Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Huckleberry Hound – Skeeter Trouble

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Carlo Vinci; Layout – Bick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Bob Gentle; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Huck, Narrator – Daws Butler; Mosquito – Don Messick.
Released: January 10, 1959.
Plot: Huck's attempt to enjoy a camping trip to the great outdoors is thwarted by a mosquito, assisted by skeeter buddies that even follow the beleaguered blue hound underwater (while wearing diving masks).

Today marks the anniversary of the death (in 1956) of one of the greatest radio satirists—Fred Allen. So it’s appropriate that we mark the occasion by discussing this cartoon, which features Daws Butler borrowing Fred’s voice as the narrator. Daws had a great ear. The inflections and pitch are bang on. This may be the only time Daws tried an Allen-esque voice. Why he did it, I don't know, but it may be because of the best gag in the cartoon, when Huck gets out the mosquito repellent. It features a little commercial-type rhyme, the kind Fred did on his show often. The Narrator helpfully advertises to the audience: “Just smear on this goo, and mosquitos ski-do!” Naturally, the gleeful mosquito ski-doesn’t.

Huck says little, the mosquito only buzzes and the narration seems to exist only for Daws to do Fred Allen; the action describes itself. I could easily see this as a narrator-less Barney Bear cartoon at M.G.M. in full animation.

We open with Huck driving along a scenic road in the woodsy countryside. His car’s wheels don’t move; just the background does, and there’s a really jarring cut from one moving background long shot to another. Finally, surrounded by various pleasant shades of green from the brush of Bob Gentle, who worked in the Hanna-Barbera unit at M.G.M. through the 1950s, he finds a place to camp.



Along comes a cartoon mosquito who, like every cartoon mosquito since the days of Winsor McCay, has a sole purpose in life—to sink a ravenous feeding tube into someone as soon as possible. And after a proboscis upgrade, our anti-hero does so. Now, the battle’s on.

Huck tries aforementioned repellent, advising the viewer “Skeeters hate this goop!” then doing a shake take when he’s proven wrong. There are several similar types of surprise takes where two poses are alternated back and forth several times to substitute for full animation. There's another drawing trick when Huck is snoring; lines around his mouth simulate full movement.



Night falls, and we get a nice variety of shades of dark blue through the rest of the cartoon. Huck’s sleeping bag protects him only briefly from the mosquito, who unzips the bag, draws a target on Huck’s nose, aims, and lands sharply as Carlo Vinci pulls off a nice squash effect on Huck’s nose. H-B cartoons would avoid extra drawing touches like that not too many years later.

Huck puts a bucket over his head, but the skeeter’s nose now comes equipped with a can opener (which even glistens for a second before making contact with the bucket; a thoughtful little drawing effect). The mosquito uses that sideways stomp-running cycle found in a lot of early Hanna-Barbera cartoons.



Somehow, the impact lodges the skeeter in our hero’s head (Charlie Shows uses the old see-character-through-the-open-eyes gag) and finally escapes through Huck’s nose. The mosquito lets his opinion be known about the sequence.



Huck retreats into a cabin, but the mosquito gets in simply by knocking. Huck takes care of him with a spray can of something probably legal in 1959 but not today. Unfortunately, the mosquito’s big death scene is off camera; you know in a theatrical someone would have had some fun animating that.

Better make the “death” in quotes, for the little antagonist is merely knocked out. He comes to and calls the troops with a cute little animation effect—the trumpet’s horn expands as he hits the high notes. And Carlo must have had fun animating the close-up of the attacking mosquitoes; it’s pretty elaborate for limited animation.



Here we get another one of those two-cell repeats; this time it’s a “scare” take when Huck sees the mosquito squadron above.



The swarm attacks the door, but Huck frantically hammers in their stingers like bending nails. That doesn’t stop them. They rip off the door. Huck desperately paddles across a nearby lake in an inflatable boat but one of the mosquitoes punctures it. Huck sinks to the bottom and thinks he can now get some rest. Afraid not.



Huck zooms away (his car’s wheels move this time) as Daws-as-Fred Allen bids him “good luck.”

Geordie Hormel seems to have been the popular choice of the sound cutter for this cartoon. Nine Hormel beds in the Capitol Hi-Q library (“L” series Reel 4 to be precise) seem to have found their way into various Huck cartoons and four of them are used here. Then we get two warhorses from Langlois Filmusic by Jack Shaindlin that find a place on the soundtrack during chase scenes.


0:00 - Clementine/Huck opening music (Hoyt Curtin).
0:27 - ZR-51 LIGHT ANIMATION (Hormel) - Huck sets up camp, Mosquito buzzes in.
1:24 - ZR-49 LIGHT EERIE (Hormel) - Mosquito drills Huck, Mosquito eats goop.
2:26 - LAF-5-20 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) - Mosquito unzips Huck’s sleeping bag.
3:00 - TC-300 ZANY COMEDY (Bill Loose-John Seely) - Mosquito draws target on Huck’s nose.
3:04 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) - Mosquito spears Huck’s nose.
3:15 - TC-432 HOLLY DAY (Loose-Seely) - Mosquito uses can opener.
4:00 - ZR-48 FAST MOVEMENT (Hormel) - Mosquito goes in Huck’s head.
4:13 - TC-301 ZANY WALTZ (Loose-Seely) - Mosquito leaves Huck’s nose.
4:36 - L-1139 ANIMATION COMEDY (Spencer Moore) - Huck drives to cabin.
5:12 - ZR-50 UNDERWATER SCENIC (Hormel) - Huck sprays Mosquito, Mosquito trumpets in the troops.
5:59 - TC-221 HEAVY AGITATO (Loose-Seely) - Mosquito squadron attacks.
6:50 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) - Huck chased by Mosquito on lake bottom.
7:09 - Huck closing music (Curtin).

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