Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Big Man From The North (Feb 1931)

A Plot! A Plot! Finally A Plot! Well, sort of. The cartoon starts off at a Mounted Police station in the middle of a blizzard. Bosko enters causing the storm to blow hard into the building. In the process of re-shutting the door, the Captain loses his pants. He tells Bosko to go "get your man", a mean looking figure with no name, but he's wanted dead or alive whoever he is. Bosko goes out to his dog sled, with a team of dogs in no way prepared for life in the snow. And one not prepared to pull a sled, since he is about a fifth the size of the other dogs. Bosko goes on a sled ride involving a couple of gags and ends up slamming into a bar in the middle of nowhere. Inside, Honey is singing and Bosko sings with her. This is the only vestige of the random music making of the earlier cartoons. Eventually, the Bad Guy comes in and Bosko plucks up the courage to fight him. They have a gun battle in the dark and Bosko stabs the guy in the rear with an ENTIRE SWORD, no really, up to the hilt! Oddly, that does not dispatch the villain, it doesn't even really phase him. Eventually Bosko shoots off his fur, leaving him a skinny weakling and he runs off embarrassed.

Notable Gags:
Bosko pulls off the pants of his boss while being blown by the wind.
Bosko has a tiny dog on his sled team that doesn't reach the ground as they run.
The dogs legs adjust to the up and down landscape, classic gag.
When the dogsled slams into the bar, the dogs meld together and walk off.
Bosko's Gun is apparently a cork-gun
Bosko uses a machine gun on Mr. Baddie
Bosko Sticks an entire sword into Mr. Baddie's rear-end
Bosko shoots off Mr. Baddie's fur, leaving a skinny weakling

I have to say I like this one a little. It's about time we got to an attempt at a plot. I know that even in the Golden Age toons plots were mostly thinly veiled excuses for gags, and that's ok. But even a weak plot is better than random, unconnected gags. The fight at the end isn't as clever as say, Bugs v. Sam, but I can see how blowing the fur off of the villain would have been at least entertaining in the early days.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Great News!

Just read on Cartoon Brew that Looney Tunes will be returning to Cartoon Network this month. Can't tell you how excited I am!


Box Car Blues (Jan 1931)

This cartoon is much more gag oriented than it is focused on random music making. We start with a musical train and in the last car are our "heroes" Bosko and an unnamed pig (possibly a rough version of the pig from The Booze Hangs High) the two sing for a while, until their car is separated from the rest of the train. This leads to a series of gags that almost exclusivly feature Bosko. The car goes off and on the tracks at random and finally crashes into a tree at the end of the tracks.

Notable gags:

The train becomes anthropomorphic several times. Including when the wheels become hands that choke music out of the whistle, and when it pulls itself up a very steep mountain.

Speaking of the mountain, the train manages to pants the mountain and the mountain pulls his pants back on.

Bosko is repeatey subjected to groin injuries. Primarily from trees and telephone poles.

At one point the tracks get too wide for the car and it splits in half. Bosko fixes the problem by using his neck as a crank to pull the car and tracks back together.

There is also a random cow that is suddenly being chased by the car. It ultimately is smashed by the car, but is ok in spite of that.

Overall this is an interesting cartoon because it departs from the "use any thing as an instrument" gimic. Sinkin' In The Bathtub had a similar runaway vehicle gag, but only after the silly music making. This cartoon also focuses on a certain kind of humor, namely pain. It is Bosko's trouble and pain that make us laugh. For whatever reason, it doesn't work here as much as it will in later Warner shorts. There is something missing here, maybe it isnthe fact that Bosko is not somehow inflicting the pain on himself. The Coyote could stop chasing the Roadrunner if he wanted to. I'm not sure I will continue to muse on this as we move on through the cartoons. Maybe something will occur to me.

