Animation Trails
August 16, 2023 posted by Charles Gardner

Unpredictable as Weather (Part 19)

Lots of star power this week, with many of the major players in Hollywood cartoons taking their stand in the rain and snow, Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Pluto, double-doses of Donald Duck and Little Lulu, and a classic with Raggedy Ann.

Tom Turk and Daffy (Warner, Looney Tunes, Porky Pig/Daffy Duck, 2/12/44 – Charles M. (Chuck) Jones, dir.) is apparently something of a communal effort for the Termite Terrace crew, with story credit merely reading, “The Staff”. In the winter snow, Daffy (who again seems to have forgotten to fly South) is building a snowman. His jazzed-up chorus of “Jingle Bells” is interrupted by the sound of gunfire – followed by a turkey (voiced by Billy Bletcher) in hysterics, begging for Daffy to hide him. A begrudging Daffy slaps the turkey out of his crying jag, then halfheartedly attempts to “hide” the bird – in places obviously too small to fit (under rocks, in small holes, etc.). He finally crams the turkey inside his snowman (closing him in with a snow drop-seat like a pair of long underwear). Along comes Pilgrim Porky, who announces he’s seeking the turkey. Daffy feigns offense at being accused of concealing his turkey, and states that his lips are sealed (a dissolve shows them closed with masking tape and clamps). Porky walks off dejectedly, bemoaning that he won’t be able to have a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. Each “goodie” he mutters about starts to bring out a hunger in Daffy. In a creative color layout, Daffy alternates from one end of a background to another – the upper end in heavenly blue as he develops angel halo and pledges he won’t reveal the turkey’s position, and the lower end in fiery red as Daffy develops devil’s horns and drools more pronouncedly at every additional banquet ingredient Porky mentions. When Porky finally gets to “candied yams”, Daffy breaks into tears. “The yams did it. Those nasty yams.”

Daffy is suddenly atop a stool, with a sign reading “Stool Pigeon”. He pushes the snowman right in front of Porky, surrounded by a barrage of signs indicating “He’s in here!” In cutaway view, the turkey inside calls Daffy a “quisling”. But the turkey has an idea. Burrowing under the snow, he tunnels over to Daffy, and places his own tail feathers on Daffy’s rear end. “Gobble Gobble Gobble”, he calls out behind Daffy’s back, then ducks out of sight. Porky assumes Daffy is a turkey, and hunting season opens afresh. Daffy manages to use the abundant snow cover as a weapon in several unusual ways. He rolls himself down several slopes into a snowball, then rolls himself out of the snow again on the next upslope. The third time he does this, he simply disappears at the top of the slope. Porky scratches his head in confusion, then receives snowballs in the face, alternating from unseen throwing points in opposite directions and from above, and then two hits from both sides simultaneously. (Look for an interesting animation error at about 4:35, as Porky’s eyeballs disappear from his head and appear in the sky on the other side of the screen without their pupils, from a cel placed on the camera mount upside down.) A final snowball stops in midair just short of impact, with Daffy emerging from it to sock Porky with a mallet. Daffy next runs to a pond, obtaining a pail of water, which he hurls at Porky. It instantly freezes in the cold air, and the icy impact knocks Porky temporarily cold too. Daffy stands waiting for Porky to arrive, but throws a bucket of water over himself before Porky can sock him back, creating a transparent ice shield that prevents Porky from landing the blow. (This gag was remembered years later by Bugs Bunny in The Iceman Ducketh). Another pail of water thrown across the river creates an ice suspension bridge for Daffy to cross (and collect toll from Porky when he passes!) Porky flips out when he discovers he’s been duped, and dives after Daffy through a snowbank, that converts him and his musket into an icy Sherman tank. Daffy finally finds the tailless turkey building his own snowman, and begs to be hidden from Porky. The turkey gets a chance for role reversal, and gives Daffy the same “hiding” treatment as he got at the beginning of the picture – except worse, with Daffy thrown off cliffs, having trees felled upon him, and being flung under every object in sight, far into the night, for the iris out.

Donald Duck and the Gorilla (Disney/RKO, Donald Duck, 3/31/44 – Jack King, dir,), is a hard film to explain. Its setting would seem to be most appropriate for Halloween – yet it was released in March. Its lack of plausibility is almost astounding for a Disney production, giving it a certain feel of having been made by some other mystery studio (was Disney looking the other way when the storyboard was reviewed?) According to Wikipedia, writing credit seems to go to nobody in particular, and might as well have been billed as “The Staff” in the manner of “Tom Turk and Daffy”, perhaps accounting for the disjointedness of the storyline. Directing and timing are markedly uneven, with shot continuities that sometimes don’t match up or flow sequentially, and pacing that often suggests jamming in more scenes than the running time should comfortably allow, yet somehow finding time for an interlude in the middle that eats up a minute and a half with pure filler that fails to advance the plot. Even the title expresses no originality, sounding more like the working title of a project still mid-way in development. What exactly was going on? Yet there are admittedly a few funny gags and an interesting action sequence buried in this potpourri. The overall feeling that the contents of this film have not fully settled during handling probably accounts for the fact that this is one of the few episodes including Huey, Dewey, and Louie which never received a theatrical re-release – though it did eventually obtain an issue in the days of Super 8 home movies.

