Several years before Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera put the song “Clementine” in the mouth of a televised blue hound inspired by Tex Avery’s Southern wolf, Avery put the song in the mouth of opera singer Poochini (Spike) in the great cartoon Magical Maestro.
Avery’s mastery of timing is in full view in this wonderful short as a revengeful magician, disguised as a conductor, uses his magic wand, disguised as a baton, to transform Spike into all kinds of things in mid-performance on the stage.
In one sequence, Spike is turned into a nasally cowboy singer, whining out “Clementine.” Here are consecutive frames.
Cowboy Spike walks around on the stage as he sings. Evidently, he’s in cowpoke ecstasy as his eyes are closed. Note the high leg kick. These drawings are consecutive but were shot on twos, with the background moved slightly in the second shot.
In mid syllable, Spike realises he’s been transformed. These are consecutive frames. Look how subtle the expressions are. None of these big-eyed takes that Avery was known for. Avery knew they wouldn’t work in this cartoon. All the changes in character/costume had to be organic so as not to interrupt Spike’s performance.
While the main plot is going on, Avery and storyman Rich Hogan toss in a continuing element—the magician’s rabbits keep popping up. And always when you least expect it. Consecutive frames again. You can see from the mouth and body language that Spike’s annoyed his performance keeps getting screwed with.
Spike needs six drawings on twos before he realises the rabbits are back. He tosses them away elegantly, befitting someone in the high-brow profession of opera singer.
Avery and Hogan had to find new ways to get Spike back into his evening clothes after each transformation. They’re all imaginative. Here’s what they did in this scene.
My wild guess is the scene was animated by Grant Simmons. I’ll accept any correction.
I can’t say this is my favourite Avery cartoon but I’ve posted at least a half dozen times about it and there’s always something to admire.