This week’s breakdown is a Walter Lantz cartoon starring Andy Panda!
Much like Disney’s contract with distributor United Artists in the early ‘30s, Walter Lantz’s negotiations with UA, after a dispute with Universal around 1947, resulted in a distinct mark of refinement in his films. Dick Lundy was the studio’s sole director during this period; a former Disney animator, he strived for personality and stronger animation by instructing his animators with such methods from his previous studio experience. Andy Panda took a back seat to the popularity of the zany Woody Woodpecker, and appeared in few cartoons after 1944, with only five cartoons during the UA period. Andy plays a more prominent role here, instead of being eclipsed by supporting characters, as he protects a baby pelican after throwing its mother overboard.As Lundy continued directing his cartoons, Andy’s design fluctuated into a Mickey Mouse-type figure, undoubtedly helped by the arrival of Fred Moore, who shaped Mickey into a rounder, softer character. The new model sheet for Andy, drawn by Moore (above) — dated October 8, 1947, exactly a year before the film’s release — bears similarities to Mickey, in some ways; one of the poses is cribbed from a model sheet from The Little Whirlwind (1941), also drawn by Moore. His extended sequence of Andy hatching the newborn pelican from an egg, and exiting to provide food, has a remarkable fluidity that matches his previous work for Disney.
Ed Love, another former Disney animator, animates the entire opening of Andy struggling to eject the pelican off the boat. (These scenes are comparable to the troublesome pelican in 1940’s Tugboat Mickey, which Love also animated.) Love handles Andy’s poses and lip-sync with a hint of impudence, similar to his scenes with Screwy Squirrel for MGM and Woody Woodpecker. Like Moore’s animation, Love’s drawing is broad with superb posing, particularly when Andy is lifted by the pelican’s beak as he yawns. Another Disney recruit, Ken O’Brien, animates Andy arriving back with a fish and struggling to rescue the baby from the boat spar before they both fall. After Moore’s termination from Disney, O’Brien followed him to Lantz’s studio; O’Brien’s animation is similar, but lacks the flexibility of Moore’s work.
Verne Harding’s animation for Lantz matches the draftsmanship of the ex-Disney artists in Playful Pelican, in its solid drawing and acting. Harding animates Andy finding the mother pelican’s egg in a rope coil; she elicits remorse as Andy calls out for her, and wonderfully handles the nervous Andy finding a suitable nest before sitting on the egg for warmth. Harding also animates the closing scenes of the mother pelican emerging from the sea, and saving both Andy and her son from a shark. Pat Matthews animates the baby pelican following a frog, which hops along inside his beak—boundlessly stretching it— dragging him up to the boat spar.
Les Kline’s work in the film is serviceable, but suffers slightly in comparison to the slick drawing/animation of the other artists credited. Kline animates Andy and the pelican sliding and dangling from a burning rope, as a hungry shark waits underneath them. His timing of Andy praying, letting his hands free of the rope, and grasping back on, freeing them again for an “Amen” is amusing.
Though the animation in Lantz’s cartoons improved, most of their stories hadn’t; the peril near the end of the cartoon seems rushed, with the shark appearing close to the end. If the shark’s presence had been established earlier in the film as a threat, it could have paid off more solidly.
Enjoy the breakdown video!
(Thanks to Mark Kausler, Thad Komorowski and Frank Young for their help.)