-- Jack

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Booze Hangs High (December 1930)

This cartoon begins with Bosko at a farm, dancing to what is presumably the title song with a cow. The cow's "pants" fall down and Bosko laughs. Bosko then goes to a horse and buggy and plays a tune on the horses tail. He later sees a pitchfork which he plays as a banjo. While play the banjofork, a family of ducks is dancing while they are walking, one of the little ones whispers to his mother and she sends him off to "use the facilities" while the rest distract us with dancing. Bosko eventually drops the banjofork and plays the horse again, reusing a good bit of animation. Bosko then goes to feed the pigs with the garbage. In the garbage the two small pigs find a bottle with three Xs, this unkown substance could not be alcohol because this was 1930. Somehow, they get drunk of of this substance and their father(by the voice) does too. The bottle gets thrown onto Bosko who also becomes drunk. The quartet sings and dance some and then we all go home.

Notable Gags:
Bosko uses the horse's ear to tune his tail

The little duck has a flap in the back of his feathers to make using the restroom easier, convenient.

The little pigs use one tail as a corkscrew to get the booze open

As they pop the booze bubbles, it plays "How Dry I Am"

Bosko gets drunk by physical contact, a cartoon staple, but the first time Warner used it

The father pig burps out a corn cob, then puts it back through the door in his stomach -
after which he has a classic guilty look on his face.

I actually enjoyed this cartoon, not sure why really. Maybe drunks pigs are comic gold or something. This one had no more story than the others, but I think Harman and Ising hit on some genuinely funny situations this time. The expression on the characters' faces seemed more real or at least more thought out. I genuinely laughed when the bubbles played "How Dry I Am", and the guilty/embarrassed look on the daddy pig's face was hilarious.

As I alluded to in the summary, this cartoon has to be seen in the context of Prohibition America. Now I do not mean that I think it is some grand allegory or pointed political statement. More that it fits in with modern stoner movies. It makes light of a substance that is not only illegal, but also still widely used.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Hold Anything (November, 1930)

So, another post - and it's only been a week or so! We've got another Bosko cartoon. Yay! or something. No, really, not to go all negative on what I'm doing, but it's hard to be very entertained by these early cartoons. But enough about me - on to the cartoon.

We start with another excuse for turning ordinary objects into musical instruments. Today's lesson is how to turn a construction site into a symphony orchestra. After using a rivet gun (or whatever that's called) to make music, Bosko finds an unwitting partner in music in a mouse that he uses to play a saw. And to illustrate the maxim that no good deed goes unpunished, the mouse is rewarded for his volunteer work by getting cut in half - which is funny and not sad because he comes back together and is O.K. The mouse eventually falls into the mouth of a rivet-eating goat. And escapes by walking out of the door that is in his stomach.

After goofing off playing a saw with a mouse, Bosko apparently decides it's time to get some work done and scolds the goat and mouse. But this is really more of his his need to get back to making music. He sees Honey "working" in an office, we know she's working because she is using a typewritter. To bridge the gap between his hanging beam and her window Bosko plays the ropes and creates physical musical notes that he uses as steps.

Bosko gets to Honey's typewritter and inserts the music to the title song and as he types the music plays and types out the words to the song. He continues to play the typewritter as a piano and Honey dances on the ledge. The goat tries to eat the whistle and gets filled with steam - which is very convenient for Bosko who uses him as an instrument I can only describe as "playing a goat full of steam with a whistle in its mouth". Bosko falls, and does a classic split on impact and comes back together, after dancing on bricks like a piano.

Notable Gags:

Dancing/Marching mice extend their legs to stay level instead of going down steps.

The mouse that plays the saw gets his head cut off and his body tries to catch it.

Goats eat everything - classic

Goats have doors in their stomachs, missed that in Biology class

Typewritters are pianos if you put sheet music into them. - A good reason to buy Warner Bros. music.

Honey can detach at the waist - Awesome!

Goats are also very stretchy - points for the best real world application of this fact.


I am unfamiliar with this song, which is not new and will not get old. But that may have something to do with me not really getting these older cartoons. So at the risk of getting too repetitive, I will try not to bring up the fact that I just don't find these old cartoons to be very good.

