Saturday, 7 September 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - GRANNimation

Tomorrow is Grandparents' Day, and to celebrate, we're partying with one of animation's most famous and feisty seniors, simply known as Granny.

Granny just celebrated her 75th birthday. Wikipedia claims her first appearance was in 1937's Little Red Walking Hood, a film directed by Tex Avery - but if you watch it below, she doesn't even look like the Granny you see above. And she's actually credited as Grandma, as per Little Red folklore. That considered, I don't think this character can be clearly defined enough to be considered Granny. To me, it's just a token old lady.

Although she would end up being more officially utilized in a later Little Red outing, seen at the 3:30 mark in 1955's 'Red Riding Hoodwinked'.

She seemed a little more in her element in 1941's 'The Cagey Canary', which Tex Avery started and Bob Clampett completed after Avery left Warner Bros. studios. She seems younger in this and much thinner than the character we know and love, but I guess that happens to everyone, right? All the pieces are in place here for a Tweety and Sylvester cartoon, but it's not Tweety and Sylvester.

The elements are in place yet again in 1943's Hiss And Make Up, directed by Friz Freleng, but it's still not Tweety and Sylvester. Granny still appears younger and thinner than she's depicted now, but her voice reaches a very familiar and flippant pitch. You can tell the filmmakers were on to something here.

Then her voice regresses back to an experimental phase again, getting slower and calmer in 1944's 'Hare Force'. Note the name of the dog in this cartoon, which apparently stuck with Freleng when it came time to solidify those cat and canary characters.

In 1950's 'Canary Row', Granny finally becomes THAT Granny, and the cat and canary are officially named Tweety and Sylvester. From here on in, Granny is portrayed as the de facto owner and part-time defender of Tweety Bird, and is a permanent fixture to the series.

Counting 'Canary Row', Granny would appear in a total of 20 classic Tweety and Sylvester cartoons between 1950 and 1964. Some of my favourites are the ones that depict her as spry beyond her years. I love her sense of youthful fun at the end of 1951's 'Tweety's S.O.S', after she takes a MAJOR lickin' and keeps on tickin'.

But in addition to that childlike exuberance, she also has a caring, maternal side to her. This is on display to a fault in 1953's 'A Street Cat Named Sylvester'.

Granny also possesses a dark side. Part of this stems from her insatiable love of animals. At times, she seems to love them a little TOO much, especially in the hilarious 'Ain't She Tweet' from 1952.

She also seems completely off her rocker at times. But I mean, that cat and canary have created so much havoc and home repair need for that poor old lady - who can blame her? Which is likely what brings her to the breaking point, at the :54 mark in 1953's 'Fowl Weather'.

Granny received a makeover in 1956, and threatened Sylvester with a more complex and very literal opportunity to face the music in 'Tweet And Sour'.

Beyond Tweety and Sylvester, Granny also cameoed in other classic Warner Bros cartoons. She appeared as quite the tease to a money-mooching Yosemite Sam in 1953's 'Hare Trimmed', starring Bugs Bunny. According to this, Granny's first name is Emma. (or "Emmy", if you speak Yosemit-ese)

And in 1965's Halloween-themed 'Corn On The Cop', starring Daffy and Porky, Granny is referred to as Mrs. Webster.

In a nice nod to these classics, The Looney Tunes Show, which currently airs on Teletoon and Cartoon Network, refers to Granny as Emma Webster, which is an amalgamation of these 2 separate references.

In fact, The Looney Tunes Show gave Granny her biggest and best (back)story yet in an 2011 episode called 'Eligible Bachelors', where she's depicted as a WWII hero who saves the Eiffel Tower from the Nazis. Maybe that cat and canary will start showing a little respect now knowing that she's a celebrated veteran!

Granny has also appeared in various incarnations of other Looney Tunes-related material between 1990 and now, including TV like Tiny Toon Adventures, The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, Baby Looney Tunes and the very unfortunate Loonatics Unleashed, where apparently she was alive and well in the year 2772. She also cameoed in the movies Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back In Action.

For being such a secondary character, Granny has shown amazing longevity. And I was thinking that even before I learned she was alive and well in the year 2772. I think a consistent part of that can be attributed to the appealing voicework of Bea Benaderet, who played Granny up until 1955, and June Foray, who took over the role after Bea and is still playing it to this day!

Upon looking back at these appearances, I enjoy how June and Bea can shift Granny from being sweet old lady to unstable kook, in a matter of seconds, without ever losing character. I enjoy the youthfulness they brought to the character in the 1950's, and the genuine maturing sweetness that June now exudes in The Looney Tunes Show. I'm sure that maturing sweetness isn't hard to pull off, considering that June will be turning 96 years old next Wednesday. But to be that age and still working like that - I'm assuming the occasional toughness that Granny exudes wouldn't be much of a stretch either.

I would love to speak more highly of June and Bea and the wonderful things they've done for cartoons over the years. But it's definitely a lot to cover and worthy of a separate post. So to close for now, I'll leave you with 2011's theatrical release, 'I Tawt A Taw A Puddy Tat', a CG cartoon released before screenings of Happy Feet 2, and featuring more original voicework by June Foray, who is paired up with an old song recording by Mel Blanc.  It warms my heart to watch this, because when Granny takes to the piano, it kinda reminds me of my own Granny, when she used to tickle the ivories at Christmas time in an effort to get my brothers and I to sing. If you still have a Granny, make sure you call her tomorrow. Even if she is a bit of a kook.

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