Saturday, May 12, 2012

Pixie and Dixie — Pistol Packin’ Pirate

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse (Mike Lah uncredited); Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Frank Tipper; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Pixie – Don Messick; Dixie, Jinks, Pirate – Daws Butler.
Music: Spencer Moore, Bill Loose/John Seely, unknown.
First Aired: week of October 27, 1958.
Episode: Huckleberry Hound Show K-5.
Plot: A pirate orders ship’s cat Mr. Jinks to catch Pixie and Dixie.

The Hanna-Barbera studio was never known for its fluid animation but some of the cartoons in the first season of The Huckleberry Hound Show snapped from one pose to the next and the effect was pretty jerky. I presume these were among the earliest cartoons put into production when the budgets were a little smaller. Some really good examples are ‘Yogi Bear’s Big Break,’ ‘Pie-Pirates’ and this cartoon.

Check out these pairs of consecutive frames. It’s impossible to animate from one to the other without in-betweens—unless you have really limited cash and just have to get the stuff on the screen.




I love how the pirate goes from walking to a sudden run in back-to-back frames. Bill Hanna saves cash.







Another clue this is possibly a really early cartoon is the presence of Frank Tipper as a background artist. Whether Tipper worked on Ruff and Reddy, I don’t know, but his name shows up in only three cartoons on the Huck show. It may have been that he was freelancing. It’s odd seeing Tipper’s name as a background artist. He was a character animator at Walter Lantz and worked on the debut cartoon of Woody Woodpecker in 1940. Not only did he and Alex Lovy both work at Lantz, their wives were sisters. Tipper was working as a cartoonist at least eight years earlier. Frank George Tipper was born on the Isle of Man (England) and his family arrived in the U.S. on April 1, 1921. He spent his teen years in Los Angeles; his father (also named Frank) had a home on Griffith Park Boulevard and was a chauffeur, then worked as mechanic at a Richfield Oil station. Actually, Frank’s father outlived him. Tipper was only 54 when he died in 1963.

Still another clue that it’s one of the first Pixie and Dixies is that Mike Lah provides some uncredited animation. He seems to have jumped in to do a scene or two in some of earliest cartoons.

Yet another clue is Daws Butler has pitched Dixie’s voice a little lower than we’re used to, the same as in ‘Little Bird-Mouse.’



The cartoon has a couple of things in common with the Ruff and Reddy cartoons of the year before. The title character in this one has the exact same design (and voice) as Crossbones Jones in the second R & R serial. And, like the R & R adventures, the cartoon makes liberal use of the Bill Loose/John Seely cues from the Capitol Hi-Q library ‘D’ series. They weren’t used all that often on the Huck show because they didn’t always fit the comedy.

Unfortunately, this is a fairly average cartoon. Lots of running, lots of gunfire/explosions, too much contrived rhyming dialogue. And anyone who has seen Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam knows there’ll be a gag about a cannonball sinking the ship. Pixie and Dixie are pretty appealingly drawn in Ken Muse’s scenes, with bandanas (and a piratesque t-shirt on Pixie). And Jinks gets his own cute striped shirt and an eye-patch, which conveniently lifts up on its own whenever he doesn’t need it.

But there’s also some real sloppiness, uncharacteristically in the paint department. Part of Pixie’s bandana becomes transparent in the opening scene and the colour on part of the pirate’s moustache hangs in mid-air in another. There’s also another scene where other blotches of red show up on cells as if ink and paint got the wrong cell numbers.



And there’s at least one animation error, where part of the pirate’s cutlass disappears when the scene cuts away from cycle animation of snoring to the pirate showing the audience he’s not really asleep.



Joe Barbera’s story is pretty basic. The meece want the pirate’s cheese. The pirate orders the sleeping ship’s cat, Jinks, to stop them. Jinks, still being formative, mulls over in his head the correct plural form of “mouse” in response to the pirate (he doesn’t remember if it’s “meeces” or “mooses”). We get two patented Charlie Shows rhymes before Jinks is scared by gunfire in performing his task. Jinks: “But I can’t swim, slim.” Pirate: “Ya lazy sittin’ kitten.”

First, the pirate tries to capture the meece on his own. Jinks gets into the act, trying to slice them with his sabre when they try to escape from the pirate’s quarters. He misses them. But clang! The pirate sticks his head out of the doorway and Jinks conks it (Shows time: “Where’s that fat cat at?”).

Next gag, the meece peer though a knothole into the pirate’s quarters and spot the cheese. They zip in. Jinks rushes into the scene and fires his pistol several times into the hole. Guess who he shoots? The pirate responds by sticking a rifle out the hole at Jinks. The cat makes a quick exit; Muse just draws him as an outline, then brush strokes of colour where he was, all on twos (Shows again: “Look at that crazy cat scat”).



Jinks chases after Pixie and Dixie, right to left. But wait a minute. They look more streamlined. Mike Lah has picked up the scene where Jinks uses a cannon ball as a bowling ball and squashes the meece. You can easily tell its Lah because the drawings are cruder than Muse’s and the characters talk with their mouths moving on the side of their faces. It’s very similar to the way he drew characters at MGM, even in the Tom and Jerry cartoons he worked on in the mid-‘40s. Lah’s characters always looks a little goofier, too.



Lah carries the animation through when the cannon ball starts rolling after the pirate (“A lulu of a boo-boo”) and bounces off the gang plank. The force causes the pirate to bounce along the deck into the hold. Cut to a cycle of the meece running, then we’re back with Muse as Jinks runs after them. The meece light a cannon and push it. It fires on the pirate. The pirate pushes the cannon at the meece (“They’ll get a big bang out of this” is the best Shows can come up with). Dixie flips the barrel toward the pirate, who points it straight up. Up goes the cannon ball. “I don’t fear, captain dear,” says Jinks, grabbing a baseball glove. Naturally, he doesn’t catch the cannon ball, and naturally, the ship goes down.

