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.