Time for another LJ post from me about an unusual Warner Bros. cartoon! This time, I'm talking about one of their unusual 1960s one-shots.
Looney Tunes fans may recall that change was in the wind at Warner Bros. Animation in the early 1960s. Budgets were decreasing, and some of their best talent was leaving the studio or dying. They were slowly running out of steam. But sometimes they still felt free to experiment. After Chuck Jones came out with his super-abstract one-shot cartoon "Now Hear This," the one-shots produced at WBA would now be noticeably different from their previous efforts. They were now more stylized, and often barely resembled a typical Warner Bros. cartoon, often being more UPA-influenced. Director Robert McKimson also came out with such a cartoon: "Bartholomew Versus the Wheel," from 1963.
By this time, the one-shots would no longer begin with the traditional "bullseye" WB logo...
Instead, they would utilize the infamous "Abstract WB" title sequence Chuck Jones initially developed for "Now Hear This," with a strange klunky version of "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" as the theme music (even though the theme music for Merrie Melodies was traditionally "Merrily We Roll Along.") As I said, this logo sequence went on to appear on all WB cartoons once DePatie-Freleng Enterprises took over in 1964.
Unlike that logo, Bill Lava's music score to this cartoon is fairly decent; rather light-hearted -sounding, but with a few dissonant bits as well.
We begin on this boy portrait, and as we can tell, the art style will be radically different. The boy, voiced by the late Leslie Barringer, narrates, "That's a picture of me," and then introduces us to his dog Bartholomew...
The boy says "When he was little, Daddy said he would be a good watchdog. He could bark good." To which Bartholomew barks to a masked Western bandit on a TV. Mel Blanc basically does the same vocal effects he used for Dino the Dinosaur on "The Flintstones" for Bartholomew.
The art style here seems to be mimicking James Thurber's work. I also recall Chuck Jones's "Rocket Bye Baby" from 1956 had Thurber-influenced character designs as well, but here it's more UPA-ish.
"And he never chased cats either," the boy narrates, to which Bartholomew goes running off, doing the usual Dino-esque "Yipe yipe yipe" sounds...
...as this strange evil-looking cat chases him. Once again, a Looney Tunes cartoon makes cats look bad.
"We never had to scold him for gulping his food," the boy narrates, as the cat eats up Bartholomew's dog chow.
"He was very lovable, and he did tricks, too," the unnamed boy narrates.
But of course, the cat steals Bartholomew's thunder once again. The backgrounds here look a lot like they were colored with crayons or something.
"One day, a bad thing happened to him," the boy narrates, as a little kid accidentally runs over Bartholomew's tail with his scooter. Bartholomew yelps like Dino, blows on his wounded tail, and growls at...
...the wheels that ran over his tail. I like how it irises onto the wheel there; pretty stylish.
Bartholomew puts two and two together, and blames it on wheels. "He was so mad, he just shook all over," the narrator boy says, as Bartholomew shakes and turns blue, then runs after the scooter and pulls off the rear wheel and takes off with it, as the small boy on the scooter cries like a baby.
The narrating boy points out the obvious that Bartholomew doesn't like wheels anymore, as a small toy steam train rolls by (maybe it's a wind-up train?). Bartholomew wrecks it, and he buries the wheels.
"When he was little, he took little wheels," the boy narrates under this scene. "But when he got big, he took big wheels." He wouldn't even think about the people operating the wheels; he hated them so much.
Bartholomew gets HUGE by this point...
Just look at the size of him, carrying that car with that big-eyed man in it...
Bartholomew, now back to an average dog size, chases an ACME moving van, though he only succeeds in popping one of the tires. It seems they placed the ACME moving van in here as if they were saying "See, this is still a Warner Bros. cartoon!")
"He might have been mixed-up, but he wasn't dumb," the boy narrates, as Bartholomew retreats from his wheel chase and hides when a dog catcher's wagon drives past.
Then the boy narrates that there was only one kind of wheel Bartholomew hadn't caught yet, and it was hard to catch: an airplane landing gear!
He burrows into an airport, and after a couple of tries, manages to catch onto the landing gear of a plane taking off, and he goes into the wheel well with the wheel.
"i called and called him, but he didn't come home," the boy narrates. A nice touch there, with the "BARTHOLOMEW" inaudibly coming out of his mouth.
