Saturday, February 11, 2006

WE DID IT (1936)

As someone who is in the middle of mixing two high-strung leaping raptor-like pups with a grumpy old set-deeply-in-his-ways feline, I am well aware of the weird sort of detente that must occur in a household where cats and dogs mingle. Two entirely different species (well, three, counting their humans; OK, four species, counting myself), each with its own deeply ingrained set of codes for respect and manners; the slightest movement or head tilt can often upset the balance of peace in the valley. My dog Blip Ignatz Mice got along just fine with Buster Keaton Ghidorah, but they had 17 years in which to get used to each other's pecadilloes, and I suspect at some point they even developed a secret club pawshake to which I was never made privy.

Pudgy, however, has a real problem in We Did It, one of his Betty II cartoons from 1936. Betty Boop just has to gum up the works by having a basket with three sweet little kittens in it, each one cuter than the last one, and when Betty decides to take a trip outside of the house, the kittens are left sleeping peacefully in their basket, while Pudgy is leashed, much to his chagrin, for safety to the radiator. What the Boop does not realize is that the kittens are only pretending to be asleep, and once she leaves the house, they set off on a cute little rampage. They slide on dishes down an ironing board, breaking the china plates one by one all over the floor. One of the kittens parades in and out of the mouth of the bear rug, but the jaws snap shut on it, and it begins mewling for help. Pudgy escapes from his leash, and frees the kitten by pulling the jaws, much like a set of false teeth, from the bear's mouth. Another kitten climbs the cuckoo clock to get at its famed occupant; once the kitten arrives at the top, it takes two swipes at the little wooden bird. On the third try, the bird comes out wielding a mallet and "clocks" the kitten instead! The third kitten takes a taste of a bar of soap, then drinks some water to wash away the horrid taste, and ends up emitting a series of bubbles from its mouth.

After much of this mild cuteness, Betty returns home to discover the disaster area that has been left by the trio, but only finds Pudgy standing predictably in the midst of it. She picks up the dog and spanks him severely, while the kittens watch from underneath a cupboard. They feel remorse for what they have done in exactly the way that cats normally don't, and stride up to Betty three abreast and sing her "We Did It", a tune detailing their confession of the crimes that have befallen the household. The camera cuts to a closeup of a weeping Pudgy still sitting in Betty's arms, and the dog turns to the camera and winks with a wicked grin, then falls back to the role of wrongly accused victim. Betty then forgoes the tough love and gives all of the animals custard from the icebox. Pudgy crawls through the middle of the pile of dessert, and the kittens happily lick it off of his body to end the film.

All cuteness and light, nothing more and nothing less, and sad for a reminder of what the series had now become, though still pleasant and well-executed. The best moments are generally in the detailed reactions of the characters' faces to the situations they are each involved in; my favorite bit comes when Pudgy strains to break free of his leash to rescue the rug-trapped kitten, but finds his head is too big to slip easily through the restraint. He stops and thinks about it for a second, then slides the leash off easily over the much slimmer remainder of his body.

As for the cat licking custard off of the dog's body, my pup never would have stood for that one. Animals may sometimes make secret pacts between species to keep the peace in the household, and sometimes even show great familial affection for one another, but there is one thing of which I am certain: when it comes to food, it's every dog (or cat) for themselves.

We Did It (Max Fleischer, 1936) Dir: Dave Fleischer
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

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