Thursday, September 10, 2015

Bugs vs. Steinbrenner's Yankees, or Gorilla My Game

Of course, these days, when you're dealing with an established classic like Baseball Bugs, the first thing you want to know is, what's the deal with the Statue of Liberty gag?  Almost makes me wish I watched Turner Classic Movies more often... almost.  And the other thing is, when it comes to discussing the Looney Tunes directors, the Internet-based tunnel vision focuses pretty strictly on just Robert Clampett and Chuck Jones.  Now, I understand perfectly leaving out the likes of the McKimson boys and Arthur Davis, but does Friz Freleng deserve this kind of shabby treatment?  Just because he borrowed the Hanna-Barbera business model in the television age?  I, for one, say not!
Take Baseball Bugs, for example.  Sure, it doesn't enjoy the frenetic pace of, say, Tex Avery's Batty Baseball.  And sure, the centerpiece gag of Batty Baseball is forever enshrined in Preston Blair's "How to Draw Cartoon Animation" on page 30, the last two pages of the book, where all the lessons are summed up with sketches of the "Kill the Umpire!" sequence... of course, in the cartoon proper, the angry fan looks like a half-man half-dog hybrid with no glasses, whereas in Blair's book, it's a guy with glasses.  There's a lesson for filmmakers in there someplace: you can have all the rapid-fire gags you want, but the mind eventually settles on the slow part... what was the point?  I think the point was that Baseball Bugs has everything a cinema fan needs: a good plot structure, some fabulous locations, a little fantasy so that the cartoon's not too real and boring... something like that.
...or is it a little too cliché?  Most films about sports are.  After all, there's that Popeye cartoon about football called The Football Toucher Downer.  I hate to say that the two have the exact same plot, but... but they do.  They have exactly the same plot.  Of course, where Popeye has his spinach and a sensk of humiligration, Bugs has his carrot in a hot dog bun and a sense of justice.  Also, Popeye has the benefit of a flashback, whereas Bugs is there in the awful, awful present, making his stand.  Of course, it's unclear who got there first: Bugs or the stadium; that dilemma gets explored in Homeless Hare, for one... oh, and Case of the Missing Hare, for two.
But just as Donald Trump wants to be treated fairly by the rest of the loser Republicans, just as Bill Gates wants to be thought of as a good guy, hence all his charity work... I guess Microsoft giving up on Internet Explorer is also a pretty charitable act; oh, s'z'nap!... so too are the Gas-House Gorillas sensitive to criticism.  They are like USC at the top of their game, pounding the crap out of small teams like San Jose State in order to keep themselves in the College Top 10 and what not.  And the Tea Totallers simply don't stand a chance.  "I'm only 93 1/2 years old!" says their star batter.  Plus, the umpires are too scared and have lost control of the game.  Despite the deafening roar of the crowd, Bugs provides the lone voice of conscience, crying out for fairness. 
His ears burning, the Gas-House Gorillas' pitcher leads the charge over to the rabbit hole.  Love the background here: note how Bugs' rabbit hole almost looks 3D!  The background artist simulated a narrow focus lens.  And so, because they seem to be secretly hungering for a formidable opponent, Bugs takes on the Gorillas all by himself, but not with one hand tied behind his back.  That would just be gratuitous.
And so, the game is on.  In other words, the boring part.  Bugs pushes cartoon physics to their limit, and gets a few unfair calls in his favor to rack up a score almost equal to the Gas House Gorillas, but to not quite beat them; you know, for the dramatic tension and all.  I used to watch this one a lot on VCR, and thank goodness I don't remember all the parts I used to rewind and watch over again.  How viewing habits have changed, I tells ya.  Surprisingly, not the part with the pin-up calendar!  That one's pretty tepid by Looney Tunes standards; the ones in The Unruly Hare are much hotter.  Also, they say that Mel Blanc did all the voices, except of course for the announcer, but the Gorillas just sound like a different guy.  I don't think it was Billy Bletcher, but there must have been someone else.  After all, even Bob Clampett didn't always employ Mel Blanc for everything.
And then, we get to the big finale.  In one last act of cheating, a Gorillas hitter cuts down the nearest tall tree he can find, lathes the end of it so it's got a baseball bat-like grip to it, and goes up to bat.  Despite Bugs' Seuss-ish pitch, the ball is hit, and Bugs has to leave the stadium to catch it.  I guess that's fair if the ball completely leaves the stadium and none of the fans are able to catch it and donate the ball to charity.  I hate to spoil the ending, but you can probably guess.  Does Bugs ever not triumph?  This isn't a Daffy Duck cartoon, after all!

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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