Monday, 20 February 2012

Three Pigs, Three Gags

Something good came out of the weak Warners musical cartoons around 1934 and 1935, the ones the directors disliked because the music got in the way of developing a plot. One was some of the Warners-owned songs were really great and are classics of popular music today. And the other was young director Friz Freleng learned how to marry animation to specific music, which helped in later years when he was able to use better gags, put on the screen with better animation.

‘Pigs in a Polka’ (1943) is really a funny cartoon. As a kid, I didn’t realise there was some Disney referencing going on. I just thought it was funny. There are three little moments (out of many more) I’d like to pick out.

A great throw-away gag is when the wolf appears on the scene. He’s evil, but law-abiding enough to signal left when he’s turning (even though no traffic is behind him to see the signal). And he doesn’t interrupt his Russian dance while doing it.

Friz’ timing is perfect when the two gullible pigs are lured behind a rock, there’s a fight and they suddenly jump out as grinning, dancing gypsy women. It’s completely unexpected, which makes it all the more funnier. The rassin’-frassin’ Blue Ribbon re-release of the cartoon has divested it of its credits, but I can’t help but think Mike Maltese wrote it. At Warners and even at Hanna-Barbera in Quick Draw McGraw cartoons, he’d have characters jump somewhere and come out with a comic costume change.

And I like the fake snow gag. It’s been done in other cartoons, probably done to death to anyone who has dined on animation for decades, but I don’t think it was done any better than in this one. Give credit to Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn. The pathetic first violin solo really augments the fact the wolf is a complete fraud. It shows you why the Warners cartoons are so great. All the elements—drawing, movement, sound—work together and enhance each other.

Walt Lee’s Reference Guide to Fantastic Films (1974) says Gerry Chiniquy received the animation credit on this short, but the Freleng unit was using the talents of Manny Perez, Dick Bickenbach, Gil Turner and Ken Champin, and occasionally Jack Bradbury, around this time.


  1. Jack Bradbury was with Friz around that time - and I wonder what scenes he did. He also floated around Bob Clampett's unit in 1944.

  2. Phil Monroe was with Friz at the start of 1943, and contributed a great deal to this cartoon as well.

  3. Grain of salt time - IMDb says Ken Champin got the credit. I don't even hazard a guess on my website.

  4. By this time in the early 40s, Maltese was pretty much anchored in as Friz's story man. I just wonder if he had any recent problems with birds nesting in his chimney when this story was written.

    One of the things that makes the snow gag here stand about the others is just the little jiggle in time to the music that Friz has the wolf do to shake out a little more of the talcum powder. Virtually all the other "faux snow" gags are pretty straightforward and the audience clues in right away, but this just throws in an extra bump that adds to the gag while at the same time falling into the kind of motion you'd expect a violinist to make while playing the piece.