Sunday, April 29, 2007

Harman and Ising Merrie Melodies

When Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising first started up the Warner cartoon studio with Leon Schlesinger, their main competitor (and former employer) was Disney. Naturally, they wanted to emulate Disney but offer something Disney didn't. Their gimmick was funny (and at times gross) gags and a musical theme that differed from Disney's: Instead of calm, sweet stuff, they set their cartoons to hot jazz and had their characters sing along with synchronized lip movements. Their flagship series, "Looney Tunes", starred Bosko and were more plot-driven, while "Merrie Melodies" alternated between "Foxy" the fox and "Piggy" the pig, in more musical plots. A dog character named Goopy Geer appeared in a handful of cartoons. The recurring stars in "Merrie Melodies" were later dropped in favor of a purely one-shot setup with no real recurring characters.

In the modern era of jaded audiences and a fear of anything black and white, these early cartoons are woefully overlooked. Some are actually edgy even by today's standards, so much so that they are unavailable on TV or home video to this very day. Here are a couple great examples:

"Hittin the Trail For Halleluja Land" (1931)
This cartoon is a hilarious parody of Disney cartoons of the day...but the parody is often overlooked due to the depiction of African American stereotypes. Because of the stereotyping, this short landed on the inafamous "Censored Eleven" list, and is rarely seen. That's too bad, because as you can see, it's a great cartoon! (Notice the gag with Piggy in a dead-on parody of the famous Disney short "Steamboat Willie!")


"You Don't Know What You're Doin" (1931)
Another Piggy entry. Though this version is partially dubbed in Spanish, you still get the idea! One of the most surreal cartoons of all time, giving even the wildest Fleischer stuff a run for its money. Don't drink and drive, folks...ESPECIALLY if you're in a cartoon!

1 comment:

David Gerstein said...

Great post, guys!
I only beg to differ -- slightly -- in regards to the concept of the early Melodies alternating between Foxy and Piggy. Switching back and forth wasn't the intent; the Foxy cartoons were made first, followed by the Piggy shorts. This is because Foxy BECAME Piggy; as Rudy Ising told me (only cartoon pioneer I ever met... wow!), Walt Disney complained to him personally about Foxy's too-close resemblance to Mickey Mouse, and the official decision was taken to replace the character in cartoons that were then in production.
Evidently, YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOIN' began as a Foxy short, and HITTIN' THE TRAIL may have, too.

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