Reposted: The 39th Talkartoon: A Hunting We Will Go

I liked this cartoon more than I felt when I reviewed it a couple years ago. It’s fair to say it’s a little dull, compared to the surreal wild heights Talkartoons could reach. But you don’t always need cartoons to be wild surreal adventures. Sometimes it’s nice to have a string of successful jokes in a row.

I’m down to the last four of the Talkartoon series and don’t go thinking that I’m not as worried as you all are what I’ll do when the sequence is done. But until then, what should I do except carry on as if there’s nothing to worry about?

This cartoon was originally released the 29th of April, 1932, so it’s the third of that month’s productions. The credited animators are Alfred Eugster and Rudolph Eggeman. Both have had credits before. Eugster was an animator for Grand Uproar, the once-lost Ace of Spades, The Bum Bandit, and The Herring Murder Case. Eggeman is credited for The Cow’s Husband.

I’d asked in The Cow’s Husband whether (American) bullfighting cartoons are always on the bull’s side. This short makes me wonder about cartoons about hunting, too. Surely they aren’t all on the hunted animal’s side. But the animal does seem to come out the better for the experience. This might be forced on the plots by the convention that these are humorous cartoons. This encourages the story to set the hunter out for basically trivial reasons, as here, where Bimbo and Koko are trying to impress Betty Boop. But if the hunt is for something trivial, then it’s too harsh to have the animal killed, and that means the animal has to come out better than the hunter does.

(It’s not impossible for the hunter to have good reasons and the cartoon to still be funny. On a vein not too different, there’s those Woody Woodpecker cartoons where Woody, or the wolf, or both are on the brink of starvation. It gives the cartoon a solid dramatic background that strengthens the joke. But I see the hunter as the non-ridiculous hero a lot less.)

So Betty Boop sets the cartoon in motion, singing of how she wants animal furs. And returns at the end, horrified that the animals have lost their fur. For this she gets top billing, which shows how little a star can do and still get away with it. The rest of the cartoon is Bimbo and Koko enacting spot jokes about incompetent hunters.

All the jokes here are okay. There’s only one that I find really good. That’s at about 3:15 when the deer(?) Koko’s shooting at grabs a pistol and shoots back. There’s a long bit, starting about 4:15, where an unspotted cat wants to get into the clam bake, and uses Koko’s bullets at spots, that’s clever enough. It didn’t seem like a fresh joke to me, but that might be my remembering watching this cartoon in ages past and knowing where the business all was going. Some folks might like Bimbo’s shooting at a lion only to produce a pride of lions better than I do, and I won’t say you’re wrong. Nor will I say you’re wrong if you like his shooting them all again with one bullet. It’s a joke I feel like I’ve seen before, but I also know I’ve seen it here before.

The story’s structured sensibly enough. It’s paced too steadily, too measured, for me though. Everything feels a bit slow and there’s no build to the story or tension or loopiness or action. You could probably swap the order of any of the hunting gags and make as good a short. There’s not any blink-and-you-miss-it jokes, not if you blink fast enough to spot the deer pulling his pistol out. Maybe Bimbo kissing the bear at about 5:18. Three’s also no really good body-horror jokes as long as you don’t find animals wearing their own fur as clothing horrifying. Some mice finally show up, in the parade at the end, about 6:50 in, at least.

There is some good animation crafting, though. As Bimbo’s slowly pursued by lions, around 3:45, there’s two levels of background. One’s the ground, moving as Bimbo walks. The other’s the sky, in perspective motionless. It adds some good depth to the scene. About 5:41 there’s a great split-screen image, Bimbo and Koko walking back with their furs. That’s some good camera work and the sort of thing you never see in cartoons.

But I have to rate this, overall, a dull cartoon. It’s all competently done, and crafted well enough that even if it ran in the late 30s it wouldn’t stand out as a primitive cartoon, the way (say) Dizzy Dishes might. Good to have reached that level of competence but that’s all it has.

