Thursday, 16 August 2012

Fraidy Cat

“The more pantomime, the better” seems to be the operative slogan at the MGM cartoon studio until Tex Avery got there, when it changed to “the more gags, the better.”

Disney cartoons had “personality” ever since Norm Ferguson had Pluto stop and take up time going through easily recognisable actions and reactions. MGM did the same thing. “Fraidy Cat” (1942) is a good example. The bulk of the cartoon involves Jerry putting a sheet over a vacuum cleaner to make Tom think it’s a ghost. One scene has Jerry turning the vacuum switch on and off. Then he laughs. Then he looks at Tom. Then he plays with the switch some more. Then he points. Then he laughs again. Then he plays with the switch some more. Then he laughs again. Then he plays with the switch again. Then he slows down and realises he saw Tom. Then he looks back. Then he looks at the audience. Then—well, you get the basic idea. Lots of pantomime. Lots of personality. But not a whole lot of action.

The same sort of thing happens in another part of the cartoon where Tom is running away from the vacuum cleaner which, for reasons of comedy only, is powerful enough to suck up rugs, telephones, books, pots and the nine lives out of a cat. Tom reacts over and over in different ways.

Here’s one of a bunch of drawings of Tom running in place. The multiple eyes and paws are fun.

He grows extra eyes as his head moves up.

There are some great drawings in this sequence. Tom’s eyes grow wide. The top of his head balloons. Tom’s eyes grow wide in a different way. The head changes shape in a different way. Finally, we come up with three wild consecutive drawings below. Great brush-work.

So Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera justifies the stand-there-and-emote routines of Jerry with frantic drawings of Tom which get lost because they go by so quickly.

There are no animation credits here but just about anything with huge eyes and huge pupils in an MGM cartoon can be pretty safely pinned on Irv Spence.


  1. The pantomime animation on the '9th Life' cat -- who's enjoying the whole ride while his host and the other eight lives are freaking out -- is probably the best combo of silent acting and comedy in the cartoon. "Violently Cute" would probably be the best way to describe the early T&Js, until the Avery influence really starts to make its mark on Joe Barbera's stories.

  2. Yeah, the "Hey, I'm hammy" cat is funny. And that's one part of the cartoon where things move along nicely.