Animation Trails
April 22, 2020 posted by Charles Gardner

Happy Henfruit Pt. 3: “Eggs-ecutive Action”

I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew in this food-related topic, as there are so many classic cartoons dealing with eggs, that I’m still in the 1930’s. Actually, as will be seen, the subject drops off exponentially in the television years as rural themes become less frequent, so the early concentration of titles is somewhat offset. Anyway, let’s scramble along.

Magician Mickey (Disney/UA, Mickey Mouse, 2/6/37 – David Hand, dir.). Mickey is the world’s greatest magician, bar none. He could teach Mandrake some new ones with the feats he performs in this episode. Heckler Donald Duck charges him from the wings, but Mickey calmly catches Donald between his hands and compresses him to miniature size (even opening his hands to stretch Donald into a set of miniature paper dolls). He then curls Donald up in a spiral, and presses him into the chamber of a pistol. He fires a shot at a magician’s table, on which is an egg resting in an egg cup, with a candle behind it. The egg whirls at the impact of the shot, and the candle reveals through the shell the miniature Donald in standard fighting pose, having a temper tantrum inside the egg yolk. Mickey takes the egg and cracks it into his hat, stirring the golden contents with his magic wand, then pours the gooey mixture out onto the stage – where it solidifies into full size Donald himself! Not a bad entertainment for the then-current minuscule price of a vaudeville ticket.


Plenty of Money and You (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 7/31/37, I. (Friz) Freleng, dir.) – In another of those unexplained nest mixups, a mother hen hatches out – an ostrich! “Look what I did!”, she clucks, borrowing line verbatim from Mickey’s The Musical Farmer. The gangly chick spends most of his time swallowing odd objects (automobile jacks, sprinkler hoses, light bulbs, etc.), until he pokes his head in the wrong hole – a weasel’s house – and is captured and placed in a cage. The weasel sings the title song with special lyrics (“With plenty of gravy on you!”), but before he can put the bird into the oven, the ostrich swallows a crate of fireworks left next to his cage. (Why is this weasel into pyrotechnics?) Of course, the heat from the oven produces a Fourth-of-July spectacular the weasel will never forget, topped by a skyrocket that explodes into glowing letters reading “Eat at Sloppy Joe’s”. Is that the weasel’s name? Then maybe he at least got some free advertising out of the deal!


The Barnyard Boss (Terrytoons/Edicational, 12/24/37, Connie Rasinski, dir.) – Life is tough at the top. Rudy Rooster’s back, this time as head man in charge of egg production. He monitors the hens’ activities with an iron hand, keeping progress charts on the side of each nest. There are definitely a few slackers in the farm, who have covered their progress charts with signs like “Maybe tomorrow”, or “Not yet, but soon”. Rudy throws temper tantrums at such loafers, and eventually leaves the henhouse in an awkward huff. The minute his back is turned, the hens don their dresses and bonnets and declare a holiday, all deserting the nests because a Bingo session is scheduled nearby. They spend the afternoon in spirited competition, as a parrot inside a rotating bingo cage us periodically spun around and calls out the random numbers. When Rudy returns with daily feed for the hens, no one emerges from the henhouse. Looking inside, he finds the empty nests, and an incriminating note left by one of the birds – “Gone for the day. Hen-Rietta.” Rudy trails the tell-tale three-toed footprints to the Bingo session, and tears the place apart, chasing all the hens back to their nests, and taking the bingo-calling parrot with him. Back at the henhouse, Rudy finds a solution to increase production. He now controls the spinning of the calling parrot, and below each nest, connected by a feeder chute, now rests a segmented egg crate marked out like a bingo card, with which the hens must fill the numbered boxes with eggs on each of the parrot’s calls. A clever closing!


What Price Porky? (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porky Pig), 2/26/38 – Robert Clampett, dir.), features several egg gags, in a poultry recreation of WWI pitting ducks vs. hens for possession of farmer Porky’s corn. The hen army militarizes with a dozen or so eggs that vibrate to a drum beat, then hatch, with each chick wearing a piece of the shell on his head resembling military helmets (Clampett would reuse this gag in several cartoons). General Duck (who uses the basic visual model and intermittently the voice of Daffy) uses a bandana and powder puff to disguise as the Easter Bunny, pouring out a basket of eggs before Porky. But when Porky gathers them up, little helmeted ducks hatch out of each one and attack Porky with mallets. The ducks launch an aerial attack, with flying ducks opening crates of one dozen eggs strapped to their sides, The falling eggs hatch in mid-air, with the shell tops serving as parachutes. Finally, General Duck is trapped in a circle of fencing, but merely pours out of the enclosure another half-dozen eggs, hatching ducklings who grab Porky’s corn again and bring it back inside the enclosure for a mass feast between themselves and General Duck.


