Amph The 50 Greatest Cartoons:Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals: 47. "A Corny Concerto"

Discussion in 'Community' started by Katana_Geldar, Sep 5, 2011.

  1. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    I've cleared this with Zaz, and I happen to love cartoons. Particularly old animated shorts like in this list. I grew up watching them, particularly the Disney ones (though I prefer Donald Duck over Mickey Mouse any day).

    So I'll be going through this list and looking at the cartoons in turn, one at a time. Some of them we may discuss more than others.

    However, this is list is rather deceptive and needs to looked at as a whole for a second. Firstly, all of them are American. Most of western animation comes out of the US, but not all of it. Secondly, almost all of them are cel animated shorts (with one noted exception) which rules out any feature length animation, ground brerak as it may have been. Third, almost all of them are before 1960 (with a few exceptions).

    Despite that, we get a fantastic look at the history of animation by looking through this list. As I go through, I'm not just going to look at the cartoons themselves but other things as well. Their historical context in terms of where animation was and the context of when the cartoon was made and/or set. There will also be a look at the cartoon's legacy, at imitators and homages afterwards.

    Unfortunately, I don't have the book that this list is in and it's rather expensive. None of the libraries I can get to have it. I'll see what I can do, but there is a lot of content on the net without having it. If anyone can get it and post stuff, it would be most welcome.

    So, in a few days I'll start with number 50,Felix in Hollywood. Watch the short a few times before then if you can. And yes it is MEANT to be silent, I didn't bring a piano player with me.
  2. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    I've watched it, so I'm ready to go.
  3. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    Felix in Hollywood, 1923. Pat Sullivan Studios.

    I think it's rather appopriate we start here at the silent era of Hollywood. A more innocent time, perhaps. I look back at the films as rather quaint, as we can see many of the cliches that we now take for granted being used for the first time. There's also the new technology of "talkies" which came in during the 20's, and not all studios embraced them which meant they were being left behind. Pat Sullivan's Felix the Cat was one of them.

    Summary

    The film opens with Felix with his owner, an unnamed starving artist in some sort of attic bedroom. He says to Felix (in comic balloons) that he can no longer make any money with his art and has to go into the movies business. He then tells Felix, in a rather archaic way, to go and get him some money so he can eat and go to Hollywood.
    Felix then goes to a shoe store where the owner has just gone bankrupt. Felix offers to sell every shoe in the shop, the owner tells him if Felix can do that he'll give Felix $500. (Which is quite a bit of money then, I think you could practically buy a house with it.)
    Felix then buys some chewing gum from a machine and sticks it all over the roads in town. This results in everyone's shoes being stuck to the road, and having to go out and buy new shoes. After selling out, the shop owner gives Felix his money as promised.
    Felix then goes back to the artist and give him the money. The artist then tells Felix that he is going to Hollywood without the cat. Felix then tries to go woth him. First by disgiusing himself as an walking stick (which doesn't work) then as a bag (which does).
    They then arrive in Hollywood and Felix reveals himself, shocking his former owner and heading to a studio. He peeps into Gloria Swanson's dressing room, getting quite a bit of pleasure from it, until he is found by what appears to be Ben Turpin. Apparently, peeping through keyholes is how you get crosseyed.
    He then sees a guy in a director chair reading a newspaper (not sure who that is). The guy directs him to the man who hires the actors, who looks a lot like will Hays of the Hays Code. Felix shows quite a few emotions and then does his best impression of The Tramp, calling it "something original". Eventually coming across the original tramp, Charlie Chaplin, who is not pleased.
    Felix runs off, disappointed that Chaplin destroys his chance at stardom. Then he hears someone crying for help. Felix runs after the cries and sees Douglas Fairbanks tied to a stake and being attacked by mosquitos (a reference to his film The Three Musketeets two years earlier). He then borrows William s Hart's gun and shoots some of the mosquitos, then runs out of bullets. He picks up one of the stingers that the mosquito shoots at his eyes and then uses it as a sword to fight the mosquito. He kills the mosquito, and it turns out that this is all a movie. The director (not sure who he is) offers Felix a long term contract and the last thing we see is him with it.

