Bunch of Chuck Jones movies on TCM accompanied their new documentary Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood by Peggy Stern, partially animated by John Canemaker, the duo who made The Moon and the Son. I’m not a huge fan of the TM&TS approach, and they take a similar animated-documentary-reminiscence approach here, but it’s lovely to hear Mr. Jones talk about his youth and how different events and memories shaped his life and the characters in his cartoons.
Haredevil Hare (1948), already a decade into CJ’s directing career, sent Bugs to the moon and introduced Marvin the Martian. A silly episode, ends with them blowing up the moon and me unavoidably obsessing over that Mr. Show episode. Marvin has a different, less distinctive voice, but his character was supposed to be a one-off, so I guess Mel didn’t worry about coming up with a brand new one until Marvin became a recurring thing.
Duck Amuck (1953), supposedly one of the most groundbreaking, original WB shorts with Bugs as Daffy’s animator, tormenting him with pen and eraser, and lines like “It may come as a complete surprise to you to find that this… is an animated cartoon.” It is an outrageous conceit, and there’s nothing more fun than pushing Daffy until he flies into a rage, but maybe I’ve seen this too many times because I find it kinda unsatisfying these days. Would rather see all those wild effects going into something with a story. I’m sure I’m just being a negative nelly… it’d probably still rank in my top ten CJ shorts, but whatever… I was anxious to get through it tonight. Most outstanding Daffy line: “Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin.”
One Froggy Evening (1955) – one of my all-time fave shorts, and from Robert Osbourne’s loving introduction, it seems like it’s a lotta people’s favorite. A construction worker finds a singing frog in the cornerstone of a 100-year-old building and thinks he’ll get rich exploiting it, but finds the frog will only sing for him. Ruined, he buries the frog again, where it’s discovered in 2056 A.D. by a space-construction-worker. No spoken dialogue except by the frog, who has about ten wonderful old-timey songs.
What’s Opera, Doc? (1956) – Maybe it’s the musical ones that grab me, because I could sit through this one and the last three times in a row. Tells the same story as Fritz Lang’s Nibelungen but this is way shorter. Also the only movie in which Elmer actually kills the wabbit. I suppose operas can’t have happy endings. Some credit should finally be given to Michael Maltese, who wrote the last four shorts.
The Dot and the Line (1965), ahh, finally something new. By now, Bugs’ heyday is over and Chuck is working at MGM doing more independent work but with much lower budgets. Writer of The Phantom Tollbooth contributed this story of a line (not just a line segment – he always extends past the screen in both directions) in love with a free-spirited dot, who in turn is enamored with a wild squiggle. Seems awfully 60′s, and not as much fun as its oscar-winning cannes-nominated reputation would imply, but it’s cute… and short. The line learns to impress by forming shapes and super-complex patterns and formulas, and all the squiggle can do in response is freak out and wriggle about, so the faithless dot hooks up with the line for our happy ending. My favorite bit was near the start, trying to convince the dot verbally rather than through shape-shifting physical prowess, the line tries telling her “I know where I’m going!”
The Bear That Wasn’t (1967), based on the story by the great Frank Tashlin, and just in time – R.O. says it was the last-ever MGM theatrical animated short. The premise is super, and typical of Tashlin’s cynicism and distrust of “progress” and technology: while a bear hibernates, a giant factory is built over his cave, and when he wakes up nobody believes he’s a bear. If he’s in the factory, he must be an employee, or as they call him, “a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat.” Finally the factory chain-of-command’s pigheaded insistence convinces the bear that he isn’t a bear, and he goes to work… but when winter comes, he returns to the cave (through a maintenance closet) to hibernate again, a cautiously optimistic ending. Unfortunately the movie itself is repetitive (probably the book too – children’s books sure can be), harping on the “silly man” line, and watching the bear’s spirit get crushed is surely less satisfying than watching Daffy get poked and prodded into a rage, and the happenin’ title song is played too often, but I still liked it more than The Dot and the Line. Maybe I’m a sucker for talking animal cartoons, or abstract math stories are too high-class for the likes of me.
Finally I tried to watch the feature-length The Phantom Tollbooth (1970). It seems cute enough, but perhaps too much of a kids movie for me to completely enjoy. After a live-action intro with some famous child actor it goes all animation. Our kid, who keeps learning slow and pointed Valuable Lessons about things, ends up in a swamp called The Doldrums at which point the sludgy narcoleptic music put our hero to sleep, and me with him.