Saturday, 28 June 2014

Huckleberry Hound — Jungle Bungle

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Ralph Somerville, Layout – Dan Noonan, Backgrounds – Dick Thomas, Written by Carl Kohler, Story Director – Art Davis, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Narrator, Monkey, Lion, Mother Monkey – Don Messick; Huckleberry Hound – Daws Butler.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
First aired: week of January 15, 1962.
Plot: Huckleberry Hound explains how to get around in the jungle.

It’s the same old Huck but a couple of different names grace the credits of this cartoon. This is one of a few cartoons animated at Hanna-Barbera by Ralph Somerville. He was born December 6, 1905 in Oskaloosa, Iowa to the Rev. Jay Wilbur and Jessie Meredith (Burdick) Somerville but grew up in Warrensburg, New York. He was the pride of the little town. In 1929, he was on the crew of the steamer Zanthia and his letters to his widowed mother about his voyages in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean were reprinted on the front page of the local paper. How he ended up working for the Fleischer studio in New York is unclear—the paper mentions he worked on “Kitty From Kansas City” and “Millie [sic] the Moocher”—but it reported on November 3, 1932 he was now in Hollywood animating at the Krazy Kat studio—for Walt Disney!

Somerville ended up at Universal later in the decade. In 1938, he married Xenia Beckwith, who was at the MGM cartoon studio at the time. They divorced a few years later when he was a Technical Sergeant stationed in India; she later married animator Ed de Mattia. All three worked at the Hanna-Barbera studio in the early ‘60s. Somerville later was one of many old-timers who animated on the “Spider-Man” series for Grantray-Lawrence before moving on to Filmation. He retired to Weed, California in 1974 and died on February 13, 2000.

Carl Kohler wrote this cartoon and it was apparently his only Hanna-Barbera credit. Whether he was freelancing or very briefly on staff is unclear. Kohler wrote Art Davis’ last cartoon at Warner Bros., “Quackodile Tears,” and Davis is the story director on this cartoon. Kohler was mainly a magazine cartoonist, having co-founded CARtoons in 1959. He also churned out stories for Bozo the Clown cartoons at Larry Harmon’s studio in 1962. Kohler very adeptly captures Huck’s personality in this cartoon. It’s nothing more than a series of spot gags without any kind of climax, but Huck’s chatty and pleasant, and there’s one really off-the-wall gag.

Studio workhorse Dick Thomas painted the backgrounds from Dan Noonan’s layouts. It seems like almost every cartoon that has been reviewed here for the last few months has Thomas’ name on it. Here’s part of the opening background. Quite nice. Too bad in 1961, TV viewers likely saw it only in black and white.

This cartoon has another one of those fun openings where Huck’s just hanging around waiting for the narrator and his camera to arrive. Here’s the opening dialogue over top of one of Hoyt Curtin’s mystery beds. Don Messick begins with mock seriousness.

Narrator: Africa. And into the dark, steaming interior of the equatorial jungle, our roving camera probes, searching for that legendary and mysterious personality Oomba Goomba Doombie Foomba. Which, translated, means “Jungle Huck.”

The camera now stops on Huck up a tree, which gives him a chance to sing “Clementine,” as fans have come to expect. Then he acknowledges the camera and the audience.

Huck: Howdy. Me Jungle Huck. I thought you’d never get here.

This is a spot gag cartoon and anyone who has seen enough cartoons can guess the gag before it happens. For example, Huck swings on a vine. He crashes into a tree.

Huck chops down a tree. Guess where it lands?

There’s an odd scene where Huck saves a little monkey from “a hungry-type lion.” The sound cutter does a great job of juxtaposing Curtin’s cues. There’s a loud, dramatic one when the lion’s chasing the frightened and switches to a little soft-shoe oboe when Huck talks to the audience about what’s going on. Huck saves the monkey but not after grabbing the lion and dropping him (“Tsk, tsk. Right on his face. They’re supposed to land on their feet, you know,” Huck informs us). The monkey is grateful. But when he tells his mother, the big monkey turns Huck into a basketball and shoots him into a tree. Why? Huck saved her kid’s life. “Some day, it just don’t pay to monkey around with good deeds,” Huck tells us as the camera fades out.

The weird scene is when Huck swings right into the mouth of a white rhinoceros (who gulps him down). No trouble. Huck just opens one of the animal’s plates like it was a door. Says Huck: “You’d never believe what goes on inside a rhinocer-oceros.” He never confides in the audience what does go on; it’s on to the next scene.

