The first cartoon I watched, "Duck Amuck," is about Daffy Duck's struggle with his animator. He is eager to be in the cartoon, but his animator keeps changing the background, taking it away, painting Daffy weird colors, and trying to end the sketch before Daffy wants it to end. There's a twist at the end when we finally see who the animator really is. Ebert points out that the cartoon is silly, but it's also about the rivalry between the different Warner Bros. characters. I also liked the idea of the character and the animator sort of fighting with each other. I know some writers who often talk about their characters as though they are real - like, once they become well-developed, they might "take on a life of their own." Basically, they might not fit so well into the plot that they previously had sketched out, and we end up changing the plot to better accommodate them. I hope this did not make me sound like a lunatic.
After that, I watched "What's Opera, Doc?" where Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd act out their normal "hunting wabbits" conflict, but to the tune of Wagner operas. It was pretty witty - it was totally over-dramatic and somehow made fun of opera without just making fun of the things we usually see made fun of. Normally, of course, at the end of these skits Bugs Bunny always escapes, but here, because it's opera, he doesn't, which he points out as he is carried off by Elmer - "Well, what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?" Heh. That about sums up my reaction to it, as to the first cartoon, but I really do appreciate that it's not just dumbed down so it can be funny. I like that it actually used operatic music and melodrama, and that it went against the normal rules by having Elmer victorious in the end.
The final cartoon was "One Froggy Evening," which was maybe my favorite. A construction worker discovers a singing frog, and immediately he envisions himself profiting off of it by showing it in a theater. Of course, when the frog is in public, it doesn't sing or dance. It mostly just makes disgusting croaking noises and slumps around. He tries to show it at a theater anyway, and the frog sings wonderfully on stage - but no one is in the audience. The construction worker tries all manner of signs to entice people in, finally attracting a swarm with "FREE BEER!". The frog stops immediately. Later, in frustration, he throws the frog into another construction site, and later, we see another construction worker, centuries later, discover it, and react the exact same way. I love that it's a little loop like that, and that it actually had neat meaning under the comedy. It's not just about the frustration of the non-performing frog. It's also about how terrible it is to be driven by greed alone.
While I'm not a Warner Bros. fan, I sort of liked these. I liked that they were more than just silly little amusements, and had actual plot and meaning behind them. They didn't make me a convert, but I could really appreciate the skill and intellect that went into creating these. It's really tough to write shorts! I remember being told that the best way to show your talent as a screenwriter was to be able to write a funny or compelling 3 to 5 minute short, because it's so hard to be that concise. In his essay, Ebert recalls the days when cartoons like these would play before feature films, and seems disgusted that now we just watch advertisements and trailers. I'm not nearly old enough to remember those days, and even though the cartoons mostly just made me go "heh," and move on, I'd so much rather watch something like that in front of a movie than a commercial.
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Chuck Jones - Three Cartoons
What's Opera, Doc?
One Froggy Evening