August 28, 2012

i'm gonna do the best i can

more old cartoon stuff. i really love the Cab Calloway Bettie Boop cartoons.

i love the live action footage of Calloway and his orchestra at the beginning of this one. it's such a treat. the guy must have been amazing to see on stage in a smokey, hip club back in the day. he moves like a human cartoon! i have a soft spot and fascination with rotoscope animation, and this stuff is some of the best. even though he gets transformed seemlessly into some weird creature within this bizarre cartoon world, it still perfectly captures Calloway's spirit and charisma. another thing i like about this one is the dark nature of the trippy cave scene; "Minnie the Moocher" is, pretty obviously, a song about a prostitute who starts dating a druggie/drug dealer who gets her hooked on opium. some people have said the animators/studio wasn't aware of the subtext of the song when it was used, but the crazy visuals in the background relating to drug paraphernalia suggest otherwise. there's just such a delicious, dark, seedy element to this cartoon i can't easily describe, but i really like it.
this one is considered by many to be one of the greatest cartoons of all time, and i'm inclined to agree. it's astounding that it was animated entirely by a single person, Roland C. Crandall, as a sort of pet project. the animation is so lively in this one. and Cab Calloway gives another incredible performance, this time performing his standard that he was famous for, "St. James Infirmary Blues," which also happens to be one of my favorite songs. Calloway's version is quite good, which i suppose it should be. again we have the great rotoscope work, this time with Koko being possessed by Calloway, crazily dark and trippy background images in a cave, and an ending that can only be described as "wacky." good stuff.
this is the last Bettie Boop cartoon to feature Calloway, and he pretty much carries it from beginning to end. the story doesn't make much sense, and isn't as good as the first two, but it has its moments. i like the song in this one, as Calloway's rotoscoped dancing as the Old Man of the Mountain is entertaining as always. it's also notable for having inspired Tim Burton and Danny Elfman in the production of the Nightmare before Christmas. Tim Burton cited the Cab Colloway characters as inspiration for the character Oogie Boogie, and wanted Elfman to specifically base him on the character in Minnie the Moocher. but Elfman was more inspired by the Old Man of the Mountain character, even borrowing a line of dialogue for Oogie's musical number: "whatcha gonna do now?" "i'm gonna do the best i can."

i find the world of 20's-40's cartoons so fascinating. it's given me an idea about doing a comic in the style, set in the 20's or 30's, and has all the dark shit and vice that is represented in cartoons of the era, like these. maybe even seriously deal with issues like racism, sexism, homophobia and stuff that was rampant in cartoons and in the attitudes of the day. i need to ferment it some more.