Looney Tunes Golden Collection,
Vol. 2 (Warner Brothers DVD 31284)
You can watch a decent color print of this cartoon HERE. If you're not familiar with this cartoon, please watch before you read--thanks!
This is the earliest cartoon of Tex Avery's that everyone knows. It has an underground reputation, and resultant street-cred, in the rap and hip-hop community. Rap "remixes" of the musical scenes can be found on YouTube. In the media mainstream, the cartoon was memorably parodied on the hyper-popular, button-pushing South Park TV series.
Its inclusion on the high-selling second volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection series introduced it to a new generation, while us older fogies fondly recall it from blurry, scratchy, salmon-red TV prints of the 1970s and '80s.
I Love To Singa revisits the basic narrative of Avery's first color cartoon, I'd Love To Take Orders From You, but with an important change. Amidst the very funny and sharply timed actions of this musical cartoon is the eternal conflict between father and child, old guard and new wave.
This was one of Avery's pet themes, and he returns to it several times in his animation career. This cartoon is, I believe, his finest version of this scenario.
It also shows Avery's growing, ongoing confidence as a humorist and movie-maker. His prior effort, (Page) Miss Glory, combines visual innovation and a hell-bent desire to scrape away the Disney marzipan and amuse the viewer. In Singa, Avery grows surer of himself, and lets loose some of his favorite humorous motifs.
The character designs of this cartoon show a marked improvement for the Avery unit. They're more stylized and modern-looking (in that '30s streamlined sense), and thus much easier on the eyes. One gets a strong sense of personal ambition in this film--to push past the limits of the clunky Schlesinger look-and-feel, and to bring a more adult comedic sensibility to the table.
The first 30 seconds, post-credits, sets up the scene in a clever way. Our first image is a cutesy-pie Disney-school woodland glade...
The violin-shaped sign hanging over the door catches our eye, and we cut to a closeup...
A combination downward pan and truck-in zoom delivers the answer to that BUT...
and through the keyhole we go, to a tense scene of expectation...
There's a classical music singer...
and a pop song crooner...
This is not going to go over well with Father Fritz!
Voiced by the skilled apoplexarian Billy Bletcher, Fritz rants and rails, in vaudeville mock-German, against his son's desire to embrace the new. He is kicked out of the family tree/nest/house (a pivotal moment of this scenario, repeated each time in Avery's many tellings)...
While these parents battle with their conscience, their offspring wanders over to a woodland version of Major Bowes' Amateur Hour (or, for youse modern kids, American Idol, as judged by Simon Cowell in a particularly bad mood):
Avery slips in a gag of the variety Bob Clampett would utilize, to great effect, in his best black-and-white cartoons... on the cutting edge of tastelessness, but impossible to ignore or enjoy...
|"I vundah if dey've found my little dolling..."|
|"No, we didn't, lady!"|
Back at G-O-N-G, an addled reciter soon determines his own fate. Bunny needn't do a thing.
Bunny's face changes from rhapsody to reflux, as the peppy strains of "Singa" become the harsh distaste of "Drink To Me Only..."
Mr. Bunny approves!
But never mind... as the right of the triumphant Avery protagonist, Owl J. is able to wrench the aperture open, seize his prize, and let the iris contract to infinity.
The gags and attitude are tame, compared to later cartoons like Cinderella Meets Fella (1938) and Thugs With Dirty Mugs (1939). Judged on its own merits, and in the context of what had passed for a Merrie Melodie pre-Avery, Singa is a significant ground-breaker. Avery's confidence is key here. He tries some outrageous things, but presents them with vigor and charming gusto.
This was really fresh stuff for 1936, and it did not go unnoticed by Avery's peers. This attitude would infect the Hollywood cartoon community--to the point that even Disney would try their hand at an Avery-zany Silly Symphony (1938's Mother Goose Goes Hollywood).
The seeds of a stylistic revolution have been planted in these first three Avery-directed color cartoons. For the nonce, it's back to black (and white) for the Avery unit for awhile. Somebody's got to make those Porky Pig cartoons!
Coming next: Porky the Rain-Maker (1936)