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