Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pixie and Dixie — Kind to Meeces Week

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Hicks Lokey; Layout – Paul Sommer; Background – Vera Hanson; Written by Warren Foster; Story Direction – Alex Lovy; Titles –Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Dixie, Mr Jinks – Daws Butler; Pixie, Spike – Don Messick.
Music: Jack Shaindlin, Bill Loose-John Seely, Geordie Hormel, Spencer Moore.
First Aired: week of January 16, 1961 (rerun, week of June 5, 1961).
Episode: Huckleberry Hound Show K-047.
Plot: Jinks must be kind to Pixie and Dixie, or face a clobbering by a dog.

I wonder if there were days Warren Foster sat in his office swearing because he had to write for Pixie and Dixie.

The cartoons were originally designed, as best as I can tell, to be watered down versions of Tom and Jerry. Pixie and Dixie were to use their wits to defeat the menacing cat. But when Warren Foster took over writing the series in the second season, he seems to have realised something. Pixie and Dixie aren’t funny characters. Instead of making them lippy, sarcastic characters like a certain wabbit he wrote for at Warner Bros., he left the comedy up to Mr. Jinks. And it got to the point where the meeces didn’t even defeat the menacing cat any more; they brought in an outside character to do it. That’s the situation in “Kind to Meeces Week.”

Unfortunately, something else was working against Foster besides weak title characters. Hanna-Barbera’s animation was not only limited, it started becoming downright dull. In the first season even Lew Marshall, the weakest of the studio’s four animators that year, could come up with some funny poses for Jinks after getting bashed around. By season three, when this cartoon was made, the drawings are pretty perfunctory. Witness this one, which is after some camera-shaking violence (which we don’t see because it saves money drawing all that action):



Not a ruffled bit of fur, let alone a crumpled body. Whether that’s because of the layout artist—and it’s Paul Sommer in this cartoon—or the animator, I couldn’t tell you. But something happened at the studio that made its cartoons blander, and it happened after Hanna-Barbera took on more staff as it expanded its operation with The Yogi Bear Show and The Flintstones on the horizon, in addition to the two half-hour syndicated shows and Loopy De Loop (and possibly the final season of Ruff and Reddy) still in production. It hasn’t been completely knocked out of the cartoons. Here’s my favourite (and about the only) take in the cartoon, one of three drawings on a cycle on twos. Jinks has literally had his bell rung.



Anyway, if the animation doesn’t enhance the comedy, which is hamstrung by two not-altogether-funny characters to begin with, you’re sunk.

The animator in this cartoon is Hicks Lokey. Not being someone who can draw, let alone know the principles of cartooning, I’m not exactly one to try to point out how you can recognise an animator’s work. But I have noticed on a couple of the H-B cartoons that Lokey worked on at this time that he draws a pointed end at the bottom of the mouth in certain positions, kind of like a shovel digging into the ground. You can see a good example below in Mr. Jinks.



And he seems to like sketchy, wavy upper lips on characters that have elongated snouts, like Jinks and the dog.

The cartoon starts out with Pixie and Dixie playing handball, batting the ball over the sleeping Jinks’ basket. Then the ball hits Jinks in the face and rings a cowbell around his neck. “The bell we put around him works swell,” says Dixie. But wouldn’t they know if the bell could clang before that? And the purpose of belling a cat is so you know when he’s coming; but the meeces can already see Jinks. Ah, well. Jinks gets his revenge by letting a broom sop up with water and chases them out the door with it (after calling them out of their mouse hole with a Bilko-like army yell). To save you counting, the meeces run past the same electrical socket in the wall eight times (not shown below).



“I’m like in a doozy of a mean mood today,” Jinks says. “But, uh, that is the image I am projecting. A mean pussy cat.” The dialogue in the cartoon so far is more explanatory than funny, just like when the meeces keep saying what they’re going to do in the next scene. First, Dixie spies a newspaper with the headline “President Proclaims Be Kind to Animals Week” (which he reads aloud even though we can see it) and the meeces decide to wave a flag of truce and present it to Jinks so he won’t hassle them. “Okay, I will ac-cede, like to a parlez,” says Jinks to the meeces, then moves a pupil to the audience and informs us “That is a French word for, like, yuckin’ it up.” Jinks then mispronounces “animals” as he reads the headline. “President of Meeces Incorporates, I presume” is the best Foster can come up with for Jinks. “No, Jinks. The real one,” Dixie corrects. “You know. The president,” Pixie adds. Jinks scoffs. “You meeces can not kid me. George Washington has not been president for a long time,” then turns his pupils toward the audience again and confides “I read a lot.”

With the cartoon half finished, Pixie and Dixie present a bone to the dog next door, who (being a Hanna-Barbera character) has a bit of a resemblance to Chopper from the Yakky Doodle cartoons, though he’s not as blocky. He’s got Don Messick’s growly voice. The dialogue merely furthers the plot, there are no gag lines. And the plot moves on in the next scene where the dog intimidates Jinks into agreeing to be kind to the meeces. “Kind of rough,” the cat tells us in the following scene as he soaks his broom (in re-used animation) and then chases the meeces out the door (in re-used animation). Jinks again clobbers the dog with the wet broom, and the dog grabs him by the throat.



