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Magical Maestro
MGM Cartoons series
Directed by Fred Avery
Produced by Fred Quimby
Story by Rich Hogan
Voices by Daws Butler
Carlos Ramírez
Animation by Grant Simmons
Michael Lah
Walter Clinton
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
Release date(s) 1952 (USA)
Color process Technicolor
Running time 6' 30"
6'(edited version)
Language English

Magical Maestro is a 1952 animated short film directed by Tex Avery and produced by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio. It tells the story of Poochini, a canine opera singer who spurns a magician. The magician is able to replace Poochini's normal conductor prior to the show through disguise. In 1993, Magical Maestro was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Contents

Plot

Mysto the Magician appeals to a snobbish opera singer, the Great Poochini (a pun on opera composer Giacomo Puccini), to let him perform an opening act at the show that night. Mysto's tricks primarily come from his magic wand, which can summon flowers and rabbits. Poochini emphatically says "NO!", kicking Mysto out the door into the alley.

While on the ground, Mysto plays with his magic wand and realizes he can pass it off as a conductor's baton, being further inspired by seeing himself in place of the conductor in a promotional poster outside the door. Later, as the performance is starting he freezes the conductor, steals his hair, tuxedo, nose and facial hair, then takes his place in front of the orchestra to conduct the Great Poochini, who is unaware of the imposter in front of him.

During the performance, in which Poochini sings Largo al factotum from Gioacchino Rossini's The Barber of Seville, Mysto unleashes a variety of tricks with his wand. He begins tamely by summoning rabbits and flowers, then turning Poochini in a ballet dancer, Indian, tennis player, prisoner rock-breaker and football player. Mysto's revenge gets more brutal as he throws a cymbal on Poochini's head, turning him Chinese (see below), then transforming him into a country singer. After levitating Poochini to the ceiling and slamming him down to the stage, Mysto turns him into a square dance caller. Poochini actually continues his performance for a good 20 seconds after this without interruption, except for the "hair gag". Poochini is then transformed into a Shirley Temple–esque child, then a Carmen Miranda–typesinger (with two rabbits accompanying him on guitar) after an irritated audience member hurls an armload of fruit onto Poochini's head where it piles up like Miranda's headdress. The same guy later sprays black ink on Poochini and drops an anvil on his head (see below). A rabbit hoses Poochini off and works his arm like an automobile jack to get him back up to full height, and the fun continues as he is transformed into a Hawaiian singer with two rabbits for harmony. Mysto's plan comes to an end when Poochini spots his wig falling off. Poochini grabs the hairpiece and puts it on while Mysto makes a run for it, but Poochini, having also grabbed the magic wand, puts Mysto up on stage, and unleashes the same gimmicks on the hapless magician at high speed. A red curtain with the words "The End" then falls on the magician and the rabbits.

History

The concept of cartoons with insinuating situations is hardly new—Tex Avery especially featured a few quick jokes of this nature in his cartoons. Magical Maestro, for example, shows Poochini with a male and female rabbit on each arm. He lowers his arms behind his back and when he raises them again, he now has an additional dozen baby rabbits on them, six on each arm.

This cartoon features a gimmick only seen in Tex Avery films, the "hair gag". Because cartoons were shown originally in movie theatres, it was not uncommon for a hair to get caught in the 'gate' of the projector. Sometimes it would skitter across the projection light, resulting in a gigantic hair appearing on the movie screen. Avery made a projectionist nuts by simulating one of these random hairs in this and a couple of other cartoons. In this cartoon, the opera singer pauses mid-song to pluck the offending hair from the film and tosses it aside, one of Avery's many ways of his characters breaking the fourth wall.

The role of Poochini is portrayed by Spike the bulldog, a frequent star of Avery's cartoons of that era (often alongside Droopy Dog).

Censorship

Magical Maestro contains two gags considered to be offensive and have been excised from broadcast prints over the past 50 years:

  • The opera singer is transformed into a Chinese stereotype when a cymbal is thrown on his head by the conductor, simulating the coolie hat which is wide and flat, with a point in the top. A repeat of this gag near the end of the cartoon (as the conductor is forced to sing and turns into the characters that the singer was turned to thanks to the magic wand) was also cut.
  • An irritated audience member in a box seat right above the stage shows his distaste for the performance by spraying ink from a pen into the singer's face, leaving him looking like a blackface singer singing in the style of The Ink Spots. When this does not shut the singer up, the audience member drops an anvil on the singer's head, squashing him down and giving him a deeper voice reminiscent of the Ink Spots' spoken interludes, or of Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson.

Magical Maestro was broadcast throughout the 1970s and 1980s in various formats, depending on censoring rules at the particular television station. New York-based WPIX, for instance, edited out the audience member segment, but left the Chinese stereotype in place. Atlanta-based WTBS (the future parent of Cartoon Network), aired the film uncut.

The current edited version that has aired on Cartoon Network since the late 1990s is missing both gags.

Influence

The "hair gag" would later be used by English comedian Benny Hill in the closing chase sequence of his April 25, 1984 show. As he is being chased by medical staff and an ambulance in and around a hospital area, he notices a hair moving around the bottom right corner of the screen, and at a certain point stops his pursuers long enough for him to pluck the hair out before the chase resumes.

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