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Fans of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies know of the famous "Termite Terrace," the workspace for Warner Bros.'s brilliant short subject animators, so named for the dilapidated condition of their original back lot studio. Even after the artists moved to grander quarters, they kept the nickname and the irreverence until members of the group moved on to different studios or television. The output from Termite Terrace -- particularly from 1938 to 1949 -- include some of the best cartoons ever made, in my opinion (which is correct).
From the beginning, Warner Bros. cartoons were known for caricaturing Hollywood stars, satirizing current events, and making musical and anecdotal references to pop culture. That attention to what consumed the popular imagination continued throughout WWII, mixing in soft lampoons of real-life anxieties, like the draft, rationing, and espionage, with overt (occasionally racist) propaganda.
I picked two wartime beauties for this Blogathon, because I like to imagine myself sitting in the balcony of the Castro Theatre in 1944, waiting to see Arsenic and Old Lace after my shift at one of the Bay Area shipyards in among my friends and neighbors -- a newsreel, the coming attractions, then Bugs Bunny (Mel Blanc) giving some jerk his come-uppance. I imagine it would have felt remarkably comforting.
Falling Hare (1943)
Bugs Bunny is hanging out at an airbase reading a book that describes how Gremlins (which are an actual mythological Thing, apparently) sabotage airplanes. As he is mocking the idea, a real life gremlin walks by and begins to wreak havoc. Bugs tries to best the creature and is hilariously frustrated until nearly the end.
There's many a great gag in this picture, made all the better by director Bob Clampett, that dark genius, who was also responsible for Russian Rhapsody, another gremlin-themed short starring Hitler (best Hitler EVER) beset by tiny Russian saboteurs.
The angry rabbit is my favorite rabbit.
Little Red Riding Rabbit (1944)
Bespectacled Bobby Soxer, Red Riding Hood, is taking Bugs Bunny to grandmas (ta HAVE, see?), but the Big Bad Wolf has other plans. Red is grating, grandma is out working the swing shift at Lockheed, and (spoiler) Bugs is not eaten by the wolf.
Soooo many references in this short that I didn't get until much older, especially in the music: "Five O'Clock Whistle," about a factory worker who doesn't know when to quit; "They're Either Too Young or Too Old," a woman's lament that all the good men are away at war [which is (sorta) sung by Bette Davis in Warner's Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)]
The great radio and television actress Bea Benadaret. known best as George & Gracie's neighbor in The Burns and Allen Show, provides the unforgettable voice of Red Riding Hood. I defy you not to incorporate some of the things she says in your regular life after watching this. Billy Bletcher provides the voice of the Big Bad Wolf, which is extra funny, because he was the voice Disney's wolf about a decade earlier in The Three Little Pigs.
This is a weird one, but a good one.
Wouldn't you much rather see a cartoon or two instead of 20 minutes of Coke ads and 12 minutes of previews?
I'll do just about anything a movie tells me to do. Unless it tells me wrong...
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