Today, we’ll look into director Dick Lundy’s first Woody Woodpecker cartoon!Walter Lantz’s poor business sense caused his studio irregular shutdowns and distribution difficulties from both Universal and United Artists. However, Lantz’s desire to entertain was embedded in his career, from his start as a teenager at Hearst’s International Film Service. The films he later created for Bray Studios, like the ingenious Dinky Doodle series, shared a benign charm Lantz clearly demonstrated throughout his animated life. He acted in at least one live-action short for Bray — which thankfully survives — entitled Barnyard Rivals (1928) where Lantz plays the comedic lead, opposite Tiny Ward and Marny Shaw.
After Bray, he moved to the West Coast to briefly serve as a gagman for Mack Sennett’s live-action comedies. This experience helped to develop his “gag-minded” sensibility further. Even if the Lantz cartoons often had lukewarm gags, his ability to delight moviegoers─and knack for hiring talented artists─ exceeded those shortcomings. In terms of the “gag-minded” nature of Lantz’s cartoons, the conflict of Bathing Buddies, as Woody carelessly ruins his landlord Wally Walrus’ bath plays much like an extended gag sequence in a comedy two-reeler or feature. Wally’s slow burn before the iris out of the cartoon is an understated, genuine moment derived from the many blustered foils that star comedians vexed in the end.
Bernard Garbutt’s time at the Lantz studio is intriguing, though no contemporaneous records exist. His only credit at Lantz is for this cartoon. It is uncertain if he animated on other titles. “Garby,” as he’s credited on the draft, was known for his expertise with animal anatomy for Disney’s Snow White and Bambi. For the latter feature, he guided the animators to observe realistic animal movement by organizing field trips, conducting lectures and drawing lessons. During production, Garbutt felt some resentment towards the animators making “cartoony figures,” despite this extensive research. After Disney, he went over to Screen Gems, where he’s credited on the satirical WWII-oriented Song of Victory (1942). After Lantz, he retired from animation and wrote and illustrated children’s books, including Timothy the Deer, Up Goes the Big Top, Hodie and Hold the Rein Free. During the ‘50s and ‘60s, he was an instructor at the Chouinard Art Institute.
Sid Pillet was mostly assigned to special effects animation at Lantz, but he handles a few brief shots of character animation in this cartoon. Born in England, Pillet was a staff artist at Fleischer’s by early 1935. An issue of Fleischer’s Animated News, published in February of that year, revealed that he “raced motorcycles in England, automobiles on Daytona Beach at 101 M.P.H., and won a Charleston contest in Mobile, Alabama.” He received screen credit on two 1941 Popeyes, Problem Pappy and Meets Rip Van Winkle, both by the Myron Waldman unit. Evidently, he remained during the changeover to Famous Studios, and is credited on I’m Just Curious, a 1944 Famous “Little Lulu”.
During 1943, Pillett drew funny animal comics for Better Publications’ Coo-Coo Comics, including a pair of fish named “Fin n’ Butch”, whom resemble characters from Fleischer’s undersea outings Educated Fish (1937) and Small Fry (1939). He moved to the West Coast to work as an effects animator for MGM, and was recruited by Lantz around September 1944 to work on the Navy educational film The Enemy Bacteria. Pillet is only credited on three Lantz cartoons, the last being 1948’s Kiddie Koncert.
Paul Smith, the credited animator besides Garbutt, animates the bulk of footage with Woody attempting to retrieve his dime from the drainpipe. Smith’s drawing of Woody bears a topknot that appears much like the later ‘50s incarnation. The dialogue in scene 39 (“I’ll tear this joint apart if I have to!”) is well done. Verne Harding handles some wonderful acting scenes with Wally Walrus, including his sudden outburst in scene 5. Jack Mather’s voice – also lent to the prissy narrator in the beginning – makes the scene even better. Scenes 19 and 22, with Wally reacting to the “sentient” washcloth are also nicely drawn and acted. Grim Natwick’s scene of Wally scolding his noisy tenant displays the “silly-putty” quality of work he used in the early Fleischer Talkartoons. However, lack of attention to small details, such as the scalloping on Woody’s topknot changing its shape, show his inconsistencies.
