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Sleepy Time Possum (1951)
A great McKimson short
Robert McKimson's 'Sleepy Time Possum' is yet further proof that McKimson is an underrated director. A very, very funny cartoon, 'Sleepy Time Possum' pit's a chronically lazy possum against his wily father, who disguises himself as a hunting dog in order to scare his son into doing his chores. The ensuing battle is full of hilarious gags executed with a deft timing McKimson is rarely given credit for. For a cartoon based around the concept of laziness, 'Sleepy Time Possum' is full of energetic set pieces and frantic chases. The ending is unexpected and entirely satisfying. For those who write McKimson off as an inferior director, 'Sleepy Time Possum' should be part of the required viewing.
Norman Normal (1968)
Something a bit different and surprisingly excellent for such a late Warner cartoon
Alex Lovy's 'Norman Normal' is an exceptional little satire on business ethics and social behaviour. Produced by the new Warner Bros. department in the late 60s (long after the dreadful Speedy and Daffy series and lacklustre new characters such as Cool Cat had made Warner cartoons seem entirely past their best) as a "Cartoon Special", 'Norman Normal' takes an entirely different approach as a hip animated think piece which ultimately takes place inside the titular character's head. The amiable Norman must fight off unethical propositions from his boss, endorsements of conformity from his father, peer pressure from his acquaintances and the desperate search for approval by a man with a lamp on his head! A whole new contemporary attitude is apparent, especially in the scene in which Norman refuses to laugh at a joke about a minority group which seems like an apology for Warner's decades of politically incorrect racial humour (although a year later Warner Bros. animation department would close down with a short called 'Injun Trouble'!). The satire is sharp and funny and the modern atmosphere is enhanced by a catchy theme tune by Peter, Paul and Mary. It may have little in common with the golden era of Warner cartoons but 'Norman Normal' is a wonderful short and one of the few latter day Warner shorts that really works.
Page Miss Glory (1936)
An overlooked Tex Avery classic and one of the most beautiful cartoons ever made
Tex Avery's 'Page Miss Glory' is one of the most beautiful cartoons ever made, a parody of the live action musical of the same name, incorporating art-deco experimentation into a lush, grandiose musical extravaganza. If ever testament were needed to Avery's directorial genius, 'Page Miss Glory' is ample answer alone. While a bellboy in Hicksville awaits the arrival of the much touted Miss Glory, he drifts off to sleep and fantasizes himself as bellboy in a huge luxury hotel in which all the male occupants are vying for the attention of the sultry Miss Glory. Stuffed to the gills with great gags and eye-popping visuals, 'Page Miss Glory' is a very early Warner Bros. masterpiece. Avery excels and, while his subsequent output would be crammed full of defining masterpieces, it's only a shame 'Page Miss Glory' seems to have got lost in the shuffle. It is, for want of a better word, truly a glorious creation.
Martian Through Georgia (1962)
Interesting but charmless. An over-egged pudding
Chuck Jones and Abe Levitow's 'Martian Through Georgia' (co-directed by Maurice Noble) seems to be a case of too many cooks spoil the broth. The excessive directorial input seems to be down to a thoroughly perplexing script by Carl Kohler and Jones himself, which places too much stock in a constant, intrusive narration which is necessary to explain exactly what is going on but is irritating nevertheless. A dark little tale of a depressed Martian who travels to Earth in search of rejuvenation but discovers only rejection and abhorrence, 'Martian Through Georgia' never locates the charm it seems to falsely believe it is in possession of. Over-stylised in every way, 'Martian Through Georgia' is undoubtedly an interesting failure but a failure nonetheless, indicative of Jones's struggle to keep Warner cartoons interesting and relevant during their waning 60s era.
Now Hear This (1962)
Abstract, disturbing, funny and inventive. Another Chuck Jones classic
As a youngster I always eagerly looked forward to a Warner Bros. cartoon coming on TV but I was always disappointed when the opening titles featured, in place of the classic concentric circles, the angular, modern titles that became synonymous with the deeply inferior, latter day Warner shorts. These jutting triangles, accompanied by an ugly re-imagining of the Merrie Melodies theme, almost always signified the arrival of a dreaded Speedy and Daffy cartoon. However, there was always the slimmest of slim chances that you might luck out and instead be rewarded with Chuck Jones's 'Now Hear This'.
'Now Hear This' was the cartoon which first introduced the modern title sequence which would go on to be defiled by the Depatie-Freleng monstrosities. The most abstract cartoon Warner Bros. ever released, 'Now Hear This' is a clear forerunner for any number of surrealist animations from 'Yellow Submarine' to Bob Godfrey's superb 'Do-It-Yourself Cartoon Kit'. Having experimented with just about ever visual and narrative device available, with 'Now Hear This' Jones turns his attention to sound. The visuals here are minimalist, with highly stylised characters performing against a backdrop of nothingness. The cartoons begins with a frustrated devil searching for his missing horn (he wanders through the opening credits, showing a demonic contempt for convention). The horn is discovered by a stuffy English man (recognisable as English by his monocle and moustache even before the confirmation of a 'Keep Britain Tidy' sign and a burst of the British national anthem) who swaps his battered old ear trumpet for this new discovery. Thus begins his descent into aural hell! There is very little logic to the events of 'Now Hear This' but the images flow so beautifully that questioning them seems churlish. The impeccably chosen and synchronised bursts of sound (courtesy of genius sound man Treg Brown) are at once extraordinarily disturbing and this eerie edge to the cartoon cannot have escaped the attention of children's programmers since 'Now Hear This' was rarely seen on kid's TV. It is far more akin to the sort of cartoon I used to discover on TV at about 1am and then be haunted by for weeks for some indistinguishable reason. Like all such cartoons, 'Now Hear This' is utterly compelling and unpredictable. Testament to Chuck Jones's ongoing crusade to keep imagination alive, 'Now Hear This' is both a visual and aural treat.