The Little Bantamweight (MGM/Harman-Ising, Happy Harmonies, 3/12/38 – Rudolf Ising, dir.), provides us with another introductory hatching similar to I Love To Singa. Here, instead of a music professor, we have a papa who’s a champion fighting rooster – with aspirations that his sons will follow in his footsteps. A batch of four rooster chicks (among other sisters who play no role except as onlookers) hatches from Mama’s nest. The boys are all born fighters from the start, taking jabs and sparring with each other, and the strongest of the bunch (assuming a pose usually associated with “The Great John L.” (Sullivan)) taking a swipe at pop and dislocating his jaw. But one egg in the nest hasn’t hatched, and has to be “coaxed” by Papa – that is, manually cracked open by him as if fixing breakfast – with a fifth rooster chick pouring out amidst the last remnants of egg yolk. While all the other young roosters demonstrated their boldness, this one takes one look at Papa and ducks for cover under Mama’s feathers – a born coward. Papa trots them all out to a training quarters, where the last little rooster continues to lag behind. In punching the bag (in this case, the rubber squeeze end of old automobile horns), little rooster prefers to produce honks by bouncing his butt on them instead of using his fists. When shadow boxing, little rooster is too busy making shadow images of bunny rabbits and Indians. The day of the Golden Spur boxing tournament arrives. However, the reigning champ continues to take on all comers – knocking out all of Papa’s prize contenders. Having nowhere else to turn, Pop finally puts in little rooster as his last hope. The champ makes short work of the pipsqueak – until he is knocked back to his corner, and while unconscious, has a whole bottle of liniment topple and pour down his throat. Turning fiery red, the kid leaps into action like a cyclone, giving the champ a shellacking while giving pop a high-sign that the fight is in the bag. Little rooster wins the crown for a happy fade out, still licking a lollipop to show that there’s still some traits of his innocent self.


A Feud There Was (Warner, Merrie Melodies, 9/24/38, Fred (Tex) Avery, dir.), really doesn’t have much to do with eggs, instead presenting a classic hillbilly feud. But it nevertheless deserves mention for inclusion of a classic line of dialogue from a frustrated hen. Amidst the general atmosphere of shot and shell, a hen rises from her nest to proudly look at three eggs within. To her surprise, three shots ring out, blasting each egg one at a time. In a delightfully doleful underplay, the hen shakes her head, and tells the audience, “Three days work….shot to pieces.”


Mother Goose Goes Hollywood (Disney, RKO, Silly Symphony, 12/23/38, Wilfred Jackson, dir.) takes Humpty Dumpty in a new direction – with movie star impersonations. Humpty is cast as W.C. Fields (a proper casting, as the real Fields himself, although obscured by heavy makeup, would play the same character in Paramount’s 1933 star-studded version of “Alice In Wonderland”). But his appreciation of nature is displaced entirely by the unexpected arrival in a bird’s nest of Field’s arch radio-rival, ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy (the alter ego of Edgar Bergen). “Ah what a beautiful sunrise”, quips Charlie, “…or is that your nose?” Fields/Dumpty unusually uses a catch-phrase of Charlie right back at him, threatening, “I’ll mow ya’ down”, but rocks off the wall he is sitting on. “Look out below”, a sour Fields intones, as he lands upside down in a large plant, to resemble an egg in an egg cup. “Bottoms up, Mr. egg, bottoms up”, jeers a chortling Charlie.


The Ugly Duckling (Disney/RKO, Silly Symphony, 4/7/39 – Jack Cutting/Clyde Geronimi, dir.) – Give Disney a second chance, and he’ll generally do things right. This picture presents the classic and definitive version of the Hans Christian Andersen story, though told with Disney’s own embellishments. Never explaining (as in the previous version) where the mystery egg comes from, an impatient mother duck performs sitting duty on the nest, while Papa’s pacing wears a deep groove into the ground (borrowing a gag from Avery’s “I Love To Singa”). The hatchlings arrive at last, but the one large egg produces an oversized white offspring, looking nothing like his downy yellow brothers. In a brilliant piece of pantomime and wordless “duck talk”, Papa squawks what appears to be the words, “Hey! Where did you get him?” Mama pantomimes ‘I don’t know.” Papa alludes that “He doesn’t look like me,” Offended, Mama insists, “Oh yes he does. He looks just like you.” The war of words becomes more heated, and more indecipherable, but it becomes apparent that Papa is accusing Mama of infidelity! Mama has had enough, and slaps Papa soundly across the face. Make what you will of the next line, which could easily be a duck four-letter word, as Papa washes his hands of the whole affair and abandons the family, disappearing into the marshes. Mama retains her dignity, and takes her yellow offspring for their first swim in the lake. But she is obviously resentful of the odd white freak-ling who started the whole trouble, and flips him off her tail when he tags along, then chastises him when he tries to follow on land. Even the other youngsters join in giving him a piece of their mind. Puzzled at their rejection, the white one peers at his reflection in the water. He is shocked ro see a wriggling, distorted, ugly face (actually created by the rippling of the pond water). He pantomimes to the audience, “Me?”, then, sadly accepting the reflection as true, trudges lonely away into the marsh reeds, shedding a large tear.