On another typically atmospheric dark and stormy night, we find Donald and his nephews huddled in the parlor of their home, keeping dry from the storm outside, and listening to their console radio. A news bulletin comes on that Ajax, “the terrible gorilla” (odd choice of phrase for a professional announcer) has escaped from the city zoo. The announcer warns that the animal is a killer, and to lock all doors and windows. The bulletin, and others throughout the cartoon, ends with the phrase, “That is all. Breckenridge.” This is a play on the style of police radio calls depicted in a CBS radio show, “Calling All Cars”, which used a real-life Los Angeles police radio dispatcher, Jesse Rosenquist, who ended all calls with the phrase, “That is all. Rosenquist.” Any guesses as to whether there was a real-life “Breckenridge” in the Disney studio? The nephews, who we usually expect to be full of bravado and vinegar, instead immediately huddle together in trembling fear. Donald has the opposite of expected reactions as well, laughing at the boys’ jitters rather than himself breaking into a panic. If it is not Halloween, the next shot is inexplicable – yet perhaps it is equally unlikely even if it is the holiday. Just happening to be resting on an end table next to Donald’s easy chair lies a paur of black, hairy, oversized costume gloves – dead ringers for the paws of a gorilla. Even if Donald happens to possess such items, why are they out on the table, instead of in the closet – especially when it’s pouring rain and no one is going out to trick or treat? And how come the nephews haven’t noticed the gloves, when they are resting right across the room in plain sight? Donald decides to have some fun, and, switching off the light briefly, turns the lamp back on, but has disappeared from sight – and so have the gloves. The giant paws suddenly reach out from behind the sofa the nephews are sitting on, and the nephews flee in panic at the trick. Donald reveals himself, breaking up with laughter, and the kids see him as they peer back into the room through a keyhole. “Why that dirty…”, one remarks, and gives the gesture to the others of cutting someone’s throat, indicating Donald is in open season for a return prank. Now the nephews rummage in an undisclosed location of the house, and come up with a full three-piece gorilla suit. (Oddly, it already has full hands attached – so what was the purpose of Donald’s extra gloves?) Donald meanwhile occupies his time in the parlor by selecting a book to read. (His dialogue seems strange and unnatural: “This looks like a pretty good story, by gosh. It’s full of pictures, too.”) He steps backwards from the book shelf without looking, to sit in his easy chair, but the seat is already occupied by the nephews in the gorilla suit – so Donald sits down in the fake gorilla’s lap. Donald also selects something unexpected to eat while reading – a large lollipop. (Did he steal this from the nephews, for whom it would seem more age appropriate?) As Donald reads, the nephews slip the lollipop out from his hand, take a large bite out of it with the teeth of the gorilla mask, then replace the lollipop into Donald’s hand. Donald goes to take a lick himself, but discovers something is not right with this picture.

We also notice that something is not right – as the shots fail to match up. Close-up on the lollipop depicts not just the outline of the gorilla bite – but actual teeth embedded in the lollipop! Perhaps the storyboard intended to depict Donald visualizing the teeth that made the imprint, so that their image should have faded in, then disappeared – but the final scene was mis-animated, or improperly cut at beginning and end to conserve time. Otherwise, the gorilla needs to see his dentist! Donald looks up, sees the gorilla mask, and his beak turns white. He vanishes in a flash from the room, as the nephews’ laughing heads peer out from the costume, happy at evening the score. At this moment, a flash of lightning is seen at the window, illuminating the face of the real Ajax, peering in from outside. We have another continuity error, as the previous layouts of the house appear to depict Donald’s parlor on the ground floor – yet Ajax is shown from an exterior view to be looking in a gabled window on the second story at roof level – which gable he literally tears off the house to gain entry. With in-your-face suddenness and no transitional shots, the gorilla is seen inside snarling at the nephews. They scurry to the hallway one by one, separating into the three respective segments of their costume. Donald, hiding in the hallway inside an umbrella holder, spots the nephews in their respective costume segments, and the jig is up on the gag. The nephews race for a doorway, but find Ajax in it, so make a quick turn to disappear through another doorway. Donals arrives a split-second later, and attempts to pry the mask off the real gorilla. He then spots the second “gorilla” sneaking away thorough another corridor. (Another continuity error – the fake gorilla is seen reassembled, rather than in three parts. Why would the boys pile upon each other again, when Donald already knows their secret?) With trepidations as to which gorilla he is face to face with, Donald opens Ajax’s mouth, and calls inside, “Oh boys…Boys?…Speak to me.” All he gets is the gorilla’s roar. Another police bulletin comes over the radio. “Remember, you can master any wild animal, by looking him straight in the eye.” With renewed courage, Donald looks eye-to-eye straight at Ajax. Alax closes one eye, and stares intently back at Donald, as his lower eyebrow and pupil transform into the shape of a gravestone on a hill, with the stone’s inscription reading “Here lies a dead duck” (The best gag in the film.) Donald doesn’t stick around for more, grabbing an umbrella and stuffing it into Ajax’s mouth in open position to make a getaway.

After some uneventful skulking around the house, Donald comes face to face with Ajax again, who is brachiating upside down, hanging from his feet in the house’s rafters. As Donald runs through a corridor, Ajax extends his arms downwards, and Donald runs right up them, finding himself eye-to-eye with the beast again. A madcap chase ensues (the other highlight of the film) with Donald utilizing a stepladder, stilts, and sliding down the surface of a long sectional wooden dining table. The gorilla takes an alternate route underneath the table, and outraces Donald, coming up ahead of him on the opposite end. Donald reverses direction, running with such force that his feet kick up the sections of the table surface, which pile like a load of planks in a lumber yard into Ajax’s arms. As the wooden sections run out from below Donald’s feet, Donald falls partway into the hole between the outmost sections of the compressible table. The gorilla, in a fit of temper, snaps the entire load of limber he is carrying in two, then tosses the splintered wood away, leaning into the table edge to compress the outer halves together, trapping Donald within the center of the table. Before Ajax can do Donald in, another news bulletin is heard by the nephews, advising that Ajax can be subdued with tear gas. Now, how is it that the nephews just happen to have a grenade full of the stuff? And if so, why didn’t they think to use it before? They toss the grenade into the room with Ajax and Donald. The weapon works, and Ajax calms and busts out crying, using his feet to wipe away tears from his eyes. Donald, now safe, begins laughing, until the tear gas works its way through Donald’s nostrils as well. The two end the film commiserating with each other in tears, as Donald blows a sniffle into a hankie, then shares it with the gorilla, whose mighty blow sounds like a foghorn, for the iris out.

Jack Hannah, who is referred to as contributing a few gags to this film, probably noted the finished production’s shortcomings, and learned from them, as he would return to a similar theme, allowing him to do this idea one better, in 1950’s genuinely funny Lion Around.

