Sunday, November 18, 2007

Get Your Foghorn Fix

Perhaps to make up for the lack of Foghorn Leghorn on DVD and home video, a YouTube user has uploaded twenty Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. Watch 'em while they're still there.

Foghorn is one of those cartoon characters who has remained a lot more popular than he was probably expected to be. What I mean by that is that I never got the feeling that Warner Brothers pushed him as hard, in licensing/marketing terms, as they did other characters. (In the late '40s the studio probably pushed Henery Hawk harder than they did Foghorn.) But people really love him and quote him all the time, and a Foghorn cartoon is almost always a big hit in theatrical screenings.

The thing I appreciate about the series is that it was less dependent on formula than most late '40s and '50s cartoon series. Instead of one basic chase plot, the series had a whole bunch of different "standard" plots that it could draw on: some were Foghorn vs. Henery Hawk, others were Foghorn vs. the dog, others had an outside character playing the barnyard animals off against each other, and still others had Foghorn and that uber-powerful nerd kid. You can actually go into a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon and not be completely sure what you'll get, which is not true of Tweety/Sylvester or the Road Runner. I also like the fact that at a time when cartoon violence had gotten more self-inflicted, with the villains usually bringing destruction on themselves, the Foghorn Leghorn shorts still had characters beating the hell out of each other.

Like all McKimson cartoons, the quality of the series is uneven, terrifically good at its best (in cartoons like "Fractured Leghorn" and even some of the later ones like the very weird "Fox Terror"), sort of too much like an animated sitcom episode when it's not on form. The series probably suffered more than any other McKimson series from the departure of his A-list animators in 1953. Without a first-rate broad animator like Manny Gould or Rod Scribner, Foghorn's movements became very mild and controlled, and the character became a lot less funny. (Foghorn was already starting to get milder throughout the early '50s -- he was at his best in the early cartoons when he's "just a loudmothed schnook" -- but Scribner's scenes help him preserve some of his original energy, like the scene in "Of Rice and Hen" where he practically flies apart while seeing Miss Prissy jump off the roof.)


Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, I imagined that the nerdy chick boy was "really" played by Tweety.

Anonymous said...

Funny you should say that. When I was a kid I'd read articles online about every WB director and would read about how McKimson was square because his three "series" were all formulaic: Hippity Hopper, Speedy Gonzalez (which Freleng shared) and Foghorn Leghorn. they'd complain about what a bad director McKimson was and how Chuck Jones was so much better (ignoring his Pepe Le Pew and Roadrunner cartoons)

I have nothing against formulaic cartoons, actually. I just wonder why McKimson's reputation seems to be so elastic.

J Lee said...

The weakest of McKimson's cartoons in the early 1950s (after the Pierce-Foster writer swap and before Marcus' arrival) and in the post-1957 period could have a down-to-earth feel to them that the Jones and Freleng cartoons don't suffer (at least not until 1961 or so). That doesn't mean he should have been denigrated as someone in the lower rung of Golden Age directors, but he did have more "misses" than the Friz and Chuck (just not as many as Leonard Maltin made it sound like he did).

Anonymous said...

I think the early ones like "Henhouse Henery", "The Foghorn Leghorn" or a "Fractured Leghorn" are the bests. I also like "Of Rice and Hen", Warren Foster's influence clearly feels on that cartoon.

McKimson is very underrated. His 1946-1950 period was superior to Freleng and Tashlin IMHO.