No further discourse on Tale of Two Mice itself for the time being, but here’s the cartoon that Tashlin remade it from, The Great Cheese Mystery. This was the last cartoon from the ‘old’ regime at Columbia, before Tashlin took over running things with The Fox and Grapes. Therefore it gets overshadowed by the greatness of that “Georgeous Technicolor” short, but it really shouldn’t.
The credited director is Art Davis, who would later become Tashlin’s most important animator at Warners, but it’s obviously Tashlin’s (the credited storyman – talk about role reversal!) baby more than anybody’s. Davis’ work at Columbia as a director is noticeably better than the others. Cartoons like Mr. Elephant Goes to Town and The Way of All Pests (which features a self-caricature of Davis) are only good by Columbia cartoon standards, given the studio’s output was an uninteresting landfill for much of its existence in the 1930s.
I have no idea how far Tashlin’s involvement went past the story stage for this cartoon. If I had to make an educated guess, it was a considerable lot, because the cutting, timing, and angular-looking animation and character designs (very atypical for a 1941 Columbia cartoon I must add) are all Tashlin earmarks. It easily holds its own against any of the best cartoons made at Warners at the time, a feat most studios weren’t able to accomplish without a former Warner guy heavily involved – usually by directing.
I also like this cartoon much more than the borderline-abhorrent The Tangle Angler that Tashlin was credited with directing later that same year. They were wise to make the sneezing dopey mouse silent. The choice makes it a much funnier cartoon, and it’s all too easy to imagine the obnoxious, generically directed Mel Blanc voice that he could have had, as in every other Columbia cartoon with a mouse released in ‘41.
Comparing this short with Tale of Two Mice is a rare and fascinating glimpse of how far directors like Tashlin could evolve into better filmmakers in just a few short years. Hitchcock compared his two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much saying, “The first was made by a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional.” There’s nothing amateurish about The Great Cheese Mystery but once you stack it against the 1945 Looney Tune, they do kind of seem lightyears apart when they were only made barely within four years of each other.