Suddenly It’s Spring (Paramount/Famous, Noveltoon (Raggedy Ann), 4/28/44 – Seymour Kneitel, dir.) – While there may be some debate on the subject, I’ve always found this, of the three subjects produced by Paramount featuring Raggedy Ann, to be the most sincere in emotion and beautiful in execution. It has some tough competition with “The Enchanted Square”, but perhaps because character designs and voicing in the latter film have already evolved so closely to standard models of children and adults one would expect in a routine Casper cartoon, this earlier effort feels more fresh and original. Background work is superb, and feels worthy of a feature-length production. And character animation is rich and nuanced, filling Ann, the Sun King, and particularly Zero with what feels like genuine life and emotion, as opposed to the little blind girl in “Square”, who comparatively to me seems more like a cardboard cutout. It is particularly striking in the instance of Zero, who in many ways has a personality resembling Bombo from Gulliver’s Travels, as there are portions of his response to Raggedy Ann that make you feel the animators could have cheated by copying scenes from the prior film of Bombo’s reactions to King Little or the prince’s song – yet the animators have definitely learned something by now regarding how to act, and do not repeat previous mistakes and weaknesses, allowing the same general emotions to register twice as believably. Add to this an engaging song, performed with true tenderness by Ann and guaranteed to produce a tear and warm the coldest heart, and you have a veritable masterpiece. Only a dated stereotype character within Ann’s travels mars the scene – but please, I beg, look past it as a mere sign of the times and past standards of accepted humor (much as the black centaur excised from current prints of Disney’s “Fantasia”), and give this film its proper due, as the closest thing the studio would produce to a major feature since the days of “Superman” and “Mr. Bug Goes to Town.”

A country doctor pays a house call on a cold winter day to a little girl, who lies sick and largely unconscious in the shadows of her bedroom. Though it is daytime, the doctor concludes his examination by artificial light, as there is little light pouring into the windows due to the general cloud cover. He advises the child’s mother that there is nothing more that he can do. The mother nervously asks what the doctor means, suggesting fear that the doctor is pronouncing the child’s death sentence. The doctor calms her that it may not be as bad as all that, but that right now, the best doctor for the child would be a dose of healthy sunshine. However, there sees little possibility of such an outcome, the season being what it is, and snow continuing to cling to the ground. The light in the room is tuned out, and the two adults leave the girl in quiet. Held in the little girl’s arms, partially under the bedcovers with her, is Raggedy Ann. Though the doll at first remains motionless as the adults leave, her button eye is seen to shed a tear. Other toys scattered about the floor of the room begin to shed tears also. Raggedy Ann begins to move, and creeps out from the arms of the girl, sliding down the bedcovers to converse with the other toys. The toys agree that Nancy (the little girl) needs sunshine, but one of them observes that the sun hasn’t been out all this month. A children’s storybook displays a chapter index referencing a story about Smiley the Sun, who he describes as a nice fellow. One among the group has seen him on a personal level – a kite, who declares that Nancy had let him up to see the sun lots of times. “He’s hot stuff”, the kite adds. Ann asks for the kite to take her to see the sun, which he agrees to do if someone will let out his line. Out the window the kite goes, with Ann clinging to the kite’s tail. Up they soar, through layers of purple clouds, and finally out the top, where the sun shines in all its glory. Addressing “Smiley” on a friendly first-name basis, the kite introduces Ann, and the sun graciously grants an audience by producing a sunbeam for Ann to settle down upon, sliding into closer range to state the purpose of her visit. Ann describes Nancy’s plight, and begs that Smiley, who she adds would be her best doctor, look down upon Nancy for just a little while so she will get better.

Ann is at first unable to see just who she is talking to, but puts on a pair of sunglasses, revealing a jolly-looking, regal King within the sphere of the sun’s shining exterior. The King states apologetically that this request places him in an embarrassing situation. He’d love to comply, but clouds are so thick this time of year, he can’t even “shine down upon my old Kentucky home. Sometimes I get burned up about it myself.” Ann asks if Cloudy wouldn’t mind moving aside for a short time to let Smiley peek through. The King states that perhaps if she asked him the same way, he couldn’t possibly refuse her. Turning the sunbeam in another direction, Smiley positions Ann to slide down to the surface of a thick cloudbank covering the land. There she meets Cloudy, the cloud in command of things. However, Cloudy has his own problems in complying. Choosing the then well-known stereotype of black actor Stepin Fetchit, whose character was that of the laziest man in the world, the “dark” could is depicted as a reclining puff of water vapor with a black face, lazily strumming a banjo (playing the Hoagy Carmichael tune, “Lazybones”) but having neither the ability nor will to even turn his head. As Ann begins to speak to him, Cloudy lethargically strains to shift his eyeballs to their farthest position toward Ann, but without moving his head. “I wish that I was facin’ the other way so I could see who was talkin’”, drawls the cloud. Ann repositions herself to stand in front of him, and continues to repeat Nancy’s condition, and the Sun’s suggestion that he allow the sun rays to peep through. Cloudy explains that a cloud can’t just move when it wants to, but has to wait for Breezy to push them along. Ann asks where she can see Breezy, and generates a laugh from Cloudy, who informs her that no one actually sees Breezy, but he’s just there all the time. A sped-up voice from nowhere proves this is true, as Breezy responds to the request. He states that the person Ann really needs to speak to is Zero, as Breezy is honor-bound not to blow the clouds while snow is still around. If Zero will remove the snow, then Breezy can blow.

