Tom Ray

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966, Ben Washam and Chuck Jones)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! has three rather distinct things going on throughout the twenty-six minute television special. It also some some indistinct things going on–the Whoville songs, while charming, are nowhere near as impressive as the big things.

First, but not foremost, is Washam and Jones’s direction. Although Grinch is a Dr. Seuss adaptation, as a cartoon, its possibilites are different. Jones and Washam make the Grinch (and Max, his dog) into familiar cartoon roles. The Grinch is the bad guy, Max is the reluctant accomplice. It’s familiar because the dog can’t talk, while the Grinch does. Though not to poor Max so much as at him.

And when the Grinch does talk, it’s Boris Karloff’s voice, which is the second distinct thing going on. Boris Karloff narrates The Grinch–reading the source book. When the Grinch speaks, it’s Karloff’s voice… just filtered a little. The effectiveness of the filtering is a tad questionable, but more because of the additional noise the filter adds. Karloff’s familiar but not exactly the same voice for the Grinch’s dialogue? It works. It just sounds too distant.

Karloff’s narration is always good, frequently awesome. For example, the times he has to list various silly-named Christmas items are delightful, as Karloff approaches each new and absurd word with the jovial–but still reserved–calm; it’s awesome. It’s great narration. It defines Grinch.

At least for the first half or so.

Because then in comes the third distinct thing. Thurl Ravenscroft, uncredited singer of You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. When the Grinch is stealing Christmas, sure, there’s some narration from Karloff, but it’s all about Ravenscroft’s voice. There are some great lyrics too–the song is set aside from the narration and is more a musing on the poor character of the Grinch. It’s awesome.

The Karloff narration and, eventually, Ravenscroft’s singing never bump into each other. Throughout, the animation works with the narration–expression is important in Grinch, as the amount the Grinch can contort depends on how long it takes Karloff to get through a particular line. And it can seem like Karloff is dragging it out to encourage contortion. And a contorted Grinch is not a pretty sight.

Similarly, when Ravenscroft gets back to the chorus in each of the Mean One segments–there are at least three–it defines the moment, not the animation. Lovell Norman and John O. Young cut most every sequence just right. There are a couple long moments during the Whoville songs, but Jones and Washam have the charm baseline high enough to allow indulgences. And even enjoy them. The finale’s tensions work because Jones and Washam don’t rush things, because they do slow down the pace. They let the finale rhyme with the opening, back to relying on Karloff.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is fantastic. Jones and Washam pace it out just right for the narration and song. Except without Karloff or Ravenscroft, there’d be nothing to pace. Good thing everything works so well together. Or, so well, alongside each other.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Washam and Chuck Jones; teleplay by Irv Spector, Bob Ogle, and Dr. Seuss, based on the book by Seuss; animated by Ken Harris, Tom Ray, Phil Roman, Richard Thompson, and Don Towsley; edited by Lovell Norman and John O. Young; music by Eugene Poddany; production designer, Maurice Noble; produced by Jones and Seuss; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Narrated by Boris Karloff.


Cannery Woe (1961, Robert McKimson)

Are all Speedy Gonzales cartoons the same? Cannery Woe opens with starving Mexican mice needing Speedy to get them cheese. Sylvester is guarding the cheese. Woe does have a couple minor differences though. First, none of the mice have to whore off their sisters to Speedy. Second, he doesn’t even show up until the cartoon’s half over.

The first half of the cartoon follows a couple of the down and out local mice and they’re mildly charming. It’s not just Mel Blanc talking to himself, Tom Holland voices one of them, and it’s mildly amusing. They’re a fine comedy team.

The animation’s not bad–though the backgrounds are terrible–and Woe is occasionally thought provoking. Seriously.

The town is destitute and starving, yet the mice want to steal from the humans. These Speedy Gonzales cartoons are a sociologist’s goldmine for American characterization of Mexicans.

Shame they aren’t good cartoons.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert McKimson; written by Tedd Pierce; animated by Warren Batchelder, Ted Bonnicksen, George Grandpré and Tom Ray; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Speedy Gonzales / Sylvester / Jose / Mayor Raton) and Tom Holland (Manuel / Mice).


West of the Pesos (1960, Robert McKimson)

West of the Pesos is a hideous cartoon, with terrible animation and McKimson ripping off Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. There’s not much to amuse oneself with during the insufferable six minute cartoon, but there are some places to try.