Emery Hawkins’ sequences with Woody are undoubtedly the strongest in the cartoon – a cornucopia of gorgeous drawing and broad movement. The timing shown in scene 16, when Woody realizes he’s lost his dime down the drain, is brilliant. There’s another marvelous timing solution in scene 46, when Woody stretches and zips into the frame, as he’s delighted to finally find the coin on top of Wally’s head. Les Kline’s drawing is more simplified in this cartoon. He handles most of Wally’s reactions to the bathtub being moved and hoisted up into the ceiling. Scene 30, labeled the “Wal and tub gag” in the draft, has some nice posing and flexible animation.
Hope you enjoy this week’s breakdown video! (I tweaked the color on my copy of this, since I’m a little unsatisfied with some of the faded color on the DVDs. I might do this with the rest of my Lantz breakdowns from now on.)
(Thanks to Mark Kausler, Keith Scott, Bob Jaques and Steve Massa for their help.)
Love that Hawkins-drawn model sheet of Woody! From what year would ya think it originates from?
PS- Better Publications also went by “Nedor Publications”, “Animated Cartoons, Inc.”, and “Visual Editions”.
They mostly published comics with the trade-name “Standard Comics”.
The Hawkins model sheet and the cartoon itself serve as solid reminders to anyone who’s ever winced through a Paul Smith offering from the late 60’s/early 70’s that Woody was once a genuinely funny character.
There’s a lot of comedian Edgar Kennedy in Wally Walrus’s “slow burns”.
Thanks Devon, another great breakdown. I always enjoy the bios of the less-familiar animators.
Natwick’s “fluctuating topknot” is so blatant I wonder if it’s not deliberate. It does lend a cartoon-y element, resembling a Tyer approach (if not nearly as interesting). Maybe an entire Woody cartoon done by Natwick would be visually interesting.
The 1940s rule! In animation, anyway…
Emery Hawkins was an EXCELLENT animator – his work just stands out even in very mediocre cartoons!
The 1940s Lantz product is easily the best out of his vast output!!
Surprised to find a reference to opium smoking in a 1940s cartoon.
There’s also a reference to opium at the beginning of “Knock Knock”.
Emery figured out Woody’s design problems in a very attractive manner. He (and Fred Moore) drew his bill so that it looked good from every angle, the front view looks a little like Donald Duck’s bill, a character which Emery also animated. All the other animators tended to abstract his bill and avoid a direct front view. My mentor, Duane Crowther, and I watched this cartoon together many years ago, before we knew anything about who animated what, and Duane thought the whole cartoon was “sloppy”, especially Paul Smith’s sequence with Woody struggling with the wrench and pipes!
I’m happy to know Emery Hawkins animated my favorite Woody Woodpecker scene of all time. 🙂
Seems like the ending – “Wal zips out – turtle gag” – got cut. One can only hope Wally got some measure of payback.
The music score deserves a mention. It really complements the action, building up tension in a way that helps sell the gags. No resorting to stock tunes either. But somehow, it doesn’t quite know how to wrap up at the end! That seemed to happen in a lot of 40s Woodys.
Wally is minus his customary Swedish accent in this picture. Was Jack Mather the usual voice actor for Wally, or was this an exception? Mather was radio’s “Cisco Kid,” opposite (in the series’ later years) Mel Blanc as Pancho.
A terrific Breakdown, many thanks for the great observations and for your details on Pillet and Garbutt, about whom I hadn’t known much. And never enough can be said of the brilliant work of Hawkins, who really was the best who ever drew Woody.
I can only assume that Lantz and /or Lundy wanted to experiment with Wally’s voice. It reverted to Swedish in subsequent entries. At one point Nestor Paiva also recorded a Wally track (that was unused), according to his son. And Lundy had hired Paiva earlier as Ben Buzzard in a Disney Donald Duck.
CAN YOU DO Fair Weather Fiends FOR YOUR NEXT BREAKDOWN ANIMATION?