Thursday, July 26, 2012

Animated Short of the Day: "Pigs is Pigs" (Jack Kinney, 1954)

Animated Short of the Day is an ongoing series showcasing short cartoons from every possible genre, era, and format. For an archive of the films previously featured, click here. To suggest cartoons for future installments, email me or contact me on Twitter. 

Yesterday we looked at Friz Freleng's 1937 terror comedy "Pigs is Pigs." Seventeen years later, the Walt Disney company released a cartoon with the same title. The two have nothing in common - not even the definition of the word "pig" - but the newer cartoon is just as entertaining as the older one. It's a charming, breezy little fable, and it looks beautiful.

In fact, this cartoon has a much longer history than the WB film. It's based on a short story from 1905 by Ellis Parker Butler, which had previously been adapted into a pair of silent films (in 1910 and 1914). The cartoon cuts out the original tale's quasi-racism (there, Postmaster Flannery assumes that "Guinea" is the pigs' home country, so he has to charge more money than he would for good old familiar Irish pigs), but it retains the rest of the quirky, clever story.

That story - wrapped in folksy rhymes and UPA-style absract character designs - is a not-quite-biting satire about the hazards of following the letter of the law. After Postmaster Flannery receives a package containing two guinea pigs, he get into an argument with the intended recipient over whether the animals are "pigs" (which are shipped for 48 cents) or "pets" (44 cents). When the fellow refuses to pay, Flannery is stuck with a population of rodents that multiplies exponentially.

The guinea pigs themselves are the focus of many of the cartoon's best gags. I'm especially fond of the gag towards the end where a couple gives birth to four babies in mid-air. Less expected, but just as hilarious, are the synchronized movements of the various members of bureaucracy, all moving together in perfect harmony.

In addition, listen for the stellar voice cast. In addition to Bill "Droopy" Thompson as Postmaster Flannery, you'll also hear the narration of a young Gary "Laugh-In" Owens (UPDATE: Reader and voice-artist expert Andrew Leal tells me the narrator is actually William "The Odd Couple" Woodson) and the unmistakable bass of Thurl "Tony the Tiger" Ravenscroft as one of the singers.

I don't have as much to say about this cartoon as I have some in the past, because so much of the fun of it comes from the execution. But I want to add one final note - the version here is slightly out of sync, but I think it still plays okay. The jokes are mostly visual.

A restored, synced-up version is available on the Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities DVD set, which is one of the best entries in that series (certainly one of the most varied in its content), and is still in print and reasonably cheap.


Andrew Leal said...

Clarification, Anthony. Great choice, but IMDb is wrong again. That's not Gary Owens. It's radio veteran William Woodson, who also narrated "Casey Bats Again." Owens would have been 18, and while he'd done some local radio disc jockeying, he wouldn't move to California until 1959.

Woodson at the time was an established radio actor and announcer, the narrator on "This Is Your FBI" and also commercials for TV. He's best remembered now for his often more pompous or stentorian narration, as in "The Odd Couple" intro, many trailers and cartoons ("Meanwhile, in the hall of doom...") and especially "The Winds of War." And this is where the Owens confusion helps come in, outside of some surface similarities when Owens does it complete deadpan, Owens parodied Woodson's narration on "Dinosaurs" in "Nuts to War."

Woodson also did the brilliant "Who done it" teaser tags for TVs Ellery Queen in the 1970s. He's over 90 but still alive *and* still listed with a voice agency!

Anthony Strand said...

Thanks for the correction, Andrew. That will teach me to take IMDb at its word. I'll do better research in the future.

I'm going to change it and give you credit for the heads-up.

Ryan Roe said...

This was on a VHS I checked out from the library once and watched about four times before returning it... It was called "The Fabulous 50s," and it also included "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom," which is equally delightful.

Anthony Strand said...

Ryan - Yeah, that's a great one. I should feature that (and also "Melody") at some point.