Sunday, August 29, 2010

Walter Lantz Cartoons Part 7: Mother Goose on the Loose, Ace in the Hole, Juke Box Jamboree, Pigeon Patrol, The Loan Stranger

1942, and the country is at war! Here at Walter Lantz studios, however, it's business as usual. Lantz really didn't do nearly as many wartime cartoons as Warners or Disney, though we will see one here. Instead, he worked on defining Woody Woodpecker further, aging Andy Panda a bit, continuing the Swing Symphonies, and doing the occasional one-shot.

We start off here with the weakest cartoon of the five I'm getting to, Mother Goose on the Loose. It's the old standard modernization of Mother Goose with gags, this time at least free from celebrity caricatures (Disney's Mother Goose Goes Hollywood was only 3 years earlier), barring an impersonation of Frank Morgan as the narrator. The cartoon is oddly disjointed, even for a spot gag entry, and halfway through the narration seems to be replaced by a choral singing group for about two minutes. Lots of shots of hot cartoon babes, though, so we get to look at some legs, at the very least.

Meanwhile, Woody appears to have joined the Army. Drafted would be my guess, judging by his sour grumpiness about it. Ace in the Hole deals with his battles with his sergeant, as well as attempts to fly a plane. Given Woody can already fly, I'm not sure why he'd want to fly one of the fighter planes we see there, though I suppose it could be for the thrill. Certainly not for his country, as patriotism is barely mentioned here (I suspect Woody would be a bad example at this point, though he is noticeably less insane in this cartoon). He has a new voice, by the way, Kent Rogers, who also did a lot of work for Warners. Kent is most famous for originating Beaky Buzzard's voice. Notably, this is the first time we see the cartoon end with Woody losing.

Another Swing Symphony follows, this one nominated for an Academy Award. This cartoon benefits from the soundtrack beginning right at the end and never stopping, so there's no long pause while the plot gets going. This one has a Latin flavor, with several Carmen Miranda-esque numbers played throughout. The premise has a mouse being woken by a jukebox, and attempting to get it to stop. But then he's tossed into a bottle of alcohol, and starts drunkenly hallucinating a whole bunch of ghosts and spirits jazzing things up. The pacing is fairly sedate compared to future Swing Symphonies, but the music is well times to the gags, and it's pretty fun.

I'd mentioned we had a wartime short this time around, and this is it, Pigeon Patrol. It stars Homer Pigeon, another attempt to create a character that didn't quite work out for the studio. Homer is sort of a hyuck-hyuck yokel country boy who's trying to court his fickle girl. Sadly, she only has eyes for the carrier pigeon pilots, completely ignoring the fact that he's brought her a bouquet of corn. (Great gag, btw.) He attempts to join up, but the other recruits are huge, strapping young pigeons, while he is a Charles Atlas before picture. Depressed, he mopes away, but soon sees a Japanese vulture shooting down a pigeon with an important message. (The vulture is bucktoothed and racist, but at least doesn't speak, so as wartime racist caricatures go it's pretty minor). Homer seems out of his league at first, but soon shows that vulture what for and wins out in the end! As a reward, he gets his girl and has several kids, apparently in the space of only a few days. Well, I suppose they are pigeons...

Lastly, we're back to Woody, who is driving along in his broken-down jalopy when it explodes into ruins. Luckily, he's right next to a shyster loan company, offering him loans if he'll put up his car. I was amused to see the wolf who runs the loan office say outright, "Aaaah... a sucker!" without e3ven bothering to correct himself and say customer. Clearly this wolf is bad news. Sadly for the wolf, he's up against Woody, who after a brief one-cartoon break, is back to being essentially nuts. Woody forgets all about the loan, so the wolf goes to collect, but finds the main problem may be getting in the door. Best gag of the picture: "I DON'T LIKE CHEESECAKE!". In the end, Woody's playing dead panics the wolf, who tears up the loan.

These cartoons aren't bad, but I get the feeling that the Lantz studios are spinning their wheels a bit. Alex Lovy has come on as a director, but he's just too sedate, and doesn't work well with Woody. What we really need is a new director to come in and shake things up a bit. Hrm. I wonder if we'll get that next time? ^_-

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