Breezy does consent to provide Ann with transportation to Zero’s palace, blowing her to a foreboding fortress of ice-laden caverns high atop a cloud-covered mountain peak. Deep within surroundings of hanging icicles and a solid ice floor, Zero, an old, bearded, bulb-nosed humanoid in an old weather-beaten top hat, several scarfs, and heavy overcoat, presides over a lonely, solitary throne room, where he stands over what appears to be a fireplace, but which in fact is loaded with ice cubes instead of logs, cooling himself to an appropriate temperature over them. He reacts with some confoundment to the sound of Ann’s voice, and when he hears her request to melt all the snow, responds to it as unheard of and absolutely preposterous. He points to a season clock enclosed in a casing of ice against the wall, still indicating he has two weeks of Winter left. “Have you no respect for tradition?”, he asks at her impudence. Ann begs for him to make an exception, just this once. Zero, pulling up his throne chair, dismisses his attention from Ann, gruffly adding, “But nothing. That’s final.” Ann falls to the icy floor, and seems about to leave in defeat, but begins to tenderly sing a song about the hopes of the world which will be broken if Zero refuses to comply, “The World Is Longing For the Sunshine”. Zero attempts to remain aloof and resolute, but the words of the song and Ann’s tender, innocent delivery begin to sink in, having their effect upon his icy heart. His reactions are beautifully depicted, first as begrudging sidewise glances, then in forced determination to sit still and not look, which nevertheless weakens again, then startlement as Ann begins to draw closer and closer to him, finally ending up sitting on his lap. The beginnings of a smile start to appear along his lips, but Zero steels himself again in disgust at his own succumbing to sentiment. Ann begins to curl the white whiskers of Zero’s beard playfully around her fingertips, and Zero finally can’t hold out any longer, his lips curling into an involuntary smile, while he still attempts to shield his eyes from a direct gaze into Ann’s face, to cover his own embarrassing surrender. The final coda depicts the snow on earth melting away, sunbeams finally peeking through the clouds and into Nancy’s window, and Nancy opening her eyes at the warmth of sunlight upon her face, responding with a weak but definite smile. In the last shot, her parents watch as she sits on the floor of her playroom, playing like a normal, healthy child, holding Raggedy Ann dearly to her heart. Ann’s face remains motionless, but in its signature smile, as a narrator adds the curtain line, “Somehow, it seemed like a miracle”.

Lulu in Hollywood (Paramount/Famous, Little Lulu, 5/19/44 – I Sparber, dir.), receives honorable mention, for another instance of reputation-bashing of California weather. Receiving an offer to star in pictures at a salary of $10,000 per week, Lulu packs her traveling bag to capacity with a flavor assortment of lollipops, and heads to the railway terminal. A poster on the wall advertises the “Sunshine Limited to California”, depicting some curvaceous beach beauties on a sandy shore. Lulu is too wise to be fooled by such Chamber of Commerce stuff, and shows up at the depot with an umbrella and wearing a full-length yellow raincoat.

Springtime For Pluto (Disney/RKO, Pluto, 6/23/44 – Charles Nichols, dir.) – A strange entry in the Pluto series, being rather more plotless than usual. In an odd touch, current prints open with Pluto’s face against Mickey’s sunshine-yellow sunburst background, instead of the usual blue sunburst opening all other Pluto episodes. (It is unknown if this followed color scheme of the original issue (not yet found), which would have featured Pluto’s face in a different, forward-facing pose used throughout the early 1940’s, or is merely an error unique to the prints struck for the film’s reissue. However, creative efforts at recreating the lost titles have chosen to combine the old-design Pluto head with the yellow sunburst.) Returning from his visit to Disney in 1931, the spirit of Spring, Pan, opens the film, playing his pan-pipes to blow away the snow and frost covering the trees and countryside, while a narrator spouts lame verse about the season as if reciting for a poet’s society. The transition of seasons is unusually depicted, with Pan encircled in a traveling sort of camera iris that serves as a bubble for his music, and utilizing two matching backgrounds whose images are overlaid upon one another, so that the winter image appears outside of the iris circle, while a green, springtime setting appears within Pan’s bubble. Pan causes a circle of mushrooms to sprout from the Earth, one of which pops up under the chin of Pluto, sleeping in the doorway of his doghouse, to arouse him. Pluto watches as Pan continues on into the distance, then Pluto ventures forth in rather giddy fashion to enjoy the wonders of the season. He of course gets a chance to sniff around the trees, then begins copying the movements of gamboling lambs, various scurrying birds, etc. in random fashion. He attempts to assist a baby quail in pulling a caterpillar from an underground hole, but only succeeds in plucking out the young bird’s tail feathers with his teeth, leaving the bird to be pulled into the hole by the insect.

The caterpillar springs up out of another hole behind Pluto, and climbs up onto Pluto’s tail, where it instantly spins a cocoon. (In possibly his earliest vocal work for Disney, the unmistakable basso voice of Thurl Ravenscroft is heard performing a number “The Caterpillar Song” over this sequence – about the best thing in the whole cartoon. The film’s music is in fact its best asset, with other themes melodically performed by a credited Oliver Wallace.) Pluto shakes the small enclosure stuck to his tail like the contents of one of a set of maracas, then suddenly witnesses a metamorphosis. The caterpillar emerges as a butterfly – but not just any butterfly. With no effort whatsoever to depict her as an insect except to attach wings to her shoulders, the butterfly’s form is that of a shapely human showgirl! While this might have pleased the soldiers who happened to see this in a WWII audience, I always found the shoehorning of this bit into a setting where it clearly didn’t belong rather offsetting and hardly subtle, suspending any further belief in the meager plotline. I mean, even the human-like figures in “Moth and the Flame” at least had antennae! Pluto gets so caught up in the butterfly’s samba-like dance, in which she tosses a small berry around like a ball, that Pluto grabs the nearest thing that resembles a ball to bounce around – a bee hive. (Again, the credibility of this cartoon continues to deteriorate – would Pluto ever be that stupid?) The bees emerge, bouncing on Pluto’s nose instead of the hive, and give chase, transforming their swarm into the shape of a P-38 Lightning fighter, and an aerial bomb. Pluto jumps into a patch of weeds, into which the bees do not follow – as a sign above them indicates it’s poison ivy. Pluto goes into an itching frenzy, only slightly soothed when he is suddenly drenched by an oncoming rainstorm. He endures a bolt of lightning to his tail, and races for the safety of his doghouse, while the narrator notes a further change in the character of the storm with the words, “All hail to Springtime. Hail, hail, HAIL!” The white dots of ice fall everywhere, and though Pluto rushes inside his doghouse, the structure withstands a beating, so that, as dawn breaks and the storm clears, the roof of the doghouse is largely in shambles. Even the narrator has been notably affected by the downpour, as he concludes his recitation with his voice sounding like he has a severe cold in his nose. Pan returns, prancing by Pluto’s house in the opposite direction. Pluto’s had about all he wants of the season, and concludes the film by chasing Pan off into the distance, back to wherever he came from.

