One Froggy Evening

One Froggy Evening is a 1955 American Technicolor animated musical short film written by Michael Maltese and directed by Chuck Jones, with musical direction by Milt Franklyn. The short, partly inspired by a 1944 Cary Grant film entitled Once Upon a Time involving a dancing caterpillar in a small box, marks the debut of Michigan J. Frog. This popular short contained a wide variety of musical entertainment, with songs ranging from "Hello! Ma Baby" and "I'm Just Wild About Harry", two Tin Pan Alley classics, to "Largo al Factotum", Figaro's aria from the opera Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The short was released on December 31 (New Year's Eve), 1955 as part of Warner Bros.' Merrie Melodies series of cartoons.

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, in the PBS Chuck Jones biographical documentary Extremes & Inbetweens: A Life in Animation, called One Froggy Evening "the Citizen Kane of animated shorts". In 1994, it was voted No. 5 of The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.[1] In 2003, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.[2][3]

The film is included in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2 DVD box set (Disc 4), along with an audio commentary, optional music-only audio track (only the instrumental, not the vocal), and a making-of documentary, It Hopped One Night: A Look at "One Froggy Evening". It was also attached to the theatrical release of Little Giants in 1994 and was subsequently featured on that film's VHS release.

A mid-1950s construction worker involved in the demolition of the "J. C. Wilber Building" pries off the top of the cornerstone and finds a metal box within. The unnamed man opens the box and finds, along with a commemorative document dated April 16, 1892, a live frog inside which can sing and dance, complete with top hat and cane. After the frog suddenly performs a musical number there on the spot, the man sees an opportunity to cash in on the frog's anthropomorphic talents and sneaks away from the demolition site with the frog and the box under his arm.

Every attempt the man makes to exploit the frog fails due to the revelation that the frog will perform for its owner and its owner alone; when any other individual becomes present, the frog immediately stops and devolves into an ordinary croaking frog. Remaining unaware of this reality, the man first takes the frog to a talent agent. When that fails, he uses all of his life savings to rent an abandoned theater to showcase the frog on his own (he is only able to get an audience with the promise of "Free Beer"). The frog performs atop a high wire behind the closed curtain, but as the curtain begins rising, he winds down the song and, by the time he is fully revealed to the crowd, he has again reverted to being an ordinary frog, resulting in the man being pelted with rotten vegetables by the booing crowd.

As a result of these failures, the man is now homeless and living on a park bench, where the frog still performs only for him. A policeman overhears the singing and approaches the man, who points to the frog as the singer. But when the frog again presents itself as ordinary, the policeman arrests the man for disturbing the peace and is committed to a psychiatric hospital along with the frog who continues serenading the hapless patient. Following his release, the now haggard and destitute man, still carrying the box with the frog inside, notices the construction site where he originally found the box and happily dumps it into the new cornerstone for the future "Tregoweth Brown Building" before running away, overjoyed to be finally getting rid of what has become his burden.

The cartoon's timeline then jumps to nearly a century later. The Brown Building is itself being demolished using futuristic tools, and the box with the frog is discovered again by a 21st-century demolition man who, after also envisioning a cash bonanza, absconds with the frog.

The cartoon has no spoken dialogue or vocals except by the frog. The frog had no name when the cartoon was made, but Chuck Jones later named him Michigan J. Frog after the song "The Michigan Rag", which was written for the cartoon. Jones and his animators studied real-life frogs to achieve the successful transition from an ordinary frog to a high-stepping entertainer.[4] The character became the mascot of The WB television network in the 1990s. In a clip shown in the DVD specials for the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Jones states that he started calling the character "Michigan Frog" in the 1970s. During an interview with writer Jay Cocks, Jones decided to adopt "J" as the Frog's middle initial, after the interviewer's name.[5]

In 1995, Chuck Jones reprised Michigan J. Frog in a cartoon titled Another Froggy Evening, with Jeff McCarthy providing the frog's voice. In Another Froggy Evening, Michigan is implied to be immortal, with men from the Stone Age (during the erection of Stonehenge), Roman Empire, and colonial-era America all determined to profit off the singing frog (still reliant upon the same early 20th-century tunes) but failing. Finally, just as Michigan is about to be eaten by the only man not interested in his singing (a starving man deserted on an island), he is abducted by Marvin the Martian, who understands the frog's language and ends up singing a duet with him as the cartoon ends.

The premise of One Froggy Evening has some similarity to that of the 1944 Columbia Pictures film Once Upon a Time starring Cary Grant in which a dancing caterpillar is kept in a shoebox. It was common for Warner Bros. to parody scenes from well-known live action films for its Merrie Melodies productions. Once Upon a Time, in turn, was based on "My Client Curley", a 1940 radio play adapted by Norman Corwin from a magazine story by Lucille Fletcher.[6] Ol' Rip, a horned toad "discovered" in an 1897 time capsule inside the cornerstone of the Eastland County, Texas courthouse in 1928, is also said to have inspired the premise.[7]

Some of the Frog's physical movements are evocative of ragtime-era greats such as Bert Williams, who was known for sporting a top hat and cane, and performing the type of flamboyant, high-kick cakewalk dance steps demonstrated by the Frog in Hello! Ma Baby. Williams was also a prominent figure in The Frogs club.

The cartoon also had a sequel in an episode of the Warner Bros. series Tiny Toon Adventures, with the Frog falling into Hamton J. Pig's possession. Another cameo of Michigan J. Frog was in an episode of Animaniacs when a scene from Macbeth is recreated. Michigan J. Frog, wearing his top hat, is placed into a boiling cauldron along with other cartoon characters.

Film critic Jay Cocks said that the short "comes as close as any cartoon ever has to perfection" in a 1973 Time profile of Chuck Jones.[8]

About half of the songs performed by the frog were written after he was presumably sealed into the cornerstone, dated 1892.

Words and Music by Claribel (pseudonym of Charlotte Alington Barnard) (1866)