In his journeying, he encounters two likely prospects for a new family. A nest full of young fledglings rests high in a nearby tree. Managing to waddle his way up, the “duckling” is not rejected by the baby birds, and settles into the nest among them. But when Mama comes in for a landing with a large worm for her babies’ breakfast, she is appalled when the duckling grabs the worm in his own bill. Engaging in a tug of war with him, she pulls away the worm, then dives and strafes at the duckling to chase him away from the tree (with more near-dialogue in bird dialect, sounding like “Go on. Go on. Get outta here1″) The duckling takes to the lake, but bumps into a huge mallard duck decoy on the water. The decoy’s face retains a painted smile, and thus it appears to the duckling that for once he is not facing rejection. He jumps on the decoy’s tail like he did with his former mother, and receives a fun rocking ride up and down without being flipped off. He climbs upon the decoy’s bill, rubbing his own against it in affection – and still the big duck seems happy. He even jumps from the decoy’s bill into the water in a perfect dive. But all good things seem to have a way of coming to an end, as the force of the jump has caused the decoy to bob steeply back and forth – so much so that its beak delivers a sharp blow to the duckling’s head below. As the dazed duckling looks up, the decoy’s head menacingly descends as if for another blow. The duckling swims away in a panic. From the reeds, he sadly watches as the decoy continues to bob violently and turns its back to him. This is the crowning blow to the little one’s ego, and he sirs upon a lonely rock and weeps bitterly.

But finally appears Hans Christian Andersen’s ray of hope – a mother swan and a flock of offspring – all looking exactly like our “duckling”. A ‘wake-up” call from the junior swans makes our hero rub his eyes in amazement at finding a family of twins to himself. He happily cavorts in swimming and diving with the other little ones. (A major, but hard to spot, continuity error appears here, as the complicated swimming maneuvers momentarily show us a sixth baby swan at approx. 7:36, while all other shots show the swan family plus Ugly as only equaling five little ones.) Mama swan calls to her brood, who return under her wing. Ugly assumes that’s his cue as usual to get going, as no one would care for him. Mama swan approaches, and extends her wing. Ugly cringes, expecting to get bopped again. But Mama draws him near, holding him affectionately close to her, and her new “swan” reciprocates with a loving beak nuzzle. The film ends with the happy family floating down the lake together, but hearing an unexpected call. In the reeds, Mama duck and her ducklings have spotted Ugly with the swans, and are now impressed that he’s part of such a majestic clan of birds. Mama Dick now appears willing to accept him back, and quacks for him to come. But Ugly now knows a fair-weather friend when he sees one, and gets the satisfaction of turning up his nose to her, as he happily follows in the wake of his new and faithful adopted mother, and the scene irises out in the glorious colors of an evening sunset. All this in nine minutes. This mimi-masterpiece, richly nuanced with genuine animation “acting”, plays for all the world like a Disney feature in one reel, running the gamut from clever comedy to winning heartstring-tugging. It undoubtedly ranks as one of the most deserved short-subject Oscars Disney would ever earn.


Barnyard Egg-Citement (Terrytoons/Fox (Technicolor), 5/5/39, Connir Rasinski, dir.) really doesn’t offer much new, or much about eggs. Rudy Rooster’s back again, expecting another new arrival delivered by Doc Stork in egg form. He paces back and forth in the henhouse, and in the one original gag of the film, the egg half-hatches with feet only, and also paces the floor back and forth waiting for the hatching to complete, matching Rudy step for step. The remainder of the short is another vulture-steals-chick, and barnyard animals “give him the works” wheeze.


The Fresh Vegetable Mystery (Fleischer/Paramount, Color Classic, 9/29/39), features a nearly all-vegetable cast, with the exception of the eventual culprits (mice) and one unlikely suspect. A living egg is given the third degree by a police squad of Paddy’s potatoes. Egg puns abound. “Crack down on him, boys.” “So You’re a tough egg, eh?” “We’ll soften ya. We’ll crack ya’ wide open.” “Trying the old shell game, eh…You’ll fry.” The egg, sitting in a skillet, replies, “The yolk’s on youse guys, I’m hard boiled.” (In the 40’s, the same line would be used for an Edward G. Robinson egg in one of Paramount’s Screen Songs.) “Egg him on, boys.” “We’ll make short order of this guy, sunnyside up”, the cops boast, turning on the gas jets below the skillet to watch the egg squirm. Luckily, the real phantom of the picture shows up to put an end to all these puns that lay an egg.


