Friday, 27 January 2012

McKimson vs the Status Quo

The Warner Bros. cartoons had run out of steam by the early ’60s. Just about everything that could possibly be done with the major characters had been. Now they were doing the same kinds of things, only without a lot of energy or wit.

Chuck Jones tried a couple of different one-shots—“Now Hear This” was an experiment in sound. And Bob McKimson went for something out of the ordinary with “Bartholomew vs the Wheel” (1964). It’s the story of the dog Bartholomew, told by its child owner. The dog comes to hate wheels, ends up in an unidentified Arab desert nation, returns to the U.S., and loves wheels again as a result of his trip. McKimson was going for either charm or whimsy but he doesn’t entirely succeed. John Dunn’s story has holes in it. How did a welcoming party know a stowaway dog would be arriving at the airport? Did the dog call them? And the dog likes wheels because he doesn’t see them anymore? Plus Mel Blanc’s voices just don’t work for me. McKimson obviously didn’t want the short to have the look or feel of a Warner’s cartoon. Someone else should have brought in to match the “outsider” kid voice. Mel’s voice repertoire was running out of steam, too. He dragged out his stock voices; we get Dino for Bartholomew as a pup and Jack Benny’s Maxwell for a car.

On the other hand, Leslie Barringer lends authenticity as Bartholomew’s young owner (and reads lines better than some of the kids that did in the Peanuts specials). And even Bill Lava’s score fits nicely, though one of his dissonant horn stabs shows its ubiquitousness at Warners with an appearance.

Maybe the best part is the graphic appearance by layout man Bob Givens and background painter Bob Gribbroek. Not all the designs are great, but I do like the cat. The best gag of the cartoon is when the cat performs a high-wire act to drag attention away from Bartholomew.

And you’ve got to like sheep with veils on their faces.

McKimson (or Dunn) pulls of a disintegration gag at the end. The cat’s eyeballs drop to the floor first, then the rest in little pieces. Tex Avery had been doing this kind of thing for years and even Hanna-Barbera used it in their cartoons. But it’s still funny here.

The animation is by Ted Bonnicksen, George Grandpré and Warren Batchelder.

You can at least hand McKimson some points for trying. This cartoon was better than some of the others Warners was releasing at the end. And it was far and away better than the crap released under the studio’s name after it shut down its cartoon division.


  1. Any idea if this style was used to imitate James Thurber in particular?

  2. Certainly Thad!

    The whole thing felt pretty late in terms of what approach they were going for at the time but I could see why they wanted to try something a little different, but yeah, certainly something another studio could've done a decade before.

    How did a welcoming party know a stowaway dog would be arriving at the airport? Did the dog call them?

    Somehow that shot always seemed cheap to me the way they just stand there waiting for the train to come in that I hoped to have seen on the tracks but they dissolve to the next scene anyway!