Saturday, February 02, 2008

WB Cartoons Devolve Steadily Before They Rebel

Animator and historian Milt Gray has written an article about what he feels are Bob Clampett's contributions to the Warner Bros. style.

This post is just to give some background context to get a feel for what was happening at Warner Bros. cartoons in the early days.





The very first Looney Tunes by Harman and Ising were really cartoony.

The characters looked cartoony, had big expressive eyes and did crazy impossible things.

After about 8 of them they quickly decline and get blander and more on model, less cartoony.



The image “http://www.boingboing.net/images/wbcartoons.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

If you watch the first 8 or so cartoons of Bosko you can find everything you would imagine a bunch of cartoonists would want to animate, including dirty jokes.

http://www.imagesjournal.com/issue09/reviews/bosko/text.htm

"Even with their limitations, these are frequently surprising and frisky cartoons. In "Bosko's Holiday" (1931), for example, Bosko whispers something (naughty?) in Honey's ear. She becomes indignant. As she turns her back and tilts up her nose, a little dog slips forward and licks her bottom. Now angry, Honey turns around and smacks Bosko (as if he would lick her bottom!). These cartoons could also be shockingly violent: in "Bosko's Store" (1931), a mischievous baby cat grabs a strand of barbed wire and pulls it between Bosko's legs -- making Bosko wince as his crotch is ripped to shreds."

BOSKO'S HOLIDAY 1931




Mike Fontanelli and I watched a pile of the first five years of Warner cartoons one night in chronological order and what became clear was the cartoons actually showed a steady decline in fun, design, cartooniness and humor.
Buddy prepares to croon.

http://www.toonopedia.com/buddy.htm


CARTOON CARNIVAL -LUNCHTIME CARTOONS

I remember when I was in elementary school, I would race home every day at lunch to watch "Cartoon Carnival" which was a mixed bag of syndicated cartoons from the 30s and 40s.

They would run 3 cartoons for a half hour and usually I was pretty satisfied with my peanut butter sandwich and Woody Woodpecker and Daffy Duck cartoons. I knew these were older cartoons than the ones that ran in network cartoon shows. The prints were faded, scratched and full of splices ; even so, I loved the bouncy zany animation and great characters...BUT! There were 2 kinds of old cartoons that made me mad!

1) Animal Orchestra Antics: Any cartoon that had zany cartoon animals playing in an orchestra and knocking the toupees off each other with trombones infuriated me!

2) Things Coming To Life At Night Cartoons: These drove me nuts too. The ones where the old man would close up shop at night and head down to the graveyard and everything would come to life in the store. Salt shakers fell in love with toilet bowl cakes and then the evil potato peeler would chase them and try to rape the little blue virgin cake. Aaargh!

Whenever they ran one of these 2 types of cartoons in the middle of my sacred half hour cartoon lunch , I felt violated. Cheated out of my respite from education!

Here's one that made me wanna gouge my eyes out. I couldn't figure out why any real cartoonists would want to make stuff like this. Can you imagine stubbly men in suspenders, chewing on cigar stubs grinding out stuff like this? It happened a lot!

LITTLE DUTCH PLATE 1935






If you watch the early WB cartoons you will probably notice that same decline in fun and cartooniness...and in just plain appealing design! The cartoons get more and more conservative.

It sure doesn't give any indication that Warner Bros. will be a studio that rebels against Disney to create a whole new cartoony style that knocks Disney off its throne.

It's as if they made their first cartoons naturally - throw a bunch of funny cartoonists in a room to come up with gags, characters and stories and they did it with no thought as to what should a cartoon be. They assumed cartoons should be funny and magic. How naive!

But as Disney became popular, other studios started imitating what they thought Disney was doing. But as happens in almost all trends, the imitators imitate the worst parts of what is popular.

WB (and other studios too) copied the bland stories of Disney, the bland character designs and the less impossible gags. Disney was evolving in techniques, but Warners didn't have the budgets to copy the higher production values and more skilled animation that Disney was doing.

So as Disney evolved in one direction during the early 30s, Warner's was devolving in every direction.

Anyway, don't take my word for it. Watch the cartoons in order and see if you have a different observation.

http://www.davemackey.com/animation/wb/29-31.html

http://www.davemackey.com/animation/wb/1934.html




Tex Avery showed up in 1935 and started a new unit with Bob Clampett, but you didn't see much change starting until 1936.

http://www.davemackey.com/animation/wb/1936.html


"I love to Singa" is much like Freleng's "My Green Fedora" but has a smarter edgier sarcasm to it. Same animators, same kind of story, different director.


Frank Tashlin also appears and starts making funny clever cartoons.



Bonus: Here's an early example of great off-model licensing art.


Keep posted for Milt's Clampett article comin' up...



36 comments:

Joseph said...

Yes animation studios all had different styles. Movie studios had different cinematography and story telling styles.

Now the only style is no story and lots of visual effects!

Adam said...

The same thing happened over at the Fleischers... well unfortunately unlike WB's they never really recovered.

The Talkartoons and early Betty Boops are so entertaining but the studio took a nose dive once it moved out of New York and the blandness started to creep in.