Scrambled Eggs (Lantz/Universal, Peterkin -11/20/39, Alex Lovy, dir.), is a project whose origins are something of a mystery. Prominent screen credit for writing and design is given to Elaine and Willy Pogany, the latter apparently a children’s book illustrator of some renown. One year after the cartoon was produced, a children’s book titled for the title character, “Peterkin” was published – but Lantz was producing no further cartoons to continue the project as a series. What brought this odd merger of talents about? Since the book wasn’t published yet, Lantz wasn’t cashing in on an established literary adaptation – yet, after introducing the character on film, he didn’t follow through to build upon the publication of the book with further episodes. So how did he and the Poganys meet, or ever get the project off the ground? The questions behind this unusual little film’s development perhaps bear more in depth historical research, if archival records at all remain.

The starring character is a mischievous young satyr who delights in practical jokes and causing trouble, voiced by the overworked Bernice Hanson. The animation of the star character is perhaps a bit of a challenge to the Lantz animators, used to a more typically rounded and blander-detailed style – but, judging from the illustrations of the subsequent book, seems quite faithful to the creator’s conception, and handsome at times. Even more striking are the detailed backgrounds, in which I understand Willy played a significant guiding hand. The remainder of the universe in which Peterkin cavorts is populated by a broad range of bird species, bearing Alex Lovy’s signature rounded eyes and head designs – yet also ranks a cut above typical Lantz films of the period, boasting the new luxury of a three-color Technicolor pallette, and seeming to take greater pains than usual with neater inking and painting and less rubbery movement than either Baby Face Mouse episodes of the preceding season, or Lovy’s 1940 Technicolor special, Kitten’s Mittens.

Peterkin tries to play his panflute under a tree that serves as a maternity ward for the local bird community. Doc Stork inspects the eggs of various mothers, including parrot, blackbird, sparrow, cuckoo, canary, etc., – and miraculously announces to the fathers that the eggs will hatch in one hour. (Will medical breakthroughs never cease? Simultaneous timing of multiple species!) The mothers start bragging to each other of the grand features and talents each of their offspring will have when hatched. Peterkin covers his ears, and can’t concentrate on his music for all the jibber-jabber. He wonders what would happen if things didn’t turn out as they expected. If the eggs were all mixed up! Within the next hour, he’s undermined every nest, swapping one bird’s egg for another. The results of course are astounding. The English sparrow’s every word is repeated by an odd-looking chich who is realy a mockingbird. The songbird canaries get a salty-languaged parrot. And the cuckoos get a negro-dialect blackbird! The papas are all fed up with their wives, and announce they’re leaving to live at the club, while the girls all “go home to mother”. Peterkin at last thinks peace and quiet will reign – until the wails of the abandoned fledglings reach his ears. They’re all hungry, thirsty, sleepy, etc. “If I take care of you, will you be quiet?”, Peterkin asks. The babies agree. But the task is more daunting than Peterkin ever imagined – and the babies continue to complain about the service. A liitle tough bird insists on a bag of jellybeans. Three siblings run a picket line around their nest, with signs reading “Peterkin Is Unfair”. Peterkin is run ragged, and 8 hous later (as depicted by an hourglass), collapses. A pathetic-sounding little bird insists she’s still hungry, but when Peterkin fails to arouse, develops a booming basso voice: “PETERKIN! I’M HUNGRY! DO SOMETHING!!!” “All right. I’ll get your mamas back”, Peterkin promises. This is perhaps a continuity error, as, instead of seeking out the mamas, Peterkin approaches the papas at the bird country club. He explains that there was a mistake, and “someone” switched the eggs, but that he’s put them all back. “But who mixed up the eggs?” asks the blackbird. “Some practical joker I guess. Maybe the squirrels.” “Who?” asks an owl. Peterkin changes it to “The chipmunks”. “Who?” The birds deduce Peterkin as the real culprit, and vow to teach him a lesson. The final shot has all the happy couples reunited, while Peterkin slaves at a washtub, with seemingly hundreds of newly-washed diapers hanging in the tree limbs. “That’s positively the last joke I’m gonna play”, says Peterkin, but with his fingers crossed, “…until next time!” There would unfortunately be no “next time” except in the literary world, so I guess he kept his promise after all.


