2017 Swashathon: The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950)

Directed by Chuck Jones this Looney Tunes short is another that takes place on the Warner Brothers backlot. Daffy has a meeting in faceless studio head J.L.’s office (clearly modeled after Jack L. Warner). Part of Daffy’s desire in this outlandish pitch is to break out of what he sees as typecasting and play the role of a swashbuckling hero.

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Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of this short is how it deals with the concept of casting. In the framing mechanism Daffy is pitching a film to break out of the type-cast mold he feels he’s stuck in. Within the pitched story the Warner crew cast from their stable of stars to create a swashbuckling, animated version of The Scarlet Pimpernel called The Scarlet Pumpernickel.

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Daffy plays Daffy Dumas Duck, Porky Pig plays Lord High Chamberlain, Mama Bear plays a handmaiden, Henery Hawk plays a pageboy, Sylvester plays a Lord and groom-to-be, Elmer Fudd plays an innkeeper; and an obese horse not unlike the one in What’s Opera, Doc? also makes an appearance.

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This short is also a showcase for the music of Michael Maltese who is frequently the unsung hero behind the scenes of the Looney Tunes shorts.

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Aside from some visual flair like hanging off the underside of a cliff, a flood, the Pumpernickel using a parachute; it’s an absurd plot only animation could really pull off in such a short amount of time. As the commentary track on the DVD observes it packs in all the conventions of a swashbuckler with comedic effect, complete with jokes about Errol Flynn. Also, on the Golden Collection’s commentary track I learned that this was more of a showcase for Mel Blanc than usual as he voiced Elmer Fudd in this short as well though he usually didn’t.

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This is also one of the Looney Tunes shorts which has been the target of retroactive censorship and re-edits on TV. The short ends with Daffy putting a gun to his head, as his story ends with the Scarlet Pumpernickel killing himself. Daffy shoots, falls to the ground, then looks up (the bullet went through his beret) and says “It’s getting so you have to kill yourself to sell a story around here.” Edits dropped frames where the gun fired and cut straight to him on the ground. In my estimation it’s a useless edit as the implication is still there. Yes, the reality of suicide is more present in today’s world. However, the fact remains that art of the past cannot and should not be constantly altered to fit ever-changing mores and realities. They are what they are and are reflective of a time. It’s up to each successive generation to know better as the collective consciousness grows.

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As such, there’s not a moral to be learned from this short, it’s funny with jokes for audiences young and old, for people who just like animation or old Hollywood; but it’s not a morality play and an excellent quick parody of a genre.

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One Of My Favorite Cartoons Blogathon: Duck Amuck (1953)

Duck Amuck (1953) 

This is a post written as part of the One of My Favorite Cartoons Blogathon hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog. Firstly, I must sya that I am thankful that I didn’t have to narrow it down to just one.

Next, considering the fact that I just wrote about another Looney Tunes short that’s tangentially similar to this one it was a natural choice. That superficiality is that this short starts like its going to be another swashbuckling tale not unlike the later Robin Hood Daffy but with this one being a Musketeers tale.

However, we soon see that there is something very different afoot here as this tale starts to play with the conventions of animation as the unseen animator starts to taunt Daffy having him walk off backgrounds/sets, putting him in perpetually juxtaposed situations like having him change into ski attire to match the newly alpine environs only to have him them ski onto a Hawaiian beach.

Duck Amuck (1953, Warner Bros.)

This then escalate as he is erases faced with being muted and creating incongruous sound effects. Things continue to childish backgrounds, changing his whole physiognomy, a childish background, invasion of black to the image, doubled frames, a premature end, and then finally, the coup de grâce is that the fourth wall is demolished as we leave the world of the cell to see who it was who was animating him. This short was already meta enough it just had to add the cherry on top with a hilarious, perfect cameo.

This is one I still had bits memorized from even though I’d not seen it in years. What this blogathon prompted me to do was to listen to the commentary and watch the featurette that accompany this short on the Golden Collection DVD set, which I had not yet seen.

Much of the commentary is provided by Michael Barrier, an author who wrote about the golden age of the animated short. He documented the fact that Warners were resistant to using Bugs in such a limited role (as the invisible-until-the-end animator). The animators discuss in the featurette how it had to be him based on the dynamics of their relationship.

Duck Amuck (1953, Warner Bros.)

The idea started with the germ of the concept without an end in mind, as was frequently the way Chuck Jones did things. Aside from the struggles against the studio where they had to be defiant and use Bugs anyway there was also the internal battle between Jones and animator Ed Selzer. Daffy has an abnormally long monologue in this film (800-feet of stock). Selzer wanted to run a pencil test with synchronized sound to prove the animation he had worked with the pauses built in. Jones wasn’t sure. Warners were always budget conscious (even though these tests were never deeloped), and pencil tests were scarce. Ones with sound were unheard of. Selzer was proved correct.

Duck Amuck is definitely one of the finest Looney Tunes shorts ever. Much of that is echoed in the featurette entitled “Hard Luck Duck” that features interviews with Willi Ito, Bob Melendez, Chuck Jones, Leonard Maltin, Joe Alaskey, Jerry Beck, Noel Blanc, Art Leonardi.

Disney was frequently at its best when they let their creativity cut loose like in the Pink Elephants sequence of Dumbo, the same can be said for Warners as evidenced in Duck Amuck.

