Thursday, April 29, 2010

Barbary Coast Bunny 1

This is one of my all-time favorite cartoons. It has almost every good trait you associate with Chuck Jones:

Great layouts and backgrounds
Funny and mean gags
Specific acting
Beautiful solid and stylish drawings
Good timing
Clear Staging
A lummox

It also has very tight story structure and lots of little subtle extra actions - all the things the critics love. I appreciate those too, but those are nice secondary accessories to me. They can help support a big central idea if there is one. By themselves they are just technical details. What's really memorable about this cartoon is the characterization of the lummox. Chuck is the master of lummoxes and this Nasty Canasta is his finest. Usually Chuck's lummoxes have funny body shapes-a huge barrel chest, big head with tiny legs and stubby fingers. Nasty has all these traits, but on top of them he has a very specific face - unlike the more plain faced Little John and The Crusher.

Nasty Canasta is a very difficult character to draw. His face is full of careful twists turns and angles which would be hard to animate. Impossible for anybody who hadn't spent the previous 20 years animating pears, spheres and typical 1940s cartoon constructions.

When we were kids my friends and I always imitated Nasty Canasta. Not only is he hilarious to look at; he has a really funny voice too. It may be Daws Butler's greatest role.

Shane sent me this quote from Chuck Jones about BBB:

Chuck on Barbary Coast Bunny:

I just returned from recording a new picture: BARBARY COAST BUNNY. I used a new actor, name of Daws Butler, in the role of the heavy. He’s a very clever guy, hard working, intelligent and refreshing. He’s the one who worked with Stan Freberg on all those records, they wrote and acted in them together.

I must say that I learned a great deal from him. He gave a splendid and new angle to this character, a sort of Marlon Brandoish mushy-mouthed delivery that seemed very funny to me. In Streetcar Named Desire Brando was a troglodyte but with his speech dotted with completely incongruous delicacies. This effort to attain elegance was what gave the character its odd twist, like an orangutan in an evening gown.

So we rewrote the dialogue a little to fit this new conception and, as I say, it came off beautifully.
Another thing I noticed is that Mel Blanc, who was there to record the rabbit, was well aware that he has some competition from Daws. He really worked today. I have never seen him evidence more interest in his work. I think I shall hire a sort of stand-by talent on recording days if this is what the goad of rivalry does for Mel. Like others, I suppose, he is likely to get a trifle smug occasionally. All in all, a good day.

Well that explains a lot! Maybe the voice session really inspired Chuck to go the extra distance and make this a one of a kind cartoon.

This kind of creative collaboration could only exist under the open production system of "creator-driven cartoons". The director is a real director and can make changes and improvements all along the production. If he is working with great talents, like the Golden Age directors were, they can all influence each other and the director can improve things and make adjustments as he goes.

If Jones worked under our present system, he would never have been able to make such a unique film. Someone else would have directed the voices from a script, and Chuck and Daws would not have been able to play off each other. The storyboards would not have looked like Nasty's final design and Pierce would not have heard the voice track, so his board would not have reflected the great reading. The layouts would have been sent overseas to do, which means Chuck could not have drawn every pose to match the specific inflections Daws gave the character in the recording...etc.etc.

You don't hear much about Chuck's layout man Robert Gribbroek and I don't know why. I think he's brilliant. He not only has a modernistic style, but his drawings are solid and perfectly composed. Stylish, yet not in your face.

Bugs is actually active in this cartoon. He doesn't merely ride the direction to an automatic win. Chuck sets him up here and shows he's vulnerable, not completely magic.

Here's one of Chuck's patented joined-eye takes.

This story is very carefully set-up. Like Tex Avery, Jones spends a couple minutes preparing you for what the cartoon is going to be about. He does it in an entertaining way too, not with verbal exposition, but with characterization and suspense.
Structurally this story is very much like a Tex Avery cartoon. Where it differs is in the types of gags that come after the carefully prepared setup. In an Avery cartoon, once you know what the cartoon is about, the gags are mostly physical and they get bigger, crazier and more preposterous throughout the cartoon. The characters in turn react to the crazy gags. In Barbary Coast Bunny, after the setup, the gags come from 2 main sources - the personalities of the characters, and the ridiculous events that follow Bugs' natural luck. The gags aren't as physically extreme as in a Tex cartoon, but they are ridiculous in very clever ways.
I love Nasty Canasta's lips. Chuck really put his animators to the test with this design. It's fun to watch all the funny ways they made Nasty's mouth animate during dialogue.

Nice suspense here.

