Sat 22 Aug 2009
The Annual Animation Program. Cinevent 41, Columbus OH, May 2009.
It’s always a treat to see vintage cartoons (especially the color shorts in eye-popping color) on a decent sized screen. The well-chosen program featured some familiar (and readily available) shorts, along with some that had me shopping in the dealers’ room for decent copies on under-the-counter DVDs.
There are always some Disney shorts, but the Disney franchise has been so generous in recent years with their deluxe sets compiled from the company archives that the main pleasure of viewing them is in being reminded how spectacular Disney’s contribution to the art of animation has been.
“The Pied Piper” (1935) is from the Silly Symphony series and features a score by Leigh Harline whose contribution (he would later win an Oscar for his work on Pinocchio) greatly enhances the charm of this classic cartoon.
The Disney cartoons of the 1940s continued the tradition of superb animation artistry, but few people would claim they are as consistently funny as the Warner Brothers cartoons of that decade.
Still, Donald, who had replaced Mickey as the unquestionable star of the Disney stable of characters, could usually be counted on for some expert comic turns and did so again in “Drip Dippy Donald” (1948), where he’s trying to sleep and keeps getting waked up by a dripping faucet that eventually takes on nightmarish proportions.
There was the familiar Betty Boop black-and-white classic “Mother Goose Land,” a 1933 short that featured a still sexy Betty, a turn that would be ended by the Production Code and would, in effect, precipitate the decline in Betty’s popularity.
A later Popeye cartoon, “Service with a Guile” (1946), was entertaining, but the continuous flow of inspired animation that distinguished the ’30s Fleischer product was largely missing from this routine effort.
Two Walter Lantz cartoons, “Under the Spreading Blacksmith Shop” (1942) and “Swing Your Partner” (1943), served to remind me of how little I care for most of the Lantz-produced cartoons.
A controversial Bugs Bunny short, “All This and Rabbit Stew” (1941), initiated the screening of three politically incorrect shorts, now infrequently shown because of their use of black stereotypes. The Elmer Fudd role as Bugs’ hapless antagonist is here taken by a black hunter, based on the popular but offensive (to many people) comedian Stepin Fetchit.
The cartoon, not credited to Tex Avery but reputedly one of the last he directed before leaving Warner Brothers for MGM, If not one of his best efforts, still contained elements of the inventive slapstick that betrays the inimitable Avery touch.
The other two shorts from that category were probably two of the most creative of the morning’s program.
The racial stereotypes in Avery’s charming and very funny “Half Pint Pygmy” (1948) are much less blatant than those in the Bugs Bunny cartoon, but in Bob Clampett’s “Tin Pan Alley Cats” (1943), a graphically stunning short, they’re in full flower (as it were), as a musician, a recognizable caricature of Fats Waller, finds himself transported into a Surrealist landscape that is mostly lifted from “Porky in Wackyland,” a 1938 release also directed by Clampett.
The black and white original was redrawn and reshot in dazzling technicolor, with an array of fantastic creatures who seem to bear more than a passing resemblance to some of Boris Artzybasheff’s other-worldly inventions.
In any event, this was an exhilarating experience that propelled me into the dealers’ room where I found a copy in a set that contains all of the notorious racially and politically incorrect cartoons that you can find on YouTube on a good day.