My love affair with animation began where it did for so many cartoon-lovers of my age: the theatrical shorts of Warner Bros., Walt Disney, the Fleischer brothers, MGM and UPA. During this golden age of Hollywood animation, thousands of little masterpieces were created by dozens of directors with the expectation that they would be shown as supporting featurettes in cinemas and then largely forgotten. Fortunately, these cartoons found a new home on television, often as timeslot fillers for 10 minute gaps before news broadcasts, and as such they seeped into the consciousness of millions of children and their equally-transfixed parents. While many of the characters remain recognisable today, the cartoons themselves have gradually disappeared from television and found another home on DVD and Blu-ray where collectors like myself can own and cherish them forever.
As part of my ongoing quest to convince people to appreciate these films for the works of genius that they are, I have compiled a top 100 list of my favourite shorts from animation’s golden age. In the second of four parts, I’ll be counting down from 76 to 51 and hopefully bringing back a few memories in the process.
75. NO BARKING
Chuck Jones’s No Barking was the third in a trilogy of cartoons starring a character called Frisky Puppy. An immensely entertaining character, Frisky Puppy is a masterclass in observation, capturing the mannerisms of an irritatingly energetic puppy to a tee. Co-starring in No Barking is another of Jones’s best lesser-known players, Claude Cat. The cartoon opens with an exceptional sequence in which Claude wakes up in an urban junkyard with the sort of tranquil serenity that befits a far more idyllic setting. This gorgeous piece of animation sets the standard for this mini-masterpiece. Claude crosses paths with Frisky Puppy who scares the life out of him with his shrill, relentless barking, causing Claude to leap into the air in fright. Having done this once, the puppy finds it is fun and sets about terrorising Claude for the rest of the cartoon. Although it sounds like a mean concept, Frisky Puppy is so warm a character that it is immediately apparent that to him this is just a game rather than a vendetta. Jones skilfully makes the character a perfect balance between sweet and infuriating. The barking sound he makes is so grating and loud that it gets funnier the more it occurs, reducing Claude to a nervous wreck. The main action is interspersed with some beautiful animation of the puppy just being a puppy, switching from happy to confused to angry in a split second as he goes about his playful antics. This gives the cartoon a delightfully loose, plotless feel as we simply follow the two characters around until their paths cross. Although a good deal of credit for No Barking must be given to Jones and writer Michael Maltese, a special mention is warranted for animator Ken Harris who animated the entire cartoon himself. The result is stunning.
74. MUSIC LAND
Wilfred Jackson’s Music Land is a marvellous Silly Symphony in which a war between The Land of Symphony and The Isle of Jazz results in an unforgettable cacophony of sound. The short starts out as an inventive depiction of two diverse musical lands struggling to understand each other, with some lovely touches like the characters’ voices being represented by their respective instruments playing recognisable greetings, etc. The film is a reflection of a real life split in the 1930s between jazz fans and those who viewed it as a cheap, trivial genre compared to classical. The Disney film shows how there is room for the two to make beautiful music together. The film really takes off during the war scenes, in which visual and musical invention come to the forefront. Packed with ideas, Music Land is testament to how far the Silly Symphony cartoons had come since their debut six years previously.
73. THE FOGHORN LEGHORN
Prior to Robert McKimson’s The Foghorn Leghorn, the title character had made two previous appearances. By this, his third appearance, it was clear McKimson had a star on his hands and he went on to direct every one of the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. Originally a supporting player in Walky Talky Hawky which was intended as a star vehicle for Henerey Hawk, Foghorn stole the show so blatantly that it was the little chicken hawk who was subsequently reduced to the role of supporting player to the rooster’s verbose antics. The Foghorn cartoons represent some of McKimson’s best work and this short, which christened the rooster, is among the best. While the previous two Foggy shorts had involved him trying to prove to Henerey that he wasn’t a chicken, The Foghorn Leghorn flips the situation as Foghorn tries desperately to prove to a sceptical Henerey that he is a chicken. McKimson’s direction is excellent adding extra hilarity to a fresh and funny setup. Mel Blanc’s voice characterization for Foghorn is priceless (“I almost had a joke, son”) even at this early stage. While there would ultimately be a few tedious entries in the eventually repetitive Foghorn Leghorn series, The Foghorn Leghorn is certainly not one of them. A classic.
