Over the years, many people have asked me “What is your favorite cartoon?” It’s a question I could never really answer. I have so many favorites, I can’t name only one. But it’s a question I’ve kept in mind throughout the years – a question I ask myself frequently.
Slowly, over time, through films I curate for video collections, for public screenings, in classroom viewing with my students, I’ve evolved a little list of personal favorites. These are not films chosen for historical importance or great qualities of artistic expression (though I think you could find that in each). No Gertie The Dinosaur, Steamboat Willie, What’s Opera Doc? or King Size Canary in this bunch (I love them all – and would refer you to my books The 50 Greatest Cartoons and The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes to read about 150 more cartoon titles that I absolutely adore).
My list is below. This list is subjective and its simply a list of cartoons I cherish for personal reasons, usually based on what age I was when I first saw them, how they affected me then, and how they went on to shape my point of view. This only my opinion. I don’t expect you to agree with this listing – and I’m sure you have your own personal top ten that differs greatly from mine.
These are the ones I never tire of watching (or at least, the top ten of those I never tire of watching. I could easily add two or three dozen more). I do my best below to explain why I picked these. I also cannot put these cartoons in a numeric order. I love them all equally. There is no number 1, or number 2… here is simply the list in alphabetic order:
ACROBATTY BUNNY (1946)
Believe it or not – this Robert McKimson chase around the big top strikes me as a quintessential Bugs Bunny cartoon. Bugs is minding his own business, sleeping in his rabbit hole, when his rest is disturbed by the rumble of a circus caravan and the suction of a hungry lion. After giving “Nero” a chance to calm down, he strikes back with a vengeance. You don’t mess with Bugs Bunny. This is the “dangerous Bugs” in his prime. So many great gags and lines here – “Pinocchio!”, “Rubber heels, Doc!”, the Pagliacci “Laugh, clown, laugh” routine, Bugs Bunny and his Hula-Hula Lion – I love the energy and the Jean Blanchard redesign. It’s Mckimson’s first Bugs Bunny and he knocks it out of the park.
What I get out of it: When I was reacquainted with this film during my teen years, I related to it – or more specifically to Bugs Bunny himself here – as I was hounded by the usual suspects (gym teachers, assorted grown-ups and classroom rivals) that made my high school years miserable. This cartoon “taught” me to be prepared and to be smarter than my real life adversaries. One step ahead is something I’ve aspired to be ever since.
BLAME IT ON THE SAMBA (1948)
They must have run this on The Mickey Mouse Club or The Wonderful World of Color when I was a small kid – and it lodged itself in the back of my brain somewhere. Years later when I saw The Three Caballeros as a teenager, sometime in the 1968-1972 hippie era (aka my high school years), when everyone was high on drugs, I thought that 3 Cab was the greatest acid trip ever committed to film. I later stumbled across Blame It On The Samba and that ancient memory of Ethel Smith playing her keyboard, swirling around in a psychedelic cocktail glass, came back to me in a nostalgic mind-blast. This film became my new “drug” of choice. I’ve since seen it numerous times – discovering something new in it everytime. I’ve determined this to be the best of the South American “Good Neighbor” films – and it blows my mind every time I watch it.
BOOK REVUE (1946)
Oh come on – Book Revue! It’s a Clampett classic! When I rewatched this one as teen, coming home from school, watching the daily half-hour of Bugs Bunny on Channel 5, I could not (for the life of me) figure out any of the dated references in this cartoon – but I could not deny the energy in Blanc’s skat performance and animation so kinetic, so wild, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Solving the mystery of the gags related to the various book covers became a life long mission (what kid in 1972 understood references to Harry James, Benny Goodman, Henry Aldrich, Saratoga Trunk, So Big, not to mention a zoot-suited Daffy Duck, singing in a Russian accent, inspired by several Danny Kaye routines?). The insanity of it all! This ties with Tortoise Wins By Hare for Blanc’s all time best vocal performance. That giant eyeball gag out-Avery’s wildest double-takes. For an extra treat, just listen to the Stalling musical soundtrack sans picture. Genius.
DANCING ON THE MOON (1934)
I have many favorites amongst the Fleischer Color Classics, but I keep coming back to Dancing On The Moon. The common thread of all these favorites is that I love everything about them. In this film it’s the two-color Technicolor that fits the subject just right. It’s also the 3-D setbacks, and that model space ship; the catchy original song; the corny gags (including the ‘Kate Smith’ Moon; and the giraffe who states “This is a perfect place for necking”), the film’s quintessential 1930s character designs, and the Fleischesque unhappy ending. “Dancing On The Moon” is apparently a euphemism for “making love”, evidenced by the couples getting a visit from the stork – and our lonely solo alley cat getting nothing, except his ass-kicked by his disgruntled bride.
