Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Yogi Mini-Cartoon

Dick Bickenbach, if I had to guess, is the man responsible for the sheet below of Yogi Bear. It’s very clean and attractive. And, if I had to guess some more, it was used might for the little cartoon-between-the-cartoons featured on the Huckleberry Hound Show.

I always liked the interaction between the stars of the various cartoons on the show. Of course, someone at H-B thought bigger was better, so they came up with specials and series that mashed a whole pile of the studio’s characters together. And now that isn’t big enough, so there’s talk about a “universe” like superhero comic book companies invented when they ran out of ideas for their characters and started mixing and matching anyone and anything. I’ll pass, thanks, and instead take the simple little special combinations that happened exclusively in the Huck, Yogi and Quick Draw bumpers. (No, I have no desire to see the Herculoids with the Banana Splits and that pig sergeant from the Laverne and Shirley monstrosity).

Another sheet. Origin unknown.

While we’re at it, here are some Snagglepuss drawings, presumably from the period when he got his own series. I wonder if they were for a comic book.

The Huckleberry Hound DVD which came out ages ago featured only some of the bumpers used on the Huck show. Whether the studio kept masters of them, I don’t know, but there was clearly some difficulty in assembling them for the disc set as some look like they were from faded 16mm reels and others that had been dubbed onto VHS. I don’t recall the little cartoon from the story panels below being on the set and I don’t remember it well enough to know if there was a second sheet featuring Yogi talking in medium-close shot to the camera at the end. But it’s still lots of fun. Another guess would be the drawings are by Dan Gordon, but I’ll stand corrected. Notice the muzzle dots of the early Yogi and the semi-circular closed eye in the eighth panel, very much in the Ed Benedict vein.

Whoever saved these sheets should be owed a great deal of thanks because they give us a look at these great characters we otherwise wouldn’t see.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Snagglepuss – Live and Lion

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Lew Marshall, Layout – Tony Rivera, Backgrounds – Art Lozzi; Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director – Alex Lovy, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snagglepuss, Ranger – Daws Butler; Yakky Doodle – Jimmy Weldon.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Copyright 1961 by Hanna-Barbara Productions.
Plot: Snagglepuss forsakes eating Yakky Doodle and instead teaches him how to avoid hunters.

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera loved inflicting their favourite little duck on unsuspecting cartoon viewers whenever possible for reasons they took to their graves.

For those of you who just tuned in, Yakky Doodle originated with a little duck character Hanna and Barbera put into a number of their MGM cartoons in the 1950s. When MGM kicked them out in 1957, they formed their own studio and dug up a whole pile of concepts they had used at Metro(and others by fellow director Tex Avery) for their TV cartoons. Thus the little duck found his way into Yogi Bear cartoons, Augie Doggie cartoons and this one starring Snagglepuss before getting his own series.

As a comedy character, Yakky didn’t have a lot going for him. He wallowed in self-pity about his orphan status and how nobody wanted him. Not exactly the basis for loads o’ laffs, is it? Writer Mike Maltese finally had the common sense to remove the negatives and what remained was a na├»ve, cheerful duckling (well-voiced by children’s TV show host Jimmy Weldon). That isn’t the basis for more of the aforementioned loads as well, so Maltese added comic villains to provide the humour.

In this cartoon, there are no actual villains, and none are necessary as Snagglepuss is a comic enough character to carry a cartoon.

Nothing really stands out in this cartoon. Snagglepuss gets in his catchphrases and nice turns of phrase, and Maltese drags out the old misread-the-sign gag which goes back to Mr. Magoo and dumb Warner Bros. characters and who knows where else. A park ranger designed by Tony Rivera (overbite, parallel jaw lines) puts up a hunting sign. Is this a park? Then why is hunting allowed? Shouldn’t the ranger be protecting poor woodland creatures? Oh, well. If it is a park, you can tell it is an Art Lozzi park as the tree whereupon the sign is nailed is blue.

Anyway, Yakky reads the “Duck Hunting Season Opens Today” sign as “No Smoking Allowed in the Forest.” Suddenly, there’s gunfire. “Hey! Don’t shoot! I’m not smoking!” yells the bullet-fleeing Yakky as the scene fades. Maltese uses the “no smoking” bit as a running gag.