60s Popeye: Jingle Jangle Jungle, which is about the right subject line here

So partway through Jingle Jangle Jungle we hit a scene with Jungle Cannibals. The cartoon was already on thin ice; the premise, sending Popeye to hunt big game, was dubious enough. Why not skip it and leave this forgotten cartoon where it already was?

And then it … didn’t get offensive enough for my tastes. Other people will hear this warning and decide to dump this, and they’re correct. The scene doesn’t make sense except by using the idea of the Savage Jungle Cannibals. But the cannibals never really appear on screen. They’re a cloud of eyeballs instead. I suspect the hidden hand of network censors. Read the accounts of TV and radio show runners and you hear how the censors are humorless scolds who don’t want anything that might be a joke to come through. Then you learn that the censors were sending endless memos saying, stop with the ethnic jokes and maybe find a role for a woman that’s not a shrew.

I do not know how Ed Nofziger came to write this, or what influenced him and director Ken Hultgren. But the results are weird. So, let me step into 1960’s Jingle Jangle Jungle.

Popeye hunting big game is a troublesome start. Yes, he has hunted animals before. But early on Elzie Segar realized Popeye was not someone to beat up animals. The Fleischers tried a couple Popeye-goes-hunting cartoons, and yes, sometimes it worked. But it’s a bad start. Still, Ed Nofziger has written some weird stuff. I have him logged as writer for Hamburger Fishing, a peculiar fairy-tale retelling, and Sweapea Thru The Looking Glass, a peculiar fairy-tale-adjacent story. Both are weird cartoons, which appeals to me.

And this? This is a weird cartoon. The premise is that the core gang is off hunting tigers. And that’s about all. Stuff happens that circles around this. A giant flower makes out with Brutus. A rhinoceros goes charging through, tooting with the same sound as Popeye’s pipe. Popeye calls this a train and almost opens his eyes for this. I get to wondering if this is a repurposed Mister Magoo script. A cobra pops in; Popeye plays something tuneless on his pipe, until an elephant wanders by playing the accordion. And then the Esso Tiger gets all snuggly with Olive Oyl.

At one point Popeye declares he’s seeing things and, yeah, that’s fair. This whole short has a weird dream logic. When the Jungle Cannibals sort-of appear, somehow tie up Popeye and drop him into the stew pot, and then have made a spinach stew of things? The effect, for me, is more bizarre than anything else. It’s almost a tone poem, with a loose theme of hunting, rather than anything else.

Larger-than-human flower reaching out with its leaves to hold Brutus, and kissing him relentlessly.
I don’t think it’s very sporting to share Philip José Farmer’s DeviantArt account either.

There’s some interesting almost genre-awareness here. Brutus crying out “help, Popeye, help” in the same cadence that Olive Oyl has used for ages. (Granted there’s not many ways to read the line, but there are options.) Early on, Popeye answering Brutus’s boast with “That’s what you think” and Brutus taunting “That’s what you think I think!”. It’s a rare-for-the-era line that actually responds to what the other person said, and with personality. Touches like that make me interested in what is otherwise a nearly plotless cartoon.

I really want to make some kind of subtext out about how Olive Oyl and Brutus find themselves threatened by nature being overly affectionate, rather than hostile. It’s a good joke to have Olive Oyl find a tiger who’s a ferociously snuggly kitty boi. Almost as good to have Brutus helpless before a flower’s attention. I doubt it reflects anything more than a respect for the (I assume) censor’s directive to cut back on the violence, especially against animals. If I am right in my assumption, the censor was on to something here. The cartoon would be much less intersting if Olive Oyl were hiding from a snarling tiger. It wouldn’t have a fraction the strangeness, and that would be a terrible loss.

I can’t call this cartoon good exactly. Good-and-weird, though, that fits. And that’s the sort of thing I like often enough.

%d bloggers like this: