Fagin’s Freshman

“Boy! This is keen!”

Supervision by Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton; Story by Jack Miller; Animation by Rod Scribner; Musical Direction by Carl W. Stalling. A Merrie Melody released on November 18, 1939.

You remember the rhyme about the three little kittens who lost their mittens? I was never a fan. Even when you don’t take my feelings towards felines into account, I always found the tune annoying, the lyrics inane, and the plot just depressing. So, this cartoon doesn’t get to a good start with me, since it starts with that precise rhyme.

A mother cat and her kittens are singing, and smiling, and just making the world that much more saccharine. I’m with the kitten sulking in the corner, Alphonse. (He says the kids call him “Blackie” but I come from a millennium where that sounds a bit derogatory. I’m not one to judge kids by the color of their coat.) Now, the radio programs that feature guns, and violence, and death? That’s more his style!

His mother is angry about this. So much so that he’s getting the ole “bed and no dinner” punishment. Pretty harsh. Sure, he interrupted her inoffensively offensive sing-along, and yes, it’s probably not great that he is so fascinated by shooting, but to deny him his meals because of that? That’s poor parenting. Hasn’t she ever tried simply turning the radio off, looking her kid in the eye, and just spanking him?

Well, as long as Alphonse is in his bed, he might as well sleep. And if he’s asleep, he might as well dream. And if he’s dreaming, he might as well dream about something related to this whole thing. So, in his dream, he spots a sign asking for boys. It doesn’t really go into any further detail, so I don’t fault the kid for knocking on the door. He’s greeted by an older cat named Fagin. He seems like a kind enough gentleman, he’s running a school, and everyone knows those are always on the up and level.

Alphonse is introduced to the other classmates, and even though they permanently scowl, they seem chipper enough. But Alphonse isn’t too keen on hearing he just agreed to go to school. But Fagin makes a good point about how education gets you farther in life. (You think I WANT to write a blog that nobody reads?) Why just look at the students that he’s tutored. (I’m a little disturbed that one sometimes goes by “Holocaust Harry.” Wh…Why would that be an alias of his?)

Alphonse is starting to get worried, but Fagin makes a good point about how he just teaches. It’s the pupils who decide what they will do with their education. And yet, the cops just don’t see things that way and knock at the door. The police (who in this dream are all dogs) are doing their best to get inside. And they’re willing to use their firearms too. Either they don’t know their are kits in there, or said kits knew what they were getting into when they signed up.

Now that Alphonse is witnessing all this firsthand, he breaks down. He’s scared, and wants out of this lifestyle. But since he’s still asleep, he’d better find something he can get tangled up in, so they can become covers upon his awakening. Falling out the window, and getting wrapped in the curtains counts. He wakes. And now that he knows that being shot at is no fun, he joins in his families singing.

Favorite part: During the shootout, Fagin asks for everyone to cease while he answers the phone. They comply, and after answering, Fagin relays the message to officer Hogan. His wife needs butter.

Personal Rating: 2. But it teeters on the edge of one.

Porky’s Hare Hunt

“I’m just a trifle pixilated!”

Supervision by Ben Hardaway; Story by Howard Baldwin; Animation by Voleny White; Musical Direction by Carl W. Stalling. A Looney Tune released on April 30, 1938.

A herd of rabbits are enjoying themselves. Not in a carrot patch, but a corn field. Points for variety! I guess they’re quite content to stay there, because gunshots don’t deter their munching at all. It takes Proto-Bugs’ (making his debut,) warnings to get them to flee. And along comes Porky. I’m guessing that was his corn they were devouring. He’s got a gun ready to roll, and begins his hunt. A “Hare Hunt” if you will.

Even though P.B. ran off to the left, he’s right behind Porky when the pig enters the scene. Said pig is accompanied by his hunting dog, Zero. (Who would go hang out with Jack Skellington upon his death. Porky is immortal.) The hare distracts the dog with a decoy and makes Porky’s gun sneeze with pepper. The resulting bang demolishes Proto-Bugs’s hiding tree, so the hare has to use another trick to stay alive. Thus, the hare remover in his paw.

Chugging the bottle makes the lagomorph invisible and intangible, seeing as how Porky’s hand goes right through where the hare is standing. (Hare remover bottles don’t just float on their own, you know.) He reappears out of a hat, and plays bullfighter when Zero charges at him. This dog lacks depth perception, and completely misses the hare every time. When P.B. plays magician and makes the mutt disappear, it’s almost a mercy act. (He brings him back almost immediately, don’t fret.)

