Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Napoleon Bunny-Part" (1956)

Found this one on Veoh.com; I haven't seen it online anywhere else, and it's not on DVD yet. It used to run on "The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show" a lot, and as a kid it was one of my favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons. Now, not so much, but it's still enjoyable.

It's notable as one of the few Bugs cartoons Friz Freleng made in the '50s that didn't have Yosemite Sam as Bugs' adversary. Sam was a great character, but I thought Freleng limited himself too much by having Sam in almost every cartoon. From 1942 through 1949 Freleng's Bugs cartoons were arguably the best at the studio, and one reason was that more than any other director, he kept mixing up the formula, moving beyond the basic format of "A Wild Hare" and finding new situations for Bugs to be in and different types of characters for him to interact with. (Like the "Little Red Riding Rabbit" idea of putting Bugs against a "villain" he doesn't really dislike and a third, "good" character he actually hates more than the supposed villain.) Once Sam became to the Bugs cartoons what Sylvester was to all Freleng's other cartoons, Freleng's Bugs Bunnies became more formulaic, because the Bugs/Sam cartoons were pretty much the same no matter where the cartoon took place.

Actually Napoleon in "Napoleon Bunny-Part" is pretty much Yosemite Sam with a French accent (and one of those annoying designs Hawley Pratt was obsessed with in the '50s, the rectangular flat head that juts out at the back). And his henchman, of course, is Mugsy from "Bugs and Thugs."

Also, while I have my problems with Gerry Chiniquy's animation in the post-1955 cartoons, I do like his work in the scene with Bugs and Napoleon (Napoleon moving the stuff around on the map, Bugs taking snuff). It's recognizably his jerky, poppy style, but for once it feels like the characters are acting in distinct ways instead of just bobbing up and down when it's their turn to talk.




5 comments:

John said...

It's interesting to go over the WB filmography online or in a book like Maltin's or Beck/Friedwald's and see how much the Warners' directors leeway with characters were tightened down by the mid-1950s thanks to their own success. The more successful characters they developed, the more they had to be used, to the point that by the late 50s, all three units were lucky to get a single one-shot cartoon in per year to work out different ideas (even if in hindsight, they probably should have tossed in a couple more one-shots and a couple less Speedys, Pepes or Hippety Hoppers).

In the Bugs series Friz was at an even bigger disadvantage of his own making, because he had the only non-shared opponent for the rabbit in Sam that was versatile enough to use in many location (which you couldn't do with Marvin, Taz, Wile E or even Rocky), which made the temptation to use him at least 1-2 times a year even greater. But at least through 1960 or so he justified it by making his Sam cartoons funnier than the occasional one-shot villans that made it into his Bugs efforts.

Thad said...

This one's not that good... About the only funny thing about it is the title card. (Though I do like how the guard glares at Bugs on his way back down.) Pretty slow and fairly ugly. A miss.

Larry Levine said...

Friz was on top of his game during the 1940s, but losing writer Mike Maltese & heavily relying on Hawley Pratt's painfully bland layouts is what did him in! His 50's output was visually bland, standard formula cartoons painfully lacking the creativity from the previous decade and IMO why interest in his work lags behind Jones, Clampett & Avery.

PCUnfunny said...

I think Friz made a bit of a comeback in the late 1950's. Birds Anonymous and The Three Little Bops are some of his finest works. Still, I didn't really like his later, stylized UPA look.

Jim said...

You mean this cartoon is banned because of the cocaine sniffing? ;)

This has the feel of Freleng doing a Jones cartoon, from the fake French (what's with the superfluous translation in the opening?) to the "wrong toin" to the rabbit tail revelation in Mississippi Hare. Ol' Nappy still reminds me of Ralph Phillips for some reason.

I like the Jack Benny/Sheldon Leonard bit about placing the artillery.

Can someone explain to me the reason Warners trains show up at 5:15? And the Napoleon/mental case thing? I'm sure there's an historical reason for that one.