By Michael Lyons
It's August, time to ignore those "Back-to-School" commercials and remember that it's still summer. Oh sure, everyone wants to start picking out just the right sweater and add pumpkin spice to everything, but it's still sweltering outside, people!
Let's hold on to these glorious warm weather months for as long as possible and head to the beach! And, to get us in the right mood, like an animation sommelier, what follows is just the right pairing of classic cartoons to accompany your trip to the sea shore.
Here are some brief trips to the beach, featuring iconic characters from the golden age of animation, when litter wasn't allowed on the sand, but good ol' fashioned cartoon sight gags were permitted.
Beach Picnic (Disney, 1939)
When it comes to classic Disney Donald Duck cartoons, they don't come more iconic than this.
With Pluto in tow, Donald, in his full-piece, old-fashioned bathing suit, and straw hat, embarks on a day at the beach. They are both met with the standard frustrations, as Donald's inflatable beach toy (a horse he's nicknamed Seabiscuit) misbehaves, and an army of ants make short work of the multi-course spread of picnic food that Donald has displayed on his beach blanket.
Among the richly designed Disney comedic moments, there is an excellent sequence in which Pluto gets stuck to fly paper. Then, of course, Donald's frustrations and tantrums are relatable to all of us who have embarked on a day at the beach this summer.
Wackiki Rabbit (Warner Bros, 1943)
As far from Beach Picnic as you can get is this Merrie Melodies outing with Bugs Bunny.
Two castaways (voiced by story artists Michael Maltese and Tedd Pierce) are stranded at sea, floating on a raft, and starving. They drift onto the shore of a small island with one inhabitant: Bugs Bunny.
The two men then spend the remainder of the cartoon attempting to eat Bugs, and the Bunny uses his smart-aleck wit to get the best of them continually.
Directed by animation icon Chuck Jones (billed here as Charles M. Jones), Wackiki Rabbit features his trademark, perfectly timed comedy (Bugs speaks as an island native in what seems like a long speech but translates to: "What's up, Doc?"). There's also that classic, cannibalistic cartoon gag where characters are so ravenous they begin to imagine each other as food.
Wackiki Rabbit also features beautifully stylized backgrounds by layout and background artists John McGrew, Gene Fleury and Bernyce Polifka which have a Polynesian and breezy summer flair.
Beach Peach (Famous Studios, 1950)
"Oh, Popeye! The beach just sands me!" says Olive Oyl at the start of this Popeye cartoon, where the two love birds embark on a day at the beach. All is serene until the lifeguard (who sounds like Bluto but is blonde and a little more fit than Popeye's usual nemesis) spends the remainder of the cartoon attempting to steal Olive away from Popeye.
Is there the standard finale with Popeye downing his spinach and getting the best of the lifeguard? There sure is, and here the sailor man even turns himself into a torpedo to do in his enemy.
Some solid gags follow, like Popeye tripping into setting up his place on the sand or a lifeguard having so little to do that he's drinking beer and watching TV. Beach Peach may be a traditional Popeye outing, but it manages a few nice, satirical jabs at the perfect day at the beach.
Muscle Beach Tom (MGM, 1956)
In glorious, widescreen Cinemascope comes this Tom & Jerry short, where Tom attempts to impress his girlfriend by taking her to the beach. However, when he disrupts Jerry's day, the expected fight between the two ensues.
Additionally, one of the weightlifting cats on the muscle beach gets into it with Tom. There's the usual cartoon violence that follows, but also a good amount of clever sight gags. The opening shot of a non-stop array of cats attempting to lift weights in several ways is very well done.
The animation here is also fully realized as the gags play out in Muscle Beach Tom against some beautifully rendered beach backgrounds by the studio's masterful artist Robert Gentle.
Although these classic shorts may take place in the unrealistic world of cartoons, each has the same to say about how we all revel in the relaxation that comes with a day at the beach. Let's soak it up while we still can before those Halloween costumes arrive in stores.
Happy August to all!
Enjoy more of my articles and podcasts at my website, Words From Lyons