Peggy said...

oh, man, I always hated that 'stuff comes to life at night' crap too. Watching the lights go out on a toyshop or whatever means you're in for six minutes of bland.

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

Milt's right about the rude jokes. I remember on "Looney Tunes On Nickelodeon" seeing "Sinkin' In The Bathtub" as a nubile, precocious young elementary schooler, watching as Honey danced on Bosko's bubbles that were being blown out of the saxophone after she poured her bathwater into it to shut him up.

As she danced, she arched her skirt up, dropped her panties, and girated (sp?) her groin at him.

I still don't know if that's what I saw, but that's what I remember.

I watched all of the other Boskos they showed, eagerly awaiting something as vulgar, to no avail.

Alas, it wouldn't be the last time Nickelodeon disappointed me.

- trevor.

James N. said...

Interesting piece of WB history here. Thanks John!

-James N.

PCUnfunny said...

Damn,that is the strangest off model I have ever seen for a cartoon character.

Frank said...

The look of shock in Honey's eyes when she thinks Bosko just licked her ass is priceless. I'm glad it gets recognition, after watching those Bosko DVDs I think it's the absolute high point of those early WB cartoons.

Chloe Cumming said...

I almost said something 'What's wrong with twee little Dutch crap' but then I found it hard to watch that whole cartoon without getting a restless bottom.

Though at the end was some redeeming unjust head swapping and cuckoo related gunfire.

I'm maybe a bit more of a sucker for cutesy bland puppy-utilising girly poofy things than you are, but only for about thirty seconds.

hayden the wise said...

huzzah for Nathaniel

Jorge Garrido said...

I completely agree with this post, except I still can't bring myself to watch those early Boskos. I can't stand them!

When I was a kid we had The Acme Hour on CN that showed assorted cartoons from different studios, and I felt the same way whenever those lame mid-30s Merrie Melodies came on.

Bob Clampett also felt this way. I have him on tape from the 1970s telling Brad Caslor and Reg Hartt why he hated it when Friz and the other guys who left Warners came back and started doing Buddy cartoons. Bosko in whiteface, eh called him. Or was that the Beany & Cecil DVD?

"Animator and historian Milt Grey has written an article about what he feels are Bob Clampett's contributions to the Warner Bros. style."

How ironic that John Kricfalusi spells someone's one syllable last name wrong...or the fact that it's ME pointing out this fact!

Rodrigo said...

Hey John,

I think you might find these interviews interesting:

How to Create Animation

Ian M said...

Ugh. Little Dutch Plate is not fun at all. I stopped watching once they started sing talking to each other about deeds and windmills or some such garbage.

Some of the Looney Tune anthologies have Bosko cartoons on them, including the aforementioned "Sinkin' in the Bathtub," which is outlandish and enjoyable. But it's not the first time that a studio decided to cut fun for a quick cash grab, and it certainly wasn't the last. You can't really blame a businessman for trying to make money, but you certainly can look down at his product.

Timefishblue said...

"How ironic that John Kricfalusi spells someone's one syllable last name wrong...or the fact that it's ME pointing out this fact!"

How ironic that your sentence makes no sense! ;D

Art F. said...

Ha! I always hated those "inanimate things come to life at night" cartoons too. The clip you have of the "Dutch Plate" is by far my all-time most hated cartoon of this genre.

JohnK said...

I'm not sure how making boring less funny cartoons adds up to making more money.

WB made more money when they started making funny cartoons again.

murrayb said...

"Salt shakers fell in love with toilet bowl cakes and then the evil potato peeler would chase them and try to rape the little blue virgin cake. Aaargh!"

HAHAHAHAHHA please do a parody cartoon with dancing urinal cakes.

pinkboi said...

I dig the off-model cover for the coloring book except one thing: tail?? He's supposed to be a human, isn't he? It's like Bosco knocked up Minnie Mouse.

Honestly, before discovering this blog, I thought all old cartoons were those stupid orchestra ones. I thought that cartoons were pretty boring until the 40s, but I was wrong!

Dume3 said...

"WB made more money when they started making funny cartoons again."

But Disney made more money than any of the studios, and you've said many times you find their cartoons boring.

Tim said...

Another great post - though I think I deserve some sort of medal for sitting through that whole Little Dutch Plate cartoon. Although I have to admit that I laughed at the sudden insanity it takes in the last minute and a half or so. Almost like the guy who made it started hating themselves and had desperately tried to grab their masculinity back.

Also, I think the addition of a tail to Bosko actually makes his character more offensive. Yeesh.

lastangelman said...

Honestly, I had really wanted WB to re-issue their Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes in chronological order, instead of mixing things up.

Larry Levine said...

Heck with Bosko, Foxy rules in my book! Love his Mickey Mouse with fox ears design.

FLAMINGPINECONE said...

That shit is like the Bob Ross of cartoons. Sure it has it's charm for a while but Frank Franzetta got balls and sex so who cares about happy little trees!?

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

"I'm not sure how making boring less funny cartoons adds up to making more money."

