Archive for March, 2011

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Review: Starvation-themed cartoons

March 31, 2011

Allow me to go all “Film Studies Major” on you, gentle reader – just for commentary’s sake.

I’ve read that most of the Hollywood cartoon divisions were grinding out cartoons nonstop before the advent of TV (this is anecdotal, but I seem to recall that the cartoon divisions of the majors like Warner Brothers needed a new cartoon every two weeks to go along with A-List and B-List pictures that were being shown in rotation to their theaters).  It would only be natural for those cartoonists to swipe plots from each other, wouldn’t it?

However, all the Major studios (I can’t find any evidence for Disney, but I wouldn’t count them out either) making starvation a crucial plot point in a cartoon? And most of the studios being complicit?  Mind you, I’m OK with some pretty gross stuff, but this?

The first cartoon up is Pantry Panic (1941 – Universal). This is the first one chronologically I could remember (not that I’m that old, just that I recalled seeing this and it was made first, according to IMDB). We’ll have more from Woody later…

I know – unusual subject matter for something that’s supposed to make one laugh, right? (And I did in a place or two in most of these – does that make me sick?)

Now that we’ve set the tone for the rest of the post, The Hungry Wolf (1942 – MGM)

Sorry the embed is in mono – frustrates me too.

Note the recurring use of the real-life object turning into hallucinatory food – we’ll be seeing this a lot if you watch everything I embed in the post.  Bonus points for the loving detail of the splinters in the wolf’s mouth when he bites into the rolling pin.  Those animators back then sure were craftsmen, weren’t they?

IMDB says the Wolf was voiced by an uncredited Mel Blanc – sure sounds like him. I also like the way rabbits seem to have no trouble eating chicken (just something I find annoying about anthropomorphizing animals as being stand-ins for humans – they often do illogical things).

While we’re on MGM Studios, here’s one from Tex Avery – What’s Buzzin’, Buzzard (1943)

A rabbit’s what’s being fought over here too. This one has the protagonists imagining each other as cooked chicken (won’t be the first time for that either, as you progress down the post), and the trope of “somebody unexpectedly ending up on a meat-processing machine” appears here. However, I do find the Jimmy Durante vulture amusing. But then, I really like Tex as a director.

Somebody was taking notes from somebody else (I can’t find exact release dates for these ’43 cartoons, so I don’t know which one came first, or whether they both were “inspired” by Pantry Panic) because here’s the Merrie Melodies version – Wackiki Wabbit (1943).  Directed by Chuck Jones, no less.

Chuck, auteur that he is, doesn’t go for the “human chicken” hallucination – the hot dog and hamburger vision is a nice change. Maybe ’cause he had the chicken puppet gag (one of the funniest gags I’ve seen in this kind of topic)?  Or maybe Chuck thinks the subject is tasteless as well? This seems to be the shortest of the cartoons as well.

And then, in 1946, Walter Lantz at Universal put a new coat of paint on Pantry Panic (Sweet Jesus!) with Fair Weather Fiends?

Maybe it was Ben Hardaway (a writer on both Pantry Panic and this one) who’s responsible? One of the better gags in that one, too (the guitar). Bonus here for the bread slicer.

But for the real stuff of nightmares, one has to watch Lantz’s  Who’s Cookin’ Who (1946 – yes, TWO starvation cartoons in the same year from Universal!)*

Yes! Ben Hardaway and Milt Schaffer, the same writing team as Fair Weather Fiends.

I think it’s freaky in the Woody cartoons when the animators give the cute hero woodpecker Gaos teeth…

But the expression on the face of the wolf when he’s in the meat grinder in this one? How did this pass the censors?!

By the time Lantz’s The Redwood Sap (1951), came around, apparently nobody thought cannibalism that funny anymore (at least, not until Cannibal: The Musical).

My point in all this? Was starvation something that near an experience to most moviegoers that this might have been topical? Or was this simply a case of animators needing something to hang a cartoon on?  Next time somebody says to you, “the first half of the Twentieth Century had very tasteful comedy”, spring this post on them and see what happens.

*Technically, Who’s Cookin’ Who was first released, though.