Sunday, August 28, 2022
Changing focus from 1930's and 1940's cartoons to more recent entertainment, we raise a toast to Jack Black, who is celebrating his 53rd birthday today (and shares the August 28 natal anniversary with Jack Kirby).
Thinking of Jack Black's movies, TV shows and records will bring the music-obsessed gang here much-needed cheer, as we are sad about the recent passing of jazz great Joey DeFrancesco. An excellent way to start cheering up is by watching Jack's impassioned performance from the grand finale of the Late Night With Conan O'Brien show.
After listening to Tenacious D's comedic and wonderfully goofy Beatles Tribute, feel a bit less heartbroken about the loss of the Hammond B-3 wizard.
The 2003 movie School of Rock lifts the spirits as well. As an actor, musician, writer and animation voice artist, Jack Black possesses that rare ability to be endearing, enthusiastic and simultaneously likable and cartoonlike.
The Kung Fu Panda franchise is, paws-down, our favorite of all the 21st century animated features to emerge from Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks.
Have read that a Kung Fu Panda 4 is in the works and slated for theatrical release in March 2024. Don't know if this is fact, rumor or marketing.
First recall seeing Jack in the 1990's as one of the many talented comedians on Mr. Show, which is still hilarious and NSFW.
In 1997, the Tenacious D HBO series debuted and got Jack and bandmate Kyle Gass on the map.
Not surprisingly, the epic story of Tenacious D would be the cornerstone of a feature film.
Jack, quite literally the son of rocket scientists, is among the many overnight sensations who had years of ups and downs auditioning for sporadic parts in TV shows and movies before hitting the big time.
As noted in the previous interview, here's Jack, playing a juvenile delinquent in the Lee Majors TV series The Fall Guy.
And also playing a role in the tremendously treacly Touched By An Angel TV series.
Closing today's post with Tenacious D clips and Cee-Lo Green's rousing rendition of that incredibly catchy Carl Douglas hit Kung Fu Fighting - the theme song from our favorite Jack Black film, Kung Fu Panda.
Saturday, August 20, 2022
Pondering the links between animated cartoons and the Golden Age of Radio today.
Radio was a cornerstone of numerous cartoons, especially those of the B-studios. Terrytoons' The Nutty Network stars a simian-staffed equivalent of NBC, ABC and CBS, along with the studio's Bert Lahr lion, in a spoof of Orson Welles' War Of The Worlds broadcast.
It would be an understatement to note that the cartoons of the Charles Mintz Studio frequently featured caricatures of stars from movies and radio. This was the Columbia cartoon studio's stock in trade. Included in the 1938 Color Rhapsody THE BIG BIRDCAST: Rudy Vallee, Jack Benny, Walter Winchell, Eddie Cantor, Joe Penner and Ben Bernie.
Joe Penner in particular is caricatured in numerous 1930's cartoons and would be the prototype for bumbling Merrie Melodies star Egghead.
The Fleischer Studio featured radio and movie stars in the Screen Song series.
These included such early 1930's radio regulars as Arthur Tracy a.k.a. The Street Singer.
Spiders, ghosts, ghouls and skeletons run their own radio station in the Fleischer Studio's Halloween-themed BOO BOO THEME SONG.
None of this is surprising, as the Fleischer Studio got into the broadcasting ring early, notably with the 1929 Talkartoon RADIO RIOT.
The first cartoon about radio this blogger recalls seeing on TV (with the "Wheeler & Woolsey in the soup pot" bit excised for obvious reasons) was the 1933 Merrie Melodie, I've Got To Sing A Torch Song.
Among the celebrities caricatured in the first post-Harman and Ising Merrie Melodie cartoon were radio sensation and soon-to-be Hollywood movie star Bing Crosby.
Even us boomers who know our Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Bob Hope, Burns & Allen and Bob & Ray - and have actually tried to find episodes of Joe Penner's Baker's Broadcast shows - can be periodically stumped by the radio star caricatures in animated cartoons. This writer knew who Ed Wynn was before starting kindergarten because of repeated viewings of I've Got To Sing A Torch Song!
