Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Non-Nominated Highlight - Porky in Wackyland (1938)

So in my last review I mentioned how Leon Schlesinger allegedly boycotted the Oscars sometime in his career as the head of the Termite Terrace animation department. This is mostly speculative as I've never actually read anything that confirmed if or when he did it*. However, it seems pretty likely for me considering the fact that Warner Bros. received a nomination in the very first Best Animated Short category in 1932/33, and then didn't get another one until Detouring America in 1939.

*but then again I've never read an official biography of Schlesinger or any of his animators recently.

Of course that doesn't mean that Warner Bros. hadn't come out with any good films in that time period. Far from it, that period was full of great films: I Haven't Got a Hat in 1935, I Love to Singa in 1936, and Porky's Duck Hunt in 1937. Yet of the Warner Bros. cartoons from the 1930s, none was better than the Porky Pig masterpiece Porky in Wackyland.

The do-do bird has become quite valuable since becoming extinct. A living specimen can sell for $4,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, and Porky has gotten word that the elusive bird can be found in an uncharted territory in the darkest part of Africa known as Wackyland. Porky finds the mysterious Wackyland, where it can happen here. What sort of nuts would he find in the strange land, and can he ever get enough information to find the do-do?

Porky Pig was easily the biggest star in Warner Bros. in 1938 since he made his debut in I Haven't Got a Hat three years earlier. His character went through a lot of changes in those three years but under the direction of Bob Clampett he eventually settled into the role of a naive and kind-hearted soul. He soon became a straight man for all of the craziness that the directors would throw at him. And nowhere was that more evident than in Porky in Wackyland. Director Clampett was an admirer of Salvador Dali and his surrealist movement, and he strived to incorporate that feel into Porky in Wackyland.

And boy did he succeed. Wackyland was described to be a place where anything can happen, and Clampett made sure to blend chaos with the unexpected. And it was visible as soon as Porky crosses into Wackyland, where day turns into night (discord), and he gets attacked by a giant rampaging beast that becomes a gentle and effeminate creature as soon as he gets near Porky. Then Clampett spends two and a half minutes exploring the sort of crazy characters that live in Wackyland, but it seems to be a cavalcade of some creatures with strange designs. You see a rabbit in pajamas singing on a swing, a duck in blackface saying "Mammy," a dog and a cat sharing the same body while fighting to the death, and a three-headed beast whose heads resemble the Three Stooges. It's creative, certainly, but we've been inundated by these sort of strange designs and flashy presentation from this scene that we may not have the same effect that audiences from 75 years ago did. The film of a character working way through an unpredictable world feels a lot like Nedeljiko Dragic's Oscar-nominated Tup Tup, only without seas of breasts. Obviously Porky in Wackyland came first by almost 40 years, so it gets credit for that.

The cartoon kind of picks itself up once the legendary Do-Do bird appears. The bird's design itself is pretty strange, much like the creatures in the previous scene. I recalled a character called Do-Do from Tiny Toon Adventures which I saw as a kid, especially in the episode "Sawdust and Toonsil,"* a rather dramatic episode that was my introduction to the surreal nature of Wackyland. Having never seen Porky in Wackyland until 16 years after the episode aired, I've always wondered what Gogo Dodo was based off of. Do-Do in the original film had the dominating screwball personality that was often associated with early Daffy Duck, complete with Daffy's voice and some of his "Whoo-hoo" antics. However, Do-Do also goes on to toy with reality, frustrating Porky with walls that appear out of nowhere. In one of the most famous scenes he rides the Warner Bros. shield logo (that comes complete with the shield sound effect) just to hit Porky in the face with a slingshot. His entertaining behavior is certainly one of the highlights of Porky in Wackyland. Another highlight is the film's background, where Dali's influence on Clampett is most evident. It's got the sort of curvy polygonal designs that is similar to many of Dali's greatest surrealistic works. The design is pretty much ahead of its time.

*Directed by the great Rich Arons, whom I got a chance to hang out with back in March during Brony-Fest. That was a great time.

The combination of the surrealistic design of the film and some of the greatest physical comedies make Porky in Wackyland Bob Clampett's most enduring works. I could have done without some of the nuts, but I could admire how progressive it was. Unfortunately, it was left off of the final nominations list, either because Leon Schlesinger didn't submit it or any other Warner Bros. film for consideration, or it was submitted but not deemed worthy of a nomination perhaps because the film was in black and white*. Clampett would fix that a decade later with the colored remake Dough for the Do-Do, but it doesn't quite capture the same stark sense of surprise and wonderment of the original.

*Sad but true, after nominating two black and white films in the 1932-1933 ceremony, the Academy would go over 30 years without a black and white nominee until Clay or the Origin of Species was nominated in 1965.
Unfortunately, being a Warner Bros. film they were pretty strict in getting it off video sharing sites. So your only hope in watching it is either on one of the DVD sites, or on SuperCartoons.

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