Goddamn is that a beautiful drawing! I've heard critics and historians poo-poo the "Preston Blair" constructed drawing approach of 40s cartoons, but without it you wouldn't be able to make such a great specific and stylish drawing like this. All the general principles are here, but they are wrapped around very specific forms and then candy-coated with varied curves and angles.
The cartoon has a lot of typical Jones pose to pose scenes where just the head moves around slightly to keep the chaacter alive, but there are some scenes where the animation is really clever and adds to the gags. I'll make clips of those.

Don't be fooled by all the lumps and wrinkles in Nasty's design. They are all small and tightly wrapped around his line of action and his major forms.
The details also react to gravity. They don't just stick out evenly in all directions.

Personally, you can have your Toot Whistle Plunk and Booms and your Pigs is Pigs and Gerald McBoing Boings. This cartoon has tons of style and cleverness, yet it's all subject to the total entertainment of the film and it cares about the audience.

Of course you know, every Jones Bugs Bunny cartoon has to motivate him to revenge.

I think this cartoon stands out as one of the finest ever in history, but it's especially stunning that it was made in 1956, right about when everyone in the business had run out of energy. Barbary Coast Bunny is one of the last gasps of the Golden Age of Cartoons.

There were a few gems in the cartoons made in 1956, but for the most part the cartoons seemed pretty tired by then.
  1. Friz 1956
  2. Two Crows from Tacos (1956)
  3. Yankee Dood It (1956)
  4. A Star Is Bored (1956)
  5. Tugboat Granny (1956)
  6. Napoleon Bunny-Part (1956)
  7. Tree Cornered Tweety (1956)
  8. Rabbitson Crusoe (1956)
  9. Tweet and Sour (1956)

# The Honey-Mousers (1956)
# Wideo Wabbit (1956)
# The Slap-Hoppy Mouse (1956)
# Raw! Raw! Rooster! (1956)
# Half-Fare Hare (1956)
# Stupor Duck (1956)
# The Unexpected Pest (1956)
# Mixed Master (1956)
# The High and the Flighty (1956)
# Weasel Stop (1956)
# Too Hop to Handle (1956)

UPA Films of 1956

"Gerald McBoing! Boing! on Planet Moo" 2/9/56

Starring Gerald McBoing Boing.

"Magoo's Caine Mutiny" [MR. MAGOO] 3/8/56

"Magoo Goes West" [MR. MAGOO] 4/19/56

"Calling Dr. Magoo" [MR. MAGOO] 5/24/56

"The Jaywalker" 5/31/56

"Magoo Beats the Heat" [MR. MAGOO] 6/21/56

"Magoo's Puddle Jumper" [MR. MAGOO] 7/26/56

"Trailblazer Magoo" [MR. MAGOO] 9/13/56

"Magoo's Problem Child" [MR. MAGOO] 10/18/56

"Meet Mother Magoo" [MR. MAGOO] 12/27/56

MGM was out just about out of business in 1956.

Anyway, BBB is a genius cartoon and I'm going to analyze the crap out of it over a few posts if you don't mind.
Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Volume Four


RooniMan said...

Analyze as much as you want, John. This is all very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Wow! You sure analyzed the crap out of this wonderful masterpiece already with this one post. These stylized drawings are like wonderful masterpieces in themselves. What a treat! I think it would take me more than a lifetime to be able to draw even a tenth as well as any of Chuck's animators did. I bet you've come really close though, John.

Pedro Vargas said...

This post is great!! I love the cleverness you pointed out on the cartoon as a whole, story and all. Especially on Nasty Canasta's design. I can clearly see those Preston Blair principles within him too, except they're all specific forms on top of specific forms like you said. Reads very clear. It'd be great to see you do some more analyses on this cartoon!!

Gad said...

i think i watched this cartoon at least a 100 times
but i have to say Chuck Jones had better cartoons i'd rather see analyzed

Elana Pritchard said...

Yay! Can't wait to see more.

Trevor Thompson said...

Please do! It's one of my favorite Jones cartoons!

kurtwil said...

Great images and analysis, JK...thanks for keeping the classic fires burning!

Maybe someday the younger video game testers I work alongside (I'm 60, they're under 30) will catch on to classic animation.
For now all 5 of them prefer Machinima (video game asset-based movies - the exact opposite of Barbary Coast Bunny). As they ooed and ahhed at what appeared to be 'Mutant Anime Warrior Transformers', I silently echoed part of JK's R&S commentary; "What the ____ is THAT?"

If this blog allows links, a sample is here (warning; Mature language) for folks to view:

EalaDubh said...

A couple of years later and 'by huckleberry' would have been an in-joke.

top cat james said...

When this airs on TV, the final gag-Nasty shooting himself in the face-is always edited out. Ruins the payoff and the whole damn cartoon!

Niki said...