The finish has Jinks and the pirate in a rowboat. “Well, um, I got rid of the mice, didn’t I?” asks Jinks. No, he didn’t. The camera pans along a string attached to the boat. The other end is held by Dixie. He and Pixie are on a plate, along with the cheese they’re eating. “There’s more’n one way to skin a cat,” says Dixie. Skin a cat? What skinning? Unfortunately, we’ll never find out what Charlie Shows had in mind as the animated adventure is at an end.

The cartoon opens with naval stock music I haven’t been able to find; it may be one long cue or several related ones on a disc. It was used in a number of Hanna-Barbera cartoons in the first couple of seasons and my guess is it’s from the Sam Fox library. There’s also a short portion of the cartoon with no music, something that was tried in several cartoons during the first season of the Huck show.


0:00 - Pixie and Dixie Main Title theme (Hanna-Barbera-Shows-Curtin)
0:26 - Bounding Main variation (?) – sleeping pirate, pan to mouse hole.
0:46 - Sailor’s Hornpipe (?) – camera trucks toward hole, “Cheesy cheese thieves!”
1:20 - Bounding Main variation (?) – meece run away, sleeping Jinks, Jinks threatened, shot of meece.
2:11 - L-81 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Jinks protests, pirate fires gun, Jinks mimics, pirate chases meece, Jinks hits pirate with cutlass, pan to shot of cheese.
3:34 – no music – Pixie and Dixie talk, zip into hole, Jinks skids into scene.

3:44 - L-78 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Jinks shoots in hole, rifle pokes out of hole.
4:00 - TC-219A CHASE-MEDIUM (Loose-Seely) – rifle fires at Jinks, “fancy bowling,” pirate bounces along deck.
5:18 - TC-215A CHASE-MEDIUM (Loose-Seely) – Pirate bounces into hold, meece push cannon, cannon ball goes up, comes down.
6:25 - TC-221A HEAVY AGITATO (Loose-Seely) – Pirate backpedals, Jinks with catcher’s glove, ship sinks.
6:52 - L-1121 ANIMATION NAUTICAL (Moore) – Rowboat scene.
7:10 - Pixie and Dixie End Title theme (Curtin).

9 comments:

  1. This is probably the first 'Pixie & Dixie' cartoon put into production. It's a real oddball in the overall series as they are not in their usual 'mouse in the house' setting. Cross Bones Jones and Professor Gizmo both crossed over from 'Ruff & Reddy' into the early early 'Huckleberry Hound' show.
    The red paint problems are fairly unique to this cartoon. The paint apparently chipped off of the cells as they were being handled under the camera. Retakes just weren't in the budgets. All in all though, I have always enjoyed this cartoon and it's quick jerk from pose to pose animation.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jinks also says "mice", not "meeces"..unless it was out of dignity, he hasn't added to her voculabulary "meeces";the priate is also an early version of Capt.Skyhook in lesser series "Space Kiddettes", the title is a play on songwriter-singer Al Dexter 's 1943 song "Pistol Packin' Mama", a #1 hit in that year for both him and the team of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, and finally if Frank Tipper was born no earlier than 1921 then it makes him just 14 when he was credited for some Warner Bros.1930s cartoons.Steve C.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Don, since I don't have the production numbers, I don't know but my guess is 'Little Bird Mouse' was put into production first. It only has the title on the card, not the characters' names. It's unlike anything else in the series. There was a Tom and Jerry cartoon with a similar title that MGM didn't make because its studio shut down. My guess is they reworked the cartoon into a P&D short.
    Joe Barbera always insisted 'Judo Jack' was on the presentation reel he and John Mitchell showed to sell the series so it may have been first.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It would be interesting to know if Bill and Joe decided after the first couple of cartoon that the 'popping' no in-betwens animation that was used on Ruff and Ready didn't work as well for the more comedy-oriented cartoons on the Huckleberry Hound Show, or if they just figured out a way to avoid having to do that after the first handful of shorts. The popping does work better when it's used together with a reaction take since it fits with sudden, fast movement, but the jerky motion is more jarring in other places.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hey, just re-read on your biographicla ntoes on GFrank Tiopper: I mistead, he wasn't 14 in the 1930s when he was animating, but moved to the US as you wrote in 1921..shows me to read more closely.Steve C.[Frank Tipper coming to the US on April 1 and eentually working in the crazy world of cartoons must have been a blessing..\SC Sorry for the several misguided corrections of mine here..

    ReplyDelete
  6. Somewhere it was written, that originally, Don Messick was gonna do Pixie and Mel Blanc was cast as Dixie and Daws Butler was cast as Jinks only, also Janet Waldo was cast as Jinks' girlfriend and Paul Frees was cast as the dog, who was named Rocky. But then it was decided to remove Waldo, Frees and Blanc and leave things as they are now. SOMETHING IS ROTTEN IN DENMARK! Anything true about this!

    ReplyDelete
  7. don't think so.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Nope. Jinks didn't have a girl-friend, and Janet Waldo has said she never even thought about cartoons until she auditioned for The Jetsons. Blanc would have been out of HB's price range in 1958. And the studio only rarely spent money on more than two voice people per cartoon before The Flintstones (which had a bigger budget, being in prime time).

    ReplyDelete
  9. Not just Mel Blanc butPaul Frees as well were both above price range [and didn't Mel Blanc still have the WB contract back then, to boot?] Steve C.

    ReplyDelete