Snagglepuss discovers Yakky in his mailbox and decides to have him for breakfast, roasting him right in the mailbox over a stove, including some added ingredients “An onion. A carrot. Some collard greens. Some greens without collards, even.” There’s a pepper/sneeze bit, too. But the polite and poor spelling duck (“C-a-t, ‘dog.’ M-a-t, ‘Massachusetts’”) wins Snagglepuss’ sympathy. At least the duck didn’t go for the “will-you-me-my-mama” routine like he pulled in other cartoons. Snagglepuss tries tossing him out of his cave (“I beg to differ. I’m a differ begger”) but when the gunfire returns, he grabs Yakky and hauls him back inside.

Snagglepuss decides to teach Yakky the concept of duck hunting. The first sequence is a set-up to a punch-line about sitting on a tack. The second sequence may have the best line of Yakky’s career.

Snag: If a hunter’s to the right, you simply exit stage left. And if a hunter’s to the left, you simply exit visa-versy.
Yakky: Gee, you’re such a swell fella wasting your time like this when I don’t even know what the heck you’re talking about.

Yakky tries an “exit, stage left” and crashes into Snagglepuss’ furniture, somehow landing inside a sugar bowl. “I like sugar,” is about Maltese can muster for the duck’s scene end-line.

The cartoon ends with reused cycle animation of the ranger hammering, reused animation of guns in the bushes, and Snagglepuss using two fans to fly south along with Yakky Doodle.

On second thought, maybe casting Major Minor as a hunter might have added some pep to this one.

Lew Marshall’s animation is serviceable but uninteresting. As for the music, the opening cue is an unusual cue as Yakky is strolling when it’s playing. I’m used to it being used during running sequences. The rest of Curtin’s background library works fine.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Flintstones Weekend Comics, May 1966

The idea of baby Pebbles Flintstone talking to herself isn’t something I’m all that crazy about, but I understand why that concept was used in the Flintstones newspaper strips (the TV series might have tried the same thing if it went a few more seasons because it was becoming bereft of ideas). So 50 years ago this month, Pebbles chats away in thought balloons in one of the weekend comics.

Whoever the artist was, he liked a straight-on view, head tilted up, of a character crying. Fred does it in the May 9th comic and Pebbles does it a week later.

Barney and Betty appear only once in the month of May 1966 (May 1) while incidental Dino appears twice (May 8, 15). As you know, the comics didn’t, for whatever reason, use Mr. Slate as the boss, so we get some snooty-looking chap in the May 22 comic (with a Don Messick voice, I imagine).

Sorry for the lousy scan of the May 29 comic; it’s all I can find. You miss the effect of the silhouette panel in the top row because the picture’s so dark.

Click on each comic to enlarge it.

May 1, 1966

May 8, 1966

May 15, 1966
May 22, 1966

May 29, 1966

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Jetsons – Uniblab

“Spacely’s a stupe!”
“Jupiter Gin! Planet Poker! Five Card Satellite!”

Who doesn’t love those quotes?

“Uniblab” is probably my favourite Jetsons episode, though a few others come awfully close. I’ve already written about Barry Blitzer’s corporate backstabbing robot in this post with some frame grabs of animation by Carlo Vinci and Hugh Fraser. I didn’t really plan on writing about it again, but there were some random things I didn’t touch on last year, so let’s do a part two post.

One of the appealing things about The Jetsons is the creative gadgets of the future that had a kernel of reality to them (well, 1960s reality). Perhaps something similar had been portrayed in a magazine like Popular Science. How bright and sunny we all were in the 1950s and ‘60s, looking forward to an improved life in the future, thanks to technology. Today, the future is portrayed in popular culture as a dark and gritty place where people have no control over their own lives. And movie and TV viewers can’t get enough of the nightmarish negativity. But that’s an essay for another time.

Who would have thought of CD-Roms or zip drives in 1962? Barry Blitzer did, apparently. Judy has an encyclopaedia (a microbook) on a little square disc.

George Jetson’s bedroom has a flat-screen TV that comes down from the ceiling. Instead of George doing morning exercises in person, he does it on a video recording by proxy. “Ah, boy, I can feel that flab meltin’.”

