THE NIGHT WATCHMAN (1938)
Article 4229 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Chuck Jones
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Margaret Hill-Talbot
What it is: Animated lesson in bravery
A young cat must take over his father’s night watchman duties in the kitchen due to the latter’s illness. There he encounters a gang of tough, bullying mice. Will he be brave enough to face them down?
Let’s face it; in animated cat-and-mouse stories, cats are rarely the heroes; they’re mostly portrayed as scary monsters terrorizing these cute little mice. Occasionally, it’s been pointed out to me that in real life, people would probably prefer to have a cat around than to have their homes overrun with mice. Well, here’s an example that reverses the usual animated approach; the cat is the sympathetic character, and the mice are ugly and brutal, and you’re looking forward to the moment when the cat gains the courage to give them their comeuppance. Granted, in order for this to work, the mice have to be bigger than the cat (which they are), which, come to think of it, is why mice are usually the more sympathetic characters in these cartoons, because they’re the tiny ones. This is a typical example of early Chuck Jones, with more of an emphasis on whimsy than outright humor; in fact, the cartoon emphasizes the story over the bits of humor that do appear. This is still not the Warner Brothers animation department at its best, but one can definitely see an improvement over the revue-styled entertainments they churned out only half a decade earlier.