Wednesday, March 22, 2006

CRAZY HOUSE (1940)

Most of us had puddows when we are children. Or poobies. Or piwwows. And even though we call them pillows when we are grown up and in the prescence of our fellow adults, somewhere in our minds, they are still puddows.

However, my friends and I, over the course of about 25 years, still speak on occasion a strange melange of baby talk, with W's swiftly following B's or P's in opening a word, and with many words that normally end in hard consonants instead trailing off softly with another W. In this language, pen becomes pwem, pencil is turned into pwhofle, milk becomes mucky, and candy has somehow been morphed into nang-nang. And, in a group of people where teddy bear adoration is paramount, bear has become beaw.

It might seen patently ridiculous that a group of 40-year old people have hung on to such childish language, especially in a group of people who regularly perform Shakespeare, Miller, Albee, Williams and Chekhov, and many of whom write and direct plays of their own. But, my sweet friends are a diverse lot, and also run a children's theatre company and summer program, and such youthful behavior is actually very helpful in keeping the mind young and elastic. Plus, actors like to take on a variety of personae, so why not keep a toddler's voice at one's beck and call?

Andy Panda's father is one of those with such a voice. Huge and lumbering, he is encumbered with a baby-talk impediment that would be incredibly cute if he weren't such a colossal ass. Papa Panda (sometimes known as Andrew P. Panda) speaks in the aforementioned fashion constantly, saying heaw instead of here, and in an overly determined fashion, as if trying to force his cuteness straight down the viewer's throat and down to his heart. In this, he decidedly does not succeed. But he does have his good points. He is also a master of the slowburn, especially when it comes to becoming the butt of his son's seemingly benign antics, and takes a conk on the noggin as well as anyone in the business. This satisfaction with his pain is mainly due to his know-it-all blusteriness, which comes squarely to the fore in Andy Panda's Crazy House from 1940.

Andy and his Papa are driving on the proverbial dark and stormy night towards Pandamonia (which is some 500 miles distant according to a road sign), when their car becomes stuck in some unforgiving mud. Spinning the wheels only leads to them sinking deeper, and getting Papa shot in the face with mud, so Andy is told to get out and push. His efforts pay off, but when the car gets dislodged from the muck, it shoots forward and ends up sinking straight to the bottom of a small pond, where Papa does a slow burn underwater while a fish checks out his furry visitor. Once Papa climbs out, his son points out a distant house where they can seek warmth and shelter from the storm. When they arrive at the door, Andy accidentally slams it full on into Papa's front, and the elder panda pulls his face and body back out to their original shape. He storms through the front door and slams it himself, causing a sign to fall down from the roof, which reads: "CRAZY HOUSE -- CLOSED FOR SEASON".

Papa, now fiery red and clearly past his boiling point, gets ready to teach Andy a lesson. Luckily for Andy, he remembers to reminds his father about his high blood pressure, and Papa counts to ten until he cools down. Papa calls out to see if anybody is home, but his call is met by a variety of echoes, each one in a different voice and tone, until finally he is frightened when a rough, booming voices yells out, "Nobody But Echoes!!!" The bears go to bed, but Andy is persistent in his need for a drink of water, so Papa reluctantly gets up to retrieve one. In the darkness, however, this is a harder task than he ever expected. He ends up crashing into a rocking chair and a wall, sticks his toe in a light socket, smacks his head on a shelf, and then, when he finally gets a mug to put the water in, he is pulled back by the chain attached to it, and then he pulls an entire section of wall out and into his face when he loses his temper. It turns out to have been all for nothing, as Andy only wanted the water for a home for his pet frog. Even then, the pet frog won't stay put, and jumps immediately out of the water.

Papa is disgusted, and grabs a pillow to go sleep in a nearby carousel. Curling up in the comfortable-looking swan character seems like a good idea, but Andy is busy chasing his frog down, and bumps accidentally into the controls. The carousel takes off, and Papa yells frantically for Andy to stop the ride. Papa nearly loses it again, but instead picks up his son by the ear, and tells him to spend the rest of the night in another room. Unfortunately for him, the room he chooses for Andy turns out to be the control room for the entire Crazy House. Papa walks up to a fountain to try and take a drink of water, but it turns out to take an Olympian amount of effort to even get one's lips near the thing, though he does eventually gets his nose caught in it and then gets doused fully in the face. Finally, he gives chase to the fountain (yes, I said gives chase) and when he catches it, the fountain gets stuck in his mouth, and he ends up swallow a massive amount of water.

