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Going Looney, on Purpose and in Order (6)

The Golden Year of Warner Animation (1946)

1939 has long been considered Hollywood’s pinnacle for live-action feature films; although you could make the case for other years (1953, for example), I find that Warner Bros. animation reached its highest level of artistry, energy and humor in 1946. In 1946 the best cartoons were masterpieces and the worst ones were still worth seeing. 

Why? For one thing, the war was no longer such a thematic distraction. For another, many of the classic characters had been developed by several directors, and their essential traits refined. It also seems like some of the worst stereotyped humor starts to dissipate (but not disappear) in 1946. And, 1946 cartoons use Edward G. Robinson a lot. That’s always hilarious.

Two amazing facts about this golden year: one, directors Robert McKimson and Arthur Davis each made their Looney Tunes / Merrie Melodies debut (McKimson had directed one of the Mr. Hook wartime films earlier), without hurting the overall quality of the year’s output; and, two, Warner Bros. no longer even had the brilliant Tex Avery, who was now at MGM creating his own string of masterworks. Imagine what 1946 could have been at Termite Terrace if Avery were still there.

Since the 1946 films represent such a standard, each cartoon gets its own entry.

Book Revue (reissued as Book Review)

January 5, 1946 / Cartoon 464

Director: Bob Clampett

Ranked #45 in The Fifty Greatest Cartoons

Included in The 100 Greatest Looney Tune Cartoons

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 2
  • The Essential Daffy Duck
  • Looney Tunes Platinum Collection, Volume 2

Three great themes of Warner animation coalesce in Book Revue: book covers come to life, Little Red Riding Hood is lampooned, and the daffiness of a certain black duck is on display. Clampett fills the screen with so much manic delight, such effervescent looniness, that Book Revue is endlessly rewatchable. Bob McKimson and Rod Scribner’s animation and Mel Blanc’s amazing performance as Daffy Duck are legendary. 

Students of animation have long viewed the sequence of Daffy with the Big Bad Wolf, and the wolf’s subsequent prison escape, frame by frame to discover the secrets. The observant viewer will also note the last book in the opening panning shot, the autobiography of Bugs Bunny.

Baseball Bugs

February 2, 1946 / Cartoon 465

Director: Friz Freleng

Listed in “Other Great Cartoons” in The Fifty Greatest Cartoons

Included in The 100 Greatest Looney Tune Cartoons

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 1
  • The Essential Bugs Bunny
  • Looney Tunes Platinum Collection, Volume 1

Bugs Bunny single-handedly takes on the Gas-House Gorillas in this brilliant baseball parody. The cartoon physics of Bugs the pitcher delivering his fastball, outrunning it to the plate, and Bugs the catcher catching the strike all checks out scientifically. The way the cartoon depicts baseball as a series of inane arguments between cranky buffoons makes it quite realistic to us lifelong baseball fans.

Holiday for Shoestrings

February 23, 1946 / Cartoon 466

Director: Friz Freleng

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 5

Freleng’s musical extravaganzas are always well worth enjoying, and this one ranks with (and has much in common with) 1941’s Rhapsody in Rivets and Rhapsody Rabbit later in 1946. The “Eat at Joe’s” gag cracks me up every time.

Quentin Quail

March 2, 1946 / Cartoon 467

Director: Chuck Jones

Currently unavailable on DVD or Blu-ray

No one would place Quentin Quail near the top of the list for either 1946 or the Chuck Jones filmography, but it has interesting stylized visuals. As a parody of Fanny Brice and her Baby Snooks character (the annoying daughter quail here is “Baby Toots”), it is accurate, in that it is nearly as obvious and dull as the real thing. Tedd Pierce not only wrote the cartoon, he also voices the title character, with Sara Berner performing the Baby Toots character and Mel Blanc as the bad guy bird. It’s badly dated today, what with the Fanny Brice caricature and the weak Frank Sinatra gag that ends the cartoon. But Jones was developing a style and, fortunately, avoiding the type of racial “humor” that taints so much of his earlier work.

Baby Bottleneck

March 16, 1946 / Cartoon 468

Director: Bob Clampett

Included in The 100 Greatest Looney Tune Cartoons

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 2
  • Storks (extra with 2016 film)
  • Looney Tunes Platinum Collection, Volume 1

The hilarious Baby Bottleneck did not quite survive the film censors of 1946, unfortunately. An early scene, in which mismatched offspring are delivered, includes a dangerously sharp-toothed baby alligator approaching mama pig at mealtime. The surviving scene cuts right before mama pig delivers the line, “Don’t touch that dial!” Alas, this joke was too vulgar for the Production Code in the forties and was removed, but the toothy gator approaching mama survives.