Jinks invokes the name of “Kindness to Aminals Week. It’s all week, you know.” “Dat’s the only thing that saves ya,” says the dog. “Otherwise…” The camera remains on Pixie and Dixie as they engage in some shrugs and cycle animation of their eye pupils moving around before the scene shakes. It’s the old Hanna-Barbera You-Don’t-Really-See-the-Violence Trick. Jinks agrees to be nice to the meeces. “OK, cat, see dat ya are. And remember,” scowls the dog. He breaks into a smile. “If it wasn’t for Kindness ta Animals Week,” and the dog scowls again, “I woulda woiked ya over.” Cut to Jinks laying on the grass. “Shee. I’m sure the lucky one. Like wow.” In this, and other scenes, Hicks draws heavy eye-lids.

So we’re back to the handball game again (in re-used animation). A ball hits Jinks in the eye. “I hates meeces to pieces,” Jinks grumbles to himself before looking at the camera to end the cartoon and adding, “And you may quote me.” Hicks then gives Jinks an odd little mouth-to-the-side hold as the iris closes.



Incidentally, the dog’s name is Spike. Not an unfamiliar name for a dog. Of course, there was Tex Avery’s Spike, Hanna-Barbera’s Spike (a behavioural forerunner to Doggie Daddy) and Friz Freleng’s Spike, as in Spike and Chester, in Tree For Two, written by one Warren Foster.

Foster’s written a bunch of little scenes, so the sound cutter has (more or less) used a cue for each scene. You’ll recognise most of the music. There’s a very short comedy cue featuring flutes and a muted trumpet stab that was in a few Pixie and Dixies and one Yogi Bear that’s obviously Jack Shaindlin’s work but I haven’t been able to find its title.


0:00 - Pixie and Dixie Main Title theme (Hanna-Barbera-Curtin-Shows).
0:13 - ZR-52 LIGHT QUIET (Hormel) – Handball game, Jinks in basket.
0:31 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Jinks’ first line.
0:37 - LAF-25-3 bassoon and zig zag strings (Shaindlin) – Ball over Jinks’ head, Jinks hit by ball.
0:53 - ZR-48 FAST MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Pixie and Dixie talk then scram.
0:59 - bassoon and zig zag strings (Shaindlin) – Jinks holds bell.
1:12 - LAF-7-12 FUN ON ICE (Shaindlin) – Broom in sink, broom goes splat.
1:49 - LFU-117-5 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Meeces run, out of house.
1:58 - TC-204A WISTFUL COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Close-up of Jinks.
2:08 - TC-201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Pixie and Dixie on lawn, newspaper.
2:45 - bassoon and zig-zag strings (Shaindlin) – Jinks in basket, meeces talk to Jinks.
3:49 - L-1139 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Meeces with Spike.
4:30 - TC-300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Jinks and Spike at door.
5:16 - L-1154 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Jinks walks.
5:26 - comedy flute and quack cue (Shaindlin) – Broom in sink scene.
5:35 - LAF-72-2 RODEO DAY (Shaindlin) – Meeces run, Jinks beaten up off-screen.
6:11 - L-78 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Jinks giving up scene.
6:30 - LAF-7-12 FUN ON ICE (Shaindlin) – Handball scene, ball in Jinks’ eye.
6:45 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Jinks talks to audience.
6:57 - Pixie and Dixie End Title theme (Curtin).

3 comments:

  1. It's interesting to watch a '61 cartoon from the three original series against the ones from 1958. The animation is more fluid in the latter, but the poses are weaker, and as a result, even though there's arguably more movement, there's a feeling of less action (which also was connected to the fact that the variety of stories in Season 1 was more varied than what the series had been squeezed down into three years later, and the fact that Huck, Yogi, the Meeces & Jinx were H-B's bread and butter in 1958, but by '61 they were, at best, No. 3-4 in the studio's pecking order. So aside from less personality touches, you get more by-the-numbers stories, as the creativity was directed at the ABC prime-time efforts).

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  2. And Warren Foster had a huge workload; imagine if he had the time and number of cartoons he had at Warners.
    I like his Hucks out of the lot; his Yogis turned to formula, but it was a formula that worked for the audience and set the standard for the characters.
    I wonder if the reason for the weaker poses is because Foster's cartoons are dialogue-heavy. Barbera wrote the first season and, coming off T&J, he was more inclined to visuals. Shows' dialogue in that first season, at times, seems superfluous, like it's something that's tacked on so the cartoon isn't too static.

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  3. Huck was fortunate enough to just be Huck -- no sidekick or full-time adversary, so his stories even into Season 4 had to be more varied than the others and didn't fall into formula. But you're right about Foster and over-work -- by the time this cartoon was written, his main job at the studio was writing stories that would get The Flintstones renewed by ABC and getting Yogi's series up and running; the Pixie and Dixie shorts were probably the least-important thing he was doing for Bill and Joe at the time.

    (I also think Hanna-Barbera were probably a little embarrassed by just how limited the animation was on their 1957-59 cartoons, even though the strong poses in the end conveyed character emotion better than what came a few years later. Once Huck was such a big success, they had a little more $$$ to do that animation better by Season 2, but the good poses and takes remained. Once the studio got to the point by 1961 that it had too many balls in the air at one time, it was probably faster to just blow through Foster's stories and not worry about adding any little animation touches, in order to get on to the next cartoon.)

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