72. GUIDED MUSCLE
By the time Chuck Jones directed Guided Muscle, the seventh Road Runner cartoon, he had already perfected the formula. One might ask if Jones could justify continuing a series that threatened to get repetitive. Perhaps surprisingly, however, Jones’s stringent rule that the characters must always remain in their natural desert habitat ensured that the series stayed fresh. While Friz Freleng’s Sylvester and Tweety series quickly went stale thanks to the same routines being replayed in different settings, the constant location of the Road Runner cartoons pushed writer Michael Maltese to come up with more and more inventive jokes and Chuck Jones to direct them with more and more inventive flair. So Guided Muscle keeps the series right at the top of its game with ample hilarious gags enhanced by glorious reaction shots from the Coyote, whose relationship with the audience was now established beyond doubt. As well as being stuffed with great gags, Guided Muscle continues the run of more inventive opening and closing segments. There’s a brilliant opening set-up in which the Coyote prepares a tin can for consumption as if it were the finest delicacy known to man but fails to fight off the reality of the situation when he finally sits down to eat it. There’s also a delightful ending in which he finally reaches breaking point and effectively tenders his resignation!
71. A CORNY CONCERTO
A Corny Concerto is Bob Clampett’s inspired parody of Disney’s Fantasia. A cartoon in two parts (packing an incredible amount into seven minutes), A Corny Concerto was actually written by director Frank Tashlin. It opens with a magical moment in which Elmer Fudd, taking the Deems Taylor role, emerges in silhouette onto a platform but confounds the audiences expectations of how tall he will be. Elmer’s opening speech is a masterpiece of speech-impediment exploitation, a great piece of word-smithery in a largely musical cartoon. Both sections of A Corny Concerto are set to pieces of music by Johann Strauss. The best of the two is the gloriously off-colour ‘Tales From the Vienna Woods’, in which Porky Pig and a pointer dog hunt Bugs Bunny to the strains of Strauss’s music. It opens fairly inoffensively but then heads into the sort of sick territory only Clampett would ever dream of exploring. Porky’s gun falls into the hands of a squirrel who fires it randomly at the trio. Fearing they’ve been hit, Clampett has the three characters dance around in their death throes! This section ends with a bawdy (for its time) gag in which Bugs slaps a bra on the heads of Porky and his dog and pirouettes into the sunset, hilariously collapsing in the cartoon’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it highlight.
The second section tells a tale set to ‘The Blue Danube’, in which a baby version of Daffy Duck attempts to find favour with a group of swans. Their rejection of Daffy is hilarious, particularly the moment the mother swan finds him under a rock and uncaringly slams it back down on his head. The short has a happy ending, however, as Daffy saves the baby swans from a vulture and is accepted into their family. It’s the sort of story that could have been played straight and with a doe-eyed sweetness but Clampett and Tashlin instead fill it with gags which defy all accusations of cutesiness. A Corny Concerto is a jaw-dropingly event-packed cartoon and another classic in the classic-stuffed Clampett canon.
70. BIRDS ANONYMOUS
Friz Freleng’s Birds Anonymous is one of the cleverest and best of the Sylvester and Tweety series of cartoons. I’m not a great fan of this series since I feel it is largely repetitive and predictable and I can’t stand the cutesy version of Tweety who usurped the wonderfully anarchic original version of the character invented by Bob Clampett. Birds Anonymous caters to both my requirements for a great Sylvester and Tweety short.
1. It breaks from the usual chase formula which often resorted to simply replaying the same gags in a different setting.
2. It throws the spotlight firmly on Sylvester, with Tweety being merely a device to move the story on.
Add to these elements a very clever concept which satirises the then fairly new institution Alcoholics Anonymous. In a wonderful, Hitchcockian opening sequence, Sylvester is stopped midway through an attempt to catch Tweety by an oddball orange cat who introduces him to a group for cats with bird addictions. From hereonin, the cartoon focuses not on Sylvester’s battle with Tweety but his battle with himself as he tries to fight his fraying will power. The animation of Sylvester’s jittery breakdown is great but the most effective moment comes with a highly unusual sequence in which we see Sylvester endure a sleepless night through a series of completely static shots, a hauntingly effective choice. The minimalist, stylised backgrounds and bright colours also heighten the sense of growing hysteria. A far cry from the tiresome, samey chase films that dominate the Sylvester and Tweety series, Birds Anonymous is a real classic of invention and technique and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short.