First is the whole Speedy Gonsalez thing. I mean, Warner produced cartoons–not expensive, but still professionally produced–for no reason other than to cap on Mexico? The terrible jokes in Pesos aren’t even inventive bigot humor. They’re just lame. McKimson’s got no wit (or subtlety).

Sadly, the only other way to pass the runtime is to marvel at the awful animation on Sylvester. It’s loose and lazy, the worst the cat’s ever looked. Given he’s just a stand-in for the coyote… maybe it doesn’t matter.

Pesos might be a new low for McKimson, at least of what I’ve seen.

At least, I hope this one’s his low.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert McKimson; written by Tedd Pierce; animated by Warren Batchelder, Ted Bonnicksen, George Grandpré and Tom Ray; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Speedy Gonzales / Sylvester / Mice).


A Broken Leghorn (1959, Robert McKimson)

A Broken Leghorn never confronts its bleakness or meanness.

It opens with Foghorn Leghorn doing a good thing, tricking a presumably barren hen into thinking she laid an egg. But then it turns out to be a baby rooster, so Foghorn spends the rest of the cartoon trying to kill the adorable little rooster.

Mel Blanc’s voice characterization of the baby rooster sounds a little too much like Bugs Bunny, but it’s likable enough… and Foghorn’s a monster. Strangely, he does get his comeuppance. The cartoon ends with him caged and off, one would assume, to be slaughtered.

McKimson doesn’t seem to understand the bleakness or the meanness, which is no surprise. If he did, the cartoon might be better.

The animation’s pretty weak too. There’s no inventiveness. I suppose Broken‘s not bad, just boring.

I haven’t seen a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon since I was a kid. They haven’t improved.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert McKimson; written by Warren Foster; animated by Warren Batchelder, Ted Bonnicksen, George Grandpré and Tom Ray; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Foghorn Leghorn / Junior Rooster) and June Foray (Miss Prissy / Hens).


Martian Through Georgia (1962, Chuck Jones, Abe Levitow and Maurice Noble)

Martian Through Georgia has three directors and no ending. It also has nothing to do with Georgia.

It opens fairly well, with very expressionist mainstream cartooning showing life on Mars. A bored Martian then travels to Earth, which kicks off the majority of the run time. Even though the Martian’s only on Earth for a day or so.

There’s narration for the entire cartoon and the Martian never speaks. It’s sort of a character piece actually, just without a strong protagonist.

Still, it could be a lot worse. The opening is incredibly strong, it’s just the Martian’s adventures on Earth where Georgia lacks. There aren’t any gags–they’d be inappropriate–but the Martian’s experiences are simply boring. And the animation, while interestingly stylized, isn’t compelling enough to make them exciting.

The end is a complete disaster, as the narration doesn’t make any sense. The suggestion of celestial importance just confuses.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chuck Jones, Abe Levitow and Maurice Noble; written by Carl Kohler and Jones; animated by Bob Bransford, Ken Harris, Tom Ray and Richard Thompson; edited by Treg Brown; music by William Lava; produced by John W. Burton and David H. DePatie; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Mel Blanc (Warden / Businessman / Old Man / Little Boy / Taunting Voice / Scared Citizens) and Ed Prentiss (Narrator / Policeman).


The Mouse That Jack Built (1959, Robert McKimson)

A prerequisite for The Mouse That Jack Built is probably working knowledge of “The Jack Benny Program.”

I have none, though I think I’ve heard the radio show before. But I certainly do not remember it enough for Mouse to make sense.

It’s a strange concept for a cartoon–imagine Jack Benny is a cartoon mouse; he’s still Jack Benny in all respects, except species and affinity for cheese. And then there’s the frame. Apparently, the cartoon opens in the “real” Beverly Hills, even though it’s a cartoon. Because it ends with Benny, in person, in the house where the cartoon takes place. McKimson didn’t think anything through.

The animation’s mediocre. It’s weak on Mary Livingstone’s mouse alter ago and good on Benny’s.

Benny gives the only good performance (besides Mel Blanc).

I suppose it does make me want to see Benny’s program, but it’s not much of a cartoon.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert McKimson; written by Tedd Pierce; animated by Warren Batchelder, Ted Bonnicksen, George Grandpré and Tom Ray; edited by Treg Brown; music by Milt Franklyn; produced by John W. Burton; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jack Benny (Jack), Mary Livingstone (Mary), Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson (Rochester), Don Wilson (Don) and Mel Blanc (Ed the Vault Guard).


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