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Saturday, October 03, 2015

Pick Fifty

Back in 1992, Jerry Beck sent out a survey that went to various animation people, including members of an animation APA (Amateur Press Association) that we were both in, looking to compile a list of the 50 Greatest Cartoons, which formed the basis of a book he edited and wrote. Or wrote and edited. I probably missed the deadline, but I gave the matter enough thought to pile up nominations, weed them, and then write notes on the fifty cartoons I liked best.

In a way, that's not true. Sometimes I was thinking "the best of this sort of cartoon," but it's still a good indicator of what I like. This was edited down some when I retyped it all for an anniversary special I did, because who wants to type all that again? I have a photocopy somewhere if I really decide I need it.

Now to take out extra spaces and line returns that I hope you never suspect were there. Oh, and I changed some rankings when I retyped this. There's academic rigor for you!

and five historical picks to start us off:

The five historical cartoons: GERTIE THE DINOSAUR, OUT OF THE INKWELL  (whatever the first in that series was called), STEAMBOAT WILLIE, SINKIN' IN THE BATHTUB, and THE DOVER BOYS (in which Chuck Jones invents zip-n-pose animation back in 1942).

50) THE CAT ABOVE, THE MOUSE BELOW (Tom & Jerry/ 1964/ Chuck Jones)
"…Hard to believe a Jones T&J even made the list."

49) WE'RE ON OUR WAY TO RIO (Popeye, Olive, Bluto/ 1944/ I. Sparber)
"…possessed of the high level of animation honed by the Fleischers; now replendently colored and buoyantly scored with a red-hot samba."

48) THUGS WITH DIRTY MUGS (1939/ Tex Avery)
"…a late WB short with the classic Warner's look of the animal protagonists. Includes the classic "KILLER ROBS 87 BANKS IN ONE DAY" gag…"

47) ALL THE CATS JOIN IN (1946/ Jack Kinney)
formerly #23… lots of fun. BUMBLE BOOGIE used to be in this spot. That's lots of fun, too.
This is not an exact science.

46) THE FRESH VEGETABLE MYSTERY (1939/ Dave Fleischer)
"Brutal and wacky… Almost as painful as `Ren & Stimpy.'"

45) COUNTERFEIT CAT (1949/ Tex)
"The cat pulls so many bones out of nowhere that he's lucky to have a skeleton at the end of the story."

44) REAL GONE WOODY (Woody, Buzz/ 1954/ Paul J. Smith)
"Woody has a duck-tail that quacks. He keeps his hubcaps in a safe… Like the title says, man, it's real gone."

43) SWING WEDDING (1937/ Hugh Harman) "It moves like MGM and acts like one of Max Fleischer's forays into the hopped-up world of jazz… As a bonus for those of us who follow cartoon drug use, there's a scene where the frogs go wild and start bashing their instruments over each other. The trumpeter is left holding a valve that looks like a hypodermic; so he `shoots up' with it and leaps through a bass drum in the closing seconds."
Swing, swing, swing.

42) HOW TO PLAY FOOTBALL (Goofy/ 1944/ Jack Kinney)
"These sports-oriented motion studies are almost invariably hilarious, as well as breathtakingly convincing in their cartoon physics. The whole set could have been called HOW TO ANIMATE."

41) PARADE OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS (Betty Boop/ 1933/ Dave Fleischer)
"There's a violent and humorous battle between berserk toy ape and the good toys, followed by the awesome Dance of the Busted Toys, where patched-up, parts-missing toys hop and twist down the table, then break down. They sure don't make them like this any more." (Today, I might pick BETTY BOOP'S PENT-HOUSE over this one: Jazzy, lecherous, with animal experimentation, a Frankensteinian monster, and a climactic `pansy' joke.)
"Today" meaning 1999, when I revisited the 1992 list.

40) SCRAPPY'S ART GALLERY (Scrappy, Oopy, Yippy/ 1934/ No Director Credited…Sid Marcus &/or Art Davis dood it)
"…animated oil paintings. Scrappy's antics are among my first animation memories, and they more than stand up after not seeing them for years."

39) THE SCARLET PUMPERNICKEL (Daffy, Everyone Else/ 1950/ Chuck Jones)
"…one hell of a great cartoon, with Daffy narrating the role of his life."

38) SCREWBALL SQUIRREL (Screwy/ 1944/ Tex Avery)
"Shows how far you can get by being annoying and persistent."

37) APPLE ANDY (Andy Panda/ 1946/ Dick Lundy)
For some reason, I was sticking Cab Calloway into this cartoon; probably due to a chance remark made years ago by a friend. Anyway, "this representative of the `torturing a bad boy with his vice' has Andy lost in a nightmare world of green apples… And Andy Panda and Dick Lundy both made the list. Amazing."

36) Freakazoid: "Toby Danger" (Came out since the original list was made)
A splendid parody, complete with an Alex Toth lizard, fakey karate chops, and lots of people saying "AIIEEE!" It's not as easy to do this stuff as it looks. (replaces The Simpsons: Homer's Hair)

35) LOST AND FOUNDLING (Sniffles/ 1944/ Chuck Jones)
"A Sniffles cartoon! Up here? Yeah, I know how it looks, but this one's different. Sniffles raises a tiny chick that grows swiftly to a hulking hawk who doesn't know what he's hungry for… This was Snif's last cartoon, I think, so maybe the hawk ate him after all." (Turns out it wasn't the last one, but it's such a great line…)

34) MOVING AWEIGH (Popeye, Shorty/ 1944/ Uncredited)
"I suspect Dan Gordon directed this fast-paced cavalcade of physical abuse. It's an upbeat study in the choreography of violence, reminiscent of Tom & Jerry. I just like the darn thing, so sue me."

33) STEAL WOOL (Ralph, Sam/ 1957/ Chuck Jones)
"Far more amusing than the Road Runner cartoons… Ralph, a thinly disguised Wile E. Coyote (or vice versa) walks to work with his friend Sam, where they punch a time clock and become mortal enemies until five (lunchtime excluded). This one gets to represent the series, mostly on the basis of the end of the cartoon, when Sam urges Ralph to take a day off, assuring him that he can handle both jobs for one day. Now, THAT I'd like to see!"

32) LONG-HAIRED HARE (Bugs/ 1949/ Chuck Jones)
"…In a hilarious, character-based scene, Bugs strides to the front, as startled audience members whisper "It's Leopold!" Without turning to face him, "Leopold" holds out a hand for the baton, which the terrified conductor hands over instantly. Bugs snaps it in two, tosses the pieces away, and proceeds to conduct (like Stokowski) with his gloved hands, putting the tenor through such prolonged abuse as to eventually bring the house down. (House played by the Hollywood Bowl.)

31) THE SPINACH OVERTURE (Popeye, Olive, Wimpy, Bluto/ 1935/ Dave Fleischer)
"…a representative of the many cartoons to use von Suppe's `Poet and Peasant' overture, and the best…" And, I might add, some of the best piano-faking in animation.

30) Ren & Stimpy: "Stimpy's Invention" (formerly #21, and "Space Madness" was here-so why shouldn't I second-guess myself six years later?)
"…This cartoon pushed the envelope on how intense an animated cartoon can be and still be funny."

29) PLUTO'S JUDGEMENT DAY (Pluto, Mickey/ 1935/ David Hand)
"…his inquisitors swearing him in on a phone book that turns into a mouse trap, those great menacing shots of his cat accuser coming closer, and the shots of Pluto being tormented in-of all things-a potty chair. How did they do it?"

28) MOUSE WRECKERS (Hubie, Bertie, Claude/ 1949/ Chuck Jones)
"Irresistible tale of cheese-eating duo (voiced by Mel Blanc and Stan Freberg) tormenting high-strung idiot cat. Includes memorable `upside-down room gag…"

27) SPIES (Private SNAFU/ 1943/ Chuck Jones)
"…This looks to me like it must have been written by Ted (Dr. Seuss) Geisel, what with the rhyme scheme and choral delivery of refrains. The devil, of course, looks like Hitler."
I guess I couldn't afford a reference book back then, or maybe there wasn't one.

26) KO-KO'S EARTH CONTROL (Ko-Ko, Fitz/ 1928/ Dave Fleischer)
"…The unresolved chaos that follows is of less interest to me than that crazy dog trying to pull that lever…"
God, how that dog wanted to pull that lever.

25) BOTTLES (1936/ Hugh Harman)
"The old apothecary finishes his formula and nods off to sleep… The rest of the cartoon has him either being menaced by fiends or viewing merry antics of … bottles that come to life at night and sing…"

24) BLUE CAT BLUES (Tom, Jerry, Tootles, Toots/ 1956/ Bill Hanna & Joe Barbera)
"An Avery-like black comedy finds Jerry looking on sadly as his friend, Tom, sits on the railroad tracks, waiting. In a subdued, Joseph Cotten-like voice, Jerry recounts the hopeless love of Tom for the faithless Tootles (who has changed shape over the years more times than Plastic Man). Similar to, but less labored than, SYMPHONY IN SLANG, Jerry's tale ends with him abruptly realizing that his girlfriend Toots (seen here for the only time) is just as faithless, and he goes to join his pal Tom as that lonesome whistle blows. End."

23) DANCE OF THE HOURS (1940/ T. Hee, Norm Ferguson)
Not in this list the first time through, but I suspected I had erred in leaving it out; one of the greatest animated sequences ever! I swear, it makes me cry for joy.
I used to weep because nothing this good would ever be made again. The animation industry has really done wondrous things since then.

22) ROOTY TOOT TOOT (1952/ John Hubley)
"Bill Scott co-wrote, and (I think) Art Babbit animated on this bubbly, truly enjoyable tale of
faithlessness, murder and music. My favorite UPA cartoon."

21) The Simpsons: "Radioactive Man Number One"
(Formerly #13. It's still a classic, but there've been a lot more episodes to consider. Nothing
scientific about this list.) (If you think I'm going to go dig up that book and put the real titles in here, you're thinking of someone much less lazy than me.)

20) LONESOME LENNY (Screwy, Lenny/ 1946/ Tex Avery)
"…In the last scene, we have a rerun of the first, where [big, dumb, strong] Lenny says `You know, I used to have a little friend…but he don't move no more!' Lenny displays Screwy, who (though dead) holds up a sign saying `Sad Ending, Ain't It?' before vanishing forever from the screen."
I don't even think he was in Roger Rabbit.

19) ONE FROGGY EVENING (Michigan J. Frog/ 1955/ Chuck Jones)
"Say what you will, I am forever touched by the parable of the singing frog in the cornerstone. The acting is subtle and first-rate. There is a lesson here for us all."

18) FEED THE KITTY (Marc Antony, Pussyfoot/ 1952/ Chuck Jones)
"…The dog's quiet, but shattering, grief reaches crescendo when he treats cookie as if it were kitten. We know the kitty is fine, but even with that knowledge, the dog's performance is half hilarious, half
I re-watch this one perhaps more than any other, for some reason.

17) THAT'S MY MOMMY (Tom, Jerry/ 1955/ Bill Hanna & Joe Barbera)
"Another heartstring-tugger as egg rescued from Tom by Jerry becomes ducky who imprints on Tom, fleeing his would-be savior Jerry time and again to return to his `good old Mommy.' Best of its kind, maybe because Tom doesn't end up crushed and defeated."

16) I GOPHER YOU (Goofy Gophers/ 1954/ Friz Freleng)
"…Hilarious gags about peril on the assembly line, with one eventually getting canned.
They also discover the wonders of dehydrated food. Priceless."

15) WHAT'S OPERA, DOC? (Elmer, Bugs/ 1957/ Chuck Jones)
"…It's vewy twagic and impwessive. Twust me."

14) BOOK REVUE (1946/ Bob Clampett)
"…When that duck stops the proceedings and takes center stage, we see what real star quality means-especially when the rabbit isn't there to take it away."

13) The Simpsons: "Citizen Kang" (This came out since the original list, and it's my favorite Simps segment.) Aliens Kodos and Kang replace candidates Dole and Clinton. Homer exposes them at a rally, but it's still a two-party system, so Kang is elected president. "Don't blame me," Homer declares, "I voted for Kodos!"
Ha, ha. Go ahead; throw your vote away.

12) THRU THE MIRROR (Mickey/ 1936/ David Hand)
"Another great mind-bender from the straightest company on earth… [Mick's] accurate dance steps were generally done by Fred Moore, I hear… Even if you haven't seen this, clips from it have been so widely used that you've probably seen at least a quarter of it."

11) BIMBO'S INITIATION (Bimbo, Betty/ 1931/ Dave Fleischer)
"…As Leslie Cabarga accurately observes, the cartoons' happy ending scarcely erases the horrors Bimbo has been through." Also notable as one of many Fleischer toons with a Mickey Mouse clone acting against the hero's interests.

