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|
|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 a 1955 American Technicolor animated musical 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.
Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, in the PBS Chuck Jones biographical documentary Extremes & Inbetweens: A Life in Animation, called One Froggy Evening "the Citizen Kane of animated shorts". In 1994, it was voted No. 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, historically, or aesthetically 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 wealth. The frog, however, refuses to perform for any individual other than its owner, always devolving into deadpan croaking in the presence of others. First, the man takes the frog to a talent agent (which is next to a Gribbroek shoe store). When that fails, he takes out his life savings to rent an old theater (he is only able to get an audience with the promise of "Free Beer"). The frog performs atop a high wire behind the closed curtain but, as the curtain begins rising, he winds down the song and, by the time he is fully revealed to the crowd, he has reverted to being a plain frog.
As a result of these failed attempts to profit from the frog, the man is now destitute and 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, and the frog predictably presents himself as ordinary, 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 (100 years and some days 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 never-ending 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 decades 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 short. 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 in which there is the sign offering "Free Beer" was omitted, because of complaints by parents, teachers, school administrators, counselors, psychologists, and clergy, stating that the exploitation of alcoholic drinks were an unhealthy influence on children. Some religious groups, such as the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, and Southern Baptists shunned the film until the scene with the sign was removed.
"One Froggy Evening" was featured in the 1982 film Bugs Bunny's 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales as one of the stories Bugs Bunny tells to Prince Abba-Dabba, though the original ending where Michigan J. Frog is rediscovered in the future is cut and the segment ends simply with the man sneaking away and Bugs explaining that he "disappeared into the mists of time".
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 prehistory (who erects Stonehenge as an auditorium for the frog to sing at), a citizen of the Roman Empire, and a Patriot 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 won't perform for anyone else. For the caveman, he barely survives a stoning before sliding the frog's box back under the rock where he found it. The Roman eventually receives a thumbs down by the Roman emperor "Saladus Caesar" (along with two spectators resembling Siskel and Ebert) and chased by lions and tigers (as well as Pussyfoot in a cameo), 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 at Mount Vernon, gets locked up in a pillory (the frog is also pilloried but is able to slither free).
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; this man, in contrast to the others, sees the frog as food. Before he can toss the frog into a cauldron, a magnet pulls the box out of his hands and onto a flying saucer. Inside the spaceship, Marvin the Martian expresses his delight that he has captured a perfect specimen of an "operatic earthling". After opening the box and hearing the frog initially croak, Marvin recognizes the frog's language as Martian; the frog croaks again and Marvin replies "Yes, I would love to hear you sing". Marvin then joins the frog singing "Let the Rest of the World Go By" (by J. Keirn Brennan and Ernest Ball) 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. Once Upon a Time, in turn, was based on "My Client Curley", a 1940 radio play adapted by Norman Corwin from a magazine story by Lucille Fletcher. Ol' Rip, a horned toad "discovered" in an 1897 time capsule inside the cornerstone of the Eastland County, Texas courthouse in 1928, is also said to have inspired the premise.
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. Williams was also a prominent figure in The Frogs club.
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.
About half 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)
- 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 immediately stops singing just before he can be seen by the theatre audience and the police officer, leading them to believe the frog is a hoax and its owner is doing the singing.)
- 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 bemoans "Oh, no! Not again!" before dying. The alien hisses menacingly, but then dons a boater 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 1995 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.
- In American Dad!, after Steve falls in love with a girl who's attracted to nerds in the Lab, Steve makes the dissected frog in his science class dance like Michigan and sings "Hello My Baby" in order to impress her.
- 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.
- In 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 and the construction worker make cameos in the movie Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
- Ebert, Roger (2006-01-15). "Chuck Jones: Three Cartoons (1953-1957)". rogerebert.com. Chicago Sun Times online. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- Crowther, Bosley (June 30, 1944). "Pleasant Fantasy". The New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
- Newton, Teresa S. (October 2008). "Old Rip". Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
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