The Hole Idea (1955)
Needed more work on the script but shows flashes of genius, especially in McKimson's animation
Robert McKimson's 'The Hole Idea' was the director's "auteur" cartoon, which he not only directed but animated himself. McKimson was deeply proud of the cartoon and the result is often quite impressive although it is a tad too unfocused to stand among McKimson's best work. Presented in a stylised fashion, 'The Hole Idea' is based on a clever idea by Sid Marcus in which a hen-pecked inventor invents a portable hole, which is then stolen and used for evil by an anonymous villain. There's flashes of greatness in Marcus's script but it pulls in too many directions, attempting to weave in elements of the domestic cartoons that were popular in the 50s and 60s, which ultimately prove the weakest parts of the short. However, McKimson's witty animation redeems any shortcomings in the material and 'The Hole Idea' is often ingenious in its visuals. McKimson was often underrated as a director but was widely celebrated as an animator and it is the latter skill which is predominant in 'The Hole Idea'. One wonders how much greater it might have been with a little extra script work.
Much Ado About Nutting (1953)
Slow-paced, calculated and sometimes wonderful
Chuck Jones's 'Much Ado About Nutting' is a calculated, slow-paced cartoon which ultimately suffers from a weak and overly bizarre punch line. Nevertheless, Jones's genius is amply displayed in the lead-up to this disappointing finale. 'Much Ado About Nutting' follows an urban squirrel's attempts to open a seemingly impenetrable coconut with ever grander schemes, culminating in him tossing it off the Empire State Building. The squirrel is rendered in a more realistic style than the anthropomorphised creatures that populate most cartoons and the story is played out sans dialogue. Jones uses this to his advantage, highlighting the squirrel's growing frustration and obsession for laughs. Indeed, 'Much Ado About Nutting' is at its funniest and most impressive between the punchlines. For instance, the gag at the end of the Empire State sequence is amusing enough but the lead up to it, in which we watch the squirrel agonisingly push the coconut up the thousands of stairs is extraordinarily attractive and tinged with both a sense of suspense and not a little inevitability. 'Much Ado About Nutting' does not quite scale the heights of the truly classic Warner one-shots but it is constantly engaging and occasionally wonderful.
Wild Wife (1954)
Caught between a feminist tract and a validation of conservative family values
Robert McKimson's 'Wild Wife' is a curious entry in the series of domestic cartoons which were popular in the 50s and 60s. More akin to a sitcom than a classic Warner cartoon, 'Wild Wife' stars an entirely human cast as a chauvinistic husband questions how his wife could possibly have failed to mow the lawn when she has so much time on her hands. This triggers a flashback which forms the basis of the cartoon as the wife (sardonically played to perfection by Bea Benederet) recounts the events of her day. Ostensibly a pro-woman cartoon that implores men not to take their wives for granted, 'Wild Wife' still makes room for plenty of sexist stereotypes with gags about obsessive shopping, chocolate addiction and parallel parking. Still, it's an enjoyably down-to-earth short with several neat little observations about everyday life in the 50s. There's nothing uproarious here but the face remains largely fixed in a smile, even if its sometime provoked by some of the outdated attitudes. Caught between a feminist tract and a validation of conservative family values, 'Wild Wife' is an interesting glimpse at the past and an entertaining one to boot.
Goo Goo Goliath (1954)
Unusual but unappealing
Friz Freleng's domestic comedy 'Goo Goo Goliath' takes as its starting point the idea of babies delivered to the wrong parents. Although this idea had been touched on before in cartoons such as Bob Clampett's 'Baby Bottleneck', 'Goo Goo Goliath' adds the amusing touch that the mix up is due to the drunkenness of a stork who is perpetually toasted by new parents. This concept is the best thing about this rather weak cartoon and Freleng would reprise it in the Bugs Bunny cartoon 'Apes of Wrath'. 'Goo Goo Goliath' is also similar to Chuck Jones's equally odd and misfiring 'Rocket-Bye Baby' which emerged two years after 'Goo Goo Goliath'. The idea of a giant baby delivered to a normal sized couple has very limited comic potential and 'Goo Goo Goliath' struggles to make the concept work. It's not helped by the unattractive, angular style in which the cartoon is presented. Ultimately, the jokes run dry almost immediately and there is little to recommend this unusual but unappealing cartoon.
Rocket-bye Baby (1956)
Caught between unfunny sitcom and self-conscious cartoon
Chuck Jones's 'Rocket-Bye Baby' is an example of the "domestic" cartoons of the late 50s and 60s but with a sci-fi twist. Beginning with the strange concept that a cosmic disturbance resulted in an Earth baby being delivered to Mars and vice versa, 'Rocket-Bye Baby' never really finds its feet. Sharing more in tone with campy sitcoms like 'Bewitched' than with the average Warner Bros. cartoon, 'Rocket-Bye Baby' follows the progress of the Martian baby and his bewildered parents. Jones makes a wise decision in opting for the highly stylised animation which reflects the strangeness of the plot but, while there's the odd amusing moment, 'Rocket-Bye Baby' is largely caught between unfunny sitcom and self-conscious cartoon. An interesting but not especially memorable short which hasn't quite worked out the logic of its own universe.