Upcoming Blogathon Participation: Swashathon! by Movies Silently

In November I’ll be contributing to Movies Silently’s Swashaton. As I did here and here, I will be contributing by writing about a short film. This time it will be about the Looney Tunes classic Robin Hood Daffy.

It may be a short but the post may not be as there is much to discuss among the swashbuckling, versions of Robin Hood, and the team lead by Chuck Jones that brought this film to its fruition.

Robin Hood Daffy (1958, Warner Bros.)

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Animation (Part 7 of 17)

This is a recapitualtion of a paper I wrote in school. Part one can be read here. A search can retrieve subsequent parts. Since time does bring about changes and developments, I have included some notes in brackets after statements that may no longer hold true, or at least are in need of further enlightening.

In the 1980s Animation and Television are one. Even more so than in the 1970s animation was in the 80s a medium of television, while the animated feature was always a rarity we see in the 80s the complete discontinuation of cinematic shorts and the dominance of half hour animated programs before getting to that there are some important developments in the cinema that need examining.

Walt Disney Studios were my catechism in film. From 1937 to 1995 they were the Notre Dame of film in my eyes and could do no wrong. There is an asterisk, however, and that comes in the 1980s. The films they made were very eclectic in the 80s.

They made some very good films The Fox and the Hound (1981), The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and The Little Mermaid (1989) yet they produced films that I had no interest in seeing as a child and they were Oliver and Company (1988) and The Black Cauldron (1985). Disney went beyond the point of experimentation later on and just got bad on occasion. They’d lost the luster and were not something I looked forward to any longer. [I’ve since filled the 80s gaps in my viewing, and have found newer and older Disney titles I like. My fandom is complicated thing, as I will explore in March.]

If it takes about four years to produce an animated feature film then I estimate the death of Disney films as we knew them in 1991. Which is when they would’ve started working on Pocahontas and Mulan the first two Disney films I consciously avoided and then they released the terrible Hercules and it was over. The only quality they can come up with now is through collaboration with Pixar and through use of computer animation. [This too has changed since this writing and the introduction of Walt Disney Animation Studios, which focuses more on traditional techniques.]

Not that there was anything wrong with the Disney of the 1980s, oddly their best film of the period may have been The Brave Little Toaster in 1987 but one of the best things the 80s brought us was a legitimate alternative American feature length animation film for the first time since Max Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels.

One of the very best films ever made has got to be Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It took the technology from Bedknobs and Broomsticks to the nth degree. Not only that but it’s one of the most entertaining and delightful films I’ve eve been witness to and it’s nearly miraculous that Spielberg was able to pull it all together. What makes Who Framed Roger Rabbit truly a great film of the 80s cinema is how we see the cartoon characters. This probably has more resonance with people who saw this film as children because, in essence, what the film is doing is rounding out these characters, if not that adding dimension at least. Whereas in shorts we knew what Bugs Bunny was going to say and how Daffy would respond. Here we saw them in different situations and in a new light. It’s something kids do all the time: take characters that have existing attributes, stories, etc. and put them in new ones either just in their own imagination or with the aid of action figures. This makes it such a rich and pleasing cinematic experience. While as children get to bask in whimsical awe that all these characters we never saw interact are running around together (Donald and Daffy) we also get wrapped up in the mystery and it becomes very suspenseful. For adults the opposite effect must be true the suspense and plot keep you in it and the cartoon characters take you back in time, making this a unique experience for all who see it. It is truly a gem of the 80s which was hailed as a ‘landmark’ at the time but hasn’t had much said about it since. Spielberg attempted to make Roger a new star of shorts but the logistics probably got in the way and only a few were made, however, Spielberg has continued to work with animation making the all computer animation Shrek, yet another breakthrough and creating such television series as Tiny Toons Adventures, Anamaniacs, Freakazoid! and Histeria.

An American Tail (1986, Universal)

Aside from Spielberg’s efforts the 80s has produced another animation specialist named Don Bluth:

“Don Bluth was one of the chief animators at Disney to come to the mantle after the great one’s death. He eventually became the animation director for such films as The Rescuers (1977) and Pete’s Dragon (1977). Unfortunately, the quality of animation that Disney was producing at this point was not up to par with the great works of Disney, and there was rumor that the production unit at Disney might be shut down indefinitely. In retaliation, Bluth and several other animators led a walkout, and went off to form their own independent animation firm.”

Bluth’s story is one of those twenty-years-in-the-business-overnight-success-stories. In 1982 he released his first film The Secret of NIHM and it was a success. In fact, he didn’t have a bust in the 80s following that up with An American Tail, The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven. While he’s never been on a Disney-like scale he has made quality films and continues to make his own works. As a businessman and a producer, he’s never said no to a sequel. God knows how many Land Before Time films there are now but he does have his standards as a director and his most recent animated sci-fi adventure Titan A.E. received sharply mixed reviews.

Animation is definitely now the domain of television. [Obviously this no longer holds as animated features now come from all studios and have spawned an Academy Award category all their own.] The short which used to be on before a feature film, is now paired with two other shorts and called a television show. The stage for this change was set in the 1980s as we will see in the television section.

Works Cited: http://us.imdb.com/Bio?Bluth,%20Don

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/TitanAE-1097051/