It’s (finally) starting to get chilly down here in the South, and that turns our thoughts to … penguins.
Okay, not really, but for the purposes of this week’s edition of Saturday Morning Cartoons, let’s just say that’s true as we present you with The Legend of Rockabye Point, featuring the cutest penguin ever.
The rib-tickling story of The Legend of Rockabye Point–produced by Woody Woodpecker creator Walter Lantz and released by Universal in 1955–was crafted by Michael Maltese, who is perhaps better remembered today for his prolific work at Warner Bros. in the Looney Tunes series (where he was often paired with director Chuck Jones). The short was directed by another big (former) Warner Bros. name, the great Tex Avery–one of two Chilly Willy cartoons that Avery directed during his brief stint at the Lantz studio. Indeed, the cartoon shows many hallmarks of Avery’s signature style, particularly in the clever bits of physical humor as the bear’s attempts to soothe the dog grow increasingly frantic and absurd (bits which are aided greatly by Daws Butler’s brilliant voice-over performance as the frazzled polar bear). And there are some fantastically exaggerated takes throughout the cartoon, with the horrified glances that the bear shoots at the audience coming off as especially hilarious.
Though the title card promotes the cartoon as starring Universal’s adorable character Chilly Willy, the penguin is secondary to the adversarial relationship between the bear and the dog. Though Chilly Willy is not particularly known for having a dynamic personality (as our pal Ivan–Head Gaucho of Rancho Yesteryear–has pointed out to us in the past), Tex is able to give him something of a jolt in Rockabye Point. Here, Chilly is a mischievous imp, who upon being provoked proceeds to gleefully instigate the trouble between the other two characters.
The Legend of Rockabye Point was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons), but ultimately lost to the Warners’ Speedy Gonzalez (which, in my opinion, doesn’t hold up nearly as well as this one). Rockabye Point remains the highlight of the Chilly Willy cartoons, arguably boasting not only the best and funniest storyline of any Chilly short, but some of the most inspired animation of the entire series.