Monday, April 1, 2013

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

WHO: Did you know Chuck Jones was responsible for the animation that runs during the opening credits of this film?

WHAT: My first thought when approaching this post was to write about how Mrs. Doubtfire is one of the forgotten masterpieces of the 1990s, that best demonstrates how director Chris Columbus's mise-en-scène stands with that of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Theo Angelopoulos and Abbas Kiarostami as some of the most sophisticated and powerful in the world's cinema of that decade. It is April Fools Day after all. But honestly, I have not rewatched more than a few clips of Mrs. Doubtfire in nearly twenty years, long before I'd heard of any of those guys. It wasn't a particular favorite when I last saw it in my early twenties, but why mock a movie that I barely remember?

Thus the Chuck Jones angle. Though his work heading up the creation and animation of a half-cartoon featuring a parrot named Pudgy and a cat named Grunge (this was the early nineties remember) is perhaps not at the same level of creativity as his best work, it nonetheless bears some of the signature characteristics of the director behind most of the Wile E. Coyote and Pepe Le Pew cartoons. The Mrs. Doubtfire "Behind-The-Seams" DVD includes three versions of the full, uncut version of Jones's animation, including animated pencil tests, the final full-color version, and an unused version with alternate backgrounds.

When this sequence appears on screen in the movie, we only get a few unobstructed views; the purpose of this opening is not animation for its own sake, but to establish Robin Williams's character as a struggling voice actor who puts principles above professional gain. He's recording the voices for the parrot and cat we see on screen like a foley artist might do sound effects. This is not the way animation has traditionally been voiced in this country in fact. From Mel Blanc in the Looney Tunes that gave Chuck Jones his start, to Williams in 1992's Aladdin or the more recent Happy Feet films, voice actors generally record their character dialogue before the animators have their turn, if for no other reason then to make lip-synchronization appear smoother (and I'm sure animators could rattle off many other reasons). Incidentally, most Japanese animation does work the way Williams is shown to in Mrs. Doubtfire, with the animation coming before voice recording in the production chronology.

Since Jones was in effect parodying the famous canary-cat duo of Tweety and Sylvester with Pudgy and Grunge, it's worth mentioning that Tweety was one Warner character that Jones almost never worked with during the "Termite Terrace" era. Tweety was a creation of Jones's arch-rival Bob Clampett, that was taken over by another Warner cartoon director Friz Freleng when Clampett left the studio in the mid-1940s. Freleng pitted a modified Tweety against Sylvester, who had debuted in his 1945 cartoons Life With Feathers and Peck Up Your Troubles, matched against a lovebird and a woodpecker, respectively. By the time of Jones's work on Mrs. Doubtfire Clampett was dead of a heart attack, and Freleng was long-retired. One gets a sense from watching Jones interviewed for a segment viewable on the "Behind-The-Seams" DVD that he had some mixed feelings about taking on a cat-and-bird duo for his contribution to the film.

As for the rest of Mrs. Doubtfire, it's clearly beloved by many movie watchers of a certain generation, and may be especially fondly regarded by certain residents of San Francisco, where it was filmed.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Roxie Theater at 7:15 PM.

WHY: When I last mentioned Chuck Jones on this blog, it was in part to point out how rare it is to see his cartoons projected in 35mm, and that despite a current Cartoon Art Museum exhibit coinciding with the animator's centenary year, no such local screenings were on the horizon as far as I knew. Tonight's showing breaks a long drought; although it's surely not the same as seeing a 35mm print of a classic-era cartoon, it is an opportunity to see his animation in 35mm regardless, if momentarily, and interfered with by credits and cutaways to Williams performing. Jones's Mrs. Doubtfire art is even a part of the Cartoon Art Museum exhibit, along with pieces from throughout his career.

For those more interested in the earlier cartoons, Sonoma Film Festival is bringing a program of Chuck Jones films to Sonoma's Sebastiani Theatre on the morning of April 13th. A selection of 35mm prints from Jones's private collection will screen at 9:30 AM. Because this is being marketed as a ticket-less event aimed at bringing representatives of the newest generation of young moviegoers to the well-established festival, it may be wise to arrive even earlier than the scheduled start time in order to obtain first-come, first-serve seats.

HOW: 35mm print.

7 comments:

  1. Stanley Kubrick4/1/13, 1:06 PM

    You had me there for a minute.

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  2. Hey Stan, I assume you mean Sentence #1 in the "WHAT" section. Because everything else here is absolutely true! No foolin'!

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  3. Brian and Stanley: I missed Mrs.Doubtfire on first run, because I was catching those Hous,Angelopouloses and Kiarostamis you cite,I'd recorded but hadn't gotten to a VHS off Tv,so had an enjoyable experience attending the last minute Roxie show. (The manager said they'd requested for the calendar, the company didn't confirm, then the print showed up. He added that Chris Columbus offered to appear at a future show with a Q & A.) The audience was small but enthusiastic,mostly younger folk who'd seen as kids, several laughed a bit too uproariously at moments that weren't all that hilarious, but...the cleverness and warmth of Williams' performance (one of his best) came through and the whole restaurant scene was a good example of a well developed piece of comedy.And how often can one watch the main character riding one of our Muni buses (the 22) and then exit to grab the very same bus line (though now twice as much) homewards?

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  4. Thanks for the review of the event, Larry!

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  5. From Mel Blanc in the Looney Tunes that gave Chuck Jones his start, to Williams in 1992's Aladdin or the more recent Happy Feet films, voice actors generally record their character dialogue before the animators have their turn, if for no other reason then to make lip-synchronization appear smoother (and I'm sure animators could rattle off many other reasons). Incidentally, most Japanese animation does work the way Williams is shown to in Mrs. Doubtfire, with the animation coming before voice recording in the production chronology.

    Chris Columbus did suggested in the audio commentary for the film (at least the one I heard back when the film first showed up on DVD, which I'm sure was lifted from the LD release) that he had hoped the audience might assume he was dubbing a foreign-made cartoon of sort, and that would be rather typical if it was since I'm sure cartoons produced elsewhere in the world like Europe would be in another language by default. Dubbing to another language would require a voice actor to at least see the visuals on screen while voicing their lines. We see it more often in the US applied to foreign dubbing of movies including Japanese cartoons anyway.

    Here's one blog post about the animated segment in case anyone cares to find out more about this.
    http://www.cartoonbrew.com/shorts/revisiting-the-mrs-doubtfire-cartoon-directed-by-chuck-jones-84325.html

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  6. Great comment Christopher! That hoped-for audience assumption never occurred to me when rewatching those opening moments for this piece, but it makes sense once you mention it.

    The similarity between the method of recording English dialogue for an imported cartoon, and of recording Japanese dialogue for a Japanese cartoon, is what allowed me to rationalize, say, watching the English-dubbed version of The Wind Rises because the Japanese-dubbed version was showing at a more inconvenient time for me. Perhaps not a wise choice in this circumstance, although it wasn't a problem for Ponyo; I promise to go back and view the subtitled version sometime.

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    Replies
    1. Where I live, such luxuries aren't even possible to me at all unless I bothered dipping into that shady world of the Black Market most dare not go to.

      But thanks for understanding none the less (other countries would've done the same to our stuff too).

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