69. BEANSTALK BUNNY
Somehow among the mountain of Chuck Jones masterpieces, Beanstalk Bunny has got a little lost. Of the many great cartoons that pair up Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Beanstalk Bunny is usually forgotten in favour of Ali Baba Bunny or the Hunting Trilogy but it is every bit as good. Daffy Duck takes on the role of Jack whose magic beans unexpectedly grow into an enchanted beanstalk. However, on the way to claim his prizes at the top of the beanstalk, Daffy encounters Bugs who becomes embroiled in the chase with the giant (portrayed by Elmer Fudd). Once again, Daffy’s greed results in his downfall while Bugs’s cool head sees him outsmart everyone. Along the way in this fairly standard setup, Beanstalk Bunny distinguishes itself with superior jokes, impeccably delivered wisecracks and an unforgettable scene of desperate pantomime portrayed through soundproof glass.
68. LAMBERT THE SHEEPISH LION
Jack Hannah’s Lambert the Sheepish Lion is a typically lush production and plays like a little movie. Disney’s more recent Oscar nominess had largely been fairly dull affairs and the studio was conspicuous by its absence in 1950, only the second time this had happened since the Academy Awards inception. Lambert the Sheepish Lion is a glorious return to form that put them back among those nominees. The story of a lion cub accidentally delivered to a sheep, it features everything Disney has come to be known for. Sweetness, warmth, great storytelling, a few big laughs and an infectious theme tune, not to mention hilarious narration from Disney stalwart Sterling Holloway, pre-his star turn as Winnie the Pooh.
67. WABBIT TWOUBLE
Bob Clampett’s Wabbit Twouble is an oft overlooked masterpiece which exemplifies everything that is great about Warner Bros. cartoons. Animation, colour, sound, music and dialogue are all used to hilarious effect. The cartoon is so packed with gags that they spilled over into the credits, which are presented in Fudd-ese with W’s replacing all the R’s and L’s. Wabbit Twouble stars early incarnations of Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny and fans will notice immediately that they are quite different from the characters they would later become. Elmer (in his quickly abandoned obese form) does nothing at all to provoke the hard time which Bugs metes out to him. He is merely a sweet-natured holiday maker at a small campsite looking for “peace and wewaxation”. Bugs is a complete sociopath here, his eyes gleaming with a “now for some fun” look the moment Elmer arrives. In this respect Bugs resembles a less manic version of early Daffy Duck. Audiences naturally felt sorry for Elmer which led to Bugs nearly always being provoked before unleashing the full force of his heckling in later cartoons.
The fact that we feel sorry for Elmer does not diminish how hilarious Wabbit Twouble is, however. Bugs’ tormenting of Elmer is inspired throughout from his gentle glasses-painting stunt to the more violent moments which implicate a grizzly bear. All my favourite moments in Wabbit Twouble involve character’s interacting with the audience. The cartoon’s most classic moment and its most enduring legacy is the moment Bugs breaks off for a second during one of his pranks to confide in the audience “I do this kinda stuff to him all through the picture”. In a later gag involving Bugs sitting on a terrified Elmer and snarling like a bear, he turns to the camera once again and remarks “Funny situation, ain’t it?” In another of the film’s funniest jokes, Elmer hurriedly packs away his belongings and mistakenly take a huge tree with him. Realising his mistake, he returns to the screen, replaces the tree, looks at the audience and shrugs. It’s a priceless moment and a refreshing signal that even the cartoon’s dupe knows we are out there.
Wabbit Twouble is an exceptional piece of work. Bob Clampett’s typically brilliant direction and Dave Monahan’s fabulous script combine beautifully to make a remarkably handsome, considered but very fast paced gem which overcomes its essentially mean-spirited premise by virtue of its impeccable execution of every single element. Although it is a critically acclaimed work, Wabbit Twouble is infrequently mentioned in polls of the greatest cartoons ever. It deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the great classics.
