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.)