It’s a short post today folks, since it’s another week of trying to catch up here… but before we get to that, just really brief Thunderbean news:
We’ve been lucky to start some ad campaigns on Amazon; these extra sales are really helping to move other projects forward, and there’s a bunch of them! The big goal in the coming months is to find enough time (and have enough help) to catch up on everything and get some more sets finally out. Hang tight with us for a few— we’re getting there. Off to Toronto later this week to scan almost the last of the first half of the Rainbow Parade series… adding the other two ‘Toddle Tales’ with original titles, thanks to Tommy Jose Stathes.
Now, onto Famous Studios! Today’s cartoon is Saved By The Bell (1950).
I’ve been getting double and triple doses of Famous Studios shorts, watching the new WB Popeye set as well as cleaning up Noveltoons- and its both an enjoyable and disturbing experience. I feel like Famous is the only studio that seems to take great joy in painful events happening to the characters, often seemingly beyond the slapstick nature of cartoonish gags and into the very real territory of actual pain. The more disturbing (and actually funny) thing to me is that they’re willing to do it over and over in one cartoon, oblivious to the face that they’ve actually gone too far.
It’s easy to think that as formulas developed, the studio relied on slapstick gags and increased the violence out to sheer need for inventiveness. There may be some truth in that, but I think the studio really had been going that direction since Shorty was shot (in Happy Birthdaze (1943)), a moment that shocked me as a child and really seemed ‘off’. Now, I had experienced many Warner cartoons and others where violent things happened, but it always felt like a gag. Somehow, people killing his friend just doesn’t in this cartoon. There would be a lot more of those moments in the coming years.
Perhaps most of the characters never having true star power led to the conclusion to have them just be vehicles for violent slapstick gags. It worked for Tom and Jerry, so why not our characters? The odd thing about the Famous cartoons is that there is rarely, if at all, a moment of empathy for any of the characters, good or bad. It just doesn’t happen. The Tom and Jerry (and the majority of the Warners cartoons) contain all sorts of character insight moments; Avery’s cartoons rarely do, but they are either strong enough on gags and timing to make those areas non-essential. If a character is having feelings in one direction or another, it’s a momentary takeover of their psyche, often never followed up on. In the context of a 7 minute cartoon, that actually works quite a bit of the time as the story sweeps up further form those moments, but in terms of developing a character it leaves us little to remember or like.
Popeye remained an interesting character through a lot of the 40s films in that he maintained his sense of humor about others throughout these films, only later giving in to his base emotional responses as a character. The Fleischers always had moments of Popeye on his own, doing some bit of business for self amusement, or just being bemused or amused b what he had just done.
Saved By the Bell (1950) is a great example of Famous Studios attitude toward storytelling. Throughout the film, it’s not only a good idea to have gags be violent, it’s preferable to have *every* gag involve great pain caused by another.
Somehow at MGM, Jerry Mouse, though incredible acts of violence to Tom, never comes off as such a mean character – even if he’s been drinking or getting Tom kicked out of the house.
At Famous, the best any of these characters seems to get is obnoxious, and at worst, a sadist. It wasn’t enough to put the bell on the cat, it was also required to have him in great pain throughout the process, and insanity by the end of the cartoon! The slickness of production in the Famous Shorts sometimes makes these choices even more puzzling.
That isn’t to say that I don’t like a lot of these ideas. I find them to be really fun and funny, but also have the understanding that they really do go a little too far, almost always.
Here’s the work in progress version of Saved By the Bell from the upcoming Thunderbean Noveltoons Blu-ray. Nothing beats beautiful old Technicolor prints of these shorts, though most of the existing prints have been beat up a lot. Still, they look better than most if not all of any other copies available.
What are some of YOUR most uncomfortable moments of violence in Famous Studios cartoons? Submit your answers in the comments section below.