66. WATER, WATER EVERY HARE
Chuck Jones’s Water, Water Every Hare is significantly better than its truly dreadful title. Pitting Bugs against a bulbous-headed green faced scientist and his furry orange, sneaker-wearing monster (later dubbed Gossamer but here referred to as Rudolph), Water, Water Every Hare features some breathtaking visuals in the opening minutes. His home beset by flooding, an oblivious, soundly-sleeping Bugs is washed away on his mattress. This sequence is glorious to behold with its flowing water and cascading waterfall. Ultimately, this watery subplot plays only a small part in the cartoon, making the dreadful title even more unforgivable. Most of the action takes place inside the castle. The most famous sequence is the hairdressing scene in which Bugs assumes the role of a camp beautician spouting a monologue about all the “inter-resting” monsters he’s met (this is actually a rehash of a similar routine in the previous Gossamer cartoon Hair-Raising Hare). Far more memorable, however, is the climactic chase scene in which Bugs and the green faced scientist are both under the influence of ether and bound across the screen in slow motion. It’s an appropriately striking climax to a particularly handsome and dreamlike cartoon which proves to be inventive and entertaining in equal measures.
65. THE LEGEND OF ROCKABYE POINT
Tex Avery’s The Legend of Rockabye Point is one of the cartoons Avery directed for Walter Lantz. While it shares the simpler, cruder designs that often made the Walter Lantz films harder to sit through, The Legend of Rockabye Point overcomes this by way of Avery’s legendary skill with a running gag. Though billed as a Chilly Willy cartoon, the little penguin plays second fiddle to a polar bear and dog. The bear is trying to steal fish from a sleeping guard dog and is forced to sing him back to sleep each time he wakes up. The repetition of the lullaby ‘Rockabye Baby’ becomes funnier the more it occurs, and Avery teases us with its inevitability. The strangely sad ending, which acts as a tongue-in-cheek tonal shift which nevertheless still acts as a gut-punch, has seen the cartoon go down in legend among animation fans.
64. CANNED FEUD
Friz Freleng’s Canned Feud is a wonderful solo Sylvester cartoon. I always preferred Sylvester either on his own or paired with anyone but Tweety and this is one of his finest solo performances. Warren Foster’s script has the inspirational twist of making a cat and mouse cartoon where the mouse is the bad guy. Sylvester does nothing to deserve the emotional and physical pummelling he gets in Canned Feud and that somehow makes the experience all the more delicious. We share in Sylvester’s desperation as he finds himself locked in the house for a fortnight with only canned food to eat, only to discover that a smug mouse has taken the can opener. Like many of Freleng’s best cartoons, Canned Feud is extremely high-energy. Rather than start out slightly worried and build into a frenzy as the cartoon progresses, Sylvester starts at frenzy and builds to complete mental collapse. It’s a classic performance by the cat, a masterclass in the art of animated physical comedy. A few fairly standard jokes are given new life by virtue of Sylvester’s crazed desperation and there are tons of brilliantly original gags too. The axehead joke is one of my all-time favourites, so beautifully simple and perfectly timed. Canned Feud is a Freleng masterpiece: a hysterical, frantic, claustrophobic study of obsessive desperation and unnecessary cruelty that just pulsates with energy.
63. FERDINAND THE BULL
Dick Rickard’s Ferdinand the Bull is a gorgeous, leisurely paced fable with a message of peace which delivers on the tremendous artwork that the previous year’s The Old Mill had promised but also highlights improvements in storytelling technique and comedic character design and animation. Based on the book by Munro Leaf, Ferdinand the Bull went on to win Disney their seventh Best Animated Short Oscar in a row and it’s not hard to see why. This beautiful short is a thing of quiet loveliness which also manages to take a sideswipe at the loathsome practice of bull-fighting. Ferdinand’s obliviousness to the matador’s macho strutting and his ultimate victory through simply not rising to any provocation reduces the matador to a blubbering wreck, robbing him of the manufactured adversary he craves. Funny and moving at the same time, Ferdinand the Bull is delightfully narrated by Don Wilson in a charmingly avuncular manner that would characterise many great Disney narrations to come. The same material was used as the basis of Blue Sky Studios’ 2017 feature film Ferdinand which expanded and sadly ruined the story.
