Thursday, 8 March 2012

Woody Loves Marbled Ham

You can’t lose people like Ed Love, Dick Lundy, Lionel Stander and Heck Allen and not have your cartoons suffer. That’s what happened to Walter Lantz.

The Lantz studio turned out some pretty attractive cartoons in the late ‘40s. The only problem was, Lantz wasn’t making any money. A change in distributors from Universal to United Artists didn’t help. So Lantz shut things down, worked out a new deal with Universal, and then opened up again. But he had lost virtually all of his great staff and evidently had less money for each short because the animation and characters suddenly look a lot more streamlined.

The early ‘50s Lantz shorts just aren’t as funny as the ones from the ‘40s. Lantz seems to have gone to the well to bring up old tried and true ideas to fill his cartoons. Lantz had a huge success (especially monetarily) with “The Woody Woodpecker Song.” So, why not try for another hit record cartoon? Woody’s a glutton? Yeah, let’s dredge up that idea again, too. So, we get “The Woody Woodpecker Polka” (speaking of re-using ideas, part of the song sounds like it stopped in Pennsylvania before it arrived at the Lantz studio).

Talk about saving money. There’s no dialogue, just canned vocal effects. There’s reused animation of Woody’s flesh-coloured arm (a bird with an arm?) wearing a gag watch. A good portion of the soundtrack consists of a record being played in the background. The lyrics really have nothing to do with the action on screen and there’s a part of the song where Woody laughs that Lantz didn’t even bother try to reflect with Woody on screen. And the topper gag is something that was used as a throwaway in ‘40s Warners cartoons.

Still, the short’s worthwhile and it has its moments. I like this little take by Woody. The head only moves every two frames but the feet move every frame.

Background artist Fred Brunish was the only artist left over from the ‘40s. He seems to have favoured hams with lots of fat in them. The animators were Ray Abrams, LaVerne Harding, Don Patterson and Paul J. Smith. The speculation is Lantz directed the cartoon himself.

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