Hare Force (Warner, Bugs Bunny, 7/22/44 – I. (Friz) Freleng, dir.) – Long before Sylvester, there was – Sylvester. A dog, not a cat. In reality, he is in looks and personality largely a return for Willoughby, Tex Avery’s hound from “The Heckling Hare” and “The Crackpoy Quail”, but with Avery long gone from the studio, Freleng picks up the pencil to guide his actions. Today, we find him warm, snug, and secure, before a cheerful fireplace in the comfortable abode of an old lady who might be viewed as a prototype of what would become Granny for the Tweety series. It is handy for Sylvester to have such a comfortable place to rest, as there is a chilling snowstorm going on outside. A knock on the door disturbs this reverie, as the old lady answers the door, to discover a stiffened Bugs Bunny, with icicles hanging from his feet and ears, flat on his back upon the snowy porch step. Taking him inside, the old lady begins to show favoritism, yanking away Sylvester’s cozy blanket and pillow to wrap Bugs up warm, and setting him before the fire to thaw out. She instructs Sylvester to take good care of the visitor, then goes upstairs, calling “Goodnight” – but to the little bunny, not Sylvester. Instant jealousy develops in Sylvester – along with fiendish images in the dog’s mind, of assassinating the rabbit by knife, cannon fire, and axe. Unsuspecting Bugs greets him with a cheery “What’s up, doc?”, But Sylvester grabs him up, opens the front door, and tosses him out into the snow, responding “That’s what’s up.” As the door is slammed in his face, Bugs, pounds upon it for re-admittance, protesting this inhospitable treatment. As Sylvester ignores him, returning to his warm place by the fire, Bugs hatches one of his usual schemes. Going into one of his signature “dying scenes” as in “A Wild Hare”, Bugs coughs, gasps, claims he’s catching pneumonia – but all the while is building a snowman in his own image.

As Bugs utters his final feeble “farewell”, Sylvester looks out the window – and sees the snowy Bugs, appearing to be frozen stiff. In a panic, Sylvester races outside, carrying back in the snow-rabbit, which he sets before the fire, begging, “Please don’t let it be goodbye.” Within moments, the snowman has melted into a puddle on Sylvester’s pillow. Sylvester gasps, and desperately tries to re-form the water into Bugs’ image, only to have it slip through his fingers. “I’ve melted the little bunny. What’ll I do?”, moans Sylvester. As he instinctively looks for a shoulder to cry on, he remains completely unaware that the shoulder within reach is that of Bugs, who has entered the house behind him. “It’s the hot seat for sure”, cautions Bugs to Sylvester, as the voice of the old lady is heard from upstairs, demanding to know what’s going on down there. Bugs offers to help Sylvester hide – a repeat of the hiding game of Daffy Dick from “Tom Turk and Daffy”, in which Bugs leads Sylvester to place after place where he can’t possibly fit. (Friz would reuse this gag yet again in the later “Racketeer Rabbit”, and in variation in other cartoons subsequent.) Finally, Bugs shows Sylvester the perfect spot to hide – out the front door. As Sylvester races into the night, Bugs taunts him from the door. “Good night, Sylvester. Don’t forget your rubbers.” Too late realizing that he’s been played for a chump, Sylvester turns, and charges back toward the doorway. With precise timing, Bugs slams the door right in Slyvester’s face, leaving his head wildly vibrating – and an accumulation of snow is vibrated loose from the house roof, covering Sylvester like a small avalanche.

Bugs relaxes before the fire, roasting a carrot upon a stick. But he hears the old lady calling for Sylvester, and realizes he’ll have no explanation for the dog’s absence. So he brings the dog inside – frozen blue like a block of ice. To account for the hound’s rigid position, Bugs produces a drawing pad, and acts as if he is sketching Sylvester’s portrait, with the dog posing as model. In reality, all he is drawing is a picture of his own thumb, held out before him to gauge perspective. The old lady is satisfied at this sweet scene, and decides not to disturb them. While Bugs peers upstairs to make sure the lady is gone, Sylvester thaws back to a healthy brown, and slips up behind Bugs, giving him a swift kick in the tail. Sylvester shows a gentlemanly side, helping Bugs back up and admitting it was unsporting of him to hit Bugs when he wasn’t looking. Bugs tells him to think nothing of it – “All you did was THIS”, says Bugs, repeating the same kick to the dog’s rear. “Now if you’d done THIS – or THIS…” continues Bugs, fashioning new miscellaneous blows to the confounded hound, “…I’d’ve gotten sore and done THIS!” After taking an undefended beating, Sylvester finally gets wise he is being flim-flammed, and confronts the rabbit. Bugs suggests they settle this outside. The happy dog states that’s all he wants, and begins loosening up his one-two punch for the big bout. Sylvester heads out the door, while Bugs hangs back, pretending to limber up in the hallway corridor. Suddenly, Sylvester hears Bugs’ taunting voice, “How’s the weather out there, John L.?” (Reference to legendary boxing champion John L. Sullivan, the end of whose career had recently been documented in the classic Errol Flynn feature, “Gentleman Jim”.)

Bugs again stands in the warm doorway. Sylvester begins to charge the door again, but remembers what Bugs did the last time. He skids to a stop just short of collision, and places a stick between the upper door corner and the door jamb to prevent it from being slammed shut again. Retreating back up the walkway, he again charges at Bugs with full force. Without missing a beat, Bugs pulls a surprise, as the door is a sectional Dutch door, allowing him to shut the lower half without disturbing the stick blocking the upper. Sylvester takes it right in the face again. Also remembering the previous roof avalanche, he rises quickly, backing up a few steps, as a small portion of snow plops down on the place where he fell. However, the main brunt of another avalanche decides to fall a few feet further from the house roof than before, again burying Sylvester in spite of his efforts.

