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February 26, 2008 6:09 AM   Subscribe

SingleLinkYoutubeFilter: "Punch Trunk" (Chuck Jones, 1953).
posted by pxe2000 (53 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting, but deservedly obscure. It's basically the same joke over and over and over and over.
posted by DU at 6:21 AM on February 26, 2008


Notice how there was a snippet of the song "I Only Have Eyes For You" included in the soundtrack during the scene with the man stepping out of the optometrist's with his new glasses? The quoting of popular song melodies in cartoon soundtracks used to be very common, starting with some of the earliest animation (Flip the Frog cartoons used this technique a lot). But these days? Pop music is just too niche-marketed, too demographic-specific, so there are no songs anymore that will be recognized by a mass audience. It's a device soundtrack composers can't use anymore.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:26 AM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I liked it. And I'm glad you found it. And somebody give DU a hug.
posted by Dizzy at 6:40 AM on February 26, 2008


Have to agree with DU on the "same joke" observation. Chuck Jones got it way better a couple of years later with the classic One Froggy Evening. Here's a remake of the opening section of the cartoon (in CG, by some Brazilian students).
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:40 AM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's a device soundtrack composers can't use anymore.

Sure they can, as long as the soundtrack is going to be as niche and demographic as the original song. I mean, if I make a cartoon about robot pirate ninjas fighting monkey zombies that I'm planning to release to the lucrative Internet Dork market, I'm probably safe using Weird Al or Jonathon Coulton for my background music.
posted by DU at 6:40 AM on February 26, 2008


Looking forward to seeing the cartoon with your niche soundtrack, there, DU. Be sure to post it to Projects!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:43 AM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I liked it too. But I'll never watch it again, assuming I even remember it tomorrow.

Notice that One Froggy Evening has a plot with a sympathetic character. Punch Trunk has no emotional impact. It also isn't as smoothly animated and the comic timing is off. The optometrist scene, for instance, should have ended with the guy storming back in. The fight sounds are superfluous and the doctor's black eye strains the joke to the breaking point.
posted by DU at 6:45 AM on February 26, 2008


ya gotta love a cartoon with a chain smoker in it..... I long for the good old days!
posted by HuronBob at 6:45 AM on February 26, 2008


There were actually 3 smokers total, IIRC, in that cartoon!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:46 AM on February 26, 2008


flapjax - is it that, really? Or is it because the licensing fees to use snippets of pop songs would be unnecessarily expensive for a short cartoon these days?

Besides, it isn't as if the song in question was cutting edge; "I Only Have Eyes For You" was nearly 20 years old when the cartoon was made. It was also from a Warner Bros. movie, which would make it easier for the cartoon to obtain usage rights. I think it's hard to argue that a 20-year old hit song from a movie would not be recognized by a large number of people today based on the tune. If I recognized a snippet of a song that was released 40 years before I was born, why wouldn't most adults recognize something that was a hit in 1988? (Remembering that cartoons were originally marketed as entertainment for adults, of course)
posted by caution live frogs at 6:50 AM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I loved this cartoon, but then I have this soft spot for both elephants and cute little animals, so it was win/win for me.

I was also struck by all the smoking in the cartoon. In these pc days, cartoons are hyper-paced and more violent than ever, the adults depicted are sarcastic or moronic, and the kids range from disrespectful to openly hostile, but we don't see any beer-drinking or smoking, because that would be bad.
posted by misha at 7:10 AM on February 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Is flapjax really saying that sampling from pop songs died in the 50s?
posted by empath at 7:15 AM on February 26, 2008


Where's Henry C. Mabuse to tell us that elephants don't fall from the sky because there are no elephants in the sky?
posted by nzero at 7:22 AM on February 26, 2008


That was really interesting to watch as an anthropological time capsule. It's not just the smoking, but also the tropes about mental health and alcoholism.
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:26 AM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Basically the same gag as Michigan J. Frog, but not as funny.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:39 AM on February 26, 2008


Aww shit, that one's dubbed in Spanish. Kill me.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:40 AM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love animation, I love the Warner Brothers stuff, but I just can't work up any enthusiasm for the work of Chuck Jones. When he wasn't overthinking a plate of beans, he was just plain old not funny.

