In the world of classic animation there are two “Walts.” Everyone knows Walt Disney, of course…the other is Walter Lantz, the creator of Woody Woodpecker. It seems to me like Lantz was always sort of in Disney’s shadow. One of his big breaks was taking over Disney’s Oswald the Lucky Rabbit after Universal’s Charles Mintz had snatched the character away from the creator. That led to the creation of Mickey Mouse…and Lantz was left with the rabbit. Though I have a great deal of respect for Lantz’s cartoons, many of them seem to borrow too much from some of his competitors. Woody Woodpecker is a great character, but he’s definitely got some Bugs Bunny in him. Likewise, Lantz’s Andy Panda is a bit Mickey Mouse-ish at times. His cartoons are not quite on the same level as the cartoons from Disney or Warners, but Lantz’s films do show some great artistry. Let’s take a look at a short that doesn’t feature any of his main characters, 1943’s “Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy.”
Like the last animated short we reviewed, “I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song,” this short is built around a song. “Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy” was a song by Spike Jones, who was also behind the song that inspired the Donald Duck classic “Der Fuehrer’s Face” the same year. The song and the film are about a hillbilly character who loves biscuits. But Mirandy’s biscuits are way too hard. So, he uses them as bullets in a feud with the neighbors.
The character of Mirandy is an interesting example of what I was describing before, how Lantz’s cartoons often seem to borrow from others. She looks like she’s Popeye’s long lost hillbilly sister. There’s also more than a resemblance to some of the characters from Al Capp’s classic comic strip “Li’l Abner.” Both Popeye and Li’l Abner were extremely popular at the time the cartoon was made. I wouldn’t consider it “borrowing,” but you’ll also probably notice a familiar voice portraying the mountaineer. None other than Goofy himself, Pinto Colvig.
The character design and backgrounds are good…not great. However, something unusual happens as the film reaches it’s end that brings some extra visual creativity to the short. A verse is added to the song about taking Mirandy’s biscuits off to fight the Axis in World War II. This sequence offers some interesting visuals…not to mention a few politically incorrect caricatures. A “Buy War Bonds” message is tacked on to the end of the short, just in case you’re not feeling patriotic enough yet.
There are some gags where the timing seems a bit off, and I would’ve like to see more variety in the character designs (all the hillbillies look the same and the animation of them is repetitious to say the least)…but the feud and WWII sequences make this short enjoyable. And good luck getting that song out of your head.