Did not know the extent to which I've Got To Sing A Torch Song was infamous in the history of Warner Brothers animation until decades later. It was at first deemed too terrible to release and eventually remade and re-tooled extensively by Friz Freleng after Leon Schlesinger fired director Tom Palmer.
This wasn't even the first WB cartoon to feature radio as a main character. Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising produced Crosby, Columbo & Vallee, in which braves are horrified by the extreme popularity of radios and crooners with squaws on the reservation. As is the case with many entries from the first season of Merrie Melodies cartoons, it is mostly an excuse for the ever-peppy protagonists to bounce around to the jaunty Frank Marsales score.
Don't know how star of vaudeville, the Ziegfeld Follies, movies and radio Will Rogers, arguably the best known 1930's Hollywood luminary who was a Native American, regarded cartoons along these lines. An excellent caricature of Rogers was featured, following radio star Eddie Cantor and preceding Ed Wynn, in Harman and Ising's 1933 Merrie Melodie, I Like Mountain Music, the first in the "book and magazine covers come to life" genre seen in WB cartoons directed by the likes of Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Frank Tashlin and Friz Freleng.
Harman and Ising would go to this well frequently, combining it with a radio theme in the 1934 MGM Happy Harmonies cartoon Toyland Broadcast. The incredibly bad taste moment at 6:20 ended its inclusion in TV broadcasts, along with such fellow and jaw-dropping MGM Happy Harmonies as The Old Plantation (1935).
Frank Tashlin's The Woods Are Full Of Cuckoos is an especially clever Merrie Melodie cartoon featuring many radio stars. References to the very popular Community Sing, Allen's Alley (a.k.a. The Fred Allen Show and Al Pearce & His Gang shows abound.
And, as is also the case Tashlin's wonderful 1938 Merrie Melodie Have You Got Any Castles? it's difficult not to love a cartoon featuring a caricature of Alexander Woolcott.
An intrepid expert on radio and classic movies posting under the name radiobov has painstakingly gone through the entire cartoon, start to finish, annotating every movie and radio star appearance, in many cases with their star turns in other movies. This is fantastic work, and the gang here encourages the poster named radiobov to upload more.
Any look at the relationship between animation and radio brings to mind George Pal's puppetoons.
George Pal's career in animation began with a series of theatrical commercial films selling Philips radios.
George Pal's 1934 film The Ship Of The Ether is innovative - and all about selling those radios.
The Ship Of The Ether was just one of a series of elaborate mini-musicals George Pal's studio produced for Philips.
Several of the George Pal Philips films are included in Arnold Leibovit's two Puppetoon Movie Blu-ray sets.
Although Bob & Ray’s very funny and most original radio show, filled with spoofs of other radio shows, was never re-imagined as a cartoon, the droll duo starred in a series of terrific animated beer commercials as Bert & Harry Piels.
Prepared for this post by visiting Radiomuseum and listening to Jack Benny and Fred Allen master radio comedy. They played this genre as expertly as Jack's hero, Isaac Stern, worked that Stradivarius.
The only way Jack's hilarious radio show or these cartoons about radio can conceivably be topped is with the absurdist feature film, IT'S IN THE BAG (1945). Fred Allen, Jack Benny and a slew of very funny character actors star - and are incredibly funny, even by jaded and oh-so-hip 2022 standards.
Friday, August 12, 2022
Today is the natal anniversary of Warner Bros. cartoons storyman and voice artist Tedd Pierce (August 12, 1906 – February 19, 1972), seen in the following photo with fellow Termite Terrace story ace Mike Maltese on the left and producer Henry Binder on the right.
The thoroughly mind-rotted gang of magnificent but also mediocre, mush-mouthed and meandering Merrie Melodies mavens here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog have wondered if anyone has posted about Tedd Pierce. The answer is, for the most part no, although Mr. Pierce is among those noted in Jerry Beck's fascinating and informative Cartoon Research post about the animation studio's internal gazette, the Warner Club News.