That really was a lot to say!

J Lee said...

Just one correction -- a little love for Tedd Pierce, who wrote the story for BCB while Maltese was off working with Tex at Lantz (Pierce gets trashed so much, but his post-shutdown cartoons with Jones while Maltese was away from home don't show any drop in quality, Barrier's claims to the contrary).

TedM said...

Cool blog. Thanks for the info on the Chuck Jones Bugs Bunny cartoon.

JoJo said...

Can't wait to read more!

Pokey said...

Of the Friz ones, I think Star is Bored is among the worst--harkening back to a point you've made in "The Best Buny - pre-'Tude":"And they should never team him up with Daffy--that worked in one cartoon [I guess, Rabbit Fire], but never again".

JohnK said...

"Just one correction -- a little love for Tedd Pierce, who wrote the story for BCB while Maltese was off working with Tex"

Oh, good catch! I corrected the text.

Pierce wrote some good cartoons. Hillbilly Hare is hilarious, didn't he write that?

And maybe Dover Boys?

Bruce Docker said...

As a kid in the 60's I used to draw characters from TV cartoons. Even then I new the difference between early and later Woody Woodpecker cartoons as well as early and later Looney Toons. What's great about this too is that Nasty is a more interesting character than Bugs.
I love the way he does the burro bounce as he rides away with the gold.

Anonymous said...

Jeez, this just makes me embarrassed to think that i can draw! Sheesh! Eagerly looking forward to the forthcoming posts...

Scrawnypumpkinseed said...

I look forward to watching you analyze the everloving crap out of it John.

As for me, I'm off the watch Barbary Coast Bunny and all the others you listed. This will be a fine evening.

Gabe's Cartoons said...

I LOVE CHUCK JONES!!! His greatest advice is mine:

" was no discouraging surprise to me that my first instructor at Chouinard Art Institute, like Nicolaides at the Art Students League, greeted his beginning classes with the following grim edict: 'All of you here have one hundred thousand bad drawings in you. The sooner you get rid of them, the better it will be for everyone."

Great post John :)

Roberto González said...

Very interested indeed. It's a pretty good cartoon, I'm not sure if it's one of my favourites, but I dig the stylized drawings and Nasty Canasta's design.

Another later one I really like stylistically is "Bugs' Bonnets".

Since you said in the extras of the LT GC that you don't think that Bugs Bunny should always win it's odd that you love this particular cartoon that much, cause it's based on Bugs' pure luck, but I guess you don't have reservations if you find the overall cartoon entertaining.

Josh 'Hat' Lieberman said...

awesome post man.
Even though MGM was going out of business, I think Tex was makin some of his best cartoons around the same time too.
Depuity Droopy, Cellbound, Field and Scream, all amazing cartoons.

As well as the stuff he was doin at Lantz, most notably Rockabye Point which was 1955 I believe (which I think is his best cartoon ever).
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on Tex's stuff from the same period.

G'Tron said...

When you say "Pigs Is Pigs" do you mean the Disney cartoon about the guinea pigs in the Irish train station, or the Warner cartoon featuring Piggy Hamhock with a fetishistically slavish Wikipedia entry?

Anonymous said...

You're right. You're absolutely right. The voice acting is great in this one.

thomas said...

Nasty -kind of see the beginnings of Witch Hazel and even the Grinch.
Isn't Nasty Canasta's face concave, with the nose, mouth and eyebrows sticking out like rocks in a valley?
I think Witch Haze's face has the same mix of concave and convex shapes
Similarities in the mouth too.

Martin Juneau said...

It's true that they have very mean gags and situations in this cartoon but did it watered down the "Bugs wins" formula from the 50's cartoons?

K. Nacht said...

Friz and Virgil Ross seem to get short shrift in the animation community, such as the blogosphere paints it. Yet I find Friz has some of the funniest moments in Warner's oeuvre, whether or not the formal elements of the cartoon may be shabby comparative to other directors.

The Pencil Test Depot blog has posted some great scenes from Virgil Ross, and it really attests to how animation drawings degrade in the process of ink and paint! The drawings are so tight and beautiful, and the production of the finished cartoons suffers by comparison, methinks.

ANDROID said...

John: Did you ever meet Chuck Jones? Or work with him? What was he like?


JohnK said...

I met him a couple times at Bakshi's.

Didn't get to talk to him too long though.

Whit said...

The Bugs that Jones usually portrayed would never fall for the misspelled, poorly-painted fake bank facade nor be so easily swindled by the dense lummox Canasta. He sees directly through the far smarter Wile E. Coyote in the two cartoons Jones made where he speaks. Maybe the difference is between Pierce and Maltese?

