Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Porky and Daffy - Innovative Wackiness - The Double Bounce Butt Walk

Porky and Daffy

I first saw "Porky and Daffy" at a party in Bob Clampett's studio. Bob used to show us 16 mm prints in his fun room. Mostly he showed his obviously brilliant color classics, but once in a while he would show us a really rare black and white.

He ran "Porky and Daffy" and sat there with a sly look on his face watching the reactions. We were all rolling on the floor laughing.
Porky and Daffy
After the cartoon was over we all looked at Bob with awe and shame and he said to us "You fellas have dirty minds". He looked exactly like Bugs Bunny, just gleeful at the sneaky gags he got away with in this otherwise innocent looking cartoon.

Porky and Daffy

I've since watched Porky and Daffy at least a hundred times.
Porky and Daffy

The more I see it, the more amazing ideas I find in it. It's a huge reservoir of clever ways to move things funny.
Porky and Daffy

This early period of Clampett's career is often overlooked by historians, probably because on the surface the drawings themselves don't look as advanced as the later color cartoons.

Clampett's First Cartoons Were Something Completely New

But to me, this is the period where Warner Bros. really found its unique voice. Clampett was not only constantly trying new ideas - he gave the characters life.

His characters were living throbbing vessels of cartoon protoplasm. When you watch his cartoons, you aren't just sitting from a distance witnessing funny things happen to cardboard images.

You are instead pulled into the screen and invited to experience the things that the characters cause to happen from their own natural urges and motivations.

That in itself is a major innovation. But here is the one I am talking about in this post:

Ideas on every Level

The other one is that he found a way to insert all kinds of funny and inventive ways to move the characters. It seems that no detail escapes Clampett's thirst for invention.

Even actions and scenes that are not the focus of the storyline are creative.

For example, the other night, Milt Eddie and I were watching Porky and Daffy for the millionth time and I noticed this really funny walk.

Obviously, the focus of the scene is The Pelican dragging his anatomy across the canvas. The story point is just a connection between other scenes. Clampett can't bring himself to just let a continuity scene be merely functional. He finds room for fun in everything.

The pelican is hilarious and obvious, but behind him, Daffy walks by to sit on the stool. The walk is crazy and funny. It's a double bounce butt walk! Now if I had a funny walk like this is one of my cartoons, I would want to show it off. I'd wait till the Pelican did his bit, and then frame Daffy so that everyone could get a laugh out of that zany walk.

But to Bob, it's just a throwaway bit of inspired wackiness. He's got so many ideas, he doesn't really need to show each one off. This is the complete opposite of say Chuck Jones' approach. Jones will build whole cartoons around some central wacky idea and really point to it so that the audience and cartoon historians can't miss it. (the breast eyes in Claude Cat cartoons, for example)

Bob tosses away so many ideas that you can watch his cartoons over and over again and still find great stuff you would never have thought of in a million years.

And none of this stuff distracts from the main thrust of the story. The story is always completely and clearly told and you never have trouble following what he wants you to laugh at. He just adds in lots of easter eggs. The total entertainment effect is that everything is completely awake and alive and real. This totally wacky impossible world feels more real and fun than our own mundane 3 dimensional bland existence.

Porky and Daffy

Porky and Daffy

Porky and Daffy

Porky and Daffy

Porky and Daffy

Porky and Daffy

Another thought:

Innovation and Inspiration

A lot of cartoon history and individual cartoons have been judged on innovation. If something was new and hadn't been done before, it has been traditionally considered a quality cartoon - regardless of the entertainment value.

Most art forms and entertainment are not solely judged on how innovative each work is. They are judged on their skill, their power to evoke emotion and other qualities.

Why is animation so frequently judged on merely how innovative it is?

My theory is because it is still a young field, and it grew and changed so fast between 1930 and 1950. Those cartoons are the best ever produced and at the time, the evolution in techniques was so rapid that you couldn't help but notice the changes. Animation historians of that period tend to judge the talent and creativity of the creators by how much of a change each cartoon or animator effected. Thus, purely entertaining highly skilled directors and animators generally get short shrift from critics. This explains Bob McKimson's poor place in history.

I don't know of a single animator or director alive today that is as skilled, entertaining or funny as Bob McKimson was, yet he gets a bad rap because he wasn't always innovating. He was merely a superhuman talent.

Clampett on the other hand was too innovative. He tried new things out all the time. The problem is he had so many ideas that most of them weren't picked up on by the rest of the business and so many went unnoticed by historians.

Disney had a methodical approach to growth and innovation. They had in house classes to improve their drawing skills, action analysis, etc... you could see progress in skill every month in their 30s cartoons. This also came with a process of discovering and creating rules.

Disney formulated rules to govern what was allowed to happen in their cartoons and what wasn't. This really influenced the rest of the artform.

Clampett innovated and grew through inspiration. He just had spur of the moment inspirations and tried them. He didn't make a preset bible of rules to follow.

His inspirations always fit the context and story that he was directing. He had focused inspirations. What was happening in the story would give him ideas of how to handle it.

His characterizations, his sense of fun and cartooniness and exaggeration did inspire and influence the rest of the industry but the innovation of using natural inspiration and plain fun in every aspect of cartoon making never quite caught on with anyone.

Hopefully now that people are noticing, it might influence the future of our great art form.