This cartoon was far from the only WB short featuring Raymond Scott’s music, but it is one of the most effective (but not the first, contrary to some sources) uses of Scott’s “Powerhouse.”  This theme, actually the “B” section of “Powerhouse,” is instantly recognizable as the music Carl Stalling uses whenever a zany assembly line is depicted.

Hare Remover

March 23, 1946 / Cartoon 469

Director: Frank Tashlin (uncredited)

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 3

Hare Remover is Frank Tashlin’s last animated short for Warner Bros, and his second Bugs Bunny cartoon. A take on the Jekyll & Hyde story, this is an entertaining entry in the middle of the pack quality-wise. Highlights here include the characters’ wacky reactions to drinking the potion, and a particularly devious version of Elmer Fudd.

Daffy Doodles

April 6, 1946 / Cartoon 470

Director: Robert McKimson

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • My Reputation (extra with 1946 film)

Talented animator Bob McKimson had previously directed a short for the US government, but Daffy Doodles was his first full-length LT/MM short after taking over Tashlin’s unit. It’s extremely funny and entertaining, and it’s strange that it is only available as an extra on a Barbara Stanwyck DVD that shares only its year of release. It deserves better. The animation when Porky and Daffy chase each other around the top of a skyscraper is terrific, and the facial expressions, especially exasperated Porky, are hilarious. Identifying the Warner movie stars who get the moustache treatment (along with a certain rabbit) is great fun as well. McKimson made a handful of really good cartoons along with miles and miles of mediocre ones, and this is one of them.

Hollywood Canine Canteen

April 20, 1946 / Cartoon 471

Director: Robert McKimson

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 6

This one’s pretty unusual. Many of the characters are dogs who are caricatures of Hollywood stars; some are dogs with human characteristics; some are just dogs. But Eddie G. opens the cartoon, so it has that going for it. The well-worn tropes (Bing vs. Frankie, Carmen Miranda) are here, along with a very appealing Dorothy Lamour dog.

Hush My Mouse

May 4, 1946 / Cartoon 472

Director: Chuck Jones

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection

A Sniffles cartoon that really isn’t primarily about Sniffles, Hush My Mouse is a parody of Duffy’s Tavern, the popular radio show which also had film and television incarnations. By far the best thing here is Edward G. Robincat, another thick-lipped Robinson character whose cowardice is ultimately revealed. The voice work is all very well done, and the animation is enjoyable; the humor depends on knowing at least a little about the original source material, though, which by now is pretty obscure.

Hair-Raising Hare

May 25, 1946 / Cartoon 473

Director: Chuck Jones

Listed in “Other Great Cartoons” in The Fifty Greatest Cartoons

Included in The 100 Greatest Looney Tune Cartoons

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 1
  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 3 (in What’s Up Doc: A Salute to Bugs Bunny)
  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 4 (in Bugs Bunny Superstar)
  • The Essential Bugs Bunny
  • Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special
  • Looney Tunes Platinum Collection, Volume 3
  • Bugs Bunny Superstar

One of the most inspired comedic moments in film history? When Bugs Bunny realizes that the way to deal with a large monster consisting of a pile of red hair wearing tennis shoes (Gossamer making his debut) is to give it a manicure. Monsters do lead interesting lives. Hair-Raising Hare also features a fine Peter Lorre scientist and a fetching mechanical rabbit femme fatale.

Kitty Kornered

June 8, 1946 / Cartoon 474

Director: Bob Clampett

Listed in “Other Great Cartoons” in The Fifty Greatest Cartoons

Included in The 100 Greatest Looney Tune Cartoons

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 2
  • Blues in the Night
  • Looney Tunes Platinum Collection, Volume 1

Kitty Kornered might be the funniest cartoon of 1946, which is high praise indeed. Porky is hilarious in this, and the characters are rubbery in the best Clampett style. Sylvester’s speech was never more wetly sibilant. The cats behave in such a depraved manner that their smoking and drinking have been censored from broadcast; one cat smokes four cigars at once. This is the cartoon where the cats each turn into Teddy Roosevelt.

Hollywood Daffy

June 22, 1946 / Cartoon 475

Director: Friz Freleng

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 5

Another in a long line of WB cartoons featuring a line-up of Hollywood stars. Bette Davis is spot-on, the voice so good it could actually be her. Unfortunately Eddie G. does not turn up.

