Monday, 5 December 2011

The Takes of Rockabye Point

Chilly Willy suffered an ignominious end at the Walter Lantz studio, surrounded by unfunny supporting characters, stiff animation and the hack directing of Paul J. Smith. Even Daws Butler couldn’t get enthused enough with the gag-less dialogue to come up with new voices; a gooney bird must have had a mother who mated with Peter Potamus because that’s whose voice it’s got.

But there was a time when things were different, when Chilly was in the hands of Tex Avery. Tex directed only four cartoons at Lantz, two of them Chillys. They’re both pretty good but the best is ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point’ (1955). You can’t miss Tex’s style. It moves along at a great clip; Tex is into the next gag as soon as the last one registers. There’s his run-to-the-hilltop-and-scream routine he used several times at MGM (‘Deputy Droopy’ probably his best-known); even the layout looks much the same.

And Tex shows his love of teeth, and jagged takes, the kind of thing Grant Simmons used to draw for him at Metro.

Simmons wasn’t with Tex on this cartoon, of course; he had opened his own studio. Tex still had a good group of animators—Don Patterson, La Verne Harding and Ray Abrams, though he bluntly told historian Joe Adamson the work was “pretty crappy.”

Mike Maltese is the writer but, considering how Averyesque the gags are, you have to wonder how much he contributed. He revealed to historian Mike Barrier that he went to Lantz to complain that “I wanted to earn my money there.” Avery was known for having his hands on, and worrying too much about, every phase of each of his cartoons.

Tex arrived at Lantz on February 1, 1954 and left (the same day as Maltese) on August 20th. Alex Lovy took over his unit and finished up a couple of his cartoons, perhaps the best ones Lovy made at Lantz. Maltese headed back to Warner Bros. Tex got out of the theatrical animation business. Perhaps his timing was right. The industry was in a decline from which it never recovered. But if anyone could have made funny cartoons in that atmosphere, it would have been Tex Avery.

1 comment:

  1. As great as Jones and Maltese were together, one can only imagine what a decade or so of Avery and Maltese in their prime would have been like! (Yes, they teamed-up early at Warners – but imagine them together in their PRIME!)

    This cartoon forever stands as a testimony to the sublime possibilities!

    On the flip side, however, we might never have gotten to enjoy Maltese’s superb dialogue and wordplay (Not so important in in Avery’s action-oriented productions.) that came to the fore in certain Jones vehicles and the Hanna-Barbera output.