Iron maiden said...

hey john I always wanted to ask you this
but have you ever tried getting back the rights of powder toastman ,Since hes only been in one episode

drawingtherightway said...

Great post! One thing I noticed is in that in the screen shot of the credits is that Daws Butler isn't listed only Mel is. Was this because Daws was a new actor?

Anonymous said...

Before I even read your comments I said, "This is one of my favorite cartoons". I feel special. lol

Thanks for the post John, as always. its amazing you do all this work for your fans, we really appreciate it.

She-Thing said...

Thanks John, I've watched it 14 times now. Drawing at the same time...

Question: I'm studying perspective & composition with Loomis. Do you think he teaches like life drawing? A very useful tool but nowadays we're not using it as we should?
You think I should even consider studying him?

Much Thanks,

Pablo said...

This characters are so beautifull, so expressive, Chuck Jones was a genius really...

Roberto González said...

>>The Bugs that Jones usually portrayed would never fall for the misspelled, poorly-painted fake bank facade nor be so easily swindled by the dense lummox Canasta. >>

Yeah, I also find that a little odd. I don't know if it's just cause they needed a conflict, or some kind of surreal element like "this is a cartoon so a fake bank is somewhat believable for a clever guy" or it's that carrying that giant piece of gold didn't leave Bugs think a lot.

My theory, though, is that this unusual naiveness just reflects Bugs' optimism and good-nature. He doesn't figure out that it's a trap cause he just met the guy, so he doesn't have a negative concept of him. Bugs is such a friendly creature that he takes his good intention for granted. If he would have been one of his usual enemies he wouldn't have caught him off-guard.

JohnK said...

It's funny. That's why they did it. They didn't overanalyze story stuff back then.

Rusty said...

Counting this as your most prolific post yet?

Jones has class. While Fantasia is simply Kitsch. Jones makes high art through most of his films.
Though with Michael Maltese they became Hollywoods most creative animation duo of the fifties.
I view Micheal Maltese as an important story asset to Jones as Ted Sears was to Disney.

Roberto González said...

>>It's funny. That's why they did it. They didn't overanalyze story stuff back then.>>

I don't know. This is more about character than it's about story and maybe other directors weren't so concerned about characterisation but Jones especially seemed like the type that would overanalyze that kind of stuff.

I know it's not the same thing but most of Jones complaints about "Space Jam" were about character "Porky wouldn't say this or Bugs wouldn't need the help of other Looney Tunes to fight the bad guys". He didn't say directly that animation, story or gags were lousy, he talked about the personality of the characters.

I'm not saying I don't like that part of the cartoon or make a big deal about it. Like I said, I actually think that naiveness makes Bugs likeable.

Roberto González said...

I must add that I'm actually a defender of including things just cause they are funny.

In fact when I draw my own comics and stuff even though I try to create consistent personalities I sometimes make some characters dumber than usual for the sake of a joke.

Oisin O'Sullivan said...

that donkeys eyebrow is very nice

Elana Pritchard said...

May I also add that my favorite 1956 cartoon is "Deduce You Say" for the shady bar characters and wordplay.

"Hot buttered gin. Nut brown October Ale, over the rocks"

Larry Levine said...

Great post on a great cartoon directed by the great Chuck Jones!!!

Yowp said...

John K wrote:
It also has very tight story structure and lots of little subtle extra actions - all the things the critics love.

I love the weary-looking burro in this.

The Warners directors, during their best years, all seem to have used incidental silent animal characters that were never really part of the main action but had great expressions or designs (eg. the grinning horses in 'Bugs Bunny Rides Again'). Jones must have like doing it because eventually he took one such character and made him part of the action .. the dog in the Grinch cartoon.


mike f. said...

Funny that Chuck Jones calls Mel Blanc "smug". A brilliant character designer and genius director, but Jones is probably the last person in the world who should call anyone smug.

BTW, Daws was doing an imitation of character actor and former prizefighter Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom, who sounds like a punch-drunk, retarded Brando if you close your eyes.

SoleilSmile said...

It's obvious as you stated before, that you love Chuck Jones' "big goon" cartoons. Was there something in you teenage life that reflects the goon, which is the reason why these types of cartoons resonate with you so much?
I'm just curious. I'm researching male archetypes as the male characters in my own work become more prominent, and I wanted to know more info so my characters won't be cookie cutter.
If it's not too personal, tell us about the bullies in your high school years, John.

JohnK said...

Lummoxes are just funny.

skillz said...

Do you think they should have kept looney tunes going with a new crop of freshman animators and directors?

And would you have wanted to work on some of these cartoons?

Tony C. said...

Your analysis of BBB is awesome, keep them coming. There is just so much FUN in this cartoon!