Another thing Proto-Bugs can do? He can fly. By spinning his ears in an impossible full circle, he is capable of flight. (Humans could do this too, in theory. But we’re committed to finding the easier way.) Porky figures that since the pest flew away, he and Zero are rid of him. Wishful thinking, and Proto-Bugs lets them know it. (Laughing like Disney’s Max Hare. It’s an homage! Not plagiarism!) So, they continue the chase. Porky manages to get the drop on his prey, and P.B. gives his sob story. Seems he’s mate material, as he has photo evidence of himself with a jill and many offspring. Porky couldn’t possibly shoot him now.

Wishful thinking! (And Porky let’s him know it.) He tries to fire, but his gun won’t comply. Maybe it’s jammed, maybe it’s marmaladed, maybe it’s just out of bullets. Whatever the case, Proto-Bugs destroys the weapon that is no longer a threat and flies off again. Without a more contemporary weapon, Porky has to make do with a rock. I love the little pose he has upon throwing. That sort of “C’mon. Make it. Make it.” pose people get when they throw things. I also love P.B.’s frustrated face he makes upon getting hit. That sort of “Are you f*cking kidding me?” face humans make when they lose at Mario Party.

The hare lands, but is still able to walk any possible injuries off. (After some fake death throes. Modern Bugs had to learn it from someone.) Porky has had enough, and when he chases his target to a hole, he tosses in some dynamite. So sure is he that this will work, that he doesn’t notice the explosive is thrown right back out at him. Luckily for Porky, he gets the best case scenario, and is simply laid up in bed with a broken leg.

He’s even got a visitor. Proto-Bugs? With flowers and everything! That’s so sweet! But before you think he’s too friendly, he proves how malicious he really is, by yanking on the rope holding Porky’s foot up, undoing any healing that might have taken place. (Might be a bit too dark an ending for some.)

Favorite Part: The hare asks if Porky even has a hunting license. When Porky proves he does, the hare rips it in half. “You haven’t got one now!”

Personal Rating: 3. It’s not bad, but anything it does, “Porky’s Duck Hunt” did better. That, and I could see some getting annoyed by Proto-Bugs.

Bars and Stripes Forever

“Why don’t somebody do something? Do something! Say, that’s a good idea! Maybe I can do something. Sure!”

Supervision by Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton; Story by Jack Miller; Animation by Rod Scribner; Musical Direction by Carl W. Stalling. A Merrie Melody released on April 8, 1939.

Welcome to Alcarazz prison! Thought there was no such thing as a “bad” dog? Well, I still say there isn’t, but this short is full of canines who are incarcerated for some reason or another. (Maybe this is just a pound, and this is all seen from a pup’s point of view?)

We don’t have any named characters, or at least, not yet. Our large thug of the picture shall now go by: Julius. Which naturally leaves the small comic relief as: Ben. Don’t be fooled. Ben may look innocent enough, with his tiny frame, oversized clothes and squeak of a voice. But he’s in here for a reason. He snapped Dinky Doodle’s neck! (Mostly because he was the only person small enough.) These two have a bit of a running gag: Julius does something to rile up the guard, and Ben takes the punishment, all the time, every time.

We’ve also got a warden who doesn’t factor much into the picture, but he is a caricature of Hugh Herbert. So, he has that going for him. I like him. (He’s silly.) He seems really into his job. Happily waking up the inmates, and believing their blatant lies about who dug the holes in their cells. (Mice, my tail. Rats, maybe. Groundhogs? Possibly. Capybaras? By all means!… I’m rambling again, aren’t I?) There’s even a joke about one prisoner begging not to be taken to a chair, despite being told it’ll be over very soon. (Turns out, it was a barber chair. But admit it, you didn’t know that right away.)

Still, nice as it may be inside, a prison is a prison. Julius wants out. (His crime was a lot less impressive. He just shot Scrappy in the arm.)

(Admit it. You’d do the same)

He plans a riot for 2 ‘o clock. Good thing the dogs are allowed at least two guns per person in here. They let loose at the allotted hour, and Julius uses it as a cover to make a break for it. He’s almost immediately caught. What else can he do, but sing? It actually does work! I mean, the guards don’t put up much of an effort to stop him, and they get locked up to boot, but Julius is able to wish the warden farewell to his face. (Note to self: a song can get me out of work. Acapulco, here I come!)