And by the 1960's, his work actually starts to stink. The drawing is poor, the framerates are low. The Tom and Jerry's of that era in particular suck. He really didn't adapt well to the constraints, which he should have treated like a somewhat different medium rather than simply doing what it was he used to do, but worse.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:42 AM on February 26, 2008


...or Italian. Anyway, here's the original in English.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:46 AM on February 26, 2008


I remember seeing the clips from this one in Quackbusters.
posted by jozxyqk at 7:48 AM on February 26, 2008


...I just can't work up any enthusiasm for the work of Chuck Jones. When he wasn't overthinking a plate of beans, he was just plain old not funny.

*huff puff* heart weakening....oh wait, I'm thinking of Tex Avery. Yeah, you are right. Chuck's too rigid.
posted by DU at 7:57 AM on February 26, 2008


Nice foreshadowing of Cindy Lou Who character.
posted by sourwookie at 8:07 AM on February 26, 2008


I liked it. Explores the idea of the "elephant in the room", which is about denial, still relevant in these days when people deny evolution or that the Iraq War was justified. Also the reference to the "pink elephant" was common in that day and age (most famously in Dumbo). Finally the idea of "seeing the elephant", another lost phrase that means "having seen it all".
posted by stbalbach at 8:16 AM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]



These guys couldn't help themselves. Even their not-so-good efforts are full of fun stuff.

Carl Stallings was a genius. We can thank him for introducing us to Raymond Scott's 'Powerhouse', of course, but also tons of music from other 20th c. composers, either quoted outright or as influences. His own work is mighty snazzy, too. You should all rush out and get The Carl Stallings Project Vol 1 & 2 if you have any guts. I put it on in the car with no pictures and the music alone makes me laugh.

Here are some quotes I recognized:
o 'Here we go 'round the mulberry bush / This is the way we wash our clothes' (hanging up the wash).
o 'I only have eyes for you' (optician).
o 'Be it ever so humble there's no place like home' (tracking up the hi-rise).
o 'The bear went over the mountain / For he's a jolly good fellow' (drunk).
o A John Phillips Sousa cue I can't place (circus).
o A 'carrousel music' cue I can place (circus).
o Another popular music cue I can't place (flagpole gawkers).

Probably others I didn't catch.

Other fun stuff:
o The ship that Tiny arrived on was called the 'SS Michael Maltese'.
Maltese storyboarded this cartoon and many others.
o Genevieve's parents are John and Marsha, a reference to their pal Stan Freberg's radio soap parody 'John and Marsha'.
o The alliterative headline in the 'yWood Variet', shades of 'STICKS NIX HICK PIX'.
o I imagine there's something to the scientist being named 'Robert Bruce Cameron'.
posted by Herodios at 8:46 AM on February 26, 2008


oh wait, I'm thinking of Tex Avery.

Yeah, Tex was a complete genius. No matter how often you see a Tex Avery cartoon, there's always something new to find in them. Chuck's stuff just doesn't have those layers, or the subtlety, or the inventiveness.

Even the musical toons that Chuck got the Oscars for aren't as good as Tex's musical toons. Give me Red Hot Riding Hood or I Love To Singa over What's Opera Doc, any day.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:47 AM on February 26, 2008


I count four smokers:

o Longshoreman at pier 38.
o "Elephant in my birdbath".
o "Genevieve, what are you doing up?"
o Flagpole painting gawker.