Tedd Pierce's voice work and writing for the Fleischer Studio, in between two stints at Warner Brothers, presents another topic of great interest to animation buffs. At Fleischer's, he and fellow gagman/actor Cal Howard both worked in front of and behind the cameras. Tedd Pierce plays the despicable Wazzir, uber-bad guy in the third 2-reel Popeye special, ALADDIN & HIS WONDERFUL LAMP.
He would also portray bombastic King Bombo in GULLIVER'S TRAVELS and several characters in the imaginative (yet ill-fated - released theatrically in December 1941) MR. BUGS GOES TO TOWN. Along with fellow story aces Cal Howard Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, he would provide lively voice work for Fleischer cartoons.
Pierce also did a great job as the avaracious Edward Arnold/Lionel Barrymore style ultra-villain C. Bagley Beetle in MR. BUG GOES TO TOWN, played the crook with extra relish.
There are other Fleischer cartoons in which Pierce is given screen credit for story, such as PROBLEM PAPPY (1941), but this writer is momentarily stumped as to whether Tedd also contributed voice characterizations. No doubt such experts on voice acting as Keith Scott would know.
Back to the topic of articles which mention Tedd Pierce, who worked with Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and Robert McKimson, Don M. Yowp, on Tralfaz, wrote an excellent piece, The Cartoon That Jack Built, about a famous Warner Bros. cartoon Tedd worked on.
That would be The Mouse That Jack Built, one of two cartoons Robert McKimson made with the cast of the Jack Benny radio and TV show. I like the cartoon more than Yowp does, but will concede the difficulties in translating the verbal wit of radio, even with a cast full of comedy greats, to animation.
Devon Baxter of Peg Bar Profiles, in the Baxter's Breakdown's feature on Cartoon Research, devoted a fair amount of his post about Bob McKimson's very funny fairytale sendup, The Turn-Tale Wolf, to Tedd Pierce.
One voice Tedd Pierce was credited with on three WB cartoons was the Bud Abbott in Babbitt & Catstello.
"Give me the bird! Give me the bird! If only the Hays Office would let me, I'd give him the boyd, all right!"
In addition to the aforementioned outstanding Cartoon Research posts, there's David Germain's 2009 post about Pepe Le Pew (who Chuck Jones, in his 1989 book Chuck Amuck The Life & Times Of An Animated Cartoonist claimed he patterned on the girl-chasing Tedd Pierce) and from Scott Ross' blog, PLUSSING IT: ISADORE “FRIZ” FRELENG (PART TWO), from a continuing series about the animation of Friz Freleng.
In the 1940's Tedd Pierce's handiwork (story and voice characterizations) turns up in quite a few Chuck Jones cartoons.
On the sub-topic of animation directors and writers who doubled as voice artists (Pierce, Bill Scott, Ben Hardaway, Cal Howard, Jack Mercer, Tex Avery and, more recently, John Kricfalusi and the late, great Joe Ranft), the Wikipedia entry for Tedd Pierce, echoed in the Looney Tunes wiki, credits him with specific voices for a bunch of cartoons. Do not have studio records to confirm how accurate this, or the listing in Pierce's Behind The Voice Actors entry is. IMDB proves even more questionable and credits Tedd Pierce with voice work on Screen Gems cartoons. Don't know where IMDB got this information. Not under the impression that Pierce followed Henry Binder to Screen Gems (along with Dave Monahan, Cal Howard and, very briefly, Bob Clampett) during that studio's last gasp in 1945-1946. Would need experts to confirm. . .
By the 1950's, after teaming up with Mike Maltese, Tedd was the principal storyman for the Bob McKimson crew at Warner Bros. Animation.
When Warner Bros. animation closed in June 1953, Pierce would go to UPA and contribute stories to a couple of cartoons there.
With his writing collaborator, Bill Danch, Tedd Pierce worked on The Jim Backus Show and The Alvin Show.
