COMPRESSED HARE (1961) – Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote, together again

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The following is my first of two entries for The 1961 Blogathon, being hosted by little ol’ me at this blog on April 27-29, 2018 in honor of my 57th birthday. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to a variety of movies released in or related to the year of 1961!

As I stated above, this blogathon is my self-indulgent tribute to my birthday. And what does my birthday make me think of? Childhood, and watching cartoons on Saturday morning! So I’d like to honor one of those cartoons, released a few months after my birth.

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Compressed Hare is the fourth pairing of Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote — they would be paired again in Hare-Breadth Hurry (1963), with Bugs standing in for an ailing Road Runner — and it doesn’t take a SPOILER ALERT to let people know which of this duo is going to win this grudge match. (The cartoon is embedded below for your viewing pleasure.)

This is also one of the last great cartoons of Warner Bros.’ “golden age” of animation, hereafter followed by mostly dull outings with the Road Runner and Coyote (not directed by their originator, Chuck Jones), and Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales.

(If you’ve ever wondered why Wile E. Coyote speaks in some cartoons but not in the Road Runner series [where he first became popular], Jones said he regarded Wile E. as an “actor” in three separate series: the Road Runners, the Ralph-and-Sam episodes [where Wile E., as “Ralph Wolf,” is pitted against a clever sheepdog], and his outings with Bugs Bunny.)

The cartoon begins with Wile E. conveniently planting a live telephone outside Bugs’ hole. When the phone rings, Bugs, playing along with the premise, nonchalantly answers it (because Bugs deserves a phone, doesn’t he?). Wile E. is on the other line, asking to borrow a cup of diced carrots, and Bugs is happy to comply with the request.

When Bugs arrives at Wile E.’s cave, he sees a mailbox adorned with the title “Wile E. Coyote – Genius.” Bugs offers the camera a withering look before knocking on Wile E.’s door and inquiring, “Are you in, genius? Are you incapable? Insolent? Indescribable? Inbearable?” The door slams open, and Wile E. grabs Bugs and pulls him inside.

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We next sees Bugs tied to a stake in the cave while Wile E. prepares rabbit stew, for which he announces that Bugs is the main ingredient. (Bugs is cooler about Wile E.’s impending cannibalization of him than I am in getting up in the morning.) While the stew is brewing, Wile E. tends to his wine collection, wondering which selection best complements game. “You are game, aren’t you?” Wile E. asks Bugs.

Bad choice of words. “Oh, I’m game, all right,” sneers Bugs, who uses the stake to tap on a floorboard and pop a wine cork into Wile E.’s eye. “Now, look here, me bucko,” Wile E. snaps.

Bugs taps the floorboard again. Wile E. ducks to avoid a second wine bottle uncorking, but through a series of Rube Goldberg-like machinations, the cork ends up doing in Wile E. for good. Still tied to the stake, Bugs hops out of the cave and back to his hole.

Three more of Wile E.’s failed attempts to subdue Bugs lead to the cartoon’s centerpiece: a 10-billion volt electronic magnet (probably purchased on credit from the Acme Company). Wile E. drops a metal-plated carrot into Bugs’ hole to tempt the rabbit, but Bugs isn’t fooled — he sends the carrot (and several of his appliances) back Wile E.’s way via the magnet’s draw. Mother Nature is also only too happy to help with Bugs’ revenge — we see other metal-based properties from around the world heading for Wile E.’s cave, including this priceless shot:

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When an oversized rocket plows into the cave, it’s finally too much. The cave explodes, sending Wile E. into celestial parts unknown. Bugs comments on the then-current “space race” by saying, “One thing’s for sure — we’re the first country to get a coyote into orbit!”

When the character of Bugs Bunny was created in 1940, he was regarded almost as a “wartime hero,” a symbol of America’s determination in the grim face of World War II. Animation buffs have since marvelled at how the guys at “Termite Terrace” (the nickname for the slovenly offices of Warner Bros.’ cartoon unit) could come up with so many un-war-like situations to demonstrate Bugs’ spunk. This cartoon remains one of the finest.

(Another of my birthday indulgences: Click here to read my 1988 interview with Chuck Jones. Also, if you enjoyed reading this, click here to read my second blogathon entry, about Stan Laurel receiving an Honorary Oscar in 1961.)

 

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A cold, hard analysis of SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Even though certain movies might have been made decades ago, usually I can enjoy them in the age I’m in, in the here and now. But for me to fully appreciate Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I think I’d have to have been part of one of its original audiences in 1937. I first saw the movie during its 50th-anniversary re-release, and I’m afraid that the — forgive me — sexual politics of 1987 sort of laid the movie bare for me.

Yes, I can easily appreciate its technical aspects. The fluid, hand-drawn animation — an element that seems to drift further away in modern movies — is truly something to behold. And the rich and funny characterizations of the Seven Dwarfs — something that was thought impossible for a feature-length cartoon (of which, of course, this was the first) — remain distinct and enjoyable.