62. ALI BABA BUNNY
By the time of Ali Baba Bunny, Chuck Jones had established Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck as a popular double act. The combination of Bugs’ cool temperament and Daffy’s hot-headed egotism and selfishness made for a great pairing reminiscent of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the ‘Road to…’ comedies. Aside from the Hunting trilogy which established the double act, Ali Baba Bunny is perhaps the most famous of all the Bugs and Daffy films. While trying to get to Pismo Beach, the duo accidentally tunnel into the middle of the Arabian desert where they stumble upon Ali Baba’s cave of treasures. While Bugs barely even reacts to these riches, they send Daffy into a frenzy of avarice which lands him in deep trouble once the real owner arrives. Ali Baba Bunny has passed into animation history as a highly quotable cartoon (“Hassan Chop!”, “I can’t help it, I’m a greedy slob—it’s my hobby”) and Jones directs with his usual expert hand from a great script by the equally masterful Michael Maltese.
61. WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN?
David Hand’s Who Killed Cock Robin?, is a surprisingly subversive satire on the legal system with a far more anarchic approach than the average Silly Symphony. The film seamlessly combines a tale, in the best Disney tradition, based on a Nursery Rhyme and a Hollywood caricatures cartoon in which the birds are depicted as resembling Bing Crosby, Harpo Marx and Stepin Fetchit. Best of all is a brilliant Mae West caricature whose suggestive dialogue makes the whole thing even edgier. In caricaturing West’s famous pre-code quipping, Disney does not shy away from accurately portraying her risqué jokes. Forsaking the trademark cuteness for more satirical bite is perhaps what cost the film the Oscar for Best Animated Short (it lost out to the attractive but terribly cloying Three Orphan Kittens, another Disney production) but Who Killed Cock Robin? stands as one of the greatest Silly Symphonies exactly because of this more adult approach.
60 KOKO’S EARTH CONTROL
This superbly surreal and imaginative cartoon is yet further proof of how undervalued the Fleischer brothers’ Out of the Inkwell series is. In the year that Mickey Mouse debuted and made cinema history, the brilliant Koko shorts somehow got swept under the rug, with Koko gradually being reduced to Betty Boop’s sidekick and a footnote in animation history. Ko-Ko’s Earth Control also stars an early incarnation of the Fleischer’s dog character Bimbo, at this stage called Fitz and designed slightly differently. The plot of Ko-Ko’s Earth Control is simple but brilliant. The end of the world is brought about when Fitz pulls a lever that clearly states it will cause the apocalypse. The rest of the cartoon sees Koko and Fitz helplessly flailing around as the world ends around them. This includes moments of virtuoso surrealist animation that predates Bob Clampett’s classic Porky in Wackyland by a decade. There’s also a hint of Daffy Duck’s early personality in Fitz’s disturbing wilful destruction, 9 years before the duck’s debut, and the final live action scenes of Koko and Fitz stumbling around the animator’s drawing board and office as their world crumbles around them makes me think of the ending of Don Hertzfeld’s Rejected some 72 years later. Not bad for a cartoon that has been largely and bewilderingly forgotten.
59. RUGGED BEAR
Jack Hannah’s Rugged Bear, while not as ambitious as some of the Disney films on this list, is an absolutely hilarious cartoon and sometimes that’s worth even more. One of a handful of shorts that starred Humphrey the Bear (with the top-billed Donald Duck in a supporting role), Rugged Bear finds Humphrey surviving hunting season by posing as Donald’s bearskin rug, a ruse that proves as dangerous as braving the guns! Humphrey was the last Disney character to be given his own series of cartoons but sadly it was cut short when the studio discontinued its theatrical shorts. Though he’s little remembered today, the Humphrey cartoons still tend to go down a storm with audiences and Rugged Bear is the pick of the bunch.
58. THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANTS
Based on an Aesop’s Fable, Disney’s version of The Grasshopper and the Ants was further evidence of how beautiful and effective their colour Silly Symphonies were becoming. Narratively, The Grasshopper and the Ants is a retread of the same ground covered by Three Little Pigs but once again the short shows exceptional characterisation, especially in the lively Grasshopper, voiced by the unmistakable Pinto Colvig in full Goofy flow! It also features another memorable song in the wonderful ‘The World Owes Me a Living’, written by Leigh Harline. Although it never became as famous as ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’, ‘The World Owes Me a Living’ eventually became a theme tune of sorts for Goofy, as sort of a voice actor in-joke. Harline also went on to write ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’, one of the most famous Disney songs of all.