As the 1960's progressed, Pierce & Danch would write WB and Walter Lantz cartoons and also be among the screenwriters who penned the George Peppard-Mary Tyler Moore romantic comedy What's So Bad About Being Good, co-starring New York City, a toucan and Dom DeLuise.
In closing, have read that Tedd actually wrote one of this blogger's all-time favorite jokes ever in a film, animation or live-action. That would be the "beavers damming the river" bit in the Chuck Jones cartoon, THE EAGER BEAVER.
Thursday, August 11, 2022
A documentary about the career of clay animation guru Will Vinton, which made its premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, is now making its way to college screenings and indie theaters.
Released last weekend and now playing in NYC, L.A. and Portland, this film by Marq Evans covers the 30 year clay-cinematic career, the rise and fall of the stop-motion innovator, best known for The California Raisins.
The successors to the often wonderful 1950’s clay animation of Art Clokey and the predecessors of our favorites, the stop-motion mastery of Nick Park, Peter Lord and others at Aardman Animations - the claymation films were tremendously popular.
By the mid-1970's, Will Vinton Productions proved quite ubiquitous in the 16mm animation programs sought out by aficionados of the art form. There were documentaries on claymation produced as early as the late 1970's.
Many of us who started schlepping 16mm projectors around to university screening rooms, tiny art-house/repertory cinema spaces, as well as the homes of our fellow animation and stop-motion enthusiast friends back in the 1970's pre-VHS days to watch MOVIES ON FILM remember the Will Vinton Studio’s work fondly. The film that introduced this writer and many other film buffs to clay-mation was CLOSED MONDAYS by Will Vinton and fellow stop-motion animator (as well as the inventor of the clay-mation technique), Bob Gardiner.
CLOSED MONDAYS won the Oscar for best short subject in 1975.
Vinton and Gardiner followed this one with MOUNTAIN MUSIC, which makes one wonder if one animator at the studio was playing acoustic folk music at work, while the other was listening to Black Sabbath.
The 1980 Will Vinton Productions film DINOSAUR recalls the stop-motion coolness of Willis O' Brien, Ray Harryhausen and prehistoric Gumby adventures, such as THE EGGS AND TRIXIE.
Favorite Will Vinton production? Hands-down, it's Super Seinfeld!
The Will Vinton Studio made so many noteworthy films from the 1970's through the mid-1990's, it's tough to know where to start or stop.
The documentary's Claydream press release elaborates: Structured around interviews with this charismatic pioneer and his close collaborators, the film charts the rise and fall of the Oscar® and Emmy® winning Will Vinton Studios. It’s an astonishing journey, rich with nostalgia and anchored by a treasure trove of clips from Vinton’s life’s work.
Documentarian Marq Evans (The Glamour and the Squalor, 2016) brings to life the battle between art and commerce, while inviting us to fall in love with his subject, making this an affectionate, insightful portrait of an artist who put so much of himself into his craft."
We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog were actually not aware that Laika, the production company which produced Coraline and other stop-motion films we like a great deal, actually was the former Will Vinton Studio, lost after prolonged legal battles to the owners of Nike, the Knights.
There have been several comprehensive pieces about Marq Evans' documentary on clay-mation. From Variety, ‘ClayDream’ Review: A Lively Look at Stop-Motion Maestro Will Vinton for Vintage Toon Geeks by Peter Debruge, Documentary Explores Will Vinton's Claymation Heydey and two pieces from The Oregonian: Claydream Tells The Story of Portland Animator, and (from a few years ago), Squabble in Toon Town: How Vinton Lost His Animation Studio To Nike's Phil Knight.
Will Vinton passed in 2018, but not without leaving behind a memorable 4-decade legacy in short films, features, television shows - and some of the best animated commercials!
Have not seen Claydream yet, but look forward to at least two viewings, start-to-finish, soon.
Sunday, August 07, 2022
Dealing with delightful August weather here in the Hudson Valley which has been careening between 95-104 degrees Fahrenheit and surprise thunderstorms, this blogger is, alas, a tad low on physical energy - and today shall lay low and (yet again) watch cartoons. The caveat: these cartoons were first released to movie theatres on this day, August 7.