    Commentary

    As much as Felix the cat is a star of the silent era, I have to admit that this film's content has dated a little. Rather similar to films and TV shows filled with pop culture references nowadays, they're only very good when they're current and you know about them. Explaining them is explaining a joke, and to understand them you have to look them up which ruins the humour.
    For example, I am sure the audience would have recognised Hays and would probably find the idea of him being in charge hiring actors rather funny. But as a modern audicence, we don't. I had to do some research to be able to recognise Hays (who today looks like tiehr Prince Charles or that guy from MAD Magazine), so the joke is lost.
    But not all of it, as there are some funny moments. Like Felix peeping in Swanson's dressing room, giving a look that nowadays would be seen as rather dodgy. For some reason I found how the word "Help!" was animated rather funny, as if the person in need (in this case, Douglas Fairbanks) sent t
  4. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    I didn't have too much luck identifying the then famous people--I only got Chaplin and Cecil B. DeMille (the director). I thought the cross-eyed dude was Roscoe Conklin (it was Ben Turpin), and I knew who William S. Hart was, but couldn't remember his name. :p

    You are right about not really missing sound...you don't. The story is rather arbitrary, but fitfully amusing. I love the way the starving artist demands that his cat get $500.00 for him. (The cat thinks it pretty stupid, too.) And when the cat does the impossible, he refused to take him along. (!)

    Obviously the in-jokes substitute somewhat for a plot. The animation, on OTOH, is pretty good.
  5. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    Can you change the title, Zaz?

    Are you sure the director is DeMille?
  6. Ramza JC Head Admin and RPF Manager

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    I agree with NM, that director definitely looked like DeMille.

    I cracked up at the bit where Felix introduces his "Original Act" and then does a spot-on Little Tramp. That he ran into an angry Charlie Chaplin just sort of sold it even more. While overall the short fluctuates, it's certainly much more entertaining than a certain famous sound cartoon involving a certain steamboat and a certain rodent.

    Not going to lie, though, I'm much more excited for next week, because I'm willing to make the case that The Dover Boys is the greatest theatrical short ever released.
  7. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    I've seen The Dover Boys a few times already, and it's okay. Chuck Jones has done much better shorts, many of them are on this list.
  8. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Well, I *thought* it was DeMille. He was the famous director of the time.

    Chuck Jones is a good director as long as Michael Maltese does the writing. Jones gets all the glory, and Maltese is a footnote, but if you see a Jones sans Maltese, it has generally has none of brilliance of the ones *with* him. And anyone who *boasts* of creating the godawful Pepe LePew, one of the least engaging cartoon characters ever, does not get my vote. :p
  9. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    Hey! I like Pepi le Pieu!
  10. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    No offense, but why? It's a one-joke premise (i.e. he doesn't realize he smells bad). I wouldn't mind this so much if the one joke were funny (like Bugs' self-confidence or Daffy's greed), but IMO it isn't. He also doesn't have a proper antagonist, just a very unfortunate cat.
  11. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    There's also the fact that Pepi thinks he is god's gift to women, but yeah the cartoon is pretty much a one joke.

  12. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    There is that, of course.

    Watched "The Dover Boys", which is funny, if not the funniest ever.
  13. Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece

    Member Since:
    Nov 2, 2000
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    I remember a thread about this list years ago. It was an absolute blast then and it's going to be an absolute blast again now. I loved going through all the cartoons and I'm looking forward to watching them all again!

    Felix in Hollywood

    As has been said, not incredibly sophisticated. I particularly felt the languid pacing; the whole gum gag takes about twice as long as it should, if not three times. The rhythm of that first half is pretty dated; it picks up after they get to Hollywood.

    I suppose the best thing about it is Felix himself, who seems a real character. He's a little perverse, witty and smart. Moments like him shaking his fist at the artist after he sends him out to get the money or scuffing his foot on the ground before talking to Hays feel very . . . real, I guess, for lack of a better word. It sort of feels like they've created something like a real character. I don't know if he's as fully fleshed out a character as Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny or not, but there's something of actual personality there.

    The animation is sketchy at times; at other times, it works perfectly: I love the way Felix coolly detatches his tail for use as a cane in his Chaplin routine. Even better is the way it automatically reattaches when he drops it as Chaplin begins chasing him. And dig how he reaches into his 'pocket' for the gum machine money. It's pretty spare, but the animation brings Felix to life and I suppose that's the most important thing.
  14. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    Felix and early Mickey Mouse are actually rather similar in character: they were tricksters and instigators. Though I think Felix was much more better developed. And unlike Mickey, who took on a more family friendly image and the trickster aspects went to characters like Donald Duck and Chip and Dale, Felix has actually retained his trickster antics.