At least it isn't Fred and Barney pimping Winstons.
posted by Herodios at 8:48 AM on February 26, 2008


Ouch. Make that link Raymond Scott's 'Powerhouse'.
posted by Herodios at 8:58 AM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


No, I Love to Singa is awful. But Red Hot is awesome, as are many of the Droopy cartoons.
posted by DU at 9:03 AM on February 26, 2008


I remember seeing this a thousand times when I was kid plopped down in front of my heavily warner saturated saturday morning cartoons. I loved it then, and i still love it now. DU does need a hug. My favorite parts are the really remarkably well timed and animated drunk bit, especially when he stretches his watch band to pull the watch face way up close to his eyes, and the psychiatrist bit. Moments like these in a cartoon are all about the details, and working with variations on a theme through through those details. For instance, again in the drunk scene, we're in a city with no straight lines. Everything is purple tinted and wobbly and even the street sign, which would actually say Stop or Yield or what-have-you, simply says "No No" in what looks like hastily scribbled red crayon. It's a transformation of the scene that isn't the joke itself, but rather (combined with the excellent short-legged wobbly leaning walk of the drunk) instantly sets the situation perfectly so that we don't need any further info to know the man is drunk well before he even bothers to execute the watch stretch move. By the time he does it, we're so in his drunk atmosphere that we can empathize directly with his fuzzy headed cognition. Maybe "One Froggy Evening" is funnier, but they had another two years to perfect the bit that originated here by the time they released that. If it weren't for this, One Froggy Evening wouldn't exist. They don't make cartoons like this, anymore. I miss them terribly.

Also:

"... and mother used to scold me when I was only three. She'd say 'Dolores, you're not seeing little lavender men in the sugar bowl.' But I did, doctor! Then when I went to nursery school my teacher, Mrs. Watson (she was a synthetic blonde) - Well Mrs. Watson used to spank me, spank me hard..."
posted by shmegegge at 9:10 AM on February 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah, Tex was a complete genius. No matter how often you see a Tex Avery cartoon, there's always something new to find in them. Chuck's stuff just doesn't have those layers, or the subtlety, or the inventiveness.

To my mind, statements like that are a lot like saying "Leonardo was a much better painter than Matisse." I mean, maybe you're right, but there's plenty of reason to love Matisse.
posted by shmegegge at 9:12 AM on February 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


They don't make cartoons like this, anymore. I miss them terribly.

I am so with you on this.

So much of what I love about the cartoons that I loved as a kid is that they're full of things that are really best appreciated as an adult. When I was a kid, I loved the tiny elephant cartoon because it had a tiny elephant in it (also, a cat who turned into a monkey!); as an adult, I love it for its nostalgia value, of course, but also for moments like the psychiatrist scene shmegegge references.

Thanks for the post!
posted by rtha at 9:44 AM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Are we seriously having arguments over witch dead classic animator of kids cartoons is better?

Jebus Kronst. Get a frigg'n life people.

pxe2000 - FWIW I liked it, thanks. Like shmegegge said it takes one back to very comforting and interesting place in an American childhood. A plce that is now sadly long gone. I too will miss it.
posted by tkchrist at 10:26 AM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


o Genevieve's parents are John and Marsha, a reference to their pal Stan Freberg's radio soap parody 'John and Marsha'.

I am so glad you said that, because as I watched the cartoon I was thinking about how I needed to ask about it. It shows up in a lot of WB cartoons - when two lovers are gazing into each others' eyes, they say "John!" "Marsha!" and I never knew why it was those names, in particular.

So much of what I love about the cartoons that I loved as a kid is that they're full of things that are really best appreciated as an adult.

And that's intentional - cartoons like these were created not so much for the TV audience but as shorts to be shown on the big screen, with the newsreels and trailers, while you waited for the feature film to start. So the intended audience was actaully adults.

I fondly remember watching the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner hour as a young kid along with my dad, b. 1947, and my grandfather, b. 1920, and all of us laughing our heads off. And, thankfully, explaining a lot of the references.

Compared with cartoons of today - even well-thought-of ones - the artfulness here is rarely even approached. The quality of the animation is so much finer and less choppy, the colors rich, and the shapes very organic. The little elephant's pudgy hindquarters look so natural and cuddly. The composition of each scene is balanced and lovely, and there is a lot of depth and shading. That stuff is too expensive to do today, and if you go digital and use the shortcuts, it shows in the flat sheen-y-ness of the image. It just doesn't touch hand-coloring.

