It’s been awhile since we’ve looked at a classic animated short here on the ole blog. Since it’s the middle of summer, what better time to look at a short about ice skating? It’s a 1938 entry in the Merrie Melodies series…”Cracked Ice.”
The short begins with a series of ice skating gags as we see various animal characters taking to the ice. The animation in this sequence is simple and repetitious, like many animated shorts were during this time period. Soon, though, the cartoon begins to focus on a pig character called W.C. Squeals, a caricature of film comedian W.C. Fields. He first appears calling for help when a bird character falls through the ice. A St. Bernard comes to the rescue with his barrel full of adult beverages.
Now, the pig becomes focused on getting a margarita for himself. After a failed attempt, Squeals tries to trick the dog by luring him with a bowl of bones and pulling it away with a magnet. But the magnet ends up falling into the frozen lake and getting caught around the body of a fish. As the fish moves, the magnet ends up catching hold of the blades of Squeals’ skates…dragging him around the ice with disastrous results. But somehow, Squeals manages to win an ice skating contest in the process.
Frank Tashlin directed this short, and though the gags are nothing extraordinary, the fun caricature of W.C. Fields makes this short a must see for animation fans. Many cartoons during this time would use caricatures of celebrities or create animal versions of the famous personalities. This film may be one of the best examples of that. Ted Pierce’s impersonation of Fields is dead on. A lot of fun is also had with various aspects of Fields’ personality, including his hard-drinking ways and his rivalry with Edgar Bergen’s famous ventriloquist dummy, Charlie McCarthy. This is played out in a scene that may go over the heads of many modern viewers where Squeals looks toward the screen and addresses a member of the audience. The voice that speaks back to him is an impersonation of McCarthy, who would often spar with Fields on Bergen’s radio show.
So often today, the classic shorts that don’t feature one of the famous characters (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc) are rarely shown on television. Many viewers will not get the circa 1938 pop culture references in this short, but this is still great classic animation and an interesting, good-spirited jab at a movie star of the past.