Thursday 31 May 2018

Panther Against Panzer

Norm McCabe’s a real enigma, at least when it comes to directing at Warner Bros. There’s something odd about his timing that I just can’t place. His stories trot along like one big set-up with very little payoff, and he seems to have been forced into tossing in patriotic, war-time references that are lost on people today.

Here’s an example from Who’s Who At the Zoo, a 1942 short that borrows Tex Avery’s spot-gag format and marries it with 1930s Bob Clampett-style animation (ie. not the outrageous Scribner/Gould stuff). Narrator Bob Bruce intones about a black panther finishing a hearty meal. The well-animated animal then looks into its dish, sees something, and adopts the half-closed-eye goofy look (with voice to match) you’d find in Clampett’s Porky Pig cartoons.

“Alum-a-lim-alah-lum-um,” he says dopily, pointing to a star at the bottom before tossing it into a scrap pile to help win the war (“Dixie” plays in the background, but we presume the reference isn’t to the Civil War).

Whether theatre audiences cheered or stuck out their chests or swore at “Huns” under their breaths when watching this, I don’t know. I doubt that they laughed, though. Said one small-town theatre owner to the Motion Picture Herald in August 1942: “If another cartoon is produced trying to create funny expressions by various animals, we certainly will not use it. This had only one laugh and that seemed strained.” However, Showmen’s Trade Review (April 1942) declared it “funny,” so what do I know?

John Carey gets the sole animation credit here. Vive Risto, Cal Dalton and Izzy Ellis were also in the McCabe unit. McCabe was gone by November, making military films for FMPU.

1 comment:

  1. According to Cartoon Network's ToonHeads, Chuck Jones stayed after hours to help McCabe with the layouts.

    I always enjoyed McCabe's cartoons. His spot-gags efforts feel like Clampett without a stronger bite, but given how Bob's Porky's were around the early forties, this doesn't totally feel out of place (hell, this could have easily been a recently discovered short from the Clampett unit; most of Norm, Carey, and even Tubby Millar's gags are just the same Clampett fluff, i.e Porky's "You Darlin'" theme, the Java Jive number in Robinson Crusoe Jr., wide grins, etc....).