Seeing the stereotyped characters in the gags is a great window into the time. And thanks for the info about the music cues - also, knowing those were recorded by a full orchestra adds to the appreciation.

This made my lunch break awesome.
posted by Miko at 11:11 AM on February 26, 2008


Compared with cartoons of today - even well-thought-of ones - the artfulness here is rarely even approached.

Quality in any labor-intensive enterprise is more expensive nowadays; an unexpected consequence of greater economic justice? Consider the Renaissance cathedral.

Only a labor of love such as these Oscar Nominated shorts (each of which I recommend! They're coming to your town.) can afford to look as good.

Too: Everyone at Termite Terrace was in on the in-jokes and cultural references because they were all roughly peers -- mid-20th c. middle class (ish) white (AFAIK) male (nearly all) Americans. Today, animation work is spread across continents and time zones, and bits of it are outsourced to people with little cultural stake and less chance of contributing creatively.

Even leaving the quality of the visual rendering aside, only a few cartoons bring the sight gags and cultural cues to life the way the Termite Terrace denizens did. Animaniacs, Simpsons, and Futurama come to mind. Someone else will have to attest to South Park in this regard.
posted by Herodios at 11:58 AM on February 26, 2008


an unexpected consequence of greater economic justice?

I agree with the general thrust of this, but I also question it. My (limited) understanding is that a lot of contemporary animation work is done not in comfortable western world environments but is jobbed out to facilities in Asia and India. When these cartoons were produced, the artists working on them enjoyed a living wage and white collar jobs in an artistic field. I'm not so sure what sorts of conditions the overseas animators are enjoying, nor how to calculate the impact of those jobs being replaced, at least in the US, only with non-living-wage service jobs.
posted by Miko at 12:05 PM on February 26, 2008


a lot of contemporary animation work is done not in comfortable western world environments but is jobbed out to facilities in Asia and India.

Precisely. And the reason this is so is because the economics of producing them (and consuming them) has changed.

o Animators would want to be paid more for such high quality work.
o Studios don't want to pay more, aren't motivated to, and don't have to.
o The audience for them is much much smaller.
o et cetera

Result: Your choices are:
o High qualilty writing (relatively cheap) but with lower production values (Simpsons, Animaniacs)
o Boutique productions (Fritz the Cat, Wallace and Grommit, M. Tutli-Putli)
o Crap
posted by Herodios at 12:33 PM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Adding my voice to the guys saying Chuck Jones is awesome, even if Tex Avery is more awesome. The man directed Duck Amuck of all things, cut him some slack.
posted by JHarris at 1:25 PM on February 26, 2008


As a guideline, Warner Brothers cartoons were generally better when the directors were being credited by their names (I. Freleng, Charles Jones, etc.) than their nicknames (Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones). This also roughly corresponds to the change in their visual style from lush naturalistic backgrounds to simpler abstract ones.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:02 PM on February 26, 2008


Herodios: You mentioned Powerhouse, you might be interested in this FPP I posted a while back that takes a look at that fabulous little number, from a couple of different perspectives.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:17 PM on February 26, 2008


empath: Sampling. Quoting. Two different things, brother! (But I reckon you knew that, right? Right?)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:19 PM on February 26, 2008


flapjax: thanks for that.

I seem to recall, too, that the B section is based on a Russian folk melody, but I can't dredge that memory up in full.

One of these days I'll put together a page of tunes we are all familiar with out of context, but don't know the name of. Like for example, that some of the incidental music on the old Pacman arcade game is from The Turkish March (Beethoven's, not Mozart's). . . the Flying Dutchman overture for 'peril'. . . etc. Now if I can just figure out why they always play the same same tom-tom and brass melody over Native Americans in old westerns.
posted by Herodios at 3:53 PM on February 26, 2008


caution live frogs: I reckon prohibitive licensing fees might have something to do with what I was talking about, but I'd still argue that the reservoir of popular song that those cartoons from the 30s through the 60s (or so) were drawing on was universally familiar enough for just about everyone in the audience to catch. And I disagree that you could take songs from (as you mentioned) 1988 and do the same thing today. By 1988 target audiences were already very diverse: people who listened to New Wave probably won't know Disco who won't know Death Metal who won't know...

