BAXTER'S BREAKDOWNS
April 1, 2015 posted by

“Birth Of A Notion” (1947)

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Now here’s a bona-fide laugh riot from the McKimson unit!

Birth of a Notion was one of the last cartoons Bob Clampett was slated to direct in early 1945 before ultimately leaving the studio, as Thad Komorowski had already explained in further detail here. Being McKimson’s second Daffy cartoon, he not only inhibits Clampett’s trademark zaniness, but also a conniving, selfish side. Daffy’s ersatz death throes from the effects of the “poisoned” bone are screwy but the self-conscious histrionics have a slight touch of McKimson. Rod Scribner’s uninhibited animation in this cartoon feels entirely at home as a Clampett-directed effort. Scene 6, with Leopold thankfully shaking Daffy’s hand, has some hysterical drawings that are definitely worth freeze-framing. When Scribner returned around March 1948, McKimson clamped down on his artists to minimize their animation, but Rod’s wild methods often prevailed.

Birthofanotion-250Interesting to see that a mad scientist resembling Peter Lorre was revived for this cartoon. Existing storyboards from Chuck Jones’ Hair-Raising Hare, released a year earlier, reveals a typical mad scientist, whom would later be transformed into Lorre, but it seems Clampett and storyman Warren Foster had Lorre in mind for the part. Whereas the Lorre mad scientist in Hare-Raising Hare (voiced by Mel Blanc) played a small part, newly discovered voice talent Stan Freberg greatly expands it, reminiscent of Lorre’s peculiar roles in Mad Love and Stranger from the Third Floor.

Notion was also one of the last titles animator Dick Bickenbach worked on before migrating as an animator (later promoted to layout artist) for the Hanna-Barbera unit at MGM. His scenes of Leopold’s silly dance, his master snapping the baseball bat into many pieces and Daffy socking Lorre are nicely drawn and well-executed.

Something I only noticed recently was a nice layout touch in the first scene mentioned, where Daffy walks away to the right into the hallway, and around to an open door. There are no shortcuts in the animation before Daffy is out of view and even anticipates his first plan to get rid of Lorre.

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Larry Tremblay revealed many years ago that the way to decipher Cal Dalton’s animation is to see how the characters become plumper than the other animators. Note the difference between how Daffy and Leopold look in scene 10 (by Kirsanoff, above left) and 10A (by Dalton, above right). They both seemed to have gained weight as soon as they entered the house.

I should add that there is another artist credited as “Fred” in this draft. Mark Kausler provided audio commentary for this cartoon with footnotes from this draft, and mentions artist Fred Jones working on this cartoon (Jones is seen on-screen drawing Porky at the start of Freleng’s 1940 Looney Tune, You Ought To Be in Pictures.) I originally thought the credit was intended for Fred Abranz rather than Jones, but a closer look at the draft reveals the latter name on the listing for scene 26. Jones’ name is credited on three 1946-47 Donald Duck cartoons (Lighthouse Keeping, Straight Shooters, Crazy with the Heat) for Disney. Dave Smith of the Disney Archives said Jones was “hired in October 1942, left in February 1947.”

Alberto Becattini notes that Jones worked at Schlesinger’s from 1936-40; Abranz’s career at the studio lasted from 1941-49, so the credit is intriguing but perplexing. Was Fred Jones moonlighting for this cartoon (and for the McKimson unit?) Would this mean the “Fred” from Hot Cross Bunny would be Fred Jones and not Fred Abranz? If the first question is accurate, Jones’ drawing adheres to the McKimson style quite perfectly for a temp assignment. Hopefully, light can be shed on this, but a wise man once said, research of this extent is endless.

Enjoy this latest breakdown video, you mad, impetuous boy, you!


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13 Comments

  • Glad it wasn’t an obnoxious April Fool’s joke like that one animation “news and research” site.

    • I’m guessing that’s a reference to the site where Jerry Beck used to be active a few years back, but I don’t see anything there now that looks like a gag/hoax/prank. Did I miss something?

