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Cartoon storytelling, part one: "Porky's Party"

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Despite its seemingly loose and unfocused story, Porky's Party  (1938) is a very well-structured cartoon.  Let's take a look at it. Bob Clampett and his team take a few seconds to establish the setting, then approximately the first third of the cartoon (two and a half minutes) to set up the three main elements. The setting: Porky Pig's birthday party.  Element 1: Porky gets a silkworm as a present, who will make clothes whenever you instruct him to "sew".  Sometimes these clothes are embarrassing. Element 2: Porky's dog, who, as Michael Barrier puts it in Hollywood Cartoons , is "ridiculously and thus appropriately" named Black Fury, gets drunk on hair grower after watching Porky applying some to his scalp. Element 3: Porky's two party guests are a gluttonous penguin and a goofball goose. Each element is introduced in a separate sequence, but they flow together nicely.  They are also set up in advance - Black Fury is around from the start of the

Rod & Bob & Manny & Daffy

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Nobody did manic energy like Bob Clampett, especially in his last few years at Warner Bros.  And no cartoon did manic panic like Bob Clampett's  Draftee Daffy  (1945). The story is a variation on the "escaped criminal" plot previously used by Tex Avery in Dumb-Hounded (1943) and later in Northwest Hounded Police  (1946) - updated to be more World War 2-relevant (and probably more relatable to most of the contemporary audience).  Daffy's gung-ho patriotic fervour turns to panic when he learns he's been called up by "the Little Man from the Draft Board." While Avery's escaped jail-wolf travelled all over the world in his attempt to escape the Long (and calmly stoic) Arm of the Law, Daffy spends most of the cartoon just trying to escape his house.  But any restrictions in the setting are made up for by Daffy's performance - that is, the combined performance of voice actor Mel Blanc and the animators. I posted before  about how fascinated I was by th

A quick comparison...

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Last week  I posted a couple of "Tom and Jerry oddities", where directors Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera used perspective trickery to make an object fit into a space that was too small for it, and changed Tom's front paws from feet to hands between scenes, and had trouble determining how many digits he should have. Maybe they should just have done like Bob Clampett did in Porky's Tire Trouble (Warner Bros., 1939), and made gags out of both oddities. Porky's large and ungainly hound, Flat Foot Flookey, is introduced emerging from a comically small dog-house, with long shoes on each of his four feet.  Within a single shot, one of his front feet turns into a hand - and his shoe into a glove! - so he can pluck a flea from his hide.  With his task completed, it becomes a foot wearing a shoe again as he proudly displays the flea to the audience. And, just as proudly, Clampett displays the impossible actions of the characters to the audience, making them sources of deliberat

A couple of Tom and Jerry oddities

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 In the cartoon Mouse Trouble  (1944), Tom opens a steel trap and slides it into Jerry's mouse-hole in the wall. That's never going to fit in there! The circumference of the trap is clearly too wide to fit through the hole, but the scene requires that it does.  So, how do they get around this?  Maybe Tom could squeeze it in.  The trap would squash into a narrower shape (as if it were made of a softer material) as it goes through the small gap, then pop into shape once it had reached the other side.  Impossible in real life, of course, but cartoon props are usually more malleable than they would be in real life. However, this approach didn't seem to be part of directors Hanna and Barbera's cartoon vocabulary (yet), so they (and animator Irv Spence) employed a perspective trick instead. When Tom slides it in (and when Jerry slides it back out the other exit), the steel trap is at an angle so it appears narrower from the viewer's perspective, and therefore, the viewer

The Disney animators' repertory company

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Some people describe animators as "actors with pencils" (or actors with... digital animation tools).  After all, the animators create performances with pencils, as actors create performances with their faces and bodies.  By the start of the 21st century, the marketing departments of animation companies were starting to advertise the voice actors as if they were solely responsible for the performances we see on screen, advertising their names above the title like they do with live-action actors.  But the animators deserve equal credit. In the early '90s, starting with Beauty and the Beast  (1991), the closing credits for the Disney animated features started listing the animators alongside the voice actors for each character, acknowledging their dual responsibility (perhaps they should have mentioned the live-action reference models as well, but that's another story).  With the stage-musical influence in the storytelling, and the stock characters making up the cast, one

Cartoon animals and other people

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In the classic cartoons of the Warner Brothers studio, characters who fill a "human-type" role can be either humans, or humanoid animals.  The directors and story artists would need to decide which the character was going to be, and I have to wonder how often it was a conscious decision, and how often it was instinctive. Sometimes an anthro animal's species is important, and sometimes it isn't.  Friz Freleng's Curtain Razor (1949) has a mix.  It's more or less a spot-gag cartoon about performers, anchored by Porky Pig (an example of an anthro animal whose species is usually unimportant) as a talent agent. Other characters whose species are unimportant are the impressionist turtle, the high-diving dog, and the birds who are caricatures of popular singers (except for a vague bird/song connection, and the fact that earlier cartoons had featured a Bing Crosby parrot and a Frank Sinatra rooster). The cartoon also has: 1) A grasshopper with a loud operatic voice - t

Pinocchio and Me

 It all started with Pinocchio .  Twice.  More often if you stretch the definition of "all started." At 4 or 5 years old, as the '80s gave way to the '90s, I thought I knew what cartoons were: the cheap and tacky looking things that the other kids in the neighbourhood watched in the afternoons, and I had no interest in them.  That was until I saw Pinocchio (1940), which we videotaped from the TV, and I discovered how great a cartoon could be. A few years later - I must have been 10 - and I was a major fan of cartoons from the Golden Age of Animation (roughly, 1930s-1950s), but I hadn't seen Pinocchio in years (and a year is a long time when you've only lived for ten of them).  I got a yearning to see it again, but the TV-recorded video had long since worn out.  So it was at the top of my Christmas list, and when I got a new video copy on Christmas Day, the family sat down together in the evening to watch it. And... I was terrified. When you're a little bit