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Bigmouth on Bigmouth

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I haven’t gotten to reviewing the December release of Foghorn Leghorn & Friends: Barnyard Bigmouth until now, so I’m glad to say that Warner Home Video improved its standards for the [still] half-assed Looney Tunes Super Stars series. Thanks to our many nasty reviews and comments about the first botched batch, the widescreen problem has been amended. Kind of. On this disc, you have the option to watch it in ‘fullscreen’ (the way it was made) and ‘widescreen’. Of course, they still lie to us with a deliberately misleading selection screen:

A more apt comparison would be as follows:

But I digress. The cartoons are still intact, and they all look great. Now the caveat: most of these cartoons aren’t very good at all, and you know things are getting bad when one of the best cartoons in the compilation is from 1963 (the very funny Banty Raids, pictured above). Bob McKimson started his directorial career in 1945 solidly, and got quite a few years of very funny cartoons under his belt. The Foghorn Leghorn series was the cream of that crop, as proven by cartoons like Crowing Pains and The Foghorn Leghorn, where the laughs come not so much from the gags themselves (though they quite often do), but how bombastically they’re played out. After a few years though, before the shutdown even, McKimson got in a real rut, turning out cartoons clearly below the level Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng were.

Most of his great animators (Manny Gould, Pete Burness, Bill Melendez, Emery Hawkins) had already left at that point, and his Bugs and Daffy shorts became real ‘business-as-usual’ pictures. Even the Foghorn cartoons began to slip, with something like All Fowled Up (the last one done before the shutdown, mostly with Jones animators because McKimson’s crew had mostly jumped ship at that point), featured on this disc, barely being able to sustain six minutes. There’s some bright spots if you look for them, like the always endearing animation of Rod Scribner (if you can forgive his talent is clearly not being utilized), but they’re largely forgettable.

This mantra sounds the same as usual, but that’s because it’s absolutely true, and it’s strongly evident with this collection. It’s basically the disc in a later Golden Collection you’d watch least, in that it’s really scraping the bottom of the later Looney Tunes barrel. One thing that became apparent watching McKimson’s cartoons in such pristine shape is how stiff the character animation had gotten. The quality seriously recedes to Hanna-Barbera TV level, with maybe a couple more drawings (the John Seely canned soundtracks on Weasel While You Work and Gopher Broke really drive this point home). McKimson was clearly just going through the motions at this point to get a paycheck. I wonder what was going on with him personally that sucked out all the enthusiasm and sheer joy so apparent in his earlier work.

It took a bit longer for the reality of the dwindling budgets to affect Jones and even Freleng; around roughly 1960 is when an assembly line feel became dominant in most of their respective work. Compare the hysterical Two Crows from Tacos, tag-teamed beautifully between Virgil Ross and Art Davis, to the unbearable Crow’s Feat, a cartoon with no Davis (he had left the studio) and the deteriorating Gerry Chiniquy’s style dominating the picture over Ross and even Hawley Pratt. True, gags and timing is everything (it’s easily one of Freleng’s worst) but shoddy drawing and animation does no one any favors.

So in all, is this disc worth buying? If you truly want to have every Warner cartoon on DVD, absolutely buy it, as there’s some funny moments if you scour through it, like the Mike Maltese scripted Fox-Terror, the most bizarre Foghorn cartoon ever. It’s worth buying if you’re a student of animation too, just to study the deterioration of a very talented animator. But if you’d just like to enjoy the best of what Bob McKimson has to offer, just stick with what’s been made available on the Golden Collections, and hope that some of the brutally funny earlier Foghorns are released restored.

Written by Thad

January 13th, 2011 at 10:08 am

Posted in classic animation

22 Responses to 'Bigmouth on Bigmouth'

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  1. So, whose fault is it that McKimson’s cartoons degraded from endlessly arm-flailing characters with big heads and teeny eyes to tired inertia .. McKimson’s or animators who weren’t adept at the earlier style?
    Is that an in-between from ‘Banty Raids’? The characters are butt ugly and Foggy’s proportions look wrong.