Bugs returns to carrot roasting. (Watch for a cameraman’s error, as the cels of the flame are erroneously placed on top of the cels of the carrot, largely obscuring the carrot and stick from view. This returns to normal in the next shot.) Outside, Sylvester’s mournful howls are heard. Bugs has a conscience too, and addresses the audience: “Well, I can’t leave him out there to freeze, can I?” He runs outside with a snow shovel, spotting a likely-looking snow mound in which he presumes Sylvester is buried. He shovels away at the snow, only to find inside the mound a paper note, reading “Don’t you wish you were inside, like me?” Now Sylvester stands nonchalantly in the doorway, and repeats Bugs’ gag of slamming the door in Bugs’ face. Bugs regains entry by posing as a messenger boy with a telegram (note a continuity error, as Bugs’ voice is miked as if heard through the door – yet the animators show him fully visible in messenger garb in the open doorway). Sylvester opens the telegram, which reads “Pssst! Look behind you.” Bugs already stands there, minus the messenger uniform. As Bugs darts inside, Sylvester catches him, and begins to carry him to the door again, to throw him out once and for all. With a quick judo flip, Bugs reverses their position, dragging Sylvester out. Sylvester returns the flip, dragging Bugs out. This goes back and forth several times, then a view is shown of the snow-covered walkway outside, lit by the intermittent light of the front door opening and closing, In alternating beats, Bugs is thrown out, then returns to throw out Sylvester, then reverse, then reverse again. This continues seemingly indefinitely, until the voice of the old lady is heard, shouting “Stop it. Stop it. Outside, both of ya.” The two combatants refuse to listen to her, but then pull a surprise – throwing the old lady out instead! “Well, I never!”, she declares, as the door slams shut for the final time. The finale shot shows Sylvester and Bugs, now fast friends against a common enemy, both relaxing before the fireplace, as Bugs uses one of his well-beloved catch-phrases – “Gee, ain’t I a stinker?”

The Plastics Inventor (Disney/RKO, Donald Duck, 9/1/44 – Jack King, dir.) – Plastics were an intriguing new innovation, in a world used to making component parts for its gadgets and gizmos out of metals, wood, rubber, stone, and even bone. Donald Duck jumps on the bandwagon as a junior inventor, but in a unique way. He is a fan of a Professor Butterfield’s “Plastics Hour” radio show – conducted in the style of a cooking class, where recipes to construct fantastic contraptions are delivered over the air, with the “cooking” to be performed in home foundries taking up most of the interior of the listener’s home like a private factory. Donald has constructed such a foundry in his basement, with brick walls, gigantic smelting pot for cooking the plastic, and custom ovens and molds to “bake” the goo into solid form. For raw material, he has a pile of every item imaginable from the local junk yard, piled clear to the ceiling, including numerous mattresses and sofas, a chest of drawers, a battered piano, washboards, army boots, and half of a Model T. All the junk goes into the pot, and is stirred until a creamy texture is obtained. Donald follows blueprints he has mailed away for, and fashions engine components with cookie cutters upon the plastic “batter”, placing the parts on a cookie sheet as they go into the oven to bake. More batter is poured into a pre-shaped mold, to harden into the form of an airplane fuselage, wings, propeller and tail. Donald compresses remaining dough into a cake decorating tube, squeezing it out as if it were icing upon a baking pan to form a steering wheel. Two tail stabilizers pop out of a giant toaster, and Donald uses a butter knife to scrape off a bit of excess charcoal. (However, he never uses these parts, as the plane’s master mold already has a fully assembled tail.) The plane’s body pops out of the mold, and is “light as a feather”, allowing him to push the plane along on one finger. From one mix of batter, the plane’s parts even miraculously manage to come out in alternating colors of bright orange for the body, and silver for prop and engine parts! “I’ll bet you forgot to bake your helmet”, the professor reminds. Donald grabs a last handful of batter, and smears it over the top of his head, down to his beak. He jabs two fingers in it to open two holes for his eyes (wouldn’t you think he’d need clear plastic there to complete his goggles?), and then runs to place his head under a quick-heating hair dryer. A few seconds, and the plastic again hardens into a two-color helmet.

The first flight of the experimental plane. “This little number will do anything”, says the professor’s voice from a transistor radio, placed on the seat next to Donald in the cockpit, as the duck takes the craft into the wild blue. “Climbs like a rocket…and dives like a comet.” Donald tries these maneuvers, but briefly blacks out on the re-entry from the stratosphere. He pulls back on the controls just in time to avert a crash, passing so close to a leafless tree that the vacuum caused by his passing sucks all the tree’s spring foliage and blooms out months ahead of schedule. “Does the plane have any faults?” asks a radio announcer. “Yes, one fault”, responds the professor. “It melts in water.” “Uh oh”, quacks Donald, and with good reason. He is flying straight into a storm system. As the rain begins to fall all around him, Donald, to ensure he will be able to continue to listen to the broadcast for any helpful information, safely tucks the radio under the seat, then concentrates on what is about to befall him. “Is your nose running? Well wipe it off”, suggests the professor, as gobs of gooey plastic begin to drip from around the engine cowling behind the propeller. Donald steps out onto the hood, desperately attempting to roll back the plastic with his hands. “Are your pants slipping?” Donald looks down to find the wheel wells – sometimes referred to as “pants” – dissolving and falling off from below, leaving him with no landing gear. One wing transforms into a wavy sea of goo. Donald grabs a rolling pin and flattens the dough out into wing shape again, using a knife to cut away excess dough beyond the area flattened. Approaching a range of high peaks, Donald attempts to steer and decelerate – but his foot pedals in the cockpit dissolve into sticky messes like gum stuck to his feet, and his steering wheel transforms into a pretzel. The plane slip-slides over the mountain slopes as if made of putty, leaving behind its last tire from the tail wheel, which breaks out of circular shape to slither down the hill like a snake. The engine starts to run away from the rest of the plane, and Donald has to grab it back, while the wings sag in the middle, unable to hold up the fuselage’s weight. Donald nearly falls out when his control stick stretches to the limit during a dive, but the plane’s fuselage also stretches backward to catch him. Donald’s helmet is next to go, unraveling into two trails behind his head which take the shape of braided hair, which Donald trims with a quick scissors-cut. The exhaust pipes soften and inflate like balloons, then sprout holes everywhere, emitting the sounds of bagpipe music. The plane finally reaches the limits of its tolerances, and Donald is deluged in a sea of orange waves, sinking into the now fluid plastic surface. “If you keep flying plastic planes, you’ll be in the dough”, comments the professor. The entire plane dissolves, forming the shape of an orange parachute, with Donald suspended below like a marionette from sticky strands of the material. Below is his own front yard, where a small patch of garden greenery is bordered by a circle of wire, and a flock of birds pecks at the soil. The plastic plops down over the circular patch, taking the shape of a pie crust, from which emerge “four and twenty blackbirds”. The last bird to emerge is Donald, red with rage, as the still-intact radio concludes, “Did your plane fall apart? That’s funny. You know it always happens to me that way too. Tune in again next week, and I’ll have a new recipe.” Donald’s temper is at its limit, and he grabs from his lawn a watering can, and pours it liberally on the radio. The radio, of course, is made of plastic, too, and the professor’s voice distorts into an underwater blubbering, as the radio dissolves into a puddle.

Lulu’s Indoor Outing (Paramount, Famous, Little Lulu, 9/29/44 – I. Sparber, dir,), receives honorable mention. No, it is not in any manner a remake of Grampy’s earlier episode of similar title in the Betty Boop series. Instead, the film opens deep in an overgrown section of the woods, where a deserted mansion still stands – just the kind of abode likely to be the favorite kind of residence for – ghosts. Indeed, two are presently occupying the place. They do not follow the character deigns typically associated with Famous Studios cartoons, and bear no resemblance to the white-sheet variety of spirit inhabiting Casper’s world. Instead, they closely follow the model of the “hobo ghost” first popularized by Burt Gillett in Disney’s “Lonesome Ghosts” – green in complexion, with large red noses, old clothes, and derby hats. The smaller of the two ghosts is roasting an old shoe on a stick over an open fire in the fireplace. However, it is evident this is not his entree of choice, as he longingly comments about what he wouldn’t give for a roast turkey, cranberry sauce, aspara-gras tips, mashed potatoes… His partner, a taller ghost who ralks like Jimmy Durante, stops him cold, telling his to shut ip about such subjects, as they are both more than aware they haven’t eaten for 50 years. However, the subject becomes more than just a dream, when appetizing aroma trails waft in through the window, sending the ghosts floating on air to catch a whiff. Looking outside, they spot Lulu and the maid Mandy, with a picnic blanket spread, and a large roast turkey being rotated on a spit by Lulu. Other goodies abound from their picnic basket, including ice cream, cake, and of course, Lulu’s favorite – lollipops. (Lulu even samples the roasting bird’s natural juices, by resting her lollipop against the bird’s simmering skin as it rotates, then licking the lollipop dry.) The smells are so enticing, the larger ghost swoons on the floor, while the smaller ghost revives him by throwing upon him a bucket of water – which briefly dissolves the other ghost into a large puddle. “We eat”, the large ghost declares after awakening, and sends the little ghost to go and get the goodies.

By the next shot, Mandy and Lulu are racing for the nearest spot of shelter, carrying with them their basket of picnic foodstuffs. From above, rain is pouring down upon them as they run, and Lulu is careful to position herself in the dry spot under the picnic basket to keep from getting soaked. However, the storm is not what it appears to be. Over their heads, the little ghost flies, carrying a large watering can to provide the downpour. Upon his back is strapped a large bass drum, which he pounds upon at intervals with mallets attached to his feet to simulate thunder. And to make the effect complete, he pills out a birthday party favor blower which unrolls, carrying on its end a wooden cutout in the shape of a lightning bolt, with which he prods Mandy in the rear end. With a howl of fright, Mandy steers Lulu up the steps and onto the porch of the old mansion, where they huddle under the porch roof to escape the isolated effects of the mystery storm. “That weather done changed its mind in a hurry”, observes Mandy. Lulu suggests they continue their picnic inside the old homestead, where at least it is dry, seeing as the door is unbolted. Mandy has trepidations, noting that this looks like the kind of place likely to be haunted. Lulu laughs that she’s scared of her own shadow, but Mandy insists, “Ghosts and me just don’t get along.” As she sets the picnic basket on the floor, Mandy catches a glimpse of two green rags hanging from hooks on a nearby door – which just happen to have green heads with derby hats attached to them. Doing a double-take, she finds herself face to face with the ghosts, who let out a unison “Boo”. Mandy zips out of frame so fast, she out-distances her polka -dotted bloomers, which follow her a few seconds later, out a hole in the wall matching Mandy’s portly silhouette. Mandy is out of view in a split second, and Lulu calls for her to come back. “There’s no such thing as ghosts”, Lulu continues, just as the two ghosts materialize before her. “…Is there?”, says Lulu, calmly completing the sentence to the ghosts.