57. SYMPHONY IN SLANG
One of Tex Avery’s most ingenious animated shorts, Symphony in Slang owes its success chiefly to a brilliant script by Rich Hogan which plays on popular slang of the era to create a series of visual puns that interprets phrases like ‘Cat got your tongue’ and ‘Born with a silver spoon in my mouth’ completely literally. The design and animation here is limited, with many of the gags being presented as still images, and whether this approach was a stylistic choice, a financial requirement or an attempt to emulate the success of the UPA studio (as even Disney were doing at this stage), it works perfectly for this material. Both a great historical record of 50s slang and a gateway into wordplay, Symphony in Slang is one of the cleverest of Avery’s MGM cartoons.
56. TORTOISE BEATS HARE
Tex Avery’s Tortoise Beats Hare was Bugs Bunny’s third cartoon and it established at an early stage what many casual fans of the Warner Bros. cartoons have a hard time accepting; that Bugs doesn’t have to always be the winner. Although throughout his long career Bugs usually comes out on top there are several fascinating and refreshing cartoons in which he is out-heckled. I love these Bugs-as-loser films because they add more dimensions to the character. Tortoise Beats Hare is one of the best of these cartoons and was popular enough to spawn two sequels, Tortoise Wins By A Hare and Rabbit Transit. The set up for all three cartoons is the same. An egotistical, cocky Bugs challenges Cecil Turtle to a race a la the classic Hare and Tortoise fable. In the other two cartoons, Bugs motivation for this challenge is his past failure against Cecil and a book of fables respectively but in Tortoise Beats Hare the motivation is more original. In one of my favourite sequences in cartoon history, a casual Bugs takes a stroll through the cartoon’s opening credits. He reads aloud the names of all the staff involved in making the cartoon (mispronouncing every one) until he finally reaches the title. Enraged by the implication, he tears down the credits to reveal the setting for the cartoon’s first scene. It’s a bravura piece of film-making which boldly plays with cartoon conventions over a decade before Duck Amuck ran with that concept.
The race itself, which makes up the main part of the cartoon, is an astonishing example of how to repeat the same gag again and again without diminishing returns. Cecil enlists the help of his many identical relatives to convince Bugs he is being outrun and each time Bugs sees what he assumes is Cecil in the distance, his reaction gets funnier and funnier until the glorious final cringe that interrupts his victory celebrations after crossing the finish line. This concept of milking laughs from mounting disbelief was further explored in Avery’s hilarious MGM cartoon Northwest Hounded Police in which Droopy magically appears everywhere the desperate wolf attempts to hide. Tortoise Beats Hare is the first and best of an excellent trilogy. Although it is less talked about than Chuck Jones’ Hunting Trilogy, this cartoon at the very least deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.
55. CHOW HOUND
Chuck Jones’s Chow Hound is a legendary cult classic, renowned for its extremely dark plot (from a beautiful script by Michael Maltese). It would make a great double bill with Jones’s equally dark Fresh Airedale since both cartoons feature villainous dogs mercilessly exploiting innocent cats. The main difference is that in Chow Hound the villain actually gets his comeuppance in a gruesomely unforgettable final twist. To say too much more about Chow Hound’s plot would be to spoil it but special mention must go to the exceptional characterisation that Jones teases out of even the most minor of players. All three of the cat’s unwitting shared owners are brilliantly rendered without the audience ever seeing their faces, a little mouse steals every scene he appears in and the villainous dog is a truly despicable and genuinely threatening presence. Chow Hound is thoroughly deserving of its cult status and will remain in any viewers mind long after the chilling iris out.