Well, you'll never get hired to work at Pixar or Family Guy with that attitude, John.

- trevor.

Chip Butty said...

John, what are your thoughts on Tashlin? I liked "Scrap Happy Daffy" and "Nasty Quacks" but did he just want resectability by switching to live action?

Kris said...

I also really HATED the "toy store comes to life" cartoons (if you think about it, it was always a toy store). All the public domain videos in the '90s had at least one of those, and they were more or less indistinguishable.

I was REALLY disappointed when someone got me a "Christmas Cartoons" tape for Christmas as a kid because almost ALL the cartoons on it were those fucking toy store cartoons!

N3drid said...

"Little Dutch Plate" Is a great example how not to do a cartoon. Everything happened without a reason. All was dancing mindlessly and gets interrupted by a equally mindless story. Sadly, this is the most infuential type of cartoon that morden cartoons use today.

This is one of the main thing atleast i have noticed between Disney type of cartoons and WB type of cartoons wich comes to the next example of HOW to make a cartoon.

"Bosco´s Holiday" is one of those cartoons that have reasons behind what is happening. For example when bosco plays the guitar and one of the strings broke, he got a reason to pull of the tail from the mouse.
It also was reasons behind the rude jokes aswell, wich makes them more interesting and intelligent.

Nick said...

Its amazing how Friz Freleng managed to put up with directing those dull Disney knock offs when his heart was clearly in directing funny cartoons, which he did eventually.

Freckled Derelict said...

OH man you nailed it!
I never really analyzed it but I hated all those cartoons too.
I was furious as a kid when the awaited for cartoon turned out to be shmarmy sappy or an orchestra. Why did they do that so often? Why did they think the orchestra with played out gags was worth repeating over and over again!!! any thoughts?

pappy d said...

Great post! You don't hear much about this important period of cartoon history. (Probably because animation scholarship's too G-rated to explain how black people got lumped in with "funny animals".)

"I'm not sure how making boring less funny cartoons adds up to making more money."

Just focus strictly on making money & the blandness will take care of itself. Go ahead, try it, if you don't believe me.

"2) Things Coming To Life At Night Cartoons:"

One exception has to be "Book Revue". The formula was so threadbare at that point that they hardly bother to establish the premise that it's a book store after closing time. I once saw the boards by Mike Maltese (I'm sure this time). Daffy's big-eyeball take was in there already.

pappy d said...

Great post! You don't hear much about this important period of cartoon history. (Probably because animation scholarship's too G-rated to explain how black people got lumped in with "funny animals".)

"I'm not sure how making boring less funny cartoons adds up to making more money."

Just focus strictly on making money & the blandness will take care of itself. Go ahead, try it, if you don't believe me.

"2) Things Coming To Life At Night Cartoons:"

One exception has to be "Book Revue". The formula was so threadbare at that point that they hardly bother to establish the premise that it's a book store after closing time. I once saw the boards by Mike Maltese (I'm sure this time). Daffy's big-eyeball take was in there already.

JohnH said...

In general I'm also not a fan of those stuff-comes-to-life cartoons. But...

Wasn't it Tex Avery who made this one for MGM, in which elves invade an old cobbler's shoe store after he goes to bed? I -seem- to remember some good jokes in that one. And there's another of the comes-to-life cartoons, over at WB, that has the early, looney Daffy Duck in it in a bit part. Don't remember an awful lot else about it though.

(Wow, I can't believe I know these things!)

paul etcheverry said...

The de-volution between 1933 and 1935 was an industry-wide trend. With some studios (Van Beuren in particular), the draftsmanship improved but the cartoons became bland and uninteresting.

Out went the surreal and wonderfully bizarre imagery we know and love in pre-Code cartoons. Bill Nolan's wildly rubbery animation in the early talkie Oswalds? The amazingly trippy world of Fleischer's Talkartoons? Dick Huemer's Robert Crumb-like scenes in the early Scrappy cartoons? All long gone well before 1935.

Warners was really hit hard when Leon Schlesinger gave contract producers Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising (yes, the guys who made more "stuff comes to life at midnight" cartoons than anybody) the boot in 1933 and opted to start a new studio from scratch. The awkward adjustment shows; Buddy's Day Out may well be the worst animated cartoon made in the U.S. in 1933.

Any good "things come to life at night" cartoons? Tashlin's trifecta of Speaking Of The Weather, Have You Got Any Castles and You're An Education. . . and Clampett's Book Revue, the last word on the genre - and a brilliant piece of work.

Steve Carras said...

Little Dutch Plate was a good example of a Disney style cartoon, but the problem was it would be out of place for Warner cartoons later.

Brett W. Thompson said...

I loooove Bosko! :)

littlearse said...

i think LITTLE DUTCH PLATE influenced you more than you think, john - weren't the little dutch girl and little salt-shaker boy your inspiration for the HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY dance?

lol

Steve Carras said...

Paul E., Chuck Jones's try at the only post-1948 example of this coming to life was done, in 1960, "High Note", though it's more better an idea than executiion. Don't forget one of the last before "Book Revue", Clampet's first color short, "Goofy Grocieres"[1940].