Thursday, November 13, 2008

Film #91: The Dover Boys at Pimento University, or: The Rivals at Roquefort Hall

Warner Brothers animator extraordinaire Chuck Jones says that, after he and head animator Robert (Bobe) Cannon produced the groundbreaking 1942 cartoon The Dover Boys, he almost got fired from WB's Termite Terrace (the name for the WB animation house which included Frank Tashlin, Friz Freling, Bob Clampett, Robert McKimson and other WB-contracted animators). The wacked-out style of "smeared" cartooning he and Cannon pioneered with this 9-minute masterpiece was so ahead of its time it raised the ire of his bosses who didn't cotton to any of this new stuff. And despite being in the running for the funniest animated piece of its era, The Dover Boys' foray into a new animation form would not be properly capitalized upon for a decade or so. Even still, today, it remains a total original.

It follows a turn-of-the-century team (a spoof of dime-store novel heroes The Rover Boys) mawkishly named Tom, Dick, and Larry (given the reference of three cheeses in the film--pimento, Roquefort, and cheddar--they could each be renamed, which makes the film even funnier, in a subtle way). In their intro, we see them each jauntily yet extra-stoically vogueing on a different cornball period bi-cycle, on their way to Miss Cheddar's Home for Girls. Their scenic afternoon out playing hide-and-seek with their collective finance'--the impossibly graceful and deceptively powerful Dainty Dora Standpipe--gets cruelly interrupted by the green-skinned Dan Backslide, determined to bust up a perfectly good date. Commandeering a "run-about," he kidnaps Dora and escapes with her to his mountain lair, so it's up to the chivalrous Dover Boys to bring her back home.

You'll notice that the animation here is kept down to the very barest minimum. Much of this cartoon's beauty lies in Jones' justly excessive use of softly-airbrushed backgrounds to convey a stillness that clashes brightly with the movement of his cast. And what pixilated movements they are. Part of The Dover Boys freshness comes from the extremely fleet form of "smeared" animation that Jones and Cannon appropriated to give these characters a wild panache. Watch this frame-by-frame (as you can above) and notice the unpredictable transitions from movement to movement that, with those abnormally stretched heads and bodies, pave the way for the belly laughs the film provides.

However, it's just this wry innovation which made the brass at Warner Brothers angry with Jones--so much so that this likable cartoon trio was never seen on screen again, and that smeared animation technique has still to this day been little used (though I have seen tried humorously with Bart on a few 1st season episodes of The Simpsons). Maybe Warner Brothers didn't think much more could be done with The Dover Boys. But I would've liked to have seen Chuck Jones and Bobe Cannon give it another try, 'cuz this frenzied cartoon is an absolute hoot. Hooray for good ol' P.U.!! Enjoy!


the editor., said...

Hi! Dean,
Thank-you! for sharing the wonderful info(rmation) about "animator extraordinaire" Chuck Jones.(Dean,you took the words right out of my mouth! when it comes to describing artist Chuck Jones.)

Being an artist I "literally" have thousands of books on artists covering the entire range or (running the gamut from A to Z and not only A to C)
from the dawn of time to teh present!...Therefore, this post is very interesting and fascinating!
Btw, Thanks, for sharing the animated shorts too!
The "dame"

MovieMan0283 said...

Great analysis. I've been watching Looney Tunes & Disney a lot lately, and will be watching their respective WWII propaganda shorts this weekend. (& I've got some Tex Avery shorts over on my blog that just went up).