Goofy and Wilbur (Disney/RKO. Goofy, 3/17/39 – Dick Heumer, dir.), deserves brief mention for one of the most unlikely hatchings in animation history. Goofy has brought along his pet grasshopper Wilbur on a fishing trip – to act as the most cunning live bait ever to lure a fish into a sportsman’s net. Bur Wilbur almost bites off more than he can chew, as a half dozen or so fish surround him. With a well-aimed spit, he subdues them, then leaps away for an exit – but misgauges his leap and sails straight down the throat of a frog. Shocked Goofy pursues the frog in attempt to get him to “cough up” his little pal. The frog takes a flying leap and repeats Wilbur’s mistake – sailing down the gullet of a stork. Goofy now gives chase to the bird, climbing a tall tree where the stork has just settled to rest in a nest. The bird flies the coop, leaving Goofy sitting alone in the nest, with only a small egg beside him. His teardrops drop on the egg – which suddenly cracks open to reveal a triumphant Wilbur! This by far must represent the fastest digestive and gestation periods on record. And by the way, what happened to the frog?


Chicken Jitters (Warner, Looney Tunes (Porky Pig), 4/1/39 – Robert Clampett, dir.), features a few brief egg gags. Poultry rancher Porky inspects eggs by candlelight. Several eggs display a regular yolk and are ready for market. A third egg displays a live chick inside, who sticks out his tongue at Porky, then pulls down an interior curtain inside the egg so he can’t be seen. A mama duck and her offspring are followed by a duckling who is only half-hatched, his feet sticking out of the shell (an idea which would later become the central plot for a pair of warner cartoons, and a regular character on the “Garfield & Friends” show). And a mama hen rocks her whole nest of eggs to the tune of “Rockabye Baby” – then, when the chicks hatch, they all continue to rock back and forth in tune to the song as they walk.

A brief gag deserves mention from Donald Duck’s The Autograph Hound (Disney/RKO, 9/1/39 – Jack King, dir.). Donald’s busted into a movie studio in search of autographs, and found brash young Mickey Rooney’s dressing room. Mickey gives him an autograph, but pulls a magic trick, making the autograph book disappear, then reappear out of Donald’s shirt after pushing the four buttons on Donald’s chest. Donald tries to top him, producing an egg. “Now ya see it…Now ya don’t” says Donald – but a visible bulge in his hat clearly denotes where the egg has gone. “I wonder if it could be – – HERE”, says Rooney, slapping his hand down on Donald’s hat. As the dripping droppings remind one so much of the Lucille Ball “Lucy In Connecticut” egg episode yet to be, Donald’s face turns red, and under his hat, the egg fries. “I’ll take mine over easy”, says Rooney, giving Donald’s chin an upper cut that flips the egg over. In the funniest joke of the film, Donald assumes his classic “fighting mad” hopping pose – but Rooney’s one step ahead of him, placing in Donald’s hands a fiddle and a bow, which causes the hopping Donald to unknowingly play an Irish jig throughout his tantrum while Mickey casually dances around the room.


Little Brother Rat (Warner, Merrie Melodies (Sniffles), 9/2/39 – Charles (“Chick”) Jones, dir.) was the second appearance for Chuck Jones’ new ultra-Disney style rodent character, and (thanks to the recent discovery of original titles), the first to give the character his name (borrowing the moniker “Sniffles” from his original plot situation in Naughty But Mice of seeking out a cold remedy at a drug store. This time, however, Sniffles is asymptomatic. Instead of hunting cold remedies, he is the leading contestant in a mouse scavenger hunt, having just proved his bravery by pulling off a cat’s whiskers while the feline slumbered. Now all that stands between Sniffles and victory is the retrieval of an owl’s egg. The cat, however, after having received an unexpected shave, is on the prowl, and follows Sniffles to an owl’s roost. Inside, Sniffles pilfers an egg from a nest marked “Junior” while Papa owl appears asleep – but he is in fact far from unaware, and appears instantly behind Sniffles to block his escape. “An egg!”, the owl observes in Sniffles’ hands. “And a very pretty egg. I once had an egg. It was pretty too.” Then, in ever menacing tones, the owl continues, “It looked a lot like YOUR egg!” Sniffles is “encouraged” to return the egg to its nest “before a certain little mouse gets himself HURT!” Sniffles even briefly polishes the shell to ensure that everything is okay with Papa. In gentlemanly tones, Papa escorts Sniffles out. “Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against mice. Why, some of my best friends are mice – – – – BUT I DON”T LIKE YOU!” And Sniffles receives the “bum’s rush” out the perch hole in the side of the old barn. He falls to Earth, but bounces off the arched back of the cat, and back up to the owl’s perch.

