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Friday, May 23, 2008

Kevin's View: KATNIP KOLLEGE Gets an "A Plus"

by Kevin Wollenweber

This is one of those rare moments where the music speaks for itself, much like the Fleischer films of the earlier ‘30’s had done, almost to the point where the music could be easily the sole inspiration and star of the cartoon and absolutely *NO* story would be needed, but there *IS* one, perhaps so indicative of the times and almost similar to, perhaps, some little-known rock ‘n’ roll movies of a later age that would basically state, to its audience, the same credo, that anything that harkens back to a time earlier is pure “corn”.

It is a cartoon that clearly illustrates what I’ve been saying about Warner Brothers cartoons in general--that, even when, on the surface, they seem cuddly and cute, there is always an edge, a more worldly air about the cartoon that someone like Walt Disney would not dare tackle because he would end up alienating his audience. Yet, this is clearly the kind of cartoon that Hugh Harmon should have been aiming for if he was truly trying to create something more with animation than just cute fuzzy little characters, and Miss Kitty Bright certainly is cute, as I dimly recall her, with full lips and those wide eyes, somewhat reminiscent of Miss Betty Boop of six years ago, only with slightly less vamp and more genuine connection to the music. Makes me wish that I’d actually seen any live action film with Mabel Todd, just to know whether the image of high-heeled Miss Kitty Bright is actually a Todd caricature!

This cartoon could have certainly benefited from the original opening, because the cartoon opens, after its existing blue ribbon print substitute title card, making me think that I’m visiting the snappy music midway through, but that’s a minor gripe I have with the unfortunate loss of many of these original master negatives.

Again and again, I insist that those reading this look up a tremendous Warner Brothers double-CD set called HOLLYWOOD JAZZ which features another version of the opening number about the rise and fall of Christopher Columbus. I’m sorry that I cannot read the long list of credits, but it is highly probable that this afore-mentioned number might also come from this imfamous “OVER THE GOAL” movie, something that should surface on DVD one day, if only as a special feature (hint hint—we sorely *NEED* those lesser-known, jazzier musicals!). Musical cartoons like this should arouse public interest in the music that inspired this, as Rachel neatly points out. There are times when I think that cartoons like these were what introduced some kids like me to swing music of a bygone era, music that I am just now catching up with and one can hear remnants of on a show called “THE BIG BROADCAST”, heard every Sunday night on WFUV-FM or online at wfuv.org, where you can probably download mass quantities of this delicious stuff or the music that preceeded it. The host likes to remain within the framework of the 1930’s and, in so doing, certainly shows us that there was indeed a diversity and vast history to be appreciated there.


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