Scratch those plans. It works for less than a minute before Warden Paws realizes the severity of the situation. His boys set off to bring the rascal back, and they manage to do it too! All too soon, Julius is back in the can, but now with much more security to keep him inside. Still bitter, he clubs the passing guard over the head. Ben is cleaning outside the cell, and he knows that he’s going to get the punishment yet again. If that’s the way it must be, he does it his way, and punishes himself. (With behavior like that, he’ll make parole in no time!)

Favorite Part: Warden Paws. He could make Death Row jolly! (And he probably does!)

Personal Rating: 3

Buddy of the Apes

“Go get ’em!”

Supervision by Ben Hardaway; Animation by Paul Smith and Sandy Walker; Music by Bernard Brown. A Looney Tune released on May 26, 1944.

Good old Buddy. Boring, bland, basic Buddy. What’s this I hear about him being “of the Apes” all of a sudden? Well, there’s no backstory to explain any of it. Buddy lives in the jungle now. Deal with it.

You may think that a jungle is a frightening place for someone like Buddy to live, but it actually seems quite pleasant. None of the animals even seem interested in killing each other for food. Or, maybe that happens later in the day. As for right now, it’s time for nature’s morning routine. Even if he is a wild man with nothing but a loincloth and shoes, Buddy understands the importance of good hygiene, and takes a shower under an elephant’s trunk, before b-rush-ing his teeth.

As stated, the animals are there too. Crocodiles take excellent care of their dentures, using a porcupine to scrub them. Hippos, however, can’t brush properly with hooves, so they have a monkey on hand to scrub their teeth clean. And mother gorilla is giving her young one breakfast. You can’t turn your back on baby apes for more than a second. This one, for instance, starts rocking his cradle too hard, and falls out of the tree, cradle and all.

He lands in the water, and unfortunately, the current is part of a proud waterfall, that has dragged many an innocent infant to their demise.  In standard tradition, the baby is enjoying every moment of it. (I don’t like that cliche. I’m pretty sure majority of babies would not be pleased if they were out of their comfort zones) Seeing as he is “of the apes” and therefore, “for the apes”, Buddy has to make the save. He fashions a grappling hook out of his knife, and all is well. (That dancing tiger killed any chance of this being an African jungle) I’d say that was an okay picture, but that was only the first act. What’s next?

Racial stereotyping! An abundance of it! Buddy has been sighted by a native. (Is that the right choice of words? For all I know, Buddy is a native too.) He alerts his leader, and I suppose they are cannibals, as they look ready to eat the little man. (But then, I’m not sure they are the same species as Buddy. At least two of them have lips larger than any human being ever had! It’s actually kind of disgusting. Not to mentions how many jokes are being made about nose piercings as well.)

The tribe heads out, but because of his brave ape heroics, the animals side with Buddy for this fight. They don’t need so stinking weapons, they are the stinking weapons. (I didn’t see any of them bathing.) Elephants use their trunks as (elephant) guns. And hippos are being used as cannons. Even a kangaroo joins in the fray. (Now, really. Kangaroos don’t even LIVE in jungles. Why does that keep happening?)

Things really aren’t in the king’s favor, so retreating is the only sensible solution. (Fighting to the death isn’t smart, it’s brave.) Buddy sees the fleeing monarch, and swings down to beat him to a pulp. Having proven his superiority, the animals grant Buddy the kings crown. (Enjoy it Buddy. You certainly aren’t the king of cartoons.)

Favorite Part: The whole morning routine bit. I particularly enjoyed the animation of the crocodile putting his teeth back in. His lower jaw just hangs limply until he pulls it into place. That’s unusual for cartoons.

Personal Rating: 1

Count Me Out

“I’m a professional prize fighter!”

Supervision by Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton; Story by Melvin Millar; Animation by Herman Cohen; Musical Supervision by Carl W. Stalling. A Merrie Melody released on December 17, 1938.

This is actually a rather important cartoon for the good ole’ WB. You may not notice it right away, so I’ll just tell you. It’s all on the piece of mail Egghead is reading. This was the first appearance of ACME! The greatest “sell anything” company since… well, I suppose it was the first, and nobody else has ever been crazy enough to sell such content. That makes them number one to this day!