Having nowhere else to go, Sniffles goes back in, and makes one more try at getting the egg. He gets it a few steps off the nest, but stumbles, cracking the shell. A little owl half-hatches, sticking its head out with a “Hoot!” Sniffles trues to shush him, then closes the shell back on top of him, trying the halves together with a piece of string. No sooner has he secured the knot, than the little owl appears directly behind him with a “Hoot!”, leaving the shell empty. The owl’s eyes rotate in opposite directions from each other, telling us that the fledgling is something of a screwball. Sniffles jumps at the little guy, and the action is obscured in a “fight cloud”. But when the dust clears, the little owl is still where he stood, and Sniffles is inside the eggshell! Sniffles steps out, and motions for the owl to et back in. The owl obliges, and Sniffles again ties the halves with string. But the owl pops his feet out the bottom of the shell and just walks away from Sniffles, egg and all. Sniffles has finally had enough of the whole situation, grabs up the walking egg, and sets it back in the nest, then zips out of the roost and down a rain gutter to the ground. He mops his brow in defeat, but before he has walked two steps, hears another hoot. Now the little owl is behind him on the ground, with no egg at all. Sniffles pantomimes as if about to ask “How did you……”, when a fearsome sight is revealed behind the owl – the glaring eyes of the waiting cat. Sniffles runs for it – but slows as he realizes he is not being pursued. Looking back, he sees the cat is not interested in him, but is about to pounce on the owl as a feathered lunch. Sniffles races back to the rescue, grabbing the oblivious owl out of claws’ reach. The cat pursues Sniffles across the farmyard. But above, Papa owl has awakened, and looks out of his roost, instantly sizing up the situation. He swoops down from the skies and picks up the cat in his talons, flying him to the top of a tall chimney, into which he drops the cat, with a sooty cloud in his wake. The final scene has Papa reunited with Junior, and presenting Sniffles with the still-tied eggshell as a token of their gratitude. Papa flies with Junior up to the roost perch, from which both of them wave. But as Sniffles turns to cash in the egg at the scavenger hunt, the little owl performs his magic trick once again, and miraculously pops out of the tied egg in Sniffles’ hands, with a hoot for the iris out.


The Orphan Duck (Terrytoons/Fox, 10/6/39 – Connie Rasinski, dir.), marks the anonymous premiere of the character that would perhaps mark the studio’s most concerted effort to mimic the style of Disney – Dinky Duck. The inspiration for the character appears obvious, following shortly in the wake of Disney’s success with The Ugly Duckling. To make matters even more plagiaristic, the Terry boys had long memories – and manage to pirate substantial elements of Disney’s 1931 version of the tale into this episode as well.

The scene opens with a shot that surprisingly got past the CBS censors, as a fam wagon is driven along by a sleepy-headed driver of obviously dark complexion – a rare racial stereotype in a Terry product. (The scene was in fact cut, though possibly only for time considerations, in CBS’s first telecast of the film on the premiere episode of the Dick Van Dyke hosted CBS Cartoon Theatre). Out of the back of the farm wagon falls an egg, out of which hatches Dinky. Finding no mama around, he attempts to look for one. A passing family of pigs looks attractive, so he curls his tail feathers and frolics with them – until Mama pig nearly inhales him into her snout, then snorts him across the pasture. The Disney influence becomes apparent here, as Dinky plays the scene for pathos and cries. Looking into a hole in a barn wall, Dinky spots a nest with four eggs and one eggshell cracked open. Dinky gets an idea, and hides inside the eggshell. Along comes Rudy Rooster again, as usual checking on egg production. This time the hens are goofing off playing four-handed bridge, and hastily fold up their card table with some difficulty to resume their posts on their nests. Several shots appear to be near redraws in color of scenes from The Barnyard Boss, with a new twist of Rudy measuring egg sizes with a device normally used for shoe sizing. Rudy finally comes to the hen sitting on Dinky. Her real eggs hatch, but Dinky emerges with a “Quack”. (Shades of Disney, 1931.). Rudy compares Dinky’s nose with his own, and knows something’s wrong. He gets into a heated argument with the missus. (Shades of Disney, 1939.)

Dinky is kicked out – but doesn’t give up yet, finding a red comb to place on his head to make himself look like Rudy. Rudy is unimpressed, and kicks dirt in Dinky’s face. Dinky sadly trudges awaym while Mama takes the chicks for a wa;k. One chick pirsues a butterfly, doesn’t watch where he’s going, and falls off a small bank into the river, where he manages to float on a passing fragment of wood. But he’s headed for the rapids and a waterfall. (The exact same setup from Disney 1931.) Rudy takes off his feather coat, looking anemically skinny in red flannel underwear, and proves to be no better a swimmer than his son, getting himself stuck headfirst in shallow mud. It’s Dinky to the rescue, in scenes posed nearly identically to Disney’s 1931 film but lacking in depth of detail or of dramatic buildup. As Dinky brings the chick back to shore to a happy mother, Rudy still turns his back to him – until Dinky shows how subservient he can be, by rag-polishing Rudy’s rear claws. Rudy finally smiles and embraces him, and all ends happily. (Nearly half of this cartoon was retreaded for later use in the cheater episode, Dinky Finds a Home (1946).)

