Thursday, December 27, 2007

Clampett Structure - Clever and Entertaining Setups Tale Of Two Kitties


Clampett and Film/Story Structure
Clampett has a reputation of being wild and anarchic (thanks mostly to Chuck Jones telling everyone that) but in reality, his films are extremely well structured and tightly controlled.

All storytellers have to find ways to balance storytelling devices with entertainment. You have to tell your audience what your story is about at some point and this requires a setup. Setups can be boring or expositional as the writer or director explains to the audience through words what they are supposed to expect from the story.

Exposition to Setup the Story
Tex Avery usually spends a minute or 2 having a character explain what the story is about before the actual entertainment starts, "Whatever you do, don't make a noise, not one little sound!" and then we know that there will be a succession of gags around someone trying not to make a noise.

Entertaining Setups

Clampett's setups are very clever..."clever" is a word you usually associate with Chuck Jones, but Clampett's clever is different. Jones wants you to notice that what he just did is clever and he will point to the clever bit in some way (a character will glance at the audience and pause, to let you know to appreciate it)

Clampett doesn't care if you know what he did was clever. Cleverness is just one of many storytelling tools he uses to entertain you with. He's so confident in his power to entertain that he just throws tons of ideas at the screen and doesn't worry if you miss some or just feel them.

TALE OF TWO KITTIES
This cartoon is a masterpiece of entertainment, acting, story and film structure, crazy ideas and cartooniness. And cleverness.

It's structure is multi-leveled.

This post covers the setups. Clampett has to setup the story and character relationships but doesn't want to rely merely on exposition. He does it in 20 seconds, and you don't even see the characters for most of that time.

http://www.cartoonthrills.org/blog/Clampett/42TaleOf2Kitties/1Tale2Kittiesopensml.mov

The very first thing we hear is "Hey Babbit!" but we don't see the character. The audience already knows this will be an animated incarnation of Abbot and Costello, but Clampett teases us by not showing them. Instead he shows a fence and we hear the violence happening behind it as we see loose boards slamming and garbage flying up in the air as Babbitt smacks Catstello around.

(BTW, a modern audience doesn't know who Abbot and Costello are and this cartoon structure still works. )

This is a really clever and indirect way to establish the characters and it builds suspense and curiosity in the audience. We are hooked right away and can't wait to see what's coming."

Set Up Audience Curiosity and Characters
"Hey Babbit! Cut it out! I don't wanna do it!
By the way, this layout of the fence is great. It has a flowing S curve that gives the pan a much more dynamic motion than if the fence was just horizontal and vertical lines.


Setup Story Plot and More About Characters
In the first tight acting scene of the characters we can really see their relationship. Catstello is wimpy and Babbit domineering. It's funny lively acting while they quickly make the story point that they are hungry and Babbit wants Catstello to catch a bird for them.
"You wanna eat, don't you?"
"Well go up and get the bird!"
This funny shot shows how hard it's gonna be for Catstello to get the bird.




http://www.cartoonthrills.org/blog/Clampett/42TaleOf2Kitties/2setupcatssmll.mov

Clampett makes us think at first that Catstello is an animal lover and doesn't want to hurt anyone, when in reality he's just scared.
"But I donn't wanna hoit nobody Babbbit..."
"What's the matter fraidy cat, this is only a tiny little bird!"
"You mean only a teensy weensy itsy bitsy tiny defenseless bird?"

This is all Bob McKimson animation. Full animation that deserves the work that went into it. No tricks. No squishy stretchy snapping away from and into poses. It's all done to let you enjoy the characters as characters, not as animated cliches.

Catstello Finds Courage
As soon as Catstello thinks the bird is too tiny to put up a fight, he gets courage. This could have been done with one quick pose and expression, but Clampett gets McKimson to milk the new found bravery with 3 different stages of fun personality animation.

"Let me at 'im!"
"Gangway, I'll moidelize him!"

He turns into a Gorilla in the middle of the bravery scene and hops around. This is a pure Clampett type of idea. Just for fun, but it makes the point.


"Let me at 'im!"

Then he goes into a boxer bit...
Many of the top animation directors have been assigned certain skills and signatures that define them. Because Jones' style and cleverness is so obvious, he gets the title of being the clever stylish guy.

Friz gets the title of musical guy, because his timing is so mechanically to the beat and it's hard to find any more tangible cartoon skill that everyone else isn't much better at - he gets music and timing by default. Tex is the wild crazy guy.

Clampett is all of the above and much more. A lot of his creative tools are behind the scenes working to make the entertainment experience stronger and richer, so they don't get written about by critics much. Because you have to actually get into deeper analysis of his films to see how they work, they are harder to write about. Especially if you don't make cartoons yourself and aren't aware of all the problems you have to solve firsthand.

Compare these acting scenes to later cartoons and see if you don't think 40s character acting in cartoons is more fun that the walking talking and held poses of 50s cartoons.

Much more of Tale Of Two Kitties to come.


33 comments:

Dan Pinto said...

