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October 21, 2006

Moving Target

I'm on the road today, so I may not otherwise update. Please to enjoy the following massive violation of copyright while I'm out:

Proposition: Michael Maltese was perhaps the funniest man of the 20th century. Discuss.

Posted by john at October 21, 2006 09:07 AM

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Scott Mactavish | October 21, 2006 09:59 AM

A true classic.

re: Copyright infringement

I'm afraid Mark Cuban may have been right. GoogleTube may be in for a world of hurt when the infringement suits start flying, ala Napster.

Jon | October 21, 2006 10:02 AM

I am not sure if Michael Maltese was the funniest person of the 20th century or not. But anyone who helped create The Rabbit of Seville and What's Opera Doc is up there close to the top. Those are two of the funniest cartoons ever made.

Janice in GA | October 21, 2006 10:31 AM

I'm not sure if he found it funny, but my dog Jasper had to come up and watch the beginning of the cartoon. He lost interest after a couple of minutes, so I probably don't have to worry about him bringing home a kitten any time soon.

Jeff Hentosz | October 21, 2006 11:26 AM

Absolutely in the pantheon. Coincidentally — or not — his teammate Maurice Noble was one of the finest, most influential artist/designers of the century. And Mel Blanc one of the greatest actors. Proof that, legend though Chuck Jones deserves to be, filmmaking is a team sport.

Nathan | October 21, 2006 11:32 AM

Warner Bros. cartoons were my introduction to classical music. My father despaired of convincing me that "The Rabbit of Seville" was based on some ancient thing called an Opera.

Cassie | October 21, 2006 11:46 AM

Kill the Wabbit Kill the Wabbit Kill the Wabbit!

Funny how life comes back around. I used to sing it, now I actually try to kill the wabbits.

Hilary | October 21, 2006 01:07 PM

Funny maybe, but I lost a bundle on ACME, whoda thunk the bottom would fall out of rocket propelled roller skates...sheesh.

sxKitten | October 21, 2006 01:35 PM

Makes you wonder how many of today's cartoons will stand the test of time half as well.

Thanks, John - I love that one.

Djscman | October 21, 2006 02:14 PM


I found the part where the anguished dog rejects the owner's cat-shaped cookie to be a fascinating allegory of a postwar subconsumerist society's revulsion towards organized Christianity and blind obedience of authority in lieu of a strong, personal moral center that is nevertheless only able to change the status quo through subversion and struggle. I can't figure out whether the cartoon mirrored the seething cultural forces that would boil over over (sic) the next two decades, or whether it inadvertently indoctrinated the nation's Baby Boomers to rise up against the powers that be, whether it took the form of the civil rights struggle, the feminist movement, and/or the sexual revolution.
The other fellas at Termite Terrace may have been the century's greatest funny-men; Maltese was the great mid-century Cassandra figure.


Jeff Hentosz | October 21, 2006 02:42 PM

heh, heh...you said "sexual."

Chang who is theoretically at "work" | October 21, 2006 03:41 PM


Sorry, but it kind of does deserve the all caps. It was all Mel Blanc and some other guy whose name escapes me.

Nathan | October 21, 2006 04:05 PM

O.K., here's what I don't get. The boss-mouse is away. We have one of the world's most powereful blogs at our disposal with no adult supervision.....and WE'RE BEHAVING OURSELVES!!!!

And, yes Chang, I needed EVERY ONE of those exclamation points.

We make me sick.

Cambias | October 21, 2006 04:46 PM

It was Carl Stalling, the music guy. The music cues _made_ those cartoons.

Consider Chuck Jones's later cartoons -- the Grinch, the Kipling adaptations, etc. They had bog-standard, boring, predictable, ham-fisted music cues, and the magic just wasn't there.

Friz Freleng had the sense to use the Henry Mancini music for most of the Pink Panther cartoons, and they've aged much better.


Steve Buchheit | October 21, 2006 09:56 PM

Cambias, that was the Carl Stalling Project, fitting music to the cartoon and replacing sound effects, also repurposing/rewriting classic/instrumental music.

Chuck maybe over-rated, but he still was essential to termite terrace's success.

Steve Buchheit | October 21, 2006 09:58 PM

So was Tex Avery's madness, BTW.

Cambias | October 22, 2006 12:54 PM

Steve B:

I'm not sure what you mean about the Carl Stalling Project. Stalling did the scores for the original Leon Schlesinger/Warner Bros. cartoons; it's not a retrofit. Is this some project to identify his musical sources (like Raymond Scott)?


Djscman | October 22, 2006 01:11 PM

Did the old Warner Bros cartoons have an actual orchestra score the film in real time, like other movies, or did they use stock recordings?

Jeff Hentosz | October 22, 2006 01:50 PM

I wasn't asked, but that doesn't stop me:

The Carl Stalling Project was a set of CDs collecting most of the signature scores and cues, released 10-15 years ago.

There was a live orchestra (if memory serves, the Warner Bros Orchestra was actually the Los Angeles Philharmonic slumming) and Stalling riffed on everything, including songs from Warner's own musical features, pop standards, folk music and, of course, classical themes. This has a little background on him and his work, but if you can find the CDs at your library, the insert booklet has more information about the process, as I recall.