NEXT WEEK: Finally, into the 1940’s.

12 Comments

  • “Barnyard Egg-Citement”, eh? What a ridiculous pun.

    The triumphant music in “The Little Bantamweight” is the Coronation March from Act 2 of the opera “Le Prophete” by Giacomo Meyerbeer. I don’t recall ever hearing it in a cartoon before.

    By no means a lesser strength of the 1939 “The Ugly Duckling” is Albert Hay Malotte’s sumptuous and complex musical score for full orchestra with wordless chorus. The 1931 version, by contrast, uses only a small ensemble of flute, clarinet, piano, one percussionist, and a handful of strings, and doesn’t contain a single original tune.

    Peterkin! I saw “Scrambled Eggs” for the first and, until today, only time when I was a very small boy, but I remember that buck-toothed, pointy-eared prankster. I thought it was unfair of the birds to force him to wash the “eggs-crement” out of all those diapers; after all, it was Peterkin who looked after the baby birds single-handedly after they were abandoned by their parents. However, my mother, who hated brood parasites like cuckoos and cowbirds, thought that, if anything, he deserved an even more stringent penalty for switching the birds’ eggs around and breaking up their families as a sick practical joke. She was quite put out about it.

    After Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind, he was chained to a rock, and every day an eagle would tear his liver out of his belly and eat it, and every night it would grow back to be eaten the next day, ad infinitum. Perhaps if this avian punishment had been inflicted on Peterkin, it would have satisfied my mother’s sense of justice. She was a pretty strict disciplinarian.

    I’ll tell you what’s unfair: Peterkin gets to have nipples, but the Centaurettes in Fantasia don’t!

  • The “dark complexion” of the wagon driver in “The Orphan Duck” is due to his having his hat covering his head – if you look closely, his feet are white. No racial stereotypes or political incorrectness here, sorry.

    • Also, said stereotypes aren’t especially rare in the Terry product. “Mississippi Swing”, anyone?

  • The posts are excellent! TY! (And i specifically appreciate the delicate intricacies you’ve given “Peterkin”!! Such a striking film!!

  • Although, a lot of people might know this by now, it should be acknowledge that the 2nd version of “The Ugly Duckling” was the last entry of the “Silly Symphonies” as most of the studio was already moving on to animated features films, a bigger feat.

  • One of the last cartoons of the thirties, hence eligible for inclusion in this post, is “The First Robin” (Terrytoons, 29/12/39 — Connie Rasinski, dir.). Mr. and Mrs. Robin are returning north in the springtime “from the South”, as the sticker on Mr. Robin’s suitcase reads. A sign on a tree advertises “Cat Proof Apartments”, so they take the elevator up through the tree trunk and find that the upper branches have been furnished with a variety of nesting baskets and birdhouses. Hubby wants a traditional nest, while Wifey insists on nesting inside an old teakettle, no doubt for security’s sake; and after arguing about it for a while she ultimately gets her way, as wives have been known to do from time to time. Settling into her new home, she opens her suitcase to reveal three lovely eggs of robin’s-egg blue, whereupon she sits down to incubate without even bothering to unpack. Hubby, meanwhile, grabs a loose thread from a pair of woolen longjohns hanging on a clothesline and presents it to his wife, who commences knitting to pass the time.

    Next we see Mr. Robin pacing back and forth along the tree branch to the tune of Brahms’s Lullaby, until finally the teakettle whistles and three altricial hatchlings emerge, pointing to their hungry mouths. Pop Robin heads to a nearby grapevine or berry bush and uses a bent twig to hit the fruits like golf balls straight into the babies’ mouths. Mom, meanwhile, chases a worm, but it gets away and finds refuge in an apple full of worms. The worms then obtrude from the apple’s underside so that it runs off on vermiform “legs” like a fat spider — a very weird gag that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen elsewhere.

    Those grapes or berries must be one of those modern superfoods, because in the next shot the baby robins are fully fledged and learning how to fly to the tune of Chopin’s “Minute Waltz”. This attracts the attention of a hungry cat, who looks like something out of the Ub Iwerks Studio rather than one of those Terry felines who would later terrorise Mouseville. The cat has rigged up a contraption consisting of a rope, three planks and a boot, which he uses to give himself a swift kick in the posterior whenever things don’t go his way. The robins give him ample opportunity to use this device over the course of this cartoon. By the end, while the defeated and humiliated cat is booting himself with masochistic abandon, the Robin family has decided to pack up their nest and fly off into the distance in search of a new home in feline-free territory.