    I grew up watching a later version of Felix, The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat. The show is borderline insanity and I don't recommend watching it late at night. But I think the only differences in here from the originals are ones that came with time. The show is better animated and in colour, Felix talks and it has more recent references. Yet Felix has not really changed, in the way he is animated or in his character. How many other characters can we say that about?

    Compare Mickey Mouse back then with Mickey now. Very big difference.

    Here's one of my favourite episodes, with one of the best copyright disclaimers I have seen.
  15. Ramza JC Head Admin and RPF Manager

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    I dunno, I'd say Felix is a lot closer to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit than Mickey, even old school Mickey.

    Then again I might be biased because of how terrible I thought Steamboat Willie was.
  16. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    You might have a point there, but both Oswald the Rabbit and Mickey Mouse are later than Felix. Mickey does look rather similar to Oswald, however.

    Now it's 1942. The world is at war and we have a cartoon that has nothing to do with it at all.

    The Dover Boys 1942. Produced by Leon Schlesinger Productions, distributed by Warner Bros.

    Summary

    A sarcastic narrator introduced the Dover Boys (with a musical accompaniment) Tom, Dick and Larry of Pimento University (or PU). The boys plan a day at the park with "their" fiancee "Dainty" Dora Standpipe, picking her up and passing a tavern on their way. Inside, within a cloud of smoke, is their archnemesis "The Nefarious" Dan Backslide, who for some unexplained reason knows their plans for the day and plots to kidnap Dora so that he can have her money (maybe the narrator told him).
    At the park, the Dover Boys and Dora play hide and seek. While Dora counts, the boys look about for a place to hide together, going through many different places until they hide under the pool table in the tavern...just were Backslide happens to be playing pool. Backslide takes advantage of this and kidnaps Dora, first taking the tree she is clutching and then using a book and a set of tyre irons to seperate her from the tree. He drives off with Dora, all the while she is completely oblivious to the situation. She comes to and starts screaming for someone to help her, passing the tavern where Backslide oh so conveniently stops so that she can cry for help to the Dover Boys, and having enough time to call out to them all individually.
    The Dover Boys freeze while Dora is taken up to a mountain cabin. She pounds on the door while crying for help, but she gives Backslide such a beating that in the end he cries out for help to the Dover Boys as well. A scout sees Dora (peering through the window with a telescope) who runs over several mountains and conducts a flag signal...to another scout right in front of him who relays the message through telegraph. The telegram gets to the Dover Boys, and spurs them back into animation and they ride away on a seperated tandem bike to rescue her. They arrive on the doorstep of the cabin and burst into the room (after singing a harmony together), beating up Backslide some more and bashing each other up in the process. While all four are knocked out, the elderlelu man in the old-fashioned bathing suit (who until this point wandered randomly into the frame for no reason) walks off with Dora into the sunset.

    Commentary

    This short is a parody of the books series Rover Boys. but unlike longer running book series like Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, this series is rather obscure. As a consequence, the humour doesn't translate very well to today. The Wikipedia article explains the gags, but like I said in the Felix in Hollywood commentary, explaining jokes takes away their humour. But I wouldn't doubt that the audiences in 1942 would have gotten many of the references, if not the kids then the parents. Particularly the joke about prohibition.

    I know people will disagree with me for saying this, but I don't find this short particularly funny. And when you compare it to other films, and shorts, that came out the same year this is rather significant. 1942 is the year that Casablanca, Bambi, and Saludos Amigos came out. 1942 was the year for many of Donald Duck's war cartoons, most of which are still rather funny and iconic classics of the era([i[Der Fuehrer's Face[/i] coming out early 1943). Back to the point, I do find Dora's feistiness humourous, and the ending where she walks off with the elderly man is rather funny. But compared to other things by Chuck Jones it pales in comparison.

    It must be said, however, that Warner Bros was still very much in it's infancy as far as animation goes. Daffy Duck and Porky Pig were a little more refined from their 30's selves, but Bugs Bun
  17. Champion of the Force Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 27, 1999
    star 4
    "Dear rich Dora Standpipe ... HOW I LOVE HER (father's money)."

    [face_laugh]

    Saw this as a kid (might have the VHS tape still kicking around somewhere), I still find it hilarious even now. My favourite part is probably the scene where Backslide first kidnaps Dora, plonking her + tree into his car and driving off, only to double-take when he sees her still attached and having to reverse back and put her back where he found her - I love the absurdity of it all. :)

    And the narrator is awesome:

    "...and Larry, the youngest of the 3 jerks-err brothers."
  18. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    I watched a documentary on Jones last night, and he says that The Dover Boys was more or less where he found his voice and learned how to be funny.