That being said, Some of the above gags deserve a bit more mention. First the goat. This is the first goat in the Looney Tunes world and it sets the stage for the trope of goats will eat anything. At this point there is nothing too extreme, just some bolts and a bit of string. But its good to know they were thinking along those lines already.

Bosko creating physical notes to use as steps offers up another early beginnings of a cartoon tradition - namely, if you need something - just make it! Sure he plays the notes out instead of just producing them from his pocket, but it's still the same thing.

Well that's really all I have for this one. Sorry if it seems disjointed, I wrote it over a week or so.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Congo Jazz (Oct.ober. 1930)

Well its time for another Looney Tunes Re-Watch. This is the second Looney Tune and we have Bosko again but without Honey. The cartoon starts with Bosko walking slowly through the woods, screaming in time to the ominous music. After a few screams, his fears are justified when a large tiger comes up behind him. The tiger goes unnoticed until it decides to lick Bosko's backside. Confronted by the beast, Bosko raises his gun and fires - producing a lot of smoke and a small BB drops out of the end. The chase begins again in earnest and Bosko manages to defy all laws of physics and biology to get away. He then sings to the tiger, and they seem to be getting along - until Bosko kicks the tiger off a cliff.

Bosko then meets a small monkey or gorilla with a tail (not really sure) who spits in his eye because Bosko violates his personal space. Bosko spanks the child primate until "mommy" shows up. The large gorilla is subdued with gum, which they pull out and play as stringed instruments. This of course leads to the entire jungle dancing and playing music.

Notable gags:

Bosko is stretched while running from the tiger, he lifts his rear half up and pulls it toward himself while still moving forward.

Animals apparently have flaps in their fur which allow for underwear/bare bums to be shown

There is an awful lot of reused animation, most notably when the two monkeys are dancing on the log.

Last but not least, a palm tree comes to life, turning the palm fronds into a grass skirt and the coconuts, well lets just say it was a female tree. One of "fer" coconuts comes off while she is twirling(can't think of a better word here - Help!) and hits Bosko in the head.

These early cartoons never concerned themselves much with plot, focusing more on gags than set-ups and punchlines. This is fine, many later cartoons forget the original premise three seconds in. The problem is the gags just don't really work much now. I have to wonder how well they really worked then. Maybe the newness of this form of entertainment was novel enough that an elephant playing his trunk like a trombone was fascinating. Today it falls a little flat.

One thing that does stick out to me though, is the genesis of the "gleeful sadism" that will mark many a later cartoon. Sure, Bosko was attacked by the tiger first, but why did he have to befriend the thing right before kicking it off a cliff to its presumable death? And a smile and not a hint of an afterthought. I am not trying to be preachy here, I am not saying the cartoonists should not have put this in or anything. I am simply musing on this facet of the genre. I guess the fault in this particular cartoon is that the act of violence wasn't particularly clever or funny, so it is easier to pick it apart. I was just watching Tom Turk and Daffy today and Daffy was completely cruel to Tom. But it was funny somehow, and daffy had less (read "None") provocation. This is, however, an aspect of the Warner cartoons I intend to keep track of. Maybe a pattern or explanation will present itself later.

That's all I have for now. No idea when the next installment will be. Proably a couple of days, but maybe tomorrow. Judging by the apparent readership, no one will have read most of these posts until months after they're done.

Hoping I'm wrong about that last,


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sinkin' In The Bathtub (Sept. 1930)

This is the very first official Looney Tune. It features Bosko and his girlfriend, Honey. The cartoon begins with Bosko whistling the song Singin' In The Bathtub. Now would be an appropriate time, then, to discuss the purpose of these cartoons. I know that many people who would be interested in a blog like this might already know this, but for those of you who have never looked any deeper into cartoons than deciding wheter or not they are funny (a valid pursuit), here is the deal. The primary purpose for the Looney Tunes, and even more the Merrie Melodies was to:

A. Fill a 6-7 min. time slot before the feature
B. Promote music in the Warner music catalog

It amazes me how this simple money-making motive guided the art that would be cartoon shorts. There is no denying that even long after the pretext of promoting particular songs was forgotten, the Warner shorts ( and really all shorts) centered around music. In the hands of Carl Staling and the others, the music is an essential aspect of not only the story, but the comedy.