    Note: The synopsis of this cartoon on imdb.com and the Terrytoons fandom website does not match the cartoon I saw. It describes a different cartoon, in which the eggs hatch at the ending, and there is no cat, self-flagellating or otherwise. Did someone enter the synopsis of another cartoon by mistake? Or is there a cartoon from another studio also called “The First Robin”? Hey gang, looks like we’ve got another groovy mystery on our hands!

  • Eggs-hiliarating!! I do have to say, again, MGM cartons were MGM/Harman-Ising (but not by 1937 as they had their own studios), and similarly WB cartoons wee WB/Harman-Ising till 1933, and (Leon) Schlesinger/WB till 1944. Yet there’s “Terry/Fox, Lantz/Universal”,etc. (i.e., “The Good Egg”, instead of WB, 1939, might be called instead (Leon) Schlesinger/WB)

    Anyway, I can’t wait till you go to the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s!

  • Another great posts in this continuing cartoon festival of yokes and puns. I must especially thank you for the nice descriptive plot outline of “LITTLE BANTAMWEIGHT”, because I was indeed misremembering so much of it even though I know it was rebroadcast on syndicated TV in the early 1960’s, when the classic MGM cartoons were featured on our ABC affiliate.

    There is always so much vivid detail throughout the HAPPY HARMONIES, sometimes so quickly that most viewers would miss it the first viewing. I had somehow misremembered the poor little rooster’s being knocked unconscious as being knocked back into his corner and, while unconscious, sees his miniscule life rerun before his eyes and remembering all his parents had done for him and suddenly being zapped back to life simply by the triumphant feeling that he couldn’t let them down now! In fact, I didn’t even remember that Papa had trained a bunch of his rooster chicks to follow in his championship. I thought we were instead treated to watching this one little rooster getting beaten in so many ways to a pulp before that previously misillustrated moment of being knocked back into his corner for the final count.

    I don’t know what the name of the piece is, although I think it was once pointed out in an early needle drop notes article, but there is a strain of music used in this cartoon that has also been used in a few Warner Brothers cartoons, especially in “HOLIDAY FOR SHOESTRINGS” in a running gag. When I first heard the soundtrack to “LITTLE BANTAMWEIGHT”, I had come in halfway through the cartoon and thought I was listening to an early MERRIE MELODIES title…until I did catch another airing and was able to record the entire cartoon on VHS tape. Now, let’s hope that full restoration can be attained on the HAPPY HARMONIES because there is much to talk about throughout the series.

    Oh, and thank you for representing one of my favorite SNIFFLES cartoons. I’m one of the few that likes the Chuck Jones subtleties, whether Jones is trying to make us laugh or tug at our heartstrings. With all attention being paid to new LOONEY TUNES cartoons, I wonder if Sniffles and his mice comrades or that elusive little book worm will ever see new cartoons. With all the stories found in books, I would think it a horrible loss if the book worm didn’t even finally get his own cartoon someday, as much a spectacle as “SNIFFLES AND THE BOOK WORM” or MGM’s series of Book Worm cartoons.

    Keep these great articles coming, and would you consider revisiting “BOSKO’S EASTER EGGS” which has probably already been covered in another group of articles but deserves honorable mention here just because of the colorful eggs and their colorful chicks–sorry for the spoilers; I won’t give away anymore in case it is due to hatch out next week.

  • Kevin, that piece is the Humoresque in G major, Opus 10, No. 2, by Tchaikovsky.

  • “Trailer Life” (Terrytoons/Educational Pictures, Farmer Al Falfa, 20/8/37 — director unverified) contains no eggs, but I can’t resist mentioning it. While vacationing in the desert, Farmer Al Falfa hears a news flash on the radio: “Chief Little-Big-Bad-Egg, who ran away from the reservation last week, is still on the warpath. Look out for him!” Heeding the announcer’s advice, Farmer Al opens the window of the trailer and is shocked to see the Indian’s face glowering back at him; however, it turns out to be just a wanted poster tacked to a cactus. The caption warns that Chief Little-Big-Bad-Egg is “not dangerous — but slightly cracked.”

    • Much of the animation of Chief Little-Big-Bad-Egg in “Trailer Life” was reused twelve years later in the Technicolor remake “The Covered Pushcart” (Terrytoons/Fox, Gandy Goose and Sourpuss, 26/8/49 — Mannie Davis, dir.). The Indian is not named in the latter cartoon, but the radio announcer describes him, as before, as “slightly cracked”.

  • In “A Close Shave” (Terrytoons/Educational Pictures, Farmer Al Falfa, 1/10/37 — Mannie Davis, dir.), Farmer Al Falfa tries his hand at another line of work — cutting hair. When a hirsute Russian enters the barbershop and declares: “I vant de vorks!”, Barber Al Falfa gives him, among other things, an egg shampoo. Hijinks — glacially paced, dismally unfunny hiiinks — ensue.

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