    But I still don't find it funny. Jones can do some hilarious as well as beautiful cartoons. Like The Dot and the Line, which I don't think is even on the list.
  19. Ramza JC Head Admin and RPF Manager

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    The humor doesn't rely on the references... like at all. I honestly had no idea The Rover Boys even existed until I was just rewatching this cartoon maybe two days ago. Quite frankly you could insert any crappy vaudevillian melodrama and you'd swear The Dover Boys was a riff on it. But the actual comedy - the slapstick elements, the surreal cutaways, the totally absurd way that some of the situations (And, hell, Dan Backslide's voice) escalate - is not dependent on your being in on the metacontextual jab. I think it might come down to taste, in which case I can only say that The Dover Boys is the earliest approximation of my sense of humor I've yet to come across.

    It is, hands down, my favorite cartoon short. No I can't explain why that is, but for me there's not a sour note in the bunch. The jokes work, it's terribly conducive to memetic repetition, and those smear frames are a riot.
    [image=http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_mJ4lc_Q9Q6k/SlVJHEIdxbI/AAAAAAAAfz0/B_Lt1IR28Lk/s400/54.jpg]

    A particular favorite moment would be difficult to nail down, but Dan Backslide's rants are probably up there ("A runabout! I'LL STEAL IT! NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW!").
  20. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    Never even heard of the Rover Boys, so it's kind of hard to get the context. That said, this is a considerable contrast to the Donald Duck cartoon. There are still similarities: Donald has a huge, bell-shaped and unyielding coat which is not unlike Dora's ever-stiff dress. The Boys themselves are not particularly interesting; Tom looks like an over-chlorinated Robert Pattinson; Tom is an Ivy League Steve Buscemi; and Larry is uncomic relief. However, the notion of 'their' fiancee is a bit risque for the time. (A foursome!) I don't understand why Dan has a green complexion, either. But the animation is generally witty, and I loved that the only time we ever saw Dora's feet was when she did the two-step with the dude in the fin de siecle bathing suit.
  21. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    Going back to this clip in the doco, about three minutes in Chuck and other people talk about the Dover Boys. And I'll give him credit for comedic timing that's such a part of his later shorts, like Robin Hood Daffy and the Hunter's Trilogy. Jones also explains some of the references to The Rover Boys.
  22. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    It's funny; it's just not as funny as some of his stuff.
  23. Rogue1-and-a-half Manager Emeritus who is writing his masterpiece

    Member Since:
    Nov 2, 2000
    star 8
    I think you get the tone of the piece almost immediately: "Dick, a serious lad of eighteen summers plus a winter in Florida as related in The Dover Boys in the Everglades." I let out a good snort on that one.

    Dan Backslide is the best character, perhaps not surprisingly. His purple suit seems reminiscent of the Joker and, as already mentioned, his rants just keep getting better and better ("A runabout! I'll STEAL it! NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW!" *majestically unfurls driving outfit*) His double take at Dora and the tree is priceless and there's just something of absolute perfection about the illustration How Best to Remove Young Lady From Tree (Fig. 1), which, of course, he opens directly to.

    There's a wonderful sort of double structure to the gags here. The line about the eighteen summers is a good example. I reacted three times during that line; it keeps getting funnier the longer it unspools. Probably my favorite moment in the cartoon is the young scout who dashes hither and yon and then abruptly stops and . . . starts waving semaphore flags! The gag isn't over yet, though; then comes the reveal that the scout taking down his flag waving is standing about two feet in front of him. I don't know. I mean, that's just funny stuff, that's all there is to it. It's great comedy when you crack up at the set up and the punchline both.

    Did anyone else notice that Dora is pounding helplessly on a door that is latched on her side? Great stuff.

    CON *da doo doo doo doo doo doo, do doo DEEDLEDEE* FOUND THEM
  24. Katana_Geldar Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 3, 2003
    star 8
    It's as if she knows that the part she has to play is "damsel in distress", and this was a time when they were still pretty standard in cinema.
  25. Nevermind Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 14, 2001
    star 6
    The joke is that she's quite capable of rescuing herself, the Dover Boys, and the entire population of the US of A.

    Rogue makes a good point on how they set up, build, cap and double cap a gag.