Sunday, July 22, 2012

Animated Short of the Day: "The Three Little Pups" (Tex Avery, 1953)

Animated Short of the Day is a 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, leave a comment or contact me on Twitter.

Tex Avery directed only seventeen Droopy cartoons, but the series went through a number of variations during that brief time. The first few entries followed a formula in which the little sadsack outsmarts the howlin' wolf from Red Hot Riding Hood. Later cartoons paired Droopy (voiced by Bill Thompson, a familiar voice actor who played several recurring roles on radio's Fibber McGee and Molly) with Spike, a large scheming bruiser of a dog. 

With "Three Little Pups," Avery returned to using a wolf as an antagonist. But this clearly isn't the same wolf. Rather than a would-be ladies' man from the city, the wolf is now a simpleton from the South. Frank Graham's slick characterization is replaced by Daws Butler, using the same laid-back drawl he later employed as Huckleberry Hound.

In this cartoon, Avery introduced another changes to the series formula. First among them is the treatment of Droopy himself. Here he's joined by his two identical brothers Loopy and Snoopy. Droopy is recognizably the same character - he's clearly the smartest of the three - but he isn't quites as unflappable as in previous cartoons. While lecturing his brothers, he seems quite worried about the wolf's approach. His characterization would change even more in future cartoons, but this feels like the first step.

The level of comedy, however, is very much in line with the earlier cartoons. In the film's standout sequence, Droopy holds up a variety of items to hit the wolf as he bounces up and down. This is Avery working at the peak of his powers, offering one stellar gag after another.

A few other thoughts:

- The wolf's line "If this don’t work, I'll go into television!" offers a major signpost of the early 1950s. Many animators were moving to TV during this era, including Avery's old WB contemporary Bob Clampett, who was making the puppet show Time of Beany.
- Charles Schulz's Peanuts had begun three years earlier, but it was still a relatively-unsung comic strip. It's likely that Avery used the name "Snoopy" without being aware of Charlie Brown's dog. 

- The DVD version of this cartoon (and some others on the set) suffers from problems caused by a digital noise reduction process. Intended to clean up dirt on the image, it also erased parts of the animation itself, notably outlines. It can be quite off-putting, but I'd still recommend that DVD set. The cartoons are well worth owning.

 - One of the animators here was Michael Lah, who directed the  last seven (unmemorable) Droopy cartoons after Avery stepped down from the series.

1 comment:

Ryan Roe said...

"Good dog, man."

And now I will be whistling the wolf's song for the rest of the day.