As a youngster I always eagerly looked forward to a Warner Bros. cartoon coming on TV but I was always disappointed when the opening titles featured, in place of the classic concentric circles, the angular, modern titles that became synonymous with the deeply inferior, latter day Warner shorts. These jutting triangles, accompanied by an ugly re-imagining of the Merrie Melodies theme, almost always signified the arrival of a dreaded Speedy and Daffy cartoon. However, there was always the slimmest of slim chances that you might luck out and instead be rewarded with Chuck Jones's 'Now Hear This'.
'Now Hear This' was the cartoon which first introduced the modern title sequence which would go on to be defiled by the Depatie-Freleng monstrosities. The most abstract cartoon Warner Bros. ever released, 'Now Hear This' is a clear forerunner for any number of surrealist animations from 'Yellow Submarine' to Bob Godfrey's superb 'Do-It-Yourself Cartoon Kit'. Having experimented with just about ever visual and narrative device available, with 'Now Hear This' Jones turns his attention to sound. The visuals here are minimalist, with highly stylised characters performing against a backdrop of nothingness. The cartoons begins with a frustrated devil searching for his missing horn (he wanders through the opening credits, showing a demonic contempt for convention). The horn is discovered by a stuffy English man (recognisable as English by his monocle and moustache even before the confirmation of a 'Keep Britain Tidy' sign and a burst of the British national anthem) who swaps his battered old ear trumpet for this new discovery. Thus begins his descent into aural hell! There is very little logic to the events of 'Now Hear This' but the images flow so beautifully that questioning them seems churlish. The impeccably chosen and synchronised bursts of sound (courtesy of genius sound man Treg Brown) are at once extraordinarily disturbing and this eerie edge to the cartoon cannot have escaped the attention of children's programmers since 'Now Hear This' was rarely seen on kid's TV. It is far more akin to the sort of cartoon I used to discover on TV at about 1am and then be haunted by for weeks for some indistinguishable reason. Like all such cartoons, 'Now Hear This' is utterly compelling and unpredictable. Testament to Chuck Jones's ongoing crusade to keep imagination alive, 'Now Hear This' is both a visual and aural treat.