Tex Avery's 107th birthday is coming up on Feb. 26 this Thursday. Since I know I'll be rather busy that day, I'll have to make this post right now. This year, to honour Tex I will be talking about something I discovered while watching one of is cartoons Dixieland Droopy.
For those unfortunates who haven't seen it, I'll give a brief rundown of the scenario. Droopy plays a guy named John Pettybone who absolutely LOOOOOOOOOOOOVES Dixieland music. He only owns one Dixieland record but he plays it on his old victrolla constantly, and rather loud too. He even waves a conductor's baton so he can fully immerse himself in the music. Needless to say, his one neighbour and landlord strongly objects to this and kicks him and his record out of his house. So, poor John/Droopy is forced to find other places to play his Dixieland record. He tries a down town cafe. He tries an organ grinder. He tries a 'Good Rumor' ice cream truck. He even tries a merry-go-round which happens to have a family of quadruplet boys in matching outfits playing on it.
Sadly for him, they all react to him the same way the landlord did, by tossing him and his record as far away from them as possible. And of course every time he's tossed out he has to scramble like mad in order to save his only Dixieland record. He's usually successful in protecting his record until the final time. There he trips and drops that record shattering it to pieces. But, before he has time to shed the first tear over it, the narrator points out that there is Dixieland being played nearby.
It's being played by a flea circus lead by a trumpet playing master named Pee Wee Runt. So, since Droopy is a dog, he runs passed the bandstand and the fleas naturally latch on to him. Now John Pettybone/Droopy is deliriously happy because now he has a tiny Dixieland band on his butt. All he has to do is evade the original owner of that flea circus and his life is perfect. Droopy is chased all over town, through alley ways and sewer pipes and fresh tar until he finally finds an effective hiding spot in a talent agent's office.
The sign on the door clearly says "No Dog Acts" and the talent agent is very quick to inform Droopy of this. Since Droopy is not at all interested in impressing any talent scouts at the moment he puts up no protest. He's about to get tossed out again until the talent agent starts hearing Dixieland music emanating from Droopy's lombard region. "A musical mutt!! A Dixieland dog!!" He exclaims. So, through dumb luck, Droopy and his musical fleas are promoted by this guy and they all become a sensation playing the Hollywood Bowl. And they all lived happily ever after.
"Where's the subversive cleverness?" you're asking. I'm getting to that. But first I'll have to give a bit of info about what the world was like when this cartoon came out in 1953. It all started with the commercial availability of the television set. It was officially available on the market in 1947. It was so successful that by 1950, movie attendance had been pretty much cut in half. People felt they didn't have to go out all the time to see news or entertainment because it was all available on their little flickering box at home. That meant that in that time period, Hollywood studios were losing money. Or, at the very least, the profits made from their movies were much lower. Very unfortunately, the animation studios depended on the crumbs of those profits for their budgets. With less and less of those crumbs being available, the cartoons' budgets had to be that much smaller. Walt Disney even shut down his short cartoon division at his studio so that his animated features and any other projects could have that much bigger a budget.
However, one animation studio seemed to be blossoming at this time: UPA. Since their inception, their graphic style of choice was very flat and abstract, like a Picasso painting or anything from the dadaist movement. Since this technique was much simpler to execute, being that it took less time and thus cost less money, many other studios began to make their product resemble that of UPA's. Of course, besides the look, the movement of the characters were basic and stylized as well. The Acadamy who handed out the Oscars were especially interested in UPA's style, which is still one more reason the other studios all tried to copy them. In studio executives' minds: pseudo-UPA style = Oscar gold!!!
So it seemed that the fluid movement and the characters looking like solid formidable objects was out, although not just for economic reasons. The staff at UPA had an "opinion" or "attitude" about their work compared to that of others. The felt that the other studios only did "low brow slapstick" while they themselves were making "the highest art". (This attitude was rather viciously parodied in the WB cartoon A Ham in a Role by the way. In it, a cartoon dog decides to turn his back on what he calls "low comedy" and goes back to his house thinking he can perform Shakespear's best work and not look ridiculous. Thankfully, the Goofy Gophers are there to heckle him and prove him wrong.)
Although, the good people at Looney Tunes / Merrie Melodies managed to adapt during this time as well, Chuck Jones especially. (Hey, the UPA studio's graphics were practically his idea. They based their style on Jones' cartoon The Dover Boys AND Jones even directed that studio's first cartoon Hell Bent For Election.) When Chuck Jones first created the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, he had no idea that they would catch on as big as they did. But, when they did, it inspired the entire studio (and the entire industry) to simplify the chase formulas of their cartoons. This also helped everyone save time and money in this new toned down, stylized climate.
It's been said that Disney animator Freddy Moore vehemently disliked this new style. He hated it so much that he felt he needed to drink heavily to forget it. On his lunch breaks, he would go to the local bar and drink as much as he could. In the afternoon he would stumble back to work drunk as a skunk and still manage to create the finest animation anyone had ever seen. His boozed up work can be seen in Mickey and the Seal for instance.
So it's no surprise that Tex Avery was very much aware about this trend within the industry. And I do believe that his response (or at least one of his responses) to it is the cartoon in question Dixieland Droopy. Here, bombastic high energy style of animation thought to be out of style at the time is represented by dixieland music. Note what happens in each scenario:
I guess this was Tex's way of fulfilling a secret desire to sneak into animation studios all over Hollywood (and possibly the world) and then inject his own brand of cartoon energy. I'm sure every fan of Tex Avery would love to do that any chance they can get.
But thankfully in the universe inwhich Dixieland Droopy takes place not everyone hates dixieland music seeing that it ends with a large crowd enjoying it at the Hollywood Bowl.
So, with all of this I've posted that is now swimming in your head, enjoy this very cartoon in full below:
dixieland_droopy by Daffyduckandthedinosaur