The two ghosts exchange glances, as if puzzled as to how to answer the question, then decide the best answer is to let out with another “Boo”. But Lulu isn’t phased a bit, and shows the ghosts how foolish they look, by pulling up a full-length mirror between herself and the ghosts. The ghosts take one look at themselves, and react in utter terror, dashing away into another room and shutting the door behind them. Lulu laughs, calling after them, “Scaredy cats!” The ghosts can see they have a problem, as Lulu seems impossible to scare. The larger ghost shoves the smaller one back through the keyhole into the room with Lulu, to make another stab at retrieving the foodstuffs. He lands under a pile of plates filled with food, and almost manages to crawl away with them, when Lulu grabs him by the collar, pulling him away with the reprimand, “Where are your manners?” The desperate ghost lays it on the line that they are starving, and haven’t eaten for years, then begs and pleads for at least a crumb. Lulu takes pity on him, while the larger ghost, peering through the keyhole, smiles with pride at the quality of his partner’s acting. The litte ghost returns to the larger ghost, carrying the fruits of his efforts – exactly one crumb, which he quickly swallows, claiming it just hit the spot. The frustrated larger ghost takes charge with more forceful tactics – as his partner supplies him with armament, in the form of an old blunderbuss and powder horn. In the parlor, Lulu is busy polishing off a tall dish of ice cream, when the barrel of the gun protrudes through the creamy tower. “Hands up”, shouts the tall ghost. Lulu raises her hands, but calmly continues to lick ice cream out of the barrel of the gun. Keeping Lulu at bay with the gun barrel, the ghost reaches downward to snatch the turkey – not noticing that the powder horn hanging from the gun is dumping black powder into the cooked bird’s neck. He grabs the turkey and begins cautiously retreating backwards into the other room, but now holds the bird upside down, so that a trail of powder spills out onto the floor as he goes. Once the ghosts are locked inside their room, Lulu pulls a Bugs Bunny long before “Bunker Hill Bunny”, producing a match and lighting the powder trail. Just as the ghosts are about to chow down on the turkey, the powder explodes – leaving them with nothing but a bare wish bone. Back in the parlor, Lulu licks the last morsels of food from the plates, packs up the picnic basket, and prepares to leave. “The food – It’s all gone”, moan the ghosts, breaking into tears. Lulu steps out the mansion door, but pauses, hearing the ghosts’ pathetic wails. She turns, and crooks a beckoning finger toward the ghosts, indicating that they follow her. The final shot takes place at Lulu’s home, where the camera reveals a view od the dining room table. The two ghosts, now wearing formal top hats, are seated at the table, devouring with great rapidity an entire array of fine foodstuffs, while the camera pans over to a corner, where Mandy lies collapsed upon the floor. Lulu has placed a block of ice upon her head, and attempts to give Mandy air with an electric fan and revive her with smelling salts, while calmly assuring her, “Wake up, Mandy. There are no such things as ghosts.”

The storms stay alive, into ‘45, next time.


  • Lulu’s Indoor Outing: I’ll be forever puzzled by the extreme design of the ghosts, in a studio that is not particularly remembered for its daring decisions in this regard. You can’t go much “fortier” than this, in terms of balance, contrast and angularity. Any word on who designed or animated them?

  • Those camera errors are very amusing, but I can’t help feeling a little sorry for the poor cameraman. No one ever notices the quality of his work unless he makes a mistake.

    “Suddenly It’s Spring” is a great cartoon, but on balance I think I prefer “The Enchanted Square” for its gorgeous imagery and heartfelt sentiment. Here Raggedy Ann is enduring all the frustration of negotiating her way through a bureaucracy, being shunted from department to department and getting the runaround from everybody. I admit that of the two cartoons, “Suddenly It’s Spring” has by far the better song, beautifully sung by thirteen-year-old Joyce Terry, who would later become the third (of five) Mrs. Paul Frees.

    The poetic narration in “Springtime for Pluto” seems to have been modeled on “What Is So Rare as a Day in June?” by James Russell Lowell, itself the subject of a 1944 cartoon from the Terrytoons studio.

    “Donald Duck and the Gorilla” is, as you noted, a ridiculous cartoon, but it happens to contain some valid primate control advice. Many tourist attractions in Malaysia are overrun by, not gorillas, but monkeys that aggressively pester visitors for food and drink. A common ploy is for a monkey to drop down on your head and take your glasses, which it will then hold for “ransom” until you give it something to eat. I was terrified of this happening to me, but fortunately the guide advised me, as the police dispatcher advised Donald in the cartoon, that if you make eye contact with the monkeys, they’ll leave you alone. This I did, focusing all the hostility I could muster into my gaze and hoping my glasses would magnify it severalfold. And it worked! I didn’t need to resort to tear gas at all.

    As for “Breckenridge”, I dunno. Maybe one of the writers was a Civil War buff.

  • I respectfully disagree with Paul on “Donald Duck and the Gorilla” being a ridiculous short. While there’s room for improvement, it seems wrong to dismiss it that way.

  • “Donald Duck and the Gorilla” (I’ll admit I like the climactic chase scene) may arguably be a Halloween cartoon released in March, but it just occurred to me that “The Enchanted Square” takes place on Halloween, yet was released in April! Maybe Disney and Famous were trying, like Tim Burton’s Jack Skellington, to keep the spirit of Halloween alive throughout the year. As Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys sang in their single “Halloween”: “You sit around and dream for next Halloween. Why not every day? Are you so afraid? What will people say?”

  • “Suddenly It’s Spring” has the feel of a Rankin-Bass holiday special without a holiday. Raggedy is playing a dangerous game with Zero as she climbs seductively onto his lap and starts twirling his hair. Cloudy has cheekbones like Barack Obama.

    “Hare Force” is Bugs at his best.

  • Like “Lulu’s Indoor Outing”, “Mighty Mouse Meets Jekyll and Hyde Cat” (Terrytoons, 28/4/44 — Mannie Davis, dir.) begins with a picnic spoiled by a sudden rainstorm, and the picnickers are forced to take shelter in a spooky old house. Here a group of field mice find refuge in the former laboratory of the infamous Dr. Jekyll. But by the time the doctor’s cat imbibes the transformative fluid and chases the mice through he city, the weather has completely cleared up.

  • The article overthinks the shenanigans within Donald Duck and the Gorilla to amusing effect; I can’t say any of the perceived “implausible” elements ever bothered me in a medium where hammerspace and general absurdity are everyday happenstance (not to mention some can be explained anyway; nephews donning the full costume after Don knows their secret could believably have been done in hopes of fooling the genuine article, for instance). I’ll however agree that the business with the candle, if not without entertainment value, could have been replaced with stronger material, especially considering the chase sequence is dynamite.

    I also respect but differ from the notion that Hannah’s Lion Around is an improvement; certainly one of the better installments in an era where Donald’s interactions hardly reached beyond chipmunks or insects, and an enjoyable time in its own merits, but for me, the downgrade in atmosphere, action and score render it below its predecessor’s league.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *