So far, I've held off on featuring a Bob Clampett cartoon in this series. Not because it's hard to choose just one, although that's certainly true. Mostly I just don't know if I have anything original to say about his work. He was one of the most talented and most idiosyncratic directors ever to work for a major studio, but everyone already knows that about him.
In any case, I'm going to try my best. It's always a pleasure to watch the work he did at Warner Bros. in the 1930s and 1940s. "Baby Bottleneck" is one of my favorite films he ever made, and I chose it for today's post because it offers such a perfect example of his style.
More than any of his contemporaries at WB (Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Frank Tashlin, or even Tex Avery), Clampett never seemed overly concerned with staying on-model. They have a certain amount of consistency - the lead character is always recognizable as being Daffy Duck, but he stretches and squashes into a vast array of entertaining shapes.
We see this from the very first shot of Daffy. He is, simply, talking on the phone, but his face mutates with every word. This adds so much energy to what would otherwise only be a series of jokes about now-dead celebrities and news stories. The character isn't even doing anything physical, but Clampett still makes sure that the action is being driven by the animation.
(I'm no huge fan of Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi - who I think mostly imitates Clampett's outrageousness with none of his wit or storytelling ability - but he wrote a couple of great blog posts about the animation of this cartoon.)
Later, Daffy's hat changes size and shape depending on who's animating him, (I want to believe that this is a reference to Groucho's shifting costumes in the climax of Duck Soup, but I've seen no evidence that that's actually the case), his tail end bounces around like a super ball, and his leg accidentally gets stretched to twenty feet for a while. All of these effects contribute to the cartoon's feeling of utter chaos - nothing going right at the stork factory, including the stability of Daffy's body.
But what makes "Baby Bottleneck" a true masterpiece is how well-organized it is as a story, despite seeming like random silliness for most of its runtime. It spends its first two minutes pretending to be a spot-gag cartoon about all of the different ways babies can be delivered, and all of the hilarious ways that baby animals can be sent to the wrong parents.
After meeting Daffy and Porky, we transition into another sequence of gags, this time the conveyor belt changing-table (accompanied by Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse," a staple of Carl Stalling's Looney Tunes music). Third, Clampett lets Porky and Daffy run around for a while as they each attempt to trick the other into sitting on an egg.
Finally, in the cartoon's last ninety seconds, he works backward through all three set-pieces, drawing the various threads together into a satisfying conclusion. Porky and Daffy end up on the conveyor belt, where they're stuffed into a single diaper and then delivered to a gorilla. In that final shot, Clampett reveals that every previous sequence served to set up that last joke. But it's so funny and ridiculous that the viewer doesn't even notice unless they're watching for the fourth or fifth or seventy-third time.
And it even concludes with another reference that's incomprehensible to most modern ears. But I will admit that as a kid I found it pretty neat that the gorilla was calling me for help.