Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Milky Way

Elaborate backgrounds and beautiful colour choices are the highlight of Rudy Ising’s The Milky Way. You can see the ending coming miles away, but the Motion Picture Academy ignored that and was bedazzled by artwork and cuteness in handing the picture the Oscar for 1940.

It’s a shame that Bob Gentle or whoever handled the backgrounds on this cartoon never got credit. Nor did the layout artist. Their work is tops. Here are some of the scenes from the second half, complete with highlights flashing and streams of milk pouring from the brushes of effects animators.

Daily Variety of September 8, 1939 mentioned the cartoon as one of seven in “in various production phases” at MGM. The studio may not have had more than a title. The publication mentioned on February 24, 1940 that Ising was putting it into production, adding “It will be a satire on astronomists.” Nothing about little kittens. Boxoffice magazine of March 2, 1940 reported Ising had begun production of the cartoon and was preparing Swing Social. It then blurbed on May 11th that Scott Bradley had completed scoring on the short.

Daily Variety of June 5, 1940 reported MGM found a clever way to promote the cartoon:
METRO and the National Dairy Council have gotten together on what is probably the most extensive cooperative exploitation campaign ever put behind a short subject. Benefiting is Metro’s Technicolor cartoon, ‘The Milky Way,’ release of which has been timed to fit in with National Milk Month, which opens this week from coast to coast. Newspaper ads, milk bottle tops, window cards, billboard and other bally outlets have been lined up. ‘Milky’ was produced by Rudolf Ising.
Boxoffice reviewed the cartoon in its July 6th issue:
The Milky Way
M-G-M (Cartoon) 8 Mins.
This is a highly imaginative and expert bit of whimsy that strikes a pleasant note. Telling of three kittens who voyage to the milky way, the production has a standard of artistic execution that sets it apart from the ordinary. Children will love it and adults will revel in its eye-filling color. Worth while.
Hollywood had a few oozing-with-kiddie-winsomeness voice actresses around this time. Berneice Hansell, known for her squealing animals at Warner Bros., provides one of the kitten’s voices, and I suspect another is Margaret Hill-Talbot, who played Sniffles at Warners. I’ll leave it to the experts to pick out anyone else in the cast. Same with the animators, though a wild guess is that Bill Littlejohn, Jack Zander and George Gordon worked on this cartoon, based solely on the fact they were at MGM at the time and spent time under Ising.

Somewhere on the internet, you’ll likely read that The Milky Way “broke the Disney streak of Oscars.” Well, yeah, it did. Because Disney didn’t enter anything that year in the ‘Short Subject: Cartoons’ category. Daily Variety of January 28, 1941 had the list of 14 cartoons screened by Academy voters on February 3rd:
‘Snubbed By a Snob,’ Fleischer; ‘You Ought to Be in Pictures,’ Warners; ‘A Wild Hare,’ Warners; ‘Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy,’ Fleischer; ‘Knock, Knock,’ Universal; ‘Puss Gets Boots,’ [sic] Metro; ‘Billy Mouse’s Akwakade,’ 20th-Fox; ‘The Mad Hatter,’ Columbia; ‘Western Daze,’ (Pal) Paramount; ‘Wimmin Is a Myskery,’ Fleischer; ‘Early Worm Gets the Bird,’ Warners; ‘Cross Country Detours,’ Warners; ‘Recruiting Daze,’ Universal, and ‘Milky Way,’ Metro.
It’s clear the Academy in 1941 was still enamoured with Disney, even the faux variety of Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising. But not for much longer. People like Hansell were soon out of demand as was the chirping female chorus that sounded more like it belonged in a 1934 short. New, loud stars—Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker—hit the screen as the world was plunged into a violent war. People wanted brash comedy. The time of oh-so-charming little kittens riding to a sky-land of milk had passed.

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