Sunday, 7 February 2010

Everybody do the Kennedy Buster dance!

"Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow" was the first episode of "Tiny Toon Adventures" to be made, although seventeen other episodes were broadcast before it. It was written by Tom Ruegger, Wayne Kaatz, Gordon Bressack and Charles M Howell IV; directed by Ken Boyer and Eddie Fitzgerald, and animated by Kennedy Cartoons. You can watch it on the Tiny Toon Adventures Season 1 Volume 1 DVD.

In the first act of the episode Elmyra captures Buster, involving a lot of wacky high-jinks in Elmyra's house and a long phoney death scene for Buster.

The second act has Buster discovering Elmyra's other mistreated pets and setting them all free, but then getting re-captured himself.

The third act has the other characters, led by Babs, rescuing Buster and them all giving Elmyra a taste of her own medicine in an elaborate "Planet of the Bunnies" setpiece.

More thoughts on this episode from the animation fan community can be found on this discussion thread, where Speedy Boris describes it as a "very uneven mix of "80's adventure story" and [...] Looney Tunes-esque humor". In this interview Tom Ruegger seems to say that Fitzgerald directed the first and third acts, with Boyer directing the middle act. It makes sense that the middle act had a different director, as it is very different in tone. Although it contains a few gags, it doesn't have the Bob Clampett manic energy of the first or third act. (I'm not criticizing Ken Boyer, who directed several great episodes of the series) If Fitzgerald did direct 2/3 of the episode, though, it seems strange that most of the credited artists (storyboards, character layouts) are from Ken Boyer's unit.

Ruegger also describes the episode as "very bizarre half-hour story that feels more like three shorts", which suggests to me that each act had a different writer. I suspect that Bressack and/or Howell had something to do with the middle act where Buster releases the other pets from their cages, as similar scenes occur in "Sawdust and Toonsil" and "Hare-Raising Night", which they also wrote.

Apparently the third act was heavily re-written by Eddie Fitzgerald. I don't know whether the entire "Planet of the Bunnies" sequence was his idea, or whether he just expanded it and took it in his own direction, but it is a brilliant virtual non-sequitur. You might expect something like this to be the main part of an episode, but here it's just a bit on the end, which comes pretty much out nowhere.

It contains a lot of references to Bob Clampett's cartoons from the Golden Age of Warner Bros.

The giant pair of lips is from "Tin Pan Alley Cats" where jazz music sends a Fats Waller cat "outta this world" and into a WW2-era version of Wackyland. I don't believe they are announcing a science-fiction double-feature.

The scene where Buster and three other characters, disguised as Buster clones, all hide in Elmyra's bed and scare her seems to come from "Kitty Kornered" where Porky's cats disguise as Martians. Also, the little dance all the Busters do at the end of the scene was apparently inspired by the end of "Porky in Wackyland" where Porky discovers there are actually several Dodo birds and the one he has caught is not the last after all. And it contains a Clampett catchphrase "Now, we wouldn't say that!" That's three Clampett references in one short scene! It also inspired Glen Kennedy to create the Kennedy Buster Dance, something that would appear a lot in the episodes his studio animated.

Glen Kennedy, the animation supervisor of his studio, animated about two-thirds of this episode, (far more than usual) including the entire third act. His style is pretty easy to spot once you know what it is, but it really looks much more expressive in motion than these frame-grabs can show. One technique which I think is unique to his animation is when characters point up into the sky for no apparent reason.

Additionally, there are a few scenes which he doesn't appear to have animated, but which nonetheless contain some of his poses, such as a character running off-screen by stretching out of the frame and leaving his or her head behind.

The gag credit no doubt refers to the omnipresence of Glen's animation.

One short sequence, in which Buster dresses as a doctor, was by Jon McClenahan, when he was the only animator at his studio, StarToons, and was taking work from other studios. By his own admission he had not quite got a handle on the characters. He would go on to do great things in the rest of the series.

There are a few more scenes here and there which might be examples of his work before it grew into what it became. The shot above is from one such scene: it comes right after the "doctor" bit and seems to have been inspired by some of Chuck Jones' 1960s work.

You can understand why this episode was delayed instead of being the series premiere. Some of the character roles are pretty strange: Elmyra is treated as some sort of arch-nemesis, Babs is a presenter with nothing to do until the third act and who spends most of the time in her "Tinkerbunny" outfit. Plucky and Hamton make cameos outside the action (they show up out of nowhere during the "death scene", and only Buster seems to be aware of their existence). And Buster and Babs' accomplices for their plot against Elmyra are a strange mix of Furrball, Fifi and Tyrone Turtle!

Also, Charlie Adler hasn't quite got the hang of his Buster voice, especially during his death act. Acme Acres is vaguely defined as a "land of magic and enchantment".

The actual first episode to air, "The Looney Beginning" (an "origin story" which was the 48th episode to be produced), has more to recommend it as an introduction to the series, with Babs and Buster as the main characters, Montana Max as the villain, and the creation of Acme Looniversity. But I do kind of like the strange quirkiness of "Hare Today" - a look at how the series *might* have turned out.