  • Thanks Devon! This one’s been a fave for six decades.

    Though enthusiasts and scholars can discern the differences, I’m struck by how the various animators stayed on-model and animated in a fairly consistent manner throughout this short. This is a McKimson cartoon all the way. I get the impression that, despite his soft-spoken demeanor, he ran a very tight unit.

  • Another nice posting, Devon. Stan Freberg’s subtle Lorre imitation was his best impression by far…he even said to me once in a 1994 phone interview, “I did a very good Lorre,” although he didn’t recall this cartoon at that time. Freberg was like a lot of actors with a flair for mimicry: he would capture certain characters but wasn’t exactly accurate (e.g., his brief Walter Winchell at the start of ONE MEAT BRAWL)…but his Lorre was great. It was one of the voices he demonstrated when he auditioned for the Schlesinger directors. Most imitations of Lorre concentrated on the mad-man element (such as Paul Frees’s manic version in the Spike Jones “My Old Flame” recording), but here Stan captured the very distinctive soft and querulous quality of Lorre’s voice. Poor Peter Lorre…a brilliant actor capable of such emotional genius, and like Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and many other huge acting talents from this period, remembered today more for the shallow comic brushstrokes given them by impressionists (yes, I’m as guilty as anyone!). Incidentally, Clampett once indicated that this cartoon was only at the storyboarding stage when he left Warner Cartoons in the spring of ’45.

    • As far as I know, did Freberg voice any other Daffy shorts, beside the obvious dumb goose that laid the golden egg in Friz Freleng’s “Golden Yegg’s”(a true 1950 classic)-reprising his “Hick, Slick and Chick””Elmo” voice from one of the forgotten men, Art Davis’s, 1948 cartoon..? (I mean in the classic era, when Mel Blanc still played Daffy.) Freberg didn’t seem to do many with Daffy, or with longtime partner Porky (McKimson’s early character Grover Groundhog being a rare example of Freberg in a Porky short that I can recall,again not the 1990s revivals but the original era.)

  • Why wasn’t Anatole Kirsanoff credited? He certainly did enough work in this one. Maybe they thought the credits list would be too long?

    Unrelated to the animation breakdown, does anybody know what the song used at 1:11 is? It has to be -something-, because I’ve heard it in many other cartoons and movies (it’s in “To Have and Have Not”, of all places!). Anybody know?

    • Ian – are you asking about FLOWER SONG by Gustav Lange? Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwIUAJTtzd4

    • Do we know he wasn’t credited? Does anyone know what names were on the original opening credits before the Blue Ribbon release?

    • Not just Warner but others–MGM’s the “Peachy Cobbler” and thanks to both the various stock libraries and Hoyt Curtin, oin the Hanna-Barbera cartoons. In Warner cartoons, it’s used in the 1949 Bugs cartoon when the wannabe-recurring little penguin Playboy (as Bugs called him–a FAR better creation, just in my humble opinion, than Chilly Willy!), is silently crying.(the second time ice cubes..thanks, Mike Maltese and whomever animated that scene. The Flower song, whose title I already knew, was used to great effect there. Casablanca’s use was a coincidence as WB didn’t own it, as shown by its appearance elsewhere and being written aorund the middle of the nineteenth century—a similiar tearjerker also much used, by Stalling, and in the Sam Fox music libaries and Hoyt Curtin, and Ted Niichols when Pebbles and Bamm Bamm as babies sing, at H-B, is “Hearts and Flowers” nee “Winter Tales’.

  • Yes, that’s it! Thank you for solving that mystery!

  • Do we know when that “Fred Jones” note was written on the draft, and whether it is accurate?

  • I admire Cal Dalton’s art for at least 13 years!!! Since I watched that Norman McCabe cartoon, Hop and Go! Can you do a breakdown on that?

  • Mel Blanc as Daffy, Stan Freberg as Lorre, and Tedd Pierce as Leopold (whose breed is Golden Retriever btw.):)

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