Sunday, January 22, 2006

Beauty and the Beast (1934)

Beauty and the Beast (Warner Bros., 1934) 
Dir: Isadore "Friz" Freleng
Cel Bloc Rating: 5/9

It's 10 o'clock, and a little girl who should already be in bed sneaks out to the dining room and devours a pair of bananas, a bunch of grapes and, on the way back to her room, nearly an entire box of chocolates. No wonder her dreams go horribly awry in Beauty and the Beast from 1934, the second of the Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoons released in two-strip CineColor. 

After we see a grandfather clock announce the hour, its pendulum smacking a nearby spittoon rhythmically, the little girl makes her gluttonous attack on the dinner table, shooting the pair of bananas high into the air and then swallowing each one in a single gulp. After doing the same to the grapes, she attacks the chocolates. Getting back to her room with the box in hand, stepping out of the tapestried wallpaper in her room is a creepy-looking man with a sack over his back. This cartoon could have gone any number of horrible ways, what with the little girl showing her bare ass through part of the picture, but instead it is only her friendly neighborhood Sandman, here to get the little girl back into Dreamland where she belongs.

A couple of generous doses of his dust and the little blonde girl is off, flying into the night sky, the walls of her bedroom, covered in ducks and nursery rhyme characters, slowly fade away. She wakes up midway through her flight and she starts to fall. The latch on the bottom of his onesie becomes undone and the whole thing fills up with air, where her bare bottom is revealed. She screams, but her onesie acts briefly as a parachute, and she floats gently for a couple of seconds. Suddenly, the air gives way and she falls again. She hits the ground hard, and we see toys on the ground representing a playing card castle and flowers that get thrown up into the air and land back down in the positions they had before.

She suddenly finds herself in a world that is largely made up of her toys and the characters in the pictures that covered the walls of her bedroom. As she walks, she is surrounded on the sides of a street by cheering and applauding fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters, including Humpty Dumpty. A castle looming in the distance calls to her, and when she runs to it, three trumpeters play a fanfare, and then the gates to the castle open up for her: a drawbridge, and then a pair of increasingly tacky doors.

Upon entering, the little blonde girl -- whom I would suppose is the Beauty of the title, so we will refer to her by that name from this point forward --  is greeted by a huge crowd made up of storybook folk, all greatly overjoyed by her arrival. A trio of court pages sing her a welcome...

"Welcome, little girl!
We are here to please you!
Very glad to meet you!
We will play all day!

The pages begin the second verse, but after singing, "Welcome, little girl," a large frog wearing a jacket bursts in to sing, "A Boop Boop Boop!" One of the pages angrily reaches over to the frog and zips his large mouth shut. The pages continue...

"Welcome to our toyland!
Happy girl and boyland!
[indecipherable] day by day!"

One of the pages steps down to Beauty's level to give her a warning...

"You must be careful
of the Big Bad Beast!"

Three jack-in-the-boxes, which frankly are scarier than any ol' beast, pop up out of their boxes to join in the song...

"And if he gets you,
he'll surely have a feast!"

Beauty is frightened by this, as is appropriate, but the pages finish up their welcome song...

"Welcome, little girl,
(Welcome, little girl!)
to the Land of Slumbers! 
Land of Many Wonders!

And then the whole populace joins in...

"Hi ho!
Little girl!
Hi ho!"

A squad of soldiers marches and dances for her, and Beauty falls in love at first sight with their handsome leader, who frankly doesn't look any different from the rest of the soliders under his command. (So, I guess she is into his position. Power is a marvelous drug.) The soldier, too, is smitten right away with her, and a large red heart shows above his head and pops. "Ain't he cute!" she says, and then she picks him up and kisses him. The shocked soldier's face turns bright red with embarrassment.