But then there’s the little matter of…Snow White.

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She is the movie’s heroine, the groundwork upon which Disney laid the foundation for the movie’s premise, its reason for being — and I’m afraid she comes off as too much of a simp for me. I can understand her being frightened in given situations. (Who couldn’t get chills from the scene where Snow White scampers nervously through the dark forest and is seemingly menaced by every tree?)

But at some point through all of these adventures which Snow White proves worthy to survive, couldn’t she have developed just a bit of a spine? At no point in the movie is she not entirely dependent on someone else for her well-being — the Wicked Queen, the woodsman who spares her life, and those damn dwarfs. And of course, the prince who awakens her with “love’s first kiss.”

And what about those dwarfs, and the shortchanging they get? After tending to her every need for Disney knows how long, she gets swept off her feet by that one-kiss prince, after which Snow White is perfectly content to abandon her wards, and they her. As the Wicked Queen would say, “Bah!”

We all have particular movies where we can appreciate the skill and talent that went into them, and yet we’re still left baffled as to their wide popularity. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it appears, is my cross to bear.

How the critics stole Christmas

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Like most people who love Chuck Jones‘ TV adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I’ve been watching it since I was a kid, and I can never get enough of it. (The less said about Ron Howard’s ghastly movie version starring Jim Carrey, the better.)

I wish I could find a fresh way to describe how much this cartoon delights me, but I can’t. So instead, I refer you to a very enjoyable blog titled Tralfaz, which dives deeper into the creation of animated movies and TV shows than I would have ever thought possible.

Click here to read the blog’s surprising account of how some contemporary TV critics sniffed at what has long since become a holiday classic. If you ever get too full of yourself as a blogger or critic (and I can be as guilty as anyone), remember that the work you’ve critiqued will probably last long after you do.

 

Your Saturday morning cartoon

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Did you know that the Looney Tunes troupe did a parody of Casablanca? It came out in 1995 and is titled Carrotblanca (starring guess-who). It was originally released as a curtain-raiser for a forgettable Warner Bros. family filim, The Great Panda Adventure.

When I first heard about this release, I was dying to see the cartoon; the pandas, not so much. So one day on my lunch hour, I drove to my local bijou, dutifully paid full admission, sat through Carrotblanca, and left to go back to work. It was worth every dollar of my movie ticket.

Carrotblanca is 14 minutes long, an epic by Looney Tunes standards. It was produced by Warner Bros. during their brief “cartoon renaissance” period of the 1990’s, when someone in the front office got talked into actually making decent theatrical cartoons again for a while. (Chuck Jones did his final theatrical work during this time.) And in the grand style of Jones’ mock-epic The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1949), this cartoon features practically every member of the famous Looney Tunes ensemble, from famous to peripheral. Enjoy!

LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION (2003) – Mighty sporting of the little black duck (and friends)

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At last, those tired spy-movie spoofs are right where they belong — right in the middle of a Looney Tunes cartoon.

I wouldn’t have thought that the sensibilities of a seven-minute cartoon could be stretched to feature length as well as in Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Not even Space Jam (1996) went for broke as much.

If you tried to diagram the plot for this movie, it would probably look something like several Looney Tunes strung together. It starts out with a harried movie executive (Jenna Elfman) firing and then trying to re-hire Daffy Duck. Then it turns into the story of a security guard (Brendan Fraser) who finds out that his father (two-time James Bonder Timothy Dalton) is, guess what, a secret agent. Then there’s the whole subplot about the Acme Corporation’s evil leader (Steve Martin) trying to turn the world’s human population into monkeys. And the mind still reels at Bugs Bunny and Daffy finding out that the Roswell UFO incident wasn’t a fake.

There’s probably only one man in Hollywood who could meld these shards of plot into a cartoon/live-action movie, and happily, the Warner Brothers hired him. His name is Joe Dante, who made his name in the ’80s directing cartoon-like feature films (GremlinsInnerspace). Dante has probably been licking his chops at the thought of doing a Bugs/Daffy feature ever since he had them do a cameo in Gremlins 2, and he has done himself proud. Even though the original Looney Tunes directors have long since gone to comedy heaven, Dante’s lead “actors” don’t seem to have aged a bit. It’s like finding a newly uncovered Marx Brothers movie.

As for the flesh-and-blood performers, Fraser, Elfman and the rest of the movie’s live actors, they’re admirably good sports, cheerily getting walloped around by hand-drawings. The only sour note is struck by Steve Martin, who overdoes trying to be even more cartoony than the cartoon characters.

In a year filled with typical Hollywood blockbusters, who could have guessed that Finding Nemo and this gem would be the year’s highlights? Some days, a movie viewer feels like Porky in Wackyland.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, blog readers!

