|Only available with "Blue Ribbon" reissue title cards|
In 1942 right after THE HEP CAT, Clampett released another color cartoon with black cat protagonists: the Abbott and Costello parody A TALE OF TWO KITTIES. According to Milt Gray, Clampett claimed to have drawn all the layouts for this cartoon himself because he was temporarily without a layout artist. Be that as it may, he certainly had a strong background painter. While there are many connections to the previous cartoon, the colors in A TALE OF TWO KITTIES mainly serve to structure the cartoon.
Adaptable Character Colors
|Babbitt (voice: Tedd Pierce) and Catstello (Mel Blanc).|
Babbitt looks like the standard black (C) cartoon character of the early 30s with white gloves. However, those are his real hands. This is further emphasized later in the story when he wears yellow garden gloves.
Catstello on the other hand has a white belly (B) and black hands and feet (D). Everything about his body seems to contrast Babbitt's.
Their heads, however, are painted the same way: skin colored faces (A), dark red mouth (H) and tongue (G).
|left: THE HEP CAT, right: A TALE OF TWO KITTIES.|
Also look at Catstello's lilac eyelids (F): even though they look rather feminine, it is not uncommon for a male Clampett character to have violet/lilac eyelids as you can see in the screenshots on the right.
With this cartoon, Clampett also introduced the prototype for long-lasting cartoon character Tweetie along the way. Here, the malicious baby bird is still naked and lives in the wilderness. Therefore, his whole body is painted in the WB cel color for skin tones whereas his beak and claws are yellow (best described as goldenrod).
Colors to Structure the Day
1. In the morning/dawn, the sky is pastel green with lilac-grey clouds.
2. At noon, the sky is azure (blue) with white clouds.
3. In the evening, the salmon/purple sky looks just like after sunset.
4. The night sky is about the same dark blue as in THE HEP CAT.
While the sky colors are relatively obvious, the distinctions do not stop there. Each of these segments displays a different color scheme favoring different prop colors and lighting conditions.
However, character colors never change according to these conditions. In my opinion, this is due to two concepts. The obvious economic one: keeping colors consistent is cheaper. This is a Schlesinger cartoon, after all. But in order to get away with this, you need character colors that go with almost anything in the background. Black and white do in fact harmonize with anything because they are basically just values. Spots of red also happen to be unproblematic.
|from THE RIVER (Renoir, 1951)|
That leaves the skin tone which brings me to the other concept: Technicolor realism. At the time, Technicolor consultants made sure that in live-action movies skin tones kept persistent regardless of extreme lighting conditions. So everyone was used to evenly lit faces even in night time shots when this cartoon came out.
Although the sky changes quite a bit, the ground reflects these changes but is generally stable. Overall, it is the most unobtrusive element of the cartoon. There's hardly any detail and apart from the "Victory garden" in segment 3, it just provides a plain for the characters to stand on.
|Daylight influences the earthly brown only slightly, except at night when the change is obvious.|
1. Morning: Red and Green
In the beginning, it looks like A TALE OF TWO KITTIES was taking place in the same environment as THE HEP CAT, only during the day. The camera starts panning along a muted grey wooden fence with a lot of trash in the foreground.
|Click on the image to see the characters on the right.|
MGM TOM & JERRY cartoons, these props are either brown or in primary colors.
|Harmonizing pastel sky and cloud colors|
|This is obviously a glitch: no other background of segment 1 features a blue/white (segment 2) sky.|
Also note how often forced perspective is emphasized in this segment.
|Forced perspective: height and vertical action are emphasized...|
|...and milked for gags.|
|Tweetie's nest in Segment 1 (left) and 2 (right).|
After showing off the comic potential of Catstello's "height-o-phobia" in the exposition, the second segment focuses on Tweetie's reactions to the cats' attacks.
|Springs, box and nest are all yellow against a blue sky with white clouds.|
|The props are either muted (grey, brown) or yellow with small red objects.|
After two schemes that were based on colors as far away from each other on the color wheel as possible, the fading sunlight now yields a color concept that favors neighboring colors for both backgrounds and props:
|A-D: Background colors, E: apple, F: house, G: anvil, H: wire.|
Although the reddish glow does not affect any of the character or prop colors, the painter achieves the same effect by mainly using red and blue props with spots of yellow.
|Harmonious props: red apple, red and muted blue exploding device.|
While there is hardly any contrast between the red apple and the purple sky, the worm which is very slight and only visible for a few frames stands out because of its alien green color.
Even the Scandinavian style red house fits in very well (we did not see it in segment 2).
Both the power line and the anvil contain enough blue to contrast against the roof and sky.
And when in the end the whole area gets sucked into the ground by the force of the falling anvil (now more grey than blue), in contrast to Catstello the background trees and rocks are clearly affected by the dusk light.
|The animators did not pay much attention to the background layouts: Babbitt's feet look misplaced on the Victory Garden. But in this shot we see that white is his natural hand color as he wears yellow gloves.|
Many of Clampett's cartoons of the early 1940s ended on a wartime/propaganda gag. In this one however, the flying and air raid allusions seem more in keeping with the rest of the story. Up to now, the film makers have gone to considerable lengths to emphasize the distance between Tweetie's nest and the ground. Babbitt has forced Catstello into unsuccessfully climbing, bouncing and blowing himself up resulting in ever more extreme falls and impacts. Therefore, it is only logical to try flying.
|The remaining props are either brown or...|
|While the background is affected by the darkness the characters are not.|
Whereas segments 1 and 3 were based on the predominance of red, segments 2 and 4 are based on two-tone schemes of blue and yellow with the blue sky dominating yellow props.
|yellow bullets light up the blue sky.|
|Here we are very close to the color scheme of THE HEP CAT again.|
The cartoon ends with the now famous "all lights out" blackout gag. That's all Folks!
* I will focus on the Abbott and Costello aspect in my introduction of the cartoon in the Filmpodium Zürich, May 30, 2013, 6:15 pm.