Sunday, April 18, 2010

Better Acting Through Tom & Jerry

Acting in classic animation seems to be a controversial topic in the industry.

I think the ones who did it the best were Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones at Warner Bros. But I think Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera during their MGM days did it better than either of them.

I can't think of any other cartoon series that's more popular than Tom & Jerry. And it's not because of the slapstick violence they're often cited for, it's because these two are living and breathing characters. The Disney guys could never get this much emotion into their films.

I think it's Tom who makes these films though. He is such a great character and by being primarily pantomime, your caring for what happens to him has to come from how he moves and looks. Jerry is great too for all the same reasons.

One of my favorite Tom & Jerry scenes is not even from one of my favorite Tom & Jerry cartoons! It's when Jerry has Tom play "On the Atcheson, Topeka, and the Santa Fe" in this wonderful scene animated by Ken Muse from THE CAT CONCERTO (1947). Look at how much Tom is into playing the tune before realizing what he's doing five seconds later! (Irv Spence animated his fingers at the very beginning.)

Ray Patterson was great in this series too. He came up with the trademark pouty lip look that no other animator can imitate! Here's his opening scene from SPRINGTIME FOR THOMAS (1946). Look at how he is able to draw all of those expressions in one scene. Jerry's enjoyment of heckling Tom, his looks of confusion and aggravation at being ignored, and Tom's look of pure mad infatuation! This is gold!

Even the weaker entries are saved with excellent character animation and by the pure likability of Tom & Jerry. LITTLE RUNAWAY (1952) has a very Disneyesque storyline (Jerry protecting a baby seal from Tom eager to collect the reward money for the return of it), but it's saved with great acting. Like this scene by Irv Spence! I love Tom's stupid look of pure enjoyment from Jerry's dancing number. Only a master like Spence could put so much life, energy, and humor into a dead fish. The timing and Scott Bradley's music score are perfect for this scene too. (Ed Barge picks up when Jerry keeps coming back for an encore).

One of my all-time favorite Tom & Jerry shorts is HEAVENLY PUSS (1949). If it's not on your list of favorites, it really should be. This is the ultimate example of Tom & Jerry's love-hate relationship. Leonard Maltin describes it as being a short that can only work with characters as likable and wonderful as Tom & Jerry. He is 100% accurate.

Ken Muse is given a really long piece in this one. He handles everything from Tom coming back to earth to running off with Jerry's signature. Ed Barge picks up with Tom trying to run up the elevator to waking up next to the fireplace. Muse handles the rest.

Tom goes through an enormous range of human emotions in Muse's scenes: relief, surprise, fury, devilish sneakiness, fear, frustration and absolute panic... all without a single word of dialog. There is a lot of good stuff before the scene below, but I think this piece is some of the greatest acting put on film, let alone animated. 

Let me know what you think of my thoughts. The above clip marks my 100th video to be put on YouTube... And without being taken down! Special thanks to Mike Russo for his help and suggestions.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Easter Greetinks

Animated by Art Davis

Happy Easter!

Celebrate it by reading Carl Barks' "The Easter Election", the greatest comic book story about Easter ever made. If you don't have a copy, go buy one now! It'll be the best three bucks you'll spend all week!

Carl Barks Rules

Do yourself a favor too, and watch EASTER YEGGS (1947), the greatest cartoon about Easter ever made! And now you'll be able to tell who animated what!

Charles McKimson animated Bugs reading his sex book. Look at that great expression of embarrassment! Izzy Ellis picks up with the scene of the Easter rabbit telling Bugs of his trouble. He was a pretty loose animator and you can tell he's being held back in this scene.

Izzy also does this scene of the rabbit finding the bomb Bugs has left on him... And then Chuck picks up with that great toothy laugh before the iris out. Richard Bickenbach animated on this short too, but I'm not really sure what he did exactly, because his style is only just a little looser than Chuck's stuff.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Preston Blair with Tex Avery

Preston Blair is often regarded as one of the greatest animators of all time. He is definitley a worthy candidate for that title. A lot regard his finest hour as "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", but I think his best work was with Tex Avery at MGM.

A lot regard Tex's shorts as being wild and off the wall, but there is nothing of that nature in Blair's animation. They are all fluid movements, with no jerkiness whatsoever, and rarely any zany takes that Tex was well known for. See this bit of his from WHO KILLED WHO? (1943).

Blair animated this whole next piece, and I consider it the greatest statement ever made in any fim of any kind. It was genius of Tex to have a former Disney animator do this scene (and may have been therapeutic for Blair too). Also note that one of the characters mentioned is 'Barney Bear'... I'm really not sure if Tex included that one on purpose or if he honestly didn't know MGM had a character with that name!

This one probably had them roaring with laughter in 1944... And it still would today too. That's what being 'timeless' is all about!


Only Tex could come up with a character like Screwy. I could easily see Clampett doing these kinds of shorts with a character like this (oh wait!), but I don't think they'd be nearly as enjoyable. Screwy isn't a mean bastard who kills or drives his adversaries to suicide, he's just insane. That's the difference between Tex and Clampett's zaniness, IMO.

I believe Blair animated this ending scene from HAPPY-GO-NUTTY (1944), but I could be wrong, so let me know if I am. There are no truly wild takes in this scene but you still come off with the feeling that Meathead is one f---ed up dog after the whole ordeal.

And how could a post about Preston Blair be complete without... You guessed it, another Red song-and-dance number! Here's the one from WILD & WOOLFY (1945).

Keep an eye out for another MGM-centric post in the near future, where I show you why Tom & Jerry had the greatest acting in any cartoon series.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Spence Wild Takes

Here's two more of my favorite scenes by Irv Spence. Spence's animation is what I like to call "Jim Tyer done right". These scenes are insane, yet they remain believeable and retain the aspects of Harvey Eisenberg's layouts.

The last portion of the first clip is by the bland Ken Muse.

The Million Dollar Cat

Puttin' on the Dog

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Apologies to Don Hertzfeldt

...But I couldn't help thinking of this watching all of those Post and Tang commercials.

Go ahead, unleash your twelve year-old self.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Round Five of Looneyness

I finally have the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 5, and of course, it's great! The restorations are absolutely beautiful, on both the Technicolor and black-and-white cartoons. I was particularly impressed with the restoration on a sub-par entry, "The Up-Standing Sitter" (really a Cinecolor release). I've posted some comparisons from an older transfer below.

Some random thoughts on the set otherwise...

- Irv Spence's scenes in "Little Red Walking Hood" may not be his best work, but it's probably my favorite animation of his.
- "Bacall to Arms" is the funniest animated mess ever done by the Warner studio.
- The Clampett Girl Chorus song in "Patient Porky" (horribly lame cartoon, by the way)... What in the hell are the lyrics? Why would they record a song when you can't hear it anyway???
- "I've Got to Sing a Torch Song" is not only incredibly unfunny, but it's also horribly drawn and animated as well (due to Freleng and McKimson's absence from it). The Merrie Melodies of the same season are just as bad. No more of these, please.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Scaredy Cat

Mike Kazaleh broke this one down for me over a year ago, and I haven't gotten around to using it until now.

"Scaredy Cat" is one of the many perfect cartoons Chuck Jones' unit turned out in the late 1940s and early 1950s, so there isn't much that can be said for it that hasn't been said already. For me, the best of these cartoons are the best cartoons, period.

Classes are really time-absorbing so this will be the last breakdown for quite a while. Happy Halloween!