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For the 52nd(!) year in a row, the delightful “Peanuts” special “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is being broadcast tonight (8 p.m. EST on ABC). There’s not much I can add to the half-century of praise this charming half-hour has received and deserved. In fact, The AV Club has said it better than I ever could — click here to read their review/tribute/plug of the show. And embedded below is the original promo for the special from 1966, when it initially aired on CBS. (And remember, it’s “When the Great Pumpkin comes,” not “If.”)

 

 

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto: The ultimate love-hate relationship

BugsDaffyElmerFinalThe following is my entry in the My Favorite Movie Threesome Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from July 28-30, 2017. Click on the banner above to read bloggers’ tributes to real and fictional trios from throughout the history of cinema!

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(The following is based on viewings of the original series of Popeye cartoons produced and directed by Max and Dave Fleischer from 1933 to 1942. If you have not treated yourself to these delightful animated films, allow me to introduce you to them by way of my tribute-website. Click here to visit my site filled with reviews of these groundbreaking cartoons.)

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ABOVE: Bluto as Sigmund Freud??

Sometimes, a character’s psychological quirks are so conspicuous that you can’t help commenting on them, pretentious as it might sound. After multiple viewings of Popeye cartoons, I’d have to say that the psyches of Popeye & Co. are ripe for picking as well. And so…the doctor is in.
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Popeye

Popeye puts on a very elaborate facade to disguise a very damaged psyche. It is assumed that he got his nickname (and his condition) from a very violent brawl. Nevertheless, to have such a moniker as your only given name — he is never referred to in any other way, in the comic strips or the movies — is to have a major loss of identification and individuality.

Further, other than his belligerent father — who, at first, does not even want to be rescued from imprisonment on an island, much less reunited with his son — we know almost nothing about Popeye’s formative years. What of his mother? Was Popeye perhaps born illegitimately, and is that why he looks upon single mother Olive Oyl’s upbringing of baby Swee’Pea with nary a shrug? This man appears to have psychological scars he finds far too painful to be re-opened.

Popeye compensates for his multiple pains in the same way many men do — with his over-abundant machismo. He has built up his upper torso to the point that his muscles look abnormal. He also deludes himself into thinking that downing cans of raw spinach at pivotal moments make him stronger-than-average. While spinach does have well-known nutritional value, there is no evidence that instantly absorbing such spinach will provide abnormal musculature in just a matter of seconds. Therefore, we can conclude only that spinach serves as a placebo for Popeye — a way for him to swallow his internal pain when circumstances become too much for him.


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Olive Oyl

Though this is never specifically stated in the cartoons, one surmises that Olive Oyl gave her heart to a man who was the love of her life, only to be deserted by him and left with his baby (Swee’Pea). It was after this heartbreak that Olive decided she would never again leave herself so vulnerable to one man’s machinations. Thus, she has two rivals for her affections (Popeye and Bluto), and she constantly wavers between the two of them in a classic example of passive-aggressiveness.

She also has difficulty maintaining a home and a job. In the early cartoons, she is seen living in a large (if not lavish) house, but later she is reduced to residing in a shabby apartment. In each cartoon that shows Olive at work, she is always at a job different from the previous ones (child caretaker, stenographer, scriptwriter, etc.). This, too, indicates the instability into which she was thrown when her erstwhile lover left her.

Lastly, even the only two men with whom she will associate often physically abuse her — each one pulling her by a separate arm, sometimes knocking her unconscious, getting her head used as a door knocker when Popeye calls on her, etc. Olive’s sweetness and outward cheer belie a case of extremely low self-esteem.


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Bluto

Simply and obviously, Bluto is the classic bully. He feels he can get what he wants only through loudness and brusqueness, and he has accomplished so little in life that he derives satisfaction only from tearing down other’s achievements.

Bluto is especially annoyed by Popeye, the one person in the world who stands up to him. Nearly all of Bluto’s encounters with Popeye end in a violent fight, usually lost by Bluto once Popeye downs his spinach. One would think that Bluto would eventually admit defeat and deal with his sense of rage, but he continues to fight Popeye every chance he gets.

This battle — both between Bluto and Popeye, and Bluto and himself — has gone on for so long that, as with Wile E. Coyote and his single-minded pursuit of the Road Runner — it is the fight itself that has become Bluto’s reason to live. In the few instances where Bluto and Popeye try to remain civil, the old pattern emerges and they come to blows all over again.

Most troubling of all is Bluto’s documented abuse of animals — horses, parrots, monkeys, etc. — which is a blatant symptom of psychotic behavior. In a way, it’s almost a relief that Bluto has Popeye to beat up, so that he doesn’t inflict his hostilities on others around him (though Olive receives her share of Bluto’s abuse too, as noted above).

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Sadly, Bluto’s rage and lack of self-reflection briefly resulted in his having a split personality, his other persona going by the name of Brutus. Fortunately, this lasted for only a brief period in the 1960’s.

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In conclusion, my pseudo-psychological musings only prove how well-rounded and -thought-out these delightful characters are. I encourage you to seek them out, on YouTube and wherever you can find them.