Acrobatty Bunny

June 29, 1946 / Cartoon 476

Director: Robert McKimson

Included in The 100 Greatest Looney Tune Cartoons

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 3
  • Looney Tunes Platinum Collection, Volume 3
  • A Night in Casablanca

For once the pairing of a cartoon with a feature (the Marx brothers’ A Night in Casablanca) makes perfect sense. McKimson’s first Bugs Bunny is really funny, with one of Bugs’ best lines: he looks way down into Nero the lion’s cavernous mouth and yells, “Pinocchio”! Bugs later does a great Pagliacci turn, singing “Laugh, Clown, Laugh.”

The Eager Beaver

July 13, 1946 / Cartoon 477

Director: Chuck Jones

Currently unavailable on DVD or Blu-ray

The Chuck Jones cartoon The Eager Beaver is an undiscovered gem, quite entertaining despite not being readily available. There’s an early funny gag with the beavers “damming” the river, and the beavers have very appealing personalities and voices. It’s a real disappointment that this good cartoon remains basically unseen.

The Great Piggy Bank Robbery

July 20, 1946 / Cartoon 478

Director: Bob Clampett

Ranked #16 in The Fifty Greatest Cartoons

Included in The 100 Greatest Looney Tune Cartoons

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 2
  • The Essential Daffy Duck
  • Looney Tunes Platinum Collection, Volume 1

Another 1946 Clampett masterpiece, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery is Daffy at his very best, and is considered by some professional animators as the best cartoon ever made. There’s not a wasted second. Every frame in this frantic cartoon is great; in fact, going frame-by-frame in the sequence where the villains fall out of the closet is a must. Not only will the viewer wonder where the candy cane came from, they will be introduced to a shapely female villain who had previously remained unseen.

Bacall to Arms

August 3, 1946 / Cartoon 479

Directors: Bob Clampett (uncredited, unfinished) / Art Davis

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 5
  • To Have and Have Not

Bacall to Arms is an entertaining melange of colorized footage from She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter, a mostly-rotoscoped parody of the Bogart-Bacall feature film To Have and Have Not, and new animation featuring a rip-off of Tex Avery’s Wolfie character from his MGM cartoons. Clampett left this unfinished when he left the studio, and Art Davis took over his unit, further adding to the lack of continuity. Considering how much this Frankentoon has going against it, it’s remarkable how entertaining it is, especially for the viewer familiar with the original Bogart-Bacall film.

Of Thee I Sting

August 17, 1946 / Cartoon 480

Director: Friz Freleng

Currently unavailable on DVD or Blu-ray

Using much reworked and colorized footage from the wartime short Target: Snafu, Of Thee I Sting is far and away the least distinguished WB cartoon of 1946. At least when the mosquitoes were attacking Pvt. Snafu, there was an interesting and funny character involved; here the mosquito maneuvers involve no characterization whatsoever and are simply “insects at war” sequences. Don’t judge the golden year of 1946 by its weakest entry.

Walky Talky Hawky

August 31, 1946 / Cartoon 481

Director: Robert McKimson

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Warner Bros. Animation Academy Award Collection
  • Looney Tunes Platinum Collection, Volume 3
  • Bugs Bunny Superstar
  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 4 (in Bugs Bunny Superstar)
  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 3

Two new endearing WB characters are introduced in the Oscar-nominated Walky Talky Hawky, Barnyard Dawg and Foghorn Leghorn. McKimson’s two new characters were perfect co-stars with Chuck Jones’ Henery Hawk. Very funny, and it’s great to watch the freshness of what would become formulaic.

Racketeer Rabbit

September 14, 1946 / Cartoon 482

Director: Friz Freleng

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film

This great cartoon is currently available only as an extra on a DVD featuring a gangster film documentary. Is that because of four frames of Edward G. Robinson’s bare backside? The topic deserves a thorough investigation.

This hilarious gangster cartoon features over-the-top portrayals of Eddie G. and Peter Lorre; some fans of Warner Bros. gangster spoofs prefer the later characters of Rocky and Mugsy, but I love these more. There are many highlights here: the way Hugo, the Peter Lorre character, laughs; the way he disappears, unexplained, early in the cartoon; Dick Nelson’s vocal performance as Robinson, especially when he finds the curtains “adorable;” the best instance of Bugs’ “hide the villain” routine; and, of course, Robinson’s bare butt as he scrambles away from Bugs at the end.

Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film is worth seeing, but it’s not nearly as good as any of the gangster-related cartoons included as bonuses on the DVD: I Like Mountain Music, She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter, Racketeer Rabbit and Bugs and Thugs

Fair and Worm-er

September 28, 1946 / Cartoon 483

Director: Chuck Jones

Currently unavailable on DVD or Blu-ray

Another of 1946’s rarely-seen undiscovered gems, Chuck Jones’ trip up and down the food chain (worm, bird, cat, dog, dog catcher, dog catcher’s wife, mouse) is entertaining and nicely paced, but what a horrible title! The endless permutations of hair/hare throughout the years are perhaps forgivable (and of course they all involve Bugs), but Fair and Worm-er is a reference to a play (Fair and Warmer) introduced in 1915 that was likely forgotten even in 1946! With almost any other title this cartoon would survive beyond the rare Boomerang or Cartoon Network showing, but it is worth seeking out.

The Big Snooze

October 5, 1946 / Cartoon 484

Director: Bob Clampett (uncredited)

Listed in “Other Great Cartoons” in The Fifty Greatest Cartoons

Included in The 100 Greatest Looney Tune Cartoons

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 2 (in What’s Up Doc: A Salute to Bugs Bunny)
  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 3
  • Looney Tunes Platinum Collection, Volume 3
  • Night and Day

In which Elmer Fudd rips up his contract in exchange for west and wewaxation, has an acid trip courtesy of Bugs Bunny’s nightmare paint, and becomes the sexiest drag queen in Warner Bros. animation. Clampett’s last WB cartoon is another endlessly rewatchable masterpiece, and is another one that repays frame-by-frame analysis. Pure gold.

The Mouse-merized Cat

October 19, 1946 / Cartoon 485

Director: Bob McKimson

Currently unavailable on DVD or Blu-ray

I’m of the age and disposition where I enjoy the many animal-based parody versions of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello more than encounters with the real thing. It always sounds strange to me when the real Lou yells “Hey Abbott!” instead of “Hey Babbitt!” This is the one where Bud uses an eyeball-ray version of hypnotism on Lou, the household cat gets involved, and chaos ensues. An official collection of all the Babbitt and Catstello permutations would be tiresome to watch in succession, and other than this one some of them are already anthologized.

Mouse Menace

November 2, 1946 / Cartoon 486

Director: Art Davis

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Super Stars: Porky & Friends – Hilarious Ham

In Art Davis’ first full-fledged debut as director, Porky wears a bowtie nearly the size of an entire shirtfront. A very resourceful mouse is driving Porky crazy, and the plot involves Porky hiring various forms of extermination, in vain. 

Rhapsody Rabbit

November 9, 1946 / Cartoon 487

Director: Friz Freleng

Listed in “Other Great Cartoons” in The Fifty Greatest Cartoons

Included in The 100 Greatest Looney Tune Cartoons

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 2
  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 4 (in Bugs Bunny Superstar)
  • Bugs Bunny Superstar

In what is one of Hollywood’s great unsolved mysteries, Rhapsody Rabbit is not only a great Bugs Bunny / Warner Bros. cartoon, but it’s also a great Tom and Jerry / MGM cartoon called A Cat Concerto, which won an Oscar. The order in which that occurred has never been publicly established, as well as who was involved and who stole what from whom. 

Two different studios preparing such similar cartoons independent of each other would be a coincidence of massive proportions, but in the opinion of some within the realm of possibility. One interesting theory holds that the key to the mystery lies in the rivalry between Shura Cherkassky, who purportedly played for Tom, and Jakob Gimpel, who played the piano as Bugs. While it would be considered a high honor these days, in the 1940s classical pianists would never have risked their careers by being outed as having played the piano on behalf of animated characters.

Each studio accused the other of plagiarism. Another theory holds that Technicolor sent pre-production footage to the wrong studio during the pre-production phase. At any rate, Rhapsody Rabbit is another great Freleng musical. The two competing cartoons should be viewed together; they share a few similar gags, and they certainly share the same premise and musical source material (Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2). MGM’s Joe Barbera claimed at the time that it was unusual to pair Bugs with a mouse, and that is a good point. However, since I prefer Bugs Bunny to Tom and Jerry in a landslide, and since the Warner Bros. version is much funnier, I say Hanna and Barbera stole from Friz.

Armchair detectives should stop wasting time on Jack the Ripper, O. J. Simpson and the like, and concentrate their efforts here where they belong.

Roughly Squeaking

November 23, 1946 / Cartoon 488

Director: Chuck Jones

Current DVD/Blu-ray availability:

  • Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection

Every fan of WB cartoons has a phrase or two deeply embedded in their subconscious mind: one of mine is the voice of Bertie the mouse saying into Claude the Cat’s ear, “You’re a gazelle.” Roughly Squeaking is a very funny cartoon, and closes out 1946 nicely.

There you have it: the golden year of the Looney Tunes, 1946. These 25 cartoons, taken collectively, mark the pinnacle of animated cartoon humor and style.

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