10) New Adventures of Mighty Mouse: "Don't Touch That Dial" (d: Kent Butterworth)
"Still my all-time favorite cartoon made for TV. Mighty is channel-surfed from an AIRPORT take-off on his show to "The Jetstones" to "Ring-a-Ding, Where Are You?" to "Rocky and Hoodwinkle" before he finally leaves the set to wrest the remote from the hyperactive, inattentive child (whose capsule descriptions of shows he switches away from, such as `Aw, this show has no pro-social values' or `Aw, this show's too violent" echo the language the show's writers, directors and
producers must have heard from watchdog groups and their network counterparts)…"
"Hyperactive and inattentive" is a direct tribute to one of Harry McCracken's humor pieces.

9) DUCK AMUCK (Daffy/ 1953/ Chuck Jones)
"…and from there, his day goes right to Cartoon Hell. The duck is robbed of his surroundings, props, voice, body, and anything else he tries to rely on… at cartoon's end we see that his tormentor is Chuck Jones himself. Oh, sure, he disguises himself as Bugs, but you know who Bugs always shills for."

8) THE DOVER BOYS (1942/ Chuck Jones)
"I hadn't realized just how big Chuck Jones figures on my list of favorites… The laws of motion tend
to give way here to the laws of etiquette… It's as if Chuck had made a rule that only one thing can be in motion at a time."

7) GOONLAND (Popeye, Pappy/ 1938/ Dave Fleischer)
"`I'll meet you somewhere in Goon-Land…' Sorry, wrong cartoon. This one is very faithful to the Elzie Segar classics… I wonder if it came out early enough in 1938 that Segar got to see it? I sort of think he'd have liked it."

6) TORTOISE WINS BY A HARE (Bugs, Cecil Turtle/ 1943/ Bob Clampett)
"Second in an otherwise forgettable series of three Tortoise-and-Hare entries, this one tops Freleng and Avery both…" Then I describe the whole cartoon, ending with "Ehhhh, NOW he tells us… BLAM!"
Elsewhere, I opined that Disney's Cinderella should have ended with one of those.

"…It is time once again to point out that white people fared little better in Warner Brothers cartoons (although such things as the constant assumption that all black people are dying to shoot craps get old very quickly), and that most of the characters in this come off as extremely likeable. In fact, the personalities of the principals combine with the fact that the whole cartoon is kept afloat at all times by a superb boppin' musical score by the great Carl Stalling… There's something about a dwarf in uniform…" (ellipsis in original)
(The 1992 original, not the 1943 original.)

"The Avery Wolf splits into City Wolf and Country Wolf. After what seems like a whole cartoon full of action with the horny Country Wolf, we and he go to the City and meet the urbane, sophisticated, David Niven-like City Wolf, who advises him that `Here in the city, we do not chase girls…'"

3) THE BAND CONCERT (Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Horace/ 1935/ Wilfred Jackson)
"…Mickey is a control freak conducting his little amateur combo… As the music becomes more dramatic, a hurricane picks up the surrounding countryside and then the players, who, under the obsessive baton of Mr. Mouse, manage to finish with great aplomb. Mickey's last big upbeat is one of the greatest treasures of animation, in my opinion, and it's undeniably Horace Horsecollar's finest moment."

2) SNOW-WHITE (Betty, Bimbo, Ko-Ko/ 1933/ Dave Fleischer)
"…She is taken into the `Mystery Cave' by some nameless dwarfs, where the witch turns Bimbo into a frozen skeleton, however, and Ko-Ko into a ghost as he sings `Saint James Infirmary Blues' in the voice of Cal Calloway, whose dance steps were rotoscoped for this number… They abruptly realize that film is running out and end the thing happily." (boy, it's really hard to shorten some of these descriptions!)

1) BAD LUCK BLACKIE (1949/ Tex)
"What makes a cartoon Number One? Is it just great gags? Outrageous topper after topper? Physical mayhem? Revenge gags? Pacing? Timing? In this case, there was a dimension in addition to all of the above, and that is the strange moral that is hinted at. [Sadistic, snickering dog torments white kitty: black cat offers to bring bad luck to the dog when kitty blows a whistle.] The dog swallows the whistle. He hiccups. The whistle blows and Fate, having skipped a couple layers of causality, drops ever-increasing items on the hiccuping dog as he runs away. Hic-tweet: a piano. Hic-tweet: a steamroller. Hic-tweet: a bus. Hic-tweet: an airplane. Hic-tweet: an ocean liner. The cats shake hands. The once-black cat confers his derby upon the kitten. And the kitten snickers. Just like the dog."

The dog snickered just like Tex Avery. That's his laugh we hear, I'm pretty certain.