Saturday, 9 May 2009

Huckleberry Hound Meets Wee Willie

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse, Layouts – Dick Bickenbach, Backgrounds – Sam Clayberger, Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Huck - Daws Butler; Dispatcher, Willie - Don Messick.
Released: week of September 30, 1958.
Plot: Officer Huckleberry tries to capture escaped gorilla Wee Willie. Willie captures him.

So, here we have it—the first Huckleberry Hound cartoon. And you might expect a rollicking, laughter-in-the-aisles start to this beloved pioneer programme. A cartoon so good, it instantly catapulted Hanna-Barbera to success and an eventual animation empire.

Well, this cartoon did. I guess. But it didn’t really make me laugh. In the aisles or anywhere else. Oh, I smiled a couple of times.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I don’t like to see nice guys get bashed around for no reason and still lose at the end, unless it’s like the cat in Chuck Jones’ Fresh Airdale because the cartoon is a cynical look at Right vs. Wrong. But I just am not crazy about this cartoon.

And that’s not even considering the galling fact Bill and Joe ripped off the whole concept from the brilliant Tex Avery. For the uninitiated, Tex created a southern-accented wolf that was used in several of his theatrical cartoons at M.G.M., where Hanna and Barbera were playing cat (Tom) and mouse (Jerry) As Tex told Joe Adamson:

“This wolf would never get excited...We’d use him in very violent action, then we’d freeze him and he’d make his crack...even Quimby [Fred Quimby, head of cartoons at M.G.M.] was enthused. He said, ‘Yes, sir, them things are funny. Every time he opens his mouth, he gets a laugh.’”

So, if a humourless suit like Quimby would laugh at something like that, Joe and Bill must have figured anyone else would, too. So, they changed the wolf to a blue dog, Daws brightened the character’s voice slightly, and .. Ta-da! Huckleberry Hound!

Now, Huck isn’t a bad character. There are some cartoons I like him in. Even ones where he loses, such as Little Red Riding Huck because we get a few imaginative gags and voice work. But the elements of this cartoon really don’t add up.

The cartoon has a promising start. There’s a neatly-designed, New York-inspired cityscape in the establishing shot. Charlie Shows takes a shot at Dragnet with Huck’s polite narration: “This is the big town. Millions of folks live here. My job—protect them. Because I’m a cop .. uh, PO-liceman.” Daws reads it in an appropriate monotone AND a North Carolinian accent. Is there anything Daws couldn’t do?

But then we get cost-cutting, almost non-existent animation. For almost the first minute of the cartoon, we see Huck in a car in long shot. All that moves is the background. Then we see Huck in a car in a medium shot. He blinks. His head turns toward the radio. Nothing else moves except the background, as Huck drives past the same brownish building 11 times. We see “voice lines” out of the police radio in a close-up. We see Huck again in a medium shot, blinking and turning his head, and passing the brownish building four more times. Then we see the long shot again and all that moves is the background. We then get a medium shot of a stationary Huck leaning in the car, then another close-up of the “voice lines.”

When is something going to happen in this cartoon?

Finally, Huck arrives at his destination—Main and Broadway (Hands up .. how many of you have a Main and Broadway where you live?). We can view what damage Willie has wrought. Below is the whole background used in a good portion of the cartoon, with some carnage temporarily added in the foreground.



Huck spies Willie, who is brown despite the dispatcher’s description of the gorilla as being “caucasian.” Oh, well.

The rest of the cartoon is Willie bashing the hound around and then the action freezing and Huck making his crack, sometimes at the camera. Fred Quimby would be enthused. First, Willie rips the roof off the squad car (which, being in a cartoon, miraculously repairs itself before its next appearance). Here’s a Ken Muse animation hint—look for the upper teeth that are drawn as one long tooth, and a tongue with a slit in it.

