Saturday, 14 September 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - A Case of Sniffles

Those forced to work with me know that I've been thoroughly unpleasant to be around of late. My nose has been leaking, my voice has been creaking, and I can't keep a swig of coffee down before I start hacking it up all over myself. Yes, I have a bad case of the "sniffles". Which reminded me of the mouse of the same name.

A lot of credit for Sniffles' creation goes to Chuck Jones, who directed him as the star of 12 Warner Bros. cartoons. But it was another Charles who first injected the creative "cutesy" that helped to make him a star, and he was a former Manitoba resident.

Born in Winnipeg, Icelandic illustrator Charlie Thorson was a bit of a renegade who roved in and out of some of animation's hottest houses throughout the 1930's, but tragically wouldn't really be known for it. Not like that other Charles anyway.

He worked for Walt Disney and had a hand in creating Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs; he's credited as the original designer of characters like Droopy at MGM, and after he ended up at Warner Bros. in 1938, he was even unceremoniously overlooked in his contributions to the development of Bugs Bunny. Much can be said about Charlie Thorson, but unfortunately, this isn't the post for it. If you want immediate background into his life story, I recommend you pick up the book, "Cartoon Charlie" by Gene Walz, who is a prof at University of Manitoba. In it, he details the restless life of Charlie Thorson, and his sometimes self-destructive path into obscurity. Today, we'll only take a look at his contributions as the "inspirer" of Sniffles.

For being such a rough and rebellious guy, Thorson could draw "cutesy" like no other. Which is why his illustrations proved so influential at the time, when cartoons were known for being "cutesy" - sometimes at the cost of quality. No wonder he found a home at Disney! But even Warner Bros. at that time, was cranking out the "cutesy".

The design for Sniffles was based on a character that Charlie created for Disney in a cartoon called 'The Country Cousin', except the Warner Bros. version wore a different hat plus a scarf - because he's cold, you see! Charlie also adopted versions of the cats he used at Disney and plunked them into the Warner Bros. picture as well, which was called 'Naughty But Mice'. (1939)

Both the Disney and WB cartoons are quite similar in story, involving a cute (and drunk) mouse overcoming adversity - except in the case of Sniffles, he also battled the common cold.

A trip to the drug store puts Sniffles in peril, combating a hungry cat and an electric razor(!), which also gets drunk.

It's a weird little cartoon. But it's also goddamn adorable. If only we could ALL be that cute when we were that drunk. But even in this cartoon, Sniffles' namesake is fast-forgotten. And within 7 minutes, Sniffles loses the cold and succumbs to the "cutesy".

Here he is on Christmas Eve - perfectly healthy, and putting the "aw" in holidays in 1940's 'Bedtime For Sniffles'.

That cuteness is abetted by Sniffles' voice, which was originally provided by Margaret-Hill Talbot, who also provided a voice for Andy Panda. IMDB also credits Sniffles' voice to 2 other actresses in later installments - Majorie Tarlton and Sara Berner, who also provided voices for Jerry Mouse and Chilly Willy.

It's hard to believe Chuck Jones cranked out such disgustingly cute material, considering how many times he went on to blast the bill from Daffy Duck's face. But back then, he was creating slower-paced cartoons for children. Not long afterwards though, you could start to see his speedy and more manic influences starting to take over - even in the Sniffles series.

My favourite from all 12 Sniffles cartoons is 1943's 'The Unbearable Bear', which even starts showcasing the more abstract backgrounds that Chuck would lean heavily on in later years. Unfortunately, it also showcases a more annoying side of Sniffles, who went on to become an incessant chatterbox. One starts to wish at times he'd become sick again.

Sniffles' last classic cartoon was 1946's 'Hush My Mouse', where he became food for thought at Tuffy's Tavern, where Edward G. Robincat (a pretty obvious caricature of tough guy  Edward G. Robinson) craves a plate of delicious Mouse Knuckles.

Despite his brief cartoon legacy and his growing inability to shut the hell up, Sniffles was actually a very popular cartoon character at the time. He could be seen right alongside Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig, even on official Warner Bros. stationary.

He also received a second life in the world of comics, where he was weirdly paired up with a little girl who could shrink to his size if she so wanted to. 

Sniffles also appeared in later years on TV in The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, and on big screens in 1996's Space Jam, where he was given a very flattering flattening cameo.

A younger and more allergy-prone relative of Sniffles named Lil' Sneezer also turned up in 1990's Tiny Toons Adventures.

Oh great, Sniffles' cold is gone, but mine still lingers! Oh well, best to stay in bed like my buddy George Geef here. Not unlike most Saturday mornings, I suppose.

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