Sunday, January 31, 2010

Huckleberry Hound — Dragon-Slayer Huck

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Bob Gentle; Story Sketches and Dialogue – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: King, Huckleberry Hound, Caller 2, Dragon – Daws Butler; Caller 1, Receptionist, Dragon Map Seller, Horse – Don Messick.
Released: December 18, 1958.
Plot: Huck is sent by a king to slay a purple dragon.

There’s a land in cartoons that could be called Chivalry Land. It’s not quite Merrie Olde England. It’s not quite the Middle Ages. It’s not quite the mid-20th century. It’s a land that’s of all of them. It’s a place where maidens and dragons are side-by-side with telephones and people with American accents. And it’s where Huckleberry Hound resides in this cartoon.


There’s something funny about the incongruities in Chivalry Land. There are a couple of sales-pitch ones in this cartoon that I really like. This is one of the better first-season Hucks. The story unspools nicely, Charlie Shows comes up with some amusing dialogue, the voices are like old friends from other cartoons and there are a couple of silly bits that come out of nowhere.

Unless you want to count the time-worn concept of earnest narration over a pan of a storybook, our first old friend is Cap’n Crunch. No, the Cap’n is not in this cartoon. But since Daws Butler is playing a king, he pulls out the Crunch voice he used for kings in Fractured Fairy Tales. This king has an office, a receptionist and some 1959-era phones with no dials or cords on the handsets. Apparently he’s not a wealthy king because he can’t afford a complaint department and handles the calls himself. “Help! The dragon!” shout telephoning frightened royal subjects. “This dragon’s got me draggin’” puns the contemplative king to himself. He decides to send for someone to take care of the beast.

That’s the cue for Huck’s big build-up by the off-camera royal sentry. He’s billed as the “world’s bravest knight” and “foremost dragon slayer”. After that set up, we get the payoff of the joke as a guard shoves the unwilling Huck into the royal office. The hound insists he’s not going to slay the dragon. The king gives him a choice and shows him a photo—do it “or you’ll marry this drag, uh, my lovely daughter.” Huck chooses the four-legged variety and swooshes out of the scene. The king admits “The boy made a smart decision.”

So off trots Huck on his horse. He figures he can get out of the deed by conveniently not finding the dragon. That’s made difficult by some guy hawking maps to the dragons homes. It’s my favourite gag of the whole cartoon. The umbrella’s a nice touch. So he arrives at the dragon’s cave. “Pull Cord For Dragon” says the sign. So Huck obeys. He wishes he hadn’t. Note the three shades of green in the grass in the foreground.



Huck shouts at the cave entrance “All right, you dragon, come out and fight!” And the dragon does, first flaming him with fire, then pounding him with his tail, then jumping on him (after the unfazed Huck says “Leave us face it. That dragon has real spirit”). Some old friends are sort of here, too. The cave is reminiscent of the artwork on The Flintstones. And the dragon could easily be a distant relative of Dino, design-wise.

We get a couple of quick gags next. Huck gets on his horse and charges at the cave with his lance. The dragon simply brings down a wooden door and the lance sticks in it. Next, Huck uses a log as battering ram. The dragon lifts up the door but Huck keeps on going, busting through the stone face at the back of the cave. The best part is the look on Huck’s previously-expressionless, pupilless-eyed horse. He grits his teeth and squints when the lance stabs the door and vibrates. He has a furrowed brow as Huck charges. And he’s exhausted and collapsed under the weight of the log at the end. Look how Muse draws the hooves turned up.

Huck makes another charge for the door, but the horse stops. He’s hungry. He’s gained pupils, too. They decide to have lunch. “Did somebody mention lunch?” asks the dragon, who sounds like another old friend as he’s gained Daws’ Gleason voice. The dragon responds with a routine which has nothing to do with lunch; it’s like Charlie Shows had a funny bit he just had to fit in somewhere. The dragon has set up a stand selling toy replicas of himself. “Get your souveniers of the big battle. Take one home to the kiddies!” barks the dragon. “Blows real smoke when you squeeze it.” Huck gets a demonstration. And takes one. The colour choice is smart here. The toys are a light shade of purple so you can see the “real” dragon when he reaches into them.