Their cute meeting is laughed at by Humpty Dumpty, whose riotous guffaws cause him to fall from the wall upon which he is expectedly sitting. He hits the ground a-crackin', revealing a quintet of wooden ducks, of exactly the type that I cannot resist (those who have read other entries on this blog), who dance at first on their big square feet, but then their feet turn into wheels and they roller-skate a choreographed routine. Far above them on the wall, a gnome crumbles soda crackers into an electric fan, and the crumbs act like snowflakes, giving the skating a winter theme. The ducks zip along but crash into a pile of toy blocks. The blocks are knocked up into the air, and then a single block falls on top of each of the five ducks, spelling out the exclamation (popular then), "N-E-R-T-Z".

The toy citizenry responds with joy, but it might be less for the ducks than for seeing Humpty break his ass again. The soldier leads our heroine to a gate marked Fairy Tale Land, within which are large children's books, presumably the books within the girl's bedroom. One book named (appropriately) Beauty and the Beast is opened and the first verse contained within is sung aloud by Beauty and the toy soldier...

"Beauty and the Beast!
He's so mean and vicious,
she is so suspicious.
Poor little Beauty and the Beast!"

On the cover of Robinson Crusoe, the title character, his man Friday (done up in the stereotypical black style of the day), and a parrot sing the second verse:

"Beauty and the Beast!
[Friday: Bo-bo-bo-bo!]
Each time he would trail her,

her poor nerves would fail her!
Poor little Beauty and the Beast!"

The solider and girl continue the song...

"He waits to snatch her,
he's such an awful cur,
if he should catch her,
what would become of her?

"Beauty and the Beast!
[Mother Goose and her goslings: Wak! Wak! Wak!]
Won't some prince protect her
from this awful spectre?
Poor little Beauty and the Beast!"

Beauty turns the page, and there is a picture of a horrible, hairy beast. Suddenly, he crawls out of the book and attacks them. The soldier closes the book on him, but after he struggles briefly, he is able to crawl back out and chase them. The beast grabs Beauty and carries her off as she screams. The solider winds up a toy plane and throws it into the direction of the villain, and while Beauty kicks the beast repeatedly in the face, the plane shaves a big stripe through the black fur on the beast's back. Beauty gets away, and the plane returns to the monster and shaves circles around his midsection.

The girl rejoins her soldier while the beast advances on them again. In desperation, the soldier pulls out a match and lights the fuse on a nearby toy cannon. The cannon starts to jump up in the air like it is about to burst, but then rubs its bottom in pain on the ground in circles like a dog, and then runs away. The beast grabs Beauty again as she screams over and over. The solider throws a variety of punches at the monster's stomach but they are too no avail. Beauty screams again, and it seems like all is lost...

...and then Beauty wakes up on the floor of her bedroom where the Sandman cast his spell upon her and indigestion got the better of her. She dives into her bed and throws a blanket over her head, her bottom, with pajama flap undone, exposed to the fading light. Iris out, where it focuses on her bare butt. The End (literally)!

The Books Come to Life and Toys Come to Life films at which Warner Bros. became quite prevalent are seemingly combined here in this film, but to no great effect. They were still ten years away from Bob Clampett's sublime Book Revue, the highest possible example of this sort of cartoon. While the outcome in Beauty and the Beast is fun enough for the younger set, it is a clearcut case of one of Warner's best directors, Isadore "Friz" Freleng, being caught in the rut of numbingly routine formula. His staff’s wheels seem to be spinning here as much as the ones on the wooden ducks in the dance routine.

The lessons here to be learned are three-fold: 1) Don't eat before bedtime - it will only lead to nightmares; 2) Don't zipper the mouth of the singing frog character in your film if you don't actually have any other engaging characters, because he was probably the one with which to run; and 3) Don't paint creepy-looking weirdos carrying sacks on the walls of your children's room in the first place. The girl in this film got off lucky that the villain didn’t get off too.

Oh, yeah... and 4) Button your ass-flap.



And in case you haven't seen it...

[This article was revised and updated with new photos on 11/11/16.]

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