Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Praise For "Boyhood Daze"

I devoted a recent post to a '50s Chuck Jones cartoon I didn't like, so here's one I do like -- in fact, one of my favorites among his post-shutdown cartoons. "Boyhood Daze" is the second and last Ralph Phillips cartoon, following the Oscar-nominated classic "From A To Z-Z-Z." It's the same premise: Ralph (Dick Beals), a child version of Walter Mitty and sort of a nicer, sweeter forerunner to Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, keeps focusing on everyday objects and using them as a jumping-off point for wild fantasies. (This is directly inspired by "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," where every fantasy starts with some ordinary thing Walter sees or hears.) The approach is a little different this time, though. "From A To Z-Z-Z-Z" has a lot of short sequences where Ralph turns every boring school situation into an excuse for a heroic fantasy. "Boyhood Daze" consists mostly of two longer fantasy set-pieces. It's sillier and more of an out-and-out comedy than "Z-Z-Z-Z," with Mike Maltese contributing some of my favorite cartoon lines:

"I hated to kill them all, but they had to be taught a lesson."

"You are being pursued by a multitude of unfriendly Martians who all got 'A' in arithmetic."

"I've just got to engage these fiercible creatures in mortal combat, because otherwise, what'll happen to the Earth if I don't?"

And my favorite of all:


By 1957, Maurice Noble's increasingly elaborate style could overwhelm some of the bread-and-butter cartoons, but for this type of cartoon, it's perfect; the first shot of Ralph in his bedroom, with Ralph dwarfed by the huge bed and the huge reflection from the window, instantly conveys how it feels to be a kid sent to your room. And even though it's a big fancy fantasy cartoon, this (like "From A To Z-Z-Z-Z") does not feel pretentious, because ultimately it's just a very relatable, funny version of something small and real -- a kid with an overactive imagination.

This is also one of the few WB cartoons where Daws Butler's voice really seems to fit in for me, but who's that doing the mother? It could be June Foray, but it doesn't sound like it to me. (But just because it doesn't sound like June Foray doesn't mean it isn't.)

As a sequel to "Z-Z-Z-Z" with a less elaborate structure, this feels like a pilot for a series; it certainly wouldn't have been hard to make other cartoons with this format. I don't know why they never brought Ralph back (except in that Road Runner TV pilot), and Noble once said he wondered why there hadn't been other Ralph cartoons. He sure seems like an exploitable character, but he might not have had a lot of merchandising possibilities -- and anyway, by 1957, with the end of the studio being threatened literally every year, there weren't a lot of new series being launched.

Though this is a "bonus cartoon" on the new Looney Tunes Golden Collection, it appears to be a properly restored print, complete with music-only track. (Most of the other bonus cartoons are basically TV-quality prints, complete with those "dubbed version" closings created for Cartoon Network in the late '90s.) This YouTube copy is, obviously, not the DVD version, which looks much better. "From A To Z-Z-Z-Z" is available on the Academy Award winners/nominees collection.


Larry Levine said...

Great post, without question one of Chuck's lesser known masterpieces.

Mattieshoe said...

Now I know the origin of Colin from Animaniacs...

Anonymous said...

Ralph Phillips could not be done today because network psychologist consultants would label the character as a victim of ADD or ADHD. Same reason Magoo won't be blind in the upcoming "Kung Fu Magoo."