Saturday, March 18, 2006


When you get right down to it, all of the cartoons put out by any studio throughout animation history are merely product. Hell, any type of film put out by anybody is product. All films are put out to try and entice viewers out of their money. They are goods. They are put out for consumption by the masses. On our end of things, we like to read other reasons into their cause for being: they are there to entertain us; they are there to inform us, etc. Whatever pretensions a filmmaker might bring to a project, or whatever a producer might tell you is the reason for a projects existence, in the end, that film is being put out in theatres (or on television) to generate revenue. Flat out --- films are products put out by studios to make M-O-N-E-Y.

This does not mean, however, that films have to be soulless automatons of blind number-crunching prowess. No, far from it. Talented writers, directors, animators, musicians, designers, actors --- they can all take what begins as a studio mission to make money, and turn it into a work of art. A studio that allows its staff to play within their films, that allows them to stretch themselves, and search for something more than just profit in the medium --- well, that staff can make something beautiful out of it. Hence, Warner Bros., Disney, MGM, Fleischer and even UPA, while still keeping an eye on the ledger books, were able to afford their filmmakers the creative latitude to design and develop some of the most masterful animation in film history. Films that not only filled company coffers, but entertained viewers in a smart, fun and wonderful fashion. And some of the film turned out to be genuine works of art.

But what about a studio that has no pretensions about such things? What about when a studio has just given up on even trying to convince themselves that such a higher level even exists? What about a studio that merely heeds the bottom line, and called it quits on creativity?

You end up with Canned Dog Feud.

Canned Dog Feud, a Woody Woodpecker programmer from the Walter Lantz Studio in 1965, that is. The title could not be more appropriate, with the words "canned" and "dog" pretty much describing the thing from the outset. Woody, after running afoul of the duck that was pulling the lazy 'pecker through the air (by way of using a balloon tied to the mallard), ends up crashing in the Ozark Mountains. Predictably, two feuding hillbillies, engaged in a neverending argument over whose smelly ol' houn'dog is the better houn'dog, are there to kill the film from the outset with devastatingly unfunny dialogue. Each of the dogs, named Ol' Blue and Ol' Yeller (with hides to match), is challenged to bring in larger and larger prey, beginning with mere squirrels and mice and then moving on to a grizzly, an elephant, and a triceratops. (Yes, I said a triceratops -- one of the 'billies remarks, "Well, you don't see many of them nowadays!")
Eventually, Woody happens across their path, and once he does, the pair of 'billyhoun's are sent after him -- and to no great comic effect at all. They chase the woodpecker up and around trees, around rocks on the edge of a cliff, and underwater -- all to the physical detriment of the houn'dogs. Naturally, Woody outwits the duo by film's end, and the hillbillies are left to argue amongst themselves over who is "more plumb tuckered!"

That the hillbillies don't actually engage in any physical activity in the cartoon seems besides the point. Just watching the hackneyed chase antics of their dogs and the once vital and weird but tamed-down woodpecker has left them exhausted and weary beyond description.

They should try seeing it from my angle...

Canned Dog Feud (Walter Lantz, 1965) Dir: Paul J. Smith
Cel Bloc Rating: 4


David Gerstein said...

Nice review of CANNED DOG FEUD... on some level, though, it fails, insofar as simply due to your wording the cartoon can't help but sound kind of interesting -- despite your efforts to assure us it's not!
I'd be curious to read some reviews from you on black and white Lantz, Bosko, or Columbia Krazy Kat shorts -- the kind of things we don't read critical opinions on very often. Your thoughts are a breath of fresh air...

Thanks, David

Rik Tod said...

Thanks for the kind words, David. I'm glad some people are finding their way to this blog. It is especially terrific to hear from other animation fans, and I hope that you keep reading in the future.

You are right: Canned Dog Feud does sound interesting... until you actually watch it. Imagine an incredibly subpar episode of Deputy Dawg, and then remove nearly every identifiable trace of humor and comic timing from the picture. As much as they seem to be the butt of so many jokes throughout film history, hillbillies are not inherently and automatically funny as characters. Or even interesting. At least, I don't find them to be either.

I wish you could view the cartoon to understand it from my angle, but the cartoon is not on DVD and perhaps might not ever be. You can consider yourself lucky. I have a pair of old tapes that I made back in the late 80's of a Woody Woodpecker compilation show, from which I will be deriving my reviews for Walter Lantz shorts for the forseeable future. Until whoever holds the DVD rights to this material sees fit to at least release the earlier, better Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda, and Chilly Willy films (especially the Tex Avery directed ones), I will have to cull my material from these two tapes. There are some of the older cartoons on there, but I also have to slog through a lot of the inferior 60's "product", as I termed it. Here's hoping there are some gems hidden in there...

I would love to review some of the Columbia Krazy Kats, as Geo. Herrimann's original comic strip is in my Top 5 of Great Comic Strips of all time; however, since I do not possess any of the cartoons at the moment, I will have to wait until I snag a collection of them before I give them a perusal and subsequent reviewing. I have seen some of the Kats before, but it has been some time since I have, and I prefer to work with fresh materials. Perhaps soon. As for Bosko, I have just ordered a DVD of Uncensored Bosko shorts, and I hope to throw a couple of posts up in the next month or so.

I am trying to mix studios as I travel through animation's history, merely to keep things hopping, and to keep from getting mired on one character for two long. I just reviewed the Pink Panther shorts for about two weeks straight (mainly as a time-saving device; I had family coming to visit, and needed to stockpile a few reviews), and by the end of writing them, I was definitely a little burned out on things to say about the Pink One. So, just keep watching the page for new characters and companies as I run into them. Hopefully, I can keep it fresh...

Thanks again,