Unusual Paramount cartoon based on famous children's book
"Gabriel Churchkitten" is a 1944 cartoon from the Paramount/Famous Studios cartoon unit, made at a time when the studio was better known for Popeye and Little Lulu cartoons. Adapted from a popular (and fondly remembered) children's book of the era by Margot Austin, it was one of a handful of Hollywood studio cartoons of the time adapted from children's literature. At Warners, Bob Clampett had done an adaptation of Dr. Seuss's "Horton Hatches the Egg" in 1942, while Paramount itself did three Raggedy Ann cartoons in the course of the decade. These were rare attempts by studio cartoon units to break with the standard knockabout cartoon formula. On the whole, only Disney had any great success in this regard. And it's not hard to see why.
This cartoon concerns the efforts of a kitten, Gabriel, and a mouse, Peter, who apparently live in peaceful coexistence in the home of Parson Peaseporridge, to get the Parson to wake up at night and feed them their milk and cheese, respectively. The Parson repeatedly rises up, in a fit of sleepwalking, and reaches the cupboard, while muttering the need to feed the "churchkitten" and "churchmouse," but then proceeds to drink the milk and eat the cheese himself. Eventually, the kitten and mouse enlist the aid of a neighboring puppy named Trumpet to achieve their goal.
The problem here is that, in flying in the face of cartoon formula by having a cat, a mouse and a dog get along famously, there's no opportunity for slapstick, conflict or action. The result is mildly cute and charming, but it's alarmingly slow and talky for a 1940s Hollywood cartoon. It's as if, in trying to invest the enterprise with prestige, the animators restrained themselves so much they forgot their primary mission--to entertain.
It is funny today, though, to see the two feed bowls with the mouse's and kitten's names on them, sitting side by side, reading, left to right, "Peter...Gabriel."
ADDENDUM: Since doing the above review, I have discovered that this cartoon is now available on YouTube.
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