So, the cartoon: Bosko is whistling his song, and playing his surroundings as instruments. The music gets so exciting that the bathtub itself begins to dance, spreading toilet-paper confetti all over the place. After deciding that he is clean enough, Bosko points the shower out the window and "surfs" down to the yard - just like everyone else.

His car isn't in the garage, oh no, it's in the outhouse, the need of which is a little lost on me since it is apparent that Bosko has indoor plumbing. Maybe it's an outhouse just for the car, that must be it, I personally would never trust my car with a key to my house. He would constantly be coming in at three in the morning with the worst gas (yes, I went there, I made that horrible pun. I hope you understand - I had no choice)

After driving to Honey's, Bosko tries to suprise here with the flowers he picked (and played) on the way. He is frustrated in his wooing by a goat who eats the flowers. He the begins to cry (to music mind you, he cries in time to the music - could you do that? - in such distress? could you? I don't think so). When Honey says that she still loves him, proving that she is not nearly as shallow as one might think, Bosko immediately becomes his happy self.

I don't know if this cartoon has the first instance of an impromptu xylophone, I doubt it, but this is certainly genesis for the Warner studio. The first example is the wooden plank sidewalk. This, certainly is form following function, it just looks too much like the instrument. They HAD to use it as xylophone, it looked like a much better xylophone than sidewalk anyway.

After dumping her bathwater into Bosko's saxophone, Honey proceeds to dance on the bubbles he produces. The bubbles also make music as she pops them. It is impressive enough that she is able to remain airborne on nothing but floating soap, but also use the occasion for music making is impressive.

Another first for Warner in the cartoon cliches department is Bosko splitting into a bunch of little Boskos after falling out of the car. By today's standards it seems so obvious that this is the correct effect, that it makes me wonder if there was anyone in the room that had some other, maybe greater idea, that was shot down and is now lost to history.

After a long and truly unfunny runaway car scene, Bosko and Honey end up in a pond, in a bathtub, with cat-tails for mallets (or whatever you play xylophones with) and lily-pads for an instrument, with which they reprise our theme. When the end card comes up, Bosko shouts "That's All Folks" thus beginning a long and glorious tradition - to quote Vizzini.

Well, that's all I have for this one, and it looks like it may be too much. I will probably post more of these before I get any comments, but go ahead and let me know if I ramble too much.


Bosko The Talk-Ink Kid (1929)

This is the pilot cartoon used by Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising to entice Leon Schlesinger into producing their Looney Tune concept. In it, we find a proto-Bosko, who is much more... well I guess "ethnic" would be the nicest way of saying it. The fact is that for all the controversy over some of the Warner (and for that matter all studios) cartoons, it was there from the very beginning. I have seen this cartoon about a dozen or more times, and I still can't quite accept a society that accepted this as normal.

So, the cartoon: The cartoon features the aforementioned Bosko and a live action Ising. The main point of the whole thing is to prove that Harman and Ising have the wherewithal to sync sound and film - something I still struggle with from time to time. Bokso sings and dances, even doing an imitation of a Chinese person, and ends playing the piano. And of course, various "cartoony" things happen, his neck uncoils and he fixes himself by spinning up his stool. The cartoon is really only valuable to me from an historical angle (a common theme for the first few years).



This blog represents my effort to watch and comment on all of the Warner Bros. Looney Tune and Merrie Melodie shorts from 1929-1988. I will be greatly aided by the book Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: Complete Illustrated Guide to Warner Brothers Cartoons by Beck and Friedwald, which lists all the cartoons and gives a lot of geeky information, like the release date and the animators. All the cartoons will be watched in chronological order with any cartoon that is neither a Looney Tune or a Merrie Melodie(such as the Private Snafu shorts) at the end.