or fast-moving, or even spectacular in its execution, I can't help but watching it through and comparing Jones to a elderly man taking out a box of his toys that he so enjoyed as a child and fondly revisiting memories while playing with them again. He presents them all with a kind and thoughtful manner- not self-effacing them by killing them off or adding exceptionally unbearable violence to them (kind of like what John K did to Yogi Bear). (The only questionable part is the scene where Daffy turns on his eager young space cadet... bad jokes warrant killing him? And it's done in such a slow, unusual pace, too- we can hardly tell Daffy is even angry).

And so Jones revists the future.... and goes from the 24 1/2 century to the return of the 24 1/2 century.

This is the full version of this cartoon, 9 1/2 minutes long. I understand it's hard to come by with every scene intact, so I hope you all enjoy it.... and maybe keep in mind that although it's not a real knee-slapper, you can apply some of your appreciation and fondness for the first cartoon and its characters which still holds up so many years after its original debut.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Censored Cartoons suck

What is it August already? Holy moly, where does the time go. Better dust off those cartoons and get posting again.


OK- I agree that Bob Clampett made some cartoons that were real masterpieces. I also agree that he contributed to the Golden Age of animation in huge offerings. He had a fantastic staff of writers and an even better roster of animators at his disposal.

But I will not consider him a god.

There were no directors in the history of WB's studio that had a perfect track record. Each and every one of them had standouts, and each and every one had real dogs. But the more I watch Clampett's cartoons, the more I see his either relying on topical references, other entertainment venues, or borrowing from previous directors (especially Tex Avery). It's more of a case of, "When he was good, he was very, very good- but when he was bad....."

So today I thought I would bring to you one of Bob's lesser received efforts. What's really odd is that this cartoon is bookended by two hilarious cartoons of his, "Porky's Last Stand" and "Ali Baba Bound". At times I wonder if he just wasn't under pressure to submit something to the output schedule, since it seems like this entry is rushed and stuffed with long-winded, one-note reference jokes, so he threw together whatever he had available and called it a cartoon.

Back to the title: I hate censored cartoons- mostly because as a grown man, I don't appreciate someone else preaching to me what is and isn't appropriate for my viewing pleasure. I think I'm old enough to choose this for myself by now, and should have the full intended version available to me if I want it.

This particular cartoon has been televised and severely edited in the process. All the caricatures of the African Natives have been excised, trimming the length of this cartoon from 7:14 to 3:38.... pretty pathetic, isn't it. And there really aren't any derogatory jokes made from the caricatures either (like direct slavery references or mocking the Natives' facial features). They're just drawn as caricatured Natives.

Clampett threw a couple of topical references into this cartoon- one is boxer Tony Galento, seen at approximately 2:33.

Later on in the cartoon, we are treated to the big band sounds of the "Professor of Swing", Kay Kyser... I love that big band sound, hotcha.

He also uses a running gag featuring Spencer Tracer as "Stanley" parodied from the 1939 movie, "Stanley And Livingstone", who continually looks for Livingstone. Notice when we first see Kay Kyser in Spencer Tracy's exposure, he originally looks like "Livingstone" from the movie as well, until he pulls off the mask.

The title is also a parody of the previously released movie from Columbia Studios in 1930, "Africa Speaks".

Does anyone know who the Mayor is that's caricatured at 3:35?

Also, listen for the Elmer-ish sounding Kangaroo at 3:21.

So here is Clampett's "Africa Squeaks" in its total uncut form... yes, it's a real groaner, many jokes lost due to dating of the references.... so at least enjoy the wonderful animation by John Carey and Vive Risto.


Friday, February 15, 2008

The blog is not dead....

Just in case you may have thought that I have abandoned this blog.... I haven't (yet). However I am extremely busy with many things at the moment which won't allow me time to post cartoons for another month or so.... I am moving at the end of the month, trying to get another fitness certification, etc etc etc.

So for now, here's something that's almost as funny as a cartoon.... Corporate illiteracy.

One thing I find inherently amusing is poor spelling. It's just such a basic necessity for communication yet so many individuals couldn't care less if they spell correctly. It's even better w
hen the same ignorance passes several levels undetected. I have even seen misspelled words on civil signage... nice....

Here's a company I wouldn't have to think twice about investing in. This ad was in rotation on one of Microsoft's solution database pages. The fact that a word was initially misspelled is a small issue.

The fact that it went through the graphic artist who created the ad and remained misspelled mak
es it even better.

