ANIMATION ANECDOTES
February 25, 2017 posted by Jim Korkis

Those Warner Bros. ‘Gremlin’ Cartoons

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In 1943, Roy O. Disney approached the Title Registration Committee to convince them that all the cartoon studios registering new titles about gremlins violated Disney’s claim to the word and previously registered title for a proposed feature film inspired by Roald Dahl’s story. For what Roy later claimed were “technical reasons” the committee ruled against the Disney Studio so Roy contacted them personally.

Both Walter Lantz and MGM’s Fred Quimby agreed to drop their projects.

Roy wrote a memo to his brother Walt dated March 25, 1943 that the other cartoon studios agreed to not produce gremlin cartoons but Columbia apparently decided to continue such a project.

Roy wrote personally to Columbia studio president Harry Cohn on April 16, 1943:

“Harry, you know Walt and me well enough to realize we wouldn’t give two hoots about competition, short subject to short subject. But I am very worried when we start to make a feature that takes us at least a year to produce and costs us at least $600,000 to $800,000-I’m worried at the thought of having a property of this size undermined and hurt by a lot of single reels that may saturate the public’s desire to see a ‘Gremlin’ feature and really do us considerable harm in the marketing of it.”

B.B. Kahane, who became Vice President of Columbia in 1938, replied on behalf of Cohn that Columbia would not develop any cartoons about gremlins.

Two animated shorts were already too far into production when Roy requested that Warner Brothers producer Leon Schlesinger not produce a gremlin short.

falling-hare

Falling Hare released October 30, 1943 was an eight minute Technicolor Warner Brothers animated short directed by Bob Clampett. Originally the cartoon was entitled Bugs Bunny and the Gremlin.

Clampett never knew the reason Schlesinger requested the change in the titles to his two gremlin cartoons until 1976 when an interviewer told him about Roy Disney’s request.

The film’s story was unique because Bugs Bunny was the victim rather than the victor and the Oscar winning rabbit never says “What’s Up, Doc?” during the entire cartoon.

bugs-bunny-and-gremlinDuring World War II, on an Army Air Force airfield, Bugs is relaxing on top of a bomb waiting to be placed into a nearby bomber plane. He is reading a book entitled Victory Thru Hare Power (a reference to the 1942 book Victory Through Airpower by Major Alexander de Seversky that was the inspiration for a Disney propaganda film). The book claims that gremlins wreck American planes through diabolical sabotage.

Bugs laughingly dismisses such a claim until he sees one of the creatures striking a mallet on the head of bomb in hopes of detonating it. “These blockbuster bombs don’t go off unless you hit them….juuuust right,” explains the gremlin to the curious Bugs.

Bugs offers to assist the little creature using one mighty blow instead of several tiny ones. At almost the last moment, he comes to a shocking realization that the bomb could blow up and stops his swing.

The gremlin hits the rabbit with a monkey wrench. Bugs chases the gremlin onto the bomber and finds himself locked inside as the creature gets the craft airborne.

falling-hare_gremlinThroughout the flight, the gremlin constantly physically torments Bugs. At one point, the gremlin aims the plane at some skyscrapers and Bugs grabs the controls to roll the plane into a vertical position to fly through them to avoid impact.

The plane goes into a tailspin with its wings ripping off and only the fuselage remaining as it plunges toward the ground. However, just before the impact, the plane sputters to a halt just a few feet from the earth.

Both Bugs and the gremlin tell the audience that they ran out of gas because of the “A card”, a rationing sticker indicating the lowest priority and limiting the amount of gas purchased to three to four gallons per week. It was a situation very familiar to an American wartime audience and resulted in a large laugh of recognition as the final punch line.

The story was credited to Warren Foster with Rod Scribner as the lead animator.


gremlin-tiny-toonsThis particular Gremlin makes two reappearances in the Tiny Toon Adventures syndicated television series in the episodes “Journey to the Center of Acme Acres” where the gremlin appears (with several look-alikes) as the cause of earthquakes in Acme Acres and in “Night Ghoulery” menancing Plucky Duck in the segment “Gremlin on a Wing”, a parody of the iconic Twilight Zone television episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” with William Shatner seeing a vicious gremlin.


russian-rhapsody

Russian Rhapsody released May 20, 1944 was a seven minute Technicolor Warner Brothers animated short directed by Bob Clampett. Originally, the cartoon was entitled Gremlins from the Kremlin and the animated short still includes a song by that name sung to the tunes of Ochi Chyornye (Dark Eyes) and Eh, Uchnem (Song of the Volga Boatmen).

cartoon-hitlerThe film’s story is merely a simple framework on which to hang a non-stop series of visual gags. Interestingly, the film makes clear that it is telling a story that is taking place in 1941 rather than 1944.