The special “Emergency First Aid” (with a Red Cross below the speaker-phone) screen includes a ’60s pop culture pun. The doctor’s name is “Ken Racy” instead of “Ben Casey.” Yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch. Later, we get “Sing Along With Henry,” as Blitzer takes a poke at “Sing Along With Mitch.”

The hammy Elroy claims he’s suffering from “Venus Virus” (in an attempt to get out of school). Methinks he’s suffering from a case of Malformed Hand. Check out the difference in his hands in the pose to the right. There are some similar odd shapes in part of the first act of the cartoon.

There’s always a gadget on the show that doesn’t seem to work. In this cartoon, it’s a machine that dresses you according to the buttons you press (patent pending). George selects a “white button-down radiation shirt, grey flannel space suit, and black solar moccasins.” That isn’t what he gets.

In the next part of the cartoon, set in Spacely Sprockets, Miss Gamma presses a button to send George through a trap door in the ceiling to Mr. Spacely’s office above (a system that has a few bugs in it). The ink and paint department got out the dry brush again. Note the hair style Miss Gamma has.

If you’re a Jetsons fan, you’re familiar with the rest of plot. Spacely announces he’s spent $5,000,000,000 on Uniblab, who’ll be the new office supervisor, while George Jetson gets rewarded for his years of service with being the robot’s assistant. Uniblab turns out to be a sociopath, breaking all the rules when Spacely isn’t looking but is a model of butt-kissing efficiency when Spacely’s watching. He’s a shady gambler, too. Uniblab’s secret tape recording (tape!) gets Jetson fired. Jetson gets some unexpected help from Henry, his building superintendent, who puts “spring tonic” in Uniblab’s oil, causing the drunken robotic computer to embarrass Spacely in front of his company’s board of directors. With Uniblab gone, George gets his job back. Well, Uniblab isn’t really gone. The Jetsons learn (you can see it coming a mile away) Henry has hired Uniblab as his holiday replacement. (Uniblab now takes on the persona of a jerk landlord, chirping “Raise the rent! No pets!”).

The last time we chatted about this cartoon, we mentioned the work of Hugh Fraser, one of a number of ex-Disney artists at Hanna-Barbera at the time. Howard Fein is the Jetsons/Flintstones animation expert around here so I’ll spare myself some embarrassment by misidentifying the animators. However, this frame to the left gives you a bit of an idea of Fraser’s work on the series. He seemed to like pinhole pupils in eyes and lots of little curved shapes for the mouth. George gets stretched around, especially in the in-between drawings, in some of Fraser’s scenes in this cartoon. As an aside, I wish I knew who did the layouts and background art in this cartoon. The ovular shape of the Jetsons’ apartment and other buildings in the series result in a lot of curved walls or wall dividers. It certainly gives the show a futuristic look.

Here are a couple of ghost exits frames. First, Judy, then Buddy Blastoff’s car. Chicken in the oven!!

Carlo Vinci lends his expertise to portions of this half-hour as well. Carlo had certain ways of drawing things, especially when it came to angles of body parts, that appeared in various series over the first few years of the studio’s life. One example is when Uniblab drops Jetson in front of the Unilube supply room. Here’s an interesting Vinci effect. Instead of an eye-take for emphasis in one scene, he simply enlarges Henry’s head.

And there’s a head-shake that’s unmistakeably Carlo’s. He did a lot of three-drawing shake cycles. This one is four. His shakes always have some parts of the face (generally the nose or eyes) pointing in a different direction than others. The shake is very rubbery.

And because we’re dealing with a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, let’s give you one of those endless, run-past-the-same-stuff-in-the-background loops. Here’s an eight-drawing run cycle of George and Uniblab. It takes 24 drawings to go past the same chair in the little alcove or whatever it’s supposed to be. Hugh Fraser again.

The establishing shot of the Spacely Sprockets building is the same one used in “The Flying Suit.”

Besides the regular voice cast, Mel Blanc and Don Messick appear, Don M. giving us a great characterisation of Uniblab. Blanc, of course, is Cosmo Spacely. Both play members of the board of directors. Hoyt Curtin’s cues are excellent as always, with a fine piece of electronic music to open the cartoon that must have been cutting edge in 1962, a nice off-key muted trumpet cue when Uniblab weaves around drunk, and a big band build up to end the cartoon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Eternal Run From Kit Kit Kit

We all love how Pixie and Dixie or Mr. Jinks run past the same light socket or lamp or whatever over and over again.