    Yowp

    13 Jan 11 at 11:39 am

  2. I laughed when I saw that mis-leading selection screen. Is there anyone on the planet dumb enough to be fooled by that? (Sadly, there are, and I’m sure we’ll all see evidence of that sooner than we expect.)

    David Germain

    13 Jan 11 at 11:44 am

  3. Probably a mixture of both. And no, it’s not an inbetween.

    Thad

    13 Jan 11 at 11:45 am

  4. Gotta love WB trying to trick people into watching the widescreen versions. Are they that afraid of people knowing these cartoons weren’t made in the last 10 years? That’s pathetic.

    Mike Russo

    13 Jan 11 at 12:21 pm

  5. I more or less share the same general opinion on the cartoons on this set (i.e. that Foghorn’s best aren’t present), although I definitely liked “Crow’s Feat” more than you, and found “Weasel While You Work” to be amusing as well.

    I’m still baffled by the decision to pad the rest of the disc with six non-Foghorn cartoons. There were enough post-53 Foghorn cartoons left (I say post-53 because I know that’s what WB is focusing on): “Feather Dusted”, “The Dixie Fryer”, “The High and the Flighty”, “The Slick Chick”, “Mother Was a Rooster”, and the cheater “Feather Bluster”. Why they decided to fill it with a bunch of miscellanea is beyond me, especially since it’s doubtful we’ll ever get another Foghorn set. This was the time to include those Foghorns and they blew it.

    Ian Lueck

    13 Jan 11 at 12:31 pm

  6. When I talked to Dale Case (one of the early animators at DFE) he pretty much said that McKimson was just there to collect paychecks.

    Dale only worked with him in the mid-1960s but evidently this attitude went back further.

    Charles Brubaker

    13 Jan 11 at 12:52 pm

  7. McKimson didn’t seem to enjoy directing as much as it seemed. Could studio politics have been a factor?

    Mr. Semaj

    13 Jan 11 at 5:33 pm

  8. I always know I’m in the company of esthetes when they bandy sophisticated terms like “ugly” around.

    Kirk

    13 Jan 11 at 5:47 pm

  9. I think McKimson fell into a rut. He probably could no longer envision a cartoon working beyound simple formula anymore.

    Ricardo Cantoral

    14 Jan 11 at 1:11 am

  10. @Kirk: “That boy’s, ah say, that boy’s got a mouth like a squirrelly moil. Always snippy.”

    Thad

    14 Jan 11 at 12:08 pm

  11. Regarding the “normal vs. widescreen” option on this DVD: Here’s something to ponder as you rail against WB.. My 72-year old Dad has a HD-ready widescreen TV. He thinks it’s stupid that the standard-def stuff is shown in 4×3, so he uses an option on the set that fills the picture to 16×9.

    Never mind that the picture is stretched out and looks awful. The picture fills the screen, and that’s what he wants.

    The Warner Bros. bigwigs know there’re a lot of people like my Dad, so that’s why they have the viewing option on the DVD. Their bottom line is the bottom line.

    Ted

    14 Jan 11 at 8:16 pm

  12. McKimson’s cartoons actually picked up a little just after the shutdown and the re-opening — forcing Tedd Pierce to spend time at UPA seemed to have been a motivating factor for about two years after the re-opening. But with the importing of Sid Marcus pre-shutdown and Maltese’s later moonlighting work on the Foghorn series, it’s obvious that Tedd was running dry of ideas, and once you get past the end of the 1957 releases, Bob’s cartoons not only stiffen up, but the designs become butt ugly (Elmer’s head in “A Mutt In a Rutt” and the other 1958-61 Fudd toons look like it was drawn using a quarter as a template).

