#174) Magical Maestro (1952)

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#174) Magical Maestro (1952)

OR “All My Hexes Are From Tex’s”

Directed by Tex Avery

Written by Rich Hogan

Class of 1993

The Plot: Moments before he is set to perform a concert, opera singer The Great Poochini (as “played” by Butch, voiced by Carlos Julio Ramirez) is solicited by a magician named Mysto (voiced by Daws Butler), who wants to perform his act as Poochini’s opener. After being sharply rejected, Mysto switches places with the conductor, and uses his magic wand to conduct the show/torment and humiliate Poochini. What follows is every gag Tex Avery can throw into a 6 ½ minute short.

Why It Matters: The NFR praises Tex Avery’s “wry sense of humor and sarcasm” (traits I routinely receive “concerns” for), and include an essay by Thad Komorowski, an animation expert who wrote an unauthorized history of “Ren & Stimpy”. Yeah, he’s definitely qualified to discuss Tex Avery.

But Does It Really?: A Tex Avery short absolutely deserves to be on the Registry, and “Magical Maestro” is an obvious choice. The problem with a lot of Tex Avery’s stuff is that so much of his humor (like many other animators of the time) relies on stereotypes, racial and otherwise. While still presented in a relentless parade of jokes and sight gags, your laughter is now mixed with the occasional cringe. We’ll get to some of the specifics later, but this short still has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to smooth over its increasingly rough edges. Tex Avery is a giant in the field of animation and to overlook his work would be criminal, regardless of the occasional political incorrectness.

Shout Outs: When dressed like Carmen Miranda, Poochini sings “Mamãe Eu Quero”, just like the real Miranda did in “Down Argentine Way”.

Everybody Gets One: Frederick “Tex” Avery moved from his native Texas (natch) to Los Angeles in 1928 with the hopes of being a newspaper cartoonist. His drawing skills led to jobs with pretty much every animation studio in the ‘30s. His time at Warner Bros. was notable for the creation of Looney Tunes (it was Avery who allowed Bugs Bunny to pose the immortal question, “What’s up, doc?”). An offer to direct his own shorts at MGM was too good to pass up, and it was here that Avery did his best-known work, despite his constant clashing with department head Fred Quimby. It was worth the trouble, because this is Fred’s only NFR appearance too.

Wow, That’s Dated: Among Poochini’s transformations throughout the short are a Chinese coolie and a blackface performer: or, as I describe them in my notes, “Ohhhhhhhh god” and “Hnnnngggghhh”.

Seriously, Oscars?: This is more of a “Seriously, Fred Quimby?” Tex Avery did some revolutionary animation under Quimby’s direction at MGM, but Quimby always favored the “Tom & Jerry” shorts by William Hanna & Joseph Barbera when it came to Oscar submissions. Hanna & Barbera’s “Johann Mouse” won Animated Short in 1952, while “Magical Maestro” wasn’t even nominated. That year did see, however, a nomination for a Tex Avery short: the more conventional “Little Johnny Jet”. This and 1942’s “Blitz Wolf” are the only Tex Avery shorts nominated for Oscars.

Other notes

  • Sorry Tex, but that MGM intro has conditioned me to think that a “Tom & Jerry” short is starting.
  • It’s not a cartoon opera without “Largo al Factotum”.
  • The conductor featured in the short is allegedly a caricature of MGM animation composer Scott Bradley. The story goes he and Tex didn’t get along too well.
  • This seems like a particularly odd time to pitch your magic act. And why to an opera singer who’s headlining? Did classical music typically have magicians as their opener?
  • Oh crap, I forgot about the Native American regalia in this. So much cultural appropriation. Can’t we just pretend he turned into one of the Village People?
  • Readers, I give you the finest “hair in the gate” joke in any film.
  • Not that it matters, but Poochini is technically doing an impression of Bill Kenny from the Ink Spots. I am fully aware this information does not help the situation at all.
  • And now the Hawaiian War Chant? I give up. You defend your own jokes, Tex!
  • This guy’s magic wand seems real easy to use. Just flick and it does whatever. You don’t even need to shout one of those Harry Potter faux-Latin commands.

Legacy

  • “Magical Maestro” represents Tex Avery at the end of his MGM years (and his apex). He suffered a nervous breakdown during production of this short, took a yearlong sabbatical, and returned only to be laid off in 1953.
  • Any anarchy within animation can be traced back to Tex Avery. From the aforementioned “Ren & Stimpy” and “Animaniacs” to whatever the hell the kids are watching these days.
  • Tex Avery may be the only animator whose catalog warranted its own TV show. “The Tex Avery Show” played on Cartoon Network for most of the late ’90s.
  • I feel like the Pixar short “Presto” definitely got its inspiration from “Magical Maestro”

Further Viewing: I submitted “Red Hot Riding Hood” to the NFR last year and I’m still waiting. Like “Magical Maestro”, its dated humor can be a bit problematic, but if there’s enough room on the NFR for all those Disney cartoons then surely another Tex Avery short can make the cut.

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