McCabe, Norman (“Norm”)

Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on March 22, 2004

(1911 - fl. 2000)

    British-born, American-raised denizen of Warner Brothers, McCabe’s is one of the hard-luck stories of Termite Terrace. Starting in the mid-1930s, McCabe became one of the leading animators at the studio. During this time he co-directed some cartoons with Bob Clampett such as The Timid Toreador (1940). His big break seemed to come in the shakeup following Tex Avery’s departure from the studio in 1941. Clampett inherited Avery’s unit, and McCabe stepped up to take Clampett’s place.

    McCabe’s directorial tenure was severely handicapped by several factors. One of these was the nature of his unit. McCabe is unique among the studio’s post-1936 directors in that he made not one color cartoon. So, like Clampett before Goofy Groceries (1941), he had to make do with considerably smaller budgets.

    Beck and Friedwald, in discussing McCabe’s first cartoon as solo director, Robinson Crusoe, Jr. (1941) rightly point out that the film has good art and animation, but weak gags. The same could be said of most of his directorial efforts. In addition to this, many of his cartoons are terribly dated -- most notably The Ducktators (1942) and the infamous Tokio Jokio (1943). Add to this the fact that black and white Warner Brothers cartoons, even the terribly “colorized” versions produced in the 1960s, get very little airtime today -- all this adds up to the fact that McCabe has received the least attention of any Warner Brothers director. His work is even less appreciated than Arthur Davis’, whose tenure was not much longer than that of McCabe’s, but whose work from the mid-to-late 1940s happens to all be in color and not dated by wartime gags.

    McCabe deserves better. Some of the sharper-written McCabe entries, such as Confusions of a Nutzy Spy (1943) hint at what he could have accomplished had he been given better material.

    McCabe left the studio to join the armed forces in 1943, and did not return to Warners after the war, choosing instead to go into other commercial work. He did eventually return to Warner Brothers when the animation studio reopened in the late 1980s -- he is given credit on some shows for producing timing sheets. Ironically, by passing on his expertise at this late date, he may be leaving a greater legacy today than he did as a director.

    Credited for Tokio Jokio as Cpl. Norm McCabe.

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