    And a beatnik is not going to be singing like Elvis, singing like Frankie, singing like Ricky — I just want to get that out there over them lazily borrowing Bugs’ song for “Banty Raids” to make the chickens swoon (at least in Friz’s original version, when Sam crushes Bugs’ guitar because the song’s driving him nuts, that is funny).

    John

    14 Jan 11 at 11:28 pm

  13. Yeah, yeah, and thank you, mister proprietor.

    Kirk

    15 Jan 11 at 11:29 am

  14. Ted has a point. Alot of people still think the picture must cover every bit of the tv screen. Back in the old VHS days you’d be lucky to find a letterbox version of any film. Thankfully times have changed and we are now given more options.

    Ricardo Cantoral

    15 Jan 11 at 2:09 pm

  15. At least the shorts were restored correctly in this one. Makes me wonder if those other two DVD’s will be released restored like the ones in this set. Thanks for the insight, Thad.

    Justin

    15 Jan 11 at 9:58 pm

  16. @Justin: If you’re referring to the Bugs and Daffy discs, Jerry Beck mentioned on Stu’s Show several weeks ago that WB has no plans to either reissue or replace those discs. Until further notice, we’re stuck with the shitty faux-widescreen versions.

    jbwarner86

    16 Jan 11 at 10:48 pm

  17. I’m not going to waste my time or money on this. I’ll spend it on the Snafu DVD.

    Eric Noble

    20 Jan 11 at 8:35 pm

  18. Hey WB:
    WE want more Porky and more Sylvester!!!

    baby grace

    22 Jan 11 at 12:58 pm

  19. I’ve always thought McKimson’s deterioration had something to do with layout men. The animation in his cartoons got a lot stiffer (despite still having a fine animation crew) when Cornett Wood left and was replaced by Pete Alvarado, and they got even stiffer when Alvarado was replaced by Bob Givens.

    Not that Alvarado or Givens were bad layout men, and Givens in particular gave the backgrounds of McKimson’s cartoons a more distinctive and up-to-date look. But layout guys can affect the animation too and it may be that Wood had something to do with the freer style of McKimson animation from 1946-51 — or at least that his departure might have increased McKimson’s insistence that the animators all stick to his exact poses.

    Jaime Weinman

    22 Jan 11 at 1:31 pm

  20. Jaime: You’re right that layouts can affect a cartoon just as much as the overall direction, but then again, McKimson’s cartoons post-shutdown (which is generally regarded as his weakest period) usually had Robert Gribbroek on layouts, and we’ve seen him do great work for the Chuck Jones unit (even as late as ‘56 with “Bugs’ Bonnets”)… so I dunno if that’s entirely the reason.

    Ian Lueck

    25 Jan 11 at 10:58 am

  21. Layout might’ve been a partial reason for McKimson’s decline. For one, he didn’t kindle a long-term relation with any layout men the way Freleng and Jones did. No “right-hand man” to put it a better way. Hawley Pratt and Maurice Noble continued working for their respective directors long after leaving Warner Bros, and both seemed capable of getting along without them. McKimson had quite a few talented layout men to work with, but Cornet Wood, maybe the best he ever had, was long gone from animation after 1951.

    Mr. Semaj

    27 Jan 11 at 12:06 am

  22. McKimson has always been an inconsistent director. From day one actually. Sometimes his cartoons were belly laugh riots, but on other occassions they seemed clueless and unfunny in comparison. What’s the point of such duds like “The Horsefly Fleas” or “Hobo Bobo”? I think he excelled with Foghorn and Daffy at best. I never really enjoyed his Bugs cartoons barring a few. These inconsistencies became more evident when he lost Warren Foster and many key animators after 1950…
    However I still can enjoy some later McK shorts like “Tabasco Road” or “Of Rice and Hen” which are pretty decent efforts. After 1957 there is no redeeming value in his cartoons, they were all made as homework.

    T.Nandi

    2 Feb 11 at 5:20 am

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