GRAMPY’S INDOOR OUTING (1936)
The post-code Betty Boop era did yield a few classics (in my humble opinion). Betty Boop and Grampy, A Language All My Own and Sally Swing are also favorites… but Grampy’s Indoor Outing touches my heart. I just think it’s perfectly paced. Betty and Junior are getting ready to have a ‘bushel of fun’ at a local carnival. We hear about how much fun they will have, but as soon as they step outside it starts to rain. Junior wells up and starts crying causing Betty to call upon Grampy to put on his thinking cap. Grampy then uses an arsenal of regular household items to concoct a home made indoor carnival filled with wild ideas – climaxing with a rollercoaster ride on the apartment building’s fire escapes (a three dimensional model with an umbrella on top) for a happy ending. I can’t help smiling every time I see this one. It’s so sincere – and delightfully produced. What I get out of it: This film says to me “never give up”. If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.
You all know I’m a fan of Gene Deitch’s era at Terrytoons. There were several great films – yes, GREAT – produced from that period. But to pick one favorite it has to go to Ernest Pintoff’s Flebus. It’s both a product of its time, and a timeless piece of art. Unique, funny, visually startling. It out-UPA’s UPA! It’s as much a personal film as anything by John Hubley, or Fred Wolf or Bob Godfrey, and yet its a studio produced commercial release, part of a factory that provided Clint Clobber and Dinky Duck cartoons to theaters playing Hollywood blockbusters. That always amazes me. However, what places Flebus on this list is that its an entertaining film. Pure joy to watch – especially in CinemaScope on a large theater screen (as I do once a year for students in my History of Animation class).
LITTLE TINKER (1948)
Little Tinker may not be the best Tex Avery cartoon, but its my favorite (Little Rural Riding Hood and King Size Canary are close ties). It’s as strong as any other MGM Avery for laughs, but this one has one other thing – ‘heart’ – something unusual for Avery during this period. We care about this little guy – and there is a happy ending that makes all his travails worth the effort. It also strikes me that this film could have been a model for the Paramount Casper shorts – the fear ‘takes’ that Tinker encounters are hilarious – if only the animation directors at Famous had the skill to do them ala Avery, the Casper’s might have been stronger films. If I had to show one Avery to someone who has never seen his cartoons, this is the one I’d pick. Makes me laugh, and care, every time,.
OPERATION: RABBIT (1952)
“Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius.” Absolutely hilarious characterization, superb Jones poses, facial expressions and animation timing. The whole thing: The blue prints, the flying saucer, the female robots – and my favorite scene: a self-absorbed Wile E. gloating to himself, while concocting a set of nitro glycerin carrots, unaware that Bugs is pulling his shack onto a railroad track. Comic perfection, sez I. “And remember, “Mud” spelled backwards is “Dum!”.
SCRAP HAPPY DAFFY (1943)
I absolutely love me some wartime Tashlin Daffy. I love that rendition of “We’re In To Win” and all the scrap metal items being listed. This is pure morale boosting propaganda – and my own morale is boosted every time I watch it, 80-years later. The song is followed by Hitler attacking his scrap pile with a Nazi metal eating goat. A chase ensues until Daffy, knocked out, is inspired by the spirits of patriotic American ducks of the past. This turns Daffy into a “Super American-Duck”. Ultimately is all a dream… a great one.
I love all the Fleischer Superman cartoons – but this first one, despite a few flaws, is still awe inspiring. Where do I begin? I love it because this is the only one where Superman and Clark are drawn on Joe Shuster’s model; I love Sammy Timberg’s entire musical soundtrack; I love the concise origin story squeezed into the opening; I love lines like: “This NUT may prove dangerous!” or “How’s THAT for a story, Miss Lane – Ha-ah-ah!”; I love the entire battle against the Electrothunasia Ray; I love the noir feel, the color design, the modeling and effects animation. I could have done without that raven assistant, or the Daily Planet building bending like a stick of butter – but I can forgive those things as the over all picture is so exciting. This one, like all of the above, I can watch over and over.
Runners Up: Bob McKimson’s A Ham In A Role, Disney’s Reason and Emotion, Hubley’s UPA Rooty Toot Toot… and now that I think of it, perhaps another ninety titles that I can post about in future columns. That’s why I added the “Part 1” to this post’s headline.
Addendum: I’ve purposely left off two or three “favorites” that might be considered politically incorrect – and don’t feel its the appropriate time at present to discuss or defend them. One is a Bob Clampett parody of Disney’s Snow White. Another is swing version of Romeo and Juliet performed in a back alley by a troupe of birds.
So those are my picks above. Feel free to flood the Comments below with your favorites.