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The History of Cartoons (continued - pt. 3)

Tex Avery:

Hugh Harman left the MGM studio in April 1941, and Rudolph Ising departed eighteen months later. George Gordon took over Ising's department, continuing work on the Barney Bear cartoons, but only completed three cartoons before he left the studio in 1943. In Harman's place, Quimby hired Tex Avery, an animation director known for his wild comedic style at the Schlesinger studio. Avery's first short for MGM was the World War II parody The Blitz Wolf, which was nominated for the 1942 Academy Award for Short Subjects (Cartoons). While Avery had revolutionized cartoon humor at Schlesinger's, he went several steps further in his MGM works. Avery exaggerated his characters and situations wildly, and was noted for the precise and hard-edged timing of his gags. Among Avery's most noted cartoons for MGM were slapstick comedies such as Red Hot Riding Hood (1943), Northwest Hounded Police (1946), King-Size Canary (1947), Little Rural Riding Hood (1949), and Bad-Luck Blackie (1959).

While Avery preferred to focus on gags instead of characterization, he established several popular MGM cartoon characters, including Screwy Squirrel, the Of Mice and Men derived pair of George and Junior, and his best-known character, Droopy. Droopy, voiced by Bill Thompson (a.k.a. "Wallace Wimple" on NBC Radio's Fibber McGee and Molly show) debuted in 1943 with Dumb-hounded. He appeared in several more Avery cartoons (including Northwest Hounded Police) before being officially given his own series in 1948 with Senor Droopy.

The 1950s and the Arrival of CinemaScope:

Tex Avery was a perfectionist: he worked extensively on his films' stories and gags, revised his animators' drawings, and was even known to cut frames out of the final Technicolor answer print if he felt a gag had been animated too softly. The strain of overwork caused Avery to quit MGM in May 1950, after completing Rock-a-Bye Bear (not released until 1952 because of MGM's cartoon backlog). Former Walter Lantz director Dick Lundy was brought in to head Avery's unit. Lundy completed one Droopy cartoon and ten Barney Bear shorts before Avery returned in October 1951 and reassumed his role as director from Lundy, starting with Little Johhny Jet (released in 1953).

Avery directed eleven more cartoons for MGM, many of them showing the heavy influence of the style of the newly popular UPA studio in their designs. In March 1953, MGM closed down the Avery unit, thinking that the growing trend for 3-D films would bring an end to the animated cartoon. Avery himself did not leave the studio until June, working with co-director Michael Lah on two cartoons, Deputy Droopy and Cellbound, which Lah completed with the Hanna and Barbera unit after Avery's departure. Avery went on to join the Walter Lantz staff the following February, while Lah went on to do commercial animation work. Because of the backlog of completed MGM cartoons, the cartoons Avery completed during his second tenure at the studio were not released until after he'd left again; Cellbound was not released until 1955.

Meanwhile, budget cuts required Hanna and Barbera to reduce the level of detail in their Tom and Jerry shorts, and to also begin doing one "cheater" short per year comprised mostly of footage from previously released cartoons. In 1954, Hanna and Barbera directed Pet Peeve, the first MGM cartoon in the new widescreen CinemaScope process, which had been was devised as a means to keep audiences attending movie theatres in the wake of the popularity of television. Pet Peeve, released in late 1954, was followed by a sporadic number of CinemaScope Tom and Jerrys, with several other Tom and Jerrys being dual-released in standard format and in CinemaScope. After Pecos Pest (released in 1955), all MGM cartoons were released in CinemaScope. Six previous MGM cartoons, among them Hugh Harman's Peace on Earth, were remade in CinemaScope. Like the original Peace on Earth in 1939, its 1955 remake, Good Will to Men, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons).

The Later Years:

Fred Quimby retired in 1955, and Hanna and Barbera became the new heads of the studio. Michael Lah returned to the studio in 1955 to direct an animated sequence for the MGM feature Invitation to the Dance, and stayed on to supervise a new series of CinemaScope Droopy cartoons to accompany the new CinemaScope Tom and Jerry cartoons.

Lah's One Droopy Knight was nominated for the 1957 Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). However, for the most part, both the Droopy and Tom and Jerry cartoons had lost their appeal in the eyes of critics, due to weaker stories and lower quality animation. MGM had been reissuing previously-released cartoons since the 1940s, but in March 1957 decided that, since the reissued shorts brought in as much revenue as the new shorts, it could save six hundred thousand dollars a year by ending new production. By May, the studio had been shut down, and Hanna and Barbera took most of their unit and began producing television cartoons with their company Hanna-Barbera Productions. Hanna-Barbera first approached MGM to distribute their cartoons for television, but were turned down. Columbia Pictures' Screen Gems picked up Hanna-Barbera's product, and the studio soon became the most successful producers of television animation in the world. MGM would later have Gene Deitch create a series of Tom and Jerry cartoons before contracting Chuck Jones and Les Goldman's Sib Tower 12 studio to create more Tom and Jerrys. Sib Tower 12 was absorbed by MGM in 1964, and was renamed MGM Animation/Visual Arts.

The MGM Cartoon Library Today:

In 1986, Ted Turner's Turner Broadcasting acquired MGM/UA for its film library, re-selling the rest of the company. Turner Entertainment was established to oversee the library. In 1996, Turner Broadcasting merged with Time Warner. Today, Warner/Turner owns the rights to MGM's animated output.

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