Saturday, June 18, 2016

Snagglepuss – Fraidy Cat Lion

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Art Davis, Layout – Paul Sommer, Backgrounds – Dick Thomas, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director – Alex Lovy, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snagglepuss, J. Evil Scientist, Cat – Daws Butler; Mrs. J. Evil Scientist – Jean Vander Pyl; Junior, Mouse – Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Copyright 1960 by Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Plot: J. Evil Scientist hires Snagglepuss to catch a mouse, which has been unknowingly enlarged in an experiment.

Hanna-Barbera seemed to use the Snagglepuss cartoons to showcase recurring secondary characters it may have wanted to turn into series leads. Thus Snagglepuss met up with Yakky Doodle, Bigelow the Mouse, Snuffles and, in this cartoon, Mr. and Mrs. J. Evil Scientist.

As much as the Scientist clan is reminiscent of TV’s Addams Family, it should be noted that the John Astin-Carolyn Jones series debuted a few years after this cartoon, though books of the single-panel Addams cartoons in The New Yorker were published as early as 1954.

As well, the scary-is-delightful, ugly-is-beautiful turnabout humour of J. Evil and family draws a bit on the “sick” humour that came into vogue in the late ‘50s. The “sick” school of punchlines came in for a lot of criticism by bluenoses for being “tasteless.” No one could accuse Mike Maltese of that with the J. Evil Scientists; the dialogue was too silly to be offensive, just as how Bob and Ray’s newscaster Peter Gorey growled out stories like “A poor shopkeeper was killed accidentally while attempting suicide.” This cartoon includes a loud screech of fear from Mrs. Scientist, to which J. Evil responds “How thoughtful! She’s singing our song.” And when Mrs. Scientist informs her husband that “guillotine stew” is for dinner, he remarks: “It sounds delicious! Why don’t you put in a head—(pause)—of cabbage?” After a while, Hanna-Barbera beat the idea to death but it’s funny in small doses in this cartoon.

Poor Snagglepuss doesn’t even appear in the first 2½ minutes. He finally shows up at the door of the Scientists’ standard-issue creepy house (excellently painted by Dick Thomas in the opening shot). Before that can happen, Maltese sets up the plot. Junior Scientist is playing with daddy’s experiment equipment in the basement and uses a ray to enlarge a mouse. The great Art Davis is the animator here. As Greg Watson (or whoever) fills the soundtrack with Hoyt Curtin’s minor key organ music, thunder sound effects and electronic buzzing, Davis comes up with some neat flashing animation effects.



Just as H-B cartoons can have a dog that can only say “Yowp,” they can have an enlarged mouse with a vocabulary restricted to “Snarf!” The big rodent scares Mrs. Scientist, who actually exhibits no fear (other than standing on a chair) and continues to calmly flick cigarette ashes on the mouse as she requests help, maintaining the same relaxed, throaty voice as she does in the rest of the cartoon (Jean Vander Pyl as Tallulah Bankhead). The family cat bolts when asked to get the mouse; J. Evil develops multiple eyes to watch the cat’s streaking exit.



The set-up complete, Snagglepuss arrives. The ensuing dialogue:

J. Evil (opening door) – It’s a mouldy-looking mountain lion, my dear.
Snagglepuss – Mouldy-lookin’! If it were not, I were to the manor born, I’d reciprocate in kind. Whaddya think of that? Whaddya think of that?
J. Evil – I still think you’re mouldy. What do you think of THAT?
The dialogue continues...
Snagglepuss – I seek not but food, ere I continue me weary travels. Whaddya say to that? Whaddya say to that?
J. Evil – I’d say “scram or I’ll sic a dragon on you.”
Snagglepuss begs for food, promising work in return. “Anything you need, name it, name it. Chop wood, beat a rug, jelly eels, fix a fig maybe.” Only Maltese would throw in “jelly eels.”

Naturally, Snagglepuss fails at his task, overcome by Junior and technology. There’s a nice bit of running dialogue when Snagglepuss employs a tea strainer to catch the mouse. “It’s tea time, little rodent,” he exclaims. Then when he realises the mouse is huge, he looks at the camera and says “Heavens to Murgatroyd. A verita-b-b-b-ble Frankenmouse monster, even. Which isn’t my cup of tea. So, exit, stage left!” This is the only time in the cartoon where we hear Snagglepuss’ catchphrases.

Another neat bit of dialogue (or, rather, monologue) ensues, featuring Maltese’s use of mounting ridiculous phrases:

Snagglepuss (to Junior) – Say! Why aren’t you in school? Better yet, why aren’t you in jail?
Mouse – Snarf! Snarf, snarf, snarf!
Snagglepuss (to mouse) – Say! Are you followin’ me? Don’t yazz realise that you’re breakin’ a city ordinance? Malpractice. Pedestrum follow-ita. With an ipso factory. And an accessory after the carbohydrate. So watch it. Watch it.
The mouse grabs Snagglepuss. A couple of nice drawings.



The cartoon ends with Junior and the mouse shrinking Snagglepuss, who runs to the comfort of the mouse’s hole and finds a piece of cheese. So Snagglepuss succeeds in getting something to eat after all. Note the brush strokes and multiples in the exit drawings.



Daws Butler gives J. Evil a Peter Lorre-esque voice, though it’s less nasally than you think Lorre sounds like. If you’re familiar with how Lorre emphasized certain words, you’ll notice when Davis stretches J. Evil’s mouth when emphasizing.



The sound cutter makes good use of Hoyt Curtin’s music tracking library. I like the bass fiddle music during one scene where the large mouse is walking. And a variation on “Meet the Flintstones” is heard when Snagglepuss is at the door.

2 comments:

  1. This is just another, of SO MANY examples, of why the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons were so great! It's always been a favorite of mine.

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  2. When Snagglepuss says veritable it kinda reminds me of those Warner Bros. cartoon where Sylvester is chasing a mouse, but ends up catching a kangaroo. Maltese may have worked on those.

    One thing I have always wondered. How come Snagglepuss instantly knew Junior was to blame - "Or better yet, why aren't you in jail." Love the banter between Mr. J. Evil Scientist and Snagglepuss.

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