6/11/08

THREE LITTLE BOPS: A FRELENG/FREBERG/FOSTER THREEWAY

threelittlebops

Released in the first week of 1957, "Three Little Bops" was no doubt seen, chuckled at and as quickly dismissed as any other cartoon of the time--the time being the waning days of the Warners animation unit. Over the years, however, a rather sizable cult has grown up around the film and the jazz score that accompanies it--several bands have even performed the entire piece as a stand-alone concert work. And if the below links to a few different sites are any indication, "Three Little Bops" continues to live on in the imaginations of film buffs and provoke some rather provocative commentaries.



bopspicThe film's premise is a re-telling of the three little pigs story in which the pigs are a trio of bop musicians and the big bad wolf is a square, no-talent horn player whose greatest desire is to join their band. Stan Freberg narrates the tale with a strong bop-vocal performance and apparently provided the other voices (pigs and wolf) as well. Shorty Rogers arranged the music and the line-up of musicians (if Wikipedia can be believed) is impressive: Art Pepper on sax, Pete Jolly piano, Rogers himself on trumpet and Shelly Manne on drums. The bass player is thought to be Joe Mondragon and the guitar is, alas, "unknown"--a shame as the guitar work is superb and key to the overall success of the sound which is clean, crew-cut be-bop--sort of reminiscent of the Gerry Mulligan "Jazz Goes To High School" sound.



bopstitleThere are any number of questions that remained unanswered, so far as I know, about how the work came into being. For instance: the cartoon's director is Friz Freleng, a wonderful and singular Warner Brothers hand. But the layout work is quite striking and unusual, provoking comparisons with Calder (the influence on the title card--above--is clear). Who's concept was this? And who really came up with the entire idea? Warren Foster, a "story by" credit on hundreds of Warner Brothers cartoons, is listed--but did he write the lyrics? Why was Freberg employed as the vocalist? The entire concept feels Freberg-ian to me--this is around the time of his hilarious record sending up the payola scandal, "The Old Payola Role Blues". I imagine he must have been in on the concept--as well as the hiring of Shorty Rogers. Also, the cartoon deploys no sound effects--only the music and the sounds the instruments make are used for effects. This also feels less standard-issue cartoon deptartment and more the work of an outsider. I imagine a simple conversation with whoever was involved who is still living (Freberg?) could clear this up. Perhaps a certain Manhattan based blogger who writes daily about jazz at jazzwax.com might take up this investigation...


If Warner Brothers cartoon directors could be compared with feature directors, I'd match Freleng with, say, Cukor at MGM--a supremely confident technician who, given the right elements, made the bubbles rise to the surface. Robert McKimson would be Michael Curtiz--dependable, stolid, knocking out the work. Chuck Jones of course is the Minnelli figure--the genuine artist as contract employee, always alert to the hidden opportunities for greatness buried in the daily grind. Tex Avery is Preston Sturges--the dangerous radical who somehow was offered a contract. Freleng (whose real name was Isadore and was occasionally billed as I. Freleng--an early sop to Hollywood's home-grown anti-semitism?) had, like Cukor, a deft touch and a better than average sense of theatricality and pace. His Bugs Bunny's are the best of the lot for me (Bugs is to Friz as Hepburn is to Cukor) and "Three Little Bops" proves his versatility at things previously untried--it is to Friz as, say, "Bowhani Junction" is To Cukor.


I was always thrilled when, as a child, I caught a showing of "Three Little Bops"--the visuals, the music and the way the characters dance were as delightful to me then as they are now. Indeed the cartoon grows richer with repeated viewings. I can't say, however, that I agree with the assertion posted on this Friz Freleng blogathonhosted by Brian of Hell On Frisco Bay that there is some color-line messaging going on in the movie...that the three little bops are all white and that they've "stolen" the wolf's music (implying I suppose that the wolf is black?) Yes, the nightclub patrons are all white, and yes they desert the dance floor when the wolf plays...but let's not go there. The very fact that a fifty year old six minute cartoon can continue to provoke speculation of this sort is, I suppose, a tribute to its originality and continued freshness. Here then, without further ado, is "Three Little Bops"...