Thursday, October 30, 2008

40s cartoons - McKimson and our Dads

McKimson understands humanity - not in all its layers and subtleties, but in its basest elements. He knows what's funny about our basic urges.Some critics may think this is low-class and too simple and I would disagree with that. Most cartoons miss human nature altogether. They not only don't catch the "subtleties" and varieties of human nature - they don't even see the basic truthful essentials of human motivation. The fact that McKimson can milk so much entertainment from man's most primitive qualities puts him way ahead of the vast sea of animators past and present.
Animation has a few formula styles, but most of them lack a basic ability to observe anything from the real world and add it to the potential magic of cartoons. These 2 qualities - realism in character motivation and wild imaginative fancy are the 2 hardest things to achieve in animation. McKimson is slim on the wild fancy, but is strong on the realism - the recognizable human motivations that we can easily identify with.
Disney cartoons are completely abstracted from human motivation or character. Walt created a small handful of simple animated stereotyped characters. Other animators who are Disney fans will continue copying these naive unrealistic character types in fully animated features probably forever. They get all their ideas not from observation of life or their own imaginations, but from other Disney films - or now from Pixar films, the successor to Disney.So-called "realistic" cartoons - prime time cartoons that wish to be compared to live-action sitcoms miss a true observation of humanity in another way. Their characters don't act, talk, move or portray any normal recognizable human characteristics. They move like zombies and speak like cartoon-writers, who have little in common with actual people.So back to the infinitely superior McKimson characters.
Watching his cartoons is like when you were a kid listening to your Dad and his friends playing poker.
They are all yelling at each other, shoving, calling each other stupid and laughing uproariously at each others' misfortunes.
You are witnessing a strange and compelling demonstration of grown up maleness in its rawest form.Not only does McKimson understand men conceptually; he and his team have crazy skills in bringing the characters to life on the screen.
McKimson's solid poses and careful timing gives his actions and abuse a ton of power and humor. This isn't something that just any animators or directors can do.

McKimson was the absolute best at it. None of his actions are arbitrary or culled from stock animation techniques. He doesn't randomly use tons of overlapping action or too much squash and stretch just for the sake of it, like Disney animators tend to do.His animation and timing is thought out and executed to give the story, characters and actions clarity, humor and power.

Every time I see this scene I laugh out loud because of how true and expert it is.



Kali Fontecchio said...

"he and his team have crazy skills in bringing the characters to life"

Crazy skills yo, haha!

Raw maleness sounds scary, like the stuff wars are made out of. He's unabashedly human, er I mean cock-y.

Nicol3 said...


I've always seen many pinches of my own father in Foghorn; except Dad is a lot more loud. Cops tend to be that way.

Just his sneeze could scare a bear out of hibernation.

trevor said...

Watching that video clip in slomo and looking at the animation drawings versus the layout poses ( maybe a few frames apiece ), I wonder:

Did McKimson do all of his own layouts like Chuck did, or did he have a layout man like Tom McKimson was for Clampett?

I'm guessing it's the former, because if you can do model sheets and character designs ( not to mention inventing the studio's drawing style as they say ), chances are you can do your own layouts.

The other thing I noticed watching that over and over in fast versus slomo, I thought about 1s versus 2s. I wonder if there's any scientific proof that cartoons work better in 2s and feature animation works better in 1s. ( Are the Goofy shorts 1s or 2s? )

I think this kind of super cartoony action works partly because 2s creates a false strobe effect adding to the energy as it falls on the eye.

Anyway, I really love these McKimson posts you've been doing, John, and thanks for showcasing his very best directorial work and breaking it down so eloquently as to what he is doing right.

My dad loves him too.

- trevor.

Mellanumi said...


Seems the general direction of most art these days, from film to animation to music, is to replicate "styles" as opposed to being true observers and expressors of the wide world around us. Your observation points out why I felt Warners Cartoons always had a robustness to them that left me fulfilled as a child, and seemed to explain the world to me in a way that Aesops Fables did back in the day. What ever happened to the concept of personality? Is everything these days slick and polished homogeneity? Performers are to capture truth through emotion and feeling, whatever their media may be. I'm not a fatalist though. I think cookie cutter art -- as banal as it may be -- is necessary so stars can shine brighter.

Mr. Semaj said...

Hey, yesterday was your dad's birthday, wasn't it?

Jamie Gallant said...

Great stuff

Zoran Taylor said...

My Dad just happens to be something of a misfit himself, so he's not much like this at all. His own "everyone is an idiot" assertions are somewhat credible, because he could actually sorta pass himself off as an intellectual based on what he really knows. On the other hand he despises pretension and cliche. On the other other hand, he's an actor, speechwriter, "PR coach", stock market whiz - "This recession has been staring us in the face for five years! Now FINALLY it's happening and people are asking why?"- So yeah, a pretty contradictory set of ideas and prejudices right there. However, my MOTHER (yes, my Mother!) has a bit of Leghornian agression and, as Kali beautifully put it, "COCKiness" in her. She's the one who tells me which of my friends are flaky, which are obviously jealous of me for being well-adjusted, etc. She still calls my sixth-grade teacher a "shithead". I argue about it, but I love her for having the guts to say stuff like that. And to think that such an acidic wit could also be an outstandingly sympathetic learning disability assistant - some of the kids at that school would be just hopeless without her. So I guess I have very unusual parents. Good thing my EXTENDED family is such a fruit salad of cliches: the control freak, the gloomy old european transplant who's waiting to die, uh......the dead people.....that's "reality", I guess.

Jizz Wad said...

