Saturday, March 7, 2009

Huckleberry Hound - Lion-Hearted Huck

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation - Ken Muse; Layout - Bick Bickenbach; Backgrounds - Fernando Montealegre; Story Sketches - Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles - Art Goble; Production Supervision - Howard Hanson.
Cast: Huck, Lion - Daws Butler; Narrator, Monkey - Don Messick.
Released: October 9, 1958.
Plot: Huckleberry Hound goes to Africa to hunt big game, and takes on a practical-joking King of the Jungle. Huck takes a pounding and doesn't capture the lion, who gets his in the end when one of his tricks backfires.

The best part in this cartoon is, as usual, Daws, this time using his Frank Fontaine-ish voice for the lion. Huck’s cartoons are pretty typical. He gets picked on, sometimes violently, then stops and remarks something to the audience, generally so casually it’s like pain doesn’t bother him. It’s really a concept Tex Avery created in the M.G.M. cartoon Billy Boy, right down to the same Southern accent Butler gave to the wolf in that cartoon. And while the wolf whistled Kingdom Coming (aka The Year of Jubilo), Huck gave us Clementine, though he hadn’t learned it when this cartoon was released.

Charlie Shows seems to have loved the idea of a narrator. You’ll find one in a bunch of the H-B cartoons he wrote; it’s probably an idea left over from Ruff and Reddy, like a bunch of things found on the Huck Show cartoons (including Reddy’s “Huck” voice). He wisely uses one here just to establish the story and then the action takes over.

We open with a shot of Africa, then the usual right pan over the jungle background, and then Huck in his jeep passing the same light green tree seven times. However, this being the modern, high-tech world of 1958, one of the jungle palms sports a grid-shaped antenna. It detects Huck and sends a warning sound to a monkey, who spots Huck on a radar scope (bringing new meaning to the theme song lyric “tune up your TV set”), and warns a sleeping King of Beasts.

Here’s where a clever animation-saving device can be found. Movement is simulated by holding the monkey in the air and then doing a leg spin-cycle for a few seconds; Jinks did this in Cousin Tex as well. This same airborne-monkey cycle is used a few seconds earlier, thus saving more animation.

Oops! There’s a continuity screw-up. When the lion is woken up by the phone, he is not wearing a crown. There's a cut to his arm reaching to answer the phone, and then the scene cuts back to a full shot of the lion and he’s wearing a crown.



Now comes the “mixed-up tracks routine” as the lion tries to throw Huck off the scent. First, there are lion tracks, then hen tracks, which cause Huck to remark “Maybe this lion is chicken.” OK, it’s corny but it’s my favourite line.




Sneaker tracks follow, and then the lion in killer high-heels. Huck takes a short cut to investigate (why didn’t he do that in the first place?) which results in a conversation where the lion realises Huck’s the hunter he’s trying to avoid, and he beats a retreat into a convenient cave.

Next comes the ebb and flow of the battle of wits. Huck digs a lion trap but the convenient cave has a convenient bulldozer which is used on our hero. Now, it’s the lion’s turn. He first snares Huck’s jeep (which Huck somehow gets down), then uses thumb tacks to puncture a tire and helpfully hoist the stricken jeep, crushing it (and Huck) under the branch of some firm foliage.



Huck tries laying a trap, but he has to get inside it to separate the jaws. Unfortunately, Huck tells the lion what he’s doing is “ticklish business,” which gives the lion a gitchie-gitchie idea and “Thwap!” When Huck is caught, the audience never actually sees it; there’s a cutaway shot to the lion. On top of that, there’s a five-second hold on the shot while the lion laughs. Can footage be any easier?

The climax scene arrives as the lion pulls his “best gag”—the missing motor bit. But cartoon karma strikes, for when Huck turns the ignition, the detached motor chugs into action, sending the lion on a ride in the sky, as the blue hound remarks “that there lion will do anything for a laugh.” But don’t worry. The lion returns in the second season (and with a name) in the funnier Somebody’s Lion.



Only four music beds are used in the cartoon itself, along with one of Spencer Moore’s bassoon effects. This one has the most common of the circus-chase pieces found in the early H-B half-hour cartoons (and Ruff and Reddy before then) called On The Run by Jack Shaindlin. And this is pre-Clementine, so an earlier “Dixieland” opening theme is used with drums at the start.

0:00 - Huck (drums) opening theme (Hoyt Curtin).
0:26 - ZR-49 LIGHT EERIE (Geordie Hormel) - Monkey warns lion that Huck is looking for game.
2:01 - F-1-1 FISHY STORY (Shaindlin) - Huck follows tracks, chases lion into cave, digs hole.
4:00 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) - Lion starts bulldozer.
4:06 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) - Lion covers hole, snares Huck, tosses tacks in path of Huck’s jeep.
5:13 - F-21-3 RECESS (Shaindlin) - Lion jacks up jeep, Huck caught in trap, lion steals motor.
6:48 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) - Lion rides motor in sky.
7:12 - Huck drum close theme (Curtin).

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