One Froggy Evening
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|One Froggy Evening|
|Merrie Melodies (Michigan J. Frog) series|
|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
|Layouts by||Robert Gribbroek|
|Backgrounds by||Philip DeGuard|
|Studio||Warner Bros. Cartoons|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release date(s)||December 31, 1955|
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, partly inspired by a 1944 Cary Grant film entitled Once Upon a Time involving a dancing caterpillar in a small box, 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 Bros.' 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".
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 find a commemorative document dated April 16, 1892. Inside is also a singing, dancing frog, complete with top hat and cane. After the frog suddenly performs a musical number there on the spot, 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 a talent agent to accept him, then by renting out a theater for it to perform in, all 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 when the man points out the frog as having done the singing, the officer takes the man into custody. He is committed to a psychiatric hospital along with the frog, who continues serenading the now hapless patient. Following his release, the now homeless, haggard and broken man, carrying the frog inside the box, spies the construction site where he originally found the box, and dumps it into the cornerstone of the future "Tregoweth Brown Building" before sneaking away. The timeline then jumps to 2056 (101 years 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.
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.
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.
In the 1980s, when ABC TV showed the "Bugs Bunny/ Tweety Show", the scene where the show had a sign offering "Free Beer", was omitted, due to the bad influences on kids, dealing with alcoholism, in which some religious groups shunned the film and would not watch it unless and until the "Free Beer" sign scene was omitted.
In 1995, Chuck Jones reprised Michigan J. Frog in a cartoon entitled Another Froggy Evening, with Jeff McCarthy providing the Frog's voice. It actually serves as both a prequel and a sequel to some degree. Most of Another Froggy Evening follows, in order, a caveman from pre-historic times, a citizen of the Roman Empire, and a Patriot in 1776 at the time of the American Revolution. All three basically encounter the same scenario as the man in One Froggy Evening: they each find the frog (apparently always in the same box), it performs a musical number for each of them on the spot, the three men try to exploit the frog's talents, and the frog refuses to perform for anyone else. For the caveman, he eventually gets pelted by stones before sliding the frog's box under a rock. The Roman is eventually sent to be fed to the lions, but escapes from the Colosseum and tosses the frog's box into a river. The Patriot, after attempting to show off the frog to George Washington, gets locked up in a pillory.
The cartoon then flashes-forward to "Later (Actually, Quite A Bit Later)" and a man marooned on a deserted, tropical island. He pulls the frog's box out of the water while fishing, but his immediate thought after hearing it sing is to eat the frog instead. But before he can toss it into a cauldron, the frog's box is pulled out of the sky by a flying saucer hovering over the island. Inside the space ship, Marvin the Martian expresses his delight that he has captured a specimen of an "operatic earthling". After opening the box and hearing the frog initially croak, Marvin finds that it speaks Martian. Marvin answers the frog's question (which apparently was what the frog was repeatedly trying to ask all along throughout this cartoon and One Froggy Evening) by replying, "Yes, I would love to hear you sing". Marvin then joins the frog singing "Let the Rest of the World Go By" as the ship leaves Earth's orbit.
The premise of One Froggy Evening closely follows that of the 1944 Columbia Pictures film Once Upon a Time starring Cary Grant in which a dancing caterpillar is kept in a shoebox. It was common for Warner Bros. to parody scenes from well-known live action films for its Merrie Melodies productions.
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.
The cartoon also had a sequel of in an episode of the Warner Bros. 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.
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"
- "Come Back to Éireann"
- Words and Music by Claribel (pseudonym of Charlotte Alington Barnard) (1866)
- "Throw Him Down, McCloskey"
- Words and Music by John W. Kelly (1890)
- "The Michigan Rag" reprise
- "Won't You Come Over To My House"
- "Hello! Ma Baby" reprise
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.)
- 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. Despite the fact that Who Framed Roger Rabbit takes place in the year 1947 while One Froggy Evening takes place in 1955, the world of Who Framed Roger Rabbit contains toons who were already living in Toon Town and not "discovered" until 1949, 1953, and the other years when they made their specific debut.
- 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 cartoon served as a part of Alvey's plan to drive his father crazy.
- 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.
- The frog makes a cameo in the movie Looney Tunes: Back in Action.