September 23, 2016 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #281


Rooty Toot Toot. Paul Etcheverry did an extensive interview with Bill Scott on his lengthy animation career on November 24, 1981. Here is an excerpt about the UPA cartoon Rooty Toot Toot (1951). Annette Warren provided the voices of both Frankie and Nelly Bly. Thurl Ravenscroft was the voice of Johnny. The story was based on the popular song where Frankie supposedly shoots Johnny “rooty toot toot right in the snoot”. The film was nominated for an Oscar.

“I made a trip back to New York I believe on a UPA project if I’m not mistaken,” recalled Scott. “I saw a musical comedy in which a dancer named Valerie Bettis did a ballet on the trial of Frankie and Johnny. I was struck by it. I returned to UPA and pitched it to John Hubley and he immediately latched onto it.

“He got another dancer, Olga Lunick to do choreography. We looked at old trial films. I think we used particularly the trial scene in a Carole Lombard picture called True Confession (1937). The district attorney was based on a character played by Porter Hall in the same movie. Hubley took the idea, enlarged upon it and made it his own. He set the style of it.

“It was not a particularly happy collaboration as far as story was concerned because I wanted more humor in it than it had and Hub wanted much more of a dramatic conflict and was more conerned with the graphics of it. He got fascinated with the idea of the dancer, rotoscoping the dancer and having the whole thing move as a ballet.

“Though I did get credit on the writing of it, it was largely Hub’s baby. I was put on to another project. The lyrics of it were worked out by Hub and musician Phil Moore. Columbia did not like the cartoon at all. They said it was all another ‘damned wise-ass picture’. They really would have liked very much to go back to just doing the old Fox and Crow.

“I think the only reason they kept letting us do stuff like this, that the exhibitors didn’t care for either, was that we kept giving them Mr. Magoo. Their only thinking about the Academy Award nomination was ‘Well, maybe now we can sell it in more places’. While I was working there, there was never any evidence that Columbia Pictures was ever proud of anything that UPA had done.”

Cannon Fodder. From the 1970s Film Dope issue with a section on animator and director Robert Cannon. As an interesting side note, Cannon started working at Disney in March 1946 after roughly ten years working at Warner Brothers and then was laid off February 1947 and joined UPA.

In the Film Dope issue, Stephen Bosustow talked about Cannon’s involvement with the new studio: “Bobe never really was associated with the very early phases of organizing UPA. He was one of my first employees and was the employees’ representative on our board of directors for all the fifteen years he worked at UPA but he never held any stock in the company. He was, however, a great confidant of mine and we discussed many problems together over the years.”

pinocchio1978-600The True Value of Disney Classics. Richard Cook, then senior vice president for domestic distribution at Disney, stated in 1986, “The commercial value of the Disney animated features is not measured in the first-run grosses but in their increasing profit margin over the years. Pinocchio was first released in 1940 when it grossed about four to five million dollars. Of course, admission then was probably about twenty-five cents. In 1978, it grossed fifteen million dollars and in 1984, twenty-six million. Even allowing for inflation, the increase is appreciable.”

Lantz on Music. From Video Review March 1983, Walter Lantz stated, “The best way to learn timing is to do something to music. During the 1940s, I made a whole series of ‘Musical Cartunes’. The music not only inspired the story and the gags, but it really taught us how to time material. Most of the ‘Cartunes’ were based on popular tunes of the day or classical works. I personally preferred the classical pieces because we didn’t have to pay royalties.

“When we decided on the music, I would go over the piece with my story department, or, as we called them, the gag men. We’d listen to the piece and brainstorm on what visual gags it brought to mind.

“For example, in a cartoon called Musical Moments from Chopin (nominated for an Oscar in 1946), we cast Woody as a concert pianist trying to outdo competing maestro Andy Panda. The jokes were timed and planned according to the musical selections played. If it was a fast piece, the sight gags such as Woody playing one side of the piano with his hand while his glove played the other, would come fast and furious. If it was slow, we’d build the music, awaiting the crescendo before letting the audience have it.”


yellow_m_mSimmons and Kai. Oscar winning actor J.K. Simmons provided the voice for a soul-snatching spirit named Kai in Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016). In Entertainment Weekly Jan 29-Feb 5, 2016, the actor revealed, “(Kai) is smart enough and funny enough for parents to not be sitting there catching up on their emails. There are great life lessons. One of my favorite lines ever is in this movie, where the mentor, Master Shifu, says to the student, ‘If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than you are now’. I liked adding the humorous aspect of Kai. He was the new bad guy, and he was supposed to be scary, but (the filmmakers) don’t want people carrying their screaming five year olds out of the theater.