Back to business, the ad Egghead is reading promotes some boxing lessons (equipment included, ACME cares about its customers). What really hooks Eggy, is the ad challenging his masculinity. He can be a man or a mouse, and mice don’t box, do they?

Then I guess Egghead doesn’t have to prove anything. But what fun would that be?

He orders the kit and almost immediately gets it. (The delivery man would have been there sooner, but the bridge was out.) Time to get to work! There’s all sorts of nifty gear to make you the champion boxer of the neighborhood! Instructions relayed to you by a Mel Blanc narrator. The most basic rule of boxing is knowing how to punch, so that’s a good starting point. Egghead may not look like he’s got a lot of strength, but he can really hit that punching bag! In fact, it won’t stop swinging when Mel tells him to stop. (Egghead has no choice but to shoot it)

Like any sport, you can’t have offense without defense. (Otherwise, you’d just be getting payed to bully others) Next, will be lessons on dodging. The kit comes with a nice wall of gloves that will try and give you a good socking. Dodge them! Egghead does just that, and the instructions deem him ready! He’s a real boxer now, and real boxers right real matches. (Believe me, I’m tempted to put in joke about real Boxers (the dog breed), but I can’t make such a bad joke if you’re expecting it!)

He must have the right kind of connections, because Egghead is booked to fight the world champion, Biff Stew. (Oddly enough, Egghead is the only person in this short who isn’t an anthropomorphic animal. Then again, I’ve never been entirely sure that he wasn’t a hooded seal.)

(Uncanny.)

The referee is being played by Tex Avery. (Doing that oh, so enjoyable laugh he does. You can’t help but join in.) And the fight begins! Egghead does have some agility on him, and he lands several jabs, but it’s kind of like a grasshopper hitting an ox. No fazing is going to happen. It’s not long before Egghead is getting his rear handed to him. (So dazed is he, he thinks he is Charlie McCarthy at one point and takes a seat on the champ’s lap.)

He can’t just quit. Oh, don’t think he wouldn’t try! Biff is just not going to give him that luxury! They are fighting to the death! Biff might have overdone it on that last punch though, as after stretching the ropes as much as possible, (Egghead comes close enough to kiss! Any desperate people in the audience tonight?) he comes back and knocks Biff off his feet, and onto Eggy’s body. Only one way to get that lummox off, a bite! The galoot flies up, and comes down, the impact dragging the rest of the ring down with him. Could Egghead go down too?

If he was actually there! Turns out Egghead was knocked out by his dodging wall, and dreamed the whole thing up. Dream or not, he’s convinced that a fighter’s life is not for him and he throws everything out. (Except the wall, which gives him one more punch.)

Favorite part: After a grueling exercise, Egghead pants. The record tells him to not have his tongue hanging out, because we’re watching him. (Glad I didn’t have to say it.)

Personal Rating: 3

Busy Bakers

“We must work fast before he wakes, and fill his store with pies and cakes.”

Supervision by Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton; Story by Jack Miller; Animation by Richard Bickenback; Musical Direction by Carl Stalling. A Merrie Melody released on February 10, 1940.

Before I begin with the summary, I insist that you watch this:

One brilliant person made this work of art, and if you come here, then you’re the kind of person who’d enjoy it. (I was only going to put this up with permission, but I was told to just do it regardless. I guess civility really IS dead.)

Back to what I normally talk about on Sundays…

Poor Swenson the baker. He’s got no customers, because he’s got no products to sell. He can’t sell any products, because he has no ingredients. He can’t buy more, because has no funds. Funds that could be given to him by the customers he doesn’t have. (A vicious cycle) I’m not sure how things ended up this way. Maybe he spent all his dough (tee hee) on the premises. Or he could just be terrible at his chosen profession.

Enter an old man. He appears to be blind, hunchbacked, and nearly toothless, so clearly, he’s seen better days. (Figuratively, what with being blind and all) He asks for some crumbs. Even if Swenson is the world’s worst purveyor of pastries, he is a kind man and gives his sole patron the last doughnut. Free of charge. (Not like selling it would be much help anyway. He’d probably be able to afford half a stick of butter at most) Still, the old guy is grateful for the kindness and heads out.

As it turns out, this was all a test. In reality, the old man is… some random old man dwarf. He lives with others of his kind in what’s left of Disney’s “Old Mill.” (Which is the greatest Silly Symphony says I. Go watch it to celebrate the series turning 90 this year!) Because of Swenson’s generosity, the dwarfs are going to supply him with their own ingredients, and bake him a stores worth of goodies. (They will do it while he sleeps. Not only because surprises are fun, but people who run failing businesses tend to force smaller beings into being slaves. This is why cobblers no longer exist.)