Other kids and adults also help try to find Bartholomew.
"Mr. Wembley, the dog catcher, said he didn't know where he was." Why would people be rioting at him over supposedly catching a dog that was giving them trouble? The solid-color characters look pretty neat here.
They didn't know it, but Bartholomew was far away in some unnamed Arabic country. (It may as very well be Agrabah!) Bartholomew also had no idea where he was...
Look at those poodles; they look more like purple sheep with mouse tails! Bartholomew is interested in them, but the male turban-clad dog following them just snarls at Bartholomew.
I find it amusing how that Arabian woman just "slides" by, since her feet aren't visible. Very UPA-ish. The boy narrates, "Nobody looked at him, not even petted him. And some of them didn't wear clothes!" (So what? Bartholomew doesn't wear clothes either!)
An interesting sight gag of elephants and camels traveling through an "intersection," complete with a stylized traffic light. "And there wasn't even one wheel to chase. Bartholomew was real sad," the narrator boy says. I thought Bartholomew hated wheels, so being in some place without wheels should make him happy! But all of a sudden, hating and chasing wheels makes Bartholomew happy?
Bartholomew comes up to a travel bureau building, and sees a poster: "Visit the U.S.A.," with a picture of the Statue of Liberty. The off-screen boy narrates, "He looked at it for a long long time. Then he remembered about that big wheel; got him into all the trouble," as he looks at a poster with an airplane on it.
The old "idea lightbulb" gambit is seen, as Bartholomew gets the idea that he can get home the same way...
Bartholomew runs over an Arabic worker at an airfield(off-screen though), whom yells in a faux Arabic language (sounding almost like Yosemite Sam, due to Mel Blanc voicing everyone but the narrator boy in this cartoon.) As the plane takes off, he says "Ooh la mongrah!"
I will say, that seemed to be a risky move on Bartholomew's part. What if that plane was heading somewhere other than Bartholomew's hometown?
But fortunately, that plane DOES take Bartholomew back home.
I wonder how everyone knew Bartholomew was arriving home all of a sudden? Did they just have a hunch? And how did Bartholomew switch from plane to train, especially since their airport was right in his hometown? BTW, we don't see the train arrive and Bartholomew get off; we just see this shot as the bad is playing and hear the train's horn getting louder.
They have a big parade for Bartholomew's return. All this celebrating for a dog that was lost and found his way home? Especially one that had been giving the people a hard time with his hatred for wheels? Though to be fair, the narrator boy tells us the people forgave Bartholomew for biting wheels.
Bartholomew no longer hated or bit wheels; he now likes them. "And he proved it too," the narrator boy explains, as the dog licks various wheels, including on the scooter that little boy accidentally ran over Bartholomew with.
"He didn't hate anything anymore," the boy narrates, "except what a dog is supposed to hate: cats!" Uh, not all dogs hate cats. The dog that my family and I had growing up liked cats and would try to befriend them, even though the cats he came across would be afraid of him and hiss (though our cat eventually grew used to him.)
Bartholomew snarls at the cat, whom promptly disintegrates! To which Bartholomew grins at us.
The cartoon ends on the boy saying "Bye now!" as the portrait smiles. A cute way to end the short, but then there's the ending logo...
We get the early version of the "Abstract WB" closing animation, with the sounds of Big Ben chiming, and the "OO" in "CARTOON" bouncing up and down. Quite a mood whiplash coming after that cartoon's ending, if you ask me, going from that cute "Bye now!" bit to this seemingly ominous type of end title. At least Rudy Larriva's Road Runner cartoons did not use the Big Ben variation of this closing sequence...
This is a pretty neat cartoon, but it does seem to have a few holes in its' story. Then again, John Dunn was not the best writer for the Warner Bros. cartoons, as the early-to-mid '60s Warner Bros. cartoons often prove. He was a much better writer at DePatie-Freleng, writing for the Pink Panther, the Inspector, the Ant and the Aardvark, the Tijuana Toads, etc.
But visually, it does look pretty neat. Also regarding Warner Bros. and the UPA influence, a friend of mine drew the wolf villain Bluebeard (from 1949's "Bye Bye Bluebeard") in a UPA-esque fashion
, partly inspired by this cartoon.