54. THE SCARLET PUMPERNICKEL
Chuck Jones’s The Scarlet Pumpernickel is something a bit special. Starring Daffy Duck, this ripping yarn casts several Warner Bros. favourites in a take off of The Scarlet Pimpernel. It’s a joy to see these rarely coinciding characters (including Porky Pig, Sylvester, Elmer Fudd, Henery Hawk and Mother Bear) interact with each other and the roles bring out the best in some of the characters. Porky Pig relishes the chance to play the villainous Lord High Chamberlain while Sylvester hams it up gloriously as the Grand Duke. At the centre of it all, of course, is Daffy, spectacularly blundering the role of romantic hero (“parting is such sweet stuff”) as he strives to emulate Errol Flynn. The story is framed by the frantic Daffy we all know and love pitching his script to unseen studio boss J.L. J.L’s demanding expectations lead to the grisly and memorable finale in which a spent Daffy commits suicide by shooting himself in the head. The Scarlet Pumpernickel was an exciting all-star experience when I was a kid and it remains a remarkable piece of work when I witness it as an adult. It manages to be funny while still masterfully tapping into the spirit of the swashbucklers it spoofs.
53. BOOK REVUE
Of all the cartoons where books, magazines etc. come to life, Bob Clampett’s Book Revue is by far the finest. The problem with many of these kind of cartoons is that they rely on cultural references that have been long forgotten, inescapably dating the picture. Although there are many references to popular books of the day in Book Revue, it manages to sidestep the detrimental dating effect thanks to Clampett’s typically engaging speedy pacing and the inclusion of Daffy Duck as a character. Daffy emerges from the cover of a Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies comic and proceeds to completely steal the cartoon away from all the witty book parodies. Ever the showman, Daffy opens with a Danny Kaye impersonation followed by the highlight of the cartoon, a phenomenal scat version of the Little Red Riding Hood story. Mel Blanc must be given enormous credit for pulling this off so brilliantly but Clampett makes it all the better by matching this brilliant vocal performance with stunning visuals, including the infamous moment in which Daffy turns into a giant eyeball. This is the sort of joke few other directors would even attempt and Clampett pulls it off with grotesque glee. Book Revue is so much better than all other cartoons of its kind because it doesn’t get hung up on visual pun after visual pun. Instead, Clampett uses these books as the backdrop against which to stage a high speed chase. Unlike some of these reference heavy shorts, Book Revue can be enjoyed whether you get the reference points or not. It’s a classic cartoon bursting with energy and ideas.
52. THE YANKEE DOODLE MOUSE
MGM’s The Yankee Doodle Mouse was the third Tom & Jerry cartoon to be nominated for the Oscar and the first to win. The first of many, as the cat and mouse duo would dominate the awards for the next decade. The Yankee Doodle Mouse is another war themed cartoon in which Tom and Jerry stage their own microcosm of war in a basement. During this battle, a number of household objects ingeniously stand-in for grenades, helmets, planes, jeeps and gas. It’s beautifully conceived and executed and was a clear sign of how quickly the hugely popular series was developing in quality. Six further Oscar wins would confirm this. The wartime theme, aside from the rousing patriotic ending, is mostly played for laughs and while it was this theme that probably helped guide the wartime Academy members hands in choosing it as the year’s winner, it was a more than deserving choice. The Yankee Doodle Mouse remains one of the most impressive cartoons in a series packed with amazing films.
51. FALLING HARE
Bob Clampett’s Falling Hare is one of the greatest Bugs Bunny cartoons ever made. Part of the fascinating sub-genre of “Bugs as loser” cartoons, Falling Hare sees Bugs being terrorised by a little gremlin for seven minutes. Far from a gentle needling, the gremlin puts Bugs in genuine fear for his life as he is imprisoned on a plummeting aircraft. Deceptively cute, the gremlin’s nonchalance makes his psychopathic intentions all the more disturbing. He chuckles to the tune of ‘Yankee Doodle’ as he sets about destroying a plane in mid-flight and attempting to dispense with Bugs by having him plummet to his death. Though the gremlin is a fascinating character, Falling Hare is really Bugs’s show as he is driven to complete hysteria while he battles for his life. He goes through fits of screaming desperation, Technicolor nausea and complete collapse. It’s one of the great cartoon breakdowns of all time and the fact that it is the usually cocky and self-assured Bugs going through it makes Falling Hare even more remarkable. The sight of Bugs screaming at the window of a plane as it goes down has stuck with me ever since the first time I saw Falling Hare. For anyone who makes the claim that Bugs must always be the winner, Falling Hare is a must-see. In fact, it’s a must see for absolutely everyone.
That’s not all, folks! Join me soon for part 3 in which I’ll count down numbers 50 to 26.