This is one of those cartoons I HATED as a kid. I just didn't get it. It wasn't until college came around and I re-watched it that I found out how great it was. It's still one of my favorite Clampett cartoons.

Thanks for the breakdown, John.

Larry Levine said...

Ahhh, now this is a cartoon!

Truly great Clampett, Tweety (before Friz ruined him) & McKimson (doing what he did best)!

PCUnfunny said...

Yes this the sadistic Tweety I love. The one that just dosen't just say a catch phrase over and over again and actuallY DOSE something. As for the set up, I always loved how Clampett did it. He relied and on great exgerrated acting instead on simply character telling another what is going on.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Nice post! I love set-ups and Clampett is the set-up king. He not only sets up the story but he sets up the mood, pacing and musicality of the cartoon.

Tony said...

"This is one of those cartoons I HATED as a kid. I just didn't get it."

Same here. I used to think this cartoon was really boring as a kid.
Now, looking at all the great stills, I can see the skill put into it.

Ross Irving said...

This is an interesting story exposition.

I guess I'm crazy. I thought even Babbit casually asking Costello if he wanted to eat was too blunt. Telling him to get the bird in the tree also seemed to blunt.

Are you really saying stuff like this doesn't seem redundant?

When I try to write cartoon expositions, I always try to do it with almost no talking whatsoever.

As dumb as this sounds, what exactly do you mean, John?

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

This was the very first Bob Clampett cartoon I saw, when I was a wee little lad.

I loved it because Abbott and Costello have been my favorite movie stars since I was four and my Grandpa bought me all their movies...so when I saw them in cartoon form, I recognized them instantly. I also noticed how different Tweety was...that he was naked and extra evil. I didn't understand the wartime jokes though.

The best part for me is that the cat doesn't just sound like Costello, he moves and acts just like him too. It's amazing! It's not "that hyena looks like Whoopie Goldberg 'cause it has the same facial features" it's actually like seeing a cartoon Costello. Abbott not so much, but he's still great too.

Weirdo said...

"But Babbitt, I don't wanna hoit no boids. I love boids"

That may not sound funny, but the way Mel Blanc performs it (key word is performed, not read), it's magical. This is one of my favorite Clampett cartoons. Catstello just makes me laugh no matter what he's doing. I also love the sly refernece to the Hays Office. Hilarious stuff.

JohnK said...

>>
I guess I'm crazy. I thought even Babbit casually asking Costello if he wanted to eat was too blunt. Telling him to get the bird in the tree also seemed to blunt.<<

why is it blunt? He said it at the end of the intro.

He's gotta say it sometime. What should he do...play charades?

The whole thing is entertaining, not mere exposition to get you to the next story point. That's my point.

boootooons ltd. said...

i often used to wonder aloud about why the other warner directors were categorized the way they were.

you make a great point, john, and many years later i realized that the reason why is due to the environment that leon schlesinger created. my theory is that, if you fund a bunch of talented cartoonists, and then leave them alone only with a deadline and a budget, you're going to have some who do good work, and then some great work.

i've never seen a schlesinger short that completely SUCKS. i've only ever seen one that was not as good as another one.

but for every clampett and avery you get, there's bound to be a few frelengs and depaties hanging around. and in that environment, the ones whose efforts at greatness appear the most effortless usually don't get the attention they deserve ( clampett's story stuff gets set up before you realize what's going on; most people mistake that for not having a story at all ).

also, it's difficult to critique something astonishingly different if you're used to judging the quality of the same thing over and over and over.

- trevor.

ps: animaniacs stole a joke from this cartoon. the whole 'gimme the bird' joke was reused, and the only thing changed was they substituted 'hays office' with 'fox censors'.

Ross Irving said...

Oh, okay. That makes sense.

Thank you, John.

Emmett said...

I love the ending to this cartoon, when Babbit and Catstello make those carnivorous faces, and Tweetly shouts "TURN OUT THOSE LIGHTS!" My kind of humorous climax, and a great way to end a show.

I do love this type of acting and posing in cartoons. Watching later Hanna Barbera, I would have loved to have seen those characters taken to Clampett's or Tex Avery's level of cartoon acting (although I have a different perception of how it might work).

Roberto said...

Now this is Tweety in his glory days (I can hardly tolerate those Sylvester and Tweety cartoons that Friz made.). You can actually tell that he is a male (unlike on those Tweety "products" that WB has been manufacturing lately.)

This is truly one of favorite Clampett cartoons.

PCUnfunny said...

Eddie:

I think the best set up Clampett ever did was in Gruesome Twosome. The retarted cat pleading to the girl cat in "Cat" talk. Then establishing the rivarly between the retarted cat and the Jimmy Durante cat. Such wonderful character acting. And to top it off, the dog kissing the girl cat while the other two were distracted. LOL !

cartoon lad said...

Hi John, what do you mean by "Set Ups" ?

PCUnfunny said...

"clampett's story stuff gets set up before you realize what's going on; most people mistake that for not having a story at all"

That's a good point. I think people don't expect impressive acting in story set up. They expect things to be slow for a bit then pick up gradually. Normal audiences like you or me will be surprised and delighted by a set up so entertaining. Critics would write that off as a flaw. They would probably say something like, "Clampett always went by too fast. He did not give time to establish the character's relationships or the plot". I bet you a million bucks some so called animation critic said this before or something simular.