Then, Andy finds the controls for the dance floor, and Papa is made to wear the costumes of numerous cultures as the undulating floorboards cause him to dance in the appropriate style: Hula, Indian, Mexican and ending with a modified Charleston Swing, complete with a scarecrow-like female partner that most likely is meant to be black in character. Papa catches Andy and is prepared to wallop him but good, but he makes a mistake in reaching for something with which to spank his son, and grabs a control switch reading "You'll Be Sorry!" He ignites all of the fireworks in the house, and the bears are run out of the Crazy House with explosions, jack-in-the-boxes and various other distractions chasing them away. Papa immediately runs right back into the same small pond as before. After he sinks to the bottom, he turns a bright shade of red again, but the fish reminds him to count to 10. He does so, but only counts out "1... 2... 4... 6... 8... 10", and ends up with red stripes for the picture's close.

Everything is fine in this cartoon, from design down to concept, except for the cartoon itself. It seems and looks like a classic, but it is merely passable as entertainment. The sequence where Papa trips and crashes into everything in his quest for a cup of water for Andy is well-done, but is missing that extra oomph that would really let it go over big. My biggest problem with the film is that, for a picture entitled Crazy House, the house itself is not all that crazy. (At least, it is a house, so the title is not totally misleading.) There is so much more that could have been done with the interior of the house; merely having a carousel in it, and having fireworks and echoes is not enough to impart the proper mood of architectural insanity that should envelop the characters in both fear and awe. In the similar premise of Chuck Jones' Curious Puppies film from 1939, Dog Gone Modern, the jokes play funnier because the house is far more intriguing, even if the film itself is only mildly more successful than Crazy House. The Pandas are better characters, however, than the dogs, and one almost wishes the two houses could switch occupants for just one viewing to see if a truly classic cartoon could have come out of it.

Andy Panda is a swell character, but he has many better efforts, and I, for one, prefer him in his more adult Mickey Mouse-ish form.
I imagine that somewhere out there is someone who adores this cartoon simply for its cuteness, and that's fine. For some people, cuteness is all they need.

So, you simps, take your beaws and get out of heaw...


Crazy House (Walter Lantz, 1940) Dir: Walter Lantz
Cel Bloc Rating: 5

2 comments:

David Gerstein said...

Great analysis of Crazy House... I think you and I are of like minds in regard to its basic problem. It's just not as crazy as it really ought to be.
Mark me down as somebody who prefers Andy as a mischievous kid. Not because he's cute; but because like Fanny Brice's Baby Snooks (his likely inspiration), he captures the essence of a little kid having fun being playfully obnoxious. 100 Pygmies and Andy Panda carries on the meme nicely: when Andy and the witch doctor have a duel of magic, it's just assumed that Papa will be the guinea pig for both characters' magic spells. He's actually everyone's de facto target, no questions asked.
As for the nature of Papa Panda's voice, at some point later on it was replaced with a blustery intonation somewhat (but not precisely) reminiscent of W. C. Fields. Vastly more appropriate, I think.

Rik Tod said...

Thanks, David. Your comments are highly appreciated.

Perhaps when and if I have seen all of the early Andy Pandas, I might change my mind on the subject, but the ones that I saw the most growing up were the later ones. You are right about Papa Panda -- that is exactly what I do like about him: his ability to catch any crap from anyone and from any direction. And far be it from me to dislike a character who is like, in your words, "a little kid having fun being playfully obnoxious." That sums up my entire existence, basically, so I will look forward to seeing the original Andy in the future for this aspect of his personality.

As for my aversion to the cuter characters: I don't despise them; I just have a lower tolerance for overly syrupy characters. And while I did denigrate those who prefer the cuter Andy (and, in an earlier post, Pudgy the Pup), in the end, it is "to each his own".

On my end of things, there are some "cute" characters that I just go ape over: Chilly Willy, for example. I just prefer it when they have a slightly darker edge to them (which Willy sometimes has shown, and, as you pointed out, the early Andy).

And, man, I have a jones for Sniffles the Mouse that I haven't even revealed yet on my blog...