“I’ve been your yellow M&M for, oh, at least two decades or so, and I’ve done a lot of other animated stuff in between. This was great. Once I knew that this was going to be the same team that made the first two films. I was completely confident I was in good hands. Fletcher (the tyrannical drum coach in the movie Whiplash) doesn’t kill anybody or steal anybody’s soul, so with the swinging ax blades, I think Kai is a little scarier. Fletcher has the advantage of R-rated dialogue that, of course, Kai doesn’t have.”


  • Many of the Walt Lantz Cartunes aka Musical Miniatures used Classical and Popular music of the era. Several starred jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden including Jackson, The Sliphorn King of Polaroo (featuring Hans Conreid as the storyteller) and Pixie Picnic featuring the Overture from Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie and Andy Panda (in one of the few roles that he doesn’t speaks) in The Bandmaster featuring the Overture from Zampa. Others include Scrub Me Daddy with a Boogie Beat,Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,$21 Dollars a Day Once a Month,Jungle Jive and my favorite Jukebox Jamboree (with its Latin style of music including Rhumba).

  • It is such a shame that Columbia couldn’t see the value of the UPA cartoons. They certainly influenced other studios on into the TV years, but almost no one came up with cartoons that were so clever or interesting and had enough there to keep the adults fascinated. These days, we consider the cartoons of this studio to be an iconic turning point in how the animated cartoon changed.

    Even the scoring on these cartoons varied, something you didn’t hear much at other studios…about Walter Lantz considering classical easier to animate to than jazz, well, I guess it also went beyond the mere cost of the music. At MGM, Scott Bradley seemed to latch onto classical themes so much more than jazz themes, and the action, including comedy gags, were neatly timed to that music; not as easy when you consider the tricky rhythms of a given piece. Walter Lantz had some fine musicians sittin’ in for the swing cartoons, though.

    • Warners certainly did their share of classical music cartoons as well (Corny Concerto, Pigs In A Polka, Rhapsody In Rivets, Rhapsody Rabbit, and of course Rabbit of Seville and What’s Opera, Doc?), as did George Pal (Sky Princess, Dipsy Gypsy, and the several “Mr. Strauss” films) and Paul Terry (many of the Mighty Mouse series, Off To The Opera, If Cats Could Sing, and others.) The combination of animation and music was, and still is, irresistible.

  • In fairness, Columbia was focused on “series” like The Three Stooges, Andy Clyde, Screen Snapshots, Candid Microphone, etc. The Jolly Frolics didn’t fit the mode as well as others. I also wonder if UPA’s “leftest” mentality was problematic, especially with John Hubley forced out right about the time ROOTY TOOT TOOT was released. He was questionable as far as HUAC was concerned. All of the studios (particularly those run by Jews) were very neurotic in the early fifties and a cartoon that wasn’t of the norm would raise concern with Harry Cohn & Co.

  • One correction on Rooty Toot Toot. Johnny never speaks in thid cartoon, Thurl Ravenscroft provides the voice of of Frankie’s Attorney, Jonathan “Honest John McCrook” Bailey.

  • “The commercial value of the Disney animated features is not measured in the first-run grosses but in their increasing profit margin over the years. Pinocchio was first released in 1940 when it grossed about four to five million dollars. Of course, admission then was probably about twenty-five cents. In 1978, it grossed fifteen million dollars and in 1984, twenty-six million. Even allowing for inflation, the increase is appreciable.”

    Now that we have easy access to inflation calculators, we can easily see that this isn’t entirely true and the film grossed a little bit less each time it was released. And of course, home video changed everything.

    • Using the inflation calculator at the Bureau of Labor Statistics

      Using 2016 dollars:
      $5,000,000 in 1940 is now $85,945,357
      $15,000,000 in 1978 is now $55,363,570
      $25,000,000 in 1984 is now $60,219.650
      So it didn’t gross a little bit less each time it was released.

      But the reference to profit margins means we should also look at the original budget as well. Sources vary but if we say 2.6 million in 1940 dollars that comes to $44,691,585.71 in 2016 dollars which of course, wouldn’t have to be paid each time the movie was screened.

  • Any chance we could see more (or all) of that FILM DOPE feature on Bobe Cannon?

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