Thursday, January 8, 2009

Puss In Boots

Well, it’s only day four of this grand experiment, and already we’ve hit a roadblock. An explanation is long and complicated, but here goes.

So, when Walt created Little Red Riding Hood, he was still doing it in his spare time in his father’s garage. That film was for training for himself, but would later be released. The Four Musicians of Bremen was the first short intended for release. Based on those two films, Walt secured a contract to produce four more films, after his boss at the Kansas City Slide Company (later Kansas City Film Ad Company) passed on the fairy tales.

At this point, Walt raised money from friends and family, and formally incorporated Laugh-O-Gram films. He hired animators and friends like Rudy Ising, Hugh Harman, Ubbe Iwerks, Lorey Tague, Carman “Max” Maxwell and Otto Walliman. These men got together in a run down office to produce the four remaining films on Walt’s contract, with the hopes of getting a national distribution deal.

The Original Laugh-O-Gram Studio

Although Walt’s cartoons showed higher production values than most, it was not enough to entice one of the national distributors to take him on as a project. At that time, nearly all animated cartoons were being produced in New York, so Walt’s vision of a Kansas City studio was a bit naïve at best.

The four films were produced, though, and included Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, Puss In Boots and Cinderella. Only the latter two have survived to the present day, which is where our roadblock enters. Since we can’t watch Jack and the Beanstalk or Goldie Locks, we must pick up with Puss in Boots.

I’m also going to try something a bit different with today’s subject. Originally, these films were silent cartoons, as were most films of the time. On the spectacular Inkwell Images DVD that I am viewing these on, they have added the sounds that would have been made in the theatre. It’s very entertaining, but not the way the cartoons would originally have been seen. So, I’m going to watch Puss in Boots with the sound on mute, then with the sound on, to see if the animation holds up with silent cartooning.

Okay, so this story is not at all like the Puss in Boots story you probably know. In this short, Puss is played by our friend the cat, who was present in the first two shorts. An interesting thing to note is that the four main characters in this film, a boy, a girl, the cat and a dog are in the new title card for Laugh-O-Gram Films, so this short must have been one that was produced early on.

The short opens with the cat and boy going to visit a young girl that the boy wants to marry. He woos the girl while the cat and dog get acquainted, even kissing at some point. Let me tell you people, Walt was into some weird stuff back then. Cats and dogs kissing? Can’t explain that one.

It turns out the girl is a princess, and when the king (again played by the old man in the picture frame from Little Red Riding Hood) discovers his daughter with this hooligan, he chases the boy and the cat away. The despondent boy and his cat stand in front of a shoe store advertising “$5 Boots Only $4.99”. A nice little sight gag, there. The cat asks for the boots, but the boy refuses and they head to a movie instead.

The movie theatre is another great sight gag, with one poster showing an ad for “Rudolph Vaselino,” an obvious play off of Rudolph Valentino. The other poster shows an ad for “Cinderella” by Laugh-O-Grams Films. Neat little product placement. Could this be the first product placement? Interesting.

The movie shows the hero beating up some bulls and winning the affections of a woman. Kind of obvious where this is going, right? Well, not to the boy. The cat says he has an idea of how the boy can win over the girl, but only if he’ll buy the cat the boots first. Hilarity ensues.

With his new boots, the cat goes out on the town to put up flyers promoting the Masked Toreador’s fight against the bulls. The king finds out about the bullfight and heads down with the dog and his daughter, to see the boy in his mask take out a bull with the help of the cat and his “Radio Hypnotizer.” The king is so taken by what he sees, he tells the Masked Toreador that he can marry the king’s daughter.

At that point, the boy reveals himself, and the boy, the girl, the cat and the dog jump in a car to escape, as the king chases them down the street to no avail. The car reaches 125 miles per hour according to the speedometer, which is very fast considering that the dog is driving.

This is a fun little short, probably the best of the three so far. It easily has the most linear, compact story of the three. The gags are subtle, which is not something you usually see in these old cartoons. There are not a lot of overt crazy items like the swordfish from the Musicians short. Instead, much is communicated through word balloons, much more so than in the other shorts.

The production value is also much higher here. The backgrounds are very detailed, with the crowd renderings in the bullfight scene deserving particular notice.

Again, this cat steals the show. I think it’s fair to say at this point that the cat is the precursor to some of the later Disney characters like Oswald and Mickey. The cat is a classic cartoon character in that he can do surrealistic things in a realistic world, like remove his tail and make a question mark as he does after the king throws them out. It’s very interesting to see the progression of this film from the previous ones.

Okay, as for sound versus no sound – was there a difference? Not really. See, in the previous films, there were very few word balloons, but here, all the main characters had word balloons when they spoke. Also, since the score probably was not designed specifically for this film, it did not jump out at you. In fact, the score for all three of these shorts has sounded quite the same. I imagine Inkwell just used similar music, but I’ll have to see if that’s the same on Cinderella, which we’ll look at next. Until then, have a good one!

1 comment:

  1. That beginning of the short sure is weird like you said. The cat didnt strike me as female till that scene of the cat and dog flirting and....what are the boy and girl up to when sitting on the swing?

    Also like the breaking of the cycle here with the cat characters 9-lives death when the boy snaps her out of it. Though its a such an odd character trait to have. It's a good gag in Riding Hood but after being shoehorned into the end of Musicians of Bremen too it gets old fast as it doesn't really lead to anything


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