One Froggy Evening

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One Froggy Evening
Merrie Melodies (Michigan J. Frog) series
OneFroggyEvening Lobby Card.png
Lobby card
Directed by Charles M. Jones
Produced by Edward Selzer
Story by Michael Maltese
Voices by Bill Roberts
Music by Milt Franklyn
Animation by Ken Harris
Abe Levitow
Ben Washam
Richard Thompson
Layouts by Robert Gribbroek
Backgrounds by Philip DeGuard
Studio Warner Bros. Cartoons
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date(s) December 31, 1955
Color process Technicolor
Running time 6:56 min
Country United States
Language English

One Froggy Evening is an approximately seven-minute long Technicolor animated short film written by Michael Maltese and directed by Chuck Jones, with musical direction by Milt Franklyn. The short marks the debut of Michigan J. Frog. This popular short contained a wide variety of musical entertainment, with songs ranging from "Hello! Ma Baby" and "I'm Just Wild About Harry", two Tin Pan Alley classics, to "Largo al Factotum", Figaro's aria from the opera Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The short was released on December 31, 1955 as part of Warner Brothers' Merrie Melodies series of cartoons.

Steven Spielberg, in the PBS Chuck Jones biography Extremes & Inbetweens: A Life In Animation, called One Froggy Evening "the Citizen Kane of animated film." (Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 5, Disc 2) In 1994 it was voted #5 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field. In 2003 the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

The film is included in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2 DVD box set (Disc 4), along with an Audio commentary, optional music-only audio track (only the instrumental, not the vocal), and a making-of documentary, It Hopped One Night: A Look at "One Froggy Evening".

Plot[edit]

A mid-1950s construction worker involved in the demolition of the J. C. Wilber Building finds a box inside a cornerstone. He opens it to reveal a singing, dancing frog, complete with top hat and cane. The box also contains a commemorative document dated April 16, 1892. With riches in mind, the man tries exploiting the frog's talents for money. However, the frog refuses to perform for any individual other than its owner, instead devolving into croaking in the presence of others. The man frantically tries to demonstrate the frog's abilities to the outside world, first by trying to get an agent to accept him, then by renting out a theater for it to perform in, to no avail.

After these failed attempts to profit from the frog, the man becomes destitute and is living on a park bench, where the frog still performs only for him. A policeman overhears this and approaches the man for disturbing the peace, but after the man points out the frog as having done the singing, he takes the man in. He is committed to a psychiatric hospital along with the frog, who continues serenading the hapless patient. Following his release, the haggard, broken man spies the construction site where he originally found the frog and joyfully hides the box (with the singing frog again enclosed) in the cornerstone of the future "Tregoweth Brown Building". He then tiptoes away to freedom. The timeline then jumps to 2056 (100 years and at least one day after the cartoon's debut). The Brown Building is being demolished using futuristic ray guns, and the box with the frog is discovered yet again by a 21st-century demolition man, who, after envisioning riches as well, absconds with the frog to start the process once again.

Ironically, it is revealed in the 1995 sequel "Another Froggy Evening" that the Frog's croaking noise is actually Martian for "Would you like to hear me sing?", and that it will sing for others at their request. This sequel is actually a prequel which shows that Michigan J. Frog has lived for centuries, from the days of caveman to the space age — and with the same result for both the frog and its hapless finder.

Censorship[edit]

  • When the cartoon was broadcast on ABC and the WB, the scene of the construction worker painting a "Free Beer" sign to get people to come to his theater was cut, making it look like people came in after he put the "Free Admission" sign out [1].

Production notes[edit]

The cartoon has no spoken dialogue, in fact no vocals at all except by the Frog, otherwise relying on pantomime and other visuals, sound effects and music. The songs include ragtime and Tin Pan Alley hits with a dash of opera, showing the Frog's versatility.

The singer was uncredited, and for years his identity was shrouded in some degree of mystery. Various names were proposed in the past, but the Looney Tunes Golden Collection unequivocally credits the vocals to baritone Bill Roberts, a Los Angeles nightclub entertainer in the 1950s.

The Frog had no name when the cartoon was made, but Chuck Jones later named him Michigan J. Frog after the song "The Michigan Rag", which was written for the cartoon. The character became the mascot of The WB television network in the 1990s. In a clip shown in the DVD specials for the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Jones states that he started calling the character "Michigan Frog" in the 1970s. During an interview with writer Jay Cocks, Jones decided to adopt "J" as the Frog's middle initial, after the interviewer's name.[1]

The DVD points out that the names of the buildings in the picture, as shown on the cornerstones, are names of Warner production people on the cartoon. A plate-glass window likewise is adorned with the layout artist's name.

