This week's cartoon is Three Little Bops, an unusual 1957 Looney Tunes offering from director Friz Freling. With a soundtrack by West Coast jazz great Shorty Rogers and vocals by the legendary Stan Freberg (no Mel Blanc!), Three Little Bops isn't your usual Warner Brothers cartoon.
Three Little Bops is a retelling of the traditional Three Little Pigs fairy tale, with the titular swine re-imagined as a hip jazz trio. Rather than attempting to eat the pigs, the Big Bad Wolf just wants to sit in and play trumpet with the porcine hepcats. Unfortunately, he's a square whose musical chops are less than adequate, and the both the pigs and their audience kick out the wolf and his "corny horn". The persistent Big Bad Wolf tries to insert himself with the group in a series of jazz clubs made out of—you guessed it—straw, wood, and bricks. Eventually, the wolf learns the lesson that he's "Gotta be hot to play real cool".
1950's Merrie Melodies offering The Hypo-Chondri-Cat is a hilarious but strange cartoon from animation legend Chuck Jones and the Termite Terrace crew. Wisecracking mouse duo Hubie and Bertie attempt to move into a cozy new home inhabited by the neurotic Claude Cat. Playing on Claude's hypochondriasis, Hubie and Bertie stage an elaborate ruse to convince the credulous Claude to vacate the house and head to "Cat Heaven".
It's weird (check out the surgery dream sequence), a little twisted, and borderline surreal—but it is funny. Probably not appropriate for really little kids, unless you want to answer endless questions about whether Claude's really dead or not. While the great Mel Blanc gets sole billing for the voice characterizations, he shares his duties with the equally great Stan Freberg, who voices Bertie the mouse ("Yeah yeah, sure sure").
I guess I should just go ahead and get this one out of the way. Any discussion of classic Warner Brothers cartoons invariably turns to Chuck Jones' One Froggy Evening (1955), the surprisingly cerebral tale of greed, human nature, luck, and a singing frog. Steven Spielberg referred to One Froggy Evening as "The Citizen Kane of cartoons," and for good reason—it's not just a great cartoon, but stellar filmmaking as well. Note that this cartoon features not one single word of dialogue, only animation and Milt Franklyn's inspired soundtrack.
If for some reason you're unfamiliar with this masterpiece, it concerns a demolition worker who finds a metal box in the cornerstone of a decades-old building he's destroying. Inside the box is a frog who dons a top hat and sings various Tin Pan Alley hits, ragtime songs, and opera arias. The rest of the cartoon follows the worker's descent into madness as he realizes that the frog only performs when he's watching (or does it?).
I feel sorry for my kids and others these days, since they don't have ready exposure to the classic cartoons that we grew up watching. As every cartoon connoisseur knows, the best classic cartoons—the only ones, perhaps—are those produced by Warner Brothers during the post-war Golden Age of Cartoons. In the late '40s and 1950s, the Warner Brothers animation crew elevated cartoon shorts to a high art unsurpassed by anyone to this day (sorry Pixar).
Fortunately for us, YouTube has tons of Warner Brothers Cartoons hidden amongst its offerings. I've decided to showcase some of my favorites to create an online cartoon museum of sorts that you can share with your kids so they don't grow up deprived.