Thursday, 26 April 2012

Symphony in Slang Opening

‘Symphony in Slang’ demonstrates a perfect use of the “modern” cartoon design emerging in the early 1950s. It wasn’t there for the sake of being there. It had a purpose.

Tex Avery wanted to create a world where a character was completely out of place in the standard world of the MGM cartoon—a world of rounded characters, full animation and pastelled, soft backgrounds popularised by Disney. So he had Tom Oreb come up with a flat 1951 hipster character, living in a flat 1951 hipster world with limited animation. The contrast when the hipster arrives in the Disney-esque Heaven where the characters are puzzled by his modernism is deliberate and damned clever.

There’s no animation in the opening, too, as Avery has the camera move over two backgrounds before getting to any character movement.

Johnny Johnsen was Avery’s background man at the time. While Oreb is giving credit for the designs, notes on finished sketches show notes from Avery to Johnsen, so he worked on the cartoon as well. I wouldn’t be surprise if the opening was entrusted to him.


  1. Given the time lapse between when this cartoon was produced and when it hit theaters, Avery's decision to UPA-ize the body of the short with extremely limited animation pegs into around the first full year of UPA releases (1940-early 1950). So in it's own way, it's as much of a use of design and layout to create a specific mood as Robert Cannon's "Gerald McBoing-Boing", which debuted before "Symphony In Slang" but after Avery already had left MGM on his exhaustion-induced sabbatical.

    (It's surprising that more cartoons didn't try to use the contrast between Disney-style design and UPA's modern graphics for comic effect. Gene Deitch and Win Hoskins' "It's A Living" six years later uses the same contrast as Avery in framing the start and finish of the short with modern graphics, and ends up with probably the funniest of all the CinemaScope Terrytoons, while in the world of bland 1950s Famous Studios reaction takes, Al Eugster's decision to UPAize Olive Oyl for a reaction shot in "The Crystal Brawl" was a way to get a funny reaction shot by suddenly and briefly using modern design on a character who was not built for it.)

  2. Sorry for the OT, but as I can see, Disney employees was run to MGM since the late 40th. Even before Fred Quimby wants Jack Kinney to join MGM, but Disney have more money for him. Joe Grant and Dick Huemer wants to join MGM(despite that they don't like Avery's and H-B's cartoons). Roy Williams actually write some cartoons with screen credit, as good as Milt Shaffer. And now Tom Oreb drew the designs.