The date on the cornerstone in which the Frog was sealed predates most of the songs he sings. Papers found in the box with him state that it was sealed in 1892, but "Hello! Ma Baby", for instance, was not written until 1899.

A production shortcut can be observed in the final scene, in which the futuristic demolition worker finds the Frog in the box. The wide shot of the worker shows modern metal fencing in the background, while the closeup shot of the Frog has the background of rubble identical to the first scene.

Inspirations[edit]

Some of the Frog's physical movements are evocative of ragtime-era greats such as Bert Williams, who was known for sporting a top hat and cane, and performing the type of flamboyant, high-kick cakewalk dance steps demonstrated by the Frog in Hello! Ma Baby.

In 1995 Chuck Jones reprised Michigan J. Frog in a cartoon entitled Another Froggy Evening, with Jeff McCarthy providing the Frog's voice. The cartoon had a sequel of sorts in an episode of the Warner Brothers series Tiny Toon Adventures, with the Frog falling into Hamton J. Pig's possession. Another cameo of Michigan J. Frog was in an episode of Animaniacs when a scene from MacBeth is recreated. Michigan J. Frog, wearing his top hat, is placed into a boiling cauldron along with other cartoon characters.

Songs featured[edit]

Several of the songs performed by the frog were written after he was presumably sealed into the cornerstone, dated 1892.

Words and Music by Ida Emerson and Joseph E. Howard (1899)
  • "The Michigan Rag"
Words and Music by Milt Franklyn, Michael Maltese and Chuck Jones, written for the cartoon
  • "Come Back to Éireann"
Words and Music by Claribel (pseudonym of Charlotte Alington Barnard) (1866)
Words and Music by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, written for the musical Shuffle Along (1921)
  • "Throw Him Down, McCloskey"
Words and Music by John W. Kelly (1890)
  • "The Michigan Rag" reprise
  • "Won't You Come Over To My House"
Words by Harry Williams
Music by Egbert Van Alstyne (1906)
Composed by Gioachino Rossini for the opera The Barber of Seville (1816)
Words and Music by Sidney Clare, Sam H. Stept and Bee Palmer (1930)

The two men who find the Frog are the only persons who see him singing. However, the theatre audience probably heard him behind the closed curtain and the police officer definitely heard him singing in the park. (The Frog stops singing before he can be seen either by the theatre audience or by the police officer.)

Other media[edit]

  • One Froggy Evening was referenced in Mel Brooks' 1987 film Spaceballs. In the scene John Hurt plays a man who collapses as a small alien bursts from his stomach, similar to the 'chestburster' scene Hurt performed in the 1979 movie Alien. Hurt says "Not again!" before dying. The alien hisses menacingly, but then dons a top hat with cane and sings Hello! Ma Baby as it dances across a counter and out a window. After seeing this, Lone Starr & Barf leave without eating.
  • Michigan J. Frog was later reincarnated as the mascot of The WB Television Network from its outset in 1994 until its merger with UPN in 2006 to become The CW. The last image seen on the WB was a profile of Michigan J. Frog when the network signed off.
  • He appears in at least one other episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, encouraging a young turtle to cross a busy highway like he can. In another episode, a character who looks extremely similar to the construction worker is shown living in a car with his wife and son.
  • He makes a brief cameo in the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in a scene where Eddie Valiant is descending the steps from R.K. Maroon's office. Michigan J. Frog jumps onto a landing behind Valiant and delivers one of his trademark croaks.
  • In American Dad, after Steve falls in love with a girl who's attracted to nerds in the Lab, Steve makes fun of the Frog.
  • In another reference to One Froggy Evening, the South Park episode Cancelled (2003) featured the likeness of Saddam Hussein briefly singing and dancing to "Hello! Ma Baby", sporting a top hat.
  • The original cartoon was used as a part of the plot of Son of the Mask.
  • The frog appears on the cover of Leon Redbone's album "On the Track".
  • A baked good dances and dresses like Michigan J. Frog in the Disney Channel series Phineas and Ferb episode "Backyard Hodge Podge".
  • A Murloc Pet in World of Warcraft also dons a top hat and cane and dances like Michigan J. Frog.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ebert, Roger (2006-01-15). "Chuck Jones: Three Cartoons (1953-1957)". rogerebert.com (in en-us). Chicago Sun Times online. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 

External links[edit]