Huck is jumped on by Willie in some cycle animation as the police dispatcher tells Officer 13: “Remember, no rough stuff!” Willie then eats Huck’s gun, then his handcuffs, then starts chewing on his arm. Huck decides to tickle Willie to get free. Notice the difference in Willie’s proportions here compared with the previous shot. You’ll also observe some more labour-saving animation. The only thing that moves in this little chat-to-the-camera sequence is Huck’s arm (see the colour separation) and his head; everything else is rigid until Willie sneezes and Huck is blown into the Main Street signpost. Wait a minute! Wasn’t it destroyed by Willie in the earlier shot?



Next comes 11 seconds of a camera shaking over a stationary shot of the background as Huck and Willie fight out of our view and save Hanna-Barbera a few more bucks in cells and paint. Willie, for reasons unknown, takes Huck up the skeleton of a skyscraper under construction and, also for reasons unknown, takes offence when Huck calls him “a big ape.” Willie busts him through a beam and walks away in disgust. There are a couple of silhouette shots here to break up the monotony.

Huck apologises as the soundtrack plays a tinkly piano version of the 19th century weepy song “Hearts and Flowers.” Willie bashes him with a beam in between sentences. Huck next tries to hog-tie the gorilla but ends up roped instead and turned into a yo-yo. When the rope breaks, Willie—letting out nothing more than a continual “Eek! Eek!”—smacks Huck into a board, which sends him back up, only to be smacked down again in some cycled animation.



Laughing yet?

The board snaps and Huck splash-lands in a filled cement mixer. Finally, Huck captures Willie in a barrel as the gorilla hangs by his feet upside-down from a beam being lowered. Say, who’s lowering the beam? Wouldn’t a construction worker stop his rig if he saw a 350-pound gorilla attached to a girder? Oh, right. It’s a cartoon.

The capture is short-lived, as Willie’s too big for the barrel, and the police car for that matter, and decides to take Huck and the cruiser for a little walk, past the same building in the background four times.

The opening music in this cartoon is a nice little piece by Geordie Hormel that got more of a workout in the second-season Hucks. Victor Lamont’s arrangement of Theodore Moses Tobani’s Hearts and Flowers came from the Sam Fox library, parts of which found their way into the Capitol Hi-Q library used on these cartoons. The closing music is simply faded out, something done occasionally in the early cartoons.


0:00 – Huck sub main title (Hanna, Barbera, Curtin, Shows).
0:26 – ZR 45 METROPOLITAN (Hormel) - Huck dispatched to catch Willie.
1:20 – TC 301 ZANY WALTZ (Bill Loose-John Seely) - Huck finds carnage, Willie; ape jumps on him.
2:36 – TC 303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - Willie eats handcuffs and Huck's hand; sneezes Huck into lamppost.
3:31 – LAF-5-20 TOBOGGAN RUN (Jack Shaindlin) - Willie takes Huck up building skeleton.
4:24 – SF-? WINTER TALES (Tobani, arr. Victor Lamont) - Huck apologises to Willie for calling him an ape.
5:00 – LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) - Willie uses Huck as yo-yo; Huck lands in cement mixer.
6:01 – LAF-21-3 RECESS (Shaindlin) - Willie caught in barrel; walks away with Huck in police car.
7:10 – Huck sub ending title (Hanna, Barbera, Curtin, Shows).

3 comments:

  1. Steve J.Carras12 May 2009 at 21:06

    Except FOR the Pixie & Dixie & Jinks debut...which you've already covered..."Little Birdmouse"...the opening episodes of the Huck series - possibly as they may've been made as pilots first --- had the characters names in the title...Wee Willie returned not just in the Yogi short "Stranger Ranger" [per someone's comment]]CD[####] is he posting here at all?--on BCDB but in another Huck short, in 1960, "Huck & Ladder". And the fading of Shaindlin's "Recess" 21-F-3 DOES sound anticlamatic [as does similiar cases elsewhere through Huck segemnts shows, and in the then current Warners cartoons scored with this stock music due to a musicians strike....

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  2. Thanks for this info - Victor Lamont, the arranger of Winter Tales is my grandfather! - Kathi Maiorana Cadigan

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  3. Hello, Kathi. Thanks for the note. I don't know how long he was employed for Sam Fox but he seems to have made solo piano arrangements for a bunch of public domain songs for the company in the 1950s.

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