I don’t usually build posts here around email I get, but this past Saturday reader Jonathan Adair sent in this question:
Dear Mr. Beck,
I have been a major fan of the Warner Bros Cartoons since I was 9 years old and am very impressed with your work and knowledge of their history. There is a question I would like to ask you.
What is your least favorite Warner Bros. Cartoon?
This is the kind of question I get virtually all the time. As a major enthusiast of the Warner Bros. cartoons, such a question is more difficult to answer than you’d think. Of the over 1000 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts – I honestly could find something of value in 990 of them. Yes, even the ones pre-1936 and the ones post-1964.
That said, there are a handful I could do without. For various reasons, I don’t like them. They could burn in a nitrate fire and… well, maybe I wouldn’t go that far.
Here’s a quick list of the ones that annoy me. The mis-fires; the ones I would have a hard time defending. I’m listing them in chronologic release order. I’m not going to embed all the films. I’m not that sadistic.
Good Night Elmer (1940) Directed by Charles M. Jones.
BOR-ring! One of the slowest moving animated shorts I’ve ever seen. First he can’t take off his jacket. Then he can’t blow out the candle. The character is so stupid its painful. The short ends with him crying in frustration (something we in the audience can identify with).
It’s the equivalent of an Edgar Kennedy live action comedy short… only without the humor, the pacing… or Edgar Kennedy. The animation is beautiful, but there is nothing – I repeat nothing – in this film that couldn’t have been done in live action. A depressing film – far opposite of what Jones would start producing in a year or two.
Tokio Jokio (1943) Directed by Norm McCabe
Painfully unfunny cartoon, showing a captured “Nippon Newsreel” highlighting ugly racial caricatures of our World War II Japanese enemy. The whole joke of the film seems to rest on how offensive each gag can be – and none of them are funny. The Japanese “King of Swat” can’t hit a insect; Japan’s Finest Air Raid Siren requires pins in the butt; Honorable Air Craft Spotter paints spots on airplanes. You get the idea. Yawn! Must have been a hoot on the homefront – not! Summing up the whole cartoon, I quote the final line: “Regrettable incident, please!”
There are several cartoons I can think of where the lead character’s voice is such a turn off and so unappealing (One Ham’s Family, for one) that I can’t even stand to listen to it, much less watch it. The voice in question here belongs to Pat Patrick (better known as “Ercil Twing” on the Charlie McCarthy radio show). The cartoon plays like an intentional introduction of a new zany character – a wacky crow with a propeller beanie cap, bow tie and a tuxedo bib (hilarious, right?). Stalling’s score is appropriately wacky, but none of the humor lands. At one point “Corny Crow” (or whatever his name is) locks the farmer in an icebox… literally “nuking the fridge” by every definition of that expression. The fact this was the character’s one and only appearance tells us all we need to know. Hate it!
Pre-Hysterical Hare (1958) Directed by Robert McKimson.
Bar none, the worst Bugs Bunny cartoon. Unfunny, unappealing… in fact, downright ugly. Where do I begin? The John Seely stock music, Dave Barry’s poor replacement voice for Elmer Fudd (or rather “Elmer Fuddstone” – sheesh!); the garish design for the prehistoric sabertooth rabbit… This is a real stinker and needs to be buried way out in the woods.
Dumb Patrol (1964) Directed by Gerry Chiniquy
The second worst Bugs Bunny cartoon, in my humble opinion. At least, Blanc is doing Bugs and Sam here in top vocal shape, and Bill Lava’s music is somewhat tolerable. Porky has a unfortunate cameo… Bugs is barely on screen himself, as this is really’s Sam’s show – as “Sam Von Schamm” a World War 1 German flying ace. Lots of lame aerial antics. Writer John Dunn sort of redeemed himself by re-writing the basics of this “Dawn Patrol” spoof and turning it into the first DePatie Freleng “Roland and Ratfink” cartoon Hawks and Doves (1968).
Part 2: Not A Fan
Each Dawn I Crow (1949) Directed by I. Freleng
I get it. It’s a parody of radio’s The Whistler, which featured a “stream of consciousness” voiceover narrator. Tain’t funny, McGee. In fact, it’s a little disturbing. Clearly its a bit dated. We are used to the Warner characters trying to kill each other, but the subconscious dramatic narrator bit (Frank Graham, who is great) is creepy. It’s simply a cartoon I have no feeling to ever rewatch.
Strife With Father (1950) Directed by Robert McKimson
There must have been a mandate from the merchandising department (or from Eddie Selzer himself) to make a few more Beaky Buzzard cartoons in 1950. Freleng made a somewhat amusing one that year called The Lion’s Busy, and a few months, later McKimson unleashed Strife With Father – a complete misfire. Here you have Blanc (replacing the original voice Kent Rogers, who died during the war) and there are some great drawings and animation here – via Rod Scribner, Bill Melendez and Emery Hawkins – but to me, the “Ronald Coleman-esque” British father (“Monte”) is a poor foil for the buzzard and brings the whole thing down.
Hare Breath Hurry (1963) Directed by Chuck Jones
This must have felt like a good idea on the boards… but in execution it didn’t work. It feels like an extended interstitial intended for The Bugs Bunny Show (where such a way-out idea might have worked). This is the one where Bugs Bunny takes the place of the Road Runner – and the mute Coyote chases Bugs as such – seemingly unaware that the Looney Tunes multiverse got its wires crossed. Bugs’ constant breaking-the-fourth-wall to comment on the action feels out of place for both Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner. I appreciate the experimentation – but its a rare Jones’ boo-boo.
Part 3: Post 1964
It’s too easy to select a cartoon post 1964. The DePatie-Freleng productions were Freleng’s revenge on his former employer. Talk about time-fillers – these are simply time-wasters. I don’t hate the Format Films and Bill Hendricks cartoons as much as you’d think – in fact they are, if anything, guilty pleasures. If there is any one thing to single out for shame during this period – it’s this:
The Rudy Lariva Road Runners.
All eleven, released in 1965 and 1966. Awful. The Solid Tin Coyote, Just Plane Beep and Chaser On The Rocks are but three that can make you forget why Jones cartoons are so brilliant.
Obviously this list is subjective. Please feel free to submit your own list of least-favorite Warner Bros. cartoons in comments below.