So, we get gags about making pastries. They’re…honestly, not the best Warner Bros. has cooked up. (Tee hee) They put egg shells into batter, try squeezing whole pumpkins into pie crusts, and get trapped under unrolling jelly rolls. I don’t know if I’d want to eat their wares. What does one put into dough to get it to stick to a table like that? It may look pretty, but the eyes can be deceived. (I once tried to eat a poison dart frog because it was beautiful. It dissolved my colon)

Despite the mix ups, the little guys seem rather adept at what they are doing. Still, noise is noise, and Swenson wakes up and sees what is going on in his kitchen. With the jig up, the dwarfs flee. Word travels fast, as the store is already packed with people wanting to purchase the pastries. Since they weren’t made with high fructose corn syrup, I’m not surprised to see them sell like hot cakes. (Tee hee) When the day is done, Swenson has a good amount of gold coins in his possession.

Now comes the true test! The old man comes back to once again beg for scraps. (Gotta see if success has changed the baker for the worse.) Happily, he is still a rather nice fellow, and gives the beggar a whole pie. (Maybe he knows the old guy is related to his booming business somehow, and doesn’t want to lose his luck. A little food for thought. (Tee hee.)) However, when Swenson mentions that there is a five cent deposit on the pan, he gets the pie heaved in his face. (I don’t understand. Doesn’t that mean if the old guy returned it, he’d get payed? Why so angry?)

Favorite part: Like I said, the gags were sadly a little weak. (Though the art is very nice) I suppose my favorite part is the song they sing while they bake. It’s catchy.

Personal Rating: 2

Porky and Teabiscuit

“They’re off! Yes, sir they’re off in a doud of clust, err a cloud of rust, er a bust of crust.. ah there they go.”

In this short Porky is just a kid. (Or maybe a teen, he can drive and is eligible for a horse race. I have no idea) His father, Phineas Pig (and the one who gave Porky a stutter) tells him to take some feed down to the racetrack, and bring back $11.00. Porky is excited as he seems to LOOOOOOOOVE racing! After delivering it, he watches an auction. An old guy asks him for the time. He is hard of hearing and Porky has to yell that it’s eleven. Just as the auctioneer is asking for that exact amount. Porky apparently bought a rope. What a ripoff. But wait! There is something at the end of the rope. A real Racehorse. No, not the beautiful creature Porky admires, but a sickly, frail, equine named Teabiscuit. (To me, he looks like an underfed camel.) Porky can’t believe his rotten luck. Luckily, there is a race, and after deducting prices, the prize would be eleven bucks. He goes to get ready and TB wanders around. He seems to really enjoy a trombone being played by a band. Just then, a child’s balloon pops and sends the horse running back to the stables, where Porky is waiting. (He somehow got a uniform) They race, but it is obvious they aren’t exactly the racing type. (Heck, I doubt they’re the plowing type either) Things get more complicated when Teabiscuit watches the trombone again. Porky tries to get him to move. Another balloon pops, and scares the horse so bad, he runs so fast, and actually wins. He gets scared again by the camera flashes, and runs to his best friend for comfort: the trombone. He plays “Good Evening Friends” to end us off.

Personal Rating: 3

Katnip Kollege

♪”Okay, Mr. Jones you may, recite your history for today.”♪

At the kollege for kats, all the other classes are clearly never in use. (No zoology? That’s unfair. However I guess they ARE animals) The only class that is in session is swingology. From whats going on, it seems that its just normal school but everything is sung. The class recites their history lesson, but one kat is struggling. His name is Johnny and he has no rhythm.

Rather than accepting the fact that everyone has a different talent, the professor makes him sit in a dunce cap until he learns. The rest of the class taunts him, save for the stereotypical hot chick, Kitty. She’s a bit kinder, and tells him that if he could sing then she’d find him attractive. (B*tch. Or whatever the cat version is.)

Later, everyone is having a great time, ‘cept for Johnathan who is still locked up. A ticking clock gives him the inspiration he needs and he runs to join his classmates. He sings a duet with Kitty about how falling in love with her is easier than falling off a log. Then they fall off the log they were on. Hey, at least he got the girl.

Personal Rating: 3