During World War II, German bombers are mysteriously disappearing and failing to make it to Moscow to bomb the Soviets into submission. Apparently, colorful Soviet gremlins are sabotaging the planes before their reach their target.

Adolf Hitler is so irate that he decides to fly a bomber “in person” to attack the Russians since he is the best pilot in the world. In flight, the gremlins sneak onto the plane and proceed to dismantle it with hammers, saws, blowtorches and more as they sing that they are “the little men that weren’t there”. They simultaneously viciously destroy different parts of the aircraft with unabashed glee.

Hitler finally discovers the intruders and unsuccesfully tries to stop them as they continually physically humilate him. Finally, the gremlins cut a hole in the fuselage and drop him out into the sky.

The frightened falling dictator realizes that the plane is now in a power dive aimed right at him. When he reaches the ground, he tries to hide but the plane drives Hitler deep into the ground with the tail section remaining visible and becoming a makeshift tombstone. The gremlins celebrate their victory.

gremlins-1The story is officially credited to Lou Lilly but it is apparent that others supplied gags as well. Animation was done by Rod Scribner, Robert McKimson, Manny Gould and Art Davis.

Many of the gremlins are exaggerated caricatures of the Warner Bros. animation department staff including Chuck Jones (a small purple one), Bob Clampett (with pick axe), Friz Freleng (small green one with long pointed nose), Melvin “Tubby” Millar (with the tack on his head), Michael Sasanoff, Michael Maltese, Carl Stalling, Henry Binder (V-shaped black hair), John Burton and Ray Katz (being hit by Schlesinger gremlin) among others.

Even producer Leon Schlesinger appears as a gremlin who is shown tapping the heads off of rivets with a hammer as he’s being raised by a rope on a hook through the back of his clothes. (Poor video copy embed below. A better copy of Russian Rhapsody is posted here).

In 1984, Warner Brothers produced a film directed by Joe Dante entitled simply Gremlins and in 1990 proposed doing an animated series featuring these creations for the Kids WB animation block.

20 Comments

  • Clampett had started 1943 with Bugs being even more frustrated and harassed by Cecil Turtle in “Tortoise Wins By A Hare” and would follow up “Falling Hare” with Bugs again playing something of the fall guy in “What’s Cookin’ Doc?” (where his egotism over not winning an Oscar would have been perfect for a 1950s remake …. with Daffy).

    So Bugs being decidedly not in control thanks to the Gremlin wasn’t normal for Bugs’ overall career, but it was for how Bob was using him at the time. Bugs for the next year after that with Lilly as Clampett’s main writer is far more in control, but also far more vicious in dealing with his opponents, who all end up dead and/or buried by the iris out (in fact all of Lilly’s credited cartoons for Warners end with someone either dead or buried, including his one effort with Chuck Jones. Worked way better when the audience wanted to see that, as in “Russian Rhapsody” where the Gremlins pound Hitler into the ground at the fade-out).

  • Russian Rhapsody takes place in 1941 because that’s when Germany invaded Russia, however they failed to take over Moscow and were eventually pushed back.

  • The story doesn’t mention what the Disney project was that made them want the word “gremlins” not be used in animated shorts. How far along the story stage did the Disney project get? When was it abandoned?

  • “Russian Rhapsody” is the funniest WWII cartoon from Warner Bros. I just love the way it begins:

    “Once upon a time, waaay back in 1941…BOOM!!”

  • I’m very surprised the 1984 Gremlins film (or its sequel) never spawned an animated cartoon. In the 80s, it seemed nearly every popular movie, toy, video game, comic strip, and greeting card line got the animated treatment. Gremlins certainly had its share of popular merchandising, though.

  • As a fan of old Noveltoons, I’m reminded of Famous Studios’ Goodie the Gremlin who debuted in 1961.

