Thursday, March 23, 2006

CHILLY WILLY (1953)

I'm so very unhappy
I don't know what to do
My head is hot and my feet are cold... ACHOO!

I'm so very unhappy
There's only greens in view
I'm frozen stiff as a piece of ice... ACHOO!

I'd like to be a camel,
And feel the desert breezes.
I know I'd never have a cold;
A camel never sneezes!

Oh, this is not the life for me
I shake until I'm blue
My nose is red,
and my tale is told... ACHOO!

I'm feeling like Chilly Willy today: sniffly, sneezy, my sinuses are going crazy, my head aches, and even though I am now living in Southern California, the wind is entirely too cold for my liking. I should be happy with a little wind, since I am used to the cold of Anchorage, Alaska, but I seem to have become acclimated here, because the last two weeks I have been unable to get warm and comfortable. Short of sitting on the stove, I don't know what to do. Because of my head stuffiness and generally glum demeanor, just like Chilly Willy in his eponymously titled series opener, I don't look quite like myself today.

Oh, this is a decidedly different Chilly Willy, my friends. One who does not appear as we are used to Chilly Willy looking in a cartoon. Here, in the original conception of the character in Chilly Willy from 1953, Willy does have his stocking cap, but it is not quite right... and he is short, but still too tall by a smidgen... and he is cute, but not half as cute as he would be once Tex Avery was done with him in the next picture, Tex Avery's I'm Cold. Chilly Willy also sings in this opening cartoon in the series, and to top it off, he sings his own theme song (lyrics above) as he races through the antarctic air looking for shelter from the devastating cold.

Before we meet the little penguin, however, we are introduced to the occupants of a ship docked on the ice of Chilly Willy's domain: an insulting Captain of some sort of French descent, and a St. Bernard, decked out with traditional alcohol barrel, who is the designated guard dog of the vessel. The dog's name, like the captain's ancestry, is an enigma: he is either named Mascot, because the Captain refers to him as this and because the name resides on a sign above his doghouse, or he is the mascot of the ship. (Of course, it is entirely possible that he is a mascot named Mascot.) For a similar lack of clarity, the Captain could be parked at the North Pole, where it would be quite likely that he is actually French Canadian; if he were docked at the South Pole, where Chilly should actually live, then I would think that France would be the most likely country of origin, if for no other reason than Frenchmen seem to like to go there to film penguins. (Now that they have won an Oscar there, expect the floodgates to open...) Since, as I have observed before, animators don't seem to care at which Pole their characters operate, we will have to watch the film to ascertain the true answer.

The Captain bullies the mascot for being a lazy watchdog, and when the Captain announces he is leaving the ship, he warns the mascot not to let anyone on board, or he will pow him right in the kisser Ralph Kramden-style. The captain deboards, and we see a sign by the gangplank reading "Wipe Your Feet" (which will play an important part in a running gag throughout the film). The mascot eyes a thermometer which shows that the temperature is 210 degrees below zero, and takes a swig from his barrel. Then comes the arrival of Chilly Willy and his cheerful song of hypothermic woe. He sees the ship, peers through a porthole, and imagines himself nice and warm atop the stove inside. He runs to the gangplank, and his eye catches the "Wipe Your Feet" sign. When he reaches the top of the plank, where the mascot dog is busy looking about through a spyglass, Willy takes the dog's tail for a welcome mat and brushes his feet clean on it.

Willy then runs down into the ship and jumps up on the stove. The dog removes him with a spatula and flips him up and out of the hold, but Chilly runs back down, wipes his feet anew on the dog's tail, and climbs up on the stove again. The dog picks him up and carries the penguin out bodily from the ship, but he trips on the snow at the bottom of the gangplank and drops his nemesis. Chilly walks over the dog and back up the gangplank, but reads the "Wipe Your Feet" sign again, walks back down to the dog, wipes his feet on his tail, and runs back up. The dog stops him entering the hold, and the chase is on. The dog trips up on a fire hose, and the penguin takes the opportunity to turn it on him. But the water comes out frozen, and with Willy's coercing, finally shoots out solid like a treebranch, catching the dog in the solar plexus and pushing him through deckrooms and leaving him hanging out over the prow. The icebranch supporting him snaps, and he is sent careening down to the ice below, knocking a hole in the ice, but the waterspout from the ocean also freezes, leaving him sitting in midair. The icespout slowly sinks, and the dog is lowered to the relative safety of the ice.