First and foremost, released theatrically on August 7, in this case in 1937, here is PORKY'S RAILROAD, just one of a slew of fantastic black & white Looney Tunes cartoons directed by the great Frank Tashlin. In this storyline with Porky the lil' engineer racing his old reliable train and pal "Toots" against a villain driving a supercharged supertrain "The Silver Fish," the elements of Tashlin's style - rapid cutting, use of speed, imaginative camera angles and varied pacing to build comedy - power the cartoon and synchronize beautifully with the music of Carl W. Stalling. PORKY'S RAILROAD can be found on the flawed but wonderful Porky Pig 101 DVD set.
Must add to this a note that the Anthony's Animation Talk YouTube channel did a terrific job focusing on Frank Tashlin's two stretches directing cartoons for Warner Brothers.
Also released theatrically on August 7, in 1948, the following excellent Chuck Jones cartoon. It is very funny and has one of the best titles of any cartoon, You Were Never Duckier. . . Must double bill this one with the Columbia Fred Astaire - Rita Hayworth musical, You Never Were Lovelier.
Posting three versions of this cartoon, the last two with commentary.
On August 7, 1946, Walt Disney's Pluto did his bit for the Community Chest.
Walt's inspiration, Felix the Cat starred in Jack From All Trades, released theatrically on August 7, 1927. This b&w video appears to have been mastered from the colorized version from the infamous Radio & Television Packagers.
Surprisingly, did not find an actual black & white print of the original cartoon on YouTube, Vimeo or Daily Motion, given that the survival rate on the series, as silent films go, is pretty good. In full Radio & Television Packagers glory, that colorized Felix had a cheesy soundtrack and steely determination to run roughshod over the artwork of Otto Messmer and crew whenever possible. What were they thinking? This. . . "let's make a buck - this colorized version with a new title isn't under copyright!" We'll call it MISTER DO-ALL."
Now, to drag today's post even further into the mud, we'll post a banned cartoon - and banned for painfully obvious reasons. Why would we do that? Are we NUTS? Yes - unquestionably, after days of triple-digit heat, we have lost our minds. Prefacing this banned cartoon: a compilation of crystals from the Tex Avery MGM universe. This does not let us off the hook by any means but at least puts this August 7 release in context.
Said banned cartoon is the silver screen swan song of Tex Avery's ever-inept bears George & Junior. Since the Bob Clampett version of Porky Pig traversed Africa seeking the do-do a decade earlier, Avery's bumbling protagonists search for the world's smallest pygmy. It is a cousin to Chuck Jones' series starring a certain minah bird who hops distinctively to Felix Mendelsohn's "Fingal's Cave" and similar to Red Hot Rangers, with the tribesman in the same role as the little flame in the opus featuring George & Junior as both hopeless and hapless forest firefighters, with some of the poses also recalling the wiseguy mouse in Slap Happy Lion.
Yes, along with several other films from the Tex Avery and Friz Freleng catalogs, while not as horrendously offensive as the infamous Censored 11, this indeed was banned for obvious reasons and remains one of the weaker Avery MGMS.
We love the characters George & Junior, both the 1940's Tex Avery version from Henpecked Hoboes and Hound Hunters and the very funny 1990's revival of the characters by ace animation director and writer Patrick A. Ventura, it understates the obvious to note that the design of the bears' diminutive but crafty nemesis in this cartoon is grotesque in the extreme. In addition, given the ending, it's a good bet that Tex was not crazy about George & Junior and as happy to get rid of them once and for all as he was with Screwy Squirrel.
In closing, the question is, if one had the chance to tour the world showing this (with an emphatic disclaimer preceding it), for example to an audience of classic film enthusiasts, educators and indie filmmakers at any of Africa's universities, would the group respond to this cartoon with horror, anger, outrage and disgust - or end up ROFL and/or at least enjoying the gags? Only someone who has had the opportunity to travel extensively as a presenter of vintage American films, good, bad, indifferent and/or pretty darn offensive, would know.