As Huck plays with the toy, the horse warns the dragon is galloping toward him. Huck’s ready and raises a double-sided axe to smash him. The axe had a wooden handle. Wood burns in a fire. The dragon breathes fire. It doesn’t take much to figure out what happens next. The dragon torches the handle and the axe blade falls onto Huck’s head. But this just sets up the silly part of the gag. Huck pulls out another axe. Same result. He pulls out a mace. But this time nothing comes out of the dragon’s mouth. The two stop their war for a moment. “What’s the matter? No fire?” asks Huck. “I think my pilot light went out,” answers the dragon. “Oh, I’ll fix that,” helpfully exclaims the upbeat Huck, “Say ‘ah’.” Huck pulls out a lighter and sets on fire whatever it is that’s supposed to be burning in the dragon’s throat. “Thanks for the light,” says the happy dragon. “Don’t mention it,” Huck responds. And the war resumes.

The battle now reaches the climax with the dragon and the Huck-mounted horse charging at each other and colliding head-on. The impact results in another old friend—a Charlie Shows ass joke, as Huck zips across the toothy spikes on the dragon’s back (what do you call those things anyway?), apparently enjoying it like the dog in the Clampett cartoon “An Inch in Time.” The dragon jumps on Huck and gets him in a modified ankle-lock. Huck gives up “Say uncle,” demands the dragon. “Okay uncle dragon, you win far and squarr. It looks like I’ve got to go back and marry up with the king’s daughter.”



Suddenly, the dragon is gripped with sympathy. “Not the king’s daughter! Oh, no, not that dragon.” The dragon wouldn’t let that happen to his worst “emeny.” So he offers to let Huck stay with him in the cave.

The moral of the story is in the windup. “It’s like I always say. You never know who your real friends are,” Huck tells us, as he’s now wearing a chef’s hat and barbecuing steaks, with the dragon supplying the flame. Shows has a nice twist of words at the end: “Medium tough, comin’ up.”

Old friends greet you in the background music, too. It’s odd, because H-B used some Hi-Q “X” series reels with Olde England speciality music in other cartoons. Most are familiar cues here are credited to Bill Loose and John Seely; the last two are by Jack Shaindlin. There are portions with no music or just percussion sounds to emphasize impact, which are effective.


0:00 – Huck sub-main theme with ‘Clementine’ (Trad.-Curtin).
0:26 - no music – pan over storybook
0:31 - TC-300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – King on phone, Huck shoved into chamber, Huck picks dragon over king’s daughter.
1:58 - TC-201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Huck on horseback, map seller, Huck torched by dragon, bashed by tail.
3:17 - TC-300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Huck pops head from ground, dragon jumps on him, lance in door, charges at door.
4:03 - no music – door opens, Huck and horse bash through back, “That’s a heavy log.”
4:23 - TC-202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Huck charges, horse hungry, souvenir stand bit, dragon charges.
5:26 - no music – dragon torches axe handle.
5:34 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Axe clobbers Huck, pilot light bit.
5:57 - no music “Thanks for the light.” Huck clobbed by mace.
6:07 - LA-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Horse and dragon collide, dragon jumps on Huck.
6:26 - no music – Huck gives up, “King’s daughter/not that dragon” dialogue.
6:44 - LAF-7-12 FUN ON ICE (Shaindlin) – dragon invites Huck into cave, broil steaks.
7:10 - Huck sub end title theme (Curtin).

3 comments:

  1. I've always loved this one. I can't watch this one and hear Daws voicing the dragon without thinking about the classic " Dragonet " skit with Stan Freberg and Daws. Plus I love the old king. Daws doing his Charlie Butterworth( Character actor ) immitation . Of course as stated above " Cap'n Crunch " and various characters in Jay Ward's " Fractured Fairy Tales ".

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  2. Butler's 'Captain Crunch' voice was supposedly based on 1930s-era character actor Charles Butterwoth. The titular cereal, and the Jay Ward-produced commercials for it, premiered around 1963 if I remember. So as with with Huck, Hokey Wolf, Lippy the Lion and other durable Butler-voiced figures, the good Captain's voice came quite a time before the character. A judge in the classic JETSONS episode "Millionaire Astro" has the identical voice. Surely it turned up in at least one Aesop and Son or Fractured Fairy Tale.

    Oh, and those pointy things on a dragon's back are called scales. All reptiles have scales, and dragons are reptiles. Aren't they?

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  3. A favorite from beginning to end. As in "Tricky Trapper," the unexpected act of sympathy at the end is a bonus. Here it's even better as Huck, unlike Pierre, is able to reward the kindness.

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