Saturday, July 6, 2013
Best Original Song Highlights - Wet Blanket Policy & The Woody Woodpecker Song (1948)
There have been plenty of great songs that have appeared in animated short films: "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" from Three Little Pigs*, "I Haven't Got a Hat" from I Haven't Got a Hat, "Sinbad's Song" in Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor, "Der Fuehrer's Face" in Der Fuehrer's Face, "A Cowboy Needs a Horse" from the film of the same title, "Return My Love" in What's Opera, Doc?, "Hey, Paul" in Paul Bunyan, "Miss Hippo's Lament" in Noah's Ark, pretty much all the songs in A Symposium on Popular Songs, "Heffalumps and Woozles" and "The Most Wonderful Thing About Tiggers" in Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, "Get a Big Top Hat" and "It Can't Be Done" in Great.
Yet amidst all of the incredibly legacy of songs in animated shorts, only once has a song from a short film been nominated for an Oscars, and it happened in 1948. The song was "the Woody Woodpecker Song" from Walter Lantz's Wet Blanket Policy.
*I suppose it was Disney's misfortune that Three Little Pigs came out in 1933, a year before the Best Original Song category was instituted. I don't know if it would have gotten nominated if the category was present a year earlier, but it never even had a chance.
The Walter Lantz animation studio didn't have the budget to compete with the likes of Disney or Warner Bros. What it lacked in funds it made up for with popular mascot characters, such as Andy Panda and Chilly Willy. King of them all is Woody Woodpecker. The screwball bird made his debut in 1940 in Knock Knock and is crazy antics and distinctive laugh perfected by Mel Blanc made him Lantz's biggest star by the end of the decade. Woody's popularity had gotten so high that songwriters Ramey Idriss and George Tibbles wrote a song about the crazy woodpecker. It was performed by the Kay Kyser band with vocals by Gloria Wood and Harry Babbitt doing the laugh. Walter Lantz liked the song so much that he placed it in the opening credits of the Woody Woodpecker film in production, which happened to be Wet Blanket Policy. The song became a smash hit, and by Oscar time Wet Blanket Policy entered the annals of Oscar history as the only animated short with a Best Song nomination.
The short itself is nothing really anything special. Woody stumbles into the Low Life Insurance Company operated by one Buzz Buzzard. He knocks Woody out, then forces him to sign into a life insurance policy naming Buzz as the beneficiary. Buzz then goes around chasing Woody trying to kill him to collect the insurance. The film is notable for being the debut film of Buzz Buzzard, an evil con artist that would become the primary foil for Woody through the mid-1950. Like many other films of the era the film is focused on slapstick. There are some good moments, such as a chase underneath wallpaper where the characters would jump into paintings, but overall the gags are rather cliched and not very funny. And I don't get Buzz's plan. Aren't insurance companies supposed to be the ones paying the policy in cases of accidental death? If he's the owner of the Low Life Insurance Company, wouldn't he just have to be paying himself if Woody dies accidentally? That's why the guys in Trouble Indemnity were freaking out when Magoo was putting himself in danger.
However, it wasn't the short that was nominated for the Oscar, otherwise I would have reviewed it in my regular Wednesday post. It was the song that was nominated, so how was the song? Well I must admit it caught me by surprise. Woody is a high octane character with his frantic energy and high pitched laughter, but the song is quite slow and while Harry Babbitt captures the laugh pretty well, his voice doesn't quite have the sped-up high-pitched quality of the original Woody. Still, the melody of the song is quite nice and grows on you, and the lyrics are pretty funny with lines such as "And it's nothing to him, on the tiniest whim, to peck a few holes in your head." And even though it didn't make it into the film, the song ends with Woody getting married and this time it's the choir's turn to laugh at him in his misfortunes.The incorporation wasn't very good, a sign of the hasty decision to include the song. The song bleeds into the action, and while it's nice to have Woody whistle to the song's melody, but it plays over some of Buzz's lines.
In the Oscar race itself, "Woody Woodpecker Song" had plenty of competition. Also nominated were "For Every Man There's a Woman" from the musical caper film Casbah, "This is the Moment" from the romantic fantasy That Lady in Ermine, the Doris Day hit "It's Magic" from Romance on the High Seas, and the eventual winner "Button and Bows" from Bob Hope's western romantic comedy The Paleface. I really can't quibble with the results. "Buttons and Bows" is a delightful little ditty that fits well with Bob Hope's character in the movie. Meanwhile, I don't know if the Academy instituted a rule to exclude short films from the Best Song category, or if people just don't submit it, or if the Academy just doesn't care for songs from short films, but in the 65 years since Wet Blanket Policy no other songs from an animated short have been nominated for an Oscar. It's really a shame.
Anyways, here's the song
And if you're curious, here's the original film in a slowed down version to give everybody a low-pitched voice.: