May 17, 2017 posted by

Robert McKimson’s “The Hole Idea” (1955)

Today, we present what Robert McKimson recalled as one of the most “cleverest” stories he directed at Warners—The Hole Idea.

The Hole Idea marks a transitional period, in 1953, with Bob McKimson’s films for Warner Bros.’ animation department. By early March, dialogue track sessions were recorded with Robert C. Bruce and Bea Benaderet. As the cartoon was ready to be assigned animators, McKimson’s unit shut down, due to operation-wide cutbacks from the studio by April of that year. Left without animators, he handled the entire film by himself. Richard H. Thomas performed double duty. He is credited for layout and backgrounds for the cartoon, since Bob Givens, McKimson’s regular layout artist, left the studio to pursue work on industrial films and commercials.

In later years, McKimson remembered how unique The Hole Idea, with its story by veteran animator/director Sid Marcus, seemed; he noted it as “strictly a stylized thing” in an interview with Mike Barrier. The film is unlike other Warners cartoons, in that it maintains a core in its story and graphic elements, suggestive of UPA’s influence. Professor Calvin Q. Calculus’ invention of the portable hole is shown to have beneficial properties, but it is also dangerous if fallen into the wrong hands. By the end, the timid professor finds its true purpose in his own home. The opening scenes, establishing mankind’s grasp on invention in prehistoric times, are established in bold shades of red—in both characters and backgrounds. Later in the film, the police officers run as a bunched unit as they open fire on the mysterious thief.

Another similarity to UPA lies in the treatment Professor Calculus endures from his wife; the 1953 adaptation of James Thurber’s The Unicorn in the Garden also features a dysfunctional relationship between a timid man and his spouse. The shrewish Gertrude, who belittles her inventive husband in The Hole Idea, is more rooted in vaudeville, silent and sound film comedy—Laurel and Hardy’s wives are prime examples—whereas the UPA film appears almost too cruel. To avoid his wife’s tirade, the Professor takes his hat and briefcase, carrying the portable holes to exploit to the masses. (Of course, the sanctity of marriage is ridiculed another way—in the newsreel footage, one of the useful aspects for the invention is for a husband to escape kitchen chores.)

Before entering in animation, musical director Milt Franklyn toured the country as an orchestra bandleader, musical director and emcee throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Compared to Carl Stalling, Franklyn’s early scores in the Warners films, such as The Hole Idea, relied more on softer arrangements with woodwind and string instruments, utilizing other musical families depending on the scene. For instance, a jazzy rendition of “King Chanticleer” underscores the scene of the thief kidnapping a chorus girl from a burlesque venue. After Stalling retired in 1958, Franklyn took over as musical director for the cartoons. Franklyn passed away in 1962, during production of the Tweety/Sylvester film The Jet Cage.

The Hole Idea was released to theaters in April 1955. Although producer Eddie Selzer refused to submit the film to the Academy for an Oscar consideration, fellow directors Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng praised McKimson’s film. The film won an award from the University of Wisconsin as among the ten best short subjects of the year. The Hole Idea was the only animated entry in that category.

Since McKimson is the sole animator on this film, it seems unnecessary to prepare a breakdown video for this installment. This copy is sourced from a video server—should the server be shut down at any point, it will be updated with a new source. (A lesser quality version is embed below for those not picky about quality).


(Thanks to Jerry Beck and Keith Scott for their help.)


  • The UPA stylings here are interesting because McKimson was really the last of the Warners’ directors to go all-in on the modern design when he had a full staff to work with — even Friz Freleng’s unit had dabbled in UPA-ish characters and backgrounds by then. So it may have been the necessity of working with virtually no supporting staff pushed Bob to create a cartoon look around Sib Marcus’ story that he wouldn’t have done, if “The Hole Idea” had been made a few months earlier, or after McKimson got his new crew following the 3-D/backlog connected shutdown.

  • The shrewish wife reminded me of a future character that was to be part of the Woody Wodpecker animated shorts in the 1960’s – Ms. Meany – and I wonder if Sid Marcus got the inspiration for her from Gertrude in The Hole Idea?

    • Very likely… and Bessie of the Beary Family had been redesigned along the same lines.

  • This is one of those implausible cartoons that is made to feel plausible, like Felix the Cat’s magic bag of tricks in the Trans Lux TV cartoons…and, of course, it is also amazing that one animator handled this short almost completely on his own. This is one of those reasons why so many of the one shot Warner Brothers cartoons are the best of the lot, from the 1930’s to the studio’s unfortunate closing in the mid-1960’s. Great stuff, as always.

  • Gertrude looks like an animated version of actress Margaret Hamilton.

    • Sure does. BTW This is not the only one-man animated Warner cartoon, right before (1954) Chuck Jones had his top animatyor Ken Harris do “No Barking” with that little crazy pup Frisky. BUT the Hole Idea is the ONLY one DIRECTED AND ANIMATED by one person! (And of course, besides Bea Benaderet,in maybe her last WB role, and Bob Bruce, Mel Blanc is all the others, the little inventor and the devil at the end.,…)

    • So was Mrs.Meany from the Woody Woodpecker cartoons (Cartunes) of the 1960’s

  • Certain Looney Tunes cartoons made an impression on me from an early age, and this one of them. Certain shots and moments stuck with me, like the thief sneaking out of the theater, or the thief using the portable hole to steal jewelry. When I saw this cartoon for the first time again when it was released on the sixth Golden Collection, I was like, “I remember that!”

    The manic music that accompanies the cops chasing the thief is one of Milt Franklyn’s finest compositions, IMO. Especially the end of it when he’s cornered at the prison wall.

  • Always got a kick out of seeing this one promoted on the old Looney Tunes Video Show as “Starring Calvin Q. Calculus” — as if that name had any sheen.

    McKimson’s poses seem less stiff when he’s animating them himself (as seen here, and in “Dime to Retire” and “Too Hop To Handle”, the other two he largely animated himself before he was laid off), as opposed to his browbeaten animators who went down fighting to make the scenes move funny. A far cry from the days of “Book Revue” for McKimp but still really nice. I suspect he wasn’t sure if he’d ever direct for Warners again so he wanted to go out on a high note—given the dismal cartoons he made when he came back, I almost wish “The Hole Idea” was his last one.

  • Wonder if the professor had any kinship to Tintin’s pal, Prof. Cuthbert Calculus (aka Tryphon Tournesol [sunflower])? Probably not…
    Otto Messmer expressed similar pride for a Felix cartoon he animated mostly by himself.

    Talking of the Warner one-shots of that period, “Wild Wife” could almost be a companion piece to “The Hole Idea,” only without the SF element; it also depicts a dysfunctional marriage, and has no established WB characters.

  • A personally favorite Looney Tune. Always like these one-shot shorts.

  • The Characters from “The Hole Idea” also appeared in the Late 90’s TV Series from Kids WB, “Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries” episode “Suite Mystery of Wife” which aired on October 3, 1998 on Kids WB, it’s a parody of the Black and White TV Series from the 50s and 60s Alfred Hitchcock Presents from 1955-1962, a 1954 film Rear Window and a 1960 film Psycho? Cool Cat also appeared in the episode, Cool Cat is my favorite Looney Tunes Character?
    Just DVR the Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries episode on Boomerang airs Tomorrow at 10:30 and screenshot it and posted on Facebook and Instagram: (

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