The next gag involves a native village and a Tarzan yell (which ends with “Y’all”). We never see any natives. It’s cheaper not to draw any. Instead, Huck simply gets trapped by their arrows which come flying into the scene.

The spot gags don’t really stack up to a climax. Huck’s chased by different animals in different scenes; the final one merely involves him running stage left on screen, yelling “Help!” with a tiger in pursuit. Not the strongest way to finish a cartoon.

Somerville reuses some of his drawings. There’s a pose of Huck on a tree holding a kinked vine which appears periodically. And the run cycle of the little monkey appears in a medium shot and a close-up (in both directions; the drawings are over around and inked and painted on the other side).

Curtin’s musical bits and pieces made appearances in a variety of cartoons the same year. His organ version of “Over the Waves” underscores one of Huck’s vine swings. And the final cue is the one where Curtin snatched a few bars of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No 2.”


  1. Always wondered if the rhino gag was the inspiration for the "birthing" scene in the Ace Ventura sequel.

  2. No, no. Wanna be told the truth about the nonappearance of natives in this short?
    By a Black Man? Well, here 'tis:

    With the exception of "Jonny Quest", from about the early 1950s until 1969, Big Animation was fearful of how precisely to caricature/depict my people. Because of our war for dignity/justice,
    they opted to excise us from animated works altogether rather than risk offending us. Remember what went down in the Wardverse? A Rocky/Bullwinkle adv was to feature cannibals; they'd be depicted as Black. But network pressure intervened, forcing the cannibals
    to be caricatures of Jay Ward and Bill Scott, IIRC.

  3. As a “would-be / wanna-be / wished-I-was”, who noted the writing credits on these cartoons with great interest from afar, and dreamed of writing for them myself (Huck, in particular), I’m amazed to learn the name of a writer whom I was completely unaware had written a classic-era Huck cartoon… Carl Kohler!

    Joe Barbera and (the unappreciated around here) Charlie Shows, Warren Foster, Tony Benedict, and even one for Michael Maltese… all names we know and trust (even Shows). And now, Carl Kohler!

    On the strength of that “rhino-gag” alone, I can’t imagine why Kohler didn’t do more work for the studio! Does anyone know why?

    The writers who didn’t have long and prolific careers may be the ones that fascinate me most, because we can see why Maltese, Foster (perhaps the two greatest cartoon writers who ever lived), Benedict, Tedd Pierce, the severely underrated John Dunn, Heck Allen, and other folks had the careers they did.

    But what of individuals like Kohler? Or someone like Nick Bennion, who (to end the 1962 WB cartoon “Banty Raids”) may have the single best, laugh-out-loud line of the entire Foghorn Leghorn series? If anyone is curious and cares to look for it, my reference to Bennion and “Banty Raids” is buried deep within the overly wordy content of this long blog post

    Dalton Sandifer (sp?) is another H-B writer who had some staying power for a while, but I know nothing about him, save his previously writing some cartoons for Walter Lantz.

    Bob Ogle, wrote for UPA’s Dick Tracy and TV Mister Magoo, MGM theatricals in the Chuck Jones era, Filmation’s Archie, and some great work for 1960s Gold Key comics. It would be nice to more about these individuals and others like them. …Writers rule!

    Shifting gears, might this be one of the few H-B title cards to exhibit a FULL background?

  4. Very well-made point, Joe, and my sentiments are exactly the same, right down to the noting of the credits.:) (BTW Jungle Bungle was also the title of the 1972 "Saturday Superstar Movie" episode that became the "pilot episode" for the wretched "Brady Kids" series that followed a week later. There was, however, a classic (and rare as a top ten hit) 1974 Jethro Tull classic "Bungle in the Jungle"-"Oh....Let' the JUNGLE/WELL that's al;right by me".. I had completely forgotten the rhino gag, by the wayu, and Joe, I agree with you on your comment about the gag being reason enough to keep Mr.Koehler.:)

  5. Actually, Ralph Somerville was quite active at H-B from 1961-63. He only did one Yogi, Huck and Yakky episode each, but many FLINTSTONES. Somerville is also credited in the 1965 SECRET SQUIRREL SHOW. In between, he worked on UPA's 1964-65 prime time FAMOUS ADVENTURES OF MISTER MAGOO.