The two-strip Technicolor that cartoon studios (except Disney) were forced to use for a few years toward the middle-1930s was pretty limited, but it provided the highlight in “The Discontented Canary,” the first cartoon Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising released under MGM.
It’s a typical colour cartoon for 1934. A little creature is threatened by a more menacing creature until the menace is stopped. Normally, it’s by friends or cohorts of the little creature. But there are none in this cartoon. Nature does it instead.
A cat is chasing the little canary in the middle of a storm.
For reasons of pure plot convenience, the cat’s tail gets wrapped around an Acme Lightning Rod. The cat doesn’t notice.
Lightning hits the lightning rod.
The lightning travels down the rod and zaps the cat. The reddish skeleton—two-strip Technicolor only produced shades of red and green—is the best part.
The cat kind of deflates, jumps up, rolls around a bit and runs away. Meanwhile, a lightning bolt strikes a weather vane, which morphs into the word “Scram.” It’s really the only gag in the picture.
Cartoon studios—especially Warner Bros.—would milk this dull formula over and over. MGM’s animation became more fluid and elaborate while doing so, but Warners finally decided enough was enough and start developing the gag cartoons and characters it’s known for even today. No one remembers a discontented canary.