Reaching the ship, he grabs Willy off the stove yet again, and this time uses two ropes as a makeshift bow to shoot Willy off and away. But, Willy hits a curve in the ice ahead and is sent flying back over the dog's head, and ends up landing on one of the most preposterous props that I have ever seen employed in a cartoon: a collapsible ski jump. When the dog leaps at Willy, he triggers the jump, which jack-in-the-boxes up into the air, slaps skis on the dog's feet, and then sends him flying off into the distance. He lands at the South Pole marker, and my questions of the Captain's origin get answered. (He still sounds French-Canadian...) Below the Pole sign, there is another sign reading "For Southern Fried Blubber -- Visit Mammy's Shack". (Here, I will refrain from comment.) The dog sniffs in the direction the sign is pointing, but another sign reads "No No -- Go Home!"

The dog starts across the ice, but ahead he sees another group of signs, reading, respectively, "Old Corny Crack -- The Slightest Sound May Start It", "Even A Pin Could Do It", and "Very Dangerous -- Signed, Bird". Willy then pops up holding (what else?) a pin. He drops the object, and a crack forms on the ice that rides right up to the dog, and when he tries to escape it, chases him all about the ice. Two halves of the ice split, and the dog is splayed out between them, using a weirdly telescoping claw to hold him from being dunked in the frigid ocean. Finally, he drops in, and we then see Willy hauling an iceblock with the dog's stiff body back across the frozen wastes towards the ship. Willy sets the block aright on the deck of the ship, wipes his feet on the dog's tail (which is the only part of him that isn't frozen in the iceblock, and then pushes the block so it slides and crashes into the hold. Willy pops the cork on a barrel of grog, which does wonders in reviving his former foe, but which also serves to make him instantly inebriated. The now stumbling drunken dog wishes Willy to "have one on" him, but when he reaches for the next barrel, he falls and pulls the cork on the bilgehole instead. Water goes shooting up from under the ship and high over the masts, just in time for the returning Captain to see the display. Willy fights valiantly to plug the bilgehole again, but the water is too much for him at first. He finally succeeds in swimming down through the spout with the cork stuck on his beak, and plugs it shut. The Captain has caught the tail end of Willy's heroics, and throws his drunken former mascot of a dog in the brig. Willy is made the new Mascot, and he ends the picture with a sneeze, momentarily stifled by the Captain's finger.

The film seems like a Chilly Willy cartoon, and it has all of the elements of a Chilly Willy cartoon, except one: Chilly Willy is not quite right. I know it is the first film in the series, and the character would be fine-tuned down the line, just as it happens with most of the more revered characters from Mickey on down; one has to allow for growth. But since Tex Avery sets the character's look in stone in the next film, it is this cartoon that feels like the odd duck, er, penguin out. It almost feels like a Chilly Willy ripoff... and it came first! That said, the film is rich in setting, and the action never stops moving. I just wish it were funnier overall. Too many scenes would have held a far greater laugh yield with a more imaginative director. Yes, there are some good jokes, and the mascot dog has a couple of swell takes. And, yes, the foot wiping running gag is humorous, but even that never fully pays off. If it was only building to the iceblock sequence, it seems a waste after so much set up.

And I have a problem with the Captain that goes far beyond his curious heritage: just what is he doing in Antarctica? We never learn what type of ship it is, or exactly what he goes off to do. One clue could be the collapsible ski jump -- is he training for the Olympics, but is such a horrid athlete that he must hide down at the South Pole for fear that people would laugh at him?

Well, he got it right, because he's the least funny thing in the picture. Curious, yes, but not all that funny.

That's it... I'm going to go climb on top of the stove...

Chilly Willy (A Walter Lantz Cartune, 1953) Dir: Paul J. Smith
Cel Bloc Rating: 5

1 comment:

matt Fosberg said...

A stove indeed! I do appreciate all of the cartoon reviews, because most of them I have never seen, and it gives me something to look for at some point, but I am SHAMED that a former Alaskan could be COLD in LA....

I weep for the future... ;-)

I hope you feel better too Rik!

Matt