Well, here’s everyone’s favourite meece hater being chased by a robot cat in Kit Kat Kit in an endless Hanna-Barbera loop.

There are only two drawings in this chase cycle. Note the difference in the position of the smeared Jinks feet. Jinks stretches out in one drawing. Meanwhile, the robot goes up in one of the drawings. The animation is by Ken Muse.

It takes 24 drawings (one second of film) for Jinks to reach the same house behind him in the background. Here’s the cycle that ends the cartoon. It’s a little slower than what’s in the cartoon. For all we know, Jinks is still being chased.

The background is by Frank Tipper, the ex Walter Lantz animator who had been working at one of the commercial studios, with the layout by Ed Benedict.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Yakky Doodle – Whistle-Stop and Go

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Art Davis, Layout – Tony Rivera, Backgrounds – Dick Thomas, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director – Alex Lovy, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Yakky Doodle – Jimmy Weldon; Chopper – Vance Colvig; Dog Catcher, Hunter, Fibber Fox – Daws Butler.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Plot: Chopper gives Yakky a whistle to use when he needs help.
Copyright 1961 by Hanna-Barbera Productions

In The Bodyguard, Jerry the mouse helps Butch the bulldog escape from a dog catcher and, in return, promises to run to him for help if he just whistles. 17 years later, the same plot gets revisited in this cartoon. The difference is the dog in this case (Chopper) gives Yakky Doodle a real whistle to blow for assistance.

Actually, the best version of this plotline was in the great Tex Avery cartoon Bad Luck Blackie (1949), written by Rich Hogan. It’s really unfair to compare a TV cartoon to one of Avery’s greatest pieces of work but Whistle-Stop and Go is plain lame. The clever Mike Maltese just didn’t seem to be terribly inspired by Bill and Joe’s fetish for a little duck.

There’s a sequence where a hunter is trying to get a bead on Yakky, who is jumping up and down blowing his whistle. Chopper rushes into the scene. He grabs Yakky and pulls him away just as the hunter fires and misses. “Are ya hurt, little feller?” asks Chopper. Yakky just shakes his head. Maltese couldn’t be bothered to even work up a quip like he wrote so well at Warner Bros. and for Hanna-Barbera on Quick Draw McGraw. There’s nothing funny or amusing in the whole sequence. Maltese doesn’t even try. It’s like the first half of the cartoon is a long set-up with no pay-off.

One of the things that keeps this cartoon from being a total loss is the appearance of Fibber Fox. I’ve always liked Fibber’s resignation to his fate and how he comments to the audience about it. “Can you guess what’s going to happen now?” he says to us after unexpectedly attracting the revengeful Chopper with a magnet instead of Yakky’s whistle. About 20 frames later—punch in the nose! The ending’s good, too, as Yakky tricks Fibber into being swooped away by the dog catcher (a faint echo of Maltese’s Hubie and Bertie cartoons at Warners. Now if Yakky had played head-games like those two mice, we would have a really good series).

This is a cartoon that will drive continuity freaks nuts. It tells a story of how Chopper and Yakky first met. Except there was at least one other cartoon which did the same thing. How can that be? Simple. No one cared about that kind of stuff then. No one kept track of it. There was no need to. As Yakky writer Tony Benedict puts it: “There were no bibles back then.” Writers were free to create whatever they wanted outside of the basics.

One of the fine veterans of the industry animated this cartoon. You can tell Art Davis’ animation in some of the Hanna-Barbera animal cartoons by the tight curved smile or grin that goes way up into the head. There’s sometimes a little row of teeth.

And some exit-from-scene drawings. The first pair are consecutive frames.

Dick Thomas’ backgrounds feature sketchy grass patches and outlines around bush foliage. For a change, his sky isn’t blue. He uses a drab shade of green. He adds a bit of bright colouring on the flowers to avoid everything looking like part of the same palette.

Joe Ruby, or whoever did the sound cutting on this, inserts Hoyt Curtin’s versions of “Strolling Through the Park One Day,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and the William Tell Overture, along with some familiar bassoon cues from other cartoons around this time. And the soundtrack features the standard “Ain’t that cute!” and “Close your little eyes, Yakky. You shouldn’t oughta see...” catchphrases.