Friday, 3 February 2012

A Necessary Evil

“Is This Trip Really Necessary?” says the sign. “Sure, it’s necessary,” Woody Woodpecker says to us. Then he pokes his head at the camera. “I’m a necessary evil.” I love the evil expression.

I wish I could tell you who’s responsible for this piece of animation. Bob Bentley gets the animation credit. Animator Emery Hawkins gets his first of two co-direction credits on this one; the studio personnel was in a state of flux and Alex Lovy had left.

The cartoon is ‘Ration Bored’ (1943). It has the good and bad of the early ‘40s Lantz. Woody should be a frantic character like Daffy Duck; instead, a good chunk of the cartoon consists of inflating body-parts sight gags. But I like the design of early Woody, though a transition was afoot. Or a-hand. Woody’s got glove-like white hands.

Warners was experimenting with smear animation about this time. Lantz is still stretching characters in between poses. Here’s one that would be a smear if Virgil Ross or Bobe Cannon were drawing him.

At least one of the animators (or assistants) on the Lantz staff about this time used thick action lines, with outlines filled in by brush-work. I’ve seen it in a couple of cartoons. There’s a drawing like that here.

Darrell Calker’s score is really good in this one. He uses a kettle drum as Woody’s car rolls between hills to a stop. The start of ‘The Alphabet Song’ is used behind the ration book gag (as the gas station attendant reads the letters in the book). He uses a solo clarinet going up and down part of the scale when lumps of gas move along a hose into Woody’s jug. And I like the cuckoo sound with woodwinds when Woody’s “driving” the cop who has tire tubes around his arms and legs. Woody’s irises and pupils turn into bullet-shapes when he realises what’s at the bottom of a hill (the camera then cuts to it).

Woody dies at the end of the cartoon but, of course, he’s back in a few months in another cartoob.

This was a last cartoon of sorts. It’s the final time Woody’s original design would be used. Art Heinemann brought in a new design for the next cartoon. It was last Woody directed by a make-shift team. Shamus Culhane was hired for the next cartoon. And it was the last cartoon where Kent Rogers voiced Woody. He was off to war duty (he was killed) and Lantz elected to go with Bugs Hardaway as the woodpecker until the studio closed at the end of the ‘40s. Lantz had a pretty polished group of voice actors the rest of the decade (Hardaway’s monotone notwithstanding)—Hans Conried, Jack Mather, Harry E. Lang, Walter Tetley and Lionel Stander among them. Oh, and Lantz’s wife got in a couple lines here and there. We’d hear a lot more of Grace Stafford in the ‘50s. Lantz hired her to be Woody. Just a coincidence, said Lantz. He wouldn’t make up stories, would he?


  1. Dick Nelson had a credit in the 50's for one of the Grantray one-offs. I think it was "Broadway Bow-Wows".

  2. It was. I saw the cartoon many times. He used the "Duffy's Tavern" voice.

  3. They had kind of started to transition over Woody's upper body a few cartoons before Culhane and Heinemann arrived, including in this short. His beak had been cut back substantially and his eyes were already shrinking down in size to eliminate the 'perpetually goofy' look. But other parts of the animation still felt like they were about 2-3 years behind where Warners was in terms of character design, with the thicker lines and the added, unnecessary facial or body features making them feel and move 'heavier' than they needed to be for the WB-style stories Hardaway was writing. The arrival of the new team helped quickly close that gap, and of course over at Disney they were even further ahead than the Schlesinger studio in coming up with an animating good looking characters, so Dick Lunday built on Culhane's work until the studio shut down.

  4. This was about the sloppiest Walter Lantz "cartune" I have seen, it's almost like watching a Terrytoon.