Saturday, May 13, 2006

Gettin' Frisky

In the '40s and early '50s, Chuck Jones (and writer Mike Maltese) came up with an exceptional string of new cartoon characters, all of them unique and funny: Hubie and Bertie the mice; Charlie Dog (partly based on a character from an earlier Bob Clampett cartoon); Inki and the Mynah Bird; the Three Bears; Marc Anthony and Pussyfoot. Unfortunately, Jones retired nearly all of these characters around 1952 and concentrated on the most formulaic of the characters he'd created: Pepe Le Pew and the Road Runner and Coyote. The "second-tier" Jones characters often starred in cartoons that were too quirky for the characters to catch on with audiences (Jones said he retired the Three Bears because theatre exhibitors told Warner Brothers to stop sending them these cartoons), but they represent some of his very best work.

Here are two cartoons featuring another one of Jones's short-lived characters: Frisky Puppy, the cute little dog who constantly (and unwittingly) defeats the evil Claude Cat by running up behind him and barking loudly. There were only three of these cartoons, and they all have the same joke over and over again: Claude is looking for Frisky, Frisky appears behind him, Frisky barks, and Claude jumps up to the ceiling. That the cartoons work so well is a tribute to the power of great comedy timing -- even if you know something's going to happen, it's funny because you don't know exactly when it's going to happen -- and the ability of Maltese to come up with clever variations on the same gag.

The first Frisky cartoon was "Two's a Crowd" (1950), with Mel Blanc and Bea Benaderet providing the voices of Frisky and Claude's owners:

The main title music, incidentally, is "Put 'Em in a Box, Tie 'Em with a Ribbon and Throw 'Em in the Deep Blue Sea," which Doris Day had introduced in a Warner Brothers movie a year or so earlier.

The second was "Terrier-Stricken" (1952), which is more of the same but with even more sadistic violence being visited on Claude:

The third and last cartoon, "No Barking" (which takes the characters out of the house and into an outdoor urban setting), is available on the third Looney Tunes Golden Collection. "No Barking" was animated entirely by Ken Harris, and he handles a lot of the animation in the two earlier cartoons.


Stephen Rowley said...

These cartoons really show how Jones would, in his "side" series, fiddle with a conceit until he got it right, and then drop it. I don't think the bark-jumps gag is that great in "Two's a Crowd," but in "No Barking" he really gets the gag to pay off, repeating it and building it in a fashion that reminds me a lot of "Bad Luck Blackie"'s construction. (A side note - the animation of Frisky Puppy is very appealing in all three cartoons, and really shows how Jones' fondness for Disney-style cuteness was used for comic effect in his best shorts).

Similarly, Jones worked variations on the Inki and Minah bird series for years without them being very funny: in the very last one, Caveman Inki, he finally got the Minah bird's mysterious walkthroughs to work - and he never did another one again.

While you've given an explanation of why Jones dropped the Three Bears, I'd similary note that their final cartoon is head and shoulders above the earlier ones.

Dale said...

Perhaps in the more budget-concious Hollywood animation era of the early 1950s, Warner Bros. had less tolerance for ongoing second string series that didn't catch on with audiences. Just a thought.

On The Rebound said...

If only you knew how my day was going. I was searching for one thing and I ended up here. Now you see how that might affect me!

Anonymous said...

The Frisky Puppy is one of my favorite characters. No matter how many times I see "no barking" I still laugh.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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