Nathan | October 22, 2006 03:17 PM

I haven't lived in Florida since 1978 and I resent your implications, sir. Proudly hangin' in Brooklyn, sir.

And take a shower already.

Chang, in space! | October 22, 2006 03:51 PM

Ah, well, some info on you says Florida. I have peoples in Brooklyn. May you walk safely in the hook of red.

I am showered, in space, and monitoring, on ocasion, leaf removal operations in my yard.

Steve Buchheit | October 22, 2006 09:52 PM

Cambias, I hope Jeff's post answered your questions. Carl was a musical magician. He'd rescore musical pieces to fit the cartoon's pace and humor level.

"Oh Brunhilda, you're so wuvly."
"Yes I know it, I can't help it"
"Oh Brunhilda be-ee my wuv."

Jeff | October 22, 2006 10:00 PM

Chuck Jones bashing bores me silly. And those who claim to have identified the one truly genuine auteur at Termite Terrace are misguided. It's all of them. It's none of them. The departure or arrival of any of several key people affected the synergy one way or another.

These films were true team efforts. Mike Maltese did great stories and storyboards, but like the other writers at Termite Terrace most of his boards went through intensive pitch sessions with people from every department (and other teams) throwing in ideas and suggestions.

And Maltese was too highbrow to have worked well with a director like Friz Freleng. He needed someone with Jones' sensibilities to pull off much of his best work.

Yes, Carl Stalling was brilliant, but Milt Franklin was no slouch either. "One Froggy Evening" and "What's Opera, Doc?" leap to mind, to mention only two.

Eric | October 22, 2006 11:24 PM

Jones is one of my heroes. And I will point out that his memoir, Chuck Amuck reflects a modest, gracious man who took far less than his share of credit for the classics he worked on--I think he would have agreed with the haters in this thread.

As Jeff wrote, the classic Warners' cartoons were collaborations. Duck Dodgers In The 24th-and-a-half Century, for instance, is credited to Maltese as a writer and Jones as director. This only scratches the surface, however: according to Jones the concept came out of he and Maltese bouncing ideas off of each other, and after Maltese then storyboarded it there was a big "jam session" that included directors Friz Freling and Bob McKimson, writers Todd Pierce and Warren Foster, the production chief and producer, and Maltese and Jones. As for who truly made Dodgers a masterpiece, Jones credits layout artist Maurice Noble. And yes, music cues and classic voicework by Mel Blanc round everything out. Trying to single out which member of the Warners' team made a cartoon brilliant than becomes a bit like trying to figure out which Beatle deserves credit for Revolver or which member of Monty Python was the funny one. However, Jones does get a special kudo as a director for bring people like Noble and Stallings together or for shepherding an idea of Maltese's through approval and production. He could have chosen to work with other people--he chose to work with the best. Don't undervalue that.

David "The Longtime Lurker" | October 22, 2006 11:55 PM

Did the part with the dog afraid that the kitten was gonna get baked strikingly remind anyone else of a similar sequence in a certain Monstery Incorporatedy movie???

Jeff | October 23, 2006 12:07 AM

The scene in Monsters Inc. was a very definite tribute. Practically shot-for-shot, expression-for-expression.

David "The Longtime Lurker" | October 23, 2006 04:48 AM

Yeah... that's pretty crazy... and to think I thought that scene seemed reminiscent of something at the time. (That happens to be one of the most laugh out loud funny moments in pretty much any movie ever)

Steve Brady | October 23, 2006 07:59 AM

Copyright infringement? But that cartoon was made in 1951! Surely 55 years is more than enough time for a creator to receive enough financial compensation as to retroactively incentivise him to create? Anything beyond that would be pure gluttony and create a blight upon the public domain, wouldn't it?


Steve Buchheit | October 23, 2006 08:16 AM

Steve Brady, there's a difference between an homage and copyright infringement. As Jeff pointed out it was done as a tribute and insider joke. Those people who know their animation would see the link and appreciate the "looking back" aspect of it, those who weren't so schooled (such as the age demographic the movie was targeted at) would just enjoy a great comic moment. It's the visual equal to including lines from Beatles lyrics in written stories.

Tom_B | October 23, 2006 09:03 AM

Let me echo earlier sentiments about the importance--and sheer damn quality--of Maurice Noble's contributions.

Eric's point about Duck Dodgers is the perfect example. Watch it again, and not how much of the first minute of the piece is about the layouts.

I had a chance, on a snowny night ten or eleven years ago, to see Maurice Noble give a presentation at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, MA. He showed some classic Looney Toons cartoon, talked about the creative process, and stood for Q&A. It was absolutely an amazing evening, and it really got to Eric's point about the collaborative nature of that group of creators.

David "The Longtime Lurker" | October 23, 2006 11:39 PM

Steve Buchheit:

I think Mr. Brady was referring to the original youtube video post.

Steve Buchheit | October 24, 2006 10:16 AM

Dave, yep. Sorry about that, Mr. Brady, my bad.

Mixed Dave's, Jeff's, and Steve Brady's post as a continuous conversation.

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