Saturday, August 21, 2010

Screening: Chuck Jones shorts at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater

Chuck-jonesFriday night the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wrapped up its exhibition "Chuck Jones: An Animator's Life from A to Z-Z-Z-Z" with a screening of nine Oscar-nominated and winning Jones-directed animated shorts.
As usual, one of the highlights of an event like this is being part of a large, enthusiastic audience.  In this case, an enthusiastic, mainly adult audience laughing like kids.

The following were screened:

Mouse Wreckers (1948)
Academy Award nominee (Cartoon Short Subject)
Only one thing stands between two mice (Hubie and Bertie) and the new home of their dreams: champion mouser Claude the Cat.  The mice unleash a series of sophisticated, cruel and hilarious pranks on the cat that eventually drive him crazy and send him running. 

Claude's world is turned upside down.

For Scent-Imental Reasons (1949)
Academy Award winner (Cartoon Short Subject)
Pepe lepewA French perfume shop owner is horrified to find Pepe LePew stinking up his establishment.  The desperate owner tosses a stray black cat into the shop with orders to rid it of the interloper.   Unfortunately for kitty, a bottle of white dye spills down her back, turning her into a lovely skunk.  For Pepe, it's love at first sight and he pursues his extremely reluctant object of affection around the shop.  The tables are turned on the amorous Pepe when the cat is dunked in a barrel of water, not only washing away her white stripe, but also rendering her ratty and unattractive.  Pepe has fallen into a bucket of blue paint, washing away his identity as a skunk but not as a hunk and the chase is back on - only now with Pepe as horrified pursued instead of pursuer.

One of the things you really notice after watching these two shorts is how spectacularly funny Looney Tunes is when it comes to horrified expressions on put-upon cats.

So Much For So Little (1949)
Academy Award winner (Documentary Short Subject)
This was was truly a surreal trip back to a different way of life.  It sings the praises of our local public health officials by following Johnny Jones, a rather generic person from infancy through old age.

Throughout Johnny's life he's reliant on the hard work and dedication of public health officials to keep him healthy.  Given the current state of health care and the recent moves to make it a government-sponsored right with promises of low costs, the topicality was a bit awkward.  It didn't help that the approach was an extremely non-cartoonish seriousness.  It felt more like a lecture than entertainment.

The part that was a big hit with the audience was at the end, when the narrator wondered aloud how much all this fabulous care is costing hard-working taxpayers and  hard-working taxpayer Johnny got all grumpy...only to brighten up when informed that the cost of all these riches is a mere...wait for it...three cents per person, per day!  Yeah, those days are over.

From A to Z-Z-Z-Z (1953)
Academy Award nominee (Cartoon Short Subject)
Little Ralphie is a junior Walter Mitty, day dreaming of triumphant deeds as a deep sea diver rescuing a sunken sub, a Pony Express rider, a boxer and General Douglas MacArthur.  Unfortunately, Ralphie's escapism takes place at school when he's supposed to be studying, making him a target of ridicule for his classmates and a constant challenge for his teacher.  The expression that comes over his face as he drifts off to yet another imaginary adventure is adorable.

High Note (1960)
Academy Award nominee (Cartoon Short Subject)
A performance of The Blue Danube (by its sheet music) goes awry when one of the notes shows up for work tanked and out of control.  Yes, you read that right.  Highly imaginative use of music symbols as living creatures, with the relatively simple line figures showing an impressive amount of personality, something that's even more impressive because there is no dialogue.  Everything is conveyed through music and animation.

Beep Prepared (1961)
Academy Award nominee (Cartoon Short Subject)
Wile E. Coyote (hungrii flea-baggius) pursues the wily Road Runner (tid-bitius velocitus) with typically tragic and unsuccessful results.  Beep Prepared is the only Road Runner/Coyote cartoon to receive an Oscar nomination.

Nelly's Folly (1961)
Academy Award nominee (Cartoon Short Subject)
Nelly, a golden-throated giraffe, is discovered singing in Africa and is whisked to America where she achieves super-stardom.  Eventually her success goes to her head and she crashes and burns.  With nothing left she returns to her humble life in Africa and finds true love.  The audience got a good-natured laugh out of the old-fashioned values in this short: Nelly's celebrity downfall is caused by her romancing a married man (giraffe), causing him to abandon his wife.  Amateur Hour by today's celebrity scandal standards.

Now Hear This (1962)
Academy Award nominee (Cartoon Short Subject)
The Dot and The Line (1965)
Academy Award winner (Cartoon Short Subject)
Nowhearthis The abstract and experimental Now Hear This begins with an appearance by the Devil, who is missing a horn.  It's found by an elderly gentleman who uses it as a hearing aid, but everything he hears with it is bizarrely mismatched with what is producing the sound.  Eventually, he tosses the useless horn, which is recovered by a relieved Devil.  The Dot and The Line is more plot-driven, but it's also clearly a child of the sixties, mainly thanks to the music.  If The Dot was a real girl, she'd would be wearing a mini-skirt and go-go boots.  The Dot is beloved by the seemingly boring Line, but she spurns him for the more exciting, party-boy Squiggle.  Over time, The Line manages to become less unyielding and more interesting (think Spirograph designs) and eventually wins The Dot's affections.


These last two shorts really went to the other side of the spectrum from the traditional Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons.  Very reflective of the time in which they were created, they are jarringly different from the Warner Bros. classics.  Now Hear This is devoid of dialogue, using sound and the old man's reaction to it to tell the story, while The Dot and The Line is narrated by Robert Morley, who speaks for the characters.  Strangely, it is the two most recent shorts that hold up the least.

The screening was followed by a panel consisting of moderator/animator Bill Kroyer, Jones' daughter, Linda Jones Clough, his widow Marian Jones (they met when she interviewed him in the mid-sixties) along with animators Kelly Asbury, Chris Bailey, Jeff DeGrandis and Rob Minkoff, who were mentored by Jones.


Chuck Jones.comChuck Jones Center for CreativityChuck Redux (Chuck Jones Blog) - Chuck Jones on imdbChuck Jones on Wikipedia - Chuck Jones Shorts Presented by AMPAS - Bill Kroyer on imdbKelly Asbury on imdbChris Bailey on imdbJeff DeGrandis on imdb - Rob Minkoff on imdb - Mouse Wreckers on imdbMouse Wreckers on Wikipedia - For Scent-Imental Reasons on imdbFor Scent-Imental Reasons on Wikipedia - So Much For So Little on imdbSo Much For So Little on WikipediaFrom A To Z-Z-Z-Z on imdbFrom A To Z-Z-Z-Z on WikipediaHigh Note on imdbHigh Note on WikipediaBeep Prepared on imdbBeep Prepared on WikipediaNelly's Folly on imdbNelly's Folly on WikipediaNow Hear This on imdbNow Hear This on WikipediaThe Dot and The Line on imdbThe Dot and The Line on Wikipedia

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