Dume3 said...

"Hi John, what do you mean by "Set Ups" ?"

The set up is how the premise (i.e. basic plot and tone) of the cartoon is established at the beginning.

Dume3 said...

Isn't it amazing how Warner Bros promotes the unbelievably inferior Freleng version of Tweety over the glorious original?

I hope Birdy and the Beast is one the next Golden Collection.

Speedy Boris said...

I hate how Clampett's Tweety looks (note I didn't say "moves"), but I do happen to like how he got more involved in the stories, had more personality, and was able to hold his own. What would've been great is if Freleng had retained the violent aspect of Clampett's Tweety but kept him in his cute exterior. That, to me, is the perfect balance: He looks adorable on the outside but looks can be deceptive, as he's more than capable of pummeling his adversaries.

Anyway, I -do- think there's something to be said for not wasting time in setting up plots. If you take too long it can cut into what could be used for what the audience wants to see in the first place. A perfect example is "Shiskabugs", which takes a good 2 minutes to set up. That's time which could've been spent with all sorts of comic mayhem and far more gags than we got.

Dume3 said...

"I hate how Clampett's Tweety looks (note I didn't say "moves"), but I do happen to like how he got more involved in the stories, had more personality, and was able to hold his own. What would've been great is if Freleng had retained the violent aspect of Clampett's Tweety but kept him in his cute exterior. That, to me, is the perfect balance: He looks adorable on the outside but looks can be deceptive, as he's more than capable of pummeling his adversaries."

It's funny you should say that because I think Tweety is much cuter and appealing in Clampett's cartoons. The Freleng design isn't not nearly as cute--his head feet and eyes are all smaller. not to mention that the expression's in Clampett cartoons are much more appealing.

jimmie said...

this is absolutely awesome. i was leaving message on youtube about some ren & stimpy posted there... about some of the early versus the later... and i decided to search for you. John... thanks for continuing to pursue excellence in cartoons.

this has always been one of my absolute favorite cartoons. i haven't seen it in years. thanks for discussing it...

Rob said...

It great how older cartoons actually parodied people of that time, and they didn't merely reference them. Like you said, this cartoon still works even if you have no idea who abbot & costello are.

cemenTIMental said...

ps: animaniacs stole a joke from this cartoon.
You don't say! :)

The only jokes they didn't steal from classic cartoons are the ones they stole from the Marx Bros. :)

Mitch Leeuwe said...

Thanks John! Great post.
It's really clear.

Martyn Drake said...

Personally I loved Tweety when he was a REAL little bastard and not the toned down version that came later. Someone took the wind out his sails a bit.

patchwork said...

Clampett was quite a clever whippersnapper

David Germain said...

The very first thing we hear is "Hey Babbit!" but we don't see the character. The audience already knows this will be an animated incarnation of Abbot and Costello, but Clampett teases us by not showing them.

I think that's the delightful prankish nature of Clampett showing through. That's one aspect that certainly sets him apart from the rest. He had a wonderful way of teasing the audience.
He would also frequently give the antagonistic prankster within the cartoon the last laugh (see What Price Porky and The Sour Puss). Others would punish that character such as Chuck Jones' My Favourite Duck.

jesus chambrot said...

ok people,off topic, look at this...
http://youtube.com/watch?v=ck14LKBI9GM&feature=related

Scotty said...

http://lowbrowjunk.blogspot.com/

purdue78 said...

I agree the ending to this one is excellent animation wise, as the two bumbling cats showcase that they are, in fact, still extremely feral creatures as they basically turn into frightening, monstrous predators, only to have Tweety go into the infamous "put out those lights!" tirade. Still a classic.

Newie said...

YEAH!! Great information John ,so, Fritz was all about timing huh, come to think of it, his stuff WAS kinda poppy and snappy.
If it fits your agenda for this blog; Do The MASKED Marauder ,and, Bugs and The Turtle, the: "that feller had a shell just like mine...yup" one.

Roberto González said...

I agree with most people about Tweety. I can't believe they changed that fantastic character and what I can't believe less is that people actually felt in love so much with Friz' version of the character when Clampett's one is so much better. I love this cartoon, one of my all time favourites. I have never thought about the fence thing, interesting point.

I'd like to see critics defending Clampett more too. His cartoons work perfectly, even feeling espontaneous is another virtue. Everything was well done. The fact that it's more wild doesn't mean it's a chaotic mess, moreso than he was very skilled to pull them off.

Jay Decro said...

Alot of people say they hated this cartoon as a kid, I always loved it, I thought Abbott was hilarious, even if it was an Abbott parody. It made me look up some of his stuff the other day. I found footage of him making 13 divide into 28, that was hilarious and he actually made it make sense even if it was wrong! I also noticed that setup, I should try something like that, it makes alot of sense.
Ever notice that he tells Costello that he'll "give him the bird"? I never noticed that when I was little, that is great!