The fact that management OK'd it to be forwarded to the web page..... better even still.

The fact that it is being rotated to millions upon millions of potential clients on the web... priceless.

I'd rely on this company to solve all my promblems too.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Toys For Christmas

For those who celebrate it, the Christmas holiday has now come and gone.

Many kids were disappointed with opening gift after gift of clothes, clothes, clothes.... funny how our tastes change as we get older (or they should anyway! Wait a minute.... ).

So for those of you who still didn't get toys for Christmas, I'm going to make it all better..... enjoy this merry sing-a-long from Famous Studios all about toys.

Cool things about this cartoon:
  • The main body of the cartoon is the focus of a piece of music you'll recognize from countless other cartoons, especially those from Warner Brothers (the drag scenes in particular). So if you've ever wanted to sing along when Stalling uses this cue, now you can.

  • There are a couple of neat-o cameos.... especially a certain B&W film star finally rendered in colour for a few brief seconds.

  • There's some really nice animation by Myron Waldman, and George Germanetti.

  • It's uncut.... the laughing roly-poly was excluded from many prints.

Hope you like it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Showboating with my Buddy

With the recent release of the most magnificent Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 5, we've been treated to some wonderful Black & White goodies from the Warner's vault.

Many people seem to dislike those oddball cartoons from the 30s with no starring character- "I've Got To Sing A Torch Song" from Vol. 5 for one.... probably because there's no familiar character to relate entertainment with like Bosko or Bugs or Daffy, and the humour and/or references don't make sense due to being out of context because of their age.

I, for one, heavily enjoy these obscure things. I think it's because without a familiar starring character, what's left for the rest of the cartoon has to be entertaining enough to sustain the seven minutes in one way or another. This often inferred intertwining mishmash gags with a song or some kind attempt at amusing audiences of the 30s. That's what I find entertaining- watching what's thrown onscreen and, with my knowledge of the mindset of those who premiered the film, laughing at how simplistic or even low-functioning those with money to go watch these things must have been, and how those who wrote the gags were not far from that mentality themselves.

What's even more entertaining is seeing a flopping fish of a film taking stabs in the dark at humour and failing... embarrassingly.

Which brings me to this blog's cartoon: Buddy's Show Boat.

Now Buddy himself is forever under scrutiny. He's not funny, he's bland, he's as congenial as vanilla ice cream. But think of the mentality behind him- audiences were in the midst of a depression... things were gloomy all over and hardship was staring everyone in the face. His job was to give these poor sods a few minutes of escapism with whatever vehicle he had. Keeping this in mind, it's actually possible to enjoy his feeble efforts to lift the spirits of the audience.

I chose this selection because it's a weird mishmash of ideas as mentioned above. I suppose looking at it loosely, it's about Buddy's traveling showboat and how he lands in town-to-town entertaining anyone that may be interested in attending. But there's so much added to this cartoon that it literally shouts out "straight-ahead" scriptwriting, meaning the writers started somewhere and made themselves to the end of the seven minutes by adding interjections, "Now let's make him do this....", "now let's make Betty Boo-- I mean, Cookie do that", "OK now we need a conflict or plotline of some sort...." and finally winds up with the bad guy getting what he justly deserves... a spanking.

Also, this version is the uncut one, and there's some pretty off-colour / rather tasteless jokes in it. Oh, I don't mean the throwaway racist characterizations of the coal boys or the Maurice-Chevalier-ish Aborigine.... some even more risque: like the telephone ringing its bells which by no accident, have a direct resemblance to a cabaret dancer's breasts (don't believe me? just watch them); or the 'ferry' boat gaily making a pass as he prances past the barge; or the dung birds that walk in the parade then rip into formation as the horse in front of them lifts its tail readying to take a dump on the street.... Unrefined farm humour at its best....!!

There's a nice scene here where Buddy is ringing the steamboat whistle- the animation is so rubbery and fluid. It's probably Jack King- since he'd have been recently acquired from Disney prior to doing this- but really, that's just a guess. This, and the scene where Buddy telephones Betty Boo- er, I mean Cookie, are the only scenes where Buddy has these pointed, pinned-back ears, so whomever contributed this scene was probably new or on loan from another department. Maybe Irv Spence?

This version of the Looney Tunes theme used for the opening titles is my favourite one- it's a little slower and smoother than the ones used later. Anyone know the name of this song?

Here's a challenge... try to find at least something enjoyable about Buddy's character... he's such a perky little smiley-faced guy....!