    Here’s one of his entries (I always kind of liked the theme song):

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RIMFV63uBWo

  • The “Gremlins From The Kremlin” number was rendered in the style of the Merry Macs a popular vocal group of the time.
    This three-brothers-and-a-girl group favored tight, jazz-flavored harmonies,and a bubbly accompaniment featuring a burbling vibraphone.

    Their style was also emulated in the “My High-Polished Nose” number in “Lights Fantastic” (1942).

    The Merry Macs recorded prolifically, mostly for Decca.

  • As opposed to the cartoons with Cecil Turtle, Bugs and the gremlin end “Falling Hare” on peaceable terms.

  • The station that ran the Warner cartoons where I grew up apparently had a policy of not showing cartoons that were too overtly “World War II”-related, so I didn’t see RUSSIAN RHAPSODY until I was an adult. Maybe they thought those World War II cartoons were too dated for kids to understand. That station did run FALLING HARE, but Bugs’s “You know how it is with these A cards” line was edited out. Their print cut from the gremlin saying, “Sorry, folks. We ran out of gas” to the end title. I remember they cut the end of another Bugs cartoon. Don’t remember the name of it, but it was one of Frank Tashlin’s and ended with Bugs on a train, waving goodbye to Elmer Fudd. The station cut the part where Bugs jumps off the train, explaining that the government doesn’t want anyone doing any unnecessary traveling. Their print went straight from Bugs waving goodbye to the end title.

    • I remember they cut the end of another Bugs cartoon. Don’t remember the name of it, but it was one of Frank Tashlin’s and ended with Bugs on a train, waving goodbye to Elmer Fudd. The station cut the part where Bugs jumps off the train, explaining that the government doesn’t want anyone doing any unnecessary traveling. Their print went straight from Bugs waving goodbye to the end title.

      That would be “The Unruly Hare”

      It wouldn’t surprise me that your station would do that. Of course it didn’t matter much anyway when “Falling Hare” literally fell into the Public Domain so millions of kids everywhere would be scratching their noggins at that “A card” job for years to come!

  • The crash-dive that “ran out of gas” at the end of “Falling Hare,” but with the A-card punch line removed, was excerpted in one of the cheaters (I think it was “His Hare-Raising Tale”). The scene also threw in a Jerry Colonna reference, where the free-spinning altimeter stops to read “Incredible, Ain’t It?”

  • The Frank Tashlin directed Bugs Bunny cartoon with the train jump and “unnecessary traveling” ending gag is THE UNRULY HARE.

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2fbusv

  • If I recall correctly, Bugs Bunny makes an appearance in Gremlins 2, on screen in a cinema scene. As I am going from memory, I don’t recall if it was new animation or from Falling Hare.

    • It was footage from “Falling Hare”, of course Bugs (and Daffy) also appear in new animation that opened and ending the movie (produced by Chuck Jones).

  • Wow, so much incredible history here, as usual. Whenever I hear that local TV channels were heavily editing Warner Brothers cartoons, I am truly amazed and wonder when, exactly, they did such heavy editing. I know that the major networks, CBS, NBC and ABC, did a lot of editing, because those networks were carried around the country, but we had local stations that often ran cartoons totally uncut.

    I grew up with the uncensored version of “BUGS BUNNY RIDES AGAIN” which, now, you can no longer see, and we saw most of the MGM Bosko cartoons, very rarely but they were shown. It was only when a great many of the first golden age of theatrical cartoons were taken out of circulation that I noticed minor edits here and there, and certain titles were taken out of circulation altogether, and the Long Island/New York area lost the classic MGM cartoons altogether until cable TV came to be and we could find the cartoons regularly broadcast on the Turner stations. Now, we’re lucky if we can even find a classic theatrical cartoon on the TV airwaves.

    A LOONEY TUNES show is hopefully still broadcast each weekday on Boomarang; I don’t know about Cartoon Network, but these are only a minor handful of major character titles and, mostly, the later entries. It might have been interesting to see what Walt Disney would do with a gremlins project, but Bob Clampett clearly put his stamp on the idea with the titles included here, and we’ll all remember that “Yankee Doodle” laugh, right?

  • The “V” shape hair style that Henry Binder wore was known as the “Victory Haircut” that was popular back in WWII.

    • Groucho Marx wore it much earlier than that.

  • Falling Hare breaks from most of the Bugs-as-loser shorts by not being karmic; Bugs doesn’t really do anything to deserve getting the crap beaten out of him, he’s basically victimized by a villainous character for the duration of it.

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