But look at those genres above (and think of most others) and another point becomes obvious: the melodies aren't there. The pop music that used to get quoted in cartoons as a reference or mood indicator was a pop music based almost entirely on distinctive and memorable melodies married to memorable lyrics. Melody and word were all-important. Starting in the 60s, and definitely from the late 70s on, melody became less of a primary focus in pop music. Memorable melodies carrying memorable lyrics are simply not nearly as plentiful in the pop music of the last several decades. Other musical elements (rhythm, sound and sonic personality) have stepped forward and often replaced melody as the focus of a song.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:53 PM on February 26, 2008


Your choices are:

I believe you missed somebody. Maybe you've heard of him.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:30 PM on February 26, 2008



Seconding what flapjax said. There isn't much recent music that would be both evocative and attractive to a broad audience, due to changes in both the audience and the music.

On the other hand, although I haven't watched David Letterman in years, Paul Schaffer used to pull all kinds of guest- or topic-appropriate cues out of his back pocket for entrances, exits, and bumpers, pretty much all from 1960s - 70s rock.

So maybe it could still work. It just wouldn't be primarily melody that does it.
posted by Herodios at 4:58 PM on February 26, 2008


Maybe you've heard of him.

Nope. But I'm guessing he'd fit into one of the three categories I outlined.

Given this -- "He personally reviewed every frame used in his early films, though . . . he now delegates some of the workload to other Ghibli members. " -- it sounds pretty boutiquey.
posted by Herodios at 5:08 PM on February 26, 2008


Good point about Schaffer. He's really done lots of that over the years for that show. I too, being out of the US for the past 13 years, haven't seen the show in a long time, but I imagine he's still doing it!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:09 PM on February 26, 2008


Are we seriously having arguments over witch dead classic animator of kids cartoons is better?

Although many of us remember seeing these mainly when we were kids, I'd say that these cartoons were aimed chiefly at contemporary adults.
posted by pax digita at 5:59 PM on February 26, 2008


The character was voiced by Mel Blanc, but having the doctor named Robert Bruce Cameron was a tribute to the narrator of the cartoon, Robert Cameron Bruce.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:00 PM on February 26, 2008


The Warner animations series were designed to take advantage of music that warner had the rights to, like music used in their movies. That's why they're call "Looney Tunes" and "Merry Melodies"
Now, could someone please tell me the name of the one where the bears are iceskating and one falls through the ice and is hauled back up with icetongs? I dimly remember him being thawed out and something about a perfume bulb. It's driving me crazy.
posted by 445supermag at 8:26 PM on February 26, 2008



miss lynnster: Nice catch, thanks.
posted by Herodios at 9:05 PM on February 26, 2008


Skating Bears? Perfume bulb? Well, Warners had a series of Three Bears cartoons, starting with Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears, where Bugs skates on the porridge that's too cold.

Maybe you're conflating that with Odor of Day, which has an unnamed skunk (early Pepe LePew) and an unnamed dog fighting over a nice warm bed. There's falling through the ice, getting thawed out, head colds, and perfume involved.
posted by Herodios at 9:05 PM on February 26, 2008


Are we seriously having arguments over witch dead classic animator of kids cartoons is better? Jebus Kronst. Get a frigg'n life people.

No, people are talking about it. That's what people do, especially at Metafilter. They talk about things. And some of them even have lives and everything.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:47 PM on February 26, 2008


Maybe you're conflating that with Odor of Day...
That's it. Thanks.
posted by 445supermag at 6:21 AM on February 27, 2008


pax digita is right, as I also mentioned above, these weren't originally aimed at a kids' market.
posted by Miko at 8:08 AM on February 27, 2008


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