I noticed that the dog's snarl is in sound only, his expression actually looks curious or shocked by Foghorn's reaction.

Pete Emslie said...

Foghorn is among other things, arrogant, overbearing, and a "Loudmouth Schnook". And yet we like him not only despite these qualities, but maybe because of them.

Recently in my Character Design class, I was discussing comedy duos and the way contrasting personalities when thrown together can make for great comedic chemistry. We discussed examples from both live-action and cartoons, and I showed a bunch of screen shots that I'd grabbed from several of your posts on "The Flintstones", where Fred is variously poking and twisting poor Barney's nose or leaning on his head. We discussed Fred's character as being, arrogant, egotistical, self-serving, and manipulative, and yet all agreed that, despite being a "jerk", as one student described him, we LIKE Fred!

I suspect that both Foghorn and Fred hold a similar appeal for their audience, in that we tend to like these guys because we see some of their less than noble qualities in ourselves. This is not to say that they are total losers, either, as they also have their good side of friendly outgoingness and lending a helping hand when it's needed. But this combination of both good and bad traits is what make them more "human" and therefore admirable. You could also see this humanity in TV's Archie Bunker, whom I would imagine most viewers quite liked as well.

Anyway, a great analysis of the Foghorn cartoons, John. I always felt there was something rather unusual and unique about them when I used to see them as a kid. Your analysis of their appeal really nails it.

Deniseletter said...

Foghorn and the Dog interaction!That's the hilarious reactions I saw and remember more in these cartoons.And reading these complex details of how they were animated,now I realize why they're so funny.BTW"prime time cartoons They move like zombies and speak like cartoon-writers, who have little in common with actual people"What a good metaphor!To enhanced and see with exaggeration,as a denounce worth to be animated too.

the plummer said...

This is probably one of my favorite cartoons, especially of Foghorn. Having the naturally observed and "adult" acting explained like this makes so much sense now, and why it was so funny!

Per said...

"Even Porky is a hard-bitten middle aged jaded soul who has seen the true ugliness of the real world and knows there is only one way to survive."

That's really funny.

The Butcher said...

Man, I've been you-tubing all of McKimson's cartoons and you're absolutely right. All of his takes on Looney Tunes characters are cynical. I never noticed before.

Even the normally meek Porky Pig whole-heartedly believes in the basest human concept, an eye for an eye. In Daffy Duck Hunt,he threatens to chop the dog's head off after the dog chases him with an axe. Brutal.

Adam T said...

Foghorn Leghorn would be the ultimate conservative radio talk show host...

"Obama's tax plan is socialism, boy! Think about it, son. Pretty soon we're all going to have to grow beards and smoke cuban cee-gars."

[caller hangs-up]

He's a good kid but he's a couple noodles short of a lasagna."

Caleb said...

McKimson is mantastic. It’s so brilliant to make the rooster a loudmouth who shoves people around with his gut. No one ever mentions how the rooster is bigger than the dog; loudmouths are a special breed of idiot that usually cross breeds with the lummox. It’s funny because everyone has met the guy who is incapable of whispering. It’s probably linked to some kind of hearing problem, but even that’s funny (WHAT!!?).

Early model sheets had the name of the dog as George P. Dog, which is a perfect everyman(dog) name but probably not zany enough to sell children’s shampoo out of.

Fernando Sosa said...

John K,I have a interesting article for the study of the animation for you.Check him

John S. said...

Pete makes an excellent point: Just because a character is a jerk, that doesn'nt necessarily mean he isn't likable. I think that we like them because we recognize folks we know in these characters, and if we could admit it, we also recognize ourselves. I like Foghorn a hell of a lot better than a "likable" character, like Alladin or Mickey Mouse.

Gabriele_Gabba said...

Just unbelievable, in fact all these posts on McKimson are a treat, thank you so much John! Especially for reminding me where true genius in acting lies!

And those blur-frames and his exaggeration are so solid! WOW!

Cartoon Crank said...

I dunno, there's better scenes in McKimson's filmography to illustrate your point, as this one really doesn't (hilarious as it might be). Crowing Pains has at least two moments like what you're describing.

patrick said...

"Crowing pains" is another great Foghorn Leghorn film some intense beatings, and it features features Sylvester!

PCUnfunny said...

Foghorn Leghorn is the pure all american character because he does everything larger then life. He wants everyone to listen to him because he knows better then you and drive any point he makes straight into your brain. He just has a hell of alot of presence. Today's characters don't have any presence because they don't come from any real obsvervation of humanity. Today's hacks simply take what little they know from real humans, add a mess sarcasm, and then make him or her constantly spew social commentary just to say "Look how smart I am !".

Rudy Tenebre, esteemed secretary. said...

It occurs to me to suggest your world view is social Darwinist is inaccurate, when you speak of our basest motivations. I'd like to amend my earlier statement.

(Dave Sim had his parodic albino character of Elric of Melnibone speak exactly like Foghorn. This unlikely ascription, once you key into the voice while reading, was pretty darned funny...) "Easy, I say, easy son..."

pappy d said...

"Raw maleness sounds scary, like the stuff wars are made out of."

...also revolutions.

David Germain said...

That trunk beating scene is really Manny Gould at his best. His animation packs so much of a punch here that it was cut out on Saturday Morning.

I hope I'm able to animate that well someday.

Masked Stinker said...

That trunk beating scene is hysterical- between Foggy's yapping and all that slapping is awesome.

Such fun individual drawings, too!
I've watched it frame by frame several times.

McKimson's best work is as entertaining as any of the other Warner directors' best.